Friday, August 24, 2018

Burgundy or Bordeaux?

                            Burgundy has dramatic sun-facing slopes dotted with tiny wine villages

These two wines are dramatically different, as are the two distinct areas in which they are grown.  Bordeaux is masculine and bold.  Burgundy is feminine and gentle.  Bordeaux calls out for grilled meats.  Burgundy begs for fish with a delicate sauce.  Bordeaux is all about opulent chateaux and enormous vineyards.  On the other hand, Burgundy is about small parcels of land that have been passed down over generations.  The list of differences goes on and on.

                                    Bordeaux is all about grand, impressive estates


Many of the differences between Bordeaux and Burgundy and are a result of the different wine grapes allowed by law within these two regions.  Bordeaux’s powerful wines come from the formidable Cabernet Sauvignon grape and the less muscular Merlot.  Bordeaux actually allows blending of up to five red grapes to round out its power-house wines.  Legally, things are very different in Burgundy.  Only Pinot Noir may be used in Burgundian reds---under the area's strict rules, blending is not allowed.  As Pinot Noir is much less tannic than its Bordeaux counterparts, the structure of a red Burgundy is significantly different (but equally compelling and complex), as are its flavor profiles and aromas.  Pinots are about finesse, not about strength.

Bordeauxs in their youth offer dark fruit flavors such as black cherries, blackberries, black currants and plums.  These fruit flavors are often mixed with herbal or spicy nuances such as cedar, licorice or black pepper.   With some aging, however, Bordeaux flavors can take on leather or even cigar-box qualities.

            Bordeaux's color is dark

            Burgundy's color is light

Pinot Noir serves up a completely different experience.  Think lighter red fruits such as strawberries, cranberries, raspberries or red cherries.  Pinot can even take on slight earthy flavors such as mushrooms or wet leaves.  As the tannins in this grape are much less aggressive than its Bordeaux counterparts, the mouth feel of Pinots are much softer and the wine appears more elegant.


             Burgundy's monks built rock walls around each parcel of land to delineate its terroir

Hundreds of years ago (before Bordeaux was even a wine region) Burgundian monks invented the concept of terroir.  These wine-making clergy separated out like a patchwork quilt every little plot of earth in the small wine region of Burgundy.  They knew what parcels produced the best grapes and why.  They even built rock walls (called "clos") around each vineyard and recorded their findings on intricate maps.  These clos today form the basis for Burgundy's Premier Cru.  The monks took into account all of the elements that produce great wines:  soil, drainage, exposure to the sun, wind, topography, humidity, pests etc.  These are all components of terroir.

                            Bordeaux's gravel soils have been washed down from the Pryenees

Burgundy’s terroir differs considerably from that of Bordeaux which is located hundred of miles away on the Atlantic.   For example, the soil of Burgundy is limestone based, thus Burgundian wines have their hallmark minerality in addition to fruit profile.  Bordeaux, in contrast, has gravel and clay soils, hence their wines are quite different.  Weather is a huge difference.  Bordeaux in general can ripen its grapes which translates to full flavored, bold wines.   Pinot Noir is a cool weather varietal that doesn't require as much sun to ripen in Burgundy's cold climate. 

Wine-Knows will be taking their farewell group to Burgundy in June 2019.  We hope that you can join us to experience the land where the concept of terroir began, and to learn about the differences between a Burgundian Pinot and a Bordeaux-based Cabernet.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Kiwi Sauv Blancs

                           Sauv Blanc is the star of the show in the Marlborough wine district 

New Zealand has been historically a world leader when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc (SB) wines.  The classical Kiwi style is easily recognizable---a kind of in-your-face pungency of grass and citrus.  (One critic has even said that if you don’t like New Zealand Sauv Blancs, it’s because you were forced to mow the lawn as a kid).   

The Sauvignon Blanc grape is native to France.  The Loire Valley, known for its gigantic castles, is also famous for its SB.  In Bordeaux, the grape is mixed with Semillon to create an unctuous white Bordeaux.  But, it’s on New Zealand’s south island that the varietal morphs into something quite different from its heritage.   

Some of New Zealand’s most spectacular SBs come from the Marlborough wine region on the south island.  Producing >75% of all of New Zealand’s wines, this area’s flagship grape is SB.  Marlborough is a river valley that empties into the sea and its sandy-gravely soil makes for perfect drainage.  The low fertility of the soil also encourages concentration of flavors via lower yields.   The heavier soils produce the more herbaceous SBs, while its stonier soils left over from the river’s erosion impart more lush and tropical flavors.   Some scientists, however, think that a hole in the ozone layer over this region influences these bold fruit flavors.

                      Stony soils washed down over centuries by the river exert a strong influence

As in all wine, the weather plays a major influence.  New Zealand’s geography ensures that no vineyard is more than 80 miles from the coast.  This means maritime climates that are moderated by the sea---never too hot, but never too cold.  Such climactic factors ensure a long and steady growing season that allows grapes to ripen slowly.  Also, this allows for the development in balance between acids and sugars, one of the hallmarks of a well-crafted wine.

In my opinion the best renditions of Kiwi SBs are those that have tamed the grassy profiles to merely subtle background notes.  Dogpoint offers a well-made SB full of melon and passion fruit mixed with citrus and mineral flavors.  Often available at our local Costco for $20, it consistently delivers big in the quality/price department.  Greywacke (owned by the original winemaker at Cloudy Bay) also delivers a tremendous product in the same price range.  This one offers a superb rendition of well-integrated citrus, tropical, herbal, and mineral.  

Wine Knows will be visiting both of the above wineries on its 2020 harvest tour.  Currently we have 7 seats available:

Friday, August 10, 2018

Vietnam's Best

                                  Nirvana for the country's best banh mi sandwich

Anthony Bourdain is to blame.  He spoiled me.  I keep wanting to prove him wrong, but I've not been able to do so after attempting many times.   Indeed, the best banh mi sandwich in Vietnam is in the seaside UNESCO village of Hoi Ann at Banh mi Phuong.  Believe me when I say their rendition of this sandwich is the bomb.   I’ve eaten there three times and I’m already dreaming of my return in 2020 with the next group of Wine-Knows.

Banh mi actually means bread.  France controlled Vietnam for nearly 80 years and settlers brought to the colony their love for baguettes.  Although the French were driven out in the 1950’s, the baguette remained.   A baguette is the basis for the banh mi, however, the Vietnamese version is always a single serving baguette. Rice flour is often used in conjunction with wheat flour making the Vietnamese adaptation more airy with a thinner crust.  It’s super crunchy and crispy. 

                                A sampling of some of the ingredients at Banh mi Phuong

The baguette is a critical component for the Banh mi but the inside ingredients also can make or break it.   The version I order at Banh mi Phuong has > 10 ingredients, all elements working in totally harmony.  First, there’s a thin layer of aioli, then a splash of the au jus left over from the roasting of the poultry and meats that will follow later on the sandwich. Then, a spreadable house-made pate. Last, there are tomatoes, pickled carrots and daikon, thinly sliced cucumbers, fresh cilantro, and finally a dab of fish sauce mixed with chili for the perfect kick.

                             The owner's daughter warms the scrumptious baguettes

At Banh mi Phuong huge baskets of baguettes are delivered every hour by bicycle from the local bakery.  They are warm on arrival, but this sandwich shop warms the baguettes in a small oven briefly before preparation…making the bread even crunchier. Hundreds of baguettes are served hourly here as there’s a constant parade of hungry folks night and day. 

Now for the bad news:  there’s always a line.   The coveted ten or so tables inside are always crawling with locals and tourists jockeying in concert for one of the few spots to sit.   Because of this, the small sandwich shop is surrounded by a swarm of parked motorcycles whose riders devour their banh mi atop their motorbikes.

Check out the few minute clip from Bourdain’s visit to Banh mi Phuong:

Friday, August 3, 2018

S.O.S. (Summer of Spritz)

                                                        My first Aperol Spritz in Venice

There’s no better way to ring in the arrival of summer than with an Aperol Spritz.  I first was introduced to this colorful aperitif in Venice about ten years ago on a summer’s evening at an outdoor swanky canal-side bar.   Every single table of Italians were enjoying a bright orange-colored drink in a wine glass filled with ice.  What was this popular mystery drink? 

“A spritz, Signora” our waiter informed me, and he then added “It’s very Venetian.” Sold!  All of us bravely ordered one, not knowing if we would make it past the first sip.  (I was thinking of the fiasco of ordering my first Negroni cocktail 30 years earlier on the island of Capri.  I wanted to spit out the first sip but couldn’t as I was on the terrace of the 5 star La Quissiana Hotel).  But, the spitz more than made up from my horrible earlier experience of trying a new cocktail.  Like everyone else at the table, I became an instant fan of the Aperol spritz!

A spritz is made from Aperol and sparkling wine.  Aperol is what gives the aperitif its unmistakable vivid orange color.   You can’t miss a bottle of Aperol in a bar or in a liquor store as its color commands attention.   Think brilliant neon orange. Aperol is a somewhat bitter aperitif distilled from a mélange of oranges, rhubarb and plants such as cinchona (related to quinine, it is responsible for Aperol’s slightly bitter taste, similar to that of tonic water).

The Venetian waiter was correct.  Aperol is very Ventetian as it is actually produced in the Venice area.  But, Aperol has exploded onto the American cocktail scene.  In a recent Bon Appetit there was an entire article on the "spritz."  According to the magazine, Aperol has created "a seismic shift."  Indeed, Aperol is appearing in endless concoctions.  Recently I’ve seen a Pimm’s Cup made with Aperol, an Aperol mimosa, and even an Aperol margarita.  But, Aperol has moved well beyond the US market.  I’ve seen Aperol in one form or another in Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and Fiji.

While I’ve experimented with creating my own Aperol renditions, I have to admit that the original spritz version remains my very favorite.  The recipe is super easy and only involves a few ingredients:  ½ Aperol and ½ sparkling wine with a splash of sparkling water…finish with a slice of orange and serve in a glass with ice.

Have a S.O.S. !