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Friday, July 14, 2017

England Wins World's Best Wine!

                           The Brits are knocking it out of the park with some killer wines.

England and wine?  That's an oxymoron for many wine lovers. However, for serious oenophiles, English wines have been appearing in the last few years on the world’s radar screen with increasing frequency.  In 2016, for example, an English bubbly beat out several French Champagnes in a blind tasting that shocked the wine world.  Now, a white wine from England just won “Best in Show” among > 17,000 wines in a tasting judged by a panel of international experts.

This riveting wine-tasting was sponsored by Decanter Magazine (Europe’s version of Wine Spectator).  Winners were recently announced at the 2017 World Wide Wine Awards.   Winbirri Vineyards 2015 Bacchus was the victor with judges describing it as the "perfect aperitif wine."  Comments included "complex, oily nose with spice, elderflower and citrus."   It was also deemed to be "very elegant and delicate with a slight spritz and a long, clean finish." 

Never hear of the Bacchus varietal?  Not many have as the grape is not grown in many spots other than the colder vineyards of Europe.  Bacchus is a hybrid, coming from a cross of Riseling, Sylvaner and Muller Thurgau grapes.  Named after the Roman God of wine, Bacchus is being increasingly planted in English vineyards.  The cooler climate in England allows this grape to retain high acid levels.  When allowed to fully ripen, Bacchus can offer powerful flavors.

Wine-Knows still has limited space on its June 2019 trip to England (the 2018 English tour sold out).  The 2019 tour will be showcased on our website later this summer. Currently, there are only 6 spaces remaining.  The trip will focus on the stunning Cotswold countryside, however, visits will also be made to Kent, Surrey and Hampshire district (all of which are located along England's southern coast).

Long live the Queen !

Friday, July 7, 2017

Michelin Buys Robert Parker



The giant Michelin Tire empire (who also owns the prestigious Michelin restaurant guides), just announced its purchase of 40% of Robert Parker’s renown Wine Advocate and its website RobertParker.com.   Parker, who founded the publication in 1978, sold it in 2012 to a group of Singapore investors. 

Robert Parker’s reviews and ratings help make or break wineries all over the world, as well as set global wine prices.  An East Coast attorney by trade, Parker left the legal world in 1984 to concentrate full-time on rating wine.  France awarded him the Legion of Honor in 1999 to recognize his unprecedented impact on French wine.  Although he is no longer the Editor of the powerful publication he birthed, Parker is still considered the most powerful wine critic on the globe. 


The marriage of the Wine Advocate and Michelin will surely effect the international culinary scene.  Just how is yet to be known, however, the two have been partnering for the last year to produce gastronomic events in Singapore.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Madeira Breaks all the Rules

             Madeira's fortified wines are made in a method completely different from other wines

I’ve been on the Portuguese island of Madeira for the last several days with a group of Wine-Knows.  Madeira is unusual in many ways.  First, it’s closer to Africa that it is to Europe (same latitude as Casablanca, Morocco).  Second, the wine for which it is most famous (fortified wine) was discovered by accident.  But, the most remarkable distinction of this wine is that it breaches many tenets used in traditional wine-making.

Let’s start with some basic background.   Madeira’s wines, highly coveted in the 17th century, were being shipped all over the world.   The island was perfectly positioned on the newly opened trade routes to the Americas, as well as a long- scheduled stop on the important trade routes to India.  Its earliest wines, however, had a habit of spoiling at sea as they were being transported.  To stabilize them, Madeira wine-makers followed suit of their colleagues in the mainland’s Port area and added a small amount of brandy to alleviate degeneration.  Thus, the birthing of the island’s “fortified” wine.

Madeira winemakers learned other instrumental factors from the wines’ long trips at sea centuries ago that are used today to make their wines unique.   Wines returned to Madeira after a year’s voyage tasted better than when they had left.   During the voyage the wine would evaporate, oxidize and concentrate, creating something very different than the table wine that had been originally shipped. Winemakers today reproduce all of this but in a completely different way.

The Use of Heat:
Winemakers figured out that the intense heat of the ship’s hold was changing the wine into something completely different….and better.  Madeira’s wine is now actually put through a heating process to mimic the months spent in the hot cargo holds of old galleons.   Heat is a big NO for traditional winemakers who prefer cool cellars for storage.

Exposure to Oxygen:
Madeira goes against the grain of another basic principle of conventional wine-making:  avoiding contact with oxygen.  Viewed as a huge culprit, Oxygen can turn wine into vinegar, and create other various not-so-nice flaws.  Madeira, in contrast, works with oxygen.  In fact, the term “Maderized” has been coined to describe wines that have been exposed to oxygen.  Typically, these wines are darker brown, with caramel and nutty flavors, all of which are typically found in Madeira.
 
        Colors vary from light-caramel to deep-brown depending on oxygen exposure during aging.

Under-ripe Grapes:
Winemakers throughout the world pay great attention to the ripeness of grapes.  Ripe is not just sugar ripe, but physiological ripeness where all elements of the grapes are mature.  Madeira’s gentle climate often produces under-ripe grapes which creates a major challenge for winemakers.  While the amount of sugar directly corresponds to the amount of alcohol in the wine, unripe grapes translate to wines with low alcohol, and most importantly, with lack of an acid balance. 


Madeira is an example of wines that don’t represent the status quo of current wine-making…not only in its production but in the way it tastes.  If you don’t know Madeira, you should.   Start your journey with a dry Sercial as an aperitif, then work your way up through the sweeter wines that pair well with cheese and chocolates.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Europe’s Only Coffee Plantation

                    Gran Canria's coffee plants grow among orchards of luscious tropical fruits

Think of coffee and countries like Brazil, Columbia, and Indonesia come to mind.  If you’re a coffee connoisseur you may even know that parts of Africa such as Ethiopia and Kenya also produce some decent beans.  But, coffee in Spain’s Canary Islands?  Located a mere 150 miles off the coast of Morocco, the Canaries boast the world’s most northerly coffee plantation---and the only one in Europe.

I arrived a few days ago to the Gran Canaria island with a group of Wine-Knows. Today we visited a coffee plantation.  Coffee has been cultivated on this island since the 18th century.  Originally used as ornamental plants due to their pretty red berries, the plant’s beans are now roasted and sold commercially.

The coffee plantation is located in a lush green valley in the northwest corner of the island.  The valley’s hot and humid year-around micro-climate is instrumental in producing quality beans.  Only Arabica beans, indigenous to Ethiopia, are grown.  The coffee plants grow among tropical fruits such as guava, mangoes, and avocados---all of which provide the much needed shade to the somewhat delicate coffee.  This area is only 300 feet above sea level, hence, Canary’s coffee beans don’t have the high acid levels that its South American counterparts have (they are normally grown at heights of 3,500 feet).

The Canary Islands were birthed from ancient underwater volcanoes, thus their soil is volcanic. (It’s no surprise that some of the most famous coffee-growing spots are in areas of current or historic volcanic activity, e.g. Indonesia and Central America). Coffee plants require a large amount of nutrients and volcanic soils offer an abundant supply of minerals which help the trees to grow.  The mineral-rich volcanic soil also contributes to the coffee’s unique flavor profile.

An island with year-around sunshine, a cornucopia of tropical fruits, plentiful fresh-fish, wine, and coffee?  I think I’ve found paradise.

Viva Canarias.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wines of Provence

                               Provence offers many charms, including its wines

I'm on my way to Italy after a star-studded two weeks in Provence.  When many think of Provence they flash on images of colorful outdoor markets and fields of lavender.  Yes, I experienced these vistas during my stay but when I think of Provence I think of its wines---its true unsung heroes.  While I love Provence's Rosés, I’m really enamored with its spicy, full-flavored reds, as well as its elegant, tropical whites.  Hands down, these wines are some of the most underrated in France.  While most serious wine lovers know Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they may not be aware of the equally elegant wines of Bandol, or of Provence’s great quality/price ratios like the area of Vacqueyras and Gigondas.   Let’s examine the “non-pink” wines of Provence beginning with terroir, and then move on to its grapes.  

Provence is located in the South of France and the Rhone River, which cuts through it on its way to the nearby Mediterranean, exerts a tremendous influence on the terroir.  Vineyards nearest the river have mineral-rich soil washed down from the Alps.  Summers are hot due to beaucoup sunlight, so there’s no problem ripening grapes. Mighty mistral winds keep pests at bay.

Red grapes, which thrive in the heat, are dominant in Provence.  Varietals such as Syrah and Grenache are most popular.  Another “Rhone varietal” is Mouvedre. These three grapes often are blended together, in fact, they are often referred to as a trio by the name “GSM,” an acronym of all their first letters. While red wine accounts for about 35% of Provence’s production, white wine is 15% (the remaining 50% is  Rosé).  Major white grapes include Marsanne, Roussane, Viognier and Rolle (known as Vermentino in Italy).  Like the reds, white varietals are blended rather than vinified as a single varietal.

Provence’s superstar reds are from the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Located very near the Rhone River, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is known for its vineyards filled with large stones left from the flooding river. These stones provide superb drainage and reflect back the heat in Provence’s cold winters.  My favorite producers are Chateau Beaucastel and Chateau La Nerthe.   These are gorgeous, voluptuous, complex reds and whites….so wonderful that they make you forget all about their steep prices.

Further south is the tony little wine area of Bandol.  Located just a few miles from the Mediterranean, these elegant wines are an exception to the blending norm throughout other areas of Provence.   They are mainly made from Mouvedre and many are 100% varietal.  Check out Chateau Pibarnon and Domaine Tempier for some killer wines.

For a great quality price ratio consider the Provence villages of Gigondas and Vacqueyras.    Here are some great reds from the 2015 vintage well worth searching out:
  • Famille Perrin, Gigondas, L’Argnée Vieilles Vignes
  • Domaine Raspail-Av, Gigondas
  • Montirius, Gigondas, Confidentiel
  • Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux, Vacqueyras, Cuvée de Lopy

Looking for a terrific white from Provence?  Below are some wonder-filled options...and the first one is worth every Euro:
  • Domaine Pibarnon, Bandol
  • Clos Sainte Magdeleine, "Bel-Amre,"  Cassis
Onward to a seaside villa with Wine-Knows on Tuscany's Mediterranean...

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Week in Provence with Julia Child

                                                     Julia at her estate in Provence

I have had the great pleasure to meet Julia Child on three occasions.  The first was a cooking class during the 1980’s.  My second rendezvous was at a charity benefit of American Institute of Wine and Food.  The last time I met Julia was her 90th birthday celebration at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco.  Thus, when I had the opportunity to rent her home in Provence, I jumped on it in a flash!   That opportunity was four years ago when 2017 seemed forever away.  Now, I'm actually here.

We arrived today to begin a special week’s homage to Julia.  There are 10 of us who have come to pay tribute, all serious foodies and Julia groupies.  All women, each carefully chosen for Wine-Knows’ inaugural tribute to Julia.   Each one of us is armed with our favorite Julia recipes to prepare during this seven day feast in honor of Julia.

We have divided ourselves into pairs, five cooking teams of two femmes.   We will visit several different outdoor markets to procure our products.  As Julia wrote her ground-breaking two-volume books, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, for the American housewife who shopped in supermarkets, we’ll also visit the area’s largest supermarket to buy our many kilos of butter and liters of cream. 


Some teams picked their Julia recipes over a year in advance.  Julia’s bouillabaisse was one of the first things chosen.  Slow-roasted veal shanks in red wine was also snapped up much in advance.   One team is deciding on the fly (based on weather) between Julia’s cassoulet with duck confit (for colder temperatures), or her classic coq au vin (if the weather is warmer).  Another pair are gourmands but don’t fancy cooking complicated recipes---they have chosen salade Nicoise, a simple but gorgeous salad of grilled ahi tuna, tomatoes, green beans, eggs, olives, and potatoes.  Still another two-some will cook Julia’s thinly-sliced veal cooked in a butter and wine sauce.

                                    Julia’s bouillabaisse with a white wine from Grand Devers

Each couplet is responsible for one dinner, with a backup team assigned to help with prep, serving, and cleanup.  Wines are also part of the pair’s responsibility.  Considering the above foods, plans are underway for some to serve Champagne, while others are eyeing Provence’s Grenache or Syrah.  Still others are looking at wines from Southern France’s most illustrious district, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  There’s word on the street that one of the pairs will be concocting a special Julia cocktail, with ingredients beginning with the letters “J,”  “U,” “L,”  and “I.”  The last ingredient in the drink is “A” for Aperol.

This trip will be repeated twice in 2018, and both weeks have sold out.  Another trip has just been added for June 2019.  Are you a Julia fan?  If so, this is a trip of a lifetime to be able to spend a week on the estate in which she wrote her famous cookbooks.  For more information, check it out:

http://www.wineknowstravel.com/julia_child_2_itinerary.htm


Viva Julia!


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Cassis

    View of Cassis's harbor from my apartment

Many folks know Cassis…the black currant liqueur that is used to make a Kir (or a Kir Royale when made with sparkling wine).  A few may even know the tony village on the French Riviera by the name of Cassis.   Those worldly gourmands who know both the drink and the seaside town often think that the liqueur is so named because it comes from the village of Cassis.  Wrong.

Crème de Cassis is actually made in Burgundy, 300 miles north.  As of 2015, this black-colored liqueur is protected by France’s geographical laws.  Cassis is now officially referred to as Crème de Cassis de Bourgogne (Burgundy).  The new designation guarantees the Burgundian origin of the fruit, as well as the minimum quantity of berries that is required.   Like France’s other food and wine laws, it guarantees the authenticity of what’s in the bottle so that the consumer knows that the product is not a knock-off from another part of France, or Europe, or for that matter, China.

Now, back to the village of Cassis where I arrived today.  If you’re looking for a heavenly spot to recover from jet lag, look no further.  But, Cassis beckons for many reasons.  Cassis is not on the radar screen for most Americans.  Reason one.   Next, Marseille’s airport is only 30 miles away making it an easy-to-get-to first stop.  Reason two.  Another attractive feature is that Cassis is small and quaint….without the crowds and noisy discos of St Tropez or Cannes.  Reason three.  But one of the most compelling motives to visit, is for its breathtaking beauty. A big reason four.

                                          The calanques can be reached by foot or boat.

Cassis is drop-dead gorgeous.  A large part of its magnificence is due to the “calanques.”  It is thought that the calanques were formed by ancient streams that dried up a millennium or two ago. Today, the remnants are narrow, fjord-like inlets carved into steep white limestone cliffs, France’s highest sea cliffs.  While there are many organized boat tours to view these calanques, I prefer to go by foot for several reasons.  Most importantly, boats are not allowed to enter the calanques so boat visitors can only appreciate them from afar.   While walking to the farthest calanque requires a good hour from the village (and some parts of the trail are a little difficult), one can opt for a 20 minute walk from Cassis to the first calanque.  As there are spectacular panoramas around every bend, walkers to any of the calanques should allow extra time to take photos and soak up the splendor.


Tonight I’m celebrating my week’s stay in this sweet fishing village by ordering a Kir Royale----Cassis in Cassis!

Sante.


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



Friday, March 31, 2017

Brazil's Sexy Cocktail


Just pronouncing Brazil’s most famous drink can be daunting (Kai-pee-reen-Yah), but I guarantee that it is well worth the linguistic effort.  I am currently at a glitzy two-floor penthouse on Copacabana with a group of foodies, all of whom are clients of Wine-Knows.  Our week here is coming to a close, and you can rest assured that the ten of us have made a major dent in "Caipirinhas" over the last seven days.

The Caipirinha cocktail is a distant cousin of Mexico’s margarita, but the Brazilian rendition is made with the country’s flavorful sugar cane "rum."  (Sugar cane was brought in the mid-16th century from Madeira to Brazil by Portuguese immigrants, and is this rum is now the most popular distilled spirit in Brazil).  If you think Caipirinha is hard to pronounce wait until you try to say the name of the rum: Cachaça (Ka-SHAH-suh).

A huge amount of Cachaça is consumed in Brazil in the form of Caipirinhas.  These perfect girl-from-Impanema drinks are made from muddled lime, superfine sugar (which dissolves completely), and Cachaça.   This yummy elixir ironically began in the early 1900’s as a medicinal cure for the flu.  Today it is still used in Brazil as a home remedy for the common cold. 

Cachaça is available at most liquor stores in the US, including BevMo.  There is no substitution for Cachaça, so if you can't find it move on to something else.  Here’s a recipe to begin.  Like most recipes, however, you can tweak it to adjust to your taste.  A word of caution:  remember that Cachaça is high octane…a little goes a long way.

Ingredients:
  • ½ of a juicy lime, cut into small piece
  • 1 teaspoon of super fine sugar (don’t even think of using regular granulated                       sugar as it will not dissolve)
  • 2 oz of Cachaça

Directions:  Put lime and sugar in a hard-bottomed rocks glass.  Smash them with a wooden spoon to release as much juice as possible, as well as the flavors from the rind.  Add ice and Cachaça, stir and serve.

Caipirinha is hard to pronounce, but easy to make and fun to drink.  Move over Margaritas and Mojitos.

Viva Rio!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Carmenere---Cabernet’s Ancestor

           Wine Knows had a private dinner at the top of this mountain, birthplace of Purple Angel

I’m in Chile with a group of Wine-Knows.  We’ve been drinking a lot of their Carmenere varietal and I’m falling in love with it all over again.  For those who don’t know Carmenere, it was brought to Chile in the 19th century by the French.  At the time it was a popular grape planted throughout Bordeaux and was reputed to have produced excellent wines.  But, the phylloxera bug wiped out most all of the vineyards in Europe in the late 1800’s.  Bordeaux replanted with Cabernet and Merlot as the Carmenere grape was difficult to ripen. 

Carmenere was thought to be extinct until it was “discovered” in Chile in the 1990’s by a French team of scientists who visited Chile.   The French researchers were troubled by the appearance and character of the Chilean Merlot grape.  DNA analysis revealed that much of Chile’s Merlot was in fact the “lost” Carmenere grape from Bordeaux.

Genetic research shows that Carmenere is an early ancestor of Cabernet Sauvignon.  It shares many of the flavors of Cabernet:  red fruit, chocolate, tobacco and leather.  On the other hand, Carmenere’s tannins are far softer than Cab Sauvignon, making Carmenere much more approachable when young than Cabernet.

Carmenere means "crimson" in French, so it's no surprise that its color is a deep crimson.  In addition to a less tannic structure, Carmenere also offers another element I particularly enjoy:  spiciness!   Moreover, it also offers herbaceous notes (most often green bell pepper).  Both of these nuances mean that Carmenere pairs well with international dishes such as Mexico’s molé, Middle Eastern lamb prepared with mint, spicy Cuban-style roast pork, as well as Italy’s veal piccata (briny capers, lemon and garlic).  In short, Carmenere is a very versatile food wine.

If you haven’t experienced Carmenere you should.  If you’re ready to splurge, there’s none better than Montes’ Purple Angel which will set you back $60-70, but this is a world-class version of Carmenere by one of Chile’s most revered producers.  Montgras, on the other hand, served Wine-Knows a fabulous price/quality ratio last week (available in the US for about $15).

This “lost” varietal needs to found!  I highly recommend that you pick up several bottles and conduct a Lost Varietal Tasting among fellow wine lovers.