By MIKE CHAIKEN
The arts of wine, food, and literature converged on Plantsville last Friday.
Frances Mayes, the author of the best selling memoir “Under the Tuscan Sun” and numerous other volumes detailing her life in Italy, was the guest of honor at Zingarella Pizzeria and Ice Cream Café for a luncheon to introduce her new line of wines, Tuscan Sun, to oenophiles of Connecticut.
At the sold out event, Mayes was greeted by fans of her Tuscan tales with smiles and requests for autographs. Some traveled from as far away as Salem, N.H. to be with the author.
During conversations at the luncheon table with Mayes, she explained she has been traveling across the country promoting the line of wines. But she said she enjoyed the opportunity to stop in New England just as spring time finally began to sprint through the region. After Connecticut, however, she had plans to return to her home in North Carolina for a spell. And then she is off to her home in Tuscany, which inspired so many books over the years. Once there, she said, she will have the chance to catch the Tuscan spring.
The promotional tour for Tuscan Sun Wines (which are locally sold at World Wide Liquors and Spirits on Queen Street in Southington and Crazy Bruce’s on Farmington Avenue in Bristol) has given her an opportunity to see the United States, and gain a new perspective on the nation. However, she said she has not been doing much writing while promoting the wine. Instead, she said, she has taken the time to read, noting that e-books have become a favorite, although when reading in bed, she prefers a real book in her hand.
During her visit to West Main Street in Plantsville, Zingarella’s head chef, Angelo DiDomenico, prepared a menu, from appetizers to dessert, that he felt would complement the Tuscan Sun wines.
For instance, for the Pensiero Pinot Grigio, the chef served up stuffed mushrooms, melanzan friti (deep-fried eggplant), fresh fruits and cheeses. For the Tondo Tondo Sangiovese, he served up a light Caesar salad. For the Auguri Reserve Sangiovese Blend, diners were greeted with a cheese-stuffed Italian stromboi bread. And for Permesso Cabernet Sauvignon, the chef served a choice of entrees of chicken salad with bacon, fruit, nuts, and blue cheese, or Risotto del giorno in the classic parmigano style, or Focaccia Zingarella, which was a grilled boneless chicken topped with prosciutto and house-made mozzarella with pesa.
To wrap it up, DiDomenico chose a lemon sorbetto and biscotti for dessert.
Between courses, and sips of wine, Mayes and Keefe spoke a little bit about the vintages being served, all of which are produced in Tuscany.
“Tondo Tondo is the 100 percent Sangiovese,” said Mayes, “that’s the quintessential Tuscan grape. You can tell how ancient it is in Tuscany because the meaning of Sangiovesi is ‘The blood of Jove.’ So it goes way back to when the Romans claimed the area and made wine.”
“The Permesso… is 100 percent cabernet,” said Mayes. “It has a little of touch… of another grape, which is in the cabernet family, which gives a little bit of cherry taste in it.”
“The Auguri is 80 percent Sangiovese grape, 10 percent merlot, and 10 percent cabernet…those… additions (to the Sangiovese)… gives it a real smoothness,” said Mayes.
Of the names of the wine, Mayes said, “Auguri means ‘my best to you,’ but it means more than that. It goes back to the root word, augury, where spells are cast, and you tell the future through some omens… so when you’re celebrating any kind of holiday in Cortona (in Tuscany) or Italy, people walk down the street saying ‘Auguri, auguri.’”
Regarding the name given to the Tuscan Sun cabernet, Mayes explained, “Permesso is an ancient civility… All the older citizens when they come into your house they say ‘permesso.’ Even if you’re opening the door and walking in with them and welcoming them. It’s just a kind of nod to the hospitality that they’re entering your house… I love that tradition.”
Danny Keefe, the driving force behind Curious Cork, the wine importer for Tuscan Sun Wines, offered some words about his travel mate across the U.S., Mayes. “Everybody here is here is because Frances affected your life. You read a book (‘Under the Tuscan Sun’). It made you stop. You planted your own garden, or you cooked your own meal, or you traveled to Tuscany… It made you stop and made you enjoy things more.”
Keefe said his wife read “Under the Tuscan Sun,” and it inspired the couple to buy a house in Cortona, Tuscany. In Cortona, they became friends with Mayes and her husband Ed. When Keefe, who had worked as an electrician for many years, finally followed his wife’s lead and read “Under the Tuscan Sun,” it inspired him to take a chance and enter the wine business.
“Because of Frances… I’m doing what I love to do– importing wine,” said Keefe.
For more information about Tuscan Sun Wines, go to TuscanSunWines.com. For more information about Zingarella Pizzeria and Ice Cream Café, go to Zingarellas.com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN