Plum, Vanilla, & Honey: Grapes Ripening at Tenuta di Trinoro

Trinoro VinesArriving at Trinoro was like driving across a moonscape, with the rich, clay-filled earth cracked and churned from the recent wheat harvest. Only after cresting the hill from Sarteano into the Val d’Orcia and winding our way down the gravel road did we begin to pass by plots of land filled with vines. Andrea Franchetti, owner of Tenuta di Trinoro, explained to me that, of his 200 hectares, only a small portion is under vine – he’d planted what land he could to which the grapes would take, the rest dominated by the thick clay or hidden under the growth of the thick forests that surround the property.

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A “Fussy” Harvest on Mt. Etna

IMG_5889I spent my first few days in Italy down on Mt. Etna, observing the harvest at Passopisciaro. Andrea Franchetti, its owner, showed me how the color of the leaves and slope of the hills could allow him to predict what would be ready first – the vines with yellowed leaves were already bare, the sugars directed to the grapes on the areas where the soil wasn’t as rich (the deeper the green, the later the ripening goes his approach); and where there were depressions in the vineyard, however slight, those grapes too were still left to ripen, while the edges of the rows on higher ground were already plucked. We tasted from plant after plant, and for the first time I could really understand how much a single vine could vary from its neighbor. Some were just on the cusp of ripeness, with sweet juices bursting in my mouth and the seeds easily falling apart, where as others still maintained a tart, green edge.

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A few months ago, I took an amazing two-week trip through Sicily with my mother. We traveled from Rome to Agrigento, through Enna and Piazza Armerina, up to Mt. Etna, down to Ragusa, Modica and Donnalucata, and over to Noto and Siracusa. Driving through the island, we were amazed by the sheer diversity of this Maine-sized plot of land in the middle of the Middle Sea – from red sandstone temples high on the hillside of Agrigento to the southwest, to the white limestone walls lining the countryside of dusty Ragusa’s farmlands, to the Baroque gems of Noto and Siracusa in the southeast, and finally to the black lavic stone of the Catania region, with Mt. Etna looming above us.

Temple of Concordia, Agrigento

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Stay: Relais Monaci delle Terre Nere, Sicily

It had been a long day in the car – my mother driving, me navigating, and my long-legged brother in the back seat trying not to get car sick – as we drove up from Agrigento in the southwest, through Enna and Piazza Armerina, home to the lovely and well-preserved Roman mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale. With Mt. Etna’s peak long looming in the distance, we were happy to finally have arrive on the lower slopes of the volcano. Just past the tight, black stone-cobbled streets of Santa Venerina, we stumbled upon the road sign leading the way to our destination, the hotel Monaci delle Terre Nere. Monaci delle Terre Nere

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Drink: Chêne Bleu Rosé

It was a gorgeous day in early summer when I visited the small wine producer Chêne Bleu, based on the edge of the southern Rhône and the Côteaux de Provence in the south of France. Getting to the winery at La Verrière, located atop a mountain amongst the trees of the Dentelles de Montmirail, is easier said than done: Our GPS couldn’t find the address, so we had to do it the old-fashioned way, winding along narrow roads above the town of Crestet, eyes open for small signs and roadside markers, praying we were going in the right direction as we passed by forests and hiking trails until we finally came upon the beautifully restored ninth-century estate, high above the Rhône river valley. Continue reading

Ich liebe Gruner Veltliner

I have fallen in love. Hard. Sometimes, something new and exciting just bursts into your life, and you walk around with blinders on, seeing, thinking, wanting only… I am obviously talking about gruner veltliner. My most current obsession, this Austrian wine is the answer to my white wine prayers—crisp, bright, acidic, minerally, peppery, thirst-quenching, and surprisingly full-bodied. Fortunately for me, this once-popular-then-cast-aside wine has become an increasingly prevalent presence on restaurant and bar menus, providing a unique alternative to the usual Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadet suspects (two of my go-tos).

Gruner is unique for several reasons. It is a sensory conundrum, making it both a delicious and intellectual endeavor to drink. I find it to be simultaneously light and full; fruity and peppery; acidic and slightly sweet. A perfect drinking wine, and even better with food—in fact, it might be the most-friendly wine in the world, giving its compatriot riesling a run for its money (especially considering it lacks riesling’s reputation of sweetness).
Austrian winemakers tend to make gruners to be drunk young, but it is also a wine that can be laid aside to age for years. This capacity for ageing is rare in whites, and I am obviously oversimplifying the possible descriptions of this amazing varietal. The younger wines might be crisp, clear, and minerally, with a touch of spiciness, but the older the wine gets, the more complex, full-flavored, and peppery—the signature of its flavor profile—it may become.

Even more importantly, at least in understanding our lack of exposure to the grape as American consumers, gruner is grown primarily in Austria. Although it is the most widely planted grape, the wines rarely leave the borders of the small country. Many of the wines we are familiar with are what are known as international varietals—wines like a Chardonnay or Cabernet that are grown in most wine-making regions. The proprietary attitude of the Austrians toward this grape goes beyond the notion of terroir (even though the minerality of the Austrian soil, in all its variations, plays a huge component in the wine’s flavor profile)—gruner is the unofficial national grape of the Osterreich. I just hope they are willing to share it with me.

A few favorites to try: Gritsch, Berger, and the amazing gruner on Bar Boulud‘s wine list!

To Live by Bread & Cheese Alone

I used to spend my summers in the south of France—my mother’s childhood friend had moved there to study painting, fell in love with a man, and never left. So, we obviously went to visit. From a very young age, then, I was introduced to the simple lifestyle and eating traditions of Provence. Simple salads. Fresh food that came straight from the market. Baguettes bought that morning. And Roquefort… I have been a bread and cheese lover ever since. In fact, I think there is no better meal if you are looking for something quick and delicious, especially on the go.

Today, G and I prepared a picnic that he brought to Bryant Park at lunch time. It was a perfect day—not hot, not chilly, no rain, a little breeze. We sat under the birch trees and set the table. This morning I had packed up my little cooler with a small cutting board and a paring knife wrapped on a dishcloth that ended up serving as our tablecloth. G added the fresh-bought baguette from the store around the corner, salami, apples, and the cheese—gorgonzola dolce and parmigiano. He sliced the bread and the salami and began to make little open-faced sandwiches, while I ate each separately, savoring their individual flavors. It was a perfect summertime meal: crisp, fresh, simple. When it was time to go, we shook the breadcrumbs from the cloth, rewrapped the knife, and packed the cooler, leaving it much lighter than it had been when he arrived.