Traveling to China for tea with my sister in 1992, and nosing around in wine shops in Hong Kong, I came across bottles whose label I had never seen. They were white and red LILLET aperitif, called Réserve Jean de Lillet, that were dated and corked. I bought one of each: the white dated 1989 and the red 1990. It was not until several years later that I remembered the bottles, opened the white and was immediately struck by the fact that it was superb! It had the richness and perfume of light Sauternes wine with a fragrant orange cum herbal quality that was beguiling. The red, opened in July 2007, had thrown a crust and was like fragrant, flavored ruby port. Lillet is made near Bordeaux, in Podensac, and obviously the basis is Bordeaux wine, both white and red. Today, Lillet is probably the best known French aperitif on the market, served in most, if not all, chic restaurants. And for good reason.
Created in 1887 by the Lillet brothers, Raymond and Paul, it is one of those famous drinks at the end of the 1800s which had a fashionable period and then almost died off. Lillet has been in the US since 1910. If you know about Lillet, you must try the Réserve Jean de Lillet. If you don’t know Lillet, then it is a treat awaiting you.
Réserve Jean de Lillet, always vintage dated, is produced from appellation controlée wines which, depending on the vintage, quality, and pricing, come from Entre-Deux-Mers, Graves, Première Côtes de Bordeaux and even from Sauternes. Peels of sweet and bitter oranges from Spain, Morocco, Haiti, Mexico and South America as well as other secret fruits, eight more, are cold macerated in brandy for four to six months, then blended with the wines and then further aged. For Jean de Lillet, aging is done in oak barriques, a third new and two thirds second use. Aging Jean de Lillet produces remarkable results, but you must do it. The bottling we offer is from the 2004 vintage, which has to be called “LOT 2004.” If you can keep your hands off it, it will age well for years.
An aperitif (from the Latin aperire, to open) is something which “opens” the appetite, stimulating saliva and making you hungry. Since most aperitifs contain quinine, making them sweet, herbal and citrus-y, reduced the bitterness of quinine. This proved to be an effective method of getting people in malaria ridden countries to take quinine. Lillet as an aperitif wine is classified by our government in the vermouth category. It is different. More of a wine, it begins its life as wine and the flavoring of it is more akin to the fortification used in making port, than the production of vermouth, also wine based, which is oxidized, sweetened, and colored..
Now from Corti Brothers you can taste this exceptional product: Reserve Jean De Lillet Blanc, lot (vintage) 2004. You might just fall in love with it.
Here is a product which just screams cold weather and hearty meals: Levoni Cotechino. Cotechino is an Italian sausage based on leanish pork and pork skins which is poached and then served with a side of either puréed potatoes, cooked lentils or beans. This is a hearty, sightly gelatinous meat that, cut into thick slices, is truly winter’s delight. It takes its name from “cotene,” pork skins and is a glory of Modena cooking. Spiced only with salt, black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves, it is shelf stable, wonderful for keeping in your pantry.
Levoni cotechino comes precooked, in a pouch, which means you only have to put it in a pot with cold water, bring it to a boil, and lower the heat to allow the cotechino to simmer for about 40 minutes. In this time you can cook lentils, or if provident, just heat up the Pescadero beans previously cooked. Now you have a delicious meal without much fuss that is sure to please. It is the almost mindless cooking of real food.
Alfredo Mancianti created Affiorato at his Umbrian press house on Lake Trasimeno a quarter of a century ago. It was at the suggestion of a friend who asked why oil could not just be skimmed off of the olive paste when olives are crushed, rather than pressing it. It was done in antiquity and Alfredo started doing in modern times. The name “affiorato” means to “flower” or appear on the surface of something. This is what oil does when working olive paste. If removed, it makes an oil which has not been pressed, it merely appears. Thus, the oil is extremely light in structure and fruitiness, with elegance rarely found in olive oils. Not extracted in the normal way, it has been described by at least one expert as “pre-extra virgin oil.”
Mancianti Affiorato is truly exceptional and unique. It was the first to be produced and others have followed. Alfredo Mancianti is also the panel head for the Italian olive oil tasting panel the Mastri Oleari. (Mancianti was pointed out as an exemplary oil producer in Tom Mueller’s, 13 August 2007, New Yorker article on olive oil and the fraud attached to it.)
A comment: It appears that the 2007 oil harvest in Tuscany will be a disaster. Up to three attacks of olive fly have compromised olives terribly. My friend, Marco Mugelli, has said that in more than 30 years of making oil in Tuscany he has never seen such a catastrophe. Good oil this year will be a small miracle. Caveat emptor!
A new shipment of Norwegian Stockfish (Stoccafisso) and Baccalà (Salt Cod) is also another sign of the changing seasons. For stockfish, cod is caught off the Lofoten Islands on Norway’s northern coastline in January, then the eviscerated fish are hung up to dry in the cold, dry Arctic air until June when they are shipped off to Italy for sale. It is the Genoese and Venetians who are the experts in preparing Stockfish (called in Veneto, bacalà.)
Stockfish produces a memorable dish in different ways, but it takes some forethought. It must be soaked in cold water, changed twice a day, for at least ten days. Then, ready for cooking, it can be cooked as a salad with potatoes; braised in the Genoese style; pounded or braised with milk to make bacalà alla visentina or mantecato as in Venice. (We can supply recipes for stockfish to help you enjoy your experience.) This is ancient food, used in England in the Middle Ages, and entering Italy in the 15th century, now a staple of the northern regions of that country. In Scandinavia, it is known as lutefisk. Branded Ragno, this is the highest quality available.
Stockfish “Ragno” Whole fish Avg. weight 1.75 lbs. Specify: Beaten (#1975) Whole (#1976)
Baccalà, Salt Cod, known as bacalao, bacalhau, is very different from Stockfish. It is the same fish, split and salted. This is the real product. Thick, with both skin and bones, this is what should be expected when using Salt Cod. If you have never tasted real salt cod, try this. It must be re-hydrated by soaking in twice daily changed cold water for at least three days. Then it can be cooked as simply or complex as you wish. Using high quality fish such as ours, dishes made from them are remarkable. You are eating history. Soon, cod itself may also just be history.
Norwegian Superior Salt Cod (with skin and bones) random weight (#1977)
<< Back to Top