Piemonte in June

Lately I haven’t been really great at finding words.

Words for all of the wonderful and new (and old) and tasty things that I want to tell you about.  A whole jumble of ideas in my mind that haven’t properly found their way out.

SO.  Instead of remaining silent for an even looooooonger time, here are some pictures from lately (ish).  They are part of a bunch that I took while traveling around northwest Italy during the last week of June with Vias, the company I work for.

A week of warm sunshine.  The Langhe gods were on our side.  We made it to Valle d’Aosta, Strevi, and Oltrepo Pavese too.

We were there in a moment a person can’t forget.  Among some of the greatest vineyards in the world.  Puffy shadows of clouds floated over endless hills green with summer vines.  Most wineries reported being about two weeks behind in harvest this year.  Good things come to those who wait.

Mostly away from phones and work and all that sort of stuff, I was surrounded by good old fashion conversation.  Food tasted better- tajarin! cioccolato! pomodori that melt in your mouth like candy!  Wines more fully understood in a quiet world with a quiet mind.  Such a pure place and enticingly simple life.  For a visitor, at least.

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Atrium in Torino

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Vines of Maison Anselmet in Villenueve, Valle d’Aosta.

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Mountain runoff water.  Pearly white from marl picked up on its way down the Alps.

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Giorgio Anselmet, winemaker, in the barrel room of Maison Anselmet.  Entire winery was built by Giorgio and his father, Renato.  A little bit of love and pride in every basalt tile.  You can taste it in the wines.

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Sunset over the hilltop village of La Morra.  View from Damilano winery on the border of Barolo & La Morra.

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Said border.

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Village of Barolo.

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Safe haven for dolcetto- Dogliani.  Snapped from Pecchenino Winery.

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Alba in the evening.

MORE TO COME!

Yesterday’s Gourmet

Gourmet 2/72

In 1972 Italy’s appellation system was just about 10-years-old.  Wineries were beginning to bottle wines they’d been selling locally in town centers where people would fill jugs from taps and hoses.  These local specialties were in the process of becoming better and better and better.  This was the beginning of the wines of Italy that we are so fortunate to know today.

Toward the end of May I was able to spend some time with my grandmother who gave me a new old issue of Gourmet Magazine from ’72 .  This is my favorite one yet.  Among the amusing ads, dinner party plans, and refreshingly good writing was a piece by Hugh Johnson, The Wines of Italy- Part 1.  Reading through, I felt privy to a moment in time long after the land that became Italy began making wine and right around the birth of its quality wine production.

The piece begins with a point that, even with modern winemaking, I hope will always be true of most Italian wine, “Noble as their names are, and long as they have been cultivated, most of even the best Italian wines are still cottage industries.”  Though there are certainly regions and producers that are making downright good wines, part of the beauty of Italy is its diversity.  There are so many little towns and regions that are making individually special wines which fit their community and culture in specific and delicious ways.  It is not a question of whether these wines are the greatest in the world- Italian wine is so much more than that.  It is a question of if they are a soulful and enlivened expression of a variety and all that cultivates it.  It is a Schiava that is a Schiava, a Ciro that is a Ciro, an Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone that is exactly that.  They are interesting and contemplative and telling of a history of terroir, people, politics, patterns, cuisine, and all of the idiosyncrasies that follow along.

Johnson uses part one to bring his reader through the North, from west to east, making note of grapes, wines and, in some cases, producers on his path.  For example, he provides a rundown of Piemonte’s “reliable suppliers”: Fontana-Fredda, Franco Fiorina, Pio Cesare, Contratto, Bersano, Damilano, Marchese di Barolo, Borgogno.  And by hearsay: Giulio Mascarello and Francesco Rinaldi.  He says that everything about Barolo and Barbaresco is “massive”, which is an entirely apt descriptor, though I believe that the massiveness of then and the massiveness of now has probably transformed quite a bit.

 Not only are Barbera and Dolcetto mentioned as Piemonte’s other red varieties, but also Freisa and Grignolino, which we rarely hear about.  Such a shame because Grignolino is such a delightful light red; I would drink it any/every day of the week.

Johnson also mentions Spana and it’s homeland around Gattinara and Ghemme, “Though in tiny supply, is really often as good as good Barolo.”  Not to be forgotten!

Running up the road into Valtellina, Johnson talks about Sassella, Grumello, and Inferno, saying they are deep and dark and need to spend a long while in cask before even being considered ready for drinking.  They were not widely available then, and though they are not super available now, there are certainly more accessible and approachable versions of Valtellina’s chiavennasca on the market these days.  Oh how far we’ve come.

Johnson arrives in the Veneto and puts forth that Soave is “possibly Italy’s best white wine”  and that the “narrow green Soave bottle announces a thoroughly civilized experience”.  He acknowledges Valpolicella rosso’s usefulness as an everyday drinkable wine, even if a bit bitter on the finish, but cannot get down with Recioto, the “dark brown pride and joy” of the region.

In Modena, Johnson writes, “Lambrusco, the local specialty, will always remain rather a joke with me.”  I find it impossible to take fizzy red wine seriously.  THANKFULLY, after years and years of phonies, the dry, slightly tannic, palate-cleansing REAL lambrusco has made its arrival on the US market.  Its goodness cannot be denied.

There is more and more, I wish I could read it all to you; shall I?

It is in the introduction that Johnson hits the nail on the head.  That is the nail that, stubbornly, will never fully be hammered into place- the elusive enticement of Italian wine.  A beauty far better experienced and personally understood than explained.

“Can one say that any wine tastes Italian?  I think one can.  Although it seems improbable that a common thread of flavor should run through the produce of a country eight hundred miles long, and even of its offshore islands, there is something- it must be the culture of Italy expressed through one of its ancient artifacts- that Italy’s wines have in common.”

PS- Just a little song.  It’s a nice one for humming.

Ancestral Spirit

I had the treat of tasting a few beautiful bottles of old nebbiolo around this time last month, thanks to the very kind (z)infidel who drowned a table full of cool folk in the riches of Burlotto and Conti Boca, the most stunning of which was Burlotto’s ’67 Barolo- one of the more complete and elegant wines of age that I have tasted in awhile.

We enjoyed some spectacular nebbiolo from the Langhe, but the lineup started out with old vintages from further north in Piedmont.  They were the ’64 Cantine Curti Spanna, the ’67 Francoli Spanna, and the ’64 Bertelleti Gattinara, Ghemme, and Spanna.  I found these wines to be pretty exciting, mostly because they are from little Piemonte appellations that have sort of been forgotten.  And as much as I love the new, the present, the fresh, I also hate to forget.  I wouldn’t say that these guys shone like the ’67 Burlotto, or some of the others, but they sure did sing their native song.  And I don’t believe we can ask for anything greater than that.

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These little regions- Ghemme, Gattinara, Sizzano, Boca, Carema were the winemaking regions back in the day of the kingdom of Savoy.  Scattered around the base of the Italian-Swiss Alps, the place is quite pure.  These were the wines of nobility before disease such as phylloxera came along in the late 1800’s and spoiled the vineyards.  Vines were replanted, but these regions never really regained their popularity.  The Langhe, a little further south, housing significant terroir such as Barolo and Barbaresco have come into their own and sort of stolen the show.

There are not a whole bunch of these guys on the market right now, but when you find them, know that they are almost always wines of excellent value.  They are made in viticultural areas with long history, old vines, deep roots, and spanna farming running through their veins.  Blending grapes such as Croatina, Vespolina, and Bonarda are usually found in these bottles as well- all sturdy varieties that could stand on their own in a respectable wine.  Tom’s Wine Line gives a nice rundown of wines and producers from these areas that can be found around the market, as well as his thoughts upon tasting them.

Source: http://allthingsd.com/20090219/the-little-engine-that-could-yahoo-paid-search-adds-video-and-pictures-trying-for-more-clicks/

As much as I love all of the wines of the Langhe, I’m rooting for these underdog regions to make a comeback in the next few decades.  It’s no easy task though.  Eric Pfanner explains in this recent piece on Northern Piedmont how difficult it is to attain even an 8 hectare plot of vineyards, or space to plant vineyards, because the land is so split up among so many landowners.  Sounds like a jungle full of paperwork and negotiations; but still, anything is possible.  If they try really hard, you know…like the little engine that could, I believe that northern Piemonte has what it takes to stun the world again.

And just because- here is someone else who belts out one hell of a native song.  With his banjo and suitcase kick-drum sort of setup, this is Morgan O’Kane, a voice from Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains.  I remember hearing or reading a description of his music as being played with ancestral spirit, which makes lots and lots of sense to me.

In The New Year

Source: http://lifevsfilm.blogspot.com/2012/11/top-5-movie-proposals.html

Happy, happy almost 2013!  

I hope all of your favorite wishes come true in the new year.

When it comes to celebrating the countdown, there are so many interesting sparkling wines to choose from.  With or without food, to sip them is revitalizing and helpful in the endurance required during this highly social season.

Fortunately, we always have Champagne, which is fabulous (dahhhling).  I recommend trying bottles from producers you’ve never heard of before.

Beyond Champagne, here are 3 suggestions to keep your 12/31 bright:

Source: http://www.chandon.com/etoile-wines/etoile/etoile-brut-wine.html

Etoile Brut NV Domaine Chandon

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Approx. $29

California sunshine and San Francisco sourdough.  Fell in love with this wine when I worked at Domaine Chandon, in Yountville, CA, where it is paired with unimaginably exquisite dishes everyday.  Sustainably produced.

Source: http://www.astorwines.com/SearchResultsSingle.aspx?p=1&search=26928&searchtype=Contains&term=&cat=1&country=England&style=2&sparkling=True

England Cavendish 2009 Ridgeview Estates

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Approx: $32

Yes, England!  A delightful surprise from an “Island Wine” themed blind tasting this past fall.  I haven’t forgotten it.  Was struck by its full yet elegant character.  And the way that I was almost certain it was  Champagne, even though, of course, Champagne is not an island.

 

Source: http://www.vinosite.com/shop/wine-type/sparkling/italy-prosecco/castello-di-verduno-sciopet-pelaverga-metodo-classico-brut-rose-2009-1-case-12-bottles-piedmont-italy.html

Pelaverga Metodo Classico Brut Rose S-ciopet 2009 Castello di Verduno

Grape: Pelaverga

Approx $47

Pelaverga is a variety native to Piedmont’s village of Verduno.  11 producers work with pelaverga.  In S-ciopet, Mario Andrion of Castello di Verduno crafts the grape into a metodo classico style rose. META-PRETTY and  sustainably produced.

Source: http://www.sosayweallonline.com/?attachment_id=3449

Bubbles!

-For more ideas, here are 2 posts from last year:

Bubbles to Love and Auld Lang Syne.

-Also, Grapes of Cath’s “Things That Sparkle” category to poke through.

And a few more links…

-Meg Houston Maker’s Palate Press Piece: Drinking Stars: Sparkling Wines for Holiday Celebrations

-Eric Asimov for the NYT: Deft Hands Behind the Bubbles

-And if you want get all scientific about it, Champagne Physics- or What Science Can Tell You About Drinking Your Bubbly by Erika Szymanski for Palate Press.

“In The New Year” by The Walkmen.

*Hover over photos for source info.

Yuletide Gifting

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From “Gourmet, The Magazine of Good Living”, Volume XXIX, December 1969.

It’s the time of year to find a special something for all your special someones.  If you ask me, it feels just as good to give a sweet gift as it does to receive one…so let’s enjoy the shopping.

As a jumping off point, here are a few ledes for your quest to find just the thing for the people you love who love wine.  Or even those who you would love to begin loving wine.  I mean, your 2012 gift could be the one that ignites the fire, opens their eyes to a whole new world (of wine).  It’s a nice world.  I’ll quote Mr. Steve Jobs when I say, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Bottles:

In NYC (and Brooklyn, too!) we are spoiled by a market saturated with almost every incredible wine you could (and couldn’t) think of.  In this day and age, most of that wine can be shipped to most places in the U.S.

In my opinion, if you’re looking to give the gift of wine- something unusual and of high quality, that you want to be sure has been handled and stored properly- look to a great NYC wine shop.  They know what’s up.  Ideas…

Aglianico del Vulture 2007 by D’Angelo from Drink Up NY.  $22

100% Aglianico grapes grown at the base of the extinct volcano, Mount Vulture.  Crafted into a boomingly tannic, blueberry-ish, mineral-rich wine by Donato D’Angelo, the man who pretty much taught every producer in his region how to craft the “Barolo of the South”.

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Antonin Rodet from NiNi’s Wine Cellar . $31

100% Chardonnay from this historic estate in Burgundy’s Cote Chalonnaise.

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St. Emilion Grand Cru 1998 by Chateau Gracia from Gnarly Vines. $95

Classic Right Bank Bordeaux.  Ready to Drink.  Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Give a grand gift of tradition.

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Barolo Cascina Francia 2008 by Giacomo Conterno from MCF Rare Wine. $159

100% Nebbiolo harvested from the venerable 5 hectare vineyard named Cascina Francia.  This wine is made by the talented Conterno family, currently headed by Roberto Conterno.  Aged for about four years in oak.  A gift for prosperity, as this wine should not be opened for at least another 10 years.

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Sassella Riserva DOCG Vigna Regina 2001 by A.R. PePe from Flatiron Wines & Spirits (Magnum Size). $235.

Show your love in a BIG way (the bigger the bottle, the better the home for the wine).  100% Chiavennasca  (nebbiolo) made from vineyards planted into the stony rich foothills of the Italian-Swiss Alps.  The region is Valtellina, the zone is Sassella, the cru is Vigna Regina.  Bright wine for bright friends.

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Books on Wine (& Food, & Stuff):

Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Jose Vouillamoz.  $111.92.

Recent release.  All the rage.  Every known grape out there.  Must-have.

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The Drops of God, Volume ’01 by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto.  $10.17.

A comic book for wine geeks.  Part 1 of the series (snort, snort).

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Edible Selby by Todd Selby and Sally Singer. $23.10.

Beautiful photos of beautiful food, made in beautiful kitchens (by beautiful people), and served on beautiful tables.

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The Selby is in Your Place by Todd Selby with Intro by Lesley Arfin.  $23.10.

Ok, this has nothing to do with wine, or even food- but such a gorgeous book.  Inspiration for amazing spaces…spaces where wine can be drank?!

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My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (With Recipes) by Luisa Weiss.  $16.25.

The (cook)book from The Wednesday Chef.

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Further Thoughts:

Wine Skin from MoMa.  $4

For travels with that special bottle or 2.  Spill and break proof.  Ease the mind- a suitcase full of white sweaters will be safe.

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De Long Wine Discovery Tools. $ Varies.

Maps, maps, maps!

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Sign up for Cynthia Hurley’s (almost daily) newsletter with informative and interesting descriptions of her excellent selection of French wines.  She will ship orders directly to your doorstep.

Take a class at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange.

For a serious enthusiast- give the gift of the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust).  Levels & $’s vary.

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“The Conosur” by the Anthony Picone. Check out his work at http://antpicone.com/

*Photo sources are links mentioned with products.

I am Me, and You are You.

“I am me, and you are you”. That’s what reads on a shirt my dry cleaner made for his dad. I tell you, little bits of wisdom all over these Greenpoint streets!

The three guys in the photo above are all connected because they are winemakers from Piedmont who are brought into New York by the same importer, and along the way I think they’ve become amici. The importer is called Domenico Valentino (my alma mater), an intriguing portfolio mainly developed and operated by Jim Hutchinson, my former boss and favorite mentor. These producers were in town a few weeks ago and I was so happy to have the chance to catch up with them. An evening in their company got me thinking (as I have thought before) of all the wonders that their region has to offer.

I’ve recently heard it said (actually, I’ve read it said) that Piedmont is the next Burgundy. Maybe this is old news, but I was struck by the idea. I get the correlation- lots of small family growers who care for property in the region’s crus. Vineyards that are becoming more and more appreciated for their particulars- their soil composition, the way the quality of wines they yield bring us to (maybe unexpected) layers of elegance and subtlety.

Trying one cru Barbaresco next to another, and another, and another, and another, for example, will guide a taster on an absolute journey of terroir. To understand what you’re getting in these bottles, one has to delve deep into the details of the land and its shepherds. It is curious and cool- a combination of an area so rich yet diverse in soil, aspects, and producers, many of whom, at their core, live to craft beautiful wine. Wines capable of inspiring a philosophical quest to understand the why and how and ahh of such complexity.

Still, Piedmont is not the next Burgundy. Its latitude is off. Its history is its own. Its colors and customs and stories and sayings are unique. Drawing such a comparison is like saying that green is the new black, or nautical stripes are the new black, or Liberty prints are the new black. And I can’t stand it when people say stuff like that…sometimes I say stuff like that. Anyhow, you know, black is the new and old and one and only black.

Aside from nebbiolo, Piedmont has so many grape varieties; they are regional, contextual, rare. So many DOC’s, and DOCG’s; it is dizzying. Natives are often unaware of what is made from one town to the next. Oh-so-special.

View from the Carema vineyards. Pergola trained vines.

The winemaker on the left in this picture is Gianluigi Orsolani. He is the fourth generation head of Orsolani, his family estate in Caluso. He works closely with a grape called erbaluce which he makes into still, metodo classico, and passito style wines. Orsolani has accumulated some awards and recognition for being the first to do this and the best to do that, but I don’t think that’s what matters. What matters is that his erbaluce, in all of its forms, is brilliant- like sub-Alpine sunshine. There are some stories, some tales that surround erbaluce and Caluso and the valley where it lies, Canavese, but now that I think about it, they are sort of silly and maybe more the kind of stories to be told over a meal along with too many bottles of wine.

Orsolani makes a few other wines from the vines planted on his land aside from erbaluce- blends including grapes like barbera and uva rara. Orsolani also has a little bit of nebbiolo planted to the terraced vineyards of Carema, an area reaching up into the slopes of the Valle d’Aosta. He is one of just three producers of Carema.

Bottle of Moradella, an indigenous, nearly extinct Tortona variety.

The man in the middle is Stefano Daffonchio. I like to say his last name because it sounds like an early 90’s hip hop group or something- Da Funk Yo! Stefano owns Terralba, which is located in Colli Tortonese, close to the border of Lombardia’s Oltrepo Pavese. There Stefano farms bonarda, moradella, barbera worth a second glance, and a few other local varieties. His most notable wines are made from a grape called timorasso. There are very few producers of timorasso these days. Much of the vine was wiped out by a phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800’s. Cortese, a less difficult grape to cultivate, was mostly planted in its place. Easier, yes. As interesting? Definitely not. Those who have stuck by timorasso’s side, who pull back the vine’s self-strangling tendrils every morning, who give it the proper time to age (it can be fierce, tannic, intense) are rewarded with a venerable white wine that is made to become more and more sophisticated with the years. Like chardonnay from Burgundy, or chenin blanc from Savienneres- but not like those at all because it’s timorasso from the Tortona hills.

I also must mention that Stefano’s mom whips up the very best egg noodles in the whole entire world.

Castagnole vineyards.

The producer on the right is Luca Ferraris. Luca and his wife, Chiara, run Il Salotto del Ruché, passed down from Luca’s grandfather, Martin. The winery is located in the Monferrato Hills, between the towns of Asti and Alba. Luca is a champion of native Castagnole grapes like ruché. There are 28 producers of ruché, much of whose wine does not make it too far from their hometown. Ruché is so exotically aromatic that you may not believe it is made from grapes. But it is. Every grape sings a different song.

I think much of the reason that lesser known regional wines remain lesser known and regional is because, often, they are not exactly products of quality winemaking. A producer like Luca proves otherwise with a dedication to doing his very best. Luca takes grapes like ruché and grignolino (another grape indigenous to this area- a small berry with thick skins and many seeds), and has really figured out how to make them into not only interesting, but good wines. Taking a high sugar grape like ruché and understanding that it needs a long fermentation, or a grape with an imbalanced juice/tannin ratio like grignolino and understanding that the skins need to be removed from the tank part-way through fermentation. Giving these varieties a little love, making something to speak of, putting his town on the map, great things can happen when somebody cares.

Grignolino d’Asti

All three of these producers have their own methods of making each of their wines. They are based on what they were taught, traditional styles, innovation, and as in anything, a little bit of wingin’ it. They are just three of the many, many excellent and interesting Piedmont producers. None of them make a Barolo or a Barbaresco or Gattinara or any of the other wines that inspire comparisons to Burgundy. Piedmont could certainly swallow you wholly into the folds of its culture of vine, cuisine, fashion, and past. There is so much to be discovered and celebrated. Burgundy is Burgundy, Bordeaux is Bordeaux, and Piedmont is awesome.

Not Your Grandmother’s Wine

Well, it actually is. Or my grandmother’s, at least.

The wine being Brachetto d’Aqui DOCG. Brachetto is a grape that has been grown in the clayey marly soil of northwest Italy Piemonte, specifically around the Monferrato Hills between Asti and Alba, for a very long time. Some ampelographers (awesome geeks who study the origin of grapes) believe it may have actually originated in southern France, which wouldn’t be such a stretch considering the proximity and history of these two areas. Regardless, here it is in Piemonte, going through two fermentations to make this frothy, fragrant wine.. The grape itself is a bit of a sweet one, and I find it interesting that it grows so nearby to Ruché, another wonderfully floral variety from the Monferrato Hills.

Maybe I am having a Piemonte moment, or a prolonged Italian moment, but I don’t believe that I’ll ever cease to be amazed by the spectrum of distinctive grapes to be found when wandering around Italy (By glass, words, or travel, that is. To understand a great deal about the specifics of Italian wines and their origins, these two books by Nicolas Belfrage, MW, are super helpful). Many of the varieties somehow related to one another, a handful or two being the exact same thing as others, only going by different names. A rose by any other name… You don’t have to travel far from one growing site before you find another just as intriguing. The grapes, the wines- they indefinitely tumble out of a clown car- some a little rough, many elegant, or at least sturdy and developed, with great personality. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you’ve got to admire a wine with personality.

But I’m rambling, back to Brachetto- serve it with a slight chill and maybe something sweet- soft cheese or cookies- perhaps pizzelles.  Share it with your grandma, or your forever friend, or someone irreplaceable like that. Before dinner, after dinner, in the middle of the afternoon. Roses, cola, maraschino cherry, and a mixture of roots- Mr. Pibb with around 5% alcohol. You’ll find it out there for no more than 25 bucks, tops. Interesting enough, but not complicated. A solid wink.

My grandma is a good winker. Until recently, she has never been much of a wine drinker, or an anything drinker for that matter. That changed the day a bottle of Marenco’s Brachetto d’Acqui entered her world. Now she won’t stop asking for more of “Catherine’s wine”. There are stories out there that back in the day, the Roman day, Brachetto was considered a wine for lovers. It certainly has a playful dreaminess about it. Seeing someone I care about fall in love with a wine, even so late in life, that’s romance to me.

This weekend I got to celebrate 91 years of my Gram. A bigger heart I don’t think I’ll ever find. It holds things like decades worth of Boston Red Sox stats, swift bingo skillzzz, all things spiritual, and absolute compassion for every person she has ever met. Seriously, every one. There is a lot of room in there! She is so cute when she does things like packs a suitcase or makes the world’s best apple sauce- reminds me to take my time, to always be kind. We will never regret being kind…

Happy birthday to her, and happy day to wonderful you. Here are just a few fun links I’ve come across lately. A bunch going on in the wine world right now with all the excitement of bud break, Vinitaly, the brief yet brilliant Napa Valley mustard flower bloom… Ahhh, Spring.
So interesting- View of the American wine front in 1934

An intriguing stranger- Vit Lit by Joe Mesics- from Alice Feiring- want to get my hands on this.

In case there was any doubt in your mind, a little rundown on just how good for you wine is from Meredith, one of the healthiest people on the planet.

Inspired by a visit to the Quintarelli estate- all about Amarone from Aaron.

Colli Orientali love. Get down with what is happening now in this pocket of gorgeous northeast Italy’s wine region of Friuli. . . Including savory Schiopettino- so very good.

The Birthday Girl. Photo taken practically yesterday.