Friday, August 30, 2019

8 Important Facts about Chardonnay

1.  Popularity
Although many think that Chardonnay wine consumption peaked in the early 1990’s, that isn’t true internationally.  In spite of the ABC (“anything but Chardonnay”) movement that began prior to the millennium, Chardonnay today is the second most planted white wine grape in the world.  (Airén, a varietal from Spain, is numero uno).  Among all wine grapes, Chardonnay ranks 5th in the vineyards across the globe.

2.  Origin
DNA research has unveiled that Chardonnay is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc.   The Romans are thought to have brought Gouais Blanc from Croatia to Burgundy.  Pinot Noir, thought to actually be indigenous to Burgundy, mixed in the vineyard with Gouais and birthed Chardonnay centuries ago.

3. Old World versus New World
Burgundy is the epitome of the traditional old world style Chardonnay:  think less is more.  In Burgundy there is little (if any) new oak used, less manipulation (e.g. pumping over, punching down, fining), less alcohol, less fruit, and more minerality. Burgundy’s lean and mineral-laced Chablis is a classic example of old world style Char.

In contrast, new world Chars don’t follow centuries of European wine-making tradition.  New world winemakers push the envelope with riper fruit (leading to bolder, more fruit-forward aromas and tastes, as well as higher alcohol levels).   They also use techniques such as punching down and pumping over more often to extract more flavor.  New world Chars are also typically vinified using some new oak barrels.

4.  Oak
There are two other distinct styles of Chardonnay:  those aged in oak barrels or wine aged in stainless steel.  Many American Chars are oaked, and their degrees can range from a light use of oak to the full-on version of oak.  Several consider oaky Chars to have more layers of complexity.  Oak with Char translates to flavors ranging from vanilla, to toasted nuts or even crème brûlée.   On the other hand, for some the unoaked Chardonnay is viewed as the more pristine of the two.

5. Aromas & Flavors
Chardonnay’s profile is dependent upon several factors.  Obviously oak is a factor, as is the ripeness of the grapes.  In cooler climates where fruit is less ripe, one can expect Chars to lean toward a lemon profile with green apple notes.  Warmer weather Chardonnays are tropical often with aromas and flavors of pineapple and mangoes.   Moderate climates bring pear, peach and apricots flavors.

Buttery can be another descriptor of Chardonnay’s flavor.  This component comes from Malo-Lactic fermentation (often shortened to “ML”).   ML is a chemical process that winemakers can use to soften the acidity of wines such as Chardonnay.  In the process of softening, ML used with Char adds a butter-like flavor along with a velvet-like, creamy textures to the wine.

6.  Sparkling Wine
Chardonnay, one of the three grapes allowed by law in Champagne, is used all over the world to also make bubbly wine.  If Blanc de Blanc appears on the label, this means that the wine is 100% Chardonnay.

7.  World’s Best Chardonnay?
That is totally subjective depending upon what style appeals to you.  Oaked?  Unoaked?  Old World?  New World?  Cool climate or warm?  While I like them all, I tend to lean more toward the slightly oaked versions of both old world and new.  For example, I just returned from Burgundy where I tasted some jaw-dropping white Burgundies (all, of course, are made from the Chardonnay grape).   One of my favorites was the Cuverie of the Hospice de Beaune’s 2018 Bâtard-Montrachet (barrel-tasted), but I also loved Drouhin’s 2016 Corton Charlemagne.   Here in California I am a raving fan of Dehlinger and Merry Edwards’ renditions.  Again, the best is in the eyes of the beholder.

8.  Food Pairing
One size does not fit all when pairing Chardonnay with food.  Chardonnay, as discussed above, comes in many different styles and the type of Char must be addressed when pairing it with food.  Here are some general guidelines:
  • Unoaked Chardonnay pairs best with delicate foods such as simply prepared seafood, fish or chicken.  
  • Moderately oaked Chardonnay can work with richer foods such as lighter cream sauces.
  • Fully oaked Chars can take on foods that have an extra degree of richness such as pasta with a heavy cream sauce, lobster or scallops in a cream sauce, and meats served with a cream sauce.  Also rich cheeses and even foie gras can work with these big Chars.
  • Try to match flavors in the Chardonnay with those in the food.  For example, if you have a warm climate Chardonnay with rich tropical flavors, use similar flavors in the food to complement the wine (e.g. a mango-infused sauce).  Or, play to ripe Chardonnay’s impression of sweetness by serving it with ingredients such as corn, butternut squash or sweet potatoes, as well as foods that are carmelized.
  • Last, foods that don’t work well with Chardonnay include any type of tomato sauce or spicy dishes.

Friday, August 23, 2019

8 Things You Should Know About Sauv Blanc

It’s the beginning of the harvest for white wine grapes in California.  This is the first in a series of several articles.  Each week of the harvest a different grape will be showcased.  We’ll start with the varietal that is usually picked first, Sauvignon Blanc, and we’ll end with the grapes that are picked last (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel).

Here are the important details to know about Sauv Blanc:

#1)   What is the Origin of Sauv Blanc?  
Sauv Blanc’s origin is France.  DNA researchers have traced its birthplace to the Bordeaux area. 

#2)   Is there any connection between Sauv Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon?
Yes.  Sauv Blanc is actually one of the parents of Cab.  The other parent is Cabernet Franc.  The crossing of these two varietals occurred sometime during the 18th century in France.

#3)   What about Fumé Blanc?
Sauv Blanc and Fumé Blanc are the exact same grape.  In the 1960’s Robert Mondavi, a marketing guru, decided to make quality, dry Sauv Blanc.  To differentiate his wine from most of the Sauv Blanc swill being produced at the time, he changed his wine’s name to Fumé Blanc (a play on words from France’s famous wine, Pouilly Fumé).  It was a genius marketing maneuver and his Fumé Blanc became an instant best-seller.

#4)   Where is the best Sauv Blanc made?
“Best” is in the eyes of the beholder.  Sauv Blanc, grown in many international wine regions, is currently one of the world’s most popular wine grapes.  France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux produce stunning renditions.  There is also extremely well made Sauv Blanc in New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa.  Additionally, in the US, California and Washington offer well-crafted Sauv Blancs.

#5)   How can so many diverse climates produce quality Sauv Blanc?
The Sauv Blanc grape thrives in both cool climate areas, as well as warmer climates, however, the wines are very different.  Cooler microclimates produce wines that have grassy, citrus (especially lime and grapefruit), and even gentle floral notes such as elderflower.  Warmer climate Sauv Blancs have flavors that develop with warmer temperatures such as ripe stone fruit (think luscious peach), or even tropical nuances. 

#6)  Is Sauv Blanc only dry, or are there any quality sweet versions produced?
Because of Sauv Blanc’s high acidity, it works especially well with sweet wines to balance their sweetness.  Bordeaux’s famous sweet wine, Sauternes, is produced from Sauv Blanc.  This grape is extremely welcoming to Botrytis, the “noble rot” which causes the grape to dehydrate and chemically change its flavor and aroma structure.

#7)  What about oak and Sauv Blanc? 
Sauv Blanc can swing both ways.  In an unoaked Sauv Blanc the wine’s fruit flavors are the star of the show.  If the wine is aged in oak, the fruit flavors are still present, however, you’ll also find additional nuances associated with oak such as vanilla, coconut, butterscotch, and even caramel flavors.  

#8)   How does Sauv Blanc pair with food?
Dry Sauv Blanc is a dream with food because of its acidity.  First, the acidity can cut through the fattiness of foods (think cream sauces, cheeses, and dishes with butter).   Sauv Blanc also works well with lighter foods such as simply prepared fish and shellfish.  The sweet version (still with a high acidity), works well to temper the fat as well (e.g. foie gras or crème brulee).

How about a Sauv Blanc tasting this harvest season featuring wines from around the world?  Perhaps you could pick two cool climate wines (in the case of California, that would be Sonoma) and contrast them with two warmer climate versions (think Napa).

Friday, August 16, 2019

Vietnam’s Exotic Fruits

                                    Vietnam's fruit opens a whole new world for food-lovers

Vietnam is replete with exceptional tropical fruits.  These fruits are a strong part of the nation's culinary profile.  For example, there are as many street food vendors selling fruit as there are serving the country's signature soup dish, Pho.  Fruit is so popular that carving it has become an art-form.  Moreover, no meal in a Vietnamese home is served without some type of fruit.

Most of these exotic fruits are unknown to Americans and Europeans.  However, due to the large population of Vietnamese in California many of the delectable fruits are now showing up in Cali grocery stores.  Not only are they insanely delicious, but they present beguiling opportunities for the foodie to experiment with new products.  

Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world

I simply can't get enough of jackfruit.  I loved this fruit so much that when we moved to San Diego ten years ago I attempted to have a tree planted---until I learned that it took 20 years for the tree to bare the first fruit.  Thankfully, I was able to find an Asian market that carried it.  Last year my local grocer began selling jackfruit, so it appears that I'm not the only one wowed by this seductive fruit.

Jackfruit's taste is somewhere between a pineapple and a banana.  It's distinctive.  It's also addictive.  When cooked, the fruit has a texture similar to pulled pork, thus it has become popular in vegetarian cooking.  (Trader Joe's sells a frozen jackfruit curry that is subline!)  My favorite way, nonetheless, is the raw fruit.

 Durian's taste is delectable

I was introduced to this fruit on my first trip to Vietnam years ago by a Vietnamese friend living in California.  She and I went to Vietnam to retrace her roots from living there as a child.  She made certain to warn me that this fruit was like a horribly stinky cheese in France.  She was right:  just get past the smell and you find a mouth-watering fruit.

Durian's taste, an almost indescribable cacophony of flavors, is a combination of sweet and savory.  The texture is super creamy.  Unfortunately, durian is very expensive due to its short period of ripeness.  Don't miss it if you see it.

Rambutan are harvested twice a year in Vietnam

Rambutan, which belongs to the lychee family, is an absolutely visually stunning fruit.  The first time I saw it I thought it was a flower.  Its Vietnamese name actually translates to "messy hair."  Once peeled, the interior reveals a white fleshy fruit which is a little like a grape in texture and taste.

Longan is eaten raw or dried like a date

Longan is another member of the same family as rambutan and lychee.  Its name means "dragon's eye" for when the fruit is peeled it resembles a large eye.  The fruit's musky sweet taste is similar to that of lychee with gentle flowery notes.  While eaten raw, it is also popular in desserts.

Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit is a feast for the eyes & taste buds

While this fruit is actually native to Central America, it is widely grown throughout Vietnam.  Its bright red shell decorated with green scales resembles a dragon, thus, its name in Asia.  Inside is a white fruit studded with tiny black seeds.  Personally, I don't find much taste at all in the fruit, however, others feel its taste is a cross between a kiwi and a pear.

Star Apple
Star apple's interior is very creamy

The star apple is a gorgeous purple-tinged fruit when fully ripe.  Measuring only 2-3 inches in diameter, the small found fruit gets its name from the star pattern seen when the fruit is cut in half.  A spoon is necessary to scoop out the sweet interior as its delicate jelly-like pulp is juicy.  The Vietnamese call star apple "milk fruit" because of the rich milky liquid that oozes from its center.

The inside of the hard-shelled exterior is a big surprise

Native to Southeast Asia, the mangosteen is one of the best tasting fruits in all of Vietnam.  It's tough exterior resembles an acorn but a soft and sweet interior tastes like a melange of orange, banana and peach.  The fruit's segmented flesh is similar to than of an orange, however, the flesh is white.

Those coming with us to Vietnam in February 2020 will be able to sample most of these fruits on the foodie's tour of Saigon's exciting central market.  There are two seats remaining on this trip:

Friday, August 2, 2019

Worcestershire Was An Accident

                   Worcestershire sauce adds an umami complexity to both salads & meats

Wine-Knows has just returned from its inaugural group to England to sample the Brit’s exploding sparkling wine industry (recently the English “fizz” has beaten numerous well regarded Champagnes in blind tastings).   We stayed in the enchanting Cotswolds area, a region filled with fairy-tale villages right out of a painting my modern day artist Thomas Kinkade.   Worcestershire sauce, created by accident, comes from the Cotswolds' town of Worcester.

In the early 1800’s two pharmacists in Worcester were hired by a local aristocrat to construct a culinary sauce similar to a savory condiment he had tasted in India.  The pharmacists, John Lee and William Perrins, made a concoction but it tasted nothing like what the noble lord had savored on his Indian journey.  Mr. Lee and Mr. Perrins were stuck with an entire barrel of the sauce which set in their basement for years.  One day they discovered the forgotten barrel, re-tasted it and were delighted to discover that it had completely changed to something delicious with the passage of time.

Lea and Perrins began bottling the condiment in 1837 and it became a big hit.  Condiments in Britain at the time were very popular as they gave flavor to an otherwise bland cuisine.  Worcestershire also helped to tenderize tough cuts of meat so it became even a bigger success.   The sauce came to the US in 1839.  To ship it across the Atlantic the company wrapped each bottle in a classical paper wrapper to prevent breakage on the sea journey.  Today, bottles are still wrapped in this brown paper.  Worcestershire, the oldest commercially bottled condiment in the US, is now exported to more than 75 countries.

So what’s in Worcestershire sauce?  Lea & Perrins lists the ingredients on each bottle:   vinegar, anchovies, garlic, molasses, onions, salt, sugar and water.  Although the components are known, the actual recipe is a closely guarded secret. 

Why not celebrate summer with a bottle of English fizz and feature recipes made with Worcestershire?   Worcestershire is terrific as an ingredient in BBQ well as in the dressing of a Caesar salad.

The World’s Best Mussels

                                  Green-lipped mussels with onion & garlic in a wine sauce 

New Zealand’s green-lipped mussels are worth the trip across the Pacific to the southern hemisphere.  The good news, however, is that an international flight is not necessary.   Green-lipped mussels have become so popular in the US that they are now being widely imported.  Upscale Cali restaurants are featuring them cooked with everything from the classical wine and garlic sauce, to an Asian-inspired dish made with coconut milk and lemon-grass.  Google green-lipped mussel recipes and you’ll find nearly a half million suggestions.

So why are these mussels the latest craze?   This varietal (only found in New Zealand) is the largest mussel on planet earth---it can grow to over nine inches in length.  Biggest isn’t always best, but in the case of these mussels it surely is!   These mussels are flavor-bombs.  Their distinctive taste is both sweet and delicate… somewhere between a clam and an oyster.  Their plump meat is also tender and juicy.   In addition, the mussels also work well with a variety of cuisines (in Spain a few months ago I saw them prepared in a saffron-tomato sauce).  Last, let’s also acknowledge that these mussels are absolutely a feast for the eye---their electric green shell color is stunning, and the contrasting bright orange colored meat is a radiant against the backdrop of the green-black shells).

                                        Wine-Knows will visit a mussel "farm" 

The green lipped mussel industry in New Zealand is now valued at more than 350 million US dollars.  If you have a seat on the sold out Wine-Knows' trip in February 2020 to New Zealand you will not only be able to eat these delectable morsels, but will actually visit a mussel farm in the ocean.   Here you'll learn about how the mollusks are grown and harvested.  Then a chef will prepare for your lunch.  Of course, they’ll be washed down with some of New Zealand’s finest Sauvignon Blanc.