Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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Basil

Herbaceous plant, coming from India and Indonesia, with its characteristic aromas, it is used as a condiment for foods, in ayurvedic medicine, herbal medicine and cosmetics

 Basil (Ocimum Basilicum), belongs to the family of Lamiaceae (Lamiales), its leaves show an intense green color on the upper side and a green-gray color in the bottom side. The term “basil” derives from the greek word Basilikos meaning “herb worth of kings”. Cultivated in all the countries of the world, rich in volatile oils which vary according to the composition even in the same variety and according to growing factors. The most aromatic leaves, sweet and fragrant, are the ones picked soon before blossoming, as they contain a higher quantity of oily substances determining the aroma, whereas the elder leaves tends to have a more piquant taste.

 

History and Tradition of Basil

 Basil was known since the times of Egyptians, who used it, together with other essences, during religious ceremonies. It seems it was also used as an ingredient for the preparation of the balms used for mummification. In the Middle Age, it was believed to have magic properties, it was used as a defense against “basilisk”, a monster which looked like a poisonous serpent. The origins of Basil are from India and Indonesia. It was probably introduced in Europe by Greeks and Romans, coming from the commercial routes which crossed the Middle East. Ancient Romans considered it the symbol of lovers, and it was also used as an aromatic herb in cooking. Apicius mentioned basil in a recipe with peas. In England was introduced around the sixteenth century, whereas in America will be introduced in the seventeenth century.


Green, fresh and aromatic: basil adds to
recipes its unmistakable sign
Green, fresh and aromatic: basil adds to recipes its unmistakable sign

 In its homeland - India - the use of basil in cooking is pretty limited. A type of basil - Ocimum Sanctum - the famous “Tulsi” - is considered a sacred plant dedicated to Vishnu and Krishna, its seeds are used for the making of mala, and are being consumed by the ones who practice a vegetarian diet or want a more sound lifestyle. In ayurvedics, the traditional Indian medicine, basil is used as a remedy for many diseases. In India is pretty common to plant basil in order to check the salubrity of a soil: the good growing of the plant makes a place or soil good. Moreover, it is believed the presence of basil, or better to say, Tulsi, can keep evil spirits away while attracting divine blessings. The leaves are used during religious ceremonies dedicated to Vishnu, in particular the ones in favor of family wellness.

 In India a plant of basil cultivated in front of the house, keeps unwanted insects away, although anyone knowing the Indian traditions, will say it is a sign of the culture and the religious beliefs of the family. The soil surrounding the plant, is manured with cow's manure, an animal considered sacred in India. In the most rich houses are being cultivated many plants of tulsi, in order to make a small sacred garden called tulsi-van or vrindavan. Sacred Hindu writings suggested to consider tulsi not as a simple plant, but as a natural representation of the gods Vishnu or Krishna. Whoever had the chance to travel to India will certainly have noticed many people use a series of small balls tied with a string (Mala), resembling the chain used by catholics: the small balls are made from a sacred plant, Indian basil, tulsi's mala. In order to understand the respect Hindus have for this plant, it is worth remembering that Englishmen, when they wanted an Indian to swear about something - and while not having an equivalent to the Bible - they forced Indians to swear on tulsi.

 In the western world basil is the sign of fertility. Boccaccio told the story of Lisabetta who, after having hidden the head of her lover in the soil of a basil vase, she watered him with her tears. A different opinion had Van Helmont (1577-1644), a Flemish doctor, who believed basil left between two bricks made the plant to get transformed into a scorpion.

 Use of Basil

 Basil is an annual plant which likes tempered climates and does not stand to frosts. It can reach a height of 30-40 centimeters (11-15 inches). An interesting and curious characteristic is that basil, when cultivated in an adverse environment, tends to lose its main characteristics, it gets oily and thick, lose its characteristic sweet and delicate aroma while getting harsh and strong smells. In Genoa, Italy - where Basil is extensively cultivated, in greenhouses at tropical temperatures and humidity - the harvesting is done when the plant reaches the height of twelve centimeters (5 inches), in order to get the best out from the organoleptic characteristics. People from Genoa are very exacting about basil. In Liguria there is the tradition of cultivating basil in earthenware vases left in house's balconies. To summarize things up: the best basil is the one cultivated in a proper environment and consumed young.


 

 The aroma of fresh basil and dried basil cannot be compared. Fresh basil can be kept for a short time in the refrigerator, however the best way to keep it is undoubtedly keep the leaves in oil. According to Italian tradition, small leaves of basil are washed and dried, then are put in a jar and sprinkled with some salt, then the process is repeated, likewise, with other basil leaves, some salt, more basil leaves and so on, until the jar is full. When the jar is full, it is filled with olive oil in order to completely cover the leaves, it is sealed and kept in a fresh place or in the refrigerator, away from light sources. By using this method, basil can be kept for a pretty long time without losing its organoleptic qualities, even though as time passes by, leaves with tend to get a black color. Moreover, basil kept according this method is ideal for the preparation of “pesto alla genovese”.

 Basil certainly is not a characteristic ingredient of northern European cooking. It is found in southern countries of Europe, in Italy, in Greece and in the countries of the Mediterranean. The most fascinating use of basil in cooking can be probably found in “pesto alla genovese”, which, in different expressions, is common in every part of the coast from Genoa to beyond the borders of Italy, in Provence, where it is called pistou. The ingredients of “pesto” are basil, garlic, salt, olive oil, pecorino cheese and/or Parmesan cheese, pine kernels or walnuts, finely crushed in a mortar until getting a thick sauce. It should be noticed some versions of “pesto” do not make use of garlic. In Italy - where it is now common in every region - it is used as a condiment for pasta, in particular “trenette”, as well as rice and canapes. The spreading of basil has led industry to offer consumers jars of ready to use “pesto”, of course not comparable to fresh pesto, however it is maybe better to use this kind of pesto instead of not enjoying it at all.

 A typical product of Apulia is basil oil. Oil is being naturally aromatized: during crushing, strictly made with mechanical tools, are also crushed some basil leaves, which give oil a fresh and intense aroma. Basil oil is used to season pasta dishes, fish and salads. In southern France pistou is used for soups. In the Italian riviera, it was common to have a snack with a sort of bun stuffed with tomato, salt, olive oil and some basil leaves: a tasty snack, now replaced by other sandwiches. A bun with tomato, oil and basil, is enriched with the flavors and aromas of the ingredients, always different, essence of the earth, different in every season and in every region.

 The aroma of basil is well matched to tomatoes, and to every dish made with tomatoes, with eggs dishes, such as omelettes or scrambled eggs, with eggplant, fish - in particular mullet and lobster - as well as other recipes. Fantasy and taste, as always, are the limit. In shops can also be found dried basil leaves used for the preparation of sauces, stews and soups. It is better to add basil during the last phases of cooking as it tends to easily lose its characteristic aroma. Some cooks avoid cutting basil leaves with a knife, while preferring to tear it with hands in order to allow essential oils to give all their best aromas. Beyond European countries, basil is used in Malaysia (selaseh) and in India (babuitulsi). There is also basil vinegar, which is prepared by infusing basil leaves in vinegar.

 The use of basil is not limited in cooking or in religious ceremonies only, but also in cosmetics, herbal medicine and aromatherapy. In herbal medicine is used as a remedy for bad smelling breath, digestion problems, cough, meteorism, nervous headache and headache caused by bad digestion. An infusion of dried leaves is used as a remedy for fever, nausea and abdominal cramps. Basil oil is not recommended in case of pregnancy, kids younger than six, on pretty delicate skin. When consumed in high quantities, the essence of basil can have narcotic effects, when used on the skin it can have an irritating effect. The plant contains an essential oil rich in estragol and eugenol, as well as linalool and terpenes. In cosmetics it is used as a tonic and deodorant: it is enough to put 15 leaves of basil in a cotton bag and to add it to the bath. As a tonic for the skin, can be useful some leaves of basil and sage macerated in alcohol, subsequently diluted with water. For hair, an infusion of basil used as a lotion after shampooing. In aromatherapy it is used as a stimulant.

 



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  Not Just Wine Issue 40, April 2006   
BasilBasil AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 39, March 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 41, May 2006

Aquavitae

Review of Grappa, Distillates and Brandy

 

Distillates are rated according to DiWineTaste's evaluation method. Please see score legend in the "Wines of the Month" section.



Acquavite d'Uva Five Roses, Leone de Castris (Apulia, Italy)
Acquavite d'Uva Five Roses
Leone de Castris (Apulia, Italy)
(Distiller: Bonollo)
Raw matter: Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera
Price: € 24.00 - 50cl Score:
This distillate is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The node reveals intense, clean and pleasing aromas of raspberry, cyclamen, cherry and strawberry with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors and a perceptible alcohol pungency which tends ti dissolve rapidly, pleasing smoothness, balanced sweet hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of raspberry, strawberry and cherry. Produced with steam operated alembic stills. Alcohol 40%.



Uve Bianche, Andrea Da Ponte (Veneto, Italy)
Uve Bianche
Andrea Da Ponte (Veneto, Italy)
Raw matter: Malvasia Bianca and Chardonnay
Price: € 18.50 - 70cl Score:
This distillate is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of grape, pear, apple, banana, broom and hazelnut with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, pleasing smoothness, sweet balanced hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of grape and pear. Distilled with a bainmarie alembic still. Alcohol 38%.



Grappa di Nebbiolo di Carema, Revel Chion (Piedmont, Italy)
Grappa di Nebbiolo di Carema
Revel Chion (Piedmont, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Nebbiolo
Price: € 13.40 - 50cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of cherry, plum, violet, rose, licorice, raspberry and hazelnut with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, pleasing roundness, balanced sweet hint, agreeable. The finish is persistent with flavors of cherry, raspberry and plum. This grappa is distilled with a steam operated alembic still. Alcohol 45%.



Liquore di Mirto, Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Liquore di Mirto
Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Raw matter: Mirtle berries
Price: € 10.00 - 70cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This liquor shows an intense orange red color, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean and pleasing aromas of myrtle and imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with moderate alcohol perception which tends to dissolve rapidly, sweet, pleasing roundness with intense flavors of myrtle. The finish is persistent with flavors of myrtle and hints of sweetness. Alcohol 30%.



Grappa Cannonau di Sardegna Collezione Privata, Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Grappa Cannonau di Sardegna Collezione Privata
Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Cannonau
Price: € 20.00 - 50cl Score:
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of plum, black cherry, violet, hazelnut, licorice and raspberry with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth as intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, pleasing roundness, balanced sweet hint. The finish is persistent with flavors of plum, black cherry and licorice. This grappa is distilled with a bainmarie alembic still. Alcohol 43%.



Acquavite di Miele di Corbezzolo Selezione Speciale, Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Acquavite di Miele di Corbezzolo Selezione Speciale
Lucrezio R (Sardinia, Italy)
Raw matter: Straberry tree honey
Price: € 35.00 - 50cl Score:
This distillate is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing, refined and elegant aromas of strawberry tree honey and beeswax with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with balanced alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, pleasing smoothness, balanced sweet hint, very agreeable. The finish is very persistent with long flavors of strawberry tree honey. Produced with distilled fermented strawberry tree honey. Alcohol 30%.





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  Not Just Wine Issue 40, April 2006   
BasilBasil AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 39, March 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 41, May 2006

Wine Parade


 

The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.


Rank Wine, Producer
1 Trento Talento Brut Riserva Methius 1998, Dorigati (Italy)
2 Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Bianco Terre Alte 2002, Livio Felluga (Italy)
3 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1998, Santa Sofia (Italy)
4 Riesling Central Otago 2004, Felton Road (New Zealand)
5 Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2002, Cantine del Notaio (Italy)
6 Brunello di Montalcino 1999, Castello Banfi (Italy)
7 Palazzo della Torre 2000, Allegrini (Italy)
8 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2000, Zenato (Italy)
9 Wine Obsession 2001, Vignamaggio (Italy)
10 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riparosso 2001, Illuminati (Italy)
11 Notarpanaro 1999, Taurino (Italy)
12 Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento 2000, Dievole (Italy)
13 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002, Domaine Billaud-Simon (France)
14 Rêve 2001, Velenosi Ercole (Italy)
15 Nero al Tondo 2001, Ruffino (Italy)

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