A friend’s 40th, a 1990 Vin Santo, and a bunch of awesome wine and food

Tuesday night we celebrated 40 years for our good friend Paolo Cantele in our home. Paolo was on the road “working the market” with his wines, as we say in the biz. And he just happened to be in Austin on his 40th birthday.

Tracie P outdid herself with this amazing strawberry cake. I wish yall could see just how beautiful she is right now. Truly aglow… :)

She also broke out her grandmother’s cast-iron skillet to fry up some lightly battered and delicately salted okra fritters. Man, when Tracie P starts a-fryin’, watch out! Delicious…

My contribution to the flight of wines poured was this 2001 Musar white that I had been saving. The oxidative style of this wine may not be for everyone but man, I would drink it every day (if I could afford it). Gorgeous wine, imho.

Barbecue and Burgundy? The 1993 Volnay-Satenots 1er Cru by Ampeau was excellent with Sam’s smoked lamb ribs. Awesome wine, thoroughly enjoyed by all thanks to Keeper Collection and husband Earl.

My “wine of the evening” could have been this 1992 Primitivo by Savese, generously proffered by Alfonso. This amphora-aged wine (yes, amphora before it got trendy) was on its last legs and we shared its last gasps of life. But, man, what gorgeous notes, laced with fruit and earth, emerged as it departed this world for a better one.

Dulcis in fundo… of all the great wines that were opened that night, the bottle that blew me away was this 1990 Vin Santo by Villa di Vetrice, one of my favorite producers in Chianti Rufina, perhaps more noted for their legendary olive oils, but always a solid producer of honest, real wine, however rough around the edges. Vin Santo is too often misunderstood in this country, where it’s served young and regrettably paired with cookies (as per your average Tuscan tourist trap). The acidity in this 21-year-old wine was brilliant and its layers and layers of flavor can best be described as a salty ice cream Sunday (think caramel, salty peanuts, apricot jam, etc.). I’ve had the good fortune to taste a lot of old Vin Santo from Chianti Rufina and it was a thrill to revisit this wine and this vintage. It paired beautifully with the cake but the winning pairing was the fresh burrata (lightly dressed with kosher salt and olive oil) that Alfonso had brought down from Jimmy’s in Dallas. THANK YOU, Guy!

I can almost hear Gene Wilder saying, “What knockers!” The burrata was outstanding.

Paolo had flown from Apulia to Texas only to find Primitivo and burrata — from Apulia! I guess globalization is good for something… And I sure am glad that Paolo was born. Happy birthday, mate!

A note on Italian winery designations: azienda, cascina, fattoria, podere, et cetera

This post originally went live on May 5. Please continue to send me your suggestions, queries, corrections by leaving comments below. Most recently added: ca’, cantina, casa, vignaiolo (May 18).

Yesterday, while I was attending a tasting with one of the leading wine professionals in the country, Texan Master Sommelier Guy Stout (above, at Vinitaly), he asked about the meaning and origin of the term podere. Guy is a true mensch, a wonderful character, and a beloved figure in the Texas and U.S. wine scene. He has mentored a generation (literally) of wine professionals studying for their Master Sommelier exams. Getting to taste with him is always a pleasure and an enlightening experience. A lot of people ask me to explain the meanings and origins of Italian winery designations. So I decided to write a hand-list of terms used commonly in the names of wineries in Italy. I hope it will be helpful to Master Sommelier candidate and anyone who shares my passion for Italian wine. I’ve included etymologies (studies of their origins) because believe that the etymon (origin) helps to shed light on the meanings of the designations. This post is dedicated fondly to Guy. (Photos by Alfonso Cevola, his friend and colleague.)

azienda, landed property, estate, domestic work, from the Spanish hacienda, from the Latin facienda meaning things to be done from facere, to do.

The term azienda means business and is used to denote a company or firm in Italian. An azienda agricola is a farming business; an azienda vinicola is a winery (a wine business).

ca’, see entry for casa.

cantina, literally cellar or cool place to store perishable goods and by extension tavern, probably from the Italian canto meaning angle or corner from the Greek kampthos, bend or angle.

The word cantina has a wide variety of applications in Italy (often used for restaurants and food stores, as well as wineries) and can be found across Italy to denote wine cellar.

casa, literally, a building, house, or habitation, from the Latin casa, a small house, cottage, hut, cabin, shed.

The term casa is used throughout Italy as a winery designation and is often abbreviated as ca’, as in Ca’ del Bosco (it’s important to note that it’s often erroneously abbreviated as Cà [using the accent grave diacritic], when in fact the inverted comma [‘] denotes the elision of the final two letters, often derived from a dialectal locution). A casa vinicola (pronounced KAH-sah vee-NEE-koh-lah) is a winery/négociant.

cascina, farm house or other structure used to house livestock or farm tools, from the late Latin capsia meaning case or receptacle.

It can also denote a structure used to store cheese and other dairy products. The term is used primarily northern Italy and especially in Piedmont to denote a farmhouse or winery or dairy farm.

fattoria, farm, from the Latin factore, literally maker, from facere meaning to do.

You find usage of fattoria generally in Tuscany where it can denote a winery or a farm, keeping in mind that most wine-producing estates in Tuscany also grow olives and other crops.

Guy Stout

podere, country estate with farm house (according to the Zingarelli dictionary), akin to the Italian potere, meaning can or to have the ability to do, from the late Latin, potere, from the Latin possum, meaning to be able, have power.

The term is used today primarily in Tuscany where it denotes, literally, a seat of [agricultural] power, hence the late Latin origin of the word, potere, literally power or possession (who also share kinship with the Latin etymon). According to the Cortelazzo etymological dictionary, the word first appears in the Middle Ages in northern Italy.

poggio, hill, from the Latin podium, meaning an elevated place, a height.

As Virgil wrote famously, Bacchus amat colles, Bacchus loves hills. The usage of poggio in Tuscany is documented dating back to the thirteenth century and the term appears in Dante. There are many related words like poggiolo, poggiuolo, and in the case of one of my favorite wineries, poggione. Guy and I were tasting yesterday with the nice folks from Banfi: Poggio alle Mura and Poggio all’Oro (the hill at the village walls and the gold hill, respectively) were among the wines in the flight.

ronco, literally a growing site on a hill used for farming, from the Latin runco, meaning to weed out, root up; to weed, clear of weeds, akin to the Friulian dialectal term ronc.

To my knowledge, ronco is used exclusively in Friuli. Akin to the Italian roncola or pruning hook, it probably comes from the past participle of the Friulian runcar (to clear of weeds, runcà, in other words, a site cleared for planting.

tenuta, a [land] holding or property, past participle of the Italian tenere, from the Latin teneo, meaning to hold, have, or keep.

Tenuta is a term that you see applied across northern and central Italy. Its relation to the pre-industrial age, when land ownership denoted nobility, is clear.

vignaiolo (plural vignaioli), vine tender or grape grower, derived from the Italian vigna, meaning vine, from the Latin vinea, vineyard, from the Latin vinum, wine.

Pronounced VEEN-y’eye-OH-loh (plural VEEN-y’eye-OH-lee), vignaiolo is used to denote a winery that uses estate-grown fruit in the production of its wines.

I hope this post is helpful to wine professionals and laypersons alike! If I forgot a term and/or if you have other terms you’d like me to write about and explain, please leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

Drinking American with my Rockport crispy softshell crab in Houston

We drank two American wines between the four of us last night, when cousins Marty and Joanne, family friend Taylor and I shared a truly superb seafood dinner last night at one of Houston’s more glamorous dining destinations Mark’s (pricey, I gotta say, but worth every penny… thanks again, ya’ll for a great dinner, btw!).

The pièce de résistance was the crispy softshell crabs from Rockport, Texas (above), which wine director Saree Mulhern deftly and keenly paired with a wine I’d never tasted before, 2007 Retour Pinot Noir. I told Saree that I was hoping for a lighter-bodied Pinot Noir, not old world per se, but with good acidity and balanced use of wood. She delivered a beauty of a wine, I must say. The pairing with the fresh-tasting softshell, gently battered and fried (a Houstonian delicacy), was brilliant.

It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white: the 2008 Pinot Blanc by Robert Foley — “no barrel, no malo” as his site reports — was fresh and bright and wonderful with my “trio” of seafood appetizers (actually a tetralogy). I was blown away by the Louisiana crawfish tails, which the chef seemed to have treated as he would steamed langoustines — an aristocratic demise for these “mudbugs,” as they are called around these parts. Man, if I came across a live crawfish as big as that, I’d probably run for the hills!

You see? I’m trying to break my old habits and drink domestically… I can’t think of a better place than Saree’s list to do it.

In other news…

This is how I feel right now:

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured,
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won’t you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.

Man, I’m looking forward to some downtime with that super fine lady of mine this weekend! I miss her so much after a week too hectic with work and other mishegas… On Monday, I might just ask her to call my job and tell my boss I won’t be in, to borrow one of Guy Stout’s favorite lyrics…