Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Homemade Pizza, sure. But a Homemade Pizza Oven?

Almost every home in Puglia has a full-sized pizza oven in the backyard. These stand alone pizza ovens look like guest houses they're so big (maybe I'm thinking of Hansel and Gretel?). My buddy Neil, a hard rocking homesteader who feeds iridescent millipedes to his chickens, just finished building his own. He lives near Ceglie Messapica in the Itria Valley grape growing region of Puglia. Land of the trulli and one of Puglia's only Michelin-star rated restaurants, Al Fornello da Ricci. I don't know the details, but I know that it takes a ton of time to build a wood-burning pizza oven. This post goes out to all those hours of sweat and cement. Cheers to pineapple pizza!


A real pizzaiolo!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Best Rosé in Southern Italy?

The Radici del Sud 2011 wine convention took place just a few weeks ago (Jeremy Parzen did a killer job covering it, with all the traditional Pugliese foods photographed) and the results are in: Albea winery's 2010 "Petrarosa" was voted the best southern Italian rosé of the year.

I've never gotten a chance to taste Albea's wines or the Petrarosa (which means red stone) rosé. Has anyone else? If so, what's it like? The rosés from Puglia are some of the most highly regarded in Italy, so it's no minor achievement being crowned the best of the best.

Meanwhile, I'll be calling the wineshops in Portland, Oregon, trying to get my hands on some. I was happy to find Tormaresca's "Bocca di Lupo" recently, and another edition of the Puglia Wine Review will be coming soon.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wine Tattoos

Gotta love 'em. I photograph wine tattoos whenever possible. This one is Brianne Day's (I don't have the name of the tattoo artist), and I think it's my favorite wine-related tattoo to date. If you've got one, share it!



About the 2009 "Cristo Irresisto" by J. Christopher (carefully labeled "Oregon Pink Wine"): Inexpensive and delicious, this rosé is creamy thanks to malolactic fermentation see comments yet retains the necessary acidic bite that tells you: It's summer and this wine can barbecue. Dry with more fruit than flowers, this is one of the best budget rosés made by an Oregon winemaker. You can find it all over Portland, Oregon, for $13. I got mine at Storyteller Wine Company on SW Hood Avenue.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Vintagecellars.com Review and The Science of Aging Wine

From the Promotional Review Department

I like to build things—my dad was a wooden boat builder—and I've often thought about making a custom wine rack, but my skill level is nowhere near high enough. The intricate wood work in the best wine cellars is absolutely beautiful. I've included a photo of a bookcase bar that I built, just to flaunt my amateur skills, and below that is the work of Vintage Cellars, true custom wine cellar professionals.


Now for the real deal:


Vintagecellars.com was recently featured in Wine Spectator, and when Laina McConnell contacted me to see if I'd like to review the website, I was immediately interested in the Science of Aging Wine section, which reads, "Surrounded by crumbling corpses and carefully aging bottles, a murderer befuddles his victim with expensive wine, preparing to lure him deep underground with the promise of a rare Amontillado sherry." What story is Vintage Cellars referencing?


Wine cellars can be dark and creepy, and when I was living in southern Italy, our landlady, who owned a 18th-century palace, had to stop work on hers because she came across a bunch of human bones. Vintagecellars.com points out that, for aging wine, dark, damp, and cool conditions have always been the best. The website includes an interesting historical tidbit: the ancient Romans used the catacombs beneath Rome to age their wine. Cool, right? If you're looking for authoritative information on the science of aging wine, I recommend visiting the site. (The picture above is from an ossuary in Milan.)

But why is it important to age wine? The compounds in wine react with one another over time, which creates new flavors. You can actually pinpoint where many of these flavors come from. For example, Vintagecellars.com writes, "Esters are one kind of compound that contributes to the wine's aroma." The yeast used during the winemaking process directly impacts the type of esters that develop as a wine ages. That's why winemakers are so picky about which yeasts they use. However, a winemaker can never know how a wine will change with time.

If a wine isn't stored correctly, it can develop negative flavors, such as when wine turns to vinegar, and that's where the professionals come in. They build wine cellars that keep wine safe. If you want to turn your wine cellar into a work of art, you can use wine barrel staves for flooring, incorporate stained glass, add hand-carved doors or redwood countertops, and even include a dining area; but most importantly, you can work within any space, which comes in handy if you want to fit a lot of wine in a small area. Vintage Cellars has even constructed a wine cellar on yacht.


Wine Spectator reports that some serious wine collectors, such as New Jersey-based investor Hank Uberoi, invest heavily. Uberoi's wine cellar cost over $350,000, which comes to $70 per bottle in terms of storage space. Uberoi's wine cellar, you might say, is to Burgundy what the New York Met is to Monet.


For the rest of us, wine storage doesn't need to cost as much, and Vintage Cellars creates custom wine cellars and wine racks for all budgets. I'm glad Laina contacted me, because the science of aging turns out to be very interesting stuff, and the intricate woodwork involved is quite simply beautiful.

And the short story alluded to on Vintagecellars.com? Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Really Makes Wine Turn into Vinegar?

A Scientific as well as Culinary Answer to This Confusing Question

I answered this question a long time ago, but it turns out I only had half the answer. Does wine turn into vinegar? This web site says yes, while this web site says no. Both sides seem pretty authoritative, but it turns out that neither give a complete answer. To help me get it right, I've enlisted the help of Derek Shedd, enologist, winemaker, and all around Smart Guy who works in the lab at Dobbes Family Estate Winery.

Mattie: Can wine turn to vinegar?
Derek: In wine, acetic acid is an indicator of wine spoilage. If wine gets infected with acetobacter and other conditions are right, then acetic acid will be produced, along with lots of other bacteria (pediococcus, etc.).

We're talking about acetic acid because one definition of vinegar is diluted acetic acid. Derek says that acetic acid can be produced from wine under the right conditions. So, what's the confusion? It turns out that it's all a classic example of a verbal dispute. In philosophy, a verbal dispute is when two sides are arguing about something but they agree on the facts. The confusion stems from a definition, and in this case the definition for "vinegar."

Everyone agrees that wine can become acidic when it's been sitting around for a while. However, without adding the specific bacteria used to make vinegar (mycoderma aceti), this super acidic wine likely won't taste good, causing many to hesitate to call it vinegar. The verbal confusion here seems to be one between scientists and chefs.

A chef will say, No, wine cannot turn into vinegar because old wine doesn't taste like vinegar. It tastes bad.

A scientist will say, Technically acetic acid is created when bacteria, which is found everywhere in the air, comes into contact with alcohol for a long time. So wine can turn into vinegar (the scientific definition of vinegar is something like diluted acetic acid).

Here's what you need to know. Technically, wine can turn into vinegar when it is exposed to a lot of oxygen for a long time (months at least). Should you add a little to add richness to your tomato sauce? Sure. Should you use it for salad dressing? I wouldn't. It's highly unlikely that it will taste that good.

I asked Derek if he thought that a wine vinegar produced without a mother would be tasty. He said, "You would need to consult a better source than I, but the difference is what happens when you have an infection of acetobacter bacteria and what happens when you have an inoculation of a specific bacteria (the latter is a pure culture). The stuff that tends to infect wine can quickly turn acetic acid to acetone, which does not happen with a true mother. (Get a mother culture and keep it safe and happy and pure)."

I love science! If you know more about this, please set the record straight. But as it stands, I think this is all correct. It's all in a definition.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Puglia Wine Review, June 1, 2011

As usual, the Puglia wines I'll be reviewing this week I found in local wine shops in Portland, Oregon.

Casa Girelli's 2006 "Virtuoso" Primitivo Puglia IGT
Rating: 9
Price: $13
Where to Buy: Woodstock Wine & Deli
Short Review: Against my better judgment, it's excellent

Long Review: Here's my guess. An international winemaker assists Casa Girelli, and he wanted to make a true Primitivo with the tannic structure of a Tuscan-style wine, say Chianti. He wants the best of both worlds. Primitivo lacks strong tannins, so he used tons of new oak to give a woody tannic finish that leave the mouth feeling very dry. Am I right? Don't know because I can't find any info on the company's winemaker(s). But here's the point: I don't like overly oaked wines, and this wine might come off as overly oaked to the staunchest of non-new oakers, but it does a great job at tasting like a Primitivo and a wine from Puglia even though it's made in the town of Trento in the Veneto. So high marks for Connectedness and Typacity.

Nose of concentrated dark fruit, rubber boot, and cola. Flavors of extinguished fire, cigar box, berries and cream, and blackberry. Finish is very woody, with cedar and oak. The wood gives it a lot of structure, and it can pair with very complex, powerful dishes. At the end of the bottle, I truly loved this wine (to my surprise), and for the price it is an incredible budget wine from Puglia.

Leone de Castris's 2009 "5 Roses" Negroamaro rosé
Rating: 7.5
Price: $20
Where to Buy: Vino Vixens
Short Review: A supple, strong rosé that won't back down from no one

Leone de Castris invented Italian rosé. You might think I'm speaking figuratively, but they actually were the first winery in Italy to bottle rosé. "5 Roses" retains its edge. I associate it with words like "dreamy" and "sunset." The nose has citrus, raspberry, and orange. It drapes across the palate; it is minerally and viscous with a medium body. It is dry, crisp, and smooth. But it's all about the finish, which is exceptionally long. The tannins are strong enough to stand up to many complex dishes. It is not a light rosé from France or a sticky sweet rosé from Napa Valley. Unfortunately, you have to pay for such character, and twenty dollars puts it on the expensive side, especially when you're comparing it with Oregon's locally made rosés. But if you can afford it, I highly recommend it.


(Note on Rating System: I balance my rankings between quality and price, both elements go toward 50% of the rating)