Comfort Wine

It was another hectic week at the Govatos household. Per usual, I spent about 100 hours at the store. Meanwhile in a herculean feat of suburban mythological proportions, my equally overworked wife chauffeured our children around from practices to parties to exhaustion. However, at close of day and end of week, there must be early beds for overtired children and comfortable couches and real wine for sleepy adults.

Those weekend nights that afford Joanne and me some time alone, granted that we don’t fall asleep putting the kids to bed, I like to start with a negroni, then move on to more vinous territory. Though we have been adding a number of fantastic new producers to Swigg’s offering over the last several months, this weekend like the many hectic weekends before, I’m relying on an “old friend” to lubricate the jagged and hurried edges of modern suburban life.

I still remember when I pronounced Vajra with a hard J. Thank God, I was eventually corrected and, thank God, I was eventually exposed to what I now consider one of the finest wine producing families in Italy. Located in the Western corner of Barolo, everything this family seems to grow and vinify is “Spot-on,” delicious and amazingly affordable.

Like the cobbler’s children, who have no shoes, my wife complains as a wine shop owner we “never have any wine in the house.” However, we always seem to have a couple of bottles of Vajra’s Langhe Rosso lying about. A blend of primarily Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto with dashes of Albarossa and Fresia for good measure. The wine is what the family describes as an introductory to Piedmont. At $15 a bottle, it’s simply a humble, pleasing wine that tastes of its place of origin (Piedmont), has a fruit component that makes it easy to enjoy, and is extremely versatile with food.

This is no small feat. Most $15 wines today are made in facilities that could easily be confused for an oil refinery and seem to taste like a combination of Quaker State and cotton candy. For this taster, Vajra is wine equivalent of comfort. Like  that reliable classic rock station that I always find myself listening to even though I’ve heard every song they’re going to play since I was cradled in the womb, and I damn near know every song they’re are going to play next. Yes!

With Vajra, I get that same reliability and comfort as listening to the tingly guitar licks of Keith Richards or David Gilmour at a price that allows my kids to run from Sports to activities to exhaustion.

So tonight, I will most likely pour a glass of Vajra Langhe Rosso, most likely because it’s the only wine I have in the house, put on some old Stone’s album and remind myself how lucky I am.

In the glass Vajra’s 2014 bottle of Lange Rosso is a youthful purple with dark red hues. As always with this bottling dusty cherry notes dominate the nose leading to sweet plum, dry forest and hints of menthol and rose hips.

Find the “There There” here at Swigg

What Would Zorba Drink?

“How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: A glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a Wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple frugal heart.”-Nikos Kazantzakis

I got home from Swigg late one evening last week. The kids and Joanne had already retired to bed.  So, I decided to pour a glass of wine and watch a movie. Since I couldn’t bring myself to let Verizon extort more money from me to watch a new release, I followed my frugal nature, if not my heart, and selected something in black and white.

I never got around to reading Nikos Kazantzakis’s classic, Zorba the Greek, so on this particular evening I felt compelled to watch the 1964 film adaptation starring Anthony Quinn (Alexis Zorba) and Alan Bates (Basil). It was the best 142 minutes I’ve spent watching anything in some time.

IMDb describes the film as “An uptight English writer traveling to Crete on a matter of business finds his life changed forever when he meets the gregarious Alexis Zorba.” However, after watching the film, I think a better description of the film would be- While the effervescent and irrepressible Alexis Zorba teaches an uptight young man to live, he teaches us all how to live.

Alan Bates is terrific at playing the tense, straight laced Basil, an English Gentleman with Greek heritage. He travels to the island of Crete in Greece to resuscitate an abandoned mine his father left him as an inheritance.  He is the perfect character foil for Anthony Quinn’s portrayal of Zorba. Quinn is magnetic and captivating on screen, embodying the “madness” that allows him to “cut the rope and be free,” while his boss Basil clings to a world where he “doesn’t want any trouble.”  I can still hear Zorba cackling as he chides Basil, telling him, “You think too much, that is your trouble. Clever people and grocers, they weigh everything.”

Interestingly, Zorba is aware of his own metaphorical weight in life. He is aware of the importance of living a full life, living life in the moment no matter the outcomes or the consequences. He placates reality with humor and bestows wisdom in a wink, as illustrated in one of the movies most famous lines, “Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? So, I married. Wife, children, house… Everything. The full catastrophe!”  Zorba has everything, he has the “catastrophe” and it’s excitingly beautiful; worth living for even under the weight. If only more of us could take such joy in the ups and downs the “here and now.”

Zorba is the personification of happiness, for he takes pleasure in the simple beauty of life no matter the circumstances. Whether it be the site of a dolphin, or the site of a full-figured widow, or the importance of perfectly cooked lamb, Zorba enjoys it all.  Even when everything is gone, and “there’s nothing left,” Zorba focus his attention on the positive and fills his heart with wine, women, music and dance.

I wish I were more like Zorba. Unfortunately, I think Joanne would tell you I’m probably a lot more like Basil. I have known many Zorbas in my life, but I have never truly learned to live in the moment. Instead of breathing, I’ve always held my breath. The “catastrophe” has always been very real for me.

But in the spirit of Zorba, maybe later this summer, with the ocean or the bay in front of me I’ll pour a glass of wine. Nothing fancy or expensive, Zorba wouldn’t like that. Just something simple and beautiful for the “frugal heart.” I’ll cue up the iPod and take Joanne by the hand. Shoulder to shoulder, grin to grin, cheek to cheek and we will laugh and dance to our own “catastrophe.”

“Come on my boy…Together!”-Zorba

So, what would Zorba drink?

I picture Zorba drinking some sort of inexpensive, anonymous local Greek wine, like the ones my Dad and I drank on our journey to visit my Grandfather’s village in the Peloponnese.  Unfortunately, the Greek wines we currently stock at Swigg are small grower offerings and though fantastically delicious, I believe they would out price Zorba’s “frugal heart.” Instead I think he would drink something simple, pleasing and effervescent. Something refreshing with a little color.

I think Zorba would love Cantine Elvio Tintero’s Rosato, and I think he would equally love the story of Pierre Tintero the original patriarch of the family. Pierre was a Frenchman who came to Piedmont looking for work and in the process found the widow Rosina Cortese and ultimately the “full catastrophe.”

I have always appreciated the playful simplicity of the Tintero family’s wines and especially the Rosato bottling, which is typically comprised mostly of Barbera with a little Moscato and Favorita. The bottle has quite a following at Swigg, and for good reason. As the shelf talker on Kermit Lynch’s website notes: “This one is a no-brainer: Fresh and dry, low in alcohol, with flavors of wild red berries and sweet lemon, with just enough fizz, making it the perfect sipper for long summer evenings.”

For this taster, Tintero Rosato shows us “how simple and frugal a thing is happiness.” And I think Zorba would agree.

Find the “There There” and the “Full Catastrophe” here at Swigg.

-David Govatos

The Spin Remains the Same

“She loved to walk down the street with a book under her arm it had the same significance for her as the elegant cane for the dandy a century ago. It differentiated her from others” Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

I haven’t written much in the last several weeks, as the frenetic pace of suburban, summer family life has taken me away from my allotted writing days. I realized that there will be all too few summers to enjoy with my young children. So, making memories now is more important than pontificating about this or that in hopes of selling some wine.

I imagine 20 years from now as Joanne and I and the children look back through the pictures, posts and videos chronicling our sun-drenched respite from academia and adulting, we will no doubt remember this little island of memory, this summer of 2017, as the summer of the fidget spinner.

Yes, that perplexing pop-culture totem of youthful lollygagging and defiance. Like other pop-culture tokens of the past, the fidget spinner will become this generation’s kitschy symbolic flag, billowing in the biased breeze of nostalgia until it’s ultimately usurped by the next generation’s kitschy flag.

I’m certainly not the first person to notice how this all works. I was inspired by reading Joel Best’s article on CNN.com titled, The Fidget Spinner Fad: Adults Don’t Get It and That’s the Point.  In the article, Best notes:

“Toy fads are important because they represent something novel, different. An important part of childhood is gradually separating yourself from your family and becoming your own person. We can see this when middle-school children announce a taste for music that diverges from what their parents enjoy; it’s a way of declaring, “I’m my own person.”

Interestingly, these generational shifts manifested in fads, are not exclusive to children’s toys. Throughout history, each proceeding generation has set out to “declare” and establish their own identy in all matters of taste. Simply pick up a highshcool year book from the mid-1980s. Just look at the fashion if not the hair.

The music of the same time period also illustrates the obvious pursuit of each generation to secure their cultural significance in the artistic fabric of their time, no matter how kitsch or “cheesy.” Whether enjoyable or not, what matters is that it’s different from what came before.

Fads in food and wine signifying generational splits are also just as pronounced. Those who used to champion low-carb are now ardent vegans, while shouts for fat-free are drowned out by cries for gluten-free. White table clothes are replaced by repurposed hardware tables, while by beards and tats have replaced jackets and ties.

Like food, wine has also seen generational divergences in tastes, as consumers, producers and young taste makers swirl and sip to find their own generational vinous fidget spinner. In the case of wine, the high-alcohol, high-extraction, heavily oaked wines in vogue in the early-to-mid-2000s, are now eschewed by the current wine intelligentsia who favor a more restrained wine making style.

Unfortunately, sometime in the late 1990s, a young generation of consumers, producers and taste makers started to differentiate themselves. And with a Wine Spectator under one arm and a Wine Advocate under the other, they set off to declare their own generation’s wine drinking identity, just like the wine drinking generation before.

However, taste never stays static, and today’s young wine consumers, wine producers and taste makers essentially revolted against the wine ideologies of the early oughts. Armed with Alice’s Feiring’s “The Guide to Dirty Wine” in one hand and a bottle of something from the Loire in the other, this new wine drinking generation found their fidget spinner in the cult of “natural wine.” And though the philosophies between these two wine drinking generations couldn’t be more divergent the spin is the same: “Adults don’t get it, and that’s the point.” That “old guy” drinking 100-Point 1855 Classification Bordeaux just isn’t cool enough to understand the volatile acidity (VA) in the “hipster’s” Catalonian red.

In reality, the “old guy” and the “hipster” are the same person, each looking to differentiate themselves and their generation through taste manifested in a fad. And it’s these individual generations and their fads which start to resemble marketable demographics.

I certainly buy wine in profiles that I know will satisfy both the “old guy” and the “hipster,” yet it is between this generational gap that we build the core of Swigg’s wine offering.  Somewhere between the points and the natural wine propaganda, there is “real wine.” Wine outside the cage of categoric labels and generational bias. Wines that don’t try to be anything else but what they are and should be. Wines that make no deliberate attempt to “differentiate” from the past, but instead reinforce it and in doing so reinforce their own originality.

Luckily there are a number of small importers and distributors that both share and shape our philosophy, and are able to provide Swigg with wines that transcend the trends of the day. One such importer is the iconic Neil Rosenthal, a man who “understands that wine is an agricultural product and that in its best and purest form wine must reflect a specific sense of place.”

Mr. Rosenthal loves acid and authenticity, two things we embrace at Swigg. He also could care very little about the fashionability of his portfolio. In his book, Reflections of A Wine Merchant, Rosenthal notes, “Ultimately, my portfolio of growers and their wines reflects my search for wines that are part of classical tradition. As a result, we may be out of the mainstream.” By ignoring the many ephemeral wine fads over the past 40 years and focusing on what is “real,” Rosenthal, his producers and their wines have endured, immune to each wine drinking generation’s need to “differentiate.”

After a long absence in the Delaware market, the wines imported by Neil Rosenthal are finally available. Swigg now stocks a number of French and Italian wines from the portfolio, and I would encourage you to explore what I feel are some of the most authentic and “real” expressions of terroir driven wines anywhere.

It’s rather difficult to pick a wine from the Rosenthal portfolio to feature given they all seem to have their own compelling personality and story, so I’ll have to settle on the wine I’m drinking now, La Torre’s 2014, Rosso di Toscano “Ampelio.”

Operated by the Anania family, La Torre is situated in La Sesta, the highest altitude area in the Brunello zone. Though most of the five plus hectares of vines on the property are primarily planted with Sangiovese Grosso, which produces their grand Brunello, the Ampelio bottling is a blend of 40% Alicante, 30% Sangiovese Grosso and 30% Ciliegiolo aged in wood for 12 months.

According to the Rosenthal website, “This cuvée was created by Luigi Anania for the first time in the 2007 vintage and is a reflection of his particular approach to, and understanding of, the historical basis for the terroir of this specific and special zone of Brunello.”

In the glass, the wine expresses alluring notes of incense smoke, cinnamon stick, leather, cedar, black cherry, earthy black berry and plum. The wine has loads of personality without the spin, and that’s what I like about it…especially at this price.

Come to Swigg and taste “real wine” beyond the spin.