Monday, March 25, 2019

Spring Forward Wines

Morels can change a benign dish into sublime!

Spring has sprung and with the changing of the season comes not only a bounty of fresh food products in our Farmer’s Markets but a movement away from the heavier wines of winter.  Let’s, however, get one thing out of the way:  no wines seem to pair well with one of Spring’s most famous vegetables, asparagus.  

After a long rainy winter, there’s nothing more welcoming than a profusion of wild mushrooms.  At the top of my list are morels, a earthy flavor bomb.  One of my favorite ways to prepare them is the classical French style: a sautee with shallots, butter and garlic.  I serve them along-side a grilled meat such as spring lamb or chicken.   An earthy Pinot Noir is a perfect pairing for both proteins, as well as the morels.   Try for an aged Pinot versus a younger one…older Pinots have more earthy profiles while the younger ones boast more fruit flavors.

Spring also means an abundance of tender lettuces and also watercress.  One of my favorites for this time of year is Julia Child’s recipe for watercress Vichyssoise. The color is definitely in the spring palette and depending upon Spring’s tricky weather, the soup can be served cold or warm.   The best wine?   Watercress is delicate so I suggest using a matching profile wine.  Regardless of what temperature the soup is served, I would head for a Gruner Veltliner or an unoaked, steely Chardonnay.

Fresh green peas and tender green beans are also some of Spring’s edible gems.  Either of these would work beautifully in a pasta dish with a light cream sauce.  A lighter red wine (such as a Pinot Noir) which cuts through the fat of the cream but does not overwhelm, would pair well, but also a Sauv Blanc or an oaked Chardonnay (which also cuts the fat) would also work with the cream.  

Strawberries and Spring are synonymous.  A cold strawberry soup is a gorgeous way to begin a Spring meal.   The recipe below (from the NY Times) is a delight and pairs with a Gruner or a warm weather Sauv Blanc that has more robust fruit (versus grass) flavors.

There’s a theme here.  Wines that match with Spring’s bounty are often Pinots, Gruners, Chars, and Sauv Blancs.  Next week we’ll take an in depth look at Sauv Blanc.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Gifts to Bring Home from Champagne

Wine-Knows will be in the Champagne district of France in June.  While bringing home heavier-than-norm bottles of Champagne may not sound enticing, below are some suggestions for light weight alternatives than can easily be transported back in luggage.

 Wine-related gifts
One of my favorite items to bring home is a Champagne stopper to keep in those precious bubbles.  I usually buy a dozen and gift them with a bottle of sparkling wine.   Another eye-catching present is an insulated cover for a Champagne bottle.

The best place to buy wine-centric gifts in Champagne?  There is none better than the Veuve Clicquot’s gift shop in Reims which offers a mesmerizing collection of gorgeous items.

The most famous food specialty in the Champagne district is the Biscuits de Reims.  These brightly colored pink cookie-like sweets have been produced in Champagne since the 17th century and can be found throughout the area packaged in pretty boxes for travel.

   Another yummy souvenir is chocolate bouchons (champagne corks).  What         wine-lover wouldn’t be impressed with a box of beautifully wrapped                   bouchons?  My favorite chocolatier is Vincent Dallet in Epernay (he also 
   makes Biscuits de Reims).

Last but not least there is foie gras.  Produced in the nearby area of Alsace, foie gras is one of France’s classical gourmet products.  Packaged in small metal tins, it can easily be transported in checked or hand luggage.

Champagne is <100 miles east of Paris.  I love shopping in Reims for clothes as there is a wide assortment of small boutiques and many have the latest fashions from the City of Light.   Interested in a silk scarf?  Most of the Champagne houses offer a scarf with their logo….or a tie for men with their logo.

If you’re not up to bringing home full bottles of Champagne, perhaps you would consider half bottles?  Small formats are not easy to come by in the US so why not pick them up while you can…and have a travel memory as well?

Bon Voyage!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Foodie Gifts from Burgundy

Wine-Knows will be in Burgundy in early June.  We’ll be staying in the fairy-tale medieval village of Beaune at the 5 star hotel Le Cep.  Within 10 minutes’ walk of Lep Cep lies a vast array of enticing shops that offer fabulous shopping opportunities for any food and wine-lover.    Below are items that are found in charming Beaune and can easily transported home in luggage.

          Articles for a dining table

There are several gift stores that sell wine-themed table linens---everything from tablecloths to napkins and placemats.  These shops also sell interesting items such as name card holders in the shape of a grape cluster, and sets of Beaune's Premier Cru coasters.


Wine-related gifts

Almost every store in town seems to have something in it related to wine.  One of my faves is a wine opener made from an actual Burgundian grape vine.  Or, how about an ingenious bottle “necklace” to proudly display the cork on the bottle of wine?  

               Culinary items

There are several cooking stores in Beaune.  In all of them you’ll find plates and serving pieces for the region’s famous escargot bourguignon.   

Want a Burgundian cookbook?  There are many throughout the town available in English.

          Regional food specialties

There are two classical food products from Burgundy.  Dijon is only 20 minutes away, however, the best mustard in Burgundy is from Beaune’s Fallot Mustard.  Every store in town carries small jars and the factory is an easy walk from the center of town. 

A type of gingerbread (pain d’epices which literally translates to “spice bread”) is the other traditional favorite.   There are stores that specialize in making it where you’ll find it in every shape and size.  It is so famous, however, that it can be purchased in many shops in the city of Beaune as well as the city’s weekly Saturday market.


If you’re not up to bringing home a full bottle of wine, what about half of a bottle?   Very few small bottles come to the US so these offer a great opportunity to bring home a taste.   There’s also Burgundy’s famous Cassis liqueur made from black currants grown in the hills above Beaune.  Used to make the iconic Kir and Kir Royale (or desserts), Creme de Cassis can also be purchased in small bottles.

My favorite Beaune shops in which to purchase the above are:

      ~ Le Vigneron Marcel Louis –6 Rue Alsace (table, wine-related, & culinary items)

      ~ Athenaeum de la Vigne et Du Vin---5 Rue Hotel Dieu (table, wine-related, & 
         culinary items)

      ~ Hospice de Beaune Giftshop---Rue Hotel Dieu (wine related souvenirs)

      ~ Dennis Perret Wine Shop---40 Rue Carnot (alcohol)

Friday, March 1, 2019

California Dreamin’.....TRUFFLES !

                             A Wine-Knows group recently attended the Truffle Festival in Italy

Dreams do come true:  truffles are now being harvested in Northern California.  It’s ironic that some of the first truffles are coming from the Sierra foothills, the area of the state’s historic Gold Rush in 1849.  There’s definitely “gold in them their hills,” and it's now in the form of black truffles.

For those of you who don’t know truffles, they are among the culinary world’s priciest treasures.  White truffles, the most expensive gourmet item on the planet, even exceeds the price of caviar.   Black truffles, the species now grown  in California, are much less aromatic and flavorful but they are still gastronomic gems.   The black truffle is one of Southern France and Italy’s Umbria most prized food products.

The foothills of California are not the only site in the state where truffles have been harvested this year.  Some ten years ago several farmers in Sonoma wine country decided to plant oak and chestnut trees (both of these trees are famous in Europe for attracting truffles).  The trees were inoculated with the truffle spores.  Truffles grow underground with the help of Mother Nature near the roots of these trees in France, Italy and Croatia…so why not California with a little help of science? 

While there are several truffle pioneers in California, one of the most famous is  Tuck Taylor.  Once in charge of the French Laundy’s garden, Tuck is now employed by the Jackson Family Wine Company.  The Jackson Family operation harvested 25 pounds of truffles in their first season.  Most of these truffles were sold to the gourmet temples of dining in Northern Cali.  It’s interesting to note that other truffle orchards have been planted in the San Luis Obispo area and as far north as Mendocino county.   None of them are producing truffles yet, but it often takes from 5-10 years for truffles to propagate.

Ten years ago the idea of growing truffles in California was simply a dream.  And, I’m already dreaming of my first bite of the golden state’s black truffles.