Archive for July 2012

NGW: Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Olivares Jumilla 2010   6 comments

Arriving in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, a city known more in its official capacity as the seat of government, than as a tourist stop, ID and I had a couple of days there in transit to what we thought would be more interesting parts of the country.  

In search of a restaurant that we had read about, she and I set out from our hotel into the early Moroccan evening.  The sun had not yet set and we found ourselves hopelessly lost as the evening prayers were sung out by the muezzins across the city.  An elderly man in his late sixties approached us.  Wearing westernized clothing– a dress shirt and grey slacks– our defenses were down, we chatted with him.  He claimed to be a now-retired Diplomat.  We were in Rabat, so that seemed plausible.

We looked lost, he remarked.  We were.

As though we could use some assistance.  We could.

He did not know where this particular restaurant was.  Of course not.

But his son surely would.  Naturally. 

Would we follow him back to his flat where his son would help us?  Hmmm. 

Moroccans are always looking for ways to help foreigners.  Whether is was extending dinner invitations that never materialized or guiding us to a brother-in-law who sold Berber carpets.  They give the impression that they are a helpful lot.  It is not from lack of sincerity– rather it is in their nature to provide assistance and guidance.

In the mood for a little adventure and willing to be guided by that adventuresome sense, if not common sense, we assented.  He led us back to his neighborhood.  As he took us further away from the more public avenues of the city, ID and I glanced at each other.  Not sure if we should continue, but not turning heel, she slipped her hand into mine, our fingers entwined, she gave my hand a slight squeeze.  “What do you think?”, she seemed to be asking.  Taking a deep breath, I exhaled and shrugged.  We went with our instincts and continued to follow.

Into a cul-de-sac of apartment buildings he led us.  But his son was nowhere to be found.  Perhaps the boy was up in the flat– he suggested.  Darkened windows all around, no local residents milling about, we still had a chance to turn tail.  Yet our feet pushed forward toward his residence. 

On the left side of the dead end stood the apartment building.  The sun was fading from the sky and an uneasy dusk was settling in around us.  We entered the narrow lobby and were immediately engulfed in total darkness.  A sense of heightened suspicion began to emerge.  In for a penny, in for a pound, we continued on. 

Why do we trust this man we had met a mere ten minutes before?  ID looked at me and I gave the old I’m-not-sure-what-is-going-to-happen- to-us-raised-eyebrow.  Should we be starting to panic?

Up the darkened stairwell we followed. Climbing the first flight and then onto the second flight we continued– each step more difficult than the one before.  Yet our bodies were now determined to see this to the end, come what may, even if our minds were not exactly on board.  Our little procession of three moving deeper into the blacked out void.

At the top of the second landing, a dark wooden door appeared in sculptural relief against the onyx-colored background.  He approached and knocked.  What happened next surprised us. 

If I had to do this all over again today, there is no way I would ever let myself get into this situation.  What the hell were we thinking– entrusting some guy we had just met in a foreign country that we were just visiting for a few days.  Following him away from the more populated pedestrian byways.  I stopped believing his story.  We are in trouble, I am thinking.  What could be lurking behind that door?  As my eyes strained to adjust to the darkness, I could see there was an amber glow coming from the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor.

Faint footsteps becoming louder approached from the other side of the entry.  I could see the shadowy silhouettes of two feet standing on the other side of the door.  Adrenaline pumping into my brain, my heart rate higher than I would like.  The unnerving mechanical clacking of locks, dead-bolts and security chains being undone there in the ebony air where we could barely discern each others’ features.  I am now thinking that we may have to fight our way out of this situation.  The door swung open and yellow rays of incandescent light flooded the landing where we stood. 

The diplomat’s wife stood in the entryway, angelic she was, with a welcoming smile and radiant beams of golden light exploding around the edges of her body.  At least that is the way I remember her. 

We exhaled.

Bidding us in, we were invited to make ourselves comfortable in their Moroccan living room with yellow silk cushions on the furnishings.  She laid out a spread of sweet mint tea steaming in traditional Moroccan green tea glasses.  And  then she brought out some incredible traditional Moroccan sweets– the kind we had seen in the fanciest bakeries throughout the country.  One senses this was not the first time the Mr. Diplomat had pulled this stunt dragging in stray westerners. 

I can’t recall the conversation we had that day, but it was a kind of exchange of resumes.  What he had done, where he had been.  Who we were, what we do and where we were going.  All of this whilst sitting in the Diplomats’ living room on a beautiful golden-yellow sectional sofa done in traditional Moroccan style nibbling on sweet pastry.

Leaving the apartment that night he escorted us out.  His son back from wherever, then took on the task of getting us to our destination.

We never did find that restaurant that night—it had been shuttered and no longer existed.  I think we found another local place to have our dinner, or perhaps we went without dinner, having been fortified by mint tea and Moroccan sweets. 

The history of Morocco is intertwined with those of France and Spain.  Tonight’s varietal is known as Mouvedre in France where in the Rhone it is often blended with Grenache (Garnacha) and Syrah– the GSM blend.  However its origins are Spanish where it is known as Monastrell or Mataro.  Getting onto Spain, here is a well-priced Monastrell from Jumilla in southeastern Spain.

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya 2010Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Olivares Jumilla 2010 ($8).  Quite faint aromas and red raspberries in the mouth.  This Monastrell, is characteristic of others I have tasted from this region.  With an easygoing fruity acidity, you could do much worse.  It delivers good QPR at this price.  Rated **

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted July 26, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Mano-a-Mano: Ribeira del Duero Face-off in the Park   10 comments

It does not matter if he’s gay or straight– every man wants to be Bond.  If he denies this fact, he is either lying or he is a complete idiot.  Putting aside the good looks, hi-tech toys, license-to-kill, babes, jujitsu, and uncanny runs of luck in the casino, the key to being Bond is that everything he does is effortless.    That effortlessness makes him easy to envy and emulate at the same time.  Also, having a great wardrobe, fast car, cash to burn and the right comeback for every situation does not hurt.   What guy wouldn’t want that?

But women are different from men, not that we’ve noticed.  And I’m pretty sure that while most women wouldn’t mind being with Bond for maybe a night or two, they wouldn’t want their men to behave like Bond.   Yep, I’m pretty sure that the endless parade of Bond Chicks won’t fly with the little lady waiting at home.    

But that’s what makes him Bond– there is no little lady keeping the home fires burning while he toils away at disrupting the evil plans of criminal masterminds.  As a result he gets a free pass from women when it comes to playing the field.    

Why is the ole noggin’ noodling on about Bond and gender dynamics?

Saturday night we gathered a bunch of friends for a picnic dinner at a park just around the corner from the house followed by an outdoor screening of the first Bond film, Dr. No.  Released in 1962, it was definitely a product of its time.   

While he avoids an office romance with Moneypenny (as usual), he manages to hook up with two other fairly gorgeous women before Honey Ryder shows up in the second half of the film.  Played by the curvaceous, Ursula Andress, he scores with Honey after the closing credits.  If only it were that easy…

Back at the picnic.  It being a Bond film, we needed some bubbly.  My local purveyor was fresh out of Dom Perignon ’55 ($1,200 per bottle), so we requisitioned 4 bottles of Riondo Prosecco ($10 per), instead.  Great on its own or as part of a refreshing Bellini.  (Yes, we packed a little peach puree in the picnic hampers.) 

Since it is a Bond film, you can always count on there being an abundance of scenes featuring cocktails and manner for serving them.      

One scene, in particular, highlighted Dr. No’s poor manners at the cocktail hour.   Offering Bond a Vodka Martini, he described in detail how it was made to Bond’s preferences– you know the drill: shaken not…, lemon peel, yada-yada.  The message clearly conveyed: the good doctor has done his homework in sizing up his opponent.  By contrast, Bond Girl du jour, Honey Ryder, is unceremoniously handed a nearly overflowing glass of red wine without any explanation as to what she was drinking.  While it does efficiently advance the storyline of the script, there are deficiencies in matters of etiquette that may be disturbing to some:

  1. Bond is served first.  In an age of sexual equality, this may not strike many as so bad.  But in 1962, it misses the mark.  But even today, it is always best to provide for the ladies first.
  2. The detailed introduction of Bond’s drink followed by the short shrift given to Honey’s drink rankled at least one of our female guests, who loudly proclaimed in most lady-like fashion: “Who gives a s**t what she’s drinking.”  It did seem like an odd oversight– what could be the harm in giving Honey a vodka martini as well? 
  3. Red wine as aperitif?  And it looked like a full-bodied red at that.  Bold move Herr Doctor, bold move.
  4. How can you drink a glass of wine filled to the brim?  Just try to swirl that sucker around to get a sniff and see what happens to that pretty dress you’re wearing.
  5. Where is Dr. No’s cocktail?  Never trust a man who serves you a drink without taking one himself.  At best you’re in for a dull time; at worst, you might get smacked around a bit at the end of the meal. 

At the end of the dinner, Dr. No serves a Dom Perignon ’55.  When Bond tries to escape, he grabs the bottle with intention of using it to club Dr. No’s guard.  “That’s a Dom Perignon ’55 – it would be a pity to break it,” says Dr. No quietly. “I prefer the ’53 myself,” replies Bond as he takes his seat.   (Note to self: armed guards looking over your shoulder as you are finishing dessert never bodes well.)

Now if I had given Honey a glass of red, she would have had something to remember.  With the grilled steak sandwiches we served, we poured two wines from the 2008 Ribeira del Duero vintage.  Although not an excellent vintage, it is nonetheless given a very good rating by Espavino.  These two comparably priced Spanish contestants come out of the gates with very different styles.  A little bit like 007 and Dr. No. 

Of course, there can only be one winner.  

Vinedos Alonso del Yerro Ribera del Duero 2008 ($19).   Tempranillo.  Check.  Earthy aromas leading to chocolate notes.  Check.  Dark yet understated fruit.  Check.  Finishing with firm tannins.  Check.  This has an emergent elegance that suggests it will get better with more time in the bottle.  Rated **1/2

Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2008 ($18).  According to the website, this tempranillo is sourced from vineyards that are 15 to 25 years old and carrying the name of the winery, it represents the “heart of the winery”.  A bit more international in style, this guy was a bit more fruit forward.  But the pleasantness of the fruit was marred by an evident use of oak, most likely American oak (as I confirmed later).  And while I would drink this any day, that oakiness is a chink in the armor in a head to head tasting against the Alonso del Yerro.  And so it must take second place, even if I give it the same rating.  Rated **1/2

Back to Honey Ryder:  a girl who just happens to show up on a secluded, radioactive beach in a bikini, with a big knife and some fantastic looking seashells.  The men in our party were in agreement on the qualities that made her a sex symbol in 1962.  Those criteria still apply today.

On reconsideration, maybe Dr. No had it right– hand her a big ole goblet of red wine, coolly avert your eyes from her revealing swimwear, keep your mouth shut unless you have something truly clever to say and see what happens to you.  Just make sure you know where she has stowed the knife.

It’s effortless, you see?

Posted July 24, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Mano-a-Mano, Wine Etiquette

NGW: Lar de Robla Vinos de Arganza Premium Castilla y Leon 2008   4 comments

Today’s wine has me thinking of the kind of baked cherry pie you can find in many diners and humble restaurants across the land.  The kind of place where lives, lust and philosophy intersect as people scratch out a living. 

Lar de Robla Vinos de Arganza Premium Castilla y Leon 2008 ($9). 100% Mencia and 100% delicious.  Opening with baked pie notes this medium bodied Spanish wine had satisfying tart cherry flavors.  Yet not so tart as to be unbalanced.  Finishing with soft acidity and tannins, this is to be savored now, but you might tuck away one or two for the future.  Rated **1/2

Continuing,  it reminded me of a place I spent a bit of time of in my late teens.  And as usual, things then took on a life of their own…
N was a human shark and he was always working some scam.  Whether the objective was to get a quick buck or a quick lay, he was always measuring the situation, figuring the angles.  With an avaricious heart and lascivious eyes he came into the family by marriage to my aunt.  In his youth, tall, handsome with a flat-top haircut, a winning smile, he stood out in the family photos.  His true character hidden under a polished veneer. 
By profession, he was a waiter in an upscale restaurant which he used to catapult him into a series of marital infidelities.  His wife was devoted and beautiful.  But he was compelled by an uncontrollable libido.
Naturally took a mistress– an Italian-American girl.  One of those Italian girls from the Borough of Queens in New York City. 
While entertaining out-of-town relations, N received a phone call from his teary-eyed mistress.  The blood drained from his face.  His hands turned cold and he broke into a cold sweat.  Seems the girl’s father, who was a local mobster, had supposedly dispatched an armed goon squad to N’s home to exact retribution for some disrespect shown to himself or his daughter.  Probably the fact that she was with a married man was sufficient to put Daddy in a sour mood.  But knowing N, as I do, there is much more to the story, which we will never know.  Turning to his visiting relatives, and explaining the situation with the least detail that he could, in a panic, he summoned them to quickly pack some bags for the hasty retreat out-of-town.  Piling into two cars, they headed down the NJ Turnpike to relative anonymity in the heart of southern New Jersey. 
How he explained this to his wife, I do not know.  Somehow, it never became an issue that destroyed their marriage.  But he is a slippery character. 

Women may forgive, but they do not forget.  Women of that generation surrendered themselves to their men, opened their legs, bore children and sealed their fates.  Surrender and capture at the same time.  But some men are not meant for the captivity of domesticity.  They are of two minds– they desire the normalcy, if you want to call it that of a home life– wife, kids, making donuts from 9-to-5, weekends in the park flying kites, dinner on the table, Johnny Carson fading to a silent deathly marital slumber.  But they have the craving for that life outside of home.  And in N’s case, with as many other women as would have him.  To him, each of these women were the same– surrendering themselves to him, opening their legs, and sealing their fates.  Is she playing him?  Or is he playing her?  It is a dangerous game.  And no one is in control though everyone thinks he or she is. 

Finding himself in one of the darker parts of the State of New Jersey, with his restaurant expertise, and because he was “family”, he convinced his brother-in-law to help him purchase a local eatery in a neighboring town.  It was a greasy spoon of an establishment in the heart of southern New Jersey.  For a short while, I worked there as a 16-year-old dishwasher.  

The town was at that time home to hillbillies, whores, racists and those who coveted thy neighbor’s wives.  (Of course, there were normal folks there as well, but they were pretty boring.)  He fell right in with the rhythm of the place.   However, being a Big City Boy of Puerto Rican descent, his perception was that he would not be considered desirable by the Welcoming Committee of the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan.  His concern may not have been so far-fetched: the town was lily-white at that time and it was rumored that the local KKK branch was led by a suspicious and crusty old coot who was a sometime customer of the restaurant.  N’s solution to the problem was to claim Greek heritage.  So he was a Big City Greek.  Somehow, he thought this was better.  Most of the locals had never met a Greek before and he could pass for a reasonable facsimile if one did not know better.  But most of them also knew the sound of spoken Spanish even if they had never heard Greek before.  Still the ploy must have worked because we never found any burning crosses in front of the restaurant.  Or perhaps this was just all a product of N’s paranoia.  (As Curt Cobain once wrote: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”)

He was in his element—with an urbane manner and the exoticism of being thought of as a son of the Peloponnesus, the horny middle-aged local gals beat a path to his door.  Not having learned his lesson from the Italian Job, he reeled them in and had his way with them in a myriad of places including the restaurant kitchen after closing time: flesh slapping panting grunting rendezvous amongst the detritus of restaurant life: piles of plates, cutlery, wet dish rags, saucers, fry pans, spatulas and strainers, tomato sauce cans, pepper, oregano, garlic, dried basil, paprika, pickles, salt and leftover spaghetti. 

Meanwhile, his wife waited for him in the apartment above the restaurant.

He always made a point of justifying his behavior to me by explaining that once a man aged to the point in life where an erection was physically impossible to obtain, all he had was his memories.  So his mission was to build a pornographic library of memories that he could run like a highlight reel toward the end of his life.  His wife was not permitted the same privileges.  I wonder if she ever took on a lover of her own?  If she did , then she did it in a way that he never found out.  Soft-spoken and shy because she was not confident in her ability to speak English, she was nonetheless striking.  Raven-haired, with piercing dark eyes, she was tall, slim, you would never hear her walk into a room, she just seemed to appear, as a ghost appears.  

During business hours, the restaurant was populated by an oddball collection of customers who were served by a tiny cadre of waitresses culled from the local workforce.  The front of the house had a total of 16 booths and a juke box by the window to the left of the entrance.  Though small, the place was never filled.  One waitress could handle it easily on most evenings. 

There were 2, maybe 3 waitresses employed at any one time.  These were women with stories to tell and secrets to hide.  All of them were just decent people just trying to make it, living paycheck to paycheck, carrying the burdens of working class poverty and dreams of a better tomorrow for themselves and their families.  Sometimes, they were trying just to earn enough to buy their next round of drinks at the local road house, a place where they could sit back, Venus fly traps with legs spread open waiting for their next meal ticket to alight on their fragrant petals.   The smells of the restaurant kitchen, a combination of sweat and cooking grease stuck to their clothes and their salty skin at the end of each day.  Some went home and burnished their skin, till it glowed as white as porcelain and carried the scent of Ivory Soap.  Some covered  their musky odor with strong perfume.  Either way, theirs was a smell redolent of struggle and survival. 

And since the pay was meager and the tips inadequate—the place was a revolving door for a stream of waitresses.    

Buck-toothed Carol for one—we did not really call her that, but her upper mandible stuck out so as to give her a rather horsey appearance—so it seems fitting today.  Due to this unique physical feature, some words, like “perspiration” were often too difficult for her to pronounce: “sperspiration, I mean sweat!” she would say.  After the dinner “rush”, she would feed the juke box.  Her favorite was the Eagles, Lyin’ Eyes with its western twang:  

So she tells him she must go out for the evening
To comfort an old friend who’s feelin’ down
But he knows where she’s goin’ as she’s leavin’
She is headed for the cheatin’ side of town

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin eyes

On the other side of town a boy is waiting
with fiery eyes and dreams no one could steal
She drives on through the night anticipating
‘Cause he makes her feel the way she used to feel

She rushes to his arms,
They fall together
She whispers that it’s only for a while
She swears that soon she’ll be comin’ back forever
She pulls away and leaves him with a smile

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise
I thought by now you’d realize
There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes

In her late thirties or perhaps early forties and married to a greasy-haired flaccid hillbilly of a husband with two equally greasy gelatinous children, she befriended Bearded Norman, a regular customer whose greatest attributes were a prodigiously full and dark Agamemnon-like beard and the fact that his chariot was an equally dark pickup truck that he would park in front of the restaurant where he would take many of his dinners on nights when Carol was working.  Combine these fine qualities with a middle-aged paunch, and you could see that Bearded Norman was quite the catch– if you were Buck-toothed Carol.  I realized that their relationship had progressed beyond professional when I spied them chatting intimately in the cab of the pickup as I was leaving work one evening.  After Buck-toothed Carol quit, I never saw Bearded Norman again.  I guess he wasn’t there for the fine cuisine.

There was Faye, a younger woman than Carol, then in her late twenties, perhaps, early thirties, curvaceous, pretty face, but most remarkable for the fact that at such a young age, she wore dentures after having lost all of her front teeth.  Whether this loss was caused by disease or fist, I do not know.  Leaving little to the imagination, she did let on as indiscreetly as possible that many of her paramours were entranced by this attribute.  Not being the shy type, she once popped out her dentures to show us her naked gums. 

These were people serving food, right?  So yummy.

After Carol and Faye, there were two other waitresses there that made an impression on me.  First there was a Nordic beauty, whose name is now lost to me.  She was married to fellow named Hans.  They lived in a mobile trailer home, but she was comfortable with what she had and I sensed that she had no shame about living in such impoverished circumstances.  She was one of the most centered people I have ever met.  In some respects, she was angelic.  But she had lived enough to see the other, darker side of human nature.

Then, there was my secret crush, Terry.  She was in her early 20’s, a trim brown-eyed mass of mischief, freckles and brown hair.  Her boyfriend, Bad-Boy-George, was what my father would disparagingly have referred to as a hippie: stringy long-haired, moustached, and drugged-up.  The kind of guy Dad wanted me to avoid.  She was too good for him, but she seemed happy.  Visiting the restaurant during one of my college breaks my Freshman year, I sat in a booth with the Scandinavian goddess, to catch up on the stuff going on in my new collegiate life.  Terry was finishing the afternoon shift, and plopped herself down in the booth directly across from me—just a big how-do-you-do smile beaming across her face.  We leaned across the table to give a friendly greeting kiss.  As we met, I was surprised by the warm and wet kiss that was waiting for me.  We lingered there for a moment.  Then we sat down– each of us a little embarrassed.  Not knowing whether she was serious or just playing around for fun, I did not say a word.  A quick query, “Did I just see some tongue there?”, asked Ms. Scandinavia.  I blushed.  Neither of us was going to answer that question.  It just sort of happened.  Apparently, my crush was not so secret.

Later that evening, accepting an invitation from Terry, I ended up at the house that she shared with George.  I knew that George and one of his buddies would also be also there, but I figured, why not go and check out the scene.  Also, I was secretly hoping that maybe he would not be there.  Naturally, he was right on time and waiting for her arrival. 

Despite the fact that he was a ne’er-do-well, he wasn’t such a bad guy, really.  But she was still too good for him. 

Taking leave that night, I got in my car, turned the engine over and pulled out the driveway, each stone in the gravel driveway heaving under the crush of the rubber tires.  It had started to rain and waving good-bye, her smile faded, through tear-like droplets of water, as I spied her through the rear view mirror.  She turned her back and walked back into her life.  Driving home that night, I thought I would see her on my return trips back home.  But I never made the time to do that.  That was 1978.  Some years later, I asked N about her.  Terry had succumbed to cancer before reaching the age of 40. 

I like to think that Terry thought of me over the years.  Maybe she did.  Maybe not.  I know she pops into my mind now and again.  When she does, I remember that last day we spent together and my lonesome drive home in a light rain that night.

The years pass us by in an instant.  N is a broken man now– on dialysis, diabetic, and hollowed out.  When it comes to me, he can’t hide behind the now cracked veneer– elderly and ailing.  The wood beneath that veneer was never of the highest quality.  I know him from the inside out.  I suspect that, as he predicted, he is replaying that highlight reel in his head even as his broken body is failing him.

Despite his lack of qualifications as a role model, N was right in one respect: as you take the last few laps of life, ONE of the things we are left with is memories.  The others, if you play your cards well, are love and respect.  I am not sure how much he has of these last two.  These are the good things in life that one should always linger over…

Those Things and Memories of Accidental kisses.

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted July 18, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: The New Roman Triumvirate   9 comments

As one cabbie in Florence put it so succinctly and with “all due respect”: 

“Are you courageous or stupid?” 

Traveling with three women to Europe, always allow 1 hour for drama.  Ms. R has her own pace and she is not to be rushed.  It’s not that she is horribly late, but 15 or 30 minutes is nothing to her.  She has a habit of making me routinely late to anything we have to get to.

The drama started before we even left the country.  Too late in leaving the house, we ran into major traffic on the way to the airport.  Some of us had not had lunch, so we made a “quick” stop at the nearest Castillo Blanco for a 10-burger sack– a strategic error on my part– but I know how cranky Ms. R can be when she hasn’t eaten (it’s almost as bad as me).  Yes, we love those square little burgers.

By the time we arrived at the airport long-term parking lot, we were about 90 minutes from the scheduled departure time.  Normally, airlines recommend that you arrive at the Terminal at least two hours before departure on international flights.  There are, as it turns out, good reasons for this. 

We were still a short train ride away from the Terminal.  Naturally, Delta has two terminals and we went to the wrong one.  70 minutes to departure.  No problem says they– they permitted Ms. R to check her bags there.  I am thinking, “Say goodbye to those bags– they will never make it to Rome.”  (I was carrying mine on.)  We were instructed to proceed to security check-in at this Terminal and after clearing security, board a shuttle bound for the correct Terminal. 

“But you will have to hurry!” 

Airport Security– the now accepted Privacy Invasion Experience.  300 people in line in front of us.  60 minutes to departure.  The numbers are adding up to a whole lot of stress.  While we stand in line, Ms. R snakes her way past the crowd to see if she can find a legal way to cut the line.  “Sure,” comes the reply, “just ask everyone in front of you to let you cut!”  As she is making her way back to the three of us, a miracle– like a Biblical parting of the seas, the crowd behind us parts to let through an airport employee, pushing a wheelchair ferrying someone’s enfeebled grandmother past the throng.  Traipsing behind is a line of Granny’s family members.  45 minutes to departure.  With the slightest encouragement from my fellow travelers, we hitch ourselves to the end of Granny’s Entourage.  The last member of her family is a 12 or 13-year-old boy wearing a bright green shirt. 

“Follow the Green Shirt, Girls!”   

“Yes!  This is actually working!”  Meeting Ms. R halfway up the queue, as first the wheelchair-bound biddy and each of her family members pass her she looked surprised when she saw us hot on the heels of the Green Shirt.  As I walked past her all I said was “Follow us!”  This she did to many a dirty look from the people just ahead who had witnessed her ploy and did not know what to make of the fact that she had acquired a family of 10 people, one in a wheelchair.  Yet they all kept silent.  As we snaked our way past the 300, I admonished myself– “Don’t make eye contact!” 

“Stick with the Green Shirt, Girls!”

My stomach in knots.  40 minutes to departure.  Our flight is boarding.  But we are just getting to the body scanners.  Naturally, I am the one that gets stopped by airport security for not one, but three body scans and a frisk.  I would have stopped me too– I’m stressed, I’m perspiring, I’m a mess.  The minutes ticking away.  And we are still in the wrong Terminal!

Running to the shuttle, we get on and take the 5 minute ride to the correct Terminal.  Interesting word, “terminal”.  A noun in this instance describing a place, but normally an adjective or adverb describing a situation– as in terminal disease, or as the Eagles sang, “She was terminally pretty”.  It does not describe situations that I like to find myself in.  The shuttle lurches to a stop half way to our Terminal.  There is some crazy traffic rule about yielding the right of way to aircraft on the tarmac.  WTF!  35 minutes to departure!  Now going to 30!  Aircraft doors closing about 15 minutes before departure.  The shuttle lurches forward.  Pulling into the terminal we sprint for our Gate. 

Gate.  A better word, I think.  There is safety inside the Gate.  But the Gate can bar your entry.  Which shall it be?  Arriving at the Gate we are relieved to see that there remain about a dozen passengers that need to board.  We queue up behind them knowing we will get on the plane.  Reaching our seats, we stow away our carry-ons.  I am now ready for a strong cocktail and for this plane to pull away from the Gate. 

And then—- we sit.  In fact, we sit for long while.  30 minutes past the time that we should have left.  Then the voice of the Captain comes on overhead.  We’re delayed while they locate some luggage that is supposed to be on our flight.  After sitting for over an hour past our departure time, they located the missing luggage.  And we were off.

Now I can’t prove this, but I am certain that it was Ms. R’s luggage which she checked in at the wrong Terminal that held up our flight.  Today, some three weeks since that day, I chuckle about this.  Not only did she make me late.  She delayed a whole damn airplane! 

But I am the only one who really knows this.

Am I Courageous or Stupid?  More the latter, I have to admit.  But I would gladly do that again.  But next time without the drama at the airport, of course. 

Arriving in Rome the following morning, a heat wave has accompanied us from New York.  We settled into our Roman apartment in Trastevere.  Having washed the stink of travel from our bodies, we settled in for the evening– a little jet lagged and thirsty for some Italian wine.  Here are some of the things we drank the first 4 nights in Rome.  Maybe, they won’t taste as good outside of Italy.  Maybe they will bring back a few funny memories of the day an invalid in a wheelchair came to our rescue. 

As Caesar might have said: Veni, Vidi, Bibi!  For a trio of women, today we get a trio of vino bianco. 


Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2011 (€12).  With floral component on the nose, this is a tasty treat that is perfect for a Roman Holiday.  This has very pleasant acidity providing an ample backbone for the fruit.  Rated **

Müller-Thurgau Alto Adige – Südtirol 2011 (€5).  Opening with a little funkiness that led to kiwi with a touch of fizz and minerality and a limey acidity on the finish, this just kept satisfying.   A great bargain at this price!  Rated **1/2

Carpeni Malvotti Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore Conegliano and Valdobibiadene (NV) (€9).  A thirst quenching Prosecco, with clean floral notes, a slight yet pleasing sweetness balanced out by just the right amount of acidity.  Serve well chilled on a hot night.  Rated **

Postscript: on the flight back to New York, we arrived at the Gate a stress-free 90 minutes before boarding. 

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted July 12, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Tormaresca Neprica Puglia 2010.   4 comments

George Clooney is a Bastard.  Isn’t he?

Of course I know it’s Friday!  But after a nine-hour flight yesterday, I am still fighting off the after-effects of Jet-lag as I release this week’s NG Wednesday post.  You see, we have just returned from two weeks in the land of Caesar, Nero, Caligula and Burlusconi.  Here also, the influence of the Medici and the Venetian Dukes can still be felt.  Hundreds of years ago, these were places where secret accusations and private trials could result in your imprisonment.  Face your accuser?  Not likely.  Right against self-incrimination?  Too progressive.  Cruel and Unusual Punishment was the norm.  But this being the 21st Century, and what may have passed for progressive thinking back then is more the norm nowadays. 

And since we are in a new century, it is also now the Land of Clooney– well at least if you go to Lake Como it feels that way.  A true Sybarite, if ever there was one.  And, of course, he has the coin to be able to easily pull this off.  If I didn’t admire his lifestyle so much, I’d say he’s a bastard.  And that he might just be.  But I guess I could handle being called a bastard and worse if I lived like he does.

The Italian economy may be sucking wind.  There may be earthquakes and shipwrecks to contend with.  But it is still Italy and that means that it still has plenty of magic embedded in the pure fact of its existence.   Who can blame Clooney for wanting to live it up in Italy during the Summer?  I can think of worse places to spend Euros like a fool.

One of the highlights of the excursion was a visit to Piemonte (which included a luncheon in Barolo and a special tasting of the wines of Ettore Germano) and La Banca del Vino.  Located in Pollenzo, which is situated just west of Alba in Piemonte, we were treated to some interesting wines.  (Many thanks to our friends, Marclifestyle and Silvia, for setting this up!)

But first, a little bit about La Banca del Vino.  It is part of the college of gastronomy, where students enter a three-year course of study to learn about food & beverage appreciation.  This is not a cooking school.  But the campus includes a fine restaurant, a hotel, classrooms and of course La Banca.  A good way to think of this place is that it appears to follow the “Teaching Hospital” model, where classroom instruction is accompanied by hands on practical experience in the hotel, restaurant and La Banca, where the students interact with visitors from outside the campus.  At the end of their studies some graduates move on jobs in the hospitality industry or become food and wine writers.

La Banca is a place where many quality Italian producers “deposit” or more appropriately “contribute” a few cases of their vintages for storing and aging in the very fine air controlled vault built on the foundation of what used to be a mausoleum.  Many of the highest quality names, large and small, in Italian wine can be found here.  

Associati alla Banca del VinoAfter touring the vault, we participated in a tasting of 5 wines (Euro 20 per person).  The student manning the vault that day was a young woman, self-assured and smart, if not always correct in describing the wines we tasted.  There were a couple of areas where there could be improvement in the presentation of the wine for the tasting.  First, she presented each wine but asked us not to taste them before they were all poured out in order to allow them to develop in the glass simultaneously.  Fair enough—but then she put the wines bottles away from us so that we had to keep rising from the tasting table to look at the bottles to see what it was that we were drinking.  In her short description, she provided vintages, regions and varietals, though she did not name any of the producers.  Whether this is by design or by oversight, I am not sure. This could have been solved if the tasting were to include a short menu of the wines with vintage, varietal, producer, appellation and so forth.

During the tasting, the flight of wines included a Barbera, two Nebbiolos, an Aglianico and a Nero d’Avola.  Off the bat, before even tasting, I was not looking forward to the Nero d’Avola, as I tend to often find that they are overripe, over-extracted and too rustic for my taste.  Keep an open mind I had to remind myself as we worked our way through the tasting and arrived at the NdA.  The two Nebbiolos, one from Gattinara near the Italian Alps, and the other from Barbaresco, were the ones I was looking forward to tasting.  The Barbera was also high on the list. 

Cascina Castelet Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2006.  Initially opening with characteristic Barbera acidity, this seemed to soften as it opened up.  Revealing the classic combination of red and black fruit, this is an accessible Barbera.  Did I mention this is food friendly?  Rated **1/2

Torraccia Del Piantavigna Gattinara 2007.  The best wine of the tasting.  With aromas reminiscent of forest, this Nebbiolo changed as we sipped at it revealing herbs and a lovely finish with supportive tannins.  Rated ***

Sottimano Barbaresco 2002.  This was a very difficult vintage for Barolo and Barbaresco.  With so much rain, the grapes in some vineyards were too bloated to ripen properly.  Then a hail storm hit causing so much damage throughout the region that many producers did not harvest the crop.  Sottimano was one of the few producers to bottle their single vineyard Barbaresco.  Had this been a complete blind tasting, I would have said this was a California wine.  Opening and finishing with a strong oak presence, it was fruit forward (more international in style) and even at 12 years of age still retained strong tannins.  It was our least favorite wine of the tasting and yet, given the vintage’s challenges, is a success of sorts.  Rated **

Damaschito Basilicata Aglianico del Vulture 2007.  Approachable dried fruit aromas and flavors, it reminded me of why I like Aglianico.  Rated **1/2

Gulfi Nerojbleo Nero d’Avola Sicilia 2003.  An in your face nose full of earth and dark fruit, this was the surprise wine of the tasting.  Well balanced. This is one that would easily accompany many grilled dishes.  Perhaps the fruit was tamed by the fact that it is a 9-year-old bottle.  Definitely the oldest NdA I have ever had.  Rated **1/2

These wines may not be easily available in the U.S., but they present a lesson in keeping an open mind—the words that I used as I took my first taste of the surprisingly good Nero d’Avola.  With this Italian inspiration, here is

Tormaresca Neprica Puglia 2010 ($8).  An attractive blend of Negroamaro (40%), Primitivo (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) , this is a nice example of what wine from Puglia can be.  Fruit forward on the nose and palate, it delivers soft red and black plum essence, though it is really done in a stripped down “Plain Jane” style.  The Cabernet lends it structure and it has surprisingly good length for the money.  Rated **
Now, I am not Clooney.  But for the past two weeks I felt the magic.  We laughed.  We sang.  We ate very well.  And we popped the corks on some nice bottles.

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted July 6, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday