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2010 Guenoc Victorian Claret

Date: Fri, Jan 11, 2013

Is the lady on the label really Lillie Langtry, famed 19th century actress and treasured friend of princes? (And, briefly yes, vineyard owner and claret maker in Lake County, California. Hence the connection to this Guenoc Victorian Claret.) But is it her? That direct stare, the pulse of life and liveliness in the thin sharp little face, seem at odds with other old images of Lillie, which are all sweet, calm eyes and reposeful bearing.


Below, the lady herself, circa 1875:

Image from wikipedia (in French! -- the article is, however, une ébauche, a stub.)

And the wine is very pleasant, an attractive and fruity medium-bodied red with a hint of bite to it, not just all California sugariness and caramel. Retail damages surprisingly pleasant too, about $10.
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Peeking bird! Wall of fish! -- and now, orchids

Date: Thu, Jan 10, 2013

We delighted first in the peeking bird. Then, in the wall of fish (plus the cocktail).

After the orchids, perhaps we'll admire some more fish, from the Lincoln Park Conservatory's koi ponds.




Shall we have another cocktail? Let's try the beautiful simplicity of the Orange Blossom.(from the Calvert Party Encyclopedia).

2 ounces (a little more than a jigger) gin
1 ounce (a little less than a jigger) fresh orange juice

Stir well with cracked ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.

There are orange trees in the Conservatory, too.


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The wall of fish (and a cocktail)

Date: Wed, Jan 9, 2013

From Lincoln Park Zoo, where we also saw the peeking bird. It's meant to represent life in the waters of Lake Victoria.


You may have a little drink, too, since it's ages since we tried a new one. Here, from our Calvert Party Encyclopedia (1960), is the Chicago Cocktail.



Chicago Cocktail

1 and 1/2 ounces (1 jigger) brandy
dash curacao
dash bitters
champagne

Stir all ingredients well with ice. "Frost" the rim of a champagne flute by dipping it first in water, then in sugar. Strain the drink ingredients into the flute, then fill with more champagne.

Admire the view.


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Field trip! -- and peeking bird

Date: Tue, Jan 8, 2013

Oh, there's lots more where this came from. Wait until you see the wall of fish. And the orchids. Three day weekends are a marvel.

The French or "cultured" butter is quite good, too. More later.



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Shall we try making butter?

Date: Mon, Jan 7, 2013

Call it French butter, or call it cultured butter; we begin with heavy cream, doctored with either plain yogurt or buttermilk, and we allow it to sit at a warm room temperature for twelve to eighteen hours. Start in the mid-afternoon, so that by the next morning, the kitchen gods willing, you may churn it up and wash it (no kidding -- you wash butter by mashing it repeatedly with ice water and pouring off the watery residue each time), and share it with a friend. Along with a loaf of that delicious challah.

I'll let you know.



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At First Glass turns five -- and decides on two themes

Date: Thu, Jan 3, 2013

One would think At First Glass already had one theme, namely wine and food. True. But you remember how, anticipating my fifth anniversary blogging, I decided to spend this coming year concentrating on a theme. It was lemons. I even took a practice run with it.



That's all very well, but I have developed a new interest, and so have decided to throw caution to the winds and adopt a second, but only a sort of sub-theme, just for fun. It will be: the delights of the eighteenth century, especially music. Won't it be fun to listen to something lovely while we cook?

Now what brought this on? You may well ask. One thing leads to another. I was driving home from the [liquor] store recently, listening to the local classical music station because one can only endure so much politics, traffic, and weather reports on talk radio. On WFMT, then, I happened to catch a short guest lecture, with audio clips, on the once-famed Italian soprano Rosanna Carteri, whom I had never heard of. When it was over, "thank you so much for that wonderful program," the announcer said to his guest, marveling further, "I hadn't thought of her in years." This gentle outburst seemed hardly a compliment to La Carteri, but we shan't dwell.

Anyway I rushed home and looked the lady up on YouTube, and sure enough there she was in an old grainy clip from a 1950s-era television production of La Traviata, uploaded by a fan in South Korea or Japan from the look of it. Yes, she and her voice were bewitching. It made me think. What else don't I know about the great world?

Plenty, naturally. I have tuned in to WFMT a little more often since that afternoon. The station used to be very talky, too, even without occasional good lectures. But I have happened to re-encounter there, among other things, harpsichord music. For some reason programming seems to have focused on the Baroque this past fall, with its fugues and its Bach. Now I like the harpsichord, and fugues and Bach (who doesn't?). And it so happens -- how things fall together! -- there on the table while I listen to WFMT is my Pageant of Georgian England, the book that got me started on porcelain collecting you'll remember, a book that is all eighteenth-century all the time. And there, in the other bookcase, is Harold Schonberg's Lives of the Great Composers (1970), which starts out with Monteverdi and Bach and which I have always meant to read since I bought it probably twenty-five years ago.

How things fall together! So many grand people seem to have been born in Bach's natal year, for a start (1685). Handel, and Scarlatti, and wonderful John Gay, the poet. Call me a flibbertigibbet, and call him "minor," but I do love his To a Lady on Her Passion for [and here I interpose, "wait for it"] old China. This is a snippet of it, an example of what people were reading while they listened to Handel, or Scarlatti:

...When I some antique Jar behold,
Or white, or blue, or speck'd with gold,
Vessels so pure, and so refin'd,
Appear the types of womankind;
Are they not valu'd for their beauty,
Too fair, too fine for houshold duty?

Yes, aren't they? Now if you have young people in your household and you want to trowel into your food and wine blog the sub-theme of eighteenth-century music, you might have been told already of the marvelous site Pandora, a constantly streaming radio station where you may log on and type in a request to hear anything, and Pandora will play what you want, or something very like it. Thus "ancora imparo," we go on learning, as Michelangelo (sixteenth century) is supposed to have said. When we carry on our musical explorations there, we'll also meet -- let's just throw off some names -- Purcell (b. 1659), Couperin (b. 1668), Albinoni (b. 1671), Vivaldi (b. 1678) Telemann (b. 1681), and Rameau (b. 1683). Who knew? Of course once you find a bit of music you like, sharing it from Pandora becomes a problem. It's easiest to return to YouTube, where we met La Carteri, and fish about there.



Now I got quite excited by all this activity and was prepared to really launch this theme, plunging entirely into eighteenth century food and drink and cookery books, and history and art and everything. Then I drew back. Shall I bind myself, I asked the mirror, in such a straitjacket? Do my readers really want to know more, even emphemarally, about Hogarth's Gin Lane or Stradivari's five children, or the heroes King Charles XII of Sweden or Prince Eugene of Savoy (supposing I can try to act pertinent by also finding out what they ate and drank), however much these latter might figure in Samuel Johnson's eighteenth century conversation? I decided, perhaps not. Let us not fold ourselves into the straitjacket -- to mix a metaphor, let us not bite off very much more than we can chew.

We won't. This is not to say we also won't still look into wonderful things regarding the Baroque, whether art or history or music or all. Mary Kettilby's Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery (London, 1714 -- Alexander Pope published The Rape of The Lock the same year) comes to mind, or John Evelyn's Acetaria: a Discourse of Sallets (1699). Watteau's paintings are lovely; Hogarth's, ribald and shocking. Perhaps here and there we'll find something to do with lemons. But, we have firmly decided, we will know our limitations. Just a bit of harpsichord while we cook, or a fugue or a sketch now and then.

"The best lemon cream," from Court Cookery; or, the Compleat English Cook (Robert Smith, 1725)

Lemons and roses. Eggs and sugar. That's all. Who knew the Baroque could be so simple?

Take four Lemons, and pare the yellow Rind; then cut them into slices and wring out the Juice, and let the Peel steep in it an hour; then put in a Quarter of a Pint [half a cup] of Water, six spoonfuls of Rose Water, the whites of eight Eggs, and two Yolks beaten very fine; set it over a Charcoal Fire, and keep it stirring till it be ready to boil; then put in half a Pound of double-refin'd Sugar, and strain it before you set it over the Fire, and stir it til cold.

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Dear things! -- a change of policy

Date: Sun, Dec 30, 2012

Now, dears, I have decided that wine is an enhancement to life (such a revelation! thank Heaven I'm bright about these things), but not to be agonized over; therefore, I have decided hereinafter I shall dispense with very painstaking reviews or critiques of wine. No more deciding whether this red was more jammy or more caramel-like than not, or whether this white was racy, oaky, flinty, buttery, or seamless. If I enjoy a wine, you shall see a picture of its label and its retail price. Otherwise, we shall not dissect our enhancements.



2009 Quintessa Rutherford Napa Valley red wine

Then again, here one is speaking of Quintessa. My notes, not very painstaking, say:
Yes, this is what they call structure --
tannin and dryness --
amid the chocolate, plums, and the freshly planed oak beams.
Very delicious.

Very.

Retail, about $125.

No kidding. The perfect wine with which to begin our new policy of not dissecting enhancements.
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Retro spiced devil's food cake with ganache icing, 1956

Date: Fri, Dec 28, 2012

I ask you. Could it be more luscious?


We take the recipe from a cooking pamphlet called The Southern and Southwestern Cookbook, published by Chicago's Culinary Arts Institute in 1956. Its editress was Ruth Berolzheimer, whom we have enjoyed meeting in these pages before Waste no time, but instantly set to. The chocolate! -- the cinnamon! -- the allspice! -- the cloves. Tis the season.

Combine and stir until chocolate is melted:
2 squares baker's chocolate
1/2 cup water.
Set aside.

Sift together and set aside:
2 and 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
Cream together until softened:
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
Add gradually, creaming until fluffy
2 cups packed brown sugar
Add to the butter mixture, in thirds,
2 eggs, well beaten
Add the cooled chocolate to the butter and eggs. Measure out 1/2 cup buttermilk or soured milk Alternately add the dry ingredients, in fourths, and the buttermilk, in thirds, to the creamed butter and brown sugar mixture. After each addition, beat only until smooth. Do not overbeat.

Turn batter into two prepared (greased and floured) 9 inch cake pans. Bake at 375 F for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted comes out clean

Assemble the two layers of cake, icing between and then all over with a ganache. This is very simple to make. Combine equal parts cream and semi sweet chocolate, gently heating together until the chocolate melts and the ganache is spreadable.

Set to.
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2009 Ventisquero Grey Glacier cabernet sauvignon

Date: Thu, Dec 27, 2012

This is one of the heavyweights from this past October's Wines of Chile live blogger tasting, the theme of which was terroir -- i.e., what do we taste that is remarkable, if anything, in place? In a wine deliberately made from a special batch of grapes? -- grapes from a small and particular piece of land, a certain climate, a single vineyard, a single block in a vineyard?

We do taste something remarkable (or at least noticeable), I think, and that is a focused, hefty wholeness or gracefulness, or a solidity that is not present in wines of more ordinary provenance.


dark fruit
soft smoke
firm dry tannins
elegant and sure

Retail, about $20.
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Mrs. Beeton's ginger and whiskey apples (1861)

Date: Tue, Dec 25, 2012


Make a gift of it -- even though it's a little cloudy

I will give you the recipe first, so that you too may gasp at the (I fear, very English) two pounds of sugar required. Please. No.

Mrs. Beeton's Recipe #1424, Ginger Apples (A pretty Supper or Dessert Dish.)

1 and 1/2 ounces whole ginger
1/4 pint (1/2 cup) whiskey
3 pounds (about 6) apples
2 pounds sugar (No no no -- try about a cup)
juice of two lemons

Bruise the ginger, and place it in a small clean jar. Pour on the whiskey to cover, put the lid on the jar, and let steep three days.

Peel and core the apples, and slice thin. Put them in a large stew pot along with the whiskey, sugar, and lemon juice. (Mrs. Beeton says the juice should be strained, to prevent the finished dish of apples in liquor from looking cloudy. She also does not specify whether one discards the whole ginger before commencing cooking, or simmers it along with everything else. I removed it.) Cook all together "very gently until the apples are transparent but not broken," about 45 minutes. Serve cold, garnished with pieces of candied lemon peel or candied ginger.

The exorbitant amount of sugar in the recipe is a problem. Let's think how to reduce it, shall we? Meanwhile, why not look at a bit of Christmas color?



I do think it was very wise of the Western world to come up with this odd custom of bearing through the darkest days of winter by reveling in the brightest colors of red and green, and by hauling a pine tree inside the house and decorating it with lights, ornaments, and tinsel. The tradition is on the face of it so absurd -- so pointless -- so much work -- why do we not, in turn, mark the lush warm days of summer by dragging a stove or a bed outside, and decorating that with scarves and mittens, or bare twigs? -- and yet the sheer beauty and determined nonsense of it seems to be an act of defiance which is good for the soul. Maybe, good for the collective Western soul. Yes, the act seems to say, we shall have something pretty and childlike and wondrous in our houses, in our individual houses mind you, while it snows and sleets outside and the daylight lasts all of seven hours. So the universe arranges for bleak winter every year, does it? Be d-----d to you, we say. We'll have a celebratory Christmas tree and throw it in the universe's very teeth


And what Western nation, so historians tell us, first made the Christmas tree really popular? Why, the English, who happen also to have taught us the slow plodding toward individual liberty and the rule of law, a-man's-home-is-his-castle prerogatives (and by Gad I'll have a bedizened tree in it if I want) and this passion for, shall we say, a phantastically sugary addendum to life.

The person specifically to be credited, according to Christopher Hibbert in his Queen Victoria, is the queen's grandmother, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz -- which means we must of course credit a who knows how ancient German winter tradition first. (To place Charlotte, think of her as the wife of our own Revolutionary-era King George III. One of the couple's fifteen children was Victoria's father.) Hibbert gives a footnote to the state housekeeper at Windsor Castle's remembering Queen Charlotte, circa 1800, setting out a fir tree which bore lit candles, strings of almonds and raisins, and little wax dolls and other small presents among its branches. "As a child [circa 1830] Queen Victoria regularly had a Christmas tree." When she was an adult, each Christmas the chandeliers in her Windsor sitting room were taken down and replaced by hanging trees graced with candles and toffees (p. 158). This proximity of fire to pine trees, indoors amid the drapes and tablecloths, carpets and oil paintings, paper-wrapped presents and billowing nineteenth century skirts and the Macassar oil on nineteenth-century gentlemen's hair, is most unnerving. Queen Charlotte at least had the candles put out before the children were allowed to poke among the fir branches for their gifts, but if the point of the hanging pine trees in her granddaughter's sitting room was to give the light of missing chandeliers, then their "small tapers" must have been allowed to burn until God knew when.

Anyway while admiring bright pretty things and thinking deep winter thoughts, we were talking of Mrs. Beeton's ginger apples, and of all that English sugar. Facing the two pounds of same, I suggest you consider: how much sugar would you need to counter the tartness of the juice of two lemons? Our recipe for classic lemon bars gives a clue. Six tablespoons of juice there, being about two lemons' worth, is balanced by one and a half cups of sugar. Your handy kitchen scale will tell you that that much sugar equals approximately two-thirds of a pound. I can tell you, in turn, that that much sugar is still too much for our ginger and whiskey apples (it might even be too much for our lemon bars), even if you use tart apples along with sweet ones. Try a scant cup, as above, and see if you like your results. Or is it only, in the end, a glorified applesauce?

Would we dare venture any further into the great Mrs.Beeton's sugary-lemony recipes? (Of course there are lots more apple ones, too. One of these days I shall make her "Pretty Dish of Apples and Rice," # 1397. A quarter pound of sugar for this one, to stew the apples which are then placed daintily over a mound of milk-simmered rice.) Or, what about Lemon Wine, #1823, best made in winter "when lemons are best and cheapest"? You'll need fifty lemons, four and a half gallons of water, half an ounce of isinglass, and sixteen pounds of loaf sugar. And a bottle of brandy. Rice, lemons, and apples are all very well, but somehow I can only suspect this one of amounting to a criminal waste of brandy.


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Mrs. Beeton's "rice snowballs," &c.

Date: Sun, Dec 16, 2012

I do like the quaint "&c.," which stands for "etc.," but looks more old-fashioned. There will be plenty of material for et ceteras today.

In my house, we joke about the Chanukah bunny coming to give presents to people during the festival of lights. However, Chanukah is very much a moveable feast, and sometimes when the Chanukah bunny is extremely busy he deputizes his idiot cousin, Larry, or is it his brother? to do his shopping for him. Larry is not always too swift about online ordering, checking his Amazon account, noting when the holiday actually falls, &c., and so sometimes everyone's presents are not quite ready to open on the first night of the holiday as, really, they should be. If you find that your table also is not graced with all the gifts until the night the menorah is blazing with four or five candles -- because after all we can't have some people getting presents and others, not yet -- why then, it may be that Larry was in charge of a few of the wish lists at your address too.

Eventually, however, both bunnies can be trusted to come across. The more astute one was exceptionally good to me this past Wednesday night. I unwrapped a new digital camera. I have been playing with it ever since. The only trouble is that the short, gloomy days and a busy holiday work schedule leave with me little opportunity to put the thing through its paces. How exciting is it to zoom in on green beaded curtains from across the kitchen late on a Friday night? Not very.

Now that we have a little leisure on a Sunday let us try, instead, to snap something challenging. Here is one of my newer porcelain finds, a pale ivory Lenox cup and saucer that is all understated rhythm and elegance. The gloomy winter morning light is no one's fault, least of all Larry's.


Next, what shall we do with this porcelain cup? It seems too delicate even for tea, and besides, at the antique mall it was one of a kind. If it breaks there is no replacing it.

(An aside: when I told my gentleman friend about this new addition to my collection, he bowed his head and chuckled, "poor Ben." Ben is my teenaged son.

I shot back, "What's it got to do with him? I didn't drag him with me, antiquing."

"No," he said, "but he'll be the one getting rid of all Mom's stuff years from now." Which is exactly the position my friend is in himself, having just suffered the bereavement in the natural course of things.

"Oh, piffle," I riposted brilliantly. But in truth, he's right. What else is the antique store crammed with, but truckloads of other people's Moms' stuff?)

Let us seize the day then, and put our teacup to good, but not dangerous, boiling-hot-tea use. We'll make recipe #1479 from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861), "Rice snowballs," appropriate for winter. Also because it's "A pretty dish for Juvenile Suppers."

Mrs. Beeton's rice snowballs

6 ounces rice (about 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups)
1 quart (4 cups) milk
"flavouring of essence of almonds," or lemon peel or vanilla
sugar to taste
1 pint of custard made by recipe #1423* (below)

Boil the rice gently in the milk, with sugar and flavouring, until the rice is tender, adding more milk if necessary. This will take about 45 minutes -- you want it good and sticky. When the rice is "quite soft," put it into teacups and let it sit until cold. Turn the rice out into a deep glass dish, and pour custard over. On the top of each ball place a small bit of "bright-coloured preserve or jelly."

"Sufficient for 5 or 6 children."

* Custard #1423

This recipe is adapted and simplified, since Mrs. Beeton wrote for cooks who had no stoves, but worked tediously over an open fire, with "a jug in a saucepan of boiling water over the fire," &c. The principles of any custard recipe will be the same: you are combining and gently cooking milk, eggs, and sugar, being careful not to let the custard boil, or else the egg in it will scramble and give you curdled lumps where you want smoothness. Marion Cunningham's "English custard" in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is almost exactly the same recipe as Mrs. Beeton's, and she doesn't even bother with a double boiler, which is essentially what the jug in a saucepan of water would have been, but only uses a heavy bottomed saucepan instead.

1 pint (2 cups) milk
5 eggs (or 4 duck eggs, recommended)
3 ounces of loaf sugar (about half a cup)
3 laurel leaves or the rind of half a lemon, or a few drops vanilla
1 Tablespoon brandy

Put the milk, sugar, and flavorings (except brandy) into a heavy pot or the top of a double boiler. Simmer very gently until the flavors infuse -- "about half an hour by the side of the fire." Whisk the eggs well, and when the milk has cooled a little, stir them into the milk. To guard against them curdling in too-hot milk at this point, you can temper them: pour a little of the milk into the eggs first, and stir to warm them. Then add that mixture to the rest of the milk in the pan.

This is your custard. You will now keep it quietly simmering in your pot or double boiler, and stir -- one way, she emphasizes -- until it thickens. Then take it off the heat, stir in the brandy, let it cool, and ladle it into little custard cups to serve. Grate nutmeg over the top.

"When desired extremely rich and good, cream should be substituted for the milk, and double the quantity of eggs, omitting the whites." That's ten egg yolks to a pint -- two cups -- of cream.

And Happy Chanukah. It ended last night.



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Pierre Sparr Crémant d'Alsace brut rosé

Date: Wed, Dec 12, 2012


As delicate and gossamer as its brother brut réserve, but with rosy color and hint of tart, dry, firm strawberry peel -- if a strawberry had a peel.

Retail, about $20.
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Wintry food

Date: Sun, Dec 9, 2012

It's been a mild winter, so the photo of berries in snow is not quite appropriate yet. I offer it up as a kind of token or remembrance of what surely must be coming.


Remember Madeleine, of Ludwig Bemelman's children's books, who lived in Paris in a sort of orphanage with Miss Clavel (" 'Good night little girls, thank the Lord you are well/And now please go to sleep,' said Miss Clavel"), Madeleine who "loved winter, snow, and ice"?

What a striking thought, even for a storybook character. Most people hate winter, hate its gray days, its cold and barrenness and bad driving conditions. But wouldn't it be a pleasant thing to have a disposition such that one didn't? -- didn't, after all, hate half the year? Or, what seems like half the year.

If we aren't already blessed with that disposition, perhaps we can create it. No really. Even if it does make us sound like hopeless saps. We might go back in time and consult the best authors about how mankind has ever coped with this ever-grim season. We might amuse ourselves with learning what work people did then, what they ate and drank, how they beguiled the time. Not for nothing did they invent Saturnalia and Christmas.

Assuming it is true for a start that the vast majority of all people, everywhere, have always been subsistence farmers, then our ancestors' experience of winter is already rendered totally different from our own. No less an authority than Virgil re-introduces us to the season:

Winter's an off-time for farmers; then they mostly enjoy their gains, hold jolly
Suppers amongst themselves.
Genial winter invites them and they forget their worries;
Just as, when ships in cargo have come to port at last,
Glad to be home the sailors adorn their poops with garlands.
Yet even now there's employment in season -- acorns to
gather
And berries off the bay tree, and olives, and blood-red myrtle: Now you can lay your traps for the crane, your nets for the stag,
Go coursing long-eared hares, or whirl your hempen sling
To bring the fallow deer down --
Now when the snow lies deep and streams jostle their pack-ice.

This is from the Georgics, translated by C. Day Lewis in 1940. The passage seems to tell us that winter, when no farming can be done, is the time to forage and hunt. "Genial winter" is startlingly pleasant, but the reference to acorns seems sinister. A little earlier in this Book 1 of the Georgics, Virgil had briefly sketched the whole history of agriculture and had noted that if you do not work hard at your farm and have a bit of luck with the rains,

Vainly alas you will eye another man's heaped-up harvest,
And relieve your own hunger by shaking an oak in the woods.

He didn't mean, of course, that you would shake an oak tree and then walk away. He meant you would gather the dropped acorns and, in some fashion, eat them. The Oxford Companion to Food says that if the tree was the "holm or holly oak," Quercus ilex var. rotundifolia common around the Mediterranean, the acorns might have been "comparable to and eaten like chestnuts." If the tree was the Q. robur of Britain or northwest Europe, the acorns would have been tannin-filled and "only used as human food in times of famine". Either way, oak-tree shaking in ancient European winters did not represent a genial situation.

Virgil also wanted to know why winter came at all. In Book 2 he hopes his chief goddess, Poetry, will reveal to him

The reason why winter suns race on to dip in the ocean,
And what delays the long nights.

Five centuries before his time, Herodotus' answer was that storms in upper Libya routinely blew the sun "out of his course" and far to the south (The Histories, Book 2, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, 1954). This not only shortened the days and lengthened the nights, but affected seasonal evaporation rates from rivers and explained the flooding of the Nile in summer, which was unique. All other rivers flooded in winter, when they were swollen with rains and when the sun, blown thus far away into Africa, was busy burning down upon the Nile but on nothing else. In summer the sun returned to "his normal course in mid-heaven." (A quite Eurocentric view, no?) The Nile then enjoyed relief from evaporation, and rose into flood just when all other rivers submitted to the sun's drying heat again, plus were missing the burden of their winter rainfall.

Our ancestors' actually living in a mental world so vivid that they believed -- or at least Herodotus, historian, traveler, "person of great charm and Shakespearean width of interest in humanity" believed -- that winter came because the wind blew the sun away makes our own complaints about the season seem awfully plodding. So it's cold and gloomy and the Christmas shopping crowds are annoying and the roads can be bad. Well, yes.

While we marvel at the image of the sun whirling away over Libya it might be fun to segué into a recipe from antiquity, not necessarily a wintry one but one that does happen to come from the very oldest Western cookbook anyone knows. This is De Re Coquinaria (the Art of Cooking) by one Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmet from around Virgil's time. But wait. -- We do want to be scrupulously scholarly. This is a problem. We foodies are forever being righteously scolded that any recipe from any period before, say, 1940, is by definition a chronicle of something only the horrible Rich would have eaten, something filled with expensive meats or fruits or sauces that the poor could never have known; therefore, all recipes before our own time are by definition inauthentic, if not just plain trite. It's not that no one prepared or ate them, it's just that they somehow still aren't real or right enough.

Now. Granted. Apicius' flamingo tongues do sound a bit overcultivated. And yes, in famine our ancestors did choke down acorns, and worse. But on the other hand, what was so impoverished -- or what was so exceptionally grand -- about Virgil's cranes and olives, or about the spelt bread, barley wine, fresh fish and pickled ducks that Herodotus saw in Egypt? (Herodotus called Egyptians "next to the Libyans the healthiest people in the world.") Let us go back even further. In the Odyssey we meet Homeric heroes who eat the simplest things. Venison and wine. Pork, "loaves," and wine. Barley. Cheese alone. So were these heroes rich or poor? In the present political and scholarly climate it seems so important to categorize people, and to have one's hatreds all in order.

We're not haters, so for the moment we'll put aside the question, and we'll put aside the scarcely touched Apicius, too. Here instead is a kind of recipe for roast pork, from Book 14 of the Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald (1961). The cook is a swineherd, Eumaios. The guest is noble Odysseus himself, returned to his home but disguised as a stranger.

Bronze axe in hand, he [Eumaios] turned to split up kindling,
while they drove in a tall boar, prime and fat,
planting him square before the fire. The gods,
as ever, had their due in the swineherd's thought,
for he it was who tossed the forehead bristles
as a first offering on the flames, calling
upon the immortal gods to let Odysseus
reach his home once more.

Then he stood up
and brained the boar with split oak from the woodpile.
Life ebbed from the beast; they slaughtered him,
singed the carcass, and cut the joints.
Eumaios, taking flesh from every quarter,
put lean strips on the fat of sacrifice,
floured each one with barley meal, and cast it
into the blaze. The rest they sliced and skewered,
roasted with care, then took it off the fire
and heaped it up on platters. Now their chief,
who knew best the amenities, rose to serve,
dividing all that meat in seven portions --
one to be set aside, with proper prayers,
for the wood nymphs and Hermes, Maia's son;
the others for the company. Odysseus
he honored with long slices from the chine --
warming the master's heart. Odysseus looked at him
and said:

"May you be dear to Zeus as you are dear to me for this, Eumaios,
favoring with choice cuts a man like me."

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2009 Marques de Casa Concha merlot

Date: Tue, Dec 4, 2012


2009 Marques de Casa Concha merlot, Peumo, Chile -- supple, generous, rich deep fruit absent a cabernet's occasional green pepper tang and tough tannins, absent also a carmenere's spice or a shiraz's cola effects. And very completely delicious.

Retaill, about $20.



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