Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mystery Photo18: A Sacred Lake

     Can you guess the name of this sacred lake? Our hotel was right on its shore. The local syncretic religion regards it as sacred. It has been called "the most beautiful lake in the world.  As Aldous Huxley said of it: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but ??????? is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."

What is the name of this lake? Or where is it located -- in what continent, in what country? Can you figure this out?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

An exciting wine new to me, but not to history: Refosco.

     I have been an oenophile for about 30 years. As a 30 year old doctor we would occasionally go out to dinner to a higher end restaurant and would be presented with a wine list to choose from. I felt ignorant and that was not a welcome feeling for me. So I began to read about wines, subscribed to Wine Spectator and began to buy some wines I liked and put them down (lie them on their side in a cool place) to see how they would develop over time. I think my wine taste developed as most people's wine taste develops. Loving certain wines is a learned taste, it is no doubt. I think society's taste for various types of wines has developed in a similar way. Most of us start with a white wine with probably some sweetness such as a German Reisling such as a Spatlese or even an Auslese (although the latter tend to be a bit more expensive and perhaps beyond the budget of a beginning wine enthusiast.) Then many people move on to a drier white wine which is more acidic such as a sauvignon blanc. Next on the list of appreciation is usually a chardonnay, perhaps one aged for a short time in oak which gives the wine much more complexity of taste. We saw this in the love for California wines -- a few years ago California oak aged Chardonnay was the major wine purchased both as a drink in a bar and as bottled wines to take home. Simultaneously the California wine production underwent a major change. After prohibition, much of the California vineyards were planted in zinfandel, a deep red intense grape. But as people began to purchase wine again, they were not progressed as wine lovers enough to like a deep intense full bodied red wine. So the winemakers solved this problem my making all those zinfandel grapes into a rose. That means they did not let the wine lie on the lees (remains of the whole grapes) for any length of time; the juices was removed right away before the red skins of the grape could even transfer their color to the juice. Zindandel roses were all the go made from California zinfandel grapes. I always regarded this as a sad situation. These wonderful full bodied grapes were made into very light picnic typed rose wines, instead of letting them turn into the rich red full bodied wine for which they are intended. Burt the society at the time was not ready for such a full bodied red wine, hence the production of all that zinfandel rose wines. Gradually my husband's and my tastes moved on as did the taste of society in general and Americans began ordering and buying more intense red wines. As one would expect at first the red wine that became popular was the merlot varietal. That is because this grape makes a softer more drinkable red wine with less tannins than for example a cabernet sauvignon. So all over the US, when the waitress came to the table and asked for a drink order, people would order a glass of merlot. Finally I think our taste in America is just about mature; many people now enjoy and order a full bodied well made cabernet sauvignon. However, there have been changes in the type of cabernet that is made. The typical French bordeaux wine made from mostly cabernet sauvignon with varying amounts of merlot and carbernet franc to soften it, still required years of aging in order to develop balance in the wine, to reduce the tannins and balance them with the fruit taste present. For all those decades, even hundreds of year, French red wines needed to be aged before they could even be approached in drinking. But what has happened is that gradually, perhaps starting with California cabernets, these full bodied wines are being made in a different style which is drinkable as soon as it is released. Now this is true of the full bodied wines from all over the world. If they are good wines they age well for some years but they are often drinkable right away as well.
     We were out in California visiting in January. One of the things that we often do is attend a wine festival in Paso Robles, the central wine making area of California, between San Francisco and the Los Angeles region. Here in Paso, we have a distant cousin through my husband's mother's family. His name is Lance Silver and he is a third cousin to my husband. He loved wines from even his teen age years and learned how to know a good wine, bought cases of red wines especially and resold the 1 or 2 bottles that were excellent in the case, making money in the process. As a young adult he fulfilled a dream of his and became half owner of a winery in Paso Robles, called Tobin James Winery. We have visited this winery's tasting room before and learned that Lance and his partner have a very exciting view of making excellent wines. His wines have become so popular that they never make it to retail outlets. Almost all are purchased in the winery or through the wine club, The James Gang, through mail order. In the past we have brought home one wine we love made at Tobin James, a late harvest zinfandel which is magnificent. This wine is not insipidly sweet as some dessert wines, but instead is intense and mildly sweet, but full of intense flavors. Lance and Tobin have named this port like wine, Liquid Love, and they pour it at the tasting room with a few pieces of semi sweet chocolate. We love it and always bring some home with us.
     Well this time when visiting Tobin James Winery we decided to subscribe to the wine club, the James Gang. This means that twice a year we receive a case of 8 bottles of wine chosen each time by the winery for $155 which includes shipping. We received the spring shipping of these wines about a week ago. I immediately decided to make a good dinner -- a small steak, a twice baked potato, and a Caesar salad and some strawberries. Now which of these wines we received should we pour with this nice dinner? We had 7 reds and 1 white to choose from. Several of the reds were reserve cabs, or specific vineyard selections. But among these reds was one called Refosco. I had no idea what this was and I regarded myself as somewhat knowledgeable about wines. The shipment insert said Refosco was the name of  an obscure Italian varietal:
     We loved this wine. It was full bodied and yet very drinkable with bursts of fruit. It went wonderfully with our steak and potatoes, so my husband was crazy about it.
     Well, I had to go to the Internet and find out more. We also ordered some more bottles of this one from Tobin James and will watch for future releases. Apparently there are only two growers of this grape in the Paso Robels area. The other grower is Bianchi Select Growers Refosco, .
 I learned that this grape is ancient. It comes from northern Italy from areas call Friuli, Gavi, Trentino, Istria, and Karst Plateau. This grape is endemic to these areas. Wines made from this grape can be very tannic "puckery"  with a deep violet color. There are strong currant, wild berry and plum flavors on the palate, with a slight bitterness on the finish. Wines made from this grape do age fairly well. After 4 to 10 years the wine achieves an additional floral quality. It is recommended that it pairs well with game and grilled poultry and charcuterie. It also stands up well to curries, paprikashes, and chiles.
     There are several varieties of the refosco family of grapes:
     The most internationally recognized member of this family of grapes is Refosco dal pedunculo ross. The name comes from the red stalk or peduncle that holds the grapes to the vine. The wine is now being made with cold fermentation and it is aged in new oak. The best known of this grape come from Colli Orientali region of Friuli.
     The Refosco d'Istria or Refosko Istriano or Refosco dal pepedunculo verde is grown in Slovenia and Croatia in an area that was formerly known as Istria, and around Trieste in Italy. This wine does not age well.
     Teran or Terrano is a Refosco variety grows in the Carso DOC and Slovenian Karst region, under the name Teranno Carso or Kraski teran respectively. This variety is also grown in Coratian Istria under the name Istarski Teran.
     Refosco di Faedis ia a variety cultivated in Faedis region, Torreano di Cividale, Povoletto, Attimis, Mimis in the northesast region of Province of Udine in Friuli, Italy.
     Refosco di Rauscedo
     Refosco nostrano
     Refoscone, may be the same as the Refosco of Fadeis.

     DNA analysis of the Refosco dal Pedunculo Rosso grape, the first on the above list of varieties has revealed Marzemino, another ancient variety of Italy as a parent to this grape. Similarly, DNA analysis has disproved that the Refosco dal Pedunculo Rosso grape is the same as a grape called Mondeuse Noire which grows in the Savoy region of France.

     Some oenologists think that refosco family grapes are the same as the old Roman puccinum grape. Indeed, the Roman writer, writing in the first century AD, Pliny the Elder praised the puccinum grape. In his book, Naturalis Historia, he talks of the puccinum grape growing in th enorth Adriatic near the spring of Timavo, a typical Karst river. He wrote: "This is the REgion of the Cami, joining that of Japides: the River Timavus, and the Castle Puccinum, famous for good Wine.... " Pliny, Natural History, Chapter XVIII. Venetia, the tenth Region..

     Puccinum was known for its medical properties and it is believed that it was the favorite of Augustus's wife, Livia, who may demonstrate its medicinal qualities, as she lived to be 82 years old.

     Some think the puccinum grape could have been a sweet white prosecco. The Italian professor Gianni Dalmasso claimed that Livia could not like the bitter taste of refosco wine and that she could only like the prosecco grape from Trieste. There is a medieval map which contains the comment: Prosecho ol: Pucinum hinc vina a Plinio.....From here comes wine highly praised by Plinius, from Gregorio Amaseo."

     Another famous personage, Giacomo Casanova liked the refosco wine, writing in his book of memories:
  "...His refosco, which was even better than my devout hostess's had been made me forget my troubles..."
From Giacomo Casanova, History of my life. Volume 1, Chapter 8, Page 207. Translated by Wilard R. Trask. JHU Press. 1966.

     Finally it is believed that one of the reasons the Habsburgs built the Parenzana railway from Trieste to Porec was because they liked the wines from the region (refosco, malvasia and teran). That is also why the railway was often referred to as a wine railroad or vineyard.

     I did a search on Google for the Refosco grape and came up with several producers. There are 31 Refosco wines listed, here is a list including 25 of them. My Tobin James wine is not on the list possibly because it is sold out to the wine club and has never been available to retail. My intention is to find a couple of these other wines and give them a try to see if I like any of these as well, as Caesar Augustus' wife Livia liked back in the first century AD.

1.Adesso Cagnina di Romagna, Emilia-Romagna, ItalyCagnina di Romagna$11
2.Miani Calvari Refosco Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyFriuli-Venezia Giulia$396
3.Livio Felluga Sosso Rosso Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Riserva, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyColli Orientali del Friuli$52
4.Mi Amore Red Cagnina di Romagna, Emilia-Romagna, ItalyCagnina di Romagna$11
5.Bastianich Calabrone Rosso Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giuali, ItalyColli Orientali del Friuli$62
6.Masi Modello Rosato delle Venezie IGT, ItalyItaly$10
7.Bastianich Rosato Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyColli Orientali del Friuli$13
8.Vinakoper Capris Refosk, Koper, SloveniaSlovenia$10
9.Baccichetto Vittorino Refosco Delle Venezie IGT, ItalyItaly$13
10.di Lenardo Vineyards Refosco Friuli-Venezia Giulia IGT, ItalyFriuli-Venezia Giulia$10
11.Primosic Refosco, Friuli Venezia Giulia, ItalyFriuli-Venezia Giulia$10
12.Kozlovic Teran, Istria, CroatiaCroatia$15
13.Bosco del Merlo Roggio dei Roveri Lison-Pramaggiore, Veneto, ItalyLison-Pramaggiore$23
14.La Roncaia Refosco Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyColli Orientali del Friuli$31
15.Vinakoper Capo d'Istria Refosk, Koper, SloveniaSlovenia$18
16.Tenuta Ca' Bolani Alturio Refosco Friuli Aquileia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyFriuli Aquileia$18
17.Conte Brandolini d'Adda Friuli Grave Refosco, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyFriuli Grave$10
18.Bianchi Signature Selection Refosco, Paso Robles, USAPaso Robles$28
19.Le Rocche Malatestiane Adesso Cagnina di Romagna, Emilia-Romagna, ItalyEmilia-Romagna$11
20.Botter Il Palu Refosco Venezia Giulia IGT, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyFriuli-Venezia Giulia$7
21.Geretto Confidenza Refosco delle Venezia IGT, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyFriuli-Venezia Giulia$10
22.Sirch Refosco Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyColli Orientali del Friuli$10
23.Nonino UE Refosco Cru Aqua Vitae, ItalyItaly$24
24.Terra dei Templari Ponte del Diavolo Refosco Friuli Grave, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, ItalyFriuli Grave$11
25.Boeger Winery Reserve Migliore, El Dorado, USAEl Dorado$24