The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

First, let me apologize for not having written in such a long time. Family commitments and a few personal situations came up and I just didn’t find the time. But, we’re here now, so here we go…

This column is about food and its counterpart, wine. You put those two things together and you have a good, a real good combination. There is a lot of history in my thinking. Growing up Italian In a predominantly Italian section of the Bronx, NY had an effect on me which continues to First of all, let me apologize for not having written for such a long while. Family commitments and a couple of other issues kind of kept me a little busy. But I’m back now, so here we go…today. And I am sure that long and storied background also affected my two sons. Good food was always available and abundant all through my life and this is the story of that.

Growing up next to family was the center of this life. Grandparents, uncles, aunts cousins were always around and we all had things in common. Far beyond an address, a family name or genealogy, we cherished food, wine and each other. Food was fresh in those days, a freezer was a small compartment on top of the refrigerator used mostly for ice cream and ice cubes. Shopping for dinner was part of the daily routine except for what my grandfather brought home from the macaroni store which he owned. Yes, that’s right. MACARONI. Not pasta or noodles but macaroni. This covered cuts like ziti, rigatoni, farfalle and such. Spaghetti was a separate issue altogether and possibly another food group.

The wine was another story because mostly, we drank homemade wine. As soon as I was old enough to cross the street it became my job to go and buy it. So, there I was at about ten years of age, walking the six blocks to the house where the man made his wine, carrying two empty glass gallon jugs. That was easy. But that same walk home with those same two glass bottles, now full of this precious stuff, well you get the picture. I never thought about it but at that age I was a bootlegger!

Now time has moved on but I never grew out of those days. Drinking wine was and is now a part of daily life. Sticking to red wine was easy because that’s all I ever saw. So a foray into whites was unimaginable until I was married. I was introduced to a whole new world and wine with dinner became the norm. White with fish and red with about everything else. Television ads influenced me mostly but I kind of stuck to the Italian based reds. I bought CK Mondavi Fortissimo by the gallon and a few other brands (Carlo Rossi in particular) which were really from California but sounded imported. At the risk of sounding snobbish I can’t imagine now how I drank that stuff. Not too long ago someone gave me a glass of it and LORD, it was horrible. I guess tastes change over time.

Mother’s favorite

Later I learned that any wine that says “Montepulciano d’abruzzo” on the label is a fine wine and a good pick. This wine is regulated and consistent so brands like Cantina Zaccagnini became a staple. A hearty wine, this pairs well with everything but is particularly good with a dish like a porterhouse or beef ribs. It adds to the flavor of the meat without overtaking it and also gives the meal a touch of class, kind of a finishing touch. A feeling of satisfaction. Another wine in this class is Castiglioni Frescobaldi, my personal favorite. You see, I told you the story of the homemade wine above because that is what the Castiglioni wine reminds me of. Flavor, texture, strong tannins and oak set it a league apart in my mind. Your Sunday gravy crowd will really sit up and take notice of this one.

Castiglioni Frescobaldi
Cantina Zaccagnini

Now don’t discount the whites here though. Italy and New Zealand both make excellent wines at reasonable prices. One brand in particular is Prophecy, which has a winery in both countries and others around the world. The pinot grigio delle Venezie is an outstanding wine. Citrusy and flavorful it adds a tang to a lighter dish like chicken or fish or a primavera. With a smooth aftertaste it can linger just long enough to let you appreciate it while not interfering with the next forkful of food. Prophecy also produces a sauvignon blanc distilled in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. With a taste of grapefruit and lime zest (a rarity in any wine) it is a refreshing drink on a hot day made for sitting on the patio, maybe with some light cheese or fruit. It is a perfect aperitif as well as a good dinner wine when paired with fish such as a flounder or trout. Prophecy wine also sports some very distinctive and beautiful labels which will actually add to the mood and decor of your table. The sauvignon blanc shows a high priestess which inspires greatness in yourself while the pinot grigio is adorned with the star representing inspiration toward a hopeful future.

Memories are a funny thing. We tend to remember things fondly most times and edit out the bad. My wine experience has been a pleasurable journey which I hope to continue. So many wines, so little time really rings true here. But life is a journey, not a destination. I hope to wander across many more brands and vintages before I go to that great winery in the sky. So come along and join me. I’d love the company and we just may discover something.

CHATEAU de MACARD BORDEAUX SUPERIOR 2015

Bordeaux wines refer to any wines produced in the Bordeaux region of southwestern France. Most Bordeaux are reds, but also produced in the region are some whites and a small smattering of rose. Winemaking in this region was originally introduced by the Romans for local consumption, mostly Roman soldiers, and production has been continuous since then. Climate plays a major role in this continuity, as well as a solid limestone soil base supplies needed minerals to the vines, while the moist, warm air feeds the grapes a steady diet of humidity so they mature plump and flavorful.

Bordeaux is actually a blend of what is known as “permitted” grapes. These include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Each brings a distinct flavor and aroma to the wine, giving it a hearty, full-bodied taste. Generally I have found French wines to be lighter than their Italian brethren, but a good Bordeaux can certainly hold its own. This blend in particular has a dark, purplish hue which reflects light beautifully and invites one to take a sip. And make no mistake, this is a sipping wine, made to be enjoyed slowly. It does pair well with foods, beef ribs, filets especially, but is best enjoyed and savored on its own. A strong hint of berries, blackberries especially, along with a rich almost smokey flavor adds to the experience which can only be called delightful.

This wine is also a family affair. Alain and Bernadette Aubert oversee production and keep alive family traditions that have been sustained since the 1750’s. They run the estate with their three daughters and center it on an estate called the Chateau de Ribebon which was once used as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIV. So there is a history there, a tradition, a value which transcends quantity and profit. The family has long felt that quantity can definitely hurt the quality of the product. “Quality is not possible with quantity, and I want my wine to capture the essence of our fantastic terroir.” This is the motto of this family handed down through seven generations showing a deep respect for the process as well as the grape itself.

Because this wine has enough flavor and bouquet it will pair well with most game dishes as well as more domesticated cuts. A porterhouse steak or a beef rib would be perfect to augment this wine. But venison or boar would also complement and the flavor would not be lost or overtaken as the wine is sipped. The flavors would meld to a taste sensation not to be soon forgotten.

ROASTED RACK OF VENISON

International awards for this wine range from International Wine Report which rated this vintage a very respectable 91 overall points to a 90 rating from Wine Spectator. At about $14 a bottle it is a true value. Also, I almost neglected to mention that it does air very well, meaning it does well if decanted. It is also good the second day, if you do not finish the bottle. Overall, I give this wine a 9.0 out of a possible 10 grapes for taste and value. So enjoy it!

MY NONNA's BEEF BRACIOLE

Sundays always meant church, then food…and lots of it. Sunday was a day of rest for most people, but Grandpa had to work at least 1/2 day at the ravioli store. And Grandma (nonna), well, she didn’t have that luxury. Her day started early with the cooking and what women in those days did. Gravy, I guess sauce to some but in our house we had GRAVY on Sunday, had to get an early start so it would be cooked and ready when dinner time came.

Now Sunday gravy always had meat in it. Meatballs were on the side and whatever else went in. But the staple, the main ingredient was the braciole. This was rolled and stuffed meat cooked for hours in the gravy almost until it fell apart. But somehow Grandma always kept it together. Tender and delicious, this is a memory. I’ve seen many recipes for braciole. Some with pork (great on the grill). Some with thin slices of beef ( you can buy it like this). But Grandma’s had texture. It had body. It was special. Here is beef braciole, the way my nonna made it. The best.

1 whole flank steak, about a pound laid flat

In a bowl mix bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, some pepper, chopped garlic and olive oil. The mixture should be crumbly

Spread the stuffing mixture evenly over the beef and let it sit for a minute so the flavors absorb.

Starting from the wider end, roll the meat tightly being careful not to lose any of the stuffing. Tie off the ends and the middle using good, white string.

In a tall pot, big enough to hold your gravy, heat some olive oil and a few cuts of garlic. When the oil is hot carefully place the braciole in and let it brown on all sided. This should take no longer than ten minutes (remember, you are BROWNING, not cooking.)

When the meat is browned all over, take it out and make your gravy (sauce to some) with some tomato paste and good, plum tomatoes. Let that blend. Then return the braciole to the pot. Let it simmer, not boil. The longer it simmers, the better the gravy, and the more tender the braciole. Grandma was not against letting her gravy cook for 4-5 hours.

Remove the braciole and allow it to cool. Remove the string and slice into pieces from 1/2 to 1 inch thick and plate .

Now the most important part…Eat. Mangia. Mangia bambino!!

Also, and just so you know, the braciole is used to flavor the gravy. Keep that in mind because this does take some time. So make it worth it and spend a little extra on some good pasta.

So, that’s it. A truly Sicilian/Neopolitan dish sure to satisfy any appetite.

Thanks Nonna. Grazie molto!

THE RISE OF THE "SUPER TUSCAN"

Tuscany is a region in central Italy which is known for many things. The mediterranean climate with beautiful temperate summers, mild winters and long sunny growing seasons make it a perfect region for farming and for vacationing. Tourism is a staple of the region’s economy. The scenery is breathtaking with lush, green rolling hills, tree-lined mountains and natural marble stone make it an addition to anyone’s bucket list. The people and food are as warm and as welcoming as the climate. But one of the most important products of the region is wine. For this, Tuscany is set apart from the rest of Italy if not the world for producing fine wines at all price levels. Truly, any wine label which shows the words “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo” is your assurance of an excellent product.

During the 1970’s though, a new designation was born: that of the “Super Tuscan.”However, what is it that brought this designation about. Surely in a region known for quality, was the word “Super” even necessary? And what exactly makes a Super Tuscan different or superior.

Going back to the late 1970’s any wine produced in this region was made, by Italian law only from indigenous grapes. That is, grapes grown in that region. Thus a chianti or a sangiovese was made from only one specie of grape grown in Tuscany. Bureaucracy being what it is, was so slow-moving that local winemakers began using “unsanctioned” grapes to produce a varied product. These grapes, usually merlot, cabernet and syrah were blended with the indigenous grape to make high quality wines with a different character, a slightly different bouquet and flavor. It was in 1992 that the designation of “IGA” (Indicazione Geografica Tipica or Typical Geographical Indication) was created to give winemakers a little more leeway to vary their processes. The result was a major shift in the market to blended wines, and newer more contemporary products. In the hierarchy of fine wines, this designation would be the third tier.

Tignanello about $110

The first and most famous of these new Super Tuscans was offered by the Antinori family, a well established vintner. His wine, “Tignanello” is a blend of 85% sangiovese and 15% merlot, giving it an excellent character. This sells usually in the $80 per bottle range. Super Tuscans as a whole can be higher priced, but are not a usual, everyday table wine. Rather they are reserved for the most special occasion. Today, more reasonably priced versions, Famiglia Castellani, a 100% sangiovese for example, are popular and are available locally or on-line.

collezione Collesano Famiglia Castellani at about $17

The easiest way to identify a Super Tuscan is to notice the construction of the label. Look for the word TOSCANA, usually in bold print. The IGA designation should be right below, and often, these wines are named instead of bearing only the dominant type of grape. Also, the name of the winery is displayed proudly above all.

These are good, solid drinking wines. Meant to be shared while relaxing or with a hearty meal of meats or game. For a real taste of Italy they come highly recommended.

Antinori Solaia @ $299.00

WHAT'S THE REAL GOOD LIFE

Tony Bennett sings a bittersweet song about it. Kenney Chesney learns about it at a bar after a fight with his wife.

The good life. That’s what this column is supposed to be about. But what is it exactly. How do you get it, maintain it. Well, here are a few ideas…

Coming home after school and seeing mom there with a glass of chocolate milk and some Oreos or Chips Ahoy cookies.

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Hanging with your friends on a Saturday morning deciding for hours what you’re going to do that day.

Watching your first girl friend walk down her steps all dressed up and knowing that she did all that just for you.

Your first car. Maybe it was just a load, but it was all yours.

Getting that letter from college letting you know you made it!

Realizing that this girl was the love of your life. Spending your time with her. Missing her when you don’t. And, seeing her face blush when she says, “Yes. I’ll marry you.

Decorating your first home. Maybe it wasn’t much, but it was all yours.

Seeing your first baby born and trying not to cry, or for that matter, pass out. Remember that feeling when you heard that first cry?

Your child’s dance recital, first day of school, birthdays and that very first Christmas that this baby knew Santa came.

But life plays tricks. We develop. We age. We mature. The good life is different now…

Maybe a glass of wine with a friend and some good conversation, reminiscences mostly.

A visit from the grand kids. Man is that hectic and tiring. But you wouldn’t trade it for the world. Maybe even the first time you said to yourself, “Man. I wish I had grandkids first!”

A soft chair on the porch maybe with a book or a newspaper. Relaxing on a sunny day and enjoying just watching the world go by.

Dreaming of the past. What was and knowing that what could have been was only a dream that everybody has, but very few achieve.

A life well lived, judged not by how many you have loved, but by how many have loved you. That’s contentment. That’s happiness.

You know, the foods, the wines, all the material things are good and they all add up, as does the sorrow and the pain. But all in all, when the good outweighs the bad, you have it. That’s the good life, man. The memories. Your legacy. Your contribution to mankind.

We are approaching a new year. Tomorrow, in fact. Live it up. We only get one shot so make it your best! It may not be much. But it is all yours.

WHY BOTHER TO CHOOSE

Vino bianco con pesce. Con carne, rosso.” (“White wine with fish. With meat, red.”) Old Italian saying.

Old sayings have to get started someplace, but this one really makes me scratch my head sometimes. How did this one get started? Who really sat down and taste-tested different wines with different dishes and how did this person arrive at this conclusion? Really makes me wonder sometimes. After all, wine has been known as “The nectar of the gods” since time immemorial. Was it the gods who decided this? Which one in particular had the final say? Cast the deciding vote?

Traditionally, I feel that white wine has been paired with fish in part at least because of the color. Fish dishes are pale in color with the fish itself usually white. Maybe it is because of this, fish is expected to be light, almost airy and delicate to the palate. A white wine, a pinot grigio or a sauvignon blanc actually shares some of those qualities. But, fish is also cooked often with lemon, adding a citrusy flavor and bouquet. With that in mind, wouldn’t that mean that some of the flavor of the food would meld with the wine and instead of complementing it, it would instead only be more of the same, delicious though it may be. There may be no contrast, no boldness.

The same could be said for pairing reds with beef. Few things in life can rival a good, juicy steak or a perfect meatball. Typically, a hearty wine such as a chianti is preferred. Again, though, there is no contrast. A real bold red wine, which is also used in Sunday gravy, while it will not overpower the meat, may to some tastes get lost and mix the flavors into one. Maybe a chardonnay would be a nice change.

My own opinion is simple: drink what you like. Life is too short to drink bad wine or to worry about which wine goes with what. Food and wine were given to us to enjoy, to fulfill and to add to life’s experience. Try not to limit your enjoyment. If you should find a wine you enjoy, stick with it and experiment. You will be able to see for yourself which pairings are best for you.

The old saying above probably began as something of a myth and has grown through the centuries. Think about it though. People once thought the earth was flat. That the sun and stars revolved around the earth. It took bold, adventurous people to dispel those myths and maybe that is what we need to do now.

As time goes on you will find your own favorites, your own sense of pairing. These minor indulgences are limitless, bound only by your imagination, your sense of adventure. This world has produced many fine wines and some very fine foods. Taste them. Experience them. Enjoy them. Never be guided by a myth. For to do that, would truly be a myth-take.

Please,if you like reading this blog, tell your friends. If not, tell me.

OPICI VINO BIANCO

“the fish bottle wine”

The Opici wine bottle invokes so many memories that it is even hard to put into words. Years back when I was first married (which goes back quite a ways) I was drawn to this wine because of the distinctively styled bottle, which was at the time my first consideration. But, after buying it a few times it became a favorite and graced my table on many evenings and at special occasions.

Memories are funny. We do tend to edit out the bad and dwell on the more pleasant ones which is a good thing because it keeps us young, keeps us upbeat and gives us a perspective on a life well-lived. Opici wine is just such a memory. When you get past the shape of the bottle, the “fish bottle wine,” the unofficial name, is just delightful. Light, airy, citrusy and just totally delicious. Hints of lemon, lime and grapefruit are easily noticeable. It cannot be classified as say a pinot or a sauvignon though because it is neither. It is a rare,beautiful blend of chardonnay, sauvignon, trebbiano and verdicchio, with the latter adding some body, while the former all bring a fresh bouquet and a delicate balance.

Imported from the Adriatic coast on the western side of the Italian boot where summers are long and sunny giving the grape ample time to ripen this is a family operation since its inception in 1913. The Opici family had to endure hard times through Prohibition and the Great Depression. Through hard work, a commitment to family first and to a good product the family business was able to grow and prosper. They first imported wines from Italy. But after Prohibition was lifted in 1933, they persuaded a friend in California to send them one full railroad car of wine and the family was back in business. Every family member had a job from growing and blending and even to delivering. Hubert, the youngest was in charge of that department. In 1942, though, he took a new position in the Armed Forces and was away for a while taking part in a small skirmish overseas. But in 1946, he was instrumental in purchasing the Cazanove Wine Company in New York and getting the family business rolling again.

There is a real fascinating history of this company which goes on further. Suffice it to say though that their story really revolves around family and wine, a great combination. I wholeheartedly recommend this wine, not only for the nostalgia, but for the taste and the satisfaction it brings. Pair it with cheese, broiled flounder or trout and you have a truly sensation meal awaiting.

A GIFT FROM THE SEA

shrimp scampi with pinot grigio

If wine is he blood of life then food is the heart. Whatever your preference, beef, pork, fish, it always pays to put a little time into your cooking. That is what gives it the love that all dishes crave, but it also give you the chance to show off your creativity, your self. Never be afraid to experiment and to try new dishes. Cookbooks are generally an OK guide, but no book can really satisfy your taste and individuality, without a little bit of YOU in it.

The recipe I have chosen is a perfect example. I can remember my grandmother’s kitchen, where her cooking always contained “some” of this or “a little” of that. Scampi lends itself to that style. Don’t like ORZO, use elbows, or make it elegant with linguini. Make it classic by adding some broccoli or colorful with sliced cherry tomatoes Whatever your taste, use it to add to your own good life. Use good ingredients and the finished product may just surprise you. It’s not rocket science. It’s cooking.

And always remember, cooking is something you should enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it…send out!

SHRIMP SCAMPI

1 box Barilla Orzo

1 lb shrimp peeled and deveined (you can use frozen but fresh is always better)

1/2 stick butter

2 tbsp Olive Oil, EVOO

salt and pepper to taste

pinch oregano

1/8 cup white wine (pinot grigio or sauvignon)

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

small piece onion finely chopped

Place shrimp into a lined 9×12 pan. In a saucepan combine butter, garlic, onion salt and pepper. Let the butter melt slowly, 3-4 minutes then pour it over the shrimp. Using your thumb and forefinger crumble oregano over the top and let it sit for a few minutes. Set the oven to 375. Add the wine just before you put the shrimp into the oven. Cook for about 20-25 minutes or until the shrimp plumps and turns pink. Less time if using frozen shrimp.

Meanwhile, boil some salted water add about 1/4 to 1/3 of the box of ORZO. Cook for 9-10 minutes for al dente. Drain and add some of the shrimp sauce, just enough so the pasta won’t stick

To plate, spoon the pasta onto a flat dish and ladle the shrimp and sauce over it with bits of onion and garlic.

Top it off with some parmesan reggiano and enjoy.

Simple, easy, but with a little time and a dash of love, you will have created a very memorable dinner. To the GOOD LIFE!!

Cantine Colosi Terre Siciliani

“In vino veritas” (In wine there is truth). Sicilian Proverb
Sicily is an island located on the southernmost tip of the “boot” of italy. In truth, the island looks like the boot, or the mainland, is kicking it away. But this beautiful island, with its mountains, small towns and vineyards has become somewhat of a destination in recent years. This discovery has led to a renaissance in Sicilian culture, especially in the cuisine. Being half Sicilian myself, I have enjoyed this life for all of my years, so it is very easy and a pleasure to share it.

Food and wine are driving forces in Sicily. Foods tend to be robust and flavorful and satisfying to the most voracious appetite. Wines here are no exception A typical Sicilian red wine, if there is one, is a deep purple color, aromatic and flavorful with hints of fruits and sometimes dark chocolate. Until recently Sicilian wines were used mostly for blending as they were thought to be inferior. But that has now changed and Sicily is producing vintages at least equal to the more well known regions.

Cantine Colosi is located on the island of Salina which is part of the Sicilian Archipelago. The warm Mediterranean climate produces some of the most sought after wines in the world, and some of the most varied. Here, the Colosi Family conducts it business as it has for many years. The volcanic soil is rich with minerals and the exposure is ideal for growing the grapes. The vines are planted on terraces and include a blend typical to that area. This marriage of the grape produces a very satisfying, rich tasting wine with flavor that honors its equally rich heritage.

The Colosi Rosso is a blend of Nero d’avola, an indigenous grape and the most widely planted on the island, and Nerello Mascalese, grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna and considered by many to be the defining grape of Sicilian wine. Each contributes to a strong grape taste with visible tannin. It is aged first in stainless steel tanks, then for 6-12 months in french oak barrels, which adds another dimension to the strong flavor. The aroma speaks of red fruits, blackberries and strawberries.

Because of the taste characteristics of this wine it lends itself to heavier, stronger tasting meats and well-aged cheeses. Pair it together with beef ribs, venison or wild boar, or a hearty soup such as roasted garlic soup. An aged Romano or Locatelli cheese is also a good fit because they have the character to add to the taste of the wine rather than get lost in it. This is a wine which deserves a good meal along with it. One look and you can tell it has the flavor. A quick sniff will tickle your senses as you inhale its rich bouquet. But to taste. To taste is to live. To truly enjoy what is good about Sicilian life.

Purchased on line at WINE.COM, I do recommend this wine highly and rate it 9 out of an almost impossible to achieve 10 grapes. It is a truly wonderful addition to your family table as it is to mine. So, “Saluti e centanni!”

Very Pleased to meet you

Hello. And welcome to my blog. Thank you so much for checking it out and I do hope that you will enjoy it and check back often.

This blog is about food, wine and the good life which they bring. Let me start though by saying that I am not a chef, nor am I a connoisseur. But I do like food, all different kinds of food and I do enjoy a glass of wine either with food, or just on its own. Since I am of Italian heritage I kind of feel that this gives me a pretty good idea of what the good life looks like. So settle back and enjoy reading what I have to say. You have a lot to look forward to, I have a lot to say, and hopefully we will all have a good time doing it.

So, let’s start with wine. Also called “The nectar of the Gods,” wine has been around in some form about as long as man has been domesticated. Many historians believe that wine originated quite by accident. As primitive farming and foraging for food developed, it became necessary for our ancestors to learn about food storage. Berries and such were stored normally in a sort of stone container carved out of rock. Eventually, through a natural fermentation process, these berries became the base of what we now know today as wine. Ancient man learned not only that it was tasty, but also that it had a certain effect, a natural high so to speak. Thus, the good life was born.

Over time better processes were learned and wine became a staple. It was used with meals mostly, but also became a bargaining chip used by ancient mariners as currency. During the period of the Roman Empire production spread throughout the known world as the legions sought to give themselves some of the comforts of home.

Later during the Dark Ages monks were responsible for keeping brewing and aging methods alive by transcribing them and storing them in their libraries. So really if we fast forward to today, we are living the fruits of life which ties us to our ancestors.

Now, this is a very brief history and there is so much more to it. We will go into it later on from time to time, but we will also explore various types, vintages of wines from all over the world. I realize that this whole article is kind of primitive and simple, but it is only the first of a hopefully long series which will get a lot better. So, sit back and enjoy. Grab yourself a glass. We have a lot to talk about!