Food for Thought

All this way, for bruschetta?

I like wineries.

I like to visit wineries. I enjoy the educational tours, the inside info about the processes, keen insights about blends, background on varietals, the …

Oh, why kid around: I’m lying again. I like the tasting rooms. I can barely tolerate all the crud about malolactic whatever and, with my ferocious case of ADD, about two minutes into the folderol I start looking for bright, shiny objects and I begin to follow insects as they creep across the winery floor. In short, I get impatient.

I want to drink.

I don’t really give a damn about how the stuff is made; I want samples.

And plenty of ’em, please.

I am at a winery in Tuscany, at Castello Vicchiomaggio, one in a gaggle of touristas being shepherded through the place.

I researched the place ahead of time, and I am ready for action. The joint sits on property that was first developed, castellowise, in the fifth century, and it includes buildings dating back to the Renaissance. It sits atop a hill with views of the lovely Tuscan countryside in every direction. It is an environment produced as a result of centuries of grooming, of careful alteration by human hands — from the Etruscans on.

I could care less. I am, as Marcus Aurelius put it, at this particular point, pondering an infinity behind me, an infinity ahead. What, given my perception of that scale, really matters? Now is what counts.

And now, I want wine.

The winery was deemed Italian Wine Maker of the Year in 2002, and one of its wines — the flagship, Ripa delle More — has been hailed far and wide.

I want Ripa delle More. Nothing less will do. I have come to Italy to eat and drink — forget the cathedrals, the museums, the monuments. Pour away.

But first, the tedium; the same show they trot out for the tourists several times a week. First, we need to tour the winery and go to the cellars. The goofballs in the Bermuda shorts and University of Texas baseball caps are fascinated by the huge vats and the oak barrels in the cellar. They listen carefully as a company plebe drones on, in barely comprehensible English, about the details of the operation. I notice an odd, eight-legged bug scurrying across the dirt floor. I follow it to where it disappears between rows of barrels, stacked high, dated and marked with esoteric codes.

Finally, all the blather is finished — we’ve discussed where the grape stems go and where the oak barrels are made, natural yeasts wafted on warm winds, the temperature of the cellar, etc. —  and it is time to hit the tasting room. I come alive. I push an elderly couple from New Jersey out of my way, hustle to the front of the line and barge into the ancient space to take my seat behind a small table, closest to the pouring counter.

Out comes Ernesto, or Fabrizio, or whoever, and … more blabbing!

I spot a silverfish-like insect cruising near the entrance to the room. It pounces on a crumb on the floor and makes haste to its den. A birdie tweets in the garden.

The shill is working the feebs into a lather with talk of the history of Chianti and a Wine 101 explanation of the difference between a Chianti, a Chianti classico and a classico riserva. For the castello’s classico and the low-end riserva: Sangiovese, with a touch of Canaiolo and a similar touch of Cabernet. For the prima riserva, all Sangiovese.

Yeah, yeah. So far, this is all talk and no taste. Let’s tip a few back.

So-called “Super Tuscans” are all the rage among some wine geeks these days but, in truth, most of these wines are just Sangiovese with a higher percentage of added Cab than in the classico. The tout notes how nice the label is on the new Super Tuscan.

Blah dee blah dee blah.

My hand shoots into the air. I have a question.

“What about your Ripa delle More?”

The shill stops short.

“I mean, it’s your big boy, isn’t it.”

He reluctantly admits the big boy is composed of 60-percent Sangiovese, 30 percent Cab and 10-percent Merlot — all the vines at least 20 years old, strictly pruned, with extremely low yields. It’s matured in 225 liter oak barrels for as long as two years.

”When do we get a taste of the Ripa?”

Fabrizio ignores me and spouts off about the bruschetta we will enjoy as we taste the wines.

Apparently, the staff at the old castello has prepared a couple variations on this simple, classic appetizer.

Plain bruschetta (and it’s pronounced brew-sketta, not brewshetta — just in case you want to make some for your bridge party and provide a muddled introduction to the goodie) is a slice of crusty French or Italian bread, toasted (preferably over a wood fire or coals), rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, then drizzled with some ultra high-grade extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of coarse salt.

Good enough in this basic form, but the variations are many. Just about any concoction can go on the toasted bread, including patés and cooked and slightly crushed cannellini beans, seasoned with garlic and thyme, moistened with extra-virgin.

Perhaps the classic topping is one made of seeded, drained and diced ripe tomato (preferably plum tomato because of its relative lack of seeds and moisture, its meaty flesh) with minced basil, a bit of smushed garlic (some would use roasted garlic), salt and a bit of freshly-ground black pepper. Add a spritz of fresh lemon juice, if you desire — a bit of lemon juice brightens just about anything. Maybe a teensy bit of finely minced anchovy. One could consider the addition of some diced, oil-cured black olive, as well. Mix the ingredients, spread on the toasted, garlic-kissed bread. Enjoy, perhaps, with a mix of olives, roasted peppers, a bit of cheese, some cured meats.

Oh, and lots of wine.

Fabrizio indicates we are to enjoy bruschetta with tomato, and bruschetta with a paté.

Fine, fine. Let’s get on with the drinking.

First up, a white — a Trebianno. The most common grape in Italy. For the most undistinguished of wines.

The touristas love it. It reminds them of the cheap Chardonnay and infernal white Zinfandel they pound down at home. I’m surprised some of them don’t ask for ice cubes.

Second: a Chianti — a regular Tuscan table wine; an everyday drinker.

A palate cleanser, in my book. I wolf down a bruschetta. Bring on the better stuff.

Next, a classico. Still, nothing special. Sangiovese is, to my taste, an ordinary grape, generally deployed in an ordinary way.

The guys in the baseball hats love the stuff. They are also pounding down the paté bruschetta like there is no tomorrow. I join in.

Come on, Fabrizio, let’s climb a rung or two on the wine ladder.

Next: a riserva.

Hmm, more interesting than its predecessors — the Riserva Petri, aged for six months in small barrels, then longer in larger barrels. A 20-year plus vineyard. Better, Fabrizio. Better.

I savor another bruschetta and prepare myself for the next two reds: the Riserva La Prima (aged in small barrels as long as two years, the grapes from 35-year-old vines) then … the Ripa.

But, wait … I look down and there’s another white in my glass. What’s going on here?

Fabrizio informs us we are now to try the vin santo — the sickly, all-too-sweet and somewhat syrupy dessert wine of the region. He regales us with a suspect tale of how tradition requires us to dip a dorky little S-shaped biscuit in the wine.

Wait! Where’s the Riserva La Prima? Most important, where’s a slug of the Ripa?

My hand shoots into the air. I have a question.

“Uh, Fabrizio. Haven’t you forgotten a couple of your wines? I mean, where’s our taste of the La Prima? Where’s the Ripa, for crying out loud? I drove up here for the Ripa. It was given a Vind’Italia three-wine-glass rating by Gambero Rosso Editore, and won the Médaille d-Or at the Concours Modiale in Bruxelles. Where’s the high-octane fuel?”

Fabrizio smiles.

“I see you’ve finished your biscuit, signore. There is a bruschetta left on the tray. Do you want it?”

Geez.

It is obvious no one gets to drive the Ferrari, as it were. We’ve been taken for a spin in the Pinto, and that’s all she wrote.

I investigate the purchase of a bottle of the Ripa.

I decide against the purchase when I catch sight of the 100 Euro price tag (about $140 American).

I am inconsolable. I depart the tasting room, biscuit crumbs falling from my shirt to the insect on the floor, a frown on my pudgy face.

I vow to right the wrong when I get home.
I too can make bruschetta. With the best of ’em.

And, Fabrizio, I will serve it with high-end vino.

French, as a matter of fact.


What’s Cookin?

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

1 box (15 ounces) refrigerated pie crust
4 cups quartered strawberries
1 bag (1 pound) frozen rhubarb, thawed
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Heat oven to 425 F. Line pie plate with 1 pie crust. Crimp edges. Using fork, pierce bottom of crust. Place second pie crust on lightly floured work surface. Using 2 1/2” star-shaped cookie cutter, cut stars from dough, rerolling as necessary; place on cookie sheet.
2. Place 14-inch-long sheet of foil over crust-line pie plate, being careful not to cover pastry edge. Fill with dried beans or pie weights. Fold excess fold over beans. Bake crust and stars 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove foil and weights from pie crust. Bake crust 5 minutes more, or until bottom is lightly browned. Cool completely on wire cooling rack.
3 Meanwhile, in large saucepot, combine quartered strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and cornstarch. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Spoon strawberry mixture into cooled pie crust. Let pie cool completely. Pipe whipped topping in center, if desired. Dip 1/2 stars in melted white chocolate, if desired. Arrange stars on pie. Top with sliced strawberries, if desired.
Yields 6 servings. Per serving: 387 Cal; 3g Pro; 16g Total Fat (7g Sat. Fat); 61g Carb; 11mg Chol; 225mg Sod; 4g Fiber. Source: First, June 18, 2007.

Obituaries

Announcements

ENGAGEMENTS

Flaming/Flanagan

Allen and Beverly Flaming are happy to announce the engagement of their daughter, Cristin, to Shon Flanagan of San Diego, Calif. Shon’s parents are Buff Flanagan of Alamo, Nev.; and Shauna and Tony Kop of Pagosa Springs.
The wedding will be July 21, in La Jolla, Calif.


Timmerman/Granquist
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George and Elizabeth Jernigan are pleased to announce the upcoming marriage of their daughter, Cindi Timmerman, to Joel Granquist, son of the late Walter and Helen Granquist of Copperton, Utah.  The afternoon wedding  will take place on Saturday, June 30, 2007, in Pagosa Springs on a mountain top with a panoramic view of the San Juan mountains as a backdrop.  The bride-elect moved here from the Gulf Coast of Texas in 2000 and the groom-to-be relocated to Pagosa  Springs from Utah in 1994.  The wedding party will include April Owens of Pagosa Springs as matron of honor and Dan Smith of Layton, Utah, as best man.  A reception at the Matthews Ranch will follow the ceremony.  The couple will continue to live in Pagosa Springs after their honeymoon. 


ANNIVERSARIES

Ron “Coach” & Darlene Shaw
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Ron “Coach” and Darlene Shaw, residents of Pagosa Springs since 1967, will be celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary; 50 years of cherished memories. 
The couple was married July 21, 1957, in Rocky Ford, Colorado. 
Warm wishes and much love are sent from their children: Debra Allen, Brian (Carla), Aaron (Christy), and Joan (Roger) Sample.  Hugs and Kisses also come from their 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. 
Happy anniversary to “Granny Chicken” and “Papa Rooster.”

LOCAL

LORD
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Commander Roger Lord, U.S. Navy, son of Mr. John Lord and the late Mrs. Bonnie Lord of Pagosa Springs, has retired from naval service where he last served as deputy department head, Contracts Policy and Process Management, and earlier as deputy department head, Air, ASW, Assault and Special Mission Aircraft, Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD.

A 1979 graduate of Pagosa Springs High School, he enlisted in the Navy in June 1979 as a submarine sonar technician advancing to the rank of Petty Officer First Class. After a brief tour on board USS Skipjack, SSN 585, then Petty Officer Lord deployed aboard USS Sam Rayburn, SSBN 625, completing seven Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine patrols primarily in the North Atlantic, five of these patrols as sonar supervisor of the watch. After completing undergraduate studies while on active duty, he obtained a commission in 1988 through Officer Candidate School. His commissioned tours of duty include supply officer, USS Will Rogers, SSBN 659, where he also served as diving officer of the Watch, Torpedo Fire Control Operator, Surface Contact Coordinator, and deployed on four Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine patrols, again primarily in the North Atlantic. After a tour as material control officer in Strike Fighter Squadron 106, he next served as construction/reconstruction advisory and supply management advisor to the Kuwait Air Force, U.S. Embassy Kuwait following the devastation of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Then Lieutenant Lord supervised the reconstruction of numerous projects at Ahmed Al Jabar Air Base and International Air Base, Kuwait. He later served as stock control officer, services officer, junior officer of the watch, damage control repair party leader and contracting officer representative aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN 69. After graduate school, Cmdr. Lord served as chief of the contracting officer, Fleet and Industrial Supply Center, Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Immediately following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Cmdr. Lord deployed as a first-wave individual augmentee (IA), Contingency Contracting Officer, in direct support of operations in Bahrain and Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). After a program officer/instruction tour at Naval Postgraduate School, he reported to Naval Air Systems Command in February 2006. He will be relocating to the Washington, D.C. area.