Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Nuts About Wine

I have tasted liqueurs made from nuts before - France has some lovely ones - Crème de Noix is made from unripe, green walnuts that appear in early summer, Crème d'Amande from almonds, Liqueur de Châtaigne from chestnuts and Crème de Noyaux from apricot kernels. I have even heard of Liqueurs made from trees (Eau de Cèdre and Eau de Vie de Bourgeons de Sapin d’Alsace) but until now I had not heard of a wine made from Pistachios . . .

The Heart of the Desert Winery makes a unique Pistachio Rosé wine. It is the first ever pistachio flavoured wine of New Mexico and is the holder of a bronze medal (2009). It is a semi-sweet wine made from a blend of white Zinfandel and Chenin Blanc grapes, and pistachio extract. It has a light, fruity aroma and a nutty flavour.

The only other alcoholic drink that I can find with a link to pistachios is a Greek Liqueur, Mastichato Chio, that is made out of the resin from the evergreen Pistacia lentiscus (a member of the Pistachio family). When the bark of the tree is injured, the resin exudes in drops. It is transparent and pale yellow to green in colour. It is native to the Aegean Island Chios, which is widely known for its Tears of Chios Trees.

Whilst on a nutty theme I have also discovered an Almond Champagne which is made at Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula Valley, California. This white sparkling wine is naturally fermented, with just a hint of pure almond added.

Has anyone heard of any other weird and wonderful wine recently?

Friday, 15 April 2011

Chocolate Wine

I was reading about the trend over in the USA towards sweet wines, Moscato in particular, and came across an unusual combination: Chocolate Wine. It certainly sounds better than the Asparagus Wine that I wrote about recently. Apparently Chocolate Wine comes in two types – either Port style wines infused with Dark Chocolate or wine mixed with cream and chocolate.

I remember that Marks & Spencer sold a sweet red wine last year here in the UK called Chocolate Ruby that was infused with chocolate for Christmas. According to the Daily Mail they had sold a Chocolate Port in 2008 that flew off the shelves so I suppose this is the next generation of all things chocolatey.

There a a few producers of Chocolate wine state side who sell Chocolate Wine as dessert wines: Opici Wines make Cocoa di Vine which is a blend of cream and a blend of white wine grapes Torrontes, Moscato and Pedro Ximenez (a sherry grape). It has the flavour of milk chocolate with undertones of vanilla and caramel.

Rosenblum Cellars make Désirée which is a blend of chocolate and three red grapes Zinfandel, Syrah and Touriga Nacional. The grapes are sourced from warmer valleys and coastal mountains areas in California, where grapes can reach intense, ultra-ripe aromas and flavours. Touriga Nacional, which originally heralds from the searingly hot climate of Portugal, thrives in these warmer temperatures, producing rich, aromatic dark plum and chocolate character. When pushed to ripeness, the Syrah and Zinfandel likewise add a balance of red and black fruits with alluring cocoa nuances. The wine is fortified with grape brandy and the chocolate is sourced from a chocolate maker in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Désirée is made in a Tawny Port style and has aromas of chocolate, vanilla, coconut and rich fruit.

Black Mesa Winery in New Mexico make the multi award winning Black Beauty, made from Zinfandel and Cabernet franc grapes infused with a little chocolate. The wine is a sweet red wine with flavours of chocolate and black cherries.

Interestingly the Aztecs in Mexico used to drink Xocolatl made from Cacao. It was a bitter, spicy drink and was often flavoured with vanilla, chilli and annatto. It was believed that it could fight fatigue and that it was an aphrodisiac. Hernando Cortez was the first European to note chocolate when he visited the court of Emperor Montezuma of Mexico in 1519. However it seems that Chocolate as an alcoholic beverage is a modern phenomenon . . ?

Friday, 1 April 2011

Asparagus and Wine

Asparagus and wine have been labelled as uncomfortable bedfellows when it comes to food ad wine pairing . . . and I was really surprised when I read that winery in Michigan have created an Asparagus Wine. Kellie and Todd Fox of Barn Market & Winery in Shelby, near Pentwater are responsible for Odd Fox Wine. The Foxes own a 1700 acre orchard and farm near the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, and Todd Fox is the fourth generation owner. They grow sweet and tart cherries, peaches, pears, apples, plums, blueberries and grapes. But their farm also is smack in the middle of Michigan's asparagus belt, Oceana County, so they grow that, too. The idea for Odd Fox Wine started when Todd challenged Kellie to create a wine from asparagus and the result is a clear wine with a “mild asparagus aroma and flavour with a little hint of sweetness."

I haven't heard of anyone else making an Asparagus Wine so the Foxes seem to have created a unique product. They plan to market the wine this year at the National Asparagus Festival, which runs from June 10th -12th in Hart.

I wonder how it will pair with asparagus dishes? There are certain compounds in asparagus that can make certain wines take awful. However there are exceptions to the rule and a few tricks to combat the clash. If you grill or roast the asparagus it loses some of its flavour and serving it with a hollandaise or cheese sauce tones it down and adds other flavour dimensions. White asparagus is considered to be slightly milder in flavour and a bit more tender than green asparagus. The colouring of asparagus depends on the length of its exposure to the sun. Asparagus has a leaf bud which lengthens underground searching for light, and becomes coloured when it is exposed to it. However growing white asparagus is labour intensive and this explains its high price.

There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius' 3rd century De Re Coquinaria. So prized were these perennial shoots by the Romans that not only did they enjoy eating them in season but they were also the first to preserve it by freezing as early as the 1st Century AD when fast chariots would take the fresh asparagus from the Tiber River area to the Alps where it kept for six months until the Feast of Epicurus. The Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus coined the phrase 'velocius quam asparagi conquantur', meaning to do something faster than you can cook asparagus.

The Romans are responsible for having introduced asparagus to England, where it gradually gained favour with the nobles and by the early 16th century, it was widely served in many of the Royal courts of Europe. France's King Louis XIV even grew it in hothouses so he could enjoy it year-round. In the 1880s, the French would give asparagus to men on their wedding night (see Nick's Blog Red Wine and Famous Aphrodisiacs). Near Narbonne asparagus used to be grown in between the rows of vines!

We live on the edge of asparagus country and also have a thriving bed of asparagus that Nick's father planted some years ago in our kitchen garden, so we have a steady supply! I have a trick up my sleeve when it comes to matching a wine with asparagus – I serve a sparkling wine. It's a good accompaniment and there are several that suit. You could try Cremant d'Alsace but my latest favourite is one of Nick's new discoveries: Comte de Laube. This a a French sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the South West of France and the vineyards of the Loire Valley. It's not expensive and Nick recommends it as an easy drinking wine which is perfect for parties, summer barbeques and get togethers.

Comte de Laube is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Chenin Blanc and has subtle notes of lemon, toasted almonds, greengage, apple and broom blossom. On the palate, it reveals slight floral touches of quite surprising finesse. The finish is pleasantly and very slightly fruity.

You may recognise Ugni Blanc as Trebbiano which is thought to have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, and was grown in Italy in Roman times. Ugni Blanc made its way to France in the 14th century and its high acidity makes it important in Cognac production. This grape brings a floral bouquet (violets, broom and geraniums), as well as the vivacity and balance to the wine.

Folle Blanche is also used in the production of Cognac and Armagnac and is known for producing light and fresh wines that have flavours and aromas of green apples and limes.

Chenin Blanc is native to the Loire Valley - it's believed to have taken its name from Mont Chenin in Touraine. The grape has flavours of greengages and quince and adds depth and body to the wine.

Chardonnay gives this wine notes of citrus, pear and vanilla with a zesty sherbet bite on the finish.

Comte de Laube is made by the Charmat Method (Méthode Charmat) which was developed by the French scientist Jean Eugene Charmat at the University of Montpellier in 1907. Instead of using individual bottles to produce the secondary fermentation, he invented the glass-lined tank. He also founded two companies, Sorevi in Bordeaux and CFGV (Compagnie Française des Grands Vins) which have gone on to become leading sparkling wine producers. His son continued his work and created the wine Veuve de Vernay, named after the widow (Veuve) from Vernay, who helped his father start up in business.

Comte de Laube is a super little sparkler - elegant and delicate, fizzing with fine, long lasting bubbles and it pairs well with most food.