Friday, September 29, 2017

EATALY….A Gastronomic Shrine

                             Eataly in Istanbul offers a cheese & ham counter worthy of Caesar

Ten years ago Eataly opened in a former vermouth factory in Turin.  Today there are more than 35 locations around the world stretching from Rome to Tokyo and even to Dubai.  It’s appropriate, however, that the first Eataly opened in Italy’s Piedmont district.  Piedmont is home to the Slow Food Association, a kind of Noah’s Ark of Italy’s heirloom foods that was born in outrage to the first McDonald’s opening in Italy back in the 1980’s.

                               Chicago's wine department sells the best of Italian vino

Eataly’s founder, an Italian bazillon-Euro magnate, grew up in a household involved in the grocery business.  His extended family were artisan pasta makers.  After selling his electronics firm, he took the old-fashioned concept of a food-hall and turned it into the greatest foodie emporium on planet earth.   Before doing so, however, he toured all of Italy’s regions looking for its best local food products.  He found a cornucopia of producers making foods the old way…everything from boutique pasta located in the boot of Italy, to capers from an island off the coast of Sicily.

                                 Eataly in Florence serves up a serious array of breads

Think of Eataly as a Whole Foods on steroids, then add a William-Sonoma Super Store, a cooking school, several dining venues (including a mozzarella bar, a wood-fired oven featuring to-die-for breads and pizzas, and a pasta cafe), as well as a second-to-none culinary bookstore.  I spent several hours in Rome’s three story Eataly (built in a once derelict bus terminal on the outskirts of town).  I ate lunch, shopped for dinner ingredients (to be whipped up that night in my rented apartment), bought most of my Christmas gifts, and simply wandered from department to department in awe of the mind-boggling array of Italian foodie-related products.

                              Eataly, regardless of location, has multiple dining venues

Eataly is finally opening a long-awaited outpost in Los Angeles late this year.  My birthday is in December and I’ve already made plans to spend it at their new location.  I’ll celebrate with a cooking class, but will leave plenty of time to explore, marvel, and shop for holiday goodies.

Viva Eataly!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Enticing Valpolicella

                                  Sensational Lake Garda is home to Valpolicella wines

How can you possibly go wrong with a wine district whose name means “valley of many wine cellars?”  Another no-brainer:  its location is between the magical cities of Venice and Verona.  Last, add to the equation that the stupendously beautiful Lake Garda is part of the wine region.  Valpolicella is compelling on all of these levels, and many more.

Wines have been made in the Valpolicella district since the time of the ancient Greeks before the birth of Christ.  In 1968 the region was awarded its own DOC (appellation) by the Italian Government.  Since then, parts of the district have been bestowed a further award by the granting of a special DOCG to the area's Amarone wines.  (Amarone, the region’s pricey flagship wine, will be discussed soon in a future article.)

Valpolicella is both a wine-producing district and a wine.  Red is the dominant color.  Reds are made from a combination of grapes, all mostly unknown to Americans.  Corvina, the main varietal, is blended with other grapes such as Rondinella and Moninara.   The most basic level Valpolicellas are light-bodied, lower in alcohol, and noted for their cherry flavor.  Valpolicella Superiore wines, however, must be aged a minimum of one year in oak barrels.  The Superiore is more complex and offers more structure along with more intense aromas of dried cherries.  Often times the Superiore version is made using an old wine making method in which the aristocratic skins remaining from the area’s powerful Amarone wines are mixed in with Superiore must and undergo a secondary fermentation.

Both levels of Valpolicella wines frequently offer great quality/price ratios on wine lists.  Equally important, these wines pair well with most foods.  The Superiore is especially nice with grilled poultry and meats, and can stand up to pastas that use strong cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Wine-Knows will be in the Valpolicella district next year on its Northern Italy & Truffle Tour in early October 2018.  Moreover, we’ll be staying on the historic estate of one of the area’s best Valpolicella and Amarone producers, Serego Alighieri (descendants of one of Italy’s most famous authors, Dante Alighieri).   Availability on this tour is just two spaces.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Country that Shaped the Wine World: ENGLAND !

Many of you may be scratching your head regarding how England could have played such an unparalleled role in the historical development of wine.  Indeed, Bordeaux, Champagne, Port, Marsala, and Madeira wines all owe their existence today to the English.  The reasons for this are intriguing and encompass royal kingdoms, dowries, shipping fortunes, and wars. 

Southwest France becomes part of the British Empire

                           Eleanor of Aquataine's dowry gave England control of Bordeaux

Let’s start with how profound the English influence has been in the Bordeaux wine business.  Queen Eleanor (wife of France’s King Louis VII) was one of the most powerful and wealthiest women in Europe during the 12th century.  She later married King Henry II of England.  Her dowry comprised all of Southwestern France, including Bordeaux.  This royal union of France and England produced many things, including one of Europe’s most famous monarchs (Richard the Lion-hearted, Eleanor and Henry’s son), as well as the English love affair with Bordeaux wines.

As the entire region of Bordeaux came under English rule, King Henry extended favorable trade privileges to Bordeaux's merchants to ship their wines to England.  This allowed Britain to receive Bordeaux wines far in advance of other European countries, and at far better rates.  While Bordeaux wine wasn’t cheap, it was the preferred beverage of the English upper class and monarchy.  Profits were massive as volume was extraordinary.  Records from the early 1300’s show that wine shipments between Bordeaux and England accounted for the largest shipping traffic in the world at the time. 

The English birthed the Port wine industry 

            Port was shipped downstream on small boats for loading on England-bound ships

Then, came the Hundred Year War between England and France.  By now the English were smitten with Bordeaux’s red wines which essentially became unavailable during the war.  English importers sailed further south to the northern part of Portugal for their red wines.   As the shipping journey was considerably longer than from Bordeaux, alcohol was added to prevent spoilage during the lengthy journey.  As British demand for Port (fortified wine with alcohol) grew, London merchants and their families moved to Portugal to oversee their empires and control their costs.  Interestingly, many of these original English families still control the Port industry today (e.g. Croft, Dow, Graham, Symington and Taylor).

The Brits put the bubbles in Champagne

                                     2 absolutely profound elements were added by the Brits

Now, let’s fast forward from Portugal to the Champagne district of Northern France.  In the 1600’s the wine produced in the Champagne countryside was “still” wine….there were no bubbles.  An English physician and scientist by the name of Christopher Merret was the first to discover how to make sparkling wine.  (This fact is often incorrectly attributed to the French monk Dom Perignon).   The Brits further played another role in the groundwork for the Champagne industry.  It was England’s Royal Navy that invented the thicker glass bottles to prevent Champagne bottles from exploding under the higher pressures.  Without these two important English contributions, Champagne as we know it today wouldn’t exist.

English merchants promoted Madeira

                                            The Brits had a love affair with Madeira island 

Next, there’s Madeira wine.  Like Bordeaux, Port and Champagne, the English played a pivotal role in the Madeira wine business, especially in the shipping of these wines to the rest of the world.  One of their most popular routes was to the British Colonies in America.  Madeira was considered to be the most important wine of the colonists.   In fact, it was so popular that George Washington used Madeira to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Marsala’s Origin is English

                    While Marsala can be an aperitif or dessert wine, it is also used in cooking

Marsala is another wine that owes its global success to the English.   A fortified wine, like Madeira and Port, Marsala is credited to a British merchant in the mid-1700’s who first added distilled spirits to the local wines surrounding the city of Marsala in Sicily.   This fortification with brandy was used to keep the wines from spoiling during their voyage on the ship back to England.  Marsala became so popular in England that British merchants soon descended on Sicily to increase production and commercialization of the beverage.

The Brits seed the New World

                 The British Empire in the 18th century reached nearly every corner of the globe

In addition to promoting wines in the American colonies, the Brits were also influencing wine habits in their Empire.  Settlers from Britain immigrated to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and with them they brought vines for making wine. Centuries later, while no longer a part of the British Empire, these countries are known for producing quality wine.  And, their wines are widely exported back to England.

England is finally making its own wines

                    Churchill would be thrilled with England's new-found sparkling wine fame

Today, after more than 900 years of influencing the development of the modern wine business, England is finally producing its own wines.  While production is still relatively small, English wines have captured the attention of the wine world by winning competitions and acing out many of the globe's most prestigious brands. England's sparkling wines have been getting lots of traction, beating out in blind tastings famous Champagne houses such as Veueve Clicquot, Tattinger and even Winston Churchill's favorite Champagne, Pol Roger.

In summary, more than any other nation in the world, England has influenced throughout history the course of wine.  Wine-Knows will be visiting England in June 2019.  Join us to learn about England’s impressive new lineup of wines, in addition to Stilton cheese and Bombay Gin.  The trip is detailed at

Friday, September 8, 2017

Harvest Terms You Need to Know

September in the Northern Hemisphere is a huge month for winemakers.  Wine lovers should be aware of the following vocabulary, especially if you’re visiting a winery:

  • Alcoholic fermentation:   the conversion of grape sugar to alcohol

  • Battonage:  stirring the wine during fermentation so that the liquid has contact with the lees (the solids)

  • Brettanomyces:  bad yeast that causes wines to spoil

  • Brix:  measurement of the amount of sugar in the grape

  • Carbonic maceration: fermenting whole clusters of grapes that have not been crushed

  • Fining:  process used to clarify the wine (egg whites are used by many)

  • Free-run juice:  juice that has not been pressed but obtained simply by the weight of the grapes themselves

  • Malo-lactic Fermention:  Known also as “ML,” this is the conversion of harsh malic acid to softer lactic acid

  • Must:  unfermented grape juice

  • Lees:  sediment that occurs during fermentation (includes spent yeasts, seeds & other solids)

  • Racking:  process of separating the wine from the sediment by moving the liquid to another barrel

  • Saignee:  French term which literally means “to bleed,” this is the process of removing some of the unfermented grape juice to increase the wine/skin ratio

  • Sulfites:  chemicals that prevent spoilage of wine

  • Tannin:  compound found in the seeds, skins and stalks of grapes

  • TCA:  abbreviation for the destructive chemical that causes cork taint

  • Topping-off:  process of filling a wine barrel that has lost wine due to evaporation

Friday, September 1, 2017

Grape Harvest 101

The wine harvest has already begun in many regions in the northern hemisphere.  There is basic vocabulary that any wine lover should know about the harvest.  This week we’ll concentrate on pre-harvest wine terminology and important facts.  Next week, we’ll address the process of actually making wine.

Green Harvest  

                             Extra fruit is pruned from the vine during green harvest

This type of “harvest” actually takes place early in the summer.   Bunches of grapes are removed from the vine, sacrificed in the name of quality (the unripened grapes are literally cut and tossed on the ground).  Fewer grapes on the vine means those that remain receive all of the nutrients, thus producing more concentrated, more complex wines.   It’s the concept that “less is more.”

         While grapes may appear ripe & have sufficient sugar, other elements may not be ripe

This is not as simple as it sounds.  It’s not just about the sugar level of grapes (known as “brix”).  Physiological ripeness, a fairly recent concept, is the key.  This means that all of the chemicals, not just sugar, inside the grape are mature.  These chemicals include components such as acids, tannins, and the phenolic components in the grape’s skins that are responsible for color, aromas and flavors.


                             The change of color, Verasion, signals the approach of the harvest

This is a French word that has become part of the English vocabulary relative to wine-making.  The term is used to describe the actual change of colors in the berry from green immature fruit to their fully ripened color.  While this color change is one element in ripening, there are many other processes occurring inside of the berry to make it physiologically ripe.

Ripening Differences Among Grape Varieties

Different varitetals ripen at different times.   Dry white wine grapes ripen earlier than most reds.  Merlot ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.  Tempranillo, from the Spanish word temprano which means “early,” is the earliest ripening red grape in Spain.  Sweet wine grapes are the last to be picked so that sugars can be maximized.

Tune in next week for a primer on the need-to-know terms associated with the wine-making process.