One of the parts of Italian life I miss most is the concept of “ponti” or long weekends where you go on a “gita fuori porta” meaning you take a brief but exciting trip to another city or country. At the beginning of the year, everyone begins counting how many long “ponti” there are in a year. This weekend is a special one for Milan, my adopted city for 10 years, la festa of their Patron Saint- Saint Ambrogio which translates into Sant’Ambroeus in the Milanese dialect.
The famous cafes in New York on Madison Avenue, in the West Village and in South Hampton are named for this very saint. Sant’Ambroes is December 7 and December 8 is also a holiday, the Immaculate Conception. December 7 is generally also the opening day of the Opera Season at La Scala in Milan.
Each city in Italy has a patron saint and the saint’s day is always celebrated. I would invariably leave Milan during these many “ponti” and travel around Italy or to a nearby country. Some of my most memorable “ponti” were spent skiing at a friend’s house in Chatel, France in the Haute-Savoie region.
We would ski all day and then make fondue and drink the local wines at night. There was also an incredible thermal bath area in nearby Switzerland called Lavey-Les-Bains where I once sat in a heated pool during a beautiful slow snow storm. Truly a memorable experience. Some of the wines I had while there included Vin Jaune, a speciality of the area.
For the Vin Jaune, the grapes are picked in November when they are fully ripe and have reached a sugar level which can translates into a high alcohol wine of 13%-15%. This wine ferments like many others but then spends some time in old oak barrels and undergoes an oxidation process similar to a fino sherry. While Sherry sees the addition of fortified wine, Vin Jaune does not. A layer of flor called voile grows and covers the wine creating oxidized, sherry flavors. The voile takes time to grow. The wine is ready after six years and three months. If you like sherry, I think you will love this wine. I love a good sherry and really enjoyed this distinctive wine.