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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Fly on the Wall

Notes & Thoughts on food and wine....

By Don Merlot, Junto Staff Writer
Winter Park, Florida
On my last journey to the New World I dropped into Lima, Santiago, and Buenos Aires on a business trip. Lima was a first time for me, and it strikes me as a very vibrant --people and country coming out its cocoon/Spanish colonial shell: the food and wine in all three are magnificent.

Remember the old saying that we should look for the differences and not the similarities. Latin America after 200 years of independence and 500 years since the conquest the people may speak Spanish and were part of the Spanish Viceroyalty colonial system, but it stops there. Today there is a big difference among them. All three do not touch each other territorially, but Peru shares a border with Chile and Argentina also shares a border with Chile.

For me these countries are a jigsaw puzzle that still have difficulties fitting together -– politics and economy aside. There is not alot of American savoir faire on either: The foods are phenomenal and so are the wines. The foods of Peru are multi cultural fusion menus: Pre-Columbian indigenous with (Spanish primarily, but some Italian), but major contributions made by Africa, China, and Japan.

The Spanish started the vinification process in each case, and were primarily focused on the Grand Creole (Criollo) families' tastes and preferences as well as the Roman Catholic Church in each country with its monasteries and nunneries. Eventually this was augmented later by the French and Italians when they came in the early 19th century and they have jumped in and really created the character of each wine taste.

The food of Chile is a Spanish/colonial preparation and very savory too. The menu of Argentina is a beef eater's haven and beef is consumed almost three times a day, and the Italian immigration majority has given Argentine cuisine an Italo-gastronomic bent.

In terms of imbibing alcohol the Pre-Columbian INCAS had developed Chi Cha Morada, a popular drink today found everywhere in the Conquered Inca Empire; a coloured corn fermented drink. Important to note because this principal drink is preferred beverage with lunch and dinner.

When the Spanish Colonialist established the Viceroyalty and the land grants parceled out, the haciendas that could grow grapes did. In Peru Pisco became a popular drink; it is a derivation of the Spanish Orujo: similar to Marc in France and Grappa in Italy. After the vinefication the wine residue is distilled -- stems, skins, seeds and voila, one has the lethal Orujo. Aguardiente is a popular name for this mix.

The local Creole culture in Peru and eventually Chile combined the Pisco with Lime Juice to produce a cocktail called the Pisco Sour. It is magnificent, but do not get carried away having too many. Lime was brought to the New World by the Spaniards. It is interesting to trace back the citrus derivation: Why does Europe have the yellow lemon -– so popular in the USA, and why in Spanish Colonies did the green Limon flourish?

They both come from Asia via the Turkish traders: Lemons thrive in moderate climates, whereas the green "limones" thrive in warm tropical climates. The Arab traders took the green lemon to North Africa and the Moors to Spain. The yellow lemon went to Venice and was absorbed in the Mediterranean cultures. Peru and Chile differ as to the authentic Pisco, and each recipe is a guarded secret put different. A tourist in either country is greeted with a sample of their Pisco. There is a city in Peru with the name Pisco. ?Quien Sabe, Kimo Sabe?

Wine in Peru is more in the style of a vino de mesa, a table wine. If one looks at a map you will see Peru out of the Magical wine zone – 30 Latitude. But the wines are palatable. Table wines mature quickly and are drunk very young and they do not age.

The king of the Menu in Peru is Cebiche. (Spelled also as Ceviche or Seviche). Many fables as to how this dish developed, but Peru is very proud of this dish. Every place I found it in Lima it was made from Corvina (Sea Bass). The basic preparation for this is Lime (green Limon juice) red onion, cilantro, and aji (red fresh chilies pods -- seeded and thinly sliced). The waiter will ask how spicy you like it. Be careful, this Aji is spicy hot (for me), and I like it spicy. Added to this slurry is a peeled whole sweet Potato and large corn on the cob or loose white corn kernels.

There are other types of Cebiche -– Concha Negro (black Conch) which is very good as well. Bay scallops and other crustaceans.

The preferred wine is a Sauvignon Blanc, local from Peru or goes with a Chile or France dry white (Loire or Bordeaux). Locals are drinking the Chi cha morada or beer.

Do not let the waiter take the left over slurry away, and order a plate of fried shrimp or calamares. The marinade juice should be soaked up in bread to the last drop.

Peru has a beef tenderloin dish called Lomo Salteado that should be enjoyed with a Cabernet sauvignon. It is a Creole dish and very tasty for beef lover.

Chile has great beef and has its own wine marriage match with Carmenère. Originally this wine came from the vineyards of Bordeaux. It was worked with the merlot and eventually lost its identity. In Chile steak houses a Carmenère reserve and a fire grilled rib eye are meal to try.

In Argentina the land of great grass fed beef, the steak houses offer excellent skirt steak (Spanish cut), with Chimi churri sauce and a Malbec Reserva. Malbec also hails from Bordeaux and most today is most famous in Cahors (South West France). The French brought it over in the early 19 Century.

The red wines are rich in tannins and flavours.. They are the character of their country's food.

The new World treats are making it into the American menus. So are the wines. It should be a good experience.

(Don Merlot is nom de plume of Ronald Alonzo, a Florida writer, who used to live in Pennsylvania -- and Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, Arizona, and Louisiana, and Mexico).