Tag Archives: Blog

When life spices up: an interview with Gourmandize

Red chili pepper plant

Hello Everyone!

Today, we are barging into your house for a few minutes only to share some exciting (at least for us!) news!

Do you know those early mornings when you have just switched the alarm off, your eyes are still half-closed and sleepy and your are trying to remember your name and figure out where you are? Oh well! Who am I fooling? All my mornings are like that! ūüėČ

Anyway, after I regain all my senses and before getting up, my mechanical arm grabs my phone from the bedside table and I check my emails. Not that I usually get great emails (quite the opposite!) but, every now and then, I happen to receive good news.

Now, you can imagine my surprise first, and excitement immediately afterwards, when – on one of those mornings – I read an email from the editor of Gourmandize asking us if we were interested in being interviewed and featured as Blogger of the Day on their site!

I have to admit I was not familiar with Gourmandize, but the more I check their website the more I get hooked. Gourmandize is a recipe sharing site created last year where the content is contributed by its members. You can register your blog with them, join their community and enjoy the benefits of their platform, while sharing your recipes and getting to know fellow food bloggers. Can it get any cooler than that?

So do yourself a favor: check Gourmandize out and open yourself and your food up to new possibilities!

If you are interested in reading our interview, you can do so here:

My interview on Gourmandize

Enough with the bragging! ūüėČ

I wish you all a great day!

Francesca Xx

FsT Wine: A Few Updates and New Features

StefanoOver the last weeks I have added a few new features, updates and enhancements to the wine-related part of Flora’s Table that I hope readers will find helpful in navigating the growing content of the blog. Below is a summary of what’s new:

1. As requested by several readers, I have added symbol-based quality ratings and pricing information to all reviewed wines based on a scale from 1 to 5

2. I have added a new page that explains the quality ratings and pricing symbols

3. I have added a new index page with links to all reviewed wines, breaking them down by country and type and indicating their symbol-based rating and price point

4. I have slightly revisited the format of my wine reviews, moving my conclusions about the wine and its rating to the top of the post so if someone just wants to read the short of it, they can do so right away without having to scroll down to the end of the post – of course, those who enjoy learning more about the producer, the varieties, the appellation and how the wine did in my detailed ISA-compliant tasting, they can still do so by reading on!

5. I have created a new page listing those reviewed wines that in my view have the best quality to price ratio in the pricing bands (i) $20 and below and (ii) $21 to $40

6. I have updated the Grape Variety Archive with several new varieties: take the time to check them out!

That’s all for now: hope you find these changes helpful.

Any comment, new feature request or feedback is always welcome through the comment section below!

MWWC#6 – Two Wines, Three Mysteries

MWWC-logoRight before the winter holidays, creative fellow wine blogger Jeff (AKA The Drunken Cyclist) launched a¬†fun initiative: a wine-based Secret Santa that he¬†aptly renamed Secret Alcoholic. Basically, Jeff’s wife kindly took care of pairing each participant with a buddy Secret Alcoholic to whom one or two surprise bottles of wine could be shipped.

This, coupled with another recent brainchild of Jeff’s, a monthly theme-based wine writing challenge, gave me the opportunity to (so to speak) “break two wine glasses with one stone”: this post will be my first entry to wine writing challenge #6 (theme: Mystery)¬†but will also serve the purpose of acknowledging my Secret Santa and sharing my tasting notes of the wines that I received.

Let’s cut to the chase without further ado: I mentioned in the title that there would be three mysteries to be solved – these are:

1. Who was my Secret Santa?

2. Which wines was she kind enough to send my way?

3. What did they taste like?

These three gripping mysteries worthy of Huckle Cat were all solved by the beginning of the New Year…

Right before Christmas, I received my package which, much to my 7 year old daughter’s delight, was nicely decorated with festive stickers, which led her to claim that the package “had to be” for her… ūüėČ After redirecting her to more age-appropriate presents, I opened the box and found a holiday card that solved mystery number 1: my Secret Santa was witty and ever pleasant to read Kirsten, AKA The Armchair Sommelier!

In a matter of seconds was mystery number 2 also solved: thoughtful and generous Kirsten had sent me two wines: a Viognier from her own State, Virginia, and one of her favorite Californian Syrahs, which is also a hard-to-get, wine-club-only red that has received some very positive attention from wine critics.

I very much appreciated the thought she put into selecting those wines: not only for her generosity in parting from and sharing with me a bottle of that exclusive Syrah, but¬†also because she chose that Viognier to introduce me to one of the best expressions of that variety in Kirsten’s own State. I am all for promoting quality wines made from locally grown grapes, especially if they come from wine regions that are not as well known to the general public as others that enjoy widespread repute. So, way to go, Kirsten – I bow to you!

With Kirsten’s bottles in hand, solving mystery number 3 was only a question of waiting a few days before opening them and tasting their contents¬†– just to make sure that they would recover from any bottle shock.

As is always the case for me with any wine, this was the most exciting mystery to unveil. Because no matter how well you may know¬†a wine’s grape variety, the region it comes from, its environmental conditions, the producer or even previous vintages of that same wine, no matter all that, you may sure make your own educated guess about what to expect from it, but in the end you will always have to taste that specific bottle to appreciate all its subtle nuances.

To put it in the succinctly eloquent prose of fellow wine blogger Julia Bailey, who has devoted her own entry to this month’s wine writing challenge to this very topic: “It is simply impossible to know exactly what your wine will taste like until you pop that cork.” So true: if you want to learn more, I definitely suggest that you read Julia’s entry wherein she elaborates on several reasons why this is so.

As for me, time to wrap things up by sharing my tasting notes of the two wines. My tastings have been conducted in accordance with the ISA wine tasting protocol, but for brevity here I will not go through the entire step-by-step tasting process: I will only summarize the main characteristics of the wines and of course provide my own assessment.

Check out our Grape Variety Archive for cool facts about the Viognier and Syrah grape varieties, including their DNA analysis which suggests that they are relatives!

1. King Family Vineyards, Viognier Monticello 2012 (13% ABV – $22)

King Family Vineyards, Viognier Monticello 2012In the glass, it poured a nice straw yellow and was moderately viscous when swirled.

On the nose, it offered intense and pleasant aromas of yellow peach, apricot, pineapple, white flowers and hints of white pepper (a tertiary aroma suggesting some gentle oak aging).

In the mouth, the wine was smooth and exhibited only moderate acidity, which suggests that this wine should be enjoyed now. It was balanced and medium-bodied, with intense mouth flavors that matched the aromatic pattern perceived on the nose, and had a medium finish.

Overall, a good white with a nice bouquet and fruity mouth flavors, ending up in an intriguing, slight peppery finish. Not extraordinarily complex, but definitely pleasant.

Rating: Good Good Р$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Herman Story, Syrah “Nuts & Bolts” California 2009 (16% ABV – $45)

Herman Story, Syrah "Nuts & Bolts" California 2009In the glass, it poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, it released an impressive array of intense and complex aromas of blackberry jam, wild berries, black cherry, tobacco, ground coffee, black pepper and licorice. A great bouquet that anticipated the “blackness” of this wine.

In the mouth, it immediately struck as a big, chewy, fruit-forward wine: its very high ABV (which nears the limits of alcoholic fermentation and pushes this wine to the highest step in the ISA scale of¬†ABV perception:¬†alcoholic) was tough for the wine’s good acidity and solid but unobtrusive tannins to counterbalance, also due to the wine’s not particularly high smoothness (I wonder whether it did full malolactic fermentation). This high ABV perception, that is clearly evident on the top of the palate, throws the wine a bit out of balance: given its good acidity, I would let it rest for two or three more years and then re-taste it.

The wine was full-bodied, exhibiting intense mouth flavors of blackberry, black cherry, plum, coffee, tobacco, dark chocolate, licorice and black pepper, which closely trailed the wine’s aromatic palette, and it had a medium to long finish.

Overall, I found the Nuts & Bolt somewhat of a “double-faced” wine: on the one hand, it had¬†great, complex and intense bouquet and (if a little over the top) mouth flavors,¬†but on the other hand, its very high alcohol (which its other qualities did not seem to effectively counter, at least at this stage of its life) made the wine feel a bit imbalanced.¬†A few more years of aging may help make this wine more graceful.

Rating: Good (especially in perspective) Good Р$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Saint Emilion Chronicles #4: His French Heaven

FRANCE, Montagne: Ch√Ęteau Saint Jacques Calon, Stephane Gabart's wonderful B&B

After presenting a little bit of Saint Emilion in general, one of its magnificent churches and Saint Emilion’s sweet treats on previous posts, time has come to unveil the little “secret” about where we stayed during our visit: but of course, we had no hesitation to email fellow food blogger, cook, photographer¬†and aesthete Stephane Gabbart, who authors the sleek and elegant blog “My French Heaven” and operates a wonderful B&B in the vicinities of Saint Emilion!

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Ch√Ęteau Saint Jacques Calon

Stephane’s family have been Bordeaux wine merchants for generations, but he decided to follow his own call and study cooking and Hotel Management in Lyon under uber-famous French Chef Paul Bocuse. After completing his studies, Stephane worked for 10 years for Ritz-Carlton at several of their locations in the US. Then in 2005 he headed back to France, where he started operating a B&B in his beautiful family property near Saint Emilion and later on he founded his wonderful blog, My French Heaven.

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Ch√Ęteau Saint Jacques Calon

In case you are not following Stephane’s blog yet, do yourself a favor and check it out¬†as it really is exceptional, in terms of both learning authentic, delicious French recipes and soothing your eye with Stephane’s outstanding food photography.

FRANCE, Montagne: The pool area at Ch√Ęteau Saint Jacques Calon

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Ch√Ęteau Saint Jacques CalonBut back to Stephane’s B&B and our stay: the property is called Ch√Ęteau Saint-Jacques Calon and is located in the town of Montagne, a short 5 minute drive from Saint Emilion (for driving directions or reservations, check out the B&B’s Website). Montagne is¬†a beautiful small town in its own right, as I will show you on a future post. The B&B is nothing short of phenomenal, inside and out, as you can tell from my photographs that illustrate this post. The chateau is a large family house with a beautiful front yard and a neatly manicured inner yard with a large swimming pool, right by which the most delicious continental breakfast is served in the mornings of the warmer months of the year.

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Ch√Ęteau Saint Jacques Calon

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Ch√Ęteau Saint Jacques CalonStephane is the most gracious host and goes out of his way to personally ensure that your stay is as satisfactory and pleasant as possible. He even takes care of selecting the freshest ingredients for breakfast himself: that baguette… those fruit preserves… that fresh seasonal fruit… hmmmm… Everything was so wonderfully exquisite!

Beside that, Stephane is more than willing to help as necessary, including by recommending great restaurants and the best wine store in Saint Emilion (more on that on later posts) and getting to the point of escorting us on a mini-trip to visit the nearby Libourne food market! Of course, Stephane’s English is flawless and, I have to say, so are his map-drawing skills: he charted out our route to a local restaurant in a nearby village with Google-Earth precision! ūüėČ

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Ch√Ęteau Saint Jacques Calon

To top it all of, Stephane is a real pleasure to spend time with, very personable and incredibly kind to all his guests. A true French gentleman. Plus, he offers fellow bloggers a discount off the regular B&B rates and, for those who may be interested, guests may also sign up for French cooking classes with him.

Thank you, Stephane, for making our stay in Saint Emilion so pleasant and productive! ūüôā

A Visit to the Greenwich Wine+Food Festival and CTbites Blogger Lounge

Greenwich, CT: The CTbites Blogger Lounge at the Greenwich Wine+Food Festival, with Executive Editor Amy interviewing a guest

Last weekend Francesca and I had been kindly invited to visit the Greenwich 2013 Wine+Food Festival by Amy, the energetic Executive Editor of CTbites.

CTbites is (in their own words) “a web-based community built by and for people who love food in Connecticut“. It was founded in 2009 by Stephanie Webster, CTbites’ Editor in Chief, and it now includes Executive Editor Amy Kundrat, a dozen contributors and thousands of enthusiastic eaters who mostly gravitate in or around Fairfield County, Connecticut.

CTbites’ editors and contributors aim to scout and share with readers new food-related¬†operations (from restaurants to food stores and farmer’s markets) as well as to try and review every restaurant, diner and dive in Fairfield County for their readers’ benefit.

Unfortunately, Francesca could not make it to the Festival due to an event she had to participate in at our daughter’s school, so I “had to” step up to the plate and go visit the Festival by myself. ūüėČ

The Festival took place at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park in Greenwich, CT, a beautiful recreational space overlooking Long Island Sound, and featured more than 130 food or wine exhibitors, most of whom had stands in the large Culinary Village Tent, which was the epicenter of the Festival, while the others were scattered in a few satellite tents focusing on specific themes or showcasing kitchen appliances.

Greenwich, CT: The Maserati tent at the Greenwich Wine+Food Festival

There were however two additional prominent features: one was a local Maserati dealership’s tent, sporting two brand new sports cars, and the other was the CTbites Blogger Lounge: a tent right by the entrance of the Festival where food and wine bloggers could congregate, attend a program featuring interviews of a number of prominent chefs and of course meet the wonderful people behind CTbites.

In this regard, I had the opportunity to talk to Amy and Stephanie and they are both great РI would add unsurprisingly, considering how much they have achieved in a relatively short period of time. As an added bonus, the CTbites Blogger Lounge offered its visitors excellent, creamy espresso (and being Italian, if I say excellent, I think you should trust me!) provided by Espresso NEAT Cafe in Darien, CT. Make sure to check them out if you are in the area.

Greenwich, CT: The CTbites Blogger Lounge at the Greenwich Wine+Food Festival

During my visit, beside of course hanging out in the Blogger Lounge and checking out the Maserati’s ūüėČ I browsed the main tent, mostly focusing on (I bet you guessed) wine. While of course the Festival was mainly a food event and one that mostly targeted consumers (in other words, it was no Vinitaly International or Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC), there were still a few interesting wine tasting opportunities. These are, in a nutshell, those that struck me the most:

Nantucket Vineyard: I had been interested in checking them out for a while, primarily because I love the island. ūüôā The winery was founded in 1981 on Nantucket by Dean and Melissa Long and nowadays it sources most of the grapes they use for making their wines from Yacama Valley in Washington State. I had the opportunity to taste their Chardonnay, which was quite pleasing: lean, citrus-y with hints of grapefruit and only slightly oaked (it ages one year in French oak), which for me is a definite plus. All in all, an easy to drink, refreshing Chardonnay. I also tasted their Sailor’s Delight, a Merlot and Syrah¬†blend that¬†ages for 18 months in French oak. This wine didn’t quite work for me, as I found it quite thin and bland, with red fruit aromas and an acidic edge that in my view threw it a little bit off balance.

USA, Greenwich: The stand of the Nantucket Vineyard, a US wine producer, at the Greenwich Wine + Food Festival

WineWise: this is a wine store that just recently opened in Greenwich¬†and features a whole array of wines, from entry-level ones to top wines that they hold in a dedicated space known as “the vault”. Among other wines, I had the opportunity to taste a very pleasant Martinez Lacuesta Rioja Gran Reserva 2004, with a nice nose of leather, cocoa and cherry, and a nicely balanced structure. The wine¬†retails for $37, which in my view is a bit on the high side for a wine that sure is good, but is in a price range that offers several very solid alternatives to compete with.

USA, Greenwich: WineWise, a Greenwich wine store at the Greenwich Wine + Food Festival

Quintessential Wines: This importer and distributor showcased a selection of wines from their portfolio. I tasted a few, and the one that impressed me most was an organic Matetic Casablanca EQ “Coastal” Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from Chile: a great, typical nose for the variety, with intense aromas of grapefruit, citrus, “cat pee” (if you like Sauvignon Blanc, you most likely know what I am talking about) and nettle, with crisp citrus-y and mineral flavors, complemented by a lively acidity. Very pleasant, considering also its appealing $20 price point.

Greenwich, CT: The stand of TMRW, a Canadian icewine importer, at the Greenwich Wine+Food FestivalTMRW: This acronym stands for the quite cheesy name “The Most Romantic Wine“, a collection of VQA Canadian icewines made from selected wineries (Caroline Cellars, Cornerstone and King’s Court) and distributed by Icewines Exclusive.¬†The collection comprises a range of ten different alternatives, varying by grape variety and by originating winery. The wines come in half-bottle size (375 ml) and are made from grapes grown in Canada’s Niagara peninsula (in the province of Ontario) that are hand-harvested at night when the temperatures lower to 18F/-8C or below. I have been able to taste a few, including a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet Franc and a Vidal, but my personal favorite was the Caroline Cellars Riesling VQA Icewine 2008: liquid gold with intense aromas of peach, dried apricot, white flowers and a touch of tangerine, followed by sweet mouth flavors of dried apricot, pear and hints of honey, counterbalanced however by good acidity that kept the wine alive. To me, it has been a pleasant discovery.

Although there were many more interesting stands and exhibitors at the Festival, it is time to wrap things up: I enjoyed attending the Greenwich 2013 Wine+Food Festival as well as the opportunity to mingle with the CTbites team at their Blogger Lounge – thank you, Amy, for the kind invitation. If you live in or near Fairfield county, consider visiting the Festival next year and by all means if you are not familiar with CTbites yet, check them out online and consider signing up for their newsletter and invites to cool culinary happenings.

Disclaimer: CTbites kindly provided a pass to the Festival. The opinions about the Festival, the exhibitors and CTbites are solely my own.

Still Blowing Like a Candle in the Wind… One Year Later!

Lava cake and US sparkling wineTime for celebrating: almost in sync with Heather’s beautiful baking blog “Sweet Precision”¬†(happy blog-birthday, Heather!), even Flora’s Table has just turned one year old!

To be precise, F’sT actual birthday should have been October 1 – however, when we were planning the roll out of the blog we screwed up and the first post went actually live on September 30, just minutes before midnight… And now, for consistency, we just thought we would screw up once again by missing the blog’s birthday by three days (or four if you are really into nitpicking…) – what the heck, right?!?

Oh, whatever. We are still celebrating today because it’s been one year something of blogging AND especially because TGIF, which is good reason in itself to celebrate! ūüôā

In retrospect, it’s been a fun year, filled with much learning about this blogging thing; exposure to several super-talented people from whose skills and knowledge we have benefitted and learned; enriching exchanges of ideas, perspectives, opinions with so many interesting, stimulating people, near and far; and the blessing of making a few new friends, kindred spirits with whom we have managed to establish a true personal relationship.

This last thing has been incredibly rewarding and worth one year of blogging in and of itself. Yay to that.

We want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of our wonderful readers, likers, commenters and followers: thank you for being an integral part of a wonderfully diverse, talented and lively community. We are virtually sitting all together around the big communal table chez Flora – just the way we had envisioned the concept behind this blog when we got started.

Just in case you were wondering, in these 12 months the top three food posts (by views) have been:

1. Spaghetti alla Carbonara
2. Spaghetti all’Amatriciana
3. Saffron “Milanese” Risotto

and the top three wine posts (by views) have been:

1. Spaghetti alla Carbonara РRecommended Wine Pairing
2.¬†Wine Review: Oasi degli Angeli, ‚ÄúKurni‚ÄĚ Marche Rosso IGT¬†2008
3. Chicken and Sausage Paella РRecommended Wine Pairing

To wrap things up, we want to dedicate to all of you a translation into English of a few verses from a song by Italian singer and songwriter Ligabue, which remind us of the interconnection (thank you, Tracy, for coming up with this concept – here’s to you!) and life-blending experience that this year of blogging has been for us:

This is my life
Some days it’s awesome
Some others not so much
It’s the same for all of us
Some days it’s not enough
Some others it feels too much, and instead it never is

This is my life
If you step in, ask me if you may
Take me on a trip
Make me my heart laugh
Bring your own life
So we see what happens if we mix them together a bit

Thank you all, and cheers! ūüôā

F&S

Wine Review: Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Ever since fellow wine blogger and friend Oliver was kind enough to ask me to contribute a guest post to his excellent blog,¬†The Winegetter, I have been really excited about the idea. Since¬†the theme was “Somewhere Beyond the Sea”¬†and the post was going to be published in the summertime, I thought reviewing¬†one of my favorite New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs¬†(Cloudy Bay,¬†Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012 – $30) would just be the way to go: definitely “somewhere beyond the sea” pretty much from anywhere you look at it (unless of course you are a Kiwi!) and a refreshing summer wine. So there we go – and of course: (i) you may find this post also in Oliver’s blog¬†and (ii) thank you so much, Oliver, for including me in your list of distinguished guest contributors – I feel honored and it has been a lot of fun!

The Bottom Line

Overall, I think that¬†Cloudy Bay is a¬†very pleasant Sauvignon Blanc¬†in the “Down Under” style: intense, concentrated fruit and herb aromas, lively acidity and citrus-centric flavors. So very refreshing and summery that I would keep drinking it all Summer long… if budget permitted! ¬†ūüėČ

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good Р$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

A few interesting notions about the origins of Sauvignon Blanc: recent DNA analysis has identified a parent-offspring relationship between Savagnin (an old white-berried variety that is common in the Jura region of France) and Sauvignon Blanc and, there being much earlier documents mentioning Savagnin than Sauvignon Blanc, the former is believed to be the parent of the latter. DNA results also support the thesis that, contrary to common belief, Sauvignon Blanc did not originate from the Bordeaux area, but rather from the Loire Valley in France, where documental evidence dates back to 1534 (compared to 1710 in Bordeaux). However, it is interesting to note that, when Sauvignon Blanc was grown in the Bordeaux area, it spontaneously crossed with Cabernet Franc to create Cabernet Sauvignon.

In New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in the 1970s and soon became the most widely grown variety in the country, especially in the Marlborough region.

(Information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 Рfor more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

About the Estate

Cloudy Bay‘s vineyards¬†are located in different subzones of the premium wine region of¬†Marlborough¬†at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island, alongside the¬†Wairau River. Cloudy Bay also sources part of the grapes used for making their wines from a few independent Wairau Valley growers with whom they have established a long-term business relationship.

Our Detailed Review

Let’s now get to the actual review of¬†Cloudy Bay,¬†Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012, which in the US retails for about $30.

The wine has 13.5% ABV and was made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes sourced from estate and grower vineyards located in the Rapaura, Fairhall, Renwick and Brancott subzones of the Wairau Valley. Fermentation was primarily carried out in stainless steel, except for a small percentage that was fermented in old French oak barriques.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher. For your own structured wine tastings, consider downloading our FsT Wine Tasting Chart!

In the glass, the wine poured crystal clear, a beautiful straw yellow in color, and viscous with narrow arches and slow dripping tears

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with pleasant, Summer-y aromas of lime, grapefruit, citrus, green apple and herbs (nettle, mint)

In the mouth, it was dry, had medium ABV and was moderately smooth; it was freshly acidic and moderately tasty. The wine was medium-bodied and balanced, despite its freshness (i.e., acidity) being the dominating component Рbut that is in most cases a desirable feature in a dry white wine and in our case it also helped make the quite muscular ABV of the wine not so evident in the mouth, which is a good thing, so it did not change our assessment that the wine was balanced. Its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with pleasant, refreshing notes of lime, grapefruit, citrus and herbs. The wine had a medium finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning ready to be enjoyed now, with additional cellaring not likely to benefit the wine.

New Resource: The Grape Variety Archive

Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012

I would like to share with you all a pretty cool new wine-related resource that just recently went live on this blog and on Clicks & Corks: I am talking about a new page called Grape Variety Archive that combines alphabetically, in one centralized spot, all the information about the grape varieties of the wines that I have reviewed, so that such information may be easily referred to by readers.

What’s even better is that all of the grape variety information on the Grape Variety Archive has been taken from the wonderfully educational, gorgeously illustrated and scientifically researched volume ‚ÄúWine Grapes‚ÄĚ authored by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose¬†Vouillamoz,¬†Allen Lane 2012. Wine Grapes is an impressive 1,242 page long collection of detailed and up to date information about 1,368 vine varieties from all over the world. Quoting directly from the¬†Web site¬†dedicated to the book:

“Where do wine grapes come from and how are vine varieties related to each other? What is the historical background of each grape variety? Where are they grown? What sort of wines do they make? Using the most cutting-edge DNA analysis and detailing almost 1,400 distinct grape varieties, as well as myriad correct (and incorrect) synonyms, this particularly beautiful book examines viticulture, grapes and wine as never before. Here is a complete, alphabetically presented profile of all grape varieties relevant to today’s wine lover.“

I don‚Äôt think I need to say much about the authors, as if you are into wine they are all very well known, but just in case: Jancis Robinson has been a wine writer since 1975 and¬†the¬†Financial Times‚Äôs wine correspondent since 1989. Her principal occupation now is taking care of her own Web site,¬†JancisRobinson.com, which gets updated daily. Julia Harding is a linguist, an editor and a qualified Master of Wine. She is Jancis Robinson‚Äôs full-time assistant and ‚Äúassociate palate‚ÄĚ.¬†Dr Jos√© Vouillamoz¬†is a Swiss botanist and grape geneticist of international repute. He was trained in grape DNA profiling and parentage analyses in the world-famous laboratory of Professor Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis.

And speaking of the authors, I wish to take the opportunity to sincerely thank them for being so kind and generous as to grant me permission to pull together and publish the Grape Variety Archive page, which I think can become over time a great resource for gaining a quick snapshot of the various varieties that make up the wines that I review on this blog, beside giving readers an idea of the amazing wealth of information that can be found in Wine Grapes.

Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012

If you read this and are seriously into wine, I think you should definitely consider acquiring Wine Grapes as it will provide a ton of invaluable information about everything that you may want to know about grape varieties. Besides, let me tell you: Dr Vouillamoz’s DNA profiling work about all the grape varieties in the book is nothing short of unbelievable and well worth the price of the book in and of itself!

Please check our new page out and let me know what you think!

Mother’s Day and a double gift: Coco and B!

Justine Picardie's "Coco Chanel - The Legend and the Life"I know what your are thinking. Where is the food? Sorry to disappoint you, but no special dish for this occasion! Mother’s Day is a holiday that I take very seriously, which means that my family knows that I will not even put the kettle on the stove. Plus, my mom is in Rome so there will be nobody in my home who¬†should be celebrated but me. It will be all about me! ūüėČ

I thought this would be an ideal occasion to share a book with you that can be a perfect gift for any mom who is into fashion and wants to know more about the most iconic female figure in fashion of all times. Of course, I’m talking about Coco Chanel and the book is “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life” by Justine Picardie.

I simply loved this book along with the pictures and the illustrations, but my review stops here. Why? Because I cannot take any credit for “discovering” it. I bought the book after reading a post by B¬†over at¬†Just Add Attitude (and here it is my second gift for you all ūüėČ ). If you want to know more about the book, just pay a visit to B’s blog and enjoy her lovely review as well as all her other posts about the fashion guru.

Stuff We Like!Back to B and her blog: I don’t know much about B… not even her full name ūüôā but you do not have to know someone’s life, death and miracles (as the Italian saying goes) to appreciate her or him.

B is one of the most gracious bloggers out there. When you read her posts and her comments, you have the impression that she is right there with you. By following her blog, you will be taken by hand to an amazing journey through her beloved Dublin and Ireland in general. She will unveil for your all the secrets of her country, from monuments, to exhibitions, museums, workshops, restaurants, cafes, stores and farmhouses. I wish I had known B years ago when I managed to spend a month in Dublin! It would have been great to be showed around by her.

But that’s not all. Through her blog and her impeccable taste, B will also share her thoughts with you about food, style, shopping, life in general as well as picks¬†from her two favorite cities (Paris and London – by the way, not too shabby a choice, B, if you ask me!).

So make yourself a favor: as soon as you have a moment, check Just Add Attitude out. You can thank me later. ūüėČ

I wish you all a very happy Mother’s Day. As to me, someone in my family who is not too old and not very good at keeping secrets already told me that breakfast in bed seems to¬†be¬†in my cards for that day: yay!¬†ūüėČ

A Food Photography Primer

Over time, a few readers of this blog who seem to have been enjoying my food images have been asking that I write a post with a few pointers about food photography: today is the day for that. Bear in mind that what follows is not intended to be a comprehensive course on food photography, but just a reflection on some basic rules of photography that play an important role in making a good food photograph.

There is no magic, food is just one of the subjects of studio photography and food photography is still photography, so the same basic principles apply. As such, there are three main guiding criteria that everyone with an interest in food photography should focus on:

1. Composition
2. Lighting
3. Post-Processing

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

1. Composition

Composition is an element that can literally make or break a photograph. A successful image, including one of a food item, needs to have a strong, clean, balanced composition or it will look flat and boring at best. Here are a few pointers as to how to tackle this aspect:

  • Devise a plan¬†before¬†your shoot: pre-visualize how you would like your image to look like and figure out what you need to accomplish your vision (in terms of props, lighting, background and focal length of your lens)
  • Set up well ahead of time, when you have no time pressure: the shoot should be set up according to your plan and your vision, with everything in place except the food you are going to photograph. Take a few test shots in the same light that you would use for the real thing and see how your image looks like through the lens you chose. Use this opportunity to find out what does not work and to move things around or change camera/lighting settings until you achieve a pleasing composition that conveys your vision. Add the actual food item to be photographed only when you are all set and ready to go, so when you photograph it, it is going to be perfectly fresh, in top condition
  • Although composition is subjective and should convey¬†your own¬†vision, there are a few¬†“rules” that will generally make your image a stronger one, including the following:
    • Less is more: keep your composition clean and simple;
    • Compose in such a way that the main subject of your image is¬†immediately obvious¬†to everyone;
    • Avoid blank space near the edges¬†of your frame: make sure that your subject and other meaningful elements of your composition fill the frame in a balanced and pleasing way, making sure that you have a strong foreground, middle ground and background in your image;
    • Very rarely does a subject that is in the smack center of your image look good (unless you are going for an extreme close-up where your subject fills the entire frame): try to create some more dynamism by for instance resorting to the¬†rule of thirds, that is placing your main subject off center, near one of the corners of your frame, or positioning important elements in the frame along an imaginary diagonal line;
    • Know your camera’s commands well and¬†select a focal length and an aperture¬†suitable for what you are trying to accomplish: do you want to achieve a compressed look with quite shallow a depth of field? Select a telephoto lens. Do you want to place a strong subject in the immediate foreground in the context of a wider scene with greater depth of field and a clearer sense of depth? Go for a wide angle lens. Do you want more depth of field? Select a smaller aperture (bigger f/stop number). Do you want only a narrow area in your image to be in sharp focus with the remainder being rendered as a soft blur? Pick a large aperture (smaller f/stop number). Every tool (i.e., your lenses) should be used for the purpose it is intended for and ultimately to realize your vision.

2. Lighting

Lighting is the essence of photography¬†(the very word “photography” comes from Greek and means “writing with light“) and yet it is an often overlooked component in a photograph. Almost never will a photograph taken in bad light look good. Once again, here are a few things to bear in mind while you are planning for your shoot:

  • If you want to photograph using¬†natural light,¬†never¬†set up in direct sunlight (you would end up with harsh, unattractive contrast) – prefer the light of an overcast day or light coming from a northern facing window or skylight, but be prepared to supplement it with some extra light source so as to avoid that the image looks too flat – also, be ready to use a tripod (especially if youintend to use a smaller aperture) as your shutter speed will likely be fairly slow, unless you crank up the ISO which however may end up in a noisy (as in, grainy) image
  • Stay away at all costs from your camera’s pop-up flash¬†and never place a flash head directly onto your camera’s hot shoe as this arrangement would give you flat, unattractive front light: remember, photography (like painting) is the art of creating the illusion of a 3D object in a 2D medium, and the key to achieve that is creating visible, pleasing shadows in your image
  • In order to create visible shadows you need to ensure that your main light source (AKA your key light) is¬†off axis with your camera: side lighting and backlighting are both effective ways to create shadows
  • Generally, in food photography you want to achieve soft shadows and stay away from harsh, unpleasant shadows. The way to do this is to use a¬†large light source¬†or, if you don’t have one, to make your light source as big as you can: remember, the bigger the light source, the softer the shadows it will cast. This is why photographing food (or making people portraits) in natural light on an overcast day is something appropriate: thanks to the cloud cover, the sky turns into a gigantic source of diffused, soft light. In the studio, soft light can be achieved in several ways: by using a light modifier, such as a soft box (essentially, a big diffuser) or an umbrella (a reflector) or (assuming you have white walls and ceiling) by bouncing the light of your flash head off a wall or the ceiling
  • If you need to open up a bit the shadows that you have created, so as to reduce the contrast and provide more detail in the parts of your image that are in the shadow, you should¬†use a fill light, which is another light source coming from a different direction and with a lesser intensity than your key light (you don’t want to obliterate your shadows altogether, you only want to make them lighter): a second flash head at a weaker setting or a reflector that bounces some of the light coming from your key light back into the scene¬†are both good solutions to achieve this (tip: some¬†aluminum kitchen foil¬†crumbled and then flattened out works fairly well as an improvised silver reflector)

3. Post-Processing

Neither in the “good ol’ days” of film-based photography nor in nowadays digital photography world will a great image come straight out of the camera. While the old GIGO rule still applies (Garbage In, Garbage Out – meaning, if you start out with a bad image, it will be very difficult that you may turn it into a good one in post-processing alone), even a very solid image out of the camera¬†will require some extent of post processing¬†to become a great photograph. A few tips:

  • Shoot RAW, not Jpeg: by shooting RAW you will retain the maximum flexibility on your files and will not have to live with choices irreversibly made by the camera – the possibility of changing your white balance into whatever light temperature you desire is by itself totally worth the choice of shooting RAW instead of Jpeg
  • Learn how to use at least the basic features of Photoshop¬†(or whatever other image editing software of your choice): at a minimum, learn how to crop your image (should you need to); how to work with levels and curves and with the dodge/burn tool to control contrast and exposure; how to use the saturation and color balance commands to control color; how to effectively sharpen an image; and finally how to work with layers so every change you make can be reversed at a later time if need be
  • Generally,¬†be subtle with your changes¬†and only aim them at optimizing your image so as to extract all of its potential from that digital file and turn a good image into a great one.

That’s it! I hope the above may be of help or inspiration to some of you to push the envelope a little bit and try to apply all or some of the above tips to¬†your own¬†food photography and see what comes out of it. And especially, have fun in the process and experiment!

If you are interested in seeing more of my food images, feel free to check out my photography Web site.