Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fancy Food Show

The Fancy Food Show concluded in New York, today.  It was great to see old friends such as Jean-Beinot Hugues of Castelas olive oil in Les Baux de Provence, France.  I was able to catch up with John Magnuson of Global Speciality Foods in Atlanta.  John was there to give me a big push into the olive oil world over ten years.  

I also met producers from many of my old reliable olive oils from around the world, Gerard Vea Balona of Les Estronell and Andres Coucera of Marques de Grinon, both from Spain. Marques de Grinon produces wonderful wines and were the first to bottle the first 100% Petit Verdot, a yummy wine.   Clara Cimo represented one of the best value oils in the world, Manfredi Barbara.  Manfredi didn't attend due to the birth of his second child.  Natalia Ravida carried the banner of my desert island oil (if I were stranded on one), Ravida, from Sicily.  In tasting demonstrations I refer to Ravida as the Gregory Peck of olive oils.  It's manly, suave, sophisticated and takes the Oscar. If you've never tasted Ravida, you must. Buy Natalia's new cookbook, Seasons of Sicily.  I did.  

My most exciting discussion was with Jayne Benitivoglio of Rylstone Olive Grove in New South Wales, Australia.  She and her husband Peter are making fabulous oils and are preparing to invade the U.S.  I will be there to assist.  

It's also fun and amazing to meet producers from Crete, Jordan, Chile, Argentina, Morocco, Tunisia, and, of course, Italy and Spain.  These contacts will no doubt aid my future travel adventures.  I'm packing my bags. 

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recipes from Beyond Extra Virgin Conference

This past week I attended the Beyond Extra Virgin International Conference sponsored by the University of California-Davis Olive Center, Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  We were fortunate to have several international acclaimed chefs preparing extraordinary culinary delights demonstrating, of course, the creative use and advantages of quality extra virgin olive oil.  Each chef had less than 30 minutes to prepare two or three separate dishes.  Therefore, many of these recipes are not complicated and time consuming.  You might want to avoid the ones calling for the use of nitrogen.  As for me, I have no room in my kitchen for a nitrogen tank.  The recipes can be found at


Here are few random tips that that might be helpful to you.

  • Contrary to what many celebrity chefs will tell you about cooking with Extra Virgin olive oil, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone has embarked on crusade to change the notion of many chefs that it's not good to cook with Extra Virgin olive oil.  As Darrell Corti, owner of Corti Brothers and one of the most respected experts in the olive oil, food and wine world, has reportedly stated, "if you are worried about the smoke point then you shouldn't be in the kitchen."  Cuisines from Puglia, Italy and Crete are widely acclaimed as the healthiest diets in the world and they cook, drizzle and swim in olive oil. 
  • Extra Virgin olive oil is more than a monounsaturated fat. It has a high polyphenal component which are the antioxidants that prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diseases.  It also adds freshness and flavor.  Polyunsaturated oils can't claim any of these.  
  • Soy has a savory component that can tone down the bitter, high phenolic component (which want for flavor and health benefits) of more robust Extra Virgin olive oils.
  • To save the bright green color of basil for pesto blanche the leaves in boiling salt water for a few seconds and then drain. 
Stay tuned for more. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beaujolais: Perception is Not Reality

Washington, DC is an international wine haven. Wines from across the globe—French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chilean, Argentine, German, Israeli, Ukrainian, South African, Australian, New Zealand, to mention a few, are in abundance for your exploration and enjoyment.  If there’s an embassy here and wine to import, there will be opportunities to taste.  Plus, the French Wine Society and the Washington Wine Academy, often jointly, present a vast calendar of quality events to enhance one’s learning.  The big bonus, however, is meeting and chatting with the folks who produce the wines.  No representative can fully substitute for the one toiling among the vines every day, every year. 

These events can often surprise you and open the door to a whole new world of drinking pleasure.  The Expressions D’Origine: Domaines et Chateaux en Beaujolais held here recently offered an enlightening experience.   For most Americans, red Beaujolais conjures images of simple, candied and gummy wines.  The reality can be much different.  The misconceptions largely stems from the mass marketed annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau the third Thursday in November. These simple, fruity wines are for drinking immediately.  Gamay, the primary grape variety grown in Beaujolais, is much more. 

Following Beaujolais, the next level is Beaujolais-Villages, which is spread over 38 communes. If the fruit is produced from one village or commune, it can be stated on the label. These fruity, cherry colored wines are versatile easy drinking alternatives for those summertime backyard barbecues.  It's best to cool, but not chill the bottle.

The real class is with the Beaujolais Crus, which offer pleasant drinking now and capable of achieving greater complexity with maturity.  The ten Beaujolais crus are:

Brouilly: Most southern of the Crus is elegant and medium-bodied.

Chenas:  Rarest of the Crus is smooth and subtle and ages well.

Chiroubles: Refined, elegant and fruity.

Cote de Brouilly: A little cellaring will produce elegance.

Fleurie:  Feminine style with violets and roses.

Julienas: Always popular and an excellent match for coq au vin

Morgan:  Fleshy and fuller wines needing a few years in the cellar.

Moulin a Vent:  Most regal of the Crus is well structured and age-worthy.

Regnie: Youngest of the Crus is a supple display of red and black fruits.

Saint-Amour: Have to love the name, refined and well balanced.

Now, the folks behind these labels are a welcoming and cheerful group who are respectful of the land and are passionate about their wines.  The youthful Cedric Chignard of Domaine Michel Cignard (Fleurie) commented, “Americans, who like lots of fruit, should like Beaujolais.” The 2007 and 2005 Fleurie Morier are excellent examples of the characteristics of Fleurie.  Don’t be fooled by the femininity.  These are wines with complexity and a long finish.  In the Cedric’s words, “The fruit stays to the end.”  

The supple elegance of Julienas was superbly shown by the thoughtful and personal Vincent Audras’ Clos de Haute Combe.  When speaking about Beaujolais, Vincent stated, “There are so many places where there’s nothing to see and crowds of people.  And then there’s Beaujolais, where there’s so much to see and hardly anybody.  Some things are hard to understand!”  I’m with you on that one, Vincent.

Next, Domaine Louis-Claude Desvignes poured two Morgons from 2007, Cote-de Py and Javerniere.  These fleshy wines are long and straight and are worthy additions to any cellar.   Domaine Marcel Lapierre offers a vibrant expression of the fleshy Morgon.  Towards the end of the evening, several of the Beaujolais vignerons congregated around Mathieu Lapierre’s table drinking his wine—a mere observation.   

Other respected estates to explore include the popular Pierre-Marie and Martine Chermette’s Domaine du Vissoux, Claude Geoffray’s Chateau Thivin (Brouilly), Domaines Piron (Dominque and Kristine--Morgon),  Domaine Jean Foillard (Morgon), Chateau des Jacques, Domaine Paul Janin & Fils, and Jean-Marc Depres’ Domaine de la Madone (Fleurie).  You'll be glad you did.

Are you in a red wine rut? Break out by picking up a couple bottles or cases of Beaujolais for your backyard barbeque this weekend—remember to cool the bottle slightly.

As for this wine pilgrim, the next time I’m driving between Burgundy and the Rhone, I plan to do something I’ve regretfully never done, exit the Autoroute and visit Beaujolais. 


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Truth and Olive Oil

Folks in the trade know that a bottle of olive oil should be consumed within 18-24 months from the harvest date.  This can present a tough dilemma for the olive oil industry, particularly retailers.   At this moment, retail shelves are full of olive oils from the 2007 harvest (northern hemisphere). These olive oils are reaching their 18-month threshold.  Coincidentally, the 2008 harvest is now coming widely available.  Yogi Berra was quoted as saying, “When you reach a fork in the road, take it.”  What do we do with the 2007 stock on the shelves currently verses the 2008 harvest, which is naturally fresher and better?

Most estate olive oil producers appreciate the value of fresh is best by stating the harvest date or “Best to use by” date on the label.  In the retail and consumer world, it is too often ignored or not understood. Unfortunately, this is a disservice to consumers resulting in lost sales opportunity to the retail and olive oil industry. 

I contend that when a customer possesses the truth about harvest date and longevity of an open bottle consumption grows.  A six-month old open bottle will less likely be retained in the pantry.  Linking fresh is best to flavor and health benefits increases usage and sales.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve conducted hundreds of olive oil tastings and the biggest challenge is to overcome the consumer’s deer in the headlights stupor as they stare at a shelf of olive oil bottles.  When confused and uninformed, one usually buys the cheapest. Sadly, most consumers view extra virgin olive oils as a commodity. 

Education about fresh is best is a major differentiator from other seed oils and ordinary, or even adulterated, olive oils. Keeping the customer unaware and in the dark, which is never a wise strategy, is an impediment to growing olive oil consumption in the U.S.

What can we do with the old harvest on the shelves?  Here’s an option.  Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan has slashed the prices of their 2007 olive oils in half. Now, Having been a follower and customer of this famous deli for 10 years making business mistakes is not one of their habits.  Quality reigns supreme at Zingerman’s. 

Educating consumers about the importance of freshness provides an opportunity to create marketing events throughout the year. For example, the olive oils from the southern hemisphere become available at the height of the summer produce season. 

The evolution of other industries is worth considering. Professional sports first resisted televising their games for fear of losing fans in the seats.  People predicted the extinction of the movie theatre when the VCR entered the market.  The fan base for both has soared.  Professional sports and movies became more accessible growing the fan base to unimaginable heights.  Embracing a fresh is best strategy can grow olive oil consumption in the U.S.  If people understand that olive oil must be used within a certain timeframe, they will use and buy more. 

How’s this for a big hairy audacious goal?  In five years, double the consumption of olive oil in the U.S.  The strategy must be based on truth.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Merry Edwards and Tina Turner

To quote lyrics from the legendary Tina Turner, Merry Edwards… “You’re simply the best!”  Trailblazer, pioneer and innovator, her story epitomizes the determination and possibilities of the human spirit.  This is a celebrated narrative of enduring the gender prejudice of being one of the first woman winemakers, rising from the ashes of business setbacks, and with creativity, intellect and innovation, spearheading a path to quality in California.  I have never met Merry Edwards.  Yet, her wines reflect the unmistakable character of their maker’s journey.  They are firmly structured, lively, graceful, balanced, subtle, complex, and always luring you back to the glass. This is a heavenly sanctuary for Pinot Noir lovers.

Here is an enjoyable and educational wine estate to visit on your next trip to Sonoma.  Please call ahead for an appointment and you will likely be rewarded with a one-on-one, or one-on-small gathering, from a member of her knowledgeable and friendly staff.  I was fortunate to have Ron Hayes, a veteran of the vines.   You will not merely taste the wines, but will learn to know and understand them.  You will leave Merry Edwards with more than a buzz.  

The winery and tasting room resides outside Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley on the Coopersmith Vineyard, which was an apple orchard until Merry and her husband, Ken Coopersmith, acquired the property in 1999.  The inaugural bottling was in 2004.  This is a true Russian River Pinot Noir with a fuller body, medium acidity and red fruits—raspberry, cherry and red currants—with a smattering of cocoa. Its lush and velvety texture is delightful and comforting.  Somewhere there’s a plate of roasted duck smothered with a dried cherry, wine reduction sauce longing to marry a bottle of the Coopersmith.

The 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is composed of fruit from cooler sites, including Meredith Vineyard.   Bright, fresh and zesty melds nicely with a perfume of red fruits and blueberries.  This spicy fellow was my traveling companion to Laguna Beach for the holiday weekend where a grilled Copper River salmon joined us for dinner. 

Following the Burgundy way, Pinot Noir is usually bottled from designated vineyards.  There is something, however, to be said for the complexity from blending multiple locations.  The 2007 Russian River merges 20 small lots from seven different locations in Russian Valley.   Big, dark, ripe fruit intermingled with chocolate creates a charming richness and softness.  Where’s the barbeque?

The 2006 Meredith Vineyard in the southern and cooler Russian River Valley showcases blending five different Pinot Noir clones, while producing 15 different batches of wine.  This is the birth of complexity.  The raspberry is in harmony with the fresh acidity and firm structure. This is a wine for the cellar and will reward the patient.

The coolest site in the Merry Edwards’ empire is Tobias Glen and is usually the last to be harvested.  The 2006 is a concentrated gathering of black and blue fruit.   Here, the Merry Edwards magic is visible.  She began purchasing the fruit in 2003 and began revitalizing the vines with organic mushroom compost.  Today, the wine has an earthy richness and concentration that should cellar for the long term.

It’s often customary to pour a little treasure at the conclusion of a tasting.  In Burgundy, an older vintage can illustrate what a wine can become.  Most places, however, offer a late harvest, dessert nectar.   Never before have I been served a Sauvignon Blanc as the finale.  It’s usually first. The highly acclaimed Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc is no ordinary version of this popular varietal.  The 2006 was ranked 37th in Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines of 2008.” James Laube of Wine Spectator wrote about the 2007, “… the greatest Sauvignon Blanc that I have ever had from anywhere.”  I’m not one to argue.  The 2008 model is a volcanic eruption of tropical fruit and blossoms—a masterful use of oak—no spit bucket needed.  

After all, with Merry Edwards, love’s GOT everything to do with it.

For more information or to make an appointment, you can call 888.388.9050 or explore www.merryedwards.com