Sunday, November 27, 2005

T-Day with two odd Italians

What better to drink with a Romanesque holiday feast than wines that look and taste much like they did during the reign of Augustus? While I roasted up the nerf-sized turkey breast and whipped up wacky ancho-bock beer mashers, the hub and I popped a couple of obscure Italians that only a true geek would love.

I found these two bottles on a lark; the likelihood of my finding and being able to afford such an eccentric luxury would otherwise be jack-squat. They sat on the shelves of the retail store for which I slave, having been completely ignored, for years, finally ending up drastically discounted. I'm sure a previous buyer thought there would be that one guy or gal for whom obscure Italian wine is an obsession, who had searched hi and lo for them and would be thrilled that we, of all stores, carried a bottle. As it turns out, it was a major score for me.

Looook at that krazy color! That's the color of uber-natural, ancient juice; unfiltered, according to Gravner, "to preserve the soul of the wine."

1997 Gravner Ribolla Gialla

Josko Gravner received little attention for his wines prior to 1997, when he began experimenting with terracotta amphora, lined with beeswax, as fermentation containers. He did three wines thusly, including the otherwise often dull, lo-alcohol ribolla gialla grape that is found only in the little coastal crescent of Collio, in Friuli.
I searched the web over for notes about this wine, but what few notes on the ribolla I found were all subsequent vintages.

This kind of wine was meant to age, but perhaps not too much longer than ten years. I don't have a lot of experience with deciding when strange Italian whites are losing it, but this wine seemed to me to be a stout pube away from showing oxidation. Nevertheless, the aromas were heady and rich, full of honey, smoke, and nutmeg. On the palate, the flavors of cream, lanolin, almonds and honey, and a baby-ass soft texture, finishing with a red clay minerality.

Around the time my sprouts were just about brusseled, we popped the next odd little princess. Who pays eighty bucks for a 6 year- old, weirdo Rose from Abruzzo? Me! When it's 75% off, that is.

Not the kind of bottle you'd expect to be filled with sat in with the red M. D' Abruzzos forever until one of us remembered what it was.

1999 Valentini 'Cerasuolo' Montepulciano D'Abruzzo Rose
Edoardo Valentini, known as 'The Lord of the Vines' among his best pals, is another avant-garde producer, this time in the Abruzzo area. I hate, by the way, when people talk about the "average plonk" from Abruzzo; there are some really fantastic bottles that come from this area that soar far above the Citras and the Dario D'Angelos (neither of which suck for quaffer wines, by the way).
This wine is lauded as one of Italy's finest roses. The nose on this wine is beautiful and complex: little pink blossoms and wee shreds of orange peel, dusted with meditteranean spices. It had that mineral activity that seems almost like a hint of a fizz, and a distinct coppery note that I found very strange. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of this wine, but it paired just fine with ripped-off bits of ham.

Mmm. Salmony.

Uta Hagen, the famous author and actress, once told Terry Gross that she ought not to question the craft of acting, but just enjoy the mystery. Both Terry Gross and I disagreed. Knowing a bit about the craft itself is best. When it comes to winemaking, your pleasure and interest is increased by knowing what kind of person the winemaker was, the story of the wine, and how it was made. So if you ever chance across these strange, beautiful vinos, you'll totally wanna look that stuff up.

Being just the two of us, starving and a little tipsy, we dispensed with presentation and globbed on the grub. Aw, Yeah.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cheesy Thanksgiving rant

Above is a rather fuzzy photo of a piece of cheese I bought on my first visit ever to a Dean and Deluca store, in St. Helena, CA. I took the picture for two reasons. First, because it says 'made by monks raw milk', which is hilarious, and the other to remind myself of the price I paid for it.

I purchased it after the woman at the counter singled it out as one of her favorites and extolled the wonders of its flavor. It was delicious. I nibbled on it for two days. On the morning I was to leave for the second leg of my trip, there was a bit left, but I wasn't in the mood for it anymore, having been seduced by some fresh fruit and yogurt, so I tossed it in the trash.

I stay diligent about not wasting food, particularly food that costs a lot, but really, any food. But there are still many times when I choose to ditch the leftovers in favor of something that sounds better. Sound familiar? Sure. We all do it. You look at that cold chicken and it's "man, I'm so over that. Let's have pizza delivered!" And, for sure, there's going to be some T-Day leftovers that we look at and groan for mercy. "How many days must I endure microwaved stuffing!" we'll say, and head for the neighborhood Chinese joint.

This next paragraph will not conclude that we are all a bunch of wasteful fuckers who don't give a shit about people starving, but instead, it will gently remind you that, as maggie over at the wine offensive said: we live like kings (Actually, her word was queens, which is way funnier) and we oughta keep that in mind.

If you can afford to toss leftovers, then you can afford to donate money. Maggie threw down a challenge: however much money you spend on your wine or spirits this Thanksgiving, match that amount as a donation. I second the motion, and furthermore throw down another challenge: commit to spend two shifts of volunteer work at your local food bank before the end of the year. Nothing will make you appreciate food like wiping off cans and packing them for distribution, or serving meals to people who don't have the luxury of wasting food.

Okay, I'm done. Live it up, drink fabulous wine, eat fabulous food, and always be grateful that you can.

Donate to Second Harvest


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Montepulciano Testimony

If you're a movie lover, you've got that list of movies you haven't seen that you've meant to check out. Mine is long, and grows ever longer with the passage of time, and God Bless Netflix for easy browsing and reminders.

One flick long on my list has been The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, which came out forever ago and kept falling into the 'Yeah, yeah, I'll get to it" category. Faced with an evening of Saturday night after-work winding down and not a damn thing on teevee, I finally popped it in.

I love this woman. Was she part of a grand, greedy world of electric church broadcasting that provided her with luxuries the devil himself coveted? Hell yeah. But behind those great flapping globs of mascara, she was just a simple country girl who had the gall to embrace the gay community long before it was cool.

I realize that everyone's already seen this movie and I'm woefully behind. But if you, too, have left it behind in lieu of the scads of other hipster movies, check it out. You'll have a whole new respect for this strange, sweet, twisted lady, and fresh, ironic reasons to hate Jerry Fallwell.

What better to pair with a cult favorite movie than a cheap, fabulous, fruity Italian?

2003 Capestrano Montepulciano D'Abruzzo

Tammy Faye would tell you that life is not about the material things, the fancy white Jag, the porcelain-visaged dolls, or the houses one has acquired. It's about people. It's about sharing the simple things with the folks who love you (unless, of course, they're in jail) and taking the time to let the Lord know you're grateful. Simple pleasures call for simple, wholesome wine. An unassuming wine that warms your aching ennui with juicy cherry fruit, lively minerality and pleasant, unassuming tannins. This Montepulciano is such a wine, and I recommend it highly, especially for when things get rough and your multi-million dollar empire lays in ruins before you. Or for when you're sitting on your ass in front of teevee on a Saturday night.

Might go well with some cold pizza, too.

Can a sister get an amen?


Thursday, November 17, 2005

White wine whiners, please wise up

What will the Italians call Tocai Friulano when they can no longer use the term 'Tocai'? It will be called 'Friulano', which doesn't really have the same ring to it. 'Tocai' sounds like something your hot, half-dressed lover whispers in your ear. Why the Hungarians got to be so stingy with it? There's enough words for everyone to share, people. But never mind that now.

Let me reiterate: if you're a real wine lover, you love white wine, too. Period. If you come into my store and sample a white and whine: "Aw, I dunno, I'm just a red wine person," I will no longer refrain from snorting at you. You can say "I haven't really found a white wine I like yet," because that's perfectly understandable. There was a time in my life when I thought I disliked white wine. I had tried what I thought was a fair array of styles (cheap U.S. Chardonnay, cheap U.S. Sauvignon Blanc, cheap U.S. Pinot Grigio) and they had all left me with a queasy stomach. I will note that I was much younger than you when I saw the light, so please, get with the program already. Jesus.

What made me see the glory of the golden grapes was my introduction to the incredible world of Italy. I tasted a Greco di Tufo, I think it was. I had no frickin' idea that I could eschew flabby, semi-sweet plonk that required sub-zero serving temp to be palatable. I could, instead, have crisp kisses of citrus, vivacious minerality and be refreshed and charmed.

2004 Casa Zuliani Tocai Friulano

Gambero Rosso Awarded 'Winemaker of the Year' to this producer, and this particular juice, along with a couple of its bretheren, made the red 'due bucchiere', which basically means "almost tre, baby". And you can taste the love. She's a pale yellow number, bright and crisp, big aromas of citrus rind, white flowers, almonds and minerals. Long, seductive finish full of sassy acidity. She paired beautifully with white cheese bits, rosemary crackers and The Colbert Report. If this were the first white wine you'd ever tried, you'd be whining about red wine. Because I know you. You like to whine.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

2004 Woop Woop Shiraz Does Not Suck

Call me easily amused, that's fine, but I swear to you, this little ten dollar shiraz delivers. It has the bit of meatiness. It has the black pepper. that a touch of stony minerality I detect? No way! It has the rich black fruit that's not all up in your face screaming "ME! I'M A BIG FAT JUICY BLACKBERRY! ME!"

Dude. Put down the freakin' Yellow Tail crrrrrap and step da hell up. Imagine: a low-end shiraz that might work with...with food!

The people at Woop Woop could, if they wanted, toss out the same old jammy, boring swill. Lord knows the market drools for that stuff, and will buy it by the gallon, just so long as it's-- what's that word they always use?--- 'smooth'. For many people, this means Not Encumbered By Flavor. It means soft and sweet. No alarms and no surprises, please.

But Woop Woop isn't boring, like it's supposed to be. It's alive with spicy sass and old-school charm. Kudos, People of Woop Woop. Please, keep it up.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

2003 Cantine Farro "Campi Flegrei" Falanghina

What is this prevailing insistence among my customers that if you like red wine, you're a "red wine" person, and therefore eschew all white wines? Or that if its coming up on cool weather (which in my part of the country, translates to "not as hot") then white wine is sooo, like, bad form?

People, if you fall into either of these anti-white wine categories, I feel sorry for ya. You're missing some beautiful stuff. You need to realize that there's more white wine out there than Chard, Pinot Grigio, and Sauv Blanc, and that white wine is not supposed to be like red wine. Do you, for instance, take a sample of an orange in the produce section, taste it, and say: "Nah, you know, I'm more of an apple person." No, ya don't. You should taste that orange and remember that, even though it's been a long while since you've had a really good orange, they're definitely a treat now and again, and have a place in your wide, adventurous palate.

Okay, this is a dumb arguement to bother with. If you don't dig white wine, fine. But let me describe one you're missing.

2003 Cantine Farro "Campi Flegrei" Falanghina

Falanghina is an obscure varietal from Campania, that loves volanic soil and sunshiny hills. It is believed to be the grape from which the Romans made Falernum, a great wine beloved of the elites. There are a few good Falanghinas out there, but this one's my favorite so far.

First of all, this sublime beauty is unoaked. Oaking Falanghina is like beating a magnolia to a pulp with a two-by-four to make it smell better. Dumb idea. It has a charming, bright pale straw hue and aromas of white blossom, white stonefruit, and clean sheets whipping in seabreeze. The palate is subtle honeyed citrus peel and a little almond, with a crisp, long finish. You'll definitely want to make sure this wine's not too icy-chilled to let the subtleties shine through, and I recommend it as an apertif or with something that won't overpower it, 'cause it's pretty stuff.

And I drank this wine on Halloween Night while watching David Cronenberg movies. Why? Because it sounded good. And it was good, regardless of the fact that it was cool outside and red wine would have been more appropriate for horror flicks. Ha! What a rebel I am, man.

I try to respect the diversity of everyone's palate, but judging from people's reluctance to embrace one color of wine or the other, these people are probably just as dull in many other preferences in their lives. These are missionary-style, medium-well kinda folks, I fear.

Sigh. Oh well, more for me.