Friday, April 29, 2016

UNESCO: Burgundy & Champagne

The United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has awarded the vineyards of Burgundy and Champagne special status.  These wine areas, now join other World Heritage Sights such as Egypt’s Pyramids, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and many of Europe’s greatest cathedrals, along with the wine districts of Bordeaux, Port and the Hungary’s Tokaj.

Cellars such as Veuve Cliquot's in Reims are now protected

In addition to Burgundy & Champagne’s vineyards, several of the cities in these wine districts have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.  Both Reims and Epernay’s underground Champagne cellars are now protected by UNESCO.  Similarly, Beaune’s magical medieval downtown and its miles of underground wine cellars in Burgundy are now UNESCO.  Nearby, Dijon’s historic downtown has also been granted UNESCO protection.

                                           Beaune's architectural gems are UNESCO

UNESCO World Heritage is awarded to sights that are deemed of “outstanding value, to humanity.”   The organization provides resources in the form of technical assistance as well as moneys to ensure that these cultural masterpieces are preserved for future generations.

Merci, UNESCO!

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Tonic for Whatever Ails You

                                Tonic water contains a powerful agent to prevent malaria

San Diego has had unusually warm weather the last few weeks.  While I’m not a mixed-drink-kind-of-gal, I have to admit that on a warm day (particularly at the beach) I’m often drawn to a gin and tonic.   Perhaps this is because the first gin and tonic I had, 35 years ago, was in the middle of the summer on Spain’s tiny island of Ibiza.  I was with a group of Norwegian friends and the last one to order libations.  All 11 had ordered a gin and tonic---so I made it an even dozen!

                                            Cinchona forests in South America

Did you know that tonic water at one time was an actual medicine?  It started in South America in the 17th century when European missionaries in Peru made note that the locals used a tree bark concoction to effectively reduce the fevers of malaria.  Modern day medicine now understands that not only does tree bark treat fevers, but it is actually a powerful agent to prevent malaria.  This prophylactic part of the tree bark is called quinine.

                                         Cinchona's bark is the source for the quinine
Quinine is the purified substance from the bark on the cinchona tree. The quinine antidote for malaria quickly spread to Europe which was also suffering from the disease.  But it was the British who were responsible for turning it from medicine to pleasure.  When the British began their rule of malaria-rampant India they planted cinchona trees throughout the country purposefully.  British army officers on duty in India began adding it to their spirit of choice, gin, as prophylaxis.  

At this same time back in Britain, there was a craze for adding carbon dioxide to liquids to create bubbly drinks.  When the Brits returned from Foreign Service in India, they jumped on the bandwagon and added carbon dioxide to their quinine "tonic."  It wasn’t long before a gin and tonic became the rage----and it still is the quintessential drink of Britain.

To good health...and long live the Queen!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Port Primer

                                          Port tasting during the Wine-Knows' 2011 trip

Port wine is synonymous with Portugal for it was here that the world’s first Port was crafted.  Named after the seaside town of Porto (from which the wine was originally shipped), it is made in a completely different manner than table wine.  Let’s take it take a step-by-step look at how Port is made, as well as examine the many different types of Port.

First, Port is a fortified wine---this means that alcohol has been added.   To learn about Port, however, it’s important to understand why the addition of alcohol.  Brandy was originally added to stabilize wine during the 17th century for transport to England.  Today, alcohol is added half-way during the fermentation cycle to actually stop the fermentation.   As fermentation is the chemical conversion of sugar into alcohol, by stopping it midway (leaving remaining sugar) this is the reason why Port is always sweeter than regular wine.  Port is higher in alcohol than table wine since brandy is added.

Port is a blended wine. Not only is there a mixture of many diverse grapes, from many different vineyards, but there can also be a combination of several different vintages that are blended together in one single bottle.

Port is, furthermore, unique in that it comes in several styles.  These different types of port are based on the quality of the grapes, as well as how long it has been aged.  Here are some examples of the most well-known styles:

1.     Ruby:  The least expensive and less complex Port, this one is aged for only 3 years in bottle.  It is often served chilled as an aperitif.
2.    Tawny:  named for its amber color, this Port is aged in barrels for at least 3 years and offers more complexity.  Tawny can also be served as an aperitif or served at the end of the meal.
3.     Vintage:  only 2% of the production, it is made in the best years by only the top estates.  Bottle-aged for often decades, it offers explosive aromas and rich, concentrated flavors and finish.  The classical pairing is a well-crafted blue cheese.

If you’re joining Wine-Knows on the sold-out trip to Porto this autumn, you’ll have the opportunity to try all of these and many more.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Foodie Gifts Bring Home from Spain

On every Wine-Knows trip one of the most common questions posed by clients is “What souvenirs should I bring home for my food-loving friends?”  Below is a list of items that will please any gourmand.  They are listed in the order of their ease of packing in a suitcase for the flight back to the US.


These delicate threads are used in one of Spain’s signature dishes, paella.  Plucked from the flowers of crocus, the miniscule stamens are then dried.  Top quality saffron is the most expensive food product on earth---more than caviar and truffles.  And, no worries if your friends don’t make paella as saffron is used in many classical risottos, curries, bouillabaisse, and even in baking.

But, buyer beware.  There are many grades of saffron so it is necessary to buy it from a trusted source.  If the price is too good to be true, don’t buy it.  It can be old (and therefore have lost all of its aromatic properties);  it can be an inferior grade (with inferior flavors & aromas); it can even be a knockoff and not even saffron.  I usually buy mine at the Corte Ingles department store (Spain’s Macys).  If you aren’t near a big city, ask one of the restaurants in which we’ll be dining where it can be procured locally.  (BTW…saffron in Spanish is azafran).


You haven’t tasted paprika until you’ve tasted Spain’s smoky paprika which can turn even the most mundane dish into a culinary masterpiece.  The best pimenton (paprika) is from area of La Vera where the mild red peppers are roasted over an oak wood fire.  This pimenton is killer with deep layers of woodsy flavor. While pimenton de La Vera is used in the best paellas of Spain, like saffron, it can be utilized in many international dishes to add complexity.


I still remember my first bite of Membrillo and that’s saying something because it was nearly 15 years ago.  Membrillo is a thick fruit paste (think of a very thick jam) made from quince.  It’s one of the yummiest things I’ve tasted and most everyone who eats it falls in love.  (I was so enamored with membrillo that I had a quince tree planted at my home so that I can have home-made membrillo on hand at all times).  Typically paired with a cheese, it makes a perfect appetizer, or an ethereal dessert.    And, it is classically Spanish.  Ole!

Piquillo Peppers:

These mild red peppers are very popular in the Rioja wine district of Northern Spain.  In the autumn it’s not unusual to see them being roasted over embers in the back alleys, or to see the women sitting out on front porches peeling their charred skin.  Sold in jars, these bites of heaven can be addictive.  They can be stuffed, added to a dish in lieu of red bell peppers, or can be eaten directly out of the jar by themselves.  Love them…and most likely so will you.

Spring with a Torrontes

Spring has sprung and there’s no better way to celebrate this glorious season than with a glass of Torrontes.  This relatively unknown grape is from Argentina.  Every time we take a group of Wine-Knows to Argentina, everyone comes back raving about Torrontes.  If you don’t know Torrontes, you should.  It's one of the best wine bargains around!

Torrontes is a white wine that that both women and men enjoy.  On its female side, its intriguing aromas are full of gentle flowers, peaches and apricots.  Males find its voluptuous mouth feel and silky texture pleasurable.  Everyone, however, is attracted to its moderate acidity which offers a backbone and allows the wine to pair well with food.  Some producers actually leave a little effervescence…perfect for toasting Spring, or as an aperitif on a warm Spring day.

Torrontes is Argentina’s flagship white wine.  While some have thought the varietal may be related to one in Spain, DNA testing has disproved this---it is actually native to Argentina.  Becoming more and more popular in the US because of its alluring characteristics, it is now fairly easy to find in a well-stocked wine shop.  BevMo, for example, carries several producers.  Moreover, it can be found easily online at places such as   Some of the better producers include Catena and Zuccardi (both of these producers will be visited on the southern hemisphere’s harvest tour with Wine-Knows in March 2017).

For more information about this food and wine trip to both Chile and Argentina, check out the tour: