Posted on June 27, 2014
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Think of Angelica in the same category as Port. Angelica is the first of fortified wines that will be discussed in Varietal Vignettes. Fortified wine has a spirit added to it, usually brandy or a neutral spirit such as vodka, making it 17% to 21% alcohol. Other examples of fortified wine are Madeira, Sherry, and Marsala.

The origin of Angelica can be traced to the Mission period in California. Franciscan missionaries produced it from Mission grapes and is thought to be named after the City of Angels, Los Angeles. There are still several producers in California that continue to produce Mission-based Angelica although many producers have switched to using Muscat grapes for Angelica.

Gypsy Canyon Angelica

One producer that still uses Mission grapes is Deborah Hall of Gypsy Canyon. Hall performed extensive research on Mission grapes and Angelica after discovering long dormant vines on her property. She follows the recipe described by Franciscans that she uncovered in her research. Since she produces less than one barrel of Angelica each year, it can only be purchased on her Website. The Muscat-produced Angelica wines are more plentiful and much easier to find.

Angelica is amber-colored with caramel on the nose. Flavors of honey, apricot, figs, and sage combine in a silky mouthfeel and a nutty (hazelnut or pecan) finish. One Franciscan missionary wrote in his journal that it was suitable for sipping at any occasion, but when serving with dessert, it pairs best with fresh fruits or smoky cheeses.


Posted on May 1, 2014
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The sweet but also slightly bitter Italian liqueur, Amaretto. is a study in dual meaning. Known as being almond-flavored, it is actually made from apricot pits. Two tales of its origin both stem from great love of a couple in Saronno. The Italian language lends to the confusion that Amaretto comes from amore and the romantic history of the liqueur, whereas amaretto literally means “a little bitter” in Italian.

In one tale, a pupil of Leonardo di Vinci was asked to paint frescos in the sanctuary of the church in Saronno in 1525. The artist, Bernardino Luini, asked his young, widowed innkeeper to be his model for the Madonna. Legend has it they fell in love. As a gift to him, she steeped apricot kernels in brandy and presented the drink to him. The story goes on to say her original recipe has been passed down from generation to generation without alteration and is currently marketed as the most well-known Amaretto, DiSaronno Originale Liqueur.

The Lazzaroni family of Saronno also lay claim to being the originators of Amaretto. In the 1700s, the family invented delicate almond/apricot cookies. Amaretti cookies are used in dessert recipes to this day.. In one version of the story, the cookies were created for the king of the region. In another version, a young couple was blessed by the bishop with the family recipe. In 1851 the Lazzaroni family began producing Amaretto liqueur from an infusion of their cookies with a little caramel for color.

Amaretto is versatile in that it may be served neat (straight up), on the rocks (over ice), as part of other cocktails (Cuban Breeze or Amaretto Sour), served in coffee, or used in recipes from crepes to Tiramsu.


Posted on April 17, 2014
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Albarino is a low-yielding, high-quality wine from Spain’s Galicia (or Rias Baixas) (ree-ahs-buy-shuss) region. Although reasonably productive, these grapes are so thick-skinned that only a small amount of juice can be extracted from them. It pleases the Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc lovers on one hand and the Viognier and Chardonnay lovers on the other. The wines are rich and creamy with complex flavors of apricots, peaches, and citrus. This varietal is rarely cultivated elsewhere. Aromatic noses of honeysuckle, citrus, melons, pears, yellow fruits (peaches, apricots, and mangoes), spices, and mineral flavors for palate-cleansing qualities that are similar to a very good Chablis.

An important tip…choose the freshest vintage you can find. Albarino will be at its most alluring when young, since the vibrancy of the varietal dissipates fairly quickly. While most Albarinos do not see oak, there is a modern move toward barrel fermentation. Although the five sub-zones in Rias Baixas express subtle differences, the wines share certain characteristics — good natural acidity and a medium-body with moderate alcohol.

Albarinos are married to mussels, oysters, clams, shrimp, lobsters, octopus, and all things that swim. Also dream of this wine with rosemary or vegetarian casseroles.

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