Friday, February 22, 2019

Utterly Magnificent Ha Long Bay

After traveling many times around the world there are few places that take my breath away and send a nice warm chill down my spine.  Ha Long Bay is one of the marvels that continues to do so.  It’s no wonder that countless movies have filmed in this idyllic location.  This is nature at its finest.  Mysterious.  Dreamy.  Miraculous.

                                           Deserted beaches & coves abound

Formed 500 million years ago, this magical bay has nearly two thousand dramatic small limestone islands in varying shapes and sizes.  Many are jaggedly topped with a verdant rainbow of tropical trees cascading down to deserted tiny beaches and sun-kissed coves.  Formed by millenniums of a tropical wet climate eroding the limestone mainland, these mystic islands have broken away  from the continental land mass and have taken with them Vietnam’s flora, fauna, and magnificence. Several of the islands are hollow with enormous caves that have yet-to-be discovered by tourists. 

 Some floating villages have their own school & clinic

Ha Long Bay is northern Vietnam’s most popular tourism site.   People from all over the country (and for that matter, from all over Asia) come here…many for honeymoons.  In spite of its mind-boggling number of visitors, Ha Long can offer a tranquil and romantic experience away from crowds.  For example, within 20 minutes of leaving the mainland on a private boat an enormous assortment of private inlets with secluded shores await anyone who wants to escape.  Of the thousands of islands, only 40 are inhabited.  That means endless enchanting opportunities for privacy-seekers in dream-like settings.

                          All of Ha Long is now protected by UNESCO World Heritage

Ha Long means “dragon” in Vietnamese.  Dragons are considered protectors in the Vietnamese culture.   According to folk-lore, when Vietnam was just starting to develop as a country it had to fight against multiple invaders.  To assist in the fight, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors.  Today, Ha Long Bay and all of its islands are protected by another entity.   UNESCO, the United Nation’s World Heritage preservation arm, safeguards the entire area.   Stringent rules have been enacted to protect everything and ensure that it remains pristine for future generations.

                               WineKnows has leased a private yacht for its 2020 tour

WineKnows has leased a private yacht and will be spending two nights on Ha Long Bay as part of our tour to Vietnam in February 2020.  We have a few seats remaining.   Come enjoy the exotic beauty of this very special spot with us.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Presidential Wines

                Stags Leap & Robert Pecota's Sauv Blanc were served at this White House dinner

President’s Day is just around the corner.  Did you know that two Presidents were instrumental in the history of the wine industry in the USA?  A third President had a less pivotal role, however, certainly influenced the course of our current day wine scene.

Thomas Jefferson, who was not only one of the Founding Fathers of our country but an author of the Declaration of Independence and a twice-elected President, was crucial to laying the groundwork for wine in the US.  Jefferson had a colossal love affair with wine.  Soon after graduating from college, the young statesman began collecting wines but his real love affair with it began when he was appointed as the Ambassador to France.   Jefferson returned home with thousands of bottles of wine and even planted his own vineyards in Virginia.  His appreciation of wine spread to colleagues such as George Washington and John Adams.  

Another President critical to the role of wine in America was Franklin Roosevelt.  FDR repealed Prohibition in 1933.  Enacted in 1919, Prohibition was revoked with the 21st Amendment.  It changed the wine landscape entirely.

The third President who played a key role in wine is John F. Kennedy.   JFK, like Jefferson, was a real bon vivant.  While wines had long been served at the White House to accompany special dinners with dignitaries, Kennedy upped the ante on both the quality of food and the wine.  First, let’s remember that the Kennedys brought in a French chef.  Second, they brought in wines that were commiserate with haute cuisine including such stunners as Chateau Haut-Brion and Dom Perignon.   JFK added glamour and style to the “art of dining” at the White House at a time in which the California wine industry was just beginning to blossom.

Below are a few of my favorite affordable wines that have been served at the White House.  Some of them may ring a bygone bell.   BTW...both sides of the house have representation.
    ~ Chimney Rock Reserve Cab (George W. Bush)

    ~ Flowers Pinot Noir (Bill Clinton)
    ~ Monticello Chardonnay (Bill Clinton)
    ~ Saintsbury Pinot Noir (Bill Clinton)
    ~ Shafer Hillside Cab (George W. Bush)
    ~ Sonoma Cutrer Les Pierres Chardonnay (George W. Bush)

Friday, February 8, 2019

White & Red Burgundy

Burgundy is a tiny wine district just 200 miles south of Paris.  Producing a mere two or three percent of France’s total wine, this small region is a behemoth among oenophiles.   Indeed, Burgundy has a hugely loyal following among the world’s most serious wine lovers.  And, both the white and the red are at the pinnacle for many wine aficianados.

Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape in Burgundy, accounting for about half of the total grape production.  If it’s a white Burgundian wine, it is Chardonnay (the only exception is a small production of a very simple white wine made from the Aligoté grape which is often used in Burgundy’s sparkling wine production).  White Burgundies are for many the Holy Grail, however, few can afford the astronomical prices.   In an article on The Top 5 Most Expensive White Wines in the World, a walloping four of them were white Burgundies.  They ranged in price from $5,923 to a mere $1,257 a bottle.

White Burgundy has a cult following.   These Chardonnays, unlike many others in the New World, have a complex minerality.   As all of Burgundy was an ancient inland seabed 70 million years ago, the petrified remains of sea creatures in these resulting limestone soils, can greatly influence the wine’s mineral-like nuances.  Moreover, Burgundy’s Chardonnay is very different from the warmer climate Chardonnay of places like California.  White Burgundy is all about austerity with high acidity and subtle citrus and apple flavors and aromas.  Warm climate Chars tend to be more New World in style: malolactic fermentation (to soften the acidity), oak influences of vanilla and butter, along with ripe fruit flavors like pineapple and tropical fruits.

Red Burgundies are no slouch by any means.  Like their white counterparts, they are also made entirely from just one grape.  If it’s a Red Burgundy, it was made from Pinot Noir.  Also, like White Burgundy, Red Burgundy has achieved rock-star status among the world’s connoisseurs.  By the way:  Pinot Noir never appears on any bottle of wine in Burgundy.  That’s because people know that if it’s red and made in Burgundy, it can only be Pinot Noir.  (The same for Chardonnay…you will never see the varietal’s name anywhere on the Burgundian bottle). 

Like White Burgundy, Red Burgundy is more restrained in its style when compared to the New World Pinots.  Burgundian Pinot is about elegance and subtlety.  In contrast, New World Pinots are all about the fruit (which, by the way, is usually fully ripe which accounts for their more fruit-forward flavors and high alcohols.)  Red Burgundies are prized by serious wine-lovers for these differences.

Wine-Knows has just two spots available on its trip to Burgundy this June.  Come learn about both White and Red Burgundies at their birthplace at some of the region’s super-star producers.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Wines That Pair with Truffles?

It’s truffle season.  One of the world’s most expensive food items, truffles can present some big issues for pairing with wines.   There are several factors to consider when choosing the appropriate wine including the type of truffle that is being served (black or white), the flavor profiles of the wine (earth versus fruit), and other ingredients of the recipe in which the truffle appears which might affect the wine choice (e.g. fat).

First, let’s start with what type of truffle.   All truffles have a wild, musky, earthy flavor.  Because of this truffles of any type can quickly overwhelm a delicate wine.  White truffles, the more expensive, are far more aromatic and pungent than the black varietal.   White truffles require a complex wine to match their robust flavor profile.  For example, an aged red wine that has time to develop tertiary aromas of earthiness works well with the intense savory character of the white truffle.  An older Bordeaux or Barolo can pair beautifully as their fruit profiles are subtle and their earth flavors (e.g. leather and cigar box) have had time to develop.

Black truffles, on the other hand, have less intense musky flavors than their white counterparts.  Nonetheless, even black truffles need a wine that has some age.  Young wines (either red or white) with intense fruit flavors will not pair well as their strong fruits compete with the delicate black truffle.  Instead, serve black truffles with a wine that will mimic the truffle’s gentle earthy profile.  Think, for example, a Pinot Noir with some bottle development.   Floral wines of any type overwhelm black, as well as white truffles, and should be avoided altogether.

One of my favorite white truffle dishes is risotto.  Rice acts as a sponge absorbing every nuance of the ethereal white truffle’s complex savory flavor.  A creamy white truffle risotto needs a complex, creamy wine.  One great pairing is a lightly oaked, older Chardonnay (too much oak would interfere with the truffle and the older wine would have a less intense fruit profile.)  Another possible pairing for risotto is a dry Riesling with a little age.   A creamy sparkling wine with good acidity is another option, however, its fruit needs to be a background note, as do any yeast flavors that can compete with the delicate white truffle flavors and aromas.  A crisp sparkling wine also can help balance the richness of the risotto.

In addition to risotto or pasta, truffles can also complement meat, poultry, fish or seafood.  Keep in mind that when truffles are cooked they loose their flavor, thus, truffles should only be shaved on the top of the dish just before serving.  Use the same principles as with the risotto when pairing wine with these dishes:  choose earthy wines and stay away from florals.

With the exorbitant cost of truffles it’s important to get the wine pairing right.  In summary, avoid both youthful and powerful fruit-driven wines like Zinfandel or Malbec.  Instead, look for aged, complex wines whose musky profiles will complement the ethereal savory truffle.