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: