Tomatoes seem such a simple delight. Their taut skins straining under the pressure of their flesh, their seeds held captive in that singular tomato gel, their meaty husks strangely satisfying, you know, for a fruit—tomatoes make it look easy, especially right around now, late August, when in a good year we are knee-deep in tomatoes’ lambent hues. And, make no mistake: this year in the Northeast is a very good year for tomatoes.
In the best of all possible worlds, we eat them warm off the vine, as thoughtlessly as we eat berries or apples, depending on the size of the tomato. One step down from that, we find them ripe to almost bursting, and we slice them (serrated bread knives are the secret to cutting tomatoes without tearing their thin skins), plate them, drizzle them with olive oil and dust them with salt. You can go for baroque and add fresh mozzarella, ricotta or burrata, if you like. Sometimes the lily enjoys a little gilding.
My love affair with summer tomatoes began when I was a toddler. My great-grandfather tended a small garden at our family’s summer enclave on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I’d watch him garden, and I’d putter about the tomato stakes, taller than I, inhaling the tomato essence, that herbaceous acrid smell that fills your nostrils with its pointed scent. He raised beefsteak tomatoes, and we’d all eat them sliced on plates, their wet tomato guts oozing beautifully.
Like my great-grandfather, my mom grew tomatoes in her organic garden. She tried all manner of trellis, stake and tree to get the best results; at one point, she even let the vines grow upon one another, like long tendril puppies in a big pile. When we had bad harvests, which happened often in Vermont, she’d fill the larder with jars and jars of garlicky pickled tomatoes. Wrapped in newspaper and kept in the dark, a tomato will ripen slowly but perfectly—another tip for you.
Tomatoes, like berries, like peaches, like watermelon, are a fruit of summer. You can get them in the winter, but why bother. The waxy February representations of an August fruit is like eating a bad memory (on the other hand, canned and jarred tomatoes are things of lingering, useful beauty). The tomatoes of summer shout a cacophony of carpe diem. Seize the tomato and enjoy it. Chop it, mix it with olive oil and salt, and spread it across garlic-rubbed bruschetta. Slice it and serve it with watermelon and feta. Take a handful of the tiny tomatoes, cut them in half and swirl them with pasta, brie and olive oil. Or just eat them from your palm, a saltshaker in your other, like my great-grandfather did. Nothing that good ever goes out of style.
If you have ever been to Tuscany—and I know many of you have—then you’ll know just what a wonderland of food, wine and beauty it is. Some of the greatest wines in the world come from Tuscany, home to the greatest foods and most incredible landscapes. As a big Tuscan fan, I often open wines from this region as my go-to bottles; along with being delicious, they are very flexible for foods and for palates. Today I want to share two classics, a Chianti and a Brunello, both gorgeous and ready to drink now.
Toscana – Sangiovese
By the ‘80s and ‘90s, Chianti had gotten a bad reputation based on the fact that it was a “cheap wine”; nowadays that is absolutely not the case. Proper Chianti producers, like La Sala, make incredible bottles of wine. This estate has existed since the 11th century and was once owned by the Medici family, so it knows a thing or two about Chianti Classico. As classic as it gets, La Sala is true Chianti; you’ll be glad you picked up.
Toscana – Sangiovese Grosso
The Gaja name is synonymous with quality wine—no matter what Angelo Gaja touches, it seems to turn to gold in the wine world. In the early 90s Angelo decided to venture into Tuscany and try his luck with Brunello, something he was easily able to master after choosing an estate like Pieve Santa Restituta (originally a thirteenth-century abbey). The Sugarille is a perfect wine: big, rich, and succulent, just the way many of us enjoy our Brunelli. The 2008 is a wine you can drink now for the next ten years; I would not shy away from this Gaja Brunello.
We began this week with a salute to the unsung hero of so many culinary delights, stock. Proper stock is like a foundation for a skyscraper; no one sees it, but without it, the whole enterprise crumbles. We finished the week with a heart-felt paean to a much-maligned, deeply food-friendly wine, Lambrusco. In between, we got a beautiful interview with IWM’s new Executive Chef, Mike Marcelli (and we learned what he’d make for his last meal). We also explored the differences between modern and traditional Dolcetto and got a delicious recommendation for an under $30 bottle.
Our Experts were focused on exploring unknown terrain. Garrett opted for one tried-and-true producer, Canalicchio di Sopra, and one new love, Raffaele Palma–and Will Di Nunzio doubled down on the Raffaele Palma love, complementing Garret’s red with the estate’s white, pairing it with De Forville’s value Nebbiolo. David Gwo offered a salute to 2008 Brunello with picks from Talenti and Antinori’s Pian delle Vigne. And Justin offered two great Beaujolais, one from Chateau Fuisse and another historic bottling from Domaine Lapierre.
Cheers to food and wine, two ways to our collective heart!
Lambrusco is not only the name of the wine but also the collective name of several indigenous red grape varieties (Sorbara, Grasparossa, Marani, Maestri, Montericco, Salmino and Ruberti, to name a few) grown in the Italian regions of Emilia Romagna and Lombardy. It is also a “vino frizzante” or “slightly sparkling” wine normally served in a standard white wine glass (although locals sometimes drink out of small bowls). Designed to be enjoyed in its youth, Lambrusco can come in a range of hues from white to pale pink to ruby red with varying levels of sweetness according to its style and creator. Previously considered “the wine with the worst reputation in the world,” this fresh and fizzy wine is making its comeback!
Dating back to the times of the Romans, Lambrusco is no newcomer. Since its American debut in the 1970s, this misunderstood wine has been struggling to make its way back into the limelight after decades of criticism, considered to be another “vinous” confection, sitting next to Blue Nun, wine coolers and white zinfandel on store shelves. Some may remember the slogan for an Italian sparkling wine served chilled, “Riunite on ice. Riunite so nice.” It was this “Lambrusco” product and influential marketing campaign that gave the wine (and region for that matter) its inferior reputation; considered as carbonated Kool-Aid to any sophisticated wine enthusiast. In recent years, the fizzy wine has made leaps and bounds and can now be found on wines lists of top restaurants and in the hands of serious consumers.
The revival is in full swing, and among Italy’s key players are small producers whose passion and commitment is transforming the perception of Lambrusco, no longer tagged as “nice on ice” but great with food. I would like to highlight one particularly tasty selection from our cellars at IWM; Barbolini Lancillotto Lambrusco Grasparossa Castelvetro NV ($16.20 per bottle) is an excellent example of a dry, fragrant and food-friendly Lambrusco. The Lancilloto balances its rich, dark fruit with acidity, silky tannins and subtle savory notes of dried herbs and minerals. Part of the beauty of this wine is that its bold flavors, high acidity, and tannic structure make it an excellent pair with a number of rich foods like cheese, roasted and cured meats, pasta and pizza. Made to please, Lambrusco is a superb choice for any summer soiree, barbecue, afternoon tipple or late night indulgence.
Great Beaujolais is not that silly thing released the third week in November. While it’s unlikely Georges Duboeuf meant to start an unparalleled resurgence of–and interest in–the great wines of Beaujolais when he devised the gimmick of marketing “Beaujolais Nouveau” to celebrate the harvest, this is what he did. As we wine lovers have delved into serious Cru Beaujolais over the past decade, we have discovered a beautiful secret in this region where superb wines can be had for under $40.
My very favorite Beaujolais appellation for fantastic everyday drinking is Morgon. There is no other Cru in Beaujolais that is as versatile. With its lovely deep red and luscious fruits to its hints of spice and silky tannins, Morgon has it all. I’ve chosen two of my very favorite producers and their Morgons, Chateau Fuisse’s utterly scrumptious single-vineyard Les Charmes, and LePierre’s rarely produced “super cuvee” Romaine in magnum. Grab hold of some serious Beaujolais this summer and you will find yourself quaffing bottles left and right.
For years this estate has been known for its profound Pouilly Fuisses, but Chateau Fuisse’s Morgon Les Charmes, from one of the choicest parcels in the Cru village of Morgon, has always grabbed my attention. The 2011 vintage in Beaujolais was another extraordinary harvest, and this wine is loaded with nuances of fresh-cut lavender, warm cherry pie, hints of potpourri, and a beautiful core of mineral that bring it all together. The palate is refreshing yet lush and powerful. This is serious traditionally fermented Beaujolais that will completely reset your perception of just how fine Beaujolais can be. Enjoy now or age for the next six-eight years
Domaine Lapierre 2009 Morgon “Cuvee Romaine” 1.5L $129.99
If asked the greatest Morgon producer of them all, the name Marcel Lapierre is the first to most connoisseurs’ lips. We unfortunately lost Monsieur LaPierre in 2010; however, it was not before he produced his profound ‘09s, including the super rare cuvee Romaine that he made only in the greatest of vintages. We were fortunate to get the Cuvee Romaine in the exceedingly rare magnum format. If you’re looking for a piece of history and possibly the greatest Morgon drinking experience of your life, grab one of these last magnums. Loaded with deep red fruits that envelop the senses with a stunning range of nuances and flavors, this wine’s finish lasts for over two minutes. Although $129 for a Beaujolais magnum may seem like a lot, this wine blows the doors off many top 1er Crus from the Cote d’Or that sell for $150 for a 750ml. Don’t miss this last opportunity at Beaujolais perfection from the “master of Morgon,” Marcel Lapierre. Drink 2015-2028
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