OCTOBER CAN BE A VERY CRUEL MONTH

OK. So this is a real departure from the normal columns I write, but I do think it is highly appropriate and timely. As we head into the depths of Autumn and prepare for the coming of the nastiest season, Winter, I wanted to replace the gloom and doom I see on faces as they think about the days ahead.

October is a funny kind of a month. Leaves change. Here in the south they are still changing while those of you up north already see bare trees. Days are shorter and cooler, but we can still get some warm weather, formerly called “Indian Summer,” (apologies to those offended). But one thing stands out: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Kind of odd that we commemorate a disease like this, but fitting nonetheless.

There are few among us who have not ever been affected by this disease. A mother, sister, old girlfriend or whatever. This horrible disease knows no bounds and takes no prisoners. It has been around for centuries and has affected rich and poor, old and young. No race, color or creed is immune. Our former president, John Adams had a daughter, Abigail, who died of it in 1811. People like Ingrid Bergman, Dusty Springfield, Hattie McDaniel and Vivian Vance were all victims. Somehow or other this disease touches it all. And yet, for all the research, for all the dollars spent, we have not yet been able to find a cure. A REAL cure. Treatment, yes. And some people do beat it. It is certainly not the devastating diagnosis it was years ago, but still, it is a life altering experience. From the moment you hear that word, your life, and the lives of your close family change and may never return to normal.

Fortunately, there are so many ways you can help. Aside from giving comfort to a victim and the family, there are many organizations, worthwhile organizations to which you can contribute. The American Cancer Society is only one. Many local hospitals also accept donations of money and sometimes more importantly, time. Volunteers spend thousands of hours each year tending to hospitalized patients.

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Perhaps one of the most effective ways to donate is one which most people never think of, or are even aware of. Since its inception in 1997, the United States Postal Service has raised millions of dollars for the sole purpose of funding breast cancer research. This is done by the issuance of what is called a semi-postal stamp. These stamps which are used as regular postage are 11 cents more than a regular stamp, with the balance being donated. Now, most people never think of an entity like the Postal Service as being socially active but just think of those millions of dollars which have gone into research because of this action. Now think of the research, the strides that would have not been made without their support and the support of the people who buy them.

maybe more popular, but…

Now, I am smart enough to know that many of us don’t even think of the Postal Service as we once did. There are so many other, more modern and quicker means of communicating that this service just seems over. But this is one way in which it is still relevant. Very relevant in fact. Socially conscious I guess you could say. So, what I am saying here is this: one way or another we have to deal with this disease. We can take a “oh, poor you” attitude, or we can join the fight. A fight that can, should and dammit MUST be won.

CHLOE SAUVIGNON BLANC

“Lemonade should be fresh. Wine needs to be aged.” Me (Old sayings have to start someplace.)

So, what’s in a name? Well, the name CHLOE is normally the name of a female and is kind of popular in some offbeat TV series. There was Chloe Mitchell from the Soap, The Young and the Restless, Chloe Simon from Disney’s 102 Dalmatians and then Chloe O’Brian from the 24 Series. But today, we will travel to Marlborough, New Zealand to talk a bit about a CHLOE of a much different kind.

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Marlborough is a region where winemaking has grown steadily over the years. So much figures into this, climate, the terrain and the soil all contribute to excellent conditions which almost always assures a superior product. Marlborough now accounts for about 90% of the region’s Sauvignon Blanc production, but the many brands are anything but homogeneous. Typically though, they are light and dry with fresh citrus flavors that can be very diverse and identified with certain brands. The Chloe collection is timeless, crafted from the finest grapes and blended to the exact specification of its winemaker, Georgetta Dane. Romanian born, Ms. Dane brings a sophistication to her winemaking with her European roots shining through. She is an award winning winemaker who in 2012 was bestowed with the title, “Best Woman Winemaker” in the International Women’s winemaking competition.

Sauvignon Blanc is made to be refreshing, with tannins and acidity and a bold, fresh taste. It is slightly aromatic, and the scent is very pleasant. CHLOE Sauvignon Blanc fits this description very well. It has the flavor, the aroma and the intensity, but not the look. In fact, this wine is almost crystal clear, and for that fact, I was a little reluctant to buy it. Fortunately, I decided to and that decision really paid off. This is an excellent wine to serve at dinner or with friends on the patio or by the pool. More on that later.

Growing up in Romania, Georgetta was not expected to attend school for very long. There was enough work on the farm and in the home, and most girls didn’t really get much of a formal education. This changed for her when a teacher rented a room from Georgetta’s grandparents. She saw a spark in this little girl and persuaded her mother to allow her to finish her education. This was a very bold step for them both. After getting a Masters Degree in Food Science, Georgetta and her husband decided to move to the United States and it was in 2014 that CHLOE, an ancient word meaning “blooming” was born.

I don’t like using the word ‘delightful’ at all. For whatever reason that word just never enters my vocabulary, I guess because it sounds too much like something my grandmother would say and it makes me feel old. But, I AM old, and that word applies here. This Sauvignon Blanc was bought on a whim, I liked the bottle. But it was one of those chances that worked out very well. It is clean looking, almost crystal clear and not half as light tasting as it looks. Its refreshing taste lingers on the palate just long enough and shows the influence of citrus and kiwi fruit. It is an excellent wine and a find as you go through your wine buying and tasting experience. If, indeed, education is life, this wine should be a small part of your imbibing education. It paired very well with a dinner of stuffed flounder and brussels sprouts but it would go very well with poultry or a nice light cheese assortment.

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A real good collection

Alcohol – 12.5%
Price – about $11
My Rating – 8.5 out of an unattainable 10 grapes

PIATTELLI VINEYARDS MALBEC RESERVE 2020

“Winemaking is our expert craft and rooted deeply within my heritage. My father was a well known Winemaker, as was my Uncle & Grandfather. There has always been a bottle of wine on the family table. Today that bottle is Piattelli.” Valeria Antolin Piattelli, Winemaker

Malbec has become one of the most popular wines in this country, right behind Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Commonly known as “Cot” in France, this wine is thought to have gotten its name from a Hungarian peasant whose name was Malbec, or Malbeck, who is believed to have spread the grape all over France. It is predominantly a red wine, but there is also a rose’ variety which tends more to the floral. Today, Malbec is synonymous with Argentina as it now takes up fully three-quarters of Argentina’s vineyards and is considered the country’s most important grape. Funny, because it was originally thought of as an inferior grape, suitable only for blending.

In the 1940’s the Piattelli family left the war-torn region of Tuscany and emigrated to Argentina bringing with them their family winemaking expertise. Settling in this region may have been only a coincidence, but I would prefer to think of it as fate. The combination of rocky soil, temperature range, warm sun and experience all coupled with a high elevation made a fine home for the family and its process where a beautiful history joined with a strong future and an almost divine legacy.

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As I said above, Malbec has become the official wine of Argentina, so to speak. It is a deep purple in color, almost haunting because of it. You can think of it as mysterious when you realize some of its history. Remember, these grapes were once used for blending only. But this wine has evolved. It is dry and full bodied with essences of dark fruits such as blackberry and plum. There is little if any sweetness to it and the taste does linger on the palate just long enough after the first sip. This wine in particular exhibits all of those characteristics, and does so extremely well. Perhaps owing to the altitude where these grapes are grown, it is billed as a “High Altitude Wine,” or maybe because of the soil, the rich qualities of a good malbec are enhanced.

The winery is located in the city of Mendoza, which is the capital of the province of the same name. It is on the eastern side of the Andes in the north central region of the province. In the 1500’s this region was populated by two tribes, the Huarpes and Puelches. These were rather advanced people who developed a system of irrigation, adopted later by the conquering Spaniards and still evident today. The climate is warm and temperate with significant rainfall even in the driest months. This allows for a slower ripening of grapes. And since the Piattelli winery is located better than 3100 feet above sea level, the cooler nights add significant body to the grapes as they tend to dry more quickly. Now, when you combine this with oak barrel aging for at least eight months and the expertise of the family and staff, you can be assured of a very high quality wine.

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This wine is drinking very well right now. As with most wines, especially reds, it will benefit from about an hour in a good decanter. It is best served with a meal of red meats or game such as boar or wild turkey. But Argentina, remember, is the land of the Gaucho. These famed Argentinian cowboys claim beef, good hearty beef as their staple diet and that is what this wine pairs best with. A good cut of beef, grilled to your liking will really bring out the flavors of this wine.

Critics are also very high on this wine (no pun intended). James Suckling gave it 92 points, Wine and Spirits Magazine gave it 93 and rated it a Best Buy, while Vinous gave it a 90. As for me, I found this wine to be an excellent value and a real find. I had never seen it before, but just the fact that it had an attractive, understated bottle kind of drew me to it, and I am very glad it did. The appearance, the aroma and finally the taste all show true quality and craftsmanship. There is a devotion to this product and to the winery in general that is sometimes sadly missing in today’s world, and not only in wines.
Alcohol – 14.5%
Price – $19

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This wine will not be a stranger to my home as we do entertain pretty often and holidays are coming. I will be proud to serve it, and you will too. My own rating gives this wine 8.75 grapes out of an unattainable 10.

LOUIS-JADOT BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES 2020

(Reprinted from an earlier post. I don’t really like to do this, but I think this one bears repeating.)

Beaujolais is a French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée wine generally made of the Gamay grape which has a thin skin and is low in tannins. The wine takes its name from the historical wine producing province of Beaujolais. First cultivated by the Romans who established the region as part of a trading route, the tradition and expertise associated with winemaking was kept up long after the fall of the Empire. From the seventh century through the Middle Ages the art was kept alive by the Benedctine Monks. In the tenth century the region got its name from the town of Beaujeu and was ruled by the Lords of Beaujeu until the fifteenth century when the region was ceded to the Duke of Burgundy. The wines actually stayed local and only began expanding with the establishment of the French Railroad in the nineteenth century which brought it to a very lucrative Paris Market.

The winery was founded in 1859 by Louis Henry Denis Jadot who had already established himself as a substantial producer in the region with his purchase of the winery Clos de Ursules back in 1826. The family tradition of winemaking stayed intact for more than a century until its sale in 1985 to Rudy Kopf, Jadot’s U.S. Importer. The original family does keep an interest in the company with Pierre Henry Gagey holding the position of president.

A perfect combination

France has long been known as a wine-producing country and it does produce a wide variety of fine wines. Although we here in the states sometimes think of France as only the home of champagne, which it is. However, a good French red or white is really of very high quality and very satisfying, although a bit lighter than its Italian cousin. Originally produced as a celebration of the harvest once the Beaujolais AOC, a regulatory body was established in 1937, it could only be sold after December 15 in the year of the harvest. Taking its name from the region, as I said, which is just north of the city of Lyon, it is still relatively unknown, but in some vintages Beaujolais will produce more wine than the regions of Cote d’Or and Chablis combined.

I found this wine first because I liked the label, which is usually a draw for me. It is a dry red wine with a slightly acidic taste, again, indicative of the region, but does manage to add a slight touch of sweetness. It is very refreshing and light bodied, so it stands well on its own as an aperitif with very slight hints of strawberry, black cherry and spice. But the dominant taste is that of the light-skinned Gamay grape, the main ingredient. I guess that sometimes, the additional flavors can be fun and add some body or a more distinct personality to a wine. But a good quality grape and a correspondingly good fermentation process defines wine.

Just as an aside, the Gamay grape, from which this wine is made exclusively, is a cross between a pinot noir and the ancient white variety, Gouais, a central European fruit, most likely introduced to the region by the Romans. Seems as though wherever the ancient Romans travelled, they left behind a trail of wine grapes. I guess they are more attractive than the standard road sign.

Now, as a French wine, this vintage has it all. It is a bit on the lighter side, but that by no means is to say that it lacks flavor. With a slightly acidic taste and an alcohol content of 13% it pairs well with light cheeses and is perfectly suited to a wine and cheese party or a holiday get-together. It also enhances dishes such as duck, goose or game birds, as well as white fish. Because it is a red wine you would not expect such suggestions, but remember, this is light enough to enhance the flavors of lighter fare, rather than overtake them. And in the $12-14 price range, it is perfect for someone just starting out on their own wine journey.

HEY ROLLING STONE…

Wine, women and song…(finish that phrase as you will)

These three things have always been thought of as great characteristics of a very good life. All three add immeasurable amounts of joy and pleasure. And while none of them may contribute to your overall character, your standing as a person, they do add a dimension to a life that distinguishes it from a boring existence.

You know, I heard a few days ago about Rolling Stone Magazine publishing the 500 greatest songs of all time. Gotta say though that I have some questions and many, many disagreements. Maybe it is just one of the many signs of my advanced age, but I can remember when this magazine was highly respected and widely read. Not sure that is the case anymore as I haven’t read it, or even thought about it in quite a few years now.

Be that as it may, great music is great music which stands the test of time, sounds good on vinyl, tape or CD, and passes from one generation to the more knowledgeable of the next one. Looking at this list though, I really don’t see a whole lot that stands up to just that bit of scrutiny. Now I know that each generation has its own idea of greatness, its own standards and norms, but in my mind, good is good and mediocre is just that and deserves a fast, passing glance and a swift toss into the “round file,” if you get my drift. So, it is with this in mind that I am posting the five greatest songs produced in this country. This is my list but it comes with a whole lot of experience and hours of listening, singing and enjoying music that is written with pride and purpose. So…Here we go

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Ray Charles

#1 GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Originally written and recorded by Hoagy Carmichael in 1930, this classic is normally associated more closely with the late, great Ray Charles. I chose this song as number 1 because it is really the perfect song. If you have a stereo player, put on this record and slide the BALANCE control all the way to the left. Listen only to the background music. What you hear is simply a beautiful melody featuring violinists who really knew what they were doing. Just beautiful notes and chords played perfectly. Now, take that same BALANCE button and slide it all the way to the right. Listen to Ray Charles’ voice. Hear the passion, the love and the conviction in every word and phrase. Ray never had the best voice around, but for this song, his was perfect. No other word can describe it. Just sit back, listen to the entire recording and feel yourself ease into the music and be consumed by its beauty. No one could paint a better picture or tell a better story. No one could describe the longing that this song conveys. This is truly a work of art.

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Bobby Darin

#2 MACK THE KNIFE

Technically, this is not a true American song as it originated in the THREEPENNY OPERA and was first sung in 1928. Over the years though it has been associated with another late, great artist, Bobby Darin, who by the way, left us much too soon. Written by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, this is a brief story of a murderer, Mackie Messer. It was performed over the years as the opening and closing numbers of the opera and was jazzed up a little for Darin’s recording in 1959. Once again the listener is treated to words and melody that are unmatched since. A backup orchestra gives such a push to this song and finishes it off so well that it is actually hard to listen to only once. You almost have to replay it, and I guarantee, you will hear something the second time that you missed the first. Darin’s voice was never better, and if you were fortunate enough to see it live ( he sang it live on the Ed Sullivan Show) you can probably still remember that, and your mother’s reaction to it. Another timeless classic.

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Dinah Washington

#3 WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

This was a Grammy winning song, in 1959 (not a bad year for music) recorded by Dinah Washington. The song was originally written in Spanish in 1934, but was translated and adapted for the Dorsey Brothers in the same year. But it was in 1959, when a young Dinah Washington recorded it and made it a classic. Her voice introduces it and the background music is played very softly and adds to her story. This song is melodic and sung with only love as its driving force. This is a perfectly recorded version of the song, sung only as she could with a heavenly yet sultry voice that shows that she means business. If she was singing this with a man in mind, this was one very lucky man.

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Etta James

#4 AT LAST

The original of this song was written for the Glenn Miller Orchestra and was featured in the 1942 movie, “Orchestra Wives.” In 1960 Rhythm and Blues singer Etta James recorded a slightly updated version of the song and it took until 1999 for this version to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Again, James’ voice introduced the song with a passion that you can feel. The opening phrase, “At last…” introduces her love and leaves no doubt as to where this song is going. I seem to remember years ago that she actually sang this song about her baby, but I haven’t found anything to substantiate this. Nevertheless, her sultry voice gives this song a quality that few others have or can match. It was sung at James’ funeral by Christina Aguilera who hit every note in the scale in the first two words. Another terrific voice, but not a fair comparison to the original.

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b.b. King

#5 THE THRILL IS GONE

No list of musical greatness is complete without mentioning the King of the Blues, Mr. B.B. King. Together with his guitar, Lucille, this song talks of the end of a relationship simply by using the title of the song as the reason. Hey, life goes on. King’s voice is unmistakable and almost eerie as his guitar provides most of the background music, and when it came to guitar players, he had few equals. Sit and listen to the melody and the words and you will treat yourself to the musical equivalent of greatness. King was actually a brilliant man, but when he put these words to music, he achieved an even higher level.

So, there you have it. The list is complete and as far as I am concerned, don’t bother to argue. But I do have to say that while each of these recordings are perfect, they need to be sung only by the original artists. Attempts have been made by other performers, and good ones, but the originals are still the best. Try them and see for yourself. At the very least, you will have close to 30 minutes of absolute musical triumphs, as you revel in the presence of greatness. There are other lists: Best ROCK songs, best FEMALE performances. But that is for another time.

So, there you have it. The list is complete and as far as I am concerned, don’t bother to argue. But I do have to say that while each of these recordings are perfect, they need to be sung only by the original artists. Attempts have been made by other performers, and good ones, but the originals are still the best. Try them and see for yourself. At the very least, you will have close to 30 minutes of absolute musical triumphs, as you revel in the presence of greatness. There are other lists: Best ROCK songs, best FEMALE performances. But that is for another time.

RAINA MONTEFALCO ROSSO

Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono.” ( In small barrels, there’s good wine)

Originality, purity and sustainability are such keywords nowadays. Together they make up a trio of characteristics which influence much of today’s focus on agriculture and to achieve any one of these is considered no small triumph. So, when each standard is met equally and together, it is truly a cause for celebration.

Cantina Raina (Rah-EE-na) is a project of Francesco Marianni, a chef and winegrower. Together with his friend and assistant, Andrea Mattioli, they established a biodynamic winery in the village of Montefalco, Umbria. This region of Italy is surrounded by olive groves and vineyards and the Village sits atop the mountain giving its residents and visitors a panoramic view which can be equalled only by a very few places on the planet. With a history dating back to the 1500’s it is an historian’s delight with its many churches and protective walls, while also giving a nod to modern day travellers with friendly people, small, quaint restaurants and welcoming hotels.

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Cantina Raina was established in 2002 and bears the nickname of the previous owner of the land. This was done purposely to establish a link between the history and the land. On roughly 25 acres of land you will find grapes such as Sangiovese, Merlot, Montepulciano and Sagrantino among others, grown organically (certified), with each stage and operation of the vineyards carried on in house. As an aside, the Sagrantino grape is grown primarily here in Montefalco and is indigenous to the region of Umbria. Possibly introduced by monks, it was first used to make a sweeter wine consumed during the Easter season to pair with lamb. Currently though, it is used more in wine blends.

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Modern, sustainable methods are very important in this winery. Water for the winery is heated by solar panels and comes from their own well, while water for irrigation comes from their own lake, known as “Pacino.” This allows for very strict standards of purity, which is constantly monitored. No chemical herbicides are used and fertilizer is biodynamically garnered from their own formula. Grapes are harvested by hand when sufficiently ripened, so there is no real timetable for harvesting. Rather, the grapes will tell you when they are ready, a much longer and drawn out process. Grapes are then fermented, with skins for 15 days in stainless steel tanks. The aging process is complex: 24 months in oak barrels, 6 months in stainless steel and another 6 months in the bottle. The finished product is neither clarified nor filtered.

In the bottle the wine is a deep red, leaning to scarlet in color. It will benefit from a long, two hour decanting to thoroughly aerate. Aromas of plums and black fruit are easily noticed as is kind of a toasty smell. While the Merlot gives this wine a kind of a softness, the Sangiovese gives it some body and heartiness, while the Sagrantino lends a sweetness. On the palate it delivers a nice, lasting finish with a curiously different flavor. At first it kind of reminds you of a vermouth, but that taste does fade after a while leaving you with a familiar feeling that you can’t quite place.

We paired this wine with a meatless meal, a soup of beans and broccoli with some home made bread, and it stood up very well. I can see it together with more delicate meats, like lamb or duck. While the taste of the wine will not be overcome I would not recommend beef with it only because of the slight taste of the vermouth, a product of the Sagrantino grape. So when the monks drank this with lamb, I guess they knew what they were doing.

This wine was different for me because of the bordering on the sweet side. Normally I prefer a very dry wine. This, as I said, is different. A pleasant change, but in all honesty, not a wine I would drink too often. Although the quality of the product shines through and the process is a very noble effort, it was not really my taste. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, but rather to say I would use it sparingly.

Alcohol – 14%
Price – $18
Rating – 6 out of an unattainable 10 grapes

G.D.VAJRA BARBERA d’ALBA 2018

“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy wine and that is kind of the same thing.”

Those of us who were around in the 1960’s I’m sure will remember that decade as very turbulent. All across the globe there were calls for change, rallies for peace and as many will attest, it was a call for free love and what was sometimes known as “The family of man.” Italy was not immune to the times and there were many riots and protests all up and down the boot. But, in keeping with this article, it was in 1968 that an event took place that wrote a different kind of chapter.

At the tender age of 15, Aldo Vajra was involved in one of the demonstrations going on in the city of Turin. But his father, Giovanni Domenico Vajra saw that his son was being led down a path which he did not like. That in mind, Aldo was sent to Barolo to work the farm with his grandparents and it was there that he discovered his life, his passion. His time on the farm seemed to ignite a fire, to stir an interest. And it is this desire to excel in this that drove him to take over this family business and turn it into his own.

The Vajra family has farmed their winery in Bricco delle Viole since the 1880’s. Located on the outskirts of the historic city of Barolo, the Bricco delle Viole is the highest point and the closest to the Alps. Its translated name, “Hill of violets” comes from the flowers that bloom early here because of the southern exposure. As the morning fog rolls away these vines enjoy the earliest sunrise and the latest sunset. The warmth during the day ripens the fruit slowly, while the cool, damp night serves to give the fruit a tougher skin and a more concentrated juice all contributing to the heartiness of the wine. The 2018 vintage was marked by a very gradual ripening and a very late harvest, with all picking done between October 3 and 9. Smaller batches fermented for 20 days in stainless steel barrels and fermentation lasted a full 14 months, also in stainless steel. The result is a wine with a deep purple color, yielding aromas of black fruits and spices, a flavor that is long on the palate with elegant acidity and very slight hints of strawberry, cherry and some pepper which adds to its character. This is a very simple wine, but at the same time a very satisfying one.

Aldo and his wife Milena have handed the operation of the winery over to their children, Giuseppe, Francesca and Isidoro who have carried on their family’s tradition of producing fine wines. To this day it is a smaller, family owned business staffed by a team of young professionals with only one goal, to produce a fine wine using time-honored methods, bowing to family traditions and modern, ecologically correct methods. But, you know, tradition can be a funny thing. Sometimes, tradition can actually get in the way of progress due to a reluctance to change, to modernize. This is definitely not one of those times.

We paired this wine with a dinner of spinach noodles and fresh tomato sauce, a recipe which my legions of readers have been given. But I would not hesitate to pair it with beef, pork or lamb as the complexities of this wine will adapt, almost as if it knows the foods accompanying it. I would recommend a proper 1 ½ to 2 hour decanting time, plus a minute or so in the glass so it could fully aerate. But be assured, this wine will not disappoint at a weeknight or Sunday dinner, for a special occasion or for a romantic evening.

Alcohol – 13.5%
Price – $24 (approx.)

TUA RITA ROSSO dei NOTRI 2018

To serve a good friend a good wine is the ultimate compliment.”

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Val di Cornia is a coastal region of Tuscany located south of the town of Livorno and Southeast of San Gimignano, one of the most picturesque and beautiful towns in all of Italy. That statement covers a lot of ground, but I can say definitively that if you ever get the chance to travel to Italy, you should see San Gimignano. Enough said about that. Tuscany is a wine producing region and some of the best wines in the world come from there. The climate, the soil all contribute to a consistently good crop of grapes and the time honored tradition of wine production is in full view here. The region was officially recognized for its quality in 1989 when it received the coveted DOC ( Denominazione di Origine Controllata) designation, which assures not only quality, but a strict adherence to local laws and restrictions of wine production.

It was in 1984 that Rita Tua and her husband Virgilio Bisti purchased 37 acres of land and planted it with Cabernet and Merlot grapes. They later purchased more for a spread of 55 acres of which 45 are planted with vines. They first released a 1992 vintage which received very high praise from wine enthusiasts worldwide, and in only five years its Merlot had achieved a cult-like status receiving accolades from critics all over the globe. Today, in Italy, these wines are among the most difficult to find and the winery has made its home town of Suvereto, otherwise a small medieval town, a major wine force in the region.

The Rosso dei Notri is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, finished with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is harvested in September so the grapes can take advantage of the worm, sunny days and cool, dry nights. After harvesting, the grapes are pressed and aged in oak barrels and stainless steel tanks for three months. The result is a marvelous blend with a hint of black fruits, licorice and cocoa. It is a deep, ruby red color, reflecting light and almost producing a rainbow effect in the glass and the decanter. With a fresh, clean aroma that can absolutely fill a room, it beckons one to just stare at its magnificence. On the palate it is silky smooth with a very slight nod to the acidic with a lasting presence.

Virgilio saw fit to name this wine after his wife, inverting her first and last names. This, in my view, is a very high honor and the product does do her justice. The land is meticulously cared for and cultivated with a balance of nature in mind. The growth of the winery has been nurtured by the passion of both Virgilio and Rita, which has since been passed down to their daughter, Simena and her husband, Stefano Frascolla, who have both seen that the growth is slow and steady, assuring the highest quality and a bow to tradition.

I have said this so many times before, but in my view, to be able to produce a product consistently, a product of which your ancestors would be proud, is the highest goal. The approval of an ancestor who is also the founder of your company is something which is constantly sought. In this case, Simena and Stefano have both met and exceeded the mark.

We paired this wine with a pasta dish with fresh tomatoes and chicken and it was an excellent accompaniment. This is a versatile wine which would go well with Sunday gravy or grilled beef any night of the week. I was very fortunate in that I found it at a small wine store near us and like so many other wines, I found the bottle to be attractive, so I bought it. I certainly will again.

Alcohol – 13.5%
Price – about $18
Notable:
James Suckling – 92 points
Wine Advocate – 90 points
Vinous/Antonio
Galloni – 90 points

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Spinach Noodles

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” Federico Fellini

Being Italian there are certain things expected of you. So, okay, you love life and live it fully. You like wine, and drink it religiously. You like food, and eat it heartily. But there is more to it than that. For example, you not only talk with your hands, you keep your hands busy all day. We believe that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so you have to stay busy. One of the ways to do that is gardening. There is a playbook somewhere that explicitly states that, to maintain your standing as an Italian, you must grow certain things, most importantly tomatoes and basil. Any genuine Italian garden contains these two things. If not you can lose your membership and be ostracized from the community.

Now, this can present a problem. A good harvest means a lot of work in the kitchen. Tomato salad with olive oil, basil, garlic and onion, or a greens salad with tomatoes. The list goes on. But one of the best is a fresh tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes from the garden. Not only does it taste great, it makes the house smell equally great. Makes a house a home. Best part, it is so easy. So, here is our recipe. Take your time and see for yourself how good it is.

Ingredients:
Fresh, ripe tomatoes, preferably plum tomatoes but don’t quibble
Onion
Garlic
Olive oil
Fresh basil
Salt to taste
Red wine…(never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink so don’t be afraid to sample some)

Remove the stem from the tomatoes and discard. Cut the tomatoes into cubes and set aside.
As with all good Italian recipes, begin by browning the diced garlic in some olive oil. Don’t burn it. Just a little brown. Then add some diced onion and sweat that down a bit. Add some red wine, about ½ cup and let that all meld together. The alcohol will cook away leaving you with a colorful sediment in the pot.
Add the tomatoes. Now, if you’d like, you can get rid of the skins by boiling the whole, scored tomato for a few seconds and peeling the skin off. I like to leave the skin on though because I think it just makes for a better texture. Bring that to a slow simmer and salt to taste. If you use say a beefsteak tomato, as I did, your sauce will be thinner than if you use plum tomatoes. But, you can thicken it up a little by leaving the lid off the pot for a while. Add the most important ingredients now, which are equal amounts of time and patience. Let it cook slowly and gently.

I used spinach pasta for this, mostly because we like it every once in a while. It is usually available at the markets here and can be kind of expensive. But every once in a while you can splurge. It cooks up firm in about 5-7 minutes and it looks great on the plate. Add the strained pasta to your sauce and let it rest for a few minutes so that it soaks up your sauce. You can also vary this sauce by browning sausage or pancetta in the olive oil and letting that cook in the sauce. Takes a little longer, but again, well worth the trouble. Plate it and wait for the compliments.

There you have it. Simple. Basic and always delicious with a welcome home aroma that will call everyone to dinner.

THE BENEFITS OF DRINKING WINE

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Obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol aside, we are on such a health kick in this country today. Foods that we once considered good for you fell out of favor, some were straight out bad for you. But wait, then they weren’t. Nutritionists seem to go round and round, suggesting, warning and then backtracking. What is a wanting to be healthy person to do? Well, relax. Sit back and daydream a little in between exercise sessions, and drink…WINE!

Research has run the entire gamut concerning things like caffeine and alcohol. Too much caffeine is no good because it can upset your nervous system. But, caffeine in moderation can help prevent certain cancers and help to stave off dementia. Likewise, alcohol in moderation is good for your heart, can dilate arteries to increase blood flow and can raise levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol. A lot to think about and digest here.

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Note the clear blue sky in the background

See, wine is predominantly made from fermented grapes. Yeast consumes the sugar and produces ethanol, carbon dioxide and heat. This natural process has been around and basically unchanged for thousands of years and has traveled to pretty much every country in the world. Other fruits have been added, amounts of sugar have been experimented and the aging process has been refined, but still, the basic process has not changed since the dawn of time. Aaah, but now, in this day and age, we concern ourselves too often with foods that taste like dirt but contain vitamins and we deprive ourselves of the pleasure we are supposed to get from food and drink. But in the case of wine, we can indulge with a comforting feeling that we are ingesting something healthful, as we pay homage to our ancestors.

For some time now red wine has stolen the spotlight in this regard. It has long been known now that moderate consumption of red wine can and does lower blood pressure, decreases the risk of heart disease, lowers the risk of heart attack and can prevent certain forms of cancer. By moderate, studies usually feel that two, four-ounce glasses is enough. They even point to the “French Paradox,” a theory that points to the fact that the French suffer from ⅓ the heart attacks we do here in America. I think the operative word here is moderation. There is no reason to think that if two glasses are good, a whole bottle would be great! No. As in all things, moderation is the key and common sense contributes so much to a daily routine.

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A good dry white has benefits too!

But what about white wine? And champagne. They are made from the same thing, grapes, the same or very similar process. Hey, hey! Good news. They both contain the goodness of the skins, the flavonoids, bioflavonoids, vitamins, minerals and all the goodness of red wine, just admittedly in somewhat less quantity. As for antioxidants, a study from the University of Barcelona has shown that white wines and champagne may be actually higher in antioxidants than red wine.

So, what are we saying here? Wine is a beverage that is meant to be enjoyed, without the guilt. Like everything else, it has its uses, a purpose. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t have been around for so long. Think about that part alone in the context of how long say Coke or Pepsi, Mountain Dew or Gatorade have been around. Being Italian, I can remember that long ago pregnant women were encouraged to drink a little wine every day. It was good for the baby, and I’m sure it helped to keep mother a little calmer with everything she had to do during the day. Conversely, I never heard of a doctor encouraging anyone, anyone at all to drink a Coke. My doctor in my old neighborhood went so far as to call all sodas “poison.”

The bad side of wine drinking is there too though, and pretty formidable. Drinking to excess can lead to increased fat production, alcoholism, and too much of an excess can actually undo all the good things wine can do for you. Also, dessert wines like port wines are higher in sugar, therefore calories, and because of the higher sugar content, they can lead to some very nasty after-effects.

So, the key is moderation. Let your body do its work. Believe me. Your body knows what it needs and will send out the signals to let you know. Act accordingly. But along the way you might want to give your body a little help, a little treat. Even a little pick-me up. When that happens, wine is the almost perfect food. Raise a glass and treat yourself. Just remember the operative word…moderation. Everything in moderation. Including moderation.

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Salutti! To the good life!