Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rioja: Conversations with Winemakers

The cellar at López de Heredia winery in Rioja, Spain, is festooned with cobwebs and their oldest wine dates back to 1885.

There is a long history of winemaking in Rioja, Spain’s best known wine region. French winemakers moved to the area when phylloxera destroyed their own vineyards, and they introduced a very traditional style of wine that defined quality by how long it was aged (hence the labeling hierarchy with two-year-old Crianza, three-year-old Reserva, and five-year-old Gran Reserva).

Nowadays, competition with wines from around the world has led to changes and divisions within the Rioja winemaking community as traditional and modern styles of winemaking compete for market dominance. The new school wines are aged less and fit the current demand for riper, fruitier wines.

Rioja: Conversations with Winemakers is edited by Christopher Barnes and published by Grape Collective (I was sent a preview copy of the ebook). The core of the book is interviews with seven winemakers who explain, in their own words, the history of their winery, their winemaking principles, and their dreams for the future. Videos on Vimeo complement the text.

The ebook is the first in a series of books, published by Grape Collective, about winemakers from different regions around the globe.

The Families
Many of the wineries are family wineries. “We learn from generation to generation,” says María José López de Heredia. “My sister is already teaching her two little daughters, aged 7 years and 5 years old, and already they have done several tastings of grapes. You learn first by tasting the grapes. Each grape has a different composition of sugar and acidity – and you learn at home.”

The Vines
All the winemakers emphasized that they are farmers – “vinemakers not winemakers.” Miguel Angel de Gregorio of Finca Allende explains, “We work a lot on the vines to obtain the best grapes possible and we work in the cellar so as not to damage the grapes!”

The Dreams
It was fascinating to compare the winemakers’ goals for their wineries. María José López de Heredia’s great-grandfather started their winery by accident, but he quickly decided that he wanted to make the best wine in Spain: “In fact, he used to call it ‘La Suprema Rioja!’ He wanted to sell wine to people who owned a car, wore a tie, spoke languages and were related to the royal family or were diplomats.”

Ana Martinez Bujanda is a fifth generation winemaker at Conde de Valdemar winery. Despite their long history, the family has chosen to pursue a very modern style. “We were one of the first to make the new style of Rioja wines with more fruit, more modern and with another style,” Ana says. “Our idea is to always be the first in Rioja, making new things and showing people new ways, new grapes, and always something new for us to give to the people.”

Conversations with Winemakers
I enjoyed reading Rioja: Conversations with Winemakers. The book is short and very accessible but left me longing for more in-depth, detailed interviews and more background information.

The hotel and restaurant lists are interesting, but I would definitely want to do more research before travelling to this area, and I would have liked to know if the profiled wineries offered tours or tastings.

If you’re interested in learning more about Spanish wines, I recommend reading this book, which is available on the Grape Collective website.

You may also be interested in reading the articles I wrote about the wineries in Jumilla in southeast Spain.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Flavourful Saskatoon, August 18, 2014

Doughnuts and Doukhobor Bread 
Many of you know Carmen Dyck from Old Trail Farm and Three Sisters/Nestor's Bakery, but did you know she's selling doughnuts and Doukhobor bread on Saturdays at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market?

The doughnut flavours are intriguing, ranging from Earl Grey tea and chocolate with fresh mint to peanut buster parfait and maple pecan. Make sure you get to the Market early as Carmen keeps making more doughnuts, but they keep selling out!

Nokomis Craft Ales 
Speaking of the Farmers’ Market – Nokomis Craft Ales is now selling their beer at the Market on Saturdays and Sundays. I read a positive review of their product.

Bogart’s Bay Coffee
Bogart’s Bay has a new coffee. It’s an organic, fair trade bean from Peru that has been grown at a high altitude. Bogart’s Bay uses a hand-operated, charcoal-fired coffee roaster, which is pretty cool.

You can purchase their beans at Dad’s Organic Market in Saskatoon and at the North Battleford Farmers’ Market. It’s also available online. They’ve developed a special blend for the Kitchen Zone deli and coffee shop in North Battleford. (Thanks for the tip, Austen!)

Eggplants are one of my favorite vegetables, perhaps because they are so different from the more pedestrian carrots and potatoes. I’m looking forward to being back in Saskatoon and picking up some of the many different eggplants from around the world at Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens. And I’ve found some eggplant recipes from around the world to go along with them. There’s an Eggplant and Cucumber Sandwich based on a traditional Shabbat breakfast for Iraqi Jews as well as a Kashmiri Eggplant Curry in Tomato Sauce and Pan-Fried Eggplant with Balsamic, Basil and Capers from Marseille.

Local Food Movement 
If you’re curious about the evolution of the local food movement, here’s a list of seven books ranging from Stalking the Wild Asparagus published in 1962 to Reclaiming Our Food: How the Grassroots Food Movement is Changing the Way We Eat published in 2011.

Time for Tiffin
I’m fascinated by tiffin boxes and tiffin wallahs so I was interested to learn the origin of the word ‘tiffin.’ In the hot Indian climate, the British wanted a light lunch, but what should they call it?

“Somehow, the word that seemed to stick was "tiffin", taken from the slang words "tiff", a tot of diluted liquor, and "tiffing", to take a sip of this liquor (perhaps a hint that a sahib's lunch might quite often be of the liquid variety!). Tiffin took off and "a spot of tiffin" soon became a peg on which almost any culinary indulgence between breakfast and dinner could be hung.”

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux: Gardens and Castles

“My family has been growing grapes since the French Revolution,” says Pierre Jhean, winemaker for Henri de Villamont in Burgundy, France.

“I grew up on a vineyard in Bordeaux and learned how to prune the vines when I was young. It was only natural to want a career in the wine industry,” says Stanislas Garaud. “As Export Area Manager for Veyret Latour, I can travel the world as well.”

Pierre and Stanislas were in Saskatoon in May to present their wines, which are distributed by Doug Reichel of Fine Wines Sask. The Saskatoon Co-op Wine, Spirits & Beer Store has the largest selection of Burgundy wines in the province, including 11 of Pierre’s wines.

Stanislas Garaud, Veyret Latour
Growing Up in Wine Country 
Stanislas Garaud, Export Manager, Veyret Latour 
 “I thought I knew a lot about wine because I grew up in Bordeaux,” says Stanislas, “but I was only familiar with Bordeaux wines. As an export manager, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and to taste wines from around the world. Now I realize how lucky I am to have been born in France with so many excellent wines.”

Veyret Latour represents a hundred different wineries, including Henri de Villamont and the most important Bordeaux Grand crus wineries.

Pierre Jhean, Director & Winemaker, Henri de Villamont 
Pierre decided to focus on winemaking [as opposed to growing grapes] after visiting an analysis lab with his father. After working under other winemakers for a number of years, he was given responsibility for making the wine in 1989.

“It’s a difficult job,” Pierre says. “I’m a full-time judge. The weather is different every year, so every vintage is different.” In addition, Burgundy is composed of over 600 small vineyards, each of which has its own micro climate and geography. “Every time I moved to a different winery, I had to learn about the soil,” Pierre says.

Pierre tastes the new wine every month and the date of bottling is based on his tastings; it’s not the same every year. “The winemaking changes depending on the weather,” Pierre says.

“Winemakers develop their senses in a way that doesn’t normally happen,” he says. “I have a vivid memory of the ’79 vintage.”

Gardens and Castles 
Compared to Canada, France is a small country. And yet each wine-growing region is distinctive. Pierre and Stanislas provided me with a helpful introduction to the wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

“Meursault is one of the largest appellations in Burgundy with 400 hectares,” says Pierre, “but it’s small compared to the vineyards in Bordeaux. Henri de Villamont has only 10 hectares, which is about average.”

Each vineyard, referred to as a ‘clos,’ is surrounded by a stone wall and has its own natural and climatic conditions. “One field may be right beside another, but the soil changes and that changes the wine,” Pierre explains.
Pierre Jhean, Henri de Villamont

The vineyards are planted on the slopes leading up to the mountains in Jura and the Alps. The hillside location provides them with better resistance to freezing, protection from the westerly winds, maximum sunshine and natural draining.

Burgundy stretches from Dijon in the north to Macon in the south. “Dijon is foggy. There are no vineyards north of Dijon apart from Champagne, which is more acidic and doesn’t require the same quality of grapes,” says Pierre. “By the time you reach Macon, you’re in the south of France and it’s one degree warmer.” The temperature varies from 18 to 25 degrees Celsius in the summer, and there can be a lot of humidity. Winter brings cold winds.

The top two varietals in Burgundy are Pinot Noir (35%) and Chardonnay (49%).

Pierre says that he uses a different yeast for each of his wines as this can help the winemaker. Many of the wines are aged in oak. Fifty percent of the Macon Mancey 2009 was aged for 10 months in barrels, 45% of which were made from new oak. “If all the wine had been aged in barrels it would taste like California Chardonnay,” Pierre says. “I wanted to retain the minerality and herbs.”

Burgundy wines can be very expensive as they come from small vineyards with a very limited production. But there are wines in almost every price category. The Regional and Village appellations (representing the areas where the grapes were grown, sometimes right in the village itself) provide good value at a reasonable price. The Premiers and Grands Crus appellations are more expensive, but wine lovers will appreciate their quality. And the Crémants de Bourgogne are made using the same grape varietals and the same method as Champagne, but in a slightly different area.

The Bordeaux wine region lies on the left and right banks of the Garonne River. The climate varies a great deal, as does the soil, so there are 56 appellations. The gravel soil on the flatter left bank is best suited to Cabernet Sauvignon, while Merlot is the dominant varietal grown in the clay soil of the right bank.

 It’s worth studying a regional wine map as most of the top wines come from the left bank. “The higher you go on the left bank, the more you’ll find wines that are strong and powerful,” says Stanislas. “If you like less powerful wines, choose Margaux or Moulis. If you like stronger wines with more tannins, choose wines from the northwest like Pauillac or Saint Esteph.

At 50-100 hectares, the Bordeaux wineries are much larger than the Burgundy wineries but still smaller than the ones found in California. There is a château on many of the properties – hence the name of the wines (e.g. Château Margaux).

Unlike Burgundy with its focus on single varietal wines, the Bordeaux wines are a blend. The exact percentages vary from year to year, depending on the weather and the grapes. For example, Le Blason de la Tour Carnet Medoc 2011 is a blend of 78% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc. “Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon is much softer, more drinkable than New World Cabernet Sauvignon,” Stanislas says.

I prefer a fruitier, less powerful wine with less tannin, so my favorite of the Bordeaux wines I tasted at the Co-op liquor store was Château L’Argilus du Roi 2008, a blend of 5% Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, 55% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Bordeaux wines were first classified in 1855, and Stanislas believes the designations hold true today. “It’s amazing how sharp they were without the tests we have today,” he says.

Burgundy and Bordeaux offer such a diversity of wines for all tastes and for all wallets. I strongly recommend looking through the collection at the Co-op Wine, Spirits & Beer Store. I also recommend their wine tastings which are very well put together with a separate tasting room, bread and cheese to go with the wines, and excellent explanations and information.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Flavourful Saskatoon, August 11, 2014

Kokanee Creek Provincial Park

Street Food Meet, Sept. 13
The YXE Street Meet food & music festival takes place on Saturday, September 13th, from 11:30 am to 11 pm, on Spadina Crescent between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Please note change of date.

Sustainable Gourmet, Sept. 27
The Saskatchewan Environmental Society is holding their 9th annual fundraising dinner on September 27 at the Saskatoon Club. The dinner features local food prepared by local chefs.

Changing our Food Habits
I had no problem becoming a vegetarian (31 years ago!). In fact, it was a very positive change as I became interested in international cuisine and became a much more creative cook.

An article in Grist reminded me, however, that it can be hard for people to change their food habits, which are so much a part of our social and cultural identities:

“Food traditions are wedded to childhood, nostalgia, memory — everything that gives us a sense of who we are . . . . Changing food traditions is hard if you are simply slapping people’s hands and telling them to stop eating so much meat. That’s pretty ugly — it’s really telling someone their culture isn’t up to snuff. But dietary change can happen if people have new options, new recipes, and new ingredients. And change generally comes from within: Instead of saying ‘you should stop eating …’ — we might try saying, “Look how we can enrich our cultural identity by eating …”

Snack Time

Cheese and GMOs
On the whole, I support non-GMO products, particularly as the whole industry is controlled by one large multinational. However, Whole Foods’ GMO labels could pose a problem for US cheesemakers due to a limited supply of non-GMO feed.

“Another issue is rennet, the enzyme used to coagulate milk – an important step in the cheesemaking process. Traditional rennets come from the stomach of a baby calf, and vegetarian-based rennets are also available. However, another rennet, known as FPC (fermentation-produced chymosin), is produced through genetic engineering. It is used in an estimated 90% of the cheeses made in the US.”

Forget black and white; it’s varying shades of grey.

Ice Cream-Powered Ice Cream
A Ben and Jerry’s factory in Holland is using the waste products from its ice cream making to make more ice cream:

“A huge biodigester, affectionately known as “the Chunkinator,” combines excess milk, syrup, wastewater, and bits of fruit with billions of microbes. The microbes eat the sweet and creamy leftovers and convert them to biogas, cutting down on the facility’s heat and energy costs.”

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pars Market

Just two doors down from Griffin Takeaway is Pars Market. Pars offers a selection of Persian groceries and a small sit-down restaurant and catering.

The restaurant menu is very short – chicken or beef kebabs. There are no vegetarian options.

The store offers a large selection of Persian cookies. I was intrigued by some of the flavours: saffron, cardamom, and dill. There were also biscuits with coconut, walnut, and chocolate fillings.

I was told that the Special Sohan (a traditional Iranian saffron brittle toffee) is very tasty and popular. Here’s a recipe if you’d like to make it yourself.

I thought that the herbal waters were an alternative to sweet juices and pop, but I was told that they are intended to be used medicinally. Some online research showed that herbal distillates have been used for centuries in traditional Persian medicine.

Pars Market is located at 8-3311 8th Street East.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Flavourful Saskatoon, August 4, 2014

Open House Farm Event, Aug. 23
New Life Organic Foods is holding an open house on the Witzaney Family Farm on August 23 from 1-5 pm. There will be wagon rides, burgers, and tours of their grain facilities.

Regina Fermentation Workshop, Sept. 27 
Garden Therapy Yorkton is offering a fermentation workshop in Regina on September 27. It will cover sourdough bread, lacto-fermented veggies, kefir and kombucha.

Three Farmers Chickpeas
Three Farmers has posted an interesting account of how they developed their new product, roasted chickpeas. Every step – idea, flavour, texture, packaging – requires thought.

Vegetarian Restaurant
I was interested to hear that Edmonton has a new vegetarian restaurant, Loma House. It’s part of a small Canadian chain with 7 sister restaurants in Ontario and a factory in Mississauga manufacturing their vegan products. Maybe they’ll come to Saskatoon next! (via Only Here for the Food)

It’s a pleasure to purchase local (Creston), organic milk in refillable bottles while I’m in BC. It would be great if the dairy farmers near Saskatoon would offer a similar option.

Ethical Choices 
If we take the time, there is so much to consider when we purchase food.

Palm Oil: I’ve been concerned about palm oil, which is in so many different products, for a while so I’m delighted to hear that consumer pressure is forcing large corporations to guarantee that their palm oil will coming from traceable sources that are not causing deforestation. Cargill is the latest company to come on board.

It’s good to see that we as consumers can make a difference: “If eaters show that they are serious about the environment, and are willing to pay to protect it, producers and farmers will find it’s in their interest to become stewards.”

Almonds: I’ve recently started seeing articles urging consumers not to eat almonds (or drink almond milk). California produces 80% of the world’s supply of almonds. Unfortunately, almond farming requires a lot of water – 10% of California’s water supply. That’s a problem when California is in the midst of a multi-year drought and is rapidly depleting its supply of groundwater.

One option might be for farmers to switch from almonds to olives, which require less water than other tree crops. A North American source of olives and olive oil sounds like a sensible idea to me.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Flavourful Saskatoon, July 28, 2014

Phillip’s Beer Tasting, Aug. 13 
Boffin’s is hosting a Fare & Ale event from 5-8 pm, August 13, featuring beer from Phillip’s Brewing in Victoria, BC. The food isn’t vegetarian, but I highly recommend the beer. I’ve visited Phillip’s Brewing; they have good beer and a great sense of humour.

Food Truck Festival, Sept. 6
YXE Street Food is organizing Street Meet, a gathering of Saskatoon’s nine food trucks on September 6. Their website provides a list of all the food trucks and they tweet their locations to help you find them.

Farmers’ Market Dinner, Sept. 20
Chef Jenni Willems is hosting a series of four Solstice dinners at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. I attended the first dinner in May and enjoyed good food and good conversation. The solstice marks a seasonal turning point and is such an appropriate time to pause and appreciate local, seasonal food.

The May dinner was all about rhubarb (tiny chunks in the salad were memorable). The fall dinner will take place on September 20 and the theme is From the Shield to the Field, so it will obviously commemorate our provincial diversity.

Chef Jenni is compiling the recipes and planning to publish a cookbook. Recipes from past tastings and dinners are available on the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market website.

Taste-It Food Tours 
Patti Rodger, a retired principal, has started offering Saskatchewan food tours. The Moose Jaw tours have already started, to be followed by Regina in early August, with plans for Saskatoon at a later date.

The Moose Jaw walking tour includes luncheon (Thursday) or dinner (Tuesday) tours with samples at seven food establishments.

Yorkton – Dad’s Organic Grocery 
The Yorkton branch of Dad’s Organic Grocery has re-opened.

Street Food
I attended Market Fest in Nelson, BC, last Friday and was most impressed by the diversity of food that was on offer. It ranged from burgers and crepes to quesadillas, pad thai and pizza.

I couldn’t resist trying out the individual pizzas made from local, organic, seasonal ingredients and cooked in a wood-burning oven on the Gypsy Wagon. Dessert was organic cotton candy.

Mobile pizza ovens must be a growing trend as I learned that Edmonton has a vintage fire truck outfitted with a wood-burning brick oven. (via Only Here for the Food)

Preserving Seasonal Food 
Local Food in the Kitchen workshops will teach East Kootenay, BC, residents how to preserve seasonal produce. The workshop series is comprehensive, ranging from pickles and jam to teas, apple cider vinegar and fermented condiments. It would be great to see something similar in Saskatoon.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).