Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Mussels and Château Saint Thibeaud (£5.30)

We all know what AOC means when it applied to our favourite beverage. What else does it apply to? Appellation d’origine contrôllée is granted by the French Government to more than 300 food and drink products. It’s an assurance that what ever you have purchased has come from a specified geographical area. Well done the French – it’s an idea that I think should be employed globally. How many times have you seen a mouth-watering pizza advert on the TV (which incidentally, having bought the product looks nothing like it does on the box), only to discover that it is made by a corporate conglomerate in Germany! Appellations now cover olive oils, foie gras and even the humble potato. And Mussels! It dates back to the 15th century when the production of Roquefort cheese was strictly controlled.

British mussels are now in season and the majority of mussels available in the UK are farmed, rather than wild. Farmed mussels are cultivated by using floating rafts with ropes suspended on them which the mussels cling onto and grow. This method of suspending ropes from rafts was developed by the Spanish more than 500 years ago. The mussels release their seed, called spat, into the water and these tiny microscopic creatures either anchor themselves to the seabed or, if there is rope to be had, they will happily use that as their home. The mussels cling to the ropes for two or three years, after which time they are ready to be harvested.

Some mussels are harvested with long-handled rakes that were originally invented by medieval monks, dragging up the dripping shells until the tide turns and then taking them back to harbour. It's a trade that has altered little for hundreds of years. The only thing that is different today is that the number of mussel men is getting smaller and smaller, with fewer and fewer people learning the ropes as modernisation takes over in the form of dredging.

Archaeological findings suggest that mussels have been used as a food for over 20,000 years. They have been cultivated in Europe since 1235 when Patrick Walton, an Irish sailor shipwrecked on the French coast, hung up nets in order to catch fish and found that mussels were sticking themselves to the poles supporting the nets. Mussels are a good source of selenium (which stimulates metabolism and immune system and protects cells from free radical damage), vitamin B12, zinc, folic acid, iron, calcium and omega 3 polyunsaturates.

My favourite dish using mussels is Moules Mariniere and this is a no-nonsense recipe as I believe the simpler the dish the better the flavour when it comes to seafood. We have collected mussels from the Welsh coast for years now and cooked them as follows. This can be risky so if you want to play safe buy them instead. Most good fishmongers and fish counters in supermarkets will tell you where they came from if you ask.

Moules Mariniere

1kg/2.2lbs fresh mussels
115g/4oz butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
handful of parsley, chopped
200ml/7fl oz dry white wine

Clean the mussels by pulling away the hair-like strands (beard) around the shell and scrub with a stiff brush under cold running water. Heat 50g/2oz of the unsalted butter in a large saucepan. When hot and foaming add the garlic, shallots, wine. Cook over a medium heat until the shallots are soft and translucent. Bring the shallots and wine mixture to the boil. Add the mussels, cover the saucepan, gently shake the pan and cook over a high heat for 2-3 minutes, until the mussels open. Discard any mussels that remain closed after cooking or are shrivelled.. Strain the mussels over a large saucepan using a colander and set aside. Place the mussels into a large bowl. Retain the mussel liquor in the pan and return to the heat. Garnish with parsley.

We usually have some good bread to mop up the juice as it is so more-ish you can not resist licking the bowl!

Château Saint Thibeaud (£5.30) is superb with mussels – it's a lovely crisp Bordeaux white predominantly made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. It has plenty of body without being too heavy and offers a very pleasing easy drinking quality wine. It boasts a lovely pale golden colour with dominant and very refreshing hints of pear and citrus fruits. On the palate it reveals a rounded, clean attack on the mouth with a good balance of fruit and dryness and the finish has gorgeous touches of lemon. You can find Château Saint Thibeaud at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Monday, 29 September 2008

Cabbage and Chorizo with Chateau Chadeuil

Cabbage is a vegetable that you either love or hate but if you follow the recipe below I believe that most cabbage haters would turn over a new leaf! Greeks and Romans placed great importance on the healing powers of cabbage, thinking the vegetable could cure just about any illness. The Roman's believed that cabbages sprung from the tears of of a king and the Emperor Claudius called upon his Senate to vote on whether any dish could surpass corned beef and cabbage. (The Senate voted that cabbage reigned supreme).

Egyptian Pharaohs would eat large quantities of cabbage before a night of drinking, thinking that it would allow them to drink more alcohol without feeling the effects – in fact there is a hang over cure still used which uses cabbage with vinegar as a remedy. My Grandad always used to drink the water from the boiled cabbage . . . he always proclaimed it was good for the body. He lived to 95 and never had a real medical problem throughout all his years.

Captain Cook swore by the medicinal value of sauerkraut (cabbage preserved in brine) back in 1769. His ship doctor used it for compresses on soldiers who were wounded during a severe storm, saving them from gangrene.

The word Cabbage comes from the old French (Normano-Picard) “caboche” (head) and the French use the modern word for cabbage “chou” as a term of endearment eg “ma petite chou” (my little cabbage). The USA has the French to thank for introducing them to cabbage - it was French navigator Jacques Cartier who brought cabbage to the Americas in 1536.

Cabbage and Chorizo

Chorizo is a Spanish sausage – rather like salami – which comes from the Iberian peninsula. It has a distinctive smoky flavour and dark red colour from dried, smoked red peppers. It is made with chopped pork and seasoned with paprika and is delicious!

1 large cabbage
100g chorizo (unsliced)
1 clove garlic
tsp coriander seeds
50g butter

Shred the cabbage, cut the chorizo into bite size chunks and finely chop the garlic. Fry the coriander seeds gently in the butter for about a minute and then add the garlic, cabbage and chorizo. Turn the heat up and cook, stirring well for about 5 minutes. Add about 100ml water, cover the pan and turn down the heat. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until tender, check regularly and add more water if starts to stick.

Try this dish with Chateau Chadeuil (£4.85) – it's a super wine with beautiful aromas of blackberries, black cherries, mocha, spiced plums and a hint of vanilla. It's a medium bodied, rounded wine with well balanced tannins with a long silky smooth finish. It's fantastic value, knocks the spots off more expensive clarets and comes highly recommended by Jonathan Ray of the Telegraph.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Spiced Lamb with Butternut Squash and Red Wine

Butternut Squash was new to me until we started growing squashes in the kitchen garden. It has a sweet, nutty taste which is somewhere between a pumpkin and a sweet potato. It's thought that squashes originated in the Americas and it was eaten there 5000 years go. The Spanish Conquistadores found the Incas cultivating it in the 15th century and brought it back to the Old World on return from their voyages of discovery.

The word "squash" comes from the Massachuset Indian word askutasquash, meaning "eaten raw or uncooked." The squash was grown by the native American Indians as one of the Three Sisters - beans and corn completed the trio. The corn and the beans made a complete protein, the squash supplied beta carotene, Omega 3's and Potassium. Whole communities could survive on these alone if game and other foods were scarce. They were also one of the first Companion Plantings, each contributing to the growth and well-being of the others. The corn supplied support for the beans to climb on, and shade for the squash plants during the heat of the day. The squash plants large leaves shaded the ground, prevented weeds, and deterred hungry wildlife that didn’t like to walk through the fuzzy vines. The beans fixed nitrogen in the soil to feed the corn and the squash.

Butternut Squash is a winter squash (as is a pumpkin) and these tend to have hard shells and store well. Summer squashes are softer skinned, grow more quickly and are eaten soon after harvest. They are a good source of fibre, vitamins C and A and potassium.

Butternut squash tastes delicious in a spiced lamb stew with chick peas. You can use tinned chick peas as dried chick peas need a long cooking time (1-2 hours). If soaked for 12-24 hours before use, cooking time can be considerably shortened (30 mins).

Spiced Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lb lamb, cut into cubes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 14-oz can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained (about 1 ½ cups)
pinch red pepper flakes
4 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into cubes
1 tomato, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne
2 tsp dried mint

Sprinkle ½ tsp of black pepper on the meat. Heat the olive oil. Add the meat and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until all the juices evaporate. Add the onion and cook stirring, until lightly browned. Add the tomato paste, 1 tbsp of paprika and pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until the mixture begins to caramelize. Add 1 ½ cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and simmer until the meat is tender.
Add the squash, garbanzo beans, tomato, garlic, salt, and enough water to just cover the ingredients. Cover and cook until the squash is tender. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat. Season with salt. Transfer the stew to a shallow serving dish. In a saucepan heat the remaining paprika, black pepper, ½ tsp of cayenne and dried mint in olive oil. Then add to the stew.

The red Spanish Brissonet (£3.15) would be lovely with this spicy dish – it's a powerful, fresh and aromatic wine, concentrated with no acidity, and its cherry red colour with violet bloom are typical of its youth. This really is a must for your more tomato based dishes and accompanies spicy foods really well due to its lightness and fruitiness – you can try it with Indian, Thai and Chinese meals.

If you prefer Bordeaux then Chateau Au Berton (£6.75) would be my choice. This is a Medoc and is a mature, good, well balanced red that comes from the 1998 vintage. The colour is definitely mature with a tinge of brown at the rim and the wine is medium bodied and is low in tannins. It has a nicely balanced, clean, fruity flavour with a silky finish and will enhance the lamb whilst letting the spicy flavours develop.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Friday, 26 September 2008

Leek and Cheese Tart with Domaine de Ricaud Blanc (£5.49)

I have always loved leeks and they have been used since antiquity - dried specimens from archaeological sites in Ancient Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings, show that they have been part of the Egyptian diet for millennia. The leek was also the favourite vegetable of the Emperor Nero – he was nicknamed Porrophagus ( the Leek Eater) and thought that eating leeks would improve his singing voice.

Talking of singing voices the leek is one of the national emblems of Wales (the other being the daffodil). According to legend King Cadwallader of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to wear leeks on their helmets to identify them from the Saxon enemy whilst fighting the Battle of Heathfield in 633 AD – they were fighting in a field of leeks at the time. The Welsh Guards have the leek displayed in their cap badges to this day.

In France the leek is known as "poor man's asparagus," and leeks are an an excellent source of vitamin C as well as iron and fibre. They provide many of the health-giving benefits associated with garlic and onions, such as promoting the functioning of the blood and the heart.

Leeks are traditionally used in the Welsh broth Cawl but in northern France they are used to make a delicious tart: Flamiche aux Poireaux. Flamiche is the Flemish word for cake and originally flamiche used bread dough instead of pastry.

Leek and Cheese Tart (Flamiche aux Poireaux)

2 round, puff-pastry crusts, uncooked
3 tbsp butter
2 lbs (or more) leeks, chopped
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
¼ cup grated gruyère cheese
salt and pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 egg yolk

Melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft - about 10 minutes.

Stir in the flour until mixed completely with the leeks. Pour in the milk and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil - about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, line a tart or pie pan with one of the crusts. Brush the bottom of the crust with the egg yolk mixed with a couple of teaspoons of water. Pour the cooled leek mixture into the crust and top with the second crust. Roll the edges together so that the whole tart is sealed. Make a hole in the centre of the tart so that steam can escape. Bake for 30 minutes.

Domaine de Ricaud Blanc (£5.49) is a super wine with this dish. It comes from the Entre Deux Mers and gives other more prestigious and expensive white wines a run for their money. The aromas from this slightly pale, golden coloured, slightly pearlante, easy drinking white, are all of ripe soft fruits and summer blossoms. It has complex flavours of juicy apricots and exotic fruits. Bold and long on the palate, balanced and harmonious in the mouth it has well balanced acidity and one glass will simply not be enough!

It is made from 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon grapes. Sauvignon Blanc is King in Entre Deux Mers and provides the herbaceous flavours of gooseberries and the acidity. Semillon, when ripe, frequently shows pineapple fragrances but more importantly it gives body and ageing potential to blends with Sauvignon Blanc. Together they make a beautiful wine which although delicious on its own goes very well with an array of dishes: shellfish, chicken, pork, omelettes, asparagus flans, smoked salmon . . . the list goes on! It's makers recommend it with soft cheeses – goat's cheese in particular – a marriage made in heaven!

You can find Domaine de Ricaud Blanc at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Braised Pork with Chestnuts and Marquis de Perissac (5.75)

Soon it will be time for children to be collecting Conkers. I remember many a Conker fight at school, sadly I don’t think they are allowed to do that any more . . . something to do with being a Health Hazard . . . I know I am sounding nostalgic, but ah! Those were the days! I recall as a child being very put out that we couldn’t eat them (they are poisonous), especially as they looked so appetising with their shiny coats. Chestnuts on the other hand are a different matter. They are celebrated everywhere for their taste, particularly in France where they hold Chestnut Feasts to welcome in the harvest. If we were French, living deep within the Dordogne or Limousin, we would be dancing at this time of year.

Chestnuts were probably one of the first foods eaten by man and the Chestnut dates back to prehistoric times. The chestnut tree, Castanea sativa, was first introduced to Europe via Greece. Legend has it that the Greek army survived on their stores of chestnuts during their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C. The Greeks braise them with lamb and honey and stew them with pork. In northern Italy (where the chestnut was called albero del pane, or "bread tree" as in addition to adding chestnuts to soups and braising them with wine, cooks grind the dried nuts into a flour for making breads, cakes, and polenta.

Because chestnuts contain a natural sweetness, they were very close to becoming an important source for producing sugar. During the late 18th century Antoine Parmentier, a French apothecary, discovered he could extract sugar from the chestnut. He then prepared an impressively large chestnut cake and sent it to the Academy in Lyon for consideration as a sugar source in place of regular sugar. Because Napoleon decided France ought to make its sugar from sugar beets, chestnut sugar never came to pass.

The French use chestnuts to best advantage as a purée, stirred into custards and made into chestnut soup. They also whip them into Mont Blanc, a Christmassy pudding topped with fluffy peaks of whipped cream, and select the plumpest fruits (called marrons) for marrons glacés, a holiday delicacy of chestnuts candied in a sugar syrup.

Chestnut timber is used in barrels to age wines and balsamic vinegars. It is also found in ancient buildings, such as the roof of Westminster Hall and the Parliament House of Edinburgh. They grow to be big trees - the famous Tortworth Chestnut, in Gloucestershire, was a landmark in the boundary records compiled in the reign of King John and is reputed to be over 1000 years old. It's circumference measured over 50 ft in 1720 and it is still alive today.

Braised Pork with Chestnuts

1 joint of Pork, about 6lb – not too fatty
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, sliced
1 pound peeled chestnuts
3 turnips
6 cups water

Sprinkle the meat with the salt and pepper. Place in a large baking tray with 1/2 cup of water and roast until all the liquid has evaporated and the meat starts to brown. Add the onions, 5 cups of water, cover with foil and cook on medium heat for 1 hour. Add the chestnuts and cook covered for another hour.

Meanwhile, peel the turnips and cut them into chunks. Add them to the Roast with the Chestnuts plus the remaining water and cook another 45 minutes covered. Taste for seasonings. It probably will need salt and pepper. By this time there should not be much liquid left.

Remove the Roast to a serving platter and using a slotted spoon, scoop out the Chestnuts and Turnips and place around the meat. Pour the remaining liquid over the meat or in a sauce boat and serve immediately.

Pork needs a fairly light red to accompany it so you can really appreciate its subtle flavours and to bring out the best of the Chestnuts. I would recommend Marquis de Perissac (£5.75) which has soft tannins and gives a nice soft fruity release in the mouth with a hint of cherries and blackberries. It's a medium weighted wine and is great with duck, lamb and pork. It also captures and enhances the flavours of many vegetarian delicacies, which contain protein based items such as nuts, lentils and beans.

You can find Marquis de Perissac at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Bottle Shock Movie's New Contender

The movie Bottle Shock has had a good reception but has come in for some criticism from various quarters. It fails to mention the fact that it was winemaker Miljenko "Mike" Grgich who made Chateau Montelena's winning wine and omits (until the closing credits) any mention of the red wine that triumphed over the French - Warren Winiarski's 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. If you like, Bottle Shock was the white wine version of the Judgement of Paris Tasting in 1976. Despite the holes and poetic licence it is a great film and I am mightily pleased just to see a film on wine – let alone 2!

Bottle Shock has had a contender in the ranks ever since it was on the drawing board and this is the officially sanctioned version of the book The Judgement of Paris by George Taber. The screenplay is by Robert Kamen (The Fifth Element, A Walk In The Clouds and Transformers) and after being delayed by the writers strike in Hollywood the script is now finished. Kamen says that he is currently raising funds and waiting for Bottle Shock to work its way through the system. Movie buff sites display the release date as 2010. Kamen's story will focus more on the red wine of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and I can't wait to see how a writer of Kamen's magnitude will cover the story!

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Grape Vine Sap and Natural Remedies

Did you know that grape vines cry? It's known as “Les Vignes Pleurent” in Bordeaux and happens in the Spring when the temperature is rising. The sap drips like tears from the pruning cuts and is believed to have magical properties in Bordeaux. In fact, it can drip so readily that workers are often sprayed with it and passers by mistake it for rain drops.

Grape sap has been used for centuries by different peoples as a remedy – the sap was placed onto septic wounds, diluted in boiling water to cure eye infections, used as a shampoo to keep the hair shiny and as a scalp treatment.

Native Americans used other parts of the grape vine – the shoots and tendrils - to hasten the recovery of snakebite victims. This suggests that the plant was used to assist the all-important function of the liver. It was also used as a treatment for diabetes.

The grape leaves have an anti-inflammatory as well as astringent action and are used in natural remedies for the gastrointestinal tract, liver, bleeding and bowel upsets. It is also used in detoxification - grape based fasting is recommended as the nutrient content of grapes is almost similar to that of blood plasma and this is the normal herbal supplement recommended by herbalist for detoxifying the liver. The dried fruits of the grape - raisins or sultanas - can help ease coughs in affected patients and skin is also soothed by wine vinegar, which is also astringent and cooling to the body at the same time. All in all the grape vine is a very useful plant !

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Monday, 22 September 2008

Dr Red

Greg Jardine, an organic chemist who runs Brisbane's Vineyard in Australia, developed a new red wine in 2003 named Dr Red, which he claims is the first antioxidant-enriched red wine to reach the market. The product is based on a little-used French grape variety called Durif. This has subsequently developed into a series of fruit punches based on the wine known as Dr Red Nutraceuticals.

The Durif grape is more commonly known as Petit Syrah and was developed by Dr Durif, a French nurseryman in the south of France in the late 1800s. It was created by crossing the Syrah grape with the Peloursin variety. Durif did not grow well in its native climate of the Rhone Valley and flourished in California and Australia. It produces small berries which means that the wines can be very tannic if the winemaker does not limit the skin contact during fermentation. Wines made from Durif are usually robust, full flavoured,rich in tannin, often acidic with black pepper and green overtones.

A University of Sydney cancer research team last year claimed antioxidants in Dr Red's Blueberry punch killed the cells of 5 different cancers in clinical tests. Research fellow Jas Singh said prostate, breast, bladder, colon and stomach cancer cells were all dramatically reduced after 2 weeks of treatment:

"It was a very significant drop in cell numbers, and we found that the more concentrated the dose (of punch), the greater the reduction in cancer cells," he said.

Dr Singh's team also injected immunodeficient mice with prostate cancer cells. After two weeks they found the tumours were 30% smaller.

However Queensland Health are conducting legal proceedings against Dr Red – not because they have taken issue with claims made by the company, but because it made details of health trials public. It is not an offence for details of human health trials to be made public in Queensland but it is illegal for those funding trials to publicise information.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Wine Nutraceuticals and Cosmeceuticals

I ended up rather confused today over wine nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals. Considering they are a growth market everywhere else in the world apart from the UK I decided I had better find out about them as we will soon be playing catch up. Nutraceuticals are foods that have a beneficial effect on health and cosmeceuticals are cosmetic products that have medicinal properties.

There is a new development in the industry and Japan has been leading the way - capitalising on the trend that focuses on “beauty from within”. Eiwa, a Japanese sweetmaker, has created a marshmallow with 3,000mg of collagen. It claims that eating the sweet has the same benefits as injections but with no pain. It’s hard to see how that would work scientifically and the British Skin Foundation say they’ve seen no evidence that eating collagen will benefit your skin in any way. Meanwhile, Fuwarinka, promises to make you smell nice as well as look good. The candy contains vanillin (a chemical found in vanilla), which is supposed to be secreted by sweat glands.

Now there is talk of wine lees - the sediment left in the bottom of the barrel after wine making – being used to boost the antioxidant profile of ice cream and slow the melting time of ice cream. A new study in Taiwan found that not only did the ice cream benefits from the antioxidants but that the melting rate was reduced by up to 80%.

I hope some bright spark doesn't dream up Botox in a bottle of Bordeaux!

Images courtesy of www.flickr.com

Friday, 19 September 2008

Red Wine As A Flu Vaccine

New studies have revealed that the common flu can be fended off by quercetin, a naturally occurring substance found in fruits and vegetables, which actually impedes the development of the influenza virus. Researchers from the University of South Carolina and Clemson University have discovered an easily accessible and cheap immunization with no negative side effects that is readily present in your supermarket - fruits and vegetables.

Quercetin (a close chemical relative of resveratrol) is found in red onions, grapes, blueberries, tea, broccoli and red wine, among other fruits and vegetables. The study was conducted using two groups of mice, each inoculated with the flu, with only one group given quercetin. After the mice engaged in exercise until exhaustion to stimulate stress, scientists not only found that the quercetin had protective effects for the mice against the flu, but also that it cancelled out the effects of stress.

Back in 2002 scientists in Spain reported that drinking red wine seems to stop people from developing colds. The evidence came from a year long study of 4000 volunteers. Experts at 5 universities found that people who drank more than 2 glasses of red wine a day had 44% fewer colds than teetotallers. Drinking one glass of red wine a day also protected against colds, but to a lesser extent.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Red Wine Elixir

An Italian pharmacist thinks he has found the secret to the Elixir of Life - has been eluding mankind for millennia (see Nick's Blog Is Red Wine the Elixir of Life?) Giovanni De Munari discovered the 18th century recipe dating back to 1715 in the shelves of Italy's oldest Tuscany pharmacy in Asciano near Sienna.

"My ancestors left several manuscripts with formulas for digestive drinks, but this one struck me because of its ingredients. I knew it had strong scientific basis," Discovery quoted pharmacist Giovanni De Munari, who found the old recipe.

The recipe's ingredients include Italy's famous Chianti wine infused with a concoction of honey, cherries and secret herbs. De Munari has replicated the recipe and come up with a "low-calorie, highly digestive alcoholic infusion, which tasted delicious."
The key ingredient in the elixir is the Sangiovese grape, which is the soul of Chianti wine. The elixir's formula echoes recent studies that credit resveratrol, a compound found in the skins of red grapes and helps in protecting against heart disease and other age-related illnesses.
"My ancestors may not have known the names of the chemicals, but they knew that red wine, and Chianti in particular, had therapeutic properties," De Munari added.

Apparently wines made from Pinot Noir, St. Laurent ( from the same family as Pinot Noir ) and Muscadine grapes have higher levels of resveratrol though no wine or region can yet be said to produce wines with significantly higher resveratrol concentrations than any other wine or region. Given the rush on anything resveratrol going on at the moment I wonder if any other ancient recipes for the secret of longevity from other lands will spring to light?

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

New Documentary Film Merlove Premiers in New York

You may remember I blogged about Merlove last December and now it is being premièred in New York on September 18th. Merlove will be showcased to over 1,000 wine and tech lovers and media at Wine 2.0 New York and supported on Wine 2.0's new social network www.winetwo.net with a public fan page. The event will be hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk – the star of winelibrary.tv who will be performing live.

The new documentary film addresses the devastating effect that the film Sideways has had on Merlot wine since 2004. In the movie, the fictional character 'Miles', played by actor Paul Giamatti slammed Merlot in preference to Pinot Noir, which led to a boom in Pinot Noir sales and a drastic reduction in Merlot sales. As a love of Merlot myself I am really surprised that the sales of this wine dropped so dramatically in the USA – especially when you remember that some of the most beautiful and highly prized wines in the world are made with this grape . . . Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Le Pin . . .

Rudy McClain, the Director of Merlove, was kind enough to pop by and comment when he had returned from Bordeaux:

“This is Rudy McClain the director of Merlove. We've just returned from St. Emilion, France where we filmed at many of the top producers of Merlot including Petrus (Pomerol), Cheval Blanc and Ausone. One of my new favourite wines is Valendraud (Jean-Luc Thunevin).
We met many interesting characters and discovered life-changing wines. I'm loading the footage into the editing machine as of this posting and will update the website over the next few weeks with images and videos.

Feel the love... Merlove!”

The message of Merlove is that no single grape varietal should be singled out as superior or inferior to others. We want people to remember that every vintage has a new story to tell.
Rudy McClain will be at Wine 2.0 New York to discuss the film and wine with attendees and Wine 2.0 will feature the newest generation of emerging technology companies, services and communication tools that are changing the world of wine.

If you would like to try a an excellent example of Merlot try the Montagnac Merlot (£4.75) at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk – it's a velvety wine and is a deep garnet colour with lovely perfumed cherry aromas with a hint of dark chocolate amongst the ripe black fruit.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Friday, 12 September 2008

Walnut, Fig and Plum Tart and Sauternes

We are lucky enough to have several Walnut trees in our garden and at this time of year we are busy gathering them and making Pickled Walnuts ready for Christmas – they are lovely with a cheese snack, although you have to watch that you don't stain your fingers black from the juice when peeling the fresh ones! We have yet to try making Walnut Oil or L'Eau de Vie de Noix (Walnut Liqueur) as the French do – maybe next year.

It was believed that walnuts first grew in Persia, but excavations in south west France have revealed petrified shells of walnuts roasted during the Neolithic period, more than 8,000 years ago. The very name of the walnut tree and its nut originated with the Romans. The Romans called walnuts Juglans regia, “Jupiter’s Royal Acorn.” In the 16th century people believed that the outer hull of the walnut could cure head-related ailments. Eating walnuts was thought to boost the intellect and soothe emotions because of its striking resemblance to the brain and heart, depending on the way the walnuts were cracked.

During the Middle Ages, Europeans believed walnuts would ward off fevers, witchcraft, epileptic fits, the evil eye, and even lightning. The Chinese believe crickets to be a creature of good omen, and would often carry musically-trained crickets in walnut shells covered with intricately-carved patterns.

Walnut, Fig and Plum Tart

180 g walnuts
5 fresh figs
5 plums
6 egg whites
250 g soft dark-brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 220C. Roast the walnuts on a baking tray for about 5 minutes, shaking the trays to prevent the nuts from burning. Allow to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C.

Line and grease a cake tin. Remove the hard stem from each fig, then chop the figs and plums into small pieces. Toss the walnuts, plums and fig pieces together.

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then slowly add the soft dark-brown sugar in heaped tablespoons until incorporated and mix until meringue is thick and stiff. Take a spoonful of the meringue and mix it through the figs and walnuts. Tip this back into the meringue and fold it through. Spoon the meringue mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45-50 mins, until the tart pulls away from the sides and feels 'set' on top. Allow to cool and serve with a good dollop of mascarpone.

Sweet dessert wine would be lovely with this rich tart – Bordeaux is famous for its luscious sweet wines such as Château d'Yquem from Sauternes and there are many less expensive wines from this area which are delicious. Sauternes has 5 communes - Barsac, Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac. All 5 can use the name Sauternes but Barsac also has its own appellation. Wines from Barsac are lighter and have a fresher style. These dessert wines have an incredible ability to age and continue to develop for decades. Nick is hoping to introduce some wonderful Sauternes from a petit château in time for Christmas so keep watching www.bordeax-undiscovered.co.uk!

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Blackberry and Apple Crumble and Sauternes

Blackberries are bejewelling the hedgerows again and we must pick them by Michaelmas (29th September) lest the Devil spits on them. There is some truth behind this myth as after the end of September the blackberries turn wishy washy, mouldy and bitter. Did you know that blackberries grow on every continent except Australia and Antarctica? Blackberries have been used as food and as medicines for thousands of years. The Greeks used the blackberry as a remedy for Gout, and the Romans made a tea from the leaves of the blackberry plant to treat various illnesses. They are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins along with being a good source of the minerals potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.

The blackberry has quite a lot of mythology around it – in Brittany, it was considered a fairy fruit and consequently was untouchable. Another tale says that the blackberry was cursed by Lucifer when he fell from heaven and fell on the brambles. Blackberries are considered remedy against vampires - this lore is much older than the garlic one. The reason lies in the assumed fanaticism of all demons to count things. When you put blackberries on a threshold or windowsill, you can force a vampire to count over the thorns and berries until morning comes.

Blackberry and Apple Crumble

For the Crumble

175g plain flour
pinch of salt
100g butter
75g demerera sugar
50g ground almonds

For the Filling

25g butter
350g apples, peeled, cored and chopped
350g pears, peeled, cored and chopped
50g caster sugar
200g blackberries

Mix the flour and salt together, and then rub the butter into the flour using your fingers. Then rub in the demerera sugar and ground almonds. Melt the 25g butter in a saucepan, add the chopped apples and pears and cook gently until just beginning to soften. Stir in the sugar and blackberries.

Place the mixture in an oven proof dish and sprinkle over the crumble. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 200C for 30 mins or until golden and bubbling.

Why not try a glass of Sauternes with the Crumble? Sauternes doesn't have to break the bank although first growth châteaux are expensive due to the labour intensive methods of production. Grapes have to be hand picked so that only those with Noble Rot are selected and yields can be low. Nick is hoping to introduce some wonderful Sauternes from a petit château in time for Christmas so keep watching www.bordeax-undiscovered.co.uk! It is said that one grape vine only makes enough juice to make one glass of wine. Although these are dessert wines their sweetness is not cloying due to their zesty acidity. Flavours can include apricots, peaches, dried pineapple, nuts and honey and the finish lasts on the palate for a long time. Their colour is gold which darkens with time to a deep copper. The wine should be served chilled at around 11ºC.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

French Onion Soup and Château Toumalin (£9.49)

Onions have been used since ancient times – the Egyptians used them in cooking and there are pictures and inscriptions of onions on their monuments. The Bible states how, during the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, they longed for the onions, leeks, and garlic they had had in Egypt. Onions were also thought to have medicinal properties making them a perfect choice for soup.

Legend has it that French Onion Soup was created by King Louis XV of France. Late one night, he discovered he only had onions, butter and champagne at his hunting lodge, so he mixed them together to create the first French onion soup. Other stories attribute the creation to King Louis XIV.

French Onion Soup harks back to the Medieval use of “sops” as it is topped with dry bread or croutons and cheese. The rich flavour of the soup comes from the beef broth and the caramelized onions and it is a great winter warmer. You can add cognac or sherry to this recipe instead of red wine if you prefer. French Onion Soup is traditionally topped with Gruyère cheese – which comes from both France and Switzerland (the French version has holes in it whereas the Swiss version doesn't).

The controversy over who made Gruyère cheese first lies in the fact that it is made all over the Jura Mountains and the modern border between France and Switzerland cuts these in two. Neither side can agree who is the rightful claimant to the cheese as the first Gruyère was made by the tribe Sequanes living in the Jura, as recorded in Roman times in 40 BC.

The name of Gruyère either comes from the area named after the Count of Gruyère who went out hunting one day with the intention of naming his County after the first thing he killed. He killed a crane, (a grue in French) and thus became the Count of Gruyère. Or it could come from the title of an officer of the French government in the Middle Ages called a "gruyer" who collected taxes - in the form of cheese. The French claim that it is this gruyer that their cheese is named after and they can show tax records that date back to the 1100s to prove it.

French Onion Soup

5 onions
3 garlic cloves
¾oz butter
2 or 3 glasses of red wine
1¼ pint fresh beef stock
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 thick slices of bread
10oz gruyère cheese, grated
salt and pepper

Peel and thinly slice the onions and garlic and sauté in butter for 15 mins, until brown. Add the red wine, stock and balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 mins. Toast the bread and top with the grated cheese and place under the grill until the cheese is melted. Season the soup with salt and pepper and top with the toast.

This soup would be great with a glass of Chateau Toumalin (£9.49) – it's a shining, ruby red colour, has a strong, pleasant bouquet with hints of roasted wood, black fruits and blueberries. It's silky, fine, strong and ageable with refined tannins. Toumalin is a little gem and compliments stronger flavoured meats such as Game Birds ,Wild Boar and Venison and cheeses like Gruyère.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com