Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cassoulet at the Kesslers 2015: The Main Event

BettyLu called us to table.

We obediently filed into the dining room, peering at the names on the cards, looking for our seats, pleasantly relaxed by the lovely aperitif wines Lou had provided and eager for the meal to begin.

From his marvelous cellar….wait…what?...what? Ah ha, Lou has decided to depart from whatever we thought the traditions might be for cassoulet by offering up a Vermentinu  That’s right, a Vermentinu. Or Vermentino. Or Rolle, as in let the good times. It is the Antoine Arena Haut de Carco Patrimonio White, 2012, from the southerly part of Corsica.  That makes it French (unless you ask a Corsican), therefore not that great a departure perhaps.

Antoine Arena, now working with his two sons, produces fine Niellucciu reds and Vermentinu whites from several small plots of vineyards in the Patrimonio AOC.  The Haut de Carco is the newest, an escarpment of almost solid limestone looming over the Carco vineyard.  No vines had previously grown here, and the neighbors were intrigued and amused to watch the Arenas dig laboriously and dynamite extensively to prepare the ground. They were skeptical. To the surprise of everyone except the Arenas, the vines held, rooted in the cracks and crevices of the limestone.

Haut de Carco Blanc is enticing in the nose, with white flowers, sweet, fresh green hay, and luscious pear.  On the palate it’s firm and structured, lavish with its limestone mineral base and balanced with lively citrus tartness, with a piercing minerality and a tangy almost-bitterness asserting itself at the very end.

Scallop with Tangerine Sauce
The wine was quite delicious, and even more so as a fitting companion with the first course. BettyLu had prepared a delicious appetizer:  one perfect pan-sautéed scallop, seared outside and slightly caramelized but soft and sweet within, and accompanied by a resonant sauce of tangerine. Exquisite, and perfectly suiting the evening, preparing us for the main plate.

Prior to the cassoulet’s arrival, Lou introduced the accompanying red wine, another (slight) departure from the traditional Rhone wines usually served. I say slight because some years ago guest Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John had suggested that the wines of the Piedmont would do well matched with cassoulet.  Steve was right; the Piemontese nebbioli were remarkably good. So here we were again, this time with Luigi Scavino’s Azelia Barolo “Bricco Fiasco” 1996.

This wine…  This wine was so complex and sophisticated, so utterly satisfying and challenging, that I’ll give over my poor powers of description and let the good folks at K & L in San Francisco give their report, citing Tanzer and Parker, because I can’t better it.

93(+?) points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, Nov/Dec '00: "Very good deep red. Complex aromas of plum, black cherry, menthol, leather, game and smoked nuts. Sweet, rich and chewy; conveys an almost saline impression of extract. Lush and sweet but with powerful underlying spine. Finishes with substantial but harmonious tannins and superb persistence. Two years ago, this wine appeared to be more accessible than the San Rocco; today it the other way around." 91-93 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate: "The 1996 Barolo Bricco Fiasco explodes with tobacco, balsam wood, cedar, tar, and the tell-tale cherry fruit. In the mouth, toasty oak makes an appearance. Full-bodied, tannic, deep, and powerful, with a huge impact and density, this modern-styled wine has the body and force of a more traditionally made Barolo. Anticipated maturity: 2004-2020." (08/99)

All I can add is that Tanzer’s description is spot on.

With such magnificent wine, a kind of wine that could easily mesmerize you into cradling and sipping all night attempting to penetrate its mysteries and plumb its depths, the accompanying food had to step up.  It did.

We all marveled at how BettyLu’s cassoulet gets better and better each year.  This year it was a feast for Gargantua and Pantagruel, positively packed with duck confit and plump sausages. The beans retained their integrity, neither hard nor mushy and the rich spicing and carnivorous flavors met and married the Azelia Barolo.

Cassoulet and Barolo
BettyLu lavishes a great deal of time and meticulous attention to all the details of her cassoulet dinners; Lou brilliantly supports her labors by enhancing the meal with perfect wine selections.  Add a lively, intelligent, and talkative crowd around the table and you have a dining event in the old style.

Now stuffed but obeying the propinquities of fine dining, we sipped on a port from Lou’s cellar, an amusing little Taylor Fladgate Vintage Oporto 1985. 

I have been a fan of the Taylor Fladgate style for many years; it is a bit more restrained, not quite as opulent as others, with great intensity rather than body. This one was in keeping with the house: rich but not over the top, solid berry fruits, inky purple-red color, and what seems to me to be a quintessentially English style.

(A moment of reminiscence here: some years ago when I was a retailer I had an elderly English couple come into the store, all tweedy and proper.We had a sale going, and the old gentleman wished to make a purchase. "Ten cases of the Taylor Fladgate 1966," he said. I hesitated a bit, not wishing to intrude on a customer's personal business, then remarked that was the largest single sale of port I'd ever made and I wondered if it were for entertaining or gifts?. He said, "No, not at all. We are getting on in years, and who knows what will happen. I am insuring that we have an adequate supply of our favorite Oporto to drink, so I am stocking the larder now."  I began drinking the Taylor Fladgate shortly afterwards, and have loved it every since.)

Dessert was a sweet-tooth extravaganza, a brobdingnagian slice of glorious excess in cake-pie form. We, all of us, marveled at it, and we, all of us, thought we’d never be able to finish the slice.  We, all of us, were wrong; we had underestimated how good it would be. For once a visual dessert also delivered in the eating of.  More kudos to BL.

Finally, the late hour, the over-indulgence in superb food and extensive consumption of remarkable wine began to take their toll, so we bid our farewells. Wanting for nothing but sleep, we each found our beds for the evening.

From all of us who have had the pleasure of cassoulet with Lou and BettyLu as hosts, here’s to them for putting on a memorable dinner.  We appreciate it deeply.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Cassoulet at Kesslers 2015: The Quickening

It’s hustle and bustle time.  All the people are arriving, with profuse hugging, air kissing and real kissing, punctuated by exclamations of “Has it been another year already?”
Lou immediately assumes his sommelier duties and steps behind the bar to offer his selected wines for the aperitif hour. He has already opened them and tested for the dreaded monsters, the Scylla of cork taint and the Charybdis of premature oxidation.  All wines were fine and free of flaw or fault.

Királvudyar Tokaji Furmint Sec 2013
One of the immediate surprises of the evening is a wine seldom seen or tasted, a Királvudyar Tokaji Furmint Sec.  Furmint is the base grape for Tokaji Aszu, the delectable honeyed dessert wine from Hungary.  But Furmint can be made dry as well, although little of that style makes it to the U.S.

Which is a shame.  It’s silky smooth, quietly elegant and plump with toasted nuts, orange zest and some stone fruit, perhaps apricot or yellow plum. Not a blockbuster but a quietly pleasing and easily sippable dry white, and a lovely bit of slightly-off-the path surprise by Lou.

Franz Hirtzberger Grūner Veltliner, Smaragd, Wachau 2005
It’s a thing of wonder when you open a great bottle of Grūner at that moment when it is just beginning to go through the transformation from adolescence to adulthood and makes that leap to maturity when the texture begins to soften from its green starkness and an almost-asparagus begins to assert itself, and the texture turns from lean and green and totally acidic to a softer, milder, significantly more mellow  and entirely different expression.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to believe in magic. 

Depending on your gender orientation, this quite lovely Grūner has been wine mitzvahed,  has celebrated its Quinceanera, or has stepped out of the closet.  This is gorgeous wine I could drink all evening long. It is the essence of green.

Ah, but an old and trusted friend is calling, so I force myself to move on to the Albariño do Ferreira Cepas Vellas from the Rias Baixas.  Every time I sip this wine I visualize that magnificent picture of the owner standing beneath the old vines, so thick and massive, having progressed from pergola trellised vines to the status of gnarly, twisted and luxuriantly leaved trees.  Such fruit. Such focus and intensity. Such minerality, with  lean acidic austerity and fat richness of fruit, side by side. For me---and I know it is one of those totally subjective decisions  and can be endlessly debated, but that’s the way it goes----the Cepas Vellas do Ferreiro is the benchmark of everything I admire about Albariño.

Lou is a smart wine guy, so at the Cassoulet lineup he always includes an impressive Sauvignon Blanc.  This time it is the Gerard Boulay Sancerre 2010.  The mingling crowd love it, as did I, but it was a bit of a different song the Boulay was singing, Sancerre with a different style.  Not brash and loudly green in the New Zealand style. Not really in the expected parameters of most Sancerre and Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs either.  Less of the audacious herbaceousness; much, much less of the sweaty gym sock funk that is one of the great pleasures of Sancerre; and more of a big, lush, rounded and mouthfilling flavor.  It’s what they call Rubenesque, or if it strikes closer to home, it’s Pinetop Perkins singing “Big Fat Momma, with meat shaking on her bones.”

And there it stands. The last wine. And quite frankly, one I've purposely been saving for last, because it is Chardonnay. Chardonnay is worrisome for me, simply because there is so much poorly made wine under the umbrella of this grape, which is unfortunate, because it can be wonderful, even transcendent, but so often isn’t, so often either simple green apple or criminally overloaded to the other side with over-manipulation and obliterating oak vanilla spice and butter.

But Lou can be tricky. He’s a wily old coyote and not above playing wine games with the people he invites, and he loves to surprise the sophisticated wine geeks and jaded professionals. And here he has done it again, and smiles silently when the folks start splashing and sampling.  This particular evocation of chardonnay is from the Friuli, that north-easterly-most corner of Italy that is fairly equally divided among the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Slovenes next door, and the Italians.

Mind you, some great wines come from here, most from indigenous grapes, but there is a fair amount of the “international varieties” scattered around as well.  I’ll step up in front and say that I dearly love the Friuli; it’s one of the few places I would willingly retire to and live out my years, and wine is a hefty portion of that love.

That being said, as much as I love the region, and the wine, and am even impressed normally by this winery, I have to say that this is one weird little Chardonnay.  Blind me on this one and I am apt to say, in desperation, a Viognier or Roussanne…maybe (but with no conviction in my voice); or a really, really shy Gewurztraminer from a place I don’t know.  Or an obscure authochthonous variety from the depths of the Carpathian Mountains.  Or I would simply say, “Okay, I’m stumped.”

The Vie de Romans Chardonnay, Friuli 2011 doesn’t taste like a primary chardonnay. Maybe a chardonnay with a float of something else, something that is slightly floral, more quince than apple, and has a spicy tang to it.  It is rather pleasant, actually, and not at all difficult to drink: it just doesn’t make me think “Chardonnay.”  I don’t know whether that’s good or bad; the wine simply puzzles me.

The wines make for lively discussion in this select crowd, ranging as they do from classic and sublime to fringe cult weird (the wines, I mean; although the crowd might resemble that description too), and BettyLu’s appetizers being passed around occasion even more air explanation points. Lou has clearly achieved his objective of getting the crowd properly lubricated to appreciate the feast that is yet to come. 

With perfect timing (you’d think they have done this before), BL takes center stage, calls us all to the dinner table, and our meal begins in earnest.

Coming Soon: Cassoulet at Kesslers-The Main Event

Monday, March 2, 2015

From Ajaccio to Etna: Sciacciarellu to Nerello

When you’re a guest of the Kesslers, you’re assured of good hospitality, food, and wine, and our most recent visit was no exception. Rather, it was exceptional, even by their standards.

“Just pizza,” said BettyLu. But some great pizza, and matched with two great bottles of wine.

Our appetites were whetted by the 2013 Cuvée Faustine Rosé from Domaine Comte Abbatucci, a delightful, crisp, cranberry-lively mouthful of tartness and flavor base on the Sciacciarellu grape variety of Corsica, from the area of Ajaccio in the southern part of the island.

The Faustine (named after Abbatucci’s daughter, who one hopes is as lovely as her wine) was pure serendipity because just the previous day we had descended on the Kermit Lynch shop in Berkeley, to be immediately informed that this was the ‘shoulder season’ for great dry rosés and that only one or two were left in stock. Kermit had sold almost every bottle of their rosé offerings and were waiting anxiously for the new allotments to arrive.

So, with hopes dashed (no Domaine Maestracci E Prove!) and no good substitutions available, we resigned ourselves to other wines.  Then, of course, Lou serves up the delicious Faustine.

We were both stunned, however, with the next wine, a magical red from the slopes of Mt. Etna, 2007 Passopisciaro (the fisherman’s path) by Andrea Franchetti. The wine was absolutely captivating, with a bright bouquet of fragrant rose petals, raspberries, and strawberries. With such enticing aromas, the entry at first seemed like a middleweight, then rapidly expanded in the middle-palate to a full, robust and richly textured, chewy, almost meaty, savory delight.

The Passopisciaro was hugely enjoyable, and quite unlike anything I had experienced before. With its initial charming allure shifting to the umami explosion of flavor in the mouth, it was sort of like an aged Barolo---but not quite.  No, I thought, it’s more like a regal Cote de Nuits Burgundy…but not quite.

Afterwards, while trying to comprehend this fascinating and utterly drinkable Sicilian red, casting about for analogies and metaphors, and looking for descriptive parallels, I came across Antonio Galloni’s near-ecstatic review. With a score of 94 points, he described the 2010 Passopisciaro as
“…deceptively mid-weight, but behind the light color and seeming fleeting structure lies a deeply expressive core of perfumed red berries, crushed rocks, flowers and mint. A burst of deep salinity frames the bracing finish. Quite simply, this is a stunning wine. Think of the Passopisciaro as a cross of Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin and Gattinara….”  [highlighting mine]

Okay, somehow he missed the rose petals, and I still think Barolo, but Gattinara is not bad at all. Otherwise he totally nailed it. And, hey, maybe the rose petals came out more in the 2007 than the 2010. I’m prepared to be generous.

The grape:  Nerello Mascalese.

I’ve had, and enjoyed, Nerello Mascalese before. The wines were good, but not as utterly compelling as the Passopisciaro. Now I am convinced that Nerello Mascalese is capable of greatness.

The Passopisciaro is assembled from a patchwork of small vineyard plots, many of them composed of 80—100 year old Nerello Mascalese vines. Most plots are not large enough to bottle separately, so they are gathered and blended by Franchetti.  Priced at a mere $35, this is an outstanding value and well worth buying by the case lot for long term unabated enjoyment.

Cuvée Faustine Rosé from Corsican Sciaccarellu and Passopisciaro Nerello Mascalese from the high slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily

…ah, well, just another day with the Kesslers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Let us speak of Teroldego Rotaliano...

Let us speak of Teroldego Rotaliano.  Let us specifically speak of the Bottega Vinaia Teroldego Rotaliano 2006 from the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy.

Or, as a wholesaler said when I inquired about the wine from her vast portfolio, "Congratulations, you've apparently selected one of the most...esoteric...of the thousands of wines we have available."

I'm nothing if not esoteric.

I jumped on this wine without hesitation as I was building a wine class on Italy for my college students. It's not easy to find Teroldego, and it's even more difficult to find a well-aged, moderately priced, high quality Teroldego.  The Bottega Vinaia Teroldego Rotaliano 2006 was a relative steal!

Bottega Vinaia is the creation of Anselmo Martini, head winemaker at Cavit in northern Italy, more famous for producing vast quantities of jug wines and modestly priced quaffers.  Martini envisioned a company that could specialize in identifying and sourcing particular vineyards from the Trentino-Alto Adige that showed a long-term, consistent record of quality, and offering them under the 'umbrella label".  This scheme required the dedication of a winemaker who could use his contacts to help him set up a special relationships with a range of different growers.

As Palm Bay Importers, who handles the winery for the U.S. market, explains, "Starting in the early 1990s, Martini sought to explore the optimum potential of a handful of extraordinary vineyards in northern Italy’s Trentino region that, year after year, consistently produce the highest quality grapes. This select group of family-farmed vineyards is the source of Bottega Vinaia, an exceptional line of artisan wines that reflect the authentic qualities of the Trentino terroir. 
Thanks to Martini’s passion and tireless drive, Bottega Vinaia has swiftly joined the ranks of Italy’s top-notch premium wine producers. They currently feature an impressive range of the Teroldego Rotaliano, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Lagrein."

The Bottega Vinaia Teroldego was a deilicious treat for both the class of combined newbies and moderately sophisticated students as well as the experienced instructor (who could easily be referred to as 'jaded").  The age of the wine helped; tasting a 2006 of Teroldego allows a certain amount of mellowness that a younger version simply would not have. The innate qualities of Teroldego show superbly here, with rich berry flavors, dark plum notes, bright acidity, and a light touch of spice to perk things up a bit.

The students enjoyed the wine so much that a subsequent call to the wholesaler was required to find where the students might buy it.  That generated the 'esoteric' comment, since the wine was not generally available in retail, only at a one restaurant and a catering firm.
It's the eternal dichotomy of good wine in this day and age:  we are exposed to a greater range of wines from around the globe than ever before in history, yet we may never see or taste many of those wines because of their limited availability, inability to pay for marketing

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Going Rogue (Valley): Red Blanket Tempranillo, Red Lilly Vineyards

Dining in Medford, OR, recently---and yes, that's possible; there are some good restaurants there, although few and far between--- and came across a delightful little wine from the Rogue Valley/Applegate area of Southern Oregon.

Bolander's Lilly
Photo from Red Lilly Winery
Red Blanket is a bright and engaging blend of 79% Tempranillo and 21% Cabernet Sauvignon from a tiny winery named Red Lily Vineyards.. You could literally call it a "Mom and Pop" winery, since the owner's (Les and Rachael Martin) are, and Mom and Pop named their vineyard partly for the beautiful Bolander's Lily and partly for their precocious daughter).

Red Lily Vineyards has its own label of eponymous wines, focusing on Tempranillo, red blends, Verdejo and rose', but the Red Blanket is a whimsical, and entirely delicious "other label"---and I suspect it exists to allow the owners to tell a famous local folk story.
The Red Lilly Label
Photo by Red Lilly Winery

The Red Blanket Tempranillo 2011 is charming, soft, and plush without being over-manipulated.  Fresh juicy red fruits of Tempranillo abound, but are enhanced by the bolder aromas and structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon. As it develops in the glass, the Red Blanket shows a whiff of spice and a suggestion of sweet pipe tobacco. It's a marvelous food wine, handling chicken, brisket and even a roasted fish with wild rice risotto without a problem.

Beyond the folksiness, Red Blanket Tempranillo delivers.

As for the folksiness, here's the story:  Jacksonville, OR,west of Medford and I-5 in the Rogue River Valley AVA, is a quaint and bucolic little town---more like a village---preserved to showcase the rugged days of the mining boom of the 1800s.  There was gold in them thar hills, and plenty of prospectors who were willing to placer mine to get it.  Now that mining and lumber are both languishing, one of the few remaining enterprises showing success in the area is the boom of vineyard land and wineries.

The story of the legend of the Red Blanket Mine is charming folksiness in the best tall-tales tradition of the American West. A lonely, reclusive old miner was found dead one day in his ramshackle cabin, clutching a mysterious scribbled note that indicated he had found the big strike, a spot where the gold was just waiting to be harvested from the rugged hills. The note did not tell the location of this find, but said that the miner. before trekking back home, had marked the spot by tying his old red blanket on the branches of a large tree.

A wild search commenced, with hundreds of locals tromping through the hills and valleys in search of the elusive red blanket.  Which no one ever found.  It became the legendary and lost Red Blanket Mine.  Look closely at the label and you will see, at the bottom-most right branch, a small patch of a tattered red blanket.

I suppose the Lost Red Blanket Mine finally did yield up its wealth in a way; not with gold of the 1800s but with the abundance of the vineyards in the 2000s. And Red Lilly Vineyards is harvesting that gold.

The Red Lilly Vineyards
Photo from Red Lilly Vineyards
 The Red Lilly/Red Blanket wines are made in small quantities and are available at the winery and in some local stores and restaurants in the immediate area, but are not distributed out of state.  If you're not from there, or don't go there (which you should; it's beautiful), your only means of acquisition is to contact the winery; they do have a wine club with mailings four times a year.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Let us speak of Ruché

Photo: Hoke Harden

Let us speak with fondness and respect of Ruché.  Or to be correct and giving due credit, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, an altogether delightful and charming red wine, unpretentious yet satisfying, amiable and accommodating, either as a sipper or a dinner companion.

Ruché (pronounced roo-kay) also allows me to trumpet my sincere belief that this is the best time in history for wine drinkers, as there is more wine from more regions encompassing more styles from more places around the world than ever before, and most of it is available in a wine store near you.

Ruché is only recently available---possibly because it is one of Italy’s smallest production wines (it got as low as a total of 125 acres before the end of the century), exists in one place only (the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy), was always obscure and depended almost entirely on local consumption. It is also recently available because of the surge in demand for ever-more-esoteric and “undiscovered” wines. Fortunately, the growers in Piedmont were dedicated enough to their homeboy grape they began expanding and improving production early enough to satisfy the demand for what they dub “The Prince of Piedmont Reds” (the undisputed King being Nebbiolo).

One of those foresighted producers, Vigneti é Cantine EnricoMorando, expanded the plantings of Ruché significantly.

It’s a “rustic” style---which means to say, not glamorous, the kind of wine that never fetches high prices or the notice of the wine critic cognoscenti, the kind of wine that provides great pleasure but is not ravishing, full of bravado and bombast, epiphanetic.

I say you take your epiphanies where you find them.

Ruché /Vigneti Enrico Morando
Ruché is that rare creature, often sought, rarely found, an almost extinct autochthonous variety (I could have said indigenous or even local, but I like saying and writing ‘autochthonous’ because it’s a neat word).  Or perhaps not; there are arguments that it comes from Bourgogne, but really, who cares all that much anyway?  Fact is, it exists only in the Piedmont, and there only in two small provinces and a spare handful of villages.  Any way you look at it, it’s rare, virtually unknown, and only now emerging into a quite crowded marketplace of wine.

Which means, of course, that you should pounce on it. I say that, mind you, with great ambivalence, fully aware that if you take the advice and buy Ruché and come to love it as I have, it will seriously deplete the already minor amount of this lovely wine for me to consume.

The pictured wine, most recently consumed subject of this article, was Ruché de Castagnole Monferrato DOCG by Enrico Morando, 2011.  It was consumed at Coppio in Portland with some terrific pasta. Coppio’s wine list cooed that the Ruché was “one of the coolest wines we’ve ever served! Perfumed, dry, earthy, complex”.

It was all those things, and more.

Lightly dusted with fresh, fine ground black pepper, and mouth-watering tart berry fruit just underneath, with the lean, focused fruit acidity providing structure without resorting to tannins which are light. There’s an explosion of fruit on the first sip, mingled with some intriguing herbal notes, almost but not quite like Provencal ‘garrigue’, hot and dusty and ever-so-slightly resinous, the perfume of rose petals and fragrant dried flowers, mixed in with a solid core of spiciness to add yet another taste and texture layer. Think marinated spiced sour cherries and you wouldn’t be far off.

The Ruché made a profound first impression, but became amazing when exposed to the foods, a wide-ranging array of Italian-Piedmontese pastas, rich with mushrooms and olive and herbs. 

Photo: Vigneti Enrico Morando
More than most wines, the Ruché has a curious ability to adapt its texture as well as its flavor to the food.  Pillows of gnocchi, flat wide ribbons of chewy meaty pappardelle, delicate purses of spicy agnolotti---the Ruché handled them all, and fitted itself to all, with surpassing ease.  It accompanied and accommodated even a firm herbed whitefish without any difficulty.  

It is a chameleon of a red wine; lean, medium-bodied, tart, fruity, herbal, spicy, and most of all, precisely balanced in all its facets.

Photo: Vigneti Enrico Morando
This is definitively one of the most “Italian” of wines: lean and mean, focused and intense.  No gobs, no pillows of flavor, no raisination, no tricks to plump up the wine or jam up the fruit. If that’s what you like, go elsewhere; but if you want a wine made for table, made to go with delicate and hearty food, and is an absolute pleasure to drink: this is the one.

Good luck.  If you find some, make sure you get there before I do, or it won’t be there anymore.  If ever there were a dependable, reliable, easily affordable house red that over-delivers in every way, Ruché de Castagnole Monferrato is that wine.

Friday, November 28, 2014


I have had the fortunate occasion of being able to enjoy a string of lovely wines lately. They were from widely spread areas, encompassing a variety of varietals, both as monocepages and blends, and usually accompanied a broad representation of food styles and flourishes.

The only thing these wines shared, in fact, was subtle enough to not be immediately noticeable: these were wines that did not glitter.

There is a category---and a very healthy category, praise be to Bacchus---of wines that do not vogue in the spotlight.  They don’t demand or command celebrity attention. They don’t crowd everything else off the table, and they don’t dominate the discussion. These wines usually don’t appear in curated collections or get featured in mailing lists.  You don’t have to join clubs and kiss up, and you don’t have to mortgage your house to afford one bottle of these wines.

What wines are these?  Well, to give you an idea, here’s a short list, plucked from memory, of the wines I’m talking about:

Bodegas Beronia Rioja Alta
Lapierre Raisins Gaulois VdP (Beaujolais)
Can Feixes Blanc, Catalunya
Cellers Can Blau, Tarragona
Ribolla Gialla I Clivi, Friuli
Sanct Valentin Sauvignon, St. Michael-Eppan, Trento

Provençal Rosé
They do not glitter.  But they surely satisfy.  And when you stop to think about that---and you should---you realize the not very profound idea that these are your “value wines”---not in the sense they are inexpensive, for even these non-glitter wines can be a touch pricy, but in the real sense that they are valuable because they are satisfying, reliable, consistent.

And in almost every case---certainly every instance of late for me---these wines have charmed because they are so accommodating with food, whether it’s ‘per picar’ finger snacks or sumptuous multi-course meals.

Any of these can be fine without food, of course. Their honest amiability guarantees that.  It’s that the wines embrace the foods, and vice versa, that turns a pleasant wine into an admired companion, thus elevating the merger to a higher complimentary level.

These are wines that don’t shout; they murmur. They don’t grandstand or showboat. They do not strive to be outrageous, exaggerated, over the top blockbusters, and they don’t attempt to be so bombastic as to command attention  and points.

And I am thankful.

Here’s one in particular I am thankful for today:

Falanghina Dei Feudi di San Gregorio
What to serve as the white wine for the most difficult food and wine pairing dinner of the year.  With the cacophony of flavors on the table at Thanksgiving, you have two choices, either to ignore the situation entirely and simply pick out a good wine, or make a careful, deliberate decision to throw a wine as a sacrifice in the great coliseum of flavor overload (little Greco-Roman metaphor there).

I did both.  Pick out a good wine?  Check.  Carefully select a wine that would be quite satisfying but would also deal with the flavor assault without particular difficulty, remaining, light on the palate, lively, refreshing and, above all, drinkable?  Check.

Falanghina is the grape,  Campania is the place. Feudi di San Gregorio is the winery.  Falanghina, purportedly from Greece originally, is a premier variety best grown on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Vesuvius in Campania, outside Naples.  It is said to be the base for the legendary “Falernian,”most famous wine of the antique Romans.

In the hands of Feudi di San Gregorio winery, Falanghina is a superb non-glitter wine.  Mostly an abbondanza of fruit---apples, pears, pineapple, even banana---the rest is delicate white flowers supported with mouth-watering citrus acidity and crisp minerality.

This is downright enticing wine, difficult to drink in restraint, simply because it smells so fresh and vital with flower and fruit, is lively on the palate, and lingers delicately, never heavy, never dull in the long finish.

The turkey, the fat-dripping gravy, the herb-laden stuffing, the cranberry with orange zest, the sautéed onions and green beans, the sweet potatoes and brown sugar?  Hey, don’t worry about it.  This wine handles all of those, singularly or together, with aplomb (which translates in youthspeak as “Dude, not a problem. It’s all good.")

And it is. All good.
Vin Rouge de Luberon