Friday, April 26, 2019

The Tapas Phenomenon

                       Tapas have moved beyond a bite before dinner....they're now dinner!

I'm on way way to Spain.  Tapas, which began in Spain more than 500 years ago, have morphed into the latest foodie movement.  Some years ago many upscale restaurants began offering “small plates.”  Now, it seems the new darling has become “tapas.”   Last week my local Vietnamese restaurant began offering “tapas” on their newly printed menu.  I have seen some Parisian bistros with “tapas” on their daily chalk-boarded specials.   In Italy this last autumn, I noted multiple bars in Venice now referring to their bar snacks (called cicchetti in Italian) as  “tapas.”  

The word tapa comes from the Spanish verb tapar which means “to cover.”  No one knows the exact origin of how tapas were birthed and there are probably as many tales about the origin of the dish as there are different kinds of tapas at a popular tapas bar in Madrid.  Regardless of story, most of them have somewhere the mention of a lid which has some logic since this is the literal meaning of the word.

                                           Tapas in Madrid offer the perfect bite or two.

One of the more common explanations about how tapas began takes place in Cadiz, near Gibraltar.  King Alfonso XIII supposedly ordered a glass of wine.  Seaside Cadiz is quite windy, so to protect the King’s wine from sand the bartender covered the glass with a slice of ham before serving it.  Apparently, the King liked it so much that he ordered another glass with tapa.

                       Tapas go up-market with the addition of quail eggs on top truffle deviled eggs

Other stories speak about a tapa such as a slice of bread being added to protect the wine from fruit flies.  Some folklore takes it another direction:  bars were crowded and there was no room to put a plate when standing at the bar.  Plates began to be placed on top of wine glasses out of practicality.

Tapas started out as a simple thing...a no frills "freebie" for patrons at humble bars in Spain.  Today, the scene is a quite different:  there are pricey tapas of foie gras at France's culinary temples, and every country of the world seems to have tapas on its brain.  Maybe it’s time to get in the spirit and plan a tapas dinner party to celebrate Spring.  Olé!

Friday, April 19, 2019

World’s First *CRYSTAL* Wine Barrel

     The Lalique crystal barrel cost hundreds of thousands of Euros

Wine-Knows will be conducting its last tour to Bordeaux during the grape harvest of 2021.   Rest assured that the group will be visiting this showpiece crystal wine barrel.  Made by Lalique, France’s leading crystal producer, it took artisans more than two years to perfect designs and meticulously construct.  It’s the first one of its type on the globe and according to experts it is a formidable achievement.

The stunning piece-of-art barrel is located in the cellars of one of Bordeaux’s Premier Grand Cru chateaux, Lafurie-Peyraguey.  The historic wine estate commissioned Lalique to make the barrel for the winery’s 400th birthday celebration.  It’s no accident Lalique was chosen…. the owner of Chateau Lafurie-Peyraguey is also the CEO of Lalique.

Chateau Lafurie-Peyraguey is located in the Sauternes district of Bordeaux.  The  pièce de résistance crystal container holds 300 bottles-worth of the estate’s 2013 vintage wine (the first vintage of the Lalique empire owner).  Leather straps have been designed to mimic metal hoops that typically hold a barrel’s wood pieces together.  The leather provides a small degree of protection to the crystal, but the piece is very fragile.  It is met for display only.

In addition to the crystal masterpiece, there are many reasons to visit Chateau Lafurie-Peyraguey.  First, the chateau makes flat-out stunning wine.  Second, Lafurie-Peyraguey just opened a restaurant and it’s already achieved a Michelin star.  When Wine-Knows last visited the winery in 2016, tour participants had an exquisite private dinner at the chateau.  All of the evening’s wines were served in extravagant Lalique wine goblets that had been designed special for Lafurie-Peyraguey. 

I’m not certain how Chateau Lafurie-Peyraguey can top Wine-Knows’ 2016 experience but I’m certainly betting that this class-act chateau will come through.  There are very few seats available for this last tour to Bordeaux.  Why don’t you join us?  Come see the magnificent crystal piece in person, dine with us at the Michelin star, and luxuriate in drinking these gorgeous wines out of jaw-dropping Lalique stemware.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Sassy Sauv Blanc

                   Wine-Knows will be visiting Bordeaux's Chateau-Haut-Brion in 2021               
Sauvignon Blanc is a feisty varietal that can produce wine ranging in flavor from grassy to tropical depending upon the terroir in which it is grown.  The popular grape variety is grown in most of the major wine countries of the world.  In cooler climates such as coastal New Zealand, the grape tends toward the “green profile” (grass, gooseberry, asparagus and lime/limon/grapefruit).  Warmer areas yield Sauv Blancs (think Sonoma) that focus on a ripe fruit profile:  passion fruit, pineapple and peach.

    Wine-Knows will be visiting New Zealand's Sauv Blanc vineyards in 2020

Sauv Blanc’s origin is France.  Sometime in the 18th century, this racy white grape crossed in the vineyard with the red grape Cabernet Franc and birthed a new variety, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Thus, Sauv Blanc is one of the parents of well-loved current day Caberent.

                          France's Loire Valley may be the birthplace of Sauv Blanc

Wines can be made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc or the grape can be blended.  The most famous blend is a white Bordeaux in which Sauv Blanc is mixed with Semillion.   Crisp Sauvignon is combined with voluptuously textured Semillon to complete a near perfect pairing.  A well-made white Bordeaux can be phenomenal.  If you can’t afford Chateau Haut-Brion’s outrageously luscious white ($500), than consider Chateau Brown ($40), a lovely rendition of the marriage.

Best food choices for Sauvignon Blanc?   It all depends on the style of the Sauv Blanc.  The “green” style herbaceous wines pair nicely with dishes containing green herbs such as cilantro, basil or mint.  This is why Sauv Blanc is one of the few dry wines that work well with Asian cuisine.  My favorite New Zealand wines in this style include Dogpoint and Greywacke (both the $25 range).  These two faves have integrated a lemon/lime/grapefruit profile with stone fruit and nuances of herbs.

                                                Sauv Blanc works well with sushi

Sauv Blancs from warmer climates often are made with some oak influence, thus they pair well with chicken or veal, and can work with anything containing butter or cream (including pastas or soups).  I can’t seem to get enough of Merry Edwards’ Sauv, a true benchmark for what a Sauv Blanc should be.  Selling for just under $35,  I think it’s the pinnacle for a Sauv with the tropical flavors.  I serve it as an aperitif, but also have served it with the first course (as long as it’s not a salad), and it is killer with Julia Child’s veal scallopini.

Sauv Blancs versatility makes it a wine to have on your buy list!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Global Warming Wreaking Havoc

                                      Australian winemakers are now spraying sunscreen

Climate change is creating huge problems for the world’s wine industry.  Warmer temperatures are altering how and where grapes are grown, the quality of wine, and are testing the world’s iconic wine regions on whether they can find ways to adapt.

Many factors can influence a wine's taste profile and warmer temperatures are already altering aromas and flavor notes.  Hotter summers makes for shorter growing seasons.  This means that grapes ripen more quickly with sugars, but not all ingredients in the grape are ready.  For example, a well balanced wine requires an equilibrium of acidity and ripeness.   This perfect symbiosis is more difficult to achieve in global warming, as are other nuances that go into making a wine complex.

Due to concerns of global warming, Bordeaux several years ago began experimenting with cooler climate varietals.  Researchers are testing a large number of grape varieties that ripen earlier.  Malbec, once one of the main grapes of Bordeaux, was destroyed by the Phylloxera bug in the late 19th century.  Cabernet and Merlot were replanted in its place.  Scientists now, however, are taking a second look at Malbec in Bordeaux.  With warmer weather, Malbec may be a good candidate as it could now ripen more consistently and avoid the issue of mildew.

Intensifying temperatures are not just troubling Bordeaux. In Australia where temperatures have risen to more than 110 degrees in summer, they are using sunscreen on the grapes to protect them from intense rays.    Many international vintners are experimenting with watering systems and shade strategies.  Others are hoping technology can help with a solution.  Many, are buying land in cooler climates.  Some of Europe’s biggest wine producers are buying land in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in the cooler part of China, and in southern England---where the climate now resembles France’s Champagne region of fifty years ago.

On a recent trip with Wine-Knows this last autumn, we heard stories from many Barolo and Barbaresco winemakers about the warming trend.  One that sticks out in my head is a tale by a 50 year old winemaker.  When he was a young boy, the harvest of red grapes was always mid-October, give or take a few days depending on mother nature.  When he was in his twenties, the fruit ripened in late September.  This last harvest his winery began bringing in grapes in late August.

Let's all do our job to prevent global warming worsening.