As the saying goes life is too short to waste watching bad movies, eating bad pizza or drinking bad wine so here are a few New Year’s Resolutions for Wine Lovers.
• Resolve to drink unfamiliar grapes –according to Alexis Lichine, writer of the first encyclopedic guide to wine and spirits “the best way to learn about wine is in the drinking”; try something new and different, sure you may have a favorite go to wine but resolve to think outside the bottle and discover a new region, variety or winery.
• Resolve to take a second sip – spend time to discover why you like the wines you do, is it the look, the smell, the taste (fruit, butter, oak, spicy, floral) the tannins or the finish? (the flavor impression you’re left with after you swallow); or the perception of what makes a desirable bottle of wine.
• Resolve to visit a winery – wines are made by passionate people who respect the land and its traditions; if you’ve never visited a winery you’ll find it interesting to learn the reason why they make the wines they do.
• If you are interested in learning about wine, surround yourself with people and places that know about fine wine; read books, journals and look on-line for sources of information that will make you more knowledgeable about your wine choices.
• Pay more attention to food and wine pairings; my wine education began in Italy at the tables of my Italian family and friends with memorable meals made even more so by the wine that was served; I’ve come to understand that Italians think of wine as a natural resource, a companion to food and a reflection of regional traditions.
• Attend wine related events; you’ll meet other like-minded oenophiles, wine dealers, chefs, sommeliers and many events are linked to worthwhile causes like the Wine and Wildlife Series at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
In the pantheon of Italian food products one type of vinegar stands above all others, Aceto Balsamico from Modena but it is NOT the only vinegar in Italy. A mere yodel away from Switzerland in Italy’s Northern SudTirol, the Trentino-Alto Adige is a melting pot of cooking and cultures that result in a distinctive mixture of flavors and food customs. Aceto Vino Rosso Dolomiti, red wine vinegar from the Trentino Dolomiti (Italy’s majestic limestone Alps) is reminiscent of Dolomite granite and alpine flowers.
Further south the DOC estate wines of Chianti bring the character of the Tuscan grape to a level of fermentation that creates a savory acidified flavor with a Chianti aroma. And across the Adriatic from Trieste is the Slovenian city of Piran, once ruled by Venice, that seems to have taken a piece of Italy with it. The region may geographically lie in Slovenia but just by a blink. You can taste the flavor of Refosco wine (a native Frulian variety) in the vinegar produced there.
I’m a big fan of food writing specifically about the experience of eating. It may have to do with my taste travels in Italy with my Italian family and friends, shopping, eating and cooking together. Or it may have to do with memories of family gatherings where food was often the centerpiece of the celebration.
After 15 years and 15,000 miles taste traveling in Italy I’ve learned that the foods of Italy have seized the land, its colors and its past. All without saying a word, season after season, in every plate of food and in every bottle of wine, food brings life to the Italian table. In Italy, food is pivotal not only for nourishment but for the transmission of culture and generational traditions that are never more meaningful than during the holidays.
So take time this holiday season to enjoy and write about the foods that are part of your holiday celebrations. They are part of your gastro-history with generational family recipes that bring meaning to what you eat. Here are a few suggestions about how to transform your meals into writing experiences that keep the memories of the warmth and generous hospitality of a well-laid table alive . For when all is said and done “taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure or recollection” – Marcel Proust.
If you celebrate Christmas you probably have a collection of Christmas ornaments, snowmen or some other unique and treasured pieces that you lovingly use to decorate your home for the holidays. My mother loved Santas, for years I collected Nutcrackers and vintage Americana Christmas. I have a few family ornaments made of hand blown glass from the 1950’s that have been passed down. The reasons why and what people collect at Christmas are as varied as the personalities of the collectors. As to their worth, it’s often in the eye of the beholder or in some cases what the market will bear.
Italian Christmas collectables are no different. Some have only sentimental value; others can be very valuable like those made by Buccellati who introduced its first sterling Christmas ornament to the U.S. market in 1986. These ornaments are made in Italy by a family of Italian goldsmiths who first opened their shop in 1919 near the La Scala Opera House in Milan. Their clients included the Vatican and the Royal Courts of Europe, so that overtime the founder, Mario Buccellati, came to be known as “The Prince of Goldsmiths.” Mario Buccellati drew upon the work of the Renaissance and 18th century craftsmen to design silver place settings and textured gold jewelry that were rare and exquisite with intricate work that resembles the look of fine fabrics.
The pictured vintage Christmas scene is valued at over$1300.00 and shooting stars, wreaths, doves or reindeers selling in the hundreds.
The lines and whorls of a fingerprint are a distinctive mark of a person, a biometric impression that identifies who you are. The cultivating, harvesting and pressing of the olive to produce oil leaves a fingerprint that reflects the care and commitment of artisan producers and estate farms where each bottle of oil is an expression of the ancient terroir of the region.
From the land, to the artisan’s hand there is a direct connection between the ancient groves and generational producers, a shared DNA that says these are the oils of Tuscany, of Umbria, of Sicily or Liguria. A singular and unique mark of quality and flavor. Nothing can transport you to Italy quicker than opening a good bottle of Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the mark of a good bottle begins with the hand of the producer.
How many times have you said this? I’m famished, I’m starving, I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. No one knows the exact origin of this hyperbolic saying although most think it is an exaggeration of a ravenous impossibility unless of course you happen to own the I Could Eat A Horse Spaghetti Measure to help you portion out (in the shape of a horse) enough spaghetti to stuff yourself. Designed by Stefán Pétur Sólveigarson a product designer from Northern Iceland, the tool measures four servings of spaghetti – hardly enough for some Italians who, like the French, Swiss, Canadians and Japanese, would consider eating a horse.
Many cultures and cuisines look at horse meat as naturally “vitastic” (energetic), lean and rich in iron with 25 per cent less fat, nearly 20 per cent less sodium and double the iron of high quality beef cuts. In Italy the tradition of eating meat cut from a horse dates back to the 5th century. One of Italy’s most famous horse meat dishes, pastisada de caval (braised horse meat) has been a favourite dish of the people of Verona for 1,500 years. Attributed to a battle fought with the Goths, horse rump, onion, carrot, white celery stalks, ground lard, butter, spices and red Amarone della Valpolicella wine were used to make a dish to feed the starving people of the city in the aftermath of the battle.
Even the British, who initially were aghast when it was discovered that horse meat was present in products from a number of UK supermarkets, are thinking of selling horse meat as a way of improving the horse welfare crisis to create real value in the horse meat sector.
The unique and original ornaments, created and made completely and exclusively in Italy, by Soffieria De Carlini are mouth-blown, hand-decorated confections in glass. Like spun sugar – snowmen and angels, Santas and and toy soldiers appear during the holidays from the magic hands of the workshop of Soffiera De Carlini who have been making Christmas ornaments since 1947.
Their particular and original look, characterized by delicate, fragile shapes has a lightness that makes the creations of De Carlini’s fantasies almost float on air.
Cinderella’s coach, Snow White and the Nutcracker Mouse from the Tales series are part of a collection of ornaments that have brought generations of joy to families as they trim their Christmas trees. The artistic beauty of De Carlini ornaments have made them sought after collectables like one of my favorites – the Soffieria De Carlini Christmas Ornamnet Marshall Field’s Lady Shopper from 2005 offered on an ebay auction which sadly to say I missed.
An origami coral reef made of 1500 recycled cardboard molecules, mechanical gears falling like snowflakes from the sky, surrealistic psychedelic Christmas cats, color kinetics and walls of light are some of the past windows displays and installations for the holiday season at La Rinascente Duomo.
The stunning windows of La Rinascente, Italy’s premier department store, are the epitome of the fantasy of Christmas. Magically lit up, the window displays of La Rinascente in the shadow of Milan’s Cathedral are a must see for travelers and a holiday tradition for the Milanese. Much like the windows of Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s in New York or Chicago’s former Marshall Field on State Street, the unveiling of the decorations and automations are eagerly anticipated as the first week of December begins.
Since 1865 the department store that would later be known as La Rinascente (rebuilt and renamed La Rinascente (rebirth) by Italian author Gabriele d’ Annunzio after it was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Eve 1918) has been synonymous with elegance and style and the holiday windows at La Rinascente add that extra special touch that makes Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. I can’t wait to see what they come up with this year.