Thursday, December 30, 2021

Sensational Santorini

                                         Santorini is like no other spot in the Mediterranean

Winter has now officially descended upon us.  To bring some brightness to these dark December days I am writing a three-part series on my favorite Mediterranean islands.  Today we're traveling to the last island, Santorini.  This Greek jet-setting, jaw-dropping, pleasure-bomb of an island is unparalleled for sheer beauty.  However, Santorini also makes some stunning wines, offers archaeological ruins, and has some mind-blowing walks. 

          Grapes are grown close to the ground in baskets to protect against winds & conserve water 

Santorini has one of the most unique terroirs in the Mediterranean.   The entire island is part of a large volcano system---most of it underwater.  In fact, Santorini is part of a cluster of several surrounding islands that were formed millenniums ago by catastrophic eruptions.  This ring of islands is actually the tops of the underwater volcanoes that have collapsed into the sea, leaving only their tips exposed.     

                                 Gaia hosted WineKnows in their captivating "tasting room" 

Santorini's volcanic soil makes for some terrific wines that ooze minerality.   Summers are hot and there is very little water on the island, so the vines must send their roots deep into the soil to seek moisture.  On this journey penetrating deep into a soil rich in magnesium, iron, calcium and selenium, roots bring back to the plant fascinating flavors for their grapes.  There are several excellent wineries on the island.  My favorite is Gaia (who is even experimenting with aging wines on the ocean floor).  

                           The walk from Fira to Oia is one of the most spectacular on earth

But, there is so much more to Santorini than its wine.  The most compelling thing about the island is its mesmerizing natural beauty.  For walkers, there is no better way to appreciate its magnificence than the walk from Fira (the main town) to Oia.  This hike, which parallels the sea, is arduous and take >2 hours, but its worth every moment (and you can take the bus back to Fira).  Another don't miss is the archaeological ruin at Akrotiri, Santorini's version of Pompeii.  Destroyed by volcanic ash in 1,700 BC, this ancient town is worth a visit.

                    Mextaxy Mas, only a 10 minute cab ride from the main town, feels a world away

For me, another irresistible reason to visit Santorini is to dine at Metaxy Mas.  Located in the center of the island in a small rural village away from the hoards of tourists, this restaurant shouldn't be missed.   Metaxy Mas has it all:  fabulous food, a sexy setting (be certain to reserve for the terrace), and an authentically Greek feel.  The name translates to "between us," and between you and me, Metaxy Mas is a winner.

Breakfast at Anteliz is a special event.

Santorini is replete with a number of hotels and apartments in every price category, however, look no further than Anteliz Suites for a place to stay.  Located in the island's capital town of Fira (but away from the crowds), this spot delivers on every level....from breathtaking panoramic views and superb service (family owned, there is nothing these people can't do can't do for you), to wonderfully-outfitted rooms.  If you can spring for the Anteliz Master Suite, you'll enjoy 1,200 square feet of enchantment including a huge private terrace, however, even their regular hotel rooms are noteworthy.

Cheers to a healthy, sunny and travel-filled 2022!


Monday, December 20, 2021

Aegina---Greek's Magical Little Island

                             Only one block from the waterfront quiet backstreets enchant

This is my second in a three-part series on Mediterranean Islands.  With the winter solstice approaching, I am in need of some sunshine to brighten these dark days.   Memories of my recent trip to Aegina Island in Greece are still radiating warmth and illuminating my December.

                                           Marathanos beach is all of this and much more.......

Located only 20 miles from Athens, Aegina feels like it's on another planet from the frenetic-paced capital.   While I've been to more than a dozen Greek Islands, I've never been to Aegina.  As it was the pandemic, I was looking for an island without an airport---hoping that would mean fewer tourists.   I was right.  

                               Pistachio trees flourish on Aegina due to its special micro-climate

Although it's difficult to imagine, quiet little Aegina at one time was not only the most powerful naval force in Greece, but one of the most wealthy.   This first capital of Greece, Aegina was also the first place in all of Europe to mint silver coins.  Today this sleepy island is very popular with Athenians as a weekend getaway.  It has a distinctive Greek feeling, seemingly untouched by international tourism. 


Reasons to visit Aegina?

1.  Closest island to Athens (reached in < 60 minutes by hydrofoil)

2.  Mid-September Pistachio Festival---Aegina's pistachios are the most coveted in Greece 

3.   Good hiking (e.g. an ancient hilltop town, a grove of 3,000 year old olive tree, a 2,500 year old temple)

                                  Our apartment's terrace was the best seat in Aegina town

Where to stay:

  • Aegina town:   there's only one place to consider and that's a harbor side apartment with a 180 panorama of the entire waterfront.  The brand new apartment is managed by Dream Travel in Aegina, and it's listed on VRBO as the Pelaisos Apartment (where you'll find the glowing review of my stay).  Its location is the best spot in town and working with Dream Travel was a dream.
  • Marathonas Beach:  located 3 miles from Aegina town, this beach is popular because of its excellent swimming & its drop-dead gorgeous situation.  With shallow water protected from the winds, the sea here like a bathtub.  I suggest you contact Dream Travel to have them book your hotel as there are three or four possibilities.

     Ammos' salad with sheep cheese, oranges & Pistachios would please any Greek God (or Goddess)

Where to Dine

1.  Ammos is the number one choice on the island.   I am enamored with this place for so many reasons.  First is the food (one of the owners is Greek, the other is French), the second is the warm hospitality, the third is the stunning location on Marathonas Beach where you can dine on the sand.   The restaurant's motto is "The secret ingredient is always love."  There's a lot of love being served in this special spot. 

2.  Sti Fou-Fou, a casual restaurant & deli, has a large take-out business featuring rotisserie chickens.   If you rent the Pelasios apartment, it's only a one minute walk (located just behind the waterfront church).  Don't leave the island without tasting their baked eggplant with tomatoes.   


Don't Miss: 

Whatever you do on this unique island, do it with Xeni Petritou-Triantaffillou.  Xeni is much more than a guide---she is a published author, gifted artist, and an extraordinary resource on the history of the island.  (xeni-pet@otenet.gr)       

                    Islanders still maintain many of  Palaiochora's  1,000 year old family chapels

  • Palaiochora:  built in the 9th century by islanders whose seaside village was the constant prey of pirates, this decaying hilltop town is filled with a huge number of still functioning private chapels.  This place is hauntingly special & involves lots of stairs.

 The hike to the grove of 3,000 year old olive trees shouldn't be attempted without a guide

  • Eleonas:  a high mountain valley of ancient olive trees, it is reached by a fairly arduous one hour uphill hike from Marathonas Beach.  

                         The temple offers panoramic views of the mainland<20 miles away

  • Temple of Aphaia:  this sanctuary was built 500 BC and has a superb museum.

Stay tuned for the last in my December series of island escapes, another Greek Island... Santorini!



Friday, December 10, 2021

The Best of Mallorca

                        Mallorca can entice even the most discerning of foodies & Wine-Knows*

As the dark days of winter approach, I intend to keep the sunlight of summer flourishing with a trio of posts about three special Mediterranean islands.  Mallorca, located less than an hour's flight from Barcelona, will be the first.  The other two idyllic islands are in Greece; one is reachable only by boat, the other is a jet-setter's paradise with many daily flights and a parade of boats from ports all over the Mediterranean.

                         Dramatic coves, serene beaches & countryside dotted with windmills enchant

I've been fortunate to visit Mallorca six times, the most recent of which was with a group of Wine-Knows in September.   Mallorca is a large Spanish island (approximately 50 by 60 miles), but most parts of the island are easily reachable within a 60-90 minute drive of Palma on decent roads.  There's enough to do on the island to warrant a week's stay, and those who can eek out 10 days will be happy they did so.

                                          Old world haciendas & lush vegetation abound 

The most compelling reasons to visit Mallorca?   Here are just a few.....
  1. It's a wine lover's dream---indigenous varietals not seen else where.  Furthermore, they wines are moderately low in alcohol and reasonably priced!
  2.  While the island is immensely popular, there are still drop-dead gorgeous beaches & coves with few tourists.
  3.  Mallorca's culinary fabric is like no other.   There's a strong Moorish influence (think Morocco & its Cashah), along with a definite Greek, Roman and mainland Spain gastronomic impact.
  4. Gorgeous scenery abounds.  The countryside is dotted with Don Quxiote windmills, hilltop stone villages, a mountain range that has been declared by UNESCO as a cultural treasure, and there are >300 miles of beaches.
                           
 Pedestrian only streets in ancient villages are perfect for walkers

What Not to Miss:
  1. Palma's cathedral----this one is unlike all others.
  2. Palma's indoor market Olivar---a foodie's one-stop shopping paradiso.
  3. The mesmerizing Caves of Drach (and lunch in nearby in sweet Porto Christo)
  4. The ancient Roman walled town of Alcudia---be sure to walk the old walls.
  5. Charming Santanyi's Saturday market.
  6. Es Trenc gourmet sea salt (you can visit!)
  7. Porto Soller (highly recommend the old fashioned train ride to & from Palma)
                             This 17th century palace in downtown Palma is now a luxury hotel

Where to Stay:
If you have a week, I highly recommend at least 3 nights in Palma (especially if you're recovering from jet lag), and then an escape to wine country from where you can reach all parts of the island in less than an hour.  The eastern shore is another option for overnighting if you have time.
  • Palma:   Boutique Can Sera Hotel, located in the historic center, offers old world splendor.  5 stars.  https://www.cancerahotel.com/
  • *Wine Country:   Look no further than Torre Santa Eugenia, an old estate that is now a lovely hotel with a don't miss restaurant.  https://www.sa-torre.com/en/
  • Sa Pletassa:   Within easy shot of the Drach Cave, Santanyi, two superb wineries, and  Es Trenc sea salt, this reasonable rural property offers charming accommodations with pretty grounds.  The Swiss owner's hospitality can't be beat.  https://en.sapletassa.com/
   The Moors, who brought rice & saffron to Mallorca, left a huge imprint on the island's gastronomy 

Where to Eat:
  • *Torre Santa Eugenia (see wine country):  this magical old wine-cellar setting trumps every other spot on the island.   Fab in every way.   https://www.sa-torre.com/en/
  • L'Ambigu (Palma):  This has become my fave in a town of many favoritex.  Top notch service & food for its moderate cost.    https://www.elambigubar.com/
  • CanCapo.  Located in an off-the-beaten-track village (near Sa Pletassa above), its charming central square position over-looking the church, & a terrific owner make this a don't miss.  http://www.restaurantcancapo.com/

Best Wineries
  • Binigrau:  the standout wine in this standout winery is Nounat.  If you're a white wine lover, look no further than Nounat---a blend of a native varietal & Chardonnay.  
  • Mesquida Mora:  owned by a charismatic female winemaker, highly recommend a tasting here because of its glorious vineyard setting.  
  • Mandia Vell:  one of the oldest estates on the island.  Bottles wine in unique stone containers.
  • Son Prim:  Great value.  Their Merlot is a stunner for <$20.

Later this month will be my two favorite Greek Islands.



Saturday, November 27, 2021

Piquillo Peppers are Perfect for the Holidays!

Piquillos stuffed with lamb were a big hit in a recent tapas cooking class I conducted on Mallorca

Looking for something different for your upcoming December culinary festivities?  If you're also interested in a scrumptious item that will beguile even the most discerning of your foodie friends, then look no further than the holiday-red piquillo peppers from northern Spain.  Piquillos are sweet and smoky flavor bombs that can be served in multiple ways.                        

                    Piquillos stuffed with goat cheese infused with herbs make a perfect holiday starter

While they're now becoming increasingly popular in the US by those-in-the-gastronomic-know, these peppers were essentially unknown in the US twenty years ago.  I know because that's the first time I tasted them in Spain and returned home on a mission to find them.  Thank heavens for the Internet and for importers of specialty Spanish food items.  Fast forward twenty years later and even Amazon is carrying them.  Once you taste a piquillo, you'll understand what all the hoopla is about.

                                        Crab stuffed piquillos epitomize the Christmas season

So what is so special about these bite-size peppers?  Piquillos are slow roasted over a wood fire, thus their distinctive smoky flavor.   They are then peeled and grilled again for extra flavor.  Last, they're de-seeded by hand prior to being packed into jars or tins with olive oil, or a simple brine.  While they are small in size like a chili pepper, piquillos are definitely more like red bell peppers in flavor than actual chili peppers.

Piquillos are met to be stuffed and make a perfect couple of bites for a holiday tapa.  They are often filled with seafood, cheese or meat.   I particularly like them filled with minced lamb laced with a host of Middle Eastern spices like tumeric, cumin and mint.  (Top them with chopped chives or parsley and you have Christmas on a plate.)  On the other hand, just the peppers themselves are wonderful in an omelette, pasta, risotto, or even used as a sauce.

                                            Brighten up bland-looking chicken over pasta with piquillos

While Piquillo peppers scream "holidays," I use them year around.  They are an especially great addition to a Fourth of July party (stuffed with an herb infused goat cheese), or a Spring fling piquillo puree served with Spring veggies like radishes, asparagus, fennel, and artichokes.

Happy holidaze! 


Sunday, November 14, 2021

Top 7 Wines 2021

I've just returned from nearly two months in Europe where I tasted several hundred wines.  My travels took me to Croatia, Greece, Spain and Italy.  I've narrowed down my list to my favorite seven that are available in the US (I know they are available, as I just ordered at least a case of each).  Availability aside, each one of these is an excellent wine.  Many are bargains, but all are worthy of every penny regardless of their price point.  An added bonus is that most are made from grapes we don't have in the US, so they present an opportunity for wine lovers to explore unknown varietals.


Best Quality /Price:  Black Horse Winery's Mega Vieta, 2020 (Croatia)

                                                       Mega Vieta is a "Major Victory"


This gorgeously crafted white wine is from the Croatian island of Korcula.  It's made from their indigenous Posip grape, a variety rarely seen outside of the Dalmatian Coast.  This highly aromatic wine is complex with citrus and stone fruit flavors.  It is balanced and offers a quite good finish.  I found the wine online at CroatianPremiumWine.com at <$19 per bottle, including shipping and tax.  In my book, that's a steal for the quality of this wine.

Best Rose
There are actually two stunners in this category:  one from Greece's Santorini Island, the other from Spain's Rioja.

                                             Gaia's Rose would please even Dionysus

  • Gaia 14-18 Agiorgitiko Rose, 2020 (Greece).   I know and love this producer.  In fact, we have visited Gaia three times with groups of Wine-Knows on Santorini.  When I saw their Rose in a Greek wine shop, I grabbed a bottle.  It was so good that I immediately went back for two more bottles.  The grape, Agiorgitoko, is one we don't have in the US.  I ordered a case online from WineMadeEasy.com.  The cost was another amazing bargain ringing it at $18 per bottle, including tax and shipping.

  • Muga Rose, 2020 (Spain):  I had this wine at a restaurant in Spain overlooking Gibraltar:  on my left was the Mediterranean, on my right the Atlantic, and 9 miles in front of me Morocco.  I'm a great fan of Muga (have visited this Rioja producer with too many groups of Wine-Knows to count).  The Rose was so good that we returned twice to the same restaurant and re-ordered it each time.  The 2019 is available at multiple shops on WineSearcher.com for $15 per bottle (plus shipping & tax).  I'm waiting for that gorgeous 2020.

Best Summer White: Valle dell'Acate Grillo Zagra, 2020 (Sicily)

Getting Wine-Knows to this remote winery was a challenge, but their quality wines were worth the trek

This gem is a great taste of Italy on a warm summer's day.  Made from the Grillo grape (mostly unknown outside of Sicily), think of this variety as the Mediterranean's Sauv Blanc.
Stainless steel fermented, it boasts a lemon & apple profile.  Several stores on WineSearcher.com have it for about $20 per bottle (plus tax & shipping).  


Best of the Best
These wines were my three favorites out of hundred of wines, regardless of whether they were imported.  Luckily, all are!   They range in price from $30-70.  When considering their complexity, all are great buys.

                       This wine was served at a Wine-Knows private dinner held at the Planeta Estate

  • Planeta Cometa Fiano 2019 (Sicily).   Planeta is one of the premier producers in Sicily.  The moment this wine hit my mouth I was smitten....actually, it was more like I was completely seduced.  This serious white wine is a complex bomb of apricots, nectarines and peaches, laced with back-notes of flowers and herbs.  Expect to pay $50 a bottle for this the real-deal sip of Italy.   I ordered the last 18 bottles from Saratoga Wines in New York, however, WineSearcher.com has it available at multiple locations.  Don't miss.
                             Unfortunately this magnum was empty & only for display 
  • Nounat by Binigrau (Mallorca).  I've been in amor with this white wine for the last 5 years.  A combination of Chardonnay & the island's native grape Prensal Blanc, Nounat is simply one of those wines one cannot forget.  The problem is that everyone loves it and it's very difficult to find.  Currently, the 2015 is the only vintage available online in the US, but I think it's a little over the hill.  I'm watching for the 2021 to arrive and so should you.  It's about $30 per bottle, but I would pay a lot more for it.
                              Passopisciaro's grapes are grown at 3,000 ft on Mt Etna

  • Contrada G by Passopisciaro, 2019 (Sicily).  Grown on the slopes of an active volcano, these grapes make a deep, rich, complex red that is sure to cause the earth to move under your feet.  Made from a native variety only grown on Mt. Etna (Nerello Mascalese), this wine is most expensive on my list of favorites.   It's $70 a bottle.   


Saturday, October 30, 2021

A Foodie's 24 Hours in Rome

Rome offers a plethora of fabulous foodie experiences outside of fine dining

A gastronomic tour of Rome in only one day?  Some may say impossible, but I’m proof it can be done.   Why only one day?  I have visited Rome 30-40 times, but I had a WineKnows’ group in Sicily and the only tolerable routing back home was one that required an overnight in Rome.  Senza probelma!

Here’s my schedule:

9 am:  Depart Palermo, Sicily

10 am:  Arrive airport Rome

                      Hotel Campo di Fiori is located in the historic epicenter of Rome

11:30-12:30:  Check-in to my beloved Campo di Fiori hotel, where I had a glass of fresh squeezed OJ & a cappuccino on my terrace to prepare for the remainder of the Herculean day.

                                  Campo di Fiori's magical setting market attacks locals & tourists  

12:30-1:15:  Then, a quick tour of the Campo Fiori daily market located just out my front door.  The market was brimming with luscious autumn produce such as fresh funghi porcini (Italy’s premier wild mushroom), glorious eggplants in several shapes and sizes, as well as a wide assortment of persimmons and pomegranates.

                     Think of Eataly as a football stadium full of items for food-lovers

1:15-2:30 pm:  Next, I took a cab to EATALY.    A foodies’ one–stop shopping emporium, EATALY is located a 10-15 minute cab ride from the heart of downtown Rome. The huge complex, once a train station, is now three stories of pure unadulterated pleasure for food-lovers.

I bought a basket full of goodies such as dried funghi porchini mushrooms, white truffle oil, and truffle-flavored balsamico (perfect for travelers, it came in a small plastic bottle).  I also purchased several kitchen towels for my foodie friends back home.  I wandered through their outstanding wine area, however, as tempting as it was my bags were already packed to the brim after nearly two months of travel.   

                              Eatlay's smoky wood-fired pizzas are some of the best I have ever had 

As the small glass of orange juice was the only food I had eaten, I dropped by Eataly’s wood-fired bakery and bought a small piece of fresh-out of the oven buffalo di mozzarella & fresh funghi porcini pizza.

2:45-3pm:  Returned by cab & dropped off purchases at my hotel.

                            Sant'Eustachio is crowded at all times of day or night

3-3:30pm:  One of my favorite coffee places in all of Italy is located near the Pantheon, just a short 5-7 minute walk from my hotel.   Sant’ Eustachio Caff√® has been on my coveted list for >40 years.  I would consider it sacrosanct to visit Roma without one of their coffees.   The bar area offers some of the best people watching in Rome.  Local businessmen in Brioni suits jockey for space with tourists in t-shirts.   

                   Piazza Margana is only a few minutes from the Forum, but a world away

3:45-5:30:  Revived now after my coffee I decided to enjoy a long walk through some of my favorite spots:  the Roman Forum & Colisseum, the wedding cake monument (AKA Victorio Emmanuelle), the Theatre of Marcello, and the tiny but charming Piazza Margana (where I rented an apartment for a week some years ago). 

                                           A tartufo is an insanely rich deep chocolate ice-cream

5:30-6:15pm:  The restaurant in which I had reserved didn’t open until 7:30 and my orange juice & small piece of pizza had long ago faded for sustainment.  I decided to splurge (hey, it’s my last night after being gone nearly 2 months!), so I made my way to Piazza Navona (just a few minutes walk from my hotel).   Although the square is one of the most iconic in all of Rome, I was here for a tartufo at Caffe Tre Scalini.  Their tartufo is akin to a religious experience for chocolate lovers.  Pure decadence, I can think of no better way for a foodie to say “Arrivederci, Roma.”  

6:30-7:30:   A yummy bath to prepare for the long journey home tomorrow.

                               Counstanza is a hidden culinary gem well worth seeking-out

7:30-9pm:   Located just off the Piazza di Campo Fiori (hence, only a few minute’s walk from my hotel), is one of my favorite restaurants for Roman cuisine, Coustanaza Hostaria.   Located in a cave (yes, a cave!), Coustanza knocks it out of the park with an enchanting setting, superb service, and amazing classical Roman cooking.  My first course was Roman-styled artichokes (first prepared by the Jews of Rome >1,500 years ago), then a small plate of funghi porcini pasta. 

                                    Campo di Fiori's rooftop is splendido day or night

9:30pm:   I had been in Rome less than 12 hours and I wasn’t quite ready to say buona notte.  Hotel Campo di Fiori’s rooftop garden offers a wonderful respite from the fury of Rome's nightlife,  and is the perfect quiet spot to detox from a long journey through Croatia, Greece, Spain & Italy in the midst of a pandemic.  Plus, it was a full moon so I couldn’t resist.

8 am:  My taxi swept me away through a tangle of Roman rush hour traffic.  I loved the slow ride as it gave me time for one last look at Rome.   I’ve been here less than 24 hours but with so many memories of my >30 trips to this wonderful town, it felt like a week….or two.

Viva Roma!


Friday, September 24, 2021

Cold Soups of Southern Spain


                         In Andalusia gazpacho is commonly served in small glasses to drink

I’m on the island of Mallorca but will soon be heading to Spain’s southernmost mainland province, Andalusia.  Home to the magnificent Moorish cities of Granada, Seville and Cordova, it’s also the epicenter of Sherry wine.  But, another compelling reason to visit Andalusia is that it offers the best culinary experience for discerning foodies.   While there are many Andalusian dishes I love, its cold soups are simply stunners.

An Andalusian gastronomic specialty, these cold soups come in several different colors.   There’s probably not a traveler who has been to southern Spain during the summer that has not enjoyed a refreshing brilliant red gazpacho soup.   Gazpacho is synonymous with Andalusia for many reasons.  First, the temperatures of inland Andalusia pulsate during the summer  at >100 degrees so a cold, light soup is the perfect choice.  Secondly, Andalusia is the agricultural capital of Spain---it is where the country’s tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and garlic are grown.   Home to millions of olive trees, Andalusia is also ground-zero for Spain’s olive oil.  Sherry wine vinegar is also produced in the area.  All of these are the ingredients of gazpacho.

                                         Salmorejo looks super creamy but there is no cream

Gazpacho, however, is only one of the cold red soups Andalusia has to offer.  A “cousin” of gazpacho, Salmorejo, is made using only tomatoes.  It is thicker and creamier than gazpacho because of bread that is added.  The way that the tomatoes, bread and olive oil emulsify make some think that there is cream in the soup, however, there is not.   Salmorejo, is typically served in a bowl with a diced hard-boiled egg on top and small pieces of cured Spanish ham so it can easily be a meal in itself.  

                                  Gazpacho verde (aka green gazpacho) is a crowd pleaser

But, wait.  There’s another relative of gazpacho that you must try.  It’s called green gazpacho and here’s why:  it’s made from green tomatoes (popular in Spain), green bell peppers, cucumber, spinach, parley, mint and avocado---along with the traditional onion, garlic, olive oil and sherry wine vinegar.  Try it.  You’ll like it!

                                                Ajo blanco is sometimes called "white gazpacho"

Ajo blanco is yet another cold soup of Andalusia.  While it literally translates to “white garlic soup,”  this is not a vampire dish as there is very little garlic.  In fact, it’s mostly Marcona almonds and it’s often made with the addition of a green apple and topped with green grapes.   Ajo blanco is thought by some to be the original cold soup of Andalusia and the precursor for today's gazpacho (before tomatoes were bought from the New World).


Why not celebrate the first days of autumn by making a refreshing cold summer soup?


Friday, September 17, 2021

France’s Quintessential Wine Village

                               Grand Cru vines surround the medieval village of St. Emilion

Out of the several hundreds of wine villages in France, the one I would pick to visit is o St. Emilion in the Bordeaux district.  Located <25 miles east of the city of Bordeaux, this village has it all:   enchanting history,  stunning hilltop location surrounded by a sea of vines, spectacular medieval architecture, and of course stellar wines.  I’m in St. Emilion today and this town of 2,000 feels like it may have doubled in size---it’s swarming with visitors from around the world who have come for the annual Ban Des Vendanges (wine harvest festival).    

St. Emilion is named after an 8th Century monk who was traveling to the Holy Land.  As the legend goes, when the monk reached Bordeaux his gourd of water supposedly turned to wine.  He took this as a sign that he was supposed to stay there….and he did so until his death, taking care of the sick pilgrims who were also bound for the Holy Land.

       St. Emilion's limestone was used to build most of the grand buildings in the city of Bordeaux

The village of St. Emilion is legendary for its limestone.  Bordeaux's Opera House and its beautiful Stock Exchange buildings are just a few examples of stone from St. Emilion.  Quarrying has left St. Emilion with large underground areas from where the limestone blocks were removed.  Some of these subterranean parts are so large that they will fit hundreds of people.  Others are small chambers with secret passageways under St. Emilion.  

The limestone also serves an important purpose in the area's wines.  Grapes love limestone soil because it provides a perfect drainage system.   Many of St. Emilion's vineyards sit on top of subterranean caverns from where stone was quarried.   When touring these underground caves it’s normal to see vine roots cascading down through the ceiling from vineyards located 20-30 feet above.

Centuries-old ramparts still surround some of the hilltop St. Emilion

The village of St. Emilion is also a medieval architectural jewel-box.  It’s no wonder that several movies have been filmed here as the city appears much as it was > 500 years ago. The United Nation’s cultural arm now protects the entire village and its surrounding vineyards.  Under UNESCO, no changes can be made without approval of the World Heritage Council.     

Wine-Knows has several special events planned this weekend.  Tonight is a private dinner at Chateau Coutet with the owner/winemaker, and tomorrow is dinner at Chateau Guadet at the owner’s home.  Sunday Wine-Knows will breakfast with the Mayor of St. Emilion at City Hall, and then indulge in the festivities of the harvest festival:  the blessing of the wine at a formal mass, followed by a 3-4 hour lunch with the members of St. Emilion’s esteemed Jurade.

If you're ever in southwest France, St. Emilion is definitely worth a detour.  Plan to spend at least a couple of nights as there is much to soak in...wine included.


Friday, September 10, 2021

Tarragon's Origin Will Surprise You!

          Tarragon works magic with seafood, chicken & veal, but it can also create magical desserts

I will be in France in just a few days and I'm already looking forward to my first Wine-Knows' meal....which, by the way, will include a dish made with tarragon.   This herb is often associated with classical French cooking (e.g. Bernaise sauce is made with tarragon, as is the country's quintessential "fine herbs" blend).  Our first group dinner will be at jaw-dropping Chateau Bychevelle (Wine-Knows has leased the entire property for four nights).  The starter will be lobster poached in a tarragon-infused butter and white wine sauce.  While the French adore tarragon, the herb's origin is far from France. 

        3 Michelin star cannelloni of crayfish over a tarragon consumm√© served with a sprig of tarragon

Tarragon originated in either Siberia or Mongolia.   While the Greeks were using tarragon 500 BC for medical purposes such as toothaches, the herb seems to have worked its way into Europe's cuisine sometime after Genghis Khan's army invaded Europe in the 12th century.  While the Mongolians never made it to France, they did capture parts of Germany and Italy, both of which border France.  History indicates the Mongolians were chewing tarragon both to clean their teeth and as a sleeping aid.

The tarragon herb has an anise-licorice taste so it's understandable how chewing it morphed to using it in cooking.  While there are millions of recipes that use tarragon (in countries that range from the Middle East to Asia in savory and sweet recipes), the one that really stands out in my mind is Julia Child's veal scallopini with mushrooms:  Escalopes de Veau a l'Estragon (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, pages 367-8.)   If you don't have the book just Google the recipe as there are copies her recipe on the web.

One last tidbit.  Did you know that tarragon was a member of the sunflower family?