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00mbx2i1br5bs_375x5008 years a Life
Think of the difference of 8 years of life – what you were doing 8 years ago, how old everyone was in their professional 20s when you were a teenager, how a toddler imagines the 9 year cruising around the neighborhood on their bicycle without training wheels or fear. Try and construct that gap in the adult world and you’ll arrive at a loss – octogenarians and those in their 30s have more in common. Careers, language, shared memories and locations – nothing that you can bridge between a newborn and an 8 year old.

Ocho – the latin answer to Ohio
It is with great pleasure that I am happy to report that the gap is bridgeable, that 8 years is not sufficient to keep the toddler off the bike. Eight times this year, I will be visiting the crossroads of America – the part of the country that is Southern and Northern, East reaching to West, the part that spectacularly shoots the arch with imaginary planes and daytime fireflies. It’s a year that I relish and savor and anticipate – the year of the horse and the auspicious numero ocho, a sign of good luck, of fortune foretold, a year of the vine and the wonders unknown.

But on to the details, the excuse to go blog. Lidia, oh Lidia.

Groucho Wine
The Lidia we know from excessive refrain and hyperactive eyebrows apparently originates from Moldova, one of the least appealing country names on earth. Little is known of the country apart from three critical facts:
1. Romanians dislike it and tend to view it like the New Jersey of Europe, as if Romania were somehow the Park Avenue of Europe, a doubtful conjecture
2. The Russian bear laps up its wine like an intoxicated infant, an unimaginable supposition for a country beset with alcoholism rates that bend the life expectancy toward countries with perpetual anarchy.
3. Moldovan wine is very sweet.

Moldova and the Bear
Lidia is a grape that Moldovans grow, principally for Russian extract (85% of total wine exports from Moldova go to Russia) but occasionally for smuggling to other parts of the world that appreciate it less and consume it a LOT less. Moldova happens to be the poorest country in Europe and wine is an enormously disproportionate percentage of the country’s livelihood, where some say that wine exports are Moldova’s most lucrative export outside of its less viniferous expat community.

Sweet smell, plums and strawberry taste starts sugary and then turns dental quickly. Very metallic and bloody – truly a trip to the orthodontic chair where you receive a raisin at the end for surviving the procedure. Different and worth trying.

imageDetail Up!
Lidia, Four Seasons Collection – Dionysos-Mereni Estate Bottled, year and ABV unknown even though definitely a dessert wine, from Moldova

Random Googles

* Lidia grapes are only grown in Moldova, although even the entity created to publicize the virtues of Moldovan wine (Moldovan Wine Guild) have not deemed Lidia significant enough to include on their list of Moldovan Grape Varieties
* Lidia wine can also be encountered in large-ish containers similar to the Carlo Rossi containers you may have found in your local wine haunt
* Dig into Moldovan history just an inch deep and be prepared to be amazed. Transnistria, for example – where one quote should whet the curiosity bug sufficiently for further exploration —- “Transnistria’s economy is frequently described as dependent on contraband and gunrunning, with some labelling it a mafia state. These allegations are denied by the Transnistrian government, and sometimes downplayed by the officials of Russia and Ukraine.”

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Fleur du Rhone 2010 13.5%, Valais petite arvine

Swiss Wine Region #1
Switzerland’s largest wine region is the Valais, basically producing 50% of all Swiss wine. Truth be known, that’s not a lot of wine volume compared to all of Switzerland’s neighbors but in relative terms, Valais is clearly the wino-spot of the Swiss slopes.

Swiss Grapes Aplenty
Which grape then would you try if you were into trying grapes? There are a few you could locate in Switzerland without too much trouble – your Chasselas (never heard of it), your Pinot Noir (thanks Sideways for making it unaffordable), Gamay, Petite Arvine, Syrah, Cornalin (also a new one), Humagne Rouge and quite a few more. But Petite Arvine appears to the favorite of the Swiss press, people of Valais and even the wine experts.

Wine Gurus on Petite Arvine
Wine gurus really ignore Switzerland for the most part and one can see why when you’re looking at dozens of regions and hundreds of grapes – it’s just a lot to put into a book. Take Karen MacNeil, for example. She wrote 901 page book called “The Wine Bible” that you’ll see fairly often in wine bars and it has a great introduction to the wine regions of the world. There is exactly 1 page dedicated to Switzerland, and Petite Arvine receives accolades such as – “intensely floral, exotically fruity” – and is even noted as “far more interesting” than certain other Swiss varieties. Pretty decent phrase when you’re considering that all of Switzerland fits on one page, and in fact, it’s the highest praise for a Swiss grape in the book.

Proud of the Petite
Jancis Robinson (my personal favorite and secret crush – pun now intended) barely notes the grape in her encyclopedic “Vines, Grapes and Wines,” including it on a list with other Swiss grapes, and Oz Clarke of much fame heaps praise on the grape (“high quality”, elegance, finesse, “unusual minerality” are some of the words he chooses) and noting that he has a bottle of 1969 Petite Arvine in his cellar. Perhaps a bit of showing of his cellar of course, but clearly he’s proud of this bottle and this grape.

Tastes like green. Green apples, some green lime and NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Tastes a little rounder with slight pear, peach and quince. Not much of a finish – some green apple but finish ends quickly.

Detail Up!
Fleur du Rhone 2010 Petite Arvine with 13.5% alcohol from Valais, Switzerland – never before reviewed on the internets

Random Googles:
* Petite Arvine received its name because there used to be a grape called Gross Arvine. Marketing people can tell you which grape has survived… even though Gross Arvine is still in grape stock libraries, just not in bottles. Nowadays, Petite Arvine is being positioned as just Arvine by the (surprisingly in-existence) Swiss Wine pushers.
* Petite Arvine might be the most frequently grown grape of the Valais but Chasselas is king when it comes to acreage planted in Switzerland. Being a sucker for pie charts (and pie!), have a look at the dominant 8.36% position that Chasselas has compared to the puny #4 position position that Petite Arvine has at 6.46% – it sets one’s heart aflutter. If only that pesky 56.65% of “Other Wines” could be eliminated from the pie chart, this would truly be an impressive display.
* The other place in the world where Petite Arvine grows is Valle d’Aosta in Italy, which is basically where you land when you step across the border from Valais in Switzerland. No doubt there is a Hemingway novel about this very trek.

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Wino Confession Time
Ordering wine at a restaurant is awful. Just awful. And the thicker the book, the more awful the decision. Hundreds of choices, maybe thousands, and you’re the one who’s going to choose what people are drinking for the meal. Spicy shrimp for the lady, pear salad for the other lady, and t-bone steak for the gentleman. Now, what wine will we be having tonight?

Ambient Wine
Plus, in all likelihood you’re going to have a 10 second conversation with the waiter about the wine, maybe the waiter has tried them, maybe they just want to sell you something and move on. And honestly, we all want to move on. We’re not dwelling on the wine. We want the wine to be there like we want ambient music, in the background, maybe triggering a memory, but not overpowering the real business of the night – talking over each other.

Yet another reason that couples should date
But, confession time – it’s amazing when you’re at a restaurant with your loved one and you can actually read the wine menu. When you have time to parse through it like summer fiction, unhurried and enjoying every word. You can talk about certain wines you know (possibly 1 out of 100), get excited when there’s a new grape or a new region, or just something funky on the menu, and actually enjoy the process of looking through the wine list without the pressure of executive decision-making ticking off the seconds in your head. It’s letting the inner geek out for a run in the park and knowing that however long it takes, it’s fine. You’ve got all the time in the world.

Strange Grape
Such was the date night on a recent frigid weekend when Chica and I went to Uvarara for the first time. Uvarara (translated “strange grape?”) sits out in the car-friendly part of Queens, which means the next time we’re going is when we next rent a vehicle. They’re all about strange, Italian grapes and had all kinds of regional grapes on their short but fascinating wine list.

Bottle Doubles
Perricone is the grape we chose and when the owner brought over the bottle for inspection, it became immediately clear that we both recognized the label. Not one week before we had bought a wine by that same producer because it was a new grape and was under $10 (an exciting, rare fine) and we had the bottle sitting at home, still untouched. Now this thing NEVER happens to us. We don’t have a ton of wine and we usually know what we have so surprises at restaurants don’t occur at the moment the bottle shows up at the table.

Feeling Old
But in that instant, I knew the quizzical look on Chica’s face, knew what it meant and thought the same thing. It felt old. Like octogenarian, front porch, married people old. Like how old is supposed to feel when you know someone for an extremely long time and have all kinds of shared experiences from living together for so many decades. So, Perricone became the old people, long memory wine even before the first sip.

And the first sip lived up to the hype, I’m happy to report. Dusty, medium body, blackberry, plum, non-spicy, long non-fruity finish with more dust on the end. Nothing offensive to it – mild, smooth, subtle wine, little violet too. Great value for $9 retail.

Detail Up!
Colle del Mandorlo 2010 Perricone by Feudo Montoni from Sicily, Italy

Random Googles:
* Perricone might be related to Barbera (or even the same thing – DNA test pending), another light-medium Italian grape that crafted really positive family memories with Sister Consueldo in the past. In a parking lot.
* Perricone is really bitter to eat as a grape and not that popular for growing, even on Sicily where it’s one of the Top 11 indigenous red grapes. Not sure how it shows up in NYC for sub-$10 but buy it if you see it.
* There’s a Dr. Perricone (no relation to the grape) who has been hyping the benefits of certain foods for several decades. Wine’s on his list in the pro-heart category and his best interview is this Wine Library interview from a couple years back.

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