July 2018 Feature Wine

The month of July is named for the man who coined the phrase: “Veni, vidi, vici.” Two years ago, when I observed ancient aqueducts, and the breathtaking vistas of Tuscany through a train window whilst travelling through the Gallic lands that Julius Caesar once subdued under Roman authority, this phrase became something of a mantra. Perhaps it was because my travel companions were a gaggle of energetic teenage girls. Or maybe it was due to the fact that our whirlwind tour of Italy included stops in Milan, Florence, Rome, down to Pompeii, on to Sorrento, with a day trip to Capri, all in less than a week!  Regardless, I certainly felt like “I came, I saw, I conquered!”

    July in Italy is many enchanting things, but above all it is HOT!  As we trekked upwards of ten miles a day, packing in as much sightseeing as we possibly could, this Alaskan gal was melting in the humid, 90+ degree climate.  Now, I love a good spaghetti red Italian table wine as much as the next signorina! However, I could not bring myself to drink (much) of it as we toured the lands of Cicero and the Caesars. I needed to find a revitalizing substitute that was low enough in alcohol content that I could maintain the veneer of responsibility that a chaperone on a Girl Scout trip needed to maintain. The solution came to me after a particularly sweltering day of traipsing up and down the seven hills of the Eternal City.  In a scene that could have been cut directly from a Fellini film, I found myself at a quaint outdoor cafe nestled in the shadow of the Colosseum. As I settled in with a drink menu I could not read, I noticed an impeccably dressed local near me sipping a beverage that was the color of the setting Tuscan sun. When I clumsily, and in true Americano fashion indicated to my server that I just had to try the elixir I saw at the next table over, he graciously introduced me to the Spritz. It was amore at first sip! Bellissimo!

    There are a number of ways to make this refreshing, Prosecco based cocktail.  The concoction that I quaffed nightly as we continued down the Amalfi Coast was three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, with a splash of soda water, and garnished with either a slice of orange, or a strawberry.  If you want to crank up the tartness, Campari can replace the Aperol. Or, if you prefer lemon zing to bitter orange, try substituting the Sorrento based liqueur, Lemoncello. Whichever you choose, these Italian Spritzes are a sure-fire way to tap into la Dolce Vita!

    Like it’s French counterpart (Champagne), the name Prosecco is strictly a geographical indicator, named for a charming village in Northern Italy.  The primary grape used in the production of this sparkling white wine is Glera. Prosecco tends to be cheaper than Champagne, due to the fact that the Charmont-Martinotti method is used in its secondary fermentation process.  The use of stainless steel tanks cuts the cost of the production process significantly. Prosecco is not intended to age or ferment within the bottle, and should be enjoyed within three years of its vintage.

    Prosecco is light and crisp, with notes of stone fruits like pear, apricot, and yellow apples. Always served chilled, Prosecco can be intensely aromatic, and quite delicious on its own.  It is also lower in alcohol content than other sparkling wines, averaging only 11%-12% alcohol volume per bottle. This makes it a perfect base for a fun, spritzy cocktail.

    The Italians have another phrase that I have grown to love; “Anni, amori e bicchieri di vino… nun se contano mai.”  It means; “Years, lovers, and glasses of wine… these things must not be counted.” Allow yourself to be seduced by one of these Italian Spritzes today!


Ciao Bella!



June 2018 Feature Wine

Allow your imagination to transport you several thousand years into our prehistoric past.  Somewhere in Northern Europe, a thirsty nomad treks through wheatfields and comes across a honeycomb that had been saturated by rainwater.  Unbeknownst to him, the natural yeast in the air from the nearby wheat has caused the honey in the comb to ferment. This happy accident thus created a magical ambrosia that, as he gulps it down, imbues him with feelings of euphoria, godlike wit, heroic courage and great strength.  

It is unknown exactly which ancient culture first discovered the process of making Mead, but this “nectar of the gods” literally flows through myths, legends, and literature across continents, and all through recorded time!  The Vikings believed that the “Mead of Poetry” was made from the blood of one of their gods (Kvasir), and when consumed, inspired the composition of epic poems like Beowulf. The opening scene of Beowulf itself is a bragging competition that takes place in the Mead hall of King Hrothgar. The pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales find the courage to spin their yarns in a bottle of Mead.  When the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon drank each other’s good health it was with T’ej (Ethiopian Mead). Remember King Midas and his golden touch?  Apparently, his actual tomb was found in Turkey and when it was opened, residual traces of Mead were found in his golden drinking vessels.

One tradition involving Mead has endured until modern times, and serves as my inspiration for featuring this natural aphrodisiac for the month of June.  It is Summer in the Interior, and that means wedding bells are chiming throughout the land. Nowadays, couples court and fall in love before tying the knot.  For many centuries however, marriages were arranged affairs, and rarely based on any romantic feelings. In order to encourage the bridal couple to get about the business of procreation, they were absolved of any communal responsibilities for a lunar month. To further aid the bridal pair with overcoming any bashfulness, it was expected that the bride’s dowry include enough Honey Wine (Mead) to last them those 27 days. Thus the origins of the Honeymoon!

Mead is a naturally gluten free beverage, and has been used as a vehicle for medicinal herbal remedies for centuries.  This variety of Mead is called “Metheglin.” Mead varies in flavor and color depending on the diet of the bees whose clover is harvested for its creation. When Mead serves as a delicious base for an endless variety of fruit juice enhancements, it is called “Melomel,” and when made with maple syrup, it is called “Acerglyn.” These tantalizing varieties are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg!

Like beers and ciders, Mead is also enjoying a resurgence in craft brewing. Case in point, we are fortunate to carry the Alaskan Meadery’s offerings; Razzery and Belgique. As the name implies, Razzery is infused with Alaskan raspberries, along with sour cherries and apples, so thus falls into the “Metheglin” category.  Belgique features notes of orange peel and coriander, and is described as having a marmalade flavor with a dry, balancing finish.

 Formerly Celestial Meads, Alaskan Meadery is a fairly new acquisition of the Denali Brewing Company.  Mike Kiker was the wizard behind the curtain at Celestial Meads, and he has been advising the cider makers (as to how to make their own delicious Meads) at Denali Brewing Company as part of the transition.  We are still fortunate to have a number of his Celestial Meads on our shelves. However, they are officially limited offerings!

For millennia people have been celebrating with and enjoying Mead.  It has been the beverage of choice of epic heroes, royalty, and gods.  Join their ranks today, and take home a bottle of this ambrosia for yourself.  Or, bless a newlywed couple with a bottle for their honeymoon.



May 2018 Feature Wine

In the interest of getting a little content up on this blog, I am going to post a couple back-dated wine features I have already posted at the store.  Moving forward, it is my intent to continue to have a monthly featured wine at Gavoras Fine Wine and Growler Bar, and to post these little write-ups here as part of "Drink, Drank, Drunk."  Here is the one I did for May...

Galileo once said that "wine is sunlight held together by water."  If this is true, then Miraval Provence is the last blush of the setting sun as it dips below the picturesque vineyard terraces of Southern France.  The region in which Chateau Miraval is nestled has been home to winemakers since the Romans were expanding their empire.  The fact that it is situated at an altitude of 350 meters, and subject to consistently warm Mediterranean days, and cool coastal breezes at night, lends to an ideal climate to produce the Rhone style grapes (Grenache, Cinsault, Rolle, & Syrah) that are hand selected, and strictly morning harvested for the production of this well-balance Rose.

Should you feel inspired to listen to Pink Floyd, Sade, or Sting after opening a bottle of Miraval Provence, there is a good reason.  Chateau Miraval itself has long been a haven for artisits, musicians, and actors.  In the 1970s, it was converted into a recording studio by then owner and famous Jazz composer, Jacques Loussier.  The musicians mentioned above are among the artisits that have recorded within its romantic stone walls.  Currently, the Chateau is owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and served as the location for their wedding, and as their summer home.  It was they who, starting with the 2012 harvest, employed the renowned winemaker, Marc Perrin to craft their organically grown, award-winning Rose.

On May 13th, we honor our mothers.  My intention was to select a feature wine for May that was both feminine and fierce (like the woman who raised me).  Miraval Provence seemed to me to fit the bill precisely.  Don't be fooled bit its undoubtedly feminine color.  This Rose has subtle complexity and (like my mother) should not be underestimated!  Its floral aroma, bright berry flavors, refreshing acidity, and balanced, saline finish give it true substance.  Indeed, it was the only Rose to make Wine Spectator's prestigious Top 100 Wines list (2013).

Perfectly suitable for your Mother's Day brunch or graduation celebrations, Miraval Provence Rose truly represents springtime in a bottle!




What do I know?

Growing up in an Italian family in Northern California, I cannot recall a time when wine was not a part of my life, as bottles of it always graced our expansive family table.  In the mid 80s there was not much in the San Joaquin Valley besides dirt farms and drive-thrus. Now, one cannot throw a dirt clod without hitting a vineyard, and people recognize the name of Lodi from more than just a CCR song lyric.  Chances are, if you pick up a bottle of Zinfandel, it will be from the part of California I called home as a child.

My father was a man ahead of the times.  I recall on one hot summer day, a truckload of grapes backing up to our barn.  Perhaps in an effort to mitigate the cost of consuming it, Dad had decided he was going to try his hand at making wine! In the category of "go big or go home" he had several large barrels that soon housed his vintage tucked into a "cool" corner of our barn.  Mom had her doubts... And I am pretty sure that he still blames her "sour grapes" take on his pet project for the outcome.  As it turned out, Dad lacked the know-how to create a viable vino.  We did however, end up with multiple gallons of fairly decent vinegar.  And our barn never smelled the same again!

Fast forward a decade or so, and I found myself employed at a quaint wine and tapas restaurant here in Fairbanks, AK.  It was at Cafe Alex that I truly received my (albeit informal) education in wine.  Owner and visionary, Alex Mayberry, was determined to feature fabulous and affordable wines on her house list.  That list would also change with the seasons, and every time the list changed, Alex would host a private tasting for her staff. 

It was at these tastings, typically hosted by either Mark Winans or Paul Rossi, that I learned the language of wine.  Prior to this time, my wine lexicon was limited to expressions like "yummy."  While accurate, this term was hardly expressive of the multi-dimensional art of enjoying wine.  I quickly learned that my tips were directly proportional to my knowledge of the wine I was selling table side.

So I paid close attention to the terminology used by the pros!  What I found is that describing wine was very similar describing a love affair.  Terms like "rich", "decadent," "well-balanced", and "full-bodied" were used with enthusiasm.  I decided to be more bold and even sexy with my description of wines, and my customers loved it!

During this same time period, I was fortunate enough to take some weekend wine classes with a couple local wine aficionados that sadly, are no longer with us.  The first was self-professed "cork dork," Paul Rossi.  You may recognize the name since LaVelles posthumously honored Paul by naming their expansive cellar after him.  Paul always had a sparkle in his blue eyes that came from his genuine love for life.  This joy definitely came through in his lectures on wine.     

The second gentleman that I was lucky enough to learn a thing or two from also has a name that is very recognizable, since our cancer center here in Fairbanks bares it.  Dr. Michael Carroll had a private cellar that was a bit of a local legend.  I was never invited to any of his infamous wine dinners, but I did spend a weekend tasting wine under his tutelage out at Two Rivers. 

There has been nothing formal or fancy about my wine education.  There has been a long string of experiences though, with family and friends, opening and emptying bottle after bottle over the years.  Every one of those empty bottles represents love, laughter, and the joyous celebration of life.  As I wrap up my introductory blog, the thought I want to leave you with is this: one does not need to spend a fortune on a bottle of wine to enjoy one of the finest things in life.  The people we share it with and the memories made over those glasses of wine are the true treasure.