Drinking – Zester Daily http://zesterdaily.com Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 4 Hangover Chasers That Lift The Morning Fog /drinking/4-hangover-chasers-lift-morning-fog/ /drinking/4-hangover-chasers-lift-morning-fog/#respond Sat, 30 Dec 2017 10:00:32 +0000 /?p=59891 A hangover cure can help ease the pain next time you over imbibe. Credit: iStockPhoto

Hangover cures — they’re never there when you need ’em. Not that you (or I) ever need them — perish the thought.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of post-festive brotherly love, a recommendation or two might come in handy for those who — ahem — might have been on the wrong side of a midwinter indulgence and are looking for a simple restorative mouthful, liquid or otherwise.

The bullshot — boiling beef consommé cooled with a generous measure of vodka — comes well-recommended as the morning pick-me-up on England’s Yorkshire moors in grouse season, while Scotland’s heather bashers consider the oatmeal caudle — runny porridge with cream and whiskey — more geographically appropriate.

Which is not to overlook those who swear by yak butter and hot tea as the antidote to overindulgence in fermented mare’s milk when traversing the Khyber Pass, or those intrepid 19th-century travelers through the wilds of Africa who reported termites toasted in an earth oven as the only way to cure a hangover induced by overindulgence in fermenting baobab fruit.

To each her own.

Soupe a l’oignon

Lunch at Domecq. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Lunch at Domecq. Credit: Copyright 2017 Elisabeth Luard

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald cured a Parisian hangover with onion soup with the porters in Les Halles, the central produce market in the good old 1930s, when men were men and women were — let’s just not go there.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 to 35 minutes

Total time: 40 to 45 minutes

Yield: 2 servings (You should never hang over alone.)

Ingredients

3 large onions, finely sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil or (better yet) goose fat

1 pint beef broth

Salt and pepper to taste

For finishing:

Sliced baguette, toasted

Gruyere or cantal cheese, grated (optional)

Directions

1. Fry the onions very gently in the oil or goose fat in a soup pan until soft and golden but not brown. Stir regularly, allowing at least 20 minutes.

2. Add the beef broth and allow to bubble up. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.

4. Ladle over slices of toasted baguette in bowls. You can also place the bread on top of the soup, sprinkle with grated cheese and slip the bowls under the grill for the cheese to melt and brown.

Katzenjammer

A beef and potato salad is the hangover cure in the new wineries of Vienna. Try to remember to put the meat into its marinade the night before so it’ll be ready in the morning.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Resting time: 3 to 4 hours or overnight

Total time: 15 minutes, plus resting

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

For the dressing:

4 tablespoons seed or nut oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon mild mustard

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

2 slices cold boiled beef, cut in matchstick-sized pieces

2 cold boiled potatoes, sliced

1 pickled cucumber, chopped

For finishing:

2 to 3 tablespoons beef broth (optional)

1 egg yolk

Chili powder or hot paprika

Directions

1. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.

2. Dress the beef, potatoes and cucumber with half the dressing. Allow the mixture to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

3. Whisk the rest of the dressing into the egg yolk to make a thick emulsion, dilute with a little beef broth or warm water to a coating consistency and spoon over the beef mixture.

4. Finish with a generous dusting of chili powder or hot paprika. There’s nothing like the fiery capsicums to set a person’s metabolism back on track.

Aigo boullido

An oil-and-garlic broth flavored with sage and fortified with egg yolk and pasta serves not only as a remedy for overindulgence but as cure-all and stomach-settler for pregnant women and babies. L’aigo boulido sauvo la vido (Garlic broth saves lives), as they say in Provence.

Prep time: 10 minuntes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

4 fat fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 sprig of sage

1 level teaspoon salt

5 teaspoons (25 grams) vermicelli or other thread pasta

1 egg yolk

Directions

1. Simmer the garlic and olive oil in 2 cups of water for a half-hour, or until the volume is reduced by half.

2. Add the sage and bubble up until the broth turns a pretty yellow.

3. Add salt and vermicelli and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, fork up the egg yolk in a small bowl, then whisk in a ladleful of the hot broth. Stir the broth-yolk mixture back into the pot so the egg sets in strings. Bon appétit.

Zabaglione

Italy’s version of restorative eggnog — basically, egg and wine combined to make a spoonable fluff — was a remedy long before it became an elegant dessert. No need to cook it if you’re going to eat it right away. The usual strictures on raw eggs apply, but I guess you know that anyway.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

4 eggs

4 level tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons sweet wine (such as Marsala, Madeira or Valencia)

2 to 3 almond macaroons (optional)

Directions

1. Whisk the egg yolks and whites together until fluffy.

2. Sprinkle in the sugar gradually until the mixture is white and light.

3. Continue whisking as you trickle in the wine.

4. Pour into two tall glasses over crumbled macaroons — or not — and eat with a long spoon without delay or the eggs and wine will separate. If this should happen, no need to panic. Simply whisk the split mixture into another egg yolk in a bowl set over simmering water and it’ll cure itself.

Main photo: A hangover cure can help ease the pain next time you over imbibe. Credit: iStockPhoto

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Punch Up Your Holiday Party With A Bowl Full Of Cheer /drinking/punch-up-your-holiday-party-with-a-bowl-full-of-cheer/ /drinking/punch-up-your-holiday-party-with-a-bowl-full-of-cheer/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 10:00:59 +0000 /?p=76368 Serving punch at a holiday party is an easy way to keep the drinks flowing. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

If I’ve learned one thing from throwing holiday parties, it’s this: I have neither the time nor the space to mix individual cocktails. When I need drinks for a big bash, I drag out my mother’s 1960s-era, cut-glass punch bowl and start pouring in ingredients. Punch — it’s the harried host’s friend.

What defines a punch varies. If you believe the word is a derivation of the 17th-century Sanskrit panch, which means “five,” punch is a blend of five ingredients: liquor, water, fruit, sugar and spices. Under this definition, sangria and wassail would be punches. Homemade eggnog would not.

If you opt for the Late Middle English term puncheon to explain punch, all you need is a large cask of liquids. No spices, sugar or water are needed. One of my quickest holiday concoctions, blood orange screwdrivers, fits this description. It’s a simple mixture of vodka and blood orange juice served from a large bowl.

Punch bowl pitfalls

If you don't have a punch bowl, you can keep drinks fresh by periodically making batches and serving it from pitchers -- a practice known as “cups.” Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

If you don’t have a punch bowl, you can keep drinks fresh by periodically making batches and serving it from pitchers — a practice known as “cups.” Credit: Copyright 2017 Kathy Hunt

No matter whether my creations use two or 10 ingredients, I try to make them as winning as possible. Even so, I occasionally fail. Take, for instance, my first attempt at “cran-cran-Pro-cran.” Made with cranberry juice, cranberry liqueur, Prosecco and frozen cranberries, this intoxicating red potion seemed a sure hit.

It began well. At the start of the evening, its luscious ruby color beckoned guests to the punch bowl. Pleasingly plump, bobbing cranberries enticed them to ladle out cup after cup. The promise of chilled, tart-yet-sweet, sparkling alcohol caused an eager line to form. Everyone wanted a sip of this cheery punch.

After two hours of steady stirring and scooping, the punch started to fizzle out. Those pert, round cranberries that had danced across the red sea? They now sat forlorn and misshapen at the bottom of the bowl.

Washed out punch aside, I did learn from my mistake. Unless I plan on periodically making fresh batches of sparkling, berry-dotted punch and serving it from pitchers — a practice known as “cups” — I now opt for a less delicate libation.

On cold party nights, a hot, spiked beverage sounds delightful. At least that’s how I once thought of my family’s holiday tradition of wassail.

A medieval drink associated with winter, wassail customarily contains ale or wine, spices, sugar and apples. My family recipe amps up the warming properties by calling for hot apple cider and a generous amount of white rum.

With wispy steam and hints of cinnamon, cloves and ginger rising from the punch bowl, wassail looks and smells perfect for the season. Unfortunately, as with sparkling wine-based drinks, hours of sitting out are not kind to this hot, spiced brew.

As you might expect, if left in a traditional punch bowl, wassail eventually grows cold. However, when placed in stockpot on the stove or in a slow cooker on low heat, it cooks down and becomes cloyingly sweet. Neither scenario results in an appealing beverage. Except on low-key nights when I can periodically slip into the kitchen and replenish the supply of warm, fresh wassail, I go with a different offering.

Try a punch that looks and tastes good

Keep fruit-based punches cold by pouring juice into ice cube trays and adding it to the bowl throughout the evening. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt

Keep fruit-based punches cold by pouring juice into ice cube trays and adding the cubes to the bowl throughout the evening. Credit: Copyright 2017 Kathy Hunt

What never lets my guests or me down is a cold punch. With the exception of the historic Fish House Punch, which requires a ring of ice to cool and temper the strong combination of rum, cognac and brandy, I don’t add ice. Instead I fill insulated buckets with ice and let people chill their own drinks.

If my drink includes fruit juice, I freeze ice cube trays filled with juice and toss the cubes into the bowl as guests arrive. In the case of decadent Moose Milk (see recipe below), I substitute a half-gallon block of vanilla ice cream for ice cubes. With that, the rich, spicy eggnog stays frosty and flavorful long into the night.

When making holiday punches, I aim for looks as well as taste. Colorful cocktails such as the French white wine and crème de cassis combo Kir, the cranberry juice- and vodka-based Cape Codder and red sangria make lovely chilled punches. In truth, most cocktails look and taste fabulous when ladled from a punch bowl. Just remember to multiply the amounts required to match the head count.

This holiday season, save yourself the headache of mixing a variety of drinks. Instead, dust off the old family punch bowl, gather together a few festive ingredients and let the celebrations begin.

Moose Milk

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: Makes 20 or more servings

Ingredients

1/2 gallon skim milk

1/2 gallon homemade or store-bought eggnog

2 cups dark rum

1 cup brandy

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pinch of ground allspice

2 1/2 teaspoons grated cinnamon, divided

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg, divided

1/2 gallon good-quality vanilla ice cream

Directions

1. Place the milk, eggnog, rum, brandy, vanilla extract, allspice and half the cinnamon and nutmeg in a large punch or serving bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

2. About 10 minutes before your guests arrive, remove the punch from the refrigerator and place the block of ice cream in the center. Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon and nutmeg over top. Serve chilled.

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Turmeric Candy: Give A Gift of Health & Drink to It Too /cooking/turmeric-candy-give-gift-health-drink/ Sun, 17 Dec 2017 10:00:25 +0000 /?p=57753 Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends -- and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David Hagerman

By now, you’ve probably heard about turmeric: the yellow-orange rhizome native to South Asia recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The ingredient in Indian and southeast Asian cuisines that colors curries and other dishes gold, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a staple in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Studies suggest that the rhizome may be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, viral and bacterial infections, stomach ulcers, cancer and other conditions.

I’ve known of turmeric’s usefulness in treating the common cold since 2008, when I stumbled upon sugar-coated slices of the rhizome at the central market in Hoi An, Vietnam. I’d been nursing a scratchy throat and runny nose for three chilly, drizzly days. When a vendor heard me cough, she pushed a bag of candied turmeric in my direction and motioned toward my throat and red eyes. I ate several slices then and there and intermittently snacked on the turmeric for the rest of the day. By morning, my sore throat was gone. By day two, I felt good as new.

A Not-So-Common Cure for the Common Cold

Over the last few years I’ve incorporated turmeric into my daily diet, usually combined with green tea, ginger and lemongrass in the form of a powerhouse infusion. I drink the refreshing, slightly spicy and astringent elixir iced, as a preventive. I haven’t suffered a cold since late 2011.

So this Christmas, I’m giving friends the gift of good health in the form of jars of candied turmeric slices (and making extra for myself to carry with me on travels). The lovely orange flesh of the rhizome has a slight bitterness that proves a wonderful foil for a coating of white sugar. To increase the snack’s healthfulness, I add black pepper — believed to increase the body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial ingredient, curcumin to the simple syrup in which I poach thin slices of turmeric.

An Unexpected Extra That You Can Tip Your Glass To

At the end, I’m left with a bonus: a beautiful, astringent-bitter simple syrup that makes a great flavoring for cocktails.

Like ginger, turmeric peels most easily with the edge of a spoon. The rhizome stains anything it touches (wear an apron) and will leave a dark orange, tacky goo on your spoon and knife. To remove it and the color that’s left on your hands, cutting board and other kitchen surfaces, wash with a kitchen cream cleanser.

Look for fresh turmeric at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores, gourmet markets and southeast Asian and Indian groceries.

Candied Turmeric

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes to peel and slice the turmeric plus up to 6 hours to dry the turmeric slices.

Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes

Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup candied turmeric slices

Thin slices are paramount here, as is allowing ample time for your turmeric to dry after poaching. Rush this step and you’ll end up with unattractive clumps of sugar and rhizome.

Ingredients

3/4 pound fresh turmeric

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for tossing the poached turmeric

Directions

Prepping the turmeric:

1. Break any small knobs off of the main turmeric root and use the edge of a spoon to peel the skin off of all of the rhizome pieces. Use a paring knife to peel away any stubborn bits of skin.

2. Rinse the peeled turmeric and slice it as thinly as possible into coins and strips.

To candy the turmeric: 

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the water. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir to dissolve.

2. Add the turmeric, stir to submerge all of the pieces and bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer briskly until the turmeric slices are tender but not limp, about 25 minutes.

3. Drain the turmeric in a colander or sieve placed over a bowl, then transfer the turmeric slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or piece of foil or parchment paper. (Set the turmeric syrup aside to cool and use to flavor sparkling water and cocktails.) Arrange the turmeric slices on the rack so that they do not overlap and place in a well-ventilated spot (underneath a ceiling fan is ideal). Allow the turmeric to dry until the slices are slightly tacky but no longer wet, at least 3 hours and as many as 6 hours, depending on the temperature and ventilation in the room.

4. Toss the turmeric slices in 1/3 cup of sugar until coated. (Don’t throw away leftover sugar; it’s delicious in tea.) Store the turmeric in a clean, dry jar or other container. If you live in a hot, humid climate you may need to refrigerate it to keep the sugar from dissolving.

The Orangutang

Yield: 1 cocktail

Syrup and orange juice make this pretty and potent bourbon cocktail a little bit sweet. Campari and turmeric add a nice astringent-bitter edge; lemon juice adds a hint of tartness.

Ingredients

2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce orange juice

1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) turmeric simply syrup (see Candied Turmeric recipe, above)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Orange slice, for serving

Directions

Pour all of the ingredients except for the orange slice into a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice. Shake and pour the cocktail and ice into a short glass. Garnish the rim of the glass with the orange slice.

Main photo: Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends — and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Hagerman

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All Night Long, Uncork Champagne’s Multiple Personalities /drinking/not-just-for-toasting-anymore-add-champagne-to-your-regular-wine-routine/ /drinking/not-just-for-toasting-anymore-add-champagne-to-your-regular-wine-routine/#comments Fri, 15 Dec 2017 10:00:49 +0000 /?p=76192 Underneath all those bubbles, Champagne is a wine, with the same diversity and complexity as wines from other great regions. Credit: Copyright 2016 Comite Champagne

The holiday season brings many feasts for the senses, from the spicy aroma of freshly baked gingerbread to the rich, meaty flavor of Mom’s turkey gravy. It also brings the sound of popping corks; nearly half of the Champagne shipped from France to the United States each year is purchased and consumed between October and January.

Unfortunately, most of those bubbles never make it to the dinner table. Too often, Champagne is drunk before the meal begins, then quarantined to the ice bucket while the “real” wines take center stage. Or worse, it’s trotted out as a prop only at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, like a cheap party horn.

Underneath all those bubbles, Champagne is a wine, with the same diversity and complexity as wines from other great regions. Look beyond the standard non-vintage Bruts made by the big producers and you’ll find fascinating wines to pair with every course.

According to David White, author of the book “But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine,” restaurant wine buyers and sommeliers are increasingly embracing Champagne as a dinner-table wine. “They’re helping consumers recognize that Champagne is exceptionally food friendly,” he said.

To promote the release of his book, White has toured the country hosting multicourse Champagne dinners. “We’ve had everything from raw fish and nutty cheeses to pizza and fried chicken,” he said. “At every meal, the Champagnes have worked perfectly. The wine’s vibrant acidity and freshness help it cut through spicy meals, complement savory food and elevate even the simplest of dishes.”

Gianpaolo Paterlini, wine director at 1760, a San Francisco restaurant that offers more than 70 Champagnes by the bottle, found culinary inspiration in “grower Champagnes,” distinctive, small-production sparklers produced by grape growers.

Champagne can be an intriguing match for a wide variety of dishes, including grilled steak. Credit: Copyright 2016 Jai Williams, Jai Media

Champagne can be an intriguing match for a wide variety of dishes, including grilled steak. Credit: Copyright 2017 Jai Williams, Jai Media

“I was skeptical of Champagne earlier in my career, because all I’d been exposed to were the bigger houses whose blends are really impressive, but taste the same every year,” he said. “Then I started dabbling in the smaller houses and found that there’s all this diversity — not just in style, but also in terroir.”

It’s that diversity that makes Champagne a worthy dinner companion, not only with chicken and seafood dishes, but with pork and beef. For the bavette steak on 1760’s menu, Paterlini recommends an older, Pinot Noir-based Champagne, such as a vintage Blanc de Noirs. “You’d want something with a little bit of age and lees (spent yeast) contact, something that’s got a little texture and more of that nutty, rich character,” he said.

With the restaurant’s grilled pork ribs, brushed with a chili-hoisin barbecue sauce, he likes a fuller-bodied rosé, such as a Rosé de Saignee. “Rosé is my go-to Champagne for spicy food,” he said. “I’d recommend something richer, because that can definitely stand up to the meat and there’s enough fruit to balance the spiciness of the dish.”

According to Alice Paillard, whose father founded Champagne Bruno Paillard, the best Champagne and food pairings involve contrasts and attention to detail.

Because her family’s Champagnes are extra dry, with vibrant acidity, there is often a temptation to match them with similar foods. This, she says, can be a mistake. “There is a tendency to pair the wines with citrus, but that is a bit of a trap,” Paillard said. “What the wine evokes doesn’t necessarily need to be repeated on the plate. Pairing is not duplicating.”

Instead, she likes to present contrasts, such as serving a rounder-style Champagne with a citrusy dish. “It’s like with a couple, you’re not trying to be the exact same person, you’re trying to be good company for each other.”

Texture is also a key consideration. “Last night I had a seared foie gras that was very warm and melty on the inside,” Paillard said. “We had that with the 2006 Blanc de Blancs — a mature vintage and a very generous wine — and it was absolutely wonderful. The richness and creaminess of the wine was enhanced by the velvety texture of the foie gras.”

Champagne can be paired with every course of a meal, from the appetizer to the after-dinner cheese course.. Credit: Copyright 2016 Tina Caputo

Champagne can be paired with every course of a meal, from the appetizer to the after-dinner cheese course. Credit: Copyright 2017 Tina Caputo

Even more important than texture, she said, are purity and complexity. “Purity comes from the choice of the terroir, it comes from using only the first pressing of the grapes, from having low dosage (and thus, less sugar) in the wine. If you have a wine that is wearing too much makeup it’s going to impact the food.”

Although freshness is often desirable, it’s not enough on its own. “If the wine is not structured enough, if it’s just nice and fresh, then it will be pointless,” she said. “It will not help you move through your dining experience, reshaping your palate. A pairing is exciting when you discover new things about the wine. The wine is playing its role.”

While Paillard contends that Champagne is “one of the most versatile, if not the most versatile” wines, she admits that pairing dry styles with sweet desserts is probably best avoided.

“When you eat something sweet and then come back to the wine, you have this sensation that all the fruit in the wine is gone,” she said. “A wonderful cheese is really the best option.”

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Bitters: Spice + Time = Cocktail And Cookie Frosting Magic /cooking/bitters-spice-time-cocktail-magic/ /cooking/bitters-spice-time-cocktail-magic/#comments Sat, 02 Dec 2017 10:00:03 +0000 /?p=40879 Making homemade bitters requires spices, alcohol, and above all, patience. Credit: Susan Lutz

Nothing gives a cocktail a kick quite like bitters. Whether it’s an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan or a Champagne Cocktail, those quick dashes from a paper-wrapped bottle turn simple alcohol into something mysterious, tangy and alluring. There are big-name bitters — Angostura and Peychauds — with secret recipes and exotic back stories. At some hipster cocktail bars, you will find mixologists with steam-punk facial hair who have whipped-up their own concoctions of bitters that are just as mysterious and secret.

But if I’m going to use bitters when sharing an Old Fashioned with my husband, I’m going to want to make my own. And that required some research.

It turns out that bitters have a long and distinguished history, a history that stretches back before the invention of distilled spirits. The angostura bitters that you find at supermarkets and liquor stores began life not as a cocktail mixer, but as a medicine.

The bitters recipe created by Dr. Johann Siegert in the town of Angostura, Venezuela, in the 1820s was meant as a digestive aid for the troops of Simon Bolivar. Folk medicine has long held that a bitter taste helps digestion. For centuries, herbalists and self-taught doctors have known that healing plants can be preserved if saved in tincture form. And a tincture is simply an herb that has been left in alcohol long enough.

I dove into online research with gusto, discovering the high-alcohol patent medicines of the 19th  century colonial era, and even some stretching back to medieval medical writers such as St. Hildegard of Bingen. But these historic recipes were extensive and required access to some bizarre herbs. Even a fairly modern recipe reverse-engineered from the Angostura original required roots and seeds that I wouldn’t find at my local grocery store.

Then I stumbled upon a simple answer: a kit.

Dash Bitters is the brainchild of Gina and Brian Hutchinson, a husband-and-wife team of DIY cocktail mavens who ran into the same problem I had.

“We found lots of old recipes online from small-town pharmacies,” Gina told me, “but when we tried to order the ingredients, we could only order in big bulk batches.” Herbs like gentian root, wormwood and burdock could only be ordered by the pound.

“You only need a teaspoon of gentian root for bitters,” Gina said, “A pound is more than any person will need in their entire lifetime. It would have been nice to have just bought a kit and not have to pay for shipping of each five times over.” That was their brainstorm. Dash Bitters was born.

Making bitters at home

I immediately went to dashbitters.com and ordered the 1889 kit, meant to reproduce the Angosturian digestive aid for Simon Bolivar’s troops. Dash’s packaging is simple and elegant, but the herbal ingredients were the real revelation: pungent, beautiful, each with their own stories that stretched back to the era when medicine and magic were nearly identical.

Gentian Root,  the star ingredient,  actually has medical value as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. But in 1653 British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper noted that gentian “comforts the heart and preserves it against faintings and swoonings: the powder of the dry roots helps the biting of mad dogs and venomous beasts.” That makes for a powerful Manhattan.

The Dash kit also contains a redolent packet of cardamom. Its sweetness is a nice balance to the bitterness of gentian, and Bolivar’s army would have found it useful because it’s a proven aid for heartburn and gastric complaints.

The most interesting of the herbs to me were the round peppery seeds called grains of paradise. This West African spice was first discovered by Europeans during the Renaissance. My research took me away from the Internet and into the real world, where I had the pleasure of visiting the extraordinary collection of medieval texts of The Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions. Its scientific director, Alain Touwaide, showed me reproductions of historic texts and illustrations of Grains of Paradise, which he told me was more popular than black pepper in 14th-century France, and three times more expensive.

According to Touwaide’s copy of the “Tractatus de Herbis,” the spice’s pungent flavor was said to have the properties of “warming, drying and giving ease.” In “The Boke of Nurture,” John Russell described Grains of Paradise as provoking “hot and moist humors,” and apparently, that was medieval code for “aphrodisiac.” Oddly enough, a 2002 medical study showed that extracts of Grains of Paradise “significantly increased” the sexual activity of lab rats.

Microscopic view of Grains of Paradise. Credit: Susan Lutz

Microscopic view of Grains of Paradise. Credit: Copyright 2017 Susan Lutz

Dog bite treatment, gastric cure, aphrodisiac … you can see why bitters quickly migrated from the medicine chest to the cocktail bar.

Extracting the essence of these magical herbs is not a short process, and I felt like a medieval alchemist as I boiled, strained and transferred the herbal concoction from one tincture jar to another. Three weeks later, I had my own small jar of pungent, aromatic bitters, ready for its first introduction to some locally-made bourbon and a bit of sugar.

But I discovered one other interesting fact about making bitters that Gina had warned me about.  Even a small kit gives you a lot more bitters than you’ll use on your own. The solution: cooking with bitters!

So as you sip your Manhattan or Old Fashioned, you can use the rest of your alchemical digestive aid on a batch of chocolate cookie sandwiches with cherry walnut bitters frosting. It’s for your health, after all.

Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches With Cherry Walnut Bitters Frosting

(Recipe courtesy of Dash Bitters)

Makes approximately 12 small, sandwich cookies

Ingredients

1½ cup almond flour
¼ teaspoon salt for cookies, plus an additional pinch for frosting
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup arrowroot powder
⅛ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup grapeseed oil
⅓ cup agave nectar
⅔ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon Cherry Walnut Bitters
1½ to 1¾ cups confectioners’ sugar

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, mix almond flour, salt, baking soda, arrowroot powder and cocoa powder.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, agave nectar and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.

4. With a teaspoon, scoop the dough one teaspoon at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least two inches between each cookie. The dough will spread.

5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops of the cookies look dry and the color darkens.

6. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes while you make the frosting.

7. Beat together cream cheese and butter on medium speed until mixture is fluffy, about one minute. Scrape down bowl with a spatula. Add cherry walnut bitters and salt. Mix on low for another minute.

8. With the mixer on low, slowly add 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar; beat for 20 seconds. Scrape down bowl. If consistency is too soft to hold its shape, add additional confectioners’ sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Frosting can be kept refrigerated, in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed on the surface, for several days.

Top photo: Making homemade bitters requires spices, alcohol and, above all, patience. Credit: Copyright 2017 Susan Lutz

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Rupert Murdoch’s Fingerprints On Moraga Wines /drinking/wine/rupert-murdochs-fingerprints-on-moraga-wines/ /drinking/wine/rupert-murdochs-fingerprints-on-moraga-wines/#comments Sat, 11 Nov 2017 10:00:02 +0000 /?p=75015 A view of the Getty Center from the top of Moraga’s Bel Air vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Standing at the crest of Moraga Estate’s hillside vineyard, you can see Santa Monica Bay and feel the cool Pacific breezes that mark the estate’s wines. Moraga’s fruit ripens slowly, resulting in an elegance that eludes Bordeaux-style wines from Napa Valley and other California regions prone to heat spikes.

But that’s not why this is possibly the most expensive vineyard acreage in the world. Moraga is located in Bel Air, the most exclusive of Los Angeles’ wealthy enclaves.

On a recent visit to Moraga, I’m looking for a secondary mark on the wines, the mark of the current owner, billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Four years ago, with his marriage to Wendy Deng dissolving and a romance with Mick Jagger’s ex-wife Jerry Hall budding, Murdoch bought Los Angeles’ only post-Prohibition bonded winery and 13-acre estate for $28.8 million, an impetuous purchase sparked by an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal, one of his News Corp. properties.

Little, if anything, has been written about the place or the wines since the sale. What changes has Murdoch made?

Experienced hands at the helm

Moraga’s viticulturist and winemaker Scott Rich at his desk at the winery. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Moraga’s viticulturist and winemaker Scott Rich at his desk at the winery. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

The good news for wine lovers is that Scott Rich, the winemaker and viticulturist for the past 15 years, is still in charge. His summer instructions to the eight-member vineyard crew remain the same — handpick the leaves around the clusters to give them just the right amount of dappled sun and moisture-wicking breeze. “I want to see light through the leaf canopy,” he explained. “Light gives us our tannins.”

Moraga, named for the sleepy, suburban street out front, sprang from the imaginations of former Northrop Corp. chief executive Thomas V. Jones and his wife, Ruth, who lived here from 1959 until Murdoch purchased it in 2013. They first planted grapes in 1978, when the neighborhood was still zoned for horses.

Victor Fleming, director of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With The Wind,” built the estate’s one-story ranch house in the 1930s. And, while the Joneses updated the place, it remained a modest home relative to the faux French chateaux and muscular Italianate mansions that later sprang up around it. When their friends Ron and Nancy Reagan stopped by, they’d often leave with a basket of fresh eggs from the Jones’ chickens.

Collector prestige

Moraga’s steep hillside vineyards rise behind the winery. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Moraga’s steep hillside vineyards rise behind the winery. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

Moraga wines have been beloved by L.A. wine collectors since Jones started selling them in 1989. Spago, The Polo Lounge and other Beverly Hills restaurants keep them in their cellars. But the estate is private. There is no tour, no tasting room. Viewable only from the tram that takes visitors up to the sparkling white Getty Center, Moraga’s vineyards climb the steep hills overlooking the pulsing 405 Freeway.

Until the Joneses built the wine cave and winery, completed in 2005, winemaker Rich trucked their grapes to a winery near his home in Sonoma. Bringing the winemaking to Moraga was a turning point in the development of the wines, Rich said. Bringing used oak barrels into the new winery, as had been part of their aging protocol, would have brought  microbes into the pristine facility. Instead, they used all new oak barrels for Moraga’s first estate vintage. The switch added structure to the wines. They’ve stuck with all new oak ever since.

Over the years, Rich introduced cover crops, limited the use of chemicals and began transitioning to dry farming to get smaller, more intense berries. “Dry farming teaches you humility,” he said with resignation. “You aren’t in control.”

Murdoch puts personal touch on famed estate

The street view of Moraga’s front gate. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

The street view of Moraga’s front gate. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

Losing control of Moraga haunted Jones after Ruth died in 2013. Already in his 90s, Jones wanted to sell the estate to someone he knew would maintain the vineyard. “The new owner needed enough wealth to not be induced to sell it to developers,” Rich said. When no one stepped forward, Jones placed the ad in the Wall Street Journal and hoped for the best. He died soon after selling to Murdoch.

Not surprisingly, Murdoch gutted the old ranch house. But he left the home’s outside appearance exactly as it had been when the Joneses lived there. Even the gardens remain as Ruth designed them. Murdoch’s fingerprints have been equally light on the wines, Rich said. “He wants us to continue to do what we do.”

Making his mark

Moraga wines wrapped and ready to be packed in wooden cases. Credit: Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Moraga wines wrapped and ready to be packed in wooden cases. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

Moraga makes one Cabernet-dominated red wine and a Sauvignon Blanc. Fifteen micro-batches representing the vineyard’s various microclimates are fermented separately to allow Rich to create a balanced blend. About a thousand cases of wine are produced per vintage.

As we tasted the wines — just as full of fruit as I remembered with the same nuance and lively acidity I love in a dinner wine — I found Murdoch’s mark. It’s the price: The red blend now carries a $185 price tag, up from $125, and the white wine is $115, up from $65.

Main photo: A view of the Getty Center from the top of Moraga’s Bel Air vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2017 Zester Media

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Wine And White Truffles: A Fall Trip To Bountiful Barolo /drinking/wine-and-white-truffles-a-fall-trip-to-bountiful-barolo/ /drinking/wine-and-white-truffles-a-fall-trip-to-bountiful-barolo/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 09:00:12 +0000 /?p=76100

The tour buses have disappeared from the Langhe’s narrow, twisting roads, replaced by trucks bringing home the last loads of purple Nebbiolo grapes. Our Panda, Italy’s ubiquitous Fiat putt-putt rental car, strains up the hills to finally drop us down in the tiny medieval village of Barolo. Surrounded by steep vineyards aflame with red and yellow leaves in the heart of Northwest Italy’s famed Piedmont region, Barolo welcomes us with a stash of late-fall treasures.

White truffles are in season, fresh hazelnuts are everywhere, and the town’s 750 souls are happy. The 2016 vintage is shaping up to be one for the ages. The wine flows freely for a United Nations of wine lovers here to drink Barolo.

The harvest season

Crush continues into the night in the village of Barolo. Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Crush continues into the night in the village of Barolo. Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Stacked high with hand crates of grapes, a tractor driver threads his trailer down Via Roma, Barolo’s narrow main street. While Marchesi di Barolo is a large winery by local standards, easy to spot from the main road leading into town, a dozen smaller operations, such as the family-owned Bric Cenciurio, are tucked along its steep, cobblestone streets. With little more than 2 feet of clearance, the driver opens unmarked wooden garage doors and unloads his haul. The funky smell of fermenting grapes singes the afternoon air.

A bold grape

A Nebbiolo cluster ready for crush. Copyright 2016 Zester Media

A Nebbiolo cluster ready for crush. Copyright 2017 Zester Media

This is the last of the Nebbiolo harvest. The slowest-maturing grape in the world, it is the first to flower and the last to ripen. Finicky and prone to mold, the thick-skinned grape rarely flourishes outside its native Langhe, which extends north from Barolo to Barbaresco.

But here, Nebbiolo reigns supreme. The Langhe’s roughly 1,000 feet of altitude and soils with varying layers of limestone, clay and sandstone produce vibrantly aromatic wines with bold tannic structure that age slowly. Tar and rose petals are Barolo’s signatures. At 10 years of age, these wines are often just opening up.

A wine-driven scene

Setting up a tasting at the Damilano “enoteca.” Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Setting up a tasting at the Damilano “enoteca.” Copyright 2016 Zester Media

The village of Barolo is all about wine, with winery-owned “enotecas,” or wine shops, dominating the first-floor storefronts of the ancient two- and three-story buildings. Gracious, smart staffers pour samples of new and old vintages throughout the day and into the evening. Everyone is relaxed; conversation flows easily.

At the Damilano tasting room, we sipped the 2008 Barolo DOCG Cannubi, the winery’s flagship wine from Barolo’s most celebrated vineyard, or “cru.” It was part of a flight that included Barberas and Dolcettos, the region’s other red wines, from both the Asti and the Alba regions, along with other Barolo crus. While a 10-euro tasting fee is the norm, toward the end of the day, fees are often waived for already opened bottles.

A lively food-and-drink scene

A tractor hauling a load of grapes through Barolo’s narrow main street, Via Roma. Copyright 2016 Zester Media

A tractor hauling a load of grapes through Barolo’s narrow main street, Via Roma. Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Within the shadow of Barolo’s imposing 1,000-year-old Castello Falletti, four charming restaurants and the same number of informal cafes sit among the enotecas. At all of them, top Barolos and Barbarescos are served by the glass at irresistible prices.

Without a reservation, we found a room at the idyllic La Giolitta, one of a handful of boutique hotels and B&Bs in the village. Staying in the village made it easy to drift from meal to wine tasting and then out into the vineyards, where a hike to the crest offered views of the snow-covered Alps. A short walk home at night after dinner instead of driving the shoulder-less roads allows you to savor a last glass of wine at the end of your meal.

Barolo pairs well with meat, which explains the local cuisine. The Piedmontese love beef, often raw, and from their local Fassone breed of cattle. They call it carne cruda antipasti, and we had it served with a dollop of eggy béchamel sauce. Fassone veal is served poached with a salty tuna, anchovies, capers and a mayonnaise sauce they call vitello tonnato. To control a growing feral pig population, braised wild boar with a Barolo sauce was on several menus.

A bumper crop for white truffles

Shaved white truffles on top of tajarin pasta at the Winebar Barolo Friends. Copyright 2016 Zester Media

Shaved white truffles on top of tajarin pasta at the Winebar Barolo Friends. Copyright 2016 Zester Media

The local pasta is tajarin — a thin, long, flat noodle narrower than tagliatelle with a rich egg flavor and color. In the fall, it is served with a bountiful pillow of fresh shaved white truffles, a dish so aromatic it is reason enough, all on its own, to make this trip. The taste of just-harvested truffles from nearby Alba, considered the region’s best — well, there are no words. And this year’s rains produced a bumper crop, reducing prices an average of 30 percent. Our bowl of pasta with white truffles was $38 per, which is a $100 dish at our neighborhood trattoria in Los Angeles. You can buy them on the streets of Alba from local truffle hunters who will ship them home to you.

Back in our toy Panda to drive the two hours north to Milan with a handful of grissini, the region’s skinny breadsticks, and a bag of the famous local candied chestnuts for the flight home. Next trip, we’ll stay longer so we can take more adventurous hikes, but always in the fall, when white truffles are in season.

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Ancient Wine Making Brings New Flavors To Italian Wine /agriculture/viticulture/old-techniques-new-flavors-italian-winery/ /agriculture/viticulture/old-techniques-new-flavors-italian-winery/#respond Sat, 21 Oct 2017 09:00:41 +0000 /?p=75923 In northeastern Italy, on the border with Slovenia, winemaker Joško Gravner has taken old techniques to give the defining white grape variety of the region a completely new interpretation. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

The defining white grape variety of Collio in northeastern Italy, on the border with Slovenia, is Ribolla Gialla, and Joško Gravner has given it a completely new interpretation. Every now and then you encounter a wine grower who has really made a difference, challenging accepted practices. Gravner is undoubtedly one of them.

Usually a lightly perfumed variety, in the hands of Gravner, Ribolla Gialla becomes intensely rich, and the reason is his use of amphorae. These days there is a sense that amphorae are becoming rather fashionable in some circles, especially with the growing interest in the wines of Georgia, which had been overlooked for so long and which suffered from a Soviet regime that demanded quantity rather than quality.

A pioneer in the region

Joško Gravner is seen as a pioneer in Europe for his use of amphorae in wine making. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

Joško Gravner is seen as a pioneer in Europe for his use of amphorae in wine making. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

However, in Europe, Gravner is seen as a pioneer. His daughter, Jana, explained that his eureka moment came on a visit to California in the mid-1980s. There was much talk and tasting focused on selected cultured yeast, and he thought: If this is the future, I do not want to be part of it. He looked at the old methods and discovered that the amphora is the oldest wine container. Indeed, if you visit the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, you will see an amphora that was used for wine making in 6000 BC. The presence of tartaric acid indicates a fermentation, rather than merely the storage of the grapes.

It took a few more years before Joško brought amphorae from Georgia. Jana remembered how they arrived, from the Caucuses in a Georgian lorry, in December 1996. They had bought 90 amphorae, but only 45 survived the long journey by road completely intact, despite being protected by large rubber tires. There is something about the clay of Kakheti, the region of eastern Georgia, that is particularly suitable for the production of amphorae, and in addition Georgian clay is free of heavy metal, whereas European clay tends to contain lead.

The underground cellar

The qvevri, or cellar of amphorae, at Gravner. After fermentation, the grapes are moved to barrels. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

The qvevri, or cellar of amphorae, at Gravner. After fermentation, the grapes are moved to barrels. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

A cellar of amphorae, or qvevri, as they are called in Georgia, is a wonderful place, with an atmosphere all of its own. In fact, there is very little actually to see, as the qvevri are buried in the ground. To build a qvevri cellar, you begin by digging a large hole, as though you were building a swimming pool. The qvevri, which are no bigger than about 2,000 liters, are then put in place, and the soil replaced around them.

Working with qvevri demands minimum equipment. The interior surfaces are treated with beeswax in Georgia, and then again when they arrive in Collio, as the beeswax provides a neutral protective coating. The soil provides a natural temperature control for the fermentation, so no refrigeration is necessary. The grapes are de-stemmed — they may use some of the stalks, as that helps break up the cap of skins — and the wine is left to ferment, and then once the malolactic fermentation is finished, the amphorae are sealed and the young wine is simply left to its own devices. It will fall clear naturally. The 2015 vintage was pressed in March and was then returned to the amphorae, where it will stay until the end of September. And then it will be kept in a barrel for a further six years before bottling. Joško and his daughter attach great importance to the seven-year cycle, and their riserva wines are aged for 14 years.

A constantly changing wine

Gravner’s Ribolla Gialla has a touch of honey, as well as streaks of minerality and tannin. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

Gravner’s Ribolla Gialla has a touch of honey, as well as streaks of minerality and tannin. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

And what does the wine taste like? We tasted the 2007 Ribolla, which I would suggest is one of the most original wines I have ever tried. The color is amber and the wine is not a DOC Collio as the color does not conform to the DOC regulations. Ribolla Gialla, when it is ripe, has light golden brown skins, which may even be brown when the grapes are very ripe. The nose is very intriguing. There is a touch of dry honey, and yet it is firm and dry and stony. There is a streak of minerality, which Jana said came from the amphorae, and there is a streak of tannin, which originates from the length of time on the skins. In some ways, the wine is quite austere with a firm linear character. But it is a wine that changes in the glass, constantly leaving you guessing — and returning for more.

Main photo: In northeastern Italy, on the border with Slovenia, winemaker Joško Gravner has taken old techniques to give the defining white grape variety of the region a completely new interpretation. Credit: Photo courtesy of Gravner winery.

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Handcrafted Coffee With A Whiskey Spirit /agriculture/coffee/ /agriculture/coffee/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:00:41 +0000 /?p=75561 Cooper’s Cask Coffee out of Rhode Island combines single-origin beans with the unbeatable aromas of whiskey. Credit: Cooper’s Cask Coffee

When Trish Rothgeb of the Coffee Quality Institute christened artisanal brews “third wave” coffee in 2002, quality, expertise, sustainability, individuality and a complex, even quirky taste experience began to define the coffeehouse cup of morning joe.

Handcrafted coffee achieved the status of fine wine, craft beer and artisanal bread.

Now, imagine something more.

Cooper’s Cask Coffee out of Rhode Island gives artisanal coffee a whiskey twist. The small new company is named for coopers, the craftsmen who for centuries have built wooden, barrel-shaped casks. Rooted in New England history, casks are also the key to Cooper’s special brew. Master roasters combine the carefully selected, single-origin coffee beans that typify third wave coffee with the unbeatable aromas of award-winning whiskeys.

Making and tasting whiskey-aged coffee beans

Cooper’s Cask Coffee beans are aged in Sons of Liberty whiskey barrels. Credit: Courtesy of Sons of Liberty

Cooper’s Cask Coffee beans are aged in Sons of Liberty whiskey barrels. Credit: Courtesy of Sons of Liberty

At Cooper’s Cask Coffee, unroasted beans are aged in barrels previously used for producing Sons of Liberty whiskey, which has won dozens of accolades including gold at the 2016 World Whiskies Awards. Beans are then roasted in batches so small that they are marked on each package by hand, noting the roast date and the signature of the master roaster. Those signatures belong to Jason Maranhao and John Speights, who also serve as master matchmakers. They skillfully pair the tasting notes of the beans with those of the whiskey. The barrels impart their aroma, producing a boon for the senses with coffees that are vibrant, intricate and thought provoking.

For example, the tasting notes of the Sumatra beans are described as woody and earthy, with a touch of sweet tobacco and a hint of ripe tropical fruits. The sweet vanilla and caramel notes of Sons of Liberty’s stout style American whiskey further enhance the bean’s flavor, creating a memorable cup of joe.

Cooper’s Ethiopian beans boast their own sought-after accents of peaches, strawberries, honey and chocolate. Once aged in the charred barrels from Sons of Liberty’s Battle Cry rye based whiskey, an intense and layered sensory experience emerges. Snappy spice intermingles with sweetness as a touch of floral brightness shines through. In a third offering, Rwanda beans find their soul mate in Thomas Tew Rum, yielding rich molasses, caramelized sugar and toasted notes.

Finding a passion for coffee

Engineers John Speights, left, and Jason Maranhao turned their passion for coffee into Cooper’s Cask Coffee. Credit: Courtesy of Cooper’s Cask Coffee

Engineers John Speights, left, and Jason Maranhao turned their passion for coffee into Cooper’s Cask Coffee. Credit: Courtesy of Cooper’s Cask Coffee

Launched in 2015, Cooper’s Cask Coffee began years earlier as a personal passion for Jason and John when they met while working as engineers in the computer technology industry. They weren’t always coffee aficionados. “In the beginning, I would drink the office ‘stink’ pot of coffee,” Maranhao says. “I’d throw in the cream and sugar to make it palatable.”

But then, he found his coffee passion with a strong DIY streak. “I first started roasting beans on a frying pan on the stove, sending the house smoke detectors into a frenzy,” he recalls. “Then I modified a hot air popcorn popper, and now a commercial roaster. As an engineer, I always enjoy creating new things and crafting coffee is just an extension of that creativity.”

While Maranhao and Speights still work their day jobs, they have high hopes for the future of Cooper’s Cask Coffee. “We want to bring to the world a revolution of craft coffee like how craft beer has turned big breweries on their head,” Maranhao says. They also encourage coffee drinkers, “Give yourself a small escape into happiness,” a mantra printed on each package. Coffee might be mindless morning fuel for some, but the idea behind Cooper’s Cask is to start the day, or reboot the afternoon, with an indulgent coffee experience that is daring, sensual and truly awakening.

Main photo: Cooper’s Cask Coffee out of Rhode Island combines single-origin beans with the unbeatable aromas of whiskey. Credit: Courtesy of Cooper’s Cask Coffee

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Slovenia’s Cutting Edge Wines Focus On Refošk /drinking/wine/slovenia-istria-winery-focuses-refosk/ /drinking/wine/slovenia-istria-winery-focuses-refosk/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 09:00:19 +0000 /?p=75033 The Santomas winery, with the town of Koper in the distance, lies in Slovenian Istria. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marjan Močivnik

The wines of Slovenia are being rediscovered after Slovenia’s emergence from the old Yugoslavia, and there are now pockets of excellent vineyards all over the country.

Recently, I was in the Istrian part of Slovenia, which is sandwiched between the much larger Croatian Istria and the Italian city of Trieste. Essentially, it is a narrow finger of land, with a short seaboard, before the country opens out toward the capital Ljubljana. And like Croatian Istria, it is an area of gentle hillsides, with vines and orchards, scattered with small villages. The one town of any size is the port of Koper, which was once called Capodistria, when it was part of Italy. And you cannot escape the proximity of borders in this part of Europe. We breakfasted in Italian Trieste, tasted wine during the morning in Slovenia and were in Croatia in time for lunch, which all makes for an exotic mix.

A daughter takes over

The grapes are sorted at harvest at Santomas. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marjan Močivnik

The grapes are sorted at harvest at Santomas. Credit: Copyright 2017 Marjan Močivnik

Leading the way in Slovenian Istria is Santomas, where Tamara Glavina introduced us to her family estate, just outside the village of Sarje, close to Koper. She is bright and vivacious, and highly competent, proving herself to be a talented winemaker. For her father, wine was really just a hobby, but he has invested in a new streamlined cellar and given his daughter a free rein. She focuses on Malvasia, and even more on Refošk, which are the two principal grape varieties, as in Croatian Istria.

Glavina said Refošk is usually made quite simply so that it can be drunk young, within the year, but she is now working on a change of style, developing wines that will have a much longer life.

This has necessitated changes in the vineyard, with single or double Guyot pruning, rather than the traditional pergola system. There is a greater density of 4,000 plants per hectare, and a much lower yield, of less than 1 kg per plant. The old pergola system even allowed for vegetables to be grown between the vines, as the Italians used to do with cultura promiscua.

Wine from the cellar

Santomas has invested in a new streamlined cellar and brought in a consultant oenologist. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marjan Močivnik

Santomas has invested in a new streamlined cellar and brought in a consultant oenologist. Credit: Copyright 2017 Marjan Močivnik

In the cellar Glavina has had the help of Claude Gros, a consultant oenologist from the Languedoc, who really saw the potential of Refošk when he came to visit. Glavina talked of her experience of working a vintage in France, a challenge when her French was still fairly limited. And then she treated us to an impressive vertical tasting of her red wines. We began with a young Refošk, with some appealing freshness, that had been kept in a stainless steel vat. Refošk means quite simply “king of the dark” and is deep in color, with low acidity and spicy berry fruit. The berries are large with soft skins — Glavina said that it is impossible to make rosé from it as the skins provide so much color.

Glavina also has some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which she might blend with Refošk. She said that she felt that sometimes it was difficult for people to appreciate Refošk and that some Cabernet or Merlot helped. I could not help feeling that, although the blend, and indeed some pure Cabernet were very good, the quality and character of the Refošk stood alone. So as well as the fresh Refošk, she makes two other cuvées, which may or may not be single vineyards: Antonius, for which she aims for a powerful rich style of wine, that may be either Refošk or Cabernet Sauvignon, and her Grande Cuvée, which she does not make every year, and for which she is looking above all for elegance.

An impressive wine tasting

Santomas has made changes in the vineyard, with single or double Guyot pruning. Credit: Copyright 2016 Marjan Močivnik

Santomas has made changes in the vineyard, with single or double Guyot pruning. Credit: Copyright 2017 Marjan Močivnik

Tamara opened bottles back from her first vintage in 2006, and included a 2005 made by her father. Highlights included the 2009 Grande Cuvée Refošk from the Certeze vineyard, given two years aging in French oak. It had some intriguing spice on the nose, with well-integrated oak and perfumed red fruit on the palate, with great length.

A 2009 Antonius from 25- to 50-year-old vines from the Sergasi vineyard, a sunny amphitheater that enjoys a maritime influence, was smoky and youthful, with ripe fruit and tannins. And 2009 Petrache Refošk, another vineyard, was spicy and perfumed with some freshness and elegance. In other words, we enjoyed three quite different Refošk from the same vintage, showing the versatility of the grape.

The 2006 Grande Cuvée from Refošk still retained a freshness combined with a richness, while the 2006 Antonius Cabernet Sauvignon was rich and powerful with cedary notes. We finished with Ludvik Glavina Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, which had developed some elegant cedary cassis flavors, making a fitting conclusion to the tasting. The Cabernet Sauvignon was good, but I came away with a lasting impression of the charm and originality of Refošk.

Main photo: The Santomas winery, with the town of Koper in the distance, lies in Slovenian Istria. Credit: Copyright 2017 Marjan Močivnik

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