Thursday, October 27, 2022

Why do Wines Have a Peppery Smell/Taste?

                   Syrah is one of the most well known grapes for its peppery characteristics

If you’re a Syrah lover (especially those produced in warm climates such as the Rhone Valley), then you’re most likely more than aware of this varietal’s pepper nuances.   There’s a scientific reason for this pepper and it has do with a chemical called rotundone.  This same substance, rotundone, not only appears in Syrah grapes but occurs in both white and black peppercorns.  Unlike many parts of a grape that are changed during the fermentation process, rotundone survives fermentation and ends up in your glass creating a spicy, peppery character.

Rotundone is a relatively newly discovered compound.   It was identified only fifteen years ago by researchers who were on a quest to investigate the science behind the peppery smell in wine.  The chemical, present in the skins of grapes, is found in miniscule amounts.  But, rotundone is such a  powerful aromatic compound that one teaspoon can cause an Olympic size pool to smell like the inside of a pepper grinder.

Both the white pepper smells of cool weather Syrahs, as well as the black pepper of Syrah grown in warmer terroirs are due to rotundone.   And, it’s not only limited to Sryah grapes.  In fact many varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Pinot Noir and even the white varietal Gruner Veltliner have been discovered to have rotundone.  Interestingly, the rotundone chemical is also present in marjoram and even some cocoa powders, and the smell is also present in well-aged leather.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Are Michelin Stars Worth the Hype?

       Michelin stars used to be awarded for setting, tablescape, artwork, flowers, service & wine list

I was in France for >6 weeks  recently and dined at a series of Michelin star restaurants.  My mission was to answer the following question:   do these pinnacles of gastronomy still deserve my heart and my credit card?   Let me shed a little light on my quest.

The criteria for receiving a Michelin star has changed since my first star dining experience >40 years ago in Paris.  For example, ambiance used to be a big criteria, but the last ten years Michelin stars have been awarded to pubs, sushi bars, and even noodle joints.  Elements of fine dining, likewise, are no longer vital to receive a coveted Michelin star.  Food is the touchstone (regardless of setting) with items such as use of quality ingredients, the chef's mastery of culinary techniques, consistency of food, and value being some of Michelin's current star criteria.

This reversal in Michelin's star measures may explain why the last few years that my  Michelin star dining experiences have resulted in disappointment.   Beforehand, I have been wowed with luxurious trappings such as elegant floral arrangements, gorgeous china & cutlery, top notch stemware, flawless service, fabulous linens, and a mesmerizing wine list.  All of this was before I took my first bite.  In the past the food had nearly catapulted me out of my comfortable silk upholstered chair.  Over the past few years my experience at Michelin stars, however, have not moved me more than an inch or two…mostly because the chair was bare bones and not at all comfortable.

Over the course of 6 weeks I dined in two different one star Michelins, and two restaurants that had been awarded two stars.  All were luxurious old world dining experiences with all the bells and whistles for what Michelin stars used to be.  The cost for food varied from $150-300 per person (wine was extra).  I am happy to say, they were all worth the hype.   All were deserving of their catapulted ranking.  Food at all were the stars of the show, and the chefs were all pushing the creativity angle.  Service was superior.   Both  of the two star Michelins had wine lists that were nearly 100 pages.

All four restaurants were worthy of my credit card and my admiration.  I've listed the four below in the order in which I dined.  I would dine in all of them again in a heart beat.  I've also noted my remarks noting their most worthy features:

  • Restaurant Lalique, Sauternes (two stars).   MOST CREATIVE
  • Les Terrailiers, Biot (one star).  BEST VALUE
  • Des Rois, Beaulieu sur Mer (one star)   MOST DAZZLING SETTING
  • Chevre-D'Or, Eze (two stars)   MOST ENCHANTING