Thursday, 21 June 2012

Are You a Viognier Virgin?...

It can be argued that the rise of the popularity of Pinot Grigio came about as a reaction to the popularity of Chardonnay. Big oaky and butter was replaced with light, crisp, and refreshing whites; a perfect pair for the patio or with a light meal. Over the past year, however, we've seen a trend towards "the new white:" Viognier. While Pinot Grigio still remains the favourite white in our market, the popularity of Viognier is starting to take off.

If you are a Viognier virgin, the first thing to point out is probably how to pronounce it: vee-oh-nyeh. The traditional home of vee-oh-nyeh is the Rhone Valley of France, where it is often on its own in the north or blended with other varietals in the south (namely Roussane and Marsanne - good names for twin girls, by the way). One unique aspect of Viognier from the northern Rhone is that it is one of the very few white grapes to be blended with a red grape, in this case Syrah. As a result, Australian winemakers have become quite adept at offering delicious Shiraz-Viognier blends.

On its own, however, Viognier offers the weight and texture of a Chardonnay but a fresh and attractive palate like a Pinot Grigio. Typically, Viognier has a lilac-honeysuckle florality to it balanced by herbaceous undertones. Be forewarned, though, that as a warm climate white the alcohol levels of a Viognier tend to be around 13 to 14%!  Outside of France, Viognier grows well in areas that share a similar hot, dry climate as the Rhone Valley: Chile, Australia, California, and even here in British Columbia.

Of course, no article on this blog would be complete without a food recommendation. What inspired me to write this entry was my dinner the other night. I accidentally thawed turkey cutlets instead of beef, and feeling a bit middle-eastern I grilled the turkey in a Morrocan-inspired marinade (tumeric is the key, but don't forget your 5 c's: cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cilantro). The florality of my Chilean Viognier stood up well against the spicey complexity of the marinade, and the full-body/high-alcohol stood up to the intensity of flavour that comes with grilled meats.

In the end, I've had my share of Viognier before (sometimes on its own, sometimes blended with friends), but in this case, it was nice to loose my Viognier virginity once again. 

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Age of Spirits

During one of life's interludes when, as any good child would do, I moved back in with my parents in my early 30s, I stumbled upon an open bottle of rye in my dad's cabinet. Rich, wam, and smooth, I complimented my dad on his choice of rye. To my surprise, he had no idea what I was refering to until I showed him the bottle. Turns out, it was a gift bottle from 1978 that he had completely forgotten about (even with a move from Toronto to BC!).

What strikes me about this incident was how well-balanced the spirit was despite having been originally opened so many years ago. While spirits in my cabinet don't seem to stay quite that long, something can be said about the gift of an aged spirit; a gift that can keep giving, if you will.

Premium spirits are libations that are intended to be enjoyed in small amounts without the added benefit of a soft drink. The added advantage of a premium spirit is that most are exposed to oxygen during their aging process. As with a tawny port, madeira, or oloroso sherry, an aged spirit will be virtually indestrucable once open because of this early oxygen exposure.

Different spirits have different aging requirements as set out by local legislation. Here are some examples of classic aged spirits - and of course, great ideas for Father's Day!

COGNAC/ARMAGNAC: VS - 2 years (1 year for Armagnac); VSOP - 4 years; XO - 6 years

SINGLE MALT WHISKY: Minimum 3 years (but 8 is common). An age on the bottle indicates the minimum time spent aging in barrels.

RUM: No minimum, but as with Single Malts, the age on the bottle represents the minimum. 1 Year aging in tropical heat, however, is equivalent to 3 years in cool-climate Scotland.

TEQUILA: Reposado - 3 to 6 months; Anejo - 1 year minimum

Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Multicultural Mezze...

A day off with nothing in particular planned usually means I spend the day thinking about what to make for supper. Further to this, my next day off is a week away so I also need to think of things to make that during the week can be easily reheated or reinvented (a nicer way of saying "leftovers"). Unable to draw one specific meal from my global repertoire, I decided why not make a whole bunch of little things and serve them on one plate. Essentially, I made a mezze.
At its basic form, a mezze is a Turkish term for a meal that comprises of many smalll components, each bringing a different flavour and benefit to the meal. Though close in concept to Japanese kaiseki or Spanish tapas, the dishes of a mezze are all served at the same time on one platter from which diners pick their favourites and dip in an assortment of sauces.
An olio of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare, mezze is one of my favourite ways to dine as I often have trouble deciding on just one thing to eat (deciding on which wine to have is another story...). Still, my epicurian eccentricities led me to create a mezze that is not just of one culinary style but instead comprises of influences from my varied "homes;" a multicultural mezze if you will.
Represented on my mezze plate tonight are the following:

Krumb Mahshi: Epyptian cabbage rolls stuffed with turkey, bulgher wheat, herbs and spices (cabbage is currently thrives in my rain-soaked garden...);
Horenso Goma-ae: Steamed spinach in a Japanese sesame dressing (I add a Middle Eastern flare by using tahini flavoured with pommegranate molasses instead of soy sauce);
Quesadillas: I fill mine with aged pecorino cheese (rather like parmagiano) and cilantro before pan-frying;
Poulet a la Provencale:  Oven-roasted chicken in a pesto of sage, thyme, and rosemary (all from the garden, of course); in other words, Swiss Chalet two-point-oh;
Feijoada: Portuguese/Brazilian bean dish made with spicy peri-peri peppers and chorizo sausage (pork usually, but I of course subsitute with turkey);
Tabouleh: Bulgher-parsley-mint salad with lots of lemon juice, but since I used all my bulgher for the cabbage rolls, I used couscous instead....quinoa would also have been a fun option;
Kabu no Tsukemono: Japanese "pickled turnip"; I pickled baby turnips from my garden last year in ricewine vinegar, kelp, and rice bran (nuka);
Kaktugi: Korean kimchi made from daikon radish (kimchi stands as one of my favourite foods, and I have to admit that Koreans think my kimchi is pretty fly for a white guy...);
Gado-Gado: Sweet and spicy Indonesian peanut sauce (every mezze needs nuts, so why not branch out?);

With most of my favourite regions of the world covered on this plate, I'm sure you're wondering where New Zealand fits in all this. To finish, I've reinvented afghans into brownie form. As a kiwi can be a bird, a fruit, and a person in New Zealand, an afghan can be a dog, a knitted sweater, or a chocolate cookie made from corn flakes; my dessert is the latter, but thickened with eggs to form into a brownie.

I bet you thought I would say New Zealand would be represented in the wine. Since I've yet to include a Turkish component to what is no longer a classic Turkish dinner (the turkey chorizo and turkey-stuffed cabbage do not count as representing "Turkey"), my wine tonight is a Calkarasi-Bogazkere blend. These grapes are Pinot Noir like in structure as it is light in body with light tannins and an earthy-strawberry character.

So there you have it. A model UN in mezze form. Recipes for all these dishes go to the first person who sends me a comment on this entry!