Friday, March 31, 2017

Brazil's Sexy Cocktail

Just pronouncing Brazil’s most famous drink can be daunting (Kai-pee-reen-Yah), but I guarantee that it is well worth the linguistic effort.  I am currently at a glitzy two-floor penthouse on Copacabana with a group of foodies, all of whom are clients of Wine-Knows.  Our week here is coming to a close, and you can rest assured that the ten of us have made a major dent in "Caipirinhas" over the last seven days.

The Caipirinha cocktail is a distant cousin of Mexico’s margarita, but the Brazilian rendition is made with the country’s flavorful sugar cane "rum."  (Sugar cane was brought in the mid-16th century from Madeira to Brazil by Portuguese immigrants, and is this rum is now the most popular distilled spirit in Brazil).  If you think Caipirinha is hard to pronounce wait until you try to say the name of the rum: Cachaça (Ka-SHAH-suh).

A huge amount of Cachaça is consumed in Brazil in the form of Caipirinhas.  These perfect girl-from-Impanema drinks are made from muddled lime, superfine sugar (which dissolves completely), and Cachaça.   This yummy elixir ironically began in the early 1900’s as a medicinal cure for the flu.  Today it is still used in Brazil as a home remedy for the common cold. 

Cachaça is available at most liquor stores in the US, including BevMo.  There is no substitution for Cachaça, so if you can't find it move on to something else.  Here’s a recipe to begin.  Like most recipes, however, you can tweak it to adjust to your taste.  A word of caution:  remember that Cachaça is high octane…a little goes a long way.

  • ½ of a juicy lime, cut into small piece
  • 1 teaspoon of super fine sugar (don’t even think of using regular granulated                       sugar as it will not dissolve)
  • 2 oz of Cachaça

Directions:  Put lime and sugar in a hard-bottomed rocks glass.  Smash them with a wooden spoon to release as much juice as possible, as well as the flavors from the rind.  Add ice and Cachaça, stir and serve.

Caipirinha is hard to pronounce, but easy to make and fun to drink.  Move over Margaritas and Mojitos.

Viva Rio!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Carmenere---Cabernet’s Ancestor

           Wine Knows had a private dinner at the top of this mountain, birthplace of Purple Angel

I’m in Chile with a group of Wine-Knows.  We’ve been drinking a lot of their Carmenere varietal and I’m falling in love with it all over again.  For those who don’t know Carmenere, it was brought to Chile in the 19th century by the French.  At the time it was a popular grape planted throughout Bordeaux and was reputed to have produced excellent wines.  But, the phylloxera bug wiped out most all of the vineyards in Europe in the late 1800’s.  Bordeaux replanted with Cabernet and Merlot as the Carmenere grape was difficult to ripen. 

Carmenere was thought to be extinct until it was “discovered” in Chile in the 1990’s by a French team of scientists who visited Chile.   The French researchers were troubled by the appearance and character of the Chilean Merlot grape.  DNA analysis revealed that much of Chile’s Merlot was in fact the “lost” Carmenere grape from Bordeaux.

Genetic research shows that Carmenere is an early ancestor of Cabernet Sauvignon.  It shares many of the flavors of Cabernet:  red fruit, chocolate, tobacco and leather.  On the other hand, Carmenere’s tannins are far softer than Cab Sauvignon, making Carmenere much more approachable when young than Cabernet.

Carmenere means "crimson" in French, so it's no surprise that its color is a deep crimson.  In addition to a less tannic structure, Carmenere also offers another element I particularly enjoy:  spiciness!   Moreover, it also offers herbaceous notes (most often green bell pepper).  Both of these nuances mean that Carmenere pairs well with international dishes such as Mexico’s molé, Middle Eastern lamb prepared with mint, spicy Cuban-style roast pork, as well as Italy’s veal piccata (briny capers, lemon and garlic).  In short, Carmenere is a very versatile food wine.

If you haven’t experienced Carmenere you should.  If you’re ready to splurge, there’s none better than Montes’ Purple Angel which will set you back $60-70, but this is a world-class version of Carmenere by one of Chile’s most revered producers.  Montgras, on the other hand, served Wine-Knows a fabulous price/quality ratio last week (available in the US for about $15).

This “lost” varietal needs to found!  I highly recommend that you pick up several bottles and conduct a Lost Varietal Tasting among fellow wine lovers. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Pisco Sour

                                                         Chile's beloved aperitif

I am with a group of Wine-Knows touring the vineyards of Chile.  There’s only so much wine one can drink.  Besides, who could ever pass up another of Chile’s super-stars, its Pisco Sour?  Made from a type of grape brandy, this stunning aperitif has it all going-on!

The Pisco alcohol actually originated in Peru, but is now made today by both countries.   Spanish settlers in Peru in the 16th century began distilling the left-over grape must into a high-octane alcohol to mimic their native country’s brandy.  Soon its neighbor Chile began producing the spirit.  While Peru currently out produces Chile 3:1, Chile has much more stringent production rules for its Pisco.  In fact, Chile’s Pisco has its own D.O. zones---Pisco can only be produced from grapes grown in these two specific geographical areas of Chile.  Moreover, there are many Chilean laws to ensure quality.

There are many cocktails made from Pisco but my favorite by far is the Pisco Sour.  Think a type of blended margarita where Pisco replaces Tequila.   Another difference is the addition of an egg white (which thickens the texture but doesn’t have much influence on the taste).  The Peruvian version has the addition of bitters, however, the Chileans leave out this component. 

Need a recipe?  Check it out:

The good news is that you don’t have to go to South America to enjoy a Pisco Sour.  It is becoming more and more popular and is available in many liquor stores (BevMo carries it). 

Viva Chile!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Chilean Sea Bass—It’s All About Marketing

                                         The Patagonian Toothfish is a cold water Cod

I leave in a few days for Chile.  One of my favorite foodie stories about this country has to do with Chilean Seabass.   Many of us enjoy the buttery flavor and unctuous texture of this fish.  I wonder, however, how many know that its true name is not even close?

Have you ever heard of the Patagonian Toothfish?  How appetizing does this sound? Would you be tempted to order a Toothfish of any type?  Chilean Seabass is a fantasy name created in the 1970’s as a marketing ploy to get Americans to purchase the Patagonian Toothfish.  And, it was an American fish importer who dreamed up the new name.  He was debating between two possibilities to entice the American consumer:   “Pacific Seabass” and “South American Seabass,” but in the end chose Chilean Seabass as he thought the specificity might be more attractive to consumers.  The rest is history.

You may also be surprised to learn that Chilean Seabass is not a member of the bass family, but is part of the icefish cod family.   This cod group is only found in very cold waters, including the deep part of the Artic.  (In fact, most of the Chilean Seabass brought into the US now is not Chilean, but from the Artic).  A few more surprises:  Did you know that this fish can live up to 50 years of age?  How about that it can grow up to >200 pounds?  Or, 7 feet in length?

What you do know about Chilean Seabass is that it’s not the kind of fish that would be served at a fish and chips kind of place, at least today.  Instead, it’s more likely to be served at a restaurant featuring the likes of lobster risotto or a luscious kobe beef.  That being said, in the 1980’s it was used by restaurants that could no longer afford halibut for its fried fish sticks.  Over the course of some 30 years, this fish has moved from Chinese restaurants looking for cheaper fish, to la crème de la crème dining establishments.  It really moved from total obscurity to Bon Appetit’s dish of the year in 2001.  

Chilean Seabass worked its way up the food chain due to a brilliant branding and marketing campaign.  Let’s raise a glass to the forgotten Patagonian Toothfish, and to the power of a name. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Chilean Wine Beats Pricey Bordeauxs!

                          Errazuriz beat out Chateaux Haut-Brion, Lafite-Rothschild & Opus One.

I’m on my way to Chile with a group of Wine-Knows.  One of the first things I intend to discuss with the group is the findings of a blind tasting by 100 of New York’s top wine critics, sommeliers and retailers.   It was like the “shot heard round the world,” but, not terribly surprising since Chile has really upped its quality game in the last ten years.  The country is producing some world-class wines.

In an experiment similar to the famous Judgement of Paris in which California wines were blind tasted against the best of France (and won!), Chile conducted a similar tasting against some of France, Italy, & American's super-star reds.  Chile beat out Bordeaux’s highly revered Chateau Haut-Brion, as well as Chateau Lafite-Rotchild (both of which sell for $500 more).  It also beat out Tuscany’s most famous wine, Sassicaia, the price of which also exceeds Chile’s champion.  The victor, as well, beat out California’s cult classic, Opus One.

The wine that took this tasting by storm was Errazuriz’s Kai.  Not cheap by Chilean standards, it sells for < $150 per bottle in the US.   Another surprise is that it’s made from a little known Bordeaux grape, Carmenere.   Ironically, very little of this varietal remains in Bordeaux today as the phylloxera bug wiped most of it out in the late 19th century.  Chile’s Carmenere was thought to be Merlot for many years until DNA analysis showed it to be the “lost” varietal from Bordeaux.

Out of the Top Ten wines in the Big Apple's blind tasting, Chile placed not only first, but also 4th, 6th and 9th.  (Amazingly, the 4th and 6th slot winners were both produced by Errazuriz).  The Chilean winners are all available online but sell for >$100 per bottle.  If, however, you’re looking for a less costly but very well-crafted Chilean wine  you should try Purple Angel by Montes ($60-70; Costco for $50’s).  It’s made from mostly Carmenere so you could kill two birds with one stone:  taste a superlative wine, and begin exercising your Carmenere muscle.

Viva Chile!