Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sicily’s Marsala Wine – A New Product (Wine) Life Cycle that Started in the 18th Century but Continues to Thrive Today! #ItalianFWT

Marsala is a coastal town in western Sicily, the biggest island of Italy. It’s globally known for its fortified wine called Marsala, ancient ruins, and Stagnone Nature Reserve. As one of the wine bloggers to address Jill Barth’s invite, Island Wines Of Italy: How Many Do You Know (#ItalianFWT), I’ll focus on the “wine” part of what Marsala is known for, leaving the famous Sicily cruises and convenient Eurail rides up to the readers.  Marsala wine is made from Grillo, Catarratto and/or Inzolia grapes, white grapes natively grown in the inland near Marsala and Mazara del Vallo in the Sicily Island. 
Marsala (Red Dot)/Photo Credit: Vivino
Marsala wine is typically of amber-color, has the iconic iodine smell, and is generally semi-sweet (even it says dry) to sweet on the palate in the modern-day styles. Farmers  in the western Sicily made this wine as a locally consumed alcoholic drink back in the 18th century (or before) until multiple English adventurers ventured to Marsala, tasted and liked this beverage, and saw the opportunity to export this wine from Marsala to England. As attractive as the Portuguese Port and Madeira in color and taste, these few Englishmen introduced Sicilian marsala wine to mainland Europe and Far East. Cantine Pellegrino, the famed wine maker of Sicily since 1880, continues to produce top-notched and variant marsala wines to the current day. The introduction and continual production / consumption of marsala wines loosely aligns the modern new product (wine) life cycle – an ideal case study in oenology!

·       DESIGN: The history of Marsala begins with John Woodhouse, an English merchant from Liverpool who arrived in Sicily in 1773 to look for food products such as almonds, honey, oil and tuna salami. A storm forced his ship to detour and to find shelter in the port of Marsala, where he found a delightful, locally produced peasant refreshment in a tavern, and was impressed by how good the high alcohol-content wine and rich flavor were. Due to marsala wine’s similarity to the already popular Port and Madeira, Woodhouse wanted to bring this wine back to England, and smartly added wine spirit to the wine to stabilize it during the long sea voyage. The first load of Marsala wine arrived in England…intact!

·       MANUFACTURING: Benjamin Ingham is the second Englishman that marks the history of Marsala wine. He arrived in Sicily in 1806, trying to establish new outlets for his brothers' fabric factory in Leeds. He settled in Palermo, around 50 miles northeast from Marsala, with the original intent of importing wool from England and exporting natural products from the island. Seeing the potential of large-scale wine trade in Marsala, he began to build a large, modern, technically equipped oenological plant in Marsala to mass-produce and standardize the quality of marsala wine, exporting the wine beyond the English market to other foreign countries.

·       DISTRIBUTING: The history of the pioneers of marsala wine continues after Benjamin Ingham. With the growth and expansion of his businesses and enterprises, the merchant called upon two of his nephews from England, including Joseph Whitaker, who dedicated himself to the production of marsala wine by joining his uncle in the family estate, and contributing to the creation of a fleet of sailing ships, which carried marsala wine to reach North America and the Far East.

·       CUSTOMERS: Horatio Nelson, a British admiral at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, is one of the most beloved and famous national heroes of England. As he became a great lover of the wine, he created a widespread drinking trend of marsala wine in European salons, and distributed it to the crews of his fleet, becoming what we see as a modern-day “wine influencer”!

·       END-OF-LIFE? - STILL GOING STRONG: Cantine Pellegrino, the famed wine maker of Sicily since 1880, continues to produce variant marsala wines products, ranging from high-end to entry-level sweet or dry marsala wines that deserve to be drunk on its own as well as cooking.  
Sicily Wine Regions / Photo Credit:
Given the brief history lesson of marsala wine above, the origin of Chicken Marsala, flour-coated thinly sliced chicken (breasts or thighs) that is pan-fried and is drizzled with syrupy marsala wine reduction, unsurprisingly tied back to the English families who resided in western Sicily back in the 19th century. Well, for me, using my bottle of Cantine Pellegrino Superiore Old Marsala (Dry) to make Chicken Marsala is an after-thought - after I used it as an Aperitif, and served it with cold antipasto dishes. The dry style of this marsala wine deviates you from the typical dessert wine routes like sweet Port, sweet Madiera, and P.X. Sherry…let’s see my Instagram tasting notes here:

"Cantine Pellegrino dry Marsala Superiore is a fortified wine made from white grape, Grillo grown in Marsala, Sicily. With deep amber color that mimics maple syrup, this dry Marsala has roasted almond and a hint of orange peel on the nose. The taste of caramel, molasses as well as warm spices wiggles through as you take slow but continuous sips. The dry style of this wine tames the iodine notes (notes you may sometimes find in Port and Madeira) that are present at the initial sips, subsequently showcasing dried figs and creaminess - the full potential of this food-friendly wine to pair savory dishes! Recommended pairings: 🦑squid ink pasta with Parmesan cheese, cold antipasto  platter."

Far from being bone dry, the dried-fig and stewed-fruit flavors of this dry Marsala pairs well with strong and rich cheeses like what we have here, the Irish Kerrygold Vintage (aged two years) Cheddar and Dutch double-creamy Gouda. 

I also picked up the assorted olives and oil-infused mushroom/artichoke/eggplant bites from Trader Joe’s and cut up some vegetable to complete the cold antipasto theme. The dry style no doubt complements the salty, oily, savory bites.

To showcase the versatility of this wine, I eventually cracked open all the food products I bought from Italy in August last year, and cooked squid-ink Rotini pasta in Nero Di Seppia Sterilizzato (squid ink paste), finishing with a drizzle of white truffle oil and some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I have to say the pairing of this pasta and the Marsala wine is by far my favorite pairing as the texture of the wine is rich with nutty and semi-sweet flavors that go extremely well with brininess of the squid ink and intensely aromatic and tasty white truffle oil.

OK, time to go back to Chicken Marsala! Thinking of truly tasting this dry Marsala in the chicken, in additional to adding ¾ cup of the wine, I decided only to garnish the finished dish with Italian parsley. Chicken Marsala is made by first pan-frying thinly sliced flour-coated chicken thighs or breasts, adding dry or fresh herbs of your choice, and then simmering the cooked chicken  in a reduced sauce - Marsala wine, half-and-half cream and chicken stock. I have to say I enjoyed the chicken very much as the sauce was tightly encapsulating the flavors of the wine. However, to let this wine shine, I’d still prefer drinking it. Well, it's time for me to drink up the leftover Marsala that’s in the fridge!

Italian Food, Wine and Travel (#ItalianFWT)

Please join me and the following writers as we share the process of writing our stories, rich with details about the food, wine and trips that inspired us.
Our hosts Jill and Jason at L'Occasion feature Speaking of Sicily, Italy's Island Wines In Conversation

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Women Who Make Champagne AND Woman Who Helps Us Learn About Champagne #Winophiles #tastelikehappy

“Women of Champagne” I’m looking at one of our French #Winophiles fellows, Julia Coney’s blog invite, it reads like the title of a poem - easily romanticizing and glorifying what these women do! However, behind every bottle of champagne (lower case "c" refers to the wine) made or every story that’s told about champagne by these women, there are untold stories about these determined women who want to safeguard the family tradition or to blaze their own trail, with or without the inherited land in the heart of Champagne, France...

Women who make champagne

Ployez-Jacquemart is a family Champagne House created in 1930 by Marcel Ployez and his wife Yvonne Jacquemart. Laurence Ployez, a third-generation who follows her parents’ footstep, continues to produce top-notched champagne, based on the family’s understanding of the Champagne terroir and deep skills in the production process. Ployez-Jacquemart vineyards predominantly grow Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the Premier and Grands Crus villages of Ludes and Mailly Champagne, Villedommange, and Vertus, whereby strict rules are followed each year to ensure that only the very best is pulled out at each harvest. A blend of grapes, from Ployez-Jacquemart’s Grands Crus vineyards and/or a handful of carefully chosen as well as trusted wine growers, is hand-picked and sorted by variety, cru and specific vineyards. The grapes form the basis for the pressing at the estate. Laurence Ployez’ s meticulous approach to every detail is evident at every stage of the process. Her goal is to preserve the structure of each wine, allowing the authentic character and personality of the harvest to shine through and safeguarding the family tradition of making classic-style champagne. Laurence’s achievement is regularly recognized in the wine world as one of the top champagne producers. 

Tasting the Ployez-Jacquemart Extra Quality Brut is a treat. Check out my tasting note previously posted on Instagram:

"🍾Ployez-Jacquemart non-vintage Brut is a complex and elegant  Champagne that smells 🍎ripe apple, 🥖freshly baked baguette, 🍊blood orange and 🍋grapefruit peel on the nose. As you sip through the mouthfilling bubbly mousse, a tad bitter quinine jumps at the core of the crunchy bright fruit, presenting a pleasant tingle that invites you to keep exploring. Opening up showcases its full-bodied and yeasty mouthfeel, enveloped by a rich layer of spice and minerality. The long finish is extra gripping with additional mineral notes." 

While I was taking the Champagne Master Tasting Class at Vinexpo New York on March 4, 2019, I had a fantastic opportunity to taste champagne that is produced by women producers from Andre Chemin and Paul Leredde. Both of these champagne houses belong to the Champagne de Vignerons, the only umbrella brand organized by a grower’s union. This brand is a trademark of a strong identity and values, based craftsmanship, authenticity, and the creation of exceptional wines, produced by the champagne growers at their property or as part of a cooperative.

Eva Chemin is the third-generation producer of Andre Chemin, representing the family business and crafting champagne that reflects the terroir, nuances, expertise and her own identity. I have tasted Eva's Cuvee Rose in the class, which not only has the salmon hue that is beautiful to look at, but also, on the nose, it smelled like a floral blossom with an engaging honey note. A hint of wood chip note also peeked through as I swirled the glass a little bit more. The legs were visible, evidencing the textual mouthfeel and creaminess played out by the added liquor dosage.
  • Terroir: Montagne de Reims Sacy
  • Soil: Chalky clay 
  • Blend: 74% Pinot Noir, 18% Chardonnay, 8% Coteau Champenois
  • Type: Brut Rosé
  • Harvest: 2015, with reserve wine from 2014, 2013 & 2012 Dosage: 4.6 g/l

Photo Credit: VinExpo New York - Eva Chemin

The family of Elizabeth Leredde comes from the descendants of a line of ploughmen-winemakers.  Paul and Marie-Louise Leredde, parents of Elizabeth, started selling champagne around 1960 through a cooperative. Elizabeth debuted her own champagne in 1979. What is so cute about this Champagne house is the mother-daughter duo, a partnership that embraces traditional know-how and new ideas. Elizabeth brought her daughter to Vinexpo New York to assist in the English presentation and to showcase the family pride in front of the wine professionals. The Paul Leredde Cuvee Millesime 2012 has an intensely deep color that looks like liquid gold. As you pour out the champagne and open up the bouquet, the opulent palate, reminiscent of candied fruits, dried flowers, sweet spices, turns into a tasty party, accompanied with a persistent string of fine, lazy bubbles. The dense and round mouthfeel as well as rich aromas provide endless food pairing potential for this wine.
  • Terroir: Vallée de la Marne Crouttes sur Marne
  • Soil: Limestone clay
  • Blend: 34% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 33% Meunier
  • Type: Brut
  • Vintage: 2012 
  • Dosage: 9 g/l 
Elizabeth Leredde (Left) and Daughter

Woman who helps us learn about champagne

Caroline Henry is a wine journalist and educator of terroir champagne, who came to Hauvillers, one of the prettiest villages in Champagne in 2011. Her book, “Terroir Champagne: Luxury of Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Cuvees” was published in 2016, and becomes a must-read for terroir champagne. Although I feel and sense “passion” a lot through her book and her social media postings throughout the years, what’s more, behind the passion, is Caroline’s work ethics, perseverance, and loyalty to her selected growers. Since we last saw each other in Reims in April 2013, Caroline still remembers me and is happy to share her story...

Caroline Henry - Last Harvest in Champagne
Q: How did you develop your passion toward terroir champagne?
A: I first moved to Champagne as I was curious about why there was so little talk about the different terroirs here. I thought I would stay about six months and then move on as I was in between jobs. And a bit years later I am still learning every day about the different terroirs of the region 😊. I think I developed my passion because I have had to work for it. Many people have scratched the surface before me, and left it at that since champagne is a blended wine by definition. I have really enjoyed digging deeper, asking 101 questions, which allowed me to get a more precise and specific picture. It’s like peeling an onion, layer by layer, discovering new and exciting tidbits! 

Q: Do you think your current base city, Hautvillers gives you the best opportunity to experience these types of champagne?
A: Living in the heart of the vineyard has indeed allowed me to focus more on what actually happens in the vineyard as it is all around me... I walk Betty and I see the erosion and soil damage caused by glyphosate, so it’s something very close to my heart. Living in a village has not always been easy - I had to earn my stripes if you want - but once integrated, it really gives you a different vison of what one normally hears. Furthermore, being here, means I can come out and look at something specific pretty quickly, and I hear what/who is experimenting differently, as people know me. I have developed real friendships with many of the growers in my book. It happened naturally as we have many similar interests! 

Q: Being a woman, does it give you an “edge” to work with champagne, terroir, microclimate, region and personalities?
A: Being a woman in wine (as almost in every sector) I have sometimes been dismissed as being just a blond airhead. One could be offended by the macho attitude, but I see it as a challenge. I get more determined, dig in deeper, search more knowledge, look at all the angles etc. I feel that in a way it has allowed me to learn so much in a relative short period of time. Maybe in the same way as women always have in the history of Champagne. But luckily things are changing, and today there are quite a few trendsetting female terroir champagne producers!! 

Q: What can be creatively paired with a terroir champagne of your choice, beyond the typical cheeses, brunch, and snacks?
A: Champagne really works with all types of food, from appetizers to dessert. Terroir Champagne is often more vinous and it pairs really well with fish and seafood. I like grilled tuna steak with a Rose de Saignee with no or a low dosage, vegetarian lasagna (I do not eat meat) with a powerful Blanc de Noir, or a multi-layered salad with a low dosage blend or Blanc de Blancs. There really are very few dishes which do not pair so well with terroir champagne, as the wine generally has its own identity that can stand up to many types of food.
Betty and Caroline
As I’m drinking the champagne, I probably forget about the complex process of making it. But a few things that stick are the appreciation of this adult beverage, the happiness that's brought by it, and the occasion where a champagne cork was popped! #tastelikehappy

Read more on Caroline Henry's blogs:
Terroir Champagne
Miss In Wine

Check out fellow French #winophiles' related blogs:

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Experimenting Chilean Perez Cruz Cabernet Franc with Five (Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Umami) Tasty Meat (#WinePW)

When I was working in Fox Hollow, a Central New Jersey winery, which produces an award-winning Cabernet Franc in the fall last year, a lot of customers often asked me to pour them a glass of “Cab”. When I asked “Cab Sauvignon” or “Cab Franc”, some customers gave me an uneasy grin and scrambled to respond by saying “Cab” again.  To avoid pouring the wrong wine and offend customers by asking the same question again, I simply assumed they meant, “Cabernet Sauvignon” (Fox Hollow also produces a top-notched Cab Sauvignon) and promptly presented a glass of “Cab” with a big smile. Cab Franc hasn’t been given a centerstage status quo due to its common use in blending. As the third mostly grown grape variety in Bordeaux, Cab Franc is often blended with Cab Sauvignon and Merlot, which yields signature red Bordeaux style that is sought after globally. When it sells, why change it? In the lesser known French regions and New World, Cab Franc, a hidden gem in the red wine market, is given the chance to be recognized for its true beauty and own identity.  

Cab Franc in fact is one of the parents, with the accidental marriage with Sauvignon Blanc, giving birth to Cab Sauvignon.  Like many real-life stories, while the successful off-spring, Cab Sauvignon, has been transplanted and revived far and near around the world to become an immensely popular red wine on its own. Cab Franc, to be produced as a single-grape wine, is less sought after by wine makers and stands far from the spotlight. Wendy Klik’s Cab Franc #WinePW invite is a great opportunity for us to venture outside the “Cab” Sauvignon comfort zone, and truly explores the possibility of a bottle of good Cab Franc and embraces its elegance.  

Cab Franc is excellent for food and wine pairings.  Its dominant flavors are red berries, vegetal, earthy and herbaceous, often coupled with light-medium body, balanced style and bright acidity and milder texture. Whether it is red meat, chicken or root vegetables, the quaffable and versatile qualities of Cab Franc often won’t disappoint. Chilean Perez Cruz Cab Franc 2015 Limited Edition can undoubtedly showcase the dominant traits of a typical Cab Franc. What is more is that this Cab Franc also reflects the terroir of inland Maipo Alto Valley, mountainous climate of Chile.  Maipo Alto Valley is at foothills of the Andes mountains, making the zone particularly good for viticulture because they produce a great contrast in temperature between day and night. The climate, combined with the poor, loose, porous, and rocky soil, puts the vines under stress which in turn produces memorable red wines such as Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon.

The tasting profile of Perez Cruz Cab Franc is pictorially captured by my Instagram post as follows:
"Wine of Chile...this impressive Perez Cruz single-vineyard Cabernet Franc limited edition is an elegant Cab Franc🍷 that smells like mahogany and pencil shaving ✏️on the nose - showcasing the balance between oak and terroir⛰. The classic palate of this grape varietal is highlighted - medium-tannin with notes of dried shiitake mushroom, dark chocolate 🍫and a subtle hint of tingling dark cherry note that mimics cherry-flavored cough drop. The finish is long and memorable, leaving visible legs on the glass. Charmed by its beauty, a red that you would pour, swirl and sip...until the last drop."

Believe it or not…as much as I like how this Cab Franc tastes, I love how it smells even more, the woodiness is tangible and is encapsulated in your nostrils – dry bark on a pine tree or sprouting mushrooms grown on a fallen log in the wilderness! After a couple of the quick sips, to loosen up the bouquet and widen the aromas even more, we used a simple aerator to filter the wine into the glass…

Maximizing the enjoyment of this Cab Franc, I’m experimenting strip steaks that are marinated in different sauces, highlighting the four tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter separately, plus a drunken Cornish hen that completes the fifth taste, umami. Without going into too much scientific deep-dive, simply put, the five basic tastes are manifested through the taste buds distributed on the tongue.       
Photo courtesy of Ajinomoto 
Photo courtesy of Create Play Travel 

Overall, to prep for my pairing experiment, a piece of strip steak was marinated in the chosen sauces for around half an hour - a short marinating time to allow the steak developing a lighter touch of sauces but still retaining the texture and natural taste of the beef. Pan-sear the steak to medium-rare, cut in strips and serve.

Sweet – Duck Sauce and Hoisin Sauce:
While duck sauce is the diluted Chinese marmalade and is typically used as the dipping sauce (as accompanied with the Chinese take-out) for spring roll or roasted ducks, it can be used for cooking dishes like sweet and sour chicken or as a substitute of sugar. Hoisin sauce, as most people know, has a rich syrup taste/texture that mimics molasses plus a tad tanginess and saltiness.  I pan-seared the steak (all surfaces of the steak) in high-heat in the cast iron pan and saw a nice dark crust formed outside the steak very quickly due to caramelization of the sugary sauces. 
😀😀(out of a max of 3 happy faces)Did the “sweet” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it did. The subtle dark chocolate and dark cherry notes of the wine work really well with the lightly sweetened steak. The wine tastes more tannic in a nice way that presents even richer texture and mouthfeel.
Sour – A 1 sauce /Steak sauce
A1 sauce is a classic condiment to steak, a sauce that has a predominant vinegary/sour profile, comprising of tomato puree, distilled vinegar and crushed orange puree, plus spices and other crushed vegetables to add the complexity. I personally like the original A1 or this knock-off “Steak Sauce” from my local grocery store in lieu of the popular peppery version of the sauce.
😀😀Did the “sour” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it did. The Cab Franc’s trademark characteristics (e.g., balanced, elegance) showcase really well as the Steak-sauce tenderized steak becomes even softer and less fatty/meaty. A hint of vinegar, as you bite into the steak, also accentuates the bright acidity of this Cab Franc.

Salty – Fish Sauce and Vegetarian stir-fry Sauce
Either Fish Sauce or Stir-fry Sauce alone is quite salty and just one sauce along can sufficiently substitute any salt. When moderate amount of each sauce combined, this hybrid is salty yet with so much depth in tastes that are brought out by the mushroom flavor, preserved fish and brininess.  The steak, after being marinated, is full of rich flavors that actually requires a dash of black pepper to brighten it up.
😀😀😀Did the “salty” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it truly did. In fact, this is the most taste-enhancing pairing in my liking as the dried shiitake note of the Cab Franc even comes out more...after a bite of the salty steak!

Bitter – Brewed Dark-Roast Coffee and Dark Soya Sauce
Bitterness is a tough taste to charm every person. I asked many people to try sliced bitter melon and beef stir-fry (featured in my Pre-cooked Chinese Dishes blog). I would say most people don’t like it. It’s too bitter and is an acquired taste - if you don’t have it incorporated in your taste profile since you were young, it’s a tough hurtle to overcome. But with this “bitter” steak, both brewed dark roast coffee and dark soya sauce leave the steak with a smoke-flavor that resembles grilled steak on a charcoal grill. The residual bitterness from the coffee is noticeable but not forefront. In fact, I would switch to a cup of expresso next time for my liking.
😀😀😀Did the “bitter” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it definitely did. As complex and big-flavor as this Cab Franc tastes and feels, the bottom line is this is still a food-friendly wine – pan-searing, grilling or sautéing, without overpowering with sauce, is a compatible cooking method to this wine.

Well, umami is a savory taste that has the characteristics of broths and cooked meats. When people taste umami, it’s their taste receptors that typically respond to glutamate which is widely present in meat and bone broths and fermented products like fermented tofu paste. To showcase umami, I have prepared a drunken chicken - a defrost Cornish hen cooked in a boiling ginseng herbal broth and finished with added Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing).  To prepare the broth, I used a pouch of ready-to-drink red ginseng energy drink that can be purchased from a Korean grocery store, and added a few anise, Sichuan peppercorns, sliced gingers and scallion. Once the broth comes to a boil, put the Cornish hen in the broth. After it boils up, turn the heat down to medium for another 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat, taste the broth and add salt per your taste accordingly. Add at least one cup of Shaoxing wine to the pot and let the chicken sit in the pot for another 2 hours. I personally put in two cups of Shaoxing wine so I can really taste the wine. Once the broth and chicken are completely cooled off, you can put it in the fridge to have more taste to develop or to serve at room temperate. 
😀😀Did the “umami” work well with the Cab Franc? Yes, it did. The Cab Franc's subtle note of cherry cough drop works well with the medicinal broth. The taste of Shaoxing wine, which is a rice-based and grainy, in the chicken doesn't contradict the Cab Franc, and leaves a rich warm-spice flavor after each bite.  

There is definitely a lot of cooking for this pairing. But when you have a charmer like the Perez Cruz Cab Franc, you only want to be ambitious and max out the possibility that wines and food can offer!

#WinePW - Enjoy more Cab Franc Line-ups below:

Next month, we'll be looking at biodynamic wines from all over the world. See Gwen Alley's Invite here!