“Le vin est le lait des vieillards” (“Wine is the milk of old people”)
One of life’s lessons that I always try to keep in mind is never, ever discount anything. You cannot even guess where this journey of life will take you, so you should never turn down or disregard an opportunity because an opportunity is like a road. It leads to somewhere, quite possibly somewhere you are meant to be. Your destiny may lie at the end of that road, or it may lead you nowhere, to a dead end. But if there is no attempt, there is no result, no outcome. Something to be said for the proverbial road less traveled, even more for the road never taken.
A perfect example of this is Gerard Bertrand. Born in 1965 he became a famous Rugby player and in 1984 began his career with RC Narbonne, a club founded in 1907 and has since competed for many national honors. Bertrand played there and also for Stade Francais, another elite club for 17 years until he retired from the sport to take over the family estate after the accidental, tragic death of his father. Being a Frenchman with a devout loyalty to his family and their traditions, I suppose it was always the intention for him to assume the reins of the business, but the unfortunate circumstances could not be planned.
At first the bottle looks plain enough, almost naked as it is adorned by only a small label. But a closer look reveals the simple design shows a base in the shape of a rose, created by a young French designer. The implication here is that the wine should be given and enjoyed as one would enjoy the presentation of the fragrant flower. Grown in the South of France in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon (“the Languedoc”), it is the culmination of a true viticultural process. Blending Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, each grape is harvested at an exact ripeness level with respect to the specific characteristics of each. They are destemmed, cooled and transferred to the press where even more attention is paid to ensure only the finest, highest quality juice is saved and used in fermenting. After a light fining process, the wine is bottled to preserve its fresh, fruity flavor.
I think it only fair to mention here that I am not a real fan of rose’. I always figured that it was sort of a compromise. Something you would choose when you can’t make up your mind between a white and red. I regard it as somewhat of a sweet wine, and my tastes just do not go there. Just goes to show how wrong I can be. This wine boasts an almost clear color with a slight nod to a very light shade of pink which after a time shows a delicate hint of blue. Quite beautiful in the bottle it adorns a dinner table with a touch of elegance. Being a rose’ it does not require any aeration, but with the glass stopper at its side the open bottle does give off a bouquet of freshness, once again calling to mind the scent of fresh flowers. On the palate it is clean with notes of currant and grapefruit creating what I would call an environment of pleasantness. Think back to a simpler time when your mother took the laundry in from the clothesline. Remember the smell, the sensation of clean, delicate and freshness all rolled into one. This is the ultimate sensation here.
Being a rose’ this wine is perfect as an aperitif or with light fish. However, it can also hold its own with shellfish or very subtly spiced dishes such as grilled eggplant or a Greek chicken salad. It is a very welcome addition here in the Carolinas where a hot summer day is lightened with a glass of a finely chilled wine served on the patio with some light cheese or charcuterie. A lovely way to spend an afternoon.
In all Mr. Bertrand has managed to keep tradition while coupling it with modern methods. A tribute to his father and to his family, there is no greater compliment.
Alcohol – 13%
Price – around $17
“People who do not drink with others are either thieves or spies.”
You know, surprises come in all shapes and sizes and can arrive anytime. But I think that the best part of a surprise is that it is usually something that you never even thought of. Getting something that you never even knew you wanted or finding something out that is just so far out there that you could never have imagined it. Such is this case. In a little wine store here in Carolina, I found a small wine and novelty shop right near our home. Now, we are new to this part of Carolina and I have been looking for this kind of a shop, but lo and behold, there it is. Right down the road. Gifts. Novelties and local merchandise. And a very nice, imaginative selection of fine wines, some, rather most, of which I had never seen before. Monte Guelfo, or Monteguelfo, depending on where you look on the label, is a chianti. Normally I kind of move to lighter wines at this time of year but chianti is one of my favorites, so I tried it. Have to admit, a real good choice.
This is a wine from one of the estates of Andrea Cecchi. Tuscany is the region in Italy where I think winemaking began. If not, it certainly was molded and perfected there. It is the region where most wine drinkers and critics gravitate with its central Italy location. With the Tyrrhenian coast to the west and the Apennine mountains to the east it has both a continental and Mediterranean climate, perfect for grape growing. The Sangiovese grape is pretty much native here and is actually the most widely planted grape in the country, but this is its home, both ancestrally and spiritually. Chianti Classico is between Florence and Siena geographically, and for a while the area was “polluted” with other varieties like Cabernet and Syrah, but here, Sangiovese is the standard by which all others are judged.
The history of the Cecchi wineries goes back to 1893 when Luigi Cecchi used his distinctive palate and talents to become a professional wine taster, which in my humble opinion has to be the best job in the world! His reputation grew and in the 1930’s the family name was known all over the world. Then, in the 1970’s the family moved to Castellina, an historic site for Chianti Classico production. In the 1980’s, expansion would take them to villages like San Gimignano, where other types would be produced and the family name would become even more prominent throughout the industry. Today this remains very much a family business with Cesare and Andrea, the fourth generation, overseeing the entire production, ensuring the quality that Luigi had envisioned, and also the sustainability that more modern times demand.
This wine, as most reds and especially the more robust ones, should be aerated for about two hours before drinking. A deep purple color is enhanced by the strong aroma calling to mind dark berries with a hint of pepper and an earthiness. On the palate it is a feast of dried red fruits, a concentrated flavor of cherries and plums. As a chianti it is a little on the light side, mildly acidic with noticeable legs and velvety tannins. It pairs perfectly with delicate meats like lamb as the boldness of the wine gives way to the meal as the two meld into a glorious experience! Truly, this wine is not just for pasta, although it goes very well with it. I would classify it though as a dinner wine. By that I mean it goes better with food than say as a pre-dinner drink. With an alcohol content of 13.5%, the 2018 vintage ranks just behind the 2017, considered to be the finest. With a price of about $18 this is a real value wine, sure to please your most discerning guests. And since wine is meant to be shared, a drink among friends, there can be no higher praise.
So check out the smaller stores, the ones in your neighborhood that you may never have noticed. There are some gems inside. Not every oyster has a pearl, but when you find one, you have really found something.
“Check around. Expect the unexpected. You never know what treasure you’ll find under a rock.”
A trip to a winery is a completely unique experience. The vines, the fruits set against the rolling hills and a blue sky. Just the atmosphere created is mindblowing when you consider that this fruit will be subjected to a centuries-old process that produces wine, a beverage shared by people like Moses, Caesar, DaVinci and so many other historical figures. The views, the people associated with the process all are truly remarkable. But what am I talking about here. Surely the fields in Tuscany are well known and documented and fit the description. These are wines that are known the world over for quality and diversity. Maybe the French Loire Valley with its delicate precision which gives us such beautiful wines. How about Australia or New Zealand with an alluring climate and attention to detail. Well, in this case, how about the Yadkin Valley? Yes, the Yadkin Valley. In North Carolina. Yes, our own North Carolina.
Now, much of the wine production in North Carolina begins with the muscadine grape. Ultra sweet and about the size of a small plum, this grape produces a very sweet wine, in my taste more for an after dinner drink. But the Yadkin Valley is home to several wineries that produce some excellent, dry wines which my wife and I had the opportunity to sample just last week. For our trip we picked the Shelton Winery in Dobson NC. The drive there was beautiful with a view of Pilot Mountain that I never imagined. Nature at its best, we drove the roads that led us to our hotel just outside the grounds of the winery. Greeted by a very friendly staff, we got into our room about three hours early, dropped our bags and headed to the winery for lunch.
The Harvest Grill is located about 2 miles from the hotel. The food was good and very well prepared and the service was nice, friendly and attentive, but not doting or intrusive. We were visited by one of the local gray squirrels, but he left after I told our waitress that I was not buying his lunch. Hope I didn’t insult him too much there. After, we walked to the winery for a tasting. We were given a choice and each of us picked five wines and we were amazed at how good they were. The reds ranged from a lighter blend to a Merlot and a Cabernet while my white was a Sauvignon Blanc. My wife also sampled the Riesling. I do have to admit that I kind of prefer Italian wines, but also gravitate to other European wines. I also like to check out the Australian and New Zealand wines and even some from South America. But never have I even considered a wine from what is now my home state. Huge mistake.
I have to throw in a little history here. Briefly, the Shelton Winery was founded in 1999 by brothers Ed and Charlie Shelton on land formerly used for tobacco farming with the idea of bringing a new industry to the area. Set in a breathtaking area of the state, this winery has grown in stature. But this would not have been possible without a product. A good product. Any business can start with an idea. But it takes a commitment to quality to sustain and grow.
The Sauvignon Blanc was very crisp and refreshing with a nice bouquet and a very slight taste of apricot and mango. Light, straw colored in the glass, it is very inviting and pairs well with snacks like light cheeses and seafood. An excellent addition to any collection as a conversation starter and as a nice alternative at any gathering if for no other reason it is local.
The Cabernet Sauvignon, my personal favorite of the stay, is full bodied, deep red, bordering on purple with a strong scent. On the palate it is bold and flavorful with a distinct nod to black cherry and berries and even a hint of tobacco. A nice touch, possibly a tribute to the history and agricultural past of the area. This wine is a good drinking wine for those who like flavor. It is good alone or would pair very well with stews, good steaks or beef ribs. It has the ability to stand up for itself, to keep its integrity with or without a meal.
A visit to this area is an education. There are many wineries just a short distance away from each other, and a short drive from where we now live. My advice? If you can’t afford a trip to Europe or the Lands Down Under, this is an excellent alternative. Nice people, great scenery, good food and wine! As we say down south…”It don’t get no better than that.”
“Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep well, and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.” Medieval German Saying
For this writing we will remain on the European Continent and travel to the South Tyrol region of Italy. Annexed by The Kingdom of Italy just after World War I, this region was formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Situated in the Northeast, at the foot of the Dolomites in the Trentino-Alto Adige region it is the northernmost region in the country. Most of the 500,000 residents actually identify more with their historical Germanic roots and roughly 75% of the people speak German as their native language. The region was promised to Italy in the Treaty of London in 1915 as an incentive to enter the war on the side of the allies. Later, under the Fascist regime, a purge was attempted and German as a language was banished from public service, the teaching of the language was outlawed and all Germanic newspapers were banned except for the pro-fascist Alpenzeitung.
Forward now to wine-growing where climate and soil are major factors in the production and approach, and the wine grower is highly respected for his experience and knowledge. The vineyards of this winery’s 330 members are scattered along some sunny slopes which range from an altitude roughly 1350 to 2800 feet along the South Tyrolean Wine Road, a very famous road in the area. The grapes here enjoy a most precious natural gift of climate which provides a very wide temperature range. High daytime temperatures allow the perfect amount of sugars to accumulate inside the grape, while cool nights regulate their acidity by preventing early ripening. This natural process nurtures the fruit, drying it quickly after a rain which prevents any fungal infection, virtually eliminating the need for harsh chemicals. The soil originated from deposits during the glacial period. It has a low pH and because of the dense clay composition, it is only permeable to a relatively shallow depth, all of which aids in a very slow ripening process.
Wine production here is done in a very traditional manner. The grapes are harvested by hand, and first processed into steel tanks. The finished product is a pale straw green wine that is light on the palate as well as lightly aromatic. One can get the aroma of green apple and very soft pear with a little imagination, but mostly it appeals to the senses with its freshness. In a way, think back to a time when your mother hung the wash on the line on a sunny, breezy day. One of life’s great pleasures and even greater memories is the smell of those clothes. They just said “clean.” So too is the experience with this wine. It doesn’t smell like laundry, but there is a cleanliness, a freshness in the aroma that is unmistakable. On the palate the sensation is exactly the same. Light and airy, there is a softness to the feel. The flavor of the grape is dominant, but the freshness of the apple is also there. In all this is an excellent drinking wine during the long, hot days of summer as you sit outdoors, maybe reading or sunning yourself. What better way to enjoy an afternoon, soak up your vitamin D, and sip a cool wine either by yourself or with pleasant company. Enjoy it with light appetizers such as fresh mozzarella salad or a caprese salad with mozzarella, basil, tomato and some EVOO. As an alternative, try using some raspberry infused vinegar over the tomato. Dreams are made of this!
With an alcohol content of 13.5%, this wine is drinking very well now, but can also be well stored for another 3-4 years. But then, why wait. Enjoy it now and pick up a spare bottle. Fortunately for us, this wine is readily available here. I found it in a small wine store in Carolina, but I have also seen it in on-line stores. And if you consider that James Suckling gave it a 91 rating, you can place yourself in some rather elegant company. This will become a favorite if you appreciate a dry, white wine with some character. A wine with history and pride behind it.
This edition moves us to a different land, almost in fact a different world. Instead of a European wine, this wine comes from our neighbors to the south. The land of the Gaucho. The land where the Tango was born. The home of Evita Peron. The land where steak, good steak, is not only a staple, but a meat that is necessary to existence. And wine. Good, hearty wines that complement not only a meal, but a lifestyle.
Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world, but 90% of it never leaves the country. These people truly believe that wine goes with everything whether you are going out for dinner or a date, or staying home alone, or getting together with friends. The order here seems to be wine, followed by strong coffee and back to wine. Not a bad life if I do say so myself!
Founded in 1993 this winery has become one of the most important producers in all of South America, producing such varietals as Chardonnay, Syrah and Malbec. Its name is derived from its native surroundings, “Moras” meaning mulberry trees. So this is a very unique location in that the grapes, the fruit of the vine, are nestled within a range of mulberries. Under the guidance of renowned viticulturalist Richard Smart the winery has the capacity to produce a total of about 2.5 million barrels per year in its modern, temperature controlled facility.
The city of San Juan, the home of this winery, is located in a very fertile valley within a rocky, mountainous area. The climate is best compared to that of a desert because of the long, very hot summers where a temperature of 116 degrees is not uncommon. In fact, the only thing you may never see in this region is a cloud because it is sunny and warm virtually every day. Winters may see the temperature go down to the mid to high 30’s, but this is for a very short time during the year. But this region does manage to produce some very fine wines, solid and distinct, and very consistently bold.
Malbec is a very interesting wine. Celebrated for bold flavor yet supple texture, it has become a South American favorite. The grape originated in Bordeaux, France where it was normally used to contribute color and tannins to wine. At one point, it was grown in so many areas in the country that it was actually known by more than 1000 names! This “black wine” of France was once the favorite of Russian tsars. But as time went on, the grape almost disappeared because it was too sensitive to the wet and cold weather in much of the country so it was kind of pushed aside. It was brought to Argentina in 1868 where it was thought to be a natural in the higher altitude landscape. It didn’t take long for it to be established and flourish in the warmer climate. Today, more than 70% of the world’s Malbec is produced on the South American continent and is considered to be the champion of Argentine wines.
This is just a very beautiful glass of wine. Very deep and dark purple in the glass which sends out a rainbow as the sun hits it. Full of flavor, this is a robust, full bodied wine that hits the palate hard and strong. The look and the aroma give way to a flavor that lets you know what Malbec is all about. It is made to go along with a well cooked steak or beef ribs, both staples of its native country. Let it sit for at least one hour before pouring and notice the strength as you swirl it around the glass. This is an excellent wine, and at this price point, right around $14, an even better value. It is drinking very well now but certainly will improve given a little more time. Be patient if you so desire but I do recommend it now.
Alcohol – 13.5%
Cobbia is a fish, which in itself was a revelation to me because I had never heard of it until very recently. I think I ordered it once when my wife and I went out for dinner, but I can’t really be sure. When it comes to fish I normally stick to what I’ve heard of, so figure flounder, trout and the like along with shellfish are usually the extent of my marine adventures.
Cobbia is a fish (yes know I repeated that) more commonly known as ling or lemonfish, but also called black salmon or black kingfish. It is a long spindly fish with a top weight of about 180 pounds and a length of about 72 inches, so it is by no means a small fish. It is brown in color, fading to a white underbelly with smooth rather small scales. Its fins actually give it the appearance of a small shark. It is normally a solitary animal but may congregate in small groups during spawning. Living among reefs, wrecks, buoys and the like it is native to warm Atlantic waters, the Caribbean and off the coasts of India and Australia. Closer to home though, it will winter in the Gulf of Mexico and migrate later in the season as far north as Massachusetts. It will feed on crabs, squid and smaller fish, but will also trail turtles and sharks to scavenge. Conversely, it is also a tasty dinner for larger fish like sharks and mahi-mahi.
It has become popular here because it is a very meaty fish with white, flavorful flesh which is delicate, yet very sustaining. Much thicker than say a flounder or even a salmon, portions tend to be smaller in restaurants, but again, filling enough to leave you satisfied. I found it recently at a local market. It looked fresh, being almost an eggshell white color, so I decided to give it a shot. The recipe I tried was very simple…
1 pound of fish, split longways in half
Lemon, capers, some white wine (a citrusy type)
Salt, a few grape tomatoes
Combine the lemon, capers, flour and wine in a small bowl. Add enough flour to form a loose paste.
Lay the fish on a baking sheet. Pour the mixture over the fish and let it sit for about 15 minutes or so before cooking. This will allow the meat to absorb all the marinade.
Slice a few grape tomatoes and place onto the fish. Salt to taste
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and serve immediately.
You will notice right away that this is not a flaky fish but rather more the texture of a steak, so it will not be sufficient to cut into it with a fork. Use a knife and be sure to sop up all of the marinade. Oh, and while I think of it, use a good wine. Never, ever cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink. I used Venica Jesera, one of our favorites.
So, there you have it. A culinary masterpiece you can create in your kitchen. Simple and easy. But be warned. If you serve it to guests, when you tell them it is COBBIA, be prepared to hear, “What?” You may have to repeat it and then explain.
Served with a good Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio, this will become a Friday night favorite as it has here. Enjoy it!
Today is Memorial Day in this country. A time to think back and pay service to those who served and gave their lives so we may live this life, here, in America. So many brave men and women who gave their lives. So much of our youth, our children who chose to defend this country and the world from dictators and tyranny. They deserve more than a day. They earned and deserve our undying respect and loyalty. They did while others talked. They served while others feasted. They died while some denied or even laughed.
There are still over 1500 American soldiers listed as “missing” in Viet Nam.7600 American soldiers have that same status in Korea and better than 76,000 Americans are still unaccounted for who served in WWII.
Take a minute today. Hit your knees and thank them. All of them. They died. And they deserve no less than your gratitude. They never asked for it though.
Today is a good day. A time for reflection, thinking and remembrance. Take a moment today or tomorrow, the official holiday, to remember the reason for the day. Hot dogs and hamburgers aside, this is a day to remember those who made and still make it possible.
We should never take this for granted. This country is a gift, an experiment and the longest lasting nation of its kind. Conceived in liberty and fed by faith, this country has so much going for it. Remember. And be grateful. And may God hold us all in the palm of His mighty hand.
“Fattoria Fibbiano: two souls, one heart”
When you talk about Italian wines the conversation will always trend to the Area of Tuscany. Aside from its beauty, this part of Italy is steeped in history and tradition, legend and a true passion for life, love and wine. Some of the finest and most enjoyed wines in the world come from this region due mainly to this respect and admiration for the finer things, while also nodding to a simple life that features hard work blended with a peaceful coexistence with nature and a love of good foods.
The Fibbiano winery typifies the entire first paragraph. It is actually one of the smaller wineries in Italy, occupying only 90 hectares (about 235 acres), situated on a hillside bordered by two streams between the Pisa and Volterra and overlooking the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Right there one can almost feel the lifestyle which is the envy of so many. This is a family run business and has been since 1997 with father, Giuseppe, dealing with the general management of the farm overseeing the vineyards and the countryside. Sons, Matteo and Nicola are in charge of marketing and winemaking, respectively (and respectfully). With ideal weather and a soil rich in fossil shells and clay, the vines are able to grow naturally, with little if any man made intervention thereby respecting all the finer properties of the fruit.
As with most Italian regions, this one is also filled with legend. On the grounds of the farm you will find the “Fonte delle Donne,” (fountain of women). Legend has it that centuries ago, a farmer had a cow who had calves but could not give milk. (I guess she was an udder failure. Wink, wink). One day he took her to drink from these waters which were milky white, probably from the minerals flowing in it. The farmer was amazed at how her udders suddenly filled with milk. As the farmer told his story the legend grew and farmers brought their cows to drink from these same waters. As time passed, the miracle water was given to women with the same problem as well as others hoping for a miracle cure. Stories like this make me love being Italian!
Grapes are harvested by hand and wine production follows a centuries old method which involves pressing and initial fermentation with skins. This method allows them to limit the yeasts normally used during this process as the skins themselves do most of that work. This is followed by malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks for ten days with much of the alcoholic fermentation taking place from indigenous yeasts living on the skin, followed by twelve months in wooden barrels and finished off with at least four months in the bottle.
The finished product is a very well balanced wine with a wonderful, fully robust flavor. Deep, ruby red in color with an aroma of just a few light spices. It is dry on the palate with a very slight taste of cherries and maybe blackberries. Made from 70% Sangiovese and 30% Colorino grapes, this is a wine to be thoroughly enjoyed and is actually best on its own. Although it is a red, made in the Tuscan style, it is light enough to enjoy during the hot summers when maybe a Pinot or a Sauvignon seems more appropriate. This wine is a little more versatile that some other from the region in that it is a bit lighter, but the color makes it seem just the opposite. Some decanting time, about two hours or so, will do it more justice, although it is actually fine right out of the bottle. Decanting is a process, in my mind, that recalls the part of the prayer, “…And lead us not into temptation…” But with the light’s reflection and the warm aroma, this wine will arouse curiosity, and the temptation just naturally follows.
Le Pianette is an excellent weeknight wine with a dinner of pasta, possibly Sunday’s leftovers, stews or pizza. As an appetizer it pairs very well with mild cheeses like a chunk of parmesan, or even bolder tasting cheese like locatelli. If you are willing to experiment though, I am sure you will find that it will also complement grilled meats and sausages.
Worth mentioning too is the winery is open for tours and vacations. Interesting to note here is, the rooms are located in what once was the wine cellar. The old cellar dating back to the 1800’s now houses two apartments, an office and a shop.