There is a bevy of new research emerging touting the benefits of the “Mediterranean Diet” and the incorporation of wine – red wine specifically – into it. I, as a hugely red wine biased drinker, am jumping for joy.
First, on Feb 25th the New England Journal of Medicine published results of a study testing the benefits of the “Mediterranean Diet.” This diet is rich in extra virgin olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes and wine (seven glasses a week with meals!). It is also very low in dairy, red meat and processed foods. The team of researchers whose work was published in Journal was supposed to spend five more years on this study, but results now are so conclusive that it was deemed unethical to keep going. You’ve likely seen the results–they’ve been everywhere, including the New York Times and other news outlets.
Findings of this study say that switching to this diet will prevent 30% of heart attacks and strokes; while other ailments may not be cured, these, the most detrimental to human health, are directly affected by diet. Participants were put into three groups: the first followed a Mediterranean eating plan with added doses of extra virgin olive oil; the second group at the same, but with additional nuts; the third and final group followed a more American diet with little to no fat intake. Those in groups one and two showed reduced signs for the aforementioned ailments, while those in group three didn’t show near the same results.
Of course, there are critics positing that it isn’t simply the Mediterranean Diet that is responsible for these health benefits–that it is the entire lifestyle that produces results. While I would love to get on the “everyone gets to take a nap in the middle of the day” bandwagon, I realize that food plays a huge factor in overall wellbeing–just as much, if not more, than sun exposure and sleep. I’m not a big red meat eater but I am a voracious olive oil consumer, so any study telling me to do more of what I love is ok by me. I have always found that the less dairy, red meat and processed foods I consume, the better I feel. I’m very lucky to be in an industry that champions fresh, homemade food with lots of high quality wine, and friends who have extra virgin olive oil obsessions similar to mine.
However, I know that not everyone has access to the same variety of foods we have in NYC, and that plays a huge role in overall wellbeing. I also agree that there are other diets that people and doctors believe in and that research suggests work very well. The Mediterranean diet is simply something that has worked for a large group of people for a long time and has now been shown to reduce the risk of diseases that plague Americans.
On the other hand, it might just be the wine. For example, another group of studies released this week hailing from Jerusalem, Germany and the US found that moderate red wine consumption helps to keep free radicals from forming, inhibits inflammation after eating a meal heavy in fat, helps men stay leaner and decreases hypertension risk by up to 13% in women. Needless to say, this gladdens my heart. I’m a strong supporter of everyone taking steps to be healthier, and the Mediterranean way of eating and drinking is a very easy one to follow. It doesn’t deprive a person of anything, except for the overly processed foods that are bad for them in the first place. Being and eating healthy isn’t so much about deprivation – as evidenced by the failure of control group three – but about making different choices for yourself.
First you have the tiny domaine of Monsieur Alain Gras. As I have said before, Alain Gras’ Auxey Duresses, from 100+ year old vines, will fool many an expert into thinking it is a top 1er Cru from Chambolle, for a mere $45 dollars. However, I have never mentioned his favorite, and a favorite among many of our clients: his seductive St Romain. Not an appellation that usually causes much fuss among Pinotphiles, the St Romains of Gras cause a stir among those “in the know” among the Burgundy elite. IWM was fortunate to get our hands on a few more cases of the glorious 2009. It’s a perfect wine to drink or hold while the star-studded 2010 is waiting patiently in the cellar. If you are not familiar with Alain Gras, this is an opportunity not to pass up, as most of our allocation each vintage goes to those who have bought his wines previously. Let this wine impress you!
The second wine needs no introduction. Latour-Giraud is the single largest owner of the famous Meursault 1er Cru, Les Genevrieres. Although every single wine from this estate easily rivals the best in category, it may be the Genevriere that year after year is the standard for this prized vineyard. Often besting those of Coche, Lafon, and other producers, this wine is a relative steal at $104 when its rivals prices range from $250-$500. Luckily for IWM, we had one more drop of the 2010 we had forgotten about, and therefore had not sold. This is a wonderful opportunity to get your hands on one of the finest, classically styled Meursault 1er Crus made. Don’t forget that Monsieur Jean-Pierre Latour will be joining us for a hedonistic evening of his wines and our chef’s food later this month on the 25th. So if you love this beauty, you can get to meet the man behind wine–and so much more.
Year after year this St Romain sets the standard for this tiny appellation. The 2009 expresses the class and breeding usually reserved for appellations like Gevrey or Volnay in a beautifully rich wine that coats the palate with loads of luscious red cherry, raspberry, and other briary fruit notes. The nose is utterly unbelievable for a wine in this range–a kaleidoscopic range of red fruit nuances mixed with hints of anise, clove, lavender and violets. I have had clients tell me that “Although Gras is know for his Auxey Vieilles Vignes, his St Romain deserves as least as much credit. What he does with this appellation is beyond magical.”
As most of you know by now, Latour-Giraud is a huge favorite of IWM clients and white Burgundy fans the world over. The 2010 Genevriere 1er is possibly the finest example I have ever tasted of this blockbuster wine; Latour’s claim to fame is the estate’s unparalleled Genevriere. This wine simply explodes from the glass with notes of honeysuckle, acacia, orange blossom, and telltale Genevriere mineral with mouth-watering acidity that brings this beast of a Premier Cru Burgundy to the edge of Grand Cru Caliber. You can still taste this wine two minutes later. This is Meursault at its best.
It’s easy to match your meal with wine when you are having food from a region that is also known for their wine, such as Italy or France. This ease comes from the fact that the winemaking and culinary traditions of a region will have evolved together. There were no set of rules in ancient times and local cuisines were paired simply with local wine, which brings up a though: as time passed, was the food modified for the wine or was the wine modified to complement the food? I can’t help but wonder.
But the question of what to pair with your food becomes difficult when you are eating food from a region that is not known for their wine. For example, I am from Colombia and my wife is from Mexico, and we love the foods from our childhood. But what wines go with rice and beans, tacos or some creamy seafood Cazuela from Cartagena? We have done a lot of experimentation to find out.
Food from Mexico and South America offer a plethora of ingredients such as beans, rice and fish dishes, but if you are from Argentina, beef is king. Ingredients can be very simple and straightforward, but there are also some fascinating and exotic ones. I’ll use a couple of obvious guidelines and try to stick to the main concept behind pairing food that certain elements (such as texture and flavor) in both food and wine react differently to each other.
When my wife and I are in the mood for Mexican food, one of our favorite dishes is Pollo con Huitlacoche, and it has one of the more exotic ingredients. Huitlacoche is a fungus (like a truffle) that grows naturally on ears of corn. It’s earthy and smoky, and Mexican cooking uses it to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups and other specialty dishes. We have tried this dish with many wines and have found that for us it pairs well with a lighter red like a Dolcetto or a Barbera, but it really shines when we have a bottle of Montevertine’s eponymous wine, which is Sangioveto with Canaiolo and Colorino. The wine’s fruitiness contrasts the sweetness of the corn, while its earth tones blend gracefully with the earthiness of the dish. If we’re in the mood for white, we’ve found that a Chardonnay that has hints of oak also mingles really well with the corn truffle. Keep in mind that if you are going heavy on the spice a wine with big tannins might not go as well because of the heat.
When it comes to food from Colombia, I keep to red wines that are smooth and soft for dishes that contain starchy beans, but if we are adding meats, then we usually go with a wine that has a bit more body and strength like a Nebbiolo or a Super-Tuscan Cabernet blend. Spanish wines also seem to please my palate when it comes to these foods.
One favorite dish of mine is Seafood Cazuela from the coast. This is similar to seafood chowder and can be cream based. Here, I suggest that you stick to the rule of typically pairing a cream-based soup or sauce and choose a full-bodied, acidic, and fruity wine like a Chardonnay, which works well with the richness of the chowder. I have found that my palate is not enamored of shellfish paired with a wine that has notes of oaky flavors, so I stick with something refreshing fun and lively. I love this dish with a glass of Cava from Raventos i Blanc–the acidity cuts through the cream nicely–or with Paolo Bea’s Bianco Santa Chiara from Umbria; its earthy tones mix with a citrusy spike to complement a myriad of sea creatures.
So bottom line is that whether you say “potato” or “putato” (I say “papa”), it’s all about the mood you’re in, the company you are keeping and what’s available to drink. However, you should keep certain rules. I, for example, love a nice tasty rib eye with an aged Nebbiolo-based wine or Aglianico. The tannins cut through the protein and vice versa very well. A light wine would be lost with a hearty steak. However, I always keep an open mind and am willing to experiment. I suggest that when at home open multiple bottles of different styles and vintages to see what goes better with what. I think you will find that each wine will enhance different aspects of the meal and finding the right combination of these elements will make the entire dining experience more enjoyable.
One of the beautiful things about wine is that you can experiment, and after some trial and error, you can determine what would be a great match to your favorite dish but more importantly to your palate. A lot of times I was pleasantly surprised; on other occasions, well, it just did not pair well, such as when I had an oaky Chardonnay with the seafood Cazuela. But always remember that if at the end of the meal you had an enjoyable experience, then the wines paired well, and you’ll be left with a happy memory.
I think the late Pierluigi Talenti, the pioneering enologist behind Il Poggione and Talenti Brunello, said it best in the early ’60s when he said he wanted to drink his Brunellos sooner, offering that they did not have to be forbiddingly hard upon release. He was confronted with backlash from traditional producers like Biondi-Santi. I remain fiercely loyal and dedicated to the traditional wines that require patience, like those from Mascrello, Rinaldi, and Biondi-Santi, but there is something nice about the more approachable Barolo, Brunello and Super Tuscans that I sometimes overlook. Be it the product of a warmer vintage, lower positioning on the slopes, soil type, or producer style, many of us want a great wine to drink sooner rather than later. That is what my selections today are about–approachability from wines typically known for their need for time in the cellar, but can offer something to us today.
A few weeks back we did our sold-out Saturday Tasting Series dedicated to Super Tuscans as well as a winemaker dinner celebrating 25 years of Ornellaia. The conclusion the staff, attendees and I drew was that 2008 is not only the sleeper vintage in Barolo, but also for much of Toscana. The wines are more classic, restrained, and balanced; the 2008 Guado al Tasso, Solaia, Sassicaia and Ornellaia are classics for the collector, but all need a little time, decanting and investment.
Enter the 2009 Grattamacco. The wine jumped out of the glass with a little aeration and immediately impressed, which is unusual for this estate. The neighbor estate to Sassicaia, Grattamacco has built a reputation as the finesse-driven Bolgheri Super Tuscan. However, the 2009 Grattamacco is the product of the warm and opulent vintage, and what I like about the wine is its approachability now. It is a bolder and less austere interpretation that is packed with dense red and black fruit, licorice, and spice, with a herbaceous note to complement the wine. It was so fresh and aromatic that some of us were wondering if they sneaked some Cabernet Franc in the blend. This is a fun Super Tuscan intended for earlier consumption and with IWM’s special pricing, this wine is more approachable on the palate and in the pocket.
With all the excitement around our historic vintage offering of Giuseppe Rinaldi’s traditional Barolo, I forgot about the range Barolo can have. There is a finesse that Rinaldi and Giacosa capture that has left me a little close-minded and in favor of the more old school and finesse-driven estates. The other evening I was completely reawakened by Scavino’s interpretation of the historic cru Cannubi. Enjoying the mid-weight, classic nature of the 2008 vintage and Scavino’s signature style, I was completely enamored by this wine. It was bolder, rounder, and approachable, yet it maintained the elegance, freshness and complexity that is the hallmark of Barolo’s oldest and most prized cru. This is enjoyable Barolo with all the notes you want from this wine: dark cherry, spice, tea, earth, and roses. We decanted the wine for three hours and it showed perfectly. It reminded me just how good the 2008 vintage can be, why it is important to keep an open mind in producer and vintage, and why Sergio has been an advocate of this pioneering estate for so long. At a case production of just 225 cases, this is on top of my list for wines from 2008.
Ales Kristancic of Movia is an outstanding wine producer in Slovenia and probably one of the best in Italy as well (his Brda estate straddles the border of the two countries). When I heard he was responsible for making the Toh-Kai 2010 from Quattro Mani, I knew that it had to be excellent. Toh-Kai, a play on the word “Tocai,” comes from the Italian grape that once was called Tocai Friulano and is now just called Friulano.
There seems to be a bit of magic in every bottle of wine that Ales produces, and his wines have never failed to spark my interest. With spring quickly approaching, we all need an inexpensive and delicious white wine to have around for casual drinking and for partying. At $11.72 per bottle on a case, or $12.74 a bottle by itself, this wine is an absolute steal. It can sometimes be scary when Italian whites dip this far down in price points, but I can assure you that this wine drinks way over its price point.
The 2010 Quattro Mani Toh-Kai’s flavors are crisp and vibrant, displaying an undeniable tropical quality, especially that of kiwi, which I find very interesting. You can sip this wine all day, impress friends and it won’t break the bank; I think I’ve found a new house white!
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