CHEERS!

I hope we all have a happy new year, and definitely a more prosperous one, with good food and wine. New Year’s Eve, I’ll fillet out a wild sea bass, pin-bone the fillets, salt and pepper them, place them skin-side down in a little hot olive oil in my cast-iron skillet, scatter a tablespoon of mixed chopped chives and parsley over them, followed by a short squeeze of lemon, turn them over and finish the other side, serve on a bed of pilaf-style rice (steamed in light chicken stock and tossed with toasted pine nuts), with some baby peas and caramelized mushrooms. Simple, quick, lovely. The wine will be white Burgundy, Louis Jadot’s Macon-Azé, inexpensive, very nice, just right for the occasion and the food. (Much earlier, the kid will get his favorite food and beverage, sausages and French fries with lots of ketchup, and a rare Diet Coke.) We’ll all be in bed early and happy, and wish for the same for you.

WHEN GOOD TASTE IS “INCORRECT”

In years past, this would be the season when we’d be bombarded with recipes for old-fashioned wine drinks—cobblers, possets, syllabubs, nogs, neguses, and other concoctions from colonial times, involving a fair amount of fuss and an excess of calories, basically complicated appetite-suppressants, not worth the trouble.
       At a party in Italy this summer, I did discover a wine drink that is worth a try, an interesting aperitif—what the British refer to as a “sharpener.” It was called a Negroni “sbagliato,” which translates to “incorrect Negroni,” although it’s closer to an Americano (old bartenders never die, they just become pedantic with age). It’s a mix of 1 ounce of Campari and 1 ounce of sweet (red) vermouth, stirred with an ice cube to mix well and chill, then strained into 3 ounces of chilled Prosecco; a twist of lemon peel is optional, and not bad. The vermouth slightly mitigates the bitterness of the Campari; it’s a bracing drink, good with snacks or before a meal.
       (Trivia note: Ian Fleming loved Negronis, and originally made that James Bond's drink of choice, but his publisher thought it was too offbeat, and had him change it to Martinis.)

BOOKED UP

Never one to miss a trend, even if at the tail end, I got swine flu last week. I do not recommend it. I did, on the other hand, get some relief in my bed of pain from several very good books—this year’s vintage is not large, but certainly high quality. The best antidote to the general misery was Been Doon So Long, by Randall Grahm (University of California Press, $34.95), a collection of highlights from his madcap newsletter and the only wine book I know that has edified me and made me laugh out loud at the same time.
       From the dedication (to philosopher John Locke) to the glossary (featuring, among the wine

IN ITALY, PINOT NO-NO

On vacation in Italy last August, we were in Liguria, on the coast south of Genoa, an area so devoted to fish that the only meat I saw was prosciutto—and white-wine country. Obviously, this was the place to discover what sort of white wine Italians like to drink. The local wine is mostly made from the Vermentino grape, which was almost the new Pinot Grigio a couple of years ago, but couldn’t quite get there. Still, it’s tasty enough, especially when you’re on vacation, eating grilled fish and gnocchi in the sunshine, in the place where pesto sauce was invented. Every wine list we looked at led off with plenty of Vermentino, and some Pigato, the other local grape. None bothered with Gavi, the over-priced white wine of neighboring Piedmont, nor Soave. Here and here, we caught glimpses of Verdicchio.
       What most restaurants and the one upscale wine shop had from outsiders was Fiano from Campania, and a whole lot of different wines from Friuli, source of most of Italy’s best whites. And, of course, invariably, Pinot Grigio (though not always from Friuli, where Italy’s only distinctive versions come from).
       And everywhere we went, to the exasperation of my wife, I interviewed the waiters: What do people here mostly drink? The local wines, I was told. Do they drink Pinot Grigio? The reply, invariably, "Oh yes, signore." Italians? "Oh no, signore—the Americans, the English, the Germans, the Swiss--it’s very popular with them."

THIS BIRD IS GROUNDED

One of the nice things about living in England is that I don’t feel compelled to roast a turkey every Thanksgiving. If you believe, as I do, that eating turkey is like kissing your aunt or listening to a whole Barry Manilow album, the question of making a wine match with it doesn’t come up too often. When it’s my turn to host Christmas, we have goose or duck, which would probably have been the national choice if the Puritans hadn’t been such bad shots.
       Anyway, as many of you will be going with Barry regardless,  here are some wine thoughts,

OL' BLUE EYES IS BACK. . . IN NAPA?

There’s truly no business like show business. . . Sinatra Family Estates “Come Fly With Me” Napa Valley 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, has just been released, only $570 per six-bottle case, including a CD of the album, and an autograph from either Nancy, Tina or Frank Jr. It’s the first in a series of what will be annual wine-and-music releases (I assume “Only the Lonely” won’t be featured).    
       At least Frank has some wine history. Fifty years ago, he remarked casually that his favorite wine was Bolla’s Soave, and in no time it was the top-selling Italian wine in America. Ring-a-ding-ding indeed! Will Frank’s be joined by a high-alcohol, robust and cheery Zinfandel that hits your eye like a big pizza pie, from Dean Martin Estates? Why not? “That’s Amore,” isn’t it?

BOMBS AWAY. . .

Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite, though unintentionally. I write (and truly believe) that wine is better than ever, as do many of my colleagues. What I mean is that there is an astonishing, quite wonderful array of wine out in the world, from new places and people—Portuguese red table wines, some Spanish whites, Greeks of all sorts, southern Italian whites (especially from Campania) and reds from Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, a wide variety from southern Rhône, new blends from South Africa, and on and on. We’re past the poor sanitation and  restrictive traditions that  made so many wines of the last generation such a gamble, to put it kindly. But what have we moved on to?  

ITALIANS: In a Twist

Recently, Marilisa Allegrini came to town and we tasted a range of her wines; made to a very high standard, they’re always a considerable pleasure, but there was a twist this time, literally. After years of testing, Allegrini have decided to bottle some of their wines under screwcaps, not only to avoid the problems of corked wines, but also because they believe the wines taste better, fresher and more lively.
      The problem has been that the often obtuse Italian regulations for DOC wines forbid screwcaps. After arguing the point for a while and getting nowhere, Allegrini simply gave up and scrapped the “Classico” designation for screwcapped wines. We tasted three identical wines, bottled under both corks and screwcaps: Valpolicella 2007, and two from a new joint venture in Tuscany, Poggio al Tesoro Vermentino “Solosole” 2007, and Poggio al Tesoro “Mediterra” 2006 (an IGT blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon). In each case, the screwcapped wine was more vibrant—and the point was well made.
      Now, they’ve got company. Pieropan, which was the first bottler of Soave 80 years ago, has also discarded the Classico designation and gone to screwcap—“to improve the quality and capture the character better,” declared Nino Pieropan; the lovely 2008 bears him out. Paolo di Marchi has also released some of his justly popular Cepparello (vintage 2005) under screwcaps, and it’s even more aromatic and elegant than ever. Livio Felluga has also come aboard, with Sharis 2008. I was never a great fan of this Chardonnay-Ribolla Gialla blend, which sometimes seemed to lack distinctive character; that’s changed now, with a nice aspect of white peach emerging, carried along through a persistent, firm finish. (The Ribolla Gialla is barrel-fermented). It’s a superb wine. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend.

Update: Lustau, one of Spain's most distinguished Sherry producers, has introduced screwcaps for its Finos and Manzanillas.
copyright 2010-2015 by Brian St. Pierre