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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bouillabaisse

                                               An array of fish & seafood are used
      
I’m heading in a few days to a fishing village located on the Mediterranean in France, and I'm already already dreaming of Bouillabaisse.  This classical French fish stew is synonymous with dining on the French Riviera.  There’s hardly a restaurant on the water in Marseille or St Tropez that doesn’t offer this complex dish.  Those who don’t have it are typically simple eating places that can’t afford the costly seafood, fish and saffron---not to mention the long, slow cooking process to make the Mediterranean’s most flavor-filled fish dish.

Many think that Bouillabaisse originated in Marseille but research shows otherwise.  This quintessential French fish chowder actually has its roots in the Greek civilization.  It was Greeks living on the western coast of Turkey who founded Marseille in 600 BC.  These ancient Greek sailors brought with them a recipe for a fish soup that is similar to France’s Bouillabaisse.

The fish stew of the original Greek settlers became very popular in the early days of Marseille.  As Marseille was growing into a powerful port city, the fishing industry became its biggest economy.  The fish that the fishermen couldn’t sell was brought home for wives to add to the family’s fish soup.  Most of the fish that didn’t sell were those with bones so Bouillabaisse morphed into a rich stew because of the flavors added by these bones, fish heads, and other unsightly fish parts that could not be sold.
                                                                                              
Another change in the dish occurred when the tomato was brought back from the Americas in the 16th century.  They were soon added to the broth for flavor, color and acidity.  In the 19th century Marseille had become very prosperous.  Bouillabaisse, once a poor fisherman’s dish, was reinvented with the addition of pricey saffron, and began appearing in upscale restaurants.    

I will be preparing Julia Child's version soon at a “Week in Provence with Julia Child.” To get in the mood I'm watching Julia's French Chef TV show:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuiTwik0vvU 

Bon Appetit!




Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Birthing of a Provençal Rosé

                                    Rosés in Provence are made in 2 distinct methods
I’m leaving shortly for Provence.  At this time of year Provence is synonymous with Rosé.  For centuries, Rosé has been a staple in southern France’s district of Provence.  Today, however, Provence is the world’s leading district for dry Rosé production (accounting for nearly 50% of the region’s wines).  While there are three different ways in which a Rosé can be made in some regions of France, in Provence there are only two methods for creating a Rosé.
Let’s start with the basics.  Vinifying a Rosé starts with red wine grapes.   Clear juices from the grapes are kept in contact for a short time with the darkly pigmented skins.  Once the juice becomes pinkish (or a deeper salmon or coral) from contact with the dark skins, it is then removed from further interaction with the skins. 
Now, let’s discuss Provence’s two ways of birthing a Rosé.  The first method is called “saignée,” a French term which means “to bleed.”  The saignée method literally “bleeds” or siphons off some of the grape juice during the making of a red wine fermentation.  (The remaining red wine, now quite concentrated, is then fermented separately from the Rosé).  Among many current Rosé purists, saignée is viewed as merely a by-product of a more complex red wine.   Nonetheless, this method remains popular in many parts of the world and the resulting Rosés can be superb. 
The second method in Provence involves a direct pressing of the grapes, with the sole purpose of making a Rosé.  Soon after the red grapes are harvested they are pressed, separating the juice from the skins.  Because the contact with the juice and skins is minimal, these “pressed” Rosés tend to be paler than those of saignée. This technique is especially popular now in Provence and continues to grow in popularity with winemakers around the world.  Many winemakers prefer the direct press method as they are able to have the final product (Rosé) in mind from the picking of the grapes through vinification (in contrast to saignée where red wines are the final product). This means grapes can be harvested at the optimal period for a Rosé versus a Grenache or Syrah.
Here’s a list of my favorite Rosés from Provence in alpha order:
  • Chateau Bormettes Instinct Parcellaire
  • Famile Negrel Petite Reine
  • Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles
  • Domaine Ribotte Cuvee Anais
  • Chateau Salettes 
  • Chateau Valentines Huit

  Have a Rosé-colored Sunday!


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Rothschild Bubbly

                                                        Rose, Blanc de Blanc & Brut

Champagne made by the Rothschild family?  To those who know French wine this is an oxymoron.   After all, the Rothschild family is from Bordeaux and they only produce the area's Premier Cru red still wine.  By French law, even if the company produced sparkling wine in Bordeaux it could not be called Champagne as only bubbly made in the demarcated area of Champagne in northeast district of France can be called Champagne.  But, the Rothschilds do produce Champagne….read on.

Champagne Barons de Rothschild is made up of three different branches of the family which individually own three different crème de la crème chateaux in Bordeaux: Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite-Rothschild and Clarke.   In 2003 these three branches of the family (often seen as rivals) came together and formed a boutique company with the sole purpose of producing Champagne.  All of the grapes that make their bubbly are from the Champagne region’s top vineyards.

The Barons de Rothschild Champagne was first released in 2015.  I had the good fortune to have one of these early bottles thanks to dear friends who graciously gifted me a bottle for my birthday.  I have never forgotten it and, in fact, blogged about it as one of the best wines I had in 2015.   Last week we had a party to christen a small property on the beach we just purchased.  These same friends showed up with another bottle of Rothschild Champagne.    


There are only 500,000 bottles made each year so it’s not widely available in the US.  However, it is worth seeking out.  You can find it easily online, and upscale area Costco’s occasionally have it.   I’ve had some serious Champagne in my day, but believe me when I say, this is gorgeous stuff.  The wine comes in five different possibilities.  There’s a Brut (made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), a Rosé (only Pinot Noir), a Blanc de Blanc (only  Chardonnay), and a 2005 Vintage wine (made only of grapes from this vintage).  I was gifted the Brut.

If you’re looking for a great bottle for a special occasion, look no further.  This wine is the bomb.  





Friday, April 28, 2017

Tantalizing Torrontes

                            
                                  Torrontes and the sea are a marriage made in heaven

I have had a big love affair with Torrontes for at least 15 years. Argentina’s signature white varietal, Torrontes is pure seduction.   I love it on so many levels.  First, because it’s a food friendly wine (good acid levels make it perfect for pairing).   Second of all, this sexy little fruit-bomb offers both an enticing nose as well as taste of some of my favorite summer fruits:  apricots and peaches.  Last, the wine has a sensual velvety texture.   I have written about Torrontes probably in 10 articles, however, on my recent trip to South America I learned something new I want to share with you.

Torrontes is a cross between the Muscat & Mission grape.  I’ve long been a huge fan of dry Muscat wines (especially those from Alsace).   The Mission grape was brought to South America by Spanish conquistadores who wanted to make wine.  Interestingly, the Mission grape was among the first also cultivated in the USA.

Torrontes, rarely seen outside of Argentina, is the perfect warm weather wine.  As we live in a near-perfect climate of year around 70 degrees in San Diego, we always have plenty of it on hand.  As we have just purchased a small hideaway for weekends on the nearby beach, we’re ramping up our stock.  With summer approaching quickly, you may want to consider doing the same. 

My favorite producer?  This year it was the 2015 Series A by Zuccardi.  Grown in the Salta region of the Argentine Andes in one of the world’s highest vineyards, this Torrontes is a steal at $15-20 a bottle.  In case you can’t find it at your local retailer, it can easily be obtained on the Internet.  For example, Wine.com currently has this vintage for $15...while there's a shipping fee, there's no tax.   (Be sure to order bottles shipped soon and always insist that the order be shipped on a Monday so that it's not sitting in some hot warehouse over a weekend).


Viva Torrontes!  


Friday, April 21, 2017

Tequila Vs Mezcal

               Agave plants are prepared for their painstaking cooking process in earthen ovens.

On a recent trip to Northern California friends took me to a hip Oaxacan restaurant in downtown Oakland, the new foodie’s mecca of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Having lived in Oakland for 40 years prior to relocating to San Diego, I was ready to celebrate the city’s culinary renaissance with a serious margarita at this new Mexican restaurant.  I discussed the tequila options in detail with the waiter, and settled on a middle of the road quality from their list of >200 tequilas.  The drink I received blew my mind.

While I am a wine expert, my knowledge of tequila is somewhat limited.  Having grown up on Mexican food and visited Mexico close to 100 times, I’ve had my fair share of margaritas, however, I’ve never seriously analyzed tequila.  While I’ve developed a killer margarita recipe (one of my most requested), I’ve concentrated more on the ratios involved, and complexity using a mélange of different citrus.  The margarita I was served at this restaurant changed forever changed my future margaritas.

I knew the tequila in my drink was something completely different from what I have ever experienced.  What I tasted was a complex layering of something smoky.  Could I have mistakenly ordered a very old tequila that had been aged in wood which had a high toast on the barrel?  (Do tequila makers even use toasted barrels?)  

I called over the waitress to confirm my order and she affirmed that the margarita she had brought me was indeed the one I had ordered.  With further questioning she added that drink’s tequila was a young one and there was no wood influence.  I next asked her to bring the bottle.  Expecting a deep- colored tequila (from wood aging), the alcohol was perfectly clear.  Still perplexed, I asked if I could smell it.  Removing the cap, I found a neutral smelling liquid that was not even remotely related to what I smelled in my margarita.  I knew there had been a mistake with the tequila. The waitress suggested sending over the restaurant’s tequila expert.  Perfecto!

I struck, gold with the tequila guru.  He began explaining the tequila that was used in the drink and he, too, confirmed that it had never seen wood.  I handed my drink for him to smell.  The very first whiff he turned to me and said “You received a margarita made with the wrong alcohol.  Your drink is made with mezcal.”  He then proceeded to explain the difference between the two liquors, both made from the agave plant.

Mezcal is different from tequila in 3 ways:

1.  The biggest difference is the manner in which the two are made.  Premium producers of Mezcal roast the agave in underground pits over wood.  These earthen “ovens” cook, smoke, and carmelize the agave imparting a complex layering of these flavors.  This is exactly what I had tasted in my margarita.

2.  Another difference is that tequilia and mezcal are made from different types of agave.  By law tequila can only be made only from Blue Agave, however, mezcal can be made not only from the blue plant, but from more than 30 varieties of Agave.

3.  The last difference has to deal with laws dictating geographical constraints.  Tequila can only be produced in 5 specific regions, whereas mezcal has 9 distinct regions in which it can be made.

The knowledgeable staff person immediately brought me the correct margarita, however, after tasting the mezcal concoction the tequila margarita tasted dull and insipid.  Next, the staff expert brought a margarita made with half tequila and half mezscal (one of the favorites on the restaurant’s drink list.)  This was perfection!  A subtle hint of smokiness was present, but did not over-power as it had done in the original margarita I had been served.  This last one was the best of both worlds, laced with complexity but with only a whisper of a smoky profile.

Cinco de Mayo is around the corner.  Go buy a bottle of high-end mezscal and a good quality tequila.  Experiment.  Enjoy.  (And, if you should ever be in the Bay Area, don’t miss Calavera restaurant in Oakland).

Viva Mexico!



Friday, April 14, 2017

Piedmont: Birth of Slow Food…and More


Regrettably, Piedmont is not on the destination list of most American tourists.  This may be in part due to Rick Steves, who has yet to include this gem of an area in his popular books and television travel programs.  Grazie, Ricardo!  Even if you’re not a foodie or a wine-lover, Piedmont offers many gems.  If you’re a foodie or oenophile, Piedmont may just be the most exciting region in all of Italy.



Most foodies know about of the Slow Food movement, but how many knew it began in Piedmont?  The opening of a fast food restaurant in the heart of Rome in the mid-1980’s touched a real nerve with a journalist from Piedmont.   Shortly thereafter, the writer began Slow Food.  Today, the organization is in 150 countries and its mission is to preserve traditional and regional cuisine.

                           Wine-Knows will watch the birth of artisinal chocolate at a rock-star producer

Piedmont’s traditional cuisine is a treasure-trove of culinary delights.  Home of the premier white truffle, the world’s most expensive gastronomic item, Piedmont is also the area for some Italy’s finest chocolate and hazelnuts.  In addition to high-end artisanal chocolates, even Nutella and Ferrero Rocher are made here.  The area is also the source of Italy’s most illustrious rice.  Preferred by many Michelin-star chefs throughout Italy for risotto because of its firmer texture, canaroli rice is grown in Piedmont.

                Piedmont's Alps provide the perfect situation for a plethora of cow, sheep & goat cheeses 

Piedmont means the “foot of the mountain.”   The foothills of the Alps shared with France and Switzerland, also produce some outstanding cheeses.  Even in a country recognized for its cheeses, Piedmont is a standout.


                     Eataly offers a cornucopia of the very best food products from all of Italy

The Piedmont district is the birthplace for Italy’s most famous food emporium-kitchen shop, Eataly.  Think Williams-Sonoma meets Whole Foods, with the addition of some mind-boggling dining venues such as a mozzarella-bar, wood-fired pizzeria, seafood eatery, and a pasta-centric restaurant.

Last, but not least, Piedmont is the pinnacle for several of Italy’s most magnificent wines, Barolo and Barbaresco.  These wines are some of the country’s most complex reds…and expensive. 

Wine-Knows will be visiting Piedmont next autumn (2018) at the time of their world-renown Truffle Festival.  One of the highlights will be a private truffle hunt into the forest with a “trifalou” (truffle hunter) and his dog.   Foodies will be thrilled with visits to Piedmont’s super-star chocolate-maker, as well as a producer of canaroli rice.  Naturally, we won’t miss Eataly…and there will be a dance-card sprinkled with the district’s world-class wine producers.  At the moment, there are only 5 open spots on this trip.    www.WineKnowsTravel.com




Friday, April 7, 2017

Chile & Argentina 2017


Wine-Knows had a rock-star lineup of wineries on our recent trip to the southern hemisphere, so choosing favorites is daunting.  Both countries continue to push the quality envelope.  While there continue to be bargains, there are also world-class wines with commiserate world-class pricing.   All below are available in the US, especially online (listed in alpha-order with US pricing).

  • Casa de Uco Malbec (2013).  Compelling, beautifully complex. $45


  • Catena Zapata Nicasia (2012).  A serious wine in every way.  $135

  • De Martino Las Cruces Single Vineyard (2014).  Mingling of old vine Malbec and Carmenere.  Complex with long finish. $45


  • Koyle Cab Sauvignon (2013).  Fabulous complexity with smooth tannins considering its young age.  Terrific buy.  $20


  • Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc (2015).  A warm weather Sauv Blanc oozing with tropical flavors.  A steal.  $15


  • Los Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserve (2014).  Beautiful fruit, spices, herbal & floral.  One of the best values on the trip.  $20


  • Los Maquis Franco (2011).  100% Cabernet Franc. Chile’s best Cabernet Franc and it could compete on the world stage.  $100


  • Vina San Pedro Cabo de Horno (2014).  Killer Cabernet with well integrated tannins and a heavenly finish.  $45


  • Vina San Pedro Altair (2013).  This one had me at “hello” but didn’t stop all the way to “goodbye.”  Serious wine.  $100
 
  • Zuccardi Torrontes Series A (2015).  Grown in one of the world’s highest vineyards in the Andes, it’s a perfect summer wine.  $15