April 17, 2020
If you didn’t know (and hey, why would you, unless you’re stalking me – you aren’t are you? Cause I’m really boring and feel for you if so), I recently, due to current events you know about, had an Italian vacation cut short by coronavirus. Said cutting short involved some radically fast packing (I mean, I’m a good suitcase arranger usually, but this was a mad dash), and that means quick choices about what to bring back, what you can fit, all that. One of the things I did bring back was a little bottle of Mazzetti Bitter, a deep red flavorfully-bitter aperitif with hints of rhubarb and lemon from the well-known grappa makers. Just like a week before the packing I purchased said bottle at my favorite north-Umbrian shop, Enoteca Lo Sfizio, which is a combination beautiful booze store, gift store, wine store, condiment-y store. It’s not huge (which is great cause huge stores scare me), but dreamy. So, ingredient one packed. One of the few other bottles I managed to squirrel away in said suitcases was a lean bottle of Donini Grappa (Donini being the finest winery in probably all of Umbria, owned by the nicest folks around), a monovitigno (one varietal that is, here being Sangiovese) grappa, very crisp and fragrant, that doesn’t forget that cozy grappa kick. Ingredient two packed. For ingredient three, I had to go out of suitcase – cause a rushed packing job sometimes has gaps. Luckily, on a past trip to Italy, I had packed in a smoother manner, cool-like, and managed to fit a bottle of Donini’s delicious Dono Di Dio, a vino liquoroso, or aged dessert wine that’s rich, lush, and needs to be tasted to be believed. If you’ve been Tuscany and had Vin Santo at a restaurant, think of that but like 10,000 times better. Yummy stuff. While I was sad to leave the Italian vacation, due to the wackiness of the travel (and cause once a trip is started, it’s always nice to be coming home), I was also very happy to make it back to Seattle. Which leads to: ingredient four in this here drink, Scrappy’s Seville Orange bitters. If your dream vacation is cut short unexpectedly by a world pandemic, a drink featuring the always-spot-on Scrappy’s and some ingredients reminding you of the vacation, well, it’s not going to get you over the experience, but sure makes thinking about it easier.
Forty Minutes Ago on the Balcony
1 ounce Mazzetti Bitter
1-1/2 ounces Donini Grappa
1/2 ounce Donini Dono Di Dio
Two dashes Scrappy’s Seville Orange bitters
Orange slice, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass three-quarters full with cracked ice. Add everything but the orange. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass or something that helps your day travel easier. Garnish with the orange.
October 5, 2018
Usually, I try not to have favorites in booze categories. Meaning, I wouldn’t say I have a favorite gin (I like too many, too well), or amaro, or vermouth. Or white wine. However, I might say I have a favorite red wine (other red wines, please turn away now). Or, at least a favorite red wine grape, that being Sagrantino. Growing only around Montefalco, in Umbria (lovely town, by the way, the Falcon’s Mount, also referred to the balcony of Umbria, and worth a visit – great churches, great museum, a few mummies, and more, and the wine, naturally), real Sagrantino di Montefalco uses 100 percent Sagrantino grapes, is aged 37 months at the shortest, and has a deep, rich, color (dark purple) and taste of dark stone fruits. Memorable stuff!
But here’s something I recently found out (thanks to a bottle coming my way). There’s also a Montefalco Rosso wine. It’s a bit like Sagrantino’s more playful younger sibling. Aged just 18 months and blended with 60-80% Sangiovese. The specific bottle I tasted was Tenuta Alzatura Montefalco Rosso, which is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sangrantino, and 15% Merlot. It’s a beautiful wine, with a light ruby coloring, and also a lighter nature than Sagrantino, probably more approachable for a larger percentage of people, with a fruity nature (red fruit, juicy ones), and hints of spice on the nose and taste, but with a softer finish than its sibling. A nice red wine for a late-summer or fall day. And also, a nice one for making into a wine cocktail.
Of course, as you know, I have a hard time not experimenting with any ingredient I have at hand, and while a glass of this Montefalco Rosso by itself is dreamy, it plays well with others, too. Here, I brought in some Italian favorites, starting with light, slightly citrus, aperitif, Aperol. To match up with that and to balance some of the wine’s fruits, a few dashes of Fee Brothers Orange bitters added to the party – not Italian, but we do have another Italian fav, too. See, I wanted some strong undercurrents, too (sometimes in fall there’s a chill in the air), and wanted to stay Italian-style, and so brought in an underutilized cocktail ingredient: grappa. Specifically: Marolo Grappa di Amarone, which is aged in oak, and which has cherry notes, along with an adaptable nuttiness, that go with the wine perfectly. Altogether, this is a cocktail that’ll have you fantasizing of Italy – and savoring every sip.
On the Road to Montefalco
2 ounces Tenuta Alzatura Montefalco Rosso
1 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce Marolo Grappa di Amarone
2 dashes Fee Brothers Orange bitters
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Bella, bella.
October 21, 2016
At some point this month, I myself will be in Italy, and I can’t be happier about it (having lived there once, it’s easy to see that I am a big fan), and in a way this drink is a bubbly celebration of that happiness. Though, it’s also perhaps a more serious number (not in a bad way, at all) than some bubbly Italian drinks. Howso? It starts with grappa, which I love, and which is of course a cousin to wine, and as you probably guessed by the “bubbly,” this also has Italian sparkler Prosecco. Let’s hold on that for a second, to talk about the third ingredient, Cynar. A member of the digestif amari family, Cynar is crafted from artichokes along with 12 other herbs and plants. It’s a wee stitch bitter, but has a great smooth herbal-ness and a small comforting sweetness, too. It’s swell solo, but also in drinks, and plays well with the strong grappa here. But back to the Prosecco – to hold up to those other two strong personalities, you need a bubbly with its own strong sense of purpose and flavor, and here I went with Zonin Black edition (a bottle came in the mail recently – yes, I was born under a good sign). It’s a slightly spicier Prosecco, with cardamom hints alongside apple and a little floralness. Combined with our other two Italian imports, this makes for an effervescent drink that can be had both before and after dinner, and perhaps savored more than most.
The Italian Evening
1 ounce grappa
1 ounce Cynar
4 ounces chilled Zonin Black edition Prosecco
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add the grappa and Cynar. Stir well.
2. Strain into a flute. Top with the Prosecco. Stir to combine. Garnish with the lemon twist.
September 24, 2013
Just last week, I talked about finding and reading and digging the book by Madison Smartt Bell called Straight Cut. Go read that post if you haven’t. Back now? Great, that means it’s time for you to dive right in to some more Cocktail Talk quotes from said book. The first is about grappa, and the second, for balance, is about rum.
In the early evening I went to the trattoria for an early supper and mainly to get out of the house and there I remembered about grappa. There’s no language difficulty about ordering grappa. You just say “grappa” and the man brings you some, in this case a sizable portion for the equivalent of about thirty U.S. cents.
On the Bayswater Road, near the corner of Kensington Gardens, I found a booze shop and bought a quart of dark naval rum. Circling back about Queensway, I picked up some plastic cups at a grocer’s and then I went back to the room. It was time to get drunk and think it over.
— Straight Cut, Madison Smartt Bell
September 16, 2011
I feel somewhat bad (I mean, not all-the-way bad, as if I’d spilled a Shoreditch Sombrero cocktail, but still sorta bad) cause I don’t have a super accurate and detailed recipe for today’s What I’m Drinking. Usually, I try to give you (and I do mean you) the opportunity to drink along with me by providing said recipe, but as this drink came about somewhat randomly I somewhat forgot to write down the measurements of what’s in it in a precise and helpful manner. Heck, I didn’t even come up with a snazzy name, and I pride myself, darnit, on the snappy-ness of my drink names (maybe I should have gone with Lant? Lavmi? Mive? LMG? Moving Lavender Gogh?). I suppose there’s still time. With all that said, here are the basics. I took a bunch of fresh lavender from the garden (the lavender was really the impetus for this liqueury drink, cause we have a lovely lavender plant), the flowers of course, about two cups, and added it to a sturdy glass container with about a cup and half fresh mint (we’ve also been lucky in the mint department this year), muddled them up a bit, then added a 750 milliliter bottle of grappa that I wasn’t sure I’d be sipping, stirred, and sealed:
I let that kick its heels for a couple weeks in my cool and dry storage room, stopping by to chat it up and swirl it around every day or so. Then I added (if memory serves) about a cup-and-a-quarter’s worth of simple syrup. I didn’t want it to be as sweetened as most liqueurs, but wanted to take the edge off the grappa a bit. You dig me? Then back down to that cool, dry spot away from the sun for a few weeks. Then I strained it a couple times through cheese cloth (those lavender pips can be tricky), bottled it, and Nat took this lovely pic:
It has a slightly floral taste, underlined with the mint and some other herbaceous-ness, but enough of a kick that it won’t be called a sissy anytime soon. I’ve been sipping it solo the last few nights but am tempted to try mixing it up with some flavorful gin or other choice items. Its flavor is singular enough that it may be tough to find the right match, but I’m game (as long as I don’t get away from the sipping solo, too, that is). If anything works out nicely, I’ll report back, okay?
August 25, 2009
If you don’t already know, Wino magazine is not a magazine catering solely to drunken reprobates. Though they probably are okay with that readership, too. It’s really a magazine all about Washington wines. And it’s free, and you should pick up every copy you can, cause the guys that put it out are fine fellows and very devoted to their wines (so devoted they drink about a cask a week. Ba-dump-bump). After a few glasses with Doug, the editor-in-chief, this summer, I convinced him that wine lovers would also be wine cocktails lovers with the right edging on, and also convinced him that the magazine should highlight a few of the fantastic new Washington spirits distilleries in an upcoming issue, because they’re new and deliver delicious product and need to be more known.
Little did I know that he’d be okay with me writing the article (I was okay with it, because it meant I got to visit the Pacific and Soft Tail distilleries and hang out with Mark and Dennis, the friendly and super knowledgeable distillers) and that he’d put a big review of the new book Wine Cocktails in the same issue as the article. Holy booze-tastico friends, that makes for a heck of an issue. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a hard copy (it’s free), but Wino also puts most of the articles on their site, so you can read the Wine Cocktails review and Be Still My Heart (the article about Pacific Distillery and Soft Tail Distillery) right from the safety and comfort of your work desk, or home desk, or couch if you’re all wireless’d up. There is also a recipe using Pacific’s Voyager gin and Absinthe Pacifique and a recipe using Soft Tail’s grappa after the article (forget the recipe header that says “Wine Cocktail recipes”–these aren’t necessarily that, but are necessarily tasty). While at the Wino site, I suggest checking every nook and cranny out, especially the online only A Bottle a Week feature (cause wine is healthy and you need more). But enough of me–head on over to Wino and start swilling.
April 21, 2009
Buon giorno pals (or buona serra, depending on what time of day your blog reading takes place). As anyone who read this blog post knows, I was recently in Italy for a couple weeks with wife Nat and some pals, and while there I had some, well, absolutely positively fantastico eats and drinks. And, lucky for you, I took pictures (and Nat took some, too), so you can experience the experience a little (and maybe plan a trip of your own). I’m going to do two things to relay trip gastronomic and alcoholic information in a more friendly fashion. First, I’m gonna break it up into three posts (or maybe more, but at least three): Bologna, Florence, and the countryside (which for the purposes of me in Italy is the Upper Tiber Valley area that covers a bit of southeast Tuscany and northwest Umbria). Second, I’m going to attempt to be a little less wordy, though I know, know, know (like a chant, that is) it goes against my personal wordy grain. But hey, what the heck.
So, to start, Bologna. Also known as Bologna la grassa, or Bologna the fat, due to its traditional place as a food center in Italy (if not the food center). We showed up and instantly loved it, with its arcades (nice to walk under when it’s raining), and red-hued architecture, and churches, and markets, and, especially with its food and drinks. We had our favorite meal of this trip while there, at a restaurant called De Cesari, at Via de’ Carbonesi, 8. Family owned and around for over 100 years, it’s a lovely little spot. All the produce comes from the family farm, and they even make their own wine. On the drink side we started with prosecco, then had the house lambrusco, which was full-bodied and lightly frizzante.On the food side, it was Sformatino con Formaggio al Tartufo (for A.J.–though we shared) and Crostata di Zucca (for Natalie). The sformatino was a light, cheesylicious pair of soufflé-esque creations topped with truffles (the sformatino was a little more dense, in the best way, than a regular soufflé, and so intense in taste):
and the crostata was a savory pumpkin pie that was out-of-this-world. Creamy but lush and full of flavor:
For our main courses, I had the Ravioli di Zucca, which was homemade ravioli stuffed with pumpkin. Fairly unadorned (just a brush of olive oil and freshly grated pecorino), this is, to me, pasta at its best–because the taste of the pasta is good enough to be allowed to strut its stuff, and then the stuffing busts through:
Nat had the Tortelloni di Ricotta al Burro Fuso e Parmigiano, which was also scrumptious, like bundles of cheesy joy wrapped in perfectly made and cooked pasta. But, as good was the pasta was, we definitely couldn’t stop there (we’re long-haul eaters), and so ordered up the cheese place, which boasted six different goat cheeses of varying strength and flavors, served alongside a fig compote that was figgy sweet with that thickness all jams strive for–a combination splendid enough to drive eaters mad with joy:
And then, to add to our little culinary heaven, we had the chocolate tort. Now, if we would have ended it all then, and called it a night, this would still be one of my favorite meals on the trip (and perhaps of all time).
But we asked friendly waiter Gaetano for limoncello and amaro, to aid the digestion (a healthy practice I tend to practice), and when he reported that they were out of limoncello, he offered us some of the house digestif. You know (if you know me at all) that the phrase “house digestif” drives me mad, mad, mad with happiness I tell you. It came out in a bottle that had a block of ice frozen around it, and in the ice were fruits, flowers, herbs, and such. Amazing! But the digestif itself was even better, a blueberry-infused grappa, with strong berry overtones and that grappa kick and personality underneath (and served with, catch this, chocolate covered orange peels, mini biscotti, and raisins). If you go to Bologna and don’t visit De Cesari, well, you have only yourself to blame. Get on a plane. Go there now.
And then for your next meal, stop by the charming Osteria La Mura, at Vicolo del Falcone, 13/A (which is right across from the hotel we stayed at and heartily recommend, San Mamolo), owned by Peppino, who is welcoming, affable, witty, and happy to pour you a Strega when you wander in at 1 am:
The nicest guy in Bologna, I believe. We had lunch at La Mura (the day after the late-night Strega), and it was as tasty as Peppino is friendly. We started with Caprese salads, and the fresh bufala mozzarella was rich and creamy and cuddled up with pals tomato, basil, olive oil, and pepper:
Then, we dove into plates of Gnocchetti Sardi al Cavofiore, which is a bit hard to describe but luscious to eat: like a gratin of mini gnocchi, finely chopped cauliflower, herbs, and cheese, with a touch of crisp on the top edges:
And if that wasn’t a grand enough way to start the day (remember, the night before, 1 am, Strega, equals sleeping late), Peppino brought us out his trio of house digestifs: plum, orange, and basil. In beautiful little bottles, and bursting with fresh fruit and herb flavors (again with a touch of ka-pow due to the grappa undertones, which also add a bit more flavor, too), these helped give us the jump start we needed:
Just thinking about those meals makes me want to grab a taxi, race to the airport, scrounge a ticket to Bologna, and pray I can get in to each restaurant without a reservation. We had other good meals, snacks, and drinks, in Bologna, as well, but since this post is longer than Sookie’s tail already, I’m going to rest on the above laurels. Oh, with two more quick shout outs. We stopped multiple times at Pasticceria D’azeglio, on Via Massimo Dazeglio, which was right around the corner from our hotel (there are two versions, and I suggest the smaller one), for bubbly spritzes (prosecco and Aperol and an orange slice) in the afternoons (accompanied by a mini-buffet of snacks the bartenders would always whip out). I with no reservations recommend this afternoon practice no matter where you are:
And, finally, a sort-of fist-shaking-while-laughing nod to the cozy and hippish Rosa Rosae, Via Clavature, 18/b, where we ordered spritzes but got espressos, which we then drank out of honor (I mean, they made them for us). And now Nat has the espresso monkey firmly attached to her back:
Ciao bellas, until Italy-on-the-road-take-two.