In which we do a number of things, to wit:
The theme of the passage: women are (or should be?) natural lovers of good food. From the Physiologie du gout, by Jean Anthelme Brillat Savarin (first published, 1825).
Les Femmes sont gourmandes. Women are gourmandes.
Le penchant du beau sexe pour la gourmandise à quelque chose qui tient
de l'instinct, car la gourmandise est favorable à la beauté.
The fair sex's penchant for la gourmandise is something instinctive, since la gourmandise goes hand in hand with (is favorable to?) beauty.
Une suite d'observations exactes et rigoureuses a démontré qu'un régime
succulent, délicat et soigné ...
The following observations, exact and rigorous, demonstrate that a succulent, delicate, and careful regime [i.e., a good diet]
repousse longtemps et bien loin les apparences extérieures de la vieillesse.
pushes far away, and for good, the exterior appearances of old age.
Il donne aux yeux plus de brillant ...
It gives to the eyes more brilliance,
... à la peau plus de fraîcheur
to the skin, freshness,
... et aux muscles plus de soutien;
and to the muscles, support;
... et comme il est certain, en physiologie,
and it is certain, in physiology,
que c'est la dépression des muscles qui cause les rides,
that it is the depression of the muscles which causes wrinkles,
... ces redoutables ennemis de la beauté...
those redoubtable enemies of beauty;
... il est également vrai de dire que, toutes choses égales,
it is equally true to say that, all things being equal,
... ceux qui savent manger,
those who know how to eat
sont comparativement de dix ans plus jeunes
seem ten years younger in comparison
que ceux à qui cette science est étrangère.
to those to whom this science is a stranger.
When he says "those who know how to eat," I feel sure he means "those who know how to eat and drink" too.
Image from GlobalGallery.com
But sometimes it does. Occasionally, you will get a bad wine. Not an unluckily bad bottle; a bad wine. Sheer, unadulterated crud. Remember Bohemian Highway? These are like that.
Finca Vieja tempranillo (from Spain) looking and tasting like purple Kool-aid, complete with the sugary afterburn in the throat. Retail, about $5. Big, industrial-farming-practices companies like Barefoot and Beringer and Sutter Home can deliver decent wine at that price point; smaller companies, I daresay, cannot possibly.
And Timberwood merlot (California): a washed-out brick color. Smelled like bad breath. The punishment of tasting seemed unnecessary. Retail, about $10.
Both make the wine drinker grateful that indeed, this level of achievement is unusual. A wholesale representative who comes to the wine aisle all the time says that when people ask him to recommend a good wine, he simply laughs and says, "Pick one." He's right. And well-known wine writers agree with him that now is the best and tastiest of times for the average wine drinker on an average budget. The big companies competing for your business are all, for the most part, turning out lakefuls good, fresh, sound product. Is it all a tad uniform? Perhaps. But for $5 or $7 or $10, yes -- relax, and pick one.
Just please don't pick either of these.
Voruta: a Lithuanian black currant wine, priced well under $10. Of its appellation, I can only transcribe the address on the label, not being fluent in the language:
JSC ANYKSCIU VYNAS
Dariaus ir Gireno str. 8
The label also says, in English, that the currants are harvested from Lithuanian gardens and that the wine is recognized as a part of Europe's Regional Culinary Heritage. My tasting notes follow, as usual for what they are worth:
Vegetal -- greasy -- brambly-briny -- sweet smell
sweet but not horribly so, tart --
no body or "grip" (it vanishes instantly)
No finish. Clear bright garnet color.
How explain "flavors of black currant" in other, red wines -- ?? (This very plain, not lush or "jammy.")
How indeed? Other people's tasting notes for cabernets and merlots abound with comparisons to black currant and cassis. But when was the last time a wine reviewer, especially an American reviewer, tasted or even saw a black currant? My having a chance to sip Voruta was unusual enough. To me it did not taste explosively of one of Napa's best. I suspect the comparisons of good red wines to black currants amount to a piece of received wisdom. And it's a received wisdom sensibly emanating from Europe which is the home of good red wine and of black currants, too. Perhaps the sensory image seems right upon reception because powerhouse red wines are so black in color, and because "currant," so little known, covers a multitude of safely unexamined taste possibilities.
Consider. To hail from the U.S. is most likely to lack a native European's experience of this little fruit, or other little fruits that go by its name. We must cram with the Oxford Companion to Food (delightful big book, do run get it), and then we'll soon sort the whole thing out.
It would seem currants lead rich inner lives. One type, wouldn't you know it, is a dried black grape grown in Greece and used since antiquity, making an appearance still in that English pudding sadly known as Spotted Dick (see the article "Currants, Raisins, and Sultanas"). The other kind of currant, what we might call a true currant, is a berry, either red, white, or black, which grows on shrubs of a plant genus classified Ribes (see the article "Currants").
Ribes grow in the United States too, but they are put to far more use across the Atlantic. The red variety, Ribes rubrum, has long been made into expensive Bar-le-duc jam, named for its town of origin in northeastern France. Locally grown black currants, R. negrum, are distilled into famed creme de cassis liqueur in Dijon, in Burgundy. Beyond the Companion, in our own previous reading -- in English country house novels, in European or very European-influenced cookbooks -- we might remember encountering "red currant fool," a dessert of crushed currants and whipped cream, or recipes calling for a red currant jelly glaze for meat, poultry, or for fruit tarts. Not a Bar-le-duc jam glaze, to be sure. Far too exalted. The enchanting little book To Marry an English Lord (1989, do run get that, too) recalls the days when even very upper-class Victorian children were warned, when visiting the greatest houses, "'...and don't touch the Bar-le-duc jam!'" It was reserved for royalty. By the by, "'never comment on a likeness'" was the other ironclad rule.
Natural European associations, all of them. The nice man tasting out Voruta for us in the wine aisle a few months ago naturally knew none of them. He got himself into quite a muddle as he poured, explained, and answered customers' questions. What with the confusions of berries, "currants," grapes, and wine - and it's no help that wine grapes are casually referred to, botanically, as the "berries" of their vines -- he eventually faced puzzled people asking him how Voruta's makers "get the currants into the grapes." I was too busy to eavesdrop on his answers. Anyway it was no one's fault. I was as puzzled as he was.
Yet I at least grew up eating peanut butter and red currant jelly sandwiches. No boring grape for me! That jelly is hard to find now, and it seems there's a reason. In his book Food, written at about the time I was still eating those unique PBJs (1980), Waverley Root explains that Ribes shrubs host a parasitic fungus, Cronartium ribicola, during part of the fungus' growth cycle. It does no harm to the currant bush, but when it moves on, apparently inexorably, to nearby eastern white pine trees for the next part of its life, it "girdles and kills" the trees. Since white pines are valuable in America for timber, they have to be kept away from currant bushes, or vice versa. The upshot is, if you live in the United States and you would like to plant a lovely Ribes in your garden, and so go surfing the net to find a supplier, be forewarned that mail-order nurseries offering currant plants for sale probably know your state laws better than you do. They can't ship to a handful of eastern states, from Maine to the Carolinas. Nursery websites don't reference Waverley Root or indeed give any explanations at all, but I can only assume the fungus he mentioned remains the problem.
All this leaves us, if not hip deep in small globular fruits, at least clutching our bottle of European garden-harvested, European Culinary-Heritage-recognized Voruta as our only link to the gospel attestation that this is what cabernet tastes so like, beautifully, "explosively" even. Indeed? Vegetal-greasy, brambly-briny, not horribly sweet, and grip-less? Not to be unkind, but perhaps there is something in the fruit, or in cassis or in Bar-le-duc jam, which is far more resplendent and cabernet-like than Voruta. At any rate I look forward to sampling other decoctions made from other obscure fruits which are also honored as received-wisdom placeholders for indescribable tastes in wine. "Gooseberry" (a Ribes fruit, as it happens) to approximate sauvignon blanc, and the ridiculously parroted "lychee" for chardonnay, are my next favorites.
It's a mystery to me why a cookbook called Of Tide and Thyme, first published in 1995 by the Junior League of Annapolis, Maryland, should have ended up for sale in a GoodWill resale shop in Munster, Indiana. But there it was.
These bars are easy to make and, be forewarned, very sweet. And everything will go quicker if you start unwrapping your caramels, and melting them in cream, before doing anything else.
"Chocolate Caramel Oat Melts"
Unwrap the caramels, and begin melting them gently, in the cream, in a small saucepan.
Meanwhile, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the cold butter, in small chunks, until the mixture is moist and crumbly. Set aside 2 cups of the mixture, and press the remainder into an ungreased 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
Sprinkle the chocolate morsels over the mixture in the dish. When the cream and caramels are melted and smooth, pour that over the chocolate. Then sprinkle on the remaining 2 cups of cookie mixture.
Bake in a preheated 350 oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Let cool and cut into squares.
The recipe further recommends refrigerating these bars for at least 3 hours before serving, and then serving them chilled, but -- although I am sure they might be a bit melt-y on a hot summer day, and the refrigerating of them is a good precaution -- they taste just as good at room temperature.
It's a mystery to me, too, why wine writers always agree that one must never drink a dry Champagne or sparkling wine with a sweet dessert. I think the combination is very sensible and tasty. A freezing cold mocha might be good, too, but it will have no fizz. Unless some bright soul thinks hard, and combines the two.
Or, Julius Caesar's favorite wine, by way of New Berlin, Wisconsin.
The back label says -- and I adore Italian wine labels -- "Bottled by S.A.S. GEBO - TENUTA AMALIA -- VILLA VERUCCHIO -- ITALIA -- DA -- BY ICRF 11013 RA -- ITALIA. Imported by LO DUCA BROTHERS, INC. New Berlin, WI. ITALIAN FRIZZANTE CHARDONNAY -- VILLA VERUCCHIO, ITALY."
It was delightful and delicious, with a chardonnay's fresh apple flavors, but without a serious chardonnay's (sometimes tiresome) banana syrup and wood effects. Sweeter than not, but offering the tongue an interesting zip of dryness at the end; the bit of sparkliness (frizzante) was just refreshing enough to complement a warm summer's day and a light meal. Thoroughly enjoyable, and not appalling to the pocketbook -- it was on sale for about $10.
Now about Julius Caesar. That same back label says that Mamertino was first commissioned by Caesar in honor of his being elected Counsel of Rome. I think we want a very scholarly-looking [sic] after that word. He was elected Consul, surely. And did people, even the very greatest people, commission special wines to be custom made for them, many thousands of years ago? Anyway how do we know Caesar's Mamertino was our own modern chardonnay?
Perhaps when enjoying such nectar it's ungracious to cavil at details. But press on. The website ItalianMade.com offers a little more solid information about Caesar's wine: "Mamertino," it seems, has always come from Sicily, from an area of the island named for ancient inhabitants (the Mamertini), who enter the historical record as winemakers as of 289 B.C. ItalianMade goes on to say:
This wine was deemed so good that it was served at the banquet for the celebration of the third anniversary of the consulship of Julius Caesar. Caesar mentions this event in his book De Bello Gallico [The Gallic War]. Strabo, the great Roman geographer, claimed that Mamertino was the best wine of his time, while Pliny the Elder placed it fourth among 195 wines. Elsewhere, Martial wrote: "Give the Mamertino whatever name you want; give it perhaps the name of the best of wines."
No less than four great Roman authorities all agreeing on the worth of ancient Mamertino must signify something impressive. Today, Mamertino di Milazzo D.O.C., in Sicily, is one of those official denominazione di origine controllata which Italian law recognizes as places where particular important wines are made from particular grapes, albeit in this case it seems, not chardonnay; if it were a D.O.C.G., a denominazione di origine controllata e garantita, it would be a place whose wines were further guaranteed to present to the wine drinker particular characteristics, such as a flavor coming from a legally mandated aging process. Although "mere" D.O.C. wines can hold themselves to fine quality standards, too. (So can even "merer" I.G.T. wines. I.G.T. stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica, and represents a guarantee of sourcing and production less traditionally strict than the D.O.C. levels which promise you that your Chianti, say, is an authentic Chianti. An Italian wine that is only permitted to declare itself "IGT" may nevertheless be, as ItalianMade says, a very fine merlot from "Tuscany." And did we mention that the European Union changed its wine labeling laws as of 2008? The website Wine Education Ireland reveals all, and assures us the consumer won't notice the changes on labels much until possibly 2010 or after. What a relief.) ItalianMade.com carries on, exploring Mamertino proper:
Nowadays, Mamertino di Milazzo D.O.C. is produced in four varieties: white, red, Calabrese (or Nero d’Avola) and Grillo-Ansonica. As further proof of their excellent quality, the first three of these varieties also have a Riserva appellation that calls for 24 months of aging, six of which in wooden barrels.
So, perhaps if Caesar wanted a taste of his special anniversary treat, he could venture to whatever aisle of the local liquor store stocks Sicilian D.O.C. wines. For our part as we go on caviling at details, we might also want to know whether our frizzante chardonnay Mamertino, brought to us courtesy of the Lo Duca brothers of New Berlin, Wisconsin, has any relation at all to Caesar's inventory in that aisle. It seems, as we say in the vernacular, not so much.
The source of our bottle, Villa Verucchio, or do we say simply Verucchio? -- is a town roughly in north-east-central Italy -- such a challenge, to site oneself on a peninsula -- near Rimini, in the Emilia-Romagna region. Quite a distance from Sicily ancient and modern. Tenuta Amalia, the estate whose image graces the front label, has a Rimini address, and claims an interesting history. It was a residence of Carolina Amalia of Brunswick, the unfortunate wife (and cousin) of the prince regent, later King George IV of England. These two royals did not get along, to the extent that he called for a strengthening brandy upon first meeting her, barely endured cohabitation, separated from her as soon as she managed to produce one child, and then exiled her for twenty years. She retaliated by behaving in eyebrow-raising fashion in Europe, among Italians especially. Her trial for adultery before the House of Lords the moment she returned, and her attempt to crash his Majesty's coronation the next summer (1821), were the most delicious scandals of the time. (For more, see Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830.) Tenuta Amalia's website is mum about what exactly was going on during Caroline's proprietorship of the place; in the early 20th century an operetta singer and senator's wife named Gea della Garisenda owned it, and "restored it to its original splendor." That seems nicer, and her profile in the photograph is very regal.
I suspect that the connections between our Mamertino and the identically named D.O.C. in Sicily are therefore nil. I suspect that the bright people at Lo Duca Brothers -- the company sells consumer electronics and musical instruments as well as wines and cooking oils -- realized that throwing Caesar's cloak, as it were, over a friendly, sweet wine would catch the American consumer's eye, give him a name and a bit of history to remember, and keep the company out of Italian legal trouble regarding the whole D.O.C.-no wait, it's not a D.O.C.-thing. The wine seems meant to be uniform and approachable from year to year: the 2007 version was made from trebbiano, my version from chardonnay, but both were kept fizzy and fun. Andre Domine's huge book Wine incidentally records that the Emilia-Romagna region is known for its frizzante styles.
All told, this wine and its label provide an object lesson not only in a few kickshaws of European history, but in what European wine production and labeling laws do. They help tell you exactly what you are drinking, but it takes a little experience to decipher the labels and especially to learn to see what isn't there. All the details that more serious and traditional wines carry, details assuring you, once you know the code behind them, of location, permitted grape variety, required vinification methods, necessary aging, and yes, historical background, are missing from this Mamertino. We know it's from Tenuta Amalia, but apart from that, it is permitted to say nothing about itself except that it's a "Product of Italy." The missing details matter more, the more money you want to spend and the more precisely you know what you want.
Interestingly, one of the biggest changes coming to a shelf near you, thanks to the recent changes in EU wine laws, is that European winemakers may now begin to add the name of the grape to their labels. That will be helpful for you and me, but imagine a serious collector, willing to spend money and knowing what he wants, looking (probably appalled) at his Barolo or his Petrus and seeing that each now helpfully says "nebbiolo" and "merlot" about itself.
Just like our Mamertino brightly announces, in bold capitals, "chardonnay." The smart people in New Berlin, Wisconsin may be way ahead of the curve here.
Also posted at TorreBarolo's blog; note the comment from someone well versed in current trends in barbera making.
Producer, Cantine Volpi s.r.l., Tortona, Italy.
Light bodied, briny piquancy -- tart, underripe raspberries
-- a little tarry or smoky -- needs food
2nd day: mellowed and silkier
And... good news! Barbera d'Asti is both a grape and a place. I had thought to begin hacking away anew at the wonderful confusions of Italian wine by creating a mnemonic: as we learned to associate V with Veneto, Venice, and Valpolicella, so let us learn to associate barbera, and the Barbaresco and Barolo right next to it in my wine-stained notebook, with Piedmont. "Minding our b's and p's," I was going to say. So clever.
But then a glance into the New Wine Lover's Companion taught me not to be sanguine about my ability to clear up Italianate confusions. That smaller case b-barbera is the grape, while capital B-Barbera d'Asti is the place (DOC, denominazione di origine controllata, vineyards producing barbera around the town of Asti), in Piedmont certainly. Carry on -- the very next entry in the Companion's B section, Bardolino, an Italian name you do see on wine labels, is alas, a place. In the Veneto. Near Venice. Where they make Valpolicella. The grapes used for Bardolino are much the same as for Valpolicella -- corvina, molinara, and so on -- so that simplifies that. Except now the b/v mnemonic doesn't quite work.
So we go back to simply sipping barbera of Asti, "in" Barbera d'Asti.
With this we are in the lovely Piedmont region of northwest Italy, spelled in Italian Piemonte. If Italy generally conjures up images of sunshine, rolling hills, Rome, Renaissance art, and pasta, for Piedmont we ought to think instead of mountains (the Alps), rushing rivers (the Po), drifting fogs, of industrial Turin, and oddly enough of rice and corn cultivation. Both are major crops here (think risotto and polenta). For its part, our glass of Barbera d'Asti represents a sort of little brother in a hierarchy of Piedmont's red wines, ranking below the great Barbaresco and the still greater Barolo. Both of these are wines named for their places of origin. Barolo and Barbaresco are towns, like Asti, surrounded by vineyards, but their wines are vinified not from barbera but from the nebbiolo grape -- which in turn is named, it seems, for the drifting fogs of the area (nebbia). Little brother barbera can be either barbera d'Asti, as we have here, or Barbera d'Alba; the latter is considered just slightly more of a heavyweight than the former, which seems to be why Barbera d'Asti is an everyday what's-for-dinner wine in this part of Italy. Barbera d'Alba is also another place, another DOC.
Like so many Italian red wines, except its powerhouse big B big brothers, a barbera has that familiar tart, light, berry-like flavor, and a texture that seems a little grainy and rough, as if a few seeds of a fresh raspberry had found their way into the bottle and added their own little interesting zip there. Wine books always emphasize that Italian wines like this, tending to be thin, fresh, and acidic, are meant to be drunk with a meal and not treated as a free-standing cocktail, which is often how we drink syrupy, barbecued-fruit California cabernets or merlots. Karen MacNeil in The Wine Bible writes rapturously of the Piedmontese food that would go with a barbera, or even better, with Barbaresco and Barolo: heavy meat dishes, thick risottos, eggy fresh-made pastas dressed only with butter and sage leaves or, if you are lucky and are visiting in the fall, with shavings of white truffle from Alba. The truffle's spectacular taste, MacNeil explains in a sidebar, has been studied in science labs, and has been found to derive from some sort of chemical that is also present in the testes of men and bulls. (The thing is actually the flowering part of an underground fungus that webs the roots of oak trees, and reveals itself to the trained eye by rendering bare the ground around the tree.) Experienced people hunt for them at night in secret, with specially trained white dogs. Wasn't there a commercial jingle that used to assure us Italians have more fun?
Indeed they seem to, and another of Italy's most fun wines, moscato d'Asti, is also a product of this same Piedmont that gives us nebbia and mountains and rice fields, along with our very serious Barolos and our zippy barberas. Of moscato, I can provide just one quick tasting note while I cudgel my brain for a new mnemonic to go with b's, p's, and now m's: it's flying off the shelves in grocery stores these days, outperforming even queen chardonnay and princess pinot grigio.
Vobis Tua, we are told, is Latin for "as you like it." We like it. Retail: about $10-$12.
There are lots of recipes for vegetable-laden macaroni and cheese. This is mine. Fresh asparagus, and the extravagance of Gruyere cheese, will make it quite the treat.
Melt 3-4 Tbsp butter, and when it bubbles add 3-4 Tbsp flour to it. Stir to make a paste, and after that bubbles a bit, add the milk slowly. Cook and stir as this thickens.
To the sauce, add about 1 and 1/4 cups grated Gruyere cheese, and 1 and 1/4 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese. Toss in salt and pepper to taste, and then add Dijon mustard (this is a trick taken from the big fat yellow Gourmet cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl and published in 2004). Reserve about 1 cup mixed cheeses for sprinkling later.
In a little butter and olive oil, saute the leek, the red pepper, and the asparagus stalks, about 10 minutes in all.
When the macaroni is done and drained, combine it with the sauteed vegetables.
Mix in the finished cheese-white sauce and blend well.
Pour the macaroni, vegetable, and sauce mixture into a lightly greased 13 x 9 glass baking dish. Scatter the reserved asparagus tips and the reserved cup of cheese over the top.
Bake, covered with foil, for 25 minutes.
Almost any wine, I think, would go nicely with this, but on a warm summer day I fancy a light dry rose or something friendly and sparkling would be best of all. Recently I have sampled and thoroughly liked an Italian frizzante chardonnay called Mamertino, the label of which claims it was originally commissioned by Julius Caesar. I have no reason to doubt it.
What makes a wine very good?
"Seamless" is a word I read or heard about a fine wine recently, and it strikes me as a good word to describe very good wines. Wines that aren't clunky or spiky or busy with cherries and brambles and barbecue, wines that don't make you anxious to identify everything you are tasting, or think you should be tasting. Wines that are simply all they could be, and very pleasantly leave the need for language behind.
I am sipping Grgich Hills cab for the third night, and it seems to be getting better, more -- seamless. The first night there was smokiness and a tad too much acidity and even that hint of green pepper which, I have heard winemakers say, is not something they strive too eagerly for. I even read somewhere that a big dose of it can indicate underripe grapes. (But Grgich Hills is the place run by the
nice man legend who made the Chateau Montelena chardonnay famed for winning that blind "Judgment of Paris" tasting in 1976. His grapes, underripe? Surely not.)
Tonight the wine seems to me relaxed, soft, not particularly berry-like or chocolaty or leathery or anything, but so very seamless and sophisticated and well, so very good. Last night, its second, it "stood up to" a platter of fettucine Alfredo and asparagus -- red wine and asparagus is a revelation, you must try it, but only in that order -- and now it just stands by itself.
Grgich Hills Cellar, Rutherford, CA. Retail, yes, about $65.
So delicate, so light, so biscuity in the aroma, so dry and tingling and refreshing and beguiling, and all that champagne is. And so softly pink. We had it at a little party, along with the little old- fashioned pecan muffins called "marguerites." My, but it did slip right down.
Retail: about $60
Champagne Henriot, Reims
The pinot grigio is not the most exciting grape in the world, and it is not, as far as I know, uniquely made into something else as other bland grapes are -- as trebbiano is made into cognac, or as the several native varieties of Spain or Portugal eventually reach the dignity of sherry or port.
What many people have come to consider the (budget-friendly, but) gold standard of pinot grigio, Santa Margherita, tastes in my opinion like water in which a block of wood has been enthusiastically steeped. This seems to be the main problem with pinot grigio: its fruitiness is so delicate that any time the wine spends in an oak barrel is too much, yet no time in an oak barrel at all results in a potation that struggles to be sourish -- "crisp" is the politer word -- and doesn't do much else.
However, when it's serviceable or better, a glass of it is certainly pleasant enough with a simple meal, or just for sipping while
watching Star Trek, as Hugh Johnson so nicely puts it, "writing letters, reading, or watching television." (He is speaking, in How to Enjoy Your Wine, of a whole category of undemonstrative, quaffable white wines, even including the "Mountain White or whatever" that only someone of his stature would have the confidence to mention.) And, for simple quaffability, this 2008 Porta Sole is a pleasant surprise. The balance seems just right -- a little fruit, a little body, a little vanilla in the aroma and taste to counter that pinot grigio crispness.
What I don't understand is the fine print on Italian wine labels. Perhaps it is more a question of Italian wine production. At the risk of being both repetitive and too cute for words, I still say they all sound as if they are made by a wholly owned subsidiary of James Bond's evil nemesis, SPECTRE. Of itself, Porta Sole announces, "Terre degli Osci, Indicazione Geografica Tipica, bottled by Cantine Galasso SRL, Loreto Aprutino, Pescara, Italia."
That's the back label. The fine print on the front label reads "Viticoltore Ettore Galasso Loreto Aprutino." Somewhere in there, I think, is someone's name, Ettore Galasso, and of course even I understand the back label's "Italia." Indicazione Geografica Tipica, sometimes abbreviated I.G.T., means this is a sort of middle-tier effort, produced according to stricter standards than a "table wine" simply saying it's from Italy, but looser standards than one proudly trumpeting it is D.O.C. or, even better, D.O.C.G. -- guaranteed to be from a certain exclusive little place (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or guaranteed to be from that certain place and have certain fine characteristics seen only there (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).
To clarify how special a D.O.C.G. wine is or should be, it helps to consult Ron and Sharon Herbst's New Wine Lover's Companion. There you will find a list of the first five regions of Italy granted D.O.C.G. status. They are Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Chianti. Wines all, to be sure; but places first, places with more than a whiff of wine legend about them. (It all gets rather circular.) Imagine being able to drink something and tramp its roads.
You can't do that with pinot grigio, but you can enjoy this one. The roads we would tramp to find its origine, by the way, will lead us to the town of Loreto Aprutino in the Abruzzo, in east central Italy on the Adriatic coast.
Ozark pudding, a simple fruit and nut custard which emerges from the oven looking a bit humble, is nevertheless pleasantly dry, crispy, and delicious, especially accompanied by whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Why it is called "Ozark pudding" is a mystery; if you look it up online, you will find it included in websites devoted to Southern cooking or linked with the name of Bess Truman, a native of Missouri (land of the Ozarks).
This version is from a fine old cookbook called Thoughts for Buffets ("the companion volume to Thoughts for Food"), published by Houghton Mifflin in 1958. There it is presented as the dessert to follow a Deep Dish Dinner of Poulet au pot (chicken in the pot), Matzo dumplings, and Wilted Lettuce. It's a forgiving recipe: you can bake the pudding in a pie plate as well as a 9 inch square pan, and certainly you may simply chop one apple rather than measure out a half cup of apple. You may find also that this pudding stealthily persuades children who don't like fruit or nuts to devour large quantities of each.
Preheat the oven to 350 F, and grease well a 9 inch square pan or a pie plate. Have ready 1 chopped apple, and 1 and 1/2 cups chopped nuts.
Beat 1 egg until frothy. Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar, and beat until smooth. Sift together 2 Tablespoons flour, 1 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Fold into the egg mixture. Add the nuts, apple, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Blend well. Pour into the pie pan, and bake for 35 minutes. "Do not be alarmed," Thoughts for Buffets warns, when the pudding rises and then settles after baking.
Would it be equally delicious folded into a crepe for a more elegant presentation, perhaps drizzled with a bit of maple syrup? Or perhaps it is best left as humble as it is.
A tiny word of warning: if you live in the Northern hemisphere, May of course is hardly the time for apples. I declare, the apples I have been deluded enough to buy lately have tasted just like the cardboard boxes they have presumably been sitting in since harvest last October. But if you live in some other hemisphere -- well, it's possible -- why then, indulge by all means.
Appellation, Napa valley, Spring Mountain district, Wurtele vineyard.
Decanting this was a mistake. Roughed up the wine and made it sour; aroma like body odor, taste all acidity (though cabernets are acidic).
Poured straight into glass, much better --
still youthful mulberry color,
fascinating, faintly prune-like -- lush and meaty smell and taste
tannins and acids cool and silky
Kevin Zraly, Windows on the World: fine California cabs can age 15 years or more, esp. from a great harvest, which '97 was ("don't drink for 5 years, age ten more after that"). So just about right on target ....
When sampling wine I tend to think and write about smell, then taste, then conclusions, which is why my notes end up looking like bad haiku. The one thing I ignore is color, which is not very professional of me since a wine's color, "la robe" as the French so elegantly put it, is an important part of its identity. Color not only gives you aesthetic pleasure but will tell you about the varietal, about age and body and, if you are very experienced, perhaps about decisions made in the winery. On wine-judging points scales, correct and pleasing color contributes to the wine's final score.
All well and good, but my difficulty is that I am running out of new words for dark red, pink, and very pale yellow. For a writer the search for these words should be a healthy challenge, and up to a point it is. Allow me, in fact, to challenge you. Next time you look at something colorful, a sunset for instance, try to precisely name all the tints you see. Beyond red and orange. Try naming various shades of gray. Is that lovely cloud oyster, or gunmetal, or mother of pearl? The real pros at this color game are the fashion industry marketers who name eyeshadows, lipsticks, and hair dyes. The people who name car colors are not far behind. I especially love it when they don't cheat and name something "razzle dazzle," but really pin down the shade, often in subcategories like "mattes," or "velvets" or "sea foam." It's endless. One can only bow the head in awe.
But wines? They come in that small array of reddish-purple, pink, or very soft, silvery-gold tones, either opaque or not. Fabrics have more variety. Anyway if the reader already knows enough about wine for the color in his glass to speak to him, it doesn't follow that he needs to know exactly what the color in my glass spoke to me. It's different with eyeshadows and cars. Enchanting and a propos color descriptors there at least help sell the product.
One obvious exception: a glaring color problem will tell you about a flaw in the wine, especially a white. A pinot grigio turning brownish may be well past its best. (I'd be pleased to learn how color could so instantly demonstrate a flaw in a red.) But as for everyday, good, well-meaning wines and well-meaning tasting notes, -- well. Garnet and mulberry, or the "pale straw" so often repeated, pretty much sum it up. Unless we encounter something extraordinary, shall we take all as read, and move on to our usual haiku?
2004 Artesa tempranillo reserve, Alexander Valley CA
black red color
leather -- cloth -- (clean cloth)
gentle smoky blueberries
-- later -- the moist end of a piece of plum cake
light tannins, nice late acids
-- later -- vanilla barbecue -- still good