It’s All Greek to Me: Greco, Genetics, Gratitude

Just when I thought I knew something about grapes, I realized that I was wrong. I’ll be forever a wine newbie, but I’m happy about that. Today, I’ll tell you why.

I’m now working on Chapter 4 of the SWE textbook, I’ve begun reading another textbook that focuses on Italian grapes, plus any other wine literature that captures my attention.  I’ve discovered that the root (pardon the pun) of my growing interest in wine is vested in viticulture (or wine growing.) However, the more I read, the more I’m stumped. Pardon the second pun.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

G is for…

Grapes: Did you ever wonder why wine comes from grapes and not apples or cherries? For one reason, no other fruit has so many varieties that are grown commercially. And, within the varieties, grapes develop different characteristics based on factors such as soil, climate and the way they are cultivated and harvested aka “viticulture.” Then, you have to examine all of the factors involved with fermentation, aging etc. There are so many variables in the evolution of that little bundle of juice!

Image by Marissa Todd from Pixabay

Gargantuan: In Italy, there are 590 indigenous grapes for wine and more than one million vineyards. Yes, just in Italy. You can get the global picture here. It’s gargantuan.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Genetics: As you dive into the sea of wine knowledge, you may find yourself like me drowning in terminology: clone, hybrid, grafting, mutation, cross, etc. Now, the wine scholars may not appreciate my oversimplification of wine, but when it comes to genetics, I’ve broken it down to three major branches of understanding:

(a) Science: If a wine grower wants to attempt to keep producing a successful wine-making grape, reproduction can’t be left to the “birds and the bees.” Among other factors, he/she may rely on cloning or what I like to think of as the single parent, vine child. Read more about clones here.

(b) History: I’ll get more into today’s wine shortly, but genetic studies of grape varieties have disrupted some popular assumptions. For example, Italian grapes thought to have originated in Greece may in fact, not have. It could have been a marketing tactic during a time when Greek wine was thought of as superior to Roman wine. I’m not making this up. Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s most respected wine critics and journalists has presented this DNA focused argument found here.

(3) Research: Climate change and an ongoing need to manage diseases with the least amount of chemicals possible, depends upon grape genetics research while avoiding GMOs. In March, Wine Spectator wrote that the federal government is allocating 68.9 million to build a grape-genetics research lab.

Photo Credit: Author

The Wine: Fonzone, Greco di Tufo 2017

Now here’s when things get really interesting (or confusing.) Greco is a grape variety or type and Greco di Tufo is the name of the denomination in Campania. There’s a bunch of other grapes (not another pun?) that sound like Greco, but are not related, genetically speaking. Straying from the letter ‘g,’ Malavia di Lipari is apparently the exact same as Greco Bianco that’s not related to the Greco. Greco Bianco is a grape.  Greco di Bianco a denomination. And neither has anything to do with today’s wine. Got it?

The Greco grape of Greco di Tufo, is the oldest grape variety of the province of Avellino in the Campania region of southern Italy. If you ignore the Jancis Robinson article referenced above, Google’s highest ranking articles say that it was imported from the Greek region of Thessaly by the Pelasgian peoples.

FACT: Foreigner didn’t sing it first! A fresco at Pompeii that traces back to the 1st century B.C. has an inscription that says: “You are truly cold, Bytis, made of ice, if last night not even Greco wine could warm you up.”

When learning about a new wine, here’s the part I love the most: how the technical data paints a sensorial picture.

The Fonzone Greco di Tufo is made of 100% Greco from Santa Paolina and harvested in early October. SOIL: sandy clay with veins sulphurous underlying; ALTITUDE: 500 m above sea level; EXPOSURE: south-west; YEAR OF PLANTATION: 1994; PLANTING DENSITY: 2600 stumps per hectare; VINE TRAINING SYSTEM: espalier; PRUNING: Guyot

A brief understanding connects your glass to its territory. Do some more research and you’ll find out how all of these conditions affect the final product.

Image by Janos Perian from Pixabay

Since we’re playing with the letter ‘g,’ I’ll go briefly into the term “Guyot.” Vines as you know when left to their own devices will run amuck. High quality grape production is the direct result of proper pruning. Guyot also called cane pruning, is named after Dr Jules Guyot, a 19th century French scientist. Simply put, all old growth is cut back to leave either one cane (single Guyot) or two (double Guyot.) Canes are shoots that have reached about one year. This process is labor intensive and can only been done by hand. This technique is used by some of the world’s most prestigious wine growing regions. Read more about pruning techniques here.

I really liked the Fonzone, Greco di Tufo. To me, it was like biting into a luscious piece of pineapple, although the wine is not sweet. Its golden hue is like a perfect summer day.

Photo Credit: Author

The Dish: Scallops in a White Wine Sauce

I wanted to make steamed clams in wine, but couldn’t find fresh clams. I felt the recipe needed to be as simple as possible:

Photo Credit: Author

Sear the scallops in olive oil and then add ½ cup of wine (I used the Greco di Tufo);

Photo Credit: Author

Remove the scallops and make the sauce from 1 ½ cups of wine, 1 tbsp of lemon juice and minced garlic; reduce the liquid by half and them add 1 tbsp of butter and chopped parsley.

Image by annca from Pixabay

G is for Gratitude

When it comes to wine, there’s an infinite amount of information out there shared through wine critics, journalists, scientists and the ever so popular, Instagram influencer. While I respect all of these positions (except maybe the latter), my study goal is not to become one of them.

I’m not interested in ratings or tasting notes other than guides to help me associate and classify my knowledge. Take some time to read an argument on this point written by my wine hero, Eric Asimov.

I am grateful for the ability to learn and totally comfortable in my place as student rather than expert. I can make mistakes and that’s okay, rely on just good judgment or instincts and process facts, but not be absorbed by them. Or, I can say that wine is yummy and leave it there.

It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. ~ Pablo Picasso

Until next time, swirl your glass with gratitude. A story from the earth will rise to your nose. It’s there to discover: forever a wine newbie.

NOTE: If you can’t make it to Calabria, you can find the Fonzone Greco di Tufo at Wine by the Bay.

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500 Days of Rosé (by the Bay)

There’s no connection really between the rom-com and wine. Just word nerd, wine newbie (hopeless romantic) me playing. I suppose we could make up some far-fetched, metaphorical association like, look beyond the superficial…but still, there’s no connection.

Just when I thought I knew something about rosé, I realized I wasn’t even close after attending Winebow’s #RosebytheBay held at Smith & Wollensky, South Pointe Park. Members of the wine trade were invited to discover over 100 rosé wines from Europe, South America, North America, Australia and South Africa.

Credit: Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

How does a wine newbie like me choose what to taste with over 100, various shades of pink? With such sleek branding, it’s very tempting to be drawn to beautiful labels and bottle design. However, that’s like choosing a car for its color. So, I tried to select between old world and new world; a region or grape variety that I may have read about, but had not tried; and what was easiest to reach because at times, there wasn’t much elbow room. In fact, I totally missed seeing the wines from Australia and South Africa.

Some Wine Highlights

The fun part was that evening when I took a chance to learn more about what I drank and search for a good story. (If only I had each wine in front of me while reading and taking notes!)

France

As I had mentioned before, Côtes de Provence is France’s oldest wine region and rosé, although different from what we know it as today, was the first type of wine produced there by Greeks who had brought the vines to the area. At the Winebow event, there were rosé wines from at least eight other regions of France.

2017 Domaine de Fontsainte Corbières Gris de Gris: I chose this wine because I was attracted to its golden color and knew nothing about “Gris de Gris.” Corbières is an important appellation of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It is made up of five grape varieties: 50% Grenache Gris; 40% Grenache Noir and Carignan; 10% Cinsault and Mourvèdre. Yves Laboucarié established Fontsainte in its current incarnation in 1971 and is one among the first to use “carbonic maceration” which simply put, is when whole grapes are gently placed in an enclosed fermentation vessel and blanketed with carbon dioxide (Ch 5 of the CSW.)  If you’re curious about Grenache Gris or Noir, see this article. Read more about Domaine de Fontsainte here.

2017 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Rosé Jeunes Vigne: While still only ankle deep into the CSW textbook, I’ve learned that Sancerre is not a grape (and I can now avoid a future soirée faux pas), but an appellation (see the link above) located in the Loire Valley. The grape BTW is Pinot Noir — indigenous to France, but grown elsewhere too. You can read all about the wine at this link.

2018 Raffault Chinon Rosé: When the Wine Therapist (see note at the end) tells you, “drink this one,” you do. Chinon like Sancerre is an appellation and Domaine Olga Raffault is stated as being, “one of the long-time reference points for top-quality, traditional Chinon wines.” Left widowed when her children were very young, Olga would operate the wine estate with a German WWII prisoner who would eventually become the winemaker. If you enjoy a good story like me, click here. 100% Cabernet Franc. If you’re new to wine like me, you may also wish to review, Saignée (“bled”) rosé and the two other methods: maceration and blending.

Spain

2018 Viña Real Rosado: I am not very familiar with Spanish wines, so I chose to try one from Rioja and another from Ribera del Duero. The Viña Real is made from Viura: 75%, Tempranillo: 15%, and 10% Garnacha (Grenache in French.) Viura is the most important grape from Rioja. In Catalonia it is called Macabeo and in Southern France, Macabeu. Read more about this grape here and the winery here.

2018 Cepa 21 Hito Rosado: Made from 100% Tempranillo, Cepa 21 (Ribera del Duero) aims to get the most out of the grape’s characteristics and of the unique environment where they are created. They use traditional methods, but customize them to modern trends. You can find out more about this young winery led by brothers José and Javier Moro at this link.

(Side Note: Future Spanish Wine and Blog posts to come, as I’ve just booked myself a trip to Spain!)

USA

2018 Wölffer Estate Rosé: Long Island (Sagaponack) is the appellation and it is made up of: 52% Merlot, 20% Chardonnay, 13% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Sauvignon Blanc, 1% Riesling and 1% Pinot Noir. Read more about the estate here. This was the first time I’ve tried a wine from New York and I really liked it!

Italy

2018 Argiolas Serra Lori Rosato: Founded in 1938 by Antonio Argiolas, Argiolas is the foremost wine estate on the island of Sardinia producing archetypal wines from native varietals. Serra Lori is a dry rosato blended from Cannonau, Monica, Carignano, and Bovale Sardo. Read more here.

2019 Pico Maccario Rosé Lavignone Rosato Piemonte: The rose (flower) on the bottle symbolizes the estate where there are 4,500 rosebushes all from the same clone and there’s one planted at the end of each vine row. Read the full story and details about this 100% Barbera wine here.

2011 Contratto For England Brut Rosé: Who can resist pink bubbles and surely, this wine must have been one of the best ones there! I think this says it all: old vine, 100% Pinot Noir, Metodo Classico aka Traditional Method, Méthode Champenoise, etc. Read more here. Someone spoil me: I’ll take ten!

2018 GD Vajra Rosabella: “Tasting the wine is like seeing a star. If you only see a star, you’ve lost the beauty of the universe,” says Aldo Vaira who made his first vintage when only 19 years old. From there, I encourage you to explore the rest. Here is the video and website at this link. Nebbiolo 85%, Barbera 5%, Dolcetto 10%

Winebow had someone making cocktails too, showcasing some of their liqueurs and spirits. Delicious!

On that delightful note, it’s best to wine-down this post.

Now two months into the CSW textbook, I’m finding that learning about wine gives me the same sensation as understanding a work of art. It begins with a visceral response, but then the true beauty reveals itself when an investigation begins. The pursuit of knowledge is infinite, or in the great words of Albert Einstein:

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.

Until next time, raise your glass and listen to what it tells you and know that at least when it comes to rosé, Summer is with you for as long as you want! (Oops, strike out paragraph 1!!)

@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape

My wine journey would never have begun or continue without The Wine Therapist’s (aka Stefano at Wine by the Bay) guidance. No wine passes from his hand to mine (or any of his loyal clients and friends) without an anecdote and a smile. Follow him at @WinebytheBay

Rosé from Argentina

Postscript: There’s no such thing as Rosé Season apart from marketing! Grapes (like any other fruit or vegetable) follow a growth and harvest season as it relates to its region’s climate timeline. What differentiates wines are all of the other winemaking variables like fermentation. As you can see by the release years, most probably spent more time getting from their place of origin to your table, than in a bottle!  What makes Summer a Rosé season is comparable to why you’d choose an iced latté over a hot one. It’s poolside chill that pairs well with typical summer weather dishes.

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Grape Expectations: Metaphors and Correlations

It’s 81°f (27.22°c) in South Florida. With heat on the rise, my palate is definitely springing forward – grilling and chilling with a glass of rosé in my hand and swapping out carbs for arugula (my favorite leafy green), avocado and roasted or sautéed vegetables.

However, today it’s Sunday and after two consecutive, long runs, I’m ready to fall in the pot. It’s hot out though and having the oven on for three or four hours will kill the a/c bill. TG for YouTube that gives me a quick lesson on how to braise on a grill. My Weber has good temperature control and cast iron pot is the perfect size.

I’m now ankle deep into the CSW textbook (chapter 6 to be exact), testing myself each day using Quizlet lessons and flashcards and feeling a little more confident about the content. It’s not easy though and although I read and write every day for work, self-study at this level has been a struggle.

The Dish: Braised Beef Ragu with Pappardelle Pasta

Pappardelle is a word nerd/foodie plaything. Derived from the Tuscan dialect word ‘pappare’ which means to gobble up food, it’s like Italian onomatopoeia.  Just slurp up those tasty, wide egg noodles straight from the pot, p,p,p, pappare! Read more here.

There are many recipes for beef ragu to be found and most are similar. I chose this one. There’s something very relaxing about a slow cooked, Sunday meal.  During the week, the long prep time alone is unmanageable. However, I love taking the time to wash and chop knowing that the holy trinity of cooking, (also called mirepoix in French and soffritto in Italian) onions, carrots and celery 2:1:1, is the foundation of all things yummy. The greatest thing is that once everything is in the pot, you have at least three hours to read a book, watch a movie or take a nap!

The Wine: Gaja Sito Moresco Rosso Langhe 2014

Nebbiolo of Barbaresco — Creative Commons

Google Gaja (the family and winery name) and you’ll quickly find out that the wine I chose is on the cheaper side of the Gaja skew. And, if you’re a wine collecting aficionado, you may be turning your fine-tuned nose up at my choice. However, wine newbie me says this wine is great value wow! It’s a blend as opposed to a varietal (single named grape variety) and composed of Nebbiolo (the prized grape of the region, Piemonte), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Other years or vintages when referring to wine, seem to have a small percentage of one of the region’s other indigenous grapes, Barbera.

So, let’s discuss what’s up with the Nebbiolo fascination and what goes into the name?

There’s a plethora of information about the Nebbiolo grape and the most sought after wines of the Piemonte (aka Piedmont: the region), Barolo (an appellation) aka the king of wines and Barbaresco (another appellation). There’s scholarly articles, heated debates and even a movie: Barolo Boys.

Langhe

In my pursuit of wine knowledge, here’s what I found most interesting about this thin-skinned grape. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon (red) or Chardonnay (white) that can be planted almost anywhere in the world and acquire new characteristics depending on where it has been planted, the Nebbiolo grape does best in not just its country of origin, but its specific area which is Northwest Italy. This gem loves its own soil and doesn’t develop anywhere near to as good, elsewhere.

I could go on and on, but it’s best that I leave Nebbiolo history and the wine facts to the experts. An enjoyable start can be seen in this video. Dig deeper and you’ll be amused by all of the old school and new school banter.

Creative Commons

As for the name, I’m learning that the winery is much more than a brand. Gaja has a long history and world-renowned reputation. Angelo Gaja was a bold, risk taker who broke away from the old traditions and tried seemingly blasphemous new approaches to winemaking. Angelo along with his wife and grown children manage everything together. I enjoyed reading this Wine Spectator article where he and his daughter Gaia discuss climate change and its impact on wine production.

I’m more of a #YOLO, drink-now and budget conscious wine newbie. However, if you have the means and patience to wait, certainly start your collection with one of their wines. Read more about the Sito Moresco here.

The Metaphor

Oh Canada!

My parents were immigrants. My mother at eighteen was ready to jump solo on a ship from England to Canada as part of a migration incentive program. Her Mom wasn’t so anxious and followed her, dragging two unwilling siblings on the long, Atlantic crossing. Mom never looked back. My Dad on the other hand, left his birthplace to find work opportunities in Canada. He spent his whole life wanting to return. On one of his annual visits back to his country, he died suddenly. Doing what he loved most, gardening, I have to believe that he passed happily.

I like many of you are transplants. We get cut from the vine of our birthplace and are grafted somewhere else. We thrive and survive as a different version of ourselves. Whereas we think we might not belong anywhere else, it is almost always possible.

The trilogy of grapes or vegetables in today’s dish demonstrates the beauty of blends. Each component brings color and character to the medley. We, like those components, do not lose our distinct flavor, but contribute to something richer.

Photo Credit

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ― Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

Until next time, swirl and breathe deeply into your glass. As the aroma rises, think fondly about the dirt to which the grape came from and where it will go.

#MyArtEscape @AllegoryPR

NOTE: This Blog post was inspired by Chapters 3 and 4 of the Certified Specialist of Wine Guide. Both wines mentioned are from the Langhe wine region in Piemonte. The wine I cooked the beef with was (Dolcetto) Domenico Clerico Langhe Dolcetto Visadi 2013. A very reasonable price for a good wine that I will definitely drink rather than cook with next time!

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