Archive for July, 2009


Back to Natural

If organic is the current buzzword for food, it’s only natural to examine the way vintners are taking a growing interest in integrating organic farming methods in the wine industry. Winemakers who adopted advanced techniques inside wineries are modifying their approaches in their vineyards. In a sense, they are taking steps backwards, going back to farming practices designed to clear soils from pesticides and other chemicals. They use organic fertilizers and composts, returning to farming conditions that allow terroir (the combination of soil, sunshine, and weather) to speak through the grapes. In the United States, Italy, France and other wine regions around the world, winemakers are taking on an uphill struggle that requires adhering to a multitude of practices to win organic certification. Why bother? An ultimate pay-off in quality and healthfulness.
On March 6th, a conference for press and trade in New York City called “Return to Terroir,” organized by Carbonnier Coomunications, presents seventy wineries from some of the world’s major wine-producing regions whose wines are certified organic. American wineries at the conference include Araujo, Robert Sinsky, Frog’s Leap, and Benziger, to name a few. Each winery reflects a commitment to natural, old-fashioned farming. These integrated farming techniques incorporate the best organic and bio-dynamic practices, rejecting chemicals, like herbicides or pesticides, coupled with a reliance on hands-on vineyard management such as planting, pruning, and picking. It’s designed to protect distinctive characteristics in individual wines, those qualities that wine lovers hold dear.
In Tuscany, Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti, owner of Badia a Coltibuono, the olive oil and wine producer, represents attitudes of many vintners. “The decision to go organic was a natural one, a return to our winemaking roots. Our family determined that our commitment to age-old artisanal practices corresponds with what is now called organic and biodynamic farming. Focus on the land is what keeps the quality of our wines so high and ensures the land on which we live will be beautiful for hundreds of years.”


The Art of Connoisseurship and Wine

I was lucky to have taken a course in Connoisseurship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What an eye opener! Becoming more conversant with artists’ material – the difference between paints throughout history, whether the artist used canvas or wood panels, opened my eyes to a new way seeing the complexities of art. There’s no doubt that wandering through a museum, and gazing at art can afford pleasure at the most superficial level. There is pleasure in the emotional pull of color, the power and turbulence of the story, and the surface qualities of brushstrokes. But our understanding expands when we look beyond the superficial surface of the painting to where that painter stood in history and what message he wanted to convey.

Critical thinking can be applied to every aspect of life. Education and enlightenment challenge a consumer to make better choices, just as understanding issues allows a citizen to make more cogent decisions about wine, politics, and literature. There are a plethora of rewards for taking the extra step to enhance understanding. It’s not necessary to become a Robert Parker to enjoy wine. But … and here’s the point … in terms of wine, a simple understanding how varietals differ, what the winemaker (who I often think of as a painter in liquid), how soil and weather affect each season’s production, enhance one’s appreciation of what we see and taste in wine. Information and knowledge win out over superficial thinking every time.


Simmering in the Summer

Whether cooks find relief in the backyard barbecue or are chained to an indoor stove during summer’s dog days, cooking with wine is still a hot priority. Wine adds sizzle and depth of flavor to recipes on or off the grill. Decades ago, it was acceptable to use supermarket cooking wine without worrying about a cork or storage. It had the shelf life of an Egyptian mummy, with salt to equal the Dead Sea, and probably loaded with preservatives. Years ago, my favorite recipe called for a can of mushroom soup, shrimp, sautéed onions, and a substantial dash of supermarket cooking wine. In those halcyon days, when Jell-o was an acceptable dessert, we loved its exotic flavors although it left us as thirsty as though we had crossed a desert.
Today, cooking’s Golden Rule insists we abjure wines we wouldn’t drink. Poof, no more bottled cooking wine. But now we’re faced with which wine? At what price? Does a fish dish demand a white wine. No, no, no. Does a meat recipe imply a red? No, again. Surprsingly, both expensive and inexpensive red or white wines add a delightful soupçon of complexity to recipes, especially once it cooked down and the alcohol evaporated. Therefore, check the amazing range of inexpensive, attractive wines from around the world, or pick up Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck or a bag-in-the-box Franzia. Almost any wine adds richness to soup or stew, or to a marinade for meat or fish ready for the grill. Dy white Vermouth is yet another alternative.
Julia Child’s secret for leftover wine will appeal to frugal chefs. Do not shrink in dismay at her suggestion to freeze leftover wine in the re-corked bottle or decanted in into another container to be used another day. Defrosted wine is undrinkable, but mighty good when added to meat, poultry and fish. Spices, herbs, and other flavorings will mask wine’s distinct flavor, leaving a delightful hint of its memory, like a woman who knows exactly how much perfume to wear without overwhelming the air around her.

July 2009
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