Wine With Food: Part 2

Why drink wine with a meal? Apart from the pleasure it gives, it helps us digest. I would empirically prove this time and again in Paris when, after a lengthy dinner out with friends and bottles of wine, I would rise the next day and go running in the park. Surprisingly, yet invariably, if I’d had wine, I’d run better than if I’d had none. (If I’d had too many glasses I no run so good.)

Why this is true is most likely because wine aids in the production and flow of the gastric juices which facilitate digestion by breaking down the food in the stomach quickly and effectively. Wine also helps regulate insulin during digestion which regulates weight.

The same tannins in red wine that have been touted for health reasons (wine is a well-known antioxidant because the phenolics, found in skins, stems and seeds, reduce the amount of cholesterol deposited in the arteries decreasing one’s chance of heart attack) are what give wine its structure and are softened with food. There’s an old saying, “Buy on apples, sell on cheese.” In other words, apples will bring out the defects in a wine, where cheese will enhance it. This works because the cheese softens the tannins. Same thing with tea. What do we do to lessen tannic acid in tea? We add milk.

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with cheese and meats

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with cheese and meats

These are factual, chemical reasons for having wine with food, but the pleasure wine affords is equally important, for although it affects something less tangible or provable, I believe it is perhaps something more essential. When we stop to pull the cork from a bottle of wine there is more going on than the simple thought of drinking wine or even pairing it with the perfect meal. When we pull that cork and pour the glass, we are taking a pause from hectic life and, for that moment, savoring. Whether for ritual or relaxation, whether metaphysical or purely gustatory, it’s a step back from the craziness of life, a step back in time to simpler ways of life. (Or very simple, since wine dates back to the Neolithic Period 8500-4000 BC!) And doesn’t this in itself de-stress us, further helping digestion (or whatever ails us)? Thus, around and around it goes… So Bibendum, as the Romans would say. Drink up!

Food wines:

Château de Recougne, Bordeaux Supérior – 75% Merlot, light tannins, ripe plumy taste, an everyday drinking kind of Bordeaux. $15

Château Boutisse, St-Emilion Grand Cru – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon with lush cherry fruit, chocolate and coffee notes. Tannic on the finish, it goes especially well with beef. $28

Château Meyney, St-Estéphe, 1998 – Classic, timely, much has been written about the great St-Estèphes. Austere tannins will mellow with age and food. Quintessential food wine. Pair with lamb or duck.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennières – a white food wine from the Loire.  Made 100% from Chenin Blanc, a grape famous for its sweet whites, this wine is dry, yet complex with floral and honeysuckle aromas. Almonds and citrus on the palate. Pair with fish dishes and cream sauces.

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Wine With Food: Part 1

Most everyone knows that wine with food is one of the best marriages going. Yet I know couples who open and drink a bottle of wine before dinner.

Shocking? Or the norm? Just wait.

“Then do you open a second bottle?” A friend asks them.

“No.”

“What do you drink with dinner?”

“Nothing. Well, sometimes water. Or Coke.”

Shocking? Or the norm? Your answer will reveal much about how you view the relationship of wine to food.

I’m fascinated by this relationship, for it seems to be changing and with its change, so too are the wines. More and more wines, European and New World alike, are being made to drink young. Nothing wrong with that. They’re approachable wines, which means easily drinkable. They’re fruit forward wines, which means lots of fruit up front, rather than barnyard or musty characteristics. They’re smooth and delicious. Nothing wrong with that. But is there?

A good French Burgundy or Bordeaux may be delicious on its own, especially when given time to age, but it’s made to be drunk with a meal. Such wines are often described as complex. The great Bordeaux can be extremely tannic, owing to the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and don’t soften except with time. Yet, pair these wines with dinner and you see how the wine complements the food and vice versa. The food softens the tannins, but the wine still retains enough structure to balance the meal. If, on the other hand, you had paired a super jammy New World Shiraz, for example, with the same meal, the wine might not be able to stand up to the food. This is not to say that Shiraz does not complement many foods, for it does. Only that many wines that taste scrumptious on their own, don’t do justice to a meal. And this is why often a customer will taste a French wine and say, “A little rough.” Or “too earthy.” Because its not being used the way it was meant: with food.

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with their meal

A Beyond Ordinary Travel group enjoying wine with their meal

It’s a cultural difference. Europeans drink much more wine per capita than we do in America, but they drink it with lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfast).Americans drink more wine as a cocktail before a meal than do Europeans.

Because of growing consumer demand for easy to drink wines, even European producers are changing the way in which they make wine, changing methods and beliefs that are centuries old. Alcohol content too is creeping up. Alcohol content of 13% used to be the exception reserved for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Now it’s the norm and 12-12.5% becoming rare. It’s not unusual to see Zinfandels and Australian Shiraz’s at 15-17%.

Following are wines I consider “food wines.” See if they don’t enhance the meal more than that glass of Coca-Cola.

Château de Gaudou – from Cahors in the southwest of France.  Often called the “black wine” it’s so full-bodied. Merlot/Malbec blend. Pair with Cassoulet, duck or hearty beef. $12

Domaine Berthoumieu, Charles de Batz – from Madiran, this wine is outstanding. Made from 100% Tannat, it is tannic, but the tannins soften with food. $22

As always, buy meats from local farmers or buy free range.

Catching the Heart

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

“There are many things will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart. Pursue those.” In the language of books this might mean judging not from cover but content. In the world of wine I think it translates to forgetting what clever label adorns the bottle and learning to judge wines not only by how they taste and appeal to our senses, but also how they stand up over time and how the winemaker treats the earth without which there’d be no vine.

Grounds at La Stoppa, Italy

Grounds at La Stoppa, Italy

I call certain wines, which are made sustainably and taste delicious, with layers of complexity that often evolve over the course of an evening or sometimes days, my ‘heart wines.’ It’s true that wine in moderation, especially red wine, is excellent medicine for our hearts, but what I mean by my heart wine goes beyond the medicinal to something more metaphorical, and beyond the physical to something much less tangible… that something that must be felt with the heart. Your heart wines will be different from my heart wines, but what matters is that they stir something deep within you and you feel a little bit more spontaneous, a little bit more sensuous and a whole lot more loving. You’ll want to share these special wines and good feelings with your friends!

The love and attention that quality producers put into their wine as well as the way in which they treat the earth translates itself into the overall experience we receive from the wine. So look for wines that are made sustainably, producers who work in harmony with the earth not dumping down chemicals for maximum short-term yield.

White: Moulin de Gassac, Guilhem, 2010 – As I write the temperature is 101 in the shade. I hope upon press time temps have dropped, but either way this is a wine in which to rejoice. This is the somewhat unorthodox, delicious and affordable bottling from the famous Mas de Daumas Gassac in the Languedoc. Daumas Gassac uses organic viticulture practices and has in the short thirty-some years it’s been producing become a kind of cult wine. Each year the blends differ. The 2010 is a blend of Grenache Blanche, Sauvignon Blanc and Clairette. Look for notes of fresh apples and pears combined with layers of citrus, backed by mineral. $12

Rosé: Mas de Gourgonnier, 2011 – This rich rosé comes from another excellent organic producer in the south, this time in Les Baux de Provence. I have never tasted a wine from Les Baux I didn’t like, and this is no exception. Drive in the long drive and to one side are gnarled old olive trees, apricot trees and on the other side rows of vines. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault, it’s a rosé full-bodied enough to stand up to light meats, pastas, quiches and cheese. Orange blossom, raspberry nose and beautiful acidity. $18

Olive groves near Les-Baux-de-Provence

Olive groves near Les-Baux-de-Provence

Red: La Stoppa, Macchiona, 2007 – Perhaps more of a fall/winter red, but as one of my wine tasters said after I’d been featuring lighter reds, whites and rosés, “We do have air-conditioning.” All of the wines from La Stoppa qualify as my heart wines, but the Macchiona, a blend of Barbera and Bonarda, is my favourite. Organic, with fruit up front and layers of pure Piacenza terroir, this wine is a unique gem. $36

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Line-up at La Stoppa

The preceding article originally appeared in Nelson County Life Magazine, now Blue Ridge Life.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Wine and Aging Demystified

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

Often I’m asked, “How long should I age this wine?” And the answer is usually, “Drink it now.” For the truth of the matter is a very small percentage of wine should be cellared. Yet it is the mystique of aging—that wine is a living organism and will improve with age—that intrigues us. This and the fact that those wines which do improve with significant aging, only one percent of all wine produced, are the great wines we tend to hear most about or at least to talk about the most.

Wine aging in the cellars of Châteauneauf du Pape

Wine aging in the cellars of Châteauneauf du Pape

Know then, when you are buying wine, that generally the wine producer has done the aging for you, or more generally that the wine is ready to drink with no aging. Most wine made today should be drunk as soon as you buy it while its fruit is still young and enjoyable. Because of the myth that all wine improves with aging, far too much wine is drunk too late than too early. The great majority of wine will actually start to lose the fruitiness that gives it appeal within six months of being bottled. Therefore, if you have that 1961 bottle of sparkling wine, get out the olive oil and toss the salad greens.

Wine is mysterious and wonderful because, unlike most consumables which deteriorate from the moment we buy them, wine is one of the few things that has the capacity to change for the better. Perhaps the top ten percent of reds and the top four or five percent of whites will improve from aging five years or so. But only the top one percent will improve for two to three decades in the cellar.

So which wines are those that will be more pleasurable after years in the cellar? The red wines with heavy tannins like Bordeaux (preferably a classified wine from the Médoc where the blend is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, not Merlot or Cabernet Franc)and California Cabernets. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are small and thick skinned allowing for more tannins, which are found in the skins and pips. Thus, paradoxically or perhaps unfortunately, an uneducated wine shopper might grab an expensive bottle of wine off the shelf when in doubt what to get for a fancy meal, only to find that its taste does not match its price. This is precisely because the most expensive bottles are often the ones with the long life expectancy, full of mouth-puckering, inky tannins and generally only commercially available (and affordable) in their youth. These are the wines to age.

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Château Gruaud-Larose, Bordeaux

And if you want a truly fantastic wine, do the aging yourself. Buy a good Bordeaux from a good vintage (2000 and 2005 were outstanding vintages) and put it away for ten to twenty years. The result will be mellowed tannins and an amazing wine. If you drink a 2000 or 2005 Château Gruaud-Larose or a Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, for example, in fifteen years, you’ll have not only a stunning and sumptuous wine and wine experience, but you’ll have something you probably wouldn’t be able to find anywhere (that is a well-kept vintage Bordeaux) and if you could, the cost would be outrageous.

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Great wines to age

Wines to age other than tannin-rich Cabernets include Madiran, Hermitage, Nebbiolo, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Amarone, Ribera del Duero from Spain, botrytized sweet wines, Loire wines made from Chenin Blanc, many Rieslings (probably not most Virginian Rieslings) and grand cru white Burgundy.

vines of Burgundy

vines of Burgundy

The preceding article originally appeared in Nelson County Life Magazine, now Blue Ridge Life.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Transition Wines

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

At the end of March or the start of April, and of late sometimes in February too, there is something in the air that signals spring is imminent. This something has less to do with warm temperatures than it does with a subtle shift and softness that speaks of winter’s ebbing tide and a new season about to be born. Or perhaps more accurately, about to give birth: to buds, blossoms, butterflies and bunnies…to life. In the predawn hours there’s the cool new air, and as dusk descends at the close of the day there’s the promise of the peepers.

What does all this have to do with wine? Perhaps nothing and everything. As we mark the passage of time with tradition and ritual, we seek also to differentiate time past from time present and time yet to be, giving us a sense of control over what will always be unknowable. For millennia, wine has been used in symbolic ceremony and ritual. In spring the ancient Greeks celebrated their new year and the Anethesteria, one of four festivals which made up the Dionysia in honor of Dionysus, wine, inspiration, creativity and fertility. The Anethesteria was the Festival of the Vine Flower: three days of festivities celebrating the opening of the wine jugs from the previous crop. For the Greeks it was not only the final product which was sacred, but the vineyard and the process whereby wine was created from earth through the changing of seasons.

Perhaps in modern times, the seasons more than anything else mirror back to us the paradox of change. April means transition time. But no need to renounce your flannel P.J.s for the flimsy nightie anymore than you must renounce red for white or rosé. Drink all three:

  • Nativ Falaghina, 2011 – Falaghina thrives in southern Italy, in Basilicata and particularly in Campania where the vineyards around Mount Vesuvius offer rich volcanic soils adding minerality to the wines. This ancient vine is most likely the basis for Falernum of classical Rome, so prized and esteemed by the Romans. Clean, crisp yet round and smooth with distinct notes of honeysuckle. Organic. $14
  • Domaine de Fontsainte, Gris de Gris, 2012 – vin gris is a rosé yet differs from rosé in color (usually paler) and weight (usually lighter.) This one comes from the Languedoc’s Corbières where summers are hot and the perfect antidote is a chilled glass of rosé. This wine is testimony to the high quality possible in the hot and sunny region of so many vines. Although bone dry, look for aromas of raspberry followed by exotic notes of pineapple and mango. $19
Image courtesy of  cigarbrief.com

Image courtesy of cigarbrief.com

  • Nativ Aglianico, Irpinia, 2009 – A favorite red grape of mine, again from Campania. Aglianico, pronounced ah-LYAH-nee-kohl, was planted in the region as early as the 7thcentury BCE and is seeing a bit of a revival. Medium-bodied, with juicy cherry fruit, it’s smooth with slight notes of coffee and chocolate. Quite stunning. Organic. $20  

And gentle April comes and goes and we are still its fools.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Wine Harvesting in Emilia Romagna

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

Our second day of the Italy trip with Kay, we took a trip down to the Emilia Romagna region which is famous for parmesan, grana podano, parma ham, balsamic vinegars, olive oil, copa and of course, wine.

Our leader, Kay, is friends with the owner of La Stoppa, Elena Pantaleoni, and so we shared a beautiful autumn afternoon with her at her family vineyards near Rivergaro.

Elena runs a completely organic operation, and we learned about the hard work required for this designation, but how very important it is for the preservation of the land. Gabe and I are both California wine lovers so it was interesting to hear the New World vs. Old World philosophies in wine. My biggest learning from both Elena and Alberto the evening before was how the Old World / European believes more in the terroir, and the wine is a result of the land, where New World believes the result is in the creativity of the winemaker, in the cellar.

Next, we tasted their different varietals. We started out with six on the table for tasting, but realizing how into their wines we were, they started making cellar trips to give us different vintages of our favorites and their new creations straight from the barrel.

The line-up of the wines was as follows :
-Dinavolino, Guilio, the wine maker’s creation from his estate
-Macchiona – 2005, then 2006, then 2007, then the 2002 which was a notoriously rough year
-Barbera del Stoppa
-Ageno – 2007, then the 2010 out of the tank

We tasted the wines alongside local meats like copa (the neck of the pig), salami and grana podano cheese. I enjoyed the flavors of the wine alongside the regional specialities of Emilia Romagna. The whites really were accentuated with the food.

In the end, I bought a Barbera and a Macchiona 2005. Unfortunately, I was limited to 3 to take back so only the Barbera will make it back to Geneva in the end as the Macchiona was the group favorite so was opened for sharing in Firenze.

It was a delight to spend this day with the wonderful people of La Stoppa. While I love learning about wine from all over the world, this special passion and pride is special to any other experience I have had in the States visiting vineyards. We felt like we were their family that day and are so grateful to Elena, Guilio and Francesca for their hospitality and inviting us into their estate. What an amazing place.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Tuscany: Siena, San Donato and San Girmignano

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

My first time to Tuscany, I remember feeling like I was driving through a Van Gogh painting. I loved witnessing with my own eyes the way the cypress dotted the landscape and gave protection to the rolling hills of vineyards and olive trees.

This trip, I was lucky that I got to see four new places in the Tuscan region.

SIENA – Beautiful hill town, a continual rival of its neighbor Florence. Verdict: I prefer Florence. Although, maybe I should visit Siena again when we aren’t so pressed for time and I’m not hungry.

POGGIBONSI

Since this trip was a terroir trip to experience food and wine, one of our stops was a tasting with a local Tuscan butcher, Filipo. He explained the history of the family business which was quite interesting, and then invited us to see the cinta pigs roaming on the land. Cintas are a different type of pig – they are striped – and they also graze on nuts, forest foliage, and berries.

On the trip over, we discussed how important we think it is to see the source of our food. Too often you forget. Filipo shaved our fresh prosciutto off the leg. This is a big reminder to me how we should respect our food and not waste. Also, the way that his free range cinta are treated is a lesson for how important these practices in when selecting what products we purchase.

I found it ironic I wore a white dress on the pig farm visit day.

SAN DONATO

San Donato is a tiny medieval town in the Tuscan hills. We had a wine tasting at Fattoria San Donato of local wine – vernaccia (white) and chianti (red) as well as their beautiful olive oils. A highlight was walking through the familial home to find our courtyard tasting in the groves.

SAN GIRMINGNANO

San Gimingnano is another charming Tuscan hill town, instantly recognizable by its peaking bell towers.

We tasted more tuscan wine and olive oil at La Marronaia, another friend of Kay’s who had a sumptuous cellar. We tasted basic vernaccia, visila, chianti colli sennesi, intenso and quattrossi. I brought back some olive oil to accentuate my Italian dishes.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Umbria: Assisi, Tili Vini and Orvieto

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

Just a bit lower than Tuscany, Umbria also has a remarkable landscape. It’s slightly drier and more rustic than its Northern neighbor, but still quite capable of amazing things.

One of the towns we visited was Assisi which is the famous birthplace of St. Francis. I adored the town and its classic and simple pink stone. The pink is a naturally sourced stone from Umbria and used to decorate the basilicas simply without too much adornment, as was restricted in St. Francis’s day.

The reason for the simplicity is that St. Francis believed in peace and the renouncement of material things. The basilica contains simple frescos instead of ornate stones and gold.

In fact, Kay had encouraged us all to say a prayer and to do one act as St. Francis would do in this experience, rather than be a typical tourist. She encouraged us to slip some coins to the poor and forgoing the traditional souvenir. It was a beautiful mindset in which to enter this holy place. Adding to this experience, we witnessed a peace rally marching 20km from Perugia to the basilica. This peace celebration only happens every 3 years and it was a coincidence that we were able to be a part of it.

On our ride home that evening, we witnessed a little peace as well when we saw this rainbow on the Umbrian landscape. What a nice souvenir.

Also in Assisi, we had the opportunity to visit a few Umbrian locals at Tivi Vini, a winery near Assisi. The same pride we’d seen from Elena at La Stoppa and Filipo of Fattoria della Cinta, also poured out in the mother daughter combo Tili and Maria.

We tasted their Assisi biance (chardonnay and pinot), the Grechetto (95% grechetto, 5% pinot), Pinto Nero (90% noir and 10% sangrantino — Rosie’s favorite), a Young (blend of 3 reds — Gabe’s favorite, a Rosso (Lauren’s favorite) and a 100% Sagrantino aged for 8 years.

We returned to Florence that night, but the next day, we had the pleasure of dining in Orvieto. The meal at Restaurant Maurizo, just off the main square, was hands-down my favorite meal of the trip. We started with a great antipasti, then a truffle and cheek umberchelini, then pasta with lamb ragu, a secondi of pork with herb rub and roasted potatoes and then a selection of local cakes for dolce. I am a sucker for any type of mushroom but the truffles put me over the edge. What a meal!

Umbria might be my new favorite over Tuscany.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Château de Ségriès

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

A gem in the Côtes du Rhône / Lirac / Tavel wine region of France can be found by visiting the de Lanzac family’s Château de Ségriès.   Located off a dirt road in the little Provençal town of Lirac, the estate is run out of an old chateau.

Our group, on the grounds of the château

When we visited this Fall, Anne, her brother Laurent, and her husband & wine-maker Frederic taught us that making wine isn’t about making money.  In fact, not at all.

We tasted six of their wines, ranging from Lirac white, Vin de Table rosé, Tavel rosé, Côte du Rhône, Lirac red, and my favorite, Clos de l’Hermitage.

Frederic gaves us a taste of many different Château de Ségriès wines

Our group. Santé!

Every taste brings you a glimpse of what devotion they pour into their creation.   The care they take with the vines, the worry that comes with the changing weather, the joy and strife of the harvest, and the careful monitoring of fermentation.

Trying the 2012 – just harvested the week before

Between all the wines, they give the world 250,000 bottles a year.

In the cellars with Anne, visiting some of the vintages

Wine making is an art that leaves such a special legacy…for immediate consumption and for generations to come. However, a downside of providing such joy to others is the hard fact than in a small family run winery, there is not much time to vacation.  The group enthusiastically begged our gracious hosts to come to Virginia, yet they reminded us the vines know no break!

Their family home rests just a short walk from the chateau, surrounded by ancient trees and their vineyard.  They prepared an amazing lunch for us of traditional dishes.  We loved sitting on their patio and enjoying the autumn day. The family pets, Flash, Sara and cat came out to greet as well.

Our group at the farmhouse for lunch

The ladies enjoying the spread

Frederic preparing delicious grilled lamb & sausage

Our leader, K, and Anne

Cheese and fruit salad were the selections for dessert.

Château de Ségriès quickly became my favorite Southern France winery!

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.