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Moscow’s Missing Wine Labels And Chateauneuf-du-Pape

February 7, 2017

My friend Stephanie and I went to the same high school in Europe, though at different times. Our birthdays are a day apart (hers is today – Happy Birthday Steph!). This woman knows how to recommend a good read.

Five years ago as I boarded a train from Paris to Bordeaux for Christmas, she communicated her book recommendation:  The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. It had recently won the 2011 Man Booker Prize. I downloaded this quick read. By the time the train arrived at Gare Saint Jean on a chilly winter afternoon, I had finished this captivating tale.

Weeks ago Stephanie recommended another book: A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. This fictional tale recalls years when a Count lived in Hotel Metropol in Moscow. It begins in 1922.

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Imagine no labels…

One tale recalls how an embarrassed headwaiter invited the Count down to their vast wine cellar with 100,000 bottles. He explained how, ten days earlier, the ruling political party deemed individuality in the world of wine bottles as suspect, and instructed the hotel manager to strip away all labels from each bottle, then sell all the ‘red’ and ‘white’ for the same price.

“What has happened!” gasped the Count.

Andrey nodded in grim acknowledgment.

“A complaint was filed with comrade Teodorov, the Commissar of Food, claiming that the existence of our wine list runs counter to the ideals of the Revolution. That it is a monument to the privilege of the nobility, the effeteness of the intelligentsia, and the predatory pricing of speculators.”

“But that’s preposterous.”

For the second time in an hour, the unshrugging Andrey shrugged.

“A meeting was held, a vote was taken, an order was handed down. . . . Henceforth, the Boyarsky shall sell only red and white wine with every bottle at a single price.”

[A Gentleman in Moscow. Viking. New York. 2016]

This tale is a reminder that rather than save a special wine for some grand, magnificent occasion at an unknown future date, you might want to enjoy it now. Text your friends, set the dinner table, pull out a corkscrew and share your beloved bottle with worthy allies.

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Without a label, this would become just a ‘red’

Without labels, wine would be even more mysterious. Valuable information on those paper shards tell the region where the wine was made, the year the grapes were picked, and alcohol content.

Labels are also a marketing tool.

A recent edition of the online science magazine (highly recommended) named Nautilus, tells about several experiments concerning perception of the quality of wine and how it relates to what we know about price. The article also highlights intriguing notions concerning how perception can be influenced by labels, as well as by names.

According to the article, one study concluded:

“… the colors of the labels were less important than their shapes, or the shapes printed on them. The most successful labels were brown, yellow, black, or green (or combinations thereof), with rectangular or hexagonal patterns.”

The article then mentioned surprising results from another study:

“Mantonakis and her colleague Bryan Galiffi even showed that consumers significantly tended to prefer the products of wineries with hard-to-pronounce names…”

There you go.

How to sell your wine.

Use a slightly complex name, slap on a brown/black/yellow/green label with a few rectangles and hexagons, and Bob’s Your Uncle. Of course, to maintain repeat buyers, winemakers will have to keep focusing on excellent quality.

Back to Moscow, where the Count – horrified at seeing nude bottles – wandered around the labelless cellar, then selected one bottle with two crossed keys embossed on the glass neck. He touched this emblem of Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the French Rhone Valley, then plucked up the bottle and carried it away upstairs – eager to enjoy a good drop, and slightly smug at outmaneuvering the bureaucrats of Moscow.

^^^

 

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From the Margaret River wine region of western Australia

Next, a recipe.

There are slightly more than a dozen recipes left to cook for The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion. The countdown toward completing the field work is in full gear.

We’re also producing a short promotional video (thanks Sonya) and our intrepid graphic artist is editing photographs (thanks Lou).

This comes from western Australia. Substitute local ingredients accordingly depending on where you live and what’s available – combining fish and shellfish. This is a crispy, crunchy spring/summer delight (we are pulling out of winter, soon, after all). It’s relatively easy to prepare.  Serve with a Chardonnay.

Crayfish, Dhufish, and Squid Pasta Marinara

From McHenry Hohnen Vintners, Margaret River, Western Australia

Preparation Time and Quantity –

45 minutes to cook. Serves 4 people.

 

Ingredients and Amounts

Pasta (such as linguini) – 5¼ oz (400 g)

Olive oil – ¼ cup (60 ml)

Butter – 5½ tbs (80 g)

Garlic cloves – 4

Lemon – 1 for zest

Crayfish – 1

Dhufish fillets – 2

Squid – 1

Tomatoes (ripe from garden) – 10 oz (300 g)

Fresh chili – 1

Mixed herbs (e.g. – basil, sage, parsley) – handful

Flaked sea salt – to taste

Fresh cracked pepper – to taste

Preparation –

  1. Slice garlic cloves, zest lemon, chop chili pepper, chop mixed herbs.
  2. Scoop crayfish from shell and slice.
  3. Cube the dhufish.
  4. Slice squid into rings.

Recipe –

  1. Cook pasta in large saucepan of boiling, salted water until almost al dente (2 to 3 minutes if fresh, 6 to 8 minutes if dried).
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a frying pan over medium high heat.
  3. To oil and butter add garlic, lemon rind, and chili, and cook until tender (1 to 2 minutes). Add salt and pepper seasoning to taste.
  4. Add crayfish, dhufish, and squid, and turn occasionally until cooked (2 to 4 minutes).
  5. Remove from heat.

Serving –

Add pasta and garden tomatoes, toss to combine, and serve immediately, scattered with fresh herbs.

Comments –

Lilian Kurys-Romer writes –

“Margaret River is a hot spot for food and wine, and we are lucky enough to be quite obsessed with both! …Our backyard is the quintessence of enjoying the outdoors sustainably; we’d go for a dive for some fresh endemic crayfish (western rock lobster), dhufish, and line caught squid, and pick tomatoes and fresh herbs from the back garden, heading inside to throw together a very relaxed pasta marinara.

“Don’t forget to enjoy reasonable gulps of Chardonnay throughout the process.”

 

^^^

 

My latest Forbes posts are here – including a piece about the ancient Grotte Pair-Non-Pair cave in southwest France, a messy Catalonian food festival, a renowned bubbly wine from New Mexico, and thoughts from the Godfather of biodynamic wine from the Loire Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative Agriculture For Wine and Food

January 24, 2017

 

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Flickering fire flames, downy snowflakes, brutal temperatures…And glasses filled with full-bodied red wine to provide comfort and ward off the deep chill of winter.

Wonderful. Very traditional.

Yet…

During dark, chilly eves this winter, I was hit by an inclination to drink white wines instead of reds. I uncorked zinging, tangy refrigerated bottles of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc and gulped frozzled mouthfuls with brutal, energizing pleasure.

Yes!

No idea why.

Yet it makes sense.

The crystal clear, razor-sharp snap of winter matches ice-crackling brittle acidity of Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc.

Not so?

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Googling that thought, I came up with an article from Epicurious titled Four Ways to Persuade Your Friends to Drink White Wine All Winter. 

Which is wonderful – because now that someone else has written about the topic, there is no need to write another article.

Instead – we can switch attention to agriculture. Alternative agriculture. Though the subject is not new, the modest inclination to embrace it is somewhat mystifying. This is somewhat, though not too much, akin to choosing to drink whites instead of reds during winter.

When I was a child living in Europe, a relative sent me copies of Ranger Rick Magazine. All things colorful and natural and eco were inside – photographs of wildlife, color by number caterpillar drawings, and stories. One memorable story was about a family living in suburbia who decided, at the insistence of the children, to let their garden grow wild. Wild. No more manicured lawn. Instead, a profusion of weeds and bugs and colors plopped up outside the front door. The neighbors were furious. So one day this rebellious family invited neighbors to visit the garden and see strange but intriguing relationships between plants and insects and listen to songs of increased numbers of visiting birds. In short they witnessed what we can call the ‘vibrancy of an ecosystem.’ I forget the ending, but think the neighbors all decided to do alike, and everyone lived happily ever after…

You get the story. Work with nature, not against it. Again, this is nothing new.

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But there is a strange tendency of humans to overlook that which is not considered mainstream. And as we become more connected through media, ‘mainstream’ has a potential to become more prevalent, if we allow ourselves not to consider other options.

For example, take wine. I recently interviewed Nicolas Joly for a Forbes piece. He uses biodynamic principles in growing vines and making wine – which include no use of herbicides, pesticides, or imported yeasts. His yields are less, but the enhanced aromas and tastes of his wine allows him to charge prices commensurate with the quality. So the wine he produces is ecologically and economically beneficial, and tastes better.

He refuses to call himself a winemaker, as he considers himself a tender of vines. The wine – with a little physical manipulation – makes itself. He is, therefore, ‘Nature assistant and not wine maker.’

After writing this piece, I received an email from the author of the book about Joly – Gilles Berdin. He told me that he appreciated the article, but found it mystifying that a foreigner from half way across the planet wrote about the talk, while the local and national press had ignored it. “It puzzles and many questions arise about the media,” he wrote.

If you want to learn about Joly’s way of regarding agriculture, by the way, below is a clip from a few years ago in which he speaks with hyper-energetic wine blogger Gary Vaynerchuk.

Now let’s see a parallel situation regarding food. Specifically, alternative agriculture and media myopia.

Yesterday a friend from Blaye here in France forwarded a YouTube clip of the renowned chef Dan Barber from Blue Hill restaurants in New York. It is about his trip to Spain to a poultry farm where the farmer, by working with the land and animals, expends less effort and produces food that tastes better.

One amusing part of this story is that this Spanish producer of foie gras (who uses no force feeding of geese) won an important international medal for producing what the judges considered the best foie gras that year. Immediately, some accused him of cheating. Why? Because he did not force feed the geese, so it could not have been real foie gras…! Nonsense. They were likely angry that someone succeeded by being different.  [There is another video from Barber about visiting a fish farm in Spain; it is as good.]

The point is – and this point becomes very, very clear the more you tune into lopsided media coverage of worldwide events – you can choose to live ever so slightly off the beaten trail and reap rewards that impact your health and wealth in ways unexpected. But you have to be open to listening to alternative points of view, and be brave enough to take a few steps away from crowded avenues in terms of thinking. It is somewhat bizarre, or as author Berdin might phrase it – “it puzzles and many questions arise” – how strongly humans can resist change, even when that change may benefit them in terms of health, lifestyle, or ecology.

^^^

Thanks again for tuning in…my latest Forbes posts include pieces about the wonderful and ancient city of San Sebastian in Spain, about the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and about the unexpected (in terms of geography) ascendancy of New Mexican Gruet sparkling wine to world class levels…

 

Lose Weight Through…Cooking and Drinking Wine?

January 10, 2017

This is bizarre. As in – unexpected.

Here’s the story.

My weight stabilized and reduced, almost paradoxically, the more I cooked.

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Ingredients for Sockeye Ceviche Cocktail – From Cherry Point Winery, British Columbia, Canada

This spring I left an overseas job and moved to Bordeaux’s countryside in southwest France. I had gained weight working in Pakistan, so began running. Yet surrounded by friends and ambiance, there was plenty of good food and wine. Too much. After weeks I plunged into a week-long ‘General Motors Diet.’ Friends had highlighted this effective seven-day diet years ago. Basically – you exercise every day, drink no alcohol – and follow a simple pattern of eating fruit, veg, and some beef. It works IF you follow it rigorously. I did so and dropped 14 pounds in a week. Yet within a month – I gained most of that weight back. (Those chocolatine aux almandes croissants at the bakery? Life is too short to resist forever.)

I repeated the diet every few months. Sometimes for weeks in a row. Weight would drop 10 pounds, then increase seven pounds, then drop four pounds – like a Yo-Yo.

It was frustrating.

But there was another problem.

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Piadina – from Galassi Maria Wines in Emilia-Romagna, Italy

I still need to finish compiling a cookbook. The 120+ recipes collected from winemakers from 15 countries all need to be cooked in order to check the timing and quantities and sequencing. For months I held back from cooking while instead nibbling apples and carrots (and occasionally bingeing on wine to satisfy hunger pangs).

But time was running out. The book needs to be completed. So, I set aside weight loss considerations and began cooking.

This included cooking two new recipes a day.

Many meals included wine. Sometimes bread. Even chocolate for dessert. Mmmm….

A week passed. Then two. I weighed myself, expecting the worst. And yet – weight had stabilized at the lowest point in months. In fact, in the following days I watched it decrease even further. It then generally hovered between 1 and 3 pounds above the low point set earlier during the year – not within the earlier range of between 3 and 7 pounds.

I thought the scale was broken.

No idea what was going on.

A friend said that eating non-processed food, rather than processed, packaged food – with all the added salt and sugar and unpronounceable chemicals – is what made the difference. He was right.

Partially.

But there was something else.

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Chicken Cacciatore – from Summerset Winery in Iowa, USA

Here is what happens when you cook more. As physical actions in the kitchen become more efficient, shopping becomes more efficient, less food is wasted and your relationship to food changes. The time spent preparing meals – slicing green peppers, sautéing onions, crushing garlic, layering lasagna, frying cod, chopping lamb into small cubes and dicing parsley into beautiful green shards made me appreciate each meal far more. Fresh tastes and subtleties, unmasked by heaps of sugar or salt, grew more intense. For each cooked meal I set the table – plate, fork, knife, spoon, water glass, wine glass (sometimes; usually) – and then enjoyed steaming aromas, unusual texture combinations and tastes neither tame nor bland.

Food became less of something quick to satisfy hunger, and more of a symphony of subtle tastes to enjoy. My appetite diminished. I ate less and enjoyed it more. I also enjoyed wine more with meals, though no longer needed to guzzle down a liter.

Was this normal? I generated a theory: when you respect the food you shop for and prepare, you naturally tend to respect moderation. Well balanced meals with fresh ingredients don’t hit on our dopamine triggers or cravings for sugar buzz highs. As you become efficient in the kitchen and avoid waste, you become considerate toward more balanced eating and more dismissive of gluttony and inconsistent eating patterns. You eat reasonable, not excessive portions. You drink quantities of milk or water or beer or wine proportionate to each meal. Your psyche intuitively knows that to do otherwise would be to contradict the economical, organized, carefully timed actions and mindset required for you to have crafted a decent dish. Your overall increased respect for food, in other words, increases your attention to how carefully you eat.

Was this theory nonsensical?

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No sulfites, no olive pits, no stress

I googled for information relating weight loss to cooking and – tada! – came across a 2014 article from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that showed the same – those who cooked more at home consumed fewer calories. These subjects who cooked more not only ate more moderately at home – but also when they went out to dinner.

Next came a 2013 article in the London Daily Telegraph about a French book (The Parisian Diet) that said the same – that cooking helps us lose weight. The article included information from another author, Michael Pollan, on how – since the 1960’s – the average time Americans spend on cooking decreased from about 1 hour to less than 30 minutes, while during that same time the French also reduced their home cooking times, but only from 90 minutes to an hour.

Home cooked meals are also generally not laden with sugar (okay, those addictive Christmas chocolate chip cookies shared with friends were a worthy exception). A very recently published book titled The Case Against Sugar (as reviewed this past weekend by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times) highlights the perils of consuming too much sugar – a truth long squashed by industries that profit from peddling sucrose. Too much sugar impacts insulin levels and causes glucose increases in the bloodstream – which can lead to cells holding onto more fat.

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Lamb Chops in Red Wine – from Bodega Terramoll in Spain’s Balearic Islands

Perhaps this relationship between cooking and weight is part of the explanation for the ‘French Paradox’ – the mystery as to why the French generally often seem as thin as rakes and have a lower propensity toward coronary heart disease (compared to, say, US residents) when their lives revolve around the joys of eating (often high saturated fats) – croissants, cheeses by the dozen, foie gras and canard – as well drinking ample wines: bubbly, Bordeaux and Burgundy to boot. In France, plenty of meals are thoughtfully home cooked with fresh ingredients, and the notion of snacking is disdained.

When respect for the quality and preparation of ingredients is in balance, the quantity of food eaten becomes more balanced. Cooking and eating become more journey than destination.

Would a stone mason, honed on the craft of efficiency in cutting and shaping blocks of marble or granite, tend to construct a gaudy and excessively lavish building? Doubtful. Would a mosaic artist who spent decades honing their craft of working with the subtle minutiae of multicolored tesserae stones venture out to create a flamboyant, ugly piece of art? Probably not. If we cook fresh vegetables, fruits, poultry, fish and meat with an eye toward balance in texture and flavor, it becomes disharmonious to our thoughts to want to scarf down Twinkies or power-binge double fudge milkshakes between meals. As our mindset toward food changes, as do our appetites.

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When I abandoned weight loss and started cooking far more – weight stabilized and reduced of its own accord. Most meals taste wonderful. I snack less and feel more incentive to take long walks.

And that occasional glass or two of vino?

Pas de problème. 

Which basically means – Enjoy.

%%%

I’ve published no Forbes articles this month yet, but will soon get cooking with articles from Spain.

Thanks for staying tuned. Click here to visit the Forbes redesigned website.

Unexpected Lessons From A Kitchen

December 27, 2016

This week’s post differs in that it is only about cooking. However one of my latest Forbes posts is about a British Columbia winery. In the future we’ll be covering more British Columbia wine producers.

Now, to the kitchen.

Years ago I read books both by Julia Childs (My Life in France) and Julie Powell (Julie and Julia) and thought that Julie’s idea – cooking 524 recipes in 365 days was original – yet simple and facile. It seemed anyone who cooked up that notion could simply plunge through.

Not true.

The process of compiling a cookbook has for myself involved collecting over 100 recipes from 15 countries, formatting each to be consistent, converting measurements to both Imperial and Metric units, and then…

To make recipes consistent, each recipe must identify preparation and cooking times and how many people will be served. Some contributors supplied this information; many did not (they were not asked to). In some recipes the ingredient list did not tally with subsequent cooking steps. Some recipes lacked clarity.

Which meant – it was time to cook each recipe.

In youth I baked cakes: four layered spice cakes; banana pan cakes – all taken from a Better Homes and Gardens, or a Betty Crocker cookbook. Later I learned to make yeast breads. Kneading became almost meditative. The majority of other meat, fish, poultry and vegetable dishes? Not so much.

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In cooking these recipes (a task not yet completed), here are a few lessons learned.

  • As with all actions, with time and practice you learn to economize. Cooking the first 50 recipes was slightly stressful (because I would not otherwise have selected them). The process was new and unknown. Planning what to buy, organizing ingredients within a relatively small kitchen, timing, and taking notes required leaving a comfort zone to which there is no return. The book My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz is inspiring because he understands the challenge of operating within a constricted working space. With foods you never worked with before you learn improved economy of operations and new ways to wield knife, bowl, cutting board and oven.
  • Much delicious food is simple to cook. Vegetable stock? Slice and dice greens and reds and orange carrots, toss in a pot, cover with water, simmer for an hour and strain. Done.
  • Some cooking is complex. Petite triangular pasta pieces individually stuffed with cheese and spinach? The taste is unworldly, though the preparation effort requires the concentration of a dentist. Decide carefully before committing to what you will cook for friends, then practice at least once in advance.

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  • Some kitchen gadgets are helpful. After college I skied days and worked nights as a dishwasher at the Grand Banks Restaurant in the town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Since then I had not used a dishwasher in decades. No reason. Weeks ago it became clear that constantly balancing a mini-ziggurat tower of pots, pans, dough encrusted ladles, parmesan smudged forks and a spinach draped colander over a small drying board was an admirable, though unstable act. A gust of wind from an open window could crash the pile. Instead, I recently tried out the dishwasher and was delighted at the improved results of the machine compared with decades ago. No wonder they endure.
  • However, not all amazing kitchen equipment is necessary. A blender does not have to tell digital time in three languages, and a plastic ladle from Ikea often works just fine.
  • Eating healthy and home cooked food feels beneficial in several ways. Instead of chowing down packaged foods with unpronounceable ingredients, you can feel pride ladling out butternut squash soup from vegetables bought at the morning market, followed by risotto made with fresh mushrooms. Sure, we don’t always have the time for cooking. But turn off the TV and you certainly will have more.
  • Appreciate the effort of cooks. Anthony Bourdain was right: writing for money is easy in comparison to cooking because you can sit down. Cooking can be physically demanding, frenetic, hot, challenging, and always subject to the availability of ingredients. Unfortunately, your audience will not wait.
  • Some of the best recipes require you to do everything. Yes, everything. No supermarket bought pie-crusts. No canned vegetable stock. No rice in a bag. Slice ’em, dice ’em and assemble all ingredients – fresh. Twist in your hands the very turnip or carrot or pea pod you will transform into lunch.

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  • The Europeans are onto something with their weight rather than volume measurements. Ever tried to measure four tablespoons of unsoftened butter pulled from a fridge? If you know what the weight is in grams, plop it on a scale and get a readout. Simple.
  • Consider visual presentation. A dash of green herbs, shreds of cheese, or a slice of bread or red radish added to a dish can improve the appearance immeasurably. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
  • If you burn rice or make crappy lasagna or your potatoes are cold and your cod looks mangled – wonderful. Learn from your errors.
  • By choosing new recipes, you learn about foods never heard of before. Jerusalem artichokes do not resemble artichokes; quails and pheasants are certainly not chickens. Leeks and sweet potatoes? Prepare to become well acquainted with them.
  • Improvisation and substitution are essential. I received a beautiful and excellent recipe for Dhuka crusted Kangaroo; fortunately the Australian chef provided an alternative to kangaroo meat if unavailable. Lack an ingredient? Check for substitutions online. No ricotta cheese? Try bourse. No carrots for vegetable stock? Chop up a zucchini. Live large and go for it. Have the audacity to be creative.

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  • Be grateful that most of us are quite fortunate. We have refrigerators, stoves, blenders, electricity, thermometers, oven proof glassware, zesters, peelers, excellent knives and knife sharpeners, timers, plastic bags, aluminum foil, olive oil available year round, trash disposal systems, dishwashers, cookbooks, online tutorials, television channels, FDA food quality standards, electric kettles, measuring cups, scales, pot scrubbing abrasive pads, kitchen fans, freezers, internet answers to questions, and – of course – corkscrews. We are not living in North Korea. Be very thankful.
  • Thanks to all recipe contributors. I am often amazed after following steps to find that a dish emerges not only bizarrely creative and beautiful, but delicious. Each recipe is a river that runs its own unique course.
  • Thanks also to author Michael Pollan (whose books will encourage you to eat and cook healthier foods) as well as Betty Crocker and Molly Katzen – cookbook authors from years gone by.

 

Bordeaux’s Difficult to Pronounce Wine Region – Pessac Leognan

December 13, 2016

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Established as a wine appellation in 1987, Pessac-Leognan was formerly referred to as Haut-Graves. This wine region sits just south of Bordeaux city. Actually, part of it is within the city.

I drove there in early December to visit the Portes Ouvertes, a delightful French tradition where dozens of wine châteaux in a given region pour free samples from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm on a Saturday and Sunday. In this case more than 40 wine chateaux in eight communes poured non-stop while streams of cars on exploration tours followed special countryside signposts.

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Out of the city at last

The northern wine chateaux are within the periphery of Bordeaux city. Château Baret is a stately white stone architectural beauty with vineyards spreading out before—a sizable Renault dealership. This is a land of community swimming pools, warehouses, schools, offices and industrial zones. Only after you slip out of the town of Leognan further south does the countryside abruptly transform to swelling agricultural fields, forests and vineyards. The sight of this open space will make you exhale with relief.

The region is known for both red and white wines, though I found the whites exemplary (usually a blend of 5 to 55 percent Sauvignon Blanc; the balance being Semillon) while the reds (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, primarily) were balanced and smooth but generally lacking zest or distinction.img_6900-1The range of variety is noticeable within Pessac Leognan—in terms of architecture, size of operations, quality and price. Some of it is similar to the Languedoc in southeast France where you can drive to adjacent wine producers and find large differences between the quality and cost of what they produce. I visited one large château oozing with wealth where scheduled bus tours arrived each hour. They served high-priced mediocre plonk and had difficulty identifying which grapes they had blended.

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Hells Angels, having sampled glasses of Graves at Château Fieuzal

img_6904-2Yet the overall variety of this visiting experience was colorful and rich. The Bordeaux Hells Angels had parked outside Château Fieuzal to stop in for a taste, while Château Mancèdre included an exhibit of the winemaker’s photographs from rural Galway, Ireland. At Château Mirebeau the winemaker gave talks about biodynamics while at Château Eyrans groups of visitors were given barrel samples of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Because the cold snap of winter arrived days ago, the fireplace in Le Ferran, surrounded by couches, was welcoming.

 

The below wines—ranked for value—are all white, good quality, and priced between $15 and $25 a bottle.

Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Pessac Leognan Wines December 2016
Winery Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars equivalent Value Score
Château Baret 2015 Blanc € 17.00 $18.12 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Mancèdre 2014 (white) € 20.00 $21.32 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Larrivet Haut-Brion 2014 Les Demoiselles (white) € 15.00 $15.99 Superlative Value ♫♫♫

Château Mirebeau

2015 Héliotropes (white/biodynamic) € 23.50 $25.05 Good Value ♫

^  ^  ^

Work on the book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion continues. We’re still cooking recipes, and this week spent time with graphic artist Lou Dorémus on the layout of pages. Elena Malgina is also focusing on publishing contacts.

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Here’s a recipe for pumpkin soup to ward off the chill of December. The aromas of these vegetables when they are frying is beautiful.

Potimarron (Pumkin) Soup

From Valérie Eymas, Co-owner of Château La Rose Bellevue, Saint-Palais, Côtes de Blaye Bordeaux, Gironde, France

 

Preparation Time and Quantity –

35 minutes to prepare, 50 minutes to cook. Serves 6 to 8 people.

 

Ingredients and Amounts

Leeks (only white part) – 3

Small pumpkin (‘potimarron’) – 1 (or use ½ normal sized pumpkin)

Potatoes (medium) – 3

Sweet potato – 1

Chestnuts – 1½ cups (200 grams)

Jerusalem artichokes – 4

Garlic cloves – 2

Coarse salt – 2 tablespoons (35 grams)

Olive oil – as needed

Sweet garam masala – 1 tablespoon (8 grams)

Fish sauce – 3 tablespoons (45 grams)

Coconut milk – 3 tablespoons (45 grams)

Water – 1¼ quarts (1¼ liters)

Preparation –

  1. Chop leeks.
  2. Peel and chop all potatoes – regular and sweet. Cut to approximately 1 inch (2 centimeter) squares.
  3. Peel and chop artichokes to same size as potatoes.
  4. Scoop out innards of pumpkin, then cut the interior flesh into chunks about 1 inch (2 centimeter) squares.
  5. Heat chestnuts.
  6. Peel and chop garlic cloves.

 Recipe –

  1. Sauté the leeks in oil until browned, then add chopped pumpkins and potatoes.
  2. After a few minutes of frying, add other vegetables and chestnuts and fry for about 10 more minutes.
  3. Top up with the 1¼ quarts of water and bring to the boil.
  4. Reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  5. While simmering, add garam massala, fish sauce and coconut milk.
  6. Put in blender and purée.

 

Serving –

Valérie writes –

“Serve with garlic croutons, shredded cheese, and a few coriander leaves on top.”

 

^  ^  ^

Finally, you may want to check out my latest Forbes posts, which include one about the growing wine bar scene in Berlin, and coastal Cap-Ferret in southwest France.

Slow Cooked In Barolo Wine …

November 29, 2016

Recent Forbes posts include one published today – about how a Michelin star meal can be affordable. Other posts include the opening of Vinitech in Bordeaux and the drink you’ve likely never heard of spelled Pineau (but pronounced Pinot).

The photograph below, and the recipe that follows, are of veal cooked in Barolo wine. I wrote a few pieces about Barolo recently after a visit to Elton John’s concert there months ago, and a stay in the countryside of Piemonte where we compared this wine country to that of northern California.

This recipe requires patience: the meat cooks in wine for eight hours.

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‘Brasato al Barolo’ – Veal Cooked in Barolo Wine

From Chef Valter Quirico and Winemaker Flavio Fenocchio of Marchesi de Barolo, Barolo, Piemonte Region, Italy

 

Preparation Time and Quantity –

20 minutes to prepare, 8 hours to cook. Serves 4 to 6 people

 

Ingredients and Amounts

Boneless veal shoulder roast – 1 [about 2 to 3 ½ pounds (1 to 1 ½ kilograms)]

Red onions – 2

Carrot – 1

Celery stalk – 2

Bay leaf – 1

Olive oil – as needed

Salt – 1 teaspoon (6 grams)

Barolo Cannubi wine (or similar Barolo wine) – 3⅓ bottles [2½ quarts (2½ liters)]

 

Preparation –

  1. Chop onions.
  2. Slice carrots and celery stalks.

 

Recipe –

  1. Cover bottom of saucepan with olive oil and place over medium heat.
  2. Add veal and chopped vegetables – onions, carrot, celery, bay leaf.
  3. Cook until beef is browned.
  4. Add salt and Barolo wine.
  5. Cover, and cook over low heat for 8 hours.
  6. Take meat out of liquid and allow to cool.
  7. Whip sauce left in saucepan.
  8. Cut meat into pieces and serve with sauce.

 

Serving –

Flavio writes –

“To accompany this special dish I particularly like to drink our Barolo Sarmassa, elegant but so full-bodied to cope with a very tasty meat dish.”

 

Valter writes –

“After slow cooking, the veal is so tender that there is no need to use a knife to cut it!”

 

Comments –

Flavio writes –

“Our cook Valter has been working with us for ten years. He has this special recipe, a very traditional dish here in South Piedmont and one of my favorites. And guess what? It needs Barolo wine!”

 

Tom’s Comments –

It’s true—you will not need a knife to eat this tender, savory beef when it’s ready. Serve with cooked vegetables, as well as pasta, rice or potatoes and a full red wine with plenty of body (such as Barolo). This meal showpiece is hearty, but still light. If Barolo is not available, try another tannic wine.

When cooking, remember to check now and then and adjust the heat so the liquid stays at a simmer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precious Does Not Have To Be Expensive – With Wine, Travel Or Food

November 15, 2016
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Seasons have changed in the Gironde department of France

The bottles most cherished in my little cellar are neither renowned or expensive. Instead, they deliver memories. There is the 2008 Clos Apalta, purchased in Chile after meeting the winemaker (and months before Wine Spectator Magazine declared this Wine of The Year). There are magnums of biodynamic Cabernet Franc purchased from Clos Cristal of the Loire Valley after walking vines with the winemaker last year. Those bottles—one and a half liters of liquid magic—cost 30 Euros apiece are no longer available after the vineyard shut down. Or the few boxes of unique 2012 Les Angelots, made by friend Nicolas down the road. The label drawing includes two blue stone angels mounted on the winery’s outer wall. Somehow, Nicolas managed to bottle one of them. When I returned in spring after months working in Asia, the first priority was to phone and purchase his final box.

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Precious wines are not necessarily expensive

Memory of place, people and situations can makes bottles of wine—open and finished, or unopened—more memorable than any association with expense, renown or prestige. That is a strange and simple truth about wine.

The notion that precious does not have to be expensive applies not only to wine, but travel. Traveling off-season can mean purchasing less costly tickets, paying reasonable prices for accommodation and bumping into fewer streams of visitors wearing multicolored neoprene tight and speaking your own language. Even day trips, often unexpectedly, can turn as memorable as a week spent in a distant country.

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What’s precious can be fleeting … so enjoy now 🙂

On Sunday I visited the city of Cognac, an hour drive north. Soon I’ll write more about the city and the local drink Pineau (pronounced, yes—Pinot; it’s confusing). This blend of cognac and non-alcoholic grape juice is wildly popular here, yet apparently unknown in much of the world. In the meantime, here are some panoramic photos from that countryside drive and afternoon city walk. This getaway was precious, not costly. Tip of the week? When Google Maps alerts you to an alternate, non-highway, more scenic route that only adds eight minutes to a one hour drive—choose YES.

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What else in life can be precious, without necessarily being expensive?

Food, sometimes. That’s one unsung benefit of Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.—the joy of sharing a long lunch or dinner with friends and new faces, often at home, sometimes with a drink or two, maybe with decent conversation and perhaps followed by a walk.

Here in southern France the cool season has arrived. It’s not cold enough for a wool hat or gloves yet, but that time draws close. The leaves that turned brown and gold weeks ago are now spalling off vines.

As for food, two European recipes are included below—from Italy and France. They are easy to prepare, will keep you warm, and could even be a T-Day appetizer or dessert.

The first recipe comes from the Alto Adige region in northern Italy (location of the gorgeous toothed Dolomite mountains) while the second is from Bugey in the Rhone region of southern France. Thank you Andrian Wines, as well as Marjorie and Bernard Rondeau, who supplied these recipes.

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Terlaner soup (photo courtesy of Andrian Wines)

Terlaner Wine Soup

From Rudi Kofler, Cellar Master of Andrian Wines, Terlano Wine Region, Alto Adige Province, Italy

Preparation Time and Quantity –

5 minutes to prepare, 25 minutes to cook. Serves 4 people.

 

Ingredients and Amounts

Broth – 2 cups (½ liter)

Egg yolks – 4

Cream – ⅕ cup (50 milliliters)

Terlaner wine* – 1 cup (¼ liter)

Bread cubes – from 1 stale roll

Butter – 1 tablespoon (14 grams)

Cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt – to taste

Preparation –

  1.  Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius).
  2. Tear bread chunks from the roll so they are about ½ inch (1 centimeter) square.

 

Recipe –

  1. Mix cream and egg yolks until smooth.
  2. Pour butter over torn bread cubes, then roast for 10 to 15 minutes in the pre-heated oven.
  3. Remove bread from the oven and sprinkle with cinnamon.
  4. Pour broth and wine into a saucepan over low heat.
  5. Add cream/yolk mixture.
  6. Add a pinch of salt, a little nutmeg and cinnamon.
  7. When at a boil, remove from heat.

 

Serving –

Pour into bowls. Top with bread cubes and sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon.

 Comments –

Andrian wines tells the history of this soup –

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Rudi Kofler – Cellar Master (photo courtesy Andrian Wines)

“The Terlaner wine soup was first served in Berlin in 1965 at a culinary event presenting South-Tyrolean specialties. Andreas Hellrigl, Josef Theiner and Franz Tauber, three renowned South-Tyrolean chefs, elaborated old recipes and created the Terlaner wine soup.”

 * Terlaner wine is a composition of the Terlano wine region’s three most traditional grape varieties – Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc (the Pinot provides freshness and an acidic structure, the Chardonnay delivers warmth and mellowness, and the Sauvignon adds fine aromas). Choose a suitable blended white wine alternative.

 

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Tarte Bugiste (photo courtesy of Domaine Cerdon de Bugey)

‘Tarte Bugiste’ – Tart from Bugey

From Marjorie and Bernard Rondeau, Owners of Domaine Bernard et Marjorie Rondeau, Boyeux-Saint-Jérôme, Bugey, France

 

Preparation Time and Quantity –

35 minutes until dough ready for first rising; 1 additional hour (after dough has risen) to finish preparing and to cook. Serves 8 people.

 

Ingredients and Amounts

 

Dough

Flour – 3½ cups (350 grams)

Sugar – 3 tablespoons (37 grams)

Butter (soft) – ¼ cup (60 grams)

Eggs – 2

Fresh yeast – 4½ teaspoons (15 grams) [or 1 sachet dried yeast]

Salt – pinch

Milk – 1 cup (240 milliliters)

Filling

Powdered sugar – as needed

Butter or heavy cream – as needed

Chocolate chips or chunks – as needed

Preparation –

  1. Warm milk and set aside.
  2. Melt butter.

 

Recipe –

  1. Add yeast to warm milk and stir.
  2. Beat eggs with sugar.
  3. Add melted butter and a pinch of salt to egg/sugar mixture.
  4. Add flour and milk/yeast mixture to the above mixture.
  5. Knead for several minutes (8 to 15) until this becomes homogenous, soft dough.
  6. Put dough in a bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise for 2 to 3 hours in a warm location.
  7. When dough is ready, pre-heat oven to between 480 and 520 degrees Fahrenheit (250 and 270 Celsius).
  8. Punch down dough, knead again, then roll out to a disc and let rise a second time for 15 to 30 minutes. It’s okay if it looks lumpy and bubbled.
  9. Sprinkle dollops of butter or heavy cream (or both), and powdered sugar on top of dough, and (as Marjorie says –“for being greedy”) add chocolate chips or chocolate chunks.
  10. Bake in pre-heated oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Serving –

Marjorie writes –

“Bon appétit. The specialty of our region is this Bugiste tart with cream.”

 

Tom’s Comments –

Sinfully soft and delicious. Try this with a sparkling rosé.

The amount of dough is small enough that you could knead it on a decent sized cutting board, if you don’t want to flour up a counter or table. Add flour liberally to keep the dough from sticking. Knead the dough the first time for 8 to 15 minutes or so, until it pushes back, turns springy and homogenous and looks slightly glossy.

Put on a lower shelf in the oven to avoid the top burning.

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img_0371-1Elena Malgina of Lugano, Switzerland will provide additional assistance to move the book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion forward. Elena’s background is working in financial management, though she recently opened her own literary agency, Ithaka. In the past months she arranged for the translation and publication of letters written by renowned Russian writer Andrey Platonov and recently represented a book about President Obama’s policies. The choice to work with Elena was based on her intelligence, energy, and enthusiasm for the publishing industry. “One of my most exciting epiphanies of the last couple of years,” Elena wrote soon after we met, “was the simple realization that profession and passion can simply coexist and make a magical synergy.”

Welcome Elena.

Finally, my latest Forbes pieces are here, including one about jazz pianist Daniel Gassin who is now in Dubai helping Quincy Jones open a jazz club. Future articles in the coming weeks will be about Loire Valley wines, Mont Saint-Michel island, the intriguing life of a flying winemaker (who is also a remarkable chef) and a Michelin starred lunch that costs less than a meal at Denny’s.

As always, thanks for tuning in.

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