Archive for July, 2014

Ask Sid: 2013 Bordeaux?

July 30th, 2014

 I thought 2013 Bordeaux was a difficult vintage year but now am hearing conflicting reports
By michael clarke stuff (Cars, Blaye 02 HDR) [CC BY-SA 2.0 or CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: I thought 2013 Bordeaux was a difficult vintage year but now am hearing conflicting reports. Would you set me straight Sid?

Answer: I will try. The weather conditions in Bordeaux were rainy and not sunny enough to ripen the red grapes in 2013. The white grapes developed better and there will be some excellent white Bordeaux & Sauternes with lots of botrytis to acquire and enjoy. Remember that there are always merchants out there with a vested interest to be bullish and to try to sell you the latest new inventory or even futures. Also there will be some producers able to make fine wine even  in difficult conditions. In fact lower yields resulted in less total wine with a majority going into the second and third labels rather than the Grand Vin so there may be some better values at lower alcohol. However for the Bordeaux consumer 2013 is caveat emptor – or buyer beware – and unless you need the vintage for a vertical why buy a bad vintage which is risky rather than a consistently ripe vintage like 2009 or 2010 or even the great 2005. There are some fun tongue in cheek articles on this vintage such as one by Ron Washam posted on http://www.timatkin.com/articles?1197. My friend John Salvi MW who contributed a brilliant essay “Making Red Wine to Age – A Technical Discussion” in my Monograph of “An Appreciation of the Age of Wine” has a fantastic analysis of the 2013 conditions at www.indianwineacademy.com/item_1_606.aspx. Hope this helps.

Are you concerned about 2013 Bordeaux?

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Ask Sid Cross about wine and food

What Sommelier Skills Do You Most Admire?

July 28th, 2014

What sommelier skills do you most admire?
By Myself (It’s me) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dining out at several restaurants recently I marveled at how so many younger sommeliers have such a great handle on the distinct characteristics of the different wines they have put on their wine list and knowing what food dishes best complement each wine. This requires a lot of intensive study and is undoubtedly a most valuable skill to acquire. Got me thinking about what other skills should a top sommelier bring to their interesting job.  Remembered the late great Charlie Trotter’s eponymous Chicago restaurant that opened in 1987 and his book series on Lessons because he inspired so many top sommeliers in their craft including Master Larry Stone. Dug out his Lessons in Wine Service by Edmund O. Lawler (2008 Ten Speed Press) and the conclusions reached there and quoted below as follows for your consideration:

“The sommelier must be the best service person in the house…must have the ability to:

SCAN THE ROOM – Court Vision

READ A GUEST  – Discern the guest’s needs…Listening skills are paramount

ANTICIPATE – Develop a sixth sense for what the guest may want next

NAVIGATE – Guide through a three-hour dining experience…Must take complete ownership of the table

OPERATE WITH STYLE AND GRACE –  Conscious of the guest’s space

TASTE – Sommelier’s discerning palate can help protect a guest

COOPERATE – Exercise tact when working with the kitchen

LEAD – General service staff look to sommelier for guidance…must be able to guide the flow of service

INSPIRE – Convey a sense of enthusiasm to the staff

MENTOR – Share their wisdom and experience

ACCEPT CRITICISM – Alert…to things that need to be done better

ADMIT MISTAKES – Never pointing fingers and by working with the guest on steps to make it right

NEGOTIATE – Know the market, pricing trends, and how to economically fill the cellars

REPRESENT THE RESTAURANT – Face of the restaurant…must be an articulate spokesperson for the restaurant

ORGANIZE – Weekly training sessions must have a sharp focus and a clear objective

MASTER THE ART OF HOSPITALITY – Make a guest feel at ease…It’s the mark of a gracious host”

Which are most important to you? Any further skills to add?

What sommelier skills do you most admire?

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Ask Sid: Choosing the right wines for a wedding?

July 24th, 2014

Choosing the right wines for a wedding

Question: I am hosting a wedding that is serving steak and fish. What wine recommendations would you make based on a modest budget of under $40 per bottle?

Answer: Your total number attending is an important missing fact. If a small intimate dinner of 8-12 serve a variety of wines as one bottle of each wine will work nicely. However I am assuming it must be an larger event with many friends. Not sure if you are serving one combined course of “surf & turf” or an alternate main of steak or fish. Regardless keep it simple but try to give everyone a choice of one red or one white. This will make the serving and especially re-pours much easier for the staff. Don’t neglect the idea of sparkling throughout – say a white or a rose. After all it is a festive occasion that suits Champagne but on your limited budget there still are lots of other excellent bubbles available for you to use. Most wedding receptions have fierce mark-ups so $40 though suitable at retail might not get you much quality at your special wedding location. Possibly Cava with the always reliable Segura Viudas  and the new fresh dry Freixenet Cordon Rosado. Latest vintage Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay for the fish from the Casablanca or Leyda regions of Chile are good value around $15. Admire what Cono Sur does with all their wines – including my fav of 20 Barrels Pinot Noir around $25. Another idea would be a Viognier from Languedoc – maybe Three Winds 2012/2013. Malbec from Argentina is much improved and popular in such an easy approachable style for a young red – lots of choice but dependable Norton Barrel Select 2010/2011 is intense and peppery. The key is to try and choose food wines that are fresh and acceptable to the majority of your guests.

Ask Sid Cross about wine and food

Blueberries

July 21st, 2014

Blueberries

One of my almost daily treats is blueberries. I just admire that juicy sweet yet tart statement of this super-fruit. Doesn’t hurt that they are proven healthy being so high in antioxidants, phytochemicals and even resveratrol – like red grapes. In fact I am seeing more blueberry wine out there in the marketplace. British Columbia grows the high bush variety (as does Michigan) harvested from July to October and they are perfectly fresh early right now because of the hot weather the past weeks. This heat wave can weaken and soften the berries causing more difficulty with shipping so the picking push is on. Low bush (called “wild”) are prominent in Atlantic USA & Canada (Nova Scotia) especially the largest producer the state of Maine. Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay and other Southern Hemisphere countries are all important producers as well. Though delicious fresh they also can be quickly frozen successfully for use during the off season including winter. The BC Blueberry Council has an interesting website www.bcblueberry.com for “Nature’s Candy” with useful recipes including smoothies, pancakes, waffles etc.  Lots of other blueberry cookbooks out there for you to reference. I enjoy them with breakfast cereal, in my favourite home made bran muffin (not a sweet cupcake), chopped in salsa, and of course blueberry pie.

Pleased to share with you here our best bran muffin recipe with blueberries:

Makes 12. Preheat oven to 400F.  Grease muffin tins. In a large bowl whisk together 1/3 cup brown sugar (not packed), 1/4 cup grape seed oil, and 1/4 cup molasses.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 whole egg, 1 egg white then stir in 1 cup skim milk. Add this to sugar mixture. Stir in 1 cup dark raisins (Thompson seedless) and 1 1/2 cups original All-Bran cereal. Let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile in a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda and 3 Tbsp. each of wheat germ and sunflower seeds. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir only until moistened. Gently stir in 1 cup blueberries, fresh (best) or frozen (not thawed). Spoon into muffin tins and sprinkle tops with sesame seeds.

Bake 18 minutes using fresh or frozen berries.  If omitting berries, bake muffins 15 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool. Enjoy!

Do you eat blueberries?

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Dining for Détente: The role food played during Nixon’s trip to China

July 18th, 2014

Dining for Détente: The role food played in Nixon's trip to China
By Joseph Temple

In preparation for Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking trip to the People’s Republic of China in 1972, an enormous amount of classified material was created for the U.S. diplomatic team traveling with the president.  National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger briefed Nixon extensively during the months leading up to the visit, going over every detail in this high stakes game of diplomatic chess with Premier Chou En-lai.  And while the biggest issues during these talks would be over Taiwan and Indochina, in retrospect, the most important briefings the president and his team received were the ones regarding the food they were about to eat.

“The Chinese take great pride in their food,” declared one memo.  Another recommended that Nixon stroke their egos at the dinner table as “they react with much pleasure to compliments about the truly remarkable variety of tastes, textures and aromas in Chinese cuisine.”  In terms of what to expect, nothing was left off the table.  Although Kissinger and Alexander Haig had been served delicious Peking duck in their preliminary meetings with the Communist Chinese, anything from shark fins to bird’s nests could appear on the president’s plate.

Knowing that the trip would either make or break him, Nixon left nothing to chance.  Always one to brush up on an important subject, the president carefully studied the Chinese and their customs.  “You should not be offended at the noisy downing of soups, or even at burping after a meal,” one document warned.  For months, he, his wife Pat and Dr. Kissinger all took lessons on how to properly use chopsticks, even practicing on the flight over. Of course, all this preparation was not just for his gracious hosts but for the American people watching on their television sets back home.

Nixon visits china secret memo
A document prepared for the Nixon team advising them to compliment their hosts.

Scheduling this visit during an election year was a risky move to say the least.  In the suburbs of middle America, the patriotic anti-Communist “Silent Majority” that Nixon needed to secure his re-election was apprehensive about easing relations with the Chinese – the same Chinese that the United States battled just twenty years earlier on the Korean Peninsula.  And with all of the official discussions being held in strict secrecy, Americans needed a visual aid to act as their own diplomatic barometer.

Of course, Richard Nixon made sure they got one.

Realizing the enormous power of a photo-op, the administration stressed the superficial aspects of the visit.  It was no coincidence that Air Force One landed at the Capital Airport at 11:32 A.M. Beijing time.  Across the United States, it was prime time when the president and Chou shook hands, giving millions of Americans the chance to watch this symbolic act live via satellite.   It also wasn’t a coincidence that of the one hundred journalists accompanying the commander-in-chief to China, those in television were given preference over their colleagues in print.  While personally despising most of the media, the president also knew that a carefully controlled press parroting the administration’s narrative through stunning visuals could sway public opinion over to Nixon.

For the next stunning a visual, an extravagant banquet had been prepared for nearly six hundred guests at the Great Hall of the People.  With giant American and PRC flags towering over the captivated audience, a series of congratulatory toasts were made by Nixon and Chou to usher in a new era of understanding.  It was here where food and drink played perhaps the most important role in convincing the American people that Nixon had pulled off the greatest foreign policy coup in a lifetime.


A video prepared for the U.S. diplomatic team
outlining the differences in the American and Chinese diets.

For beverages, each guest at the banquet was given three glasses: one for orange juice, one for wine and one for a Chinese drink with over 50% alcohol known as Maotai.   Worried that this intoxicating spirit would take its toll on a president who needed to be flawless throughout the entire evening, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Alexander Haig cabled the White House in January to warn them of this drink.  In the book Nixon in China: The Week that Changed the World, historian Margaret MacMillan writes that Haig stressed “UNDER NO REPEAT NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THE PRESIDENT ACTUALLY DRINK FORM HIS GLASS IN RESPONSE TO BANQUET TOASTS.”  Nixon, seeking a middle ground did drink form his glass but in very small sips.

Next came the food that each guest would enjoy with his/her own personally inscribed chopsticks.  On the menu were dumplings, fried rice, three colored eggs, shark fins, and duck slices garnished with pineapples, among others.  Eating next to Chou En-lai, Nixon fared much better with chopsticks than CBS anchorman Walter Kronkite who accidentally shot an olive at a neighboring table.  Careful not to lay it on too thick, the president was warned  “not to say a particular dish is ‘good’ or ‘interesting’ when in fact you do not like it, as your hosts, in an effort to please, may serve you extra portions to your embarrassment.”

Covered for four hours straight without commentary by the big three U.S. networks, the entire banquet proved to be the ultimate combination of dining and diplomacy.  Nixon, the once ardent anti-Communist ironically quoted Chairman Mao by asking both countries to “Seize the Day.  Seize the hour.”  And as the two sides clinked their glasses in friendship, the Chinese Red Army band performed a rendition of both “America the Beautiful” and the U.S. National Anthem to an audience of millions watching live on TV.  This in addition to a close-up shot of the president using chopsticks had undoubtedly convinced a majority of Americans that the visit was a rousing success. Despite being just the first night of a seven-day trip, the symbolic image of two former adversaries breaking bread proved to be more powerful than any treaty, agreement, or communiqué signed later on.

Writing in his diary the next day, H.R. Haldeman, the president’s trusted chief-of-staff was more than pleased with how the media presented the entire evening.  “The network coverage … of the banquet period was apparently very impressive and they got all the facts the P (President Nixon) wanted, such as his use of chopsticks, his toasts, Chou’s toast, the P’s glass-clinking,” wrote Haldeman.  According to Nixon biographer Conrad Black, his trip had registered the highest U.S. public recognition of any event in the history of the Gallup poll.  And in the days and months after Nixon’s visit, Chinese restaurants in the U.S. were mobbed by foodies seeking out “authentic” Chinese cuisine like the Peking duck they saw the president eating on TV according to Andrew Coe, author of Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States.

Call it “chopstick diplomacy,” “Maotai statecraft” or “dining for Détente,” but in the end, Richard Nixon had proved that the power of food could win over the public at large as he tore down the Bamboo Curtain.

Favorite food from this posting?

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