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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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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Catch Me If I Fall

Catch Me If I Fall

If you are fortunate to live somewhere in the tropics like me, it’s wrong to complain about the weather. However, we do and I’m going to right now. It’s October and the sun’s position says fall back, but it feels like July with no cool breeze to be felt.

I’m originally from the north, so at this time of the year my biological or more likely, my psychological clock says, store the cotton/linens and bring out the knits. My stomach says, stop grilling and eating salad and start slow cooking.

Or rather, Cook Slow

As a child I loved to go apple picking and have fond memories of tractor rides, ladders and picking apples off the ground. Yes, you don’t need a ladder to pick apples off the ground. My mother was a practical woman and she knew that windfalls were cheaper and could be stewed and the ones we could climb up the ladder to pick would be packed into lunches. Oh the smell, of stewed apples and cinnamon!

Here’s some more ways to not let windfalls go to waste.

Fall in the Pot

This evening’s recipeCider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onions is a tribute to my apple picking memories. There are many versions to be found and plenty of video tutorials too. Choose the one you like best. I tried to find the origin of this recipe and although there are Italian, German and French versions, I’d like to conclude that my dinner is American and the hard cider that I chose is, Angry Orchard Crisp Apple.

True to my practical roots, I am choosing the cheapest cut, pork shoulder. You could do chops or tenderloin, but if you are cooking slow, there’s no need to spend a lot.

From just five simple ingredients, a sumptuous autumn aroma will permeate your house!

Au gratin potatoes; roast turnips; and apple cider braised pork.

Why Riesling and Why Not Red?

Once again, I gave into #TheWineTherapist’s recommendation. I’ve always preferred red over white, but according to Stefano, I’ve been cheating my taste buds by not choosing any good ones. The conclusion is, listen to your wine consultant!

On my door step with enough time to be chilled, was the 2009 Peter Jakob Kühn Quarzit Riesling Trocken. I took enough German in high school to pronounce it correctly (I hope), but not enough to understand the website, so finding information was a challenge. Here’s one review and some tasting notes on this 89 Point wine (Wine Advocate) can be found here.

Riesling is the 18th most planted varietal  in the world and 20% of all grapes are planted in Germany. The one that I’m drinking today is from the Rheingau region. Do you know what distinguishes Riesling from the Rheingau and Mosel regions apart from other areas in the world?  Hint: Slope, south, sun.

Catch Me If I Fall

This week I became a member of the Society of Wine Educators and am enrolled in the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) course. I have a year to get through a large textbook, participate in online tutorials, take notes and complete exercises in preparation for the certification exam that consists of 100 questions. Of course, theory must be supplemented with practice and I’ll be tasting my way through regions and vineyards from around the world!

I’m an art enthusiast and not a critic; love to cook, but not a chef; a wine enthusiast, but not a sommelier. When I write about art or wine, my goal is to be easily understood and, hopefully, enjoyed by many.

As I embark on this wine adventure, if my approach ever becomes unapproachable, “catch me if I fall” and send me your feedback.

We first taste to enjoy and the joy of tasting allows us to tap into our memories or create new ones.

Until next time, remember that seasons are a state of mind. While you may have to wait before wearing the sweater, nothing stops you from Fall-ing in the pot.

@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape

Continue reading “Catch Me If I Fall”

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