Monthly Archives: August 2011

Closures: Cork Is Still It

I will write about Italian indigenous varietals later today but for the moment I wanted to link to this article that I wrote about Cork on Snooth following a long interview with the head of Amorim.

I know many people are fans of the alternative closures and in certain circumstances, I am as well. That said, for me cork is still the thing. I know I’m not alone in this thought but I’d like to hear other views.

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Meet the Winemaker: Tunisian Wines From Le Poisson – A Chat With The Owner/Winemaker Jean Boujnah

This is the summer of wine writing from summers gone by, translation, I did this interview over a year ago with the owner/winemaker of Le Poisson, a Tunisian Winery during an event at Maslow 6. For a variety of reasons, mostly related to work, I never wrote up the piece but my memory of the wines and the evening is still crystal clear.

My favorite wine of the group was the Gris 2009 which I saw on wine-searcher is available for a very reasonable price in Manhattan at bottlerocket.

Jean Boujnah and I had a long chat over a glass of the gris on a nice June evening. We went between French and English and he was charming and informative. I knew nothing about Tunisian wines before the conversation and have not tasted too many since then either.

A little history is needed before we get into the chat with Jean Boujnah though because most people know precious little about wines from North Africa.

Wines have been made in Tunisia for centuries, since the Phoenicians in fact and since Carthage was the city on the hill. Carthage was destroyed by the Romans in 148 BC after the third Punic war. I’m actually reading a book on the Punic Wars this summer by Adrian Goldsworthy, fascinating stuff. After the Muslim takeover of Tunisia, wine production was forbidden for almost 1000 years. The French brought it back when Tunisia was a French colony in the 1800s. Initially the wines were exported to France and blended with French wines. After independence in 1956, Tunisia had it’s own wine industry for almost a decade until the vineyards were nationalized in 1964.

Today, there are a number of regions with AOC appellations. The climate is sunny with little rainfall but tempered by sea breezes. French grapes were planted including Carignan, Cinsault and Muscat.

Boujnah bought his winery in 1985 but it is a very old winery, started in 1885 by Rene Lavau, a French immigrant. He told me he got into the wine business “par hazard” or by accident. He bought the company initially for the real estate but then discovered that he loved the business and cherished the 80 people who worked there. Once he caught the bug, he was hooked and he has never looked back. The winery is the second largest in Tunisia, producing seven million bottles a year. While they own many vineyards they do have to buy grapes as well. Boujnah isn’t worried about the quality control however because they have been working with the same growers for years.

In terms of markets, the export a bit to France around 100,000 bottles and to Belgium, Sweden, and the USA. They make a number of wines including the Gris which is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre. It’s a great wine for fish, as an aperitif or with a lighter meal. It is done with the saignee method.

Boujnah said his goal was to make a wine that you could have two or three bottles of and not have a headache in the morning. He is interested in the quality of the products and is trying to move the winemaking towards a more organic process.

Boujnah who is an entrepreneur told me that he works “avec plaisir” and wasn’t looking at the economic side of the business as much as the quality and pleasure that he is getting from the business.

Boujnah wants to improve the image of Tunisian wines which he says were not necessarily made with strict standards in the past, all that has changed now. He is very interested in the quality and hygiene of his wineries and the frankness of his wines.

Boujnah thinks that Carignan from Tunisia, especially old vine Carignan is a very powerful and interesting grape. I’d be interested to try a mono-varietal of that but haven’t yet had the chance.

I’d also love to go to Tunisia, a beautiful country with beaches and interesting architecture. The closest I’ve come is Morocco, another country in North Africa with a long wine tradition.

This interview took place before the Arab Spring uprisings. I haven’t been able to find out much information about what affect it has had on the industry there. Here is a post from Decanter back in May about the topic.

North African wines have been on my mind because I am working on a project, not wine related with Morocco. It’s fascinating area and one that has a definite charm. I loved Morocco, shopping in the souk and the desert. I didn’t buy this tunic but I did buy great tangines with which I may a mean chicken

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Filed under Meet the Winemaker, North African Wines, Tunisian Wines, wines

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Bosco Bianco from Liguria

Summer is certainly time to be in Liguria, a magical place in Italy with beautiful water and cliffs that come right down to the sea, not to mention great focaccia.

Another great thing about these small towns along the coast with their colored buildings are the great white wines that you drink while sitting outside a bar looking at the sailboats come in and dock.

When I lived in Milan, I used to go sailing in Liguria pretty regularly, a wonderful perk of living in that northern city that so many people criticize, including many who live there.

Another fun thing about Liguria is a wine called Sciacchetra’, quite difficult to pronounce but fun to drink.

The sweet version, or bianco dolce Cinque Terre DOC is made with this week’s indigenous variety, bosco biano 80% and two other local grapes Albarola 15% and Vermentino 5%. Bosco bianco can also be made into a still wine with other grapes but shows its best face in this version. It is dried on wooden racks called “graticci.” Drinking a glass of Sciacchetra’ is a must on any trip to “le cinque terre.”

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Filed under Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Liguria, sailing, white wine, wines

Wine Wednesday: La Notte di San Lorenzo Calls For A Morellino di Scansano

August 10 is celebrated in Italy and by Italians throughout the world as the night of the shooting stars. This film by the Taviani brothers is one of my old time favorites. This night is famous because you can see a host of shooting stars in the night sky and of course, as we all know, you make a wish when you see one.

Historically, the night of the shooting stars is supposed to commemorate the tears of San Lorenzo who met his end on this day in the III century.

The movie set in Tuscany brings to mind Tuscan wine and “una voglia pazza di essere in Italia” (great desire) to be in Italy watching them this evening. Even if I’m not going anywhere, if I see a star I too can wish it on saying “Stella, mia bella stella, desidero che…”, and waiting for the event to happen sometime this year.

I’ve never seen as many shooting stars as when I have been sailing and anchored out at sea. I’m sure the mountains and camping provide an equally spectacular view but I don’t have much experience in the latter. In any event, wherever you are this evening, think of the stars.

The first time I saw this movie was when I lived in Tuscany. Back then, I drank a lot of Morellino di Scansano as did all the Florentines I knew. It was the go-to-wine in Tuscany for all occasions. This fresh red is perfect for summer foods but its’ versatility allows it to be drunk throughout the year. It seems like the right fit to celebrate San Lorenzo to me.

Morellino is made predominantly from Sangiovese but 15% of other varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Ciliegiolo can be included. Morellino is made in the Maremma area of Tuscany, a memorable place to visit.


Filed under cinema, Italian cinema, Italian regions, italy, Travel, Tuscany, Wine of the Week, wines

Spanish Wine For Summer: Garnacha Blanca From Las Colinas Del Ebro At Nuela

In addition to being an Italofile and a Francofile, I have discovered in the years that I have returned from Italy, a great interest in all things related to Spanish speaking nations, be it the cuisine, the language and of course, the wines.

Earlier this year I had a great meal at a really fun restaurant that is a blend of Latin fusion dishes called Nuela. I highly recommend it. Not inexpensive but well worth it. It also has a hopping bar scene.

We had the Verde Rice. It was delicious and very filling for a main course and cebiche as an appetizer which was divine. To pair with this great food, I had a Garnacha Blanca from Las Colinas del Ebro 2009.

The wine comes from an area called Terra Alta which is in Southern Catalonia. The vines used to make their Garnacha blanca wines are about 100 years old. One of the reasons that the grapes have stayed healthy is the presence of the Cierzo, a drying wind from the Ebro valley. Another is the soil which is a mixture of limestone and clay allowing for good drainage.

The wine is made in stainless steel although there is some skin contact prior to fermentation. I thought it was still drinking really well despite the fact that it was the 2009 not the 2010 and that the blend of minerality, acidity, fruit and floral notes worked perfectly with food. Definitely a keeper, I am craving a trip to Spain.

On last note, for dessert, the Alfajores are not to be missed. I first had these treats on my trip to Argentina . I fell in love, yes with Argentina but moreover with these exquisite goodies.


Filed under Argentina, Restaurants, spain, wines

Happenings: Rocky Start To Week, Looking Locally For A Smile

I don’t know about you but today’s plunge of 634.76 points of the Dow Jones Industrial Average kind of took my breath away. Not that it was unexpected but it still is a jolt when you see the Dow fall below previous resistance levels.

On Friday, I wrote about Italy’s debt problems but that was before S&P downgraded US debt from AAA to AA+. Surely there are jitters on the market that will be calmed in the coming week but it was a rough start for a Monday, for all I think.

Economists will tell you that while many people are on vacation in August, the market almost always has important news that sends investors into a tailspin this month. This year will be no different it seems.

Italy and Spain are basically closed for the month but with the lingering debt crisis in the European Union, even their leaders are still working this year. That is a first, at least in my memory except for the 1992 crisis.

What to do, I ask myself, stay calm and don’t get panicked. Drink wine and think local. That said, there’s a great site on local New York wines that you should check out, New York Cork Report. They have lots of information on local New York wineries.

If you live in Manhattan as I do, some of the closest vineyards to visit this summer are those on the North Fork of Long Island or in the Hudson Valley. Looking on Local Wine Events, I noticed that Lieb Cellars is having an event that looks interesting this coming weekend. I’m not sure I’ll make it but if you get there, fill me in.

Warwick Valley Winery in the Hudson Valley always has fun events too. I’ve seen Dylan bands there as well as Shakespeare plays outdoors, all enjoyable. Thinking about these events distracts me from my worries about the economy which is a good thing.

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Filed under economics, New York, Travel, USA Wineries, wines

Italy’s Debt Crisis – Let’s Buy More Italian Wine

Friday’s on this blog are supposed to be dedicated to Italian women in wine but today I am so disturbed by the latest economic news from that country that I feel it should be mentioned.

As I read with dismay the news about Italy’s rising borrowing costs, worsening debt to GDP ratio and increased bond spreads, I remember this same situation from 10 years ago when I was a financial reporter in Milan. It is just awful to see how little progress has been made in their labor markets, growth strategies and government rules. Prime Minister Berlusconi has been a disaster on this front in my opinion but even from those who do support him, they think he is at least ineffectual.

While most of Italy has gone away for the month of August, especially these two central weeks around the ferragosto holiday, no one is immune to the woes of this latest turn of events which are threatening the Euro and the European Union’s financial stability.

I have no immediate solution to this problem and will be glued to the papers, the internet and the TV to understand what the ramifications of all of this are but one small thing we can do to help is buy and drink more Italian wine. I don’t mean to sound flippant. The food and wine industry is an important part of Italy’s GDP. Exports are basically saving the wine industry as Italians diminish their per capita intake. Let’s all do our part to help “il Bel Paese.”


Filed under economics, Italian wineries, italy, wines