SMACK DOWN: Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava and Pet-Nat!

Line-up for 2019 blind tasting: Global Sparkling Wines. Dave the Wine Merchant

Since December sales accounts for about 33% of all sparkling wine sales, it seems a good time to explain some basic differences between the most popular types of Sparkling wine – Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava, and Pet-Nat! 

To see our selection of sparkling wines, click here.

Comite Champagne - logo

Champagne: Though this is often used as the generic term for any sparkling wine, it is actually highly regulated. For a sparkling wine to be called champagne (the word is lower case when referring to the wine, upper case when referring to the region) it must come from the demarcated region due East of Paris. Other distinctive features of champagne is that the wine is made from three primary grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (moon yay), a mutation of Pinot Noir. In addition, these wines must undergo their secondary fermentation in the very bottle you buy, as described in the steps, below.

This process used to be called “Method Champenoise” around the globe, but champagne producers lobbied the EU to require the term “Method Traditionelle” be used unless the wine is from the demarcated Champagne region. But the process is the same:

  1. Harvest occurs early while the grape’s natural acids are still high and sugars are low
  2. Dozens of lots of still wine are produced, not intended for consumption, these wines are quite astringent and searingly crisp!
  3. Master blenders then go to work to pull from various lots, creating the house style, intended to be consistent year after year
  4. The blended wine is bottled with some yeast and a small dose of sugar and then the bottle is capped so the CO2 from the fermentation can’t escape
  5. The resulting fermentation goes into the wine and creates the joy of the bubbles!
  6. After the yeast have consumed all the sugar, the spent yeast cells are left for years in the bottle, adding dough/bread notes and softness that offsets the astringency of the base wine
  7. When time to bottle the final product, the spent yeast cells are moved to the neck of the bottle, which is then frozen, the cap is popped off, and the force of the bubbles pushes the ice plug out leaving the remaining wine crystal clear.
  8. Finally, the bottle is topped off, and a final dose of sweetness may be added at this point before the bottle is corked, cleaned, labelled and sent out for celebrations everywhere!

Cremant de __________: This is the term applied to most French sparkling wines that originate outside Champagne and are produced using the “Methode Tradionelle” process (above). Other than the region and the allowance of additional grape varieties beyond Champagne’s traditional threesome, the wines are generally of excellent quality and value. The most common include Cremant de Bourgogne (Burgundy, using Chard and/or Pinot), Cremant de Loire (Chenin Blanc and a smattering of red grapes), Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Savoie…

Prosseco: One of the most popular sparkling wines due to its affordable price and light fresh taste of apples and pears, Prosecco is the one sparkling wine on the global stage that does not ferment in the bottle. Instead, fermentation takes place in large tanks after the initial fermentation. Because this process can occur on an industrial scale, Prosecco is far less expensive than most global sparkling wines. There are two style, Spumante (sparkling) and Frizzante (lighlty fizzy), but the highest expression comes from the small region of Conegliano Valdobbiadenne.  The grape, formerly called “Prosecco”, was changed to Glera in 2009. Same grape, different name. Because Italy.

Franciacorta: This is Italy’s finest sparkling wine and is limited to the Province of Brescia in the beautiful Lombardy region (right), granted DOCG status in 1995. Allowable grapes number almost 20, and the dosage (final addition of sweetness) categories are the same as those of Champagne, but the Non Vintage wine can’t be released until at least 18 months in bottle, and Vintage Franciacorta for 30 months.

Cava: The majority (95%) of the cava is produced in Spain’s Penedes region in Catalonia. But there are also cava cellars in the regions of Aragón, Castilla y León, Extremadura, La Rioja, the Basque Country, Navarre and Valencia.

Typical grapes include a very different trio than those used in Champagne – Macabeo (white), Parellada (white) and Xarel-lo (also white!) – though Pinot is also allowed. The Rose version of Cava is made by bleeding off juice from red wine (Garnacha, Pinot noir, Trepat or Monastrell). Cavas must undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, or else be designated as Sparkling Wine.

Pet-Nat: Hipster wine bars are over-flowing with Pet-Nat wines, described as the world’s trendiest sparkling wine. I find they are divisive among many wine lovers. The term is short for Petillant Naturel a sparkling wine that is fizzy, easy-drinking and intended for near-term consumption. Unlike all the wines above, you’ll find bottles of Pet-Nat are closed with a crown cap (like you’ll find on a Coke bottle). The secondary fermentation is started (yeast and sugar added to the bottle), and after several months, that bottle is sent to market without any disgorgement, dead yeast cells still in the bottle, leaving the wines hazy and flavorful. Because the wine is a natural product undergoing changes from week to week, Pet-nats seldom taste the same from bottle to bottle or month to month, and can often be a bit, um, ‘enthusiastic’ upon opening – be sure to have a towel handy and open over a sink!

Pet-nat wines can be a bit, um, enthusiastic upon opening!

Post by Dave the Wine Merchant

100 Things To Do In San Francisco Before You Die

My interveiw with Kimberley Lovato

S.F. Bucket List - Book cover

I first met the author, Kimberley Lovato at our home

when she was the guest of honor at one of my wine tastings. I interviewed her about her first book – Unique Eats and Eateries of San Francisco – and we all tasted wine and she signed books for everyone, and we all had a great time.

So when I heard she had published a second book with co-author Jill Robinson, I wanted to repeat the popular event. But it came out during the holiday season, and I had one or two other things going on and so did she, so… I had to settle for this Blog interview.

Co-authors, Robinson and Lovato

Dave: Kimberley, you and I both love our city and its fun, little-known (as well as well-known!) unique haunts. And I almost hate opening these great little secrets to everyone! But tell us, what did you and Jill want to do with this book?

Kimberley: We wanted to share some of our favorite ways to play in the city, and given the number of guests and tourists we’ll host this holiday season, this new book is a timely source of new activities and discoveries. Our book is loaded with tips for all readers, whether it’s their first time in San Francisco or they’ve been here for ages. It’s really just an idea generator. And I’ll let your readers in on a little secret – our book lissts way more than a 100 things to do!

Dave: Can you describe some of the things you decided to include in your book? That must have been a difficult editorial decision for the two of you!

Kimberley: We divided the book into sections – Food & Drink, History and Culture to lend some organization to our long list. And we enjoyed spending hours looking into the nooks and crannies of our citie’s four corners (we mean literally, since the city is pretty much a 7X7 square!) Some of our favorite places are well-known, others are hidden gems you’d only find by diving deep into San Francisco’s eclectic neighborhoods. We’re hoping the book will be popular as a holiday gift for that friend who keeps promising to visit year after year, or put it on your guest room’s bedside table.

Dave: That sounds like a great idea, you just solved one of my gifting challenges for this year!

Kimberley: My co-auther also uses it during her daughter’s school breaks. She asks her to choose a few things in the book, or turn to a random page, and then they do them together. It’s been a fun source of mother-daughter activities.

Dave: Kimberley, thanks for speaking with me today, but let’s close with a few of your favorite activities from your list. What are your top suggestions from your book?

What are some of the best things to do in San Francisco around the holidays?

San Francisco is great anytime of year but the holidays are lovely. Union Square has an ice skating rink beneath a big Christmas tree, and the Macy’s has SPCA Holiday displays where adoptable pets frolic in the windows. Ghiradelli Square also has a large tree and plenty of entertainment for visitors to enjoy. Plus, you can drink hot chocolate nearby.  The San Francisco Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker is a holiday tradition and this year is the show’s 75th anniversary in the city. The decorations inside the War Memorial Opera House are magical. San Francisco hotels really get in the spirit too in terms of décor – you could spend a fun day touring their lobbies and stopping in for tea (or wine, Dave suggests!) at each one. The Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill even constructs a massive gingerbread house in the lobby. 

Is San Francisco a fun place for kids? What can they do for fun?

Yes, and there are so many things to do. Since San Francisco is relatively small and easily walkable, kids of all ages can enjoy it.  The Cable Cars are a fun way to get around the city, and kids always love to hear the clang-clang as they move effortlessly up San Francisco’s steep hills.  If the weather is nice, we recommend getting out on the bay and we list several ways you can do that, both as active and passive participants, including ferry rides to nearby towns, such as Sausalito, or even kayaking.  One could spend a whole day in Golden Gate Park where you can rent paddleboats, romp in the playgrounds, count the buffalo, and ride a carousel.  Our museums are also really fun and interactive for kids, especially the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and the Children’s Creativity Museum. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge is a popular pastime, and ideal for teens who need to burn some energy and want to take really cool selfies.

A fun way to get around the city. A moving museum!

Where would you recommend going for the best holiday family photo?

Crissy Field is not only a wonderful walk along the San Francisco Bay, it also boasts one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the city. You can snap the family portrait with the entire span in the background. It’ll be a framer for sure!

Where should someone go for a celebratory glass of bubbly or holiday cocktail?

We write about how hotel bars in San Francisco are having a moment and we still think that’s true. Some of the best bars in the city are in hotels, and they feel especially fun and festive during the holidays thanks to twinkle lights and décor.

The former Starlight Room on the 21st floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel is now called Lizzie’s Starlight and it’s a chic spot for bubbly and some of the best bar food in the city. Make sure to go during daylight hours so you can enjoy the sweeping views.  The Palace Hotel, under its crystal atrium in the lobby, looks like a snow globe scene and is the perfect place for a celebration. And the Clift Hotel’s Redwood Room always feels swanky and luxe.  We already mentioned the Fairmont Hotel, and across the street atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel is Top of the Mark, known for its panoramic city views and martinis.   One of our favorite old stand-bys is Buena Vista Café, known for its Irish coffees, which hit the spot on a cold and foggy day.

The Buena Vist’s Irish Coffee. Expensive, but worth it?

What should people eat this time of year?

‘Tis the Season for Dungeness Crab in San Francisco.  You can get it at Fisherman’s Wharf at one of the stalls, or restaurants around the city will likely have it on their holiday and winter menus.   We like the casual Swan Oyster Depot, an institution on Polk Street. You’ll have to wait in line but it’s worth it.  Tadich Grill is another SF mainstay. They annually serve more than 20,000 bowls of Cioppino, a seafood stew considered by many to be the signature dish of San Francisco.

Read more about the authors or pick up a copy online at www.100ThingsSF.net or wherever books are sold.

Explore the popular wine discoveries from Dave the Wine Merchant at www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

Sulfites in Wine: Are They Behind Your Headache?

Guest Post: Gerard Paul writes about food & drink at ManyEats. He insists you put down the fruit leather and pick up your wine glass. Cheers!

Photo by Elina Sazonova from Pexels

Photo by Elina Sazonova from Pexels

Go to a store and pick up a bottle of wine. It’s likely that the words “Contains sulfites” will be printed somewhere on the label.

(I suggest this store.)

We’ve taken a strange path to where we are today. Everyone has an opinion on sulfites, but not everyone understands their essential role in the winemaking process – without sulfites, you might be drinking vinegar.

So what’s the deal with sulfites, anyway?

What Are Sulfites?

The word “sulfites” (sometimes styled “sulphites”) are sulfur-containing compounds – including sulfur dioxide – that act as preservatives and antimicrobials.

In winemaking, sulfites are used to maintain flavor, improve a wine’s shelf life, preserve freshness, and protect a wine’s color from oxidation. Sulfur dioxide is a natural byproduct that arises during fermentation, but winemakers often add more sulfites as a preservative to achieve the positive effects noted above. 

Adding extra sulfites to a batch of wine can slow or stop the fermentation process and help the wine remain stable even after bottling.

Sulfites in White vs. Red Wines?

Let’s get something out of the way: all wines will contain some amount of sulfites. That includes wines made with controlled low-sulfite processes.

White wine generally has more sulfites than red due to the differences in fermentation techniques. Being the sweeter of the two, white wine contains more sugar, which attracts bacteria.

Although yeast is the primary driver during wine’s fermentation process, some bacteria are likely necessary for fermentation (but too much can lead to spoilage). 

White-winemakers use added sulfites to stop the fermentation process before bacteria consume residual sugar. On the other hand, red wine is fermented with grape seeds, stems, and skin within. This introduces tannins into the wine, a natural antioxidant and preservative. Due to the tannins, red wines generally need fewer added sulfites for stabilization.

Natural Sulfites vs. Added Sulfites and Organic Wine

“Added” sulfites refer to any sulfites introduced to a batch of wine beyond what occurs naturally.

The content of naturally-occurring sulfites in wine usually range from 10-80ppm (“parts per million”), depending on the wine. 

In the United States, wine without any sulfites added (and some other requirements [PDF]) can be labeled “organic wine” and include the USDA Organic Seal. There is a lesser certification of “made with organic grapes” as well – winemakers can’t use the seal but can use the organic grapes label if they keep added sulfites below 100ppm. 

Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash

Sulfites and Wine

Again, without sulfites, wine is more vulnerable to bacteria and spoilage. Especially in imported wines, winemakers rely on sulfites to keep the wine fresh during transport. 

Sulfites are also one reason why wine tends to taste better with age. They help to preserve the wine’s flavor and body, so they’re an invaluable aspect of wine production and storage.

Is There Such a Thing as Sulfite-Free Wine?

There is no such thing as a 100% sulfite-free wine. Wine is produced through fermentation, and sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermenting process – even if only in trace amounts. 

Sometimes, wine is marketed as “sulfite-free.” Sulfite-free wines have no added sulfites, but they will still contain trace amounts of natural sulfites. The closest wines to sulfite-free are organic wines without a “contains sulfite” label – they have a minimum concentration of sulfites (below 10ppm).

Taste of Lower Sulfite vs. Higher Sulfite Wines

Sulfites don’t taste like much of anything in isolation, but their presence in wine can undoubtedly affect the flavor of the end product. At every stage of the winemaking process, the relative concentration of sulfites affects everything else in wine and changes how a wine tastes and feels.

And on the not-so-good side, since sulfites prevent bacteria growth, lower sulfite wines might have an unusual odor or spoil easier. Many casual wine drinkers report that some wines with no added sulfites lack the character and depth of traditionally-produced wines.

Also, low-sulfite wines are more prone to “mousiness.” Mousiness is used to describe an aftertaste that some have likened to stinky cheese, dog breath, or mouse urine (I’d love to know who first made that observation).

Mousiness isn’t necessarily harmful, but it can be extremely off-putting.

Are there Risks or Precautions for Low Sulfite Wines?

Wines with low sulfite content have a relatively short shelf life compared to wines with added sulfites. Once you uncork a low-sulfite wine, the presence of oxygen starts a series of reactions that cause it to deteriorate. 

Wines with no added sulfites should be refrigerated after uncorking. Also, try not to keep them for too long – in general, discard your low-sulfite wines after three months.

(Actually, I’d suggest just finishing the bottle).

Legal Limits on Sulfite Concentration

In the United States, the total finished sulfite content of wine is limited to 350ppm or below

Like I mentioned earlier, any wine with more than 10ppm sulfites must have the words “Contains sulfites” on the label to be sold in the United States. In Europe, sulfite content is limited to 160ppm for reds and 210ppm for whites.

Health Effects of Sulfites

Sulfites are harmless for most people, but there is a lot of misinformation about the nature of sulfites. Many people believe sulfites are harmful simply because they are a food additive. 

However, years of research have concluded that sulfites on their own do not cause cancer, mutations, or fetal abnormalities. 

Or, in almost all cases, headaches.

Are Sulfites Causing Your Headache?

No research suggests sulfites are the culprits behind the dreaded “red wine headache.”

It’s more likely your headache was caused by other compounds and byproducts in wine, such as alcohol, tannins, or histamines. While sulfite sensitivities do exist in some people, problems usually manifest as breathing difficulties rather than headaches.

Sulfite Allergies and Sensitivities

I’ve talked a lot about how sulfites have a worse reputation than they deserve. It’s time for a significant caveat: sulfite allergies are possible, and they tend to occur hand-in-hand with asthma.

People with sulfite allergies generally exhibit the same symptoms as any other allergic reaction when exposed to sulfites, such as itchiness, swelling, and trouble breathing. Sufferers have the same risk of anaphylactic shock as with any other allergy. Therefore, asthmatics with a co-occurring sulfite allergy should take care to read product labels and possibly carry an EpiPen and rescue inhaler depending on the nature of their allergy.

Now, let’s talk about sensitivities.

Unlike a full-blown sulfite allergy, sulfite sensitivity occurs when you lack sufficient quantities of the specific enzyme to process sulfites. Sensitivity causes various levels of inflammation rather than an allergic reaction. According to the FDA, just 1% of the U.S. population has a sulfite sensitivity – for all the sulfite talk, sensitivity is quite rare.

Foods with More Sulfites Than Wine

The weirdest thing about sulfite’s undeserved reputation as an undesirable compound in wine is how its concentration compares to the level in other foods. 

Wine has a lower concentration of sulfites than a whole lot of foods. For example, dried fruit can have as much as 2,000ppm of sulfites—nearly ten times the legal limit Europe allows in wine! 

Here is a list of some foods that have higher sulfite levels than wine:

  • Raisins
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Fruit leather
  • Canned soups
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Molasses
  • Deli meats and cheeses
  • Pizza crust
  • French fries

So, the next time your friend strikes up a conversation about sulfites in a bottle of wine, ask them to put down their french fries.

The Bottom of the Bottle: Sulfites in Wine

If you’re entirely unconvinced – or among the low percentage of people with sulfite sensitivity – there are excellent organic or lower-sulfite wines for you to try nowadays. For the rest of us, drink your next bottle secure in the knowledge that the sulfites within are safe and unoffensive.

Still, there’s no getting around it: sulfites are a controversial ingredient among wine enthusiasts and casual observers alike. They also have second-order effects on the taste and feel of a wine.

But they don’t cause your wine headaches.

 

Champagne & Your Holiday Table

Comite Champagne - logo

If you’ve ever been a guest at our table, you know we serve wine with every evening meal, and that we are big proponents of drinking bubbles with dinner. In particular, the wines of Champagne are known for their acidic crispness which makes them great partners for a wide range of dishes. But few can explain this better than the folks from the Champagne bureau…

No celebration is complete without Champagne, especially the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. While Thanksgiving is uniquely American, traditional Thanksgiving dishes pair best with the sparkling wine that is uniquely French, Champagne.

Bottles may vary in style, body, and sweetness, but Champagne is versatile enough to carry you through the entire Thanksgiving meal. The effervescent nature of the wine easily transitions among different flavors and textures. The infographic below describes how to pair Champagne with traditional Thanksgiving foods.

Often high in acid and bright in taste, Champagne is perfect to indulge the high-fat and  salty foods that comprisse the Thanksgiving menu. Baked brie, Turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy are just some of the Thanksgiving staples that pair perfectly with Champagne wines.

Thanksgiving Pairings FR.jpg

Recipe: Scallops in Herbed Brown Butter

This is a favorite dish at our home!

But Scallops are pricey, so we usually splurge on them as an appetizer, sometimes served simply as shown at left, sometimes atop a small hill of mashed potatoes and turnips (boiled together, 1:1 ratio) or mashed sweet potatoes.

When shopping, be aware that you’re likely to find two types of scallops (aside from size), only one of which I recommend! Ask your fish monger for “dry” scallops, which are free of preservatives and the most unpleasant tin-like taste you’ll find in the cheaper version.

And yes, the “dry” scallops are FAR pricier, but the only scallps worth the money. Dry Scallops are also easier to sear and that’s important – the beautiful brown exterior is a taste treat!

Ingredients

2 “Dry” Scallops per person

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Fresh herbs, chopped (any combination of basil, tarragon, parsley)

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1-2 Tbsp olive oil

(Optional: mashed potatoes/turnips or mashed sweet potatoes to serve as a base)

Preparation

Over med-high heat, warm a pan large enough to hold all of the scallops at once – you don’t want to do this in batches if you can avoid it as they should be eaten within minutes of plating.

Season the scallops with the salt and pepper (to taste). Heat the olive oil for 30 seconds or so, then place the scallops in the pan and brown for about 3 minutes. Turn the scallops and immediately add the butter and herbs. Spoon the butter/herbs over the scallops until the scallops are cooked through and the butter begins to brown (after the foam subsides) and to smell nutty.

Add the lemon juice, swirl to blend, and plate the scallops. Spoon the butter evenly across the finished plates and serve immediately.

Wine Pairing

Pairing wine with seared scallops can be a challenge. Scallops combine elements of sweetness and brineniness that fight many of the usual wine choices. If paired poorly, the wine finishes with a most unpleasant, lingering fishiness.

So look for a rich, off-dry wine with some brine notes as well as herbaciousness.  Really?  Yes! Look to the white wines of the Western Loire Valley, or the coastal whites from Italy or Spain. I avoid dry Rosé with scallops, as they rarely work well – a rarity for these most food-friendly wines. But Riesling, one of the other “World’s most food-friendly wines” works nicely, as does an off-dry sparkling wine.  Shop white wines here, and Sparkling wines here.

Enjoy!!

Recipe: Red Wine Chocolate Brownies (Guest Post!)

People often ask for my recommendations on the best red wine to pair with chocolates and the honest truth is that many red wines don’t pair that well with even the finest chocolates. But cocoa powder! Now THAT’S a different thing altogether. And this recipe for wine-infused brownies from guest author Melissa Gallo proved quite popular on my home front.

Guest Post: Melissa Gallo

https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-baked-chocolate-breads-887853/

Red Wine Chocolate Brownies

What is better than wine and chocolate? Wine in chocolate. If you enjoy sipping a glass of red wine while eating chocolate cake or nibbling on a square of chocolate, try taking your brownies to the next level with the addition of red wine. While adding coffee brings out the bitterness of dark chocolate, red wine enhances the subtle fruitiness. Reducing the wine by half before adding it to this recipe deepens the flavor even further.

For best results, choose a good full-bodied red wine like cabernet or merlot for this recipe and use high-quality, fair trade cocoa powder and chocolate. Although any type of cocoa powder and chocolate will work, using dark (or bittersweet) chocolate will result in an exceptionally chocolaty brownie. For extra gooey brownies, remove them from the oven a minute or two before they’re fully baked.

If you don’t have a double boiler for melting the chocolate and butter, find a heat-proof glass or metal bowl that fits over a medium saucepan. Fill the saucepan a quarter of the way with water, place the bowl over it, and add the butter and chocolate chips or chopped chocolate to the bowl. Continue to follow the procedure as instructed below.

These decadent, fudgy brownies are excellent for special occasions like Valentine’s Day, dinner parties, summer picnics, or even just a midweek chocolate craving. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Enjoy!

Ingredients
1 cup full-bodied red wine
¾ cup butter
8 oz dark chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups white sugar
2 eggs
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Procedure
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8×8-inch metal pan.

In a small saucepan, bring the wine to a boil over high heat and boil until reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

In a double boiler, melt the butter and chocolate chips over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Let cool.

Meanwhile, gently whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

After the chocolate and butter mixture has cooled slightly, stir in the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and whisk well, then add the reduced wine while whisking continuously. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Once cool, cut the brownies into squares, dust with powdered sugar (if desired), and serve.

Wine Recommendation
For the best flavor and to fully enhance the fruitiness of the naturally bitter dark chocolate, use a full-bodied red wine like cabernet or merlot.

The Author

Melissa Gallo is a freelance writer and food blogger at recipe-barn.com. She is passionate about cooking, creating and sharing unique recipes or just simply cooking good food. Melissa has also developed an interest in a variety of other things including healthy diet and traveling in new places around the globe to experience different cuisines and learning different cultures.

New Book: “Unique Eats & Eateries – San Francisco”

I thought this book would be of interest only for Bay Area foodies, but as one of my wine club members explained “all paths lead to San Francisco eventually“.  So I post this review for perusal by all who want to be prepared for that next trip to San Francisco, even if that trip is yet to be planned!

Local author, Kimberly Lovato, was kind enough to attend a wine tasting I organized, and discussed her latest project. You’ll find it refreshingly unique among restaurant books in that it doesn’t provide reviews or ratings. Instead, its objective is to illuminate interesting restaurant history, local foodways, and tidbits unique to the city’s food scene.

It makes no attempt to document the city’s thousands of restaurants, or even to isolate its handful of “best”. To earn its way into this book, a food establishment had to be sufficiently unique and interesting to stand out from the crowd in one way or another – like the donut shop featuring a donut as big as your head.  Good ol’ “Bob’s“. Or the oldest continuously operating restaurant in California – the Tadich Grill – who doesn’t take reservations and whose white-coated staff proudly turns away the world’s rich and beautiful alike if they are unwilling to wait their turn.

These and many more discoveries await in this new book from Lovato. Crack the cover of “Unique Eats & Eateries” and you’ll find your brief perusal has quickly turned into many minutes spent flipping from one interesting feature to the next.

Enjoy!

New Cookbook from “Once Upon a Chef”

Available through Chronicle Books, $29.95

Online chef sensation, Jennifer Segal, has developed a considerable following for her home-tested recipes. Today she introduced the release of her first cook book – Once Upon a Chef, 100 Tested, Perfected, and Family-Approved Recipes.  I’ve subscribed to Jennifer’s email feed for years now, and though they include more desserts than I can feature with wine pairings, her savory dishes all replicate quite well in our home.

Because Jennifer also happens to be a talented photographer, she normally shoots her own food shots, and they are clear, simple and well-shot.  So I was surprised to see that her cookbook photos were shot by Alexandra Gablewski.  I can only presume Jennifer hired her for this project because Alexandra is even better than Jennifer, which only builds the anticipation for the release of this book, now avaialable for pre-order. And at just under $30, add this book to your short list of gifts for friends and family.

And, as always, let me know if you need help pairing wines with any of Jennifer’s recipes!

Cheers!

“Man that toast was too short!” (Said nobody, ever)

Want to show some appreciation for friends and family at upcoming Holiday events?  Read my ten tips for Toasting Success and you’ll be remembered as a pro.

  1. It’s not as hard as it seems.  Although public speaking is intimidating for many – telling someone “Thank You” in public is what most of us have been trained to do since we were three!  And a toast is just a formalized extension of that – just stand, clink your glass for silence, and say some sort of extended version of a simple Thank-You… “I think we all owe our hosts a big thank you for such a wonderful time, such great food, and for having the wisdom to invite such an interesting group of friends tonight!
  2. Know Your Audience.  You’re unlikely to give the same toast at a gathering of old school pals as you would at a work event, right? To avoid falling flat, or saying something inappropriate, remember those you’re inviting to raise their glass will be unlikely to do so unless your words are pleasing to their ear.
  3. Toast, Don’t Roast.  I once listened to a Best Man describe how he and the groom once stole a refrigerator from a neighboring apartment. It was the most inappropriate toast I’ve ever heard at a wedding, and was not appreciated by anybody, leaving many of the celebrants in a state of shocked protest when invited to raise their glass. This is not the time for the risky or risqué!
  4. 60 Seconds, Tops. One reason people can feel nervous before giving a toast is the false belief that every toast needs to be a speech. Quite the opposite – as long as your toast conveys your heart-felt gratitude, it’s a success. Your best bet is to shoot for 30-60 seconds, from the first word to the invitation “… so please join me in raising your glass to…
  5. Follow This Proven Outline. Having listened to and studied with some of the world’s truly great public speakers, I don’t think you’ll ever be disappointed when following their outline for a good toast:
    1. Thank the host and/or acknowledge the guest of honor
    2. (Totally optional, but recommended) Describe a shared experience from the past – light, and either humorous and/or touching.
    3. Invite all to join you in raising their glass to the honoree(s).
  6. Do It Early. Those who hate speaking in public find it preferable to procrastinate. But a toast is best when it sets the tone for an event early on – after everyone has been seated at the table and the first wine has been poured, for example.  Just before dessert is also a great time, but comes with the downside of, well, see below…
  7. Don’t Drink Too Much First!  For obvious reasons.  We are never as glib as we think we are after that second or third glass of wine!
  8. Eyeball-to-Eyeball.  Look each other in the eyes as you raise your glass. I learned this important lesson from an Italian winemaker who was aghast at my very American tendency to look at my glass as we clinked, instead of looking at the man who had just honored me with his toast. A toast is a sharing of our humanity, a celebration of it, and as we raise our glasses around the table, it will mean much more if each participant recognizes the others by looking them in the eye as they clink glasses. (This is easier when in a small gathering, of course)
  9. Standing Is Best. Standing at the dinner table as you propose your toast makes it easier to get started, as heads will turn to see what is happening. Clink a water glass (no, not the crystal one!) to gain attention, and dive in, or simply announce “I propose a toast!”.  If standing is not possible for any reason, simply raising your glass can be effective, though it does not convey the same gravity – which is often preferred for casual situations anyway!
  10. Sources of Inspiration. There is no substitute for speaking from the heart. But there is also a long history of wit and wisdom that may lend a humorous launch pad for your own creativity. I’ve collected some of my favorites over the years, and you are welcome to view them here

Recipe – Caldesi’s Six Elements for A Perfect Salad

I spend a fair amount of time in the air these days.  On one of my recent sojourns, the in-flight magazine featured an article on Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi, who run the eponymous restaurant/cooking school/cookery shop – London’s “Caffe Caldesi” (118 Marlybone Lane, W1U 2QF) and La Cucina Caldesi (4 Cross Keys Close, W1U 2DG) and the “Caldesi in Campagna” at Bray, Berkshire.

They’re also the authors of the cook book you see here – Around the World in 120 Salads.  While researching the book, Vietnamese chefs told the Caldesis that the world’s best salads sahre six key elements.  The result is a set of guidelines you’ll find useful for the rest of your salad-eating days (note, a single ingredient often checks off more than one of the six boxes):

  1. Dry – Salt, pepper, dried spices or herbs add a bit of kick
  2. Wet – Fresh citrus slices or other sources of juiciness
  3. Sweet – Often it’s a pinch of sugar, a drop of maple syrup or honey, or fructose from ripe fruits of choice
  4. Sour – Providing a counter-point to the Sweet element, citrus juice, vinager or other sources of tartness
  5. Soft – Examples include avocado, cooked beans, dried dates or edible flowers…
  6. Crunchy – carrots, sliced scallions, toasted nuts, fried onions or other toothsome textural ingredients

Wine Pairing Advice – It’s difficult to pair wines with a salad course until the details of the salad are known.  Here, the basics of food-and-wine pairing (match body weight, and be sure the acidity or sweetness of the wine exceeds that of the dish) don’t help much, as salads often feature sweet and acidic elements in the same dish. This makes your pairing task truly perplexing, as acidic wines rarely work well with sweet elements, and vice versa.

As a general rule, I opt for a wine on the acidic side but that also offers some richness of fruit – a very dry rosé, an Alsatian white, unoaked chardonnay, etc.  In general, the salad course is the domaine of white wine – in fact, I can’t think of a red that would pair well with salad, though as soon as I say that, someone will write in with a notable exception – please do so!

Cheers!

Dave The Wine Merchant