salice salentino 2011Pizza is the Best Food on Earth
When people drink enough, they start to do stupid things. Like asking what one single food their friends would eat if they only had to eat one food for the rest of their lives (correct answer: pizza). Or, even worse, asking what one single wine their friends would drink if they only had to drink one wine for the rest of their lives (correct answer… pending).

No Place for Philosophy
Which raises the question, what is a wine? No, blog posts are not the place to discuss philosophical matters – that’s what bars, cemeteries and the DMV are for. But what is a grape? That seems less ponderous and maybe worth exploring in 1-2 paragraphs.

Malvasia Mutant
Take Malvasia – grape of the baltics (and the cherished island of Madeira). Malvasia tends to cover a whole lot of terrain – like a golf umbrella on Park Avenue annoying everyone in its path or the model in stretchy tights sporting it all at Walmarts in size XXL of course. Malvasia has one of those names that can mean any of a host of things – usually white, light and Italian as Michelangelo’s David, it can also be dark, toffee and island-loving as Jamaica’s better rums when grown on Madeira, possibly the world’s best place I have never visited (Sri Lanka may be close too). Sometimes it shows up in red, like a Jessica Rabbit in the 1980s or Dorothy’s shoes in an all-gray Kansas. And that’s where we arrive at Malvasia Nera.

Red Malvasia
Malvasia Nera is the rare red-headed child of the Malvasia family that emcompasses every child on earth. When Angelina gets around to adopting a red-haired child, it’s entirely certain that she will name it Malvasia (seeing as Nera has certain lazy/arsonistic connotations). While most of Malvasis shows up in Japanese funeral gear, Malvasia Nera is a red wine that tends to temper the harsher aspects of the big reds who truly strut their stuff in Maoist unity – Cabernet, Sangiovese, you know who you are. Malvasia is probably slightly out of step, even if in the area of the reds – maybe trying to tone down Stalin a little bit from the harsher edges in a Khrushevian way that (in this narrative) actually succeeds and leads to some positive result. One can dream – it’s what philosophy on a grape in a blog is about… if about anything at all.

Taste
Heavy body wine with somewhat fruity smell and dry, full-bodied taste that didn’t overextend. Rustic with a smoother finish.

Detail Up!
Salice Salentino 2011 by Masseria Parione in a DOC from Puglia (the boot), Italy

Random Googles:
* Salice Salentino is generally a Negroamaro wine – it is from Puglia (the boot!) after all. Malvasia Nera is the harmonizer on the wine to the Negroamaro melody.
* Salice Salentino – actually means “dark and bitter” in local Puglesquian parlance. Strange, as it was a pretty smooth grape that made it onto the menu I tried and the smoothing agent to the “dark and bitter” grape of Negroamaro (apparently, exactly the same translation – makes you question what life is like in Puglia).
* Apparently, a fairly cheap version of solid good wine. Most of the prices online I saw were in the $10 range. Not enough to stay in the Castello Monaci in Salie Salentino (highly recommended say the reviews) but enough to buy your bottle of wine from near the castle.

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Moscatel de Setubal 2004 Jose Maria da FonsecaJokes in Canada
Someone once told me that receiving ice wine is a joke in Canada. Doesn’t seem like much of a punch line but in that quaintly Canadian way, even being the butt of a joke has an uplifting quality. Apparently though, ice wine is the most re-gifted present that exists in the frozen north. People just don’t open these rare treasures known as dessert wines.

Awkward Morning on Wednesday
I get it though – it’s high alcohol, they spoil easily and they’re really expensive. Even half a bottle of these dessert wines run pretty consistently in the $40-50 range. A nice present to be sure, although probably not what you’re opening on your own on a Tuesday with pizza, especially since finishing a bottle on your own could be pretty terrible for Wednesday morning.

Affordable Liquid Dessert
Being a great fantasizer about dessert wines of all kinds though, I am happy to identify that there are at least a couple of affordable, small bottles available. Moscatel de Setubal certainly qualifies – the bottle that I bought was $12 I believe. The empty bottle you see above is one that my brother and I polished off on our front porch in Chicago on a sunny day, the occasion for which I have long since forgotten.

Memories… of Men and Moscatel
This weekend reminded me of that time though as that brother, along with all of my siblings, parents and significant others, came to visit. And yes, we had lots of beer, treats and wines. Moscatel de Setubal of another bottle was drunk and we left the bottle similarly empty at the end of the weekend. Apparently, Canadians don’t invite their relatives over very often… or (more likely) their relatives refuse to visit because it’s Canada. Just kidding – we all love Tim Horton’s.

Taste
Apricot, candied, rich, long finish. Some bosch pear and wildflower honey. The other one we tried this weekend (not this brand identified) also had a cool tea finish to it.

Detail Up!
2004 Moscatel de Setubal DOC, a fortified dessert Wine by Jose Maria da Fonseca in Setubal, Portugal

Random Googles:
* There are 9 types of Moscatel currently recognized by Wikipedia: Moscato Bianco, Moscato Rosa, this Moscatel de Setubal, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Ottonel, Black Muscat, Orange Muscat, Muscat Crocant and Moravian Muscat. Four down, five to go.
* Setubal is only 30 minutes outside of Lisbon – about the same as going to Sintra, the famous tourist destination thanks to Lord Byron’s poetry, just in the opposite direction
* Juan Maria da Fonseca also makes a really good dry red, Periquita. ­čÖé for those who learned the word through slang in Brazil.

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grecanico 2010 sicily di giovannaOde to Motorino
Una pizza napoloteana was an epic pizza place on east 12th street in the east village, until its owner moved cross-country to san francisco and left a whole in the hearts of quite a few pizza-lovers. Rumors abounded about a new pizza place taking over their storefront, and that the new owners might have even bought the oven from the emigrating owners. Years have now passed since that transaction took place and the new store in town is a well-seasoned restaurant with a deserved following. Excellent pies, good wine list and a few subtle surprises make it a go-to restaurant on bustling east 12th.

Anchovy Pizza
The build-it-yourself delivery pizza isn’t exactly a favorite of mine since it involves making your food – exactly the activity you are trying to avoid when ordering delivery… In the case of the white anchovy pizza however, there is an exception to be made.

Cristom vs. Cristom
Earlier that evening was a tasting of some red wine from two different years (2009 and 2002, I believe) that we had bought in Oregon and saved to share with friends who would also geek out about trying the same wine, from the same plot, from two quite distant years. Surprisingly enough, it was pretty easy to tell the difference (even if nobody was really going for a scientific, blind tasting). Fruity and colorful, versus dusty and subdued. Might have been reading too many wine books but it certainly seemed to match what people have said about how wines age.

Clutch Pour by Selenho
Anyway, once the white anchovy pizza arrived, it seemed like some white acidic wines were in the offering, and Selenho happened to have a bottle open and chilling. This is what constitutes a great friend – not the years of knowing each other and shared memories, experiences and folly, or the ability to dig into novels, sports and shared interests – it’s the ability to pull a fantastic, open, chilled bottle of wine from the fridge that matches the impromptu pizza you just purchased. And so it was…

Taste:
Lots of acidity to punch back at the white anchovies draped across the top of the pie and long long finish to keep you remembering how to spell the word “salinity.” Light, crispy, acidic white wine. Not much nose. Lemon and green apple. Surprisingly long finish. Excellent with white anchovies.

Detail Up!
Di Giovanna Grecanico 2010 with 13% alc. from Sicily, Italy

Random Googles:
* Sicilians call it “Grecanico” while the rest of Italy calls it “Garganega”
* Grecanico forms the base of Soave, from the northeast of Italy, in Veneto
* Element 34 is Selenium. Yes, it’s entirely unrelated to the rest of this post.

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RWC Madeira Savannah Verdelho

Least Favorite of the Best
Verdelho might be my least favorite Madeira grape, through no fault of its own. There’s little to dislike about the grape, seeing as it grows on Madeira, has a slightly sweet and mostly nutty flavor, and works with all kinds of foods – more foods in fact, than most grapes on the market.

Not quite taking on Molten Lava Chocolate Cake
And yet, Verdelho doesn’t seem to have a very strong or clear identity. Of the four noble Madeira grapes – Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey – the first and last have clear identities that mark them as the ends of the Madeira spectrum. Sercial has that really nutty dryness going on, and Malmsey has to be one of the truly great grapes in the world. Seriously, I still haven’t found another grape that holds up to the molten lava chocolate cake… and wins.

Process of Elimination
Bual’s a pretty delicious grape too. Granted, it’s not KO’ing any seriously bad-for-you desserts but it’s sweet and complex, and comes in lots of styles from quite a few producers. Tinta Negra Mole has that under-dog image going for it since it’s not in the noble grape category, Bastardo has a name that just makes you want to love it, Moscatel’s all around goodness and Terrantez is really close to going extinct so it’s important to fight for it, even if its taste isn’t the greatest (sample size 1). So sorry, Verdelho – you’re nutty and complex, but it’s just not enough to avoid being the least favorite Madeira grape. Good thing you still beat most of the wines on the market.

Taste
Figs, burnt caramel, custard and brown sugar on the nose. Nutty and almonds but slightly sweet on the taste. Chewy and dry finish, with back of the mouth salivating and cleansing refresher on the tongue and teeth – how Zeus would brush his teeth.

Detail Up!
Rare Wine Company Historic Series – Savannah Verdelho Madeira in Madeira, Portugal

Random Googles:
* Australia has a long history of producing Verdelho in nearly all wine-producing parts of the country, where it has more of a honeysuckle and lime flavor than its European brethren.
* Verdelho is one of 82 permitted grape varieties in Port, and even makes the cut into the “Recommended” grapes for Port.
* Star Mixologists can even use Verdelho Madeira in creating their drinks

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Portugieser 2011 Villany

Portugieser – not from Portugal
Most surprising factoid about the grape called “Portugieser” is that it is found in many countries, none of which are Portugal. Neither is the grape from the Iberian afterthought. Somewhere in the Austria/Germany/Hungary/Slavic world is where this grape thrives and is probably indigenous to.

Famous as an overstatement
Villany in the Hungarian south is where this particular grape makes a bit of Hungarian splash (next only to the Hungarian water polo team of oft-golden Olympic fame). Close to the Croatian border, Wikipedia might call this town “famous” but it seems not to have caught on entirely in the rest of the world. Fortunately, Blue Danube Wine is pushing hard to change our West-o-oenophilic bias and is introducing all kinds of unpronouncable grapes to the Eastern seashore of the USA. Welcome Portugieser.


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Taste
Light body with little nose, bit harsher finish than pinot possibly due to higher alcohol (note- checked bottle and only 12.5% but tastes higher). Dark fruit taste, blackberry especially. Long finish with some tannins. Better with food than on its own.

Detail Up!
Attila Gere – Portugieser 2011 from Villany, Hungary 12.5% alc.

Random Googles
* Portugieser makes #6 on the Top Ten Hungarian Grapes List
* Villany, the town known for its red wine like this Portugieser, is a word derived from lightning.
* K├íkoporto – the other name for Portugieser, seems to also have an identity crisis related to Portugual’s most famous Oporto city.

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