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Cleaning out the cupboard
By Eric J. Lyman
Ever since I started writing Pane al Vino almost two years
ago, it seems like I've continually had a few column ideas
bouncing around in my head. Some lost their appeal over
time, and some of them developed into full-fledged
columns that readers have over the months seen in print
on these pages.

And then there are some that did neither -- remaining

nascent seeds of ideas that would neither shrivel away
nor bloom into something worth discussing for a full 750
or so words.

For reasons I'll come back to momentarily, this month's

column is a great opportunity to briefly visit some of these
ideas, in what amounts to a series of one-paragraph
mini-columns.

So here's to cleaning out the cupboard of the column

ideas and random thoughts I've been cultivating lately.

Balsamic vinegar

If you've ever had real balsamic vinegar, the watery liquid in bottles
on most supermarket shelves just won't do. The real stuff --
usually
aged for at least a dozen years and sometimes as for long as a hundred -- is syrupy in texture, very dark in color, and it
can cost a small
fortune. But what a taste! Layers of flavor that are somehow sweet and sour at the same time: the taste from a
single drop will linger in the
mouth for minutes. Balsamic vinegar differs from other vinegars in part because it starts out as
unfermented grape must rather than wine or
fruit juice, but the real magic happens in the barrel as the juice ages and each year
seems to add another layer of complexity.


Look for the words "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" or "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia" -- Modena and
Reggio Emilia are two
villages northwest of Bologna -- to make sure you are getting the good stuff. If one of these pricey but
worthwhile bottles is out of your
price range, here's a trick I learned from a chef friend that many restaurants use to improve less
expensive vinegar: melt 1 teaspoon of
dark brown sugar into a cup of cheap Balsamic. If it's used for cooking, the result -- while
not the same as a 40-year-old bottle of
real Balsamic -- is much better than the 5-euro bottle you innocently brought home from
the store.

Twist top caps


There's an image problem with twist-off tops -- no poem ever waxed
lyrical about the romantic nature of screwing the top off a
bottle
while sitting in front of the fireplace. But at the Vinitaly wine fair I found a small handful of Italian producers are trying out the
metal
closures and I hope more will try it over the coming years. A tradition-bound wine producing country like Italy will always be
slow
to adopt new things, but a trip I took to New Zealand last year (where these modern enclosures are embraced) convinced
me of the delights of a
wine that was fruity and fresh and clean every time (I'm not talking about cheap jug wines that use metal
tops but rather serious wine
makers who have chosen to abandon corks). Though I think only 1 bottle in 50 is truly ruined by cork
seals, probably a dozen more are subtly
affected by a musty taste or other contamination coming from the organic cork material.
Add to the fact that metal tops are cheaper,
they never deteriorate, and can be opened without special tools, and it seems a
matter of time until they become wide spread, even here in the Bel Paese.



Moscato d'Alba or d'Asti

I've always considered fizzy Moscato one of the under appreciated
jewels of the Italian wine pantheon. I've never served it to
anyone who
didn't appreciate its cool and delicate sweetness, refreshing taste, and palate-cleansing bubbles. With low alcohol,
it's a great
stand-alone drink for those who don't want to get tipsy, but it is best as after dinner fare, either alone or with light or
creamy deserts or
fresh fruit. Best of all, it's inexpensive: I've found decent bottles for under 4 euro, and even the best bottles can
cost less than 15 from
the wine shop (a bit more on restaurant wine lists). If this description sounds off, you've probably tasted
the cloying and syrupy
gold-colored Moscatos from southern Italy that bare little resemblance to their straw-colored northern
cousins.

Pane al Vino

And so the cupboard is bare, which is appropriate as this is the last
edition of Pane al Vino in The American. Although the last
couple of
years have been fun and challenging, circumstances and priorities for both writers and publications change over time.
My sincerest of thanks
to everyone who has written in with a question, comment, or a note of support, as well as to those who
have simply enjoyed these monthly
missives of mine. I hope it's been as fun reading Pane al Vino as it has been writing it.


— Eric J. Lyman's email address is ejlyman@theamericanmag.com. Write to him with comments, suggestions, and column
recommendations.
The American is published by GSW Editore, s.r.l. Via Bertoloni 1/E, 00197,• Rome, Italy Tel./Fax. +1 (0039) (06) 808.5391.
E-mail: cpwinner@theamericanmag.com.• © 2005
The American. Reproduction by request only.
September 2006
Balsamic vinegar aged in barrels for as long as a hundred years.
Pasta carbonara