Friday, October 26, 2018

Mourvedre---A Glorious Autumn Wine

I have long been a fan of Mourvedre (more-VEH-drah).  In fact, I spent several weeks this summer in the epicenter of Mourvedre production…the South of France.  Some think that this inky dark varietal may be native to this part of France so it’s no wonder that Mourvedre reaches rock-star status in this Mediterranean-kissed area.

Mourvedre is a meaty, full-bodied red wine.  It is also a grape.  Mourvedre is used in the South of France primarily as a blending varietal with Grenache and Syrah.  The Mourvedre adds tannins and structure, along with flavors of dark red berries, spices like cinnamon and black pepper, and herbs such as thyme.  The grape can also add a floral note, usually in the form of violets.  Moreover, Mourvedre is second only to Syrah as the darkest colored wine.

If you’re a Cabernet lover you’ll probably find Mourvedre quite appealing.  In the seaside Bandol area (not far from St Tropez), Mourvedre is produced as a 100% varietal.  These wines can be killer.  Domaine Tempier and Chateau Pibarnon are the perennial faves although their prices have escalated the last few years as these wines continue to become more popular.

Although Mourvedre is most known for making concentrated reds, there are also wonderful Rosés from the varietal being made in the South of France.  Domaine Lafage Miraflors is a solid bet for less than $20.  Tempier makes at outrageously good rendition but its price is double Lafage’s Miraflors at about $40.

Why not try something new this autumn?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Marinated Olives

                                                        A favorite Sicilian rendition 

A favorite activity on Wine-Knows’ autumn trips is visiting an olive farm or an olive oil producer.  Out of my many olive recipes I especially enjoy this crowd-pleaser, a mélange of all different colors, shapes and sizes.  Yes, one can purchase a pre-made mixture at an upscale deli, but I guarantee you none of them taste anywhere this scrumptious. 

In October 2020 Wine-Knows taken over an olive estate in Sicily for two nights.  But, this isn’t just any olive estate.  This one produces award-winning oil that is used by many of Sicily’s Michelin star chefs.  Participants will have a unique opportunity to pick olives, watch the birthing of an extra virgin oil, and then taste on the very same day.  Here's a recipe we learned at a former visit with Wine-Knows.


3 C mixture of various olives in different shapes & sizes
3 shallots, sliced thin
2 Tbsp. Sambuca
¼ c olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
¾ tsp. salt
Pinch cayenne


Rinse olives thoroughly, drain, pat dry. Toss the olives with the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before serving.  Decorate with fennel or other herbs.  (Keeps in frig for a couple of weeks.)

Unfortunately, the trip to Sicily for the olive harvest in 2020 is SOLD OUT.  Do let us know if you have an interest in the waiting list.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The World’s Most Expensive Salt

                            Fleur de Sel reaches rock-star status with caramels or chocolate

Fleur de Sel, once used in ancient times as a medicinal salve, is now the priciest salt on earth.  It has a cult following among serious chefs around the world.  In fact, I think it's safe to say there isn't a Michelin star chef on the planet who doesn't have at least one Fleur de Sel at her/his beckon call.  Ironically, none of these gourmands actually cook with this salt.  Instead, once their cooking is completed, they add a small count of Fleur de Sel to the dish as a final finishing element to further flavor the food.

Originally from France, Fleur de Sel translates to "flower of salt."  It is so named because of its flower-like pattern of crystals.  Now made in other parts of the world, the product goes by the name of Flor de Sal in both Portugal and Spain.  Regardless of country of origin, the process is the same.  As seawater dries in special shallow pools called salt "farms," a delicate crust forms on the top.  Once the water completely evaporates the dried salt "flowers" must be harvested by hand due to their fragile nature.  It's a painstaking, labor-intensive process.  Thus the salt's high price ($10 for four ounces in the US).

Although Fleur de Sel has been popular with foodies for some decades, it was its use in the recent sweet-salty craze with items such as chocolate and caramel that really put it on the culinary map.  While it has long been known that sweet and salt are a perfect pairing, Fleur de Sel behaves differently in these combinations than other salts.  Due to this salt's high moisture content, the crystals often stick together.  This means that Fleur de Sel doesn't dissolve immediately.  Its snowflake structure allows it to dissolve more slowly thereby permitting the taste to linger in your mouth.  Moreover, Fleur de Sel is composed not only of sodium and chloride but of other trace minerals.  These adjunct minerals add complexity which further adds to the salt's unique flavor.

Like a good quality olive oil or fresh herbs, Fleur de Sel is one of those small but essential touches that changes a dish from something ordinary to sublime.  It's half the price in Europe and because its light in weight Fleur de Sel is the perfect tiem to bring in your suitcase from a sojourn across the Atlantic.


Friday, October 5, 2018

The British are Coming!

A Pimms' Cup in the very charming Cotswolds

I spent a glorious two weeks in England this summer. One of the reasons I flew over was to check out the country’s new sparkling wine industry that has been taking the international wine world by storm.  Fizz (as they call their bubbly) has become a new icon like Big Ben, Stilton cheese and Megan Markle.   While much of the fizz was world-class, one of my favorite drinks for their unusually warm summer was Pimms.   I’ve known the drink for 30 years, but my recent visit rekindled my love for it.

Pimms is an usual liqueur made from gin.   It’s a savory concoction of various spices and herbs with citrus overtones.  I don’t think anyone would find drinking it alone very enticing, but mixed with sparkling lemonade, muddled mint, and chopped fruits it’s a wonderfully refreshing way to begin a dinner party…or serve poolside on a warm autumn day.  It’s somewhat a British rendition of sangria---light and easy drinking.  Its low alcohol format (due to being diluted with lemonade), makes for a thirst-quenching drink without making your head spin.

My favorite aperitif with Pimms is called a Pimms’ Cup.  I was served this version by an English woman in the backyard of a glorious waterside home in the Cotswolds.  I’ve made it several times since returning with varying fruits.  Here is my preferred rendition which serves eight persons a Long-Live-the Queen aperitif:

   ~ 1 bottle of Pimms #1
   ~ An equal size bottle of sparkling lemonade (Trader Joe has a great one with low 
   ~ ½ cup of peeled, seeded & chopped cucumber
   ~ 1 small apple, cored & chopped (leave skin)
   ~ 1 cup thinly sliced strawberries
   ~ A handful of fresh muddled mint

Combine all in a pitcher, serve in clear glasses with ice & a sprig of mint on top.

Wine-Knows will be visiting England in June 2019 and there are only two seats left.  In addition to Pimms, we’ll be exploring many of the award-winning fizzes.  Also, dare I mention that we’re also visiting the Bombay Sapphire Gin Factory?   Check it out: