As though I have been bitten by a bug, I am suddenly obsessed with learning about wine. Not only the tastes and smells and varietals, but viticulture and history. It seems the more you learn, the less you know and in the pursuit of knowledge, an entire lifestyle devoted to the grape unfolds.
City Winery Atlanta has been on my list of places to visit for several months, so when I found out about their “Q & A With the Winemaker” on Wednesday evenings during the month of September, I grabbed a friend and went.
What a huge surprise City Winery is! It is a fully functioning urban winery. It is also a concert venue and a restaurant with a great bar area. Winemaker, Travis Green, welcomed us at the bar, where he immediately handed us a sample of the City Winery Chardonnay.
The venue is two floors, the main floor has a bar and restaurant with both indoor seating and a large patio. On this floor you will notice a climate controlled, floor to ceiling, glass walled room that contains barrels of fermenting white wines produced here at the winery by Travis. We were then led down stairs, where a large production facility is located. Here, they have large tanks filled with the spoils of this year’s harvest, as well as barrels containing wines that are aging. Travis makes wines with grapes obtained from both California and North Georgia. City Winery does offer tours by appointment, so you can see this for yourself by contacting them directly.
The other half of the down stairs is the concert venue which is a very beautiful and intimate space — along the lines of The Blue Bird Café or The Listening Room in Nashville. I wish I had thought to take pictures, but I didn’t so these are courtesy of City Winery’s FB page.
In addition to a wide array of talented entertainment, City Winery hosts several classes and events each month. There is even a monthly book club called Books and Booze. The space is just gorgeous and is also a beautiful backdrop for private events.
My friend and I returned to the bar following our tour, where we sampled a couple of the menu offerings and had a glass of wine. She ordered the City Winery Pinot Noir which was delicious and, I would have sampled a City Winery wine but I they had one of my favorite roses, Hogwash, on their menu and I just couldn’t resist! We ordered 2 small plates, Crispy Risotto Croquettes and the Mediterranean Trio – both were delicious.
Maybe my absolute favorite thing…they have a very impressive dog menu — it even includes beverages for your fur babies.
There is nothing that I didn’t love about this venue and I will most definitely be visiting again soon.
It’s been a crappy week. Monday could not have started out any worse, waking up to learn of the horror that occurred in Las Vegas. It kind of felt like the world was pushing me around. You would think in light of the loss of so many lives and so many injured, learning that evening that Tom Petty died, of natural causes, would not be such a blow. But it was. To me anyway. So many reminders on Monday that we all have just one life.
The first album I ever bought was Damn the Torpedoes. I bought it at Peaches record store in Cleveland, Ohio. I was maybe 10? Fifth grade if I recall correctly. I memorized every word to every song and became a life long fan. In Jr. High School I wanted to go see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on tour. My Mom said no, so I spent the night at friend’s house and went to the concert anyway.
Obviously there have been many, many musicians that I have loved and who have impacted the world through their music, but Tom Petty impacted me personally. Buying that album was a right of passage. Until this week, I had completely forgotten about sneaking to that first concert.
I think everyone can be transported to certain time in their life by music. It truly shapes our lives. Thanks to my Mom, I love 70’s music — Carole King and Carly Simon and the Bee Gees (sorry, not sorry). I think classic rock is where my true north is, in large part due to Tom Petty. But, being an “80’s chick” I also loved everything from Madonna to Pat Benatar and most things in between. Sometime in the 90’s, Vince Gill turned me into a country music fan. My ipod holds everything from Billie Holiday to Janis Joplin. ELO to Kid Rock and I couldn’t pick a favorite – it depends on my mood, my surroundings, what I’m doing, etc. etc. etc. Side note: I feel the same way about wine.
My husband and I were listening to Tom Petty in the car recently and I said something to the effect of how amazing Tom Petty is because really his voice is not what people would think of as classically great right? This sounds like a disparagement but our discussion was the complete opposite. He was one of a kind. No one will ever sound like Tom Petty. He made an impact on the world through his musical genius and transcended all genres.
Tom Petty’s death has had an impact that I would not have guessed it would have and I can’t really explain why. I was listening to a radio station pay tribute to him on Tuesday and someone had posted on the station’s Facebook page that she walked down the aisle at her wedding to Here Comes My Girl. That gave me goose bumps. Plus, that is just so bad ass.
So, I felt the need to share these thoughts. I think sometime soon, maybe this weekend. I will have my own little tribute to Tom Petty where I listen to every song he ever made. I think it will also involve a sip of wine. I’m not sure which wine yet, but its going to be a good one.
I’m going to leave you with Johnny Cash covering I Won’t Back Down. I just discovered this a few months ago. I had never heard it before and I felt like I had just discovered some sort of treasure. I think it’s a fitting tribute. I hope you enjoy.
Several months ago, I attended a tasting through the Atlanta Wine Meet Up that featured wines from Domaine Distributors. One of the wines, D’Angelo’s Aglianico Del Vulture captured my attention because there is some speculation that Aglianico could have been the wine served at the Last Supper (see previous post here).
So, when I saw that the Atlanta Wine Meet Up and Domaine Distributors were hosting events last week where I could meet the producer of this wine, Erminia D’Angelo, I knew it was an event that I wasn’t going to miss.
D’Angelo Wine is synonymous with quality Aglianico production. They have been making this wine for nearly a century in the Basilicata region of Italy. Erminia and her brother Rocco, continue their father Lucco’s focus on producing the best quality Aglianico wine. Don’t take my word for it though, Wine Spectator placed their Aglianico Del Vulture wine #74 on their top 100 list.
The event was awesome and very informative as Erminia shared 5 of her wines, one of which was a Chardonnay that was excellent, and the remaining 4 of which were all 100% Aglianico. The wines progressed in “quality” based on the amount of maceration and aging each received, the youngest one being the one I had previously purchased and the one that won Wine Spectator’s praise! That should give you some idea of the quality wines that D’Angelo produces – the entry level Aglianico is an award winner.
The Caselle Aglianico Del Vulture was the grand dame of the selection. The maceration period for this wine is 15 days, followed by 24 months of aging. Erminia told us at the event this is the only wine they produce that spends some time in cement as well oak!
A bonus to meeting Erminia D’Angelo and tasting such a great selection of her wines, was the venue itself, Farmhouse 17. Located in historic downtown Norcross, it is a wonderful little find and even though I am on the other side of town, I will find a reason to make way back there. Check them out – Farmhouse 17!
Aglianico wine, while not so common that everyone has heard of it, is gaining in popularity. In fact, the podcast by Elizabeth Schneider, Wine for Normal People, just listed it is a favorite wine for Fall! If you want to learn about the this particular grape in greater depth, there is no better source for the “quick and dirty” education than Wine Folly!
Stem Wine Bar is a little gem of a place located in Marietta, GA, in East Cobb. You can visit Stem any time for an excellent selection of wines and outstanding small plates, however, they host a weekly wine and food pairing event that is phenomenal. I have attended a few of these events recently and I cannot recommend it enough.
The events are held on Wednesday and Thursday nights, with a theme that changes every month. So far I have attended events featuring Oregon Wines, Rose wines, and Piedmont wines. Each event includes six wines and six small plate pairings put together by Stem’s Sommelier, Chris McNeill and Chef, Patrick Jeffrey. A representative from the wine Distributor is also present to tell you a bit about each wine.
The cost is $45, and the event sign up is handled through EventBrite so there is an additional $3.45 service charge when you sign up. At the event, you will be charged 20% gratuity. This may seem pricey, but it is worth every penny. The tasting pours are generous and the pairings are phenomenal.
I’m not the only one who thinks so as these events usually sell out. In fact, Stem used to only do this event on Wednesdays, and now the event is offered on both Wednesdays and Thursdays and they still sell out.
These pictures were not taken with publishing in mind, however, I think they still manage to give an idea of how beautiful the wine and food are. The left is from the Orgeon event and the right is the Rose event.
Wines of Oregon tasting and paring event.
Rose wine tasting and pairing event.
I did not document the Piedmont event very well, but I did capture 5 of the 6 wine bottles.
For October the wines feature Southeast France, Languedoc & Rousillon. Here is a link to register: Southeast France event.
Stem opens daily at 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. A great selection of wines by the glass and a menu of delicious small plates are always offered. It is attached to its sister restaurant Seed, so it is a great pre or post dinner spot.
For more information about Stem and its sister restaurant Seed, here are the links: Stem & Seed
Don’t take my word for it, go visit and see for yourself. I’ll see you there!
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I have not read the book Sideways, I only saw the movie.
I’ve waited a good bit since finishing this book to write a review because my opinion of Miles and Jack has not changed from Sideways. I really disliked them then and I still do – maybe more so. Maya, the saving grace of Sideways, is completely absent from Vertical because Miles is a shit that no woman would stay with unless held captive.
Whew, ok, now that I’ve got that off my chest, let me just say that inexplicably, the book is still a good read and I hope a movie follows. Maybe Rex Pickett is a literary genius who irritates me with his characters to the point that I cannot put the book down?
I have a permanent low-key distraction throughout this book that begins on Page 1. Miles explains that he is riding the wave of success of a book he wrote that was made into a movie, about he and his friend Jack’s wine guzzling carousing. The book/movie in Vertical is called Shameless. This really drove me crazy because … Sideways…. not Shameless.
The narrative of the story is that Miles is now on a publicity campaign due to his wildly successful book/movie. He calls up Jack to accompany him on a leg of events from California to Oregon and then travel with him to help him relocate his aging mother, who is in poor health but wants to move to Wisconsin. Jack is a washed up and divorced loser, so he and Miles have kind of traded places from the Sideways story. If you recall Jack from Sideways, you are lying if you don’t admit to being a little bit happy that Jack has ended up lonely and broke.
Along the way, we must read the nitty-gritty details of Jack and Miles drunken debauchery including a scene where Miles dumps a spit bucket over his head while on stage as the guest speaker at wine industry event — all to resounding applause and approval from the audience. I found this very hard to believe, even in a fictional setting.
Miles finds himself in the predicament of continuing on the trip, driving from Oregon to Wisconsin, without the help of the nurse he hired to help care for his mother, or Jack. The nurse bails because the situation is intolerable even with the perks of expensive wine and nice accommodations. Jack bails because, well, he’s Jack.
Once Miles is alone, the story improves greatly. Despite being a narcissistic alcoholic, he makes a heroic effort to care for his Mother, meet her needs (which includes a love of wine) and in the end abide by her wishes and promises he made to her. I will not give anything away here, but I suspect this was easier for Miles to do than it would be for the average person.
It is this second half of book that is actually compelling, as it deeply examines familial relationships and the meaning of life in a way that is very real and allows us to look into the rearview mirror of septuagenarian at the end of her life. It also allows insight into the things that may have wounded and scarred Miles and perhaps explains some of what makes him the way he is.
This review would not be complete without mentioning that Miles’ overuse of big words and cerebral vocabulary continues throughout this book, to the point of becoming somewhat asinine. Here is an example:
“We rode on through the beautiful topography of Idaho and western Montana, passing grassy valleys speckled with feckless livestock grazing under an amplitude of celestially blue skies, punctuated here and there by mushrooming cumulus. “
Please pick up a copy (here is the link to purchase the book on Amazon) and let me know your thoughts — especially about the whole Sideways/Shameless name switch — here I am at the end of my review and I’m still annoyed about that.
I have discovered lately that when I am about to open a bottle of wine and discover that it is a screw cap, I’m a little gleeful at the lack of effort required to get the wine into my glass. I admit to a slight prejudice against screw caps, so it is incredibly ironic that suddenly the laziness afforded by a screw cap makes me smile.
Why the preference for a real cork? I can’t say for sure. I do like to keep my corks. What is it that makes people want to hoard their spent corks? To date, I have not seen anyone collect their screw caps, so what is so appealing about the little cork plug?
It turns out that cork is actually pretty special. Pliny the Elder thought cork trees to be divine, and at one time the bark could only be harvested by Priests. Is it possible maybe we somehow sense some sort of subliminal positive energy? You think I’m crazy don’t you? Read on, let me convince you.
What is Cork?
Cork comes from the cork oak tree and farms are referred to as cork forests. The Iberian Peninsula is the world’s largest producer of cork, however, cork is also produced in Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France and even, in limited quantity Russia and the United States.
A cork oak cannot be harvested for the first time until around 25 years. After the initial harvest, trees can be harvested approximately once a decade, 8-12 years, depending on the location of the tree. Harvesting occurs between May and August, during the trees growth cycle which makes removal of the bark, which must be done by hand, easier. The tree is not harmed in the removal of the bark and requires hand harvesting – machines cannot be used.
Hold on to your glass for this: the first harvest at 25 years does not produce cork worthy of making wine stoppers. No, this first harvest is used to make other cork products – flooring, etc. The 2nd harvest does not produce stopper worthy bark either and is again used for other things. It is not until the third harvest that the bark quality is suitable for use in making wine stoppers. So, if you want to get into cork farming, you better hope your offspring want to as well because that’s 50+ years before you get quality bark.
Cork is impermeable to gas and liquid, it is buoyant and does not rot. Trees are not felled in order to harvest, but the bark is required to be removed in order for the tree to maintain healthy growth. Trees can live to be 300 years old, although the average lifespan is around 150 years.
History of Cork
The first references to use of cork were in 3000 BC in Egypt and Persia, for use in fishing gear. Not long after, there are references to using cork to construct parts of boats and ships, in building structures and also for footwear! It’s leaves were consecrated to the Greek Gods Olympus and Jupiter and their branches were once used to crown victorious athletes.
Although an amphora containing wine from the 1st century BC was found in Ephesus and also amphorae were found in Pompeii sealed with a cork, somewhere along the way, oil soaked hemp became the norm for sealing wine bottles. Legendary Champagne producer Dom Perignon is credited with making cork stoppers the norm in wine production sometime in the late 17th century. It is said that it he got the idea to use cork to seal his champagne after seeing Spanish travelers use cork bark to plug their water gourds. True or not, we may never know, but it is from about the late 17th century that cork begins to replace oil soaked hemp as the bottle sealer of choice for wine. By the early 18th century cork forests are cultivated for the main purpose of creating wine stoppers.
The Cork Industry
Today cork forests are thriving and cork is used to produce too many products and materials to mention. The majority of cork forests can be found in Portugal, however, there are approximately 6.6 million acres of Mediterranean cork forest that span across Europe and north Africa. The Cork Forest Conservation Alliance (website) states that there is enough cork in Portugal and Spain alone to last 100 years. I found reference to cork forests in the United States but I could not locate any in my research. I found several cork producers, but it appeared that all receive their cork from Portugal. The cork oak will grow in the United States in Zones 9 & 10, with southern California being an idea climate. Something Americans haven’t capitalized on – how can that be?
Perhaps it is the long term commitment required and the decade long waiting period between harvests? Aside from that, following hand harvesting, the cork must be cured for 6 months, then boiled, then stabilize for 3 weeks and the undergo a second boiling. Cork is then sorted by quality with the highest quality corks selling for more than a Euro each.
About decade or so ago, the cork industry felt the impact of screw cap closures for wine. New Zealand and Australia use screw caps for 90% of their wine production. Chile and South Africa do as well. The plastic cork stopper also became a viable option for sealing wine. Aside from being able to be produced on demand and being cheaper, these bottle sealing options also eradicated any chance of cork taint. In response to this the cork industry invested heavily in research to detect cork taint and it seems to be working as cork is gaining market share once again.
China’s emerging wine market is playing a role in the cork industry. Some think that the Chinese will prefer cork, due to tradition. Other’s think that just like everywhere else in the world, young drinkers and other value seekers will not care if their wine is sealed with a screw cap or a cork.
Sustainability and Environmental Impact
Cork industry proponents believe that cork is the most environmentally responsible way to seal a bottle. They point out that the trees are not felled, the bark is harvested by hand and processed by air and boiling water. Cork is completely natural, recyclable and biodegradable. Plastic corks and aluminium screw caps are none of these things.
The Cork Forest Conservation Alliance has a recycle program called Cork ReHarvest. The corks cannot be recycled into new wine corks, but they are recycled and used for a number of different things, including cork bobbers for fishermen (throw back to 3,000 BC). Find a Cork ReHarvest box near you here. The boxes are picked up at locations and brought back to regional distributions centers in trucks that would otherwise return empty, so no additional carbon footprint is made in the transportation of the recycle boxes.
So you see, cork truly is a pretty special natural resource. Just like some grape vines, cork oaks also, were planted and tended by people who may no longer be among us here on Earth. There is a belief I once heard that when humans use their hands to produce something, a part of their spirit lives in on in that thing. I think I heard that story in relation to slaves that made bricks and built buildings in coastal Georgia. I tend to believe this sort of thing. So maybe we do subconsciously sense something special in each cork. A human energy that is lacking in the production of most things in this modern era?
I can absolutely appreciate a screw cap and have enjoyed many quality wines this way, but I think I am going to agree with Pliny the Elder and believe that cork is divine.
Wines You Can’t Afford to Miss is an event through the Atlanta Wine Meet Up with such an absolutely brilliant concept that I had to write about it. Occurring on a roughly monthly basis, the concept is this: Everyone brings a wine of a least $50 in value for whatever varietal or region is the “topic” of that night. The event is limited to 20 people and so you get to taste 20 wines that retail north of $50 in value.
I attended my first WYCAM last month and the belle of the ball was Cabernet Sauvignon. It could be from anywhere, but had to be 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Since I used to have what I lovingly refer to as “obsessive cab disorder” I was more than a little excited to attend this event.
There ended up being 18 wines to taste, talk about, and score. Each person in attendance gave some information about their wine — some were intimately familiar with the wineries they chose, while others (like my husband and myself) brought wines they had not ever tried but that where highly recommended and fit the $50+ criteria.
The hosts of this event, a lovely gentlemen named Roger who graciously opens his beautiful home, and Orson Hall, the man behind the Atlanta Wine Meet Up are what truly make this evening special. Roger takes the time to compile a spreadsheet with everyone’s wine so that they can be scored (there are prizes!). Orson then numbers each bottle as it arrives to correspond with Roger’s list. They even take the time to compile this lovely graph, showing that scores got higher as the night went on …. hmmmm…. proving that wine makes everything better!
Of the 18 bottles brought to the event, only 2 were from outside of Napa Valley, one from Washington and one from Santa Cruz. My favorite of the evening was the 2009 Coupe de Foudre that came in 3rd overall.
My husband and I brought a 2014 Barnett Vineyards Spring Mountain and a 2013 Corley State Lane Vineyard which ranked 11th and 16th respectively. Of the 18 wines, 2 had faults so technically only 16 wines were ranked. One of the faulted wines was a 1992 Beringer Private Reserve that I was so excited to try – but, sadly, its prime had passed. The other was a 2008 Gabrielle Collection Juxtaposition that was corked.
On a completely personal note, identifying flavors and aromas of wine is incredibly challenging to me and I’m not very good at it yet. As mentioned above, I used to drink Cabernet Sauvignon nearly exclusively and was one of those people that said “I don’t really care for white wine.” But, as I discussed recently (click here), I’ve been rather obsessed with trying anything and everything white and Rosé. I was shocked to realized that apparently my palette has started to appreciate more subtle flavors and nuances found in lighter reds, white and rose wines. While I still cannot describe this to you as well as I would like, the one thing I was able to taste in nearly every single Cabernet Sauvignon was alcohol. Well no shit, its wine right? But seriously, nearly all of them had that “hot” sensation on my tongue, which to my own personal preferences makes a wine seem a little out of balance. I have a hard time believing $50+ wines are out of balance, so it has to be that my palette has maybe become a little more sensitive? Don’t worry, it’s not like I spit any of them out or anything;)
Personal epiphany’s aside, I can’t think of another way, other than to spend $1,000 over the course of several weeks, that I would be able to sample so many quality wines. Not to mention, a group of other wine enthusiasts to discuss and compare with just adds to enhance the experience even further. I will attend this event every chance I get, which luckily will be again this month! The wines will be red Burgundies. Stay tuned.
I just finished A Drinker With a Writing Problem by John Turi. This was an Amazon “one-click” purchase because, well, the title …..
John Turi is a self taught wine reviewer. He writes reviews at Y 9 Review and a monthly column for an online literary publication, Connotation Press, see his latest post here. He is an avid collector of rare books and wine, with an extensive cellar. In addition to his writing, and collecting, he is Senior Marketing Manager for one the largest adult sex toy companies in the world. If nothing else, these are certainly interesting pieces to the puzzle.
The very first wine reviewed is Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1966. Be still my heart — not that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing this $800 bottle of wine, but because of the long history and devotion this producer has to beautiful labels (see my previous blog post here). At this point I heart the book and John Turi. Luckily there is an ever so slight undercurrent of touting one’s own horn that keeps my enthusiasm tempered. I must admit to a few hard eye rolls — rare books, a classic 1984 Porsche 911, exclusive wine, and monogamous sex that never gets old because of an endless supply of sex toys – blah, blah, blah.
I had to go and read a few of Mr. Turi’s Y9 reviews to get a better appreciation for both his writing and his demeanor. It turns out he does, occasionally, experience life like a commoner — see his review of box wines.
The book contains 12 reviews that are also more like journal posts. Each review contains a picture of the bottle, a numerical rating and John’s tasting notes, including price, serving temperature, pairing recommendations and when to drink. Each review also contains a story of how the wine was acquired and when or where it was drank and some information on the winery or wine maker — sometimes through personal account and sometimes through Wikipedia….really? Wikipedia?
I’m pretty sure what I’m supposed to love most about this book is John Turi himself. But, what I actually loved about this book, other than the title, was that aside from the Mouton Rothschild, there are two other reviews that reference the importance of the label to the winemaker – as noted above, this subject is near and dear to my heart.
Harlan Estates, The Maiden, Proprietary Red, 1997:
William Harlan said of his label, whose design was overseen by a retired U.S. Treasury engraver, “It was a label designed for a bottle that would sit on a table in candlelight, not on a store shelf.” The detail and care that goes in to their labels is not lost on me and is undeniable in it’s classiness. This is one time you can certainly judge a bottle by its label.
Turi’s opinion of “undeniable in its classiness” somehow induces an hard eye roll, but the winemaker’s reference to the label being meant to sit on a candlelit table….now that makes my heart go pitter-patter.
Charles Smith K “Ovide”, Red Blend 2009:
His passion is not just in the wine, but in the design of the label …. The designs are very modern, in black line pen and ink style. Even in a crowded wine cellar, Smith’s labels are quite distinctive.
This particular label does nothing for me, but then again, the quote above is Turi’s, not Charles Smith’s. Go figure.
All in all, it was a quick easy read with some interesting information. I think in the future I will follow John’s reviews at the websites referenced above, because I find the every day to be just as interesting as the rare finds, but that’s just me. I’ll leave you with a quote from his review of Kosta Browne, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2009, where Mr. Turi redeems himself by summing things up beautifully:
We celebrate weddings, anniversaries, holidays and funerals with alcohol. For thousands of years, beer, wine and spirits have played an important part in the rituals of civilization. Ships are christened with champagne, Irish whiskey is poured on the graves at Irish burials, and beer festivals cheered every October. This is who we are as people; we raise our glasses and hail the occasion and, with merriment, we rejoice. And sometimes, more solemnly, we toast someone’s passing. In good times and bad we pay honor with booze.
On the way to the wine store? On the way home from the wine store? While perusing the wine aisles at the wine store? I guess I’m not sure exactly when or how, but I have developed a passion for white wine. And Rosé.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing that will ever comfort me like a beautiful big bad cab with big aromas and perfectly balanced tannins. However, it seems I cannot come home from any wine store visit these days without at least one bottle of white and a bottle of Rosé.
In fact, I recently ran out to buy white wine even though I had some very good red options in my cupboard. On that particular trip I came home with Rombauer Chardonnay. If I had a dime for every time I’ve witnessed someone wax poetic about Rombauer Chardonnay, I’d have ALOT of dimes. I figured if I was going to make a special trip for some white wine, I might as well splurge a little. I’m now in the Rombauer fan club.
Another recent impulse purchase was a Vouvray. I believe it was off-dry, but I have a very limited frame of reference when it comes to white wine. While I do believe it had a touch of sweetness, the very high acidity made it seem very well balanced. It was like a Lay’s potato chip in that I couldn’t resist another sip even though this will probably never become a “go to” wine for me.
Then there was this white Bordeaux…. If I have had a life changing wine moment to date, it would be while standing in a grocery store in Cleveland, OH. The store, Heinen’s, had a very nice selection of wines to taste in those pneumatic dispensing machines that allow you to purchase 1 oz pours so you can try a lot of wines. I tried a white Bordeaux and I loved it. Not liked, loved. It had great mouth feel and was creamy and delicious. Fruity, yet somehow buttery. It knocked my socks off. The wine was Domaine de Chavalier Pessac-Leognan Grand Cru Classe de Graves Blanc 2008. Leave it to me to have the first white wine I fall in love with be a Bordeaux that retailed for more than $100! I pretty much appreciated the moment and blocked it from conscious.
I’ve been trying hard to get to know Sauvignon Blanc. I seem to gravitate to New Zealand on this which makes me really curious about California, Oregon and Loire Valley producers of Sauvignon Blancs and so anytime I see a bottle by a producer I have not tried for less than $15, it is not even a question, it is coming home with me.
Rosés are an entire world unto themselves. I can’t decide if I really like Rosé for the actual taste or if I am in love with the color and appearance of the wines and therefore just biased based on appearance. There are so many beautiful shades of pink! And they look so beautiful in a glass against a blue sky or water. My most recent Rosé purchase was Notorious Pink. Notorious Pink – Please tell me why everyone thinks the French don’t have a sense of humor? This bottle is so beautiful. I love the stopper — not cork, not corkscrew — but a little glass plug. J’adore. (Special shout out to my oldest daughter for my amazing Cleveland wine glass that happens to look prettiest with Rosé in it).
This new found sense of adventure in wine drinking is not only fun, it’s liberating! For reasons I could not begin to explain, it feels like I’ve just died my hair a different color – or cut it off! There are over 10,000 grape varieties out there…and I’m pretty sure I’d like to try them all.
I recently was at a tasting that included D’Angelo Aglianico del Vulture. This red wine is made with 100% Aglianico (ah-YAH-nee-koe) grapes. During the tasting it was mentioned that Aglianico is one of the grapes that is on a short list of wines that may have been served at the Last Supper! If there is anything I love more than the wine itself, it is the stories about them — and that’s a pretty good story!
I bought a bottle of the wine and started doing a little research to see what I could find out about this Last Supper theory. It didn’t take long to learn that there is no way to get a definitive answer to what was in Jesus’ cup. Nevertheless, what I did learn is some absolutely fascinating wine history.
Aglianico grapes are grown in the same regions today as they were then — the Basilicata region of Italy where the wine is known as Aglianico Del Vulture because they grow on the slopes of the Vulture volcano, and also in Campania, where they are identified by the sub-region and called Taurasi, which is a DOCG. Taurasi is near Pompeii — it seems these grapes love volcanic ash soil. The wines are hearty, tannic reds that, like many of Italy’s red grapes, age extremely well.
So how did an Italian grape get on the short list for wine served at the Last Supper — keeping in mind that this event took place in Israel? Well, it was around 30 A.D., so about 57 years into the reign of the Roman Empire. Aglianico was one of three grapes that were used in Falerian wine. Falerian wine was the best of the best in these ancient times, considered to be the “first growth” or top quality wines of the Roman Empire. If you were dining with King Herod or King David, it is a safe bet that Falerian wine would be served. I can see the logic in thinking that an event as important as the Last Supper, hosted by the King of Kings, would include the finest wine. But would a humble carpenter, who associated with the poor and wayward, really have served the Bordeaux of the day at the Last Supper?
Interesting to me also, is the fact that Falerian wine was white. My personal assumption is that the wine at the Last Supper would have been red, but there is no proof that it was and white wine was just as common as red wine during this time in history. A little side research revealed that white wines are in fact used in Christian sacraments, so thinking that the wine was red is nothing more than my own personal bias. So, I guess it is certainly possible that this was the Last Supper wine, but I just don’t think it was.
So, if not Aglianico, then what? While researching for this article, it seemed that all wine history begins and ends with the Roman Empire. Now, I’m not arguing the importance and influence of the Roman Empire on the history of wine, BUT, wine making in the Middle East is well documented and pre-date’s the Roman Empire. The region is literally the cradle of early viticulture. There is conflicting information regarding the oldest documented grape pips — one source says they were found in in Georgia dating back to 6,000 B.C. — another says they were found in modern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon and date back to the Stone Age (circa 8000 B.C.). It is estimated Noah’s vineyard was planted near Turkey in 3000 BC. although some scholars think it was much earlier than that. Regardless, it was from this region wine making is first documented — from here it travelled to Phoenicia and Egypt which were eventually invaded and conquered by Rome.
So, this has me thinking, even though the Romans had already conquered Jerusalem at this point, there is a really good possibility that the wine served at the Last Supper was just a common, locally made wine. Afterall, Jesus lived and died in Israel.
I once heard someone say that it was Sangria that is most likely the closest thing to the wine at the Last Supper. There is some basis in fact for this line of reasoning. Local wine making processes were not very evolved, often involving crushing with feet and inclusion of pips and stems. The resulting wine was a bit harsh and things like tree resin, spices, honey, herbs and fruit were added to offset the tannic properties. Wines were also watered down to dilute the harshness. Diluted wine with fruit – sounds like Sangria right?
Another possibility is a wine called Passum. Passum is a type of wine made from dried grapes. Ancient jars have been unearthed in Judah that were inscribed with the words “wine made from black raisins.” Although Passum is said to have originated in Carthage and spread to Italy with no mention of Israel, raisin wine was a common wine not only in the Roman Empire, but apparently it is a common wine to include in Seder meals during Passover. The Last Supper was a Seder meal so this makes sense. There is definitive evidence that this wine was in Judah, which really is the best documented evidence available. Here is an ancient Passum Recipe from Carthage on how to make the wine.
The hills and moutains surrounding Judea have a long history of wine making, well before the night of the Last Supper. In fact, the Judean Hills is a modern day Israeli wine region. Here is a map of modern Israel wine regions and some viticulture data. Amazingly, Israel is considered a New World wine region which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I assume it is because modern day wine production did not begin until the late 19th century when French Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild, developed an interest in the region. He is said to have imported vines of French grape varieties and wine making knowledge to the region. In 1882, he helped establish the Carmel Winery the largest wine producer in Israel — fascinating!
So, while I will certainly still enjoy my Aglianico, I decided to add a bottle of Isreali wine to Easter dinner — maybe I’ll even make Sangria with it! I really wanted to find a wine from the Judean Hills, but they are harder to find. Apparently Galilee is where its at.
I think it is safe to say we will never know for sure what wine was served at the Last Supper, but we do know that wine was served, which is really all that matters!