Archive for the ‘Food-Wine-Love’ Category

Bring me an Old WIne and a Young Wine   5 comments

“You really are Mephistopheles!”

Me?  Really? 

This, the playful accusation hurled at me last night by good friend, B the Elder, at a dinner party co-hosted with Mrs. B the Elder, at their home.    

His remark may have been playful, but I think Mrs. B really thinks me to be The Heathen Incarnate.   

We sometimes refer to B the Elder as the Demon Deacon, owing to his affiliation with the church combined with his wicked sense of humor and penchant for practical jokes.  So I am Mephistopheles?  Dude, I only place temptation in thine path!  Yours is to choose to drink the nectar I place before thee. 

I arrived, as I often do, with my wine luggage in tow– a small black leather clad box with a handle for ease of transport, that can hold up to 3 bottles.  I did what a good friend does when invited for a meal at another’s home– I bring a vino or, in this case, three suitable to the occasion.   Two Barolos– Younger and Older.  And since I was requested to bring dessert, a Moscato d’Asti and some fluffy lemon-blueberry cookies from Food Safari.  So easy to make.  So damningly delicious.  

Consider this your exorcism by wine.

An who knows, it may lead to good things– perhaps even a very satisfying Don Giovanni moment. 

But I digress (yet again!).  

Oddero Barolo 1998 ($40).  Coming out of an excellent vintage for Barolo, with its Old School approach this was redolent of sweet black licorice with fennel, scented flowers and refined tannins on the palate.  This just exhibited an elegance on the palate that is very memorable.  A gorgeous example of why the wait is worth it.  Rated ***

Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis 2006

Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis 2006 ($42).  Given it’s youth, we decanted this for a couple of hours.  With more of a New World approach, this released magnificent aromas of cherries and black licorice.   On the palate it exhibited a certain muscular power.  But it was an iron first in a velvet glove kind of thing.  Buy a few drink one now to satisfy your curiosity and lay the rest down for another 6 years.  Rated ***1/2  

 Elio Perrone Sourgal Moscato d’Asti 2010 ($14).  This is a time-honored favorite in our household.  A lively effervescence combed into the essence of lemon drop.  Young, lighthearted and sure leave you with a giggle in your throat.  With only 5% alcohol, this is the perfect beverage to finish off a Barolo dinner.  Rated ***

Conversation during dinner shifted among various topics– the most interesting being about religious beliefs and its place in our lives– past and present.  Perhaps not a good idea, since some of us have notions about organized religion that are at odds with the belief structures of our church-going dining companions. 

But being well into the second bottle of Barolo, we could not resist.  I won’t bore you with those details, but somethings really are more clear (at least to me) when wine is involved.  It reminds me of a quotation from Oscar Wilde, regarding absinthe (though I substitute a word here and there):

After the first [bottle], you see things as you wish they were.

After the second, you see things as they are not.

Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.

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

An Evening in Norwalk, Connecticut– Osteria Romana   Leave a comment

 I once heard that riding a Vespa is like taking an unattractive girl home from the bar at closing time.    It may be fun to do, but you never want your friends to see you doing it…

Last night, my good friend, JR, chose Osteria Romana for a late dinner.  With a Vespa parked out front, this had the makings for either a really good night or something less than that. 

The restaurant, located in a strip mall shopping center, has a welcoming atmosphere.  The wait staff were courteous, friendly and helpful.  In a word, well-trained. 

The food, though good in places was uneven.  For our appetizers, the four of us (including Mrs. JR and Ms. R) selected two standard dishes– a charcuterie/cheese plate and a fried calamari– both executed nicely.  The fra diavolo dipping sauce for the calamari was quite flavorful.  But most memorable is a dish they call, Spedino Alla Romana, a 1/4 inch thick piece of homemade mozzarella which is Egg-battered, breaded and pan-fried and topped off with a sublime sauce of garlic and capers.  It is compelling in its simplicity and I would return to this restaurant just for this simple little app. 

A word on portion size.  Osteria Romana delivers food in an America Style– that is to say, in overabundant portion sizes.  Any of their main courses could easily have been shared.  For my main course, my initial inclination, since this was my first visit to this place, was to go with a more traditional dish, like say, the Veal Saltimboca.  But our waiter suggested a pan seared and sesame crusted tuna instead.  I’m game– so I went for it.  The slab of tuna arrived nearly covering the plate it was served on and allowing it to hide the two bushels of greens underneath (perhaps a little bit of hyperbole on my part, but just a little– there were a LOT of greens!).  Although perfectly cooked with a nice crunchy texture on the outside and rare meat inside, unfortunately, it was not properly seasoned and it also could have used some sort of sauce to finish it.  My good friend, taking my cue ordered the veal, which by the way, was superior to the tuna in every way.  I should have gone with my initial instinct.  Ms. R ordered a seafood risotto, which delivered on flavor, though it was a bit too al dente for her tastes.  (Seriously, should risotto ever be served al dente?)  Both her item and mine came from a specials menu. 

The dessert, a creme brulee was unappetizing.  Lemon flavored (not mentioned in the menu), it was not to Ms. R’s liking.  I am OK with the lemon, what I am not OK with is the fact that there was a pool of liquid underneath the custard which was served at room temperature.  For me, the ideal CB should have a hard warm crust and cool custard underneath.  It seems this one may have been sitting around and that may have been why the custard broke down releasing the liquid.  The dessert gets a definite F.

Pricing is consumer friendly– we got out of there for about $50 per person before tip– and that included a fair corkage fee of $15 per bottle.

In summary, this is good place to go for Northern Italian fare.  The food is good so long as they are operating in their comfort zone.  If you stick to the basics, from the regular menu, you should not be disappointed.  If I had just had the Spedino and the Veal Saltimboca, I would be raving about the food.  But there were those other shortcomings and so in a Sybarite Sauvage first, we rate this place a C+

Tenuta Julia Amarone (2006).  Amongst the wines we consumed last night was this little Amarone that I pulled out of the cellar.  Mild yet confident aromas rose from our glasses.  Ripe dried fruit flavors, complemented with a silkiness on the palate gave this wine an elegance that set it apart from the wines that came before.  Rated ***

As for the Vespa, I think you would be the envy your friends if you had Gina Lollobrigida or Ms. R hanging on to your waist as you sped away!

Posted March 24, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Serradenari Barbera d’Alba (2006)   Leave a comment

The Serradenari Estate

Legend has it that the Serradenari farmhouse was purchased by the current owner’s ancestors as a sort of Bachelor pad— a place where great-great-grandpa and a couple of his mates could quietly provide romantic diversions to some of the local lasses.  My guess is that if the wine was as good then as it is now, then  the idea of an afternoon “guiding” a fine young lady down the slippery slope of flesh-bound weakness in a secluded farmhouse would not have been such a tough sell. 

So while I picked up three bots, once Ms. R and I opened this, we quickly came to the realization that we should have taken at least six.  I have to admit that I love it when her eyes light up on the first sniff of a bottle of a new wine we haven’t tried before.  All I need now is a secluded farmhouse… 

Map of Piemonte (Piedmont) and Alba

Needless to say my wine guy was really happy to hear from me…again  While we are not likely to run out of wine in this house anytime soon, an extra bottle or two of this particular one wouldn’t hurt to have around.  Most of the Barberas we have had are from Asti.  This one from just next door in Alba took us by surprise.  Deeper in sentiment than many a Barbera, it just seems to have a stronger more self-assured sense of self than others we have tried.  With almost 6 years of age, this wine is really just starting to come into its own.

Serradenari Barbera d’Alba 2006 ($18).  A perfume of earth and sweet spice.  I nearly stroked out from the black olive coupling with bursting red fruit berries in my mouth.  Finely structured tannins from the oak treatment and that characteristic Barbera acidity.  A rich and long finish.  I don’t need to say more.  In fact, I can’t say more, I’ve got too much of a party going on in my boca.  Rated ***

Posted March 12, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Se Habla Español   5 comments

“Writing in Spanish, however, will cost you extra.”

Hanging with some Spanish friends last night with the intention of consuming copious amounts of paella, we had three great little wines that are worthy of recommendation.  Now before any of you start to tell me that any REAL self-respecting Spaniard would never have paella for dinner, let me state that they were even quicker to point out to us that paella is a midday meal.  But that given we were “Americans”, they broke with tradition in our honor.  Isn’t that wonderful, our mere presence caused them to overlook who they were for an evening.  Damn good paella– midday, dinner, whatever! 

Well, they almost overlooked who they were.  Normally, most of my daily conversation takes place in English.  But last night there was hardly any of that.  And that made it a truly wonderful evening since these friends were able to converse in their native Castilian.  My spanish is serviceable– in fact I am fairly fluent– but I do not often have the opportunity to converse exclusively in this language.  Thus, there were moments when the conversation was just too fast y furioso.  The Spanish wines definitely helped as they slowed down the rapidity of their delivery in the mother tongue. 

Herewith my saviors: A Godello from Bierzo, which is a tremendous value.  Look for it in this week’s NGW, and two reds from a favorite appellation: Priorato.  Grown in a granite based schist known locally as Llicorella, which imparts a distinctiveness of flavors and a because of its ability to drain extremely well forces the vines to struggle and therefore produce more concentrated fruit, these are wines worth seeking out.

 The wine region Priorat - Llicorella

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2009Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2009  ($18).  This is a starter wine from Priorat from a very respected producer.    Tasty dark fruit that finished with a slightly acidic edge.  Although simply fine, I did not find this effort to be as strong as the 2007.  It was however a nice opening act to the Martinet Bru.  Rated ** 1/2

Mas Martinet Viticultors – Martinet Bru Priorat 2007 ($30).  An excellent dose of concentration, dark fruit and earth in a beautiful expression of the marriage between Garnacha and Syrah found here.  All of that preceded by a worthy nose filled with floral and spice aromas.  And this from a vintage that is generally not considered to be the best (e.g. Very Good vs. Excellent).  In a good vintage this would probably be priced much higher.  This is a neat effort from winemaker Sara Pérez that’s worth seeking out.  Rated ***1/2

Se habla Catalan? Click this photo and find out!

Posted February 25, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Darioush   Leave a comment

No Caption

Entrance to Darioush Tasting Room


Napa Wine Map: Siverado Trail: Darioush

On our trip out to Napa last year, Ms. R and I stopped at Darioush.  We did not stop there for the wine.  Rather we were there because it has one of the most fun tasting rooms in Napa.  More an upscale bar than a tasting room really, it always seems to be filled with people who know how to have a good time.  If you find yourself in Napa, plan on adding this as a stop.  From the moment you pull up the driveway and see the over-the-top Persian palace inspired decor, to the moment you walk into a lounge with a nice sun-filled vibe, you know this is going to be a different experience.  Is this Vegas or Napa?

Of course, we sampled their wares and in the end brought back a couple of bottles to retaste at home.  After I purchased the wines, I have to admit that I had a little buyer’s remorse, but the deed was done.  I put them in cellar and forgot about them.  Sitting around on a recent weekend evening, with nothing better to do, we entertained ourselves by popping the cork on one of these.   No regrets, no remorse.

Darioush Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2008 ($58).  Sourced from Darioush estate vineyards in Napa Valley, Oak Knoll and Mount Veeder, aromas of herbs and earth filled our glasses.  Blended with 5% merlot to complement the 95% cab franc, it exhibits concentration of flavor and appropriate complexity, to make the case to justify its price tag.  If you could imagine throwing back a chocolate-raspberry parfait with some black tea and a touch of black pepper, that would begin to describe the experience.  With a long finish accompanied by firm tannins, this was even better than I recalled.  Not exactly a “best buy”, this was still good enough that our evening was very enjoyable indeed.  Rated ***

Posted February 20, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

The Distinctive Wines of Azienda Agricola Dacapo   1 comment

Winemakers & Proprietors, Paolo Dania and Dino Riccomagno.

Winemakers that step away from the norm are great people to know.  Hailing from Piemonte, Paolo Dania of Azienda Agricola Dacapo is one of those guys.  We met him at a Slow Wine tasting of Italian wines recently.  He struck me as a quiet person– though his passion shows through when he speaks of his work.  But he could have said nothing and the wines would have spoken for themselves.  Even now, almost three weeks since I tasted the wines, they are still whispering to me.  I found all of his wines are very balanced and focused.

Wine CompanyDacapo was established in 1997 by rebuilding an old wine estate and including addition of a new cellar under the vineyards surrounding the farmhouse.  Their self description on their website reads like a manifesto that I can definitely sign on for:

“The idea was to produce wines different from those made to suit the international taste, wines increasingly homogenous, almost without heart.  The two founders strongly believe in the ‘personality’ of a wine, and therefore decided to focus on finesse, elegance and terroir, making the most of the full potential of the vineyards of Agliano Terme, always considered to be among the best “crus” of Barbera.

Without doubt, they have achieved that distinctiveness.

Ruchè di Castagnole MonferratoBarbera d'AstiBarbera d'Asti Superiore-NizzaMerlot-Barbera-Nebbiolo

Dacapo Majoli Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2010.  The first time I have had this varietal, Ruchè (alternately known as Rouchet).  Although a somewhat obscure varietal, it stood out from the pack of wines we tasted that day (including many a Barolo) with its uniquely aromatic nose.  But though it lacks the intensity of nebbiolo, it is simply an accessible wine with a freshness that brings a smile to my face and is made for drinking now.   **1/2

Dacapo Barbera D’Asti Sanbastian 2009.  A more classically styled Barbera with good fruit and acidic structure.  This is the bread and butter wine that will keep this winery running.  **1/2

CANTACUCCO DOC 2008, 75clDacapo Cantacucco 2009.  This is a wine that Paolo Dania referred to as a “joke”.  By this, I think he meant that the blend of 80% Pinot noir and 20% Nebbiolo is such an odd pairing that only a wine geek would love it.  OK, the joke is on me– I loved this for pushing the envelope.  I loved it better for what it brought.  I don’t believe that the Pinot by itself  would carry the day.  But the Nebbiolo gave this wine that extra oomph and tannic structure. This is a great food wine– I want a bottle of this for my next fettuccine in truffle cream sauce.  ***

Dacapo Vigna Dacapo Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore-Nizza 2009.  Fuller bodied and more fruit forward than the Sanbastian.  It did not seem to have the same level of acidity as its sister Barbera.  And though bigger, it was no less delicious.  **1/2

Dacapo TRE 2006.  A blend of Merlot-Barbera-Nebbiolo, all of these came through.  This is attributable to the fact that the wines are separately vinified fermented and barrel aged which make sense given that each varietal has a distinct maturity point.   After 18 months the three varietals are blended before bottling and then held for another year in bottle before being released on the market.  Dark fruit, softness, acidity and tannin.  A lovely finish.  I did not get to see the bottle fully develop as Paolo had just opened it.  But what I tasted I enjoyed immensely.  ***

Ms. R, never one to spit out her wine, was so enamoured of the Ruchè that she did not taste the others.  A loss for her, to be sure.  But I will give her another opportunity to try them all as we hope to be able to taste these wines on site this coming summer.  Maybe, just for fun, I will make her taste them blind to see if she can pick out the Ruchè:

One of our favorite types of Blind Tastings. Nice glassware, Cupid!

Posted February 12, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

The Jonny Quest Edition: Camaraderie Washington State Cabernet Franc 2006   Leave a comment


Click on This Picture to see Race Deals with Nefarious Dudes

Back in the 1960’s, if you were a boy, you wanted to be Jonny Quest.  OK, maybe I am the only one– NOT!  Cool adventures, knockin’ off bad guys, getting around on hover crafts and jet packs, and doing it all in my PF Flyers– the Vans of the 1960’s.  Jonny was not alone– he had an awesome friend from the subcontinent, Hadji, the orphaned Calcutta kid who could summon up the secrets of Eastern mysticism to levitate and Bandit, dog, co-star and ham actor.  There were no protagonist females in this adventure cartoon series.  (Hey, it was the 60’s).  Jonny’s mother died from some unspecified illness that may or may not have been caused by the evil deeds of some miscreant international bad boy like Dr. Zin.  But there was the Brain, Jonny’s father, Dr. Benton Quest and the Muscle, Race Bannon.  Need a Bad Ass to come swinging in on a conveniently located rope to kick some Lizardman-Bad-Guy butt?  Race is your man.  Never one to panic, he’s all about Black ops and he’s always alert for trouble lurking round the next bend.  These days, I would like to be like Race Bannon.  But that’s not happening either.  Still this wine reminds me a bit of Mssr. Bannon.  And with a name like Camaraderie, the shoe fits that much better.

Camaraderie Washington State Cabernet Franc 2006 ($16) 12.5%.  A whiff of Kiwi shoe polish and dark earth.  Shoe polish?  Yes, kind of like when you get kicked in the teeth– “”Hey, what is that sme– OOOOOF!!”  I could stop right now and that would be enough.  Next comes an explosion of dark berries and savory herbs finishing candy like with a little green bell pepper on the finish.  On retasting the open bottle on the second day, the wine took on another more polished dimension, the green bell pepper, now replaced with a little black pepper and the whole package perfectly balanced with nuanced tannins and acidity that underscored the fruit on the lengthy finish.  At almost 6 years of age, this is drinking just fine right now, but it will still be good 2-3 years from now if you can stand to let it sit unopened.  It’s a knock out.  Rated ***


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

Petit Bordeaux– Old & New   Leave a comment

Danger... Danger!

Last night, more proof that the best bar in town is right here at home.  We had a couple of friends over for an impromptu degustation session.  The comestibles included a braised rump roast with one of our new favorite seasonings, star anise, a gratin of potato and Portobello mushrooms and a macaronade made with comte, jarlsburg and the braising liquid from the beef. 

On tap, three bordeaux–

Chateau Haut-Beausejour (Futures Pre-sale) 2010Château Haut-Beauséjour Saint-Estephe 2009.  In 1992, Jean-Claude Rouzaud, oenologist and president of Champagne Louis Roederer, acquired and combined two Cru Bourgeois vineyards in the heart of the Medoc’s prestigious Saint-Estèphe appellation: Chateau Picard and Château Beauséjour. Together, these properties make up what is now called “Château Haut-Beauséjour.”  Yes, this is a bit young but what a nice wine to start off our evening.  Dried fruit followed by chocolate on the finish.  This will get better with time.  Rated ***


Château Lanessan (2001)Chateau Lanessan Haut Medoc 2001— The Lanessan vineyard has belonged to a succession of eight generations of the Bouteiller family since the 18th century. A young woman, Paz Espejo, took over the management of Château Lanessan from Hubert Bouteiller in August 2009.  This change is a result of the Bouteiller family’s stated ambition to inject new life into this fine property.  But this is a wine made before the shake up.  Just beginning to show its age with the beginnings of a tinge of garnet on the edge.  Still delicious with an undeniable intensity.  Undeniably fragrant French bouquet.  Sweet spices measured up well to the our dinner.  Rated ***

Now this is one of those evenings where we should have stopped after the Lanessan.  But Ms. R looked over at me and gave the ole “Ahem— I can see the bottom of me glass!’ look.  You know I can’t say no to her.  Bring on the Beaulieu… “Danger, Will Robinson!”  Yeah, we are on a space ship gone completely out of control.


Chateau Beaulieu Comtes De TastesBeaulieu Comtes de Tastes 2002— The estate is owned by Guillaume de Tastes.  It comprises 25 acres of vineyards in the Entre-de-Mer which is the large region between the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers. The terroir is a combination of limestone and clay with south-facing sloping exposure.  60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc.   Earthy, savory and lovely fruit.  Rated **1/2

Dick Tufeld and his more famous alter ego

And speaking of Will Robinson, the voice of Robot in TV’s ‘Lost in Space,’  Dick Tufeld, passed away at the age of 85 last Sunday.  RIP.

Posted January 29, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

New Year’s Day– What Wine for the Apocalypse?   Leave a comment

There are 356 days in 2012 until December 21st, the Winter Solstice, the end of the Mayan calendar.  There are bound to be dire predictions this year about the end of the earth.  Which brings to mind Harold Camping’s apocalyptic predictions of the Rapture first on May 21, 2011 and then on October 21st.  It’s too easy to make fun of knuckleheads like this because they have mastered the art of Unwitting-Self-Parody.  And if I am wrong, then very few of you reading this will be in a position to tell me so. 
ap harold camping cc1 111011 wblog Harold Camping: Doomsday Prophet Wrong Again

The Face of the Apocalypse: Christian radio host Harold Camping on May 22, 2011.

And were the world to end tomorrow, what would we choose to drink (assuming we could plan ahead)?  It would have to be something traditional and something modern.  And it would have to be shared with my loved ones.  Which brings me to a recap of the First Day of the Year.

Every New Year’s Day for the past 10 years, Ms. R and I have had a brunch at the house.  Previously known as the “Hair of the Dog” Brunch we have recently decided to rename this event the “What Happened Last Night” Party.  No matter the title, it is an informal get together of our closest friends with a lot of food, usually a regional culinary theme, and of course some libations to liberate us of any remaining inhibitions that may have been leftover from the previous evening’s countdown to insanity.  This year we went with a Spanish theme with a some new recipes from a terrific new cookbook: FOOD OF SPAIN by Claudia Roden.  Simple to prepare, yet glorious food.  Easily worth the $40 retail price.  Get it. 

Yes, we served a great Sangria (on the rocks) and some sparkling wines (merely chilled on ice), but once the party got in full swing, there were a couple of wines that I pulled from the cellar to accompany me and some especially helpful guests while putting the finishing touches on some dishes in the kitchen:

Chateau Puy Arnaud Maureze, Cotes de Castillon 2005.   100% Merlot goodness from Bordeaux.  Old world restraint coupled with good fruit from an excellent vintage.  Aromas of herbs and dark fruit and a long finish.  What came between the aromas and the finish was even better.  Rated *** 1/2

Vina Mayor Secreto Ribera del Duero Reserva 2003.  100% tempranillo.  In stark contrast to the Puy Arnaud, this is a big wine done in a new world style full of lashings of dried fruit coupled with oak and moderate tannins and a lasting finish.  Aged 18 months in 225L French oak barrels and aging in bottle for 18 months minimum.  Rated ***

 Now we are planning on having another “What Happened Last Night” brunch on January 1, 2013.  But that may be looking too far ahead.  Depending on your point of view on the Rapture-Apocalypse-Deluge-Whatever, we have Some or All of 2012 to get through.  We have new vintages of our favorties coming down the pike.  And we have the allure of new wine and food discoveries to be made.  

And what about New Year’s Resolutions?  A Sybarite doesn’t need any stinking resolutions. 

Let me explain.  The arrival of the New Year is a bit like turning the page to the next chapter in life.  Rarely is a chapter completed on the first page.  There are Revelations about Self that will define me this year and may result in changes that I will incorporate into my Life.  I just don’t need to do that at a moment defined by the arrival of a New Year.  Lasting change is gradual.  It has to be evolutionary.  And the arbitrary arrival of the New Year, in and of itself, does not suffice as an impetus for lasting change.  Abrupt change of habits just don’t work for most people, including myself.  Just take a tour through your local gym for the next month.  Then see how many of those folks are still at it on March 1st.  However, you can expect this gym rat to be there after all the New Year Neophytes have gone back to their cushy Lazy Boys, soft drinks and corn chips! 

Posted January 6, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

New Year’s Eve   Leave a comment

Once upon a time, in my family, New Year’s Eve was the most important day of the year. 

Now, of course, NY Eve comes one week after Christmas Eve and I should point out that our family tradition in those days was to open presents at midnight on Christmas Eve.  (That’s technically Christmas morning, right?)  What then made New Year’s Eve so special for us was the stark contrast to Christmas Eve one week before– it was just like Christmas Eve, same people, same place, same food, same songs, a prayer or two, but no gift giving distractions.  Just La Familia.  And that made it better and more meaningful than Christmas.  I can still remember being hugged and kissed while Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra played a syrupy Auld Lang Syne in the background. 

There was the mystery of what the future would bring once the clock struck 12.  There was a remembrance of the past.  There was my Abuela (grandmother), Francisca (better known as Sica), normally a quiet, somewhat introverted person, crying hysterically, apparently because the holiday reminded her of the people in her life that had passed on.  We as children did not fully comprehend what was going on as we watched her break down wailing as the clock approached midnight each year.  Her sons and daughters would all rally around her and get her off to bed.  And then at midnight, the entire family would gather in the living room and a hug-and-kiss-a-thon would commence.  Everyone hugging and kissing everyone else.  It was dizzying.  I don’t know how I survived the onslaught of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins of every stripe descending on me in a tsunami of midnight smooches.  It was magical.  One big happy family.

Of course, families are not as unified as we might see them through the lens of childhood.  How I long for that feeling of unity my family had back then.  It was not always perfect.  Hell, it was never perfect.  But it felt right.  And it was my grandmother who held us all together.  The year my Abuelo (grandfather), Arturo, died, we all braced for the worst from Sica.  New Year’s Eve came, the clock struck 12, the ball dropped and NOTHING.  Not a peep from the woman.  Nobody ever asked her why.  Perhaps she had shed as many tears as she could that year and there was nothing left in the tank.  Perhaps she was focused on what her life would become in Abuelo’s absence.  We dared not ask.

The food was amazing– pasteles (meat stuffed plantain dumplings) and pernil (a garlicky roast pork shoulder)– the classic dishes of a Puerto Rican Nochebuena (literally, the “Good Night” or Christmas Eve) and Nochevieja (the “Old Night” or New Year’s Eve).  There was no wine, save for the Manischewizt, which, Abuela, had one small glass of on each of Nochebuena and Nochevieja.  And there was always beer and rum for the men and coquito (think of it as coconut flavored egg-less Puerto Rican Egg Nog with a touch of Bacardi to act as a “preservative”) for the women.  My cousins and I always managed to sneak a taste of coquito or the Kosher wine when no one was looking.  The fact that the wine was Kosher (and probably not meant to be used to celebrate Christmas) was ironic, but ultimately it was of no real consequence to us– it was just one of those things that happens when different cultures clash in a New World.  For my Abuela, the key is that the wine was very sweet, just the way she liked it.

The past few years, Ms. R and I have shared Nochevieja together– sometimes with her mother and our two daughters as we will do tonight.  Her family’s traditions are different from mine.  At midnight, it was her father’s tradition to eat one green grape for every month of the year just passed.  Not sure why that is, but I go along with it. 

Personally, this has been a difficult year, no question about it.  We have made mistakes.  But we have also done good things, including raising some funds to battle pediatric cancer and contributing to a local shelter for pregnant women.  We have been there for our daughters providing support and cajoling them as needed.  And despite the challenges of 2011, we have much to be thankful for, including the strides that our children have taken in defining themselves.   

The year Abuela died, the fragmentation that had been bubbling under the veneer of family unity erupted.  It would never be the same again.  That’s what sometimes happens in families, I guess.  But I still have the memories.  And so I find myself doing as Abuela did– looking back at the past– with a tinge of sadness for what has been lost.  But I am also looking forward with optimism. 

May you all have a Wonderful Nochevieja and a very Happy New Year wherever you may find yourself today.

Posted December 31, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love