April 2, 2012

Cocktail Talk: The Mamelukes May Love

It’s now just about a year since the beginning of wife Nat and I’s last month of Italian pre-tirement (if that makes sense–we came back May of last year). Which is, if not tragic, at least personally sad. Luckily, there’s wine here–even if it does come packing a lot of markup. But it’s here, and brings some of Italy along with it. And luckily there’s Francesco Redi. Who was a physician (to some of those Medici dukes), scientist, and poet. Those days you could be more of everything (and by those days, I mean the 1600s). He was also from Arezzo (where I spent a few fun days when living there) and wrote the poem “The Mamelukes May Love,” all about wine (said poem translated in In Their Cups). The bottom is just the poem’s finale—hey, you can buy the book for the whole thing and help me get back to Italy.

Sweet ladies,
for a moment, do not drink,
but run your  fingers like garlands
through my hair. I won’t crave your
sugary egg punch, or golden
sorbets, a thousand fragranced waters,
because these indolent drinks are only
for your sweet lips. Wine, wine
is for those desire euphoria,
to forget their fears. But be not shy about it–
I tip my glasses crazily, happily,
at least six times a year.

— Francesco Redi, The Mamelukes May Love

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March 30, 2012

The Last Bottle of Bindolo

Sometimes, I’m almost too sad to write more than one sentence. Or six. This is one of those times, because we recently finished our last bottle of Bindolo, the wine from Donini we drank a fair amount of when we lived in Italy. You can read more about Bindolo and Donini in this past post, and then get on a plane and go pick some up (and tell Diego hello for us). Me, I’m going to look at the picture and tear up (though the sadness is partially offset by the fact that we shared that last bottle with pals Rebecca, who makes the great Deluxe jams and cocktail syrups, and Eric, who owns the best bike shop in Seattle, JRA. At least we had that last bottle with awesome folks).

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January 8, 2012

Cocktail Talk: A Case of Two Cities

In an earlier Cocktail Talk post, I had a quote from Qiu Xiaolong’s book Death of a Red Heroine (which I highly recommended then and still do now), and talked a bit about the author and his main character in the series, Shanghai poet and Chief Inspector Chen (though Chen’s second-in-command Detective Yu gets a lot of deserved face time on the page, too, with chapters often switching off with the two as alternating protagonists). So, for more background, go read that post. Cause here I just want to get straight into this quote, which is from a book in the series called A Case of Two Cities, which takes place not only in late 20th century Shanghai but also Los Angeles and St. Louis. This quote is actually Chen remembering “a short poem by Wang Han, an eighth-century Tang dynasty poet,” and would have made a dandy addition to In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems About Drinking Places, Drinkers, and Drinks had I known of it.

Oh the mellow wine shimmering
in the luminous stone cup!
I am going to drink
on the horse
when the army Pipa starts
urging me to charge out.

Oh, do not laugh
if I fall dead
drink in the battlefield.
How many soldiers
have really come back home
since time immemorial?

–Wang Han, quoted in Qiu Xiaolong’s A Case of Two Cities

July 19, 2011

Cocktail Talk: Ayala’s Angel

Ayala’s Angel sounds a bit like a not-tawdry-enough romance novel that you’d find in the quarter bin of a bookstore specializing in romance trade-ins and the occasional “art” book. While it does have a bit of romance, if you decided not to read the book solely because of the connotations involved with the title, you’d be one sad reader, pal. Cause it’s an Anthony Trollope number, and while it has its fair share of yucks and laffs (perhaps it is as gently witty towards its main characters as any Trollope I’ve read), they’re surrounded by that eye for everyday detail that makes Trollope (along with the fact that his characters are memorable, his prose is sweet, etc, etc) so enjoyable to read. And the fact that it contains the following quote that references a particular vintage of claret (Trollope was so fond of this winery he bought–as the book’s notes tell us–24 bottles in one go) makes the book even better. Any reverence for a particular booze bears repeating:


But before the end of the first fortnight there grew upon her a feeling that even bank notes become tawdry if you are taught to use them as curl-papers. It may be said that nothing in the world is charming unless it be achieved at some trouble. If it rained ’64 Leoville–which I regard as the most divine of nectars–I feel sure that I should never raise it to my lips.


Ayala’s Angel, Anthony Trollope

October 29, 2010

Hey Importers! Bring Donini to Seattle by April

I was pal-ing around with my pal Keith here in Italy the other day (he and his wife, pal Tashsa, were visiting here recently–you can read more about it either now or soon on my blog Six Months In Italy), and we randomly stopped by this winery/wine-tasting place in Trestina while wife Nat and Tasha were shopping in the Eurospar next door. The winery, called Donini, was dark, but we thought we saw some lights on in back, and so tried the door. Which opened, but it just looked closed when we peered further inside, and we didn’t see anybody in the front room, though the lights were on in the wine room (meaning, the room with big vats of wine in it), and so we shut the door and started walking away. We got about ten feet when the door re-opened behind us and a friendly-looking fella walked out, giving us a hollar and an invite to c’mon back in and look around. The space inside was really cozy, with stacks of wine from Donini in front, and then tables and lots of other wines and boozes in back. The Donini wine was incredibly reasonable, and we were browsing it when the gentleman who let us in said “would you like to taste some?” We, naturally, jumped like thirsty dogs at the chance, and Diego (which is what the gentleman’s name turned out to be) starting setting us up, bringing us glasses and bottles and crackers and bread and loads of smiles. Before long, Nat and Tash caught up with us, and so we sat around with Diego tasting wines and telling stories for a bit. All of which was great, but even better was that the wines were fantastic, and when considering the prices—super fantastic (we’re talking single digit Euros for a bottle, from two euro fifty for a frizzante summer sparkler to a mere nine euro for a 3 year aged vin santo that I’d serve the Queen, if I knew her). Perhaps Nat and I’s favorite (and a fav with Keith and Tash, too) was the Bindolo. It was a very young wine, meant to be consumed now, and had a flavor and personality that matched its name: naughty little boy. Very light on the tongue, very bouncy, and very bursting with berry accents and a schools-out style. We liked it enough that we bought 6 bottles (as well as some of that vin santo mentioned earlier, and that ultra-reasonable sparkler) and will probably get more; it’s just so easy going, an ideal dinner wine when you don’t want to be all stuffy and serious. Now, the only problem is this: Donini is impossible to get in the states at the moment. Diego said there was one spot in NY, but that’s a long way from Seattle. So, importers or wanna be importers, get on it! I want Donini available by the time I return in late April.


May 28, 2010

Cocktail Talk: Kill and Tell

After the longish (or just plain long) Tom Waits post below, I thought I’d slip in a short couple of quotes from a book that almost echoes Waits (a book which is definitely the inspiration for the “ethics” scene in the Coen brothers’ film Miller’s Crossing, too), in that there are some shady and weird characters and everyone ends sad, dead, or drunk–a book called Kill and Tell. The first one’s about going into a bar, and the second about drinking at home (cause I wanted to cover the bases).

The bar was a fine old piece of imitation mahogany, and there was a fine old imitation Irishman in a white coat behind it.

We lifted our glasses to each other; the wine was cool and dry. I kept refilling our glasses while we ate, and when Jake brought the coffee Catherine asked him for some brandy. We were celebrating; each of us understood that.

“I think I’m drunk,” she told me.

“I’m drunk, too,” I said.


Kill and Tell, Howard Rigsby

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December 15, 2009

Cocktail Talk: Catullus, Poem 27, Translation by Ed Skoog

It is the middle of the holiday cocktail party season. There are, let’s see, daytime work holiday parties, and nighttime work holiday parties, afternoon drinking parties with friends, and evening drinking parties with friends, holiday booze-teas with families, and holiday booze-luncheons with families, and holiday booze evenings with families, and then a host of parties thrown by those that might be friends, but not good friends, but parties you feel you should go to anyway, in the spirit of the season. With all this holiday partying, it’s possible (if not probable) that one or two of the parties may be more chore than cheer. With that, I’d like to present the following poem by Catullus, ancient partier. The poem is about these later parties a bit, and may well be worth reciting loudly when you’re at any holiday party. The translation (because, well, I can’t read ancient Latin) is by modern partier and poet Ed Skoog (did you get Mister Skylight yet? Cause if not, I’m sending a zombie Catullus to haunt you) and is, well, delicious.


Poem 27


Are you tending the bar, kid? Pour me the strong stuff,

the Falernian wine, and one for yourself. We’re going to need it,

the way this party is going. Our host, Postumia, is drunker than

these grapes. No water, please. It kills what wine is.

Save water for the fool who prefers his own sorrow.

This wine is more than wine. It’s the blood of the god

whose mother was destroyed by his father’s splendor,

the god of madness and ecstasy, who shares it with us.


— Poem 27, Catullus, translated by Ed Skoog


PS: Enjoy this drunken poetry and lit’rature stuff? Then you must, I say must, visit the blog Drunk Literature. It’s a literary boozehound’s dream blog.

May 12, 2009

Drinks & Eats on the Road: San Leo Bastia and the Upper Tiber Valley (Italy III)

Well, here it is, Le’ Finale’ of the Italy 2009 (well, maybe Spring Italy 2009–a boy can aspire, right?) blog posts: This Time It’s Countryside, afterwhich the blog can drift back into its more boozy-specific nature. Though I love, love, love (and want to be back in right now!) the Florence and the Bologna, my favorite part of Italy is what’s often referred to as the Upper Tiber Valley. This is an area just off of (and sometimes crossing in to–there’s a lot of border crossing) southeastern Tuscany, and right over into northern/northwestern Umbria. Not overwhelmed with touristy folks, but full of any amenities you’d want, this area is absolutely exquisite, with hills dotted with olive trees and grape groves, little villages, curious houses tucked in here and there, friendly faces most everywhere, and delicious food and wine (at usually amazing prices).


We (that’s wife Nat and I in this particular sentence) have stayed in this area five times now, always near the sweetest little village, San Leo Bastia, and always renting a place from Amici Villas. The Amici folks are super helpful and manage an assortment of places in the area. Every place we’ve stayed at has been nice, clean, and handy for touring around the area, and, if you don’t mind me getting monetary: amazingly reasonable. For example, this last time Casa Vitiano was just over $200 per person–for the week. 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, 2 kitchens, gianormous yard, bikes, garden . . . fantastic deal. Here’s a pic:



and that’s just the side view. Here’s the front door:



San Leo Bastia is smallish, but has the world’s best café, Lo Spaccio, which you can read a bit more about in my Viparo lament, as well as the world’s second best café, under which is a tasty restaurant, Taverna di San Leo Bastia. From San Leo, too, you can get to a host of other villages, towns, and cities for day trips (towns like Assisi, Citta di Castello, Perugia, and more). Even better than those famous places though, San Leo is only about 7 or 8 miles away from Nestor’s Pizzeria. The best pizza in the world. There, I said it–you wanna argue? Leg wrestle? I will kick your bootie in Nestor’s honor. Every time we head to the Upper Tiber Valley, the first thing we do when arriving is visit Nestor’s. This time, we (and now I’ve switched into the larger “we” which includes: Stereolad, Schticker girl, Andyo, and Deenayo) stopped at Nestor’s twice. The first time, I had the Parigiano pizza, which is asparagus and an egg over red sauce and cheese (and yes, egg on pizza is better even than reading the Essential Dr. Strange, Volume II), and the second time I had the impossible-to-believe-but-it-is-even-better Ruboscuore, which has red sauce topped with béchamel, boletus mushrooms, walnuts, and more cheese. Damn, I wish I had a picture to do it justice. But instead, here’s a picture of Stereolad absolutely blissing out over his multi-meat number:




Nat actually went off-map the second time at Nestor’s, and had a calzone, which had greens, béchamel, and more, and was so darn good:




Nestor’s is owned by the nicest family as well (I got a hug from poppa), and they brought us free limoncello on our first stop, and then a whole plate of cakes and glasses of vin santo on the second stop. I don’t have a web site to point you to, but if you’re ever within 1,000 miles of Nestor’s, you should email me and I will tell you how to get there. Cause it’s the best pizza in the world!


And, since you’ll be close, you might as well stick around the area (I’d suggest at least a week) so you can have dinner at the above-mentioned Taverna di San Leo Bastia the next night. The owner, Sergio, is incredibly nice (you notice a pattern here with the locals? All swell folks) and also cooks the food, which is tasty. They have pizza too, a slight notch only down from Nestor’s (but still better than any available in Seattle), but my favorite dish there is the Gnocci con Tartufo, which I’ve had on two separate trips. The gnocci is just chewy enough, and the creamy truffle sauce is rich and plate-licking good. If I ate meat though, I’d go on and on about the carni antipasto, which was artistic in its presentation and from all reports meat-a-licious. This picture in no way does it justice, but you’ll get the idea:



As mentioned, there are many spots to step into for an afternoon, or even an hour, that are nearby, and one we tend to visit (and did this time) is Anghiari, a village perched on a sharp hillside’s edge. Anghiari has been around for, oh, some 1000s of years, so it has vistas a poppin’ and ancient walls and towers to wander round about within and without, as well as a convenient internet café right on the square. All good stuff.


However, what I want to chew on here is the restaurant we wandered into, Perbacco. And a lucky wander it was, as the owner was a delight, and the food and wine even better (can I get a hey-ya for that winning combination?). I was starving (either cause we’d walked around a lot that day, or cause I’m always starving or at least ready to tie on a serious feedbag when in Italy), and ordered up a full-course feast that included: Frittata al Formaggio e Pinzimonio Tiepido (a perfectly balanced frittata over blanched veggies and topped with cheese), Patate Salata al Rosmarino (which is as you’d expect), and Tagiatelle con Verdure e Pecorino Toscano, which was simply (and simply excellent) homemade pasta with veggies and cheese:



Nat also frittata’d, but she began with a delicious Risotto Giallo Asparagi e Brie (that’s right, risotto with asparagus and brie. She knows how to bring it):



Now, I realize (so just quit your fussin’) that I’m starting to go on perhaps too much, or at least so much that you might end up quitting your job and running to Italy right now. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing. But do I want that kind of responsibility? That weight on my shoulders? Maybe. I can’t completely decide yet. So, I’m going to wrap this post and the trip up with just a couple more quick hits. First, the Umbertide market. Umbertide is yet another lovely little town (where one day I might live–you can come visit), which hosts the market on Wednesdays (the market, or a market, is in a different town on different days), and it’s another regular stop for us. I got some nice socks this time, and Nat got a scarf, and we picked up some cheese and veggies, but Stereolad and Andyo got up close and personal with a porchetta truck:




There were four porchetta trucks at the market, and they were all serving this pork-y delicacy that even to a veg-like-me smells outstanding. The trucks show up around the markets, as well as at sporting events and such, and are beloved by meat eaters (especially our pal the Husky Boy). The basics involve a whole pig, seasonings, cooking, and happy carnivores. I’m not sure the pig is happy, though:








To take your mind off that, gaze at the stylish people you see at the markets:



and everywhere in Italy, for that matter:




While we (as evidenced above) spent some salivatingly good times at restaurants in the countryside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also had some spectacular meals at home (after stopping at the convenient Euro-Spar in Trestina and other spots for provisionss), and while I don’t have any pics of such, let me take a moment to applaud Stereolad & Schticker Girl, Andyo & Deenayo, and Nat for making me three scrumptious meals at the Casa Vitiano. Dang, it’s never a bad idea to travel with out-of-sight chefs (especially when they’re alright with you sitting around swilling wine and limoncello and Vipero while they cook). It certainly was heavenly, even if I did trick Andyo into taking a trip to hell–Hell Bier, that is:




Well, pals and palinos, that is almost that–wait, wait, I need to make one more, non-culinary or drinkinary, note. And that’s a long-distance shout out and tennis ball throw and behind-the-ear scratch to Lapo, our (for two fun afternoons, at least) adopted Italian puppy, who made being away from Rory and Sookie at least a little more bearable:



If this post, and Italy post I and II (and aside I) didn’t get you day-dreaming about going, or actually buying a ticket to go, then you must be some-sort of zombie. And I don’t think zombies can read. Which means plan that trip up, and plan on hitting all the great spots mentioned. Remember one thing though: having a guide is never a bad idea–and you know how to reach me. My suitcase can be packed in about a half hour. Cause I am ready to go back (as long as Nat goes with).



Ciao bellas, ciao Italian countryside-

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