Weekly Apéro Hour: Luxuriating in Sangiovese and Rachel Cusk’s World of Dialogue

Sometimes, I make a list in my head of the living people whom I’d give anything to have dinner with. Novelist Rachel Cusk is at the top of that list. She is a writer who has reinvented the genre of the novel, by giving it new form, seemingly without effort.

Reading Cusk’s critically acclaimed trilogy, of which I’m now on the last segment, feels simultaneously like you have become witness to an act of genius, and like there’s nothing simpler, more comforting, more enjoyable, than this simple book in your hands. This tension between ingenuity of form and bare bones writing is what I love about Cusk’s work. 

The plot of each of these books revolves around a narrator who is doing not much more than living her life, as a writer — it’s very hard to write a book about writing that isn’t super annoying, but she has mastered this — while having conversations with people who are deeply entrenched in the throes of emotional maelstroms. To quote critic Dwight Garner, these dialogues “branch out like broccoli florets.”

Kudos is the latest in Cusk’s series, and I treated myself to it after finally launching the Kickstarter for my book Nomad — which is off to a good start! Please check it out if you haven’t yet. If you know me, whether from following me on social media or IRL, you’re surely aware that I’ve long wanted to write a book. Ultimately, I have plans to write something more complex than Nomad, which is more like a long essay than a full book, but I see this attempt as a crucial step in breaking through the obstacles I feel are between me and that future book.

If you are thinking about going out to grab Kudos, you definitely can jump right into it, although it will probably make you want to go back and start the trilogy from scratch. I highly recommend it — the whole series is a meditation on the contemporary world and how it makes us feel at an individual level, with close examinations of relationships, both romantic and familial, and deep studies of femininity and masculinity and artistic creativity.

I also treated myself this week to a very special wine, a beautiful red from Pacina, an organic estate in Tuscany that consists of grapevines, olive trees, grain and vegetable farming, and a monastery dating back to 900 A.D. Having spent the week bottling Sangiovese (including my own, for my forthcoming label, Persephone Wines), I was ready to sit back and drink a fine example.

You’ll note that this is a wine from 2013. In the world of natural wines, it’s not very common to be able to enjoy a wine that has undergone extensive ageing like this. Many natural wines are made in a “fresher” style, meant to be light and low in alcohol, and there’s also the unfortunate truth that quite a few natural winemakers who would prefer to age their wines for longer simply can’t afford to do so, as anything held in stock represents potential immediate cash income.

Pacina makes this wine, comprised of nearly all Sangiovese, with a bit of the local blending grape Canaiolo/Cilliegiolo mixed in (two local red varieties traditionally used for blending with Sangio), with extreme care and respect for Tuscan tradition. The grapes are first macerated for six weeks in concrete, and then fermentation continues also in concrete for six months. Then there’s ageing in old oak barrels of different sizes, followed by one year of resting and integrating in bottle. No sulfites (or anything else) were added.

The result is an extraordinarily elegant wine that delivers the satisfaction of experiencing a vintage several years later. Although the wine is somewhat high in alcohol (14% — normal for a wine of the sunny Tuscan hills), this is only one component of its profile, as the ageing helps the alcohol to integrate with the other flavors. On the very aromatic nose, I found ripe cherry and pickled plums. The palate had a totally smooth texture, featuring musky sandalwood and charred rhubarb. The wine was such a treat to drink, and despite its complexity and meditative aspects went down very quickly — it wasn’t weighted down in any way. A serious red wine doesn’t have to be overly tannic and massively heavy on the palate, if the maker is artful enough. Surely, the Pacina wines are aided by the fact that Giovanna, who along with her husband Stefano run the estate and the winemaking cellar, is the third generation to do so — the knowledge must have been passed down to her from previous members of her family, and so she can rely on the older ways to some extent.

Have a great start to your week, everyone! Thanks for reading this edition of #apérohourweekly and feel free to subscribe to the blog via the homepage if you want to receive this in your inbox each week. Around mid-August I’ll be headed to Europe, to visit vineyards in Slovenia and Spain, and check out the wine scene in Berlin and London, and I’ll be continuing to write as a I travel — it would be great to have you along with me. (Of course, I also blog as I go on my persona Instagram, so hop over there if you don’t already follow.)

cheers! xxRachel

 

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The First Thing I’m Going To Do When I Get To Paris

Joan Didion: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.” – “Goodbye to All That

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When I moved to New York, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. In fact, I’d forgotten all about writing as an artform, and was totally focused on an academic career.

But I grew up with writer parents, surrounded by books, our household first on the block to have a computer (or a “word processor,” rather, made by Epson–yes, they did computers before printers!). I couldn’t stay away from the life of words for long. Nobody ever said to me, “Hey, did you consider journalism, or writing?” It was like I was pulled to it, the métier spoke to me from a place beyond my control.

And as I set out teaching myself the basic skills of reporting and producing a story (nut graf, intro, body, conclusion; the foundational structure of everything), I realized that New York was going to be hard on me as a writer. Money was short, and student loans were heavy weights. I traveled to the Bronx at 5:30am to substitute teach in charter schools. Had almost no furniture. Ate lots of uninspired pasta and bulletproof Chinese food, drank cheap beer and Trader Joe’s wine, and often cried at night in a bathtub with a neat whiskey in hand: how am I going to do this, here, in this city?

Over the years, New York has not gotten any easier on me. I’ve gotten tougher, probably. I’ve learned to let the drive to write overcome everything. But other kinds of obstacles come into your life, if you stay in New York. Your relationships are strained. Dating, as a woman in her late twenties/early thirties, is an excruciating task; somehow I do know people who have met and fallen in love in New York but it has only presented itself to me a few times, and always accompanied by heartbreak. Money in New York is a contradiction; we never have enough of it but somehow keep on spending, because the city demands it.

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In ways, New York has been very good to me. I’ve eaten some incredible meals, met brilliant people, had the chance to interact with some heavy-hitting winemakers and chefs and editors. I’ve learned fiction writing–which has made me a much better journalist–from some of the best editors and publishers in the city, and that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. 

But, having now found a niche (or a passion? an unwise obsession? a devotion?) within the world of wine and food writing (the path to that is too long to recount here, but this earlier blog post touches on it), it is no longer satisfying for me to be in this concrete jungle, too far from the vineyards that most inspire me at this time.

I am a hopeless francophile. I first tried to learn French when I was 12; for whatever reason, Madame Fox strongly disliked me (OK, I was a rambunctious and probably rude kid), so after one semester I switched to Spanish. But I always wanted to learn the language. When I was 20, I was living in Spain and went to visit a friend who was doing a semester of art studies in Paris. Walking in the Latin Quarter one day, I needed to use a bathroom and waltzed into a restaurant as it was just opening. The waiters tried to push me out, but I persisted. One of them, in his starched white shirt and suspenders, raised a chair overhead and threw it toward me, yelling something I didn’t understand but was probably like putain americaine de merde avec votre président du merde (effectively: screw you, American with President Bush!). Since then, I was absolutely determined: I would learn French, move back to Paris, and take that city by its literary teeth, breathing in the ghosts of all those writers and thinkers of centuries past. I would write a book in Paris.

At 20, I had no idea that I’d be writing a book about wine in Paris, but that is now what I intend to do.

making olfactory love to Matthieu Barret’s Cornas

This is my last week in New York. I have no idea when I’ll be back. Possibly this fall, but I’m not sure. I also don’t have every detail of the next year of my life figured out–but I am headed to Paris with a small amount of earthly possessions, most importantly this laptop and a dog-eared copy of A Moveable Feast that my brother gave me (have you read about the latest Hem biography?) and will be based there.

Believe me, I know that living in Paris will be different than visiting for a week here or there. And I also know that Paris will offer its own set of challenges and complications (such as: greetings, with the French–are we kissing once, twice, seven times, a handshake?). But I have to give this a try. The world is too unstable, corrupt, sanitized, to not at least try to pursue what you think will make you happy. If something is calling to you, the only choice is to push aside the obstacles and go toward it.

In Paris, I’ll be working on Terre Magazine, as well as writing for wine magazines in the U.S. I’ll also be trying to do some more cultural writing; I used to cover art and film openings in New York, years back, and would like to return to that in Paris. I’ll be visiting lots of vineyards this summer, you can be sure. Will be headed to Greece next week, in fact, and then to Burgundy, later in June. Slovakia and Croatia are in the scheming, also, as well as the Jura and the Loire this fall.

And I’m working on the book, I am. But first and most importantly, as soon as I get to Paris, I’m going to call my friend and ask him to pick me up on his motorcycle, and head to Septime Cave in the 11éme for an apéro. I’m going to sit down with a glass of Champagne and listen to him tell me all about what it was like to be in Paris during the recent election. I’m going to have a snack of anchovies on toast. Or maybe, we’ll grab a bottle and bring it to the canal, to soak in the sun. And I’m going to relish in the experience of feeling at home in a new place–and in the fact that if somebody does throw a chair at me now, it will hopefully be because my French is too good, but I haven’t yet lost my ability to be sassy. Madame Fox would be proud.

Meet Terre Mag This Weekend At #FOODBOOKFAIR2017

It’s been many months in the works–and it all started at that damn wine bar, Wildair, where I keep going back, again and again, unable to resist the funky wines, the fried shrimp dish, the raucous tattooed kitchen staff.

The hostess, as well, was incredibly friendly, and as I showed up more and more regularly, she always blessed our glasses with a much welcomed splash of Les Capriades pét-nat as we waited for our seats. Over time, I got to know her: Erika, an artist; I discovered her Instagram and fell deeply, madly in love with her wine- and food-themed gouache paintings. 

Finally, I got up the courage to blurt out, as she was ushering me to my seat one night: “I’m obsessed with your work. We have to collaborate!” Being modest, she blushed and adjusted her eyeglasses. Then she said, “Sure! Give me a call,” and filled my glass. We worked together for this article about natural wine on the Lower East Side for Food Republic, but we knew there could be something bigger. We began scheming, planning, brainstorming over coffee, grain bowls, and of course, wine.

Months later, Erika and I found our third counterpart, a talented food photographer and pop-up chef named Katie (she took the fantastic photo you see here, as well as most of the shots on our Instagram/Kickstarter) and we formed Terre Mag: an indie print mag about natural wines and heritage foods. 

This coming weekend, we will be representing Terre Mag at the Food Book Fair, taking place on Saturday and Sunday 12-4pm both days, at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan. For $5, you can pass through and meet tons of indie food mags like us. We’ll be giving away beautiful wine tote bags, printed with one of Erika’s original paintings, to a select handful (if you mention you saw my blog post, you’ll totally get a bag). Honestly, it’s a fun event–I’ve gone several years in a row–and a great place to meet people. So, get the F off Tinder, and go to Food Book Fair to flirt with some cool people who love to eat and drink well!

And more importantly, we need some early support for our Kickstarter! Check it out here. We have less than a month to raise $10K to get this biannual magazine going. Please go check out the Kickstarter and if you can, at least pre-order your copy of Terre Mag, and spread the word on social media (you can start by following our Instagram). Shout everywhere and anywhere about Terre Mag; your help is much appreciated.

Thank you so much!

Over and out, your fellow lover of sincere, wild, delicious terroir.