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Friday, December 15, 2017

A White Christmas…with a White Burgundy


The Burgundy region of France is home to some of the most hedonistic wines on planet earth.  White Burgundies (as well as Red Burgundies) have long had a cult following.   As Burgundy produces only 2% of France’s total wine, the old adage of supply and demand can really wreak havoc on Burgundian prices.  If there’s one day during the year, however, that people should pull out their White Burgundy gems, it's Christmas.

White Burgundy is made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape.  Chardonnay actually originated in Burgundy.  DNA testing shows that Chardonnay is a mix between Pinot Noir (Burgundy’s red grape) and Gouais Blanc.  Somewhere, somehow, Pinot and Gouais crossed in the vineyard and Chardonnay was born as  their offspring.

Many wine connoisseurs believe that Burgundy’s whites are the pinnacle of any Chardonnay on the globe.  One author in a recent article went so far as to call Burgundian white as the “crack cocaine of all Chardonnay.”   While the analogy may be a turn-off, the point is well-taken in that white Burgundy can be addictive.   Once you’ve had it, you crave more.

So what makes Burgundy’s Chardonnay so very special?   It can be summed up in one word:  terroir.  While there is no literally translation for this French word, terroir refers to the many factors that can effect a wine (e.g. climate, topography, and soil). Burgundy’s mineral-laden soils exert a tremendous effect.  White Burgundies are known for their minerality, in the aromas as well as on the palate.

The best vineyards in all of Burgundy were mapped out centuries ago by monks who learned by trial and error which plots of consistently earth produced the best  Chardonnays for the church’s cellar.  Today, these very vineyards have been given Grand Cru status by the French government.  It’s these Grand Crus that have the real cult-following.  And, it’s your Grand Crus that should be brought out for a celebration such as Christmas dinner.

Here are five Grand Cru Burgundies that ought to knock off both Santa’s and Rudolph’s socks (listed in alpha order):

     ~ Comtes Lafon, Montrachet Grand Cru
     ~ Drouhin, Clos des Mouches Grand Cru
     ~ Louis Jadot, Les Demoiselles Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
     ~ Olivier Leflaive, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
     ~ William Fevre, Valmur Chablis Grand Cru

If you have a desire to learn more about Burgundy’s Grand Cru Chardonnays, check out Wine-Knows 2019 trip to both Burgundy & Champagne:   www.WineKnowsTravel.com.

Have a white and a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Seeing Red for the Holidaze

                                                     Holidaze at the Dunn household

There’s no better shade of red for this season than that of luscious Red Bell Pepper Soup.  Served in a clear glass bowl, it can be a wonderfully colorful first course for your holiday table.   It’s not only divinely delicious, but it’s healthy and low in calories.  Moreover, red bell peppers are plentiful this time of year. 

Ingredients:

6 roasted bell peppers (do not use store bought, jarred peppers)
3 carrots, grated
4 shallots, chopped
1 pear diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
3 Tablespoons of butter
4 Cup of chicken stock
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Blacken peppers over an open flame or under the broiler (turning constantly to the other side once they are black).   Place in paper bag to steam off the skins.  Let them rest for 20-30 minutes to cool for handling.  Remove skin and seeds (do not rinse them under any water as this removes wonderful oils and flavors from the peppers).

Place carrots and shallots in a large skilled with butter and EVOO and cook for 10 minutes.   Add peeled and seeded peppers, along with the remainder of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Puree in blender.   Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with a drizzle of basil oil or fresh green herbs for holiday color.   (Serves 6-8)

Bon appetit.   Happy Holidaze.




Friday, December 1, 2017

Say Cheese for the Holidays

                                                   This Stilton tart is a holiday crowd pleaser
                   
Let me start by saying it’s blue.  If you’re not a lover of blue cheese than read no further.  However, if you are enamored with the blues then look no further for a holiday splurge.  Stilton is the King of cheeses and this savory tart is very special.

Stilton comes from the area of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, England’s central region.  Unlike Roquefort and Gorgonzola which are both made from sheep’s milk, Stilton is 100% cow’s milk.  All three of these well-known blue cheeses, however, rely on the same organism to create their characteristic blue-green veining:  penicillium roqueforti.  Of all of the world’s blue cheeses, Stilton has the lowest water content, as well as the lowest salt.  On the other hand, Stilton also has the highest amount of fat and protein which means that it’s the richest and creamiest of all of the blues.  No wonder I love it so.

My favorite Stilton recipe is a scrumptious tarte that I was served at a smashing restaurant in Bath, England over 30 years ago.  I managed to get my hands on the recipe and it has been a standard ever since in my home, especially during the holiday season.   This Stilton tart, along with a simple green salad and a big red that can hold up to the cheese (think Cabernet or Amarone), could easily make sugar-plums dance in your head.  The recipe can easily be made the day before, and any left-overs can be frozen for another winter’s feast.  The dish can be served warm or at room temperature.

STILTON TOMATO TART (serves 10 as a first course)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Ingredients for Pastry Dough
1 cube of butter cut into small pieces
1.5 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk (+ another whole egg for sealing the crust AFTER the shell has baked)
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Ingredients for Tart Filling
2 shallots
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
½ pound Stilton
2 eggs
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions for Pastry Dough

Put flour, salt and butter pieces into food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Process just until all ingredients are mixed.  With food processor running, add liquids (egg yolk, lemon and water) a little at a time.  Stop when pastry forms a ball.  Do not over process or dough will be tough.

Place formed dough on wax paper, flatten it, wrap it and chill for at least 20 minutes.   On a flour surface, roll to 1/8 inch thick.  Place on a 10 inch round flan ring or pie dish.  Crimp edge.  Prick bottom of shell with fork and chill for another 30 min in frig.
Line shell with wax paper and then add dried beans or dried rice and bake in lower third of preheated oven.  Carefully remove the beans or rice and wax paper (can be used in another dish).  Return shell to oven.  Bake for another 10 -15 minutes until it is lightly colored.

Remove and brush the shell with an egg wash made by lighting beating an egg with a tablespoon of water.  Bake the shell for 2 more minutes to set the glaze.  Cool shell on a rack.

Lower oven to 375 degrees.

Tart Assembly

Mince 2 shallots and sprinkle evenly over the bottom of the cooled shell.  Top shallots with an overlapping layer of tomatoes.  Crumble Stilton evenly over tomato layer.

In a bowl lightly wisk remaining 2 eggs, whipping cream, nutmeg, salt and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour custard into the shell and bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is lightly golden and the filling is just set. 


Bon Appetit!


Friday, November 24, 2017

Online Gifts for Foodies


I’ve made my list….and I’ve checked it twice.  Here’s what on my 2017 list:


Piquillo Peppers: 
I order these yummy mild peppers from Spain year around by the case, however, their gorgeous red color make them absolute perfection for Christmas.  While I can eat them solo (right out of the jar), for the holidaze I prefer to serve them as an h’ordeuvre filled with fresh Dungeness crab and a little crème fraiche.  Olé!
(Amazon.com)


Farro:
Don’t know what gift to send a foodie who has everything?  If the gourmand lives in a non-metropolitan area, consider sending farro, a wonderful grain from Italy.   Although previously a rustic Italian staple, farro is now the new darling of the food world.  It can be cooked like risotto, or used as a substitute in pasta recipes.  Magnifico.
(Amazon.com)


Croissants:
I’ve been ordering William Sonoma’s outrageously decadent croissants for >20 years.  These are the closest rendition to the authentic French version that I’ve found on this side of the Atlantic.  While their price tag is steep, it’s much cheaper than an airline ticket to Paris.  Shipped to you frozen and uncooked, set them out the night before and bake them the next morning.  OMG. 
(williams-sonoma.com)


Stilton Cheese:
Every autumn I order a small wheel of Stilton as a luxurious treat for my husband and myself.  I especially love the Stilton made by Long Clawson Dairy (England).   I freeze it in several small sections and then take it out piece-by-piece to make our favorite autumn salad with Fuyu persimmons, pomegranates, toasted nuts and arugula, as well as other heavenly dishes like the Stilton tart (see next week’s Blog for this recipe).  
(Igourmet.com)


Lobster:
Need a special something for a special someone?  Nothing screams holidaze like fresh lobsters from Maine.   Caught one day and overnighted the next…what could be a better way to ring in 2018!

(mainelobsternow.com)

HAPPY HOLIDAZE !


Friday, November 17, 2017

Giving Thanks...




This upcoming week reminds us to give thanks for our blessings.   I have many, most of them big blessings like great health and wonderful family/friends. On a less serious note, here’s my list of wines for which I am thankful.

Tropical Sauvignon Blancs
I love Sauv Blancs that offer a tropical profile (usually from in warmer climates).   I don’t find cool climate Sauv Blancs with their green, grassy, herbal notes particularly appealing (but many do).   Merry Edwards is my current fave Cali rendition.

Buttery Chardonnays
Yes, I’m going to buck the trend of those shying away from these wines and put in a plug for a well-crafted Char with a voluptuous, velvety texture and other subtle nuances that stem from Malo-Lactic fermentation.  

Wines with a great finish
While many concentrate on a big fruit forward wine that offers enticing aromas and a great palate, one of the most important things for me is a lengthy finish.

Wines that offer a great bang-for-the-buck
I don’t mind paying some serious money for a killer wine.   That being said, my faves are those that provide killer price/quality ratios.  One of the best producers for quality/price is Joel Gott (Napa Valley) who sources all of his grapes.  His wines are in the 20 bucks range.   Another great producer is Barrel 27 (Paso Robles) which offers off-the-chart-values for their well-crafted wine in the same price range.

Wines with fruits and minerals
I’m falling in love with subtle mineral nuances, especially if they are layered with fruits.  Suggestions:  Assyrtiko (a wine from the Greek island of Santorini), or Nero di Avola (from the Mount Etna region of Sicily).

Obscure varietals
I am so excited to learn about new varietals, especially indigenous varieties that aren’t available anywhere else.  Look for the Torrontes (a white fruit-bomb) from Argentina, or Bierzo (a heavenly red) from Northern Spain.  Be adventurous!


Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 10, 2017

Red Burgundy in Your Glass

                  Burgundy is all about Old World winemaking where“less is more”

Before we delve into how wines of France’s northeast Burgundy translate into what one experiences in the glass, let’s start with other differences in Burgundian reds.  Before one even opens the bottle there are differences to note.  First, notice that the Burgundian bottle is distinct with feminine, sloping shoulders.  In contrast, the Bordeaux bottles have harder edged, masculine shoulders.

Bordeaux (L), Burgundy (R)

Next, we need a glass.  A Burgundy glass.  The Burgundian glass has a large bowl which tapers in at the top, designed to enhance Pinot's delicate aromas.

Bordeaux (L), Burgundy (R)

Now, pour the Burgundy.  Reds in Burgundy are made from Pinot Noir, one of the lightest colored wines.  (Burgundian Pinots are generally lighter in color than their American counterparts).  That being said, Pinots as a group are pale raspberry or cranberry shades, and are transparent.   Bordeaux, on the other hand, is composed of dark grapes such as Cabernet and Merlot.  Syrah (Shiraz), from the Rhone Valley is the darkest of all wine grapes in the glass.  Bordeaux and Rhone wines also differ from Burgundy in that they are opaque.

                                                  Pinot Noir is the lightest red wine

Before we move on to aromas and taste profiles, let’s first discuss the differences in Old World vs. New World techniques in producing Pinot Noir.  Burgundy (Old World) is all about “less is more.”  Less manipulation in the wine-making process.  Less extraction of fruit.  Less oak.  Wild yeasts vs. cultured yeasts.

Aromas and flavors in Burgundian wines are very influenced by this less is more philosophy.  The area’s terroir also plays a huge role.   Unlike California or Chile  where sunshine is abundant, grapes in Burgundy are typically less ripe because of the weather.  This means Burgundian reds are not jammy like their super ripe New World counterparts.  Since high sugar levels also translate to high alcohol, this means that Burgundian wines have traditionally lower alcohol levels and therefore pair better with most foods.   It also means that Burgundy’s Pinots are less fruit-forward, and instead are more about earth profiles (think the scent of the forest), as well minerals (think the smell of wet stones).

Red Burgundy, in general, is quite expensive due to the phenomena of supply and demand.  There are, however, some good buys regarding price/quality to be found.  Try Jadot's Marsannay ($40), or Latour's Santenay ($30).  Both are excellent and readily available in the US.

Wine-Knows will be visiting the creme de la creme producers of Burgundy on their 2019 tour.  There are 4-5 spaces remaining.   www.WineKnowsTravel.com.




Friday, November 3, 2017

Amarone---from Obscurity to Stardom

     The historic estate of Dante Alighieri's has been leased for Wine-Knows' 2018 harvest tour


Pick up a wine magazine published in the last few years and chances are there will be an article about these rich, dark, voluptuous reds from northeast Italy.   Amarone has moved from relative anonymity to more front and center stage.  This is even more impressive in an era when lighter style wines are in vogue and consumers are shying away from higher alcohol wines.  Amarone is big, bold, and complex with alcohol levels that can vary between 14-17%.

It’s full name is Amarone della Valpolicella, but it is usually referred to simply by Amarone.   The wine is named after the district in which the grapes are grown, Valpolicella (which means the “area of many wineries”).  Located just north of Romeo and Juliette’s city of Verona and only 70 miles from Venice, Valpolicella has been producing wines since the Romans arrived a few millenniums ago.  Amarone was given its own special DOCG status by the Italian government in 2010.

                    
                    Amarone's grapes are dried for months prior to being made into wine

Amarone is like no other wine in that it is made by an ancient technique called appassimento.   The appassimento process involves laborious air drying of the grapes on wooden racks for more nearly four months, carefully turning the dehydrating fruit regularly to check for rot.  It involves a special building designed for ultimate ventilation.  The wine also relies on a lot of help from Mother Nature.  Winds from the nearby Alps are essential; however, moisture (which promotes mold) is a big problem.  Grapes (all local varietals unknown to Americans) typically lose 30-40% of their moisture before they are vinified.

The final product is a full-bodied, high-powered wine.  Raisin-like grapes have concentrated sugars which ultimately convert to alcohol.  In spite of its strength, if Amarone's alcohol is in balance with the other elements, the wine can be seductive with an enticing nose of black cherries, figs and spices such as cloves.  Its taste yields beguiling rich, dense, and velvet textures.  To appreciate its charm, however, it must be served with the right food.  Full-bodied foods, such as hearty meat dishes, are a great pairing.   Fish or chicken generally won’t work.  Amarone can pair with strong cheeses such as Stilton, or other big-flavored, aged cheeses.

                  Braised short ribs and a glass of Amarone are a marriage made in heaven

Amarone production has risen to 15 million bottles per year, a staggering increase of nearly 700% in the last 20 years.   Again, considering the trend is moving away from high alcohol wines, this ought to tell you something about how special Amarone is.   Why not try an Amarone during the upcoming holiday season?  Masi, an outstanding producer, is readily available in the US.   BTW: Wine-Knows’ 2018 harvest tour to Valpolicella and Piedmont will be staying on the historic Masi estate which was once owned by Renaissance personality Dante Alighieri.   Join us!   www.WineKnowsTravel.com