Two expert selections from Chris Deas
Soter 2011 Rosé $24.99
The Rosé season is upon us, and if you are already an enthusiast exploring the refreshing shades of pink, you might be getting ready to uncork a bottle from Provence to go with some grilled shrimp for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Not a bad choice, but our very own state of Oregon offer a unique expression to the category – a Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer blend from the Soter estate in Williamette Valley. Tony Soter is the seasoned California vintner behind the highly regarded Etude label, and the former consulting winemaker to some of Napa’s most iconic estates: Stag’s Leap, Shafer, Dalla Valle, Araujo, and Spottswood. More than a decade ago, he left Napa Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon for the Willamette Valley and Pinot Noir, making a huge impact on the region in just a few years. Not only has Tony created some of the country’s finest Pinots here, but also his small production Brut remains one of America’s most sought-after sparkling wines for the trade and those “in the know,” and his Rosé completes the trifecta, offering one of the most unique takes in the country. The small addition of Gewurztraminer gives the wine an aromatic lift with classic notes of lycee, but it also lends some body and depth to complement the Pinot Noir. IWM is one of a handful of merchants to offer the 2011 Rosé, a vintage that includes Gewurztraminer, for one of more unique Rosé experience.
Tenuta Petrolo 2005 Galatrona $113.85
Each fall when the white diamonds of Piemonte are unearthed for the ultimate umani tasting experience of truffles and Nebbiolo, there is always a foodie or oenophile that comments to me, “Man, I wish I can bottle that truffle note.” Me too. Well, white truffles and olives are exactly the tasting notes that can be found on this 2005 Galatrona – and in the ten years I have been with IWM, I have never seen or tasted the intoxicating note so pronounced in a wine; sure you get it an old Barolo and Pinot, but a Merlot from Tuscany? There is no doubt about it, the region has established itself with Pomerol as a reference point for the noble varietal, especially in the pioneering Super Tuscan hamlet of Bolgheri where Masseto and Messorio continue to impress critics and collectors alike. But, here on the Tuscan coastline the heavier clay-based soils often give way to a more internationally-styled Merlot that is incredibly rich and dense. Head inland going towards the region of Chianti and the higher altitudes and limestone driven soils can contribute to a more classically driven Merlot. That is exactly what Luca Sunjust, proprietor of Tenuta di Petrolo, accomplished with the mature 2005. And while Galatrona can be fairly pricey commanding $130 from the highly acclaimed vintages of 2006 and 2007, the tip here is enjoying this wine with some maturity and appreciating the tertiary notes that develop with age – truffles, olives, cocoa, leather, and more – for a memorable experience. This wine comes with eight years maturity with perfect provenance. Purchase an aged Masseto or Petrus and you will feel a monetary pinch; Galatrona 2005 offers some relief, acidity and a unique taste of truffles for one of the great interpretations of Merlot.
Wines to pair with your Memorial Day weekend swarmageddon dishes
Google “cicada recipes” and you get 254,000 results. This seems like a high number until you consider a) the Swamageddon is scheduled to hit this weekend and b) most of the recipes come from one University of Maryland cookbook. Put in this perspective, and that triple-digit number seems too small.
So many cicadas, so few ready recipes. For those who have been hibernating, not unlike the cicadas themselves, the East Coast, specifically the greater New York area, is set to be hit with the largest population of cicadas in the past seventeen years. These insect members of the Arthropoda family (the same family that holds shrimp, crawfish and lobsters) hibernate for almost two decades, waiting until the fashion that has gone out of style returns, and then they make a grand appearance.
Relatively harmless, cicadas can be noisy. Mostly what they are is big. And therefore, peoples in many parts of the world eat them. Happily. While Americans commonly feel revulsion at the thought of eating a bug, insects are pretty commonplace at meal times in Africa, Asia and South America. In specific, cicadas are called “desert shrimp” in West Africa, and they’re considered local delicacies in pockets of the American South.
“Swarmageddon” sounds apocryphal. University of Maryland entomologist John Raupp, putting it in a more upbeat light, says, “The greater New York metro area is going to rock with cicadas,” which just makes it sound like LCD Soundsystem at MSG. But the thing to remember is that while cicadas may be plentiful and loud, they’re also around for a very short time—by July, they’ll be gone.
In this respect, you can think of cicadas as the ramps of the insect world: a seasonal delicacy to be treasured, consumed, enjoyed and then abandoned. But unlike the rather staid ramps, cicadas appear in a wide variety of recipes, from tacos to cookies, from pizza to adult beverages, from sweet pies to savory quiches. They’re flexible, crunchy, nutritious, gluten-free and coming for you.
As Jenna Jadin stands as the cicada recipe auteur, having written “Cicada-Licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas.” She observes in her downloadable cookbook, “If you have ever eaten a crawfish, lobster, crab, or shrimp then you have already eaten members of the class Arthropoda, of which insects are a part. So popping a big juicy beetle, cricket, or cicada into your mouth is only a step away.” Perspective is everything, and if you’re ready to eat cicada, Jadin suggests eating tenerals, the newly hatched cicadas, or the pregnant mothers; however, other recipes exhort the crunchy charms of fully formed adult cicadas. However you enjoy your cicada, the world is your arthropod. Unless, of course, you’re allergic to shellfish; then you should definitely say no to cicada.
Jardin’s cookbook tends to the Asian and Southwestern style of cicada preparation, offering recipes for Shanghai Cicadas, Cicada Stir-Fry and El Chirper Tacos (the Village Voice offers an alternative taco recipe). But you can find lots of recipes that seem to replace beloved protein standards with cicadas. There’s fried chicken style cicadas, and there’s cicada and Portobello mushroom quiche. There’s even cicada chocolate chip cookies and cicada ice cream; presumably you could make cicada cookie ice cream sandwiches and double your fun. (Many of these recipes can be found on this Huffington Post feature; Gizmodo offers a breathtakingly comprehensive look at cooking cicadas; and the New York Daily News offers recipes for pizza, jello and tacos.)
The question then becomes how to pair your cicada-based dish with wine. If you’re going for an Asian or Southwestern-inspired dish, IWM Portfolio Manager Garrett Kowalsky suggests a nice Riesling to stand up to the spiciness, perhaps Frecciarossa Riesling Gli Orti 2008, and if you’re going to dish up some cicada pizza or pasta, he suggests, “Something Tuscan. You need the wine to have the muscle up against the tannins in the red sauce.” Maybe a nice Chianti Classico?
Francesco Vigorito takes a slightly different tack. He says, “For the Asian dish I’d probably go with something sparkling and fruity like a Prosecco or something rich and aromatic like a Gewurztraminer.” Francesco expressed doubt at the idea of a cicada pasta dish. “They’d probably get soggy,” he said.
Given that cicadas can be treated like crab and shaped into cakes or battered and deep-fried, you’d likely want to keep Lambrusco in mind. Ideal for summer lunches, this slightly bitter fizzy Red makes an exceptional partner to seafood and, one would presume, insect.
Of course, the wine pairings do more than merely enhance your cicada dishes. Drink enough, and you might forget that what you’re eating is a great big bug.
From tree to bottle, olive oil’s journey and human TRPA1
You rate olive oil according to coughs. At least, that’s how you rate olive oil if it’s really excellent olive oil and if you’re an olive oil aficionado. I learned this fact from Silvano, who served as my guide when I visited Fontodi, the venerable Chianti estate. If there’s a man who should know olive oil, it’s Silvano.
Olive oil is as ubiquitous, essential and telling as wine or bread in Italy. I imagine that the same holds true in other prized olive oil capitals of the world—Spain, for instance—but I speak from experience in Italy. Just about every winemaker also makes olive oil. It’s a painstaking process that requires a lot of manual labor and no small amount of finesse. Makers of olive oil take great pride in how long it takes for the olive to go from tree to press; the longer the time, the more bitter the oil. Il Palazzone prides itself on getting the olives from tree to pressed oil in a matter of hours. A look at the estate’s webpage on its olive oil gives you a fairly comprehensive idea of precisely how exacting the creation of olive oil is.
The best thing about olive oil is that it, like pickling, makes olives palatable. I once picked and ate an olive off a tree. Later, I told Laura Gray, the Estate Manager at Il Palazzone, that I had.
“Did you regret it?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Immediately and for about a half hour thereafter.”
In their raw, unpressed, unfermented state, olives are rich in oleuropein, a phenolic compound that makes eating a raw olive not unlike stuffing your mouth with antiperspirant. It is disgusting. So disgusting, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine that something as delicious as olive oil could come from something that inherently repellent. Jonathan Swift famously said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” One could easily say the same about the first man who squished a bunch of olives in the hopes of making something palatable.
But what a luscious, pellucid, peppery, gorgeous thing a squished olive (or several thousand squished olives) can make. Like wine, olive oil is the product of both where its raw materials grow, and how its maker treats those raw materials. Unlike wine, olive oil is best very fresh. The fresher it is, the more aromatic. A fine olive oil glows an incandescent green. It seems like something that belongs at the bottom of the sea. It’s otherworldly and ethereal, as much as it’s earthy and visceral.
The visceral kick, or the cough, that accompanies olive oil comes from the TRPA1, a cluster of proteins at the back of your throat. NPR has an interesting piece on TRPA1, extra virgin olive oil (known, apparently, as EVOO, which looks to me like the name of a villainous organization from Get Smart or Austin Powers); scientists hypothesize that sitting at the back of your throat, TRPA1 is the last best place to alert you to breathing in noxious fumes. If you cough a lot, you’re going to get out of there.
Interestingly, this irritation might also be the source of EVOO’s salubrious anti-inflammatory effects. In any case, it’s absolutely why Fontodi’s olive oil firmly sits in the three-cough camp. It’s a deeply peppery, profoundly bold, entirely full-throttle olive oil. It is not shy. It is not demure. It takes no prisoners. And you will love it.
A meditation on wine’s unique place in human life
Today is Kate Middleton and Prince William’s second anniversary. Traditionally, it’s the cotton anniversary; the contemporary gift is china. Just under 23 million Americans watched the wedding here in the States. I watched it in Montalcino, Italy, at a party at Il Palazzone, surrounded by British ex-pats and a few Italians.
Il Palazzone’s Estate Manager, Laura Gray emigrated to Montalcino from Scotland, and she had invited her British friends to celebrate the nuptials. Marco Sassetti, Laura’s husband and the estate’s General Manager, had set up long tables under a tent and a giant television hooked into the Skynet coverage. An eclectic group of people—one wearing fez that matched his velvet coat; others wearing tea dresses and floofy hats—gathered to eat bangers and mash, drink an eye-popping collection of Brunello, and celebrate this royal wedding.
I had traveled from my apartment in Liguria to join the party. It was a singular event, not only because royal weddings come every forty years, but also because I was here, the lone American, in this strange land watching a ritual that I had only the faintest concept of. It was a mille feuille of cultures, and I felt like I was reading a palimpsest: one text overlaying another, creating a textured experience where one element (cupcakes decorated with pictures of the happy royal couple) was inextricable from another (the inability to get the program in English for the first hour or so).
Pondering this Kate-and-Will anniversary, thinking about how I—and so many millions of others—bore witness to their wedding, and remembering watching with this group of people, it occurs to me that time and wine have a unique relationship. The first level is how we so often use wine to celebrate life’s milestones. We toast at weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. We share bottles of wine at holidays and special meals. Wine is a given.
But there are other levels too. Wine is one of the few things that you can consume when it’s decades old. You might freeze a part of your wedding cake, and you might take a bite of it a year later, but that’s about it. Wine, however, doesn’t just have the capability to age; it also can transform, mellow and grow better with age. Wine is the only comestible that mirrors human maturity. For that reason, it holds a place in our hearts and our imaginations.
I spent just under six months in Italy in 2011, and I saw Il Palazzone vines when they were just budding, when they were sending their delicate little tendrils toward the sky, and when they were brown and hibernating in the impending winter. I’m looking forward to drinking 2011 wine because I was there. I smelled the earth and the wind, and I felt the same sun on me that shone on the grapes.
This too makes wine special; it’s a reflection of the year that was. Each vintage is different, just as each year is different. It tastes of the snow, the rain, the sun and the soil, and the mixture of these elements will vary each year. It might be the same grape variety grown in the same vineyard, the wine made by the same people, crafted in the same way, but it always tastes different. It’s like children in that respect, a product as much of its nature as it is of its nurture.
Before I became a wine person, I measured years in hemlines and rock songs. Now I think about the glasses I drank, the vineyards I’ve visited, the botti I’ve tasted from. When I drink a wine that’s decades old, I feel the weight of the intervening years. I imagine the hands of the person who made it, their youth and their vitality. I see the tail fins of the ‘50s or the giant shark-faced gas-guzzlers of the ‘70s. It’s time in a bottle, and that makes it special.
Time seems infinite. It’s not. Thankfully, we have wine to celebrate time’s shiny points and to recollect time’s passing. It’s an amazing thing, wine, a perfect marriage of human ingenuity and nature’s largess.
Adrift in a sea of metaphor and Cyrano de Bergerac
I, for one, have licked a stone. I am a proud stone licker. I’m not above finding a perfect-sized rock and popping it in my mouth just to feel its sun-warmed heft against my palate and tongue. Some rocks just beg to be licked.
Which is why I’ve no problem saying a wine tastes “Like a wet stone.” Nor, for that matter, do I take issue with most of the “10 Silliest Wine Tasting Terms” as selected by Cathy Marston and featured on Food24.com. I can see a wine being seductive and voluptuous—drink a really good Rioja, an aged Amarone, or a full-bodied Super Tuscan from a warm vintage and tell me you don’t feel like you’re succumbing to its fleshiness.
I’ve no problem calling an elegant, lithe wine “feminine.” Northern Italian Reds, like Teroldego or a Valle d’Aosta Nebbiolo, often feel feminine to me. They’re not, as the author of this piece suggests, wines that chicks want to drink; rather, they’re winsome, light on their toes, and deceptively steely. To be fair, however, I’ve also no issue calling a burly Sangiovese masculine. Syrahs often make me think “masculine,” which probably says quite a bit about me.
I can see why you’d call an especially energetic, vibrant, quixotic wine “nervy.” A lively white, like a really nice Sancerre, can feel like it’s changing at every moment. It changes in the glass with the angularity and mercurial swiftness of a kaleidoscope. Maybe the wine itself isn’t stressed, but a nervy wine can make you stay alert. It’s hard to pin down, what with the shape-shifting, and that can be unnerving, if in a good way.
Likewise, I’ve no issue saying a wine has a “pronounced nose.” I remember having glasses of Paolo Bea at a tasting a couple years back that smelled so good that I was loath to drink them. I just wanted to inhale. Just as we use the synecdoche “palate” to refer to the whole experience of tasting a wine, we use “nose” as shorthand for its range of scents. I’m not hip to the weirdness here.
That said, I’ve never, ever called a wine “mercaptan” nor have I said it tasted like “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush.” And while I’d immediately attribute that gap to the fact that I write about wine that IWM wants to sell, I also can’t remember ever saying anything like that about wines that I’m not selling. Maybe I’m not tasting in the right company.
The issue that Marston brings forth is two-fold. First, there are just wine descriptions we’re going to hate. I have a friend who hates the word “notion.” I have another friend who hates the word “moist.” There are people who hate “artisanal” and people who hate “slacks.” There are people who hate “YOLO” and people who hate “guru.” There are lots of people who hate “passion” with, well, a passion. There’s no accounting for taste—or rampant distaste.
The second issue is this: some people are more driven to metaphor than others. As a writer, metaphors are my bread and butter—literally, really, or at least as literally as they are metaphorically. Metaphors, like similes, help to explain the unknown in terms of the known, but wine writing offers a special spin on simile. Let’s look at this description of 2004 Dal Forno Amarone by Antonio Galloni (subscription required):
The 2004 Amarone della Valpolicella is one of the most monumental young wines I have ever tasted. This is an especially silky, elegant Amarone from Dal Forno that avoids the heaviness of some previous vintages. Blackberry jam, crushed rocks, minerals, violets, new leather and bittersweet chocolate are some of the nuances that emerge over time. This is every bit as majestic as it was every time I tasted it from barrel over the last few years. The silky, exceptionally polished tannins make the 2004 approachable today, but the wine will be even better in a few years. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2029.
This wine is not literally majestic. It doesn’t literally taste like new leather and crushed rocks. It is not literally monumental, nor are its tannins literally silky or polished (exceptionally or otherwise). You could also make a strong argument that you can’t literally approach the wine—or that if you do, you’ll just stand there with the bottle in your hand, so close yet so far away.
But taken as a whole, the 100 words give you a glimpse into what this wine might taste like. And the more experience you have with wine in general, Amarone in specific, and Dal Forno Amarone in particular, the better able you are to envision the sight, the sniff, the swirl and the totality of drinking this wine.
There will always be a deeply annoying gap between words and somatic experience. Language fails. It will always fail. And while you may be annoyed by some of the terms wine writers use, we’re doing our best. It’s not an easy job to drink wine and write about it. But someone’s gotta do it.keep looking »