Mar 30, 2011

U.S. now world’s largest wine-consuming nation

The U. S. breezed right past France in 2010 as the world’s largest wine-consuming nation, according to wine industry consultant group Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates in Woodside, California.

U. S. consumption of wine grew 2% from the previous year to nearly 330 million cases. Total French consumption was 320.6 million cases in 2010.

The estimated retail value of these U. S. sales was $30 billion, up 4% from 2009. California wine accounted for a 61% volume share of the total U.S. wine market with sales at 199.6 million cases, up 1% from the previous year. Retail value was $18.5 billion. California's total wine shipments worldwide to all markets in the U.S. and abroad (including exports) were 241.8 million cases, up 2% from the previous year.

Sales of high-end wines remained challenging, but marketers used social media technology to reach increasingly wired consumers, said Fredrikson.

Fredrikson estimates that Chardonnay led the California bottled table wines, with a 5% increase in 2010 to more than 53 million cases. Cabernet Sauvignon also grew rapidly, rising 6% to nearly 33 million cases. Other California bottled varietals growing notably in sales included Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Riesling and Muscat.

Sparkling wine and champagne had a remarkable year, up 10% in the U.S, suggesting that consumers may be broadening their use of these wines beyond special occasions. The category's 15.4 million cases represent 4.6% of all wine sales in the U.S., of which the majority is produced in California, according to The Gomberg-Fredrikson Report.

U.S. Wine Exports Rebound 

In 2010, U.S. wine exports, 90 percent from California, jumped 25.6% in value to an estimated $1.14 billion in winery revenues. Volume shipments rose 1.9% to 47.3 million nine-liter cases, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. U.S. wine export volume has nearly doubled in the last decade.

Thirty-eight percent of U.S. wine exports by value were shipped to the 27-member countries of the European Union, accounting for $435 million of the revenues, up 14% from 2009. Volume shipments to the EU reached 27.6 million cases in 2010, up 11% from the previous year. Changes in the dollar exchange rate, a gradually recovering economy and California's effective marketing and high wine quality have helped exports rebound. Other top markets were: Canada, $308 million; Hong Kong, $116 million; Japan, $76 million; and China, $45 million.

Thanks to The Wine Institute for reporting these statistics.

Mar 28, 2011

"World Salt Awareness Week"

Salt has its own week: who knew?

World Action on Salt & Health (WASH), whose mission is to improve world health by achieving a gradual reduction in salt intake, designated March 21-27 as the week's official 2011 dates. But even though the week has just ended, the need to be careful with salt will not.

We all know that too much salt isn’t good for you, even if you don't suffer from hypertension.

You probably know the obvious too-salted culprits: processed foods, lots of canned products, etc. But salt is hidden in ways many of us don’t realize. I recently watched a few 1.5-minute “shocker” videos about hidden salt in food and had some unpleasant surprises, the chief one being how salt-laden low-fat cottage cheese is; if you have a 1-cup serving of the stuff, you'll down half a day's suggested daily sodium intake. The videos were produced by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and you can find them here. Other topics include salt in lunch meat, canned veggies, and ketchup.

But back to WASH, which has some informative leaflets you can download:
  • Salt and your health includes information on the health implications of eating too much salt, a list of foods that are high and low in salt, and simple steps to reduce salt in your diet. View salt and health leaflet
  • Salt and Eating Out Consumer Guide - includes information on long term health implications of eating too much salt, salt in food that we eat and cook at home, salt and eating out and top tips for eating out. View the Consumer Guide 
  • Salt intake and the health of your children - includes information on the long term health implications of eating too much salt, recommended maximum intakes and practical advice on reducing salt intake. View children's leaflet 
  • The importance of cutting salt as you grow older - describes why it is especially important to cut salt intake as you get older as this will immediately cut the risk of stroke and heart attack. View salt and older people leaflet

    Mar 25, 2011

    An Unexpected Culinary Star

    Nathan Myhrvold won a PhD at age 23 in theoretical and mathematical physics. He then went on to--among a great many other things--work at Cambridge University with Stephen Hawking and become Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft.

    And then he wrote a cookbook. Not just any cookbook, either! His 6-volume compendium, entitled Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, is a scientific examination of cooking techniques accompanied by recipes. It costs a hefty $460, but it's so popular that it's on back-order at Amazon.

    The scientist/chef has now ascended into culinary stardom. Fresh off visits to the Today Show and Colbert Report, Myhrvold came to The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) on Thursday, March 24, where he delivered the baccalaureate graduation address. During commencement exercises, Dr. Myhrvold was named an honorary alumnus of the college by CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan.

    While on campus, he gave a presentation attended by 1,000 students in the college's gymnasium and simulcast to classrooms on campus. Myhrvold's 2,400-page Modernist Cuisine is generating the biggest buzz in the food world in years. President Ryan was recently quoted in USA Today, calling it "one of the most important cookbooks of all time." Dr. Ryan has been in discussions with Myhrvold to consider how knowledge from Modernist Cuisine can be incorporated into the college's curriculum.

    Myhrvold told the families of the 64 graduates of one way the culinary world is changing: "Twenty or thirty years ago, if your son or daughter was a chef, you wouldn't brag about it at a cocktail party. Today you can brag." He then advised the recipients of bachelor's degrees in culinary arts management and baking and pastry arts management, "You've received the greatest culinary education anyone can receive. But it won't be enough. Today is not the day you stop learning. It's the day you start."

    Cooking is more than just a hobby for this Renaissance man. He won several first place awards at the World Barbecue Championships in Memphis, TN in the early 1990s and served as the chief gastronomic officer for the Zagat Survey.

    Mar 15, 2011

    St. Patrick's Day: Dinner for Eight

    I'm trying something new this year -- slow-roasting a corned beef instead of the usual long simmer. I was inspired by a newsletter from Sonoma's B. R. Cohn Winery, which linked not only to a delish-sounding recipe for Roasted Corned Beef, but to a detailed plan for a full-scale St. Patty's Day dinner guaranteed to feed eight.

    The full menu includes lots of edible green food:
    • A Shamrock Appetizer Plate (Leprechaun Spinach Wraps with spinach and artichoke filling; warm Pistachios; and a ceviche made from shrimp, celery, avocado, olives and parsley)
    • Onion, Parsley and Irish Cheddar Soup
    • A light plate: Irish Smoked Salmon with chopped red onion, hard boiled eggs and cream cheese
    • Roasted Corned Beef with Carrots
    • Colcannon, a traditional dish featuring potatoes and cabbage
    • Irish Soda Bread 
    The website page for the dinner gives complete recipes, along with shopping lists, decorating tips, wine suggestions (B. R. Cohn Chardonnay and Guinness), and preparation help. 

    Here's B. R. Cohn's mouth-watering corned beef recipe:

    Roasted Corned Beef with Carrots
    • 4-5 lb. Corned Beef (in package)
    • 10 whole cloves
    • 1/4 cup B.R. Cohn Hot and Sweet Mustard
    • 2 tbsp brown sugar
    • 1 package cleaned, peeled medium size carrots
    Preheat oven to 350° F. Drain the packaged Corned Beef and discard the spice packet, rinse and pat dry.  Lay Corned Beef, fat side up on a large piece (or more) of heavy-duty aluminum foil.  The object is to encase the beef in foil, using extra if needed.

    Insert cloves into the top of the slab of Corned beef, evenly spacing. Spread the top of the beef with the Hot and Sweet Mustard.  Sprinkle brown sugar over the top. Wrap Corned beef in the foil in a way that will allow some space between the beef and the foil at the top.  Place wrapped package into a shallow roasting pan and bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  At the hour and 1/2 interval open the packet carefully and scatter the carrots.  Close tightly and continue baking.

    At 2 1/2 hours check the tenderness of Corned Beef (again, be careful of escaping steam). If the beef is tender to your likeness, remove and spread more of the Hot and Sweet Mustard over the top and then broil for 3-4 minutes until the top is bubbly and lightly browned.  Let the Corned Beef rest for an additional 10 minutes before carving.  Be sure to slice Corned Beef diagonally with about 1/2 inch slices.

    Our tradition is to enjoy our Corned Beef with Colcannon, a slice of Irish Bread and a beverage of your choice.

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    Mar 11, 2011

    Savor Sonoma Valley: March 19-20

    Laurent Fourgo at Landmark Vineyards, 2010 Savor Sonoma
     Make plans for the 21st annual Savor Sonoma Valley. Coming up the weekend of March 19-20, it promises to be the usual fun-filled extravaganza of food, wine and entertainment. Purchase a one- or two-day pass and you’ll be able to visit any or all of the 24 participating wineries to sip some of the world’s best wines straight from the barrel, sample tasty bites, listen to live music, chat with winemakers, and more.

    Sponsored by the Heart of Sonoma Valley Winery Association, this event seems to get better each and every year. That’s not by chance, either.

    “We analyze feedback from attendees and wineries,” says Executive Director Josie Gay. “We really listen to what people say and figure out what we can do better next time. Once we have a grip on that we start planning for next year.”

    Of course, all the logistical planning in the world wouldn’t matter if the wineries weren’t enthusiastic about Savor Sonoma Valley. But as a glance at the lineup of wines, food, and activities at participating wineries makes clear, everyone involved is into the event in a big way. At Kunde Family Estate you’ll get to tour the Aging Caves. Loxton Cellars is offering artisan cheeses and food pairings prepared by Olive & Vine. Pulled pork sandwiches are on the day’s menu at Family Wineries.

    “We’re planning a great event,” says Nick Benz at Landmark Vineyards. “We’re converting the entire courtyard, with its view of the Mayacamas Mountains, into a big wine tasting area, pouring current releases and 2010 barrel samples. We’re bringing in Rosso Pizzeria. We’ll have live music—Laurent Fourgo & His Ensemble on Saturday, and the Carlos Herrera Band on Sunday. It’s going to be a nice weekend for everybody.”

    Hog Island Oyster Company will also be on hand at Landmark, shucking oysters in the courtyard (the oysters are not complimentary, however).

    Over at VJB Vineyards & Cellars, owned by the Belmonte family, the weekend will be a celebration of the family’s Italian heritage. “Last year we had a Godfather theme,” said Lindsay Evans, Director of Marketing & Consumer Relations. “This year we’re going with an Italian Idol theme, but instead of singing it’s going to be wine—the search for the ultimate wine! People attending can vote for their favorite barrel wine on our Facebook page. When they vote they get a t-shirt.”

    And that’s not all. The winery’s executive chef, Maria Belmonte, will be cooking up pasta with two different sauces throughout the day and giving live cooking demonstrations. Entertainment will be provided by the Don Giovannis, with their repertoire of traditional Italian songs.

    Something new has been added to Savor Sonoma this year: the appearance of food trucks in many winery parking lots. “That’s the result of feedback,” Josie Gay noted. “Many people wanted to break for a sit-down lunch, but didn’t want to wait in lines at restaurants.”

    Passes for Savor Sonoma Valley are $55 for both days; $40 for Sunday only; and $20/$10 for a 2-day or Sunday-only Designated Driver pass. More details: Heart of Sonoma Valley.

    Mar 5, 2011

    Montpelier's Pawns of History

    Here’s something for the history-loving travelers out there: archaeologists at Montpelier—the Virginia home of America’s 4th President, James Madison—recently discovered portions of two chess pawns. Historians believe they’re from the same chess set used by Madison and his neighbor, Thomas Jefferson, during their frequent and lengthy chess matches.

    The pawns offered enough detail for researchers to determine exactly what the chess set looked like. Montpelier curators later purchased an identical and authentic 18th-century ivory chess set.

    That news got me to thinking about that beautiful and history-laden part of the world. Nestled into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Charlottesville area is home to the University of Virginia (a World Heritage site); the homes of three presidents (Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, James Madison's Montpelier, and James Monroe's Ash Lawn-Highland); 1784 Michie Tavern, where the menu is based on 18th century recipes; a great many charming inns (some on the National Historic Register); and much more.

    Dolley Madison
    On my two previous trips here I stuck around for merely a day--long enough to see the highlights of Monticello, but that's about all (to really delve into Jefferson's amazing home, gardens, inventions and various out-buildings requires at least two days). I didn't have time to see Montpelier or Ash Lawn-Highland, to peruse the menu at Michie Tavern, to wander trails where Jefferson might have walked, or to do a host of other things I would have doubtless enjoyed.

    Now I have an excuse to return: the “new” chess set at Montpelier. It's displayed in the drawing room, along with an in-progress round of loo (a game similar to Hearts and favored by Dolley Madison), on the Madisons' original gaming tables.

    Montpelier has recently undergone a remarkable $25 million architectural restoration, and the place is apparently in stunning condition. Daily guided tours are offered, and there’s a lot to do on your own—strolling through the gardens and forests; browsing historic artifacts in Grills Gallery; taking in period cooking demonstrations in the outdoor kitchen (where you can try your hand at churning butter); standing in Madison’s beloved Temple...

    Maybe I'll see you there sometime this spring...?

    Mar 2, 2011

    Wine-seeking in California's Livermore Valley

    California’s Livermore Valley is one of the state’s oldest and finest wine regions. First planted by Franciscan missionaries in the 1760s, it has produced award-winning wines on the world stage from the 1880s onward. Less than an hour from San Francisco, the Valley is a serene and beautiful place where craggy canyons and rounded hills give way to broad fields filled with vineyards and olive trees. And nestled into this bucolic scene are more than 40 wineries, many of which produce notable gold- and silver-medal winners.

    And yet, inexplicably, the Livermore Valley remains ignored by most wine-seeking visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area (and even the majority of area residents), most of whom head straight to the state’s superstar wine-and-food destinations: Napa and Sonoma.

    That may change with the publication of The Wine Seeker's Guide to Livermore Valley. Written by wine-and-travel journalist Thomas Wilmer,* the 236-page photo-laden book discusses 39 of the region’s wineries, including history, contact information, a regional map, and recommendations for restaurants and accommodations. There’s also an informative 60-page compilation of things to see and do in the area.

    But mostly it’s about the wineries.

    “One of the great aspects to visiting wineries here,” says Wilmer, “is that your wine will often be poured by the winery owner—who is likely to also be the winemaker!” He points out that the tasting rooms tend to be friendly and charge minimal (if any) tasting fees. As Wilmer notes in the book:
    There are many savvy wine seekers who religiously trek to the valley for weekend getaways, day-trip tasting adventures, and the numerous annual festivals and concerts. Leisurely winding through the Livermore Valley Wine Trail—sans traffic jams and crowds—is rejuvenating and unforgettable.
    Wilmer’s selection of wineries ranges from big players like Concannon and Wente, which produce a combined half-million cases per year, to boutique wineries like Las Positas Vineyards (750 annual cases). Both Wente and Concannon, by the way, rank among the earliest wineries in the state (the book’s two Forwards are written by Phil Wente and James Concannon).

    If one factor dominates this book, it’s the lively writing.
    As I rolled down the palm fringed lane to Michael Katz winery, I was mesmerized by the stately two-story, red-brick edifice that towered above. It was like a fortress, complete with plank cellar doors, shuttered dormers, and ridge-top cupola.

    This elegant beacon of Livermore Valley was erected in 1887 and opened its doors as John Crellin's Ruby Hill Winery. Sadly, following years of abandonment and a fire in 1989, the bricks all came tumbling down. Fortunately the vintage bricks were saved, reassembled, and mortared back in place. Today, the painstakingly reconstructed building serves as the home of Mitchell Katz winery.
    And so, readers, if you want to explore Livermore Valley, a great opportunity is coming up soon: Livermore Valley's 3rd Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend (March 19-20). With a copy of Tom Wilmer's book you can lay out a plan in advance, and then enjoy a day or two of wine tasting in this beautiful and historic valley. Have fun!

    Learn more about the Livermore Valley Wine Country

    Buy a copy of The Wine Seeker's Guide to Livermore Valley on Amazon

    * I should note that Tom Wilmer is not only a respected travel journalist, but a good friend.

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