In cooking, as in any art, you have to know the rules—the more profoundly the better—to break them. While en route, appropriately enough, to Albany, I heard a radio interview with the manager and the chef of a new restaurant near the University of Albany. As I threaded my way through the rolling hills and forests that separate the capital of New York State from the Berkshires, slowing in all the notorious speed traps, I found this interview unusually absorbing. The chef, Nicholas Armstrong, was impressively articulate about the science of cooking
With summer fading into the past, one compensation for earlier nightfalls and chillier water temperatures that limit swims to only intensely sunny midday outings is the pumped-up output happily spilling out of the vegetable garden. The squash vines have wound out into improbable places, and, if one pokes around under those umbrella-like leaves, there are plenty of butternut and spaghetti squashes playing hide and seek. Every day tomatoes are dropping off their stems. And suddenly there are lots of reasons for searching out some ripe, dense, maybe even rustic red wines to accompany all there is to eat.
Pessimist by nature that I am, my fears about the state of the wine universe were revived by two incidents within the space of one week.
As part of the second annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, Orion and Gastronomica co-hosted a reading featuring renowned food writer Ruth Reichl, poets Ellen Doré Watson and Patty Crane, and fiction writers Francine Prose (finalist for the National Book Award) and Elizabeth Graver. Their contributions have now been posted on the new Gastronomica site as a Web exclusive.
It’s always gratifying to have one’s theories confirmed and that’s what happened when I ran into a friend who belongs to an exclusive wine tasting group (at least I think it’s exclusive because no matter how many times I’ve hinted, I’ve never been invited). Once a month this group gets together, one person prepares dinner (I’ve been allowed to see a couple of the menus—they’re very serious) and everyone brings a bottle of wine to fit a pre-determined theme.
Looking at the Leonard Freed photographs of Italy on these pages prompted me to think about the tradition, artistry, romance and chaos of Italian wines. Italy is reputed to have the highest count of indigenous grapes of any country—estimates of upwards of two thousand—and quite a few wines are imported here that are undeservedly overlooked. The words Chianti, Barolo and Barbaresco may trip easily off your tongue, but what about Aglianico, Lagrein, Refosco or Negroamaro?
Those clever English playwrights of the 1600s were, apparently, keenly attuned to the allures of champagne in all of its aspects. Movement and sound, after all, add sensory dimensions to champagne that other wines don’t have, another reason for our fascination with it. That these remarks appear on the stage centuries ago highlights champagne’s ageless appeal.
Sometimes I think I’m the only person in the room who likes white wine, but in this case we were outside celebrating a friend’s birthday in her charming garden on a small bluff overlooking the harbor. Someone came over and thanked me for recommending a wine to a mutual friend. “She told us about it and we’ve been drinking it ever since.” Seated in a comfortable lawn chair in that idyllic setting, watching some kayakers head toward home on the turning tide, I decided I ought to gather a list of some of my favorite white wines from this past summer before the warm weather entirely slips away.