Category Archives: Holidays

Easter Traditions In Rome

Fountain in Piazza Navona - Rome

I have had the pleasure of spending Easter in Rome a number of times. The city is very crowded with tourists and often school children. “La Settimana Santa” or the Holy Week is considered a perfect time to visit the Eternal City. Many hope to see the Pope who is in residence and gives Mass in St. Peter’s square on Easter morning.

sistine_chapel_vatican_871495

Romans skip their cornetti or brioche as they are known in other parts of Italy and have a big breakfast with eggs and salami. I once had one that was billed as an Easter donut or Ciambella that was filled with eggs and salami. The only problem was that we were on a sailboat going around the island of Elba and the weather wasn’t great so that kind of a heavy breakfast on Easter was hard for me but hey who am I to argue with tradition.

After breakfast, when in Rome, many do try to go see the Pope. One year I did that as well. The crowd was immense and the experience was intense and moving, even to a non-Catholic such as myself.

tenuta-pallavicini-in-lazio

When Romans sit down for their Easter lunch, as I did with friends at their home in Zagarolo, they will find Abbacchio at the table, or lamb. Here’s a recipe for how it is made. You will also find Carciofi alla Romana. I love Artichokes and this is the season you will find them in Italian markets all over the country. Here is a recipe for making Carciofi alla Romana. Lots of other items may be part of the meal but these two are key components as is the Colomba di Pasqua for dessert.

While this is happening, what are people drinking? I’ve found that Romans tend to have a mix of wines at the meal. Perhaps a red wine with the lamb. It could be Cesanese del Piglio which is a local grape from Lazio. I first discovered this grape variety in 2005 when I was doing a series of interviews with winemakers throughout Italy for a project. Cesanese del Piglio is made from a minimum of 90% Cesanese Comune and Cesanese d’Affile. Cesanese is not that widely seen on wine list menus and I think it is a real shame. It produces wines that are hearty and ruby red in color. It also brings spice and supple tannins to the table and blends well with other grape varieties.

zagarolo

For dessert, Romans have a few fun local choices including Malvasia del Lazio which I wrote about in February as part of my Italian indigenous grape variety series. Or perhaps Cannellino from Frascati made with Malvasia and Trebbiano.

Easter Monday is a holiday in Italy, Pasquetta. Everyone is generally having a big lunch somewhere “fuori porta” or out of town. I have many fond memories of Easter in Italy and Pasquetta. It’s a lovely way to begin the Spring season.

Here are a variety of other Easter dishes and wines to enjoy.  If you catch this in time, chat with us live this Saturday April 1st on Twitter at #ItalianFWT @ 11am EST.  

Jen from Vino Travels features Easter Celebrations in Puglia

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla features Il Verdetto di
Pasqua + Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Riserva Carignano
Susannah of Avvinare features Easter Traditions in Rome
Jill of L’Occasion features 5 Italian Easter Dishes and Wine Pairings

Gwendolyn of Art Predator features Easter Bread and other Italian Traditions Paired with Wine

Mike of Undiscovered Italy features Colomba di Pasqua

Join us next month on May 6th as Gwendolyn from Art Predator hosts Italian Sparkling Wines.  See you then!

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Filed under #ItalianFWT, Holidays, lazio, Memorable Events, wines

Holiday Season Jaunts In New York City

Met Christmas Tree

December 8 is the Immaculate Conception and therefore I am thinking of the holidays almost upon us. I love the holiday season, the chill in the air, Christmas trees everywhere and of course, flowing sparkling wine. Some of my favorite places to go to in New York during the holidays include the Metropolitan Museum with its gorgeous Neapolitan Christmas tree.

Christmas

I also love this particular fountain on 6th avenue near the Hilton Hotel. Every year I go to see Alvin Ailey and revel in their amazing dance performances. As a girl, I used to love to see the Nutcracker while the holiday train show and the Rockettes have been more recent joys with my niece and nephew.

train-show

With my son we also like to see the origami tree at the Museum of Natural History. Today I discovered a tree in Central Park with small christmas ornaments in the Rambles, quite unexpected.

Presepio

There are many ways to get into the holiday spirit and certainly drinking great wines with friends and family are among them. I am a firm believer in that theory in times of joy and sadness. The holidays can bring about both and I find that seeing Christmas trees with lights and joy on kids faces always does the trick. Today’s wine hails from Moet & Chandon, it’s their Ice Imperial. This is a wine that I was given by my young babysitter as a birthday present. She’s a novice wine drinker and I think the packaging appealed to her as well as the festive natural of Champagne. I drank it while celebrating my son’s second birthday and it was perfect complement for his very sweet birthday cake.

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Pasquetta: Time for A Picnic, What to drink?

gauginWhile today’s weather hasn’t been perfect, it does remind me of many Easter Monday picnics I used to have when I lived in Italy. Traditionally a holiday, most Italians go out for a picnic with friends and/or family. There is a saying in Italian, “Natale con i tuoi, pasqua dove vuoi” which translated actually means Christmas at home and Easter whenever you want. The big question is always what to drink at a picnic. I can think of lots of wines that work well with picnic food, red, rose or white, sparkling and still. If I had been at a picnic today, I might have brought this wine from Amastuola made from Fiano and Malvasia. I tried this wine during wine week in February. I was impressed with its aromas and flavors and also by the fact that the winery was organic, not that common in Italy and in Puglia specifically. It was great because it was also only 12.5% in alcohol, a relief after so many high alcohol wines. I love this part of Puglia where I have been lucky enough to spend time, the Salento. I highly recommend traveling there for the wines, the food, the people, the towns and the sea, the Mediterranean at it’s best.

IMG_9813

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Filed under Apulia, Holidays, Italian indigenous varieties, Italian regions, Organic Wines in Italy, Puglia, wines

Thanksgiving Digestifs – Amaro Gets First Place

This article first ran in the former iteration of the Somm Journal a while ago. That said, thinking about what to drink after today’s feast, Amaro came to mind.

The story of the Amaro category is really a tale of two beverages – one in it’s native Italy and another in other nations such as the USA and Argentina. Amaro, the Italian digestif that used to grace every dinner table has been having somewhat of a bad decade in Italy where it has essentially been replaced by other drinks from Limoncello to Gin.

In earlier decades, every Italian household had at least one Amaro on hand and many made their own version of the drink as well. Amaro would be brought out at the end of a big lunch or dinner and at every holiday. Now it’s appearance has dwindled down to making a showing at the end of a holiday meal such as Christmas or Easter.

Italian drinks specialist, Pasquale Porcelli, was hard pressed for a specific reason for the decline of Amaro in his country over the last 15 years or so but attributed it to the rise of other competing liquors as well as the propensity to drink less. “Younger generations order trendier liquors when out at a bar be it Rum, Gin, or Vodka. Older patrons still sometimes order an Amaro with their espresso but fewer and far between,” he said. One Milanese enthusiast, Marcello Foresti who makes his own home brew noted with chagrin that, “Grappa has taken over for Amaro as the drink of choice. People in Italy see it as an older man’s drink only.”

Still, every bar worth its salt in Italy still has at least four to five different brands on its shelves among them Averna, Montenegro, Cynar, Ramazzotti, Lucano, Fernet Branca, Braulio, Jagermeiser, and Unicum.

Amaro, which means bitter in Italian, is a beverage that first became famous starting in the latter half of the 1800s. It is an infusion of herbs, roots, flowers, bark and at times citrus and other elements. The herbs are macerated and then distilled. Some age in oak casks while others in the bottle.

Each brand is usually made according to a traditional recipe that they often keep a secret. A few actually still used recipes that were handed down to them from the monasteries that first produced these kinds of liqueurs that used to be known as elixirs. In fact, the Amaro category was initially a medicinal beverage used to cure aliments, often of the digestive track. It was the Arabs who first brought the technique of infusions and distillation to Europe.

An elixir with properties similar to an Amaro was first mentioned in the 1300s in conjunction with a concoction made to aid Pope Boniface VIII. Further historical mentions of a similar liqueur were made in the 1600s and attributed to monasteries run by both Franciscan and Jesuits.

Starting in the mid-1800s, these liqueurs were used as a digestif drink after a large meal. For the next two centuries in Italy, Amaro was consumed in this way or in an espresso in the morning. It is often drunk neat or on the rocks. Amaro is usually between 17-35 proof.

The heyday of Amaro in Italy began during the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Sales within the country remained strong in the 1980s and into the 1990s but declined in recent years. It was the Ramazzotti brand that created one of the key advertising phrases that came to define yuppies in Italy, the “Milano da bere.”

While one might be tempted to associate Amaro only with Northern Italy and the mountains, each Italian region has at least one Amaro that is particularly well-known such as Averna from Sicily, Ramazzotti, Braulio, and Fernet Branca from Lombardy, Amaro Lucano from Basilicata, Amaro Sibilla from Le Marche, Amaro Montenegro from Emilia Romagna, Vecchia Amaro del Capo from Calabria and Luxardo from the Veneto, among others.

Each Amaro is made with a particular blend of herbs, roots and flowers, which can be found locally and make this a classic example of a “terroir-driven” beverage.

Two amaros from other countries are always mentioned in the Amaro pantheon: Jagermeister from Germany and Unicum which is originally Hungarian.

One of the most particular Amari on the market and one of the oldest is Cynar which has a distinctly artichoke note. Cynar unlike the other Amari is often served as an aperitif, before the meal.

In order to create an Amaro, the ingredients are selected and then dried. Next they are crushed into a powdery form and steeped in alcohol. The maceration phase then takes place and when it is done, the mixture is pressed. The result is then mixed with alcohol, water and sugary syrup. Eventually this mixture will then be either aged in oak or in the bottle, some firms add a caramel note to enhance the color, others do not.

Many different combinations of flowers and herbs are added to the various amari including Angelica, Lemon blam, Melissa, China, Verbena, Juniper, Anise, Fennel, Ginger, Sage, Myrrh, Licorice, Wormwood, Elderflower, among others.

While the home market has been on a steady decline in the past decade or two for Amaro, abroad Amaro has made a real splash. In the United States, some Amaro was always sold particularly brands such as Cynar and Campari but it has been the cocktail revolution that has made a real difference in sales in the United States and in other countries such as Argentina. Amaro has found a new generation of enthusiasts. Some are purists who like their product neat or on the rocks but most are discovering the pleasures of an Amaro as part of their new favorite cocktail.

This is especially true in San Francisco where this spirit has been all the rage for a number of years. Mixologists and sommeliers have been extolling the virtues of Amaro in their drinks. These are the same group of interested parties that have made the creation of their own bitters into a national pastime. In Argentina, Fernet Branca has found a new mecca where it is used in a widely requested drink with Coca Cola.

For the Italian brands, nothing could be sweeter than seeing their bitter liqueurs in the new, cool cocktails that millennials are imbibing with abandon. While it is not the same as creating a family tradition of drinking amaro at the end of a meal, it is a new lease on life for this beverage.

It is surprising how many of the premier Amari are on sale in the United States. Many of the more artisanal brands are not to be found locally but that is the same from one part of Italy to the next. It is still somewhat rare to find Amaro on a wine list but there are a number of restaurants that include them.

There are different styles of Amaro, some lighter and some heavier, depending on their alcohol as well as their ingredients. Below are some of the ones I have tried and favor. Perfect for the end of a big meal like that which will be consumed later today.

Lighter styles:

Vecchio Amaro del Capo SRP $27

Representative of the lighter style of Amaros with earthier and cola notes. It hails from Calabria and is made with 29 herbs from that region. Giuseppe Caffo started Amaro del Capo in 1915.

Amaro Sibilla SRP $56

This Amaro comes from Le Marche, specifically from the province of Macerata. The firm began making Amaro in 1968 and is well known for the honey notes that stand out in this version of the bitter elixir. The honey is from the nearby Mount Sibillini.

Braulio SRP $36

Braulio is a well-known brand from Lombardy, specifically from the Valtellina region and the town of Bormio. It has a distinctly alpine flower note that characterizes it and also hints of sage. Braulio has a long history that started with Francesco Peloni, the chemist who created the recipe for this amaro in 1875.

Cynar SRP $26

Cynar is a brand owned by the Campari Group. It is made from a combination of 13 herbs and plants. It is the only one of the Amaro group to really have an artichoke note. It is bittersweet and is usually served as an aperitif rather than a digestif.

Medium style:

Amaro Lucano SRP $26

Lucano hails from Basilicata was created in 1894 from a secret blend of 30 herbs from the Lucania region of Basilicata. The firm has been in the same family’s hands since its inception. The founder of the firm, Pasquale Vena was a baker. Some of his spices seem to have made it into the recipe. Lucano has a spicier note than some of the others.

Averna SRP $27

Amaro Averna is Sicilian from the city of Caltanisetta. Legend has it those friars in that city left their recipe to Salvatore Averna supposedly because he was an upstanding citizen. Averna’s family began making it in 1868. Averna is a very approachable amaro with earthy notes and a hint of citrus peel.

Amaro Montenegro SRP $27

This widely available Amaro is from Bologna and was first made in 1885 by an herbalist named Stanislao Cobianchi. It is named after the second wife of King Vittorio Emmanule III, Helen of Montenegro. Montenegro’s signature aroma is a hint of orange.

Ramazzotti SRP $21

Ramazzotti is a Milanese tradition that began in 1815 thanks to Ausano Ramazzotti. The firm no longer belongs to the Ramazzotti family but is owned by Pernod Ricard. Made from 33 herbs, Ramazzotti is a a classic expression of an amaro with a dark brown color, earthy, herbal and medicinal notes and a bitter finish on the palate.

Stronger Style:

Fernet Branca SRP $29

Fernet also hails from Milan but it is more intensely aromatic and bitter than Ramazzotti.. A friend compared the two to the Milan and Inter soccer teams, with Fernet representing Inter, the more aristocractic of the teams. It is made from 27 ingredients. It was first created starting in 1845 but who is responsible for the recipe is still a matter of opinion.

Jagermeister SRP $23

When they say is will put hair on your chest, this is the amaro they are referring to, most agree. Quite medicinal and very bitter, this particular amaro is made from 56 fruits, roots and herbs. It hails from Germany and was started in 1935.

Unicum SRP $24

This Amaro comes from Hungary and was created by the Zwack family over 200 years ago. It is made from a combination of 40 herbs and was first created by a royal physician to the Habsburg monarchy. It is quite medicinal in taste.

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American Wines for the Holiday

Generations - Charles Krug

I love the Thanksgiving holiday as most Americans do. Of course, there is the traffic, the too much food and generations of family that all make it hard but that’s also what makes it so great. I’m excited that we will be 40 people at our table(s) this year. While I know there will be a variety of wines at my cousin’s house. One wine that I like to think about for this holiday is this one that I bought on a visit to the winery with Peter Mondavi. Actually to be more precise, their PR maven gave it to me as a gift. I will always cherish that visit and think of the wine as the quintessential family wine – generations – although their family history is certainly complicated.

Peter Mondavi

At any given holiday, wines that will always be at my table include Franciacorta, Prosecco, Ferrari from Trento, and all the other wines that I love and know well from Italy. Nothing beats the acidity in Italian wine for pairing with food and there are so many to choose from. This year, I might also bring a Carmenere in honor of that grape’s birthday this month. Let’s see what the day brings. Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to all.

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Filed under California, Holidays, USA WInes, wines

Happy Fourth of July – This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

Happy Fourth of July. Today is of course, a day to drink American wine and celebrate our country. We started the day with a favorite song, “This Land Is Your Land.”

Love the Wine Your With

Love the wine your with…is a pretty good motto for July 4th when you may be at a barbecue with less than stellar wines. I saw this sign in a shop in California when I was there recently. The store had a trove of interesting objects but more importantly, a nice tasting menu and a really smart and helpful bartender. The store is called Bacchus & Venus Wines.

I had just finished a wine exam and wanted to test my blind tasting skills so she helped with a number of wines. Here was the small line up. I was relatively close on almost all the wines but the Charbono from Tofanelli tripped me up although I have had that wine before. I found this grape enticing and was excited by its fruity notes of plum, black cherry, and blueberry together with nuanced wood, tobacco and cedar. The wine was complex and well integrated with a long persistent finish. The Tofanelli family has been farming their property since 1929. They use no irrigation, practice organic farming, and do not use trellising systems.

Sausalito

Whatever wine you are drinking today, I hope it is a wonderful one and that you are with the ones you love.

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Buon Ferragosto A Tutti! Going Fishing

Beach

Today is the quintessential Italian holiday, Ferragosto. What is Ferragosto you might ask, well according to Wikipedia:

“The Catholic Church celebrates this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the actual physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven. Before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, however, this holiday also included honoring of gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening, during the time of the Roman Empire.”

Actually the history of the holiday has many interesting tidbits which Wikipedia explains here.

Ferragosto for me is much simpler and has always represented the beach, good food and good friends. This Ferragosto I am about to leave on a holiday trip to Cape Cod, beloved mecca of my life and alias a new hotbed of shark activity…That said, I can’t wait to see the beach, old friends, Days Cottages, Ptown and everything else that is the Cape to me. While away I will blog more when not fishing with Dad and other family members.

Me and Dad Fishing

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