Playing Mozart to the Vines

Santa Croce and Chandon and Ketchup, Oh My!



Baglioni Hotels Relais Santa Croce

We all know that there’s a lot of romance to winemaking. But an Italian winemaker has taken the romance off-the-charts by setting up acoustic speakers in his 10-acre vineyard and playing Mozart to the vines. Giancarlo Cignozzi started by playing a variety of classical and baroque music to his infant vines at Il Paradiso de Frassina in Montalcino in the year 2000 and low and behold the music stimulated leaf growth. He later found that Mozart worked best for this unique music therapy.

University of Florence became interested and did studies on the biophysical changes in the vine from exposure to music. By 2006 Bose supplied (gratis) all-weather speakers for Il Paradiso vineyards to continue the research.

I met Giancarlo at an event in SoHo for the Baglioni Hotels, a collection of privately owned luxury boutique properties located in major Italian cities, which includes Milan, Venice, Rome and Florence, along with properties in France and England. When you visit Relais Santa Croce in Florence (at left), you can take an excursion and see the Tuscan musical vineyards.


When I have lunch at The Modern in a private room with only four other journalists and we indulge in delicacies like foie gras, black truffles and old rare vintages of wine, I know I chose the right field of work. Peter Mondavi Jr. conducted a tasting of three old vintages from his Charles Krug winery, which happens to be Napa’s oldest wine property dating back to 1861. The mini-vertical comprised: Charles Krug Vintage Selection 1966 ($770), Vintage Selection 1979 ($408) and Vintage Selection 1984 ($320).

Peter Mondavi (not to be confused with the Robert Mondavi branch) spoke of his father, who is going to turn 100 years old on November 8th, and how the winery has just restored their redwood and stone wine cellar (pictured above) from 1872. The restoration, done by the renowned architect, Howard Backen, will feature a 2,300 bottle vintage library with wines from 1944 till present. 

Mondavi took us through the tasting of the three rare vintages in a systematic way. First, the sommelier, Courtney Olson, opened and decanted the delicate old wines about 45 minutes before the group arrived. Olson presented each cork on a silver platter for Mondavi’s inspection. With the 1966 (which we tasted first since it was the most fragile) he held up the 2 ¼ inch cork and proclaimed it in good shape for 48 years. Next we inspected the wine’s color. “Brick red, no brown, subtle hints of orange on the edges,” Mondavi stated. Then the nose: “savory, cigar box, heavy olive notes, touch of anise, bright acidity.”

We moved on to the vintage ‘79, which was a deeper darker red brick and had more freshness of the nose and subtle hints of savory with less olive, more tobacco notes. And finally the vintage ‘84, a mere 30 years ago, had a pretty nose and was fruity with cherry and red plum notes, a touch of cigar box and a nice acidity.

The Modern’s new chef, Abram Bissell, announced each course he had created to pair with these old vintages: roasted whole carrots and foie gras, smoked beef tenderloin with porcini mushrooms and a baked brie covered with shaved French black truffles. During lunch the newly released 2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Generations and the Howell Mountain Cabernet were also served. I know it is sacrilege to say but I greatly prefer young vintages to rare old vintages. Tasting old vintages is definitely about intellectual pleasure and curiosity at how wines develop over time. Whether rare vintage Napa Cabernet, Bordeaux, or Super Tuscan, I find the taste of these old-timers to be medicinal and herbal. The Charles Krug Howell Mountain Cabernet, the first release from the winery’s 60-acre forested property acquired nine years ago, was young, expressive, savory—i.e. wine at its prime.


Chandon and Caviar Night

Young Collectors Council of the Guggenheim Caviar Night

The Young Collectors Council of the Guggenheim threw its annual gala in the museum’s impressive circular rotunda to raise funds to purchase works by emerging artists. The event featured Chandon Etoile Rosé and Blanc de Noirs and Pointy Snout Caviar.

After securing a flute of Chandon, I made a beeline to the caviar table, fearing it would run out. Indeed, there was a rush on the caviar table. A small mountain of the black eggs was piled right onto the serving table in a tempting presentation, which also featured a pyramid of caviar cans and ice buckets.  Pointy Snout, made from the roe of a White Surgeon farmed near the Sacramento River in Northern California, offered tastes of the precious caviar in two forms: either on tiny tasting spoons or oyster shells. I indulged in the shells which were displayed on a bed of seaweed and rock salt. On each oyster shell, the chefs had placed a dollop of crème fraiche, the caviar and a leaf of upland crest garnish.


For the Love of Ketchup

Ballymaloe Irish Ketchup

Yes, it’s true. I like events so much that I’ll even show up for the launch of a new condiment (ketchup). But not just any ketchup, a gourmet Irish “tomato relish” (as it is known in Ireland) created by the famous brand, Ballymaloe.

Ballymaloe House and Cookery School, which was founded in 1983 and is an historic Irish brand, threw a big launch party for its Ballymaloe Gourmet Irish Ketchup. The condiment, which will be available at specialty food shops, comes in three varieties: tomato only, tomato and chili, and tomato and Irish Stout.  At the launch party these relishes were served with Irish cheddar and other Murray’s cheeses. Wine pairing? Well, since savory tomato is the basis of many a great Italian sauce, serve with the Sangiovese grape or any Tuscan wine from Chianti to Brunello.

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