Friday, September 28, 2018

Seeing Red

There are approximately 50 major grapes used to make red wines.  The particular variety utilized has a tremendous influence on the wine’s color, especially when the wine is young.  (As wine ages it changes color, however, for the purpose of this article, to keep a level play field all comments will be related to young wines.  Additionally, the climate in which the grape is grown also impacts the wine’s color.  For the sake of this article, neither of these variables will not be addressed).

The color of a red wine is directly related to the amount of plant pigmentation in the grape’s skin.    In general, thicker skin grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon have much more pigment than the delicate thin-skinned grapes of Pinot Noir.  This is why a Cab is much darker in color than a Pinot.  But, thickness of skin does not always determine the color of a wine.  The amount of color pigment is the determinant.

Syrah is the darkest colored red wine.  In fact its deep purple-black is so intense that it’s opaque (unlike the lighter Pinot Noir that is transparent).  In the case of Syrah, yes the grape’s skin is thick, however, it’s not the thickest of all grape skins.  Syrah simply has an enormous amount of plant pigmentation in its skins, thus its inky nearly black color.

Mouvedre (a Rhone varietal), Malbec (from Argentina) and Petite Syrah (no relation, by the way, to Syrah), fall just shy of Syrah’s super deep pigmented color. All of these wines, like Syrah, are so dark that they’re opaque.   The grapes from which these wines are made are all loaded with dark plant pigments.

Next in line moving down the color spectrum is Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cab makes fairly deeply colored wine, but not as intense in color as the above varietals.  Not far behind Cab in almost in the dead center of the red color range is Merlot.   Just a little lighter than Merlot, Zinfandel falls next.   Zin’s color is a surprise.  Compared to its tannins and high acidity which creates a bold wine, Zin’s color is less intense than one would expect from the strength of its taste.   Also sharing this middle spot of the red color wheel is Spain’s flagship grape, Tempranillo, along with Sangiovese from Italy.

At the bottom of the red range are the lightest colored wines.  Pinot Noir is generally the lightest, however, Grenache is also a grape with significantly fewer plant pigments.  Grenache, a Rhone varietal, is typically mixed in France with the extremely dark Syrah.   Pinot, however, is often vinified alone and appreciated for its light strawberry-colored hue.

There are at least 50 shades of red.  Enjoy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

New Zealand is on a Roll!

                                Wine-Knows 2020 winery lunch...salmon screams for Pinot Noir!

The Kiwis (as the New Zealanders refer to themselves), long known for their explosive Sauv Blancs, have another blockbuster for wine lovers.  Pinot Noir, now the country’s second most planted variety, is quickly moving to the forefront as New Zealand is establishing an international reputation for producing world-class Pinots.

Forty years ago, the finicky Pinot grape was not even on New Zealand’s wine radar screen.  The varietal grows in cooler climates such as France’s Burgundy, California’s Central coast, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  This South Pacific island nation’s maritime climate was a perfect match in many ways.  Oh, yes, and it didn’t hurt that the soils were found to be similar to Burgundy, the pinnacle for the Pinot cult.

In addition to weather and soil, the Kiwis have another advantage with Pinot Noir.  An important part of New Zealand’s terroir is its intense light.  This is due to a hole in the earth’s ozone layer near New Zealand which permits stronger ultraviolet rays.  While this is problematic for human skin, it creates lusciously ripened grapes.  Unlike Burgundy, where capricious Pinot does not often ripen adequately, New Zealand’s sunlight guarantees consistency.

Pinot Noir is currently grown in several wine districts in New Zealand, however, the grape’s first success was in Martinborough---located just outside of the country’s capitol, Wellington, on the north island.   The south island’s Central Otago wine region (home to the world’s farthest southern vineyards) is also turning out some fabulous Pinots.  

Wines made from Pinot Noir are typically higher in price than other varietals.  Here are three highly rated Kiwi Pinots that offer amazing value for their $30 price tag:

             1.  Mount Brown
             2.  Wild South
             3.  Jackson’s Vintage Widow

Ratcheting up to the $50-60 range, here are some Kiwi Pinots that may cause you to re-think Burgundy:

             1.  Ata Ranghi
             2.  Fromm Clayvin
             3.  Felton Road Calvert

Wine-Knows will be visiting all three of these latter wineries on their harvest trip to New Zealand in 2020 (March).  Come experience these unique wines and explore this gorgeous country.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Vietnam’s Cuisine is All About Harmony

                 Vietnamese meals are a treasure trove of color, texture and perfectly balanced tastes
Both cooking and eating are very important parts of Vietnam’s culture.  Like most things in their culture, the principle of yin-yang exerts a significant influence in Vietnamese life and food is no exception.  Harmony is key, so it’s no wonder that Vietnamese cooking respects the rules of balance.  The five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) play a major role in creating harmony. 

                        Home cooks can be very clever in creating something from nothing

An important part of Vietnam’s cuisine is first “eating with your eyes.”   Dishes are very colorful, and often have decorative elements.   Fruit and vegetable carving is an art-form in Vietnam and markets are full of a variety of clever utensils that can quickly turn a carrot or radish into a swan or a flower.   Even in family homes the most simple of dishes are adorned with decorations.  In sophisticated restaurants, chefs create masterpieces carved from the country’s rainbow of tropical fruits or vegetables.

          Dinner in a Vietnamese family home is a symphony of smells, sounds, colors & flavors

The sense of smell is very important in Vietnamese cooking.   A variety of pungent aromatic herbs and spices are used to enhance smell.  Vietnam’s famous Pho soup broth is layered in its many hours of cooking with a variety of herbs and spices such as lemongrass, star anise, peppercorns, and ginger.  But the complex nose of the broth is just one of the smells.  Pho is always served with a side plate of garnishes including pungent purple basil, aromatic cilantro, fragrant mint, and a spicy-smelling chili.  All of these individual notes come together in tiny amounts to complete the balance.

     The complex broth of aromatic Pho is mixed with a melange of equally perfumed fresh herbs
The sense of sound can play into the enjoyment of a meal in Vietnam.  Crunchy sounds are an important part of Vietnamese dining.  Soft foods (e.g. noodles) frequently have something crispy for balance (such as peanuts).   Crispy fried shallots are sold in every store.  Another crunch element, these shallots often are used to top a soft rice dish, completing the perfect sound and harmonious textural bite. 

               Toasted white sesame seeds & peanuts create an unexpected crunch in this salad

Touch is also an important sense in Vietnam’s cuisine.  Egg rolls and spring rolls are both examples of hands actually touching the food.  Often served as appetizers to awaken the appetite, the sense of direct contact with the food is an important opening to the remainder of the meal.

             Vietnam's classical dipping sauce provides sweet, sour, salty, & spicy in each bite

Last, but not least is the sense of taste.  There are five elements that must be present for there to be harmony in the taste:   spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet.  Vietnam’s famous dipping sauce (nuoc cham) includes four of the five (bitter is missing), so this condiment always accompanies bitter stir-fried greens.   Everything on the plate is meant to be eaten in concert, creating the perfect balance in each bite.

                                    Duck ("cool") is often served with ginger ("hot")

While ensuring that all of the senses are awakened is vital in Vietnam’s cuisine, there’s also another critical tenet to the yin-yang balance---that of the heating and cooling properties of foods.  Spicy foods (such as ginger) are thought to provide “heat.”  These foods are always paired with other foods (or side dishes) that are considered to be “cool.”   Pickled vegetables, for example, are quite popular in Vietnamese dining as they are considered to be a cooling element.  Similarly, Vietnam’s ubiquitous fish sauce is considered warm, and it is always balanced by something cool.  The classical Vietnamese dipping sauce is a popular concoction that combines fish sauce with sugar and vinegar---both the latter ingredients are considered cool, thus they create the perfect balance.

                                         Vietnam 2020 tour has 8 seats remaining

Come and experience this culinary harmony with Wine-Knows on their food tour of Vietnam.  This trip will begin immediately following the celebration of the Asian New Year in February 2020---a very special time of year.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Can You Taste the Earth Move?

                    Burgundy's Grand Cru hills were created by earthquakes

Some of my favorite wines from around the world are from soils that were created by cataclysmic earthquakes.  The most famous earthquake vineyards are probably those in Burgundy.  Millenniums ago a tremendous earthquake in the area created Burgundy’s Grand Cru vineyards.  The limestone of the Cote’d’Or (the “golden hill”) was forced out of the bowls of the earth by such a seismic event.

Not far from Burgundy are Alsace’s vineyards---they were also created by an earthquake.  The small wine town of Ribeauville sits almost on top of one of the main fault lines.   In fact, there are two main fault lines that criss-cross with several smaller ones in Alsace.  This may be a reason why there is a huge difference among wines that come from vineyards that are relatively close together---different soils have brought to the surface from varying fissures in the earth’s crust.

Further south in France are the earthquake vineyards of Gigondas located in Provence.  But, earthquake vineyards aren’t limited to Europe.  New Zealand was created from powerful underwater earthquakes that caused the seafloor to push up.  Located at the intersection of two of the world’s major tectonic plates, both islands of New Zealand are earthquake in origin.

Let’s not forget the American continents.  The San Andreas fault in California is responsible for the soils of the Central Coast and Napa/Sonoma.  Chile has produced some of the largest earthquakes in the world (a 9.5 in 1960 and the more recent 8.2 in 2014).  The movement of this same tectonic plate millenniums earlier created the Andes, the world’s longest chain of mountains.  Both California and Chile are known for wines created from these earthquake vineyards.

While there is no scientific evidence that fault-line vineyards directly affect the quality of the wine, there is thought that geology does play some kind of role.  For example, it is known that shifting faults lines not only juxtapose different types of bedrock in the soil, but that they affect ground water and can form valleys.  Indirectly, this can effect micro-climates which do have a profound effect on the wine.