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There is something about wine…

Wine? Wine. I like it. Some days love it even, smooth, rich, fruity, refreshing, cold, warm… even had thoughts about making wine myself… – did you know that you can make your own wine even without owning a winery, growing no grapes, with no fancy cellars and stuff?.. (I will get back to this, this is an ongoing project for me still 🙂 )

So today, just something I have never known about wine before, some fun facts.

Theme Wine TBC… 🙂

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More than 5,000 varieties of grapes grow all around the world – there are however only two major families: Vitis Vinifera, prevalent in Europe, and Vitis Lambrusca, native to Canada and eastern U.S. This had me surprised, for I associate Lambrusca with Lambrusca wine we get here in Lithuania imported from … Italy, mostly. Huh, what an un-educated me… a lot, a lot of space for improvement there… So there is no surprise there now, that most modern European wines are derived from American vines. And there is more to that story, though. 

The English passion for botany in Victorian times led to the importation of American grapes to botanical gardens. Those cuttings contained an insect that attacks the roots of grape vines. The bug spread throughout Europe and destroyed nearly all native vineyards. Soon after the blight started, a botanist from Texas suggested grafting roots of American vines that are resistant to the pests onto the European vines. By some accounts, every plant in Europe was grafted. Of course, those vines also imported non-native mold and fungus to the European plants, and some native species went extinct. So, there you go: American roots, European bottled, oh the glory of globalization.

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Colours. You thought there are white grapes and red grapes right? Me, too. If if were that easy, though… White are namely those beige, yellow, and gold in colour, while red ones are actually red, blue, purple, or even black. Moreover, you thought red grapes to make red wine? Nope, they can still produce white wines from red grapes. Smart smart inventive people, or just maybe colour-blind…. 🙂

In fact: Red wines are red because fermentation extracts color from the grape skins. White wines are not fermented with the skins present.

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Another thing. Grapes may not need input from people to turn into wine, actually. They did that pretty well on their own in the pre-historic times, scientific minds claim, stating that grape juice squeezed in a jar and kept warm would turn into wine all by itself: yeast that lives on grapes skins is so irrepressible that it produces wine automatically. Cool skins, aren’t they, wicked little thangs…

* * *

Something about ‘terminology’, a.k.a. fancy things to insert to your clever talk while discussing wine:

Balance: Term used to describe the harmony of fruit, acidity, alcohol, and tannins, which can develop with age, but should be evident in a wine’s youth.

Bouquet: The “nose” of a mature wine, often made up of several separate aromas.

Corked: Unpleasant, musty smell and flavor in a wine, caused by mold in the cork.

Dumb: Term as in “dumb nose” to describe a wine with little bouquet. This is not a negative term as many great wines go through a dumb phase.

Finish: The taste left in your mouth after swallowing the wine.

New World: Informal category including the wines from North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand but also represents and up-front style of winemaking, characterized by up front flavor and fruit.

Nose: Term used as a synonym for aroma and smell in wine tasting.

Steely: Flavor description usually applied toward Chablis and dry Sauvignon (as a good trait), but usually indicates evident acidity.

Vegetal: A flavor description that can be positive (as in meaning “grassy” in a Suavignon Blanc) or negative to mean unripe or “leafy” taste.

Vintage: The year in which a wine was produced. A vintage wine is the product of a single year’s harvest, while a non-vintage wine is a blending of wines from two or more years.

Young: A fresh, fruity, unoxidized, wine with possibly very slightly yeasty odor.

So if you here somebody talking about bouquets of vintage wine with steely aftertaste, you will have a pretty clear understanding about the topic in the future. Hopefully 🙂

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So you bought a perfect bottle, perfect vintage wine for the perfect evening…. there are still SO SO many things that can impair ze wine drinking pleasure you are so eagerly anticipating… here are some of those:

wrong glassware (pass me the jar, will you?); incorrect serving temperature (don’t you just love this bloody ice-cold something?…); competing odours (smell this wine? no, all I can smell is your bloody aftershave!) – and of course there are those ‘other things’ like having to drive, or being alone, or just plain knowing this is the last bottle. Oh, and don’t forget being cold: heavy cold = time to abstain 🙂 or just switch to tea for the time being. And it’s therapeutic also!

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They claim also that wine is a life-saver! The first clear health benefit of wine was that it saved growing populations from the diseases caused by bad water. Any time large groups of people settle in an area, the water, left untreated, goes bad. People start dying of dysentery, cholera and botulism as more people move in and contaminate the water supply. The high alcohol content from natural fermentation kills bacteria very efficiently. You can get 15 percent alcohol by volume in your wine without really working at it, and that’s a life-saving formula. Need any more reasons to why you like wine?…

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And now, what do you do with that cork?.. The wine cork is not for smelling. The cork is actually for examining. If you have the good fortune to sit down in a restaurant with a wine steward, you’re not going to make a great impression by sniffing the cork when he hands it to you.In truth, he’s presenting you the cork to examine. Check to see if it’s all in one piece; a fragmented or moldy cork might mean a lower quality wine. With the best wines, the cork will display the date and other information, as well.

Ever been to a place where you were handed the cork? Me – not yet, apparently they keep corks for their own private smelling there… 🙂

* * *

I drink to your health… why? In ancient Greece, a dinner host would take the first sip of wine to assure guests the wine was not poisoned, hence the phrase “drinking to one’s health.” “Toasting” started in ancient Rome when the Romans continued the Greek tradition but started dropping a piece of toasted bread into each wine glass to temper undesirable tastes or excessive acidity.

* * *

Food + wine = ain’t that divine?

Richer, heavier foods usually go well with richer, heavier wines; lighter foods demand light wines. Additionally, red wine typically is served with red meat, white wine with white meat and fish, and sweet wine with desserts. It is traditional to first serve lighter wines and then move to heavier wines throughout a meal. Additionally, white wine should be served before red, younger wine before older, and dry wine before sweet.

* * *

Oh, and something for the road. Wine for Orthodox Jews must be kosher, meaning it must not be touched at any point in its process (from picking of the grapes to bottling it) by either a “Gentile” or non-observant Jew and it must contain only kosher ingredients. How could they tell that, I wonder? I smell a non-believer in my wine glass?…. oh boy, those noses….

More wine coming up.

Pwyll Pen Annwn. Part2

Legend 2: Pwyll, Rhiannon and Pryderi

Some time later, Pwyll and his noblemen ascend the mound of Gorsedd Arberth and witness the arrival of Rhiannon, appearing to them as a beautiful woman dressed in gold silk brocade and riding a shining white horse. Pwyll sends his best horsemen after her, but she always remains ahead of them, though her horse never does more than amble. After three days, he finally calls out to her, and Rhiannon tells him she has come seeking him because she would rather marry him than her fiance, Gwawl ap Clud.

This is the interaction part I love the best, so here it goes:

“Young man, said Powel, “I see the lady coming give me my horse.” And no sooner had he mounted his horse than she passed him. And he turned after her, and followed her. And he let his horse go bounding playfully, and thought that at the second step or the third he should come up with her. But he came no nearer to her than at first. Then he urged his horse to his utmost speed, yet he found that it availed nothing to follow her. Then said Powel, “O maiden, ” for the sake of him who thou best lovest, stay for me.”

“I will stay gladly,” said she, “and it were better for thy horse hadst thou asked it long since.” So the maiden stopped, and she threw back that part of her head-dress which covered her face. And she fixed her eyes upon him, and began to talk with him,

“Lady,” asked he, “whence comest thou, and whereunto dost thou journey ?”

“I journey on mine own errand,” said she, “and right glad am I to see thee.”

“My greeting be unto thee,” said he. Then he thought that the beauty of all the maidens, and all the ladies that he had ever seen, was as nothing compared to her beauty.

“Lady,” he said, “wilt thou tell me aught concerning thy purpose?”

“I will tell thee,” said she. ” My chief quest was to seek thee.”

“Behold,” said Powel, “this is to me the most pleasing quest on which thou couldst have come. And wilt thou tell me who thou art ?”

“I will tell thee, lord,” said she. “I am Rhiannon, the daughter of Heveyth Hên, and they sought to give me to a husband against my will. But no husband would I have, and that because of my love for thee, neither will I yet have one unless thou reject me. And hither have I come to hear thy answer.”

“By Heaven,” said Powel, “behold this is my answer. If I might choose among all the ladies and damsels in the world, thee would I choose.”

“Verily,” said she, “if thou art thus minded, make a pledge to meet me ere I am given to another.”

“The sooner I may do so, the more pleasing will it be unto me,” said Powel, “and wheresoever thou wilt, there will I meet with thee.”

“I will that thou meet me this day twelvemonth, at the palace of Heveyth. And I will cause a feast to be prepared, so that it be ready against thou come.”

“Gladly,” said he, ” will I keep this tryst.”

“Lord,” said she, “remain in health, and be mindful that thou keep thy promise And now I will go hence.”


A year after their meeting, Pwyll accidentally and foolishly promises Rhiannon to Gwawl, before managing to win her back through outwitting, bloodying and dishonouring his rival.

There is also this another part that I like, which reminds me of… well, me, actually.

And the hall was set in order for Powel and the men of his host, and for them also of the palace, and they went to the tables and sat down. And as they had sat that time twelvemonth, so sat they that night. And they ate and feasted, and spent the night in mirth and tranquillity.

And next morning, at the break of day, “My lord,” said Rhiannon, “arise and begin to give thy gifts unto the minstrels. Refuse no one to-day that may claim thy bounty.”

“Thus shall it be, gladly,” said Powel, “both to-day and every day while the feast shall last.” So Powel arose, and he caused silence to be proclaimed, and desired all the suitors and the minstrels to show and to point out what gifts were to their wish and desire. And this being done, the feast went on, and he denied no one while it lasted.

Under the advice of his noblemen, Pwyll and Rhiannon attempt to supply an heir to the kingdom and eventually a boy is born. However, on the night of his birth, he disappears while in the care of six of Rhiannon’s ladies-in-waiting. To avoid the king’s wrath, the ladies smear dog’s blood onto a sleeping Rhiannon, claiming that she had committed infanticide and cannibalism through eating and “destroying” her child. Rhiannon is forced to do penance for her crime.

This was a part which I found strange in narration, because I got the impression that Rhiannon took the ‘penance’ willingly to appease and pacify people, not that she was guilty, or Pwyll believed she was:

And Powel the chief of Annuvyn arose, and his household and his hosts. And this occurrence could not be concealed; but the story went forth throughout the land, and all the nobles heard it. Then the nobles came to Powel, and besought him to put away his wife because of the great crime which she had done. But Powel answered them that they had no cause wherefore they might ask him to put away his wife.

So Rhiannon sent for the teachers and the wise men, and as she preferred doing penance to contending with the women, she took upon her a penance. And the penance that was imposed upon her was that she should remain in that palace of Narberth until the end of seven years, and that she should sit every day near unto a horse-block that was without the gate ; and that she should relate the story to all who should come there whom she might suppose not to know it already; and that she should offer the guests and strangers, if they would permit her, to carry them upon her back into the palace. But it rarely happened that any would permit. And thus did she spend part of the year.
The child is discovered outside a stable by an ex-vassal of Pwyll’s, Teyrnon, the lord of Gwent Is Coed. He and his wife claim the boy as their own and name him Gwri Wallt Euryn (English: Gwri of the Golden hair), for “all the hair on his head was as yellow as gold.” The child grows to adulthood at a superhuman pace and, as he matures, his likeness to Pwyll grows more obvious and, eventually, Teyrnon realises Gwri’s true identity. The boy is eventually reunited with Pwyll and Rhiannon and is renamed Pryderi.

“Behold here is thy son, lady,” said Teirnyon. “And whosoever told that lie concerning thee has done wrong. When I heard of thy sorrow, I was troubled and grieved. And I believe that there is none of this host who will not perceive that the boy is the son of Powel,” said Teirnyon.

“There is none,” said they all, ” who is not certain thereof.”

“I declare to Heaven,” said Rhiannon, “that if this be true, there is indeed an end to my trouble.”

“Lady,” said Pendaran Dyfed, “well hast thou named thy son Pryderi (end of trouble), and well becomes him the name of Pryderi son of Powel chief of Annuvyn.”



Pwyll Pen Annwn. Part1

There are many legends, and famous real, or fictitious people with ‘Paul’ in their name, and I happen to be one of them. My favorite ‘Paul’ among them all is, in fact, Pwyll (Powel) from Celtic mythology, so here is his legend, as narrated in (no, I can’t speak Welsh, or even read it properly, but the letters themselves seem to be fascinating – hey, I’m a linguist after all…  and I know how to use Google… to find this: – and there is also this another link – and hey, I can read that, too!).

* * *

Pwyll,  in Celtic mythology, legendary mortal, king of Dyfed, a beautiful land containing a magic caldron of plenty. In Arthurian legend, Pwyll’s caldron became the Holy Grail, and Pwyll appeared as Pelles, the keeper of the Grail. And Dyfed is an actual Welsh land, by the way, you can find more here:

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Legend 1: The Otherworld /Annwn/

Whilst hunting in Glyn Cuch, Pwyll, prince of Dyfed becomes separated from his companions and stumbles across a pack of hounds feeding on a slain stag. Pwyll drives the hounds away and sets his own hounds to feast, earning the anger of Arawn, lord of the otherworldly kingdom of Annwn. In recompense, Pwyll agrees to trade places with Arawn for a year and a day, taking on the lord’s appearance and takes his place at Arawn’s court.

Now that was the part I liked a lot:

‘Chieftain, if I’ve committed an offence, I will redeem your friendship.’

‘In what form will you redeem it?’

‘As appropriate to your rank – I don’t know who you are…’

‘A crowned king am I in the land I am from.’

‘Lord,’ said Pwyll ‘good day to you. Which land is it that you are from?’

‘From Annwvyn.  Arawn king of Annwfn am I.’

‘Lord, how might I obtain your friendship?’

‘This is how you might obtain it: there is a man whose kingdom borders on my kingdom, who is constantly at war with me. He is Hafgan king of Annwfn. The removal of this oppression from me – which you can do easily – will win you my friendship.’

At the end of the year, Pwyll engages in single combat against Hafgan, Arawn’s rival, and mortally wounds him with one blow and earns Arawn overlordship of all of Annwn.

That was also elegantly executed, I can’t help but cite again:

‘Good men,’ said he ‘listen well. Between [these] two kings is this appointment, and that between their two persons [only]. Each one is a claimant against the other, over issues of land and territory. May all [the rest] of you stand back, and let [the fight] be between them [alone].’

At that the two kings closed in on one another to the middle of the ford for their encounter. At the first onslaught the king who was in the place of Arawn struck Hafgan in the middle of the boss of his shield, so it split in two halves and all his armour was broken and Hafgan was a spear-and-arms length over the back of his horse and onto the ground, with a mortal wound upon him.

‘Chieftain,’ said Hafgan ‘what right have you to my death? I was not bringing any claim against you, I do not know why you are killing me either; but by God’, he said ‘since you have begun my death, finish it [now]!’

‘Chieftain,’ he replied ‘it may be that I would regret doing what I did to you. Find someone [else] to kill you; [but] I will not kill you.’

‘My faithful peers,’ said Hafgan ‘carry me away from here. The conclusion of my death is truly upon me. I am  in no condition to uphold you any more.’

‘Peers of mine’ said the man who was in the place of Arawn ‘take a reckoning, and find out those [out there] who owe me allegiance.’

After Hafgan’s death, Pwyll and Arawn meet once again, revert to their old appearance and return to their respective courts. They become lasting friends because Pwyll slept chastely with Arawn’s wife for the duration of the year. As a result of Pwyll’s successful ruling of Annwn, he earns the title Pwyll Pen Annwfn; “Pwyll, head of Annwn.”

Golden Chanterelle Puffs

Another exotic recipe I found, which I will definitely give a try 🙂

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 pound chanterelles, minced
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick ) butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs

Heat the chicken broth in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the chanterelles, butter, and salt and allow to come to a boil. Stir in the flour, mixing constantly until the mixture is smooth and almost leaves the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat. Beat one egg at a time into the mixture. Drop tablespoons of the dough onto a buttered cookie sheet, spacing the spoonfuls about 2 inches apart. Bake in a preheated 450º oven for 15 minutes or until firm and golden. Cool the puffs on a rack.

Chanterelle puffs are a light and elegant party food. Serve them with a white wine such as traminer, riesling, or sauvignon blanc.

6 quick ways to enjoy Chanterelle

Sauté chanterelles in olive oil and butter; season with salt, pepper, and garlic.
Then choose one of the following:

  • garnish the top of a wild mushroom risotto or polenta with them.
  • stir them into a pilaf of farro, buckwheat, or wild rice.
  • tuck some into an omelet, along with chopped parsley or chives.
  • toss them with sautéed green beans.
  • add some to a melted Gruyère sandwich on sourdough.
  • serve them on toasted peasant bread for an easy appetizer.

Bon appetit 🙂

Cantharellus cibarius, a.k.a. Chanterelle

I found a cool site for mushrooms, and I even learned some new things about this mushroom I have been collecting all my life 🙂

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This pleasantly aromatic fleshy wild mushroom shines like an exotic golden flower when seen from a distance against the drab autumn forest background. Also known as “golden chanterelle” and “egg mushroom,” it has a magical appeal for most culinary experts in Europe, United States, and Asia. But all chanterelles are not alike. European and Asian forms are usually about the size of a thumb. In the eastern United States they are the size of a fist. But, ah, in the west they can be as large as two hand spans–from little finger to little finger. Chanterelles weighing as much as two pounds are not uncommon – not in Europe, though… 🙂

They are golden looking, golden tasting, and golden priced. The cap is fleshy, with wavy, rounded cap margins tapering downward to meet the stem. The gills are not the usual thin straight panels hanging from the lower surface of the cap, as we see in the common store mushroom. Instead, the ridges are rounded, blunt, shallow, and widely spaced. At the edge of the cap they are forked and interconnected. The chanterelle’s aroma is variously described as apricot- or peachlike. It is unmistakably different and identifiable.

Chanterelles will reappear in the same places year after year if carefully harvested so as not to disturb the ground in which the mycelium (the vegetative part of the mushroom) grows. There are yearly variations–some years more mushrooms, some less. They fruit from September to February on the West Coast and almost all summer in the east, sometimes coming up in several flushes. We think of them as promiscuous in their plant relationships, because we have found their mycelial threads intertwined with the roots of hardwood trees, conifers, shrubs, and bushes. They enjoy deep, old leaf litter. Chanterelles are seldom invaded by insects. And forest animals do not share our interest in them as food.

Chanterelles contain fiber and are a good source of vitamins B and D, as well as minerals, including selenium and copper. Eating them may help stimulate your immune system.


Source: mostly

What’s good in Lithuanian forest: Quest of Chanterelle

So, finally it is the season, much anxiously awaited by some local Lithuanians: the mushroom season is here, and the first mushrooms are finally growing in our forests. Let me say it first, there are still about 30% of Lithuanian territory covered by forest. That is quite a lot. And naturally quite a lot of things grow and run (fly) free there, more or less. So it is but natural that there are still those ‘hunters and/or gatherers’ who find both profit and pleasure in the forests, including myself. Not much of the ‘hunter’ variety, I’m afraid, I leave that to my girlfriend, but I am good with gathering: mushrooms, berries, medicinal herbs, and just plain interesting chunks of wood, I am game for it all. Another thing: mushrooms are not those ‘shrooms’ making everyone visit lalaland and wanna stay there, and they are not also those washed-off bleak champignons everyone is so keen on calling proudly ‘mushrooms’ when adding them to dishes in restaurants and such. Duh, they are not real mushrooms at all, they do not even compare.

Lithuania has many species of mushrooms to offer, both edible and not so much, including some of the poisonous variety. We call those ‘fly-death’, if transcribed Lith. [‘musmire] literally. The first to appear, which I am so hype about at the moment, are favorite of mine: the chanterelle. Hunting chanterelle is always a challenge in its own: 1-you never know when you might find one; 2-you never know why it grows there in such strange and seemingly uninviting place, when there are perfectly nice spots around it, but duh-this is the most peculiar little ‘shroom with a mind of its own, apparently; and of course 3-you might walk straight next to it/step on it without even noticing, because they are the Masters of disguise…. moss, both green and grey, and pine needles, and birch leaves, and little bushes of wild berries cover and hide them better than a camouflaged operative in a forest… so searching for those smooth operators is always a challenge. But this is the challenge I love. My family ‘legend’ tells I found my first chanterelle when I was just one year old. Of course, my grandma has probably placed me down on soft moss just next to it, and bright yellow thing is easy to spot there, and it is attractive for a kid. But hey, who am I to argue with my mushroom-gatherer-legacy trailing down for over 30 years… :))) And freshly cooked chanterelle with fried onions, sour creme and fresh boiled potatoes, and dill – it is a dish to die for….

Here they are, naughty creatures, for your perusal. And there are even more on OW Flickr, so don’t forget to check them also.


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