How many different wine grapes are there in the world? I don't know if anyone has the definitive answer--that would require detailed knowledge of winemaking, history, and botany as well as the mastery of dozens of languages and the willingness to get involved in centuries-old arguments over grape lineages. Hell, we still don't even know for sure where wine was first produced, with a dozen regions claiming the title. The longest list of grape vareities I could find online details around 2,500 varieties. I've knocked out around 150, but I stopped counting after joining the Wine Century Club for tasting 100 unique grapes. (I'm still the only member from Tennessee; I know some of y'all can join me. They need... Volunteers!)
I'll still jump at any opportunity to try a new grape, especially from a smaller wine country, and thus I was excited to grab a bottle of the 2003 Wimmer-Czerny Roter Veltliner from Austria. $13, 12% abv. Touch of vanilla, whiff of Riesling-like petrol, just a little musk. It remains surprisingly crisp and refreshing, with a bit of lemon flavor and a nice minerality. While it's fruity and dry, it reminds me of some odd cross between a Riesling and a Sauvignon Blanc.
Eric Asimov wrote about a bottle of the 2005 vintage back in 2007. Despite the similar names, recent DNA tests have established no relation between the Roter Veltliner and the better-known Grüner Veltliner grapes. Jancis Robinson also gives us an explanation for the names: Veltliner means "from the village of Veltlin in the Tirol [south Austria near the Italian border]". Both are white wine grapes, but Grüner means "green" and Roter means "red", even though the latter just has a pinkish tinge to it like Pinot Grigio, which isn't gray. Of course, Pinot Noir isn't black and "Blanc" grapes are all yellow or green... You could really screw up a kid by teaching him colors with wine grapes.
What to prepare along with a grape I had never seen before? I wasn't really in the mood for Österreicher cusine, so how about some new ingredients I'd never tasted before? I fixed guinea hen, an odd little bird that resembles a wild turkey. This one is organic from North Carolina. The bird is called pintade in French and faraona (Pharaoh) in Italian, the latter association due to the Egyptian love of the poultry over 4000 years ago.
I used this recipe from Jamie Oliver because blood oranges are in season and stuffing some inside sounded great. The skin and meat are darker than chicken (almost purple in places), and the flavor is deeper. Despite this being my first experience with this particular bird, it came out tender, juicy, and delicious. Grace served as willing test subject, and she gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. Will it replace chicken, turkey, or duck? No. But I'd take a guinea hen any day over a Cornish game hen or a pheasant.
For a simple side dish I threw together a batch of Napa cabbage slaw. For added kicks I skipped the carrot in the recipe and instead cut up a watermelon radish since it's related to daikon. The watermelon radish looks like a greenish turnip (it's the size and shape of a baseball) and is available here in Memphis at Whole Foods. They can be eaten raw, cooked, or pickled, and here it worked great in the slaw (carefully julienned, the Napa cabbage thinly sliced). This ingredient has the added benefit of being one of the doggone prettiest vegetables ever created. Not that pretty in its whole form, but the cross section or little slices were made for food photography.
I was pretty happy with the way that shot came out, and if you'd like a desktop wallpaper version, click here and then right click, set as desktop background. And if you keep this as your desktop, it will serve as a reminder to try the weird, wild, wonderful vegetables that show up in the store.