Friday, December 30, 2016

World's Best Sparkling? The Answer Will Surprise You

Imagine a blind tasting in Paris featuring some of France’s most illustrious Champagnes.   Eminent wine critics served as the judges.  The event was a haute couture of Champagne, with brands present like Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, and even pricey Pol Roger (so beloved by Winston Churchill that he named his race horse after his favorite bubbly).   Although Pol Roger placed third in the tasting, Churchill may have not been too displeased for the winner of the competition was a bubbly from England!

English “fizz” (as it is called in Britain), has been somewhat of a joke in the wine world…for those who have not tasted it.  I had the pleasure to visit a winery in 1999 and was surprised that their fizz was actually drinkable.  Lots, however, has happened to the wine industry in England in the last 15 years.  In fact, the top two wines in the above blind tasting were from England.

Why not England?  Stop and think.  Southern England, where the two winning wineries are located,  is about the same latitude as the Champagne countryside.  England also has limestone soils very similar to Champagne.  Moreover, England’s southern coast, is warmer than many parts of Champagne, thus riper fruit means more complex flavors.  The secret is out.  Champagne Houses such as Taittinger have bought land in England and are beginning to make their version of fizz.

Wine-Knows will be taking its first group to England in 2018, however, the tour has already sold out.  We have added another tour in 2019.  If you can’t wait until then, here are the names of the English fizzes that turned the Champagne world upside down:
                  ~ Hamilton Classic Cuvee, 1st place
                  ~ Nyetimber Classic, 2nd place

Have a fizzy New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Olé! Baja Restaurant Update

                                 San Jose Del Cabo is a universe away from Cabo San Lucas
I’ve just returned from >2 weeks in San Jose Del Cabo in Baja, Mexico.  Although only 30 miles from Cabo San Lucas, this small colonial gem is entirely different from the maddening crowds and “Spring-Break mentality” of Cabo San Lucas.  I grew up on Mexican food in California’s agricultural rich Central Valley.  My last meal would definitely include some of my Mexican favorites.  In a nut-shell, I like to think of myself as somewhat an expert on Mexican food.  With that being said, here’s what floated to the top of my list for dining in San Jose Del Cabo.

Tropicana Restaurant

                                        Tropicana is sexy and seductive in an innocent way

Located on San Jose Del Cabo’s main street not far from the city’s central colonial plaza, this place has it all.  There is live nightly entertainment during high season, but the real reason to come is the food.  There’s a terrific Caesar salad made table-side (a dying art), plus the chile rellenos are excellent.  Margaritas are made from scratch---the only way to go.   The cost is moderate which makes this place a great bang for the buck.  Moderate

Don Rodrigo

                           From the street there's just a doorway...but a charming oasis awaits

A friend of mine picked this place to celebrate our mutual friend’s birthday.  It was so good that I returned the following week with another group.  On both occasions two different sets of diners loved this mucho romatico place.   The courtyard setting, under a canopy of trees and colorful bougainvillea with twinkling lights,  just oozes major atmosphere.  Another bonus is the live, soft music.  The menu specializes in fish, and the red snapper, as well as the tequila shrimp were the standouts.  The only negative was the service which was on both occasions a little dis-jointed.  Moderately expensive

Don Sanchez

                                             A definite do-not-miss for a special occasion

Located just across the street from the above Don Rodrigo (and just a few doors down from Tropicana), Don Sanchez was a wonderful surprise.  Although I had heard many good things about it I wasn’t expecting the quality I received.  First, however, let me disclose that this place offers more of an "international" menu.  I had a duck taco that was superb, along with a killer grilled Caesar salad that was one of the most interesting renditions I’ve had (for example, the salad was served with a prosciutto jerky, a tempura anchovy, “garlic chips,” and an out-of-this-world homemade tomato jam).  Another favorite of the table was the tamarind short ribs.  Service was sublime.  Diners can choose between a large alfresco tree-shaded patio, and a more formal indoor dining room.  Moderately expensive


                                         Upscale, authentic Mexican cooking

This restaurant is owned by the same owner as Don Sanchez so it’s no surprise that the quality was so high.  Also like its sister restaurant, service here is very professional.  Unlike Don Sanchez, however, this one specializes in traditional Mexican cooking.  Harbanero’s is located ½ mile from the central square on the outskirts of town.  I dined here twice, both times of which I left with a big smile on my face.   Order the shrimp cooked in garlic and butter…there’s no better rendition in town.  Moderate

Flora Farms

                                    A drop-dead setting in this farm-to-table restaurant

Last, but in no terms least, is Flora Farms.  I’m not sure how in the world to ever convey the magnitude of this magical setting.  Let me suffice by saying this:  if you are a foodie and you’re any where close to San Jose del Cabo, you *must* go.   It’s a 15-20 minute cab ride up in the hills ($25 each way), but the moment you arrive you’ll understand.  This place could easily be in the Napa Valley or Tuscany in that it is so disarmingly gorgeous.  Moreover, everything served is either grown or raised on the farm, or nearby.  The real stars of the culinary show are two:   the wide of assortment of breads baked daily in their wood-fired oven, as well as anything made with the plethora a knock-your-socks off vegetables.   Expensive (when you factor in the cab), but worth every peso

Feliz Navidad, amigos!

Friday, December 9, 2016

A White Christmas

White Bordeaux completes the perfect White Christmas

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.  While I love red Bordeaux, I’m thinking of dry white Bordeaux this year …perfect for San Diego’s warm December weather.  Perfectly timed for a White Christmas was a white Bordeaux tasting I just attended.  Held by a very sophisticated and savvy group of wine lovers (the Commanderie de Bordeaux of which I am a member), the blind tasting’s findings are below.

Before unveiling the winners, let’s review white Bordeaux.  Produced primarily from Sauvignon Blanc, these gorgeous relatively unknown wines also are often blended with Semillon.  While Sauv Blanc should be familiar to many, Semillon is often not.  One of the things I most love about Semillon is its luxurious, velvet-like texture.  Its flavor profile ranges from citrus in less ripe grapes, to tropical flavors in perfectly ripened grapes.  Mixed with the high acidity of Sauv Blanc, white Bordeaux can be a marriage made in heaven.

While extraordinary whites are made by some of the top Grand Cru Chateaux (e.g. Premier Grand Cru Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc which sells for about $850 a bottle), the Commanderie de Bordeaux tasting excluded all Grand Cru chateaux.  Eight members of our group tasted >10 bottles from the 2014 vintage.  Prices ranged from $28 to $14.  Here are the top three from our group's consensus:
  • 1st:  Chateau Charmed-Godard ($23)
  • 2nd:  Clos Floridine $26
  • 3rd:  Chateau Doisy Daene ($23)

The best wine of all tasted was disqualified because it was from the 2015 vintage.  Personally, this one was my hands-down favorite, however, the 2015 weather presented Bordeaux with much riper fruit than the year prior.  This gorgeous wine was made by Chateau Haut Mayne in Graves and offered a killer price quality ratio of a mere $12.  If you find it, buy a case or two.  It’s an extraordinary value.

If you don’t know white Bordeaux, you should.  Make your Christmas a white one this year!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Gourmet Gifts for the Holidaze

It’s that time of year for gift-giving.  Here’s a special list for foodies (and I’ve checked it twice).  Most gourmands would be thrilled to receive any of these luxurious goodies….all of which scream “Happy Holidays.”  Furthermore, many of the items can be ordered online and sent gift-wrapped.

Blue Stilton Cheese:  

William Sonoma imports from England (only during the holidays) a two pound wheel of Stilton.  But, it’s not just any Stilton.  It’s from Long Clawson Dairy, the best in the country.  The cost is steep, but the quality is amazing.  $70

Truffle Oil:             
There’s truffle oil, and then there is truffle oil.  Chinese poor quality knockoffs are flooding the market so make sure you purchase the real deal.   The best is made from white truffles (significantly more aromatic than black truffles).  A reputable producer from Italy is Urbani….which leads me to the next gift.

Truffle & Porcini Sauce:     
I have visited the Urbani factory several times with my clients during the truffle harvest.  Recently when I was there the owner of the factory suggested I try this over pasta for her idea of “fast food.”  I am now a regular customer and have it shipped from their New York store 10 cans at a time.  6 oz, $12.

Fleur de Sel:      

What foodie wouldn’t be thrilled with a gift of fleur de sel?   This special gentle French sea salt is harvested from only from the very top layer of salt.  It can be found in any gourmet emporium, or equally easy online.  $10-15 depending on size of container
Peppermint Bark Cookies:    

I could kill the friend who gifted these to me several years ago for my December birthday.  Let me start by saying that I am not a peppermint fan.  That being said, it was love at first bite for these scrumptious white chocolate morsels of pure bliss.  Unfortunately, William Sonoma has an exclusive lock-down on these and they cannot be purchased elsewhere.  The price is outrageous…and worth it for a holiday splurge.  $25                                                                                                                              

Happy Holidaze