Monthly Archives: September 2009

BRRRUCCCCEEEEEEE!!!

Tonight, I get to see Bruce Springsteen do his thing in his “Hometown”. I am so excited that I can’t think about anything else. Tomorrow I hope to be more coherent and interesting. Today though, I’m just a Jersey Girl excited to hear all her favorite songs. Can you believe he’s 60??? I guess it’s the new 40….or 30.

Bruce in Concert (2)

I think I may toast him with a Super-Teaneck…to complement the New Jersey theme.

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Filed under Adventures in Winemaking: Super Teaneck 1st Vintage, Bruce, wines

Tasting Spanish Wines At SWE Conference – An Exquisite Experience

Although some two months have passed since I did the Spanish Wine Tasting at the Society of Wine Educators Conference in Sacramento, California in late July, I can still remember everything about those exquisite wines. I can truly say that together with a vertical tasting of Hungarian Tokaj at MIWINE 2004, it was one of my favorite wine experiences.

The tasting began with an aged Cava from Gramona. This 1998 wine was nutty and yeast with lively and bright acidity. It was beautiful and intriguing.

Gramona

The show stopper was a white wine from 1970, yes 1970 Vina Tondonia from Lopez de Heredia. This wine was beautiful with good acidity despite its age and an amazing perfume bouquet of rose petals. I have never had an aged white of this depth.

vina tondonia 1970

One wonderful part of the tasting was that we were seeing some of the producers on a large screen thanks to Skype . Pancho Campo, the head of the Spanish Wine Academy was in the field with five producers while Esteban Cabezas and Rony Baque were in California. This bi-continental chat was very new age and appealing. The producers were sitting in the fields behind Marques de Riscal’s extravagant new winery by Frank Gehry.

Spanish Wine Academy

The other wines in the tasting were all delicious as well but the Marques de Riscal 1956 and the Tondonia Red from 1964 were the ones that made my head swim with pleasure and joy at this lovely opportunity. None of these wines are of course readily available but must be bought at auction or from someone’s collection.

Vina Tondonia 1964

As if these great wines weren’t enough, the Academy brought Vega Sicilia’s Unico from 1995 and 1994 and Perelada’s Finca Garbet 2003. These were also remarkable wines with depth and breadth.

Vega Sicilia Unico

I think the only thing missing from this lovely tasting was some delicious Spanish food. Later that evening we were treated to some nice dishes with a beautiful Sherry pouring as entertainment. All in all, the tasting just made me even more interested in Spain, its wine and its foods.

sherry

I am excited that next week I will have at least two more opportunities to try some of the multitude of Spanish wines. On October 6,Wines from Spain is holding a tasting and from October 7 to October 9, the Spanish Wine Academy is holding a certification program in New York. I have done the certification but am going to go back for a sherry class.

The Spanish regions are all quite different from one another in terms of their microclimates, soils and varieties. White wines from Rias Baixas using the Albarino grape made with stainless steel are just as much an image of Spain as are the deep, heavy wines made from Mencia in Bierzo or Monastrell in Jumilla.

If you tire of Italian or French wines, Spain offers a lot of options from many different regions that are worth trying. These wines tend to have lively acidity and work very well with food.

While Italy will always remain my first love, Spain has been tempting my heart of late. Perhaps it is the tango or my Spanish classes, who knows, but I find that lots of Spanish wines are making me happy.

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Women in Wine Fridays: Producers from Oltrepo Pavese Form Pino Nero Club – Presentation Sept 29 in Milan

The original idea for this blog was to write about Italian women in wine. I have gone far afield but in my heart of hearts that is the focus of this blog. Every Friday, I will showcase a different Italian woman in the wine business. Today, there are three ladies who are part of a new association which is being presented in Milan next week on September 29. These women are part of the Pinò Club, the first association ever created by producers of pinot nero in the Oltrepò pavese, on the border between Lombardy and Piedmont.

Pinot Nero has been grown in this area since Roman times. The wine industry has been active for the last 150 years. While Pinot Nero grows in some other regions of Italy, this is widely considered to be its natural home. Amazingly, 2500 hectares here are dedicated to Pinot Nero, second only to Burgundy.

The soils are dominated by limestone in a particular micrcoclimate which cools at night allowing the grapes respite from the warm daylight hours. Pinot Nero is a very difficult grape to grow but these ideal conditions help to produce some refined versions in this corner of Italy.

The six founders of the Pinò Club have decided that “l’unione fa la forza” in order to promote their wines which until now have been somewhat dismissed internationally. The wineries are Conte Vistarino, Frecciarossa, La Versa, Marchese Adorno, Tenuta Il Bosco and Tenuta Mazzolino.

In addition to promoting their wines, the group also aims to create standards for wine making in their area. This project will eventually be opened to other producers who share the same enological goals and standards. The group also plans to organize and participate in events together.

Of the six, three of the wineries are run by women. Ottavia Giorgi runs Conte Vistarino, Margherita Odero heads Frecciarossa and Sandra Braggiotti is the guiding light of Tenuta Mazzolino. All three were born into wine making families and have taken on their roles as heads of the company. I look forward to interviewing each one in the future and think it is wonderful that half of this association is founded by women. 40 years ago that would have been unimaginable in Italy. Thanks to some female friends on the ground in Milan, I heard about this wonderful group. I am excited to get back to my first love. Fridays with women in wine…

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Filed under Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian wineries, italy, wines, Women in Wine

Italian Red Sparkling Wines At Altacucina 630-800pm Today

Later this evening, I will be assisting Altacucina Society in hosting a tasting of Italian Red Sparkling Wines. I know, it sounds funny, but there are many red sparklers in Il Bel Paese. Some use the term frizzante while others are labeled spumante. This depends are their production methods, traditions and a whole host of factors which will be explained this evening. The event should be fun and something different. If you are in New York today, please check out the website and come on down…Let’s toast to the start of the Fall season.

Gragnano2

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Apples, Calvados and Giverny

I have decided that Monday posts on this blog will be about a variety of different wines and spirits from a whole host of countries. While my main theme is Italy, I do try to be a slightly well rounded taster of fermented drinks. A quick translation would be that I am hard pressed to find a wine or a spirit that I don’t like or that I don’t try at least once.

Today’s spirit is Calvados, an apple brandy which hails from Normandy. Calvados can be made from over 200 different apple varieties. Many producers use more than 100 types in their Calvados blends.

Orchard

Good Calvados comes from apples which are picked by hand. The apples are then pressed into a juice which is allowed to ferment into dry cider. The cider is distilled into eau de vie. After distillation, Calvados spends time aging in oak casks. Distillation can take place in either a single column still or in a pot still for a double distillation. This latter type actually produces the finer Calvados.

Calvados production, like wine, is regulated by the appellation contrôlée system in France. To be an AOC, Calvados must come from certain restricted area and it must spend a minimum of two years aging in oak barrels. The types of apples used to make cider are also regulated as are pressing, fermentation, distillation and aging methods.

Apples 2

Calvados can also be made from pears. Domfrontais is an area that is especially well known for its pear calvados.

Like in a Sherry or a Cognac, the age listed on the bottle is usually the age of the youngest brandy in the blend. Calvados has a very specific labeling system which can be confusing at times. The youngest calvados which is at least two years old is called “Fine”, “Trois étoiles”, or “Trois pommes.” Three years or more and the Calvados can use the expression Vieux” or Réserve.” If it is at least four years old, it can use the “V.O.”, “Vieille Réserve”, “V.S.O.P.”

For the finest Calvados or those that are at least six years old, “Extra”, “X.O.”, “Napoléon”, “Hors d’Age” “Age Inconnu” are the terms used. That said, much Calvados is considerably older than just the six years.

I got to thinking about Calvados because I went Apple picking yesterday. The orchard had apple and pear trees and was a perfect place to spend a gorgeous Sunday in the Fall. Apple season is just starting so the trees were pretty laden with fruit. So much of the fruit fell off the trees and was lying on the ground it was a real shame.

In a week or so, I imagine it will be distilled into some type of natural pulp which will make the orchard rife with insects and bees. Hopefully the apples will be given away to a food bank. The trees were just laden with ripe fruit.

Golden Delicious

Calvados can be used as an after dinner digestif instead of a Cognac or another brandy. It can also be used to cleanse the palate in-between courses. In Italy, Calvados is usually consumed over apple sorbet. My dear friend Paolo never finished a meal without the requisite sorbetto con Calvados. During all those years that we dined together I have to say I only ordered it once or twice. It was memorable but I just never got into the habit of ordering it.

I just found this great post on cooking with Calvados so I thought I would put in a link. The writer has found a great recipe for cooking with Calvados and pears. When I got home from the orchard, I made an apple pie. It was delicious and much less elaborate than this recipe. When you go apple picking, you generally bring home to many apples and sometimes too many pears. I think I will be using every apple recipe I can find in the next few weeks.

I rarely order this splendid brandy after a meal but this summer had the good fortune to visit Claude Monet’s house at Giverny in Normandy, Calvados’ home. While there, I had the opportunity to try some local brands of Calvados. I thoroughly enjoyed them and when I got home I began to look for a local purveyor of this delicious brandy. I found a pretty limited selection even at the top liquor stores. Some brands that were widely available are Boulard, Busnel, Cardinal, and Coeur de Lion, among others. My friend Jason loves Calvados so I think I may ask his opinion for some recommendations.

While the Calvados was grand, Monet’s home and his waterlilies left me speechless. For all those who love Monet, this is a pilgrimage you must make at least once in your life. I am going to post a series of pictures of the lilies because they are just exquisite.

Monet

Here’s another one. I just love his paintings and seeing his home was actually a moving experience for me.

Crowding on the pond

I must not be alone because it was quite crowded.

Water lilies

It was a perfect day in a beautiful town in Normandy which started with a lovely walk through Monet’s gardens and ended with a delicious glass of Calvados.

More Waterlilies

A memorable event and one to be repeated.

Perfect

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Fattoria Mazzalupo From Arezzo Shows Its Organic Products To US Market

Later today I will be pouring wines for Fattoria Mazzalupo at Altacucina’s Epicurean Center on East 38th Street in Manhattan from 3 pm to 7 pm. If you are in the neighborhood, come by and try the wines and their food products which are all made without preservatives of any kind.

The three wines that I will be pouring Gallicano, a white blend of trebbiano and chardonnay as well as Brando and Ortello, both made with Sangiovese. Ortello has a very small percentage of Merlot to give it a slightly rounder edge. Sangiovese is one of the most acidic red grapes and producers often add a touch of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon to give it a little more velvety mouth feel.

I had a long chat with the someone of the winery to discuss the wines. With a very Tuscan accent he assured me that the wood that they use is older wood and doesn’t impart strong flavors into the wine. Italians call wine that is overly oaked, carpenter’s wine or vino da falegname.

The winery is located just outside the Tuscan city of Arezzo and the denomination for these types of wines is Colli Aretini. The wines they are showing are not the Chianti Classicos from the region which could use the DOCG denomination but are instead classified as IGTs.

Wines from Arezzo are not that well known in the United States nor for that matter is the city of Arezzo. Both are a shame in my view. As I wrote in an earlier post on wines from Arezzo, it is a beautiful city with many wonderful churches and bell towers, a flourishing antiques market on the first Sunday of every month and a strong jewelry business. They also make delicious wines.

Arezzo is only 90 kilometers away from Florence on the highway and you can get there in one hour. The landscape changes a bit and it gives you an idea of the wilder side of Tuscany with many forests. Forests in Tuscany always make me think of Wild Boar or Cinghiale. I was told by a dear friend that eating cinghiale makes you have wild hallucinations. Be that as it may, Tuscan pappardelle al cinghiale is one of my all time favorite dishes. Lucky for me, Fattoria Mazzalupo has just that type of sauce as one of their mainstays.

I, like many foreigners before and after me, feel in love with Italy through my adventures in Tuscany. I lived there for many years before moving up North – to Milan. To this day, whenever I go to Tuscany, I feel like I am coming home. Time is a bit slower and it always brings me back to that first love feeling that is truly unique. I am excited to “lavare i panni nell’Arno” again today with Fattoria Mazzalupo. This is a phrase from Alessandro Manzoni’s seminal work I Promessi Sposi and really refers to the use of the Italian language. To Tuscans, It also means you need to go home a bit.

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Getting Back To Basics & How I Fell In Love With Tango & Argentina

I have been away from my blog for a long time. For me, summer is a very discrete time. I always find it hard to continue with year long practices such as blogging. I know it’s mid-September already but I, like many others, suffer tremendously from the sindrome da rientro or post vacation blues and have a hard time getting back to my routine. When September rolls around, I am always a bit sluggish until Sept. 11. Once that sad anniversary concludes, I begin to feel frenetic and want to get everything moving at once.

September is time to get back to basics. I like to take stock where I have been in order to better assess where I am going and to begin anew. This is true in the natural world as well. Many wine producers are harvesting their grapes or getting ready to harvest while others have already finished by this time, especially in warmer climes. In the vineyards, the vines begin to slowly turn color as autumn progresses and local Bacchus driven festivities are underway. Producers concentrate on their vinification tasks in the winery and the year gets underway.

While getting back to basics in wine means the new vintage, in tango, getting back to basics for me, means getting back to class. Thanks to Karina Romero,I had the opportunity of a lifetime this past weekend to take classes with Pablo Veron. It was truly a dream come true.

As any tango dancer worth their salt knows, he starred in the 1997 movie The Tango Lesson directed by Sally Potter as well as many other famous shows. That movie inspired me and many other people to start dancing tango. The soundtrack is still one of my all time favorites. I love songs like this one, Milonga di Mis Amores . Melancholy tangos are only one part of tango, the milongas, like this one, are generally more playful songs, l. I love both.

Thanks to the tango, I developed a taste for Argentinean wines. At the milongas or dance halls, they generally serve only Argentinean wines. At first, the only brand anyone carried was Navarro Correas, easy drinking wine at a fairly low price point. That was fine because when dancing tango, you really can’t have too much to drink otherwise it is hard to stay on top of those lovely heels…

Red Tango Shoes

Some milongas have since branched out and are now offering a wide variety of Argentinean wines. Pushed by a desire to try the wines and to dance the tango, I went to Argentina in March of 2007. It was an eye opening experience. I went to Buenos Aires for a very short time and tried to go to the dance halls. It was quite shocking to see how different the dancing was there and how much more intense and difficult it is there than in the United States or Italy. The style is much tighter and the movements are very restricted because of space constraints. While my tango wasn’t what I might have wanted, I loved Buenos Aires, a combination of Paris, Palermo and Seville all rolled into one.

Tango

I stayed in the San Telmo neighborhood at a tango hotel, the Mansion Dandi Royal. Tango is performed in the streets in Buenos Aires including in places like La Boca, a neighborhood well known for its colored homes which were initially painted by fisherman from Genova, Italy at the end of the 19th century. Tango is said to come from this area and at its inception was danced by men with other men as they waited their turn to visit the ladies of the night…

La Boca

The neighborhood is also very famous because of its soccer team Boca Juniors. When I was there, I thought I saw Maradona, the coach of the Argentinean national team who is currently falling out of favor as the team’s entrance into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa begins to look doubtful. Still a favored son, there is a look alike (a sosia in Italian) who parades around La Boca so silly tourists like me can fall for the gag and take pictures.

Scenes in La Boca

I also stayed in Recoleta at a chic little hotel called the Art Hotel. Recoleta looks and feels like Paris. I highly recommend the experience. One of things people do in Buenos Aires is visit the nearby cemetery where Evita Peron is buried. I dutifully went to see her tomb and the many other beautifully sculpted monuments. It reminded me a bit of Cimitero Monumentale in Milan. I had never seen such elaborate tombs.

Cemetery at Recoleta

In addition to wine and tango, I love art so this was a heady experience for me. Buenos Aires has many art museums including the Museo de Arte Latinamericano de Buenos Aires or the Malba where Latin American artists are featured, I discovered many painters that I knew nothing about from Brazil, Uruguay and of course, Argentina.

Argentina also has a long, complicated political history, forever marked by the period of the desaparecidos which ran from 1976 to 1983, when thousands disappeared and were murdered by the military. Protests continue to this day in front of the Casa Rosada, is the Argentinean President’s palace.

casa rosada

While that terrible history will not disappear, Buenos Aires is a very cosmopolitan city with numerous neighborhoods, a financial center, a design center, a port called Puerto Madero and beautiful gardens. This fabulous bridge known as the bridge of the woman was built by Santiago Calatrava and is said to represent a couple dancing tango. It is wonderfully lyrical.

Bridge over river

Palermo Viejo, a very posh neighborhood reminded me of Georgetown in Washington D.C and some stately homes in New Orleans. Lush and green with maids running around in uniforms and gardeners at work, it was a very calm oasis after the crush of some parts of the city.

palermo viejo

After all this sightseeing, I needed a drink and finally went to meet a friend in Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina. Of course, I ran into Robert Duvall, the actor and avid tango fanatic in the airport. His movie Assassination Tango starred Pablo Veron and a former teacher of mine as well, Armando Orzuza who now teaches in Central Italy.

Mendova is a beautiful little city that has been transformed by the popularity of Argentinean wines. It is also home to a fabulous restaurant where I had the best steak of my life, except for the one at Peter Lugar’s where I had my first solo dinner with my dad when I was 10 years old and literally wearing white knee socks…

Francis Mallman’s 1884 is a delight both for the ambiance and the food. Located in an urban winery Bodegas Escorihuela, it has been called one of the 10 best restaurants in the world. I had a succulent wonderful steak that melted into my mouth. It was pure pleasure and we drank it down with a lovely bottle of Primus Malbec from Bodegas Salentein. A superb wine. Malbec, originally a French grape, has found a home in Argentina and makes big, juicy wines there with hints of red fruit, vanilla, chocolate, spice and tobacco and often powerful tannins. This winery is located in the Uco Valley and is well known for their Malbec, Merlot and even some Pinot Noir.

Mallman

My friend was looking to import Argentinean wines into Italy so we had the pleasure of meeting with some producers independently. We met Roberto Cipresso, the winemaker at Achaval Ferrer. Roberto has since become a friend but at the time, I had no idea who he was. A world famous enologist, he spent about three hours with us tasting from his barrels with a wine thief. I was overcome with delight and didn’t take a single photo but it is all imprinted in my mind. The Finca Mirador, a delicious Malbec and the Quimera, a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were among my favorites together with the Finca Altamira, also a Malbec. The wines displayed red fruit and minerality, typical of wines from Mendoza but the Mirador is a more robust wine while the Quimera is arguably more nuanced, perfumy and bordeaux like in style. Roberto has a lot of ideas about terroir, wines and almost everything under the sun. He is a truly imaginative person and a terrific winemaker.

Before we ventured to Achaval Ferrer, we visited some five other wineries including Bodega Y Cavas de Weinart. This is an older winery than Achaval Ferrer, the new kid on the block, which has an exquisite Malbec. It was relatively low key compared with some of the other wineries.

Another winery that I really liked was Nieto Senetiner. The Don Nicanor series are wines that I buy often in the USAl, both the Malbec and the Merlot.

barriques

This winery has over 300 hectares. In addition to Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, they also make Tempranillo and Syrah. While enjoyable, I preferred the other varieties.

nieto senetiner

Another pretty large winery in Mendoza is La Rural. The winery was started by Don Felipe Rutini, an Italian immigrant from Le Marche, Italy. La Rural was founded in 1885 and houses a wine museum. Rutini was among the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in this region.

La Rural Logo

In the late 1990s, Nicolás Catena, became a partner in La Rural. This has brought much innovation to the winery. La Rural makes red and white wines, as well as sparkling wines of some note and a dessert wine. In addition to the top red varieties, sauvignon blanc, semillion, gewurztraminer and chardonnay are also grown. Of particular note are the Malbec, the Trumpeter Cabernet Sauvignon and the San Felipe Extra Brut sparkling wine.

Crush

The Italian influence can be seen everywhere. In Argentina, if you don’t speak Spanish, try Italian. Some 60% of Argentineans claim Italian heritage.

La Rural

After these very large concerns, we ventured off to check out a boutique winery called Carinae Vinedos y Bodega. Run by a French couple who fell in love with Argentina, the winery is small and family run but it produces some spectacular wines. While they may be small, they seem to have spared no expense with their wine making, hiring world renowned consultant Michel Rolland as the consulting enologist. They were the first to explain the Argentinean irrigation system to me as well. Water from the Andes flows into the vineyards at specific times according to very complex regulations which use a system put into place by the indigenous Huarpe people many centuries ago. Channels bring water from the Mendoza river to the arid plains , an amazing engineering feat. Carinae bought older vineyards and has some 80-85 year old vines.

While not particularly a fan of Syrah from Argentina, I did find theirs to be exquisite. I also liked the Gran Riserva Malbec and Prestige, a blend of Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Carinae

It’s hard to express how beautiful this region is without being extremely cliche. While driving through areas that often look like parts of Italy, you are constantly aware of the gorgeous backdrop – the Andes.

Andes

One of the wineries we visited was Dona Paula, owned by the Claro Group, a Chilean concern. We had an appointment and were driven around the vineyards which seemed to extend for many miles. We tasted a number of their wines but the ones that I remember most vividly were the Chardonnay and the Malbec. I tasted a number of Chardonnays while in Mendoza but their was my favorite without a doubt. They also produce wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Syrah and a Tannat blend.

Dona Paula

It was pouring rain the day we visited so we did our tasting and hada lovely lunch in a little building overlooking the vineyard. Non male…

Lunch at Dona Paula

As you can see, I loved Argentina and can’t wait to go back for a visit, to try more wines, dance more tango and visit its natural wonders, such as the Argentinean side of Patagonia. In the meantime, I will have to be content with drinking the wines that are available here in New York and going to the local milongas. Thanks to the tango calendar put together by an avid fan, Richard Lipkin, you can always find a little bit of Argentina in New York.

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