A Tale of Two Trade Wars: A Wine History in Cahors, France

The story of Cahors in the Southwest of France is a humdinger! If you’re interested in a bit of wine history – and how old stories can resonate with very current events – read on!

ch la caminade grapes

The Romans loved the dark black-fruited reds from Cahors.Enter a caption

Trade War – Roman Style
The Romans launched winemaking in Cahors in late Republic times, and by 70BCE or so, these dark, powerful black-fruited reds became fashionable in Rome itself. This upset growers on the Italian peninsula to no end, leading to complaints of unfair competition to the Emperor. In 92AD, Emperor Domitian responded in typical Roman fashion. No half-measures here: He simply ordered that all the vines of Cahors be uprooted and burned!

It wasn’t until year 276 that Emperor Probus – famed for his interest in agriculture and winegrowing – revoked the ban and encouraged replanting in Cahors. The Cahors wine business remained rocky during the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, but began improving in 630 when Saint Didier, Bishop of Cahors, took the lead in revitalizing winegrowing.

Cahors’ big break came in 1152 with the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henri Plantagenet, the future king of England. The wine known as “the black wine of Lot” was served at their wedding, and soon Cahors’ dark, strong wines became fashionable and highly desired in England. In the peak year of 1310, Cahors send 850,000 hectoliters of wine (about 9.5 million modern cases) to England through the port of Bordeaux, about half of all wine shipped there.

Cahors_Bridge

The Valentré Bridge of Cahors was completed in 1378, even as a trade war with Bordeaux continued.

And a Trade War with the Bordelaise
Which, of course, upset the merchants and growers of Bordeaux to no end! Because Cahors is warmer, sunnier, and less rainy than Bordeaux, the Bordelaise cried, “Unfair Competition!” and started looking for ways to disadvantage Cahors. Since all Cahors had to pass through Bordeaux’s port to reach England, they tried imposing a tax on “imported” wine – causing English King Henry III to issue a proclamation in 1225 ordering, “the authorities of Bordeaux not to stop nor to impose a tax whatsoever on the wines that the merchants from Cahors, under his protection, were bringing to Gironde.”

After Aquitaine reverted to France at the end of the Hundred Years War, the Bordelaise were freed to act, and in 1373 they imposed high taxes and other restrictions on all wines coming down-river from Cahors and the rest of the Southwest of France. Bordeaux’s lighter-colored “Claret” began taking market share from Cahors, and increasingly Cahors main export market was Bordeaux itself, where the “Black Wine of Lot” was used to give the lighter wines of the Medoc color and richness.

Climactic Tragedy, Pestilence and Persistence
Ch la caminade vineyard

From the 1400s to the late 1800s, a much diminished Cahors wine region soldiered on, selling blending wine to Bordeaux (although they soon planted their own Malbec), serving the Russian and Dutch markets (where dark, hearty wine was preferred), and – of course – drinking their wine at home.

In 1866, about 58,000 hectares of vines were still tended in Cahors. By the 1940s, there were fewer than 5,000 ha of vines remaining. Phyloxera’s arrival in the 1870s wiped out much of the Cahors vineyard, and the construction of railway links from Languedoc to Paris brought an ocean of equally dark (and less expensive) wine to Cahors’ traditional markets. An attempt to revitalize the region begun in the 1930s was stalled by WWII and then halted in its tracks by the brutal frost of 1956, which killed much of the remaining vineyard.

In hindsight, the 1956 frost – which wiped out many growers – was the salvation of Cahors. After phylloxera, much of Cahors had been replanted to higher-yielding, lower-quality varietals including French/American hybrids. Following the frosts, the hearty growers who remained dedicated themselves to replanting their vineyards entirely to Tannat, Merlot, and – overwhelmingly – the region’s own Malbec.

In recognition of Cahors’ long, distinguished history and rapidly improving wine quality, the region was awarded AOC status in 1973 and was poised to once again establish itself as a world-class wine region and the leading source of dark reds based on Malbec… Only to have the rich, plush Malbec wines of Argentina’s Mendoza Valley soar to fame! Leaving the wine growers of Cahors to once again hitch up their pants, put down their heads, and quietly get back to work.

The Wines of Ch La Caminade
Ch La Caminade winemakersThe vines and site of Ch La Caminade have been part of pretty much all of Cahors’ history. Until the early 19th Century, the property was part of a monastery of winegrowing monks. The name “La Caminade” means The Presbytery or curate’s house in local dialect and was given to the Domaine during these years. After the French Revolution, it passed into private hands until it was inherited by Antonin Ressès in 1895.

The Ressès family helped re-plant Cahors after phylloxera and following the 1956 frosts but sold their grapes to the co-op until 1973. When Cahors AOC was granted then, they decided to make and bottle their own wine for the first time. And 4th generation winegrowing brothers Dominique and Richard Ressès continue to run this 35ha estate today.

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Still the “Young” Paul D

Paul DirederThis marks the 11th consecutive vintage we’ve encouraged you to try the wines of “young” Paul Direder – and the only reason we get to keep on using the “young” descriptor is that when we first met and tasted with Paul, he was only 17 years-old!

Paul grew up in a farming family in Austria’s Wagram region, watching his grandfather work the fields of grapes, grains and vegetables from infancy. As Paul likes to say, his first word wasn’t “mama” but “Dador” – “tractor” – something that fascinated him as his grandfather worked the farm and took him to equipment shows.

At the ripe old age of 16, Paul persuaded his mother to co-sign a lease with him and began taking over his grandfather’s vineyards. No one in the family had ever made wine commercially, so Paul persuaded his Wagram neighbor (and family friend) Anton Bauer to let him work in the Bauer cellars and learn. And, though Bauer, he met importer Klaus Wittauer just before he bottled his second vintage of Paul D Grüner Veltliner.

Lip-smacking, Mouthwatering Fun
Paul D Gruner LabelWe first tasted that wine, the 2008 Paul D Grüner, in the summer of 2009 and were immediately impressed with the big flavors, generous texture, and the stunning value – a very attractive $8.99 retail price for a full 1.0 liter of lip-smacking, mouthwatering fun! At the time, Paul spoke almost no English, so it took us a bit to understand why he wasn’t tasting the wine with us – at 17 years-old, he wasn’t legal! We’ve carried the wine ever since, though, and never been disappointed.

Over the course of a couple of visits with Paul at his tidy, pocket-sized Wagram winery, his continued growth in skill, confidence, and production were all immediately clear. Yes, he’s still a bit boyish looking (he’d certainly be carded at our store!), bursting with youthful enthusiasm, and lets his mother, wife, and charming baby act as hosts to a visiting group. But he also clearly knows what he wants to do and how to do it.

The common thread you’ll find in all Paul D wines is frank, fresh, fruitiness married to fine crispness and plenty of flavor and length. If you want to pay attention to them, there’s more than enough going on to hold you interest, especially if you care about texture and finish.

But, like Paul himself, all are really about enthusiasm, joyfulness, and fun. Which is a lot to get from $8.98!  (This is a Carryout Case Special for the weekend of July 27-29, 2018. No email, web or phone orders at this case price through the weekend.)

A New AOC for France, and for Plantevin ‘La Daurelle’!

While we love all of Philippe Plantevin’s wines, his special Cotes du Rhone Villages “La Daurelle” cuvee has always been our favorite. But a continuation of Philippe’s skillful winegrowing and winemaking – plus some changes triggered by the elevation of Philippe’s Village of Cairanne to AOC status – come together this year to create the best “La Daurelle” ever!

As you may know, France’s Southern Rhone region has four levels of classification:

  • Cotes du Rhone – a wine from anywhere in the Cotes du Rhone region
  • Cotes du Rhone Villages – a wine from one of the 95 or so hamlets judged to be a cut above the average CdR vineyard land; “La Daurelle” is in this category
  • Cotes du Rhone Villages with Village Name – Like Philippe’s Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan, from one of the 22 or so villages judged to be better still and to have a unique character or style
  • AOC/AOP – A village that stands on its own as one of France’s great terriors; think Lirac, Vacqueyras, Gigondas and – most famous of all – Chateauneuf du Pape.

Elevation from Villages to AOC Means New Name for La Daurelle
plantevin-sainte-cecile-bottle.jpgIn vintage 2016, after years of evaluation and regulatory approvals, the village where Philippe’s home, winery and main vineyards lie was elevated from Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne to AOC Cairanne. In celebration of this change, Philippe decided he wanted all of his wines to showcase their place of origin. So he’s decided to rename the wine we’ve always called La Daurelle – named for Philippe’s home in Cairanne – as cuvee Saint Cecile after the village of Sainte Cécile les Vignes where the vineyard is located.

With the name change comes a change in blend, as the lower-quality Carignan and sometimes difficult to ripen Mourvedre are dropped in favor of Grenache (40%) and a much bigger dollop of Syrah (60%). Everything else remains the same. The wine ferments in tank at warm temperatures and stay on the skins and seeds for up to 20 days to ensure generous extraction of color, flavor and tannin.

Then, to balance the big extraction, the wine ages in one to five year-old French oak casks, all about twice the size of a typical Burgundy barrel (500 liters). Larger, older, barrels don’t add any oaky flavor to the wine. Instead, they allow a slow, steady, exposure to oxygen bleeding into the wine through the wood to soften a bit while gaining rich, meaty, complexity.

Meet Philippe
philippe plantevinPhilippe may not be the flashiest winemaker in the Rhone, and his domaine north of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is easily overlooked. But, while Philippe is a pretty quiet, even modest, guy, there’s plenty of intensity and passion for making great wine here too. Philippe’s family grew grapes and made a little wine in the vineyards around the Southern Rhone village of Cairanne but sold all their fruit and wine to the local coop. In 1993, the young Philippe decided he could do better.

He and his wife bought an 18th century coach house (now lovingly restored) and built a very traditional Rhone winery there – a little stainless steel, but mainly concrete tanks for fermentation and aging. Over time, he acquired vineyards in Cairanne itself, in the surrounding town of Visan, and also to the south in Vaucluse, just outside the Cotes du Rhone AOC.

Philippe is a practical grape farmer, making minimal use of chemical sprays, training his vines low to the ground, and accepting the low yields needed for fine wine making in his rocky vineyards. Old-vine Grenache makes up the backbone for all of Philippe’s reds, with low-yielding, small-berried, Syrah adding color, meaty notes, and black fruits. In the winery, things are very traditional – long fermentations (10-30 days) in steel and concrete with regular pump overs to extract color and structure.

The resulting wines are very fine from top to bottom, but Philippe is too picky to bottle everything he makes. Instead, every year, he chooses his favorite tanks of wine to bottle with his label and sells the rest to top Rhone negotiants like Guigal. If it has his label on it, it’s because the wine is very, very good.

A Great Harvest – Southern Rhone Vintage 2016
Philippe’s are the first important Southern Rhone reds we’re bringing you from vintage 2016 – but they will not be the last. In a season of very sunny, warm, dry days and bitingly cool nights, 2016 in the Southern Rhone promises to be one of the great, great harvests. Some early comments from critics give you a taste of what to expect:

“These are wines that combine immense power (and sometimes alcohol levels) with elegance, perhaps most similar to the reds from 2010 or 1990. It will be a vintage to buy and cellar.” – Wine Advocate Issue 233

“The 2016s are on another level. The wines are beautifully concentrated and structured – on par with 2010 – yet have a more open, sexy, voluptuous style due to the larger yields. The tannin quality is beautiful, the wines have notable freshness and purity, their alcohol is integrated, and quality is incredibly high across all the regions. This is truly an extraordinary vintage.” Jeb Dunnuck (former Wine Advocate critic)

We’ll be showcasing top 2016 Rhone reds as they arrive. Many will be great wines. None will be more exciting or better value than this set of releases from Philippe Plantevin.

 

Sangiovese from Montecucco – A wine to savor, share, enjoy!

Sassetti Petimali estate

As I sat sipping the 2015 Sassetti Montecucco with patriarch Livio Sassetti at his famed Petimali Brunello estate back in May, I knew how much you’d love this supple Sangiovese this summer. Just like Washington, DC, today, it was a hot, slightly muggy day that made the prospect of tasting even great Brunello (and Livio’s 2013 Brunello is great indeed – as you’ll see this fall!) a bit daunting.

Before the first Montalcino wine, though, the Montecucco La Querciolina sloshed into our glasses – and, suddenly, the whole group was revived. Aromas of dark strawberry, cherry, violets, leather and cinnamon spice wafted from each glass. And those captivating scents turned into brilliantly fresh and refreshing flavors on the palate. The wine was at once juicy-fresh and deeply flavored, and the fine, silky tannins pushed the finish to fantastic length.

Being lunchtime in Italy, everyone immediately reached out and started gobbling still more of antipasti in front of us. (A mixed blessing, as we thought we were having a light lunch and weren’t aware that a glorious rice dish and Tuscan T-Bone steak were still to come!). No professional spitting here – this was a wine to be savored, shared, enjoyed.

sassetti montecucco bottle and glass summerAnd “savor, share, enjoy” is what Livio Sassetti’s son, Lorenzo, intends his Montecucco to be all about. Lorenzo is principal winemaker at the family’s famed Pertimali Brunello estate (although Livio remains very much involved!) where he makes some of Montalcino’s most exciting, classically-styled Sangiovese Grosso. But he and Livio purchased land in nearby Montecucco in 1999 to make a wine that was all about this fast emerging region’s unique character – and unique style of Sangiovese.

The Sassetti winemaking family is famous, with deep roots in Montalcino as co-founders of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, and one of the early producers of Brunello. Montecucco – a region that’s fun to say if still a bit obscure –  sits just west of Montalcino in a region.  The vines here are the same as in Montalcino, the large-berried clone known as Sangiovese Grosso. But in Montecucco, there’s more clay and mineral content in the soil than in Montalcino (courtesy of the nearby extinct volcano Monte Amiata). The minerality and larger day/night temperature swings bring out Sangiovese’s bright cherry fruit and floral notes while allowing tannins to ripen to silky smoothness.

Lorenzo gives this just six months in large Slavonian oak casks and then a bit of bottle age before release. Which locks in the super juicy, fresh fruit and allows the fresh violet, savory leather, and cinnamon spice notes to shine through.

With a light chill now, Sassetti Montecucco La Querciolina 2015 delivers a gloriously refreshing jolt of fresh cherry and cranberry juice fruit that will refresh and revive you on a warm summer’s day. By this winter, it will have taken on weight and power (without losing the smooth finish) and be ready for steaks and stews. At these special savings prices, you’ll want to stock up on enough to enjoy all year long.

Come by Friday and Saturday, July 14 and 15,  and taste for yourself. Then pick up some antipasti on the way home and get ready for a festive feast.

Rioja Modern and Traditional

Juan escudero VinsacroJuan Escudero began making Rioja wine in a small cave carved out of a hillside in 1852, well before the French invasion. The family continued winemaking and growing through the years, with Juan’s grandson, Benito, moving into Cava production in the 1950s. His children returned to Rioja and under the leadership of Bordeaux-trained brother Amador founded Bodegas Vinsacro around the turn of this century.

They planted about 30 acres of vines in Rioja Baja in 1996, but the key to the success of this very modern winery was a small, very old, and very, very, old-fashioned vineyard owned by the family for 120 years. It’s called Cuesta la Reina and it was planted around 1945 (70 years ago) on the stony southern slope of Mount Yerga between 450 and 800 meters elevation.

An Old-Fashioned Vineyard
Vinsacro harvestAs was customary at the time, the vineyard was planted by taking cuttings of another old vineyard and grafting the canes onto new rootstocks – a process called massal selection. And, as was customary in Rioja for centuries before the current modern revolution, that old vineyard was planted to a mixture of vine types including Garnacha (perhaps half the vineyard) plus Tempranillo, Graciano, Monastrell and Bobal.

As in 17th and 18th Century Bordeaux, this blend of grapes was less about achieving the perfect blend in the finished wine than about insurance: if growing conditions caused problems with one varietal, there was at least a chance that the others would ripen. When it was time to harvest, the whole vineyard was picked at once and the wine’s final blend was whatever happened to come off the vines. In fact, the traditional name for this style vineyard, “Vidau,” means “ready to pick.”

Modern Quality and Care
vinsacro-grapesAmador and his brothers cherished this old vineyard, but also began applying some modern farming ideas. First, they converted to completely organic farming to help the soil regain its health and keep the old vines thriving. Then, they began to pick each varietal separately as they ripened fully. Tempranillo gets picked first, usually in the first week of October. Then Garnacha comes in late October before Graciano in early November and then, last, Mazuelo and Bobal.

As if four separate harvests weren’t expensive enough, the grapes are sorted twice, once in the vineyard and then on a vibrating table in the winery before they go into the vats. After fermenting separately, each varietal ages for 12-14 months in 100% new French oak casks to both soften tannins and add a touch of spice without losing fruit or adding harsher American oak influence.

Finally, Amador creates the decidedly old-fashioned Rioja blend that will become Dioro. About 50% of the final wine is Tempranillo – compared to 80-100% at most “modernist” estates. About 20% is Garnacha (for hints of red raspberry) and 10% each Mazuelo and Graciano (for vivid acids and cherry fruit). Monastrell (earthy) and Bobal (licorice and plum) make up the rest of the blend. Only the very best barrels of wine from Cuesta la Reina go into Dioro, with the rest of the vineyard’s wine being blended into other bottlings.

vinsacro-riojaFrom organic farming to multiple harvest passes, double sorting, new French oak aging, and strict selection of only the best lots, this is an expensive way to make wine. Which is why Wine Advocate gave the 2015 such high praise (92 points) even at a curiously high reported $65 release price.

At the $24.99 regular price, Vinsacro Rioja Dioro 2015 is outstanding value in rich, ripe, powerful Rioja. At our $14.98 best price this week, it’s a better deal still. And when you take an extra $10 off just for signing up for our new website and ordering online? Well, that’s a superb stock-up opportunity on a classy, delicious, red you’ll enjoy for years.

Stunning Sancerre from Bernard Fleuriet

The international wine press is beginning to catch on to what’s happening at the Fleuriet estate. I guess it’s possible that there’s a better winegrower working in Sancerre today than Bernard Fleuriet. There certainly are bigger, better known, higher-production estates. But I can’t imagine that there’s anyone making more brilliant white and red Sancerre with this kind of intensity, depth and utterly captivating complexity. Whether you’re a diehard Sauvignon Blanc lover or adore the kind of powerfully pure Pinot Noir you normally only find in 1er Cru Burgundy sites, you really simply have to try these wines.


The Fleuriet brothers established their estate in 1991 and over the years have accumulated about 50 acres of vineyards in 35 different plots across Sancerre. Their sites capture all of Sancerre’s mineral diversity, with about 10% of the vines growing on silex (flint), 40% on white Kimmeridgian limestone marls, and the rest on soils covered in chalk pebbles (Caillottes).

Mineral Diversity, Prime Locations
What all the sites share is prime locations – all face south or southeast to receive the warm sunshine needed to fully ripen Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in this northerly winegrowing region.

They work their vines as naturally as possible with minimal pesticides and no herbicides. Both for quality and reflecting the many steep slopes they farm, all Fleuriet grapes are harvested by hand and sorted to ensure only perfectly ripe, flavorful, grapes are used. And, from first pick to final bottling, Bernard Fleuriet takes extreme care to ensure the juice and wine are protected from oxygen beyond what they absorb from barrel and concrete tank.

Concrete … and Oak
For fermentation, Bernard generally prefers concrete to stainless steel, allowing very small amounts of oxygen in through the walls of the tank to accentuate texture and depth. Increasingly he is using egg-shaped fermenters which promote a constant, gentle, movement of the lees to add still more texture without having to open the tank for stirring.

And then there’s the oak. For the whites, as I said last year, I have never encountered a finer use of French oak barrel with Sauvignon Blanc (and, yes, I’ve tasted Didier Dagueneau’s much more expensive Pouilly Fumes). For the whites that see barrel, the oak is perfectly gauged to accentuate Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc’s inherent minerality and add fantastic depth and precision of texture without covering the ripe fruit in wood flavor. Seriously – it’s not possible to do a better job of matching wood to Sauvignon Blanc.

Revelatory Reds
The reds have been an equally impressive revelation. The “basic” La Magie des Cailloutes red is a more intense and ripe version of what you hope for in Sancerre rouge – a very Pinot Noir fruitiness with touches of earth and spice and a texture that invites enjoyment with everyday foods. The Sancerre Rouge Anthocyanes 2015 is something else entirely. Imagine Burgundy’s Jean Michel Guillon growing and making Pinot in Sancerre and you’ll be on the right track.

All of these wines are delicious today – as you’ll see when you come by Saturday, June 23,  from noon-4pm to taste them with importer Olivier Daubresse. All will get even better over the next few years. And all are terrific values at our mix/match prices.

As you’ll see when you look at the wine descriptions, reviewers are beginning to realize what’s going on here, and the wines are earning big scores as they are tasted by the critics. Before the rush is on, come, try, and secure some for yourself.

Aglianico – The Best Grilling Grape You Don’t Know (and a grilled ratatouille recipe)

AglianicoGrown in the steep hills of Italy’s Basilicata, inland from Naples, Aglianico is the best grape in the world that nobody knows (or, if you know it, don’t drink enough of). Wine writers try to get drinkers to pay attention to it by calling it “the Barolo of the South.” Because, like Piemonte’s Nebbiolo, it’s wonderfully aromatic, full of bracing acidity, laced with sharp, firm, tannins, and can live and gain complexity for decades.

But “Barolo” it ain’t. It’s much more fun than that, especially when grown on the old lava flows of the extinct volcano, Monte Vulture. For one thing, it’s darker, fleshier, and more powerful than Barolo, serving up fine concentration of black raspberry and blueberry fruit to Nebbiolo’s fine cherry and strawberry.

Mt VultureAnd it’s wilder than Barolo, with a direct, assertive, ready to party by the grill, boldness and layer upon layer of summer-friendly wild herb, black olive, violet and earth notes. And while Aglianico from more famous Taurasi needs years in bottle to be much fun, many Aglianico del Vulture (like this one!) are delicious and ready to rock out on the deck as soon as they arrive in the USA.

While this is fun to hang out with and drink, growing fine Aglianico is serious work – work no one has done better over the last 40+ years than d’Angelo. Lucio d’Angelo’s ancestors had grown Aglianico for centuries before he started his winery in 1971. And Lucio and his children, Rocco and Erminia, almost single-handedly created the DOCG and set the standards for what great Aglianico del Vulture is all about.

The hard work starts in the vineyards, where the Basilicata’s high altitudes and low latitudes mean days can be brutally hot and nights chilly to frigid. Aglianico can’t really be grown successfully under any other conditions because it buds very early – when frost is too likely in lower sites – and needs to hang for months and months to develop flavor and soften fierce tannins. By the time the d’Angelo family harvests their Aglianico in late-October/early November, essentially all of Italy’s Sangiovese, Nero d’Avola, Bordeaux varietals, and even Nebbiolo are already bubbling away in their fermenters.

Once the grapes are painstakingly picked by hand – as they must be on these mountain slopes – they are crushed and ferment warm and vigorously to extract color and flavor to match naturally high acids and tannins. Then comes the wait: 20 months in huge, old, oak casks to allow the tannins to soften and full, fleshy, flavors to emerge.

d'Angelo Aglianico del Vulture

And, when all that’s done…the wine still releases at just $25 vs the $50-$150 Barolo gets. Which makes this gloriously fruit-filled, complex, powerful red a steal all the time, but especially from $17.98 this week.

Come on by and try it – we’ll keep a bottle of d’Angelo Aglianico Del Vulture open to try this week through Friday’s free tasting. And if you want to taste Aglianico’s perfect match, check out my recipe for Grilled Ratatouille. We think you’ll enjoy them both!


Doug’s Grilled Ratatouille

Grilled RatatouilleSauternes and foie gras. Ribeye steak and Napa Cab. Meursault and lobster. Fine Bordeaux and roast lamb. Every wine has a perfect pairing, a match that elevates both the food and the wine. And for Aglianico, my perfect pairing is anything laced with salty/savory olives, roasted peppers, basil, and/or capers.

You and make that match happen with something as involved as a hearty southern Italian lamb stew or as simple as an antipasto platter of olives, peppers, cured meats and cheese. But with summer’s bounty starting to arrive at farmers’ markets all around town, my favorite pairing with southern Italy’s Aglianico is a riff on a classic from the South of France: Grilled Ratatouille.

This started off as a somewhat fussy recipe from Cooks Illustrated, but now it’s more of an approach than a recipe per se. Sometimes I have more eggplant, sometimes less. Sometimes I grill everything until it’s mushy, sometimes I leave things more crisp. And sometimes I leave it rich and dense and other times add a big jolt of lemon juice for freshness. It always seems to come out great, though, and as long as you make sure to have enough capers/olives and basil, I promise it will taste great with Aglianico!

Ingredients
Note: This makes about 6-8 servings as a side dish. I usually double it, but you can futz with the mix anyway you like and it will still come out great.

  • 1 red onion peeled and quartered, leaving enough stem to hold the quarters together
  • 2lb eggplant sliced about 1 inch thick
  • 1.5lb zucchini sliced in half or into thick planks (depending on how big your squash is!)
  • 2 bell peppers cored and quartered (yellow or red are fun)
  • 1lb tomatoes cut in half along the equator (more is good, too)
  • ¼ cup chopped basil (more is ok)
  • 1 tbsp chopped thyme
  • 1 tbsp capers or 2 tbl chopped black olives (or both – just watch the salt)
  • 3 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic grated or mashed into a paste
  • ¼ cup really good olive oil plus more for tossing/brushing
  • Salt & pepper
    Lemon juice

Directions

Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with a little oil and sprinkle with a little salt.

Put the other veggies in a large mixing bowl (in batches) and toss with oil to coat; lay out on baking sheets and salt lightly.

Get your grill hot; with charcoal, do a two-level fire; with gas, leave one row/side off

Get grill marks on the onion over direct heat and then move to other side of grill to cook until soft

Put the eggplant over the direct fire and grill, turning frequently, until they are softening (your choice of still a little toothsome or full on mushy)

Put the bell peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes (in batches) over the hot side of the grill, turning until both sides show grill marks; either continue turning over direct heat or move to other side until they are as soft as you want them.

When the veggies have cooled, rub the skins off the tomatoes and peppers (don’t worry if some stays on – no one will care).

Chop everything up to the size you like – I go pretty chunky, but it’s up to you – and put everything in a big bowl with the olives/capers, thyme and basil

Make a dressing of the sherry vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil and garlic (I use an immersion blender but you can go old school and whisk it together), and pour on the veggies and toss.

Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like and a squeeze of lemon juice if that’s your thing. Serve warm or room temperature with Aglianico!