Those of you who have been reading and following this blog (thank you, by the way) have already gotten the impression that I am still pretty much a novice when it comes to wines and that. In my own mind, I know what I like, what I don’t, what to recommend and what to hold off on. There are so many reasons to pick a certain bottle of wine over another starting from the label design and ranging all the way out to where it is from, the type, color, vintner and recommendations from sources far more expert than I. But what is it about a bottle of wine that makes it so personal, so subjective, so intimate?
Wine has been around for a very long time, most probably created accidentally by early man when he first became domesticated and took up farming. It is believed by some researchers that the whole process began when our ancestors bagged and hung some ancient berries so that animals would not get at them. As the berries broke down and produced liquid, it would gradually ferment and voila! Wine was born. As production and storage methods progressed, modernized and sanitized, the product became a little more intricate, a little more civilized and more widely used. At one time wine was even used as currency. Imagine that if you can.
But how did things get so complicated. Everyone knows the adage of, “White with fish, red with meat.” But where did that come from and more importantly, is it still true? How do you know what’s inside a bottle, what flavors and aromas are predominant. Well, hopefully, I can maybe clear it up a little for you and give you the benefit of my findings.
My most important reason for picking a wine is, is it sweet or dry. I have to say, I will never knowingly pick a sweet wine simply because I don’t like it. It’s a personal preference, but I don’t really care much for anything too sweet. I remember that a friend of mine gave me a bottle of chocolate wine once a long time ago. I tried it, as did my wife. One sip. ONE. That was all it took. The drain was treated to the rest. Wine is made from fruit, grapes mostly. But as we become more adventurous we have begun to mix it up a little, adding other berries like cherries, blackberries and on and on to create a new taste sensation. And the combinations can be interesting and very good. But avoiding too much sugar, which is a necessary ingredient, is so important. So for my taste, go dry, or go home.
A very important consideration also is the country or state of origin. Washington, Oregon and other U.S. states now produce great wines. At one time North Carolina was a major producer so really no state can be ignored in your search. Wine is produced all over the world and in so many countries that I never thought of putting out an excellent product. Italy, in my mind the most famous and the home of arguably the best in the world, is joined not only by France (I think they make wine there), but Germany, Greece, Austria and others in the pursuit of the perfect vine, the best blending and fermentation. Each country has its own flavor, its own tradition. Each country caters to the taste and the lifestyle of its people while giving a slight nod to the outside world if the wine is to be exported.
Now, let’s be honest. If I think the bottle is ugly or if it just doesn’t appeal to me, I’m not buying it. That simple. Yes, it’s a personal thing, but I like a simple label, one that I can read without getting too confused or without getting a headache looking at so many different colors and images that I lose interest. Sometimes I almost feel that a too busy, too ornate label can hide an inferior product.
Now, I am again begging here for honesty. So put pride aside and admit it, price is a major factor. Think of wine as a comfort food. Or maybe an experience that makes you comfortable, or brings you to a comfortable state. Why then would you spend an amount that gives you a queasy feeling. Oh sure maybe for a very special occasion, but under ordinary circumstances, know your price range. I have had some of the expensive wines, some costing over $100. Just the idea was amazing to me. But, and this is a big but, I have also had wines in the $12 to $20 range which I can say are excellent and even in some cases compare favorably in every category. Cost is an important factor in life and in wine, it is no exception.
And so, the final consideration, red or white. Whites are clear, sophisticated, clean and crisp. They also tend to be a little lighter. While the flavors of fruits and citrus are delightful and thirst quenching, a pinot grigio or a sauvignon blanc begs for a second glass if only for those reasons. The reds in general are bolder, darker and more mysterious simply by the nature of their color. A good sangiovese or burgundy adds more to the beauty of a finely set table than anything. Reds are better to decant, again due to the color which makes them stand out more. You may have noticed that I left out rose. That is because I very rarely go there because, even though it tastes fine, it kind of reminds me of a wishy-washy pick. The one you make when you can’t make up your mind. But by all means try one. They can be magnificent!
Wine is a great thing, one of man’s better inventions. It gives us pleasure on so many different levels from the bottle to the glass and ultimately, to the palate. Picking one should be a learning experience, one that will stay with you like your times tables or your memories of your favorite things. Advice? Pick one. Try it and move on. There are so many to choose from and eventually you will find a favorite, a go-to bottle that you will proudly share and serve. Meanwhile, it’s a great ride! Think of it as a liquid amusement park!
“A golden color gives way to an indescribable experience.”
Pinot Grigio is a pretty zesty type of wine which is characterized by a pale light, straw like yellow color, sometimes almost clear, with a bouquet and taste of citrus, lemon lime and sometimes a touch of green apple. One of the most popular white sold in America, it is second only to chardonnay in sales volume, it is light and smooth, almost silky and perfect as a sipping wine on a hot day, a wonderful replacement for something like, say, lemonade.
Right from the opening of the bottle this is not your typical pinot grigio. The arome embedded in the natural cork enters your nostrils almost immediately with a very clean, fresh finish the likes of which is difficult to either find or describe. The deep amber color, closer to a copper, is also a remarkable difference for a wine known for clarity. No mistaking the golden hues, this is a beautiful wine to behold.
Interesting to note here is that the grape from which this wine is produced is actually a grayish-pink color, maturing closer to purple, which accounts for the deeper color of this particular product. The Venica family winery was established in 1930 by Daniele, grandfather of the current owners, Gianni and Giorgio. Over time respect for the land, for tradition, has been the driving force in their quest to produce the finest wines in smaller quantities. With production normally limited to around 150,000 bottles per year, it remains a smaller, but highly prestigious winery. As I have stated in the past, they produce something of which their grandfather would approve, and of which he would be very proud.
It is also worth mentioning that the winery is alive, featuring resort accommodations along with tours and tastings to supplement everyday activities like golf, luxurious rooms and food as well as art and the history of the region. Wine tastings are a daily event and an adventure all their own, wine is the central feature, the family’s pride and their movement to the future. The pinot grigio possesses a richer flavor than most of its counterparts so it does pair well with white fish as well as it does with richer shellfish. It will also stand up to stronger cheeses like Locatelli or a well-aged Romano which is a lot more common here.
Rewards for this wine are many and varied. In 2019 “Civilta del Bere” dedicated to the top wineries awarded it the title of “Simply the Best,” while also receiving praise from reviewers here in The States like Bloomberg and The Washington Post. In 2018 Vivino’s Wine Style Awards voted Venica as one of the top 5% of wines in the world. Normally priced at about $25, this is an exceptional value and an exceptional wine and will find an honored place at your table anytime.
“Home is Where the Wine is”
If you read the label, Tavernello Vino Rosso is the #1 selling wine in Italy. Yes, it is plain as day, written in black letters on a golden background, displayed on a mildly ornate label. This is traditionally described as a true “Vino di Tavola,” or table wine. Now in recent years, this type of wine has lost some favor on the “boot” primarily due to stricter winemaking and labeling laws in Italy, but has nothing to do with the actual quality of the wine. In fact, throughout the 1980’s and 90’s table wine tended to be more expensive. Some wines bearing this classification that came from Tuscany, the premier winemaking region in Italy, later came to be known under the newly-created label of “Super-Tuscans.” Because it is a true table wine its origins are not traced and it contains many different types of grapes from various vintages.
I think it is important to note that Tavernello wine is a product of the Caviro wine cooperative of Italy. Begun in 1966 in Emilia-Romagna, the cooperative has steadily grown since and currently enhances 12800 wine growers in 7 Italian provinces and accounts for 10% of all the grapes harvested in Italy. This is the largest winery in Italy. Now, this position entrusts this winery with a responsibility of creating and producing blended wines of all types and distributing a high quality product worldwide.
Tavernello Vino Rosso is a light tasting wine with a good aroma and excellent flavor which rivals much more expensive blends. It does have a slightly fruity taste, but most of all the taste of the grape is prevalent, and this is the basis of all winemaking. It is a dry wine with no room for sweetness with a satisfying flavor and a nice bouquet which again can rival many more expensive wines. In fact, if you are a newcomer to wine tasting this would be an excellent place to start. In the glass it is a delightful purple to red color with light but distinct tannins which will not concern any drinker of this wine.
Because it is a blend of grapes from all over the cooperative it is hard to really say this wine compares to say a sangiovese or a chianti. It is much lighter than those cousins and, again because of blending, caters to a very different audience. As a table wine it is expected to enhance the flavor of the meal rather than to be noticed on its own. Frankly, it does that very well. To me, it is an unremarkable blend, but enjoyable just the same. Apparently many people in its homeland agree, as it has been a favorite for over 30 years now.
Now for the kicker. This wine is available in many wine stores, markets and on-line at an average price of about $6. Yes, $6. Not a typo. That is probably another reason that it remains so popular. But don’t be fooled by the price. Again, this is a table wine, meant to be drunk with a meal and it does mesh well with beef, pork or a weekday marinara sauce. To drink on its own as an aperitif it is probably a little too light and would not really do well. Then again, considering the price, if wine drinking is new to you it may be the perfect lead in to stronger, bolder tasting wines.
“Il vino dal Tralcetto” (The wine from Tralcetto”)
Bolognano is a small town in the Abruzzo region of Italy housing a tiny region within known as Tralcetto. Although many people know this it bears repeating that this region produces about the finest table wines in the world. The climate, the topography all lend themselves to winemaking. But even more so, it is the love of the finished product, the pride in ownership and craftsmanship and an occasional bow to tradition which makes wines from this part of the “boot” so consistently delicious. Cantina Zaccagnini is no exception. Started in 1978 as a family business this winery has seen a dramatic growth ever since.
Now, I admit that I do have a certain fondness for the reds as my preference lies there. But at this time of year I will take an occasional foray into the whites simply because they are a little lighter not only in color and appearance, but in taste, and this is certainly no exception. Sometimes it is a little tougher to think of, say a chianti, as being refreshing. But with a white, a pinot grigio or a sauvignon blanc, the color, the look alone just beckons, and dares a thirst to linger. And in this case, don’t let the appearance mislead. There is plenty of flavor and body to this wine. A very distinct finish of citrus, especially lemon with a slight hint of melon will leave you very well satisfied. This is a well balanced wine with a crisp, refreshing finish. Not sweet, but with just enough tartness due to the influence of the citrus. But make no mistake, this is a dry white wine in the vein of a true pinot grigio.
And talk about tradition.The bottle is a classic design with a distinctively special touch in that each bottle has a piece of its vine tied to it. The wine is made from grapes harvested from a single vineyard just outside the town of Pescara, on the Adriatic side of Italy about 30 miles or so from the shore. There, the estate of Ciccio Zaccagnini is managed by Marcello Zaccagnini, the director of the operation,who together with his master winemaker Concezio Marulli, have modernized the operation but sticking with the traditional side to produce a consistently fine product. Again, bowing to tradition and adding to the character of the wine, the total experience if you will, as I mentioned above, each bottle is adorned with the “tralcetto,” a small piece of the vine around its neck.
Cantina Zaccagnini also does produce a red wine which is also excellent. More about that in a later article. For now, it is this pinot grigio which deserves high praise in every phase, the appearance of the bottle and label, the design and shape of the bottle, the added touch of the tralcetto and the clarity of the finished product. I find this to be a delightful wine in a moderate price range, around $15. Remember, it is not the price of the wine which gives it the flavor. It is the quality of the grape, the expertise and care in blending, the nod to tradition and value. You can easily spend so much more and be well satisfied. Of course, there is a huge difference between a Lamborghini and a Corvair, but the difference involves a lot more than price. It is more important to bow to a preference and what makes you comfortable. The experience of wine tasting should be enjoyable from purchase to recycling the bottle.
So, pair this wine with grilled chicken or delicate fish. Enjoy it with your favorite pasta dishes. Or be bold enough to try it on its own. The experience will be totally your own, and I can almost guarantee an exceptional one.
Originally founded in 1840 by Jean Lefebvre, a barrel maker by trade, Maison Simonnet-Febvre is a very traditional Chablis winery and one of the largest in the area. Now, when I say that it is a Chablis winery I am speaking not only of the type of wine produced, but also of the region of France. This is the northernmost wine district of the Burgundy region. While most wine produced here is chablis this family has chosen to excel not only there, but has also produced a sauvignon blanc which is also excellent.
While chablis is made from 100% chardonnay grapes, this sauvignon blanc is pressed from 100% sauvignon, making it a rarity. Sauvignon blanc is really produced in every wine-producing country in the world, but the French version, the original shall we say, is very different from that produced elsewhere. New Zealand, another excellent producer places much more of an emphasis on citrus, adding a more fruity taste, while its French counterpart is a little bolder, with more emphasis on tartness and clarity. This wine is practically see-through, very light in color, even slightly green, and that leads you to expect a very light, pale taste. But after a short decanting period, this wine delivers much more than that. You will first notice a wonderful bouquet, almost bordering on clean air. But the taste, while not sour, will make you pucker up a bit as it flows through your palate and rests for a second. More than a slight hint of lemon and citrus permeates.
Great care and planning goes into this process, beginning with the vines which are an average of 25 years old. This alone shows good planning and a commitment to a product. Clay and limestone soil, predominant in the area also contributes to a more consistent taste and is even bolstered with the use of ground oyster shells. After harvesting the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks for 6-8 months at a temperature between 60 and 65 degrees, then aged for 1 to 3 years.
This is a very new wine to me which I ordered only because it looked different and seemed to have some semblance of a history. Since its founding in 1840 it has grown by acquiring parts of this pristine wine making region, totalling just over nine acres. In 2003 it was taken over by Maison Louis Latour who completely modernized the process, adding it to the 125 acres already owned and bringing in new, more sustainable stainless steel barrels.
I have paired this wine so far with a Chilean sea bass and it worked perfectly. The buttery texture of the fish, meaty yet delicate, coupled with the natural flavors of lemon and citrus made for an excellent experience. I would also recommend it with trout, flounder or any other white fish. Unfortunately, anything with a stronger flavor, say shrimp or lobster may overpower this wine so I would keep it simple. Enjoying it on its own as an aperitif is probably that for which it is best suited.
I would rate this wine at a serious 9 out of an unattainable 10 grapes. light, delicate and flavorful, I am certain it will satisfy. Look for it in the $12-$15 range.
“Memories are made of this” Dean Martin
“Penicillin cures. But wine makes you happy” unknown
It is said that time marches on, that time and tide wait for no man. There are so many sayings about the passage of time that it would take a lifetime to research and write about only half of them. Times change. And along with that, attitudes, mores and tastes also change. This is very true of the wine about which I am going to write. This is one of the first wines I tried when I decided to take more notice of what I was drinking. It is still one of my favorites and with all the other wines I’ve tried it is still held in pretty high regard.
Founded in 1981 by Gianni Masciarelli this has become one of the most admired wineries in all of Italy. With an emphasis on sustainability and actually reducing yields, Gianni brought what he learned in his studies in France to the Abruzzo region of Italy where he changed much of the thinking related to grape growing and wine production. By melding traditional methods with a more modern and ecologically correct method he created a new, higher standard of both quality and depth
Now, let me say this because it is a real focal point of my belief. Abruzzo is a premier grape growing region in Italy for reasons as varied as they can be. I have told people, including my sons that a wine that has the words “Montepulciano D’Abruzzo” on the label will be good, consistent, and a wine you can count on. Geographically, it is located in central Italy, mostly along the Adriatic in the west, but smaller parts of it extend into the Apennine Mountains. Temperatures, even in the hottest months rarely rise above the upper 80’s and those months tend to be very dry. But the nights cool down quite a bit and so it raises humidity during the overnight. All of this leads to a grape which matures quickly with flavor sealed inside by a rich hearty skin.
As I said above, sustainability is a main focus of this family owned winery. Great care is taken with yearly planting and preservation of existing fields so that the product can really replicate itself. What you will notice most about Masciarelli wine is that from bottle to bottle, year to year and glass to glass it remains the same. A rich, ruby red color, slightly acidic taste and beautiful tannins are all trademarks and a source of family pride. Through the years the family has made it a practice to acquire some top vineyards throughout the region and now is the only producer in Abruzzo to own land in all four provinces and with 100% estate production. Again, this ensures not only quality, but also consistency, and this is what draws people to this product. As I have so often said in the past, if you can produce a product of which your grandfather would be proud, you have achieved something great. And although this is a relative newcomer, Masciarelli has established itself as a premier winery in the region, in the country and around the world. With that in mind, consider this, the winery headquarters are located in San Martino sulla Marrucina, in the province of Chieti, in the house that Gianni took over from his grandfather. The cellars below this house are the original ones in which he vinified his first vintages. That is not only a nod to tradition, that is a living tradition!
Like most Italian reds, this is a very rich-tasting wine, but does have a little lighter side than say a chianti. It is best paired with red meat, beef or pork, but stands up well to more gamey fare like wild boar or goat. This is also a wine that I like to share with neighbors and friends as we sit outside on a sunny North Carolina day and solve all the problems of the civilized world. Like most reds, it would benefit from decanting for about 20 minutes before drinking, but since this is wine, it is made to be sipped, so it can get enough time in the glass so that it decants itself. This is wine made from the finest grapes, and that is what you can taste. While you can get the taste of maybe some berries if you have a good imagination, and maybe a slightly smoky aroma, it takes no imagination at all to see that grape is dominant here.
An average price for this wine is right around $12-$14 which is a little on the high side. I prefer to see it at the $12 price where it can really stand out from its competition. Either way, keep in mind that this wine we’re talking about here and at any price range you can find a good, drinkable wine that you can really sit back and enjoy. Personally, I have never really found a good reason to break the bank on a bottle of wine simply because of the name or its country of origin. A good, value priced wine is just that. And although value is a personal thing, an affordable wine, a wine within your own price range only adds to your personal enjoyment.
So for this, fire up the grill and throw on some NY strip steaks or a porterhouse. Smoke the ribs, relax and enjoy.
So, okay. That is not what this is going to be about but apparently, if you’re still reading I did manage to catch your eye!. Well, time marches on. We do get older, or “progress” if you will and the foibles of old age catch up to us and rear some rather ugly heads. But it’s not all bad. In fact it can actually be kind of fun if you keep an open mind and your sense of humor. So now, let’s explore. Let’s talk about some of the happenings we go through as we move through life’s journey.
MOVIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
Isn’t it amazing how we can compare some of today’s movies to those of our youth. Remember going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon? It took years to realize that dad gave us the money so he could get us out of the house and have some “alone” time with mom. I am actually old enough to remember two movies, a DOUBLE feature, coming attractions and a cartoon. We were busy all afternoon. I can remember that horror movies were always my favorite so films like “The Blob,” or any Dracula movie were always on my list. I remember a movie called “The Atomic Submarine” an old-time horror flick about aliens invading. (Never saw this one on the Turner Classic channel) Our heroes were all virile, strong and tough men who never lost a fight and always got the girl. And the girls were all the kind who were beautiful and helpless but brave enough to put themselves in harm’s way by having a job on a spaceship or something like that.
Was there ever a decade like the 60’s or the 70’s. I was lucky enough to straddle the both of them so I grew up able to appreciate Elvis and his influence, the Beatles and the change from Rock ‘n Roll to Rock music. The British invasion, the American response with great groups like the Beachboys and real singers. Guys like Jackie Wilson who had probably the greatest voice and range of all time, Sam Cooke who had a sound that could only be compared to silk and Bobby Darin who actually abandoned a Rock ‘n Roll career, switched to standards and gave us “Mack the Knife” a real classic. Women like Dusty Springfield who left us way too soon, Etta James and of course Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. Not too long ago I remember watching a TV show about Divas with Mariah Carey, Celine Deion and a few other women. Aretha was also there and stole the show. Can you honestly compare those women and lots of others to the female acts of today. Take away the glitz, the explosions and the other nonsense and you have a bunch of club singers who would be excellent where they are, in some tucked away nite club, and that’s about it. I guess that makes me appreciate what my parents used to tell me about my music versus theirs, which included Sinatra, Crosby and the rest. All in all though I was lucky enough to grow up during an age of music that we may never see again. An age that even my kids can, and do, appreciate.
Being Italian and growing up in a large family you got used to certain things. First of all, Sunday dinner was for the family and was never missed. It took hours to get through and involved course after course of great food prepared by everyone. Yes, everyone, even the men had some hand in preparing Sunday dinner. Second, when it came to family, everyone was your family. Uncles, aunts, cousins. You weren’t necessarily related by blood, but they were your family anyway. I was in my teens when I found out that Uncle so and so wasn’t REALLY my uncle or Aunt Linda was just a neighbor who was always around, lived on our street or was somehow tied to us. Remember “It Takes a Village?” Not exactly a new concept. But those days are pretty much gone now because families are torn apart for careers. A career can really take you from one part of the country to another, or even farther. Unfortunately that means that we may not have the influence or the contact that we want.
Now, this is where we separate the haves from the have nots. See, memories are funny because over the years we edit them. We can remember the good ones but even some of the bad ones have a humorous or some other redeeming side that makes them pleasurable to us. The friends, the games we played, the old neighborhood are all wrapped up in small caverns in our minds and thought about frequently, told and retold to our kids and grandkids.
But, on the flip side, don’t ever confuse memories with memory. Walking into a room and just turning around and leaving because you forgot why you went there in the first place may not be common, but it happens often enough. And in my case, with my memory, I’ll bet my wife has a word in mind and common doesn’t come close.
There are many adventures we face as we age. As we move forward into what I used to call the Geritol for lunch bunch there are changes and things to which we must adapt. I admit it’s not all pleasant though. Little things like the aches and pains, stiff joints and blurry eyes are all part of the process. But then there’s the good stuff and most of it is good.
We can look back at our lives and see some mistakes, some regrets. But we can realize that we overcame them. We can see ourselves as a block or a base upon which we built our children and family. We can relate to our own lives, then look at our kids and our grandkids and see the future. Would we trade that? Never. We can tell them tales of what it was like when we were young. Tell them stories about our adventures and how we lived, how we really did walk to school, and look at the wonder in their eyes, while we wonder if they believe us or not. We can look at our spouse, in my case my wife of 45 years and see that the love of my life, really is the love of my life.
So, what happens when the raisin bran doesn’t work? I don’t know. But I do know that a life is meant to be lived, to be treasured, to be shared. We all give something to this planet and that is what keeps it going. That, my friends, is what is known as the good life, the life worth living. Add some spice to it, some good wine, good food and good company and you build a legacy.
Anne Marie… What’s for breakfast?
FROM ARGENTINA, THE LAND OF THE GAUCHO!
“If you have a tail of straw, then keep away from the fire.”
“No woman can make a wise man out of a fool, but every woman can change a wise man into a fool.”
At the foot of the Andes Mountains, the mountain range in Argentina which is a continuation of our own Rockies, in the region of Mendoza, there is a winery which has been operating for over 100 years. Alamos Winery has been able to harness the best of the region’s varied climate and produce a wine which is comparable to many priced much higher. A tradition of family values and modern techniques, coupled with a blending process and a firm commitment, are the forces driving this family to produce such a quality product.
Because of its location, Alamos winery has been able to take advantage of a climate which features warm to hot desert-like conditions during the day, and frosty cold temps at night. The hot, direct sunlight provides for a quick ripening grape while the colder nights sort of trap the sweetness and tartness together inside the skin of the fruit. Add to this incredibly, clean air and pure mountain water and you have all the makings of a superior product. The area, Mendoza, produces many fine vintages and has become the premier area for winemaking in South America.
Alamos Malbec is a very simple wine with straightforward flavors and a smooth, rich texture. Malbec is known primarily for its deep color and fruity yet dry taste and Alamos Malbec is no exception. The entire production is overseen by Lucia Vaieretti who grew up in the region and still calls it her home. She is an experienced vintner educated at Don Bosco, the highest rated school of viticulture on the continent. Blending the flavors of the natural grape with plum and black cherries and adding to its aroma a hint of cocoa gives this wine a unique charge not found elsewhere. This is a very drinkable wine with ample rewards. While decanting would be a good idea as the open air will give the liquid a chance to rest, it is not necessary. It will stand up to a re-corking if necessary and will not lose a bit of flavor.
I have found this wine to be very available in a variety of stores here in North Carolina and on line as well. Because of this and because I think that at about $11 a bottle it is an excellent value, it has become a favorite of mine as well as of my wife. You see, and this is only my opinion of course, wine is primarily the product of a winemaker coupled with nature. If the natural ingredients are pure and used well, and the process is followed properly, it is really hard to go wrong. Now, it is just as easy to produce an inferior product, say with too much sweetness or with a poor aging process. But when the ingredients are good and your hard work is evident, it is just as easy to produce a product of which, as I so often say, your grandfather would be proud. If you are a fan of malbec then you know what I mean. And if you are a fan of wine, good, drinkable wine, you can appreciate the value a good wine will bring to your table.
This is a hearty tasting wine as its color and bouquet would indicate. It will pair very well with say beef ribs. Argentina, remember, always has and still does, have a true love affair with beef. In fact some of the richest beef in the world is raised here. Feeding on a diet of natural grass produces a cut that is rich in natural flavor and juices, higher in fatty acids and lower in cholesterol than grain fed cattle. With such a rich flavor and texture, Argentinians need a wine that has the verve to stand up to and add to the enjoyment of a truly good steak. But, this wine is also a good outdoor sipping wine. Sitting outside on the patio on a little cooler day, this wine would go very well with some dried sausage or chorizo, or perhaps a strong cheese. But make no mistake. This wine will stand perfectly on its own as you relax and enjoy a book or take in some sun.
As I said, this wine is readily available here in North Carolina both in stores and on line. So If we can get it here, I’m pretty sure it would be easy to find all over the country. At any rate it is well worth looking for. And if you’ve never heard of it, I think you will be very pleased as you foray into the great wine-unknown. I would rate this wine a 9.0 out of an unattainable 10 for flavor, appearance and value.
Anne Marie! Wait. What did you say? Friends are coming over for wine? Oh well. There goes that bottle.
Wine from the land of Edelweiss? The Sound of Music’s von Trapp Family? The birthplace of Hedy Lamarr? Are you kidding?
No. Not kidding at all. This wine, a real find for me, is said to be Vienna at its finest. It is complex and rare and will grace any table.
When I began this column I knew that I had a definite comfort zone, wines and foods that I liked or disliked for a variety of reasons. Growing up in a family that put an importance on that part of life was an education in itself. My grandparents believed that “to eat is to live,” and as they told more than once, I lived to eat! But in that environment, you developed an appreciation for the foods, for the drink, and more importantly for the time spent with family, eating, talking and just passing the day. But we were set in our ways. By that I mean, for example, Sunday gravy was consistent and whatever came after the macaroni was a bonus. Wine came from one source, which was actually about four blocks away, down someone’s basement. Any reference to anything but Italian wine is new, and an adventure for me.
Traditionally, Viennese vintners planted up to fifteen different grapes in one field at a time. The thinking here is that the early blending, actually beginning on the vines, added a flavor and a character found nowhere else. In this process, all the different grapes are grown and harvested together, then blended in a single barrel. Most other vintners in Europe prefer to grow a single grape in each field, then blend as seen fit according to the type of wine produced just before bottling.
Geographically, Wieninger grapes are grown in two locations which are separated by the Danube River. The winery itself is a family operation with 10 employees and has been producing internationally only since 1999. So to produce a wine of this quality in such a short period is a major accomplishment.
After a long cold winter spring comes suddenly to this region with temperatures rising sometimes 30 degrees during the course of a day. With this quick change the growing season is shortened and usually harvested around July. By then the grapes are plum and soft and mix well. As I said, each variety is harvested together, so the blending process has now begun in earnest. All of the grapes, grown in bio-certified vineyards, are gone through by hand so that only the prime fruit is used, thus ensuring a truly high quality product.
This winery is really a tribute to the old school, a family endeavor from end to end. Located in the hills just outside Vienna, the fields date back to a time when they were cultivated by the Romans. Fritz Wieninger grew up actually serving the wines his mother had made to both family and guests. He studied in California, but returned to Austria hoping to produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but soon saw the value of tradition and switched gears to his current products. Founded originally in the 18th century by Fritz’s great, great grandfather, winemaking duties were passed down until Fritz took control in 1987. In keeping with modern standards, the winery is operated with only the highest regard for nature and for sustainability. Truly with this winery tradition meets technology and this is evident throughout the winemaking process. As I have so often said, a family business only thrives when attention to detail is primary. If you can produce a product of which your grandfather would be proud, you have accomplished something. Production is limited to about 300000 barrels per year and exported to about 40 countries.
The flavor of this wine is just spectacular. Its acidity, a tinge of citrus and apple with a bouquet which immediately pleases all add up to a wonderful experience. Just the fact that this wine comes from out of my comfort zone, a region of which I never would have thought, adds up to an education and a new world. Even as a young wine it delivers a spicy character which complemented our meals,as a good wine should. We were a party of three and each order, turkey, scallops and pecan-crusted chicken breast, was uplifted to a unique dining experience. In its native Austria, it is usually paired with dark breads and light cheeses, but has also found favor with some pork sausages
Life can be great. It can be dull or it can be an adventure. There is something to be said for quiet time. That is time playing solitaire, time for reading, resting, relaxing. But there are times when adventure, a journey into the unknown is really needed. That is what keeps us going, keeps our mind and spirit working, our juices flowing. Vacations to unknown places, exploration into the unknown are needed to continue our life-long education. This wine was an adventure for me, and I think my wife and son felt the same. Europe is replete with fine wineries and has been for centuries so tasting a wine from an unexpected source does justice to it, as well engages our thirst for adventure, something new. So if the opportunity presents itself, I would urge you strongly to venture out, if you find this wine available near you, don’t hesitate. For myself, I would rate it a 9 out of an unattainable 10. (My apologies if I sound like a commercial.)
One thing that this quarantine situation has done for me at least is, it has shown me a much more adventurous side. Now I have always felt that as far as that goes I have a lot more guts than brains, and I have often been reminded of that from my earliest youth right up until now. Not that I am foolish or a daredevil, but I do feel that life is for the living and if I can’t do what I feel I need to, or to a lesser extent, what I want to, well, that is just not life. But when you do get adventurous at the age of 67 years your options are kind of limited. Sure I can take a walk. And OK, I can run, jog actually, and cover three miles or so in a decent time. I can paint the house, move furniture, have dabbled in cooking and found a pretty good variety of things to occupy my time. All this while also dealing with recuperating from prostate cancer, so I do keep busy. But adventure? What can I do to really stir up my colonial spirit, my drive, daring side. As far as that’s concerned, there will always be wine!
Although I do prefer Italian wines because of the varieties and consistent flavor, Europe in general produces great wines, probably the best in the world. Most likely that is due to the centuries old processes which are strictly adhered to and sometimes even government controlled. In particular, France is a country mostly known for producing and consuming champagne. In the movie “Gigi” there is a song with practically the entire cast singing “The Night They Invented Champagne,” which pretty much tells the story of how much and why the French love it so much. But in addition to champagne, France produces other very fine varieties, both red and white. Probably the most produced and consumed is Bordeaux, which the French seem to enjoy as the Italians do, say a Chianti or a Sangiovese.
In fact, Bordeaux, like Chianti, is named for the region in which it is produced. Located in southwestern France along the Garonne River,the city of Bordeaux is really the center of wine making in this country. Known mostly for its reds, which range from everyday table wines to some of the most expensive, this region also produces some sweeter wines and some excellent whites as well. In the mid-first century as Rome was expanding its influence to most of the known world, winemaking was introduced most probably by weary and homesick soldiers who now occupied and ruled over the region. As time went on and the Empire fell wine production remained as a staple industry and before long it began to be exported to England. Wine production grew over time, aided by the excellent environment for growing, and the soil, rich in limestone and calcium. This all leads me to my pick of the day as noted above, Chateau Bonnet Blanc.
The winery is owned and operated by a very distinguished family, the Lurtons, who trace their viticulture history back for hundreds of years. The patriarch, Leonce Recapet, acquired the Chateau Bonnet winery in 1897, actually in the midst of a plague which killed off many of the vines that winery was using. Now, the Recapets must have been an interesting bunch to say the least. Although fairly wealthy in their own right, a huge portion of their wealth came from their ability to marry into more wealthy families. Leonce himself married Emma Thibeaud and placed most of their winemaking hopes on their eldest son, Andre, who was later killed during WWI at the battle of Verdun. The family had to endure another setback, another tragedy when in 1934, their daughter Denise, then married to Francois Lurton, died in 1934 leaving 4 children. However, the grief-stricken family did manage to carry on and keep things going until Andre, Denise’s oldest, was able to take over.This wine is the product of a family which overcame the worst kind of adversity, the worst tragedy a family can face, that of seeing the youngest of them die first.
Blending Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle grapes in just the right proportions has produced a wine of which any family can be proud. Dry in the mouth with a pale yellow color, this is the perfect white to decant as its beauty only intensifies as afternoon sunlight shines through the glass and brightens a room. Slight green highlights also add to its appearance making it all the more appealing. This is a very delicate wine, made, as most wines are, to be enjoyed at leisure. It is perfect for sipping on a sunny day on the patio, but it can also bring sunshine to a rainy day lounging on the lanai or inside with a gentle rain falling. In fact, the sights and sounds of a light rain will really further enhance the experience because it gives you time to pause, relax and unwind especially in these stressful times. As for with meals, this is a white in every sense of the word. There is a citrusy taste, but not so strong as some of the Australian or New Zealand wines which tend to lean to limes. This is a more light, delicate flavor, maybe with a hint of pear, but tart enough to keep it from too much sweetness. Try pairing it with crab or oysters, but if you’re really adventurous, a white clam sauce or a fish chowder would do it justice.
I have always felt that any family business has to have one main goal in mind: to produce a product of which your grandfather would be proud. That has proven too often to be an impossible task, and I feel the main reason that family businesses in time sell out to bigger, more expansive companies. Unfortunately when that happens, what suffers is the product. Well, in this case, Mr. Recapet can rest in peace, as he has been for quite some time now, knowing that his family has done him proud. They have managed to keep pride in their work and in their family and have come to be most respected in this very competitive industry.
And so, there you have it. Another day in solitary has passed. But somehow, somehow, we will survive and take on tomorrow’s challenges whatever they may be. But life can throw us a curve. Sometimes a curve is real tough to hit, but sometimes you will get what is called a hanging curve and that is the one that goes out of the park. Here’s wishing you a pleasant glass of wine, some accompanying appetizers, maybe a bit of good company, and a shot out of the park that will lift your spirits and reward all of your patience!