Nuns and wine (Coenobium) and a report from Montalcino

August 22, 2011

Above: “Decameron” by Waterhouse (1916). The countryside outside the city of Fiesole served as diegetic backdrop in Boccaccio’s Decameron. Fiesole lies in the hills above Florence.

If you’ve visited my blog before, you probably have already tasted Coenobium, a wine raised by Cistercian sisters in the Province of Viterbo and vinified by natural winemaker and co-founder of Vini Veri, one of Italy’s leading natural wine movements, Giampiero Bea. Most Italophile wine lovers have heard the tale of this wine many times before.

But when I posted about it today over at the Houston Press food and wine blog, I couldn’t resist making an allusion to Boccaccio’s Decameron, Third Day, Novella 1, “Masetto da Lamporecchio [who] feigns to be dumb, and obtains a gardener’s place at a convent of women, who with one accord make haste to lie with him.”

The funny, sexy tale is one of those depicted by Pasolini in his 1971 filmic version of the Decameron (which we watched the other night) and I’m always looking for excuses to talk about literature when writing about wine.

    Fairest ladies, not a few there are both of men and of women, who are so foolish as blindly to believe that, so soon as a young woman has been veiled in white and cowled in black, she ceases to be a woman, and is no more subject to the cravings proper to her sex, than if, in assuming the garb and profession of a nun, she had put on the nature of a stone: and if, perchance, they hear of aught that is counter to this their faith, they are no less vehement in their censure than if some most heinous and unnatural crime had been committed; neither bethinking them of themselves, whom unrestricted liberty avails not to satisfy, nor making due allowance for the prepotent forces of idleness and solitude. And likewise not a few there are that blindly believe that, what with the hoe and the spade and coarse fare and hardship, the carnal propensities are utterly eradicated from the tillers of the soil, and therewith all nimbleness of wit and understanding. But how gross is the error of such as so suppose, I, on whom the queen has laid her commands, am minded, without deviating from the theme prescribed by her, to make manifest to you by a little story…

Here’s the link to my post.

And here’s the link to the tale. Buona lettura!

In other news…

Above: My friends have begun harvesting their Pinot Grigio in Montalcino. As you can see in the image, Pinot Grigio is not a white grape.

I’ve been following my friends father and son Fabrizio and Alessandro Bindocci’s posts on the vegetative cycle and harvest 2011 over at their blog Montalcino Report.

They’ve been doing an amazing job of documenting the 2011 vintage and to my knowledge, they are the only Italian winemakers who have attempted a project like this.

Today they posted the above photo of Pinot Grigio grapes and reported “Heat Spikes But Grapes Are Healthy and Correctly Ripened.”

It takes a lot of courage to be so honest about the vintage but it also gives Italian wine enthusiasts an entirely new perspective into the vegetative cycle. It will be fascinating to taste the wines when they are released and compare our tasting notes with their documentation of the vintage.

Chapeau bas, gentlemen!


The basil of Salerno and Lisabetta’s tears

August 26, 2010

Above: Basil was prized for its healing properties for external wounds in the Middle Ages. The image of basil (note the presence of a woman and man) on the verso (left) is taken from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, in this case Codex Latinus 9333 from the Bibliothèque de France in Paris (click here to view a larger version). It was also a symbol of hate (read on).

I never imagined that my post the other day on Fake Pesto would lead to such a long comment thread here at the blog and over in the Facebook feed.

Here at the blog, Hande pointed out rightly that pesto, literally pestle, denotes the dressing for pasta made of ground basil, cheese, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. I was surprised to learn that the Genoese Pesto Consortium’s officially sanctioned recipe allows for walnuts (as a substitute for pine nuts) and Parmigiano Reggiano along with (the more traditional, in my view) Pecorino. As per Hande’s comment, when I wrote that pesto is traditionally served with boiled potatoes and green beans, I should have noted that the dish is properly called pesto avvantaggiato, literally, enriched pesto, whereby trenette or trofie (noodles) are tossed with the pesto, the boiled potatoes and green beans, and some of the cooking water from the vegetables. Thanks again, Hande, for keeping me on my toes!

Image via SchoolGardenWeekly.

But when friend Leslie noted (over in the Facebook thread of the post) that basil is an anti-depressant, I began to think about one of my favorite novelle from Boccaccio’s Decameron, the Tale of Lisabetta da Messina.

    Lisabetta’s brothers slay her lover: he appears to her in a dream, and shews her where he is buried: she privily disinters the head, and sets it in a pot of basil, whereon she daily weeps a great while. The pot being taken from her by her brothers, she dies not long after.

    And so, saddest of women, knowing that she might not bewail him there, she would gladly, if she could, have carried away the body and given it more honourable sepulture elsewhere; but as she might not so do, she took a knife, and, as best she could, severed the head from the trunk, and wrapped it in a napkin and laid it in the lap of her maid; and having covered the rest of the corpse with earth, she left the spot, having been seen by none, and went home. There she shut herself up in her room with the head, and kissed it a thousand times in every part, and wept long and bitterly over it, till she had bathed it in her tears. She then wrapped it in a piece of fine cloth, and set it in a large and beautiful pot of the sort in which marjoram or basil is planted, and covered it with earth, and therein planted some roots of the goodliest basil of Salerno, and drenched them only with her tears, or water perfumed with roses or orange-blossoms. And ’twas her wont ever to sit beside this pot, and, all her soul one yearning, to pore upon it, as that which enshrined her Lorenzo, and when long time she had so done, she would bend over it, and weep a great while, until the basil was quite bathed in her tears.

    Fostered with such constant, unremitting care, and nourished by the richness given to the soil by the decaying head that lay therein, the basil burgeoned out in exceeding great beauty and fragrance.

There is so much I’d love to share about this truly fascinating (at least to me) story and the role that basil plays in it. Boccaccio’s Decameron has so many wonderful references to food and wine in it. (Read the entire tale in English here.) But, ahimè, professional duties call… I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

In the meantime, here’s a scene from Pasolini’s version of the tale:


Tuscan city celebrates 98 points in Wine Spectator

December 15, 2008

Above: “Decameron” by Waterhouse (1916). The countryside outside the city of Fiesole served as diegetic backdrop in Boccaccio’s Decameron. Fiesole lies in the hills above Florence.

In the wake of last week’s post (“Why Italians Are Offended by our Ratings and Rankings”), the title of the present may seem ironic. But it’s not.

On Friday, Franco posted about a municipally funded event held last month in Fiesole (Tuscany) to celebrate 98/100 points awarded by the Wine Spectator to Bibi Graetz’ 2006 Testamatta.

According to a press release issued by the township of Fiesole:

    The event was organized in collaboration with the Township of Fiesole to celebrate the wine that received 98/100 from Wine Spectator, the highest score awarded to any Tuscan wine. This score has made Fiesole a full-fledged member on the map of the great wines of Italy and the world.

My post last week generated an unexpected and welcomed thread of comments and I am thankful to everyone for taking the time to weigh in.

In the light of Fiesole’s celebration (sponsored by the city government), it would seem that not all Italians are offended by our ratings and rankings (at least the ones that receive top scores).

For the record, Testamatta is made using indigenous Tuscan grapes: Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Colorino.


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