Sunday, April 26, 2009

Old World and New: Italy, Falanghina Campi Flegrei DOC, Nova Scotia, L'Acadie vineyards 2006 Alchemy.

In light of my recent post on "Straddling two Continents", I decided to have a little taste of both.

I'll start with the white, from the DOC zone where I live in Italy: Campi Flegrei.

Campania, Italy
Producer: Grotta del Sole
Grapes: Falanghina DOC, must contain a min. of 90% falanghina grapes according to DOC standards. This bottle does not mention whether or not it is 100%
13% ABV

This area is known as the "Terra del Fuoco" for all the volcanic activity in the zone. Falanghina is the characteristic wine and grape of the area. Some of the vines are over 100 years old, and many are on their original rootstocks.

The wine is crystal clear, straw-transparent yellow, with greenish hues. It swirls fairly heavily in the glass, and leaves little traces of bubbles on the sides of the glass. There are particles in wine, but none that would fault its clarity.

Everything in the glass is reminiscent of Spring. It is Spring outside as I write this, and this wine evokes a fairly complex bouquet of the sweet smells of the orange trees in blossom, some jasmine, some citrus, fresh grass, and lastly some mineral notes. Based on the olfactory sensations, the wine would seem to be of good quality.

To the taste it is dry, medium-warm and smooth. It has high acidity, but the length brings out the minerality of this volcanic wine. And what length! It is very persistent lasting over 10 seconds. It is beautifully balanced, intense especially in the mineral finish, very good quality wine. It is medium-bodied, ready to drink, and harmonious.
This area of Italy produces fresh fish dishes, and with them is often the suggestion of the local Falanghina.

A taste of bread, a drink of water, and I'm ready for my New World wine.

Nova Scotia, Canada
Producer: L'Acadie Vineyards
Grapes: 40% Leon Millot, 30% Luci Kuhlmann, 30% Foch, produced in an Amarone style
15.5% ABV

The colour is deep, rich and opaque. It is almost black-cherry red in colour with an orangey hue towards the rim. It is so thick when I swirl it in the glass that I get a clear impression of the term "chewey" as it describes wine, though I'm only going by sight at this point. This is clearly a viscous wine, with some body to it. Slow, long legs form down the sides of my glass.

The nose...oh la, la! This is not what I expected from a Nova Scotia wine. This wine is not one of those "foxy" wines that bely the Concord grape that is better off left in jams. Oh no! I would never guess, in a blind test that this is a Canadian wine, made from all Canadian, Nova Scotia grape. The bouquet is intense and complex, suggesting this vintner has some experience making wine. I smell, "terra bagnata" or wet, rich earth, ripe red fruit, a sweetness of caramel or is maple syrup, and finally a faint suggestion of acidity. I can't at this point smell the chocolate or coffee that is suggested on the back of the bottle, but that may come out as the wine breathes.

I taste the chocolate! Another lovely surprise. The wine is dry and leaves some warmth from the alcohol as I swallow it. It does have a high acidity that I could smell through the more powerful scents in the glass, which is always good in a wine. It suggests that it has a lot more time to age well. It is also fairly tannic, and if I could fault it at all, it would be that it is only slightly minerally....maybe even barely minerally or spicy. The acidity and the oaky caramel-maple syrup-chocolate flavors pervade. I'm looking for the smell of black pepper, but it's not there.

The wine is however well-balanced, intense, persistent and of good quality. It is full-bodied and fairly harmonious.

This is not as robust as an Italian Amarone, but it is an interesting promising wine. I would pair it with grilled or barbequed steak, and hope that the pepper on my steak would make up for the lack of spiciness in the wine. There were some lovely surprises in this wine. Here is the website where you can read about the description of this wine:

Straddling two continents.

Right now my husband is in Nova Scotia for a week, and I am home here in Italy by myself. Home is the subject of this meander. Where shall it be?
We will soon be heading into our retirement years, and it will be time to decide where we are to live. God willing, we hope to see those years through on our own vineyard, and maybe working in our own winery. My husband is spending a week on a vineyard in Nova Scotia, something that would have been impossible to find 20 years ago. There has been a growing momentum in the wine industry in Nova Scotia over the last 10 years and we are excited that we can entertain the idea of fulfilling our passions in so familiar a place. Nova Scotia was home to us and our 3 sons for over 10 years. But will it still be home in ten years time, or will Italy feel like home? That is our dilemma. We want to get started on the vineyard idea, but we don't know where to buy. All my adult life I have wanted, dreamed and schemed of living in Italy. Now, here I am. In fact, I am even a card carrying Italian citizen. Italian vineyards are the stuff of romance, and that I am doubtful about wanting to own one seems absurd, even to my family members back home.

It's as though we are straddling two continents right now, a sort of Colossus of Rhodes, but instead of straddling the harbor, we straddle the vast Atlantic ocean. That's a difficult pose for anyone to hold for any length of time. We will have to choose. The straddling metaphor is one that suits our lives right now as we strive to build a bridge from our youth to our retirement years: just as we get used to living our lives as a couple again, we are reminded that we are still parents when our kids are home from university; we are both Canadians but have a deep connection to our European roots; we are neither young nor old, we live here, but wonder whether we should be thinking of living there.

I think there are two plaguing thoughts that confuse us and assault us every time we think we are ready to make a commitment. The crux of our dilemma is the idea of growing old away from our extended family and the other is where will our children want and best be able to visit us. Will choosing one continent over the other have any bearing on their visits to us? Will it be the familiarity of where they grew up that they will want to have? Will my extended family be drawn by the lure of the warm southern Italian winters, or will they see it as being too far and costly? Do I really want to live through 6 months of Canadian winter when I am elderly? When I ask my family these questions, they of course can't give me an answer. The answers are nowhere to be found, but in the future that is left to be played out.

We realize the seriousness of our investment. It could mean that if we had to pick up and sell for whatever reason, a vineyard and winery may not be an easy sell either here or there. We have to be sure. Will we play it safe and move back to Canada? Will we move into riskier territory, and buy that Italian country property, that I see in my dreams?

In one week's time, my husband will be home with our youngest son. We will have learned a little more about what it means to own a vineyard and be a vintner in Canada. We will go back to being parents again for the next four months, and so we will probably put our decision on hold until the fall, when once again, alone as a couple with the itch to get started on a dream and straddling two continents become a difficult pose to hold.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Wedding.

I was waiting for it and it finally happened: my first European, Italian, Neapolitan wedding. After two years of waiting and anticipating, this one did not disappoint. The invitation arrived hand-delivered by a friend. The directions were vague, but we had an idea that it was not too far from our home. One half hour before the wedding we plugged the address into the GPS, which brought us to a completely different town. After doing a bit of back-tracking, and finally finding the church tucked under a busy road, down what looked to be someone's driveway, whose owners told us to continue on down the road that was under construction, and after snaking around the building in the middle of it all, we finally arrived at the well-hidden Chiesetta di San Filippo. We had missed the mass but were just in time to meet the bride and groom as they exited the Church as newlyweds. So, unfortunately, I can't tell you about how beautiful the ceremony was, but the rest of the day was indeed magical.
My friends, Maria Elena and Francesco are former colleagues from the school where I taught last year. Maria Elena teaches social studies to middle school students and Francesco is the music teacher to the elementary, junior high and high school students. They are both young and vibrant and passionate teachers, dancers and musicians..
Maria Elena comes from an unconventional Neapolitan family and has lived around the world. She speaks Arabic, English and Italian. She is a belly-dancer and an Italian folk-dancer, and gives lessons as just one of her part-time jobs. Her mane of thick, long, and very curly hair is what you first notice, until that is, her gaze fixes on you and you wonder who this Italian beauty could be, with her deep brown eyes, set against her olive skin. This is when you begin to realize that Neapolitan history has left its mark on the people of this town. Maria Elena could be Arab, Spanish and she could also be mistaken for Greek. All of these cultures have made their presence known here: they're in the ruins of the city, they're in the foods, in the language and they're part of the people.
Francesco comes from Pozzuoli, the home of Sofia Loren. He puts his heart and soul into his music-making and his teaching. He is the pied-piper of the school, as he is often followed by groups of kids who just enjoy his enthusiasm and company. He and Maria Elena have taught music and dancing to the kids in the Quartiere Spagnolo in Napoli, the Harlem of Napoli, a program they initiated. I can imagine that Francesco would not be afraid of these kids; he would be accepted as one of them.
Francesco had at some time in his past befriended a band of gypsy Romanian street minstrels, and they were the featured musicians at the wedding. These troubadours were playing the accordion and the violin as we arrived at the church.
After the requisite photos outside the church, the bride and groom, followed by the musicians led the procession to the reception on foot. This tradition I had only seen in movies, and I was not sure it still existed. You can't imagine how delightful it was to be part of such a euphoric, happy event. Traffic was stopped, and though Neapolitans are not known for their patience when their travel plans are interrupted by such things as stop lights, or pedestrians, this time it was clear that the honking of horns was in celebration of the wedding. The procession crossed a busy street, and climbed up a set of steel stairs that crossed over the railway tracks to finally arrive at a most enchanted stage for the reception. This was the scene for the rest of the celebration: an outdoor restaurant on the beach. There were soft off-white curtains blowing in the breeze and the chairs were covered in matching cloth each tied with bows, under white umbrellas. The white tablecloths had violet gauze accents, and formal waiters dressed in black and white delivered the food, served buffet style. The backdrop was the Mediterranean. Though the day was overcast, it did not detract from the scene. Beside the eating area there was a pool and beachfront. Parents made futile attempts at trying to keep their children from wandering there and getting their formal clothes dirty. It was to no avail. Eventually, I was overcome by the same temptation and the sheer joy and abandon of the day, and took off my own stockings to walk barefoot in the warm sand. Looking back at the scene from the beach only added to the dreamlike, surreal, wonderful feeling that my husband and I experienced that day. It was a feeling of levity, and almost of relief to discover that the weddings I had only seen in movies truly existed. They are joyous community celebrations, and this one in particular was free of any pretense. I have played this movie over and over in my mind, and each time I smile.
After the meal, the band played and the bride and groom and parents danced a waltz or two. The rest of the afternoon took on a carnival-like atmosphere of folk dance after folk dance. The highlight was watching Maria Elena dance a seductive belly dance before Francesco who played the clarinet for her. The dance seemed to tell the story of a beautiful young woman seducing and finally conquering her man. Her shawl became the instrument she used to capture him, first using it coyly as cover, then using it to incorporate a game of peek-a-boo into the dance and finally as a lasso to capture him as she tied it around his waist. She told this story with her hands, her hips, her eyes, her entire body.
As we left the reception we were given our gift of bomboniere (a container holding traditional Italian candies called confetti, given out as a thank you to guests). True to style, Maria Elena and Francesco did not want any gifts. If they received money, they would use it to cover expenses and the rest they would donate to GMA Napoli, an NGO in Ethiopia. The bombonieri themselves were made as a make-work project for mothers in Shashamene, Ethiopia.
On the way home, I was reminded of the significance of the confetti candies in the bombonieri: they are almonds covered in a sweet white icing, the almond representing the bitter, and the icing representing the sweetness that accompanies marriage. Even in a marriage celebration, Italians are a practical people. They take the good with the bad, hope for best, but are realistic about the trials ahead. In a sense, they want to experience it is pura vita.
Maria Elena and Francesco, thank you for your friendship, for your example, for your invite, and for a day that will live on in our memories. We walked away feeling a little lighter on our feet than when we arrived.

Gatij Brachetto D'Acqui, Marchese di Barolo

Piemonte, Italy

Gatij Brachetto D’Acqui

Producer: Marchese di Barolo

Grapes: 100% Brachetto

No vintage date on bottle


6% ABV

This was the dessert wine served at the wedding. It is brilliantly clear and cherry red. It is effervescent with medium-sized bubbles. This sparkling wine is not pronounced in its perlage. The bubbles don’t ascend in the tight chains that characterize champagne. It is more frizzante than champagne-like.

The first aroma that rises from the glass is the sweetness of prunes, and then ripe red cherries. It is delicate in its intensity and would seem to be a wine that is of good quality. The is a fine scent of damp forest at the end.


To the taste it is sweet and light. You immediately feel the fizziness on your tongue. I taste prunes, but it is balanced by a nice acidity, not making it cloyingly sweet. The acidity gives it a medium length, and the final note is of prunes. It is well-balanced and fairly intense on the palate persisting for a medium length of time.

It is a good quality, light, harmonious wine. It was paired with two desserts: the Delizie di Sorrento that I have previously described, and the chocolate, nutty caprese cake. The Brachetto was a good accompaniement to them both. The chocolate is a nice combination with the cherriness of the wine and the Delizie mixture of sweet chantilly cream and lemon scents were also in perfect agreement with this wine.

Here is the producers description of the wine and how it is made:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The View from our Balcony

Photos by Giuseppe Lambertino

Giacomino is the gardener where we live. There are just 3 floors to our apartment building with each of the three apartments taking up the entire floor. There is a balcony that surrounds our home uninterrupted on 3 of the 4 sides. Our view on one side is of the Mediterranean and the islands of Procida and Ischia. But it is the view from the other two sides that I wish to tell you about. These two sides look out onto the vineyard and vegetable garden. It is from this vantage that we have learned the habits of Giacomino. Giacomino in Italian means “little James”.

If you could imagine living where I live, and if you could conjure up in your mind a portrait of a stereotypical Italian “contadino” gardener, you would undoubtedly come up with the image of the man that greeted us on our first day in Italy. He’s a difficult person to describe because he is a man of few words, but our entire family, and each of our many visitors are immediately struck by his beauty inside and out upon meeting him. I will try to tell you what I know about him, but my words don’t come close to capturing his qualities or the reasons why he has so enamored us.

He is a mere 5 feet tall, with gray-blue, gentle eyes. He always has an easy, kind smile and greeting with a little bit of neighborhood gossip or news thrown in because Giacomino is always “in the know” in this town. He doesn’t however, like to talk for long….he’s all about work. He wears gray wool pants tucked into black rubber boots, and a plaid shirt opened at the neck to reveal his undershirt.

The vineyard and garden that he tends take up the space of about one acre, and Giacomino, tends every plant, every day, by hand. There is a garden hose, but to Giacomino that would be a waste of water…so he uses a rain barrel and a watering can. Right now it is the tender shoots of the tomatoes that he is watering. In the dry heat of a the Neapolitan summer, his arms will fill the watering cans innumerable times to water each and every plant in the vineyard. This is a garden with over 500 grapevines not to mention the fig, lemon, orange, grapefruit, loquat, pomegranate, walnut, laurel and willow trees in the yard. He feeds the chickens and the cats and does not like it when the owner asks him to kill a chicken for him. He confided in me once that he would always get his wife to kill the chickens because he didn’t like to do it. When he’s finished he scrubs his hands with a lemon cut in two to get rid of the smell.

Giacomino is sometimes difficult to understand as his Italian is colored with a lot of the local Montese dialect as it is known in our little pocket of Campania. He walks at a brisk pace, and he makes a“whoosh-ing”sound from his mouth to call the cats at 6am in the morning. They come from all parts of the vast garden for their morning meal, which usually consists of leftover fish skeletons and some sort of pasta. I once tried to imitate the sound when he wasn’t around, but the cats never came. It is not surprising that these contented felines follow Giacomino around as he meanders about in the vineyard throughout the course of the day. When he’s gone, they wait very close to their feeding dish for his return, sniffing around for reminders of their last meal. These cats are content.

The first day I met him, he told me his story. He’s worked all his life…since he was 9 years old, he boasted with great pride. He was the chief engineer on the ships owned by the same family who owns our apartment building. When he retired from the ships, the same family hired him on to tend the vineyard and vegetable garden. He has 4 daughters, 2 sons and he lives downstairs from his youngest daughter in the home where he raised his children, one street over from where I live. His wife died in 1982. This December he will turn 82 years old. He attributes his good health to the fact that he doesn’t eat meat, or pizza—only fish and I think a healthy amount of red wine. Sometimes he tells me about relatives or friends who have died. His tone is mournful and respectful, but I can’t help detect a sense of glee that he has so far escaped illness, retirement, idleness, and can still get up and put in a good days work.

At 1:30 he goes home for lunch and a siesta. I sometimes see him late in the day, all cleaned up, hair combed, in the piazza with some other men his age. Even though I see that he is involved in animated stories with them, he always stops to say hello. I also see him at church every week, looking rather polished. He doesn’t sit in the pews…he stands at the back of the church with the other men. This isn’t particular to Giacomino however. Few men accompany their wives to church, and most who do, don’t sit with them. I can only guess at their reasons but it could be out of politeness, reserving the seats for the women, or it might be that it just isn’t cool, or maybe a little of both.

Giacomino informed me this week that he won’t be coming back in the afternoons to work anymore, and he won’t be planting as many tomatoes this year. He just learned that he has dangerously high blood pressure. He adamantly refuses any help in the vineyard but I can see that he is scared. I know that he couldn’t bare living life as an invalid. I see how he still loves his life.

These days, I make my way around to the other side of the balcony a little more. It is a view I hope to see for many more years: the vineyard, the garden, the cats, the chickens and Giacomino. This gardener has become part of the ground that he labors, part of the view from my balcony. They say that grapes offer more succulent juice if the vine has had to work hard and dig deep for its nutrients and water. Like the vine, Giacomino has had to work hard and struggle throughout his life, and all who know him are enriched by his presence.

A year ago, I had a taste of Giacomino’s wine. He buys Aglianico grapes from Puglia and makes his own. It was not bad. However, the bottles he gifted me this year were difficult to swallow. I have seen Giacomino’s winemaking techniques and he’s a staunch promoter of quantity over quality, pressing, and squeezing every last drop out of the grapes. What follows is a description of what I tasted this year.

Giacomino's Wine

Artiginal wine
Producer: Giacomino
Grapes: Aglianico from Puglia

Deep, dark and almost black except for a shimmer of ruby where it picks up the light. I cannot see through the glass, though I don’t see any deposits. After I swirl, it is a different story…small deposits remain on the side of the glass, instead of the sweet tears that I usually see. The wine has weight as I swirl it

The first and strongest scent is that of leather followed by a vegetal green pepper and wet earth smell. It is difficult to smell the fruit over the intense animal and vegetal scents. This is the daily wine of most Neapolitan tables..made in their own cantinas, by their own hands, with ambient yeast, and fermented in plastic vats and then in demijohns. This is not a complex wine.

This wine is dry, high in acidity, with medium tannin and alcohol levels. It is medium bodied and surprisingly smooth. The flavor characteristics of this wine are unfortunately the spoilers, almost to the point of being undrinkable…there is a taste of fruit that is starting to spoil, and green pepper possibly. It is unfortunately pronounced in its intensity and is of medium length in the mouth.

Though it has good acidity, and may last a while longer in the bottle, I don’t think it will get better.

This wine should be paired with…..7up…and a lot of it.