Archive for September, 2014

Syrah is hot!

September 29th, 2014

syrah wine popularity
By Chrisada Sookdhis (Shiraz Grape) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Classic Northern Rhone syrah from specific ACs of Hermitage, Cote Rotie , Cornas, St Joseph and Crozes have been popular for quite a while. Southern Rhone and south of France are increasingly becoming so as well. Australian shiraz from Barossa, McLaren Vale and other regions provide a successful different perspective of this variety often with a riper sweeter chocolate blueberry and cola expression. Canada has been a secret syrah region but also shows ever increasing quality with this variety. In Wine Access 8th Annual Canadian Wine Awards magazine in December 2008 I stated “I really like the progress with this grape syrah. There is defining white and black pepper, with sweet ripe fruit and a touch of that “garrigue” of Southern France, plus the roasted style of Australian shiraz. Two years later in December 2010 in the 10th Annual more progress with my quote “They are a nice combination of northern and southern Rhone styles and less Australian, with ripe yet cool syrah fruit coming through”.

Now in 2014 there are more and more that have reached world credibility. First the BC Lt. Gov Awards For Excellence honouring Pentage Syrah Reserve 2010. Second the Wine Align Nationals awarded Platinum to Laughing Stock 2012 Perfect Hedge & Thornhaven 2012 and 8 other Canadian syrahs received gold. Third the Wine Align World Wine Awards celebrated syrah as the best value of several regions including from Chile San Pedro 2011 Limited Edition 1865, from Australia Wolf Blass 2012 Grey Label, for Canada Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate 2011 Delaine, and for BC CC Jentsch 2012. Last week judging in the Okanagan for the BC Wine Awards (results to be announced October 1 at the top finalists tasted blind were dominated by 10 world class syrahs. Like their rounder softer tannins compared to cabernet sauvignon combined with ripe yet cool rich spicy peppery fruit showing plums, blackberries, minerals, sage and smoked meats. Wonderful matching with various foods such as grilled BBQ items like lamb and cheeses.

Syrah is hot. Some enticing exotic examples out there now from around the world at value for quality prices. Try some! Compare them.

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A Cajun Silver Lining: The culinary impact of the 1984 World’s Fair and the remaking of New Orleans

September 26th, 2014

A Cajun Silver Lining: The culinary impact of the 1984 World’s Fair and the remaking of New Orleans
By Flickr photographer Carey Akin (Flickr photo) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Joseph Temple

The year was 1984 and across the nation, people were waking up to “Morning in America.”  Inflation was finally under control as a once sluggish economy was starting to gain momentum.  Rocker Bruce Springsteen performed in front of sell-out arenas while prime-time soap operas like Dallas and Dynasty dominated the television ratings.  And down in the prosperous “Sunbelt” region, the city of New Orleans was ready to electrify the globe with the Louisiana World Exposition and its theme “The World of Rivers – Fresh Waters as a Source of Life.”

On paper, the idea of allowing the Crescent City to host a World’s Fair appeared to be a stroke of genius.  Home to the iconic French Quarter, New Orleans was no stranger to the tourism industry, having hosted scores of visitors during the annual Mardi Gras parade and festivities.  In addition, its unique French-Spanish-Italian-African-Cajun-Creole heritage could appeal to diverse array of travelers needed to make the fair successful.  But most of all, its world-famous cuisine – characterized by legendary establishments such as Antoine’s and Café Du Monde – would undoubtedly leave a positive taste on the palates of fair-goers.  Certainly no one could ask “Where’s the Beef?” to the city of New Orleans.

Unfortunately, when put into practice, the entire ordeal turned out to be a complete fiasco.  Despite investing over $100 million dollars into the expo, its organizers couldn’t escape the undeniable fact that by 1984, the world’s fair had become a “cultural dinosaur.”  Describing the bleak situation, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America wrote, “Fairs had once been the only way for most Americans to experience the people, food, and cultures of the broader world, but by the 1980s inexpensive air travel, a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, and television provided more accessible and attractive alternatives.”  Plus having to compete against the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and Disney’s own permanent world’s fair known as Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida, New Orleans was in for a bumpy ride to say the least.

An ABC News Broadcast reporting on the economic problems of the 1984 World’s Fair.

Running from May to November, the Louisiana World Exposition is mostly remembered for being the only world’s fair in history to declare bankruptcy before it even closed its doors.  Floating in a sea of red ink from day one, the estimated twelve million visitors never materialized forcing the state legislature to cough up an extra $15 million dollars in order to keep it going to the final day.  Corporate sponsorship was lacking while many countries declined to participate. Even President Ronald Reagan refused to attend what had been dubbed “Disneyland on the Delta” with The New York Times describing it as nothing more than “essentially a collection of harsh and unappealing industrial buildings.”

Thirty years later, in trying to find a silver lining to justify the entire ordeal, many look to the infrastructure created by the fair –the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Riverwalk Marketplace – which helped to make New Orleans a year-round tourist destination.  Others point to the lifelong memories that were created that summer whether it was riding in a cable car gondola ride over the Mississippi River, seeing the architecturally stunning Wonderwall or having their picture taken with Seymore D. Fair, the pelican mascot.

But perhaps the most important legacy of the Louisiana World Exposition is the food that was served during those seven months.

Looking back, one of the more popular dishes was a combination of sour cream, chili, tomatoes and onions that were poured into a bag of Fritos corn chips.  And if you walked into the 1,000-seat Miller Beer Garden, a feast of veal sausages, Sauerkraut, Bavarian Chicken and pig nuckles were ready to compliment the suds you just downed from an authentic stein while the Oom-Pah-Pah Band serenaded the entire hall with live German music.  More significant and long lasting however was the discovery by the rest of the county of authentic Louisiana cuisine, which helped to transform New Orleans into culinary mecca for foodies across the United States.

Crawfish at the 1984 World's Fair in New OrleansCrawfish proved to be a hit with fair goers.

One delicacy that impressed the various food writers who traveled down south to cover the expo was crawfish.  Due to the advances in commercially viable fishing during the mid 1980s, this once exotic seafood rarely seen beyond the bayous of Louisiana suddenly became more widely available. Author Stephanie Cater in The A-Z Encyclopedia of Food Controversies and the Law writes  “At the World Exposition of 1984, travel and food writers ate crawfish in the Louisiana Pavilion; they then wrote about the availability of crawfish, manifested in many dishes, and helped Cajun cuisine explode on the American scene.”

And at the helm was a pudgy chef named Paul Prudhomme, who published in 1984 what is now the quintessential southern cookbook, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.  As the co-owner of K-Paul’s Restaurant in the French Quarter, his Cajun and Creole inspired dishes would eventually make him a household name, paving the way for future Crescent City celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and John Besh.  Of course, with the eyes of the world on New Orleans during the expo, he and his genre of food were given a chance to enter the mainstream of American fare.

Reflecting on the immediate impact of the 1984 Exposition in New Orleans: A Food Biography, Elizabeth Williams writes “the expectation of tourists really changed after the World’s Fair.  They began to look for Cajun food in New Orleans.  Restaurateurs were happy to accommodate them.”  What residents didn’t expect though was for the bottom to fall out of the oil and gas industry – an economic pillar throughout the port city.  With this devastating event, tourism was thrust front and center to fill the void left by the 1980s oil glut.  Thankfully, with a new convention center, the city now had the infrastructure to lure in desperately needed tourists.   But more important was the popularization of Cajun/Creole cuisine across the country thanks to the Louisiana World Exposition.  With its ascent, food tourism became a significant tool in stimulating the economy of New Orleans while inspiring a generation of foodies and chefs from around the globe.

Since 1935, The International Wine & Food Society has had a branch in the city of New Orleans – one of the very first branches founded in North America by André Simon.

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Ask Sid: Legs vs. Tears

September 24th, 2014

legs vs tears
FlagSteward at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: Would you please explain to me Sid the difference between legs and tears in wine tasting?

Answer: Don’t believe there is any difference as they mean the same thing though tears may be a more acceptable term to use in mixed company. Both refer to the time taken for the liquid wine to run down the inside of your wine glass after swirling the contents. It gives you some indication of the weight and viscosity of your wine as well as the alcohol level. Fun to look at to see slow running rivulets falling but it is not a very reliable factor in assessing quality and can even be affected by the cleanliness of your glass.

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Old Jura Wines

September 22nd, 2014

Jura wine region
By Phillip Capper (originally posted to Flickr as Jura, France 1987) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The new book through Kickstarter by Wink Lorch on Jura Wines is stimulating interest in this region. The recent tasting of Top Drop had Sedimentary Wines pouring old bottles including 1945 Chateau Chalon (100% Savignon with flor), Cotes de Jura blanc(chardonnay)back to 1888, and Cotes de Jura rouge (a blend of pinot noir, trousseau, and poulsard) back to 1915. Good to see such old wines being released from the producer’s cellars directly into the marketplace. Check out Caves Jean Bourdy since 1475 and other top producers. Also follow Magical pairing is with escargot and garlic just like they do it in the Jura! Try it.

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8 facts about Julia Child and The French Chef that may surprise you

September 19th, 2014

Julia Child The French Chef
By Joseph Temple

On one extremely cold night in the city of Boston, viewers tuning into Channel 2 had no idea that they were about to witness a pivotal moment in both the history of television and food.  It was February 11, 1963 and premiering at 8 p.m. on WGBH was a show called The French Chef starring a largely unknown culinary figure named Julia Child.  With her distinctive voice, unbridled enthusiasm and a superb knowledge of gastronomy, the show eventually became a hit throughout the United States.  Before anyone had ever coined the term “celebrity chef,” Child was embraced by housewives across the country as they watched her prepare dishes with such exotic names that few Americans could pronounce like Boeuf Bourguignon and Pommes Duchesse.

Airing for ten years on public television, The French Chef inspired a whole generation of foodies who watched an approachable and nonpatronizing host cook superb dishes every single week.  And along with her iconic book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child had successfully created her own unique brand long before the invention of The Food Network.

Below are eight interesting facts you may not know about Child and her groundbreaking show:

Julia Child
Inside the gym at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), a weekly book review show called I’ve Been Reading had been produced on a shoestring budget by WGBH.  Looking for guests to appear on the program, a viewer had called in and suggested that they invite a young promising chef named Julia Child who had just published a new cookbook.

“We don’t review cookbooks,” was the response of the show’s pompous host.

However, one day before the program aired, the author scheduled to appear had cancelled — and so did the backup guest.  Scrambling to find a replacement, the producer reluctantly invited Child, who ended up taking the show by storm with an on-air cooking demonstration.  With the switchboards lighting up, anxious viewers called in to see when she would be back.  Responding to all the positive feedback, executives at WGBH ordered three pilots for a show starring Child devoted entirely to French cooking – a decision that would eventually propel her into the national spotlight.

If it wasn’t for a random chain of cancelling guests, Julia Child may have never been discovered as a star.

Source: The Other Face of Public Television: Censoring the American Dream by Roger P. Smith

Julia Child Boston WGBH

Julia Child was certainly there at the right time – but more importantly – she was also in the right place.  That’s because in 1962, many thought that a television series dedicated entirely to French cuisine would have little appeal in the various markets across the country.  “These pilots would not have worked in Bayonne, New Jersey,” said one of the show’s producer years later.  Watching someone cook up dishes that Middle America thought only the privileged and powerful ate would never take off – except in the city of Boston that is.

Home to the Kennedys and Harvard University, The Cradle of Liberty proved to be the best possible place for Julia Child to launch her career in television.  Biographer Laura Shapiro writes:

“Dozens of colleges and universities, long-standing Brahmin institutions such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of Fine Arts, and an unusually well-educated, well-traveled population made the area unique in the nation.  The founders of WGBH intended the new station to be yet another jewel in the city’s cultural crown.  French cooking fit right in; and, as viewers quickly made clear, so did Julia.”

Source: Julia Child: A Life by Laura Shapiro

Julia Child lost pilot episodes
In an era of streaming content, binge watching and DVD boxed sets, it’s hard to imagine that any television producer would eliminate a lucrative source of revenue by erasing the tapes of an episode they just filmed.  But in 1962, it was common practice to tape over aired shows as a cost savings measure. Because of this train of thought, many historic moments in the medium’s history are lost forever – including the first episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, nearly all the episodes of The Tonight Show with Jack Parr – and most importantly, the three pilots of The French Chef.

Filmed between June 18 and June 25, 1962, the first three episodes titled “The French Omelet,” “Coq au Vin,” and “Onion Soup” were unfortunately taped over by WGBH.  So unless you watched them live, you’ll never get the chance to see them.

Source: Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch

Julia Child popularizes the phrase bon appetit
Today the phrase bon appétit is so embedded into our collective lexicon, we rarely think about its origins.  Yes, it’s a French saying which means, “enjoy your meal” but when exactly did Americans start using this foreign expression?

Look no further than Julia Child and The French Chef who at the end of each episode would look straight into the camera and sign off with: “This is Julia Child. Thank you. Bon appétit!”

In Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, author Bob Spitz writes:

“For most viewers, that phrase was a complete mystery. It wasn’t customarily said at tables—or anywhere, for that matter. The audience could only guess at its meaning, an expression for which there was no correlation in English. And, yet, it had such an exotic sound to it. Bon appétit! There was something musical about it, festive, something merry and playful. And when it rolled so exuberantly off of Julia Child’s tongue, it felt as comfortable as a warm hug.”

Source: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

Fake wine on the french chef
In 1963, with the exception of a few ethnic pockets around the country, America was certainly not a nation of wine drinkers.  The Don and Betty Drapers of that era mostly sipped on Martinis, Blue Hawaiians and numerous other cocktails whenever they went out to dine.  And if they got tired of drinking spirits, beer was the next best thing.

So when Julia Child finished an episode of The French Chef with a glass of wine in her hand, believing that it should be enjoyed with meals, it was quite a culture shock to most Americans watching at home.

But little did people know back then that Child wasn’t drinking wine at all.  Due to the miniscule budgets, neither the show’s host nor the producers could afford to buy wine for her signature salute.  Instead, the glass was filled with water and darkened with GravyMaster, a coloring agent.

Source: The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp

Julia Child authentic
With only a few hundred dollars to produce each episode of The French Chef, WGBH couldn’t afford to do rehearsals.  Nor was it in the budget to make edits and splices, putting enormous pressure on Child to go nearly thirty minutes uninterrupted.  And despite preparing for each show like it was make or break, something was bound to go wrong during a half hour taping – and it did, many times.

However, all of these bloopers only added to the show’s authenticity as viewers saw these mistakes more as teachable moments.  Who hadn’t spilled something on the floor or overcooked a dish in the stove?  “Honest” and “natural” became the words associated with Julia Child, who brilliantly turned a perceived negative into an absolute positive.

Source: Julia Child: A Life by Laura Shapiro

Name of Julia Child's show
Before the show’s debut, a number of names were thrown around.  They included:

  • The Gourmet Kitchen
  • Cuisine Magic
  • The Gourmet Arts
  • The Chef at Home
  • Cuisine Mastery
  • Kitchen a la Francaise
  • French Cuisine at Home

So why did they settle on The French Chef?  It had to be short enough to fit nicely into the newspaper’s television guide.

Source: Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch

Legacy of The French Chef
Although the show has been off the air since 1973, there is no doubting the enormous footprint that Julia Child and The French Chef has left on the food industry.  Appearing on the cover of Time in 1966, the magazine noted that “Let Julia Child so much as mention vanilla wafers, and the shelves are empty overnight.”  Also, during a time when most people stored pots in their kitchen cupboards, she was able to show the world how to maximize space by hanging them on the wall with pegboards – a decorative trend that has more or less continued to this day.


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