Easter greetings from Montalcino and the etymology of Easter

April 24, 2011

Above: I just couldn’t resist reposting this photo sent from our friends Laura and Marco at Il Palazzone in Montalcino.

In English today, we use the name Easter to denote the springtime Christian holiday and festival, from “Eostre (Northumbrian spelling of Éastre),” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition), “the name of a goddess whose festival was celebrated at the vernal equinox.”

In nearly every other Western language, however, we use a name that corresponds to the name of the Jewish festival of the Passover: “Greek πασχά, Hebrew pésaḥ [pesach], Latin pascha, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Dutch pask,” write the editors of the OED.

Until the late nineteenth century, Anglophones also commonly used the name pasch to denote the Easter feast (as in the expression the paschal lamb): from the “Aramaic pisḥā Passover fesival, Passover sacrifice, Passover meal (emphatic form of pasaḥ [meaning] to pass over; compare Syriac peṣḥā Passover, Easter, Hebrew pesaḥ Passover).”

What does passing over have to do with it all?

“The festival is named after the Lord’s ‘passing over’ the houses of the People of Israel, whose doorposts were marked with the blood of a lamb, while the Egyptians were punished with the death of their firstborn (Exodus 11–12).”

Buona pasqua, happy Easter, kalo pascha (Greek), ya’ll! :-)


The last day of Passover and a time to begin again

April 7, 2010

Above (literally “above”): I took this picture of the full moon over San Diego on the first night of the Passover, the night before the first day, during my family’s Passover seder.

The Passover is over. Yesterday was the last day. For the Jews living in Israel, there are seven days of Passover. For Jews living in the Diaspora, there are eight. Yesterday was the last day.

The Passover, Easter, and the Garden of Adonis… All of these rituals have their roots in an ancient (ancient before the time of the written word) cult of death, rebirth, and renewal. Doing some sleuthing this morning, I found this wonderful passage in The Golden Bough (33):

    At the approach of Easter, Sicilian women sow wheat, lentils, and canaryseed in plates, which they keep in the dark and water every two days. The plants soon shoot up; the stalks are tied together with red ribbons, and the plates containing them are placed on the sepulchres which, with the effigies of the dead Christ, are made up in Catholic and Greek churches on Good Friday, just as the gardens of Adonis were placed on the grave of the dead Adonis. The practice is not confined to Sicily, for it is observed also at Cosenza in Calabria, and perhaps in other places. The whole custom—sepulchres as well as plates of sprouting grain—may be nothing but a continuation, under a different name, of the worship of Adonis.

Indeed, the Passover and Easter “may be nothing but a continuation, under a different name, of the worship of Adonis.”

One of the interesting traces of this cult in the Passover is the “burning of the bread” in the Jewish tradition — the banishment of yeast from the home and the dinner table. Once the Passover is over, yeast is allowed again.

Tracie P and I have spent a lot of time thinking about yeast and how it relates to wine — natural yeast, native yeast, ambient yeast, cultured yeast, selected yeast, “killer” yeast — over the last year. One of the things that struck me about the Passover this year (something I’d never thought about before) is how the Passover ritual requires that we remove all yeast from our lives while requiring us to talk and think about yeast at the same time.

And so it is a time to begin again and watch the yeast do its work. In the words of one of my Italian colleagues, ricominciamo…

You just gotta love Italian T.V., right? And man, you gotta love a name like Pappalardo, literally lard soup. Leavened bread, anyone?


1989 Produttori del Barbaresco for Easter

April 5, 2010

produttori del barbaresco

Above: The 1989 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco was truly brilliant yesterday afternoon. We paired with roast leg of lamb and sat outside in the gorgeous weather. Ubi major minor cessat: check out Tom’s excellent profile of Produttori del Barbaresco here. I visited the winery during my March trip to Piedmont and will post on my tasting there in the next few weeks.

Posting in a hurry this afternoon because slammed with work and getting ready for tonight’s Orange Wine dinner at Vino Vino, where I’ll be pouring and talking about some amazing wines. We posted the wines and the menu earlier today. (There are still a few spots open: the wines are great, chef Esteban is pulling all the stops, and in true Austinite fashion, the dinner will be followed by Gary Clark Jr.’s first performance at Vino Vino.)

produttori del barbaresco

We shared our Easter feast with another couple, close friends of ours. I roasted a leg of lamb yesterday afternoon, seasoned with rosemary from our garden. My beautiful Tracie P made all the fixins. :-)

produttori del barbaresco

Tracie P had also dyed some Easter eggs. Our new home is so wonderful. Words just cannot say how much I love her…

In other news…

Alfonso aka Italian Wine Guy has been making his way from Bordeaux down to Italy. I’ve really be enjoying his posts and his travels… Definitely worth checking out…

More tomorrow…


On the eve of Vinitaly, a push to create a Montalcino DOC (and reflections on a year past)

March 31, 2009

Above: Franco Ziliani (left), my friend and co-editor of VinoWire, and Mauro Mascarello, winemaker and producer of one of the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo, Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo. We tasted at Vinitaly last year together. This year, Franco and I will be tasting together at Vini Veri.

Passover and Easter will shortly be upon us and the who’s who of Italian wine is preparing to descend on the province of Verona for our industry’s annual trade fairs: Vinitaly (the largest and most commercial), Vini Veri (a gathering of natural winemakers and the most interesting in my opinion), and VinNatur (an assembly of winemakers who broke away from Vini Veri some years back). I’m particularly excited for Vini Veri because this year’s tasting sees the unification of Vini Veri with the Nicolas Joly biodynamic and quasi-biodynamic tastings, Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir (Return to Terroir).

Above: The Banfi Castle at last year’s Vinitaly. There were rumors — unfounded and untrue — that Banfi’s wines were seized on the floor of the fair last year. I am looking forward to tasting the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by Banfi. Charles Scicolone and Tom Hyland — whose palates I respect greatly — have both told me that it’s classic Brunello, 100% Sangiovese, and one of the best wines Banfi has ever produced.

It’s remarkable to think that at this time last year, the world of Italian wine was gripped by the breaking news of the Brunello scandal: at least five major producers were accused of adulterating their wines from the 2003 vintage. A year has passed, a large quantity of wine has reportedly been declassified, and no indictments have been issued by the Siena prosecutor who supposedly launched the investigation in September of 2007.

It’s not surprising, however, that there has been a new push — albeit weak — within the association of Brunello producers to create a Montalcino DOC. Last week, a proposal to create such an appellation was put to the floor at the consortium’s assembly. (I haven’t been able to find out the results of the vote but according to most observers, it was unlikely that it would be ratified.)

Above: I am always geeked to taste Paolo Bea Sagrantino with Giampiero Bea at Vini Veri (I snapped this photo at last year’s fair). Tracie B and I have been enjoying his Santa Chiara 2006. It’s radically different than his 2005 and I hope to ask him about the vintage variation. (Is it the result of climatic differences or differences in the cellar? I imagine — knowing Giampiero and his radical belief in natural winemaking — that the former is the case.)

Currently, Montalcino producers must label their wines as Toscana IGT or Sant’Antimo DOC if they contain grapes other than Sangiovese. If approved, a Montalcino DOC would allow them to exploit the Montalcino “brand” in their labeling of so-called Super Tuscan wines. The proposed DOC is part of a greater push to create new Italian appellations before OCM reforms take effect in August 2009 and the power to issue new DOCs shifts from Rome to Brussels.

Above: This year, the world of Italian wine mourns the loss of Teobaldo Cappellano (photo courtesy of Polaner). Baldo, as he was known fondly, was one of the founders of the Vini Veri movement and one of Italy’s most zealous defenders and promoters of terroir-driven wines and natural winemaking. He was a truly delightful man and is sorely missed.

There’s a reason why the fairs are held at this time of year: historically and traditionally, the spring marks the moment when winemakers unveil their cellared wines. Long before the hegemony of the Judeo-Christian canon, spring was observed as Mother Nature’s moment of renewal and rebirth.

The ancient allegory — and it is an allegory, not a metaphor — could not be more apt this year.


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