Atlas Obscura recently asked readers to list the best imaginary foods in literature and on film—foods the readers wished were actually real. Here are some.
• Roast Beast from How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
• Frobscottle from The BFG by Roald Dahl
• Cauldron Cakes from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
• Klingon Bloodwine from Star Trek: The Next Generation
• Bilbo Baggins’ Seed Cakes from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
• Soy Pop from The Simpsons
• Doozer Sticks from Fraggle Rock
• Snozberries from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
• Subtraction Stew from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Columbus Day is next week and that reminded us how much we love Italian wine and Italian wine culture. Native Wine Grapes of Italy, a book by Ian D’Agata, celebrates both. In it, D’Agata takes a deep dive into about 500 native Italian grapes, everything from the big players—like Barbera and Nebbiolo—to little-known ones like Biancone and Peverella. D’Agata’s writing is impressive and infectious. By the end of the book, you’ll crave a trip to Tuscany to taste the varieties that, as D’Agata reminds us, you can only truly experience in their native environment. “Ultimately,” D’Agata writes, “wines from native grapes remind us Italians of who we are and where we have come from: their roots dig deep within our collective memories. There is no future without a past.”
Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Ian D’Agata (2014; University of California Press) $50
Some of the most riveting cabernets throughout California have all traced their parentage back to three clones (or genetic subtypes), simply known as clones 07, 08, and 11. The three were imported from Bordeaux (allegedly from Château Margaux) by Irish immigrant James Concannon, founder of Concannon Vineyard in the Livermore Valley, east of San Francisco. (He was also the first Irishman to own a California winery). Concannon’s agent in Bordeaux was the legendary San Francisco lawyer-turned-grapevine-dealer Charles Wetmore. While many clones died out during the Prohibition in the 1920s, the “Bordeaux/Concannon clones” survived the 13-year ban on wine. All thanks to Concannon’s reinvention of itself as the lead supplier of altar wine to the Archbishop of San Francisco.
Albariño (al-bar-EEN-yo) is the great white grape of Rías Baixas in the province of Galicia in northwestern Spain. Albariños are light, snappy, dry white wines with terrific crispness. They aren’t full-bodied like most chardonnays, they aren’t green like a lot of sauvignon blancs, and they aren’t as fruity as rieslings can be. Rather, albariños have their own clean, fresh character with just a hint of peaches or almonds. Because fishing is the major industry in Galicia, it comes as no surprise that albariños are made with seafood in mind. Throw some shrimp on the grill, open a bottle, and you’ll see just what we mean.
Snipes Mountain—Named after cattle baron Ben Snipes who came to Washington in the 1850s in search of gold, but ended up striking it rich by grazing cattle and supplying beef to the mining camps.
Walla Walla—A Native American name meaning “place of many waters” after several small rivers that flow into the Columbia River.
Horse Heaven Hills—Ok, another cowboy tale. In 1857, when cowboy James Kinney witnessed his herd of horses eating native grasses on the hillside, he was so moved he decided to call the area “Horse Heaven.”
Red Mountain—It’s not a mountain and it’s not red (although you can drink some very nice red wine there). So named because of cheatgrass, a droopy reddish colored grain-like plant that grows all over the area.
Just pulled this fantastic cork from a bottle of 30-year-old Sterling “Diamond Mountain Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). I’m sure it would have crumbled into a zillion pieces if I had tried to take it out with anything other than a Durand. This fantastic, easy-to-use type of corkscrew combines a standard waiter’s corkscrew and an Ah-So. So there’s a worm and prongs. It’s absolutely faultless and works miraculously with old wines. The Durand was founded in 2007 by sommelier Yves Durand to allow one to extract an old or compromised cork in one piece. It’s an indispensable tool for many wine lovers.
To celebrate tomorrow’s 229th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille (a turning point in the French Revolution), consider popping open the most beautiful Champagne bottle ever designed—Perrier-Jouët’s Art Nouveau-style “flower bottle.” The bottle, decorated with enameled anemones, was first designed in 1902 by glassmaker Emile Gallé as an homage to La BelleÉpoque (the artistic period from the late 1800s to 1914). However, due to the difficulty making them, the bottles were soon abandoned. In the early 1960s, Pierre Ernst, former president of Perrier-Jouët, found an enamel specialist who could manufacture the bottles en masse. The modern version of the flower bottle premiered in 1969 and held the 1964 vintage of the House’s prestige cuvee called Belle Epoque. In 2012, a hundred years after its creation, the famous flower bottle was updated by Japanese floral designer Makoto Azuma, who added golden vines and delicate dotted flowers to the classic pattern.
Although everything about Tuscany seems to put a person in the mood to drink red wine, there is an historic white wine to consider: vernaccia di San Gimignano, traditionally referred to as the wine that “kisses, licks, bites, and stings.” Actually, only the best vernaccia di San Gimignanos do that; plenty of others—which are utterly neutral—just don’t appear to be good at romance.
As its name suggests, vernaccia di San Gimignano is made from vernaccia grapes grown on the slopes surrounding the medieval hill town of San Gimignano, roughly an hour’s drive southwest of Florence. Though historically vernaccia di San Gimignano was made and aged in large old wood casks, the best modern versions are young and fresh. There are dozens of relatively small producers. One of my favorites has been Teruzzi e Puthod.
Alas, it wasn’t this way for me (or you either probably) but in England historically, wine—and especially Port—played a notable part in college life. According to the Rare Wine Company (an importer/retailer specializing in Port and Madeira) in the early part of the nineteenth century, important universities like Cambridge and Oxford had breathtakingly enormous wine cellars, and there was ten times as much Port in those cellars than any other wine. Far from being a mere hedonistic indulgence, Port was “currency”—often used by students to pay off wages, bets, and fines.