Joined: 19 Dec 2002
|Posted: Tue Jul 16, 2019 1:14 am Post subject: How to Eat Seafood Responsibly
|Pocket Worthy, Stories to fuel your mind.
How to Eat Seafood Responsibly: A Guide From Chef Eric Ripert
Do your research and hone your cooking skills.
Saveur | Stacy Adimando
Since 1994, Eric Ripert has been the chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin, a primarily seafood-focused restaurant in New York City that is rooted in French tradition. His passion for fish started young, while he was growing up in France. Back then, Ripert split his time between the Mediterranean and Atlantic sides of the country, fishing for treasures like octopus and loup de mer (a more refined cousin of the striped bass), and gathering lake trout and frogs with his family. Today, his restaurant menu is largely dedicated to the creatures of the sea, featuring up to 40 species at a time.
“I spend my days with many varieties of fish, considering which are best for the restaurant. This means more than just judging by their flavor and composition. It includes the ethics and politics surrounding how they have been made available to us.”
In addition to responsibly sourcing fish, Ripert stresses that seeking out freshness and using proper technique will help guarantee success with fish in the home kitchen. Here are a few ways he recommends keeping seafood cookery interesting, delicious, and sustainable.
Be Dedicated in Your Research
“While sourcing organic produce and humanely raised land animals is relatively easy, identifying sustainable fish can be more difficult,” Ripert says. Some species may be in jeopardy in some regions but have healthy populations in others, and as the seasons change, so do the lists of species you should be buying. Despite the work it takes to keep track of it all, Ripert says doing your research is worthwhile to ensure that the fish we use are not endangered, were fed naturally, and were treated humanely.
“There are several organizations—Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, the National Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Cleanfish, and the Cousteau Foundation—that provide information on sea life sustainability,” Ripert says, “but they don’t always agree with one another. So I also check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in my research to see where there are crossovers and common concerns.”
Support Traditional Fishermen
There is a huge difference between the fish that come from day boats and those that come from boats that are at sea for many days at a time. Today, many dock-to-door style companies and responsible fish markets and auctions are making this type of seafood more readily available and easier to distinguish. “If we don’t pay attention to and don’t support the artisanal way of catching fish,” Ripert says, “it is going to disappear and we are going to end up with a bunch of factory boats and reach the point of no return with sustainability in the oceans.”
Keep in mind that supporting this way of fishing means being willing to pay the right, sometimes higher, price for it.
Find Good-Quality Seafood
The first goal for cooking fish at home is to find the freshest possible product. “The challenge with seafood is that many home cooks have had a bad experience, such as a stinky fish in the house, a bone in the throat, or fish that falls apart in the pan,” Ripert says. Seeking out top-quality, fresh fish is the first step in guaranteeing a better experience. “When shopping, be sure to check that the fish doesn’t smell like fish but rather a fresh breeze off the ocean,” Ripert says. Always smell it yourself, and don’t be ashamed to do so.
Hone Your Cooking Skills
"The easiest technique that I would recommend for someone at home is to basically broil the fish or bake the fish, either whole or as a fillet," Ripert says. For those starting out, he recommends brushing or spraying fish with good-quality olive oil or melted butter, then seasoning it with salt and pepper before transferring to the oven. "Usually at the restaurant we test doneness using metal skewers, which we place through the flesh of the fish. You should feel a very slight resistance, and leave the skewer in for 10 seconds. When you put it to yo ur mustache area or the inside of your wrist, it should feel warm," he says. Once you have some successes with simple techniques, you can start poaching the fish or sautéing it to crisp the skin.
This post originally appeared on Saveur and was published June 1, 2018.
Last edited by Sandy on Sat Oct 10, 2020 8:01 pm; edited 1 time in total
Joined: 19 Dec 2002
|Posted: Sat Oct 10, 2020 8:00 pm Post subject:
|Seafood Preparation by Method
By admin, April 30, 2015
Steaming is a gentle, fat-free cooking method that keeps the natural moisture in foods. This method uses the steam from a simmering liquid (usually water, seafood broth, or wine) to transfer heat to, and cook, a food. It is an excellent choice for preparing delicate seafood because there is a safe distance between the food and heat source, which helps to protect against drying. And steaming, unlike poaching or boiling, keeps flavorful juices and nutrients inside the seafood, rather than letting them escape into the surrounding cooking liquid.
Many steaming vessels (bamboo steamers, pasta pots with a steaming insert, or pans specifically created for whole fish) are available in stores. Follow the manufacturers instructions for assembling the equipment and keeping the correct level of liquid in the vessel during cooking.
To make your own steamer, find a deep, wide pot and fill it about two inches full of cooking liquid. Placing a few small, heatproof dishes (ramekins or tea cups) in the bottom of the pot and set a wire rack on top. Tightly cover the pot with a lid and bring the liquid to a simmer. Place the food to be steamed either directly on the rack or on a small plate on top of the rack and cover again. This method works especially well for finfish.
For shellfish, such as clams and mussels, try a simpler technique. Bring an inch or less of cooking liquid to a boil in a pan with a tightly fitting lid. Add the shellfish, cover again, and cook until most have opened. Discard any unopened shellfish. This technique may also be used for crabs and lobsters.
Boost the flavor of steamed seafood by simmering ingredients such as lemon juice, white wine, onions, shallots, spices, or fresh herbs in the cooking liquid for a few minutes before steaming. These ingredients will scent the steam and add a subtle, but delicious, flavor directly into the seafood.
Grilling gives a smoky flavor and crisped texture to finfish and shellfish. It works best for meatier, firmer-fleshed finfish cut in to steaks or fillets with skin. However, flakier finfish, skinless fillets, and smaller shellfish (that would otherwise slip through the grill grates) can be grilled using a grill basket. Grill baskets are non-stick wire cages with a top, bottom, and long removable handle that hold food firmly in place so that it can easily be flipped or removed from the grill.
Prepare seafood for grilling by very lightly spraying both sides of it with olive oil or vegetable oil (away from direct flames). Spraying with oil rather than brushing or rubbing the oil in with your hands avoids contact with raw seafood to prevent cross-contamination with other foods you may be grilling. Once oiled, season seafood with salt and pepper. Or, marinate the seafood in your favorite combination of juice, herbs, spices and oils. Shake off excess marinade before grilling to avoid flare-ups.
If using a gas grill, begin by preheating it for at least ten minutes on the highest setting with the lid closed. For charcoal grills, allow the fire to burn down so that you can comfortably hold your hand above the coals for only two to three seconds. At the proper cooking temperature, the coals will glow softly and be covered with a thin layer of ash. Next, clean the grate by scraping it with a grill brush then wiping it with a wad of paper towels dipped in a light coating of oil (grasp the paper towels with tongs to avoid burning your fingers). Both a very hot grill and a clean grill grate will help prevent seafood from sticking.
Finfish, large shrimp, and scallops may be placed directly on the grill grates and cooked until opaque. Smaller varieties are easier to turn if placed on water-soaked wooden skewers or in a grill basket. Shellfish, including mussels, clams and oysters, may be placed directly on the grill and cooked until their shells openabout five minutes. Discard any that do not open after cooking. With a little more preparation, whole lobsters and crabs may be grilled, but grilling lobster tails and king crab legs is an easier (and just as delicious) option.
As a general rule, seafood steaks and whole fish will take about 10 minutes to cook for each inch of thickness (measured in depth, not length). Thin fillets will take less time. If fillets have skin, place them skin side down and do not move the fish for at least two minutes to build up a crust that wont stick. If grilling smaller fillets, make a few shallow slashes through the skin, which will keep the fillet from curling as the skin cooks and shrinks.
Microwave ovens work by shaking up the water and fat in food, which in turn, makes heat. Covering food with microwave-safe plastic wrap or putting it in a microwave-safe, covered casserole dish locks in steam. The combination of inside heating and outside steaming cooks items in less time than it would take otherwise.
Microwaving is particularly suited to cooking thin, skinless fillets of fish. Begin by arranging the fish in a single layer in a microwavable dish. Be sure to tuck slim pieces under, or overlap thin edges to ensure even thickness. This will prevent overcooked, tough ends. Moisten the fish with a small amount of seasoned liquid or broth, but do not submerge it completely. Microwave on full power or using the fish setting until the fish is mostly opaque and just begins to flakeabout one and half to five minutes. Allow the fish to stand for a short time after microwaving to complete the cooking process.
This method works best when cooking small portions or when you dont desire a browned exterior.
Many fish and shellfish benefit from a quick soak in a marinade to boost flavor and help retain moisture. Even so, use care when choosing marinade ingredients and limit the seafoods time in the marinade so as not to overwhelm its natural flavor. Usually half an hour is enough time to add flavor to a delicate piece of seafood: less time is needed if you are using a strong acid in the marinade, such as lemon juice, which chemically cooks the food and alters its texture.
Experiment with different marinade ingredients, and gradually increase the amounts added or the time the seafood is kept in the marinade till you achieve a flavor balance you like. Most marinades consist of varying proportions of oil (flavored or flavorless) an acid (white wine, fruit juice, or vinegar) and spices or herbs.
For Asian-inspired marinades, choose soy sauce, scallions or sesame oil as the primary flavoring agents. Marinades with a Southwestern flair might include the flavors of cilantro and lime. Try flavoring marinades with fresh basil and parsley for an Italian twist. No matter which combinations you choose, season lightly with saltyou may find that you prefer less because the seafood is already deeply flavored (and you can always add more salt once the seafood is cooked).
For easy cleanup, marinate seafood in a food-grade plastic baggie with a re-sealable top. Always marinate under refrigeration and throw out used marinade to help prevent food borne illness. Remove excess marinade from seafood before cooking to help prevent flare-ups when grilling or broiling.
Seafood is extremely perishable. Quickly freezing it at the height of freshness (usually when its still on the boat or shortly thereafter) is a successful way to keep the flavor and texture. When purchasing frozen seafood, look for solidly frozen pieces with few ice crystals to ensure they have not thawed and re-frozen at some point before purchase. Keep the seafood frozen until you are ready to use it by storing it in the coldest section of your freezer, on a low shelf towards the back.
When you are ready to use the frozen product, you may safely defrost it in one of the following three ways: in the refrigerator, under cool running water, or in the microwave.
Plan at least a day ahead if you choose to defrost in the refrigerator. It will take about 24 hours to defrost a bulky frozen item, or several pieces of food that have been frozen together. Place frozen seafood in a clean container to catch the liquid released from the product as it thaws. If the frozen seafood is not already wrapped in plastic, cover the top lightly with plastic wrap to protect it from coming in to contact with other foods in the refrigerator. Place the container on a low shelf and defrost slowly over a day. After thawing, remove any liquid that has collected in the packaging and use within a day for optimal freshness and safety.
Cool Water Thawing
Use this method when you have less time, but are able to more closely watch the frozen seafood. Begin by placing the food in a leak-proof plastic bag (if it is not in one already). Submerge the seafood in cold tap water and change the water every thirty minutes until the food has defrosted. Do not try to speed the process by defrosting in hot water because this will encourage bacteria on the food to multiply. Cook seafood thawed under cold water immediately after thawing.
Follow the manufacturers instructions for choosing the appropriate microwave defrost setting and defrost until the food is cool and pliable. Be careful not to overheatthis will start the cooking process. Cook seafood that has been microwave-defrosted immediately after thawing.
Poaching is a moist heat method of cooking where food is submerged in a bath of flavorful liquid thats kept just below the boiling point (160 to 180 degrees). Seafood cooked using this technique will have a more consistent texture and milder flavor when compared with the same type that has been grilled, broiled, or baked.
Whole fillets of sturdy finfish, such as salmon, may be poached
successfully, while flakier varieties may become mushy in texture or fall to pieces when the fish is fully cooked. Large shellfish, including scallops and shrimp, are excellent when poached. Smaller shellfish and bivalves tend to be less appetizing.
Cooking vessels for poaching are sold in stores many will be large enough to hold a whole side of salmon. Most are made of two pieces; one holds the cooking liquid, the other is a removable insert that keeps the food from directly touching the bottom of the pan.
To make your own poaching vessel, find a heat-safe pot or roasting pan that's deep and wide enough to fit both the seafood and enough poaching liquid to entirely submerge it. For large pieces of fish, its helpful to place a rack along the bottom that easily fits inside the pan. This helps to prevent breaking or flaking the fish (which becomes very fragile when cooked) as it is removed from the poaching liquid. Grasp the rack with two sets of heat-proof tongs and carefully lift the rack with the fish nicely balanced on top.
Find a basic recipe for a poaching liquid that you like and then adjust it to suit your taste preferences. Many combinations of flavorful broth, herbs, onions, shallots, spices, wine, or juices complement the natural flavors of seafood. Bring the liquid to a simmer (its helpful to use a thermometer to make sure the liquid remains below 180 degrees, but above 160 degrees). Carefully place the seafood in the poaching liquid and cook gently until the texture firms and the meat just turns opaque. The seafood will continue to cook once it has been removed from the poaching liquid, so take it out just before it easily flakes or it will fall apart. Serve poached seafood warm or chilled.
Oven broiling adds a nutty, browned flavor and crisp texture to foods and is a quick and delicious way to cook many types of seafood. Fillets or steaks of finfish, large scallops or shrimp, and lobster tails are especially tasty when broiled.
Begin by preheating the broiler and adjusting the broiler rack. For thin fillets and small pieces of seafood, move the rack so that it is only about two inches from the heat source. This will allow the seafood to evenly brown before it overcooks, or becomes dry. For larger pieces of seafood, move the broiling rack four to six inches away from the heat source so that the inside cooks before the outside dries out or becomes tough.
Prepare the seafood as you would for grilling. Ether lightly spray it with oil and season with salt and pepper or submerge it in a quick marinade and shake off any excess. Place it skin side down (if there is skin) on a lightly oiled, heat-proof broiling pan or cookie sheet and cook under the heating source using the guidelines above.
Thin, delicate fillets will cook quickly and generally do not have to be turned over. Thicker fillets, steaks and shellfish will need to be turned about half way through cooking to be sure they are evenly cooked through. Estimate that it will take about eight to ten minutes per inch of fish thickness for the meat to reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees. If you find that the seafood is browning too quickly (before the inside cooks through), simply lower the broiling rack away from the heat source.
Broiled seafood will continue cook and its internal temperature will continue to rise a few degrees (an average of ten) once it is removed from the heat source. Remove it when it is almost cooked through. Finfish will just begin to flake and the color will turn from translucent to almost opaque; shrimp and scallops will feel firm, not mushy when poked with tongs, and the flesh will have just turned opaque; lobster tails will turn a bright, rosy color and the flesh will turn from translucent to opaque.
Pan searing is a technique that works well for cooking fish steaks and thicker, shorter fillets of fish. If the fish has skin, score it on the skin side with a few vertical slashes. This will help the fillet from curling because the skin will shrink as it cooks. Dry the fish thoroughly and season with salt and pepper if desired.
Begin by heating a low-sided, well-seasoned skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat until warm. Add about a teaspoon of oil, swirl the pan to evenly coat it, and heat until almost smoking. Add the seafood, placing the side you wish to present in to the hot pan first. Keep multiple pieces separated. Do not touch or move the seafood until it is browned on one side. You may have to adjust the heat to so that the seafood browns evenly but does not burn. Turn the seafood once it is about halfway cooked through you can guess the halfway point by looking at the side of the fish, which will appear opaque on the side closest to the bottom of the pan and translucent on the side that is facing up. It may be useful to use two large, flat spatulas to help you flip the fish. Continue cooking on the second side until the fish begins to reach a final cooking temperature of 140 degrees, or the meat just begins to flake and becomes opaque. Remove from the pan, rest two minutes, and serve.
Baking surrounds food with even, dry heat and is an excellent method for cooking whole fish. Smaller, delicate pieces of fish do not respond as well to baking and require a coating of breadcrumbs, or a splash of broth or olive oil to keep them moist. Most varieties of shellfish tend to dry out as they cook in the oven unless a combination of cooking techniques steaming while baking, or pan searing then baking is used (see below for more details).
To roast a whole fish, preheat the oven to about 450 degrees. Make a few vertical slashes on each side of a cleaned fish. (This will help ensure even cooking and flavors). If desired, you may soak the fish in a quick marinade; tuck a few herbs, spices, or other flavorings inside; or simply spray it with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the fish on a rimmed cookie sheet or shallow pan to catch any juices that escape. As the fish roasts, baste it with the juices that accumulate in the bottom of the pan until the flesh at its thickest point just begins to flake and turns from translucent to opaque. Estimate that it will take about eight to ten minutes per inch of thickness for the fish to cook through. Rotate the pan about half way through cooking time to cook evenly.
Baking Used With Other Cooking Techniques
Baking is sometimes combined with other cooking techniques to more evenly and quickly cook food, or to keep baked foods from drying out. The two best examples of this are steaming while baking, or pan searing then baking.
To steam while baking, simply splash your favorite combination of flavorings and a liquid (broth, juices, wine, or water) over seafood in a shallow baking pan. The amount of liquid will vary depending on the amount of seafood you are cooking, but figure that it should cover about a quarter of the seafood. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in a 425 degree oven till the seafood has cooked through. Or, prepare foil packets by placing seafood on one half of a large piece of foil, adding desired seasonings and a splash of liquid or oil to just moisten the surface of the seafood. Fold the other side of the foil over the seafood as you would when folding a piece of paper in half. Seal the three sides by folding and crimping the edges to make a packet. Estimate the cooking time for the packets by using the same eight to ten minutes per inch guideline as explained above; however, add up to two minutes to the final cooking time to account for the heat having to makes its way through the foil.
Pan searing then baking allows the surface of the seafood to brown and crisp, while making sure the middle of the seafood cooks through evenly. Begin by heating an oven-proof skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat until warm. Add about a teaspoon of oil, swirl the pan to evenly coat it; and heat until almost smoking. Add the seafood, keeping multiple pieces separated. Do not touch or move the seafood until it is browned on one side. You may have to adjust the heat to so that the seafood browns evenly but does not burn. Carefully flip the seafood, and then place in a 425- 450 degree oven to finish cooking. Cook until the second side is brown, and the thickest part of the seafood is just starting to flake and is almost fully opaque. Rest two minutes and serve.
Joined: 19 Dec 2002
|Posted: Sat Oct 10, 2020 8:06 pm Post subject:
|How to Fry Fish 3 Ways
Get hooked on the concept of DIY pan-fried, air-fried, or deep-fried fish. Yes, you can learn how to fry fish at home that tastes just as good as (maybe better than) you’d order at a restaurant or a fish fry.
By Karla Walsh Updated July 09, 2020
Deep-fried fish, pan-fried fish, and other homemade crispy seafood recipes can seem intimidating. “Will they make my house smell?” Nope! Not if you follow our instructions about the best fish to fry and cook with. “Will I end up with a soggy batter?” No, we’re here to walk you through every step of the process of how to fry fish, so you end up with the crispiest results. So trust yourself, you’ve reel-y got this, and prepare to prep your best batch ever of deep-fried fish, pan-fried fish, or air-fried fish for dinner this week.
How to Make Pan-Fried Fish
Pan-fried fish uses just a thin layer of hot oil or shortening in a skillet and a light flour or cornmeal coating on the fish instead of a batter. It is a bit simpler, less messy, and more healthful than deep-frying.
Choose Your Fish
For 4 servings, choose 1 pound of skinless fish fillets, about ½- to ¾-inch thick. So what’s the best fish to fry? Any fillets will work, including mild-flavor whitefish, cod, flounder, red snapper, and orange roughy. If frozen, thaw the fillets in the refrigerator. A 1-pound package will thaw in 1 to 2 days. (If you prefer non-battered seafood, check out how to bake fish to flaky perfection.)
Prep the Fish
Rinse the fillets and pat dry with paper towels, so the wet and dry coatings can adhere better to the fish. Transfer fillets to a cutting board ($15, Bed Bath & Beyond) and cut them into four pieces using a sharp knife ($60, Williams Sonoma).
Make the Coating
In a shallow dish, combine 1 beaten egg with 2 tablespoons water or milk. This wet mixture helps the coating stick to the fish.
In another shallow dish combine ⅔ cup cornmeal or fine, dry bread crumbs with ½ teaspoon salt and a dash ground black pepper. Or substitute 1⅓ cups crushed potato chips, crackers, or unsweetened cereal (such as corn flakes) for the cornmeal, omitting the salt. This dry mixture creates a crunchy coating on the fish when pan-fried.
Dip and Dredge the Fish
Preheat the oven to 300°F. This keeps the cooked fillets warm as you finish pan-frying the remaining fillets. (This is one of many Test Kitchen tricks we swear by here at the BH&G headquarters!)
Choose a large heavy skillet ($70, Target); something like your biggest cast-iron skillet will work marvelously. Add ¼ inch of fat. You can either use shortening or one of the best oils to fry fish, which is any mild vegetable oil. Standard vegetable oil is affordable and nearly flavorless, and canola or peanut oil work well too. Heat the fat over medium-high.
Dip each fillet first into the egg mixture, coating each side. Place each coated fillet in the cornmeal mixture and press gently to help the mixture adhere to the fish. Turn each fillet over and repeat until the whole fillet is covered with dry mixture.
Pan-Fry the Fish
Add half of the coated fish fillets in a single layer to the hot oil in the skillet. The oil should be hot enough that it sizzles when you add the fish to the pan. Fry the fish until golden on the bottom. For all those wondering, “how long does fish take to fry?”: As a rough estimate, it takes about 3 to 4 minutes per side to pan-fry the average fillet.
Layer two or three paper towels on a plate to soak up the excess oil. With a spatula, carefully transfer each cooked piece of fish to the paper towels to drain. Flip the fish to drain both sides.
Keep the cooked fish warm on a baking sheet in the oven while cooking the remaining fish.
Serve the Fish
If desired, serve the pan-fried fish with lemon wedges and Tartar Sauce.
How to Make Deep-Fried Fish
For deep-fried fish that’s just as crispy as what you snag from a fish and chips restaurant, dip pieces of fish in a beer batter or several coatings of egg and seasoned flour before frying to a crisp golden brown.
Get the Deep Fried Fish Sandwich Recipe
Prep the Fish
For 4 servings, buy 1 pound fresh or frozen skinless fillets, cut about ½-inch thick. If frozen, thaw the fish in the refrigerator. Cut the fillets into 3-inch x 2-inch pieces. Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels.
Heat the Oil
You will need a 3-quart heavy saucepan ($40, Bed Bath & Beyond) or deep-fat fryer for frying the fish. Attach a deep-frying thermometer ($15, Sur la Table) to the side of the pan. Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 375° F, then preheat the oven to 300°F to keep the cooked fish warm as you sizzle up the other batches.
Make the Batter
In a shallow dish add ½ cup all-purpose flour and set it aside.
For the batter, in a medium bowl add ½ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup beer, 1 egg, and ¼ teaspoon each baking powder, salt, and ground black pepper. Use a whisk to beat the batter until smooth.
Dip fish pieces into the flour, turning to coat all sides, and shake off excess flour. The flour will help the batter stick to the fish. Next dip the fish into the batter, turning to coat all sides.
Fry the Fish
Fry the fish, two or three pieces at a time, in the hot oil until the coating is golden and fish begins to flake when tested with a fork, turning once. This takes about 3 or 4 minutes per batch. Drain the deep-fried fish on paper towels, flipping the fillets to drain both sides. Transfer fish to a baking sheet and keep it warm in the oven while frying the remaining fish.
Serve the Fish
If desired, sprinkle the fried fish with coarse salt and serve with tartar sauce or drizzle with malt vinegar.
How to Air-Fry Fish
Air-fried fish can be battered or “fried” in the trendy appliance with a simple rub or spice blend. Using the air fryer, essentially a mini convection oven, is one of the fastest and healthiest tactics for how to fry fish. For similar results to the pan-fried and deep-fried fish methods explained above, we’ll share how to air-fry battered fish.
Prep the Fish
For 4 servings, buy 24 ounces of fresh or frozen skinless fillets that are about ½-inch thick. If frozen, thaw the fish in the refrigerator. Cut the fillets into 6-ounce portions. Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels.
Make the Batter
In a shallow dish add ½ cup all-purpose flour. In a separate shallow dish, combine 1 beaten egg with 2 tablespoons water or milk. In one final dish or plate, add ⅓ cup panko bread crumbs.
Dip fish pieces into the flour, turning to coat all sides, and shake off excess flour. Next dip the fish into the egg mixture, turning to coat all sides, and last, sprinkle with panko, pressing to coat evenly on all sides.
Air-Fry the Fish
Place fish in an air fryer basket and spray the breaded fish with nonstick cooking spray. Cook at 400°F until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes.
Serve the Fish
Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. If desired, pair with a homemade tartar sauce (whisk together 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1½ teaspoons dill, ¾ teaspoon pickle relish, ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar, and ⅛ teaspoon sugar in a small bowl) and lemon wedges.
Now that you’re a pro at three methods for how to fry fish, refresh your memory on how to make French fries. Then invite your friends or family to the table for a fish fry that will have them hooked from the first bite.
Joined: 27 Jan 2003
Location: Hong Kong
|Posted: Thu Nov 12, 2020 7:43 pm Post subject:
|Has Wine Gone Bad?
‘Natural wine’ advocates say everything about the modern industry is ethically, ecologically and aesthetically wrong – and have triggered the biggest split in the wine world for a generation.
The Guardian / Stephen Buranyi
If you were lucky enough to dine at Noma, in Copenhagen, in 2011 – which had just been crowned as the “best restaurant in the world” – you might have been served one of its signature dishes: a single, raw, razor clam from the North Sea, in a foaming pool of aqueous parsley, topped with a dusting of horseradish snow. It was a technical and conceptual marvel intended to evoke the harsh Nordic coastline in winter.
But almost more remarkable than the dish itself was the drink that accompanied it: a glass of cloudy, noticeably sour white wine from a virtually unknown vineyard in France’s Loire Valley, which was available at the time for about £8 a bottle. It was certainly an odd choice for a £300 menu. This was a so-called natural wine – made without any pesticides, chemicals or preservatives – the product of a movement that has triggered the biggest conflict in the world of wine for a generation.
The rise of natural wine has seen these unusual bottles become a staple at many of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants – Noma, Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Hibiscus in London – championed by sommeliers who believe that traditional wines have become too processed, and out of step with a food culture that prizes all things local. One study showed that 38% of wine lists in London now feature at least one organic, biodynamic or natural wine (the categories can overlap) – more than three times as many as in 2016. “Natural wines are in vogue,” reported the Times in 2017. “The weird and wonderful flavours will assault your senses with all sorts of wacky scents and quirky flavours.”
As natural wine has grown, it has made enemies. To its many detractors, it is a form of luddism, a sort of viticultural anti-vax movement that lauds the cidery, vinegary faults that science has spent the past century painstakingly eradicating. According to this view, natural wine is a cult intent on rolling back progress in favour of wine best suited to the tastes of Roman peasants. The Spectator has likened it to “flawed cider or rotten sherry” and the Observer to “an acrid, grim burst of acid that makes you want to cry”.
Once you know what to look for, natural wines are easy to spot: they tend to be smellier, cloudier, juicier, more acidic and generally truer to the actual taste of grape than traditional wines. In a way, they represent a return to the core elements that made human beings fall in love with wine when we first began making it, around 6,000 years ago. Advocates of natural wine believe that nearly everything about the £130bn modern wine industry – from the way it is made, to the way critics police what counts as good or bad – is ethically, ecologically and aesthetically wrong. Their ambition is to strip away the artificial trappings that have developed in tandem with the industry’s decades-long economic boom, and let wine be wine.
But among wine critics, there is a deep suspicion that the natural wine movement is intent on tearing down the norms and hierarchies that they have dedicated their lives to upholding. The haziness of what actually counts as natural wine is particularly maddening to such traditionalists. “There is no legal definition of natural wine,” Michel Bettane, one of France’s most influential wine critics, told me. “It exists because it proclaims itself so. It is a fantasy of marginal producers.” Robert Parker, perhaps the world’s most powerful wine critic, has called natural wine an “undefined scam”.
For natural wine enthusiasts, though, the lack of strict rules is part of its appeal. At a natural wine fair in London, I encountered winemakers who farmed by the phases of the moon and didn’t own computers; one man foraged his grapes from wild vines in the mountains of Georgia; there was a couple who were reviving an old Spanish technique of placing the wine in great clear glass demijohns outside to capture sunlight; others were ageing their wines in handmade clay pots, buried underground to keep them cool as their predecessors did in the days of ancient Rome.
Sebastien Riffault, from the Loire Valley, runs the 10-year-old trade body L’Association des Vins Naturels. He told me his basic technique was simply “making wine like in a previous century, with nothing added”. This means using only organic grapes, picked by hand, and fermenting slowly with wild yeasts from the vineyard (most vintners use lab-grown yeasts, which Riffault says are engineered “like F1 cars, to speed through fermentation”). No antimicrobial chemicals are added to the wine, and everything is bottled – bits and all – without filtering. The result is that Riffault’s sancerre comes out a deep amber colour and very sweet, tasting like crystallised honey and preserved lemons. It’s excellent, but far from the “pale yellow” with “fresh citrus and white flowers” described in the French government’s official guidelines for sancerre. “It’s not for everyone. It’s not made like fast food. But it’s totally pure,” Riffault told me.
Just 20 years ago Riffault and his contemporaries were ignored, but now they have a foothold in the mainstream, and their approach could transform wine as we know it. “We used to struggle” the Burgundy natural winemaker Philippe Pacalet says. “People weren’t ready. But chefs change, sommeliers change, whole generations change,” he went on. “Now they are ready.”
At first glance, the idea that wine should be more natural seems absurd. Wine’s own iconography, right down to the labels, suggests a placid world of rolling green hills, village harvests and vintners shuffling down to the cellar to check in on the mysterious process of fermentation. The grapes arrive in your glass transformed, but relatively unmolested.
Yet, as natural wine advocates point out, the way most wine is produced today looks nothing like this picture-postcard vision. Vineyards are soaked with pesticide and fertiliser to protect the grapes, which are a notoriously fragile crop. In 2000, a French government report noted that vineyards used 3% of all agricultural land, but 20% of the total pesticides. In 2013, a study found traces of pesticides in 90% of wines available at French supermarkets.
In response to this, a small but growing number of vineyards have introduced organic farming. But what happens once the grapes have been harvested is less scrutinised, and, to natural wine enthusiasts, scarcely less horrifying. The modern winemaker has access to a vast armamentarium of interventions, from supercharged lab-grown yeast, to antimicrobials, antioxidants, acidity regulators and filtering gelatins, all the way up to industrial machines. Wine is regularly passed through electrical fields to prevent calcium and potassium crystals from forming, injected with various gases to aerate or protect it, or split into its constituent liquids by reverse osmosis and reconstituted with a more pleasing alcohol to juice ratio.
Natural winemakers believe that none of this is necessary. The basics of winemaking are, in fact, almost stupefyingly simple: all it involves is crushing together some ripe grapes. When the yeasts that live on the skin of the grape come into contact with the sweet juice inside, they begin gorging themselves on the sugars, releasing bubbles of carbon dioxide into the air and secreting alcohol into the mixture. This continues either until there is no more sugar, or the yeasts make the surrounding environment so alcoholic that even they cannot live in it. At this point, strictly speaking, you have wine. In the millennia since humans first undertook this process, winemaking has become a highly technical art, but the fundamental alchemy is unchanged. Fermentation is the indivisible step. Whatever precedes it is grape juice, and whatever follows it is wine.
“The yeasts are the key between the vines and the people,” Pacalet told me, in a reverent tone. “You use the living system to express the information in the soil. If you use industrial techniques, even if it’s a small operation, you’re making an industrial product.” Viewed in this quasi-spiritual way, the winemaker’s job is to grow healthy grapes, tend to the fermentation, and intervene as little as possible.
In practice, this means going without the methods that have given modern winemakers so much control over their product. Even more radically, it means jettisoning the expectations of mainstream wine culture, which dictates that wine from a certain place should always taste a certain way, and that a winemaker works like a conductor, intervening to turn up or tamp down the various elements of the wine until it plays the tune the audience expects. “It is important a sancerre tastes like a sancerre, then we can start to determine levels of quality,” says Ronan Sayburn, the head of wine at the private wine club and bar 67 Pall Mall.
In France, which remains the cultural and commercial centre of the wine world, the acceptable styles of winemaking aren’t just a matter of history and convention; they are codified into law. For a wine to be labelled as from a particular region, it must adhere to strict guidelines about which grapes and production techniques can be used, and how the resulting wine should taste. This system of certification – the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), or “protected designation of origin” – is enforced by inspectors and blind-tasting panels. Wines that fail to conform to these standards are labelled “vin de France”, a generic designation that suggests low quality and makes them less attractive to buyers.
Some natural winemakers have rebelled against this legislation, which they believe only reinforces the dominant styles and methods that are ruining wine altogether. In 2003, the natural winemaker Olivier Cousin opted out of his local AOC, complaining in a letter that meeting their standards meant that “one must beat the grapes with machines, add sulphites, enzymes and yeast, sterilise and filter”. When he refused to stop describing his wine as being from Anjou, he was actually prosecuted for labelling violations. In response, Cousin put on a good show, riding his draft horse up to the courtroom steps and bringing a barrel of his offending wine to share with passers-by. But he ended up changing the labels.
“The AOC are liars,” Olivier’s son Baptiste, who has taken over several of his father’s vineyards, told me. “The local designations were created to protect small producers, but now they just enforce poor quality.”
The expectations of how a wine from a certain region should taste go back hundreds of years, but the global industry that has been built atop them is largely a product of the past century. If natural wine is a backlash against anything, it is the idea that it is possible to square traditional methods of winemaking with the scale and demands of that market. There is a sense that alongside economic success, globalisation has slowly forced the wine world toward a dull, crowd-pleasing conformity
France has long been the centre of the wine world, but until the mid-20th century most vineyards were small and worked mainly by hand. In the eyes of natural winemakers, the rot began in the decades after the second world war, as French vineyards modernised and the industry grew into a global economic behemoth. To these disillusioned observers, what seems like a story of technical and economic triumph is really the tragic tale of how wine lost its way.
Before the war, France had just 35,000 tractors; in the next two decades it would acquire more than a million, as well as access to US-made pesticides and fertilisers. At the same time, oenologists, people who study wine, looked to science to refine their product. Two men in particular, Emile Peynaud and Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon, worked tirelessly to first establish their subject’s academic legitimacy, and then to build a bridge between the laboratory and the wine cellar. “In the past we made great wine by chance,” Peynaud declared. The future would be more rigorous.
Peynaud helped standardise the way wine was made. His greatest, and simplest, achievement was to convince winemakers to pick higher-quality fruit and use more sterile equipment. But he also pioneered and popularised the use of laboratory-inspired tests for things such as pH, sugar, and alcohol, which gave a new scientific clarity to winemaking.
This modernisation process was an enormous success. By the end of the 1970s, France’s wine exports totalled over $1bn, almost 10 times what they had been just two decades earlier, and more than those of its competitors Italy, Spain and Portugal combined. As the market expanded, other countries scrambled to emulate the French model. French technicians and consultants were hired by new world wineries to teach them the new science of oenology, and the classic French style. At one point Michel Rolland, the most influential of these itinerant advisors, had more than 100 clients around the world.
And so, even as more countries began producing wine, they all coloured within lines drawn by the French. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot, grapes associated with Bordeaux – long considered the king of French wine regions – were planted in new vineyards emerging everywhere from Chile to Canada. Even Italy, which had always been a distant second in terms of profit and prestige, scored hits at international competitions with bordeaux-style wines made with traditional French grapes grown in Tuscany.
From the 1980s onward, these kinds of bordeaux-esque wines – heavy, slightly sweet and highly alcoholic, made with the help of French consultants – came to dominate the global market. A new generation of critics loved them, especially the all-powerful Robert Parker, a self-styled “consumer advocate” who tasted 10,000 wines a year from his home office in Maryland, and whose recommendations could make or break a winemaker’s year. (The British wine critic Hugh Johnson, in his memoirs, refers to Parker as a “dictator of taste” within an “imperial hegemony” for the extent to which he controlled the fortunes of the worldwide industry.)
The kinds of wine Parker and his peers championed became known as the international style. There was a hint of disdain in the phrase, the sense that a bland internationalism had severed the connection between a type of wine and the place where it is made. In truth, this criticism was hard to dispute. To take just one example, since the 1970s the acreage devoted to native grapes in Italy has declined by half, often replaced with traditionally French varieties.
By the early 1990s France was exporting more than $4bn worth of wine a year – still more than twice as much as Italy, and more than 10 times as much as its new competition from the US, Australia and all of South America. And when it came to style, everyone still followed the French. Today, even the cheapest red wine found in the US or Britain is in some ways a tribute to that victory, having likely been soaked with toasted wood chips to approximate the vanilla and spice aromas of a French barrel, and spiked with sugar and purple colorant to ape the velvety sweetness and inky shade of a good bordeaux.
In the 1990s, a quote attributed to the Bordeaux winemaker Bruno Prats began being repeated in the mainstream wine press and among wine investors like a sacred mantra: “There are no more bad vintages.” The implication was that advances in farming and winemaking technology had all but conquered nature. In 2000, the late wine journalist Frank J Prial declared in the New York Times: “The fact of the matter is that in the cellar and the vineyard, the winemakers of the world have rendered the vintage chart [a historical record of which years are considered by critics to have been good or bad for winemaking] obsolete.” Just as the end of the cold war led some to declare ‘the end of history’ a decade earlier, it seemed that mankind had arrived at the end of wine. There was nothing to do but accept the new reality.
Thanks to the industry’s embrace of technology, wine was more plentiful, profitable and predictable than ever. But in the 1980s, just as French wine was putting the finishing touches to its global conquest, stirrings of discontent began to be heard among winemakers.
The blueprint for what came to be known as natural wine comes from Beaujolais, a pretty region of soft green hills and stone cottages just below the slopes of Burgundy proper. In the 1950s, the area had started making “beaujolais nouveau”, a cheap, easy-drinking wine that was produced quickly and released early in the season. It was a huge hit, and by the end of the 1970s Beaujolais – an area roughly the size of New York City – was producing more than 100m litres of wine a year, and exporting more bottles than Australia and the state of California combined.
Despite its commercial success, Beaujolais had become a dismal example of technical winemaking run amok. The New York Times complained about how producers would “‘push’ the vines” to twice the recommended yield, a process known locally as “faire pisser la vigne”, or “making the vine piss”. To achieve the short production time, winemakers relied on lab-grown yeasts to jump-start the process, and big doses of sulphur to halt fermentation and stabilise the wine ahead of schedule.
A small group of local dissenters loathed this conveyor-belt style of production. They coalesced around a winemaker named Marcel Lapierre, who, upon his death in 2010, was widely eulogised as “the pope of natural wine”. According to his friends, Lapierre complained that chemistry had destroyed the taste of Beaujolais, and that his contemporaries had “mortgaged their future” by producing low-quality wine at a frantic pace. He felt winemaking was being strangled by the demands of the market and the strictures of beaujolais AOC.
Lapierre was a radical – a friend of the Marxist theorist Guy Debord and the situationist poet Alice Becker-Ho – with no clear path to revolution. “We wanted to have a different life, to propose a different wine, one that respects ourselves and the people who drink it”, Lapierre’s nephew and fellow winemaker, Philippe Pacalet, told me.
What they seized upon was a heretical idea from an unlikely source. In 1980, Lapierre met Jules Chauvet, a tweedy local wine merchant, then in his 70s, who had been making small amounts of wine without additives for years. Chauvet, who had trained as a chemist and published widely on fermentation, believed that a healthy, diverse wild yeast from the same vineyard as the grapes produced the most complex, desirable bouquets in a wine. Sulphur dioxide is a potent antimicrobial, and Chauvet wrote that he considered it and other additives “poison” that restricted his beloved yeasts.
Chauvet’s rules for winemaking followed from his obsession with fermentation and eliminating chemicals: the grapes had to be healthy and pesticide-free to cultivate the wild yeast; the winemaking had to be slow and extremely careful, as without preservatives any bit of rotten fruit or unclean equipment could wreck the whole process. “He gave us these rules, and the scientific background,” Pacalet told me, describing Chauvet’s techniques as “the foundation of natural wine”.
It is difficult to overstate how ridiculous all this seemed at the time. In the 1980s, making wine without sulphur was like climbing a mountain without ropes. The French government had promoted and regulated its use since the 19th century, and modern oenologists thought it impossible to make wine without it. Sulphur offered control over fermentation and protected from bacterial spoilage. It was a panacea, the wine world’s equivalent of penicillin.
The odds of making decent wine without any sulphur seemed slim, but Lapierre and his friends persisted. Lapierre’s diaries recount bad harvests, temperamental yeasts causing entire vintages to go milky and sour, and nearly 15 years of experimentation – during which time Chauvet died, in 1989 – before he was consistently making good “low-intervention” wine, around 1992.
Having proved they could do the impossible, Lapierre and his friends achieved a strange success, a bit like a band that sustains a vital sound totally outside the geographic and cultural mainstream. Locally they were seen as eccentrics. The wine journalist Tim Atkin once wrote in the food magazine Saveur that there was “a lot of behind the hand sniggering” from their neighbours.
But Lapierre’s band of natural winemakers cultivated a small, dedicated following in Paris and abroad who were willing to evangelise for them. “When I tasted it [in the 1990s] I almost levitated. My god, I thought, the spirit of Chauvet is still alive,” the American wine importer Kermit Lynch told the magazine the Wine Spectator in 2010. The Japanese were also enthusiastic early converts – they were “the first big customers”, Olivier Cousin told me. “They had good taste and they paid well.”
Lapierre wasn’t the only person to try making wine without sulphur – a number of isolated winemakers across France and Italy were experimenting in similar ways – but some combination of dedication, his personal skill as a winemaker, and the scientific imprimatur of Chauvet’s process resonated. After years of toiling in obscurity, Lapierre’s work was vindicated by the scores of other winemakers who used his prototype to form a loose movement, free themselves of convention, and become the barbarians at the gates of the wine world.
In the 1990s, as the natural wine scene made its way beyond Beaujolais, across France and Europe, it took on a gleefully anti-modern character. Many winemakers embraced hyper-localism, planting long out-of-fashion native grape varieties and adopting archaic production techniques. A group based in the Loire valley pushed mysticism to the forefront through an interest in biodynamic agriculture, invented almost a century earlier by the Austrian occult philosopher Rudolf Steiner (he of the controversial schools). This involved promoting biodiversity in the vineyard, but also burying cow horns and entrails to form cosmic antennas in the soil – “raying back whatever is life-giving and astral,” according to Steiner.
For a long time, natural wine seemed destined to remain a shaggy subgenre. But starting in the late 2000s, something changed, and natural wine began popping up on menus in Brooklyn, in east London, and in the hipper quarters of Copenhagen and Stockholm. This new type of wine fitted perfectly with a wider revolution in taste, as vague terms such as “natural” and “artisanal” became bywords for sophistication, and consumers found themselves wanting to dine at farm-to-table restaurants and furnish their homes with reclaimed wood and industrial fittings. What had once been the passion of a hardcore group of eccentric winemakers in eastern France had, somehow, become cool.
London’s wine cognoscenti started noticing the style around 2010, and didn’t know what to make of it. “We were scratching our heads, because the definition was very vague. You could have a very good wine made in this way, then one which is just horrible – fizzing, bubbling, and smelly,” Ronan Sayburn of 67 Pall Mall told me. The wine press tended to describe natural wine as if it were a minefield – with a few safe, conventional choices among a field of explosively bad bottles. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because a wine tastes different or unexpected that also means that it’s good”, the Telegraph’s wine critic Victoria Moore wrote in 2011, in an article titled “Be wary at the Natural Wine Fair”. David Harvey, of the London importer Raeburn Fine Wines, recalled that “many wine professionals and writers pooh-poohed the whole thing early on. They assumed because they knew conventional wines, they knew it all.”
In early 2011, as the natural wine insurgency was growing, Sayburn invited Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene, one of the largest natural wine importers in the UK, to give an account of the style to a coterie of the nation’s wine elite at Vagabond, a small bar in west London. Among the 12 people attending were Isa Bal, the sommelier of Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck, and Jancis Robinson, the Financial Times’ wine critic, who advises the Queen’s cellars. The group included eight of the world’s 170 Master Sommeliers, and three of its 289 Masters of Wine, graduates of gruelling professional programmes that can take decades to complete, and produce the grandmasters of the wine world.
“I sensed a lot of hostility in the room,” Wregg recalled. Robinson, the FT critic, characterised the mood as “suspicious”. Among the wines Wregg presented, there were a few hits. A thin, fresh Jura chardonnay by Jean-François Ganevat was well received. Less so a tangy, peppery and slightly sweaty-tasting sulphur-free gamay from the south-eastern Loire, which more than one person noted reeked of “VA”, or volatile acidity – critical shorthand for a variety of acids that smell of vinegar.
It wasn’t Wregg’s most contentious tasting. (“I attended a lunch with him at [the London restaurant] Galvin that winter, where we got cloudy bottles that smelled like the arse-end of a farmyard,” Jay Rayner, the Observer’s restaurant critic, told me.) But the sceptics’ main misgivings – that natural wines were hugely inconsistent, difficult to define and failed to line up with traditional styles – remained. “I feel like I left none the wiser,” Sayburn said. “Some were good, some were horrible.”
There was also a feeling among attendees that, like the paleo diet or probiotics, natural wine was at best a trend, and at worst a cult, one whose supporters were prone to feverish evangelism. Wregg, himself a true believer, was not best-suited to convincing them otherwise. “Talking natural wine with Doug is like talking to a Mormon about God,” one of the attendees told me. Two others compared natural wine to the “emperor’s new clothes”.
Yet the very complaints critics level at natural wine are the same things that now ensure its success. In 2007, University of Toronto sociologists Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann published a landmark paper arguing that as the influence of French “haute cuisine” declined through the 20th century, a more pragmatic, egalitarian, American-rooted tradition arose. Analysing thousands of press articles, they showed that the qualities of “authenticity” – including geographic specificity, simplicity and personal connection – dominated contemporary food writing. “Authenticity,” they wrote, “is employed to provide distinction without overt snobbery.”
The inconsistency, the impurity, the strong smells, the bits of stems and yeasts that sometimes make it into the bottle – all this signals to the consumer that natural wine is an alternative to the bland, monotonous “perfection” of commercial products, in the same way that slight asymmetries distinguish handmade furniture. Natural wine offers a nothing-to-hide-here image at odds with the stuffy culture of the traditional wine world. To many people for whom a restaurant wine list represents a hellish combination of a geography, history and chemistry test specially designed to make them feel stupid, there is something very appealing about upending the critical hierarchy, or at least being told it can be ignored.
“When you decide consistency is less important, you are more liberated in the way you taste. Instead of looking for faults, you take what the wine gives you,” Wregg told me. We were at Terroirs, a Trafalgar Square wine bar that Les Caves opened in 2008, surrounded by mostly older patrons in Oxford shirts or suits, nearly all with a glass or bottle filled with something that would have been nearly unrecognisable as wine a decade ago.
Wregg is fastidious when describing soil types or winemaking practice, but tends to interpret the final product with a loose, anarchic air, like a seditious schoolteacher who knows the curriculum but urges students to doubt the validity of the system that created it. “Customers will tell me, ‘Oh, the 2015 is not like the 2014’, and I say ‘Good’, because, well, those are different years, and if the winemaker was farming honestly and not trying to manipulate the wine towards some idea of quality, it’s always going to be different”, he said. Once one accepts the premises of natural wine, he continued, “In a certain way, all bets are off. Everything is valid, everything is as good as everything else.”
Rigid boundaries soften over time. Natural wine can’t remain segregated in its own market for ever. There are natural winemakers who want to expand, and mainstream winemakers – struggling with what a 2016 industry report called the “long-term issue of youth recruitment” – eager to learn from natural wine’s popularity with young people who are as interested in craft beer and spirits as they are in wine.
Isabelle Legeron, an influential sommelier and writer, told me her vision for the future of natural wine was “to move away from this image of beatniks in sandals who have no idea what they’re doing”. She would like more transparency and clearer standards about what actually goes in the product – something she thinks favours natural wine’s chemical-free process. She also wants to cut out “bottles with naked lady pictures”, an unfortunate hangover from the scene’s crusty boys-club days.
When I spoke to Jay Rayner (no natural wine fan, to put it mildly) he drew a parallel between natural wine and the success of the organic food movement. Despite its enormous visibility, organic food still accounts for only a fraction of the total market, but its rise has provided a contrast and critique of the mainstream food world that could not be ignored. As a result, the mainstream has become a little bit more organic.
I caught a glimpse of this process in 2017 at Château Palmer, one of the world’s most prestigious wineries. While natural winemakers often tend toward lighter, brighter wines for immediate drinking, Château Palmer makes dense, highly concentrated wines that won’t age into their full potential for decades. It is wine for the yacht, the private jet and the futures market.
Yet in a sign of how natural wine’s thinking is infiltrating the highest levels of the industry, Château Palmer’s CEO Thomas Duroux has converted the estate, which is in Bordeaux, to biodynamic agriculture. This involves eliminating chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and applying Steiner’s theories of biodiversity and herbal treatments in their place. In 2014, Duroux declared that “in 10 years all the serious classified growths [in Bordeaux] will go this way.” When I visited, rather than the usual stark sight of thousands of vines in bare soil, there were rows of grapes boasting a healthy-looking blanket of leafy greens. Cows provided abundant natural fertiliser, and sheep for grazing between the vines waited in a nearby barn.
Sabrina Pernet, the head winemaker, assured me that the conversion wasn’t just marketing. “Consumers want to drink more natural products. But it’s not just a trend. There’s no future in killing the Earth,” she said. For the past few years, Château Palmer has also been experimenting with lowering the sulphur content in their wines. “The first time Thomas and I tried our wine without sulphur it was incredible”, Pernet said. “It was so open, so expressive. Sulphur makes wine very closed.”
If this seems like the familiar story of the market absorbing criticisms and turning them into new ways of making money, it’s worth noting that some core elements of natural wine are likely to defy attempts at scaling up. Everyone at Palmer is quick to point out that they aren’t going fully natural, just dialling back their additives as much as possible. “We can’t make wine totally without sulphur. I don’t want fizziness, I want it clean,” said Duroux. And with 10,000 cases retailing at more than £2,000 each, unlike small-scale natural wine producers, they can’t afford mistakes.
“This is a problem for the big estates,” said Cyril Dubrey, a winemaker in the village of Martillac, about 50km south of Château Palmer. “You need to be OK with losing some barrels, or to simply accept the wine you made.” Dubrey’s wine is fresh and very acidic, with a slight dusty earthiness – a long way from the density and power of the Château Palmer wines. But it is very good, and true to his DIY operation; Dubrey’s small vineyard butts up against the basketball nets and swimming pools of his neighbours’ yards.
“You should be free in your head and heart,” he said, with a calm satisfaction. He comes from a mainstream winemaking family, and studied oenology nearby. He has never regretted breaking with that tradition. “I’m proud of the wine that comes from this place. There is nothing added. The wine is free.”
Joined: 27 Jan 2003
Location: Hong Kong
|Posted: Thu Nov 12, 2020 7:45 pm Post subject:
|The World’s First Winery
While archeologists unearth the world’s oldest known winery in a cave in Armenia, a new generation of producers is reviving an ancient wine-making tradition 6,100 years in the making.
Saveur / Adam Leith Gollner
Looking out from the Areni-1 cave near the village of Areni in Armenia, where ongoing excavations have unearthed the world's oldest known proto-winery. Photos by William Hereford.
“This is it: the genesis,” exclaims winemaker Paul Hobbs, walking through a tight opening into a mass of monolithic rocks. “The cave where it all began.”
Hobbs and his partners are taking a break from their vines to explore one of the world’s oldest known winemaking operations. It’s in a cave. In Armenia. And not just any cave: a massive, primordial, bat-infested, Transcaucasian caveman cave. The Areni-1 complex, uncovered in 2007, contains a 6,100-year-old winery replete with fermenting vats, a grape press, and subterranean clay storage vessels. Altogether, it’s the best-preserved archeological site in the ongoing search for winemaking’s birthplace. And it’s only 60 miles from Mount Ararat, where Noah is said to have parked his ark after the flood and planted the earth’s first vineyard.
When you’re inside the cave, where the National Geographic Society and UCLA are continually excavating, you can’t help wondering what life must have been like back then. It’s quite cool—“temperature controlled,” as Hobbs puts it, meaning wine-friendly. Like a sandy beach, the floor is soft and springy, covered in a layer of fine dirt. Hobbs rests his hand on a guano-encrusted wall and gazes down at the gray-white earthenware jugs sunk into the powdery floor. “These have been sitting here for thousands of years,” he says. “It’s hard to fathom. We don’t have words for this feeling; it’s something mystical, something ethereal.”
Few people outside the former Soviet Union have ever tasted Armenian wine, but Hobbs and his team are part of a growing movement here hoping to change that. In addition to his own winery in Sebastapol, California, Hobbs consults on dozens of projects around the globe, from Uruguay to Ontario. And the 62-year-old vintner played a pivotal role in shaping the modern Argentinean wine industry two decades ago. His Armenian venture is a partnership with two Los Angeles-based Armenian brothers, Viken and Vahe Yacoubian. The first releases from Yacoubian-Hobbs Wines—made in the vineyards of Rind, a short drive from the Areni-1 archeological site—are due to launch soon.
Visiting Areni-1, it’s easy to share Hobbs’ enthusiasm for the chance to make wine at the cradle of viticulture. The cave is situated at the conjunction of an ancient canyon and a steep, narrow valley. From the fertile base of this X-shaped gorge, sweeping green hillsides give way to immense jagged red stone formations seemingly erupting from the earth’s core. These cliffside spires must have been just as awe-inspiring to the people who began cultivating grapes here millennia ago.
Mother Armenia presides over the country's capital, Yerevan. Designed by Armenian sculptor Ara Harutyunyan, the monument replaced a World War II-era statue of Joseph Stalin in the early 1960s.
Imagine a band of hunter-gatherers standing on a ridge across the Arpa River, surveying these craggy rifts as a place they might find shelter and protection from the leopards and jackals competing for survival here in the Armenian highlands. Areni-1 was inhabited during the early Copper Age, a transitional epoch between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age also known as the Chalcolithic period. At that point, we were still pretty much cartoon cavemen who hadn’t yet invented writing or wheels. The advent of alcoholic beverages would help kick-start those breakthroughs.
Consider: Only by domesticating animals and tending crops did we evolve away from pure survival and into a mode of life where division of labor and increased specialization developed into critical thinking. This cave is a key locus in that development.
Since 2006, archeological excavations at Areni-1 have uncovered not just the first-ever winery, but also the oldest known leather shoe and a human skull containing the most ancient fragment of brain tissue in existence. It’s been suggested the skulls and wine were linked in ceremony, and in its earliest days, the mystery of fermentation and inebriation was considered a gift of the gods—something to be ritualized. That’s why, as organized religions arose, wine became linked to divinities like Teshub, Osiris, Dionysus, and Jesus.
Early forms of booze included broken-rice grogs, grain mashed with fruit, and other proto-beers. But wine’s centrality in human history is due to the simplicity with which grape juice transforms itself into alcohol. As soon as grapes release their juices, the yeasts living on their skins break down the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. A pile of grapes, left to their own devices, will start to ferment automatically. “Other fruits don’t generate the same amount of alcohol as grapes, nor do other fruits turn into juice as easily,” Hobbs says.
The discovery of wine would have been an alluring reason for nomadic humans to give sedentary existence a go. As the pomologist Edward Bunyard once wrote: “We can picture the Father of our civilization, genial and complacent amid the stir of camp-breaking, answering those who urged him to his packing, ‘No! I stay here until this grape juice is finished. It gets more tasty every day.’”
Of course it wouldn’t have been the only reason we settled, but wine's nascence is a key moment in the Neolithic revolution, when humans gave up nomadism for agriculture. Armenia is adjacent to the Fertile Crescent, where founder crops like emmer and einkorn wheat, barley, flax, and lentils were tamed and developed. This particular region is also the place of origin for the wild grapevine.
It’s uncertain where, exactly, viticulture began, but the strongest theories suggest that it arose between the Black and Caspian Seas in Transcaucasia (which includes Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan), as well as in eastern Turkey, the Levant, and northern Iran. The earliest evidence for grape domestication, in the form of 8,000-year-old grape seeds, was found just north of Armenia at Shulaveri gorge in Georgia. The oldest example of wine—7,400-year-old residue on clay pots—was discovered just south of Armenia at Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran. Across the Black Sea in northern Greece, findings from a settlement called Dikili Tash suggest that grapes were being crushed into wine there 6,300 years ago. But Areni-1, at 6,100 years old, is the first place where grapes and winemaking tools have been discovered together. To put things in perspective, it’s not until a millennium or so later that wine shows up in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.
How the first prehistoric wines were made remains a matter of speculation. One hypothesis entails nomadic humans collecting wild grapes, which, left aside, accidentally fermented, and presto: vino. “When our prehistoric ancestors first drank wine, they felt its euphoric effects,” Hobbs says, “which certainly made them want to keep at it.”
Hobbs and the Yacoubian brothers have also had to keep at it. They've been working on this ambitious project since 2008, and they still haven't actually released any wines. But things are getting closer: Their areni vines are healthy, their nursery with Hobbs' California varietals is in the ground, and the first batch of their wines is imminent. “This is the longest cycle of any project I've ever worked on,” notes Hobbs, who also accepts that things take as long as they need to in a place this remote.
Paul Hobbs with a vineyard worker.
A certain level of tenacity and dedication is required just to access the Areni-1 site. Traveling to Armenia from North America is a multitransfer slog, and the drive to the cave from the capital city, Yerevan, takes a couple of hours along bumpy mountain roads. Throughout the journey, Mount Ararat's snowcapped peak dominates the biblically epic view. The road to Areni is lined with farm stands selling fresh red cherries and plastic gallons of homemade, semisweet, rustic red wine. “Many of them are riddled with microbial sanitation problems, oxidation, or overextraction,” Hobbs laments. “It's a shame, as more and more people are making pilgrimages here to taste great wine in its birthplace.”
Ancient wines have little in common with the roadside plonk available around Areni. Given the relentless global demand for wines with a true sense of place, there are opportunities here. Take the amber wines of nearby Georgia, made as they always have been in underground qvevri amphorae. Unsung until recently, they're increasingly praised in the international wine scene. Armenia, too, is ground zero for wine culture, yet it's still to be seen how it will reconcile the past with the present.
The indigenous areni grape, for example, seems ideally suited for lighter-bodied wines, yet many winemakers use it in saccharine Soviet-style wines or in brawny oak bombs. There's little consensus about what would make for a “typical” Armenian wine because nobody can say with authority what the wines used to be like. Part of the thrill is the desire to try and find out—even though the country's ancient wine culture nearly died over the past couple of centuries.
There's a simple reason why Armenia is simultaneously one of the oldest and the youngest wine-producing nations in the world: It was decreed a brandy-producing country during the 19th-century czarist era. As a result, most grapes here have ultimately ended up being distilled. The emphasis on brandy only deepened during Soviet years, and to this day, 95 percent of the grapes grown on a commercial level are used for spirits.
The rebirth of Armenian wines began only around a decade ago—barely enough time for newly planted vines to come to fruition. The producers moving things forward include Zorah, which ages a Karasì cuvée in reclaimed amphorae; Voskeni of the Ararat Valley; and Kataro, a family-run winery in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. Irina Ghaplanyan, a political science professor and driving force in the revival, makes an excellent red called Zabel. "Armenia's wines aren't yet at their full potential," she explains, knowingly. "We're still discovering what they can truly offer."
This is a nation where the tradition of simply drinking wine was broken. Annual consumption of vodka per capita is 5.6 liters, for example, to wine's 1.6 liters. Compare that with Georgia, where the average citizen consumes upwards of 21 liters a year. Granted, Georgia was deemed a "country of wine" in the Soviet-dominated 20th century, supplying Stalin with his favorites, and the tradition of making wine in qvevris was never interrupted. If Armenia can find a way to leverage its own historical position into a vibrant new wine culture, however, its mountainous reds may soon be drunk side by side with Georgia's skin-contact amber wines.
Since the discovery of Areni-1 in 2007, seismic changes have already taken place in Armenia. The first-ever wine bars in Yerevan opened in the early 2010's. The clientele still skews female and young, but it's a significant step in a place where most men consider wine drinking unmasculine. The sense that a new generation is coaxing things forward is palpable. Post-Soviet-style wine (read: dry) is being exported by domaines like ArmAs Estate, Hin Areni Vineyards, and Van Ardi, and there is an increasing uptick in quality. "That's where we come in," says Hobbs, who is conscious of the need to retain the wines' connection to the land. "The soul of a wine is when it speaks to a place. If you don't have that, then you've missed everything. And that quest is why we're so fired up to be here."
A vineyard grows beneath grows beneath Mount Ararat and the monastery.
The quest to bring world-class wine back to Armenia would be a lot more complicated without Vahe Keushguerian, the winery manager for Yacoubian-Hobbs. Born into the diaspora and educated in the United States, he started making wine in Tuscany and Puglia in the 1990s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he bought land in the Areni region, relocated in 2009, and began working with the country's winemakers. These days, he runs a company called Semina Consulting that helps with everything from harvesting to bottling to sales to shipping. "The ringleader of the Armenian wine mafia" is what the media here have dubbed Keushguerian. That may be true, but he's also a nature lover who spends his free time tagging and propagating wild grapevines.
Not far from the cave, Keushguerian walks over to some tangled, overgrown grape bushes. These grapevines haven't been here for millennia, but they've overlooked these cliffs for at least a few generations. The varietals translate to names like “foxtail,” “the shah's empress,” and “a Kurd's forehead.”
“Whenever I come out here it makes me realize the total insignificance of our own lives,” Keushguerian says to Hobbs as they gaze up at the cliffs. As much as Keushguerian is entranced with Armenia's ancestral grapes and Areni-1, it's his opinion that it doesn't matter which country actually came to make wine first. “Being the birthplace of wine is something the countries around here all share,” he contends. “In fact, it's one of the few things we all have in common.”
Relations between Armenia and its neighbors are highly fraught. The borders to Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed. The only land routes in or out pass through either Georgia or Iran, making it logistically difficult to export wines. There have long been disputes over the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan as well as the mountainous independent territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which shares a currency, legislation, and much of its population with Armenia—but which Azerbaijan claims belongs to it. Perhaps the ultimate symbol for how complex the geopolitical situation is in this region is Mount Ararat itself, which lies in a part of Turkey primarily inhabited by Kurds who consider it part of the as-yet-unrecognized nation of Kurdistan.
Areni-1 is located near Ararat in Vayots Dzor, a province whose name translates as the “Valley of Sorrows.” So many wars have been fought here, and the painful memory of the Armenian genocide a century ago remains fresh. Cross-cultural tension and lingering wounds are part of the country's DNA.
As Keushguerian, Viken Yacoubian, and Hobbs leave the cave site, a picnicking group of older men waves them over. They're drinking homemade white wine and vodka from plastic water bottles. When they learn that Hobbs is American, they kiss him on the cheek and hold forth in Russian about Armenia's tragic past. Keushguerian tries to translate, but the men speak over one another with increasing urgency. Pretty soon, they are crying and hugging as Hobbs attempts to console them. He can't grasp a word they're saying. Still, he's in a land capable of expressing its emotions in ways that transcend language.
Keushguerian’s wine cellar in Yerevan.
To encounter grown men crying here is not atypical. In fact, souvenir stores often sell small figurines of a doleful, bulbous-nosed, dark-haired, flower-bearing man with tears running down his face. Armenians are a deeply emotional and empathetic people; it's part of the reason they've been able to survive in such a harsh environment, but also why their communities have flourished around the world. The global Armenian diaspora is estimated to be between 7 million to 8 million people; the country's population is itself only 3 million.
William Saroyan, the legendary Armenian-American writer, felt that the secrets to life were to breathe deeply, laugh like hell, and really "taste food when you eat." Meals here are so incredibly flavorful and abundant that it's impossible to not follow his advice. After bidding the tipsy, now laughing picnickers dasvidaniya, the group heads to an outdoor grill restaurant near the base of the cave. (Part of the cave itself was damaged when someone tried to build a restaurant inside its western gallery.)
Lunch begins with platters of brightly flavored pickles, thick Caucasian yogurt, savory pan-seared apricot patties, carrots with dill, thin slices of eggplant wrapped around creamy walnuts, and local cold cuts like basturma and dried soujouk, as well as a briny, subterranean-aged cheese and heaping plates of fresh herbs: chervil, chives, cilantro, purple basil, mustardy arugula, and tarragon. And no Armenian meal would be complete without dolmas, whether cabbage-wrapped rice and meat, or forest-green vine leaves swaddling crayfish. The main course is a parade of grilled sturgeon, trout, pork chops, lamb, and potatoes.
The other tables fill with raven-haired women and muscular men with pale blue eyes wearing Adidas tracksuits. The impression of being in 1970s U.S.S.R. is amplified when Hobbs and the others depart for their nearby vineyards, jostling past blue-smoke-spewing Ladas, donkey-pulled chariots, and a rumbling bulldozer slowly dragging boulders on chains behind it.
“Most of the vineyard practices here are archaic,” Hobbs says, strolling through his vines in Rind. “We've worked to revamp growing methods, slashing yields, and harvesting later to achieve ripeness.”
Viken Yacoubian is a rugged force to Hobbs' Hollywood good looks. He recalls that when Hobbs arrived there was no infrastructure for modern winemaking. “Everything was ancient and dilapidated, left over from the Soviet period,” Yacoubian says. “It really felt formidable to attempt this.”
A crowd gathers at Areni-1.
But now, in 2016, it's coming together. The final blends for their first release will be chosen tomorrow. Everyone takes a moment to inhale deeply. A shepherd pauses with his flock on a ravine in the distance. Purple wildflowers and blood-red poppies dance among the vines. “What I love about this place is the purity,” Hobbs says. “In the air, in the plants, in everything.”
Born in upstate New York, Hobbs notes the similarity between his homeland and Armenia. “The winters here are as cold as the Finger Lakes,” he says. “The flowers and soil and manure and leaves—it smells like my childhood on the farm. Every time I visit the cave, I end up feeling like a kid. I feel like I am my three-year-old daughter here. Everything is so new and marvelous for her, so fresh.”
The next afternoon, Hobbs, Yacoubian, and Irina Ghaplanyan from Zabel gather at Chateau Qvartel, Keushguerian's offices and winery. The “chateau” is an immense, rusting Soviet hangar located in Yerevan's derelict 16th quarter. A number of the buildings around here have collapsed, some are in a permanent state of incompletion, and many are windowless. It's a reminder of post-Soviet dissolution, when supply chains crumbled and the ruble was replaced with the still-precarious dram. Electricity was barely available at night from 1991 until around 2005. During those years, hotels here would give guests a wake-up call if hot water happened to become available for showering. “This part of town is kind of the projects,” Keushguerian says.
Unlikely though it may seem, this urban-bunker facility is central command for the new wines of Armenia—eight or so winemakers all operate under this one roof. Keushguerian makes his own wines here, as do Ghaplanyan, Yacoubian-Hobbs, and a handful of other idealists. There are the usual stainless-steel fermenting tanks and oak barrels for aging, but there's also a large map on the wall to help explain how all these Greater Caucasian and Near East countries fit next to one another.
“The grapes for my Keush Origins sparkling wine come from there,” Keushguerian says, pointing at the region of Khachik. It's right up against the border of Azerbaijan, close to the trenches in a militarized zone. “To make sense of wine in Armenia, we need to accept that it is a combination of history, geography, resilience, and defiance—plus a sense of duty to our ancestors,” he continues. “Wine is a way to introduce people to Armenia. You see its reality through its wine.”
Yacoubian chimes in: “The fact is these wines allow us to discuss identity. I am an Armenian, and I am making wine, but who am I? I was born in Lebanon and grew up in Los Angeles, and I came here searching for a way of defining my Armenian-ness.” Wine is helping him, and his country, define their voice.
On that note, they taste the final blend of their first vintage. The Yacoubian-Hobbs take on the areni grape smooths out its rough tannins, placing it somewhere between a mondeuse from Savoie, a Chianti riserva, and a volcanic red from Etna. It's definitely a mountain wine, but with a velvety, new-world, Hobbsian signature—and it adds density without any of the clunkiness found in other local wines.
Vahe Keushguerian, Yacoubian-Hobb’s winery manager.
Keushguerian and Ghaplanyan recently coauthored a paper on what they call wines from the “historical world,” distinguishing that term from “Old World” and “New World.” They wanted to identify this region—Armenia and Georgia, but also Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon—differently from the ancient world. “The ancient world is a sexy idea,” Ghaplanyan explains, “but it is something that has ceased to exist—as opposed to history, which is constantly evolving.”
Keushguerian interjects: “The ancient world is a fossil, and nobody wants to be a fossil.” Their notion that this part of the world is distinct from old-world and new-world labels allows for historical-world wines to be made with a new-world palate, as Yacoubian-Hobbs is doing, or in an old-world style, emulating European cuvées, or in a historical-world way, as are Georgia's amber wines. “There is room for all preferences and tastes with this framework,” he says.
Ghaplanyan insists that Armenian wine should be in no rush to define itself—or to limit itself. “Our people first lost our statehood in 1045 c.e.—and we only finally became a sovereign republic again in 1991,” she points out. “Twenty-five years to find ourselves again after almost a thousand is a very short time.” Armenia is an in-between place, not exactly European, Asian, or Middle Eastern. “A liminal place,” Ghaplanyan says. “That has to be the source of our strength.”
Armenians have long used wine as a way of maintaining their Armenian-ness. In 2013, the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology published a paper about the spread of early Transcaucasian culture (ETC) across the Near East in the third millennium b.c.e. The Areni-1 site was a prime ETC settlement, and as the Transcaucasians wandered, they brought wine culture with them. The archeological record suggests that winemaking is what enabled them to retain their social identity wherever they settled.
Returning from exile, Yacoubian, Ghaplanyan, and Keushguerian are essentially following their predecessors in a quest to discover themselves through wine. There's a beautiful symmetry to the idea that modern-day Armenians would define themselves in such a way. This is a place where a wine-drinking civilization learned to thrive 6,000 years ago, and where people are once again using grapes to help them find their identity—even as they search for the true nature of their wines.
The Armenian Grapes
Cultivated in Armenia’s rich, volcanic soil at high altitudes, these grape varietals are entirely indigenous and vital to the tradition of winemaking in the cradle of viticulture.
The best known of Armenia's varietals, areni is a thick-skinned, late-ripening grape. It's considered one of the country's finest, and produces fresh, bright red wines with soft, elegant red fruit flavors.
This late-ripening varietal is thinner-skinned than areni, and deep violet-purple in color, with small berries that make for sweet, fresh, floral juice.
Originally from Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory in South Caucasus, sireni is a thick-skinned red grape with tannic structure. It ages and develops reliably well in barrel.
Rare and nearly extinct until recently, tchilar is a grape to watch in the coming years. It's mildly floral with a distinct structure, and falls somewhere between a sauvignon blanc and a grüner veltliner.
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