“Fruit of the vine and work of human hands.” taken from the Catholic Mass.
FANTINI wines are part of the larger wine producing family, Farnese. Based in Abruzzo, Italy, this family has vineyards and wineries in various places around the boot. This sangiovese is a product of the region known as the “Terre di Chieti,” or the “Province of Chieti,” which was created in 1995 when the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) category was first introduced. This wine is more location specific, focusing on the hills around the city of Chieti, the provincial capital. Production regulations are much looser with the IGT designation than they are with the DOC or DOCG designation, so these wines can range from dry whites, to sweet roses and sparkling reds. But the majority are dry red table wines made from a handful of local grape varieties.
In searching for wines I do have a strong propensity to favor the Italians. I guess partly because of my heritage and a long association with wine, but also and more importantly, because I really do feel that country produces wine more as an historic love affair rather than just a product. Of course it is a business. I’m not that naive. But when you have a business and you can produce a product of which you are proud, a product of which your grandfather would be proud, you tend to take a more personal approach. I think that this is what is missing from too many things we produce today. From the time of the Romans, who brought wine-making techniques with them as they conquered the world up until today you will find that the majority of wineries in Italy are family owned and operated. That is a commitment to quality.
Throughout Europe winemaking has become more popular over the years and the art of winemaking has clearly spread across the globe. From Austria to Australia, from California to Washington State and all across the lower 48 states, wineries, good wineries, can be found. But for now, back to the titled wine.
Grapes for this wine are planted on a southeast facing slope in a soil which is mostly limestone and clay. Since the vines face this direction, they are subjected to an early morning sun and a very long day. This gives the grape a distinctive flavor as it matures quicker due to the dominant sun. The soil also lends an earthy quality to the grapes, which are destemmed and fermented for a time in stainless steel barrels before 15% of them are further fermented in oak barrels. Again, the flavor of the wine will borrow only the slightest bit of the oak so what you get is a dry, yet fruity wine with a deep purple color and only fairly strong tannins.
And now, for a bit of history. Farnese wines, or more specifically, wines from Abruzzo became famous in the 16th century thanks to Princess Margaret of Austria. She and her husband, Prince Farnese produced wines which were consumed at feasts and festivals throughout Europe. Through the centuries this wine has endured as they developed the reputation of using only the finest grape varietals, sourced locally from mountainside vineyards and grown under strict supervision with an eye to both quality and tradition. In the winery’s words, “We believe we cannot produce a great wine without constant supervision on behalf of expert winemakers. This is the reason that, for each vintage, Fantini employs six top winemakers to work in perfect harmony with the grapes and ensure they are turned into great wines.”
The sangiovese is light enough to be enjoyed on its own, but it does have a hearty side to it. It has some backbone to stand up to a real beef steak like a porterhouse or beef ribs, yet also complements game meats, venison and boar in particular very well.
I guess most of you know by now or at least have heard something about this virus sweeping the nation. I guess if we have to stay inside, may as well make it as pleasant as possible. Wine and cheese is a tremendous help in that regard. So make it something good, something you can comfortably enjoy. Keep in mind that price is not always the best judge of a good wine. Oh sure a $100 bottle will have characteristics that a $12 bottle can’t match. But if you can’t afford the more expensive bottle, a reasonably priced wine can add just as much comfort at a price you are comfortable with, thereby adding to the comfort-ability. So raise a glass, slice off a piece of cheese or some salami and turn on an old black and white movie. As they say, it don’t get no better than that.
“What came first, the chicken or the egg?” says he.
“Who cares?” says I.
“Chickens lay eggs. Eggs produce chickens. Chickens are self-propagating.”
Chicken. Just the word paints a picture. Bad handwriting becomes chicken scratching. A person who lacks courage is called a chicken. Then of course there is the age old question,”What came first, the chicken or the egg.” But it all comes to one thing: chicken. It just tastes good.
Eating chicken is a custom as old as man himself. Wild or domesticated birds have been used for food ever since man learned to hunt. Grill it, roast it, boil or broil it, there are as many ways to cook chicken as there are, well, chickens! But this is a favorite recipe of mine and normally ends up on our table for Monday dinner. Simple, flavorful and satisfying, this recipe is a combination of ingredients, all of which can be substituted for something else. Add broccoli, mushrooms, spinach or whatever you like, you really can’t go wrong. Just remember that I AM Italian, so when measuring, the rule of “a little of this and a little of that” applies. So, add to your taste.
2 boneless chicken breasts butterflied
1 slice white bread, crusts removed
Splash of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
In a mixing bowl combine all the ingredients and mix well to a stiff texture.
Butterfly the chicken breasts and put the stuffing on one side only. Then fold over
the other side. You may want to seal it with a toothpick.
Pour some olive oil into a cast iron skillet, maybe ⅛ of an inch. You can use a roasting pan, but if you have the skillet, better. Place the stuffed breasts into the pan and rub a little more olive oil on top. Season with some salt, garlic powder and a pinch more of bread crumbs sprinkled over the top.
The brussels sprouts are really easy. I’ve used frozen with very good results. After thawing, simply season them as you like, salt, pepper and add some diced onion. I also like to add a bit of unbleached flour or a few unseasoned bread crumbs. Toss it all together until well coated. Then put them into the pan with the chicken. Add a splash of the wine and roast for about 15 minutes, then turn the breasts over so they cook evenly and the tops don’t dry out or burn. Roast for about another 20-25 minutes until tops are golden and juices run clear.
There you have it. A simple meal, prepared in maybe an hour that will be a little different, but very tasty. One thing though. Remember that wine you put into the skillet? Save some of that. This dish goes very well with a good sauvignon or pinot. And, take out a piece of good, crusty Italian bread. You’ll be surprised how good that is for sopping up some of the juices.Finish off the meal with an arugula salad and brother, you are home!
So, does anybody really care which came first, the chicken or the egg? After all, you can eat them both.
Anne Marie. What day does Monday fall on this week?
“Beware the Ides of March.” Shakespeare
“March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb.” ?
Today is a cloudy, cold day here in Coastal North Carolina. It is supposed to rain any minute now, so they say on tv, and the rain is expected to last and stick around for a while. But it is the cold temps that have everyone upset. It is now about 55 degrees, but the clouds make it look and feel so much colder, maybe closer to 52. Here in North Carolina this is called “WINTER.” And no matter what March comes in like, the lamb can’t get here soon enough. A few years ago when I was living in Connecticut, we would have killed for a day like this in March. This would be called “a good day for working outside,” and lawn cleanups would be the order of the day. But here, shut in by this horrific lack of sunshine and a sky which is not its usual blue, there is only one thing to do.
This brings me to a rather favorite pastime of mine…wine. I’m feeling like maybe a good chianti or a sangiovese would raise my spirits. And not to make light of a bad situation, news about the coronavirus is also keeping people inside, so what better way to spend a sad looking Sunday.
La Carraia wineries are a relative newcomer to the Italian peninsula. Founded in 1976 by the Cotarella and Gialletti families La Carraia can boast of a wide selection of wines from the casual to the most discerning. The vintage I have chosen is of the former variety, moderately priced at about $13, but with many of the qualities of a higher priced bottle.
Umbria, the region of Italy from which this brand originates is unique because it is one of the few areas which is totally landlocked. It is generally dry with most of its rain falling in the autumn. But summers are warm and winters are on the cool side, but relatively short, giving the grape a long growing season. The most remarkable thing though is the dry, virtually non-polluted air, which naturally will produce a crop free from most contaminants which must be filtered out of other wines.
As a Sangiovese, this wine is heavier than say a pinot noir, but light enough to be enjoyed with fish. In fact, my family and I enjoyed it and felt it added a dimension to salmon which was a treat to us. There are definite hints of black berries and plum and even some tobacco. The ruby red color gave the table a nice glow and offset the salmon and other vegetables well. Later, we finished off the bottle with dessert and were still pleased. Although not a sweet wine by any means, we still enjoyed what was left with our cannoli!
This wine is really described as a “pizza and pasta” wine, and is usually paired with barbecued meats, especially beef ribs. But, I personally have never subscribed to the red with meat and white with fish school of thought. I have always felt that the flavor of a good wine can be enjoyed with anything and does in fact enhance flavors. Think of it as a contrast in taste rather than a complement. I can assure you that you will never be disappointed with a good contrast. Just as a night sky looks good in red and orange with a blue background, contrasting tastes between food and beverage is just as much a winning combination.
Also, this is one of the first wines I have ever decanted, which just adds to the flavor. The bouquet was substantial enough to rise out of the glass and incorporate itself into the foods. This is also something I rarely do, but in this case I was very pleased with the results.
How does this relate to a rainy day and staying inside? Oh I don’t know. I guess it’s enough to say that my wife and I will just relax today, share a glass and kick back. There’s got to be a good old black and white on the Turner Classics channel and there’s no better way to enjoy that.
Here in Coastal Carolina winter is a different kind of animal. We left Connecticut in 2014 after five of the worst winters I had ever known. Every year I was shoveling snow off the roof, removing ice dams from gutters and hearing on the news about building roofs that had collapsed under the weight of the snow. I can remember the oil delivery man climbing over eight foot mountains of plowed snow just to deliver fuel to our houses and trudging through four feet of the white stuff on the covered lawn to deliver that precious oil. Temperatures were so low and wind so bad that even the thermal windows were shaking and shutters were blown all over the street. Now contrast that with our winter here as temps fell through the thirties and skies turned gray for a day or two. Last winter it did get unusually cold and some pipes in the “FROG,” front room over the garage, did freeze a bit. But by 10:00 AM they were thawed with no damage and temps got back to the forties. A bad North Carolina winter. (We did rebuild by the way.)
Maybe a gray day isn’t so bad after all.
“Hey brother, can you spare a dime for a cup o’ Joe?”
Watch almost any film noir from the 1930’s, 40’s or 50’s and this line will appear somehow, some way. At the time some down-on-his-luck guy would be asking this of a man who appeared to be better off than he was so a dime would not break him. However, he was probably asking for the dime so he could buy a cup of coffee. Now, some people still refer to it as a cup of Joe and even Dunkin’ Donuts got into the act with its BOX of Joe, a cardboard and plastic container filled with coffee.
After a long day especially here in the Carolinas where heat and humidity are the rule, a nice cool glass of wine is good to sort of wind down. My wife and I just enjoy that time when we can sit and relax, watch the birds, the clear sky and some beautiful sunsets. That’s why we moved here when we retired and the ability to do that gives a sense of calm, ease and fulfillment. Not a good time for a heavy red although it is my favorite, but time for a nice sipping wine. Something with body but a light citrusy lean.
Pinot Gris is kind of a distant cousin to Pinot Grigio. Both are made from the same grape but because Pinot Grigio has a little more acidity, it tends to be drier, while Pinot Gris is a little sweeter but with more flavor. Both are pale white wines, light by nature but good drinking wines nonetheless.
Wine by JOE Dobbes is a product of Oregon, an up and coming wine producer. There are some good, undiscovered wines coming from that area and this is one of the best. After working in vineyards for other growers, Joe Dobbes, a real person, took the plunge and started out on his own. His mission in the great northwest was to produce high quality wines at affordable prices. His courage and determination paid off, and he now owns the largest vineyard in the state and his goal of producing good wines has been realized.
With vineyards in the Williamette and Rogue Valleys as well as a network of other area vintners, this winery has been able to produce very find blends. A mixture of climate, soil and sustainable farming practices has made this the premier producer in the region. And the awards show it!
- 89 Points – BEST BUY, Wine Enthusiast.
- 90 Points – Tasting Panel (Dec, 2019) Gold – San Fran Chronicle.
- Gold Medal – 2017 Houston Rodeo Uncorked International Wine Competition.
And many others.
Upon cracking the bottle open you can smell the aromas of mango, a rarity in wine. This aroma combines with pear and lemon zest for a strikingly clean bouquet. On the palate it is light, as you would imagine, and fruity with a taste of passion fruit and lime. All this comes together in a semi-clear appearance not unlike that of an opaque daffodil. A delightful blend with some body, it is made to enjoy with a meaty fish like tuna or swordfish while it would also complement grilled chicken or roasted lamb
At any rate, like many other wines from Oregon this is an unknown commodity. When you hear that a wine comes from this country, people generally think California, and rightfully so. Well, there are so many other wine producing states and Oregon is, in my judgement, one of the finest. So enjoy this one, responsibly, of course, and let your adventurous spirit take over. With my personal rating of 8 out of an unattainable 10 grapes, this wine will add to any table.
Throughout my entire life I have been a fan of good comedy, especially old time comedies. Laurel and Hardy, Hope and Crosby, Martin and Lewis on and on and on. But there is one particular scene I remember from the old Abbott and Costello tv show when Bud Abbott is trying to explain to Mr Baciagalupo why he could never get Lou to eat a meatball. Meanwhile Costello is just screaming “MEEATBALL!!! MEEEEATBALLL!!! Well, sorry fellas, but I love a good meatball, and my wife’s meatballs are second to none. But first a little background.
A meatball is just what it says it is, a ball of meat. Sure there are some ingredients. Of course a Swedish meatball is different from an Italian meatball, but basically they are cousins in that they are a ball of meat. An Italian meatball though has ingredients like garlic, salt and the like and it is known the world over as the standard by which all other meatballs are judged.
Originally an good meatball was made of beef and pork and sometimes a little veal. Beef is the main ingredient, but because most Italians of long ago were poor, pork was added to stretch the beef, which was always more expensive. The veal was added on holidays and just gave it the feel of something special. Over the years though, pork was mostly eliminated, and the meatball morphed into beef. So, here is the recipe for, not the meatball. Not just any meatball. But my wife’s meatballs which really are the best ever. (No, she is not standing behind me)
1 lb ground beef (chuck is best) ¾ beef and ¼ pork is optional
Minced garlic (garlic powder is a good substitute)
8 slices sliced white bread, crusts removed
Grated parmesan cheese
Pepper, but just a touch
2 large eggs
Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl except for the bread and bread crumbs. Wet the bread with cold water and squeeze all the water out like you would a sponge. Add that to the mix and, using your hands mix everything together until it is blended and the pieces of bread disappear. Now, this mixture will be kind of loose, so add the breadcrumbs, maybe ¼ cup and mix again. Keep adding more bread crumbs until the mixture dries a little and doesn’t stick to your hands. You may need a cup more or less. When you are satisfied with the mixture, it’s probably done. Put it aside for a while.
In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil about ¼ inch. Get it nice and hot. Take a small amount of the meatball mix and roll it into a ball. Make each ball the size you would eat, not too big, not too small. Drop it into the oil and let it brown on all sides. Your meatball is now fit for any discretionary human’s consumption.
See, one of the secrets of a good meatball is the ingredients. But the other is in the frying. Take the time to do that and you will see that it is well worth the effort. Some people bake their meatballs which is OK and some just drop them into their gravy. The former method is OK I guess while the latter is totally unacceptable. A slow cooker meatball will send you directly to hell! A good meatball is crisp on the outside but soft on the inside. Crispy enough to crack when you bite into it while the inside just kind of fills your cheeks with flavor. I do prefer mine out of the gravy but I’ll never turn away one that is soaked in a good Sunday gravy.
Now, I do have to say that I know quite a few people who don’t fry their meatballs and let me be clear on this point. If you take this hunk of seasoned meat and just drop it into your gravy pot you are doing both a disservice. Take the extra time and fry the meatballs. You will see it is worth the trouble. Also, spaghetti and meatballs is a classic dish, good any night of the week, but a meatball, a GOOD meatball can stand alone and be a staple, a main dish on its own. So be proud and serve your meatballs with distinction.
I guess down deep inside I know there is no meatball on the planet that Lou Costello would eat. He would swear to that and so would Mr Baciagalupo. But if you follow this recipe, and I know but it really is a little of this and a little of that, you will love your meatball. Your family will ask for seconds. And it will make you wonder, what was Lou Costello thinking about?! He’ll never know what he missed.
Anne Marie, please pass the meatballs honey.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.