One of the best Christmas Songs ever recorded.

There are so many versions of this song but this is the original and the best.

Merry Christmas to all of you and thank you for following.

From Vince Vance and the Valiants, I give you all this memory.

EMPORIUM APPASSIMENTO ROSSO SALENTO

Sometimes, as you well know, just the look, the appearance of something really catches your eye, makes you take notice. Now this can be anything from a color, to a label or even just the direction your head turns. I don’t know. Maybe there is some deep seated psychological thing involved here, but let’s remember, we are talking about wine here.

Such was the case with this bottle. The label is nothing to speak of. Plain, kind of stark even. But the neck of the bottle was what did it, what made me notice it. As you can see from the picture the neck is clothed in a wrapper of white wax, which I first thought was paper. This, plus the fact that this wine hails from Puglia piqued my interest.

Emporium Appassimento comes, as I said from Puglia, a region in southern Italy rich in history and culture. This area of Italy leans toward the Adriatic but has enough of a Mediterranean location to enjoy a very temperate climate. Puglia’s history dates back about 3000 years and has been inhabited since the Paleolothic age. In the eighth century BC it became a Greek colony and stayed that way until the Romans took possession in 272 BC and established it not only as their own but as a communications hub between there and the east. This helped the land to flourish. With the collapse of the Empire in 476 AD Puglia was subjected to various barbarian rule until 1043 AD when the Normans created the kingdom of Sicily. In the years since, it has belonged to the Spanish, French and for a time Austria. It wasn’t until the eventual unification that Puglia became a totally Italian region.

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For Emporium, this wine is made in the Appassimento style, a style long prized by the higher courts. During harvest, only the finest grapes are selected to remain on the vine for an extended period. This shriveling process, called “rasinate” allows the grapes to mature on the vine, dry, and produce a bold, rich, concentrated flavor and a much stronger bouquet. This method is centuries old, a throwback to a different era, which pays homage to an age long since gone. Comprised of the Primitivo (or Zinfandel) and Negroamaro grapes which are indigenous to the area, this wine comes with a very strong bouquet of ripe fruit and grape jam, again owing to the longer vine life. It’s color is a deep ruby red further enhanced by 2 ½ hour decanting.

Because of both its color and taste this wine begs for hearty fare. No flounder or poultry here, but rather, strong cuts of red meats, cooked rare to medium will almost challenge the wine to a duel on your palate. Believe me, the pleasure will be all yours as you savor the complementary characteristics of both. As the flavor of the meats and the wine meld, one can only feel truly, truly satisfied. And giving a nod to history, you can imagine what the good life was like at the height of the Empire and appreciate the influence it had throughout Europe both then and now.

AIN ASIA WINE CHALLENGE 2020 - Cantine San Marzano

Awards for this wine are many. In 2020 alone there was a 91 point rating at the International Wine Challenge (Gilbert and Gaillard), a Gold Medal and a Best Buy rating from Tastings.com and a Silver Medal from Mundus Vini Spring Tasting. All things considered, these awards are remarkable, especially considering what has gone on this year all over the globe.

With an alcohol content of 14.5% this wine is a very rare find especially in this price range, about $12. It can easily become a family favorite, an everyday wine or a choice for a special occasion. A good, versatile choice that is sure to please.

FATTORIA dei BARBI ROSSO di MONTALCINO 2016

This wine is produced by the Colombini family, a name which dates back to the first century A.D. Throughout the years, this family has seen its fortunes rise and fall as they went from bankers to church monarchs, some beatified, to virtual gangsters and outcasts and back to respected political figures. With contacts in the Medici Family, a dominant force in Florence, this family was based in Siena, and was mostly known between there and Marseilles. As time moved on the family became noted as sailors and jurists, poets and other literates, as well as hedonism and womanizers. In the nineteenth century, Pio Colombini, prominent in the field of medical science discovered a cure for syphilis. Despite his medical reputation, he considered himself a landowner and began producing the first bottles of Brunello. Together with his wife Elina Padelletti from Montalcino they took over the villa of Podernovi, which today houses their cellars. It wasn’t until 1936 when their son Giovanni opened the first public wine shop in the Fortress of Montalcino. After his death the winery was managed by their daughter Francesca and nephew Stefano. The history of this family is a fascinating read not only for its longevity, but even more so for its wide diversity.

This wine is derived from the same grape, Sangiovese, cultivated in Montalcino but from younger vines and grapes so it shares the same look, elegance and aroma as its sister Brunello, although not fully in the same class. Before fermentation the grapes are put through a rigorous process involving a cold maceration to increase color stability and aroma. Alcoholic fermentation lasts for 12 to 13 days before final fermentation for six months in small oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. This produces a vintage of slightly above 14% alcohol with a ruby red color, with aromatic hints of dark cherries, pomegranate and possibly some raspberry. Its flavor begins with this aroma, is very soft but long lasting on the palate with velvety tannins and an almost curious aftertaste which calls for another sip. And make no mistake, this is a wine meant to be sipped and savored. Give it some time on the palate before the next taste to ensure maximum pleasure and the full experience. One can almost taste history here.

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Fattoria dei Barbi

Pairings for this wine are pretty varied. We had it with grilled filet mignon to celebrate my wife’s, never mind the number, birthday, with a simple salad. The meat, which I have to say was grilled perfectly, had its flavor greatly enhanced by the strong essences of the wine. While I don’t usually decant often, I did allow this to aerate for a little better than two hours. I think this benefitted it greatly. But even though it is a Sangiovese which usually calls for a hearty dish, I can also see this paired with maybe turkey or pheasant, or something a little lighter than what other reds call for. Also, try it with some cheeses such as pecorino Romano or a ricotta salata.

I did spend more than usual for this wine, expect to pay around $30-35 for it. But I bought it with the idea of a special occasion or holiday dining in mind. It did not disappoint and even at this price which again is outside my normal range, I found it to be versatile and well worth the price.

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Wine Spectator has given this vintage, 2016, a solid 90 points, saying it reveals “depth and complexity.” Vinous author Antonio Galloni wrote that it shows nuance and character while giving it 91 points. As I stated above, this wine exudes history and has a story behind it that bears this out. On my own personal scale, I give this wine a rating of 9.75 out of an unattainable 10 for flavor, aroma and drinkability. Above all, this wine is one of which the ancients could be very proud, and that is the highest praise of all.

Cantina Gabriele Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

“You can celebrate with wine, or you can just drink it anyway” (Old sayings have to start someplace!)

As many of you know, there is a magic to Italian wines. The passion is totally undeniable as is the devotion to family. So many wineries there and throughout Europe can actually trace their origins back to the days of the Roman Empire since Roman soldiers brought with them their own methods of winemaking. But in my opinion, nowhere is the tradition more full or so revered as in the region known as Abruzzo. There the cultivation of the Montepulciano grape flows through generations of the inhabitants like nowhere else on the planet.

Location of Abruzzo Map • Mapsof.net

This brings me to Cantina Gabriele winery. In the nineteenth century on the island of Pantelleria, just south of the mainland Andrea Pandolfo began to produce wine using the Zibibbo grape. That land was eventually sold and Andrea moved his family to Tunisia and in the early part of the twentieth century Andrea and his son Giovanni began to produce wine in their cellar. The wines were of such a high quality that soon, shiploads of it were being shipped to France. In 1938, a plague swept through Tunisia and most of these vines were destroyed either by the plague or by burning to control the spread. It was then that Giovanni’s son, also named Andrea, took control of the family business at only sixteen years of age and brought it to prominence until 1964 when the government of Tunisia took control of all foreign owned lands. So the family was forced to move back to Italy. There they bought a small winery and again started to produce fine wines. Today, Andrea’s great-grandson, Gabriele, presides over the family business, modernizing and perfecting the vintage that started so long ago.

Bargain Real Estate And A Warm Welcome In Abruzzo, Italy
Abruzzo, Italy

One of the vineyards now is located in the hills surrounding the town of Terracina. There the unforgiving soil is worked until it can produce quality grapes. This is really done in land with no tradition of wine-growing but a climate that is made for it.

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo wine is known for its deep, dark purple color. So deep in fact, that one of the measures of its quality is to see if a light can shine through it. It is very dry by nature, no sweetness at all, velvety in the mouth with long lasting flavor. The bouquet is rich in grape, with only slight hints of dark fruits, such as plums and blackberries. Let this wine decant for about two hours and you will also get the scent of tobacco and leather while the unmistakable aroma of oak barrels comes through. It is a feast for the senses.

Tuscan Wild Boar Ragu with Pappardelle Pasta – The Pasta Project
Tuscan wild boar with pappardelle

As with most wines from this region, this is a Sunday gravy (not sauce) wine. It is made to be savored with hearty meals that do include Sunday pasta with all of the traditional ingredients like Nonna’s meatballs, sausage, and on and on. It will also complement your antipasto with an assortment of dried meats, olives and marinated artichokes. Throw in a good strong well aged Locatelli or Romano cheese and you will know what paradise tastes like. But if this is not to your taste or to your time budget, it also goes very well with rich stews, beef ribs and venison.

I have often said and I truly believe that the measure of a man is his legacy. Not so much how he is loved, but rather how he is loved by others. Andrea’s legacy lies with his process, his product as well as, and most importantly, his family. This is wine of which he can be very proud. His family has survived and prospered throughout decades.
The Montepulciano grape is right behind the Sangiovese as the most widely used in Italy. However it is pretty much restricted to the Abruzzo Region. I have often told people, including family, that any wine which says “Montepulciano D’Abruzzo” on the label is sure to satisfy, and this is no exception.

Price – $13-15
Alcohol content – 12.5%

GRAN PASSIONE ROSSO

“Come ti vidi, m’inammorai, e tu sorridi, perche lo sai.” (When I saw you, I fell in love, and you smiled, because you knew.”

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The Veneto region of Italy is sort of a mecca for those seeking fine wines in all price ranges. The wines are mostly bone dry by nature with strong fruits, long legs and a robust, hearty flavor. Gran Passione Rosso is certainly no exception, and is one of the finer value priced wines from this region. The name itself, translated as “Great Passion,” reveals a centuries old devotion of wine making in this region in Northeastern Italy. Bounded by the Dolomite Mountains in the east and the Adriatic Sea in the west, its location is such that the weather remains temperate most of that year, making it an ideal vacation region as well as an almost perfect wine growing region.

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The grapes come from selected vines throughout Veneto. They are left on the vines to dry a process known as “Appassimento,” for at least 15 days before being carefully picked by hand. This drying process adds to the richness of the flavor and is also kind of a nod to the Venetian tradition of wine making. After fermentation, the wine is aged in oak for three to four months before bottling. This is a rather expensive process and very time consuming. And considering the care in selecting only Corvina and Merlot grapes it shows a meticulous attention to detail and a commitment to quality.

As for the finished product, at 14% alcohol this wine is not for the first time or novice drinker. As I stated above, it is a very flavorful, hearty wine with tastes of vanilla and dark fruits like plum and black cherries. With a smooth velvety finish and a luscious, lingering aftertaste this wine remains on the palate long after the glass is emptied. Its appearance in the bottle is deep, dark and rich and is only a hint of what is to come. Decanting this wine is an excellent idea for even up to two hours. The aroma will fill a room with a wonderful air of fruits and spices while indirect lighting truly shows off its deep purple hue. Allowing it to breath for even one hour will enable its fullness to really shine through.

This blending of both Corvina and Merlot grapes is kind of a staple of the area. Both species are native and have been cultivated here for centuries, dating back to the days of the Roman Empire. After that, while Venice was a power both financially and militarily in the civilized world the cultivation of these grapes was carried on in the area by various families. Winemaking, using these grapes, helped to build Veneto as a dominant producer of a better class of table wines and they began to export throughout Italy and the rest of Europe as early as the seventh century as Venice emerged.

As I said above, this is a very rich, full bodied and with an alcohol content of 14% this is not the type of wine that “goes with everything.” Rather, reserve this wine for a much heavier, heartier meal. It would pair well with maybe beef stew or a thick beefy steak such as a porterhouse or a filet. Try it with a meal of wild boar or if you are more adventurous, elk. Venison may be good depending on its preparation, as would be a game bird. But I do think that a domesticated fowl, chicken, duck or turkey, would be lost and either the meats or the wine would not be done justice. We tried this with a Tuscan-style pork roast, a little on the spicy side, marinated in olive oil and it was absolutely perfect.

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No doubt that wines from the region of Veneto are world class and a truly exceptional value. Gran Passione Rosso will meet and, I’m sure, will exceed all your expectations about a product from this region as well as promote other interests here. With its lush countryside, rolling hills, centuries of history and a plethora of wineries, Veneto is an excellent destination for that once in a lifetime trip.

ELECTION DAY: an alternate pictorial

This is a real departure from what I usually write, but I think it was worth the time and what little effort I put into it.

For all our thoughts and words. For all our deeds and misgivings. For all that we should forgive and for which we hope to be forgiven. Sometimes it is so much better to look at God’s landscape, His handiwork, and remember just how fortunate we are.

a little dark shot here. A growing crepe myrtle. If you can’t grow a crepe myrtle in North Carolina, give up gardening.
a gecko crawling along the screened in porch. (not selling insurance, by the way.)
Bright, clear day here in North Carolina

This is only a small, very small, sample. So now, go. Make the most of your day.

BARONE RICASOLI 1141 CHIANTI 2018

No secret that my tastes in wine tend toward a more robust, hearty flavor. In my mind, the deeper the color the richer the flavor and texture, the better. Maybe that is why I prefer the wines of Italy over other countries, because of this and the history involved. So many of the wine producing families there can trace their roots back to the Renaissance, back to The Empire. There is so much history here. So much of a calling to an ancient time. So much tradition upon which a standard is built.

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The Brolio Castle stands atop a hill overlooking the region of Italy known as Chianti, in Tuscany. The castle dates back to the 11th century and was long considered a stronghold of Florence in its seemingly endless wars against Siena. In 1529, the castle was besieged by the Spanish and was burned with only the outer walls surviving. The Ricasoli family, having owned the castle since 1141 was actually hunted, but managed to survive and dedicate themselves to the vast strengths of the area, namely agriculture and vineyards. The family tree, shown in a 1584 picture, also depicts the opening of the area to such early methods of production, and by the early 1600’s, the Ricasoli family was exporting fine wines to England and Amsterdam. Later, in 1874, the Baron Bettino Ricasoli, a noted politician and wine entrepreneur, originated the formula for Chianti wine and what we now know as the great Chianti Classico.

Skipping to more modern times, Baron Francesco Ricasoli now runs the business with an eye toward history and sustainability, with research showing the deepest respect to his long family history. The cellars of the winery, used exclusively for fermentation and aging are located at the foot of the fully restored and modernized Brolio Castle. Each vineyard is harvested separately and vinification takes place in stainless steel barrels while keeping each vineyard separate and unique. At the end of fermentation wines are transferred to small oak barrels to age before their ultimate transfer to bottles. Interestingly, the liquid is moved about, solely by the use of gravity. There are no pumping stations used, ever, so the liquid is moved slowly, carefully from storage to barrel partly with a nod to tradition, but also with the idea of transferring as much of the body of flavor.

As this is a chianti wine, its flavor is just incredible. Made from the sangiovese grape, and grown in a climate most conducive to vineyards, with a rich soil that feeds the vines, this wine just says grape. It is a deep purple color with a body that does cling to the glass, giving it long,beautiful legs that shimmer in the right light. An aroma that few can match is noticeable as soon as the bottle is opened, and a brief exposure to air will get your attention. I did let this bottle sit for almost two hours before drinking which only served to give the opportunity to savor that aroma. Actually, decanting this wine would have been a better idea not only to allow the aeration process, but also, since we served it to guests, we could allow our senses to revel at the intense color as well as the aroma. Later though, the taste did not disappoint and lived up to our expectations.

The Restaurant | Ricasoli 1141

Just as an aside, the estate also harbors a fine restaurant as well as guest rooms. Friday Evenings at the Osteria is a journey to a menu personally selected by Baron Ricasoli with wines to enhance the dining experience which also include some older, rarer vintages. Couple this with a guided tour of the castle and you will surely have an experience to remember.

We paired this meal with grilled pork ribs and roasted brussels sprouts, heavily seasoned and crisped and the results were excellent. The strong flavor of the ribs was enhanced with an old fashioned rub and they were slowly grilled to tenderized perfection, while still having a bite to them. The wine brought out the flavor very well. This, again, is a wine that tastes like a very fine grape, sangiovese 100%, with a very slight nod to cherry and tobacco, and one person did also mention peach. Personally, I didn’t get that. I could also see this wine paired well with a game bird, like duck or pheasant, or a well aged steak like a porterhouse. And since it is an Italian wine, it is just made for a good Sunday gravy, yes, gravy (not sauce) with all the usual accompaniments, like sausage, braciole and on and on.

As for ratings, Both James Suckling and Wine Spectator rated this a very respectable 90, while Wine Advocate went slightly above at 91 points. In your personal review though, I would urge you to consider not only the taste, not only the aroma, the legs,or the tannins. But consider this: this is a true family venture backed with centuries of history, and that is what you are getting, a sense of a bygone era. A venture that time has not overcome but instead has added character.

LUGANA SAN BENEDETTO 2018

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Lago Garda

Lake Garda, Lago Garda in Italian is the largest lake in Italy. Situated between Venice and Milan. Today, it is a very popular vacation spot in Northern Italy but it is the history of the region that is so fascinating. The lake as well as the region, was formed by glaciers toward the end of the last Ice Age. The name itself, “Garda” dates back to the eighth century and is a derivative of the German word, “warda” meaning a place of guard, observation or of safety. The wine takes its name from the town in which it is produced, San Benedetto, or Saint Benedict.

The Zenato Winery was founded by Sergio and Carla Zenato in 1960, so this vintner is still a relative newcomer. Based in San Benedetto di Lugana, this man is credited with bringing this region to the forefront of winemaking using the Trebbiano di Lugana, a local grape variety. Following his death in 2008, Sergio’s children, Nadia and Alberto have brought production to the world while keeping it very much a family operation. Today, the winery operates under a threefold mission: quality, passion and tradition. Wines produced here, both red and white are under total management of the family who have made the vineyards and the winery not only their livelihood, but their lives.

Zenato Winery - Amazing view on Lake Garda from our... | Facebook
Zenato Winery

Only the local Trebbiano di Lugana grapes are used in this production. The southeastern/southern exposure of the vineyards gives them a very full day of sunshine so that the grapes can bask and mature at a good pace. They are harvested in September and October by hand and fermented in stainless steel tanks for 20-25 days. Everything about this wine just says care and diligence with a strong nod to tradition and quality. Because of all this, the taste is really quite bold for a white wine. The pale green color gives it a different look, as so many of its counterparts are more pale to opaque. In the glass it is very aromatic with hints of citrus and peach but a slight undertone of herbs. This is a dry wine that can satisfy the most discerning tastes.

It is my feeling and I have often stated that in a family business, one can measure the quality of the product when history is upheld. In other words, produce that which your ancestors and founders would be proud of. This is certainly the case with Lugana San Benedetto. Sometimes awards alone speak volumes and if that is true, well this wine can exceed any expectation. The 2018 vintage itself has received high honors from Vinibuoni d’Italia, Wine Enthusiast, a gold medal at the Berlin Wine Festival, 86 points from Wein-Plus and equally high praise from Viniplus, all esteemed and coveted reviewers of fine wines.

This is an excellent wine to savor on its own. Decant for possibly 1-2 hours before drinking and you will undoubtedly notice the aroma as it fills the room. In the glass as well as on the palate it is delightful with a fresh, clean taste. Pair this with oysters, a meaty fish such as sheepshead, or with a lemon/sage roasted chicken. Try it with a spinach stuffed chicken thigh. Or, if your tastes are more sophisticated, quail or pheasant would do well. At any rate, with food or on its own this wine is an excellent choice. It will impress your guests and will immediately become a favorite for any special occasion.

LUNETTA PROSECCO…a perfect diversion

Okay. So 2020 isn’t working out quite the way we had planned or hoped. That doesn’t give anyone a reason to hide his collective head in some trash bin and just wait around for the new year to explode. On the contrary, this is the dawn. It is Autumn. A new year is coming. Time to plan and we have the right, no, the obligation to look forward with optimism, to take on the new challenges. Time to work on all those resolutions which we’ll break in the next two hours. Time to set a course for our own lives as well as the lives of our loved ones. And we usually do that by basing the new on the old. By addressing our past and boldly going into the future accompanied by a few old friends and making some new ones. Believe it or not, we still have some time for that as we just now are beginning to settle into the cooler side of the year.

Cavit Lunetta Prosecco Sparkling Wine

Prosecco says CELEBRATION. The most produced sparkling wine in Italy, it is usually based in a pinot grigio so the flavor is bold and fresh but very dry. Drier, in fact than its French cousin, champagne. Made from the grape now known as Glera (formerly known as prosecco but name changed in 2009) Lunetta is a little fruity tasting but as I said above dry. The bubble content is very high, kind of like a newly opened bottle of soda with a surprising tickle on both the palate and the nose.

Prosecco is produced in the nine provinces in Italy spanning Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia Regions and is named after the village of Prosecco. Up until the 1960’s it was pretty sweet and not really in favor, so very little was produced. In fact, it was fairly close to another sparkling wine, Asti, also considered sweet. Since then however, production techniques have been both revamped and perfected, in part to compete with Champagne, which was far more popular and more widely consumed. As a result, Prosecco is now a major player in the sparkling wine arena.

Price is a usual consideration when purchasing wine, especially sparkling wine, since it is less thought of as an everyday drink. Using a method called Charmat-Martinotti, a method where the secondary fermentation takes place in steel tanks rather than in bottles, tends to keep the price lower than that of similar champagnes. This is also done to preserve freshness as this is a lighter sparkling wine. But make no mistake, there is quality in each bottle whether you prefer Brut or Extra dry, which is slightly sweeter

Cavit Collection Debuts Virtual Reality Experience Capturing Vine-to-Bottle  Process - Chilled Magazine
Field at the Cavit Winery

Lunetta, translated as “Little moon” is produced by the Cavit winery located in Northern Italy. This winery really is mostly known for its pinot grigio, and you can taste that influence here. Hints of ripe apple and peach give way to a very crisp, clean taste, light enough to enjoy with food or on its own. I would say though that it is best with a meal of light fish, like a broiled trout or flounder to enhance those flavors, rather than overtake them. This is a very delicate drink, so it would also pair well with light appetizers, hors d’oeuvres or possibly shellfish. You can almost picture standing among friends, skewered shrimp in one hand, a glass of prosecco in the other. A pale straw color gives way to an effervescence and a freshness which then exhorts a party-like atmosphere that only a “bubbly” can bring to your table. Celebration is the name of the game here.

Wine Enthusiast gave this a rating of 86 points while stating that it has all the fresh fruit flavors you would expect. With an alcohol rating of 11.5% this is a sparkling wine that does satisfy. A tad on the sweet side, but with an unmistakable lean toward dryness, this is a good value wine in the $13 range.