So much depends upon a white tuber
I am a terrible tourist. Not one for planning outings, reading guides, following maps or making clear plans, I tend to find myself at interesting places, as I did when I was in Rome last March—or not, as I didn’t when I was in Rome this past month. The upshot being that while I’ve spent five months in Italy over the course of the past year, I’ve only been to three museums. The first being the Museo Storico Navale in Venice; the second being MACRO, Rome’s museum of contemporary art; and the third being the Museo del Tartufo in San Giovanni d’Asso this past weekend.
Do not confuse this Museo del Tartufo with the one in Lombardia. They may have the same name, but there are also multiple Museums of Natural History or Museum of Corn in the United States. This Museo del Tartufo sits in the tiny medieval town of San Giovanni d’Asso, which is also home to Il Bosco della Ragnaia, a sculpture park designed by American Shepherd Craige in the ‘80s, a place of deep magic green punctuated by word poems where smoking is really very forbidden. I also visited Il Bosco della Ragnaia, shortly after I visited the Museum of Truffles, and shortly before I visited Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, a medieval monastery that’s home to a frieze of the life of St. Bernard.
This weekend was the white truffle market in San Giovanni d’Asso, which seemed to be an excuse for the storekeepers of the town to stay open during lunchtime and insert truffles into whatever it was they were selling. My guide on Saturday, Laura Gray, the Estate Manager of Il Palazzone and mother of three assertively redheaded bairn, and I shared an aranci. Not solely the Italian name for “orange,” and aranci is also a giant ball of fried rice that was on last Saturday stuffed with gooey cheesy truffle goodness. So devoted to truffles is San Giovanni d’Asso that they not only have a museum to the fungi in question; they also have painted their town wall with a series of truffle scenes, including this Keith Haring-esque depiction of a radiant baby finding a truffle.
The Museo del Tartufo has a nicely interactive design with lots of audio, visual, olfactory and tactile representations of the truffle. I have now heard what the truffle hears, smelled what the truffle smells, and felt what a truffle feels like. The museum’s pièce de résistance is a crystal showcase of three simply enormous white truffles, each twirling on a mirrored pedestal. I’d never envisioned a mushroom elevated to the dais of art, but now I can say that I have more than visualized it: I have seen it.
I don’t mean to portray myself here as some kind of rube, a person who discounts the traditionally reified world of classic art. I enjoy art. I’ve lived in New York City for over twenty years, and I go to museums every couple of months. But there’s a lot to be gained by seeing what inhabitants understand as real, important and vital. Anyone with a basic college education or the autodidact equivalent can tell you why Michelangelo’s David is important; not everyone can tell you why a truffle is. When you’re talking about a hardscrabble town populated with men whose noses seem to have leapt off a Caravaggio canvas, a town that sits in the shadows of its more famous neighbors of Siena and even Montalcino, a place where a sprawling (if non-smoking pixie inspired) sculpture garden abuts its walls because it was just that cheap to buy land in the mid-1980s, you can begin to understand the emotional impact of a toddler-fist-sized tuber that’s nearly worth its weight in gold.
It might just be something most of us shave over our pasta to our autumnal glee, but to someone else, that truffle gives heat, food, light and life. It’s a source of community pride, fierce bragging rights, and self-respect. It’s a lot for one small fungi to bear. Fortunately, it has a museum. Or two.
The man, the madness and the message
A Slovenian Hurricane swept through Hong Kong last week as we welcomed back our friend Ales Kristancic, the iconic winemaker of Movia. Much has been said of Ales’ high energy visits to Hong Kong and New York, but very little about the stories behind the stories. After all, what the heck are “happy chickens who smoke Marlboros and wear sunshine glasses?” And why is Ales so excited about a 2011 harvest that lasted 2.5 months longer than previous years?
Sure, last week’s visit featured its share of ballroom dancing in elevators, walking up down escalators, and some very suggestive commentary, but I’ve learned to notice the “off-moments” when Ales pulls Sommeliers to the side for private tutorials and explains the methods to the madness.
So why does Ales frequently reference chickens smoking Marlboros? As it turns out, he’s referring to billboards in Yugoslavia that featured Marlboros as a taste of freedom. While the familiar color of red worked, the message caused a particular problem and thus Marlboros were banned. As you can imagine, smoking Marlboros in public then became the ultimate expression of freedom and being beyond the law. Happy chickens who “know the rooster” and smoke Marlboros are the most free and happy chickens. They transmit positive energy to us, as a biodynamic vineyard and wine can do. Or so I’ve gleaned from spending a lot of time with Ales.
As we learned when Ales arrived, we were lucky to have him. The visit was in doubt when it seemed the 2011 harvest would never end. In order to harvest in the meticulous grape-by-grape nature that Ales demands, he headed to Serbia to recruit a band of literal gypsy blueberry pickers to help ensure proper selection and adequate coverage for the difficult 2011 vintage. Admitting to great concern during the summer, Ales now considers this one of Movia’s greatest ever vintages and offers full credit to his longtime Movia team and their last-minute teammates.
It has taken quite a bit of time with Ales, but I’ve become a better listener. It’s easy to get caught up in moments Crocodile Dundee moments, like when Ales introduced himself as the President of Turbojet to everyone waiting in line to board the Macau ferry, but in learning to listen to his subtext, I’ve gained an even greater appreciation for how some of my favorite wines have become what they are.
…and starting a few new Thanksgiving traditions in the process
Thanksgiving, a time for simple reflection to appreciate what and who we have around us, is one of my favorite holidays. I also love the wine and food! One of five children, I come from a rather large family, so Thanksgiving was often a huge (and loud) production, one that yielded a mix of stylistically different wines. My family, the Bertots, are Cuban, residing mainly in South Florida. Some of my grandparents are from Spain; this explains my sheer excitement for Iberico ham. My family customarily enjoyed mostly Spanish wines at the dinner table. This custom, however, is changing.
Recently, I lovingly married a non-Cuban wife whose family is originally from Illinois; my father-in-law loves California Cabs, and my mother-in-law loves round, crisp whites. Since I have been working at IWM, I have brought around some work-inspired gems to the dinner table, and this Thanksgiving will be no different. The tricky part is how to please a crowd of often picky wine drinkers and bring them together to enjoy something different.
I don’t know of a more versatile and attractive line-up of wines than those of Giuseppe Quintarelli. Volumes can be and have been spoken about the gorgeous wines of this most important producer of the Veneto. These wines possess an astute character, complex flavors, and unique attributes that make Quintarelli an excellent choice for Thanksgiving meals, and really any special occasion.
For those who prefer whites, the Giuseppe Quintarelli Bianco Secco 2010 is a brilliant choice because it appeals to a variety of palates. Its crisp acidity, round fruit, and attenuated finish make it ideal with turkey breast and a variety of rich vegetable dishes (not to mention a great value at $44.69). For the dark meat lovers like myself, I recommend the Giuseppe Quintarelli Primofiore 2007. This wine shows brilliant freshness, supple and soft tannins, and acidity that will go beautifully with the crispy skin of a bird; and with a $49.50 price tag, it is another awesome value.
A bottle of Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Superiore 2002 with generous tannins and ripe black cherries on the palate would also be a very welcomed addition. I don’t think there is a better and more memorable way to end a meal than to pour Quintarelli Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 1997 alongside some cheeses. If you want to get nuts with it, open up a bottle of Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella 2000 twelve hours before eating; you will certainly be glad you did. It’s a life-changing, mind-bending wine experience.
This Thanksgiving, whether you’re practicing generations-old traditions with loved ones, or creating new traditions all together, I hope you’re thankful for all that you have. I know I am.
Good wines for good times
One of the reasons why I enjoy having Thanksgiving under my own roof is that I really like good wine. I get easily frustrated with people serving mediocre wine. Thanksgiving, and holidays like it, is when I get to bust out some real wine, wine with character, tradition and a resemblance of where they are from. Thanksgiving dinner is a time to celebrate friends and family, and to do it properly, you need good wines. Life is too short to drink bad wine, the saying goes, and I tend to agree. However, a wine doesn’t have to be really expensive to be really good, and so I picked a few that shouldn’t break the bank.
Without further ado, here are the wines I would like to bring to my own Thanksgiving Day feast:
Col Vetoraz Prosecco Valdobbiadene NV $44.99 (1500l)
Nothing says “party” like double bottle of wine, and nothing makes more of a statement of celebration. This Prosecco is an IWM favorite and a great way to get your guests primed for the upcoming dinner.
Rijckaert Vire Clesse L’Epinet 2008 $27.99
Chardonnay is a very versatile wine, especially when it comes from Burgundy. The fresh fruit flavors, balanced acidity and round body make this wine a joy to pair with classic Turkey Day fare.
Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune 2009 $34.99
Yes another Burgundy! This Pinot noir is organically farmed and produced by one the leading estates in the area. This pairs with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and everything in between.
Fontodi Chianti Classico 2008 $36.84
If Italians were to have Thanksgiving, a bottle of Chianti Classico would definitely be passed around. As far as food pairings go, this wine is very versatile. You can pair with tomato-based pastas, Turkey and red meat; it’s also great with simple cured meats and cheeses.
These wines are all spectacular and very affordable. I encourage you to give these a shot this year and really wow your friends and family. Contact your Portfolio Manger or me at email@example.com, and if you don’t have your own PM, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto 2010
There is a danger that comes with this job. You become accustomed to tasting, experiencing, sharing, and championing the finest wines, and then the everyday bottles simply fail to excite you anymore. Your friends stop bringing bottles to your dinner parties, and your family hesitates in asking for your opinion, assuming that you will politely deride them and then recommend something in a price bracket higher than they are comfortable paying. Every glass is handed to you with an implied apology that it might not measure up to our standards.
While it’s true that your palate adjusts to the nuances inherent in so many of the world’s finest wines, there are many exquisite tastes available that don’t break the bank and still provide a thought-provoking and intensely pleasurable experience. Modern technology has in many ways changed the nature of the wine industry, but it can never change or supersede the nature of the grape, or the craft it takes to produce a bottle of brilliance.
The late Bartolo Mascarello was a staunch adherent to traditionalism in Piemonte – his Barolo is heralded as a true Old World wine and his estate, now being run by his daughter Maria Theresa, carries on his philosophies and practices. In addition to world-class Barolo, Mascarello also produces delicious and delightful Barberas and a Dolcetto that exemplifies the centuries of accumulated knowledge and craft. Mascarello’s winemaking is an art form that you can taste.
When they handed me the Mascarello Dolcetto 2010 on Friday and asked me to write this week’s Go-To-Wine Tuesday blot post, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I love this wine. While still very young and powerful right out of the bottle, almost black in its concentration and classic structure, this Dolcetto revs up the dark fruit to give way to violets and the slightest hint of licorice. I popped the cork late Friday evening and had two glasses over a late dinner with my book (I’m re-reading Robinson Crusoe). I found myself savoring every sip and cherishing each taste as a simple luxury.
Revisiting the bottle on Saturday afternoon, I was equally as pleased, and though it had sat fully open after a day on the shelf, it had lost none of its vibrancy, still showing plenty of zing and structure. This bottle is elegant and easy and delightfully delicious, and I can honestly say I prefer it to some much more expensive bottles.
There are wines that are made to be consumed, to be cherished, to be shared with good friends, with family, with our own sense of pleasure, and they need not cost $50 or hundreds of dollars a bottle. There are wines that present us with a taste of that world, the finer things in life, and to have that quality in a wine at under thirty bucks, is immeasurable.« go back — keep looking »