Joan Fontaine, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland and Paulette Goddard in The Women (1939)
IN THIS ISSUE
WHEN FLYING WAS STILL A THRILL
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE WINES OF ROERO
By Brian Freedman
WHEN FLYING WAS
STILL A THRILL
By John Mariani
Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can (2002)
In an article in the New York Times last month (“There Was No `Golden Age’ of Air Travel”) airline pilot Patrick Smith makes some reasonable points, contending “Flying Was Never Fun.” He insists that airline ticket prices adjusted for inflation are now cheaper than ever, and that in the old days—he means the 1960s through 1980s—there were unbearably long flying times for some routes, despite the fact that a Boeing 707 in 1958 cruised at 540 mph while today’s new Boeing 737 does so at 564 mph. Flying from JFK to LAX, or Boston to Paris, in 1970 or 1980 took the same time as it does today. The glorious Concorde (right) crossed the Atlantic in three and a half hours.
As for fares, he fails to recall that in the 1960s you could fly from LGA to DC or Boston for $12.75 on Eastern Airlines or PanAm “shuttle” flights. Charter flights to Europe could be had for as little as $200.
He also does not mention that in the past you did not pay for checked baggage, always got a meal (such as it was), pillows and blankets, incurred no penalty fees for changing flights or cancellations, and, if you missed your flight on TWA you could walk over to the PanAm or United or American desk and use the same ticket to fly to the same city hours or even minutes later. And, if the shuttle flight to DC was full, they would literally roll out another plane for late-arriving passengers. And take your cash or credit card onboard to pay for your ticket.
Let’s not even begin to talk about the difference in hospitality between then and now on airlines. To be sure, the airlines were guilty of arrant sexism when it came to hiring what used to be called stewardesses, whose popular image as the “Coffee, tea or me?” girls was quietly ignored by airline executives, who in the 1970s dressed their attendants in uniforms designed to look like something on Hugh Hefner’s Bunny Jet. The airlines seemed more than content with the image purveyed in dreadful sex farces like Come Fly with Me (1963) and Boeing-Boeing (1965). Women could not be married and, if they got pregnant, they were fired. But by the 1980s most of that sexism had disappeared; it was also around 1980 that male flight attendants began to be hired.
Nevertheless, anyone who flew back in those days can surely agree about the general tenor of hospitality among those flight attendants. Smiling, comforting, ever willing to answer questions about delays and transfers, flight attendants did indeed attend to the needs of passengers, who were often in a state of anxiety, exhaustion or just plain orneriness. Children were always pampered, even to the point of being allowed to visit the captain’s cabin. I recall my young son being invited up to the cabin of the Concorde for ten minutes or more while I dozed off. Today those cabins are, for good reason, bolted shut and impregnable.
Back then flight attendants, who often checked you in at the gate, were empowered—or allowed—to bump passengers up to first class, usually people who presented themselves in a very courteous manner, but more often than not a passenger with a small child or a disabled person. Now, such graciousness is wholly forbidden.
Flying really was a thrill for first-timers and distinctly glamorous, especially when the jet age begat the idea of the Jet Set and Frank Sinatra singing seductively, “Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away/ If you can use some exotic booze/ There’s a bar in far Bombay.” Most people dressed up to travel by air; people even dressed up to drive friends to the airport.
There always have been delays owing to weather and mechanical problems, but the routine scheduling of a dozen or more planes to take off at exactly the same time from the same runway was prohibited when the airlines were regulated. I don’t recall ever sitting on the tarmac for more than two hours as I recently did on a flight from JFK to Orly, not because Air France was guilty of delay but because the entire airport was loaded up with flights all due to take off at the same moment. You also didn’t get ETAs back then saying that a two-hour flight would take three and a half hours, because delays are now deceptively built into the flight info, so that a flight that actually takes only two hours is given an ETA of three-and-a-half to allow for all the time on the tarmac and other delays at both ends.
Through no fault of the airlines, terrorism has made flying one of the very worst modes of travel imaginable now, with hour-long waits on security and passport control lines normal at international terminals. The fact is, the terrorists have already won, costing the airlines trillions of dollars, which we pay for, in extra security measures. In the old days there was no such thing. Friends could see you off right at the gate and give you packages to bring onboard. Parents could go onboard with a small child traveling alone and hand her off to a very affable flight attendant. When you got to your destination, your friends met you as you exited the plane.
I recall a so-so Kirk Douglas movie called Two Weeks in Another Town wherein Douglas, realizing the errors of his ways as a besotted director making a movie in Rome, races to the airport to catch the next flight back to the U.S. only to find the plane is just closing its doors. Douglas pays for a ticket in cash, flashes his passport at the gate and the attendant waves him through. He runs onto the tarmac and bounds up the stairway to the plane, they open the door. He gets a big hug and kiss from co-star Daliah Lavi as the plane’s engines come to life. Such a scenario was not hokey Hollywood: it could happen to you. In the Golden Age of Flight.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
93 Mill Plain Rd.
Last week I wrote about an elegant restaurant on Connecticut’s wealthy Gold Coast named Rebeccas; this week I turn to the far less affluent town of Danbury to write of an outstanding Spanish tapas restaurant in a strip mall that includes a Panda House, a Middle Eastern restaurant called Kibberia and The Secret Hair Salon. Put that aside and enter into a large, colorful dining room with red walls, modern op-art-style murals and the night’s specials posted on blackboards. The tables are black and there is a long bar.
The real color is on the plates at Ibiza, named for the resort island off the coast of Spain. The array of tapas is daunting, many in the traditional style you’ll find in any tapas (or pintxos) bar in Barcelona or San Sebastian, while others are very modern and beautifully composed to be true eye candy.
For two decades now Ignacio Blanco (left) has been a trailblazer in America for modern Spanish cuisine, first in TriBeCa at Meigas (put out of business after 9/11) and other restaurants he’s opened in Connecticut. The current Ibiza, opened in 2013, is one of his finest efforts, and there simply is no more affable host than he, ever passionate about introducing you to, or adding to your knowledge of, a style of food that is, as he says, a way of life in Spain.
For that reason, and since most dishes are under $10, it’s a good idea to put yourself in Blanco’s hands and have him and Chef Gilbert Trejo choose until you cry, “no mas!” The menu is divided into “From the Sea,” “From the Farm,” and “Raciones” (portions). Everything—and this is not usually the case with typical tapas bars—is beautifully presented on an array of china dishware.
Begin with the blue fin tuna with sesame oil, black olives, scallions, diced tomato, lemon and Ibiza sea salt ($12)—an array of flavors—or, if you like marinated anchovies (boquerones), at Ibiza they are embellished with olive oil toast, avocado and black olive tapenade ($8). Gambas are large shrimp with delicate sliced garlic, olive oil, lemon, Guindilla and parsley ($12), while velvety pulpo (steamed octopus) takes on the wonderful aromas of smoked Spanish paprika potatoes, extra virgin olive oil and Ibiza sea salt ($13). The calamares are from local waters, with sweet caramelized onions and a Galician vinaigrette ($12).
The “farm” dishes include lomo marinated pork loin, Tetilla cheese, black olives, tomato and scallions on toast ($9.50), and marvelous crispy cannelloni of braised local baby lamb shank, tomato, scallions, black olives and sweet potato puree ($10). The sobreasada Mallorcan sausages are made in house and served with caramelized green apple ($9), and of particular interest—and unusual in a tapas bar—is foie gras and pistachio nougat, tomato marmalade and caramelized mango on toast ($10). There are even hamburger sliders made from succulent short ribs, rib eye and foie gras with caramelized onions and a BBQ aïoli ($10).
Tapas bars are not known for their desserts, but Ibiza does not cut back on its creativity in lovely items like torrija moderna, a crispy bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and sweet and sour strawberry sauce ($9); the dazzlingly rich tres leches cake with banana foam and sweet and sour kumquat ($8); a true Crema Catalana ($8.50; right); and plump chocolate croquetas with crushed almonds, coconut foam and lime gelatin ($8). Even a simple rice pudding is lavished with chocolate mousse and orange foam ($8).
Beer and Txocali sparkling wine is the usual beverage in tapas bars, but Ibiza has an impressive Spanish wine list that marries to its food, with dozens of bottles under $40.
New York City has a few good tapas bars, though they tend to be frenetic, loud and pricey. Ibiza, for all its color and focus on the unusual fitted into the traditional, is to my mind better than any in Manhattan. For that reason a true aficionado of Spanish food should make the trip to Danbury and be amazed.
Ibiza is open for dinner Tues.-Sun.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE WINES OF ROERO
By Brian Freedman
In the lead-up to my visit to Roero this past November, I made a point of limiting my white wine consumption at home. Why would I pop corks of white in Philadelphia when, once I arrived, I’d surely be inundated by a veritable tidal wave of it? Roero, after all, is home to some of the best white wine in Italy, and in recent years, the reputation of Roero Arneis has been gaining more-than-justified traction in the United States. It typically boasts expressive fruit, structured acidity, and the quality-to-price ratio is hard to beat.
Turns out I was wrong. Not about Arneis, however. It was every bit as excellent as I’d expected. Tasting examples from some of the top producers in the region absolutely reaffirmed my conviction that it’s a wine that has only just begun its ascent to the upper echelons of recognition and popularity.
I was wrong, rather, about what I’d find there. That’s because the reds were undoubtedly every bit as exciting, and as eye-opening, as those whites. Which makes sense, given Roero’s proximity to Barolo and Barbaresco, home to some of the most famous reds in Italy. Still, like so many other world-class wine regions that neighbor more famous ones, Roero doesn’t necessarily reap huge benefits from that proximity. Located not all that far across the Tanaro River, it still resides in the proverbial shadow of its neighbors.
But it doesn’t deserve to; not even close. That’s because the wine culture of Roero is vibrant, forward-thinking yet rooted in a real respect for the past, and deeply honest in its efforts to express the unique terroir it’s blessed with, and the wines coming out of there right now possess exactly the sort of shimmering expressiveness that only the most exciting DOCs and DOCGs typically do, and that consumers increasingly look for. After having spent some time there, I came away firmly convinced that Roero has everything it takes to become the proverbial “next big thing” in Italian wines.
There are DOCGs in Roero for both the Arneis and Nebbiolo grape varieties, the former comprising both Roero Arneis and Roero Arneis Spumante, and the latter Roero and Roero Riserva. With all four of these, I came away with a brand new appreciation for what Roero is capable of. This was driven home my first morning there, when I had the insanely good fortune of tasting the Cornarea Arneis di Canale 1983, a wine that was harvested only six years after I was born, and that, even now, 34 years later, was frankly more energetic than I felt after my red-eye flight to Italy. It was a transformative wine, with butterscotch countered by smoky minerality, by dried apple anchored by a sense of torrefaction, by lemon curd and white fig edged with eucalyptus and saffron. And 1983, I was told, wasn’t even a great vintage!
Of course, the chances of finding a three-and-a-half-decade-old Arneis on the American market are slim at best, but the point was clear: When grown and crafted with care, Arneis from Roero has the potential to age brilliantly.
As so many other bottlings showed, it also justifies its reputation for delicious early drinking as well. A vertical at the fantastic Cascina Pace was a game-changing experience, their 2015 Roero Arneis rich and honeyed yet with lots of mineral and crunchy pear notes anchoring it all. Pace’s 2013 was maturing brilliantly, with hints of warm almonds and more balsamic notes. The 2012, dense and concentrated yet lifted with citrus oils and white peach, boasted additional flavors of minerals and flowers—it was a show-stopper. And the 2010, with its baked stone fruit, apple fritters, and still-wonderfully-concentrated richness, showed the more savory side of Roero Arneis, that same seam of minerality that I’d by then come to expect lending it further structure and elegance.
As the market for high-quality Roero Arneis continues to grow, I expect to see the same broad range of expressions of it in the American market as I did in Piedmont, as well as an appreciation for the other excellent wines coming out of Roero itself. This includes reds, rosés, and sparklers, too.
The reds, as I mentioned, constitute some truly remarkable expressions of Nebbiolo. And, depending on where in Roero they are being grown, and the winemaking goals of who is crafting them, the various bottlings exhibit a stunning swath of diverse styles—though for all of their differences, my impression was that, in general, but with some exceptions, they’re a bit more giving in the glass early on than their counterparts in Barolo and Barbaresco. One, of course, is not better than the other, and again, there are exceptions. On the whole, I found wines labeled Roero DOCG and Roero Riserva DOCG friendlier than young Nebbiolo-based wines are typically perceived as being, yet still with the benefit of being worthy of laying down in the cellar.
Malabaila’s Roero “Bric Volta” 2013, for example, was electrically fresh and expressive, with red cherries, mint, and a hint of rose petals that were delicious immediately, but the undertow of leather, tobacco, and charred wild mushrooms promise another two decades of potential aging. Cascina Val del Prete’s Roero “Bricco Medica” 2013 was impeccably structured with tea-like tannins and excellent acidity, flashed with Indian spices and wild strawberries. From Antica Cascina dei Conti di Roero, I swooned over the Roero 2011, which leverages new and second-use barriques to result in a wine with star anise, sweet black licorice, and dark cherries. I’d happily drink it now and for another decade.
Negro Angelo & Figli’s Roero Riserva “Ciabót San Giorgio” 2013 sings with black raspberries, sappy cherries, and a hint of rose petal, all structured with sweet, rich tannins. Demarie, with their Roero “Famiglia” 2011, has produced a wine exclusively for the American market that leverages 70% new American oak and 30% new French oak. It is worth seeking out, its blackberry, cigar tobacco, and toasty vanilla notes promising to continue to integrate and gain complexity for the next 15 years or more.
Not all Nebbiolo goes into the DOCG bottlings, and there are plenty of great ones that are labeled differently. Costa Catterina’s Nebbiolo d’Alba Superiore 2014 is a delicious example, with gobs of ripe strawberries and tobacco notes, all framed by very elegant tannins. Cornarea’s Nebbiolo d’Alba 2014 is excellent right now as well, with brambly berry and floral notes lending it lift.
And then there’s Barbera, which I hadn’t expected to be as impressed with as I was. After all, except for a few notable exceptions, Barbera is typically perceived in the United States as a pleasant and food-friendly wine that is meant mainly for early consumption. But wines like the Monchiore Carbone Barbera d’Alba “Mon Birone” 2013 practically vibrated in the glass with wild mushrooms, spicy blue and purple berries, and flavors of spice- and mineral-tinged fruit, all bright with beautifully balanced acidity. I’d buy a case of this and happily drink it over the next 10 years. They also produce a stunning single-vineyard Roero, called “Srü”; the 2013 was savory and assertive, with fine-grained tannins structuring forest floor and porcini notes, as well as a sea-shell-like minerality to the ripe strawberries. Massucco’s Barbera d’Alba “Serra” 2013, with its bright acidity and the subtle herbal hint to the concentrated fruit, would be a great addition to any dinner table. Cascina Val del Prete’s Barbera d’Alba “Serra de’ Gatti” 2015, from a young single vineyard with a high percentage of sand, shimmered with bing cherry and bright acidity.
Matteo Correggia wowed me with so much of what we tasted, notably their Barbera d’Alba 2014, with its concentrated, generous berry fruit and remarkably reasonable pricing, and the unexpected yet winning Le Marne Grigie 2012, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Merlot that was balanced and expressive with currants, blackberries, sage, and minerality. Malvirà also produces a unique blend, “Treuve,” which brings together Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Arneis; the 2009 zipped along with persimmons, apples, and honey.
For something more classic
from Malvirà, I’d head to their amazing Villa Tiboldi, in
Canale (right), for a great meal at the
possibly a stay of a night or three, and drink
lots of Roero Arneis “Trinità” 2013, whose sandy
soils of origin lend it a fresh, almost perfumed
character, with jasmine and minerality to spare.
Malvirà also produces Roero Riserva “Trinità,” and
the 2009 and 2000 vintages were also excellent.
Order them if you visit.
Rosé, or rosato, also does brilliantly in Roero, which makes sense given how successful the Nebbiolo is. Cascina Pace’s Rosanebbia Vino Rosato 2015, which is crafted from 100% Nebbiolo, was delicious and detailed, with an impeccable balance between fruit and more floral notes, the lovely red berries dancing side by side with an anchoring earthy hint of mushrooms and mineral. For a just-as-remarkable expression of Nebbiolo from Cascina Pace, I recommend the Roero Riserva 2011, maturing beautifully with black cherries, creme de cassis, tobacco, spice, and a gorgeous hint of earthiness.
indeed, is on the ascent. From white and red to rosato
and sparkling wines, this is a part of Piedmont
that is poised for its star turn. The quality is
there, the producers are passionate and creative,
and the wines typically represent fabulous value
for the money—at all price points. When I was
invited by the Consorzio to visit, I had assumed
that my time there would mostly reaffirm my
already high opinion of Roero. Instead, that visit
expanded it a thousandfold. And with wines and
grape varieties that made me thirsty for much,
GEE, WE THOUGHT THAT WAS JOHN BELUSHI
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