Social Distancing Installment #9: WHO wants you to stop drinking NOW

Looks like WHO is channeling Winston Churchill with its latest guidance on alcohol consumption during the coronavirus crisis.

On April 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement and fact sheet on alcohol and COVID-19.  There’s no subtlety here:

Alcohol is known to be harmful to health in general, and is well understood to increase the risk of injury and violence, including intimate partner violence, and can cause alcohol poisoning. At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviors, mental health issues and violence. WHO/Europe reminds people that drinking alcohol does not protect them from COVID-19, and encourages governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption.

Blunt but reasonable.  But the accompanying six-page fact sheet, “Alcohol and COVID-19:  What You Need to Know,” goes beyond a sober warning and, frankly, into moralizing territory:

  • “Avoid alcohol altogether so that you do not undermine your own immune system and health and do not risk the health of others.” (Page 2)
  • “Make sure that children and young people do not have access to alcohol and do not let them see you consume alcohol – be a role model.” (Page 2)
  • “Monitor the screen time of your children (including TV), as such media are flooded with alcohol advertising and promotion; they also spread harmful information that may stimulate early initiation and increased consumption of alcohol.”  (Page 3)
  • “Your time, money and other resources are better invested in buying healthy and nutritious food that will maintain good health and enhance your immune system response. For further ideas, take a look at the food and nutrition tips during self- quarantine issued by WHO.” (Page 3)
  • “Instead of consuming alcohol to pass your time at home, try an indoor workout. Physical activity strengthens the immune system and overall – from both a short-term and a long-term perspective – is a highly beneficial way of spending a period of quarantine.”  (Page 4)
  • “The present situation is a unique opportunity to quit drinking, or at least to cut down considerably, as various social cues and peer pressure situations, such as parties, friends’ gatherings, restaurants and clubs, are (by necessity) avoidable.”  (Page 5)

I admit I’m a WHO fan from way back.  In my environmental advocacy days, I could always count on WHO to say things that US government agencies wouldn’t.  The organization’s precautionary approach – avoid doing harm rather than mitigating it afterward – led them to classify hundreds of substances as suspect long before US EPA did.  WHO’s bluntness was a help in pushing for legislation like the Food Quality Protection Act, which was intended to usher in a new way of setting exposure limits for toxic chemicals.

But there’s a difference between asking governments to protect public health when it comes to things largely out of our everyday control (food and environment) and bullying people into making what WHO considers “better” choices in their daily lives.  It looks to me like WHO is using its well-earned bully pulpit to elevate the issue of alcohol consumption and sees the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to engage in demagoguery, using anti-smoking campaigns as a model.  It’s a little hard to take, especially when we know that even so-called “light” smoking will reduce the length of your life by a much more significant amount and cause far more health problems than moderate drinking will.

Why did WHO decide to go all Helen Lovejoy on us about the dangers of having wine at dinner in front of your kids? Haven’t we been told that exposing your children to reasonable drinking habits was a way to encourage them not to binge drink later?

As I mentioned before, I understand that current isolation measures could encourage people to drink more than they otherwise might.  We should all be vigilant about our own behaviors and helping others who are feeling the strain of lockdown requirements.  Certainly, medical and mental health professionals are within their rights to suggest that their patients reduce/eliminate alcohol consumption if they show signs of stress or anxiety, especially when isolation can encourage some individuals to abuse alcohol.  But I’m not sure most of those professionals would try to generalize to the world at large beyond standard advice about moderation.

I’m a non-smoker and I appreciate laws that protect me from second-hand exposure outside my home.  Laws against public drinking and serving already intoxicated people similarly protect from the dangers posed by others who are intoxicated.  And as a society we have laws that punish those who engage in harmful actions regardless of motivation or circumstances.  Still, as long as we stay within legal parameters, we get to decide on our habits and behaviors.

So, thanks for the facts about alcohol, WHO.  I’d even be OK with it if you added a “we believe that…” when you decided to do some (small amount of) editorializing.  But please don’t present me with your choices for clean living as if they were requirements for my life.  And, really, have a little perspective when we are all trying to get on as best we can during this extraordinary time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social Distancing Installment #8: A day at a virtual wine show

Last week I “attended” my first videoconference wine show looking rather schlubby after making deliveries, sitting at my kitchen table.  Afterwards I thought that perhaps I should cultivate more of this look for the next one — just as soon as I can go get a haircut… (Photo by Austin Ditsel on Unsplash.)

Like other industries, the wine world is adapting to social distancing.  The first activity to get the video treatment has been wine tastings.  Many of you have probably received invitations to video tastings done by your favorite wine store or restaurant, or perhaps a winery or a wine writer.  Reviews on these tastings have been mixed, at least initially – although the quality will likely improve with time and practice.

In the world of wine professionals, wine shows have been the main vehicle for importers and distributors to meet wine producers.  A few of the organizations that organize wine shows have tried video format, and I “attended” my first one last week.  I’m looking forward to more.

I’ve written about the different kinds of wine shows before and how they’re like dating services.  You either have the big singles mixer or something more like a dating app, where you pre-screen.  Last week’s show was the latter kind.  I picked from a list of producers and they then had to decide if they wanted to meet with me.  At least both parties have agreed, providing a degree of enthusiasm going in.  Appointments were set and videoconferencing began.

The one thing missing was the wine.  In a video tasting done by a wine shop or winery, you can buy the wine ahead and taste it with the presenter.  None of the Italian and Spanish producers I met with in this show already exports to the U.S., so it wasn’t possible to get the wine ahead of time.  Normally, at least half of our 20-minute meetings would have been spent tasting and discussing the wines with each producer.  But with the video it was up to us to fill the time.

I always take a few minutes to explain my business, since it’s unusual.  I’m a retailer who imports wines because I’m allowed to do that here in DC, and I sell directly to the public online without a walk-in shop. I’ve got the elevator pitch down now and I know where I’m likely to get questions.  “Wine retailer” has many different permutations in Europe so I have to nail down precisely what I do and don’t do.  And I occasionally still have to explain that Washington DC isn’t Washington State.

But beyond that it’s their time to talk, with some questions at the end.  How they fill the time tells me a lot about them, whether they intend it or not.  I was surprised that only half of the producers I spoke with gave the kind of presentation I used to have to make routinely when I worked for an environmental advocacy organization – giving me a concrete idea of why I, the importer, should want to buy their wines.

In the old days, tasting the wine and seeing the price sheet might be enough.  But that wasn’t an option.  There were some language issues, which was unfortunate.  And the quality of the video feeds were erratic.  Still, I’d have thought that every one of them would have had some kind of talk ready, going from the big picture down to the specifics of their vineyards and winery.

As with virtual wine tastings, it’s early days, and I guess most producers haven’t had to think like they’re making a pitch on “Shark Tank.”  Especially the ones taking over a generations-old family business.  They prefer to let the wine speak for itself.  I’m sure each of them would be a genial, informative host in a two-hour meeting at their wineries.  They just have to translate that into something that works on a short video link.

The best presentations all had a few things in common.  The producers first put their wines into the context of their region in terms of tradition and the recent trends of wine making.  Then they got down to more specifics about the vineyards and the winery, including some of the history of both the property and their families (since they’re mostly family businesses).  Finally, to the wines more specifically and what they were trying to accomplish with them.

This sounds formulaic, but there’s plenty of room for individuality.  No one sounded rehearsed, and they got the information across with a good dose of their personalities as well.  They made me exceptionally sorry I couldn’t pick up a glass and try the wines – which I hope I can do in the coming weeks.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social Distancing Installment #7: Keeper recipes

markus-winkler-5qrrqfSsIfg-unsplash

I love to use dried beans, especially chickpeas, in recipes.  But even these days, when I’m in the house more, I don’t always want to take the time.  So I modified a killer recipe for dried chickpeas to use canned — it’s done in about an hour, but tastes like you cooked it all day.  (Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.)

This is the first of what I’m calling “Keeper Recipes,” things I made because I wanted to use pantry staples I had on hand — but they turned out so well I’ll want to add them to my non-social-distancing repertoire.  Enjoy!

—————–

I’ve been making lots of recipes with beans these days – dried beans, canned beans, fresh beans.  I have a pressure cooker and a slow cooker, both of which seem to be made for cooking beans.  Generally, I like using dried beans, especially when the pressure cooker has them ready in under an hour without soaking.  The cooking liquid is great for soups and is a good start to making a luxurious vegetable stock, because it gives the stock a nice texture.

But even with the pressure cooker’s relative speed, canned beans are convenient and usually tasty.  And although the staying at home thing renders an actual meal schedule less urgent, there are times when I want dinner that tastes like it cooked for hours but really didn’t.  The other advantage of using canned beans is that since they’re already cooked, you can cook them with acidic ingredients like tomatoes and get them flavored up pretty quickly.  If you cook dried beans with too much acid, they take a lot longer to cook – and sometimes won’t soften at all.

Recently, I made one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s one-pot (or pan) recipes for chickpeas: Braised Chickpeas with Carrots, Dates, and Feta.  It starts with dried chickpeas soaked overnight, then cooked in a covered casserole in the oven for a couple of hours.  Then you top it with a mixture of feta, caraway seeds, lemon zest, and parsley.  It was amazingly good.  But I wondered if I could modify it to use canned chickpeas and still get the same result without planning the night before.  It turned out really well, using a simple trick.

As I mentioned, one of the perks of cooking dried beans is the cooking liquid.  And in this casserole, all of the goodness from the chickpeas stays in the pot.  But canned chickpeas come in liquid.  So I thought if I drained them and saved that liquid, I could use some of it to enrich the result in the final dish.  You don’t want to use all of it, because it can be salty (I personally don’t use salt-free canned beans because they don’t taste as good – and it takes a long time for salt to penetrate inside them if you use them in a dish.  Lower-salt beans are a good compromise if you can find them).  And it’s pretty concentrated.  But using about a half a cup of the liquid here gives the dish a nice silkiness and a flavor boost, too.

You’ll need between four and four and a half cups of drained chickpeas, from two or three cans depending on the size.  They should give you more than a half cup of chickpea liquid, but don’t worry about it if they don’t.  Just make up the rest with water.

This is a recipe where you shouldn’t sweat about not having everything you need, there are plenty of substitutions.  I didn’t have any jalapeños or other fresh green chiles so I used a chopped up dried chipotle chile instead.  Or use some canned pickled jalapeño if you have it.  The feta topping calls for caraway seeds, which might not be in everyone’s spice rack.  You could also use cumin seeds, which would be tasty.  Finally, since I was out of fresh parsley, I used dried parsley in the topping.  Not much flavor, perhaps, but it gave everything the little bit of green color it needed.

Lots of explanation here for something that’s actually simple.  I hope you’ll try it – it made a wonderful, comforting, and flavorful dinner.  And that’s pretty much all we can ask for some days.

Cheers!

Tom

Braised Chickpeas and Carrots with Feta Topping

Serves 4-6

Adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian, January 19, 2019

3 15.5 ounce cans of chickpeas, drained in a sieve or colander set over a bowl to collect the liquid — or you can use other canned beans or a mixture of beans to make 4 to 4-1/2 cups (make sure you still collect the liquid)

1 large onion, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and finely chopped (seeds and all) – or 1 dried chipotle chile, seeded and blitzed into small pieces, or 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder, or about 2 tablespoons finely chopped pickled jalapeño, or ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons olive oil

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 large dates, or 3 prunes, or 4 dried apricots, chopped

1 pound carrots, peeled and trimmed, each cut into 4 pieces if small or medium-sized, 6 pieces if they’re humongous – or use a combination of carrots and parsnips

Vegetable stock (optional) or water

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Zest and juice of 1 large lemon

6-8 ounces crumbled feta cheese (whatever size package is on sale) — or queso fresco, or labneh (strained yogurt cheese)

1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and coarsely chopped — or use ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, or ½ teaspoon fennel seeds

A little chopped fresh parsley — or 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried oregano

Measure out the chickpea liquid and reserve ½ cup.  (If you don’t have ½ cup, then use what’s there and add water to make it ½ cup.)  Rinse the chickpeas and taste one.  If it’s really soft, that’s fine.  If not, put the chickpeas in a large saucepan and put in enough water to cover by about an inch.  Bring the pan to a boil and simmer the chickpeas for about 15 minutes while you start chopping and cooking the rest of the dish.

In a large high-sided skillet with a tight-fitting lid, or in a lidded Dutch oven, heat the oil until shimmering.  Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeño (if you’re using a fresh one) plus 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent.  Add the cumin, cinnamon, dates (or other dried fruit), tomato paste, some ground black pepper, and the chipotle or pepper flakes or pickled jalapeño (if you used any of them instead of the fresh jalapeño) and cook for a couple of minutes.

Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid if you cooked them further.  Stir the drained chickpeas into the onion mixture so that they’re nicely coated.  Stir in the carrots, again until everything is nicely coated, and then add either enough of the chickpea boiling water or plain water or vegetable stock to just cover everything.  Stir in the half-cup of chickpea liquid you saved from the cans.  Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook over very low heat for 45 minutes.  Check every 15 minutes and stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot and that there’s enough liquid.  Add some more water if needed.  You want to end up with the liquid no more than halfway up the chickpeas and carrots – not dry, but not soupy, either.  If there’s too much liquid after 45 minutes of cooking, let it boil uncovered for a few minutes to reduce.

While the pot is cooking, combine the feta, caraway, lemon zest, and parsley, and set aside.  When the 45 minutes are up, stir the lemon juice into the pot and taste for salt and pepper.  Let the chickpea mixture sit, covered, for 10 minutes.  Scatter the feta topping over the chickpea mixture.  Serve hot.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Social Distancing Installment #6: Earth Day and wine

Clusters of new wine grapes in spring. This time of year the vines expend lots of energy and take more from the environment. Will the recent lockdown that has led to less transportation pollution have a positive impact on the 2020 crop? (Photo by Raychan on Unsplash.)

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970.  It’s hard for us to imagine (or in some cases, remember) the state of the air, water, and land back then.  Practically all of the major U.S. environmental laws came into being after 1970, and they have had a huge impact on our world.

But the virtual standstill over the past couple of months due to the coronavirus has showed us that we’ve still got a long way to go.  The drop in transportation, industrial activity, and power generation from people staying home has made for less smog and less water pollution.  Clearer skies over big cities and dolphins in the canals of Venice are things we should be expecting during the regular course of our lives, not just during a pandemic lockdown.

Likewise, if we look at agricultural practices in the 1960s and 70s, we’d be stunned at the variety of now-banned pesticides that were in use.  I remember that Chlordane was sold in hardware stores for people to kill Japanese beetles on their lawns.  One of my wine producers described that time as a chemical free-for-all.  Thanks to regulation and changes in production mindset, chemical use has decreased by huge amounts.

Obviously, there’s still further to go with wine production and the world at large.  The cleaner environment over the past couple of months has made me wonder if we’re going to see a difference in the 2020 wine grape harvest.  As I mentioned before, grapes that show little to no detectable contaminant residues aren’t just a product of not using chemicals on the vines – they also come from vineyards that are protected from chemical drift and transportation pollution by geography, topography, or prevailing winds.  Transportation particulate pollution often contains heavy metals, as well as droplets of condensed organic chemicals.

Vineyards near well-traveled roads are normally subject to more of this pollution.  But with fewer non-essential trips happening, these vineyards are getting a reprieve.  This time of year is important with bud break, flowering, and fruit set happening.  The vines expend a lot of energy producing the grapes, and take in more of what’s in the environment.  It’s not unrealistic to expect that the longer the shutdown lasts, the less transportation contaminants will end up in the grapes.  In addition, less smog would allow more direct sun and that could reduce spring molds that might otherwise develop.

Will this cleaner period have a measurable impact on public health and the environment down the road, let alone on wine grapes?  In terms of public health, we may not get a definitive answer – especially if people aren’t seeking medical attention that would help tally results of respiratory illnesses.  Even if we knew that there was an improvement, it could well be swamped by coronavirus cases.   For wine grapes, I assume that winegrowers who test for chemical residues at harvest will continue doing those tests, so perhaps we’ll get some data, especially from organic vineyards if they choose to release the information.  But the vast majority of publicly-available data from residue tests are done by public interest organizations, not winegrowers.  Residue testing is expensive, and unless those testing organizations get more funding we probably won’t see any results.

Obviously, there are other differences from year to year that influence the flavors and quantities of grapes, including prevailing winds, so transportation pollution effects might not even be detectable.  But if we do find a difference in the grapes that we can pin on a quiet spring, it would be a great data point to add to other evidence that could influence future regulation and practices.  Helping drive government, industry, and individuals to find ways to lessen our environmental footprints without economic disruption and a public health crisis could be a small silver lining to these difficult times.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social Distancing Installment #5: Eat and drink what you like

If your fond memory of a perfect food and wine pairing — where each enhanced the other to the point of transcendence — also contained a view like this one, then you’re not likely to experience the same frisson again even with the same food and wine. (Photo by Anthony Delanoix on Unsplash.)

A friend e-mailed me after my last couple of posts.  While she enjoyed reading them, she said she missed my not-so-long-ago format of recipes and wine pairings.  She asked if I’d get back to it, at least occasionally, with more pantry staples given how we’re cooking now.

It got me thinking that these days, when substitution is key to making meals with what you have on hand, the traditional ideas of how to pair wine and food may not work that well anymore.  Despite the e-mails I get from wine delivery websites promising help with any and all wine pairing questions.

This has been a bit of a controversy recently, as veteran wine blogger Alder Yarrow declared earlier this month that wine and food pairing are essentially junk science.

Yarrow’s post is worth reading, not least because he makes points I’ve stressed before in posts on pairing wine and food.  Like that everyone perceives taste differently, and that what we remember as a transcendent food and wine pairing may have had as much to do with the situation and the company as the actual wine and food.

He starts with a discussion of what could be considered “old world” wine and food pairing:  if the wine and food are both locally-sourced and traditional to the region they will go together well.  This kind of pairing is still valuable, he says, but it falls apart in our current marketplace of worldwide food and wines.

Yarrow particularly dislikes special restaurant food and wine pairings – flights of wines to go with multicourse tasting menus.  He stops short of blowing off the sommeliers who create those pairings, however, saying that somms who seek out new and different wines can give you a great wine experience that doesn’t have to pair with your meal.  (Frankly, a wise move on his part, since somms would no doubt have their sabrage swords at the ready the next time they saw him…)

Here’s where it gets interesting for me.  Yarrow dismisses what he calls the “new rules” of trying to match the intensity of flavor in the wine and food and how the chemical characteristics of wine and food (acidity, sweetness, bitterness) can be combined or avoided.  Too many exceptions occur in real life because of people’s individual tastes, he says, and they pretty much make these rules useless.

That might be true.  For me, these “new rules” work pretty well and are the basis of most of my food and wine recommendations.  But the fact is that if you like a particular food and a particular wine, you may well like them together even if they’re not in line with anyone’s ideas of pairing wine and food.

And I think we’re coming to a different understanding of what we eat and drink.  We’re well into what I’ll call the Salt Fat Acid Heat Era, named for Samin Nosrat’s cookbook and Netflix series.  We’re learning to balance flavors and (for lack of a better term) chemical and physical properties in our food – or at least coming to appreciate that the great cuisines of the world already do this.  It could be that a wine adds an element that a dish may lack, and creates balance through pairing the wine and food.  But if all is in order, does well-balanced wine work with well-balanced food more often than not?  I don’t want to throw more somm terms out here, so perhaps it’s as simple as good-tasting things can be surprisingly good together because they’re each made to have that balance.

As with everything concerning wine, words and tone matter.  The idea that every recommended food and wine pairing is going to be the best thing you’ve ever had (particularly if they’re expensive) is ridiculous.  It’s an opinion.  No one has to follow it, and everyone’s choice is valid for them.

Of course, I will continue to recommend food and wine pairings — it’s what I do.  I started because people asked me my opinion, and they seem to enjoy (or at least tolerate) my giving it.  I hope I haven’t given the impression that any of these pairings will change your life.  Think of them as suggestions, something to try if you can.  Or feel free to ignore.

One last thing:  when you’ve changed your usual cooking to less familiar territory to keep to what you have on hand, you may want something familiar and comforting, or off the charts fancy, or cheap and cheerful to drink with it, screw the pairing.  Honestly, as long as you’re drinking wine and enjoying it, that’s enough for me – and anyone in the wine industry, for that matter.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social Distancing Installment #4: Sourdough madness

Although it has puffed up to about 2 cups, this is a cup of sourdough starter ready for use. I was reluctant to try it since lots of starter recipes waste flour. But with this one you start small and end up with enough for a loaf of bread plus some left to keep the starter going.  I’ve decided to name my starter Château Whoopdie-do, since, like wine, it’s all about the fermentation.

I’ve seen lots of social media postings for two things lately:  banana bread and sourdough.  Who knew people had so many overripe bananas around?  I don’t like bananas at all, but I love bread and making my own.  So I was intrigued by the sudden surge of posts on sourdough.

At first, though, I wasn’t tempted.  Most sourdough starter recipes use an awful lot of flour and I didn’t want to waste any.  They direct you to throw half of your starter away every day and feed it more flour and water.  If you didn’t, you’d end up with about a half-gallon of starter after a week (the amount of time it usually takes for the starter to mature), and even the recipes for the biggest bread rounds use at most a cup of it.

But after a few days of social distancing, I started to see recipes for small batches of sourdough starter.  By small, I mean that you end up with at most one cup of starter, and some make even less.  Best of all, the people posting them also made Instagram live videos to show how it all works.

That sounded a lot more reasonable, and manageable.  Leftover starter keeps well in the fridge, and you only have to feed it a little flour and water once a week.

(Of course, you can save the discards and make other things with them.  There are all sorts of posts for crackers, pancakes, muffins, waffles, etc.  And if you want to go that way – and have enough flour and planning energy to make all those things – then by all means go ahead.)

I decided to try the starter method from David Atherton, the 2019 Great British Bake-Off champion.  Mainly because he seemed the most relaxed about the whole thing – bread flour, all-purpose, whole wheat, rye, you can use them all, pretty much anything you’ve got on hand.  You can see his Instagram posts and short videos @nomadbakerdavid.

Looking around for a bread recipe, I really liked the one by @ellie_croissant.  She also writes a blog called The Flour of Love, and her Instagram TV video of her bread process is the best.  You can find her recipe here, she also gave me permission to post it below, where I’ve added my notes and a few small changes.  You should look at the photos in her post, though.  You can really see what’s going on, and I almost never remember to take photos as I go along.

This is not an immediate enterprise.  You’ll need a week to make the starter, mostly leaving it alone and letting it ferment.  Then you’ll need two days for making the bread.  Again, you’re not working all the time, although the bread dough requires more of your attention the first day.

There are about four cups of flour in this bread.  It’s mostly white bread flour with a little whole wheat in there.  And you’ll use almost no flour shaping the dough, so you won’t

Here’s the dough ready for proving in the fridge overnight. @Ellie_Croissant recommends using gluten-free flour on the work surface and for the rising basket (which you don’t need to have, btw) and that works really well if you have it. GF flour doesn’t absorb as much liquid as wheat flour, and the dough won’t stick to the basket as much.

waste any.  You can make it entirely by hand or use a stand mixer (which is what I did).  Since I make bread often I have a banneton, which is a spiral-pattern rising basket.  But you can also let the dough rise in a greased bowl, so no need for anything fancy.  The one thing that’s essential is an enameled cast-iron pot with a lid.

I loved the result – the bread is beautiful, tastes great, and has a lovely texture with the kind of big holes you find in artisan bread.  Best of all, it worked as described.  Seriously, I’d have been more than a little ashamed if I couldn’t get fermentation right, being in the wine business and all…  And it’s a link to the past.  This is the way bread was made before commercial yeast became available.  The best part is that everyone’s sourdough tastes just a little bit different, because we all have different yeasts in the air around us.  So, as with wine, you’ve got built-in terroir.  Feel free to name your starter after your favorite wine château, or (for that matter) anything you like – it’s your terroir, after all!

Cheers!

Tom

Sourdough Starter

Method from David Atherton, on Instagram and Twitter @nomadbakerdavid

This starter requires seven days of sitting around.  On day eight you’ll be ready to make bread.

Day 1:  Start with a clean jar with a lid that’ll hold at least a pint.  Put 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon flour in the jar, along with two tablespoons of lukewarm filtered water (80 – 90 degrees F), and ½ teaspoon of plain yogurt or sour cream (look on the label to make sure it has active cultures) if you have it around.  No worries if you don’t.  Mix well, put the lid on, and let it sit for 24 hours in a warm-ish place (around 70 degrees F).  If you’re leaving it on the counter, put it on a coaster or a potholder – even though the counter is the same temperature as the air in your kitchen, the starter cools off more quickly if it’s in direct contact with the counter.

You can use bread flour, whole wheat, or rye flour depending on what you have.  All-purpose flour works too.  Organic flour will likely start bubbling faster, but don’t worry if you don’t have it.  Atherton also mentions that you can add a couple of organic grapes or raisins to the starter and they’ll help it along quicker.  But again, don’t worry if you don’t have them.

Day 2 and 3:  Add the same amount of flour and water to the starter and mix well.  Don’t add any more yogurt or sour cream.  Cover and let stand.

Day 4:  If you’re seeing bubbles in your starter, hooray!  If not, don’t panic.  Sometimes it won’t start bubbling for another day or two.  You’ll notice that it may look separated (even on Day 2).  This is fine.  The warning signs are anything pink – if you see it, throw the starter away, clean the jar well, and start again.

Remove the grapes or raisins if you used them, they’ve added everything they’re going to at this point.  If the starter is bubbling, then add half as much flour and water (1 tablespoon water, plus 1 tablespoon and two teaspoons of flour).  If it isn’t, then add the same amount of flour as Days 1-3.

Day 5-7:  Follow Day 4 again.  Your starter should be bubbling by Day 6.  At this point if it’s bubbling you’ll notice it really rises up and then falls.  All of this is OK.  It should smell slightly sour.  A little grayish or greenish tinge to the liquid on the top is perfectly fine.  Beware of pink stuff, and any foul smell.  You may notice that the starter puffs up a lot when you take the lid off the jar — again, perfectly fine.

I have heard some people say that it can take up to 10 days to get a starter going, depending on where you live, what flour you use, and what the temperature is like in your kitchen.  So you can continue feeding the starter if it’s not active, but after Day 7 you can use the smaller amount of flour and water from Day 4.

The lovely boule out of the oven! I made the vertical slash but the horizontal one happened in the oven. So I modified the instructions to make a cross in the top instead.

Beginning on Day 8, you’re ready to make bread dough.  Congratulations on making the starter!  Put any starter you don’t use in the fridge and feed it once a week with the smaller amount of flour and water from Day 4.  If you want to use it again, take it out of the fridge, feed it the Day 2-3 amount of flour and water and let it sit overnight.  It’ll be ready to use the next day.

And what about if it doesn’t get active but doesn’t spoil?  You could start again.  Or, in the interest of saving flour you can add some of what you have to another bread recipe that uses yeast.  The starter is equal weights of flour and water.  I’d use 100 grams of starter, and subtract 50 grams each of flour and water from your bread recipe.  The starter will give the bread great flavor even if you’re using commercial yeast.

Sourdough Boule

From @Ellie_Croissant on Instagram, http://theflouroflove.wordpress.com.  Reprinted with Ellie’s kind permission, with modifications by me.

Ingredients

108 grams sourdough starter

380 grams lukewarm filtered water

54 grams whole wheat flour

488 grams unbleached bread flour

2 teaspoons salt

Equipment

A large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer [standing mixture instructions in square brackets]

A 4-5 quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid

Dough Scrapers – one flexible one to get the dough out of the bowl, and a stiffer one for shaping the dough

A well-floured banneton, or a greased bowl with a diameter slightly smaller than the Dutch oven

A thin bladed serrated knife (for slashing the bread before baking)

Sliced after cooling for an hour. The texture is just what you find in artisan breads!

Instructions

.1.  Weigh out your starter into your mixing bowl [or the bowl for your mixer]. Pour the lukewarm water into the bowl and use your fingers to vigorously mix the two together, until you have a large bowl of muddy-looking water.

.2.  Add your two flours to the bowl and mix until well combined. [If you’re using the mixer, use the paddle and mix on low speed until combined. Clean off the paddle and remove it.]  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for thirty minutes.

.3.  Once the mixture has rested, use your scraper to scoop it out of the bowl, and onto your (clean, unfloured) kitchen worktop. Pour your salt onto the dough and add a tiny splash of water to help it dissolve. Using your hands and the dough scraper, incorporate the salt, and knead your dough for ten minutes. This will feel like a long time, I’d advise putting the radio on- three songs should do it! [For the mixer, sprinkle the salt over the dough and put the dough hook on. Mix on low speed for a minute, then raise the speed to medium and let the mixer knead for about 7 minutes more.]

.4.  Once your dough is kneaded, scoop it back into the bowl [or leave it in the mixer bowl], cover with your tea towel, and leave for another thirty minutes.

.5.  Now it’s time to ‘turn’ your bread every thirty minutes for three hours (six turns), which is a way of helping the gluten strands stretch out and create structure in the dough. Wet your hands with a little water and use your scraper to scoop the dough into your hands. Let it relax for a second, then fold it in on itself in thirds like a business letter. Rotate the dough a quarter-turn and fold, then rotate the dough and fold again, until you have a slightly tighter ball of dough. Don’t force the folds — you want to be stretching the gluten, not tearing it! Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it with the towel, and let it rest for 30 minutes. Repeat this step over the next few hours; you should feel the dough tightening and becoming less sticky as time progresses.

.6.  After your sixth turn, lightly flour your worktop, and place your dough, fold-side up, onto the flour. Press your dough gently into a square shape, allowing any large pockets of air to escape. Pull the top right corner in toward the center line of the dough and press gently to make it stick. Repeat with the left corner, and continue alternately on each side, essentially knitting that side of the dough together to create a tube of dough. The take the end closest to you and roll it away from you onto itself to create a tight roll of bread dough. Leave the dough, seam-side down on the work top covered with your tea towel and leave for another thirty minutes.

.7.  The dough will have spread a little as it relaxes, so use your dough scraper to flip it over, so the seam is back on top. ‘Knit’ the two edges into the middle again, once again rolling the dough into a tight ball with the seam underneath. Using your dough scraper again, pick up your ball of dough and flip it into your floured banneton or greased bowl, with the seam on top. (Note: Ellie recommends using gluten-free baking flour for flouring your banneton and the work surface, and it works well because the gf flour doesn’t absorb water like wheat flour does.) Put your banneton or bowl inside a plastic bag and leave to prove for around 12 hours in the fridge.  If you’re going to make a round loaf instead of an oval one, you’ll want to pull all four corners in as described.  Then pull in the sides in between the corners.  Keep going like this until you have a nice smooth round ball of dough.

.8.  Take your dough out of the fridge and let it rest for about an hour at room temperature. Then set the oven to 450 degrees F with a rack on the bottom rungs. Whilst it’s coming up to temperature, put your pot with the lid on into the oven to heat up, too.

.9.  When the oven is heated, turn your proofed bread out onto a piece of parchment paper. Gently press the paper onto the dough and turn the whole thing over – it should come right out. Dust the top of the dough with flour and use your bread razor or serrated knife to score a cross along the top of the dough that’s about ¾-inch deep and at least half as wide/long as the dough is. Do this gently, you don’t want to press down hard and push out all the bubbles you’ve waited to form.  The cross allows the bread to expand as it bakes, and can look pretty too if you’ve time for fancier designs!

.10.  Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven and take off the lid carefully pop your bread (still on the paper!) into your pot and put the lid on. Shake it gently side-to-side to center the dough in the pot. Cook in the oven for thirty minutes.

.11.  After thirty minutes is up, take the lid off your pot and turn the oven down to 425 degrees F. Cook for another thirty minutes.

.12.  Remove from the oven and let your lovely new loaf cool on a cooling rack. Try and wait at least an hour before diving in!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Social Distancing Installment #3: Cook with what you’ve got

Trying to cook with the ingredients at home these days — and no one is better at using pantry goods for meals than Jack Monroe. She has started a Twitter feed to help people with questions, and that has led to a BBC show recently.

I’m the kind of cook who usually shops nearly every day.  Since we are encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, though, I’m trying to cook from what’s around here instead of shopping.  I’m pretty good at coming up with combinations of odds and ends – at least within the mindset of the styles of food I usually cook.

But that’s sometimes limiting.  So I’ve been turning to Jack Monroe for inspiration.  I had seen her on Twitter and then read about her in a Washington Post profile.  She’s definitely a home cook and not “chef-fy” in any way.  Her cooking drive came from necessity.  Faced with unemployment and a child to raise, she had to find a way to eat from the weekly food box she received from a local food pantry, supplemented with other low-cost ingredients.

She started blogging about her experiences, and the blog turned into cookbook opportunities.  She’s now working on her seventh cookbook.  They’re full of ideas and different flavors.  Monroe has great instincts for flavor combinations.  (Check here for the recipe that made her famous – Carrot, Cumin, and Kidney Bean Burgers.)  These days, lots of cookbooks seem to be specialized by cuisine or region of the world.  And while it’s fun to see collected recipes from individual cuisines we don’t know much about, it’s also great (and face it, a lot less reading) to have different styles of recipes together.

In these home sequestration days, Monroe has been using her skills and knowledge to help her Twitter followers make meals with things they find in their pantries.  You can check them out using the hashtag #JackMonroesLockdownLarder.   Obviously, she’s way ahead of the curve on this – and she’s going to be on a daily BBC television show soon to demonstrate recipes and share more ideas.

It’s great to see her so successful, since things didn’t always go this smoothly for her even after she started finding an audience for her books.  She got plenty of criticism for using  “expensive” ingredients like wine in dishes when she’s supposed to be helping poor people cook (and I guess they don’t deserve nice ingredients?  Even when you can get an inexpensive bottle of wine and make four different dishes with it?)  And at the start of the coronavirus crisis, some UK publications were turning to “celebrity” chefs for the kind of things she does much better.  Frankly, it’s hard to imagine some of these folks ever reaching for the packaged products that Monroe uses so well.

For example, one of the things I admire about her is her ability to use existing pantry staples to make new, more interesting pantry staples.  Like her idea for pickling canned beans.  She inspired me to come up with my own version and some variations – there are plenty of things that will work, so try something that appeals to you.

Cheers!

Tom

Basic method

Drain and rinse a can of cannellini beans and put them in a mason jar with a bay leaf, a few peppercorns, a big pinch of red pepper flakes, a quarter-teaspoon of dried oregano, and a big pinch of dried rosemary that you’ve crumbled a bit.  Combine ¾ cup white or apple cider vinegar and ½ cup water with a teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of fine salt in a small saucepan.  Add a small clove of garlic that you’ve thinly sliced.  Heat until the liquid boils.  Stir and let it boil for a minute to cook the garlic through and dissolve the sugar and salt.  Pour over the beans, put the lid on, and cool to room temperature.  (If the liquid doesn’t cover the beans, you can add equal parts vinegar and water to top off.) Then put the jar in the fridge for a couple of days or up to a week to flavor up.  Drain the beans and stir in a little olive oil and you have a great mixture for serving on pieces of toasted rustic bread.  You can also mix them into prepared hummus as a spread, add them to salads, mix into tuna salad (add some chopped olives too), etc.

A few riffs

First, if you don’t have a mason jar you can use a heatproof bowl.  Cover the bowl with a plate until everything cools, then switch to another jar or plastic container and refrigerate.  Then, switch out beans and flavors.  The cannellini bean flavorings will work with other beans, certainly, or try these:

Black beans (or pintos, or red kidney beans) — a half-teaspoon of cumin seeds (toast them in a small pan first if you can), ½ teaspoon ancho chile powder (or use regular chili powder, or crumble up a bit of a dried chile), and a half-teaspoon of oregano into the jar.  You can also put a couple of slices of jalapeño or serrano if you have it around.  You could stir some into guacamole, use as a garnish for chili or soups, or mix with avocado and tomato for a salad.

Chickpeas – a quarter-teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds.  Put in a pinch of red pepper flakes and a couple of cardamom pods that you’ve crushed lightly (or add a pinch of ground cardamom).  If you have some bell pepper (any color) dice up about ¼ and add it.  This makes a great salad with some grated carrot and radish.  Or cook some ground lamb or beef with a bit of the same spices and stir in the pickled chickpeas.  Serve with rice or couscous.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social Distancing Installment #2:  The start of neo-prohibition?

Dr. Aiysha Malik discusses the potential for alcohol abuse during self-isolation from the Covid-19 outbreak. This has led some opinion writers to call for a ban on alcohol sales.

In a recent op-ed piece for the UK’s Independent, Ian Hamilton suggests that closing liquor stores and wine shops during the coronavirus pandemic “would yield more for the nation’s health than almost any other policy intervention.”

Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health sciences at the University of York, wrote his op-ed in reaction to alcohol retailers being classified as “essential businesses,” meaning that they are specifically allowed to remain open while other businesses have been ordered to close.  He’s not the only writer at the Independent who has concerns about alcohol sales during the Covid-19 crisis, as you can read here.

Obviously, as a wine merchant, I’ve got a dog in this fight, even though I’m not in the UK.  I’ve heard some social media rumblings here about whether alcohol retailers should be classified as essential here in the US, although nothing in the mainstream press.  Hamilton argues that the main reason alcohol businesses are still open during the virus outbreak in the UK is because the alcohol lobby is too strong for politicians to overcome.

I’ve certainly felt the sting of state-based prohibitions on shipping wine here in the US thanks to state alcohol lobbies.  But it’s naïve to think that’s the whole story.  After all, we’ve tried the experiment before with prohibition.  The UK never had government-enforced prohibition the way we did here in the US.  If the UK considers imposing even a temporary form of prohibition by closing shops that sell alcohol, it won’t just be the alcohol lobby opposing it.

Prohibition provides an interesting analog to today’s coronavirus crisis in two ways.  Part of the success of the temperance movement that helped create the national prohibition law was to help curb domestic violence.  This is a worthwhile goal and is also one point cited by some UK mental health groups advocating eliminating alcohol sales today.  The other point is that the virus has led to massive unemployment, which mirrors one of the impacts of the Great Depression.  Although prohibition was enacted a decade before the Great Depression began, it showed that people with enough money had virtually unimpeded access to alcohol during the roaring 20s.  By October 1929, when US unemployment skyrocketed, there was substantial illegal infrastructure to make and sell alcohol – so much so that alcohol consumption increased despite prohibition. And state and local governments didn’t get any tax money from the illegal sales.  Ultimately, prohibition failed because people found ways to get alcohol and state governments lost essential revenue during the depression.

I’m not trying to be flip about mental health. I’ve seen a lot of Twitter postings about how self-isolation is really messing with people.  That’s hardly a scientific survey, but it’s noticeable.  So it’s not out of bounds to consider that people who are feeling lonely and vulnerable might drink more than they otherwise would.  That could be a problem, and it’s important to consider it.

But it’s early days for self-isolation and I haven’t found any real data on this.  I’ve seen plenty of what I assume are joking references to breakfast cocktails, they appear to be for entertainment.  Even Ina Garten upped the typical cocktail portion size in a viral video this week.  But I wonder if it’s also possible that people reaching out on Twitter and other social media are getting some comfort and relief from those activities rather than alcohol.  Social media feedback might not replace in-person interactions, but it’s something people are definitely using.  (And no, I don’t think Ina drank that industrial-sized Cosmopolitan herself, at least not in one sitting.)

Ina Garten posted a video on Instagram joking that the serving size for alcohol might need some adjustment.

I also get that it’s irritating that alcohol retailers get labeled as “essential,” when alcohol has upended so many lives.  I’d be happy for First Vine to shed its “essential” classification in favor of one that’s less imperative.  Perhaps there could be a less dramatic adjective applied to it, rather than what appears to be the current all-or-nothing shorthand.

Finally, it’s important to remind people that drinking in moderation is key, and what moderate drinking actually means.  Reflecting on when and how much we drink is a good idea, and if we’re more mindful we may decide that we don’t need to drink as much alcohol.  That’s all to the good, I think.  Accordingly, I have put a link on my sales homepage with recommended guidelines.  Beyond reflecting on our alcohol consumption, we can also all help one another by keeping in touch with our families and friends as best we can.  Last week I saw a cartoon blaming the videoconferencing app Zoom for the coronavirus crisis.  (For the record, I don’t believe that, even though it’s funny.)  But hey, if it helps people connect and eases some of the anxiety of self-isolation, I’ll happily raise an appropriately-sized glass to them as part of my weekly moderate drinking schedule.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I love Wine PR — and why I’ll be writing more often

I rigorously unsubscribe from most e-mail lists, but I stay on the ones for wine-related PR because of pitches for things like this.

A few days ago, Philadelphia-based fashion and culture bloggers Tom and Lorenzo posted a challenge to their readers on Twitter.  I’ve been reading their blog for years and I’ve learned a lot from them.  They asked their readers to take our blogs up again or start one if we’ve been meaning to.  The world needs distraction content in days of social distancing, they said, and I think they’re right.  So I thought I’d post more.  This’ll give me a chance to write about things I probably wouldn’t have before – I’ve always considered that blogging as infrequently as I do meant I had to write more substantive posts.  Well, not anymore!

Social Distancing Installment One:  Wine-related PR

Over my years in the wine business, wine-related PR has been the gift that keeps on giving.  I’m usually vigilant about unsubscribing from mailing lists, but I keep myself on these, even if I have no idea how I got on them in the first place.  Not because I’ve ever been convinced to buy something or write to promote whatever it is.  But there’s a beauty in the hyperbole of their overreach that’s unmatched in my experience, and I find it irresistible.

Why?  Well, basically, wine is a luxury product.  We love it, of course.  But it’s not the thing that’s cleared out on grocery store shelves in these days of social distancing and staying home.  So how do you make it seem like something you can’t live without?  The pitches are usually some sort of snob appeal – you’re the kind of person who will appreciate this for its age/expensiveness/tradition/environmental consciousness/pure naturalness, aren’t you?  Or, the opposite, something like you’d imagine the way a dog thinks:  gosh isn’t it fun to drink wine?  Let’s make it even more fun!  Isn’t it fun?  Really, isn’t it fun?

The latest pitch leaned into the dog thought bubble.  It’s for the Sipski, which is a self-hanging bracket you can put in your shower to hold your wine glass.  No awkward suction cups or specialty tools required, the miracle-coated silicone back clings to any surface.  Isn’t that a relief?  Nothing to interfere with the fun! “Bringing Happy Hour to Your Shower,” the copy reads.  And better yet, it’s “Part of an entire line of #Drinkintheshower accessories.”  Who knows how much fun you’ll have?

Where to start with this?  Maybe I’m just getting old, but who thinks it’s a good idea to take a wine glass into the shower, assuming it’s real glass and not plastic?  I mean, you could slip and the glass could break and jeez, who knows.  Or maybe steam condensing on the glass will make it slippery and you’ll drop it.  I guess it’s a good thing that you’re already in soap and water to clean the cuts you’ll get.

My second thought was that I don’t think I spend enough time in there to have wine.  And what about the restrictions on water use in California?  You mean you’re supposed to squeeze in a glass of wine during your mandated extra-short shower time?  How exactly is that supposed to work?  I think they’d need to change the name from Sipski to Chugski.

But what it comes down to is, WHY DO YOU NEED TO DRINK WINE IN THE SHOWER?  Do you think it’ll improve your shower singing ability?  Trust me, it won’t.  (And don’t go pretending your wine glass is a microphone, either.  That’s just asking for trouble.)

Snark aside, if the shower is the only place you can be by yourself and enjoy a glass of wine — something that could definitely be the case these days — then please, have at it.  But for goodness sake, be careful!

See what I mean?  So much entertainment.  No unsubscribe for me.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Cheers!

Tom

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A smile for everyone on a ride around the world

Twenty-two-year-old Hideyuki Miyakawa on a round-the-world bike trip in 1960. Hide stopped in Turin to see the famed auto show, met an Italian woman, and stayed for decades. He’s the founder and owner of Bulichella in Tuscany, one of the wineries I import from.

One of the best things about importing wine is meeting the people who make it. Some have taken over generations-old family businesses. Others came to making wine after doing other things. In those cases, there’s usually some cognitive dissonance between the old and new careers. But even among the occasionally outrageous wine origin stories I’ve encountered, Hideyuki Miyakawa probably gets the award for the biggest swerve in career and life changes.

Hide (pronounced EE-day) as he’s called, is the owner and founder of Società Agricola Bulichella, a farm producing wine and olive oil in the Maremma in southwestern Tuscany, near the village of Suvereto. His road – and I do mean road — from Miebashi, Japan where he was born, to Tuscany, where he now lives, was both unexpected and full of surprises.

In 1960, 22-year-old Hide and a friend decided to take time off from their automobile design jobs and go on a motorcycling trip. Not just your average trip, mind you, but to ride around the world, writing articles for a Japanese publication as they went. They started in southeast Asia, riding through India and Pakistan before hitting the Middle East and then Europe. They arrived in Italy in time for the Rome Summer Olympics, and Hide wrote about the games, basing himself there for a while. Soon after, the two auto designers decided to ride up to Turin and check out the annual auto show.

Marisa Miyakawa in the early 1960s. In addition to raising seven children and helping start Bulichella, she founded Un Sorriso per Tutti, a charitable organization to help orphans in the Congo.

The Turin Auto Show is a big deal, featuring the world’s finest in automotive design. And since it attracts people from all over the globe, the show organizers try to hire as many translators as possible. The translator for Hide was Maria Luisa (Marisa) Bassano, a young woman from Turin who was studying Japanese.   Sparks evidently flew between the two, and despite the presence of combustible material, no one was harmed. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself with that…) Marisa took Hide and his friend around the show and invited them to her family’s home for lunch the next day.

Forget “La Dolce Vita” — in 1960 it was still a big deal for a proper Italian girl to bring a boy she’d just met home to meet the family, and a foreigner no less. Even with his friend along as “chaperone.” But Marisa’s family was charmed by Hide. Marisa soon left to spend a year in Japan for her studies, and her family took Hide under their wing while she was gone. In 1961, Hide went to visit Marisa in Japan, and they got engaged there, marrying in 1962.

They settled in Turin, where Hide began working with Giorgetto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantovani, both well-known Italian auto designers. In 1968, the three men founded Italdesign, a company that designed concept and production cars for many European auto companies, plus cars produced in Asia and the U.S. – including the DeLorean which was used in the “Back to the Future” movies. (Giugiaro is a giant in the world of Italian design, and also created cameras, computer prototypes, office furniture, watches, firearms, and even pasta shapes.)

One of the many spectacular views at Bulichella. The trees are featured on many of the wine labels.

And then came the wine, or at least the first step toward it.  In 1983, Hide and Marisa bought a piece of farmland in the Maremma to use as a vacation property. The land had grapevines and olive trees, and Hide and Marisa quickly saw its business potential. All of the farming was organic, something unusual for the time and the region. In 1992, they began transitioning their lives to Tuscany from Turin and decided to invest more in Bulichella, as the farm came to be known. For help, they hired the Bonaguidi family, who had been in the area for many years and knew the particular soil and climate well, and they also started an agriturismo business at Bulichella, which was then a relatively new concept. In 1997 they completed construction of a new winery, producing all their wines with organic certification.

But the move to Bulichella also led to other changes.  The same year the new winery opened, Marisa finalized plans for a philanthropic organization to aid orphans in the Congo. This venture combined a number of influences from her life – her training and work as a special education teacher and a passion for understanding the world and the problems of the less fortunate that her father had taught her from childhood. The experience of being in a multi-national and multi-racial family in what was a relatively homogeneous Italian society also influenced her worldview. It led her and Hide, after having four children, to adopt three more children from Africa. And this, in turn, led to the founding of the non-profit Un Sorriso per Tutti – A Smile for Everyone – that continues today.

Sadly, Marisa died in 2003, and over the next few years Hide began to turn more of Bulichella’s farm and production operations over to his daughter Shizuko. Shizuko splits her time between Bulichella and her family in Turin, and has continued to focus on wine and olive oil. In 2015 she hired a new enologist, Lucco d’Atoma, and his changes convinced Shizuko that she needed new label designs to launch a new phase for Bulichella. Before, the labels had been a simple stylized stand of cypress trees seen throughout Tuscany. Shizuko and the family chose line drawings that convey more of the particular setting and terroir of Bulichella plus a bit of family history. The new look made its debut at Vinitaly in 2018 and Shizuko said it was a truly proud moment for her and her family.

The label of a wine named for Hide in a new series of labels from Bulichella, showing him driving a classic car in the vineyards. In the back are two cypress trees, which used to be on Bulichella’s labels.  Shizuko Miyakawa, Hide’s daughter and Bulichella’s manager, wanted a design that combined older elements with some family history and a sense of terroir.

I’ve got lots of great stories about Hide and Bulichella, but the visit Cy and I made there in October 2017 stands out. Shizuko invited us to a big Sunday family lunch. Her husband came down from Turin, and her oldest brother Marco and his family drove from Milan. Hide and his second wife were there too, and a surprise guest arrived – Hide’s motorcycle-riding buddy came up from Rome. There was great food, mostly Italian but with some Japanese dishes too, in seemingly endless amounts.

As we sat looking at the beautiful scenery, conversations around the table switched from English to Italian to Japanese, sometimes all in the same sentence. It seemed unlike anything else we’d experienced. Yet at the same time, it was very much like family dinners at the homes of some of our producers in France. And family celebrations here in the U.S. It was a lovely reminder that the world isn’t such a large place – it’s only a motorcycle ride away.


With 17 hectares of vines, Bulichella grows Sangiovese, Cab, Merlot, Syrah, Montepulciano, Vermentino, and Viognier.  The 2017 Tuscanio Bianco ($19), made from Vermentino and Viognier, is drinking spectacularly well right now.  So is the 2016 Rubino ($21), which is 50% Sangiovese and 25% each Cab and Merlot.  Shizuko told me they named it Rubino for its color.  It has a similar formulation to so-called “Supertuscan” wines, although unlike most of that category, it’s aged in second- and third-use barrels.  Both of these wines are IGT Costa Toscana, a designation that Hide helped to create (they were previously designated as Bianco di Toscana and Rosso di Toscana).  He also pushed for creation of a DOCG Suvereto Sangiovese, and those grapes go into the 2013 Tuscanio Rosso ($35).  It’s a beautiful Sangiovese, complex and not too oaky.  Bulichella also produces the signature wine called Hide – obviously named for Hide himself — which is 100% Syrah, and a Bordeaux-style Cab and Merlot blend called Colledipietrerosse (Red rock hills).  I brought some Hide over to sell, and after pouring it at one tasting sold my entire stock within a month.  Colledipietrerosse is one I plan to bring over in the future.

I’ve been recommending Bulichella wines with recipes for a while now because they drink spectacularly well with food.   This post’s recipe is another one that will work with any of the three Bulichellas in stock.  Roasted Sausages and Grapes is supposedly a Tuscan recipe, since I have seen it in restaurants in Tuscany I’ll just go with that designation!  Dishes with grapes are pretty common in wine-making regions of Italy, some with pork or chicken.  Cooked this way, some of the grapes stay whole while some burst and release their juice into the sauce.  The dish can be made as an appetizer or a main course.  For an appetizer, you’ll want to slice the sausages up to use as bruschette.  Mashed potatoes, polenta, or cooked farro are great bases to use if you want to serve them as an entrée.  Either way, make sure you get really good Italian sausage.  It’s fine to use turkey and chicken versions as long as you get ones you’d be happy to eat even without all the grapes and sauce.

I find that I’m less inclined to drink wine outside of meals these days, so if I’m opening a bottle I’ll want to use it in the recipe too, if I can.  Although this recipe calls for ¼ cup of red wine, I’d go ahead and use the Tuscanio Bianco if you have it open.  And if you’re drinking the Tuscanio Rosso (and I hope you will), go ahead and put ¼ cup of that in the recipe.  That way you can tell your guests that you used a spectacular wine in the dish because they’re worth it!

Cheers!

Tom

Roasted Sausages and Grapes

Serves 6-8 as entrée or 12 as appetizer

2-1/2 pounds Italian sausages, (hot, sweet, or a combination) made from pork, turkey, or chicken

2-1/2 pounds seedless grapes (red or white or a combination), washed and stemmed

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus 1 tablespoon unmelted

6 garlic cloves, peeled and cut lengthwise in quarters

¼ cup dry red wine

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

Serving suggestions:  mashed potatoes, polenta, or cooked farro for entrée, toasted baguette slices for appetizer

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Prick the sausages with a fork, then put them in a single layer in a large skillet.  Add enough cold water to cover the sausages and bring to just boiling over high heat.  Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, partially cover the pan, and poach for 15 minutes.  This will remove some of the fat and ensure that the sausages get completely cooked in the oven.  Remove the sausages from the water and let them cool for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the grapes, melted butter, garlic slivers, and some salt and pepper in a large roasting pan, preferably one that can also go on the stove top.  Toss well to mix and set aside.

At this point, you’ll have to decide whether to slice the sausages or not.  For an entrée you can leave them whole or cut them in half or quarters.  For an appetizer, slice the sausages into about 1/2-inch thick pieces.

Add the sausages to the roasting pan, pressing the sausages down to the bottom of the pan.  Put the pan in the oven and roast for about a half hour total.  If you’ve sliced the sausages, you’ll want to stir the pan up a few times during cooking.  If they’re whole or in pieces, turn them over once halfway through cooking.  The sausages should be nicely browned, otherwise cook for a little longer.

Remove the pan from the oven, and use a slotted spoon to remove the sausages and grapes to a bowl or platter.  Place the roasting pan over one or two burners on the stove and turn the burners on to medium-high heat.  (If you’ve used a ceramic roasting dish, pour the liquid into a saucepan instead, scraping up as much of anything on the bottom of the roasting pan as you can.)  Add the wine and balsamic vinegar and scrape up the bottom.  Boil for a few minutes to reduce and then add the last tablespoon of butter.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Pour the sauce over the sausages, and serve.  Use the bread to make bruschette for appetizers.  For an entrée, serve with something to help sop up the juices.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment