“Maps, wait! They don’t love you like I love you…”

Psyche! They really do love you…a lot. Maps are amazing. They take you outside of yourself- your corner of the room, block, town, country, continent, universe. We are mere mini-bits of the whole, and the big picture can sometimes be refreshing. Can often be everything.

When it comes to wine, and really, to any product of agriculture, practically everything we need to know can be understood through a map. Answers are buried beneath mountains and their height, rivers, streams and the directions they flow, valleys, shorelines, and sometimes transient political borders. As the grapevine made its travels throughout the globe, every area where it settled has developed its own production techniques- especially in the old world, particularly before this new world thing called globalization. Every people and place has worked with what they had, yielding results completely their own. We are so fortunate to still be able to find wines that are manifestations of this natural individuality.

What I’m getting at is that if you really desire to understand wine, you have to look at a map…a good map and a smart map…for as long as it takes to get it. Carry on and live your life. And then look at that map again. It is best to have one handy.

Beyond their usefulness, I personally believe that maps are attractive decor. When it comes to interior design, art is art, and we would all be somewhat dead inside without it- but at the same time, there is something so sexy about having a sliver of the world, contours and all, hanging in your home.

I am a huge fan of maps from De Long (http://www.delongwine.com/index.php). Featuring wine regions, their legal designations, and topography, De Long’s products are detailed and current.

At the end of the day…

The excitement and drudgery, accomplishment and pleasures of our everyday- the scheduled and the unexpected, emails and to-do lists, running after (and waiting for) planes, trains, and automobiles, the schlepping of the groceries while holding a phone to one ear and trying to sincerely listen.  The attempting to keep up with current events, authors, catch phrases, lyrics. The feeding of your inner political beast, participating in community programs, supporting local agriculture…dairy…meat…art.  All while knowing that you should be trying to do more yoga, maybe even meditating, adopting a dog, and of course, taking a moment to stop and smell the (corner store?) roses…

Amidst all of these things that we do to get by with a little sanity and style, we seek moments of peace.  If not for a daily indulgence or two- be it taking the time to breathe in the sweet blossomy fuzz of summer’s first peach, or turning off the mind and relishing in the coziness of a warm creamy latte, what are we doing here? That old adage, life is too short- it’s really real. So, at the end of the day we celebrate with friends, family, strangers, and sometimes the sweet company of ourselves.

When we do this, why not imbibe in something ridiculous and lovely? Match a wine to your mood. On a quirky day when you realize that everything is connected in a very I Heart Huckabees sort of way, pour yourself a glass of Domaine Pascal Pibaleau’s La Perlette, a charming sparkling made from a grape called Grolleau- little-known and typical of France’s Loire region. Feeling light and free? A bottle of Jean Folliard’s Morgon Cote du Py will solidify the feeling. A Zinfandel from one of my favorite Napa Valley producers, Storybook Mountain, may cater to a more gregarious mood, its transparently hedonistic qualities offering instant gratification. Need something to sip with a savory slow-roasted meal and your Autumn sweater?  Cozy up with a wine made from one of southern Italy’s most capable grapes, Aglianico (thought of by some as the “Nebbiolo of the South” for its ability to render broodingly tannic wines worthy of age).  There are numerous talented producers of Aglianico, including Donato D’Angelo, who has forged quite a path for the grape in his region at the base of Mt. Vulture, an extinct volcano.  On laundry day chill down a bottle of Pierre Boniface’s current vintage of Vin de Savoie. You will feel utterly drunk on the idea of the fresh Alpine air where its Jacquère grapes are grown. And isn’t utterly drunk just the point?

A Different Grape

I just love me some lipstick. Any shade gently run across the lips can change an outfit, an ambiance, a conversation, a day. The first lipstick I played around with as a girl was, as most young girls, my mother’s signature color.  Clinique’s “A Different Grape” was my initiation into the female ritual of the painting of the face. Since then, I have gone through many a phase- Parisian pinks, ruby reds, shimmery silver frost (circa 1997, feel me?).

On a recent visit to my mom’s I came across a stick of this shade and tried it on for old times’ sake. When replacing the cap the name caught my eye and settled in in a new way. “A Different Grape” encompasses an idea I have pursued over the past few years – relishing in the knowledge of grape varieties apart from the usual. There are hundreds and hundreds out there, too many for most of us to wrap our minds around.

This little post is meant to celebrate a handful of those different (and delicious) grapes. From a genetic standpoint, they are all in the species of vitis vinifera, the genus which most every variety that can be found in a wine bottle belongs to.  At the core, each variety hasn’t wandered far from its roots, and is a specialty of its home region.  Fortunately, more and more are making their way to American shores.  Discover them in the nooks and crannies of progressive wine shops, request them at not-so-progressive wine shops, and purchase them through online wine buying sites.  Take them into your world as you would a fresh vocabulary word, gadget, recipe, or song…one at a time.

Fer Servadou- A red variety found primarily in Southwest France, notably in Marcillac.  Sage and soft yet distinct spice on the nose, moderate yet mellow tannin, holds the potential to make shamelessly rustic styles.  A few prodcers include Domaine de Genouillac, Domaine du Cros, and my personal favorite, Causse Marines.

Blauer Portugieser- This red grape is most widely cultivated in Austria and Germany, where it grows prolifically (its relation to Portugal is questionable).  The wines it produces are often lean in body with a healthy amount of acidity- usually simple and steady. Rosé and sparkling wines made from Portugieser can be absolutely charming.  Producers include Weingut Fischer and Weingut Eugen Friedeich Hambacher.  Schloss Muhlenhof makes both still and sparkling versions that I highly recommend.

Erbaluce- A white variety native to Italy’s northwest region of Piemonte, more specifically to the Canavese Valley and its town of Caluso. Its acidity is affably high, and its body unctuous, with notes of lemon, lime, and fresh thyme. Erbaluce makes delightful still, sparkling, and passito style wines. The area for its production is relatively small, and the number of its producers are few. So when you come across a bottle, it is worth your while to give it a try.  Producers include Orsolani and Ferrando.

Ruche- An exotic-natured red variety native to the Monferrato Hills of Piemonte, Italy, located just between the cities of Asti and Alba. On the nose, Ruche presents sage and orange peel, gardenia and geranium. On the palate, it offers a symphony of red plum, lavender, and savory spice. The grape unvinified is pretty high in sugar and so the wine it produces usually tends to be high in alcohol, though not in an unattractive way if made properly. In Castagnole, where Ruche is king, it is traditionally paired with slow-roasted light meats such as pheasant and rabbit.  Producers include Luca Ferraris, La Mondianese, and Cascina ‘Tajvin.

Piedirosso- A red variety that has been cultivated in the region of Campania, particularly in the area surrounding Naples, for generations. Piedirosso was brought to this area, as many things were, from Greece.  When still on the vine, the grape indicates that it has reached full ripeness by the transformation of the color of its stems to a shade of russet-red. Piedirosso literally translates to “red feet”. The wine that it makes is unquestionably one of its southern Italian terroir- red stewed fruit, fall spices, and game on the nose and palate, medium in body, with more than a hint of smokiness resulting from the volcanic soils where it is cultivated.  Some producers include I Pentri Castelvenere, Terradora, and the lovely La Sibilla.