Archive for the ‘Food-Wine-Love’ Category

Radio Silence   10 comments

Three weeks and I have had nothing to say?  Well, not really. 

I have been with Ms. R as she starts Chemotherapy after recovering from surgery.  Her breast Cancer came back. 

And while I have had lots of thoughts about myriad subjects, there is nothing I can write that seems more important than this.  Nothing, no event, no wine, more insistent than those 2 C-words. 

She is a Luminescence in my life.  Yet the nights are dark and chill and the mornings darker still.  There is a shadow that has stretched across our path.  Still she manages to glow.  She exudes warmth.  I can not comprehend how she does it.  It is beyond me in every way.  But I have also seen her in her weaker moments.  When the darkness hidden within exacts its price. 

We have known about the cancer since mid-summer.  But it is now, in the Autumn, as the leaves are starting their annual crayola swoon that we are bringing the fight home.  Nausea.  Exhaustion.  Waves of both.  Sometimes alternating.  Sometimes simultaneous.   I wish I could take it on for her, take it away from her, shield her, sacrifice myself for her.  That would be so much easier.  

But I cannot.  I can only bear helpless witness and offer whatever comfort I can muster.

Yet the situation is not helpless.  I know that we will survive.  Stronger than before. 

She is better equipped than me to field this difficult play.  She has a strength of faith.  Where I am underwhelmed by myths.  She has an unyielding ability to find the best in difficult situations.  She is not having breast surgery.  She’s getting new “boobies” (her word).  Is she delusional?  No, just pathologically optimistic.  I am the cynic.  And she draws power from the love of friends and family.   I prefer a more stoic approach.  Yes she is my better half.

I ask myself, why her?  There is no answer.  That leaves me feeling very unsatisfied.  So I come back here.  To this place where words may help me to understand.  Where I can be visible, yet undetectable.  Where I can confess my doubts.  Yes there is doubt within me.  But there is also certainty that comes from her. 

This is a pot hole in the road.  The bridge is not out.

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Posted October 11, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

A Remembrance On the Eve of Rosh Hashana   4 comments

Years before I met and then worked for him, I had been told that Len was a genius.

But I have come to learn that Genius is the obverse side of a coin.  What is on the reverse side of that coin is not so readily apparent– at first.  

An enduring image I have of Len is feet up on his desk, cigarette smoldering between his tobacco stained fingers, staring into the space outside his window, no doubt resolving a sticky technical problem.  Tall, yet he never used his height to intimidate.  Gentle eyes, he would sit and listen and then clearly discuss technical matters as if he had been born with the knowledge pre-packaged, pre-loaded in his brain.  He was a mental giant but he did not intimidate with that either.  Len was a Jew and as a Jew he would have appreciated being referred to as a Mensch.  A Yiddish word used to describe a Real Human Being, A Good Person.  Many of us admired him, but we also knew that he could be a bit of a loner.  He lived in his head and reminded me of Mr. Spock.

Yet there was a side of him that said, “Look here, I can have fun too!”.  He purchased a cherry red Mazda Miata.  But it was a queer choice.  As a partner in the firm, he could afford a better car.  He wanted to have fun.  But it was Fun within limits.  Then there were the sheer mechanics of folding his Ichabod-esque frame into the confines of a Miata.  I remember passing him on the highway once and looking over he had cigarette perched in left hand, hunched over the wheel, staring forward, lost in thought at 60 miles per hour.

I was thrilled the day that I was asked to support Len with respect to one of the more high-profile clients in the office– a company with coal mining interests in West Virginia.  The vice president we were dealing with was a short fellow with a major Napoleon complex.  Standing about five feet five inches, he surrounded himself with a team of six-foot tall men that he bullied for sport.  For some reason, he never focused on me– perhaps because I am a mere five feet eight inches on a good day.  Len, on the other hand was just about 6 feet tall.  And theirs was always a tenuous relationship.

During one of the recessions in the early nineties, the a Firm made a decision to lay off the lower performing employees for economic reasons.  These were people who were not superstars.  They were average but they were effective and good at what they did.  However, rather than admitting that the cutbacks were being made for economic reasons,  the leaders of the firm, in their infinite wisdom, decided to base the cutbacks on performance evaluations that were unnecessarily and intentionally negative.  No mention was to be made of the economic motivations for the lay offs.

I rankled at this notion.  My feeling was– that you could give someone a decent and honest evaluation and then tell them that good as they were, they were not at the top of the class and business being business, they had to leave with company’s blessing and some outplacement assistance and a letter of recommendation.  The company’s approach was more draconian– tell them they are sub-par, sub-standard, sub-human chattel and fire them.  Eat what you kill.  Corporate Darwinism. 

As Senior Managers, they charged me and others with drafting and delivering these negative performance evaluations.  I, along with a few others,  bridled at this and refused to write an evaluation that I thought was a lie and unduly cruel. 

Len and another leader in our group, George called me into their offices.  I calmly explained my position– fire them if you must, but don’t kick them when they are down.  I expected them to calmly explain why I should do their bidding (aside from the fact that they were my bosses).  Len’s face filled with rage and he exploded into an emotional tirade directed at yours truly.  I was stunned that this mild-mannered man that I had admired had turned on me with such ferocity that I thought there was a fair chance that he was going to strike me.  I still see his sanguine face contorted by anger, his voice rising, ordering me to write the evaluation. 

Standing over me, he demanded, “So are you going to write the evaluations or not?!”  George, leaning back on his desk in the background, was perhaps more stunned than me, I do not know.  I could not take my eyes off of Len in case he decided to take a swing at me.

I sat motionless.  The next words out of my mouth were going to have an impact on my immediate future.  And perhaps my physical well-being.  Growing up, I was taught never leave a job unless another is lined up.  My daughter was just a year old then.  My wife was making a few bucks doing free-lance journalism.  No real savings to speak of.  And we were in a difficult economy where firms, like ours, were letting people go. 

Why not ask me– “So, do you want to provide for your family or not?!”  The message was that clear. 

I took a deep breath and prepared to respond.  In a soft and even tone I looked Len in the eye: “I will draft the evaluation and put in it whatever YOU want.  But I will not sign it and I will not deliver it to the individuals.”  This was unusual– because as the direct supervisor of the two people in my group who were going to be affected, it would normally have been my responsibility to deliver performance evaluations.  I was disavowing responsibility for these evaluations which I felt were filled with lies. 

I think it fair to say that my career with the Firm ended (at least unofficially) that day. 

There were two individuals in my group who were let go as a result of this action.  I liked them both very much, though I realized they would never be superstars.  

You might say that I woosed out that day.  I guess I did.  Practicality beat out idealism.  The world can be a heartless place.

Shortly after the Tirade, Len approached me and gave me what I felt was a sincere apology for his rant.  While that must have been difficult for him, and while I accepted his apology, I could not forget.  He and I both knew that the damage to our relationship was done and it was permanent.  I could never look at him in the same way again.  Within a few months, I left the firm, on my own terms.  But I do not doubt that they would have pushed me out eventually in any event.  It was that kind of a place and they knew that I was not going to go along with “the program”.

A couple of years after the Rant, I received bad news.  They say that the Coal Napoleon had been disgruntled with Len.  Len was about to lose the account.  At a place, like the Firm, where there was little tolerance for failure, this may have been the catalyst for what happened.

Len was a thinker and a planner.  September 16, 1993 was an important day in his life.  As I mentioned, Len was Jewish and he chose Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) as the day to put a bullet into his brilliant brain.  The choice of day.  The choice of method.  Even the place.  These were not last-minute decisions.  Even in death he was delivering a message.  The symbolism embedded in choosing to attack his own brain continues to resonate.  He destroyed his greatest asset.  The car, he stained the inside of a thing that brought him joy. 

Being a thinker, I am certain that Len was aware that this particular day,  September 16, 1993, is also referred to as “the day of judgement”.  He had thought about it.  He had ensured that his life insurance policy would pay out even if he did himself in.  He had calculated that he was worth more dead than alive– even to his family.  Alone, perhaps with tears in his eyes, but determined to do what he had logically concluded he had to do, he passed judgement on himself and then extinguished his life inside the red Miata.

It has been 19 years and I have long ago forgiven him for the Tirade.  But I have not forgotten his actions– the Tirade, but more importantly, the Kindnesses he showed me and the Life Lessons he left with all of us.  As I approach that anniversary, I pause to reflect on his greatness and am thankful that I experienced his Goodness.  

 

Posted September 14, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Wine for Hurricane Isaac   2 comments

What to drink before you go out to commune with Mother Nature? 

Whatever it is, if you’re in Louisiana, it had better be damn stong hooch. 

And whatever it was, these folks must have overdosed on it in New Orleans’ (that’s Nawlins’ to the uninitiated) French Quarter before gulping down a few mouthfuls of Hurricane Isaac’s  salty, gritty, wet, sandy essence.

You know, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but this is how you get your very own profile on “1000 Ways to Die”.

 

 

Posted August 28, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

The Morning Challenge   4 comments

Image Detail

I started off today feeling pretty good about stuff.  Up at 6:30.  Trundling downstairs to the kitchen to make my morning tea and granola.  Kettle whistles, the eyes flash and hot water poured into a waiting teapot– earthenware of English make.  An antique flea market find from many years ago really.  Reminds me of some very happy times. 

Cereal tumbles into a small bowl joined by a splash of milk.  All of that done, I rested the bowl on my countertop.  I grabbed my plugged in laptop, the cord dragged across the counter where I sat and like a trolled fishing net capturing all in its path.  Including, to my displeasure, the aforementioned milk and granola filled bowl. 

 Breakfast deconstructed.  The bowl ricocheted off of the stool next to me and drenched the cushion in white liquid and acne-like granola bits.  Tumbling to the floor in slow motion and exploding into fragments.  Milk, cereal and shards of white porcelain everywhere in the moment when I expected to have my feet up catching up on my personal email and favorite blogs.  I was too concerned with cleaning up to photograph what was actually a pretty cool scene.

Years back, I remember I accidentally spilt a glass of milk on the kitchen table.  I did not like the taste of milk then, since I preferred a good Pepsi or Coke to that chalky liquid.  But it was an accident– really!  My mother perceived it somewhat differently and being the disciplinarian of the house, gave me my most memorable beating.  I was not scarred for life.  Ok maybe I am, because spilt milk brought me back to that moment.  Never cry over spilled milk?  That day I broke that rule!

I asked my mother about that incident which of course, she did not remember.  Am I the only one?

The mess now cleaned up, I am wondering what else will today bring?  If this is the worst of it, then I am going to have an incredible day.  The beauty of life is the unpredictability of it.  Am I meant to have been delayed this morning by that mundane event which resulted in this unexpected post?

When I start to ask questions such as these, I sometimes will take a look at my daily horoscope.  It’s more information regardless of whether it’s good or bad.  The day will inform me of that.  Here is what it said:

You have only just scratched the surface on a new endeavor. Keep digging today and you could uncover the whole beautiful thing (at any rate, you should make amazing progress). Acting in the moment is important today — spontaneous energy will feed new ideas and encourage everything to keep going in the right direction. If you’ve been waiting for a day to exhale, it’s today. You even have permission to get excited. This is going to happen!

I have got to hop in the shower and get out there!

Posted June 11, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Livio Voghera Barbera d’Alba Riserva 2009   11 comments

A Summer house in the Hamptons and a cast of interesting people.  For drama, you don’t need much else.

There was the dress designer, Dresser, a childhood friend of my future ex-wife.  There was his boyfriend, Geoffrey, who could not quite make up his mind if he was happy being a man.  If that was not entertainment enough, there was the older woman, who insisted on being recognized as a “Citizen of the World”.  There was Liz, part of the other Hetero couple in the house, who had a business connection to Dresser.   She was obsessed with being the “Coolest Mom in the World” to her 13-year-old son.  (Note to self– “Cool” parents are permissive.)  There was also a collection of Dresser’s friends, who did not pay rent but who managed to position themselves for invitations to the house on many weekends.  Some of these were gay or they were models, sometimes both, and many of them moochers, miscreants and charlatans who showed up to his weekly parties– vodka-fueled antics that were punctuated by the ritualistic slaughter of many unfortunate Maine lobsters.  

And there was the beautiful Argentine.  Not particularly tall, but leggy nonetheless.  My favorite memories of that Summer are the idle moments spent poolside, sunglassed, and entranced by her bathing attire.   Nothing more than “postage stamps held together by dental floss,” as Dresser would say.  Each and every day, those words resonated with me as I reclined in full appreciation of the care she took to tan her rounded buttocks in the mid-day Hampton Sun.  

It was a fantastic Summer till it all fell apart when the Heteros in the household banded together demanding a weekend of Quiet that didn’t happen.  It turns out that a party every weekend with a bunch of strangers was not all that it was cracked up to be.   That was perhaps inevitable.  But for today let us focus on the good things that came out of that summer and especially the scantily clad Argentine Princess.  Believe me, there is plenty of drama in that…

Now this recollection might normally lead to a review of an Argentine wine.  But there are many Argentines of Italian descent and I can live with that intersection of humanity even if it comes via the Hamptons.

 

When I catch myself unconsciously smacking my lips and clicking my tongue it’s usually cause by particularly striking sunbathing attire on a beautiful woman or merely a very good wine.  In either case, I sit up and take notice.  

Barberas with their natural acidity have always been appealing to me.  But it’s not all about the acid.  They also have the right amount of weight and depth that appeals to me.  

The last two Barberas that I have tasted are from Alba.  Located within Piemonte in northern Italy, Alba is one of two towns fabled for the production of better Barberas.  It seems easier to find Barberas from Asti.  But it does not take that much more of an effort to find the ones from nearby Alba.  Both are good, even if they have different characters.  Personally, I have found the ones from Asti to be a bit more minerally in character, whereas the ones from Alba are earthier.   Both sport appealing red and black fruit flavors.  But these days, at least, the ones from Alba draw my eye like a well-appointed bikini. 

Livio Voghera Barbera d'Alba Riserva 2009Livio Voghera Barbera d’Alba Riserva 2009 ($20).  A lovely if not quite powerful nose: touches of earth and perhaps a hint of tar transmogrify into a mix of stoney black plum and perhaps some violets and a smattering of hyacinth.  These give way to a medley of obdurate berries– red and black– that are insistent on having a fencing contest in my mouth.  En garde!  Thrust!  Parry!  What a nice finish.  My head says this is worth 3 stars.  But my mouth is clamoring for more.  Perhaps that’s the 14.5% alcohol speaking, but today– Mouth wins.  Rated ***1/2

Posted June 10, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

La Commedia è finita!   4 comments

Clueless in Brooklyn.  We began our Year of Living Unwittingly in a time warp.

Two Yuppies beginning life’s adventure together in the mid-1980s in the Big City.  As we shopped around for an apartment, we were told (by some real estate agent) that Carrol Gardens, was the safest neighborhood in New York City.  That’s how we ended up here in this place that at least at that moment, Time seemed to have forgotten.  More likely, Time may have just misplaced it.   

Image DetailSince we were just starting out, the apartment had many desirable qualities.  It was magnificent in certain aspects.  It was on the parlor floor of a Brooklyn brownstone with inlaid parquet wood floors, 14 foot tall corniced ceilings, white alabaster fireplace and a floor to ceiling gilded mirror decorated with cherubs and such along the upper part of the frame– that was just the living room.  That grand VERTICAL scale was a jaw dropper for sure.  Horizontally– that is to say square footage wise?  Well, that was a bit more of a challenge.  The 13 foot christmas tree we put up that first year took up nearly one half of the aforementioned living room.  The apartment also had the smallest full bathroom I had ever seen– a room with the scale of an undersized powder room crammed with toilet, shower stall, a sink the size of a dentist’s spit-bowl and about 2 square feet of floor space in which to stand if the shower stall was ignored.  Forget about counter space– it did not exist, so why talk about it?  But for two kids just starting out the apartment had one more really important feature– it was cheap.  And it was complete bliss.   

Stepping out the front door, to the left and a couple of blocks away, there was the NYC Police Department’s 76th precinct.  But that is hardly the reason the neighborhood was safe.   Turning to the right, and a couple of blocks the other way, at the corner of Union and Court streets, was the medical center for the International Longshoremen’s Union, named at that time after the long dead Anthony “Tough Tony” Anastasio.  He was Vice-president of the International Longshoremen’s Association, head of local 1814 of the ILA in Brooklyn during the 1940s and 1950s and he controlled the Brooklyn Waterfront.  Union HQ was back then, as I recall, located just across the Court Street from the Medical Center.  Anthony Anastasio was also younger brother of notorious Mafia figure Albert Anastasia.  

11 Witnesses and nobody saw nuttin’

Although Anthony officially died of a heart attack in 1963, his brother Albert was, um, less fortunate, having been gunned down in Godfather style while he relaxed in a barber chair, hot towel on face, getting ready for nice shave at his favorite barber shop in the Park Sheraton, a midtown Manhattan hotel, on a late October afternoon in 1957.  The story is told that after being shot in the initial fusillade of bullets, Albert had enough fight in him to mount a counter-attack.  He was not going down easy, but disoriented, he instead lunged at his killers’ reflections in the barber shop’s mirrors. 

 Pictures of the towel-draped Albert– who as head of Murder Incorporated was responsible for 700-100 murders– have always fascinated me.  A shattered mirror in the background and in one photo reflections of the investigators trying to piece together Albert’s last moments.  The last act in a morality spectacle that speaks poignantly of the consequences of crossing the wrong people and letting your guard down.   

Yes, it was a very safe NYC neighborhood.  Although located just 30 minutes via subway from Midtown, many of the local residents had not been to Manhattan in 20 or 30 years.  Why bother?

Sandwiched in between the constabulary encampment and the medical facility, you could find a white stone building with red awnings– an unusual feature in that particular stretch of Union Street– a real restaurant, not a pizza place, a REAL restaurant.

Image DetailOne evening, we decided to have dinner there and upon arrival were greeted by a double-wide refrigerator of a man, dressed in tuxedo.   This was a colossal block of a man.  Impenetrable and cut muscle with a thick neck that rose from squared-off shoulders supporting a substantial medicine ball of a head covered with slicked back hair that framed his dark brown unsmiling eyes.  Aside from the tasteful red awnings, the presence of Signore Musculo was the first sign that maybe this was not such a good idea.  

Formal attire in this homey stretch of Brooklyn was not congruent– this, a place where 3 a.m. arguments usually ended an exchange of  a Brooklyn style Fare-Thee-Well:  “F***, you!”  To which the quick-witted reply, “F*** Me?  No, no, no, F*** YOU!”  You get the picture. 

Too late to reverse course, we let the massive maitre d’ usher us to our table– at the front of the restaurant– by the window, of course.  Typically the best seat in any joint.  But this somehow felt different.

Here was an observation post where we could watch the neighborhood stroll by and COINCIDENTALLY, where we could ourselves be simultaneously kept under the watchful eye of Mr. Large Appliance and the old ladies across.  And being in the front, we would also serve as human shields in any potential drive by shooting.  Did I mention we were Clueless?  Maybe I am imagining this, maybe it was just great service?  Nah!

I’m sure we had some nondescript Chianti out of a carafe.  What was more memorable, née, remarkable, was the incredible rollatini which we ate with relish, though speedy dispatch, once it dawned on us that it would be best to skip dessert that night.  Perfectly cooked eggplant rolls containing a succulent combination of italian cheeses and herbs, covered in a blanket of melted mozzarella and adorned with a just the right amount of tangy-sweet marinara.  Finishing that, do we linger over a couple of espressos? 

I’m thinking that I’ll make coffee at home.  “Check please.”

Leaving the restaurant, we knew we would never eat there again.  That was probably best even if I still remember that it was the best damn rollatini I ever ate.

Image DetailWalking the one and one-half block stroll back home that night, I am certain that we were kept under the knowing and curious eyes of the “Neighborhood Watch”– those aging ladies perched on their window sills, including Exhibit A, the gravel-voiced Rose, sister of our landlady, Mary.  Sharing her raspy observations and social commentary with her sister:

“Mare, didja getaloada auwlla dat gauwbage dey was pullin’ outta dat movin’ trook acrauws da’ street?”   

[Translation: Mary, did you take a gander at the substandard furnishings that our new neighbors across the way were having unloaded from the moving van?”]

Her’s was not a subtle patois.  But, it was typical for this venue.

We were aliens.  Just passing through.  They knew it.  We eventually figured that out.  And so, they kept a respectful distance– we were short-timers on a short fuse.  Most of the people there had some connection (blood relation, employment, etc.) to the fellas who though typically unseen, really ran the neighborhood.  And the ones you did see– the sandpaper-throated Rose and her ilk– you would not want to mess with them either.  Yes, it was the safest neighborhood in New York City.

But that eggplant!  Now I’m not saying these rollatini taste like the ones we ate that night in the red awninged establishment– they do not.  But it’s a good start and you should not face any mortal danger as you eat these.

Union Street Rollatini

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • 3 Eggplants (no need to peel, cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices)
  • 1 Egg
  • 24 oz. of Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 lb. Mozzarella Cheese (coarsely grated)
  • 1 cup Parmesano Reggiano (finely grated)
  • 3 Tbsps. of toasted Pignoli (Pine Nuts)
  • 1 cup of Fresh Basil Chiffonade (cut into long, thin strips)
  • Kosher Salt

Directions

  1. Preheat Oven to 350 DEGREES F.
  2. Spread the Eggplant slices out on racks or in a colander and generously salt.  Set aside for 15 minutes and let brown liquid (which can add bitterness to eggplant) drain away.  While this is happening, get yourself a nice glass of Italian red wine, put your feet up and enjoy life a bit.
  3. Pat the Eggplant slices dry with a paper towel.  Brush the Eggplant slices with EVOO and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, checking to make sure that the eggplant does not burn. 
  4. While the egg-plant is roasting, beat the Egg and combine with Ricotta, 1/2 of the Mozzarella and 1/2 of the Pecorino (save 1/2 of the latter two cheeses for use in up for Step 8, below).
  5. Mix in the Pignoli.
  6. Gently fold in the Fresh Basil (do not over work the cheese mixture) and set aside.
  7. Once the Eggplant is cool enough to handle, place a healthy dollop of the Cheese mixture at the wider end of the cooked Eggplant and tightly roll, trying not to squeeze out the Cheese mixture.  Place in baking dish so they all touch each other with the end of the roll facing downward.
  8. Season with salt and sprinkle with remaining Mozzarella and Parmesano (from Step 4, above).
  9. Place in the preheated oven and bake until cheese bubbles into a golden brown– about 20-25 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the Mob Marinara (see recipe below).  You may need to finish for a few minutes under a broiler to get the desired golden brown color on the cheese.
  10. Remove the Cannelloni from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes or so to let the cheese set.  

Mob Marinara

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • 1 medium-sized White Onion
  • 2 Garlic Cloves (crushed and minced)
  • 1 32 oz. Can of San Marzano Tomatoes (crushed in a bowl by hand)
  • 1 cup of Fresh Basil Leaves torn by hand
  • Kosher Salt

Directions

  1. Warm up the EVOO and cook the garlic and onion.  Cook over medium heat until softened and translucent.
  2. Add San Marzano Tomatoes bring to mild boil and reduce to simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes.
  3. Taste for seasoning and add Salt to taste.

Simple cuisine calls for a wine that’s understandable, if not simple.  These are not simple wines; yet they bang the drum, Pagliacci style, for cuisine from the motherland– or at least certain parts of Brooklyn.  They will pop with pasta, tomato sauces and Italian cheeses.  They will dance with vitello tonnato and sparkle against prosciutto di Parma.  And with today’s eggplant dish they might inspire you to believe in the magic of memory.

We have come a long way from nondescript Chianti.

Ettore Germano Langhe Nebbiolo 2010 ($21).  Pale in color but not flavor.  Juicy red fruit, suitable acidity and fine tannins.  A great wine to drink while you’re waiting for your Barolos to mature.  Rated ***

Ferrero Rosso de Montalcino 2009 ($21).  Ferrero’s Sangiovese vineyards sit between Banfi’s Poggio all’Oro Riserva vineyard and Argiano in the southwest corner of Montalcino.  Built of 100% Sangiovese, this has energetic cranberry-referenced red fruit that is almost Pinot Noir like.  With bright acidity and soft tannins., this is not meant for aging– it is for today. Rated **1/2

 

La Commedia è finita!

Posted June 4, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

I Love What Sara Pérez Does For Me   2 comments

Only she doesn’t know it.  Doesn’t know I love what she does and doesn’t even know it’s for me.

Image DetailBefore I dig a hole too deep to climb out of, a clarification is probably in order.  What I really love is the vision and passion she brings to her wines.   

Certain winemakers have it– that ability to put a little extra magic in a bottle.  They know when to let the wine go, as you would let a child go, so that the soil may speak.  The few bottles I have had of the Mas Martinet wines have that special quality. 

Some winemakers also have an ability by sheer power of their personalities to explain in passionate terms what it is that they are trying to draw out of the juice.  I have seen her speak and her passion is irrepressible. 

Of course, she does not make the wines by herself, but her fingerprints are all over the place.  The wines are imbued with a sense of presence, an intangible to be sure, but I don’t know how else to say it.  Even the most humble of the bottles have that.  Concentrated and balanced.  Exhibiting power and finesse– an iron fist velvet glove kind of thing.  But an iron fist that does not lash out– one that provides a reassuring if firm caress. 

A few nights ago, I was looking for a little something to have with some leftover Memorial Day grub.  Tada!  I found a forgotten bottle of 2006 Martinet Menut.  The last time I had this wine a couple of years back, I liked it.  It was a solid effort delivering good value.  But now with almost 6 years of age, I feel like it is just finding its stride.  Those additional two years have made a big difference.  It may not be her greatest wine, but it will let you know that it means business.  Sadly, it was the last bottle I had. 

So what’s in the bottle? 

Martinet Menut 2006 from Priorat ($20-$23).  A concentrated blend of 60% Garnacha, 30% Merlot and 20% Syrah.  Menut is a blend of Martinet’s younger vines, and parcels not used for their five single-vineyard cuvees and some Merlot.  Aged 15 months in 3, 4, 5-year French barriques followed by tank aging.  It has a woodsy almost cedar like nose overlaying damp earth notes; it is all about the black arts– introducing itself to the palate with a calling card of black licorice scented dark fruit.  What emerges next is the minerally, stoney quality that I find so appealing in wines from Priorat.  And finishing with supple tannins and satisfying long finish.  Rated ***

As I started doing some research for this post, and while staring at the label with its watercolor and ink drawing of a bird with a Pompadour and a jaunty little hat, I discovered an interesting little factoid: Martinet Menut is the Catalan name for a bird found in Spain.  Known as the Little Egret, it is a member of the heron family.  But I am no John Audubon and have no aspirations to become a birder.

Still speaking of the study of birds, I am reminded of a story told to me by a long ago acquaintance who attended one of those Ivy League Institutions.  During an ornithology exam in a massive auditorium classroom, the professor flashed images of various beaks, claws, tail feathers and such on a movie screen.  Using only these limited perspectives of birdy bits, the students were required to identify the fowl in question– common name, genus, family, order, species, etc.  Midway through the test, one fellow rises from his desk proclaims so all could hear, “I quit!”  He then turns heel and starts making his way up the aisle toward the exit.  Startled, the professor calls out to him, “You there!  What is your name?”  Almost at the exit, the frustrated student stops.  He turns back, strolls half-way down the aisle and plops down on one of the steps.  He removes a singular shoe to the puzzlement of the class.  Then he peels off his sock.  Triumphantly, with both hands, he holds his naked foot up in the air and calls back, “You tell me!”

I will give you more than a beak to stare at.  If you see that blue-winged Martinet Menut on a label in a wine shop, do not hesitate to buy.  If it is from the 2006 vintage all the better.

For tomorrow’s test, here is a little history of the relatively ancient yet radically new Priorat appellation that I pulled from winewatch.com:

The first recorded evidence of grape growing and wine production dates from the 12th century, when the monks from the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei, founded in 1163, introduced the art of viticulture in the area. The prior of Scala Dei ruled as a feudal lord over seven villages in the area, which gave rise to the name Priorat. The monks tended the vineyards for centuries until 1835 when they were expropriated by the state, and distributed to small holders.

At the end of the 19th century, the phylloxera pest devastated the vineyards causing economic ruin and large-scale emigration of the population. Before the phylloxera struck, Priorat is supposed to have had around 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of vineyards. It was not until the 1950s that replanting was undertaken. The DO Priorat was formally created in 1954. The seat of the DO’s regulatory body was initially Reus, some 30km to the east of the wine-region, rather than in Priorat itself.

In the decade from 1985, the production of bulk wine was phased out and bottling of quality wine phased in.

Early on, winemaking cooperatives dominated. Much of the development of Priorat wines to top class is credited to René Barbier and Álvaro Palacios. Winemaker Barbier, then active at a winery in Rioja owned by the Palacios family, bought his first land for Priorat vineyards in 1979, convinced of the region’s potential. At this stage, there were 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of Priorat vineyards. In the 1980s, he convinced others, including Palacios, to follow suit and plant new vineyards in suitable locations, all named Clos. For the first three vintages, 1989-1991, the group of five wineries pooled their grapes, shared a winery in Gratallops, and made one wine sold under five labels: Clos Mogador (Barbier), Clos Dofi (Palacios, later renamed to Finca Dofi), Clos Erasmus, Clos Martinet and Clos de l’Obac. From 1992, these wines were made separately. In 1993, Palacios produced a wine called L’Ermita sourced from very old Priorat vines, which led to an increased interest in using the region’s existing vineyards to produce wines in a new style.

The Catalan authorities approved of Priorat’s elevation from DO to DOQ status in 2000, but national level confirmation from the Spanish Government in Madrid only came on July 6, 2009. In the period from 2000 to 2009, when it was approved as DOQ but not yet as DOCa, despite the fact that these designations were exactly the same but in Catalan and Spanish, respectively, the situation was somewhat confused. A new set of DOQ rules were approved by the Catalan government in 2006. The regulatory body moved from Reus to Torroja del Priorat in 1999.

The vineyard surface of Priorat has been continuously expanding since the Clos-led quality revolution in the 1990s. At the turn of the millennium there was 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of vineyards, with an equal amount of planting rights secured. As of 2009, there are close to 1,800 hectares (4,400 acres).

Posted June 1, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love