A review of the Terra di Seta Chianti Classico 2008 and some summer cocktail suggestions.
By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week July 27, 2011
Italians have been making wines for thousands of years. Chianti is one of their better wines, however it unfortunately suffers from the image of the straw-covered curved bottle festooned with wax drippings. But Chianti is much more than a restaurant candleholder. It can be elegantly complex and is a fabulous food wine, especially with Italian cuisine. The kosher Terra di Seta Chianti Classico 2008 ($19) is a delicious medium-bodied blend of 95 percent Sangiovese with 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. It displays cherry, coffee and cranberry aromas that lead into raspberry, blackberry and vanilla flavors, soft tannins and a silky-smooth finish with a touch of cocoa and spice. For an accompaniment, think grilled salmon or tuna, any tomato-based dish or your favorite burger.
The Terra di Seta Winery, the only 100 percent kosher winery in Italy, is located in the Tuscany region of western Italy in the area designated Chianti Classico. Owners Daniele Della Seta and Maria Pellegrini produce wine, honey and olive oil at their organic farm located more than 1,500 feet above sea level in the Siena hills. The property boasts spectacular views as well as a bed-and-breakfast, with several guest rooms available for vacation rental at the farmhouse. Besides their Chianti, they also make a Toscana IGT, both under the kashrut supervision of the OK.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d shake things up a bit. At this time of writing, the weather is unpleasantly hot. What is needed is something simple and delicious to cool the blood, slake the thirst, and refresh the soul. Time for summer cocktails.
Most summer cocktails have a basic formula calling for some mix of fruit juices or purees with various types of booze. The overall effect is to serve up something light, cool and refreshing.
Unfortunately, many of today’s blender-made drinks tend increasingly to taste like an alcoholic slushy. These are cold and will get you drunk, but they aren’t exactly “fine living.” The novelist Ernest Hemingway consumed oceans of daiquiris made with lemons, sugar, lots of rum and shaved ice. But these were definitely not the slushy, fruity concoctions of today’s bar scene. Hemingway always cautioned the barmen to go easy on the sugar: “It should have a sour finish – like life.” Just so.
Let’s not go down the too-cold, too-sweet road this summer. Try something more refined and elegant, something easier to prepare at home, and easier to clean up after. The art of mixing a cocktail, like cooking in general, is not an exact science, so recipes and measurements should be thought of as guides, rather than rules chiseled in stone – at all times, mix according to taste. Similarly, the two basic secrets to mixing a fantastic cocktail are (1) to use fresh, good quality ingredients whenever possible and (2) to make certain that all the flavors are in perfect harmony, or balance – so that each ingredient’s contribution is felt, but nothing overpowers or clashes.
Here are a few cool, classic cocktails that will quench your summer thirst and revitalize you. They are very easy to make, yet still convey a rewarding air of sophistication. First, try a Gin Fizz, a delicious and refreshing classic. In a cocktail shaker 3/4 full of hard, cold ice, add 2 ounces of gin, 3/4 of an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon sugar (or 1 ounce simple syrup), then shake it like you mean it and then strain into a highball glass with ice. Top up with club soda and drink.
Then try a Mojito (pronounced moe-hee-toe; this is basically just a Cuban/tropical variation of the American “Mint Julep”). Put 4 wedges of lime, 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, and 8 to 10 fresh mint leaves into a mixing glass or shaker and then muddle or mash together, mortar-and-pestle like, until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved, the juice is maximally extracted from the limes, and the mint is totally integrated into the juice. Then add ice and 2 ounces of light or silver rum and shake briefly, then strain into a highball glass with cracked or crushed ice. Add 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and top with soda water, garnish with 2 or 3 sprigs of mint, and serve.
Finally, we would be remiss if we did not mention the Rickey, Washington’s native cocktail. Earlier this month at the J.W. Marriott hotel, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton unveiled a plaque to commemorate D.C. as the birthplace of the “Rickey.” Invented in 1883 by bartender George Williamson at a place called Shoemaker’s, located at 1331 E Street, where the J.W. Marriott hotel now sits, the Rickey was named for Democratic lobbyist Col. Joe Rickey.
Essentially a lime version of the Gin Fizz, the Rickey is a beguiling and refreshing yet super simple cocktail: 2 ounces of booze, half a lime squeezed (roughly half an ounce) and dropped into the glass, topped up with soda water. Originally made with bourbon, by the 1890s it was mostly made with gin, and so it remains today. Give it a sip and you’ll understand why. Indeed, think of the Rickey as a more vibrant American take on the British gin and tonic.
If for some unfortunate reason you get stuck as the designated driver and need to skip the booze, a brilliant virgin Rickey can be made by increasing the fresh lime juice to 3/4 of an ounce, adding 1 teaspoon of sugar or 1 ounce of simple syrup, and 3 dashes of Angostura bitters. Top with soda water, garnish with a slice of lime. L’chaim!