Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

For centuries, most people saw wine as a way to enjoy a good meal or relax. Sam Ward saw it as a way to influence government. He arrived in Washington D.C. in 1859, with several cases of fine wine, and managed to secretly draw salaries simultaneously from the U.S. State Department and the country of Paraguay to resolve issues between them. He quickly saw the potential of delicious foods, dinner parties, and the information gathered from them, as a way to wield power. By 1875 the press was referring to him as “King of the Lobby.”

Sam Ward came from a distinguished New York family, was the brother of Julia Ward Howe (author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) and was the best friend with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Author Kathryn Allamong Jacob traces his rise to becoming the “most influential lobbyist of the Gilded Age.”

King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward, Man-About-Washington in the Gilded Ageis available online at

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One of the great advantages of a slow cooker is taking a tough piece of meat and making it mouthwateringly tender. But now that Mario Batali has commanded us to start enjoying “Meatless Mondays” what are carnivores, and vegetarians for that matter, supposed to do with this appliance? Judith Finlayson has the answer with her new book The Vegetarian Slow Cooker. There are over 200 recipes to inspire you to swipe that slow cooker from grandma’s attic and use it in healthy ways. Set up your ingredients in the morning and come home to a perfectly cooked Classic French Onion Soup or Louisiana Ratatouille.

The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipesis available online at

Louisiana Ratatouille

Eggplant, tomato and okra stew is a classic Southern dish that probably owes its origins to the famous Mediterranean mélange ratatouille. One secret to a successful result, even on top of the stove, is not overcooking the okra, which should be added after the flavors in the other ingredients have melded.

Serves 6

Equipment: Medium (approximately 4 quart) slow cooker (see tips)

  • 2 medium eggplants, peeled, cubed (2 inches/5 cm), sweated and drained of excess moisture (see Tips)
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon (2 mL) cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 can (28 oz/796 mL) tomatoes with juice, 1 coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) red wine vinegar
  • 1 pound (500 g) okra, trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) lengths, about 2 cups (500 mL) (see tips)
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced (1⁄4 inch/0.5 cm)

In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, in batches, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onions to pan and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice and red wine vinegar and bring to a boil. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.

Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or on High for 3 hours, until hot and bubbly. Add okra and bell pepper. Cover and cook on High for 30 minutes, until okra is tender.


Okra, a tropical vegetable, has a great flavor but it becomes unpleasantly sticky when overcooked. Choose young okra pods, 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) long, that don’t feel sticky to the touch (if sticky, they are too ripe). Gently scrub the pods and cut off the top and tail. Okra can also be found in the freezer section of the grocery store. Thaw before adding to slow cooker.

Place cubed eggplant in a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt, toss well and set aside for
30 minutes to 1 hour. If time is short, blanch the pieces for a minute or two in heavily salted water. In either case, rinse thoroughly in fresh cold water and, using your hands, squeeze out excess moisture. Pat dry with paper towels and it’s ready for cooking.

If you are halving this recipe, be sure to use a small (approx. 1-1⁄2 to 3-1⁄2 quart) slow cooker.

Make Ahead:

Complete Steps 1 and 2. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When you’re ready to cook, complete the recipe.

Recipe from The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes by Judith Finlayson
(Robert Rose; February 2010 Softcover/$24.95)

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The Authenticity Hoax is the most infuriating of all reads. The reader suspects that author Andrew Potter is either fundamentally cranky and unhappy, a boorish contrarian or clever at coming up with a manuscript that will be published by Rupert Murdock (Harper) and reviewed by him as well (Wall Street Journal).

This book is the latest diatribe from the conservative right, attacking anyone who doesn’t want to shop in the sterilized world of malls, vacation at Disneyland or, as specifically obsessed about in this book, eat tasteless, industrial junk food manufactured by chemical companies. Like the small band of readers in Fahrenheit 451, Potter thinks these “status seekers and phonies” need to be herded back on to the corporate industrial reservation.

Here’s where Potter is correct: we do romanticize and fantasize the past. We spend too much time in front of the idiot box instead of reading Spengler and Gibbon, we do not understand the hardships and miseries of our ancestors. As someone who loves history, I know that today is as good as it gets in terms of prosperity, health and social fluidity. Although Mr. Potter seems nostalgic for a time of “faith and authority,” few of us would trade the modern world for “faith” in the 14 century Borgia church or the “authority” of Hernando Cortez. According to Mr. Potter we have left behind the proscribed path and have ventured onto our own personal highway of authenticity.

Along the reading way, there are swipes at repressive countries and the authenticity seekers who support them as long as they are pre-modern. I guess he is taking on Cuba and Nicaragua. I would agree, but how many of us are trying to get to the latter for some homemade kimche?

The Authenticity Hoax takes off its gloves when it comes to Al Gore, Prince Charles, and James Howard Kunstler. Here, lock step with the Murdock goon squad on Fox News, Mr. Potter accuses them of “a dopey nostalgia for a non-existent past, a one-sided suspicion of the modern world…” I don’t think so.

In an Orwellian turn, Mr. Potter takes these people who want us to live better, fuller lives in nicer surroundings and makes that anti-progressive. He implies the great leap forward in material progress was probably the 50’s. Levittown and CBS, Robert Moses and the bomb. Yet I can’t think of a more culturally sterile time. Racial, sexual and intellectual repression was at an all time high. As Maslow posited and the author points out, humans want safety and security while living in a technologically progressive world. But, once these needs are met, people also seek a parallel transformation of their spirit.

Mr. Potter thinks the search for organic, local, and artisnal food is equivalent to participation in a high school clique, comprised of an elite group who continually sends out messages designed to exclude others who can’t afford to catch on. He characterizes the historical search for flavor, taste and quality as “conspicuous authenticity.” What would he have thought of Europe’s centuries-long quest for spices? Would that desire for better flavor and taste be an elitist hoax? You get the idea. Mr. Potter hates raw-milk cheeses, grass-fed beef and heirloom squash. These are all signs of the cult of Jean-Jacques Rousseau fanatics who, by denying modernity, are deviant.

Mr. Potter, this is progress. This is building on the blessings of science and taking it one step more into the world of the senses, of quality, of essence. The real phony in this drama is the fake food flavors of the commodity food world. What you seem to think is progress is actually the opposite. Your standardized, genetically distorted, pesticide ridden, hormone infused, flavorless, factory-processed food manufactured by agri-business monopolists may be “NEW!” but it’s not progress. These ‘evildoers’ are but a distraction on the path to authenticity.

Stalinists too believed in progress and their architecture reflected that. Lionizing a farmer or butcher or cheese monger is not being party to “a debased political culture dominated by negative advertising” but part of an ennobling process our Jeffersonian ancestors would have understood.

Yes, there may be food snobs who don’t want to see Wal-Mart go organic, but they remain a tiny minority. The rest of us would like to build on science to create a food supply that rewards those who bring us flavorful, ethically made, healthy food and drink.

Sounds to me like the opposite of a hoax.

THE AUTHENTICITY HOAX: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves
By Andrew Potter
(Harper, 296 pages, $25.99)

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As organic foods and wines grow in popularity, it’s no surprise that organic cocktails are now popping up in restaurants and bars. Publishing a green version of a mixed drink book could have been as simple as taking your average bartender’s guide and adding organic before every ingredient. Fortunately, Paul Abercrombie has gone the extra mile in Organic, Shaken and Stirred – Hip Highballs, Modern Martinis and Other Totally Green Cocktails, and provided a fun well-thought-out collection of hedonistic concoctions that take advantage of why you want to drink organic in the first place; purity of flavor.

Ambercrombie has collected drink recipes from mixologists around the country, and provided a great index of organic sprits and mixers, along with their websites, so you know what to look for before your next party. Better yet, the photography in the book is fantastic. You’ll be inspired to make your own Saffron Margaritas and Frozen Berry Bellinis the moment you lay eyes on them.

Purchase Organic, Shaken and Stirred at

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You would be hard-pressed to find Monkey Wine at your local store, but thanks to John Peragine’s 101 Recipes For Making Wild Wine At Home you can attempt to make it yourself, provided you have 3 lbs. of ripe bananas and some raisins on hand. In fact, Peragine shows you how to make wine out of anything; from citrus fruits to Brussels Sprouts. And for the sticklers among you, yes, you can learn how to make some from grapes as well.

The U.S. government allows each individual to male 100 gallons of wine per year (200 total per household) and Peragine wants you to take advantage of that to the the fullest; not just for economics sake but for the pleasure as well. As he states in the introduction:

I warn you, once you start making your own wine, you will not be able to stop. The basic process is simple, but the subtle variations in ingredients, maturation time, and other variables are what make the process so intriguing. Every batch of wine you create will take on a character and life of its own.

Peragine covers the whole process an easy-to-follow manner, from purchasing your equipment, testing your water to bottling. He also includes a number of personal stories from other home winemakers and shares their advice. If you’ve always wanted to make your own wine, but aren’t ready to spend millions on your own Napa estate, this is the book to get you started.

You can purchase 101 Recipes For Making Wild Wine at Home at

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The first edition of this book ignited this writer’s fledgling interest in all things vinous some twenty-five years ago. It was the first wine book I ever bought, almost by accident. I was initially attracted to it because of the superb illustrations by Paul Hogarth rather than by the words; they added to my treasured collection of Hogarth-illustrated Graham Greene paperbacks. These marvellous pen pictures are thankfully retained in this new edition and remain almost as indispensable as the writing itself because they convey the joy of wine better than almost any photograph. However, I soon became captivated by the writing style and sheer erudition on show. To this day I still refer to the 3rd edition, its bright blue cover prominent on my bookshelf.

Since then this encyclopaedia of wines, vineyards and winemakers has expanded enormously, reflecting, in Hugh’s own words, “the most eventful quarter-century in the history of wine.” The subject of wine has changed fundamentally in many ways during this time, as this book bears witness; from the rise of the New World to the development of the global wine village, from the dominance of international wines to the continuing adoption of biodynamics and from vintage variation to global warming. Back then, entries on China, India and Uruguay would have been merely eccentric footnotes, now these regions loom ever larger in our future.

In this new edition the content has been sensitively updated by Stephen Brook, with the heart of the book still arranged on a country-by-country basis, listing key producers in succinct detail. But there is much more besides, with chapters covering grapes, winemaking and wine styles and not least giving practical advice on enjoying wine – from buying through to serving and tasting.

Any test of an encyclopaedia should, in my view, be made my dipping into the contents, particularly to check out the reviews of favourite wineries and to discover unfamiliar entries to fuel future exploration. The book is a unique lens of preference and discovery, where entries are graded on a simple four-star system and web addresses are helpfully included. Given that the book covers the global wine scene and some well known producers are naturally self-selecting entries then three examples chosen almost at random must suffice to illustrate the quality and depth of coverage. I could of course have listed hundreds more.

Firstly, I was delighted to see Domaine Belluard listed in the Savoie section, whose biodynamic white wine, made from the ultra-rare Gringet grape, made such a favourable impression on me just a few weeks ago. Secondly, welcome recognition is given to Fox Run Vineyards, arguably the best wine producer in New York’s Fingerlakes region, which bought back fond memories. Finally, Quinta de Covelha from Portugal’s Minho rightly focuses on their exciting red and white blends.

This book does what says on the cover – a constant companion to my own wine journey. While I have amassed a collection of hundreds of books on the subject of wine it’s still a privilege to continue to learn from and enjoy Hugh’s subtle writing style. His most articulate and concise prose manages that rare three card trick of being authoritative, up-to-date and entertaining.

For anyone setting out to discover wine then this book, alongside The World Atlas of Wine and The Oxford Companion are the indispensable tomes. For those of us already immersed in wine lore this book is no less essential – it raises the bar to which we all strive another notch.

Hardback, published by Mitchell Beazley (ISBN-13: 978-1845334574) and available in the USA from the 15th of September 2009, RRP $60.00. Amazon has it listed at $37.80.

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pioneerWritings of Nicholas Herbemont, Master Viticulturist
Edited by David S. Shields

This volume collects the most important writings on viticulture by Nicholas Herbemont (1771-1839), who is widely considered the finest practicing winemaker of the early United States. Included are his two major treatises on viticulture, thirty-one other published pieces on vine growing and wine making, and essays that outline his agrarian philosophy. Over the course of his career, Herbemont cultivated more than three hundred varieties of grapes in a garden the size of a city block in Columbia, South Carolina, and in a vineyard at his plantation, Palmyra, just outside the city.

Born in France, Herbemont carefully tested the most widely held methods of growing, pruning, processing, and fermentation in use in Europe to see which proved effective in the southern environment. His treatise “Wine Making,” first published in the American Farmer in 1833, became for a generation the most widely read and reliable American guide to the art of producing potable vintage.

David S. Shields, in his introductory essay, positions Herbemont not only as important to the history of viticulture in America but also as a notable proponent of agricultural reform in the South. Herbemont advocated such practices as crop rotation and soil replenishment and was an outspoken critic of slave-based cotton culture.

David S. Shields is McClintock Professor of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina. He edits the journal Early American Literature and also serves as general editor of the Publications of the Southern Texts Society series. Shields’s books include Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America and Oracles of Empire: Poetry, Politics, and Commerce in British America, 1690-1750.

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Alice Feiring wonders herself if she should have written a screenplay instead. She might have come up with The Stepford Wives. Around the world, wines she used to cherish have lost their personalities and are all starting to taste the same. Why? To please their man of course; Robert Parker, the world’s most influential wine critic. Positive reviews can mean millions and the great wine regions will do anything to curl up in his lap and get a nice pat on the head. Even if it means abandoning time-honored natural methods in favor of artificial and mechanical manipulation.

Casting herself as heroine, Feiring begins The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization attempting to “return the vineyards of the world to those who know how to work them.” Her journey becomes Apocalypse Now, seeing vineyard insanity in country after country as she heads up river towards an inevitable showdown with Kurtz, er, Robert Parker, the madman who created the 100-point rating system and whose loyal troops, er, wineries now make wines solely for his palate: “jammy fruit bombs, all vanilla-almond crunched up, often tampered with, and styled by technology and chemistry.”

Her experience in Spain exemplifies the overall problem she also finds in France and Italy. A tasting in Madrid reveals no white Riojas, but tons of new Chardonnays; a grape she feels should not be even grown in Spain.

Students returning from wine school used the new techniques that they believe were superior to their grandfathers’. Winemakers who didn’t trust themselves hired wine consultants to measure the chemistry of a wine. Retired CEOs hired consultants to create status-symbol wines. Winemakers wanted Parker’s attention – and there went the neighborhood.

So what can be done about Darth Vader and the Attack of the Clones? Feiring admits Parker may be a reluctant villain, entitled to his own opinions and free to publish them. Is it his fault that he has the influence he does? No, but Feiring does want an admission from Bob that he has become something bigger than himself; and that this has not been good for the world of wines.

Parker has none of it. “There is no global palate,” he claims. “Myths about me get embellished, exaggerated. I have sixty-five thousand subscribers, but the Wine Spectator has what, four hundred thousand? You’re picking the wrong target here!”

In fact, Darth Vader seems a better analogy for wines than for Parker. Grapes with soul trapped inside machines that are manipulating them. So what is a wine lover to do? Feiring does list the holdouts in each country that make “real wines” and even an entire region, the Loire, which “Parker forgot to review” and thus escaped his influence.

Feiring peppers her travel stories with humorous observations about past loves, including Owl Man and Mr. Bow Tie. The real strength of her writing, though, is her ability to describe what she enjoys about wine and allow the reader see the world through her own palate. The Battle for Wine and Love is not a long list of wine reviews with a narrative thrown around them. It is an explanation of desire, which is quite the accomplishment on any subject.

Purchase The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization at the Organic Wine Journal Book Store.

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