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 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  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 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 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, 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.