October Music Pick: The Best of Lou Rawls, the Capitol Jazz & Blues Sessions.

27 October On the Orient Express – Venice to Verona
I love traveling on trains. When I was in my twenties I travelled from the US border to Mexico City on the Aztec Eagle. This train was well known for still using the old Pullman carriages. The bar car was simply superb. It was decorated with the crisp, “modern lines” of the 1930s. I felt as if I were in a Fred Astaire movie. Other Mexican trains, however, offered more hair-raising adventures. One had lost a few floor boards. I looked down through the rough, splintered slats to see a plunging valley hundreds of feet below the elevated track. Vendors walked the aisles selling cucumbers sprinkled with paprika. Others offered cages of tiny birds, which I hope were intended to live out their days as pets. But enough reminiscing.

As I stood on the train platform in Venice with the rest of the small group of journalists, I watched the Real Travelers board. I saw cashmere overcoats and calf-length fur coats that had never suffered the indignities of wire hangers. Women in elegant high heels, natural pearls and what my mother used to call traveling dresses strode toward their carriages unencumbered by luggage. That was in the hands of the smartly uniformed staff. At lunch I was able to ogle (discreetly, I believe) the passengers at close hand. Gents wore silk ties and perfectly tailored jackets (cashmere being the fabric of choice). One fellow had a quiff of silky white hair and a goatee, and sported a paisley ascot. He looked like the dapper chap on the Chance Cards in Monopoly games.

But why was I allowed to be in such high-toned company? It was all thanks to the Merano Wine Festival (www.meranowinefestival.com) and the Capannelle wine company (www.capannelle.com).

My husband and I started attending the Merano festival in the 1990s. In those days, it was a small, intimate affair. The wines were carefully chosen and it was possible to talk directly to the winemakers and producers. And then it started to grow…and grow…and grow. It went through a period when it was simply growing faster than the organizational structure that was supposed to support it. I stopped attending at that point.

Now, things seem to have gracefully settled into a new level of competence. The press conference convinced me to return to the fold. I will try to attend the 2011 edition.

We tasted two of the Capannelle wines with lunch. The oak-aged Chardonnay was a rich and heady brew, with a fragrance full of oak spices and ripe fruit. The Chianti Classico Riserva was lusciously fruity wine. Very appealing.

We started lunch with asparagus soup, which covered a few tender pieces of sun-dried tomatoes and small pan-fried squares of duck foie gras. This was followed by sautéed John Dory in a saffron sauce.

Dessert was a hot rhubarb sauce topped by a tepid yellow plum flan, which in turn was topped by a small scoop of pistachio ice cream. The differences in temperature, texture and tart and sweet flavors was simple fabulous. It was a joy to eat.

And speaking of joy and of Venice, Michelle Lovric’s sequel to her immensely entertaining and popular children’s book, The Undrowned Child, has just come out. The new book, The Mourning Emporium, which is set in 1900, sees its young protagonists (and assorted mermaids and creatures from the Dark Side) engaged in a desperate battle to save not only the city of Venice but the British Monarchy as well! According to the Readers Digest “This is the sort of book that is labelled ‘for children’ but will be passed around the eager family…Crammed with history, fantasy and beautiful comedy, this book gets a five star rating.” It is published by Orion.

17 October Simposio dei Lambruschi a.k.a. To be Lambrusco www.simposiodeilambruschi.it
First things first: Lambrusco is the name of a family of grapes, which are cultivated mainly in the northern part of central Italy. In terms of production, Lambrusco Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce and Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro are the most important members of this clan. The best known zone of cultivation is located in the Region of Emilia Romagna – ande particularly in the Province of Modena.

Each of the varieties has a slightly different taste profile. Generally speaking, L. Grasparossa, which is so named for its red (rosso) stem (raspo), produces wines that are deeply colored and have pronounced notes of bitter cherry on the palate, along with firm tannins (a characteristics that comes from the grape’s thick skins).

Wines made primarily from L. Sorbara (known also as Lambrusco della Viola for its light scent of violets) tend to be the lightest and zestiest of the three. These wines have a strawberry infused color and their delicate fragrances include not only violets but also red berry fruits (cherries). I have often found the idea of frozen strawberries on the palate in Sorbara wines.

L. Salamino wines have a darker color with a definite purplish froth. They are medium bodied and have decisive, refreshing acidity.

These varieties may be vinified alone or, as is more often the case, they may be blended with other Lambrusco cultivars.
The tasting was held at the superb Castello di Levizzano in Castelvetro di Modena.

Among the wines I tasted:
2009 Fattoria Moretto Lambrusco di Castelvetro Monovitigno “cru” di Grasparossa (40 year old vines).Bright, deep, purple-tinged color. A round, juicy pleasure on the palate. Clean fruit-filled finish.

Fausto Moretto says: “Grasparosso is a variety with enormous potential. It has more structure and you must always be acutely aware of the temperature during vinification in order to bring out the best in its perfumes.”

I liked this wine very much. Unfortunately there are only around 7,000 bottles made and those are sold mainly to local restaurants. Should you be dining in the Modena area, however, I urge you to look for the name Fattoria Moretto on the wine list.

2009 Cantina Paltrinieri Lambrusco di Sorbara (100%). Bright, lively.
“This is real Sorbara,” says Michael

2009 Poderi Fiorini Corte Degli Attimi (100% L. Sorbara) A lovely grapiness. A nice vibration of acidity over straightforward fruit.

2009 Tenuta Pederzana Grasparossa (100%) a light peppery note floats over the appealing fruit.
The house style here can best be described as being like a firm unfolding bolt of fruit.
They also produce a wine called Usimaior, which I will be tasting next month.

Other producers of zingy, fruity Lambrusco: Azienda Agricola Villa di Corlo, Azienda Agricola Ca’Berti and Societa Agricola Vezzelli Francesco.

13 October Dinner at Claudio and Giuseppina’s
Claudio (a recently retired bank employee) and Giuseppina (who still works in the bank) are passionate gastronomes. They travel frequently to France and around Italy seeking out restaurants and wine and food products. As a result they have a superb wine cellar.

We started the meal with a 2004 Villa Bucci Verdicchio di Castelli die Jesi Riserva. Deep golden yellow. Rich texture. A warm weave of elderflowers on the nose. Medium to long finish. A frisson of minerality on the palate. We drank it with thinly sliced speck on warm bread.

2000 Cote de Nuit Village prod: Chopin-Groffier. Soft bruised plum color. A soft cloud of refined fruit buoyed on a fresh breeze of acidity. The sensations on the nose carry through onto the palate. Soft and appealing on the finish – like juicy grape skins.

2000 Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Jeunes Rois” Geantel-Pansiot good saturation of plum/black berry fruits. Very firm. Vibrant infusion of acidity through fruit flavor. Still young. A wine that is alive.

Drank it with steak, mashed potatoes and finely shredded cabbage.
After 10 minutes: a fine idea of ripe fruit starts to emerge along with a light note of leather.
After 15 minutes: it remains absolutely firm, attractive. It improves.
After 30 minutes: Still firm. This wine will last. If you have bottles of this wine in your cellar – leave it there for a few more years.

1995 Mouton Rothschild Everything is of a piece – tightly knit on the nose and palate. Nose: blackberries, blueberries. The fruit is shot through with a firm, fine acidity. The idea of ashes. I find the texture of this wine supremely appealing. The wine does not shout – everything moves forward together, nothing is out of step.
After 30 minutes: A faint, not unpleasant, herbaceous note emerges. The wine continues to evolve.

9 October Villa 50th Anniversary Dinner
Villa is an historic producer of Franciacorta. Franciacorta is a DOC zone(and DOCG for Sparkling wines) in the region of Lombardy, of which Milan is the capital. It is primarily known for its fine sparkling wines made from the same grape varieties (Chardonnnay, Pinot Noir, etc) and with the same production techniques as those used in Champagne. Generally speaking, I find Franciacorta wines more approachable than Champagne. (I love a good tart Champagne but I also love the softer, almost pear-like qualities of a fine Franciacorta.)

The Villa event was a tribute to Alessandro Bianchi begetter of the winery’s 50 year sojourn in the world of fine wine. He set up the company at the age of twenty-six with the proceeds from an auto parts business he and his brothers set up after the Second World War.

He started Villa at a time before Franciacorta had established a firm identity and he is, in fact, one of the architects of the zone’s style. In 1968 Villa was the first Franciacorta to win a Gold Medal in an international competition.

The wines we tasted (and drank):
2004 Diamant Pas Dose (Pas Dose indicates that the wine will be bone dry). Smooth, creamy. A lightly yeasty nose, with a fresh uplifting zestiness. The palate echoes the nose. A very elegant wine.

Rose Demi-sec Salmon pink. Faint strawberry notes. Sweetness balanced with pulpy, juicy fruit.

We also tasted RNA Extra Brut 2004. The wines were served with dinner and, frankly I did not take a proper note on this wine as I was deep into an enthusiastic discussion about the song writing and dance skills of Jennifer Lopez and Madonna!!!

The dinner was catered by Antica Cascina San Zago www.anticacascinasanzago.it
But the best part of the evening for me – wine aside – was the band: Fred e I Cocchi di Mamma (Fred and Mummy’s Darlings). They were simply fabulous. The combo included an excellent trumpet player. www.fredswing.net. “They keep telling us to play more quietly,” says Fred.