The espresso bean has been enhanced, romanced and restyled into almost every aspect of our lives. You can find it in food (Black Bean and Espresso Chili), wine (Barista Pinotage), art and design and the machines that make it have become haute couture. Espresso accessories range from barista tools including chic knock out boxes for espresso grounds to the sleek design of pod carousels.
For our italyin30seconds literary baristas that would be coffee or more likely a shot of espresso but if I would be asking a group of ancient Etruscans (Italy’s original foodies) it would probably be wine. Patrick McGovern, adjunct professor of Anthropology and Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, is the world’s foremost expert on ancient fermented beverages. He has been called the “Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages” and in his lab, a flask of coffee-colored liquid bubbles on a hot plate with tiny fragments from an ancient Etruscan amphora.
Ceramic powder extracted from the amphora’s base is boiling in a chloroform and methanol solvent meant to extract organic compounds that might have soaked into the pottery. McGovern is hoping to determine whether the amphora once contained wine. His book on Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture explores the contents of many ancient cups and is a sleuthful look into the history and origins of the makers, drinkers and cultivators of the fruit of the vine.
I’ve seen Etruscan cups and other utensils including a grater and strainer used to grate cheese mixed with wine then strained and diluted with water. Not particularly what I would want in my cup but then again foodies (both ancient and modern) tend to be adventurous, curious and a little eccentric.
In February I wrote about wine and coffee. I’m intrigued when you take two seemingly disparate things that when taken alone are good but when combined together become better. Like yin and yang, Sonny and Cher and tea and sympathy. So when I read about a wine that tastes like coffee, I took note and sure enough it was a Jack Johnson better together moment.
Since then I found another wine, a 2008 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley thought enough of to be given 90 points by the Wine Spectator and considered to be a Smart Buy by the Pinot Report. Produced by California wine maker Jim McMahon of Athair Winery, it has been described as “rich, extracted, full-bodied . . . exhibiting lots of complex plum, dark berry, mineral and cedar notes, with hints of herb in the mix ending with a nutmeg–espresso edge”. Pour me a cup, oops no I mean a glass.
Michael Gelb thinks that drinking wine is the key to creativity. Who am I to disagree, after all he wrote the book on How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Taking on the role of Doctor of Vinology, Gelb believes that when we drink wine we feel the “animated spirit of the get-togethers at the Medici Palazzo, the creativity around Thomas Jefferson’s dinner table, the joie de vivre, la dolce vita”. Think about it, there’s not too many things that can put us in that type of happy place that are legal.
I too have experienced the power of wine, the hidden codex that links history, culture, climate, geography and conviviality in a glass to uncork a memorable experience or “aha” moment. Not a first but after some time I too have come to know and believe in the power of wine. Little by little as I learn more about wine and drink more wine I have become convinced that wine has much to offer for those who take the time to think into the bottle.
Vin Santo is Tuscany in a glass and reflects Tuscan life at its best; life that is meant to be savored not saved and lived to the fullest. Because of its name Vin Santo (wine of the saints) was thought to have originated as a sacramental wine. However there are other accounts that link the name to historical references that are less ecclesiastical. There are 2 types of this rich, amber colored medium sweet to medium dry wine typically enjoyed as a dessert wine at the end of a proper Italian meal. One is made entirely from white grapes (Malvasia or Trebbiano) and one from red varieties (Sangiovese, Canaiolo , Malvasia Nero). The latter is known as Occhio di Pernice because of a shading of redness reminiscent of the “eye of a partridge” for which it is named.
The fermenting of Vin Santo can be described as nothing short of meditative. Grapes are hung to dry in vinsantaie, a large ventilated room with many windows. The windows in the room are opened and closed to control the flow of air. Here the grapes are subjected to seasonal temperature changes which create a unique taste and texture to the wine with hints of raisins, dried fruit and the bouquet of Tuscany.
Some might say that the best thing about traveling in Italy is the wine and espresso. So I was intrigued when I read about a wine that tastes like coffee. Nottola Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has been described as having notes of “cherry that gets support from coffee grounds and herbs”. According to the Canadian Globe and Mail’s weird and wonderful wine notes, Nottola Vino Nobile is one of several coffee like wines including one from Spain that evoked an espresso spiked with cherry liqueur and a wine from France with a “cappuccino finish so pronounced the wine could be served out of a cup in a Milanese coffee bar”.