I was shocked when my wife Lisa unpacked the new shipment of wines and saw a boxed wine--Fregi Barocchi's Salento Rosso from Palama Vineyards. I mean, I'm anything but a wine snob, but the few times I've had to swallow boxed wines at friends' homes I wasn't the least bit impressed. But, OK, she had spent the amazingly low sum of $25 for three liters, so I thought I'd give it a quick sniff, swill and spit and while exile the remaining contents to our kitchen sink's drain.
But wait a second... (sniff). is that clover I smell? (Sniff... sniff). Is that cinnamon? Apple slices? I could swear I smell honey... and hay... and a touch of rosemary? Now to taste. Surely tasting the stuff is going to prove that this box has been in the heat of a container on a ship for Lord knows how long....
I expected vinegar but what I got was nectar!
We've been in love with wines from Puglia ever since we Voyaged there and sampled great wines throughout the region. I don't think we ever had a bad bottle--even cheap, €4 bottles from local alimentari. We loved them so much that we always have a stock on hand (especially Primativo). And they are affordable here in the States, too. I don't think we've ever paid more than $20 for a bottle from Puglia.
But a boxed wine... 3 liters for under $25? How can this be SO good!?
The Palamà family vineyard was founded by Arcangelo Palamà in 1936. A family of Greek origins, they settled in Italia about two thousand years ago, and have been making wine ever since. For 70 years had only sold their wine in their restaurant–until Small Vineyards (a specialty wine importer) came knocking on their door. The current winemaker is Ninì Palamà, son of Arcangelo, a larger than life character who will burst into song without notice, a man with a lust for life--and wine.
His wines are full-bodied, intense and often spicy, like the Salento Rosso (also available in bottles). His wines capture the climate, sold and everything gown in fertile and dry Puglia. There is also an elegance in his wines that is becoming more and more common with Pugliese wines. Apulia has had a Renaissance or sorts since the post war period. Due to his estate’s proximity to the sea, the value of Southern coastal reds is that they pair as readily with seafood as they will with hearty meats.
For us, this amazing boxed masterpiece paired well with pizza, a rich Ragu alla Bolognese and even risotto. We can't recommend this wine highly enough--even though it pours out of a silver Mylar bladder stuffed inside that box. Oh, and if you are a bit of a wine snob, no worry... it's also available it very presentable bottles.
--Buy it at Astor Wines
First of all, I realize that Anisette is the French version of a liquor made from anise seeds, but for some reason my mother always gave us a little Anisette when we had a bad cold, not Sambuca. Perhaps the reason is because unlike Anisette and other Mediterranean anise spirits (Greece, Ouzo; Bulgaria, Mastika; Albania and Turkey, Arak; and Cristal in Algeria), Sambuca is really made from elder-flowers with star anise and licorice flavoring added. Anisette is distilled using only anise (fennel) seeds.
The benefits of anise itself are well-known: aiding with breathing problems, as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Even as an adult, I still use my Mother's remedy rather than those toxic blends of cold medicines. Anisette works surprisingly well to sooth any sore throat and helps to clear stuffiness. In fact, this past week I suffered from a sort of laryngitis and the Anisette made it easier for me to swallow and talk.
Just a Little Goes a Long Way
Pour a little into a small glass, place your nose into the glass and breath in the fumes to clear your nose. Mom would pour it into tiny, shot-sized mini beer mugs that she would use for family gatherings to serve Sambuca or Amaretto. I prefer a deeper glass because it contains the fumes better. Take small sips as needed for sore throat and as you begin to swallow, and hold in your throat for a second or two before swallowing. This numbs the soreness and helps clear phlegm. A bonus: a few sips helps you sleep. Anisette never fails to make colds easier to get through. But don't over-do it. This stuff is 50% alcohol!
And a warning... although my Mother gave us just a sip of Anisette when we were sick, she didn't let us drink it! A very small sniff and sip and that was it, until we needed it again. Personally, I would not recommend this remedy for the bambini in your family.
Mettiti in sesto presto, amici. (literally: Put yourself together soon, friends)
The ridiculous notion that any restaurant needs a water sommelier seems like a bit on a hidden camera show. But it's not. It's really a thing. Or at least, this German guy Martin Riese thinks it is. He is wildly promoting the idea, and talks of each water's "terrior" (as in, the land and climate wine varieties are growing in). He is surely in the press enough to keep his job at a chic California dining spot, while he also hawks his own brand of water--"Beverly 90H20 Crafted Spring Water". "Crafted?" Really?
Now I'm not saying that some waters--especially mineral spring waters--can carry a strong taste of odd minerals, salts, sulfur or magnesium. (Most don't, and the ones that do are used to move one's bowels). But seriously? Do people really need a sommelier to help pair a water to go with food or (get this) with the wine they are drinking? When I lived in France years ago, I quickly learned that the Vittel ads showing arrows going into a man's mouth and coming out of his crotch meant something: That this particularly awful tasting stuff makes you pee like crazy--something the French think is simply wonderful. I stayed away from that brand after learning my painful lesson.
Most bottled waters sold in the U.S. are not mineral waters anyway. Many have very natural sounding names that give the impression they come directly from some pristine high mountain spring. But then you discover that they come from the municipal water source of someplace like Newark, New Jersey.
In Italy, the choices are many, but did I sense a drastic change in flavor between brand names? Not really. So in restaurants the only question asked was, "acqua naturale o gassata?" Plain water or gassy. The taste was always the same. Wet water or with bubbles. Am I thirsty or do I want to burp after my meal? That's the real question.
Water water everywhere and we have to bottle it, brand it and hire someone to tell us which one to drink...
We fell in love with wines in Puglia when we Voyaged throughout Italy. Back at home, we discovered that Pugliese wines are, well, not well known here. Local wine shops usually have only one or two from Puglia... our favorite go-to, affordable choice is a Primativo by Layer Cake. The odd thing is, it's actually got a screw cap! Still, we haven't had a bad bottle yet.
This gave my wife, Lisa the idea to try other wines from the region, but to do that we needed a bigger wine shop. She decided on Astor Wines in New York City. I used to buy from Astor when I lived in Manhattan and can tell you from experience, this wine shop has everything. I mean everything... from $600 bottles of vintage bottles, to under $10 bottles. Well, being on the frugal side of life (and never having been satisfied with any wine that we paid over $50 for), the $10 range was just about right.
Below are three of the wines we've been enjoying at home with a profile of each...