Archive for April, 2014

Foraging: Stinging Nettles & Mushrooms

April 28th, 2014

Foraging for Mushrooms

Two outstanding events this past week focusing on getting out there and foraging for your own wild food.

1. Chef Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm ( is an expert and has been actively doing so for over 20 years. He has a best selling Mushroom book and a new just published Foraging one. His informative mycelia guide includes porcini (cepe), pine (matsutake), chanterelles (early Fall) and morels (Spring) – in fact he says there are over 20 varieties of morel. Tips on sautéing wild mushrooms, roasting, grilling, steaming, rehydrating, freezing and powdering them. Bill’s demo for his The Deerholme Foraging Book: Wild Foods & Recipes from the Pacific Northwest spotlighted the fresh morels and stinging nettles. He served a delightful welcoming tea from the leaves of the nettles – heating, drying or freezing gets rid of the sting. Useful in making a pesto instead of basil leaves or good with chickpeas for a hummus with a more attractive rich green colour. More detail and recipes:

2. “Nettles, nettles, nettles!” dinner by Chef Chris Whittaker at Forage Restaurant. Every course featured wild nettles with appropriate beverages. The first course of nettle & beer soup, hop croutons and drizzled raw honey matched well to a special local beer made from nettles, a bit of hops, with mint & ginger. Second course nettle and faro risotto, Golden Ears brie, hazelnut and nettle pesto. Third course nettle-crusted line-caught fresh halibut, nettle gnudi, wild mushrooms. Fourth course dessert nettle sorbet and crispy pain perdu with quince caramel.

Foraging can be fun, economical and educational. Be careful but explore. What interesting food item have you discovered on your own local hunting adventures?

Have you gone foraging?

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Don’t Mess with Texas Wine

April 25th, 2014

Don't mess with Texas wine
By Jon Lebkowsky from Austin, Texas, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Joseph Temple

Texas, a place we sometimes associate with Stetson hats, grazing cattle, and pointy-eared armadillos.  But did you know that the second largest state in America is also carving out a reputation as a wine making hotspot?  In fact, with eight recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and nearly 300 wineries, the Lone Star State is now the fifth largest grape and wine producer in the United States.  And matching quality with quantity, 20 of their wineries recently took home a total of 87 medals at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  Simply put – don’t mess with Texas wine!

Given the history, it makes sense that Texans would be drawn to viticulture.  According to its Wine & Grape Growers Association website, the state is where the first vineyard in North America was established.  Similar to California, the presence of Spanish missionaries resulted in a demand for sacramental wine, with much of it coming from vineyards grown adjacent to their places of worship.

What many might not know is that a Texan saved European wine from complete devastation.  Thomas Munson was a Denison-based horticulturalist that through his travels developed more than 300 disease-resistant varieties of grapes.  So when phylloxera – a tiny insect that attacks the roots of grapevines — threatened vineyards across Europe, it was Munson who shipped his rootstocks to fight this disease.  Awarded the French Legion of Honor Cross of Merite Agricole in 1888 for his successful efforts, wine writer Karen MacNeil notes that to this day, the vines of Bordeaux and Burgundy have the same lineal rootstock as those in Denison and throughout Texas.

Thomas MunsonThomas Munson (left) helped to save European vineyards from phylloxera in the late 19th century. You can download his iconic 1909 book Foundation of American Grape Culture (right), which is now in the public domain for free by clicking this link.

Fast-forward to the present and that same can-do spirit is alive and well in the vineyards across Texas.  Of the eight AVAs, West Texas is home to several including Mesilla Valley, which encompasses El Paso County and neighboring New Mexico.  Relatively high in elevation, the area is known for a long growing season with cooling winds funneling through the valley to help maintain acidity levels, which tend to be lower in hotter climates.  Fourteen different grape varieties are grown there, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel.

Moving north up the panhandle is the Texas High Plains AVA, covering approximately eight million acres of land – of which 3,500 acres are used to make wine.  With a very dry climate, vintners are dependent on both the cooling winds and the subterranean Ogallala Aquifer, allowing them to produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chenin Blanc among others.

Traveling east to Munson’s hometown of Denison is the Texoma AVA, on the border with Oklahoma and just north of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  Established in 2005, the wineries here number just six but with a diverse array of soil, both native Texas varieties as well as vitis vinifera varieties are grown here.

Texas AVA wine mapTexas AVA Map. Special thanks to for the image.

Finally, covering an area of nine million acres is Texas Hill Country — the second largest AVA in the United States – encompassing the cities of Austin and San Antonio.  Being hundreds of miles away from the Gulf of Mexico insolates the vines from the hot and humid winds.

At the International Wine & Food Society, we have a solid presence across the state, with branches in Austin, Houston, Fort Worth, Northeast Texas and an upcoming branch in Dallas.  Perhaps these locals can chime in on what Lone State State wines they would recommend?

Have you tried wine from Texas?

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April 21st, 2014

Vega Sicilia and Spanish wines
By Log (Flickr: Vinos) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Continue to be impressed with the attention to detail and the quality excellence of everything Vega-Sicilia does. They now have 5 wineries producing Vega-Sicilia & Valbuena since 1915 (100th anniversary next year), Alion in Ribera Del Duero 1991, Tokay-Oremus in Hungary 1993, Pintia in Toro 1996, and Macan in Rioja 2003. Another visit last week to Vancouver of my friend Export Director Puri Mancebo-Lobete was a good opportunity to catch up.  She started at the Tokay project 2001-2002. However I have been following them before that and they did a superb wine tasting in San Juan, Puerto Rico led by Don Rafael Alonso for IWFS on April 25, 1998. Many old IWFS shakers and movers were there including Angel Del Valle & Carmencita, Pedro Pumarada & Carmen Teresa, Larry Fleisher, Joe Garrigo, Alec & Irene Murray, Caryl Saunders, Bob & Ellen Gutenstein , Bob & Beth Charpie, John Avery, Ed Lazarus, John & Muffie Hoche and so many more. Vertical of Unico included 85, 81, fantastic 70 (16 years in wood), 68, and 53. Even served 1975 Oremus Aszu 5 Puttonyos wine they had purchased before starting their own label. Many other tastings with winemaker Xavier Ausas, especially their Managing Director Don Pablo Alvarez including awarding him a Lifetime Achievement Award in Society of Bacchus at their Vega Sicilia winery in May 2004 and his 5 decades presentation for the Vancouver International Wine Festival on March 30, 2011.

1. Vega-Sicilia, Unico, Reserva Especial, & Valbuena: Top of the pyramid. Just released 2004 classic Unico in the style of 1968 & 1970. 1999 Unico starting to develop but still so young. They have a long history of an ability to make wine to age and three important keys are poor chalky soil with low yields, fresh good balanced fresh acidity and special winemaking techniques in wood (21 big vats). Puri says they still have 1912 and 1917 Unico in the cellars and she just tried a sensational 1934. Three vintage blend of 1994, 1995, and 2000 in their current Reserva Especial release. Really like how they still hold back a lot of wine to top up the casks every Friday to avoid oxidation from the long time the wine spends in wood. Unico not produced every year and then goes into usually younger vines Valbuena (95% tempranillo & 5% merlot) in such vintages as I believe 1984, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001.

2. Alion: 2009 biggest release ever of about 320,000 bottles. Modern international personality of 100% tempranillo (tinto fino) with 12 months in new French oak. 2009 showing typical style priced at $79 (2001 was $95). 2010 not being released because it has shown a very fine microscopic sediment that the conscientious owners want to investigate.

3. Tokay-Oremus: Big holdings of 125 hectares in Hungary but only make about 50,000 bottles. Wonderful Mandolas fermented and aged in 100% new Hungarian oak from Furmint grapes in a dry mineral style from volcanic soils. Most wineries make 95% sweet but they are making about half dry and half sweet.

4. Pintia: “One and half hour drive from Ribera but so different”. Soil in Toro like Chateauneuf-du-Pape  and elevation altitude important. No phyloxerra here and not American root stocks but old vines. Tendency for more colour and more tannins here from this arid region. Again they are able to achieve in a hot climate some delicate tannins and elegant not overripe fruit with the spice by picking early, putting 100% tempranillo grapes (Tinta de Toro clone) in a cold room at 5-7 C for 2 days to avoid volatile acidity, ferment at a cool 26-28 C for better aromatics, and 100% malolactic in barrel here. Use some 30-50% American oak with the French. Production of 2008 tasted was at 200,000 bottles priced at $59 (2002 was $75).

5. Macan: Newest project again with old vines in Rioja Alta near San Vicente de la Sonsierra trying to make something between the lighter structured traditional style and the popular modern international one. Not using 100% oak every year because still want some delicacy of the Rioja tempranillo expression to show through. Tried interesting young 2010 Macan at $89 with only 50,000 bottles produced.

Note that Puri told me that in her opinion the 2004 & 2009 are best in Ribera Del Duero while 2005 & 2010 are best vintages in Rioja.

Are you following the exciting Spanish wine explosion market? What wine region in Spain do you prefer? Have you tried any of these quality wines from Vega-Sicilia?

What's your favorite Spanish wine region?

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Dial P for Pinot Noir: Hitchcock & the origins of the most famous wine bottle in movie history

April 18th, 2014

Dial P for Pinot Noir: Hitchcock & the origins of the most famous wine bottle in movie history

By Joseph Temple


Alex Sebastian, an escaped Nazi who flees to South America poses as a wealthy Rio de Janeiro socialite alongside his fellow Third Reich fugitives.  But little do people know that they are plotting revenge against the Allies by building their very own atomic bomb.  The only question is where to store the weapons grade uranium needed to detonate the bomb?

Director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 motion picture Notorious starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman as American spies determined to uncover this explosive secret hidden inside a bottle of ’34 Pommard proves to be the perfect blend of wine and film.  As part of their undercover operation, Bergman’s character Alicia marries Alex and successfully steals the key to his wine cellar so she and Grant can go investigate while a lavish party takes place upstairs.

Searching for clues, Grant’s character Devlin discovers a sheet of paper located behind several vintages standing upright – an unusual position for any bottle in a wine cellar.  But while taking a closer look, a 1934 Pommard moves closer and closer off the shelf.  Delicate as the grapes that created this fine Pinot Noir, one careless mistake causes the bottle to come crashing down. Yet on impact, black sand is seen amongst the broken glass, raising the eyebrows of both Devlin and Alicia.

For Hitchcock to use a bottle of wine as the “MacGuffin” – a desired object that the protagonist pursues in a movie – is not surprising.  A passionate oenophile, the Master of Suspense was renown for giving those who visited his Bel-Air mansion a detailed tour of the custom built wine cellar he had installed.  And having purchased a vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains probably explains why many of his movies including The Birds were filmed in Northern California.  But his choice of 1934 Pommard as the bottle to store the uranium ore in reflects Hitch’s passion for French wines, and more specifically, the region of Burgundy.

While a collector of the best Bordeaux and Champagne, Hitchcock was most fervent about Burgundy’s Pinot Noir grapes. And just how one careless error broke the bottle ’34 Pommard and the secrets in it, the same rings true for any vintner who doesn’t pay close attention to detail while cultivating Pinot Noir.  As he would explain to actress Tippi Hedren in the 2012 made-for-TV movie The Girl: “It’s called the heartbreak grape. Do you know why? Of all the grapes used to make wine, these are the most fragile. It has a very thin skin, prone to disease, mould, every kind of rot and virus known to the vintner’s art. So growing Pinot Noir is a bit like making a movie – heartbreak guaranteed.”

Good evening, indeed!

Have you seen Notorious?

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Wine Labels

April 14th, 2014

What's in a wine label?

Wine labels on bottles used to be rather simple and classically similar just identifying the contents. Remember how the unique artistic Chateau Mouton-Rothschild labels really stood out from the crowd. There were exceptions like German wine labels that were very complex and hard to understand. Boy has everything changed! Now it has become a thriving industry for competing graphic designers. I understand how many wineries want their products to be progressive attention getting almost “jumping off the shelf” in telling the story that will remain in your memory. However I guess I am still old fashioned in focusing mainly on the liquid with less attention paid to the showy art.

In Canada Bernie Hadley-Beauregard has developed innovative labels that sell wine looking for ” a consumer connection via a memorable name and a compelling narrative that sparks curiosity and conversation”: . Even Forbes has a posting of attractive bottle shots on “The Coolest Wine Labels of 2013:Part II” on their site at .

I like informative back labels and the contents listing pioneered by Ridge Vineyards and others.  I still like clear graphics to easily see the vintage. Also prefer readable alcohol levels rather than the California trend for microscopic numbers that can not be seen so the higher alcohol level doesn’t scare you off. Dislike “critter” labels whether a bird, beast or insect. Not into a display wine cellar of art objects but a workable cool humid one that protects the wine and may deteriorate the label. Encourage labels with “smart” computer technology to avoid counterfeiting. I am easily satisfied with just black labels and white printing – don’t necessarily have to have jazzy color gradients with cool fonts. Still like the plain label of Chateau Palmer. What makes a wine label attractive to you and entices you to buy the bottle?

Do labels influence your purchase of a bottle of wine?

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