Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 55

In vino veritas.

In wine there is truth.

Among the most famous wine words of all time, they are frequently quoted, and often commercialized.  Visit almost any winery tchochke shop, and you’ll find some version of that quote for sale — on a wine barrel stave, a t-shirt, wall art, etc.

In vino veritas is a Latin phrase, with roots in several ancient cultures.  The Babylonian Talmud contains a phrase that translates to, “Wine enters, secrets exit.”  Oooh, I like that.  There’s a version of the phrase in an ancient Greek poem by Alcaeus.  Pliny the Elder makes a similar observation in his extremely long, Naturalis history.  It also appears in Erasmus’ Adagia.  My point?  Pretty much everyone since the dawn of fermenting grapes has noticed that drinking wine produces a certain . . . candor.

One of my favorite versions is often attributed to Plato:


Right?!?  If you ever want brutal honesty (does this dress make me look fat?), ask a preschooler or a drunk guy.  You’ll get loads of truth.

The Internet attributes the quote to Plato’s Symposium,  c. 385–370 BC.  (A symposium was a big drinking party where guys sat around, drank wine, and discussed big ideas).  This particular symposium is Plato’s speech about love, and it’s supposed to be the origin of the concept of Platonic love.  I combed through two or three different translations of Symposium on Project Guttenburg (it’s not so much a page-turner, let me tell you), but couldn’t find that exact quote.  The closest I could find is:

There’s truth in wine when the slaves have left, and when they’re present, too.
There’s truth in wine whether with boys or without.

Um???  I’m sure the reason these quotes make approximately zero sense is that I’ve taken them out of context. 😉

To whomever took liberties with the original(s) . . . thank you!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Muse

A murder of crows visits my backyard bird feeder.  They’re bullies, but they’re fun to watch!

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Muse.
Our instructions: What subject keeps you coming back? This week, show us your muse.

If you’ve followed my blog or Instagram/Twitter/Facebook feeds for longer than about a week, you know birds are one of my favorite muses.  I love to take pictures of birds.  I’m not sure why, exactly.  My grandfather loved birds.  My father loves birds.  Maybe it’s in the genes?  Whatever the reason, birds amuse me.  They all have different personalities, and once in a while, I get lucky and capture a moment.

I have a murder of crows (I love that a group of crows is called a murder) that visit my bird feeder quite often.  Honestly, crows are bully birds — when the crows swoop in, all the other birds head for the hills.  And then the crows have the feeder (and the feed!) to themselves. And crows are always hungry.  And greedy.

But, crows are also some of the smartest birds.  And they’re very difficult to photograph.  If they detect even the slightest motion, they will take off.  You have to be a stealth photographer to capture them.

I can’t decide exactly what’s going on in this photo, but it makes me laugh.  If crows could talk, what would he be saying?

Nikon D800
ISO 320 | 420mm | f/5.6 | 1/500 sec


Weekly Photo Challenge: On the Way

On the way to the airport, a flowering artichoke at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna.

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  On the Way.
Our instructions:  In-between moments can be just as memorable as grand finales.  This week, share a photo you took on the way to something else.

Mom!  This is worse than a winery!

If you ever want to torture your teenagers, take them to a botanical garden in mid-July when it’s 113 degrees outside.  Last summer, we had some time to kill before heading to the airport to pick up my husband, so I made a pit-stop at the gardens to get in a little practice with my camera.  This was a very unpopular activity with the teenagers.  Lots of eye-rolling and harrumphing.

Sidebar:  If you’re thinking about visiting your Nation’s Capital, July is not the time.  It’s hot and oppressively humid here in July.  Rain forest humid.  You might melt.  Seriously.

Just before I melted, I found this spectacular, flowering artichoke plant.  And a port-key to memory . . .

Artichokes always remind me of the years we lived in Monterey, California.  We rented a house near the beach, and very near Castroville (the Artichoke Center of the World).  One of our regular running routes took us past miles of artichoke fields.  (My husband’s running route was considerably longer than mine — he was training for the Big Sur Marathon, I was training to make it around the block.)

The artichoke we eat is actually a bud on its way to becoming this beautiful thistle flower.  My husband used to joke that he was going running with a machete (it was a stealth machete), so he could bring dinner home for us.  Once the artichoke flowers, it’s no longer edible — it turns fibrous and, apparently, it’s impossible to eat.  The farmers harvested (by hand, btw) the artichokes before they flowered, but they always left a few randoms in the fields.  I told myself they did this just for me — so I’d have something pretty to distract me from the searing pain in my lungs as I ran by.


And now . . . I want artichokes for dinner!


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 54

Yesterday, I was re-reading Moby Dick, which is something I often do on Tuesdays . . . not at all. I’ve never read Moby Dick.  I tried once, but I didn’t last 100 pages.  I did, however, stumble across a snippet of Moby Dick yesterday, having to do with ambergris and wine.  So, what the heck is ambergris?

Whale poop.

Ishmael, Moby Dick’s narrator and protagonist, describes ambergris thusly (it’s not every day you get to use the word thusly):


Call me crazy, but whale poop (however highly fragrant and spicy), doesn’t sound like something I’d want to put in my wine.

Technically, ambergris is not whale poop.  It’s more like a whale goop.  Some folks say ambergris is actually whale vomit, but scientists know ambergris passes through the intestinal tract of the sperm whale, which makes it, well, not whale vomit.  Ambergris is a waxy substance (think cholesterol) that forms around undigestible things (like squid beaks) in a whale’s stomach.  It accumulates, the whale gets indigestion, and then expels the waxy blob into the ocean.

Fresh ambergris is black in color, and highly un-desirable, because it smells just like what you’d think whale poop smells like.  Ambergris needs to age in the ocean, decomposing and oxidizing before it turns a whitish-amber color, and becomes a very valuable commodity.

According to Scientific American, aged ambergris

exudes a sweet, earthy aroma likened to tobacco, pine or mulch.  The quality—and value—of any given chunk depend on how much time it spent floating or otherwise aging, says expert ambergris broker Bernard Perrin, because [ambergris] “ages like fine wine.”

Depending on its age, if you find a five-pound lump of ambergris on the beach this summer, you could be $50,000+ richer.

The ancient Chinese called ambergris dragon’s drool, and it’s still sold in some corners of China as an aphrodisiac and spice.  The Greeks were fond of smelling ambergris before drinking wine — they were convinced it intensified the alcoholic effects of wine.  Or they’d just sprinkle it directly into the wine.  During the Black Death in Europe, people carried around chunks of ambergris in their pockets to ward off disease (worked like a charm, huh?).  High-end perfumeries in Europe and Asia use it to help fix perfumes to skin (it’s illegal to use ambergris in the US because of the sperm whale’s endangered status).  But, if you wear Chanel No. 5 or Givenchy’s Amarige, you’re wearing ambergris.

So . . . the next time you’re sharing a bottle of old claret with friends, you can impress the room and say something fancy like, “I’m definitely picking up some subtle notes of aged ambergris, aren’t you?”


Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken

A broken, abandoned house in Calverton, Virginia.

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Broken.
Our instructions:  This week, capture something broken.

You’re probably starting to think I could turn any Weekly Photo Challenge theme into an excuse to photograph an abandoned house.  Guilty.

I’m fascinated with abandoned houses, and the mysteries swirling around them.  Why are they abandoned?  What happened to the owners?  Walls really should be able to talk.

My husband and I pass this abandoned house on one of our tandem bike routes.  I always want to get off the bike and have a look around, but I’m a big chicken about trespassing. Trespassing makes me nervous.  (How do professional photographers deal with this issue?) So, we went back later (with the car), and got as close to the house as we could without trespassing.  That’s what telephoto zoom lenses are for!

There isn’t much about this house that isn’t broken.  I considered publishing an edgy photo of just the broken window, but ultimately felt a larger view told more of a story.  That’s what I like most about this house — its cumulative brokenness.  The shattered windows, the layers of peeling paint, the collapsed porch, and the tree branches accumulating on the sagging roof. And check out those vintage, self-adhesive house numbers.  Everything else about this house is broken, but those numbers thrive.  Go figure.

I’d still love to peek inside.  I guess that’s the lure of an abandoned house.  You never know what’s on the other side of that door.

I wish I had experimented with a smaller aperture.  Oh well, shoot and learn, right?

Nikon D800
ISO 320 | 300mm | f/5.6 | 1/320 sec


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 53

Samuel Johnson comes from a long line of distinguished 18th century English writers that I’ve never heard of.  Well, that’s not completely true.  Once I started reading about him, the faintest of bells rang in my head (kind of like the raise-your-hand-when-you-hear-a-beep auditory test they used to give us in school) — Johnson is the Dictionary Guy.  In 1755, he wrote what’s considered the first comprehensive and reliable English language dictionary, The Dictionary of the English Language.  But, Johnson didn’t write the first dictionary — there are probably a dozen guys ahead of him in that line.

So, was the Dictionary Guy a wine drinker?  Yes and no.

Johnson vacillated between heavy drinking and abstinence all of his life.  He once explained, “I can’t drink a little, therefore I never touch it.  Abstinence is as easy to me, as temperance would be difficult.”

Johnson was a pretty shrewd observer, though.  To wit, here are today’s words:


True and funny!  There probably aren’t many of us who haven’t seen this happen at a party. Hell, it’s happened to me (you know, the things you say that sound a lot smarter in your head).


Carpe Vinum’s Tour de France: Champagne Wishes

If you follow my Carpe Vinum adventures, you know that a couple of us are heading to France on vacation this summer (I’m going Paris and north; my girlfriend is going Paris and south). A couple of months ago, we embarked on an in-depth study of the French wine regions where we’ll be traveling — our very own Tour de France.

For every Carpe Vinum wine tasting, I try to do a research post on our chosen topic.  It’s part of my self-guided continuing wine education.  Here’s the ongoing list of our Tour de France stages (the research post is listed first):

Stage One: Provence and our Provence Tasting
Stage Two: Alsace and our Alsace Tasting
Stage Three: Champagne and our Champagne Tasting (today’s post)

Without further ado, here are our Champagne tastings & pairings.  Bon Appétit!

Charles de Cazanove Champagne paired with Chilled Peach Soup with Feta Cheese and Glazed Beet & Burrata Cheese Toasts 
The Beet & Burrata Cheese Toasts are an encore performance here at Carpe Vinum.  They are especially good right now with fresh farmer’s market beets.  The Chilled Peach Soup with Feta Cheese is definitely going to be an encore performance at my house!  So refreshing, and surprisingly savory — I thought for sure it would be a sweet soup with peach in the title.  A tip, though.  Technically, this is supposed to be made with goat cheese, but I’m allergic, so my girlfriend left the cheese out of the soup altogether, and topped it with crumbled feta.  I made this last week for a winery picnic, and the recipe calls for the cheese to be blended with the soup.  Doing so changes the texture of the soup to something similar to cottage cheese, which was just wrong.  I scrapped it and started over.

Charles de Cazanove Champagne  ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
10% Chardonnay, 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier.  Flavors of green apple, citrus and ginger.  Zingy acidity.  Slightly nutty, and a little yeasty on the finish.  Lovely.  I’ll definitely be back for more bottles of this one.  $32.

Beet & Burrata Pairing ↔
Really, really increases the acidity in the Champagne.  Honestly, it fights with the beets more than anything else.

Chilled Peach Soup Pairing 👍
Bravo!  This was amazing!!  A definite up-tick in acidity with the soup, but remains nicely balanced.


Diebolt-Vallois à Cramant Champagne Blanc de Blancs paired with Cheddar Gougères and Asparagus Gruyère Tart
I’m a terrible baker, and I know there are better executions of Gougères, but these were simple and really tasty.  I ate about 23 of them before I even left for Carpe Vinum.  And the Asparagus Gruyère Tart is a home run!!  There are only three ingredients — it couldn’t be easier to assemble, and it’s delicious.

Diebolt-Vallois à Cramant Champagne Blanc de Blancs ⭐⭐⭐⭐/91
À Cramant is a village in the Côte des Blancs vineyard/region of Champagne.  Champagne made there is almost exclusively Chardonnay based.  I bought this Champagne because it was featured in the documentary, A Year in Champagne, and I was curious.  Incidentally, if you haven’t seen that film, it’s definitely worth a view.  This sparkler did not disappoint.  Green apple, bread dough, and chalky-mineral goodness.  I’m going back for a case.  $40.

Cheddar Gougères Pairing  👍👍
Puffy cheese bread with Champagne?  Yes, please.

Asparagus Gruyère Tart Pairing  👍
There’s a lot of grumbling about pairing asparagus with wine, but Champagne suits it juuuust fine.  Lovely with both the asparagus, the cheese and the pastry.


Pol Roger Reserve Champagne paired with White Hot Truffle Fries
My girlfriend always says, “you could truffle shoe leather, and I’d eat it.”  Agreed.  These truffled fries are super.  Salty and truffly and just about perfect.

Pol Roger Reserve Champagne ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
An equal blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  Pears and apples and pears. Honey and spice on the finish.  Powerful, yet elegant.  $45.  History break:  During World War II, Odette Pol Roger bicycled to Paris (a 12-hour trip) to carry messages for the French Resistance.

White Hot Truffle Fries Pairing 👍
Salt and Champagne.  Who’s up for a Grease reference??  They go together like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong.  Soooooo good.  Sandy & Danny good.


Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne paired with Chicken & Waffles (Fried Chicken and Buttermilk Waffles with Black Pepper Maple Syrup and Vanilla Butter)
Honestly, I’d never tried chicken & waffles before.  It just seemed more like a silly craze than satisfying meal.  But you know what?  Chicken & Waffles rocks!!  The black pepper maple syrup and vanilla butter put this version over the top!!

Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne ⭐⭐⭐/89
Made from “a majority” of Pinot Noir.  Apples, pears, and almonds.  A little more fruit, and less bready than the others.  But another lovely.  $30.  History break:  During World War II, Piper-Heidsieck hid weapons in their cellars for the French Resistance.

Chicken & Waffles Pairing 👍
The hits just keep on coming!  Great pairing.  The sweetness from the vanilla butter is balanced by the spiciness of the black pepper maple syrup.  And the fried chicken?  I’ve been known to buy a bucket o’ bird from The Colonel and pair it with Champagne, so this pairing more than works for me.

I hope you enjoyed our virtual field trip to Champagne.  Carpe Vinum will be on hiatus over the summer break.  See you in the fall!