Friday, January 27, 2017

Island Fever

Maybe it’s all the rain Southern Cal has been experiencing recently?   Or, perhaps it’s just the cold?  Don’t know exactly why but I’ve been obsessing over island wines lately.  If you want to put a little sunshine in your glass, try some of these favorite island wines of mine: 

Wailheke, New Zealand

Located just a few hours by ferry from Auckland, this island (in addition to making some great wines) is a very romantic spot.  The star of the viticultural show is Te Whau winery’s “The Point.”   Only 1,000 cases of this killer Bordeaux blend is made.  The price is about $100 a bottle, but it could seriously compete with the Grand Cru Chateaux which sell for several times this price.   

Sardenia, Italy

Rugged and dry, the soils and microclimate of this island are perfect for growing grapes.  While water and fertile soils are needed for table grapes, an inhospitable environment such as Sardenia is the perfect situation for creating complexity (vines are forced to seek water and nutrients deep down in the soil).   The whites are the stars of the island’s show and Vermentino is the rock-star grape.   We buy cases each year of Argiolas’ Vermentino to serve guests poolside.  At about $15 a bottle, the well-priced sips of this one will make you swear you’re on the beach!

Santorini, Greece:

If you’ve been to Santorini, you know it’s a big OMG kind of place.  If you haven’t been, put it on your bucket list as this place is high on the Richter scale for spectacular beauty.   Created from a cataclysmic volcanic eruption a few thousand years ago, the island’s lava-based soil makes some of the world’s most interesting mineral-laced wines.   Gaia is a producer not to miss.

Mallorca, Spain

Palma de Mallorca's  airport is one of the busiest in all of Europe with nearly 20 million visitors annually.  Because of this, most of its wine, unfortunately, never makes it off the island.  That being said, if you’re visiting Barcelona, take a 30 minute flight to this dreamy place (from Madrid, it’s an hour flight).  Highly recommend Bodega Biniagual and Bodega Binigrau, located in the center of the island in the DOC district of Binissalem.  These boutique producers are among the best on the island.

Gran Canaria & Lanzarote, Spain

These two islands are located just off the coast of Morocco.  This June Wine-Knows is taking its first group to the Canaries.  The islands’ volcanic soils create some very interesting mineral flavors in their wines, but it’s not just about the minerality.  The island’s abundant sunshine also add enticing tropical fruit flavors to the whites.  If you can find El Grifo or Los Bermjos, they’re fab.  OlĂ©!

Madeira, Portugal

After the Canaries, the group of Wine-Knows will be heading to Madeira.  While many think of the aged & fortified Madeira, this volcanic island is now producing some very good table wines.   Like the Canaries and Santorini, Madeira’s mineral-rich volcanic soils translate into very interesting wine.  These soils are quite well drained (necessary for creating the best wines) and there is little water (thus, roots have to search deep into the earth for hydration---bringing up with the water interesting flavors from the deep soils).   Best for table wines is Quinta do Moledo or Roca Branca, both made by the island’s rock-star winemaker Joao Mendes.

Corsica, France

We spent a week on Corsica a few years ago.  An overnight ferry’s ride from Marseille (or a few hours boat ride from Italy’s Tuscan coast), this gem offers a perfect getaway from the maddening crowds of the French Riviera, as well as Tuscany’s hoards.   It also offers wonderful wines, especially Vermentino.  While Americans haven’t really discovered Corsican wines yet, the French have.  One of the French Bibles of wine recently dubbed Corsica as the “most exciting wine region in France.”   Look for producers Arena or Leccia.   

Have fun….and don’t forget to the sun block!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Minestrone To Warm the Soul

We moved to Southern California for warm weather so let me confess right now that I'm not a lover of the cold.  That being said, the recipe below has certainly helped to ease the the chill of winter nights.  Moreover, it has one of my can't-seem-to-get-enough-of veggies, escarole.  How could something so simple (less than an hour of active prep time), so low in calories (terrific diet-food after the holidays), and so nutritious (lots of vitamins and fiber), taste so yummy?  This one ticks all of the boxes for scrumptious and healthy.

NOTE:  If you want a more filling soup you can add pasta or potatoes.  Also, if you still have your turkey carcass in the freezer, it can be added to boost flavors.  If you really want to be decadent, drizzle pesto on the top before serving with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano.   (Serves 8)

  • 1/3 pound sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 3 medium red onions, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1/3 cup EVOO
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 28-ounce canned tomatoes
  • 3 quart hot water
  • 5 cups coarsely chopped cored Savoy cabbage
  • 5 cups coarsely chopped escarole 
  • 1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (about 3 by 1 1/2 inches)
  • 2 (19-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained 
  • salt & pepper

Cook pancetta, onions, celery, and carrots in oil in large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally while preparing the chard.

Cut out stems from chard and chop the stems, reserving leaves for later.  Stir stems into pancetta mix with garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until all veggies are tender and begin to stick to bottom of pot (about 45 minutes).  

Push veggies to side of pot, then add tomatoes paste to cleared area and cook, stirring constantly until paste begins to caramelize (a couple of minutes).  Stir paste into veggies and cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes---do not let paste burn. Stir in tomatoes with their juice, breaking them up with a spoon.  Next, add hot water, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pot.

Bring to a simmer.  Stir in cabbage, escarole and add the cheese rind.  Simmer, covered, until greens are tender about 40 minutes.  Coarsely chop chard leaves and stir into soup along with beans.  Simmer, partially covered, 10 minutes.  Discard ring. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Buon Appetito!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Champagne Trivia for 2017

                                         One of the many Wine-Knows' trips to Champagne

Here are 10 facts that the Champagne-lover needs to keep close at hand for cocktail trivia in the New Year:

1.      The classic Champagne coupe glass (rarely used now) was modeled from a mold that was supposedly made from the breast of Marie Antoinette.

2.     A regular serving of Champagne produces about 100 million bubbles before it goes flat.

3.     Champagne was not “discovered” by Dom Perignon…this monk actually tried to remove the bubbles in a batch of wine that had “gone bad.”

4.     The Champagne region, France’s most northerly wine district, lies at the northern edge of the world’s grape growing latitude.

5.     Only the following 3 grapes can be used to produce Champagne:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

6.     Veuve Clicquot is named after the widow of a winery owner ("veuve" means widow).

7.     The biggest bottle of Champagne is 40 times the normal sized bottle and is called a Melchizedek.  The second largest bottle is a Nebuchadnessar which is half the size of the Melchizedek.

8.     Your chances of dying from a flying Champagne cork (which can reach a velocity of 40 miles per hour) is greater than the chance of death by the bite of a poisonous spider.

9.     Only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region can be called Champagne (one exception is California’s Korbel which was grandfathered-in).

10.     Two English sparkling wines beat out some of France’s most prestigious Champagnes in a blind tasting in Paris (refer to last week’s Blog).

Happy New Year!