Friday, July 27, 2018

The World’s Southern-Most Vines

New Zealand is a country of magnificent beauty.  Luckily, one if its most stupendous settings is a wine region on the south island.   Anchored by the charming city of Queenstown, this area offers breathtaking natural beauty…in every direction.   Imagine crystal clear alpine lakes, dazzling river gorges cut by millennium-old glaciers, wild verdant forests, and jagged snow-capped peaks.   For years Queenstown has been popular among extreme sports enthusiasts (hang-gliding, mountain-biking, white-water rafting …even bungee-jumping was even invented in the area).   Now, its audience has expanded to include wine and food lovers.

The Central Otago wine region (as the wine district is called) is home to the globe’s most southern commercial wine region.  Located on the 45th latitude, it is further south of the equator than South Africa, Australia, Chile or Argentina’s wine areas.  In the 70’s it was thought to be too cold to make wine in this region, but all of that has radically changed.  Queenstown’s surrounding vineyards are now making some show-stopping wines.

Vineyard plantings in area of the Central Otago district expanded in the 1990’s after research showed that this region could produce world-class wines.  In 1996 there were only 11 wineries.  Today there are more than 130.  Varietals that thrive best in cool climates have been planted.  Pinot Noir accounts for nearly 80% of the current vines, along with Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, and Riesling.

Here are my favorites from Central Otago, all of which are available in the US.  These are well-crafted wines, and many offer fairly good value.  Listed in alpha order:
  • ·        Felton Road Pinot Noir or Chardonnay
  • ·        Maude Point Pinot Noir or Riesling
  • ·        Mt. Difficulty Long Gully Pinot Noir
  • ·        Two Paddocks Pinot Noir
  • ·        Valli Pinot Noir (Bannockburn, Gibbston or Bendigo vineyards are all good)

Why not buy a bottle and soak up some of the area’s stunning scenery in your glass?  Or, buy all of the above and host a wine tasting party of wine made from the world’s southern-most vineyards?   A third option is to join Wine-Knows on its last trip to New Zealand for the harvest in March 2020.   Come experience up-close-and-personal the majestic splendor of this exquisite area.   Learn about and enjoy these extraordinary wines from the pros.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Perfect Summer Duo

One of my pet summer-time wine blends is Marsanne and Roussane.   Rarely vinified as a 100% varietal, these two white Rhone grapes create a perfect marriage of color, aroma, flavor and texture.   I believe that a Marsanne and Roussane blend is a spot-on example of Aristotle’s quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  That being said, let’s examine those parts.

The Roussane grape produces a powerful white wine.   Probably named for its russet-colored grape skin, Roussane creates a deep golden wine.  On the nose, this Rhone varietal offers floral notes, along with peaches and pears.  When allowed to fully ripen there can even be pineapple and mango.  Less ripe fruit offers more delicate herbal nuances. Usually quite rich in texture, Roussane can develop an almost exotic silky, or velvet-like body.  

                                Roussane's color pigments deepen the color of its wine

Roussane in some ways could actually be thought of as a red wine masquerading as a white.   By that I mean that Roussane has a good tannin structure.  These tannins also allow Roussane to age more than other whites without such a tannin structure.  Great Roussanes such as those from the Rhone’s Hermitage, are opulent, elegant, complex, and evocative wines.  

Marsanne, like Roussane, is native to the Rhone Valley.   The most planted white grape in the Northern Rhone, Marsanne also produces deeply colored wines that heighten in color intensity as they age.  Flavor profiles include a nuttiness (think almonds), along with white flowers and citrus or melon.  Like Roussane, Marsanne also has an impressive rich texture.  

                                  France's Rhone Valley is the birthplace of both grapes

While both of these varietals are the back bone of the Rhone Valley’s white wines, they are also grown along California’s coast, Washington state, British Columbia, and Australia.   Most of the time the two grapes are paired together to create the perfect cuvee.  Marrying the best qualities of the duo often produces a fabulous mélange for the summer….or winter!   Here are some of my favorite Roussane-Marsanne blends from the central coast of California:  Jaffus, Sine Qua Non and Stolpman.

Enjoy your summer!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Vietnam---One of World’s Healthiest Cuisines

I’ve been organizing the Wine-Knows’ 2020 tour to Vietnam and I’m already dreaming of my third trip to this magical country.  While Vietnam does make wine due to its historical roots as a French colony, it’s the nation’s food that pulls at the culinary strings of my heart.  

Traditional Vietnamese cooking is well known for its fresh ingredients, along with its minimal use of dairy, red meat, and oil.   With nearly a 2,000 mile coastline, fish is a common ingredient in the diet.  There’s also a huge reliance on herbs and vegetables.  Because of this, many believe that Vietnam’s cuisine may be one of the healthiest diets on the planet.

Antioxidant fresh herbs

                                 Many dishes are served with a side plate of fresh herbs

Many Vietnamese dishes are accompanied by a large platter of fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, and mint.  Lettuce leaves serve as a wrap for many items (like a burrito) and the herbs are placed inside the wrap along with whatever is being served.  

                                    This egg roll is wrapped in lettuce with purple basil & mint
Herbs have been used throughout history as a medicine.  We know today that they exert an antioxidant influence and contain essential oils, vitamins, and other important substances that help protect our bodies against infection, as well as boost our immunity systems.

Mind-boggling array of nutritious fruit

Vietnam is located in a tropical zone with long hours of warm sunshine, as well as humidity---both of which create nirvana when it comes to fruit.  Not only is there a tremendous assortment, but the Vietnamese pick their fruit ripe.  This has a big influence on why every fruit tastes so better in Vietnam.  It’s no wonder that people from China drive hours by car (or ride the bus) to the Vietnamese border to stock up on these extraordinary fruits.

Tropical fruits have long been known for their promotion of health.  High in essential vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fiber, they are a staple in the Vietnamese diet.  Fruits are served raw, juiced, used in salads, mixed with main courses and are served in desserts.


                                            Jackfruit can grow as large as 80 lbs!

One of my favorite fruits from any country is Vietnamese.  While we don’t grow it in the US, due to the vast Vietnamese population in California the fruit is now being imported.  Called jackfruit, if you don’t know it, you should!  This fruit is a party in your mouth.  Offering a mélange of big-time tropical flavors, it tastes somewhere between a pineapple, a banana and a cherimoya (another tropical fruit found in many countries including Vietnam). 

Jackfruit is definitely a love-at-first bite kind of fruit.  It is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, in addition to fiber and protein.  While it does contain some fat, it’s not the bad saturated fat that leads to cholesterol buildup in our arteries.

Very little saturated fat

Unlike Americans, the Vietnamese eat very little saturated fat.  While beef and pork are used, they are used in small portions---abundant vegetables and fruits are mixed with the proteins.  Fish and seafood are used, as is tofu---all appear in concert with vegetables and/or fruits.  In spite of their French linkage, there is no cheese or butter.  Also, very little processed food exists.

Vietnam February 2020

Enrollment on the trip is now open and there are only 7 remaining spaces.   Timing is immediately following their famous New Year celebration when the country is still filled with colorful decorations, and when the weather is the mildest in the tropics.  Come experience Vietnam's healthy way of eating with Wine-Knows!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Zucchini Flowers

                            Soon to be served as an appetizer at our villa rental on Lake Como

Somehow the 4th of July always marks the beginning of summer for me.  Luscious tomatoes are available in nearly every color of the rainbow, stone fruits are at their prime, wonderfully ripe melons abound, and farmers markets are over-flowing with zucchini flowers.   Over thirty years ago I fell in love with zucchini flowers on the island of Capri in Italy.  In fact, after having been served them one night for dinner, I so fell in love with them that I signed up for a cooking class at the restaurant during the week that I was there just to learn the chef’s secrets for zucchini flowers.

                            The Vietnamese version was dipped in batter and then panko

Since that time I’ve had zucchini blossoms prepared in several different ways and in several different countries.  On a recent trip to Vietnam I was served them in a family’s home.   Stuffed with minced pork and fried in a coconut-milk batter, they were sublime.  In France I’ve had them stuffed with goat cheese in a Michelin-star restaurant, and filled with scallops in another.  Both French renditions were baked and then topped with an ethereal sauce. 

                                        Simple pleasure...and a sure crowd-pleaser               

My favorite way to this day, however, is the way in which I was initially served them in Capri.  Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe to resemble a more tempura-like batter by using cornstarch.  I’ve also lightened up the batter (and added to the taste profile) by using beer for the liquid.

A couple of tips:
1.       Having your oil at the correct temperature (375 degrees) is essential.  This   is important so that the flowers do not absorb the oil.
2.      Immediately salt the flowers when they are removed from the oil (this helps the salt adhere).

Recipe for 24 flowers (plan on 3-4 per person if they’re small;   2-3 if they’re large)
  • 3/4 cup of corn starch
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • enough beer to make a thin pancake batter consistency (if you add too much beer, just add a little more corn starch)
  • EVOO (enough to fill about 2 inches of a skillet)
  • salt

1. Make batter
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in skillet
3. Dip each flower in batter and fry until golden brown on both sides 
4. Drain on paper towel and salt immediately

Buon appetito !