Posts Tagged ‘Wine’

Port opens its collar a bit

vindimando pinhao 2The fourth generation of the Symington clan that came to Portugal in 1882, Dominic Symington is one of a passel of cousins who run the wide-ranging port empire that includes Cockburn’s, Warre’s, Dow’s, and Graham’s, along with Quinto do Vesúvio and Altano table wines. When a group of us touring wine estates in the Douro Valley stopped in Pinhao to see the amazing tile murals at the train station (like the one above), Symington offered to pick us up for lunch – by boat. Dominic

We met him at the town dock, where one of his daughters and a friend were helping him dock his small speedboat. “It’s much faster than driving on the road,” he shrugged, as we sped a half hour upriver to the Quinta dos Malvedos of the Graham’s port company. He was particularly keen to show us the technology – first the traditional concrete lagars in which port grapes are pressed by foot. “This is wine as it was made in Biblical times,” he said. “If Caesar’s legion came marching in at harvest time, they would know just what to do – to climb in the lagar and start marching back and forth.”

There are tremendous advantages to this type of grape treading. The human foot crushes the skins just about perfectly to extract the deep color and the phenolic tannins that a wine like port needs to be full bodied and age well. The system has disadvantages, too, particularly when it comes to temperature control. Over the three weeks of harvest and crushing for port, the concrete warms up a lot from the combination of human body temperature and chemical reactions during the fermentation.

lagarEnter the Symington clan’s robotic treader: The lagars (troughs about knee deep) are replaced with stainless steel trays only slightly larger. Heating and cooling elements in the sides keep the fermentation temperature under control. And a robotic treader – with foot-sized pistons coated with silicon rubber – replaces the grape stompers by providing exactly the same pressure are the human foot (for geek readers, that’s 20 kg per square centimeter).

Symington also noted that almost everyone in the port wine business understands their vineyards much better than 20 years ago. That has meant better port year to year – and a lot more vintage port, which is the fruity version of port that ages in the bottle rather than in the cask. But for all the improvements in high-end vintage port and the older, more complex tawny ports (he poured a 20-year-old tawny port and a 1991 vintage port to illustrate the differences), The Symington brands are “seeking to deformalize port,” as he put it. tawny

It was a blisteringly hot day (not uncommon in the Douro Valley), so he offered an aperitif. Clink-clink-clink went three ice cubes into a lowball glass. Symington filled it half full with white port, topped up with tonic water, and slid a thin slice of lemon into each drink, apologizing that he was out of lime for the moment. The reinvention of the white wine spritzer was the perfect antidote to the heat. With its touch of sweetness and crisp, mouthfilling acids, it was about as far as I could imagine from a ruminative post-dinner glass of tawny port.

“Stick the port in the freezer for an hour,” Dominic said, “and you can skip the ice cubes.”

29

06 2013

What to drink at the airport … in Kelowna

No, we didn’t take this photograph in the cute little Kelowna airport, located in the heart of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. Once principally an orchard area (the peaches and cherries are incredible), the valley now boasts more than 150 wineries and an untold number of vineyards. It is emerging as one of the hottest new table wine region in the North American west as well as continuing its excellent production of Canada’s best-known ice wines.

We spent a few days touring and tasting and have to admit that it’s hard to beat the striking vistas from the hillside vineyard tasting rooms that overlook the chain of lakes in the Okanagan Valley. Looking down the long green rows to the blue water–and then across to the opposite bank where more vines climb the hills to the horizon is pretty special. The lakes help hold the heat and the high desert climate makes the region nearly perfect for growing grapes organically. We’ve seen few places in the world where organic viticulture (and agriculture in general) was the rule rather than the exception.

To our surprise, the Kelowna airport’s Skyway Cafe & Bar is a fine place for a final glass before boarding a flight, if only to get a last taste of an Okanagan wine in situ (assuming you skip the wine-in-a-box “Premium Red” and “Premium White”). The bar offers selections by the glass from some of the most respected vineyards in the region, including a Mission Hill Five Vineyards cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend and a pinot noir from Grey Monk.

Alas, the bar doesn’t pour any of the ice wines that first made the region’s reputation. So if you find yourself flying from Kelowna, make sure a bottle or two is in your checked bags. If you’re flying nonstop, there’s a wine shop by Gate 5.

26

08 2012

Six things to bring home from Vermont

It’s official. The Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire has shipped to stores and is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Thanks to our efficient editors, we beat the technical publication date of July 3.

In addition to restaurants, the book highlights great shops and local food producers. Vermont may be best known for maple syrup and cheddar cheese, but there’s a whole lot more. Here are some of our favorite things to bring home from the Green Mountain State.

The Red Bar from Middlebury Chocolates (2377 Route 7 South, Middlebury, VT; 802-989-1610; www.middleburychocolates.com) is the hardcore chocolate lovers’ chocolate. Stephanie and Andy Jackson make all their chocolates straight from the bean. The Red Bar, says Andy, is “a throwback to the earliest known recipes.” It has a wild mix of sour, mellow, toasted, and sweet notes. While the book was at press, the couple moved into spacious new quarters south of town. They re-open for business on Friday (June 15).

Who would expect wine—let alone good wine—in Vermont? But Snow Farm Vineyard (190 West Shore Rd., South Hero, VT; (802) 372-9463; www.snowfarm.com) produces some outstanding estate-grown varietal wines. Many are available all over Vermont, but you have to go to the winery to buy the limited-edition Pinot Noir, American Riesling, and (our favorite), the Late Harvest Vignobles, a lush dessert wine with pronounced apricot notes.

We love the controlled smoke flavor imparted at Green Mountain Smokehouse (341 Route 5 South, Windsor, VT; (802) 674-6653; www.greenmountainsmokehouse.com). Koreen and Jake Henne smoke all their meats on the premises and sell to individuals only at their factory. We like to stop for the bargain-priced bacon ends, which we dice up to use in chowders, stews, and in place of guanciale in amatriciana. (See here for our recipe.)

When we go to the farm or catch them at a farmers’ market, we’ll often buy a young, soft-rind cheese made by Consider Bardwell Farm (1333 Route 153, West Pawlet, VT; (802) 645-9928; www.considerbardwellfarm.com) to eat right away. To take home, we’re partial to the creamy Pawlet aged raw milk cheese from Jersey cows. It’s an Italian-style Toma and multiple award winner from the American Cheese Society and World Cheese championships.

Mark Simakaski and Nichole Wolfgang taught beekeeping when they were in the Peace Corps; now they make mead (honey wine) that ranks among some of the world’s best. Artesano Meadery (1334 Scott Highway (Route 302), Groton, VT; (802) 584-9000; www.artesanomead.com) produces about 1,000 cases a year. We prefer the dry traditional mead without fruit infusions.

Sheep are always grazing on the hillside when you approach Vermont Shepherd Cheese (281 Patch Farm Road, Putney, VT; (802) 387-4473; www.vermontshepherd.com), and the little sales building looks like something out of a fairy tale. You can buy yarn spun from the herd’s wool as well as local honey. But we make a beeline for the refrigerator and pre-cut wedges of the best aged ewe’s milk cheese in North America.

12

06 2012

The tang of Burgundy’s other signature taste

You literally walk on wine in Beaune, the center of Burgundy’s wine trade, because the town is honeycombed with cellars dug by the monks who were Burgundy’s first vinters. Millions of bottles sleep their way to perfection under the cobbled streets, and millions more are tucked into the cool, dark recesses of the town’s 15th century fortified walls. The rough streets, old stone buildings, and a profusion of statues of the Virgin Mary (including one where she holds the infant Jesus in one hand and a bunch of grapes in the other) make Beaune undeniably picturesque. But it’s even more fun to taste Beaune than to look at it. As close as I can tell, there are no statues of Mary hefting a bag of mustard seeds, but there should be.

Fallot moutarderie In the Middle Ages, mustard was made everywhere in France. Today the Burgundy region is best known for mustard, especially the Maille firm in Dijon, 25 miles/40 km north of Beaune. But Beaune’s own family-owned La Moutarderie Fallot (31, Faubourg Bretonnière, 011-33-0380-221-002, www.fallot.com) holds its own against the bigger, slicker operation. The last moutarderie in Beaune, Fallot began stone-grinding mustard seed in 1840 and still uses stone wheels to make mustard paste, which is still stored for 24 hours in wooden barrels before bottling. Tours are sometimes arranged through the tourist office (port Marie de Bourgogne, 6 boulevard Perpreuil, 011-33-0380-262-130, www.beaune-burgundy.com).

Fallot mustards Given the French fixation with terroir, I was surprised to learn that most French mustards are made with seeds from Canada. Within the last couple of decades, the French have started to replant mustard, but the mustard fields can only meet about 5 percent of the demand. If you’re a purist, look for mustard labeled “made with mustard from Burgundy.” It is also made with white Burgundy wine (Aligoté) instead of vinegar to blend with the seed, water, and salt. Most processors also make flavored mustards — tarragon, cassis, gingerbread, etc. — but Burgundians far prefer the unflavored “natural” product.

Cheeses at Alain Hess I always bring home a few jars for the pantry, but some of Beaune’s mustard delicacies are best enjoyed there. I can’t visit the town without stopping at Alain Hess Fromagerie (7 Place Carnot, 011-33-0380-247-351), an affineur (cheese-ager) who also produces his own Delice de Pommard, a soft cow’s milk cheese rolled in mustard bran. It’s great first cheese for a picnic, ideally followed by a Cîteaux (a semi-soft cheese that Hess procures from a 12th century Cistercian monastery) and finally a spectacular Époisses de Bourgogne, a soft cheese whose rind is washed with Marc de Borgogne. The great epicure Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called it the “king of cheeses.” To drink? A modest Burgundy, of course.

No surprise — the wine is also good with chocolate. Chocolatier Bouché (1 Place Monge, 011-33-0380-221-035) blends mustard seed into chocolate ganache, then enrobes the pieces in dark chocolate. Called Le Sénevé, the morsels combine a complex sweetness with bitter and salty undertones.

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07

07 2010

Black pepper, red wine, and strawberries

The conjunction of strawberry season with this series of blogs about French cooking takes us back to our first introduction to lightened French cuisine, which was not in France at all but in the second largest French-speaking city in the world, Montreal. Les Halles opened in 1971 as a grand Escoffier-like townhouse palace of dining in a city best known to that point for its great baked beans with salt pork. When Dominique Crevoisier took over as chef in the early 1980s, he skillfully blended the haute with the nouvelle to create magical meals that didn’t give the patrons gout. He gave us the best idea of what to do with leftover red wine: Turn it into a peppered syrup to serve on strawberries! He added his own touch by tossing the berries with grated lime zest, which is a surprising complement to the black pepper. Alas, Les Halles closed five years ago, but the dining revolution launched by Les Halles has made Montreal one of the great restaurant cities of North America. And every strawberry season Crevoisier’s red wine-black pepper syrup lives on.

RED WINE-BLACK PEPPER SYRUP

Ingredients

2 cups intense red wine (cabernet sauvignon, syrah, etc.)
2 Tablespoons black peppercorns
1/4 cup sugar

Directions

1. Combine ingredients in large skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced to 1/3 cup of syrup.

2. Strain to remove peppercorns.

3. Cool and serve with sliced strawberries tossed with lime zest and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

30

06 2010

Friuli has the right wine for asparagus


Asparagus is notoriously difficult to pair with wine because sulfur-bearing compounds in the stalks produce a chemical bouquet that clashes mightily with the tannins in red wine or in whites aged in oak. Eat asparagus and drink your average pinot noir or barrel-aged chardonnay and the wine will literally taste like garbage.

The French solve the problem by pairing asparagus with Loire Valley whites or white Sancerre-wines based on Sauvignon Blanc that never see a whiff of oak. But just as Friuli grows some of the best asparagus in Europe (see If it’s asparagus it must be Friuli), the northeast corner of Italy also produces the best wine to pair with it. Since 2008 it’s been on the market as Friulano, though in Friuli some people still call it Tocai Friulano. (The Hungarians got all huffy about “tocai,” so the Italians had to change the name.)

Recent genetic research reveals that Friulano is first cousin to Sauvignon Blanc and is the grape known in France as Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse. In France, it makes a thin wine with a “green” taste. In Friuli, where it’s considered a native grape, it makes a noble, forthright, steely white wine that is the perfect match to asparagus. (The acids also cut nicely through unctuous sauces like hollandaise).

Although Friulano is considered one of the best white wines in all of Italy, it is little known in North America. But I’m beginning to find some examples in better liquor stores near my home in Cambridge. The most intense and steely Friulano comes from the Colli Orientali region on the far eastern edge of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. My favorite is produced by Giorgio Colutta and sold under the Colutta label as Friulano Annata (about $16). Joe Bastianich (son of chef Lidia) also makes a very good version for around $1 more. Both are widely distributed.

15

05 2010

Tips for packing food and wine in a suitcase

bubble wrap packing for wineWhen we posted What to buy in an Italian grocery store and What to buy in a Spanish grocery store, we neglected to mention how to get those delicacies home. International airline security restrictions limiting liquids, gels, and pastes (including most soft foods) to 3 ounces in carry-on luggage means entrusting your goodies to the gorillas who slam around checked luggage.

Leaving home, we try to fill our checked bags only halfway, taking up the extra space with bubble wrap and really large plastic bags. (A friend once suggested we have a bag fetish.) Hefty One-Zip 2 1/2 gallon bags are ideal. A few 1-gallon sliding zipper plastic bags are also handy. Small items like jars of anchovies, truffle oil, or pistachio butter from Sicily can go in the gallon bags after each is padded with some bubble wrap (the smaller the bubbles the better).

Bottles of wine and olive oil are a little trickier, since they’re bigger and make an unholy mess if they break. We haven’t had a suitcase ruined, but we did manage to saturate a Spanish rental car trunk with two liters of Núñez del Prado olive oil.

We tend to wrap each bottle in a plastic laundry bag (thank you, hotel), then in bubble wrap before inserting into a Hefty. Each of these mummy-wrapped bottles is packed strategically in the suitcase padded by lots of dirty clothes. Practically speaking, this means no more than 3-4 big bottles per suitcase to stay under the airlines’ increasingly strict weight limitations.

If you’re flying an airline that allows two pieces of checked baggage, you can also ship wine in its own box. Ideally, that would be a box with styrofoam shipping inserts (sometimes called a “wine shipper”), but we’ve had good success with a standard wine case and lots of bubble wrap (limiting you to about 8 bottles per 12-bottle case). Attach a secure handle, which can be made from strapping tape, and pray you’re not flying Alitalia, which requires you to sign a waiver before they will accept the box as checked luggage. (They won’t guarantee safe arrival–or even arrival at all.)

30

12 2009