Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What You Thinking About When You Thinking About Buff?

Quick: What pops into your head when you hear the word “buff”? I’ll bet you’re thinking of a brawny guy who’s got hulkish traps, twenty-four inch pythons, and has difficulty fastening the top button of his Perry Ellis. Well, I’m not thinking about that “buff”, and frankly I could care less about those clunkheads. I’m more interested in sharing the roots of the term “buff” that we associate with a wonkish person, somebody who is really passionate and knowledgeable about some said subject matter like a Civil War buff or an Opera buff.

The word “buff”, as in a person who is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about a particular subject has an interesting etymology, and came about in the early 19th century. It was originally more of a putdown than a compliment. Back then, in the burgeoning New York City, between the 1820s— 1840s, an ad-hoc clutch of volunteer firemen were needed to put out fires. In periods of cold weather, men of this era wore buffalo hide coats, and there were often large crowds, eagerly watching the volunteers hosing down the fires. Buff came from splicing the Middle French word buffe meaning buffalo which had already gone out of fashion somewhere in the 18th century, but had been used even as far back as the 16th and 17th century to refer directly to the skin or hide. Back then, to “be in the buff” meant to be in the army as soldiers wore coats made of hide. The term “buff” naked also owes its heritage to this association of animal skin.

While the pejorative sense of the word “buff” has all but dissipated, the term itself has become dated. You’re more likely to hear somebody say that so-and-so is a stamp geek or a wine wonk. You’re probably even more likely to hear somebody calling that aforementioned stamp geek, a philatelist, and the wine geek, an enophile. That’s because we love to name names if I might snag that Seinfeld line. Not that there’s anything wrong with calling somebody a geek now. In fact, many wine wonks I spend time with sort of relish the moniker. I’m not even sure if I deserve it myself with all the MWs loping around these days.

Now back to the “buff” you were thinking about. That hunky “buff” became a fixture in the 1980s when everybody was “getting physical”. It’s a spinoff of the verb “buff” meaning to polish metals. Even that “buff” seems dated, but less so than the smartypants type.

There you have it. Just indulge me in one last thought. Consider it a homework assignment or a little harmless fun to have at the gym. Watch the musclehead flexing as he curls in front the mirror at Blink. Could he be a buff geek or a buff wonk? If your trainer poses that question as you’re heaving a medicine ball then you just tell him or her that it’s too superfluous to think about anyway.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sleeping Beauty of the Marche

One of the things I really love about Italian wine is that you always seem to stumble upon a new varietal, a new appellation. You can go a lifetime and still never truly be a master of its boundless bounty. In terms of attaining its regional prowess, Italian wine is a juggernaut. Recently, I had a chance to taste Marotti Campi’s Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore ‘Orgiolo’ from the 2012 vintage, a truly elegant and delicious wine. It hails from the region of Marche, off the Adriatic.

The Marche is known for its crisp Verdicchio and its brodetto, fish soup, which makes for a sumptuous pairing. Marcheans love raw fish or crudo and take advantage of their propinquity to the Adriatic. Their predilection for seafood, especially crudo make them the Peruvians of Italy. Their wine is excellent though not ubiquitous, and their wonderful reds fall even further under the radar. Rosso Cònero and Rosso Piceno are two standouts, but both focus on neighboring blends: Sangiovese from Tuscany and Umbria, and Montepulciano which is mostly associated with Abruzzo. Geographically speaking, this does make sense.

The sleeping beauty of the Marche is the expressive red, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Native to area Lacrima di Morro almost went extinct in the mid 80’s. Fortunately, a small but zealous following of growers rescued it from its evolutionary cul-de-sac, and thus helped secure its DOC designation in 1985. With a mere 261 hectares under vine, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba remains one of Italy’s smallest appellations, bottling a little more than 9100 hectoliters a year.

Lacrima means tear in Italian. Its skin is very sensitive, and when it gets close to harvest, the grapes seem ready to burst, their ruby rivulets, seeping from the pierced skin are said to suggest tears. The Lacrima grape is a local varietal of unknown origin, although legend has it the grape was relished by Morro d’Alba’s most famous interloper, Frederick Barbarossa. After the red-bearded Holy Emperor had marched into Ancona in 1167, he passed through the Castello di Morro d’Alba and is said to have grown smitten with the Lacrima-based wine. And why should that be so hard to believe? It’s beguiling floral aromatic reminds me of Ruché and Cesanese, it’s sensual mouthfeel offering a more Rhone-like or even cru-level Beaujolais, maybe Fleurie. The medley of flavors is a wine wonk’s dream come true. I get both redder and bluer berries, some juniper, curiously enough, and allspice. The tannins are well-integrated, pillowy, and the unmistakable rose petal finish lingers.

I’ve only had the varietal on a few occasions, and while I’ve enjoyed Lucchetti’s Lacrima di Morro and Velenosi’s Querci’Antica Lacrima, I’ve grown to enjoy Marotti Campi’s interpretation the most. I find it most compelling. What can it be that makes it so? All come from the Medieval village of Morro d’Alba. Could it be the hand of the enologist, Roberto Potentini and his choice to soft crush the grapes, macerating on the skins for almost 11 days? Or that he ferments in stainless steel and ages the wine for 12 months in second and third passage barriques, and an additional 6 months in bottle before release? Maybe it’s Ivano Belardini’s decision to pick in the last days of September rather than in the first week of October or maybe it’s just the mix of medium-consistency clay and the cordon spur trained vines ranging between 10 and 35 threes old that appeals to me? Do I really taste all that?

What I do know is that when I to peer out at this marvelous 19th century estate, perched 180 meters above sea level between the villages of Senigallia and Jesi, north of the Esino river, the Apennines looming in the distance, I get this incredible sensation, munching on fresh-plucked berries, it might just be what Redbeard had swimming in his noggin before he decided to spare this village and move on to bigger fish.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Soft Peanuts, Soft Peanuts

A few days ago, while I was taking care of Emily, I handled a major league mess like a real pro. My wife, Martha, would’ve flipped out. Lucky for Emily I was on duty. I was in the bedroom, tending to some work. Emily was in the living room playing. It should be noted, and I think parents everywhere can concur, that if your child is up to something you’ll find it unbearably quiet.

Boy did I want a big scoop of quiet. I’m so used to being the butler, Walking Wikipedia, and playing companion to my princess that I’ll do almost anything for a contiguous, twenty-minute reprieve. When Emily rushed into the bedroom, asking for scissors, this should’ve raised the red flag, but I needed to look up something before sending out an email or else consign my urgent message to draft status (to infinity and beyond). About three minutes later, I’m guessing since I haven’t worn a watch since Kerry ran for president, I went into the living room to see what was going on out there. Emily, who knows my footsteps, and has a better sense of diplomacy than 90% of Washington and the UN combined, met me in the hallway and said, “Daddy, promise you’re not gonna tell Mommy. You know how mad she gets.”

I promised her because that’s the best way to build leverage against a five-year-old when whatever she’s done is a complete catastrophe.

Emily escorted me from the hall to the living room, and I saw that she had freed a dozen ceramic piggies, part of an art project my wife had been planning to do for Emily’s birthday party. That, of course, wasn’t a major catastrophe, but she shredded the inside of the box, and kernels of Styrofoam were strewn all over the floor. It looked like a Jiffy Pop explosion. Phoebe, our dilute calico, rolled around in the white crumble, festooning herself in enough Styrofoam that I could imagine my wife saying,

“Get this package weighed and stamped.” It’s a longstanding joke. Martha’s a dog person.

As I’d begun grabbing the Styrofoam bits, I thought of them as the soft peanuts that come in some boxes. Maybe I would be able to refit the piggies after all, but first I had a floor to clean. Soft peanuts, soft peanuts. Catchy. Where did I hear that before? Then a trumpet blew. Soft peanuts, soft peanuts. Of course, Dizzy Gillespie. I hadn’t heard “Salt Peanuts” (the real title) in a quite a while, but the phrase insinuated itself in my head, helped me get through the tedious chore. Emily found the song funny. I told her it was a riff on a song that Dizzy Gillespie recorded. She’s familiar with his “Nights in Tunisia”

As I was air-trumpeting to the beat in my head, Piper was pushing one of the piggies off the dining room table. I rushed to save it in my stocking feet, dropped to my knees and snatched the piggy before it became shards of shame. I wondered if Tim Howard or Henrik Lundquist felt as good when they stopped a goal.

Emily really felt badly, the rueful look on her face was legit, but she was relieved to be under my jurisdiction because I wasn’t going to scream my head off or threaten to give away her toys. She was determined to help, had procured the dustbin and short broom. As a team, it would take forever to get the job done, but at least we had “Soft Peanuts” to motivate us. At some point, I needed to get things moving along so I did what only the best daddies on this mudball do under similar snafus, I handed Emily the iPad, and let her watch “Paw Patrol”. This clearly put me in charge, letting me pick up the pace although Phoebe and Piper kept pestering me up until I grabbed the dustbuster. They bolted off when I flipped it on, and it was smooth vacuuming from there.

Lessons learned: a silly riff goes a long way when faced with a domestic challenge, and always keep your dustbuster fully charged.