Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  Not Just Wine Issue 41, May 2006   
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Asparagus

Coming from Asia, common in the Mediterranean area and in Europe, it was appreciated by Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, both as an officinal plant and as a refined and delicate vegetable

 Asparagus, (asparagus officinalis) comes from Asia, where it grew as a wild plant and was known since the times of Egyptians, whose spread it all over the Mediterranean area. The first evidences of asparaguses are found in a document written 300 years before Christ by Theofrastus from Ereso - a Greek philosopher, scholar and friend of Plato, disciple and successor of Aristotle - in his “History of Plants”, a botanic work in 9 volumes. Marcus Portio Cato (234-149 b.C.) mentioned it in its book “De agricoltura”, describing the cultivation techniques. Also the famous Latin naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-24 - 79 A.D.) wrote about the gastronomical qualities and the cultivation techniques of asparaguses in his monumental work “Naturalis Historia”. Ancient Romans called it asparagus and they appreciated it both for cooking as well as for its medical properties, countless are the recipes based on asparaguses mentioned in the most famous cookbooks of those times. Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (60 - 140 A.D.), in one of his writings, illustrated one of his meals: “…a fat kid…some mountain asparaguses, big eggs”.


Tasty, looked for and healthy: asparaguses
are appreciated since ancient times
Tasty, looked for and healthy: asparaguses are appreciated since ancient times

 Despite the cooking of asparaguses is today a custom associated to their consumption, it seems ancient Romans thought differently about this: Suetonius, in describing the rapidity of an action done by Augustus, wrote it took less time than it was usually needed for boiling asparaguses (“citius quam asparagi coquantur”). Martial (40 - 104 A.D.) praised the asparaguses cultivated in the coastlines of Ravenna, with a tender pulp, exported for the enjoyment of rich people. During the Middle Age, asparagus was mainly cultivated for its medical properties, in particular for its depurative and diuretic properties. The spreading of asparagus as a vegetable begins in the 1500's, in France and in Italy, but as it was not easy to cultivate, it remained for a long time a luxury food. King Louis XIV was particularly greed of asparaguses and he was used to order the botanists of his court to cultivate it all year long.

 Only with the arrival of the 1600's we will find the first evidences of the cultivation of asparaguses. Among the main asparaguses producers of the world there is China, Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Germany and Netherlands. Asparagus is mainly appreciated and cultivated in China, in fact, here it is found the highest production of the world for 70% of the whole planetary production.

 

The Many Varieties of Asparaguses

 Asparagus belongs to the family of liliaceae, it is a perennial herbaceous plant, with a short underground rhizome, with pulpy roots. In springtime, young buds - called spears, that is what we usually call asparaguses - begin to grow and to come out from the ground. During the period they remain underground, spears have a white color, and as they come in contact with sun light, they get a pink-purple color, and then a more or less deep green color. The spears are the edible part of the plant, tender and pulpy with a basically sweet taste, in case they are not harvested, they can reach a height of about 1.5 meters (5 feet). The culture of asparagus is generally done in fields, however it can be cultivated in greenhouses as well. Among the most common commercialized varieties are mentioned:

 

  • Mary Washington - characterized by green spears
  • Argenteuil and Neapolitan - characterized by violet spears
  • Asparagus of Bassano and Cesena - characterized by white spears
  • Duth Gijnlim
  • French Dariana and Larac

 Among the most common hybrids are mentioned the varieties Gladio, Mars, Atlas and UC157.

 The many varieties of asparagus are used in different ways: Asparagus tenuifolius is cultivated for nutritional purposes, Asparagus plumosus is used for flower bouquets, Asparagus sprengeri is used as an ornamental plants for balconies and stairs.

 After having been harvested or bought, and before consuming them, it is necessary to remove the base, hardened by fibers, by using a sharp knife, peeling the stem from the tip towards the base in order to eliminate the fibrous part. Asparagus is a very dietetic food, in fact 100 grams of asparaguses provides 29 Kcal and it is almost completely edible, about 87%. One hundred grams of asparaguses contain 91.4 grams of water, 3.6 of proteins, 0.2 of fats, 3.3 of sugars and 2.1 of fibers. The same quantity of asparaguses contain: 1.2 mg of iron; 2.5 mg of calcium; 0.2 mg of vitamin B1; 0.29 mg of vitamin B2; 1 mg of vitamin PP; 82 mg of vitamin A; 10 mg of vitamin C.

 

Properties of Asparaguses

 Asparaguses are rich in fibers, vitamins A, B, B2, C, aminoacids, carotenoids, mineral salts, calcium and phosphorus, and they are low in calories. They also contain asparagine - or aspartic acid - which gives urine its typical smell after having consumed asparaguses. The characteristic smell of the urine is strictly associated to renal efficiency: in case the renal system is efficient, the smell can be perceived in the next urination after the ingestion of asparaguses. Asparaguses reduce the stagnation of water, they are therefore diuretic and depurative, thanks to the presence of purine and uric acid, moreover, it seems they stimulate appetite. They are advised for the cure of cellulitis and to whoever suffering hypertension. They are however contraindicated to anyone affected by renal and prostatic disturbs, absolutely forbidden to anyone suffering renal stones, cystitis, gout and renal inflammations. The roots of asparagus are indicated for people suffering heart problems, to get rid of the water stagnating in tissues, because of the lack of a proper blood circulation. It seems the best way to take the best advantages from the diuretic properties of asparagus is decoction.

 

Use of Asparaguses


 

 Before consuming asparaguses it is always good to wash them. The season of asparaguses begins at the end of March until May and June. After this period, the production is ensured by greenhouses and, sometimes, by productions coming from other countries. Asparaguses are harvested as they begin to sprout from the earth, when they are still young and tender. The best way to fully appreciate their qualities is to consume them when they are fresh, with solid and closed tips: by trying to bend an asparagus, in case it is fresh, it should break. Before purchasing asparaguses, it is good to check the sprouts out, they must be fresh, straight, hard, intact and with no bruises. The stem must not be woody, the spears making the pack should be of the same length.

 Asparaguses can be kept in the refrigerator, in the vegetable area, wrapped in a humid cloth, where they can kept up to 4 days. Outside the refrigerator, it is best to keep the stems in cold water where they can live up to 24 hours. Asparaguses of big size are more suited for boiling, whereas the smaller ones are suited for different recipes, such as omelettes, risotto, lasagna, pasta and meat. Asparaguses with a dull aspect and with woody stems should be avoided, as these two factors are the signal of old spears. In order to keep their aroma and to limit the loss of nutritional elements, steaming is the best way for cooking asparaguses.

 



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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.



Limoncello Collezione Privata, Lucrezio R. (Sardinia, Italy)
Limoncello Collezione Privata
Lucrezio R. (Sardinia, Italy)
Raw matter: Lemon Skins
Price: € 15.00 - 50cl Score:
This liquor shows a pale greenish yellow color, transparent and not limpid, typical. The nose denotes intense, clean and pleasing aromas of lemon skin and lemon juice with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with moderate alcohol perception which tends to dissolve rapidly, sweet, pleasing acidity and with intense flavor of lemon skin. The finish is persistent with flavors of lemon skin and lemon juice. Produced by maceration of lemon skins. Alcohol 30%.



Grappa Vermentino di Gallura Collezione Privata, Lucrezio R. (Sardinia, Italy)
Grappa Vermentino di Gallura Collezione Privata
Lucrezio R. (Sardinia, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Vermentino
Price: € 20.00 - 50cl Score:
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean and pleasing aromas of pear, almond, hazelnut, licorice and peach, with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, agreeable roundness, balanced sweet hits. The finish is persistent with flavors of pear, hazelnut and licorice. This grappa is distilled with a bainmarie alembic still. Alcohol 43%.



Grappa di Brunello di Montalcino, Tenuta Oliveto (Tuscany, Italy)
Grappa di Brunello di Montalcino
Tenuta Oliveto (Tuscany, Italy)
(Distiller: Distilleria Capovilla)
Raw matter: Pomace of Sangiovese Grosso
Price: € 12.50 - 20cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of violet, black cherry, plum, 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 smoothness, balanced sweet hint, agreeable. The finish is persistent with flavors of plum and black cherry. This grappa is distilled with a bainmarie alembic still. Alcohol 44%.



Grappa della Serra Riserva, Revel Chion (Piedmont, Italy)
Grappa della Serra Riserva
Revel Chion (Piedmont, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Barbera, Neretto and Erbaluce
Price: € 16.00 - 70cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa shows a pale straw yellow color, limpid and crystalline. The node denotes intense, clean and pleasing aromas of honey, raspberry, blackberry, pear, vanilla and dried fig 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 honey, dried fig and raspberry. This grappa is aged for more than 18 months in cask and it is distilled with a steam operated alembic still. Alcohol 45%.



Vecchia Grappa di Prosecco Barricata 8 Annate, Andrea Da Ponte (Veneto, Italy)
Vecchia Grappa di Prosecco Barricata 8 Annate
Andrea Da Ponte (Veneto, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Prosecco
Price: € 16.00 - 70cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa shows a pale golden yellow color, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of vanilla, tobacco, pear, apple, licorice, peat smoke and honey 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, agreeable. The finish is persistent with flavors of honey, peat smoke and licorice. This grappa is produced with 8 different vintages, aged from 4 to 12 years in barrique, and distilled with a bainmarie alembic still. Alcohol 42%.





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  Not Just Wine Issue 41, May 2006   
AsparagusAsparagus AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 40, April 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 42, June 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 Riesling Central Otago 2004, Felton Road (New Zealand)
4 Brunello di Montalcino 1999, Castello Banfi (Italy)
5 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1998, Santa Sofia (Italy)
6 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2000, Zenato (Italy)
7 Wine Obsession 2001, Vignamaggio (Italy)
8 Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2002, Cantine del Notaio (Italy)
9 Palazzo della Torre 2000, Allegrini (Italy)
10 Notarpanaro 1999, Taurino (Italy)
11 Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento 2000, Dievole (Italy)
12 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riparosso 2001, Illuminati (Italy)
13 Nero al Tondo 2001, Ruffino (Italy)
14 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002, Domaine Billaud-Simon (France)
15 Rêve 2001, Velenosi Ercole (Italy)

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