“Well, Clarice, he tried to test me, so I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice San Luis Obispo.”
Something about that doesn’t sound quite right, does it?
That’s because that snappy snippet illustrates a big difference in Old World vs. New World wines. By Old World we mean, of course, Europe, particularly France and Italy, and the difference we’re talking about is that in the New World we label wines with the name of the grape that’s in the bottle, be it Chardonnay, Cabernet or Pinot Noir, but in the Land that Time Forgot wines are labeled with the name of the place they come from, and it’s up to you, oh savvy savorer, to know what’s in your bottle of delight.
So our confusion with wine labels is sometimes just a problem of translation. And that’s because that rich Barolo, complex Bordeaux or spicy Chianti are all named for places not grapes.
The grape that Hannibal the Cannibal was so keen on is, in fact, the Sangiovese, which means “the blood of Jove,” but I have no inside dope on whether the good Dr. Lecter ate the Greek king of the gods in addition to his census taker.
The wine district known as Chianti is a small part of Tuscany, just south of the beautiful city of Florence. If you make wine there that is at least 75% Sangiovese you’re entitled to call your product “Chianti,” and it receives its badge of authenticity in the form of a paper strip over the cap or around the neck of the bottle that proves its origin or appellation.
Chianti, therefore, is a wine growing area designated as a DOC or DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) depending on the quality of the wine, DOCG being the higher level. The French call their wine areas AOC’s (Appellation d’ Origine Controlée) or Appellations for short, a practice which began in 1935. The laws overseeing these appellations don’t control the quality of the wine, just the grapes that go into the wines made there. In the States we use the designator AVA (American Viticultural Area), but this is strictly a geographic term and has no bearing on which grapes can be grown there. The Canadians also have appellations. They’re known as VQA’s – oh, I know, who cares?
But getting back to Chianti, here are a couple of fascinating (well, you’ll be the judge of that) facts: The old-fashioned Chianti bottles wrapped in straw seen in most Italian eateries, often with red candles stuck in them, dripping on the tablecloth are called “fiascos,” but these days fiascos are generally used only for wines of a lesser quality. The other more interesting thing about Chianti, and any wine made from sangiovese has to do with histamines.
Many people complain that red wine gives them a headache and blame it on the tannins or the sulfites, but the real culprit in the red wine malaise is actually histamines, prevalent in all grapes, but more so in the skins, seeds and stems of red grapes. However, not all red grapes are created equal in histamines, and sangiovese grapes happen to be one of the red grapes with the lowest level of histamines. So, if red wine has been a problem for you, try a nice chianti or indeed, any sangiovese from another part of the world next time you’re dining on your friends. I meant with – with your friends.
Here are a few place specific wines that will be wonderful complements to whoever you might be eating. Gotta run, I just heard a knock at the door.
Melini Riserva Chianti 2011: One of best Chiantis I’ve had in recent years. A blend of 85% Sangiovese with some Cabernet and Merlot that adds richness. Aged over 2 years, this wine displays lots of red fruit and spice. It’s full-bodied, soft and rich on the finish, and a great bargain to boot.
Sauvion Vouvray 2014: Vouvray is a village in France’s Loire Valley, and the grape used to make Vouvray is the Chenin Blanc. This fine example is replete with luscious apple and pear flavors accompanied by a perfect balance of acidity and fruit sweetness.
Fidelity Alexander Valley Crazy Creek Estate Red Blend 2012: Wow, that’s a lot of names! As a general rule, the more specific the site for the grapes in a bottle of wine, the more expensive that wine will be, but this fabulous blend of 88% merlot and 12% Cabernet from Sonoma County’s AVA of Alexander Valley exhibits big flavors of blackberry, licorice and cocoa with a hint of spice for a very affordable price.
Arca Nova Vinho Verde 2013: Vinho Verdo is the largest DOC in Portugal, found in the northwestern part of the country. The grape used in this fresh and spritely wine is the Loureiro. Clean, crisp and lemony with just a hint of sparkle make this the perfect summer refresher.
Now, since we’ve been talking about eating, here’s a little bonus that harkens back to last week’s tribute to the asparagus. I made this dish after writing the blog and thought I’d share it. Easy, fast and delicious. What could go wrong?
Get a passel of Jones’ Farm asparagus and snap off the root ends. (Try to get spears that are about the same thickness so they cook in the same amount of time). Cut them at an intriguing angle into approximately ½ inch pieces.
Peel a couple of carrots and cut into julienne. Julienne a small zucchini and a chunk of fresh ginger. Chop up a couple of cloves of garlic.
In a hot sauté pan or wok, splash in some sesame oil (olive oil will do in a pinch, but it will smoke and burn at much lower temperature, so keep an eye on it). Sauté the garlic and ginger for a minute or two. Add the carrot. After another couple of minutes add the asparagus and give the pan a good shake. In a minute add the zucchini and a handful of fresh or frozen peas.
Season with a ½ tsp. of Chinese 5 Spice and a good splash of soy sauce. You can add a little vegetable stock as well, or even a couple of tablespoons of water. If you like a little heat add some red pepper flakes. Cook over high heat for just another minute or two.
Plate the dish, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and some fresh cilantro. Serve with brown or basmati rice.
I had this with our Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner and it was amazing, and my pee rocked a 97 on the Hoo-Wee Scale!
‘Til next time, but don’t always expect a recipe. Who do you think I am, Rachael Ray?