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Friday, March 5, 2021

Why is Diurnal Shift So Important?

         The Bordeaux wine region has a sizeable diurnal shift 

On all Wine-Knows’ tours to the world’s greatest wine regions the term diurnal shift comes up several times.  It is always mentioned during WineKnows’ opening seminar, and most winemakers discuss it at least once during the tasting of their wines.  This blog will discuss how this phenomenon is responsible for separating the top wine districts on from those producing simple table wines.

First, let’s review what the diurnal shift is.  Simply put, the diurnal shift is the difference between a vineyard’s daytime and nighttime temperature.  While the notion might be simple, however, this difference in temperatures dramatically effects the quality of a wine’s structure and complexity.

                           The Port region of Portugal also has significant day & night temps

A large diurnal difference helps grapes to ripen in a more balanced way, and therefore, to maintain the structure of the wine.  The warmer the day temperature, the better for sugar development.  The lower the temperature at night, the better it is for grapes to preserve their acid structure to balance these sugars.  Furthermore, a significant diurnal difference allows grapes to "rest" at night anf, thereby, to preserve their delicate aromas.

           Huge diurnal shifts appear in Argentina's premier wine district near the Andes 

World-class wine regions depend upon these large day-night temperature variations to make wines of deep complexity with great structure.   For example, the Napa Valley is <30 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  Daytime temps in the valley during summer can easily exceed 100 degrees, but the valley floor temps drop at nighttime due to the marine influence of cooling air from the ocean and nearby San Francisco Bay.  It’s not unusual to see a diurnal shift of 40 degrees.

The Central Valley of California (>150 miles further south), has similarly hot day temperatures during the summer grape ripening period.  In contrast to Napa, however, its nighttime temps remain warm as there are no large bodies of water to moderate the heat.   The Central Valley has little diurnal shift, hence, this is the main reason why its wines lack the complexity and structure of Napa.

                 World-class Rhone Valley wines are made in a climate with big diurnal shifts

Diurnal temperature swings are critical in making topnotch wines with great aromas and a balanced structure.   All of the world’s greatest wine regions have this day-night large temperature fluctuation.  Think of diurnal shift  as a winemaker’s dream.  

Friday, February 26, 2021

The First Wine to Circumnavigate the Globe

Most Sherry in Spain is bone-dry & used as an aperitif or with a 1st or 2nd course

The 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s around the world voyage was celebrated in 2019.   In 1519 Magellan set sail in a fleet of five ships from southern Spain.   King Carlos I of Spain financed most of the voyage in an attempt to outmaneuver the Portuguese who had locked in the eastern route to spice-laden Indonesia.   

In the course of preparing for this 500th year celebration, historians uncovered a 200 page document detailing the supplies loaded on the fleet before it sailed.  This original manuscript lists 250 casks of Sherry (166,500 bottles).  In today’s dollars, the price would be approximately $80,000.  Magellan spent more on Sherry than he did on armaments to protect his men. 

It’s no surprise that the first wine to circumnavigate the globe was Sherry.  One of the world’s oldest wines, Sherry has been part of the world’s greatest empires and civilizations.  Enjoyed by the Phoenicians (who brought the original grapes for Sherry to Spain), and then by the Greeks, Romans, Moors, Spanish and the British.  During the period when Magellan set sail, Sherry was one of the world’s most popular wines.

                                   The town of Jerez is the capital of Sherry production

Sherry is also produced in the south of Spain very near the area from which Magellan sailed, so this may have also influenced why it was chosen.   Since then laws were enacted in the 1930’s to prevent Sherry from being made anywhere else but a small area surrounding the city of Jerez (not far from the straits of Gibraltar).  While many Americans associate Sherry with a sweet wine, there is an entire portfolio of bone-dry Sherry.  In fact, in Spain the most popular Sherry is completely dry with no trace of sugar.

Wine-Knows will be visiting the Sherry wine countryside this October on our tour to Seville (55 miles from Jerez), and Granada.  There are only four spaces remaining.  Home to the flamenco and mind-dazzling Moorish architecture, this part of southern Spain is the most fascinating in all of the country.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Spain’s Iconic Ham

Spain's ham is coveted by gourmet chefs around the globe

When it comes to food from Spain, there is nothing more classical than Spanish ham (jamón).  Take it from someone who eats very little red meat, Spanish hams are nothing short of magnifico!  And, they are not even remotely related to any ham we have in the US.  This is because the process of producing ham in Spain is very different.  It’s not only lengthy (can take up to three years), but there are technical differences such as labor- intensive traditional curing methods which have been handed down from generation to generation.

Spain’s connection to pork can be traced back to its rural past.  Pigs were extremely important in country villages….so important that they could literally determine the fate of poor farming families.   Once the pig was ready for butchering, not one part of it could be wasted.  Refrigeration only came into being in the late 17th century; prior to that Spaniards had to have a way of preserving meat from ruin.  Out of necessity began the process of curing ham and this very method is still used today.  

The top quality Iberico ham can be *mucho* expensive

Approximately 40 million hams per year are produced in Spain.  They are a mainstay on any Spanish table.  There are two different categories of ham:

Jamón Serrano, which literally translates to “ham from the Sierra mountains,” is from the white pig.   This hybrid pig (a mix of centuries of a variety of mountain pigs) produces a good ham which is reasonable in cost.  Serrano ham accounts for the nearly 90% of ham sold in Spain.  Its aging time is a maximum of 15 months.

Jamón Ibérico, “Iberian ham” is from a pig that is thought to have been introduced to Spain by the Phoenicians nearly 1,000 years BC.  This ancient pig then interbred with Spanish wild boars resulting in a darker color breed.  Spaniards call this pig Pata Negra (black hoof).  

There are actually three levels of Jamón Ibérico which are categorized in accordance with quality based on the pigs’ diet:

  •  Jamón Ibérico de Bellota:  This is very top level quality.  It comes from Pata Negras that are allowed to roam free in oak forests.  The black-footed pig's diet of acorn, combined with aging for three years gives this meats its rich, complex flavor.
  •  Jamón Ibérico de Cebo, in contrast,  is the lowest level.  These same formerly wild boars that have bred with an ancient pigs are fed a diet of grain, and their meat is cured for a maximum of two years.  

  • Jamon de Recebo is the middle quality with the special breed being fed a diet of acorns mixed with grain.  The meat is then aged for at least two years.

             Jamón Iberico de Cebo with melon & mint is a perfect starter (or *is* the meal!)

The actual process of preserving ham in Spain is a dry-curing one---hams are hung in the open air for as much as five years for the country's finest quality.   It also involves salt, water, patience, humidity, varying ambient temperatures, and time.  Hams are dried and matured according to actual laws for aging minimums.   Unlike Italian prosciutto, Spanish hams are not covered with any other external ingredient other than salt in the very beginning.    

          A perfect bite tapa:  Jamón Serrano & roasted piquillo pepper with pistachios for crunch

Spanish ham is some of the best cured meat in the world.  Wine-Knows will be sampling all types of jamón on its two trips to Spain this September and October.  Travelers to the island of Mallorca (only 2 spaces available) will try jamón tapas, and those attending the Granada & Seville trip (4 spaces)  will taste both Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano.

Friday, February 12, 2021

A Perfect Way to Say Love on Valentine’s

                                                  Julia Child's pear tart screams amour

Any cupid should be thrilled to finish a Valentine’s Day meal with this delectable tart from Julia Child’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.   What’s not to love about perfectly ripe pears that have been simmered in red wine, and then magically combined with an almond cream filling and a shortbread cookie crust?  

Julia Child composed this recipe in the late 1950’s at a villa in Provence in the south of France not from the Mediterranean Sea.   Pears still remain one of Provence’s prized autumn fruits.   Julia, however, may have first learned about pear tarts when she was a student in Paris at the prestigious Cordon Bleu during the late 1940’s.    After all, the “city of light” had been famous for its pear tarts since the turn of the century.

But, Julia’s version is not just any pear tart.  Madame Child ups the flavor ante by cooking her pears first in red wine with a stick cinnamon.   The result is a more intense flavor profile, and its bright lipstick-red color should appeal to young and old lovers alike for a special ruby red valentine dessert.   

In September 2022 Wine-Knows has leased the very villa in which Julia wrote her two hallmark cookbooks.  We have only two spots remaining.  For more details on this food and wine homage to Julia, check out our website:

BTW:  Julia’s pear tart recipe can be found on page 642 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.   If you don’t have a copy, there are several online versions, but the following one is almost a dead-ringer for Julia’s original.  (Note:  while I prefer bosc pears, any ripe pear will suffice.)

Wishing you a love-filled Valentine's....

Friday, February 5, 2021

Best-Ever Broccoli

                            A just-plucked-from-the-garden gift was the inspiration 

Supermarkets and farmers markets are now full of fresh emerald green broccoli.  It was, however, a dear friend who loves to garden (thank you, Conni) who brought me a gorgeous wicker basket full of her broccoli that inspired me  to look for a new recipe.  While I love this vegetable, I’ve never found a healthy broccoli recipe that is irresistible….until now.   Broccoli is very nutritious (extremely high in Vitamin C and K), so I hate to cover it up with layers of cheese, or oodles of sour cream and butter.  Not only have I found a healthful rendition, but this recipe is so luscious that you’ll swear it must be unhealthy.

First, a few facts about broccoli that may surprise you.  Broccoli is Italian in origin ---it’s name actually means “flowering top of a cabbage,” which makes sense as it belongs to the same family as cabbage.    Next, broccoli raab (also called rappini), is not actually part of this family but instead is part of the turnip family.  Last,  broccoli is a cousin of cauliflower.

I scoured magazines and the Internet for low carbohydrate and low fat recipes using broccoli.  This recipe received rave reviews and 100% of cooks would make it again (always a positive sign for me).  Yes, the sample size was small but I gave it a whirl as I had all of ingredients in my home.  The result was magic:  deep and complex flavors.  Moreover, the recipe was fairly easy and used only 5 ingredients other than broccoli and salt. 

Best-ever broccoli

The recipe is out of last February’s Bon Appetit, however, if you don't have the magazine it is now posted on  Although I always have Parmigiano-Reggiano in my frig, I didn’t even use it as I wanted to taste a virginal rendition.  (Didn’t miss it, although I’m sure it would have even been more unctuous with a few gratings.)

Friday, January 22, 2021

When Life Gives you Lemons, Preserve Them!

               Our lemon tree has a bumper crop which means preserved lemons for all of 2021!

I first learned about preserved lemons in a Moroccan cooking class I took >30 years ago at a famous Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco.  I had eaten at the restaurant and been taken by the unique, intensely lemon flavors of a chicken “tagine,”  a braised stew which was unlike anything I had ever tasted.   There was an enticing depth of flavor I couldn’t place.  In the cooking class I learned this unknown flavor profile was preserved lemons.

                                      Chicken tagine is one of the classical dishes of Morocco

Preserved lemons are the culinary backbone of Morocco’s cooking, but also are important in the cuisine of Morocco’s neighbors (e.g. Libya, Algeria and Tunisia).  But it’s not just North Africa that uses this condiment.    Lemons which have been preserved also appear in Cambodian, Indian and Pakistani dishes.

         Preserved lemons (called "pickled lemons") are used in this signature soup from Cambodia

Historically, preserving lemons was done as a practical method of utilizing the fruit long after its season, and for transporting it far away from where it was grown.   The earliest reference to preserved lemons is an 11th century account of North African cuisine.   The first recipe known using preserved lemons appears in 12th century in Egypt.

 Preserved lemons require little prep time but definite  patience in waiting for them to "cure" (1 month)

So, how does one preserve lemons?   It’s easy-peasy.   Think of this condiment as a form of salt-cured “canning.”  No fancy canning equipment, however, is needed.  Lemons and salt are the only two ingredients.   You’ll need glass jars with a secure lid (I use pint canning jars----I avoid larger jars as a little of this condiment goes on a long way).  Moroccan cookbook author and instructor, Kitty Morse, has conducted several cooking classes at our home in Vista.  Here’s her family recipe from Morocco:

Preserved lemons add a big punch of flavor.  Think of heavy citrus with floral notes from the oils in the peel, layered with an irresistible complexity.   Why not try this special flavor for something new in 2021?   Just Google “chicken tagine recipe” and you’ll have more than 1.5 million choices.

Here's to trying something new in 2021!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Spain’s Best Region for Foodies

                                       The best dining in all of Spain is in Andalusia

Europe’s second largest country, Spain, offers a wealth of riches for the culinary traveler.  Chorizo is made in every corner of Spain.  Manchego cheese, from the center of the country, is internationally known.  There’s Espelette (a smoky paprika from the Basque hills), and Piquillo peppers from the north.   But, it’s Spain’s southernmost area of Andalusia that knocks it out of the bull-ring for gastronomy.

                     Refreshing gazpacho, an Andalusian specialty, is a made from all local ingredients

Andalusia comprises nearly one-fifth of Spain’s land mass with the Mediterranean being its southern border, Gibraltar and the Atlantic its western boundary.  Seville is its capital, but other famous towns include the phenomenal Moorish cities of Granada and Cordova, as well as the entire Costa del Sol and its epicenter, Malaga.

                                      Spain's most prized olive oil comes from Andalusia

Andalusia has historically been an agricultural region.   Its inland weather is the hottest in Europe which means heat-loving food products such as tomatoes and melons thrive.  Some of Spain’s best olive oils are Andalusian.   Also, Sherry wine vinegar is from this vast culinary land, as is the full lineup of dry and sweet Sherry wine.   Some of Spain’s most loved Iberico ham hails from Andalusia.  Paella is a classical Andalusian dish---this makes sense as half of the country’s rice comes from the area outside of Seville (and the Mediterranean provides a stunning array of shellfish for the popular seafood version).


                          Seafood paella is one of Andalusia's many culinary splendors

Spain’s Andalusia is also an area of rich culture.  In fact, many cultural phenomena that are viewed distinctively as Spanish are largely or entirely from Andalusia.  These include flamenco and bullfighting.   The Moors made significant contributions to Andalusia’s culture, especially in the region’s architecture and  gastronomy.  The Moors not only brought olives & olive oil, but sugar, almonds, citrus, and many stone fruits.  Classical Spanish cuisine spices such as saffron, cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon were also passed to Spain by the Moors.  Equally important, the Moors brought the technology of irrigation, turning Andalusia’s dessert into a rich garden.

                                     Some of the best Iberico ham is found in Andalusia

While there are many enticing parts of Spain for the gourmand, the pinnacle for eating is Andalusia.  Wine-Knows has a group going to Andalusia September 2021.  For more info on this trip which includes Spain’s do-not-miss cities of Seville and Granada (as well as the district's famous Sherry wine district), check out our special culinary adventure:

Friday, January 8, 2021

How Provence Changed the Course of American Cuisine

                                                      Provence's magic awaits...

France’s southernmost region, Provence, is 
an area of remarkable natural beauty, but it's also a culinary wonderland for the food-lover.  Bordering Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, Provence is a gastronomic symphony combining France’s best olive oils, spectacular wines (Chateauneuf du Pape, Bandol, and a plethora of Rosé in 50-plus-shades-of-pink), truffles, a mind-blowing selection of goat cheeses, and colorful outdoor Provençal food markets.  Both the rugged beauty and this treasure trove of food brought Julia Child to Provence in the late 1950’s.

            Towns have a weekly market day brimming with local produce, cheese, olive oil & crafts

Julia Child changed America’s way of eating and both of her ground-breaking cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, were written in Provence. During this time American cuisine was built around convenience. Women, who were joining the workforce for the first time, didn’t have time to cook.  Frozen and canned food were mainstays for working mothers. Quick and easy were themes: canned sloppy Joe’s, frozen fish sticks and TV dinners were all popular, and even orange juice was instant.  It was a sad time in our country’s food history. 

                                  Julia took the intimidation out of cooking & made it fun!

In 1961 Julia's first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published. But, it wasn’t until two years later with her television debut on The French Chef that American housewives first saw a brave new world for cooking.  With her disarming personality, Julia demystified not only French cooking, but cooking in general in regards to using fresh foods. By the 1970’s Julia had become a celebrity, making food and cooking as much a part of American pop culture as rock ‘n roll, fashion, and art. 

                        Bouillabaisse, Provence's most famous seafood dish, was a favorite of Julia's

The villa in Provence where Julia wrote both volumes of her revolutionary cookbooks still exists.  In fact, Wine-Knows has leased it in September 2022.  Participants will dine at some of Julia’s favorite restaurants, visit her beloved olive oil producer, and shop at the local outdoor markets she so loved.  Moreover, there will be excursions to her most treasured hilltop towns and seaside resorts.

           You can stay at the villa where Julia wrote her trailblazing cookbooks & visit her foodie spots

The trip has been perfectly timed for Provence’s most idyllic time of year….after the height of the tourist season and at the most favorable time for perfect weather (late summer/early autumn).  One week has only two openings for culinary travelers to visit “mecca.”  Why not celebrate the COVID vaccine’s arrival by booking a trip for 2022?

                  "I enjoy cooking with wine.  Sometimes I even add it to the food."   Julia Child

Provence has played a huge part in shaping the current foodie scene in America.  Come join one of Wine-Knows'  2022 groups on a wine and culinary adventure to honor Madame Child.

Viva Julia Child!   Viva Provence! 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Michelin Ratings---Setting the Record Straight !

         Stars are Michelin's highest level of ratings, but being listed in the Guide is also an honor

It’s the New Year and time to set the record straight about Michelin restaurant ratings.  There seems to be confusion on the varying levels of Michelin restaurant ratings.   In this Blog we’ll review the different levels of these Michelin “grades.”

First, to set the stage, a little history on the Michelin ratings.  The Michelin tire company produced its first book of restaurant ratings in 1920 to assist new car owners in their first excursions from home in an automobile.   Hotels as well as restaurants were covered.  In 1926 it introduced a “star system” to denote a very special restaurant with outstanding cuisine.  In 1931 the guide morphed to its present day system with four hierarchial rankings:                 

  •  Level A:  lowest level but an honor nonetheless to even be listed in the Michelin Guide.  These restaurants have no stars, but are simply recommended by Michelin.
  • Level B:  One star:  Michelin describes these special restaurants as “high quality cooking worth a stop.”
  • Level C:  Two stars:  defined by Michelin as “excellent cooking worth a detour.”
  • Level D:  Three stars, highest honor:  according to Michelin, this restaurant has “exceptional cuisine worth a special journey.”

Michelin Guides are now in more than twenty countries and carry enormous influence, often exerting a “make or break” situation for restaurants and their chefs.  Fortunes have been made and lost with Michelin star ratings.   At least one chef has committed suicide when a star was taken away, and there have been divorces, restaurant closures and bankruptcies as a result of demotions.

 In summary: 

~  Michelin only gives one, two or three stars.  I can’t tell you the number of times someone has told me they ate at a “five star Michelin restaurant.”  Not possible. 

~ Eating in a Michelin restaurant does not mean it has any stars.  It can be a restaurant simply listed in the Guide (level A above).

~ Michelin’s four levels of rankings need to be taken as simply an opinion.  There are many noteworthy restaurants not even listed in the Michelin Guide.  Furthermore, there are some really serious foodie restaurants listed in the Guide, but without any stars.  Lastly, I have dined at multiple three star restaurants that were disappointing on several levels including food, service, and ambiance.  Conversely, I have eaten at a multitude of one stars that rocked it and were worthy of two or three stars.

~To set the record straight, in the end it’s only your opinion of your dining experience that truly counts.

Wishing you lots of star-studded experiences in 2021!