IN THIS ISSUE
THE BEGINNING THERE WERE
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
CONFUSED ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING?
JUST ASK A TUSCAN WINEMAKER
By JOHN MARIANI
IN THE BEGINNING THERE
WERE JAMESTOWN AND
By John Mariani
Yorktown American Revolution Museum
One need not be a partisan to believe our Republic is at a dangerous crossroads, although bipartisanship is what has always made this country capable of enduring everything from world wars to depressions. Remembering how it all began—and how difficult those beginnings were—has been well preserved in the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia.
In several respects, what is very new about Jamestown is what is very old, meaning that constant archeological progress is being made using the most modern technologies to trace the history of this 17th century settlement. Created in 1957, Jamestown Settlement, like nearby Historic Colonial Williamsburg, was made to be a living history museum that contains a recreated James Fort, a Powhatan Indian village, and replicas of the original English settlers’ ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery (left)
The archeological excavations go on at the adjacent Historic Jamestowne (note the last “e”), run by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia. (Preservation Virginia is the group that supervises the archeology. The Park Service owns the other acreage.)
The settlement was established on May 14, 1607, to be permanent, although several failures and abandonments occurred, as well as a war that annihilated the Paspahegh Indian tribe in the area and in 1676 the burning down of the town during Bacon’s Rebellion. It immediately became Virrginia’s colonial capital; the first slaves arrived in 1619. But by 1699 Jamestown’s power had declined as the capital relocated to Williamsburg, and in the next century Jamestown ceased to exist as a working settlement.
The galleries and exhibitions are beautifully done at Jamestown, starting with the docudrama “1607: A Nation Takes Root,” and the exhibits focus on the three cultures--native, European and African (the Powhatan Native American was the “parent” culture and a Pocahontas exhibit just closed this winter), “The Crossing,” and “From Africa to Virginia.” The history of Jamestown as a tobacco-producing colony is described—it was often used as cash, which led to wealth but ultimately a lack of diversity in the economy. Outside, the Powhatan Indian Village features houses and archeological artifacts of how the Native Americans lived prior to the arrival of the English. Layer by layer more is being revealed every year, and the sight of so many students digging carefully through centuries of dirt and building materials is inspiring.
A new exhibit,
in Jamestown and Early Virginia," will open in
November this year.
A copper alloy figure from the
Kingdom of Benin at the Jamestown Settlement
The Yorktown attraction is known for its collection of uniforms, firearms and living history, with military artillery firing each day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Shows on the food culture of the Colonial and Revolutionary era are held throughout the year, and a working farm demonstrates the way people harvested, cooked and ate from homemade utensils.
museum’s 22,000-square-foot layout leads from one
era to another, its walls and floors first
showcasing British Colonial America as of 1763 and
an interactive map of the United States in 1791.
Famous battles are described, how they began and
developed, in a 170-seat museum theater, beginning
with the film “Liberty Fever” in a moving panorama
containing live-action movie scenes. The “First
Great Victory”—the Battle of Saratoga in 1777—is
actually shown within an army tent, while “The
Siege of Yorktown” is shown on a 180-degree
surround screen theater at the American Revolution
Museum at Yorktown.
From there “The New Nation” and “The American People” bring our history up through the 19th century and how the new country was so influenced by immigrants and internal migration westward.
One expects grand yarns and great victories out of the American Revolution, but I was delighted by some of the lesser artifacts that told the story in more endearing ways, like the first portrait of a black slave, named Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, by William Hoare circa 1733; the first book of poems by an African-American woman named Phillis Wheatley, albeit by a London publisher in 1773; a silver teaspoon stamped with the motto “I love liberty” (1773); and a lap desk once used by Gen. Francis Marion, known as the “Swamp Fox.”
Both Jamestown and Yorktown show how hard curators, linked into the newest technology, have worked to bring history alive for visitors, with a clear and obvious mission to entice and entertain young people whose urge is never to turn their eyes from their iPhones. In the sound and light, shadow and music of these stellar museums lies both the truth and the emotional commitment to our ancestors
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
322 East 86th Street (near First Avenue)
Photo: Paul Wagtouicz
A little over a year ago François Latapie opened Little Frog on the Upper East Side at a time when construction of the way overdue Second Avenue Subway was disrupting every business in the area. Noise, dust, steam, barriers and trenches made it impossible to put tables outside or draw traffic. Still, Little Frog succeeded largely by appealing to neighborhood regulars, many of whom knew Latapie as the suave, effusive fellow who had once been maître d’ at Le Cirque and La Goulue.
Now that the subway is done, the Yorkville neighborhood is back to being fairly quiet, a good place for a stroll along broad East 86th Street, and I was so happy to see that the German meat store Schaller & Weber, the Hungarian restaurant Red Tulip and Heidelberg German restaurant are still open on a block in Yorkville that once teemed with Eastern European groceries, cafes and restaurants.
Little Frog is a handsome, long slip of a white brick-walled room, seating 75, with a cheery bar up front, green tufted banquettes, bentwood chairs and the requisite tilted mirrors. The sound level in the room is pretty good, but the piped in music is wholly unnecessary. No one goes to a French bistro for the canned music, unless it’s Piaf or Aznavour.
Latapie is the consummate host, a gentlemanly mix of French gentility and American affability, and Chef Xavier Monge proves that consistency in every dish is really the key to this kind of cuisine. He works hard to obtain first-rate ingredients, evident in yellowfin tuna tartare with seaweed salad, wasabi dressing and sesame tuile ($22). Frogs’ legs (right)—once a staple of French restaurants—make a welcome re-appearance at Little Frog, nicely garlicky, sprinkled with parsley and served with tatsoi greens ($16). Asparagus out of season are risky, but Monge somehow sources very good ones, which he nestles in a buttery pastry shell with a lustrous Hollandaise mousseline ($16).
There is also a small section of tapas (all $10),
which include hot shishito peppers given a
delightful sweet glaze ($10) and thinly sliced
pink Iberico ham on a crunchy garlic-swabbed
tiger shrimp get a shot of sea salt to perk them
up ($10), and best of all was a plump fritter
enclosing oozing Comté cheese (below).
Among the “Butcher’s Choices” is a deliciously juicy roasted chicken scented with herbes de Provence and served with green beans, garlic and shallots ($25). It’s good to see Monge does not hold back on the garlic as too many French bistro cooks do.
Rack of lamb ($42) is available for one person, given some hardy ballast with merguez sausage and couscous. As it should be, hanger steak is nicely chewy and full of flavor, which we ordered au poivre, with hand-cut French fries ($36). I’m always hesitant to order the ubiquitous branzino on a menu, but Little Frog’s is one of the best in the city, grilled whole and boned, served with arugula and a beurre blanc tinged with lemon and tobiko roe ($29). As a side dish, have the macaroni gratin in a béchamel sauce ($10) or the sautéed wild mushrooms, with more garlic persillade ($13).
All the cherished classics of French bistro desserts are here: an ethereally light île flottante (right), a good crème caramel and terrific chocolate croustillant. Only an apple tart was disappointing, for its lack of caramelization and its soggy crust.
In addition to the food menu, Little Frog’s wine list has changed for the better, now more gently priced than before, and, among its fifty bottlings are an applaudable number under $60 and only a handful priced over $100.
So, Little Frog survived all the bureaucratic red tape and deep-down subway construction put in its way. Latapie’s faith in his neighborhood and his well-known hospitality have made Little Frog the true French bistro this stretch of Yorkville really needed.
Open for dinner nightly, for brunch Sat. & Sun. There is a $29 three-course fixed price dinner with wine from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. nightly.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR❖❖❖
Don’t Believe in Global Warming? Just ask a Tuscan Winemaker
By John Mariani
It’s a question I’ve put to every winemaker I’ve interviewed over the past five years. “Have you seen the effects of climate change and global warming in your region?”
Almost everyone answers yes, to one degree or another, and recently even the winemakers of Bordeaux and Burgundy, where they have always craved sun and heat, have begun having doubts about their benefits. In warmer climates the effects are now rigorously being monitored and vintners express both concern and ignorance as to what will happen just within the next decade.
Over dinner in New York, I posed these questions to Stefano Ruini, 57 (right), Technical Director and Enologist since 2017 of Luce winery in Montalcino, Tuscany, where Sangiovese grape vine clones (hundreds tested for their sturdy quality by Banfi Vintners in the 1980s and donated to the region’s other wineries) transformed the region’s wine production.
“Climate is becoming much more of a question than clones of grapes now,” said Ruini. “Twenty years ago we noticed changes in the Ph levels, the acidity, the phenolics and they began to affect when we would harvest. Now we are picking much earlier and doing a shorter maceration time. Five years ago changes began to accelerate, and one of the real problems is lack of rain.”
Indeed, Ruini, addressing these and other vagaries of wine production, prophesied that “in ten years Cabernet Sauvignon will taste like a different grape and Bordeaux, which lost one-third of its crop last year due to drought, in a decade from now will have the climate of Sicily.”
Ruini was brought onboard at Luce, after working for years in Bordeaux’s Médoc region, to continue the technological improvements the winery had set in motion more than two decades ago, when Vittorio Frescobaldi and California’s Robert Mondavi joined forces to produce a modern Tuscan red wine based on state-of-the-art viticulture.
For reasons too complex to go into, Frescobaldi parted ways with the Mondavis and now holds full ownership of the estate in the Val d’Orcia, spread over 250 acres with just 135 under cultivation. It was the first winery in Tuscany to plant Merlot, adding it to Sangiovese, a blend that means the wine cannot be labeled as Brunello di Montalcino, which by Italian law must be made from 100% Sangiovese.
“The Merlot is there to soften the wine,” said Ruini, “and it ripens earlier, in mid-September, while the Sangiovese ripens in October.” Indigenous yeasts are used exclusively.
The 50-50 blend (the current vintage is 2015) spent 24 months in barriques. “I do not want the wines to taste of oak,” says Ruini. Three years later the tannins have loosened and the Merlot has softened the wine while buoying the delicious fruit and acid typical of Tuscan wines. It has a density that will lighten in years to come, but this is not a wine to keep in the cellar for twenty years.
Lucente 2015 is a second, less expensive label from the estate, with a larger proportion of Merlot to Sangiovese and spending only 12 months in oak. It is, therefore, a lighter version and very ready to drink as a medium-bodied red with ripe fruit right now and at a very, very good price for this quality.
Luce also makes a Brunello di Montalcino, made from just 12 acres, which spends additional time aging in bottle after two years in oak. The 2013 vintage is now on the market and it shows all those elements that a single varietal of real character can muster: dark fruit, a backbone of tannin and a long, satisfying finish. The vintage year had excellent weather, with ideal conditions during a hot summer.
Sales of Luce’s wines are currently about evenly split between Italy and the U.S., at 29% and 25%, with Canada and Germany next, followed by 84 other countries where it may be bought. Ruini sees little interest in Italian wines in China at this time.
Time will tell how heat and rain, or a lack of it, will affect Luce, Tuscany and European vineyards, whose natural terroirs are far more delicate than those of hot weather climates like California and South America.
“Not too long ago,” said Ruini, “most wine
estates in Italy were composed of those who
tended the vineyards and those who worked on the
enology and all other aspects of the winery.
Today, those two segments have to mesh and learn
from each other, if only to keep up with what’s
happening in the air around us.”
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