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Friday, June 11, 2021

Are You Worth You Salt?

   2 spots are available on our September Mallorcan tour where we'll visit a gourmet sea salt producer
Salt and history have been inextricably linked for millennia.   As far back as 6,000 BC salt has been an important part of countless civilizations.   The Egyptians used salt for religious offerings while building the pyramids.   The Phoenicians were using salt as a form of currency in extensive trade throughout their Mediterranean empire more than 1000 BC.   The Romans paid their wages in salt, hence, the origin of the word “salary,” which literally means “salt money.”   

Salt was a valuable commodity in ancient and medieval times as people depended upon salt to preserve food.  Historical evidence shows that salt mining was carried out even in the Neolithic age.   If you’re looking for a fascinating read during the pandemic, look no further than Mark Kurlansky’s book, Salt:  a World History.  Who would have ever thought such a common item as today’s table salt could have influenced the establishment of historical trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, and even inspired revolutions?

        A Mallorcan Michelin star chef  is now selling premium sea salt with the island's wild herbs

Even today in the poorest countries of Africa, salt is still largely regarded as a currency for trade.  Undeniably, the history of salt has left an indelible mark on cultures around the globe.   Come with Wine-Knows to Mallorca island September 24-October 1st to see a fascinating millenniums-old method for producing sea salt.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Seville & Granada in Your Glass

            Your table is waiting on Wine-Knows' October tour to Granada & Seville (only 2 spots)

In the past twenty years Granada and Seville have catapulted their way onto the list of the most beloved cities of Europe, garnering top awards from both Travel & Leisure  and Conde Naste.   In addition to stunning Moorish palaces, spectacular cathedrals featuring a mix of Gothic and Arabesque architecture, and seductive medieval quarters reminiscent of a northern African casbah, both Granada and Seville also have much to offer the wine lover.   Their wines are on the rise and are worthy of far greater attention then they have received.

                            Granada is a treasure trove for history, art, architecture & foodies

Granada and Seville's dry wines, typically out-shadowed by the Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines of the north, have stepped up on their quality spectrum.  These two southern cities belong to the Andalusian wine region.   Robert Parker gave his first 90-something point score to an Andalusian dry red wine in 2006, and the awards have kept coming.  Prices are real bargains considering their caliber.

      Centuries-old wineries are upping their ante with technology & university prepared winemakers 

Below is a list of four red wines from Andalusia that are especially noteworthy.  If you're coming to Granada and Seville with Wine-Knows this October why not order a few bottles online to get you in the mood for what to expect?  If you have not signed up, we still have two spots available!   

                               Seville is an intersection of food, wine, & culture  

    ~Huerta de Albala, Taberner---this Syrah masterpiece resulted in Parker’s first recognition of the area’s quality dry wine potential.

   ~ Cortijo Los Aguilares, Tadeo---made from Petite Verdot, this Bordeaux grape translates into an elegant wine in Andalusian soil.

   ~ Bodega Irving, Shiraz---a powerful multi-layered wine.

Viva Seville & Granada!

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Queen of Almonds

                              Marcona almonds are one of Spain's regal gifts to the culinary world  

In honor of Wine-Knows' upcoming autumn trip to Spain, this is the last segment of May's blog on Spain's wine and food.  If there ever was a royal family of nuts, Marcona almonds would certainly be high on the list for succession to the throne.  While Marconas haven’t made it into Wikipedia as a separate line item (yet), Costco & Trader Joe’s can’t keep them in stock.  If it weren’t for their steep price tag, I imagine there would be huge shortages.

What makes these regal Marconas so irresistible?    Although they look somewhat like an almond (but are more round and flat), it’s their buttery taste that seduces.   This nut is also a tad sweeter than the standard almond.  Marcona’s silky texture also entices, reminiscent of something between a cashew and a macadamia.  It is also less dry and has a creamy mouth-feel.

Marcona dusted scallops:  a dish worthy of royalty 

While is California is the world’s biggest almond producer, it is Spain that leads in the production of the noble Marcona.  (Although the origin of the Marcona almond is unknown, the traditional almond tree can be traced to Iran.)   Today Spain cultivates >100 different types of almonds, but its Marconas are one of the most prized.  Grown along Spain’s Mediterranean coast, Marconas are difficult because they produce significantly less than the typical almond tree, and also they are picked in February so are at risk of freezing temperatures.

                  In Spain Marconas are often used in the country's special nougats & cakes

In the US market, Marconas are simply blanched, roasted, dusted with sea salt, and tossed with enough EVOO to give them an alluring sheen.   In Spain, however, Marconas are often used in sweets.   The most typical sweet version is the country’s popular type of nougat, although Marconas can also appear in Spanish cakes. 

Regardless of preparation, the Queen of Almonds can be very addictive so pay attention!

Viva Espana!

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Making of a Sherry

                                     Sherry's unique Solera system operates on gravity flow

Last week on this blog two different types of dry Sherry were discussed.  Produced only in a limited geographical area of southwest Spain not far from Gibraltar, Sherry is different from other wine because of its “solera” system.   Think of the solera  as a vertical system where wine can be transferred via gravity flow.

To understand the process of making a sherry we must first start with the “base wine.”  Sherry begins as a regular wine made from the white Palomino grape.  The wine is initially aged for the first few years in contact with the yeasts left over from its fermentation.  These yeasts float to the top and create a layer called “flor.”  This flor cap creates a barrier to prevent oxygenation, and also gives the wine below it many flavors.

                     Dead yeasts from fermentation top the sherry in the base wine stage

Once the base wine goes through the initial aging with the flor of yeasts, it is then transferred to a holding area we’ll call the “nursery.”   (The flor is not transferred but remains behind.)  The nursery then babysits the wine until it’s ready for transfer to the the very top layer of the usually four tier Solera system.

To understand the Solera system, we’re now going to move from its top fourth level to the very bottom tier.   Solera in Spanish means "on the ground."  The very bottom level of the Solera system is a mixture of the wines that have been passed down through the varying levels bit by bit:  from the fourth level to the third, then to the second layer, and finally to the bottom final level.   The bottom ground level of the Solera is from where the finished sherry comes.  It is important, however, to note that the bottom level casks are not emptied.  Only a small amount of the cask is removed from the "ground floor."  After this removal, the bottom layer is then topped off with wine from the levels above.

      Some Sherry bodegas don't have verticality so must transfer the wine between levels by hand

What is removed from the lowest level of the Solera system for bottling, is then replaced from the above level three.   This third tier is then replaced with wine from the second tier.  Likewise, Sherry from the first level of the Solera is allowed to flow into level two.   Finally, a small amount of Sherry that has been patiently waiting in the nursery is permitted to flow into tier one of the Solera.

                    The solera system has been used to make Sherry since the 18th century

The bottle of Sherry that is ready for the consumer, hence, is a combination of all tiers of the Solera system, having been passed down slowly ounce by ounce from the nursery through all the levels.  In summary, the solera system is a unique form of aging, as well as a form of blending.   This system is unique and is only used to create Sherry.

Want to see the solera system in action?   Come with Wine-Knows in October to visit the Sherry wine countryside, along with Seville and Granada.



Friday, May 14, 2021

Sherry---No Longer Your Grandmother’s Wine

                                   A dry Sherry is a perfect pairing for pre-dinner nibbles 

This is a the second article in May's series on Spain.  It’s a back to the future story to do with Sherry:  the wines of the country's Sherry region are coming back into fashion.  But, these are not the insipid sweet wines of yesteryear enjoyed at the end of a meal with a piece of gingerbread or fruitcake.  Instead, the new Sherry is bone dry and is often taken as an aperitif to begin a meal.  Be advised, however, that while Sherry is made in several styles (varying from dry to sweet),  this article discusses only dry Sherry that is aged under a top cap of yeasts.

                      The yeast cap both protects Sherry from oxidation & gives it flavors

Sherry is a distinctive wine made from the white Palomino grape in the southwest of Spain near Seville.  The process of making Sherry is quite different from that of regular wine (next week’s blog will address this unusual process).  Suffice to say that Sherry is aged under a protective film of its own fermentation yeasts that have floated to the top of the barrel.  This “cap” of yeast protects the wine from oxidation, but it also gives flavors to the wine.

These dry aperitif Sherries are called fino and manzanillo.  The fino style, offering bread-like notes (influenced by aging under the cap of yeast), is a relatively  simple Sherry.  Finos offer a delicate bouquet often with almond nuances and savory herbs.  Served chilled, fino is a good, inexpensive introduction to a dry Sherry.

                                     Wine-Knows will visit the top Sherry producer in Spain

Manzanillo sherry is also dry, and like fino, it is aged under a cap of yeast.  The difference is that manzanillo is made in a different part of the Sherry region.  The special climatic conditions of the area, situated at the mouth of a river, favor the formation of a special kind of yeast which gives the wine its unique characteristic.  In addition to flavors contributed by the yeast (e.g. brioche, freshly-baked bread), manzanillo sherry also serves up an almond-like profile, and savory flavors such as camoumille.

Summer is quickly approaching---why not forgo the usual glass of Rosé and try a refreshing dry fino or manzanillo?   Sherry doesn’t deliver the usual uncomplicated charm of a Rosé.  It’s a bit more serious.  For wine-lovers, a dry Sherry can be the perfect way to begin the evening’s festivities.

Jerez de la Frontera, the city of Sherry, offers a stunning backdrop for its wines

There are two slots available on Wine-Knows’ tour to Spain this October.  In addition to Granada and Seville, we’ll be visiting Spain’s premier producer of Sherry.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Spain’s Edible Art: Paella

         A private chef will make paella at the Mallorcan villa Wine-Knows has leased this September 

The month of May on this Blog is being devoted to the foods and wines of Spain.  Many travelers would consider paella Spain's national dish, but most Spaniards would disagree.  Paella is from the southern part of the country near the Mediterranean coast, and is typically only seen on menus in the south.  (Yes, it's true that some northern tourists restaurants serve paella because of its popularity, but they are the exception).   The city of Valencia, located nearly midpoint on Spain's Mediterranean seaboard, is thought to have been ground zero for paella's humble origin.  Wine-Knows will have our first bite of paella on the island of Mallorca, located just off the coast from Valencia.

The Moors had a profound influence on Spain's architecture & gastronomy

Although created in Spain, paella would not be possible were it not for the Moors.  These north African Berbers invaded Spain in the 700's and ruled the country for nearly 800 years.  The Moors brought with them rice (the Spanish word for rice, arroz, is actually an Arabic word).  They also brought with them the knowledge regarding rice-farming.  The city of Valencia was one of the first coastal cities occupied by the Moors.  Valencia's surrounding wetlands proved to be a perfect spot for growing rice.  But, the Moors didn't stop there.  They also brought another signature ingredient for paella:  saffron.

Paella began in Valencia as a dish for the peasants who worked the nearby rice fields.  Cooked as a mid-day meal for workers over an open fire, paella contained what was available on the land:  rabbit, chicken, duck, snails, and green beans.  Saffron was used to flavor and color the dish, along with olive oil and broth from the cooking of the poultry. 

                       Seafood paella is especially popular on the island of Mallorca

Southern Spain's famous dish takes its name from the wide, shallow traditional pan that was used to cook it in the fields of Valencia.  (Paella actually means frying pan.)  Paella Valenciana ("in the style of Valencia"), today remains one of the most popular versions of the dish, and today still closely parallels the original recipe served to the rural laborers of centuries-past.   Seafood paella is another favorite---shrimps, clams, mussels, and squid replace poultry, and a seafood broth stands in for the poultry stock.  Saffron is used in broth.

Wine-Knows will be visiting southern Spain's Mediterranean where it all began.  In addition to Mallorca island, we'll also tour the don't-miss southern cities of Seville and Granada---both architectural Moorish gems.  There are only 2 spots remaining.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Chateauneuf du Papes ROCKS!

         Rocks carried down by ancient glaciers & the Rhone River define Chateauneuf du Pape's wine

The wines of Chateauneuf du Pape are among the most coveted in the wine world.  These are powerful, complex red wines that are made from GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre---the area’s “Holy Trinity” of grapes).  Chateauneuf du Pape is located in the southern part of France's Rhone Valley, and the Rhone River plays an instrumental role in this wine region.  Rocks, washed downstream by the Rhone and deposited in Chateauneuf’s riverside vineyards, are critical to making these world-class wines.

In fact, the rocks of Chateauneuf du Pape are so important to its wine that the stones actually have their own name, galets.   These galets are remnants of Alpine glaciers that have been carried down over millennia by the Rhone River.  The constant churning by the Rhone is responsible for the galets’ smooth exterior. Often overflowing its banks, the Rhone has left in its wake vineyards that are often yards deep in these galet stones.  But, how can rocks be so important in making an outstanding wine?  Let me explain.

Rocks provide heat for ripening, drainage & erosion protection

Galets are a distinguishing feature of Chateauneuf du Pape’s wines and translate into the glass in several ways.  First, they are integral to the  to the ripening of the grapes, as well as promoting growth of vines.  By absorbing heat from the day’s sunshine, these rocks release this heat back to the vine during the cold nights---they are a kind of built-in heating system.  Second, galets provide excellent drainage thus are important for the vine's growth.  Chateauneuf’s subsoils consist of layers of smaller broken down pebble-like galets.  This stratum of earth affords a perfect drainage system for the vines. Furthermore, the galets protect the soil from erosion by the violent Mistral winds of southern France.

Underneath this top layer are several feet of tumbled stone

My favorite Chateauneuf du Pape wine?  That’s like naming a favorite child, but there are two that always float to the top of my list.  (By the way, this small wine district also makes some killer whites…and one of them is on my list!)

Chateau Beaucastel Red:  GSM (75%) with ten other Rhone grapes making up the remaining 25%.  $100-$500 depending on the vintage.

Chateau La Nerthe White:  Also a blend, this ethereal wine is made from four white Rhone grapes:  Grenache blanc, Roussane, Clairette and Bourboulenc.    $55-$75 and worth every cent.

Hope your weekend rocks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Hottest New Foodie Item

               Dukkah is an aromatic condiment that changes even the mundane to a super-star

This culinary item had me at “hello.”   Wine-Knows took a group to New Zealand last year just before the pandemic knocked the world off its axis.  On a private boat charter in search of New Zealand’s prized green lip mussels (the world’s largest),  the onboard chef prepared a just-plucked-from-the-sea mussel lunch.   Also on the table was a bottle of country’s gold medal winning olive oil and a strange ground mixture that none of us recognized at all.  It was dukkah  (pronounced duke-ah).

The chef explained that we were to dip the freshly baked bread in the olive oil, and then into the dukkah.  One bite and all 15 Wine-Knows’ pairs of eyes were saucer-sized.   By the end of the charter we had eaten three bowls full of dukkah and would have eaten four, but that was all the chef had made.  So what is dukkah?

                Small pieces of pita with dukkah, avocado & extra nuts is a killer app

Dukkah (also spelled dukka & duqqa), is an aromatic condiment made of pulverized nuts and seeds, with a blend of spices and herbs.   It comes from Egypt where its name means “to pound.”    In Egypt, the condiment is made by pounding all of the ingredients together with a traditional mortar and pestle (however, I’ve discovered that a food processor delivers excellent results). 

        Ingredients vary from Eqyptian chef to chef but they are combos of these nuts, seeds & spices

Dukkah is made from items commonly found in every Egyptian home: 

                       ~ some type of nut (think hazelnut, almonds, and/or pistachios)

                        ~ common herbs such as fennel seeds, cumin

                        ~ sesame seeds

Dukkah has become so popular that is now located in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  Even Trader Joe’s has jumped on the Dukkah bandwagon (3.3 oz for < $4), as has the spice giant McCormick.    But, if you want the read-deal, blow-your-mind homemade version, watch the video at the end and make your own.  It’s easy and quick to make, and the difference will astound you.  (BTW:  make a double batch as it’s addictive).

            Olive oil, dukkah & hummus with a loaf of  great bread makes the perfect quartet

There are unlimited ways to use dukkah.   Google it and you’ll come up with nearly a half million recipes with dukkah as an ingredient.   It can be used in main dishes, as well as with roasted veggies and salads.  Dukkah adds big-time aeromatics, great texture and intoxicating flavors.  That being said, I love to serve it in the virginal way that I first experienced it----with a great loaf of bread and an artisanal olive oil.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Grenache---a Hero of a Grape

                                                     Grenache thrives in hot climates

Grenache, often associated with the coveted wines of Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley, is actually a grape of Spanish origin.  Known as “Garnacha” in Spain, this late ripening red variety needs plenty of hot weather.  It’s no wonder, therefore, that Grenache grows in Spain and the south of France where summers can be sizzling.

                     Chateauneuf du Pape is one of the most famous spots on earth for Grenache

The Grenache grape is often used in a blend, especially in Chateauneuf du Pape.  Its characteristic flavors include red fruits such strawberries and raspberries with hints of spices like white pepper or cinnamon.   Because of the heat required to ripen the grape, however, Grenache can be high in alcohol, thus blending is often required to dampen these alcohol levels.   The varietal also is moderate in color, so darker grapes such as Syrah are often added to deepen the blends color.  Grenache offers soft tannins and less acidity than other red grapes, so it is often blended with higher tannin and more acidic grapes (such as Tempranillo) to balance the wine's structure.

                            Grilled carrots, carmelized onions & a spicy herb-infused ricotta

Food-wise, Grenache can swing many directions.  Because of the wine’s spicy nuances, it can work well Asian-inspired foods, or spicy cuisines such as Indian.  Grenache can pair with rich bold foods such as BBQ meats, game, or even poultry that has been marinated in a big-flavored sauce.  Grenache also is a good match for cheeses, including strong cheeses that have been smoked.

Outdoor grilling season has approached.  Will not throw something on the "barbie" and pop a Grenache?

Friday, April 2, 2021

Spring Aperitifs

Many of us travelers are still lamenting last year’s canceled European trips.  I may have a solution to soothe our house-bound woes.  Since we missed Europe in 2020, why not bring Europe to us in 2021?   In fact, let’s celebrate Spring’s arrival with a toast to our beloved France, Italy and  Spain.  Here are some aperitifs that you may not know, but let’s be adventurous in this doggone pandemic!

               Pastis colored with a little grenadine & diluted with water is a Provencal delight

We’ll start with France.   There’s no more beautiful area of the country to welcome Spring than Provence.   Located in the south of the country, Provence is an idyllic landscape of rolling hills, olive trees, budding grapevines, and blossoming fruit orchards at this time of year.  Pastis is synonymous with Provence.   A licorice flavored spirit, Pastis is often seen on most tables at Provencal sidewalk cafes occupied by locals.


The most common Pastis aperitif is simply diluting it with water (a kind of 50/50 ratio).   But, I’m ratcheting my cocktail up a notch to pay homage to Provence’s other famous drink, rosé wine.   Like rosé, my Provence aperitif is pink.  This is as easy as 1-2-3 by adding the following simple ingredients:

  1.   1 ounce of Pastis
  2.   1 dash of grenadine
  3.   5 ounces of cold water     

Add all of the above ingredients to a glass filled with ice.   Voila!  Viva La France!


                             A taste of the Amalfi Coast can be yours without leaving home

Next, we’ll cross the border into Italy for an aperitivo.   Most everyone knows Italia’s Limoncello, the most famous of which comes from the jaw-dropping Amalfi coastline.   This lemon-based liquor is usually consumed after dinner, but we’re switching it up in the pandemic.  Our Limoncello drink is easy-peasy:  1/3 Limoncello, 1/3 tonic water, 1/3 sparkling water.   Serve it over ice or shake, strain & serve in a martini glass.  Top both with thin slice of lemon.     Cin Cin!


         Wine-Knows will be visiting Gonzalez Byass on their October trip to Granada & Seville

Let's now travel to Spain’s southernmost wine region, Jerez de la Frontera.  Our apertivo here will be a dry Sherry.   If you’ve never had a dry sherry, you must as it’s nothing like the sweet or “cream” sherries you may have had.  It’s also nothing like the insipid “cooking sherry” you have in your kitchen.   This dry sherry is on an entirely different planet.

One of my favorite Spanish aperitivos from Jerez is Una Palma, made by Gonzales Byass.  This dry sherry is aged from three to five years.  It’s delicate but yet offers layers of complexity.  I would serve it well-chilled and pair it simply with Spain's yummy Marcona almonds or black olives.  This wine is a knockout and deserves to be the star of the pre-dinner show.    Viva Espana!

For more info on our 2 last seats to Granada & Seville:

Friday, March 26, 2021

Flavors of Mallorca

     Mallorca's flavors can vary from rustic picnics to Michelin star dining

The culinary profile of this island jewel, located just off the coast of Barcelona, is strongly influenced by its past conquerors.   Like most of Mediterranean Spain, Mallorca’s food has been influenced by the Romans and the Moors.  The Romans were on Mallorca well before the birth of Christ and left a significant mark on the island’s food.  But, it was the Moors nearly 1000 years later who most profoundly influenced Mallorca’s gastronomy.

                                     Mallorca's landscape is dotted with 350,000 olive trees

Both the Romans and Moors brought olives & olive oil with them to Mallorca.  To this day, the olives and their oil are a big part of the Mallorcan diet.  Two World Wars, a Civil War, and 40 years of Fascism brought Spain to its knees economically.   Many people on the mainland died of starvation.  Those on Mallorca stayed alive by only eating a diet of pa amb oli, a slice of bread soaked in olive oil and sprinkled with salt.  Today this dish has become a symbol of survival and pride.  It is also Mallorca’s version of slow-food, with islanders fighting McDonaldization.

Wine-Knows will dine in this ancient winery that has been converted into a destination restaurant.

The Romans were responsible for another important flavor of Mallorca, wine. They not only brought the first grapevines, but vinified the first wine.  The island’s wine industry, like all businesses, collapsed during the 20th century, however, for the last 30 years there has been a renaissance.  Money from the EU has allowed Mallorca to rethink, rebuild and replant.  A sip of Mallorca today means international varietals like Cabernet or Chardonnay, but more importantly it means native grapes not seen nowhere else in the world such as Callet or Prensal Blanc.  For the adventurous wine lover, it’s an island paradise.

                        The island's top producer of sea-salt will be on Wine-Knows' itinerary

The last flavor attributed to the Romans is salt.  Historical evidence shows that the Romans were mining salt from the sea on Mallorca a few centuries before the birth of Christ.  That’s no surprise as salt was a valuable currency in the Roman Empire.  Today the island has had a resurgence in their salt industry.   France’s labor-intensive process for premium quality sea salt, Fleur de Sel, is being used on Mallorca.  The island’s Flor de Sal  is outstanding.  Michelin star chefs on the island are now combining it with items such as wild herbs or dried black olives to make authentic tastes only possible on Mallorca.

Paella would not exist if it weren't for the Moors bringing rice & saffron to Spain

While the Romans left an indelible imprint on Mallorca’s food tapestry, it was the Moors who changed the very fabric of the island’s food.  These North African peoples brought with them the technology of advanced irrigation, changing a dry, somewhat barren island into fertile valleys and lush plains.   They also introduced new food items, many of which remain intricately woven into Mallorca’s modern day cuisine.

                           Mallorca's famous almond cake is topped with a touch of cinnamon

The Moors brought almonds, citrus and stone fruits.   It is estimated that there are five million almond trees on the island today.   Almonds can appear in every course during a meal, from pre-dinner nibbles all the way through to dessert.   The citrus industry is also important to the island’s economy.    Citrus begins at breakfast with juices and ends the day in the form of cakes or custards.  Apricots, peaches and plums (all brought by the Moors) are still popular fruit on the island. 

Sugar came to Mallorca via the Moors.   But, it was the spices that they brought that had even a more profound influence in the island’s flavors.  Saffron (essential in paella) first arrived with the Moors, as did cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon.  These spices remain prominent flavors in the Mallorca’s cuisine.

                    Come & experience the flavors of Mallorca with Wine-Knows this autumn

Wine-Knows has only two spots remaining on its September trip to Mallorca.  Why not join us for the island's unique cuisine, never before tasted grape varietals, and seductive scenery?