Monday, March 29, 2010


The smaller the fish, the less heavy metals, because small fish don’t live as long as big fish and so they don’t accumulate much in the metals department. This is why I go for sardines and anchovies—well, not the only reason.

Both little fishes are healthy, too, for their polyunsaturated fatty acids, high protein to weight ratio, and their mineral content. It is, however, their taste that is truly appealing: sardines are wonderful grilled and both sardines and anchovies make terrific additions to a pasta sauce. The sardines need no tomato; just some olive oil and herbs. The anchovies like a little tomato.

The problem with sardines is that we can’t always get the fresh Mediterranean ones. The canned ones are of course useless for grilling, but they can be used in sauce. Yet, canned anchovies are much better for sauce; they add a lot more flavor and their bones are truly edible.

Here’s how I do an anchovies sauce for pasta for two.

It takes no more than two cans of flat anchovies—no capers. I drain the olive oil because it is too salty for me.

Since we haven’t any fresh basil right now, and since I hate dried basil for its blandness, I get two of my basil ice cubes from the freezer (at the end of each summer, I puree basil in olive oil and freeze the mix in ice cube trays to use throughout the winter for cooking and for pesto).

Throw the basil ice cubes into a large stainless pan on low flame.

Chop two shallots and sauté for a minute; chop two garlic cloves add to the shallots and sauté for a minute, then pour about 1/4 cup of sweet wine such as Marsala and simmer for a minute while stirring.

Add the tomato puree, the anchovies, 1/2 cup chicken or fish stock (I always keep some of my own stock frozen), two bay leaves, and a small cayenne chopped up finely (I keep these in the freezer too, from my garden peppers).

Stir everything up nicely and let simmer on low flame for five minutes and then stir again, give another five minutes and then cover the pan and bring the flame to its lowest possible point.

Boil water for pasta for two however you normally do that (some add salt and olive oil to the water, etc.).

For this dish, I use either cheese ravioli or penne with grated Grana Padano cheese for topping. Either one is fine, or any other pasta will do, really.

When the pasta is cooked (about 8 or 9 minutes) drain and then lift the cover from the sauce and get rid of the steam and liquid that distilled in the cover. Add the pasta to the sauce, turn off the flame, stir for a few minutes, and serve, topped with chopped parsley.

The wine I drink with this dish varies, but it is normally a Mediterranean red of some sort. For my most recent anchovies sauce over ravioli, last night, I paired with Sella and Mosca 2005 Cannonau Di Sardegna Riserva ($12). It’s a perfect earthy wine for this elemental dish.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2010. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Baboons and wine

A recent news update from Decanter Magazine included a brief blurb about
mountain bushfires having driven over 50 baboons into the Franschhoek Valley South African wine region in search of food—it got me to thinking about the baboons I’ve encountered over the years in the wine business.

The first baboon was that bank manager who didn’t believe in my business plan to start a winery. His response to my reasonable request for a business loan was that I had two things going against me: I never operated a vineyard and winery before, and I wasn’t wealthy. You see, banks lend either to people who don’t need the money or to people who might as well have been wearing a mask when they entered the bank, like derivatives traders.

What really pisses me off about the bank baboon is how right he was about my chance for success.

The next baboon I met actually came in a family. They were supposed to work my vineyards with me, and they did—sometimes, when they got to bed sober the night before, and when they needed money so that they didn’t have to go to bed sober the next night. When they did come to work, these baboons never skipped a break or lunch, but they had no trouble at all skipping vines or even rows of vines.

The baboons in Albany may have been the best, if you like baboons, I mean. One of the things about this clan was their penchant for yellow. If I sent my monthly wine reports to them and didn’t submit on yellow paper, in triplicate, something mysterious would take place and the records of my wine movements vanished. These baboons also had no sense of timing; they sent permits days or weeks after they were needed. The only thing that saved me from wanting to kill these baboons was their consistency, especially when you asked for a rule reading—the answer was always NO. I learned that the best way to deal with a group of baboons like that was not to talk to them at all, unless they started the conversation.

Having gotten the courage to go out into the world and try to sell wine to retailers gave me the opportunity for my next baboon sighting. These were the wine and spirit retailers who spent hours banging out tickets from the Lotto machine but had no time to sell wine that was on their shelves. Their cousins, the monkeys, gave me a terrific reason that they did not buy wine from a small New York winery: “I don’t need anymore monthly invoices.”

Some baboons were ok, even when they weren’t. That would be the ones known as tourists. They bought wine and that made them ok, but they also wanted to talk, and that made them baboons, especially the ones who just finished tasting a Chardonnay and a Riesling and then asked, “What’s the difference between Chardonnay and Riesling?” A baboon should always be silent.

The biggest and truly best baboon of them all, however, was I. I thought that I could start my winery on a shoestring. Well, that’s not exactly what made me a baboon. I thought that by starting my winery on a shoestring I could build it into a small wine family dynasty through hard work and dedication to quality. I certainly worked hard and I tried to learn all that I could to keep the quality up. In the end, after eight years on the job, I was left with no shoestrings and a pair of shoes eight years old. But a baboon doesn’t need shoes, right?

In South Africa, the wine people complain that their baboons know exactly when the grapes are ripe enough to eat, which happens to be about a week before harvest, and they have been known to devour two to three tons of grapes in a week; they like Chenin Blanc and of course Pinot Noir.

You could say that for the South African wine industry the only thing they have to fear is feral itself. But then, one of the wine people has been quoted to say that the decrease in grape crops caused by the baboons resulted in better quality wine.

I suppose had I access in the Finger Lakes to real instead of human baboons to trim my crop, this baboon might have had a successful winery on his four hands!

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Proper Placement of Words

According to the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the arm of the Treasury Department that regulates alcohol, in order to use the words Ice Wine on a label the grapes for that wine must have been harvested while frozen, the grapes, not the people who pick them, although they are frozen too, because to meet the requirement the grapes must be picked in the early morning hours and at temperatures well below freezing.

The ostensible reason for the TTB rule is so that consumers know that Ice Wine was produced in as similar a manner as the Eisweins of Germany and the Ice Wines of Canada, two places other than the U.S. where frozen grapes are harvested. I say “in as similar a manner” because in the U.S. the rules end with the requirement that the grapes be picked frozen. In the two other countries, the rules are more stringent, placing conditions not only on when to pick but how, and even on the prescribed temperature at which to pick.

TTB labeling rules plainly state that the word Ice must be followed by a space and then followed by the word Wine, but the rules don’t seem to care one way or the other what a winery wants to call a wine that was produced from grapes that had not been frozen on the vine, but had been frozen, as in cryogenics or a simple large freezer. These wines can be called Iced Wine or any other creative construction that hints at the real thing.

It’s all about the proper placement of words, or maybe the improper placement of them.

Ice Wine production is a lengthy and expensive process, and thanks to climate conditions, it isn’t possible every year. To produce Ice Wine you must start with grape varieties that are truly thick-skinned and able to hang on the vine for months without deteriorating much. The Ice Wine harvest can take place anywhere between Thanksgiving and sometime in January, depending on when the major frigid time of the late autumn-early winter season hits. The producer must have the luck to avoid botrytis while waiting—a process that is necessary for Late Harvest dessert wines that are purposely harvested as raisins but never frozen.

Wines picked at regular harvest time and then frozen give producers the opportunity to forgo certain trepidation from a long, dangerous wait.

If all goes well, grapes for Ice Wine are frozen and intensified inside their skins. The intensity of the frozen juice creates the opposite of what you might expect. Instead of the acidic fruit salad with honey overtone intensity of Late Harvest dessert wine, Ice Wine has a delicately silky texture with hints of stone fruit flowers; it attacks the palate with the feel of a flavorful liquid ball. In my mind’s eye, Ice Wine is like liquid in the shape of an ice cream scoop, an apt vision as this liquid ice cream seems drenched in a sometimes nutty, sometimes butterscotch caramelized syrup.

Ice Wine’s closest culinary brethren may be baked Alaska.

In fact, at a recent tasting of Ice Wines, I was floored by their “cooked” caramelized characteristic. I asked how is it that wine produced from frozen grapes can seem cooked? The answer was so simple it embarrassed me that I asked the winemakers on the panel whose wines it was that I had just tasted.

While waiting for the right freezing temperatures, grapes hanging out there endure swings of autumn and then winter temperatures that can range from pretty warm to pretty cool. During those long periods of back and forth, an enzymatic twist occurs as the grapes go through a kind of cooking and cooling process over and over.

When a producer leaves grapes to hang for extended periods of time, along with the risk of deterioration comes crop loss and loss of juice volume from the remaining crop. That of course increases the cost of producing the wine. This is where the other frozen wines have an advantage: since the grapes are picked usually during regular harvest, crop loss is almost nil. Even after time spent in the freezer the grapes provide more wine than their Ice Wine counterpart, and with less effort.

The freezer-frozen version can be found on retail shelves at half the price of Ice Wine and sometimes even cheaper than that. Yet, the profile of freezer-frozen wines recently tasted alongside Ice Wines did not deliver the exotic silkiness wrapped in caramel that makes the real thing of great interest.

Sadly, many consumers don’t know the difference between an Iced Wine and an Ice Wine that they may see side by side on retail shelves. If they make their buying decision strictly on price, then to me it’s as if the TTB rules have placed Ice Wine at a state-sponsored disadvantage.

Sure, consumers can ask, because on wine labels proper placement of words has meaning. But the immortal twisted syntax of another bureaucrat, Donald Rumsfeld, applies here: “sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.”

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lost in Tweet translation

Been following...

01. Following Constellation Brands. D@P

Trans: "I am drinking the stars!" Dom Perignon

02. Ugh, going home to bathe, drink, and sleep. S@TA

Trans: "Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of good wine." St. Thomas Aquinas

03. I spoke 2 soon. S@J

Trans: "One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts." Samuel Johnson

04. Wine taxes pay off national debt. T@J

Trans: "By making this wine vine known to the public, I have rendered my country as great a service as if I had enabled it to pay back the national debt." Thomas Jefferson

05. Join the party 2nite. J@HV

Trans: "He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long " Johann Heinrich Voss

06. Champers 2 win or 2 lose. @N

Trans: "I drink champagne when I win, to celebrate...and I drink champagne when I lose to console myself." Napoleon

07. Wine theft at doctor’s office. R@P

Trans: "Drink a glass of wine after your soup and you steal a ruble from your doctor." Russian proverb

08. Wine 4 dinner; then, pleasing myself. @P

Trans: "When a man drinks wine at dinner, he begins to be better pleased with himself." Plato

09. Mixologist told me sun+water=wine. G@G

Trans: "Wine is sunlight, held together by water!" Galileo Gallilei

10. No wine=no 2 nite, baby. @E

Trans: "Where there is no wine there is no love." Euripides

11. No wine; need drugs. @Tal

Trans: "Wine is at the head of all medicines; where wine is lacking, drugs are necessary." The Talmud

12. Bread & wine & u 4 me. O@K

Trans: “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” Omar Khayyam

Wine quotes

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2010. All rights reserved.