Nov 122012
 
Ochoa sisters

Adriana Ochoa (left) and Beatriz Ochoa (right)
Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

As head of marketing for her family’s winery, my friend Beatriz of Bodegas Ochoa in Navarra, Spain was visiting the New York area this week. We had arranged to meet up for dinner on Friday and, when I asked her what type of restaurant she would prefer, she merely stipulated that it be trendy and fun. I admit that I am a bit out of the loop when it comes to trendy, so I reached out to a friend who is more knowledgeable about the hot new restaurants and received a list of places to consider. The only problem is that, because they are hot and trendy, these restaurants were already booked, so the list was abandoned. As an alternative, I reserved a table at a slightly faded star, but in a trendy neighborhood.

Friday arrived wet and windy, with the requisite weekend traffic, further compounded by the President’s visit to town, all of which meant that it took Beatriz a full hour to travel the 10 blocks from the train station to her hotel. The reservation came and went, so we switched to Plan B.

The wonderful thing about New York City is that we have a ton of restaurants of every conceivable type (and even some inconceivable ones). Although she indicated that she was up for anything, Beatriz mentioned an interest in Mexican food, so we walked down Ninth Avenue in search of whatever caught our fancy. We paused to peruse the menu at a French bistro, but the fact that one of the items was called “Tuscan lemon chicken” made it difficult for us to take it seriously and we continued on our journey. Less than a block away, we found a lively Mexican restaurant and were seated immediately.

So, what else had Beatriz been eating since her arrival in the U.S.? Spanish food. Or, probably more appropriately erzatz Spanish food. And lots of it. It seems that no matter where a winemaker or other ambassador of a winery travels to, the conventional wisdom is to pair their wines with hometown cuisine – in this case, Spain.

As Beatriz and I continued to talk, it was clear she would have preferred that her distributors had been more creative when scheduling some of her dinner events. I’m all for the adage, “What grows together, goes together,” but this is a very limited view for the industry to take. Is this truly the message that we should be sending – that wines from Spain (or Italy or France or wherever) taste best when paired with food from Spain (or Italy or France or wherever)? Shouldn’t we, instead, send the message that wine can be paired with a wide range of cuisines? Especially in a place like New York, where we have such diversity.

And, the more I thought about it, it was a missed opportunity. Perhaps, it could be argued by some that some Spanish wines may seem a little out of place on certain wine lists, but wines from Navarra are primarily varietally-labeled wines – Chardonnay, Merlot and Tempranillo among others. These are wines that can easily transition to nearly any restaurant’s wine list, regardless of the cuisine’s origin. Moreover, as good quality wines at reasonable price points, Navarran wines seem to be a natural fit in this regard.

Yes, if I go to a Spanish restaurant, I would be more than surprised not to find the list heavily weighted with Spanish wines, but I’d love to see other options available to me as well. I might be in the mood for an Italian Vermentino to pair with my Gambas al Ajillo. Similarly, why not include Spanish wines on the list at a French restaurant (Rioja with escargots) or a Japanese sushi place (Rias Baixas with a tuna roll)? We have been trying to expand consumer’s palates and their pairings – getting them to explore such matches as red wines with fish. Let’s take this permissive attitude to the next level and think outside the cuisine box when hosting lunches and dinners with winery personnel.

Nov 072012
 

ExhaustedI can’t tell you how many people have told me that they want my job.   And two weeks ago, I was open to offers.  I started by flying to NY for the Simply Italian tastings.  That meant that I got up at 4:30 PDT to catch a flight to NY.  The next day I was up at 5:00 PDT to  race over to the NY Public Library to start getting the tastings organized.  Among other things, I introduced the first speaker, my old friend Riccardo Riccicurbastro from Franciacorta, and also give the last seminar, on the wines of the Veneto.  In between I was running upstairs (seminars) and down (grand tastings) as needed.  Did I mention that we were also organizing a film shoot for the wines of Friuli there?  That night, I was at A Voce for a magnificent dinner with the Grandi Marchi wineries—and back to the hotel around 11 p.m..

So far, so good, right?

Next day, up at the crack of dawn to catch an early flight back to California, so that I could get some work done and teach my class at Napa Valley College that evening.  The class ended at 9:30.  That was a long day.  And it was made even longer by the fact that I raced back to the airport after class to catch a red-eye leaving SFO at 11:45 pm for Chicago, so that we could do the whole Simply Italian event all over again in the Windy City.   I arrived at the Hotel Sax in Chicago at 6:30 a.m. and had a breakfast meeting.  And yes, we also did the video shoot in Chicago.  By the time I wrapped up the Veneto session, I was pretty darn tired.  And that’s when the Grand Tasting began.  Four hours later, all of it on my feet, and I was ready to clean up the ballroom, and take the film crew to dinner.  Steak, of course.  It was Chicago.

In bed by 10 p.m., and the next morning I was back at O’Hare to catch a flight to SFO and drive home.

Four days.  Four flights.  Almost 10,000 miles. Three cities, two seminars, two introductions, one night class, two Grand Tastings, three business dinners (and a breakfast), two video projects (including two interviews with me) and one red-eye.

I slept pretty well on Thursday night.

Nov 022012
 
Indigenous cosmopolitan: Prosecco Superiore goes “glocal”

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

Passing the microphone to moderator Luciano Ferraro, the reason behind Prosecco’s popularity became clear. Ferraro shared that his wife had described the wine as “’light, fruity and beautiful’” and further explained that his wife doesn’t even like wine. American journalist, Alan Tardi, concurred, saying that it was fresh, pleasant, low in alcohol, well priced and very versatile; in sum, it was “Italy in a bottle.”

As evidence of the wine’s success, Professor Vasco Boatto presented data, which showed significant growth of Prosecco (both Prosecco DOC and Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG) in value and volume. Figures from 2011 showed the product’s growth to be up 63% in value and 48% in volume, in the U.S. alone.

But, Tardi also mentioned that even though Americans have embraced Prosecco with open arms, they do not fully appreciate the territory where it comes from. He added that there is still work to be done in differentiating Prosecco DOC and Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG for American consumers.

Speaking to the theme of this year’s Vino in Villa event – Indigenous cosmopolitan—Enrico Finzi, president of Astraricerche, discussed globalization 2.0. While globalization 1.0 has created a homogeneity worldwide (think Coke or McDonalds), this new phase ushers in the opportunity to be “glocal.” Accordingly, globalization and local do not have to be at odds with one another. Rather, local traditions are being revived and exported out of their local territory while maintaining quality, providing a wider audience for these products, a “plurality of access.”

Building on this theme, the tasting event featured international cuisine from Japan and Russia and the main dinner paired Prosecco Superiore with food from one of Denmark’s top restaurants- Restaurant Kvægtorvet di Odense in Fionia. From the fjord shrimp with pickled cucumber and rye grains with pea purée to the roasted loin and fresh strawberries, the Prosecco Superiore rose to the occasion in each case. Proving that two seemingly disparate, artisan products – Danish food (almost all of the ingredients were brought in for the dinner) and an Italian wine – could find such synergy at the table.