Monthly Archives: September 2013

Coffee Farming In Costa Rica – All In A Hard Day’s Work


Like most people in the food & wine industry, my interests range widely from wine to tea, coffee, food products, farming, olive oil, water and spirits. I have just started reorganizing all of my books so that I can find what I want to read more easily and I came upon a book about coffee that I had picked up somewhere, The Devil’s Cup. I’m not that far along yet but find it fascinating.

I am always looking to see how products are grown. My mind has been on coffee this week because it is such a huge export from Kenya. I have never had the good fortune to visit Kenya but it is a country I studied while in college and whose development I have followed. I was very struck by the violence this week and hope that the country can find unity in mourning the loss of life.


One country that also produces a lot of coffee is much closer to the United States, Costa Rica. I did visit Costa Rica three years ago and spent time on a number of coffee plantations. My feelings about coffee have changed remarkably since that time.


I learned about the Nicaraguan workers who picked the coffee beans for hours a day for $1 a basket. They have to deal with wasps, snakes and other critters that make their homes in the coffee plants.


Like wine grapes, coffee beans are sorted, pressed, selected and often blended. There are two species of coffee trees: Coffee arabica (arabica) and Coffee canephora which makes what is known as robusta. The latter is easier to cultivate at lower and warmth altitudes while the former produces the more prestigious beans. Generally the higher the elevation of the coffee plantation, the better the quality of the beans. The coffee from Costa Rica is considered to be milder than say that of Kenya which has higher acidity.


Coffees, like wines, are also described according to their aromas and flavors, their body, acidity, and color. The flavor in coffee comes from the volatile oils that come from the roasting and grinding processes. In fact, if you buy beans, you are supposed to grind them only right before you use them in order to protect the aromas and flavors.


While Costa Rica is a beautiful country, I was struck by the poverty I saw in San José, the misery of the Nicaraguans working in those fields and the comparisons to the zip-lining tourists usually from the US. I know the tourists bring needed funds to the country and boost the economy but the contrast was striking.

Maybe it was my mood but what I remember most were these coffee plantations. Every time I have a cup of coffee I am reminded that someone or a chain of people have worked very hard to put that cup in front of me.

1 Comment

Filed under wines

Wine Wednesday: Castello di Semivicoli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC from Masciarelli

Although the cold seems to be setting in at night, my mind and body are still focused on the summer and great wines that I tasted while enjoying seafood and the beach. One of these wines was from the Mascarelli family: Castello di Semivicoli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC. Without a doubt this was the best Trebbiano I have ever tasted.

Masciarelli - trebbiano

Trebbiano has long been a grape that I have basically ignored. Somewhat of a bland relation to the other more exciting varieties that I have given my attention to, it is however, the most widely planted white grape in Italy, I have never been very excited by its aromas or flavors. That is, until I tried this version from the Masciarelli’s third line called Castello di Semivicoli, the name of the property with a “castello” that they own.

The wine was gorgeous with bright acidity and lovely aromas and flavors of white fruits – peach and apricot – as well as flower blossoms and honey. It also had Mediterranean undertones that I love of thyme, herbs and the “garrigue” note that makes me want to jump on a plane immediately and be on the Mediterranean.

According to their website, the vines are an average of 40 years in age with an Eastern exposition and are located at 380 meters above sea level. The wine is made in stainless steel tanks and spends 18 months aging in the bottle before being released.

I loved this wine and was sad to see it end. I paired it with great fish. It’s nice to be surprised by that which we have ignored for so long. It’s just a reminder that it only takes one to change your mind.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abruzzo, Indigenous Varieties, Italian DOC Wines, Italian regions, Italian wineries, wine wednesday

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Chatus Nero

The world looks so chaotic this week following the bloody weekend news from Kenya, Pakistan and Israel, among other places, including New York City where a Columbia Professor was assaulted in what appears to be a hate crime. It takes my breath away and makes me think it is silly to continue with my wine blog when so much is happening including the UN meetings but I believe education, civility and improving people’s lives is what will make a difference. One can argue that writing about wine is totally tangential to any of this and certainly writing about obscure varieties is even more so but I think about writing about grape varieties as a way to document nature and local traditions, and culture. Respect for individuals, their culture and our differences as well as celebrating diversity is really the only anecdote I can see to hatred and ignorance. Enough said, back to Chatus.

This is a local variety from Piedmont. Often it is also called Nebbiolo di Dronero. Rarely used to make wines alone, it is often blended with other varieties and brings both body and structure to the wine. I have seen it described as a “rustic” grape meaning not refined in terms of its taste profile. It grows in most of Piedmont and is said to be relatively resistant to parasites of all types. I only found one winery that mentioned it specifically, Azienda Agricola Prever, a winery in Piedmont which is seems is run by women, another of my favorite subjects.

What would the world look like if woman were at the head of most nations? Sometimes I really wonder what the differences would be. In wineries, the difference are subtle but consistent throughout all regions and all countries I believe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Indigenous Varieties, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries, italy, Piedmont, Women in Wine

Women In Wine Fridays: Stellekaya’s Ntsiki Biyela

Rumor has it or Skype at least that my friend and favorite South African winemaker is in town (NYC) this weekend – Ntsiki Biyela. I haven’t seen Ntsiki in a few years but have spoken with her after her stay in Italy working at Petra. I’m curious to hear how her winemaking has been influenced by her Italian sojourn. I think she has caught the love of Italy bug that I suffer from as do many other people all the world over.

My friend Peter Conway of Mano A Vino wrote a nice post about Ntsiki that you can read here.

I’m hoping to catch up with her and chat more about Italy, wine, Stellekaya, and South Africa. I am curious to find out how the country is evolving and dealing with Nelson Mandela’s current health issues. He is one of my great heroes and I am happy to know he is out of the hospital.

I keep this quote from him on my desk at all times to remind myself to be courageous:

“I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it…The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”


Filed under Italian wineries, italy, Meet the Winemaker, South Africa, wines, Women in Wine

Old New York (Fanelli’s) & Italy (Tenuta di Blasig) Under The (Almost) Full Moon

Last night I found out that one of my favorite places to have a burger in New York, Fanelli’s in Soho, had a great wine from one of the women in wine that I have interviewed, Elisabetta from Tenuta di Blasig, on their wines by the glass list. I am not sure why this surprised me but I admit it did. I thought I would order an American Cabernet or even a Beaujolais but I didn’t think I would be having a glass of Merlot from Friuli and one that brought up so many other parts of my life. My visit to Tenuta di Blasig was very memorable and Elisabetta was one of the first women in wine that I interviewed so she holds a special place in my heart. I always enjoy seeing her wines on wine lists.

I’m the one that is short-sighted though. Why wouldn’t Fanelli’s have an interesting choice on their list and why am I surprised? Apparently they have been open since 1847 according to the great article listed above and can claim to be the second oldest establishment in New York City – no mean feat.

Cheers to old New York and Friuli – a winning combination!

Leave a comment

Filed under Friuli, Italian regions, Italian wineries, italy, New York, Restaurants, Women in Wine

Wine Wednesday: Chateau Cadillac – Bordeaux Supérieur

I went to see Roberto Bolle at City Center last night and was very excited. As part of the Year of Italian Culture he was dancing in New York. This is the first time he has danced in New York and my friend Diane Letulle invited me to attend. If you didn’t get to see the show, you can read a great interview with him on I-Italy, available at Eataly and many other places as well as online, of course.

I was looking for a glass of bubbly after the performance but happened upon a French bistro in the city – Cognac and a fabulous cheese platter and a nice glass of Bordeaux Supérieur Appellation Contrôlées (AC) from Chateau Cadillac. I like drinking moderately priced Bordeaux wines and try to order them as often as possible. This wine was great with my cheese feast. Check out this interesting blog post with great maps by Wine Folly. Cheers Madeline. Kudos to you on those wine tips for Bordeaux.

Looking for information about the wine, I found the website of the actual Chateau de Cadillac. Apparently this grand edifice was once a fortress, as many other chateau were as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under AOC, Bordeaux, France, wines

Wine of the Week: Scubla Friulano 2011


I was lucky enough to try this wonderful wine, Friulano 2011, from Scubla earlier this summer and then to drink a bottle during my vacation holidays with great swordfish.

I like Friulano with its almond notes, good acidity and refreshing sapidity. I am tempted to write minerality but am trying to get away from that word which has caused so much consternation in the wine community. I have never visited this winery located in the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC, near the city of Cividale.

Scubla makes just 11,000 bottles of this wine a year. The winery has 12 hectares and was created in 1991. To make this Friulano, they use whole cluster pressing and leave the wine sur lies for eight months. The nutty, yeasty notes you get from this process appeal to me greatly and were also a nice pairing with the torta rustica that I made. The wine is imported by Vinifera Imports.

torta rustica

Leave a comment

Filed under Friuli, Indigeous varieties, Italian DOC Wines, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian recipes, Italian regions, Italian wineries, Wine of the Week