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Typhoid Victims?

It looks innocent enough right? It’s just a small glass of clear liquid. But hold on—grappa is a turbocharged experience. Grappa is the clear brandy that results when the pulpy mash of stems, seeds, and skins left over from winemaking is refermented and then distilled.

In most parts of the world, this leftover stuff is thrown away or spread on the ground as fertilizer. But in Italy, nothing gastronomical is wasted—even if it sometimes tastes like a grenade has just exploded in your throat. Historically, grappa, was a specialty of the cold, northern part of the country, where people put a small shot of it into their morning coffee. The best grappas today are usually made from the skins and stems of a single aromatic white grape variety, such as riesling, moscato, or gewürztraminer. Because of their feverish allegiance, grappa fans are fondly called tifosi di grappa—which more or less translates as typhoid victims of grappa.

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From Bordeaux with Love

The now-popular name for the grape variety côt (CO), malbec (MAL-beck) is native to southwestern France. The offspring of two obscure French grapes—madeleine noire des Charentes and prunelard—malbec is the leading grape variety in Argentina, where it has been planted since the mid-nineteenth century after crossing the Atlantic from Bordeaux. Most Argentine wines labeled as malbecs are 100% that variety. Malbec tends to be lower in acidity and slightly less tannic than cabernet sauvignon. The best are inky rich wines with soft textures.

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“Grand Cru” of Proseccos

Want to try the ultimate Prosecco? Look for the word Cartizze. Superiore di Cartizze is, in effect, the “Grand Cru” of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. A tiny high-elevation hilly area of just 108 hectares/267 acres, Cartizze, notable by its pentagon shape, sits entirely within Valdobbiadene. It’s among the most expensive real estate in all of Italy and the sheer beauty of the landscape is breath taking. Soils in Cartizze tend toward sandstone and marl (a type of limestone). Cartizze wines tend to be the most complex and ravishing among all Conegliano Valdobbiadene Proseccos.

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Yum or Yuck?

Yesterday was National Caviar Day (although why the organizers didn’t choose New Year’s Eve beats me). Anyway, 87 people responded to our poll about caviar and Champagne. We asked if it’s a good pairing or a bad one. Sixty one of you gave the thumbs up, witth some friends like Thomas Houseman suggesting low (or no) dosage Champagne in particular, and “Wisequark” suggesting oxidative-styled Champagnes like Krug and Selosse. The naysayers were in the minority but they had the most vociferous and detailed reasons. The saltiness of the caviar fights with the acidity of the Champagne, said Dan Michael.  And then there was this gem from our friend the chef David Katz: “People love the idea for the same reason they love chocolate and cabernet—the mistaken assumption that two sexy opulent things should be even sexier together. A “Brangelina” pairing. I’ll enjoy mine separately unless you pick up the tab…”

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The True Wine of Kings

Hungary’s Tokaji Aszú has been the wine of the famous, the powerful, the pious, and the noble. Its description as “the king of wines and the wine of kings” comes from the early 18th century, after Francis II Rákóczi, Prince of Transylvania, gave Tokaji Aszú to King Louis XIV of France as a gift, resulting in the wine becoming a regular favorite of the French court at Versailles (sorry, Sauternes). Next, Louis XV made it a special gift for Madame de Pompadour. Later, Emperor Franz Joseph (who was also the king of Hungary) developed a tradition of sending Tokaji Aszú to England’s Queen Victoria as a yearly birthday present—one bottle for every month she had lived. On her 81st birthday on May 24, 1900, she received 972 bottles (a significant present—and something of a shame, since this was her final birthday). Artists, writers, and musicians loved Tokaji Aszú—the wine was a favorite of Beethoven, Goethe, and Voltaire. Needless to say, Tokaji Aszú was a near-religious elixir as far as many popes have been concerned.

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Wine with Sushi?

International Sushi Day is next week (June 18), so we asked our Facebook friends—What’s your most and least favorite wine with sushi? Champagne and sparkling wine got the most votes (no surprise there), followed by Austrian and German riesling, Austrian grüner veltliner, and Spanish albariño. California sauvignon blanc and French viognier were also favorites. But several traditionalists were adamant that nothing will ever beat sake. Said our friend the chef David Katz: “Wine is my least favorite option. Do we really need wine choices for cuisines developed, painstakingly, in the complete absence of wine? You kill the food, or you kill the wine, but often, you kill both. Champagne is lovely with everything, granted, but with sushi, it is kind of like a back rub in the middle of a car crash. Not a bad way to go, I suppose.” That chef David! Never one to, ahem, mince words.

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Sex in the Vineyards

Right now in the Napa Valley where I live, there’s a lot of sex in the vineyards. Strictly between the vines, of course. Cultivated vines are hermaphroditic (the reproductive organs of both sexes are simultaneously present). Thus, come spring, grapevines pollinate themselves. But only if the moment is right. Grapevines, as it turns out, are rather particular. Too much wind? Forget it. A little chill in the air? The grapevines get a headache. Rain? May as well be a cold shower. Only when it’s calm, peaceful, and perfectly warm will grapevines procreate. The tender process is called flowering and indeed, if all goes well, tiny white flowers will result. With time, these tiny white flowers will become clusters of grapes. But if circumstances go awry and no flowers appear, there will be no grapes. (Sorry, buddy.)

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National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day

Today is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. We think cheese and bread is one of the greatest pairings in the gastronomic world. Add wine and you’ve got what was called, in the Old World, the Santa Trinità Mediterranea—the Mediterranean Holy Trinity. So, to celebrate, we thought we’d share one of our favorite grilled cheese recipes by food-and-wine expert Janet Fletcher, the creator of Planet Cheese. Her recommendation with these truffley snacks? Sparkling wine or Champagne.

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Wine Country Table—A Delicious Adventure: A WineSpeed Book Review

Wine Country Table, a compelling new book by food-and-wine expert Janet Fletcher, is the literary embodiment of California’s farm-to-table movement—our desire to know where, how, and by whom our food was grown and made before it reaches our tables. Wine Country Table is organized by region, showcasing each region’s wines and harvest crops, followed by I-can’t-wait-to-cook-this recipes. But what makes the book so exceptional is that it tells the stories behind the ingredients. For example, the scallop crudo topped with avocados comes along with the history of a small California avocado farm; and the rosé pairing with that dish connects us back to the story of a local wine estate. Every kitchen needs Wine Country Table as a roadmap to the food and wine culture of California. Fletcher’s culinary tips and tricks—not to mention the gorgeous photographs—will make you want to run down to your local farmer’s market and don your apron. (SRM)

Wine Country Table by Janet Fletcher (Rizzoli 2019) $45 

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Priorat Wine & A Vision of Angels

Spain’s northeast region of Priorat is an unforgiving place, with sweltering days and cold nights. The vines that grow there are old and gnarled, sprouting from a stony, slate-laced soil called llicorella (“licorice”) for its blackish color. The region was called Priorato (Spanish for “priory”) when a monastery was built there in the Middle Ages, inspired by a villager who had a vision of angels ascending a stairway to heaven. And it does seem miraculous that this infertile region can produce such delicious wines. Priorat’s wines are based primarily on two native red grapes, garnacha (grenache) and cariñena (carignan). Massively structured with considerable tannin, the wines have a soft, thick texture and are usually loaded with ripe blackberry fruit, dense chocolate, lively licorice, and mineral/rock flavors.