Friday, December 18, 2020

France's Christmas Markets for Foodies


               France's Alsace region features Hansel & Gretel villages reflecting its Germanic past 

Last week Wine-Knows' 2022 trip to the Christmas Markets of Germany was featured on this Blog.  But, on the 2022 tour Wine-Knows will also be visiting two French Marchés de Noëin Alsace, France.  Alsace is a small district in eastern France which borders Germany, as well as Switzerland.  This unique region has passed back and forth between France and Germany many times over the last several centuries, and the Alsatian Christmas markets reflect this duality.  In many ways, the marchérepresent the best of both countries in a prettily packaged German yuletide gift with an exquisite French culinary bow.

                                         Wine-Knows will dine at a Michelin star restaurant

Alsace is an often overlooked area of France, but foodies-in-the-know flock to this  gastronomic powerhouse.  Other than the center of Paris, Alsace has more Michelin star restaurants per square kilometer than any other country in Europe.  This northeast corner of France is a capital for foie gras.  Moreover, Alsace is a treasure trove for beautifully crafted wines.  Its Rieslings, Gewurztraminers and Pinot Gris are dry, unlike their German neighbors (although styles in Germany are shifting to drier wines).

                             Christmas markets in France have charmed locals for nearly 500 years           

Strasbourg, the capitol of Alsace, is the site of one of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets.  Operating since 1570, Strasbourg’s market is regarded as one of the very best in Europe.  It’s not just one big market but eleven different smaller markets spread out over the entire historical center of this extraordinary town.  (One of these markets is just for children.)  The Christmas tree in front of city hall is >100 feet tall and all ten stories of it are decked out in full regalia.  There’s a mind-boggling assortment of handcrafted items for the holiday season including everything one could ever dream of to decorate a Christmas tree or to deck the halls.  For the food-lover, however, it’s nirvana.

                         Why not splurge with a decadent slice of foie gras from this vendor at the market?

Santa’s elves could seriously eat their way across Strasbourg through the Christmas markets.  No doubt they would begin their culinary journey with foie gras, one of the culinary treasures of Alsace.  The Christmas marchés of Strasbourg are filled with beaucoup vendors selling foie gras.  Truly decadent elves might want to indulge in truffle studded foie gras, or purchase a magnificently wrapped basket containing both goose and duck foie gras, caviar, and a bottle of a luscious Alsatian wine.

                 Light-as-air Kougelhofts come in varying sizes, but all are made in the same shape

All of the Christmas markets in Strasbourg sell Alsace’s iconic Kougelhoft, an ethereal yeast-based cake baked in a tall decorative bundt-type mold.  A traditional Germanic recipe, Kougelhoft is featured in miniature single servings, as well as gigantic ones that could feed a family of 20 for Christmas dinner.  The markets also feature vendors selling brightly colored Kougelhoft molds that are hand-painted.

                 Bring an extra suitcase to take home some of these one of a kind decorations

The second Marché de Noël Wine-Knows will visit in 2022 is located in the charming Hansel and Gretel village of Colmar.   While Strasbourg is a huge city, Alsace's Colmar is just the right size for strolling.  Its six small marches, spread out over a half of a mile walk along a meandering river, are like a Christmas dream. 

                An Alsatian specialty called Flammekeuche marries the best of France & Germany

Flammekeuche is sold by several vendors at Colmar's Christmas market.  An Alsatian version of pizza without the tomatoes, this one has a paper thin crust.  The top reflects the French DNA and France’s love affair with cheese.  In this case it’s topped with the area’s famous Muenster cheese (in another world from the insipid  mass-produced muenster cheese sold in the USA).   For the other chromosome of its German past, flammekeuche is topped with ham or bacon.

                              Gingerbread cookies feature a multitude of yummy spices

One can find plenty of Christmas stalls in Colmar selling homemade pain d’epices, spice bread.  A classical dessert of Germanic culinary roots, pain d’epices is Alsace’s rendition of gingerbread.  At the Christmas market this bread is also made as a cookie in all shapes of the yuletide season.  The cookies pair perfectly with Alsace’s Christmas market hot spiced wine drink, vin chaud.

                  Colmar's Christmas markets meander through the historic town center

For more information on Wine-Knows’ 2022 trip to the Christmas markets of France and Germany, the trip is showcased on our website:

 Joyeux Noël

Friday, December 11, 2020

Christmas Markets of Germany for Foodies

                       Even the angels are captivated by the glory of Europe's Christmas markets

The Christmas markets of Europe were one of the last things on my bucket list.  Thus, a few years ago for my hallmark December birthday, I flew over for what turned out to be one of the most enchanting times I’ve had in Europe.  I’m not a cold weather gal, but with appropriate gear I found the temperatures not nearly as bad as I had imagined (especially with a glass of hot mulled wine).

                                           Labor-intensive "stollen" is available by the slice

Germany is the epicenter of Europe’s Christmas markets.  Many Christmas traditions have their origins in Germany…from the Christmas tree and rituals of holiday decorations, to gingerbread houses and the Advent calendar.  Another German custom is the Christmas market.  With roots in the Middle Ages, Germany’s modern day Christmas markets are some of the most magical events in all of Europe.


                                             Sausages ("wursts") are grilled over wood fires

Christmas markets in Germany are also a foodie’s delight.   Specialty labor-intensive food products made only during the holidays are featured.  Stollen, a time-consuming dense bread filled with nuts, spices and dried fruit is one of the "only at Christmas" edibles.   Then, there are the extraordinary sausages which come in every size and shape. Home-made sauerkraut that has been marinating in dry Riesling for several months, is addictive (and, thankfully, tastes absolutely nothing liked the canned rendition).  Cheeses abound:   there’s a popular raclette-type dish, and a pizza-like specialty called Flammkuchen topped with cheese, onions and crème fraiche.  Holiday gingerbread cookies are big at the markets, each one hand-decorated.

                                        Stalls compete for the most beautiful decor

German Christmas markets are a bacchanal for the senses.   Think adult Disneyland for the holidays with over-the-top decorations such as fully decked out 50 foot Christmas trees, life-size Santas with a sleighs and reindeers perched on rooftops, and the most mind-blowing illumination of huge squares that one could ever imagine.  Each booth at these outdoor extravaganzas are works of art themselves with every vendor trying to out decorate their competitors.  Stalls selling hand-blown glass ornaments in a dazzling array of colors, mix with artisans at the next booth selling exquisite hand-made jewelry.

Artists work the entire year preparing for hand-made Christmas gifts

Even the smells of the Christmas markets are intoxicating.  Divine scents of roasting chestnuts over open-wood fires mix with the aromas of simmering hot spiced wine, grilled sausages in every size and shape, mushrooms simmering in  wine & garlic, and a plethora of freshly cut pine trees.  But, let’s not forget the music:  groups of carolers abound (many dressed in period costume), string quartets play classical carols, and bands decked out in traditional regalia fill the air with polka-style holiday music.  It’s a cacophony for the senses.

              Historical squares & castles serve as backdrops for Germany's Christmas markets

Wine-Knows will advertising their first-ever trip to the 2022 Christmas markets of Germany and France next month.  We already have several pre-marketing signups, but at this time there are nine spaces available.  Check out the trip:

Friday, December 4, 2020

Pink Bubbles for the Holidays

Pinot Noir is responsible for the color of Rosé Champagne

There’s something about the holidays that screams bubbly.   And, I’m all about making the month of December colorful so I’ve chosen my five favorite pink bubbles.  They are all French and all five are made from Pinot Noir grapes (thus the pale pink color caused by a short contact with Pinot’s red skins).   

Four of the five are Champagnes (only sparkling wine made in the region of Champagne can legally be called Champagne.)  The fifth one, called Cremant in lieu of Champagne), is made just across the border in France’s Burgundy which is contiguous with Champagne.  The Cremant is a crazy steal, two are in the moderate price range for Champagne, the other two are about 80 bucks but represent terrific quality even for this upper range.   All are non- vintage.

Listed in order of ascending price:

JCB “69” Cremant.  We were served this “sparkling wine” recently in the home of two bon vivants in the wine business.  It was superb.  When I was told the price ($9.99 at Costco), we went out immediately and purchased a case.

Ployez-Jacquemart Rosé:  We always take our Wine-Knows groups to this family-owned boutique producer in the Champagne countryside just outside of Reims.  I can’t think of another Champagne house that produces such a terrific value.  $45 online.  


Paul Bara Brut Rosé:  Consistently ranked with an outstanding quality price ratio by many international critics, this one is a perennial favorite of ours.  Available at good wine shops and online at $60  


Mouton Rothschild Rosé:   Mouton Rothchild  is famous for its Bordeaux, however, its Champagne (made, of course, in Champagne) is a knockout.  $75 at various online stores.  Thanks, Carrol & Steve, for this winning introduction.


Billecart Salmon Rosé:   I was gifted this wine >30 years ago for my birthday and still remember my first sip.  The bottle’s shape is seductive, but it’s the contents of the bottle that will completely seduce you.   BevMo which offers it for $79.99.


Have a bubbly holiday season....




Saturday, November 28, 2020

Phenomenal Persimmons !

Persimmons are one of the culinary world’s astonishing gifts.   It seems everyone is taken with their gorgeous color, but I’m always surprised at the number of people who don’t know quite what to do with them.    I can think of endless yummy possibilities for this fruit of Asian origin.

                          Hachiya is larger & acorn shaped;  Fuyu is smaller & squatty

First, there are several varieties of persimmons and they are very different.  The two most common in California are the Hachiya and the Fuyu.   Hachiya are the larger of the two, shaped like an acorn.  Be mindful that this varietal is quite tannic and must be fully ripe (i.e. ooey gooey soft) before eating.  Fuyu is by far my fave---in fact we have planted two Fuyu trees.   Unlike Hachiya, Fuyu can be eaten when rock-hard and they are absolutely delicious.  

                                         Autumn salad is frequently on our menu

My favorite persimmon dish is one of the simplest---preparation takes maybe 15 minutes.   I call it “autumn salad.”   Other than the vinaigrette salad dressing (EVOO, balsamic, shallot & Dijon mustard), it has four ingredients:  fuyu persimmon, blue cheese (I prefer Stilton but Roquefort is also terrific), lettuce (I especially like arugula) and roasted nuts (love pecans or walnuts).    This is a perennial dish at our house during the fall and winter months. 

                                      Stephanie's persimmon cake is totally phenomenal

Fuyu persimmons do soften to the point that they’re no longer possible in a salad.  No worries as I use them in desserts----everything from cakes to more adventurous versions of Trifle and Tiramisu.   I was given the recipe below for a persimmon spice cake nearly 40 years ago by a dear friend (who had obtained it from an elderly woman).  It’s one of my most treasured recipes, and a great way to use persimmons of any variety that have softened.   The cake is also perfect for the upcoming holidaze.


3 cups pureed persimmons (either variety will work)

2 tspns baking soda

½ cup butter at room temp

1 2/3 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 tspsns lemon juice

2 tspsns vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tspn baking powder

1 tspn salt

1 tspn ground cloves

1 tspn ground cinnamon

½ tspn ground nutmeg

1 cup walnuts

½ cup raisins


Add baking soda to fruit and set aside (but use very soon as it will turn into a solid block).   In a separate large bowl, beat butter and sugar with a mixer.  Add flour and spices.  Then, add persimmon mix and stir until just blended.  Last, add in nuts and raisins.

Pour into greased and floured pan (can use a tube pan or any other cake pan).  Bake at 350 for 55-60 minutes, pending type of pan utilized.

If you really want to be decadent, you can add icing (like that great recipe of cream cheese + powdered sugar + butter), but it really doesn’t require it.   A dollop of whipped cream can be added, but most of the time I serve it plain and wait for the accolades to begin.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Wines to Pair with Turkey

                                            Wine-Knows has much for which to be thankful

Thanksgiving is just around the corner so many of us are making preparations for a holiday dinner.  What type of wine we serve will depend upon the preparation of the turkey.  For example, wines that best accompany a smoked turkey differ from those that pair with a traditional roasted turkey.  For those deep frying your turkey, this requires other wines.   As a lover of smoked turkey, I'll start there.

Smoked Turkey

Smoking imparts bold flavors so a smoked turkey requires a bold wine.  If you’re a red lover, I would recommend a Syrah.  A good Syrah offers a range of deep complex flavors that can stand up to the smoking process.  In fact, Syrah often has a smoke profile with nuances of bacon, spicy notes of white or black pepper and black fruits.  All of these partner nicely with a smoked meat.    


While Zinfandel would work with smoked turkey, Zins have high alcohol content.  Assuming most Thanksgiving celebrations will start with pre-dinner holiday libations, I’m hesitate to recommend Zinfandel for this reason.  No one wants a Thanksgiving that involves over-drinking.  Nonetheless, in moderation, Zin’s big black fruit along with tobacco and spice flavors can work beautifully with smoked meat.


If you’re serving a smoked turkey and prefer to feature a white wine then this certainly is yet another option.  Like red wine, a white paired with a smoked turkey needs to be able to stand up to the strong smoke flavors.  The best white wine to do so would be a dry Riesling, preferably one with a little age on it.  


Deep Fried Turkey

To choose a wine for a fried turkey, one has to consider the pre-frying process.  Recipes many times call for a rub (common ingredients include brown sugar, paprika and chili powder).    A flavor-chocked rub demands a wine that can stand up to it such as a Syrah or Zin.  Other methods prior to frying involve injecting the bird with a liquid such as lemon juice, butter, olive oil, and ground herbs.  If this method is used an oaky and/or buttery Chardonnay would work, as would a Merlot for red lovers.


Roast Turkey

Classic roast turkey and stuffing can work with a multitude of wines, pending the side dishes served.  If a traditional feast is prepared (e.g. with a side of cinnamon-laced sweet potatoes, buttery mashed potatoes and rich gravy), then I suggest a dry Gewurztraminer which can cut through the richness and play well with the spice.   Less sweet side dishes and a roast turkey with stuffing pairs well with a Pinot Noir.


Have a joyful day of giving thanks and stay safe...even if it's family.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Spain’s Greatest Culinary Gift---Membrillo


                                        The perfect autumn bite, membrillo & manchego

Membrillo is a thick jam made from quince fruit….think of a very thick version of apple sauce in the form of a nearly-solid brick.  My husband and I so love membrillo that quince was one of the first of 30 fruit trees that we planted when we moved to San Diego over ten years ago.  Quince is closely related to the family of apples and pears, and like it’s relatives it ripens in the fall.   It’s time to make membrillo!

                          Our quince tree is loaded with fruit, each the size of a large apple

Once a very popular fruit, quince has sadly fallen from popularity in the US.  Most Americans (including many foodies) don’t even know what it is, let alone know the incredible confection it can make.    Membrillo is thought to have originated in Spain.  Many countries in Europe, however, make their own version of a thick quince jam (e.g. France where it is called pate de coing; in Italy it is referred to as cotognata;  and the Portuguese say marmelata).   Wildly admired in all of South America, it is called dulce de membrillo in the southern hemisphere.


                           I often serve membrillo with fresh quince for a still-life effect

Membrillo is used both for breakfast and dinner.   Served like a jam for breakfast, membrillo is often served with toast in Europe or South America.  In the evening, membrillo can appear as an appetizer (manchego cheese and membrillo are a perfect bite before dinner with a glass of cava).   Membrillo can also perform after dinner on a cheese tray with roasted nuts and a loaf of a great bread, or substituted in a recipe for any dessert using a jam (think Trifle for the upcoming holidays, a tarte, or even a rustic galette).


             This Manchego cheesecake with membrillo topping may grace our Thanksgiving table

Just like any fruit jam, making membrillo requires cooking quince with sugar.  Farmer’s markets sometimes have quince this time of year but if you can’t find it don’t despair.  The already made membrillo is widely available for sale on the Internet.   Or, join Wine-Knows next autumn for one of their two trips to Spain:

Friday, November 6, 2020

Italy’s Best Soft Cheese

                                           La Tur is one of Italy's gastronomic treasures

For nearly twenty years I’ve been extolling the virtues of La Tur cheese.   Oui, it has a French sounding name but the cheese is actually made in the foothills of the Italian Alps.   Hailing from the same district as the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as the highly prized white truffle, La Tur ranks in the same premier gastronomic category as these other super-stars from Italy’s Piedmont area. 

La Tur offers the best of three cheese worlds: goat, sheep and cow.  It seems La Tur combines all the best characteristics of each animal’s milk, creating a delicious product where the sum is greater than the parts.  There is a grassy-citrus tang like a goat cheese.  The sheep’s milk contributes a mild nutty profile.  Finally, there’s the super rich and buttery nuance from the cow’s milk.     

This Italian cheese rock-star  is luscious.   Few cheese have a more succulent and silky texture.  Available in small rounds of about two inches in diameter, this meritage cheese is the perfect size for an autumn dinner for two persons.   Served with a ripe pear, a decadent fuyu persimmon, yummy fall figs, some roasted walnuts and a loaf of artisanal bread I can’t think of a better meal that requires only five minutes of prep time.

Enjoy the fall colors….and La Tur (which is available at most cheese stores, as well as Whole Foods).

Buon appetito!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Granada & Seville: Spain’s 2 Jewels

Granada’s Alhambra Palace is one of the architectural treasures of Europe

 A client who is coming on the Wine-Knows' Mallorca tour next year asked me recently, “Which city in Spain is your favorite?”   While I love Madrid, I immediately knew that my numero uno choice had to be either Granada or Seville.   But, which one?  Both are located in Spain’s southern Andalusia region which borders the Mediterranean.  Choosing would be very difficult.

The Alhambra can be seen from all over Granada

Granada is arguably one of Spain’s most compelling cities.  Located at the foot of the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains, it was ruled by the Moors for over 800 years.  In fact, Granada was the last Moorish stronghold in all of Spain.  This city is world famous for its Alhambra Palace, a walled fortress that is one of Europe’s most breathtaking pieces of architecture.  But, there is so much more to Granada than this astonishing Islamic citadel.

The historic old town offers authentic charm

Granada has a palpable soul.  The city has an energy, especially the historic Moorish quarter that surrounds the spectacular hilltop Palace.   Known as the Albaicin quarter, think of it as an exotic Casbah with meandering cobblestone alleys, a mélange of intimate flamenco clubs, atmospheric Bohemian cafes… and then layer on seductive bars with twinkling lights, exotic aromas from both restaurants and homes, and a distant guitar serenading lovers.  Granada's old town is intoxicating. 

Seville seduces both the young and old

Seville, on the other hand, has been voted one of the globe’s Top 10 cities to visit.  It has an air of sophistication.  It’s passionate.  It’s also mucho romantico.  There’s no wonder why the city is the capitol of passion-based flamenco dancing, and one of the most loved by travelers in Europe.  Sevilla has all the trappings for allure, including horse-drawn carriages, quiet pedestrian-only cobblestone streets, a jaw-dropping flood-lit Gothic cathedral, and even its own spectacular Moorish castle.

Seville's cathedral will provide a jaw-dropping background for Wine-Knows’ dining

But, wait!  Seville has an added bonus….it is very near Sherry wine country.   In about an hour visitors can go from a coffee on one of Seville’s  plethora of dramatic squares to tasting a flight of wine in the Sherry countryside.

Moorish architecture mesmerizes in both Granada & Seville

Granada or Seville?   I choose both….as can you for Wine-Knows will be visiting both Granada and Seville next October, 2021.  Currently there are a few spaces available so check out these two astonishing gems on

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Mallorca's Healthy Mediterranean Diet

                     This Mediterranean island's cuisine & lifestyle embody healthy living

Mallorca is a mucho seductive island just off the coast of Barcelona.   This dreamy Spanish isle has a rich history involving the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors, and its cuisine reflects an interesting tapestry of all of these past conquerors.  But, Mallorca’s food is much more than its historical roots.  Its culinary profile closely parallels the Mediterranean Diet, one of the healthiest diets on the planet.


                      Agricultural villages such as this one are a mainstay in the island's economy

The word “diet” comes from the Greek word “diatia” which means way of life.  The United Nation’s cultural arm (UNESECO) considers the Mediterranean Diet to be part of Mallorca’s cultural fabric.   Foods and lifestyle are intrinsically linked in the Mediterranean Diet.   This means that one’s way of living (both physical activity and community/family connections) are equally important to the actual food one eats.

Amphora were used for centuries to transport olive oil & wine

There are four cornerstones of the Mediterranean Diet and Mallorca has them all.  First, the island’s cuisine features an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish. Secondly, little red meat is consumed and dairy products are used in moderation (local olive oil is used).  Thirdly, agriculture is a big part of the island’s economy.  In addition to olives, Mallorcans raise a plethora of crops such almonds, carob, figs, apricots, tomatoes, peppers and onions.   (There’s no need for a farmer to go to the gym or out for a run after a hard day in the fields).  The last foundation of the Mediterranean diet is wine.  Mallorca’s wine industry is undergoing a significant Renaissance.

Fruit & old-world décor provide an unforgettable backdrop at this restaurant

Wine-Knows’ October 2021 trip to Mallorca will feature a week’s stay at a swanky private villa----and there are only 2 remaining spots.  Why not join us for the Mediterranean Diet, sensational island scenery, and some killer wines from grape varieties that grow only on Mallorca?

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Other Bordeaux----Sauternes

                                        Sauternes are among the world's most expensive wines

The grape harvest for Bordeaux’s white and red wine finished some weeks ago, but it is just starting for Bordeaux’s prized sweet wines, Sauternes (pronounced sew TAIRN.)  Sauternes is some of the priciest wines on the planet (a bottle of an old Chateau Yquem sold a few years ago for $117,000---that's $26,000 a glass, or $2,200 a sip!)   One of the reasons is that the berries are picked one at a time, rather than one bunch at a time.  Let me explain.

                                 Sauternes is a wine district, a town, and a sweet wine

Known as “liquid gold,” Sauternes is pricey because of the labor intensive process required to make it.  Grapes for these sweet wines are hand-picked carefully by workers who have been trained to look for “botrytis.”   Known also as the “noble rot,” botrytis is a fungus that attacks very ripe grapes.   Typically, it does not attack the full bunch, but only certain berries.  Workers must often make several passes through the vineyards over a period of weeks, picking only the grapes that have been effected with noble rot.  In some cases one vine is necessary to make one bottle of the most expensive Sauternes.

                          Botrytis concentrates flavors & causes flavor, as well as aroma changes

So how can rotted grapes possibly make such a magnifique wine?   First, the botrytis penetrates the grape’s skin and causes it to lose nearly 75% of its water.  However, much more than dehydrating and concentrating the flavors, botrytis actually causes a chemical change in the grape’s aromas and taste profile.  Third, while all of the above is occurring, the fungus also increases the actual acid levels so that this sweet wine is not cloying sweet.

                            Damp & warmth together create the perfect storm for botrytis

The terroir of Sauternes is key to botrytis.  The fungus does not happen every year, but only when certain conditions in the environment occur at the same time.  There are two rivers, one cold and the other warm, that converge into one river near Sauternes.  The mixture of warm and cold creates a mist.   Providing the afternoons are warm, this mist in addition to the heat create the perfect milieu for botrytis to thrive. 

If you’re one of the lucky Wine-Knows joining the September 2021 trip to Bordeaux, you’ll have the opportunity to sample some of the world's most famous Sauternes.  The sweet life doesn’t get any sweeter than sipping a Sauternes at its birthplace.