Friday, August 21, 2009

"Grape Expectations"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

My favorite Latin phrase, which must have been translated improperly when I was in high school, is "Veni, vidi, vino." It means, "I came, I saw, I drank a lot of wine."

That is what I have been saying since I introduced my very own merlot.

Actually, the wine has just been introduced by Castello di Borghese, the oldest vineyard on Long Island, N.Y., and it's called Borghese 2004 Reserve Merlot. But I can say with great pride, a pleased palate and a slight buzzing in my ears that I helped to make it.

Since wine needs time to age (I don't because I get more decrepit every day), the process began in 2002, when I drove out to Castello di Borghese and, with the permission of the owners, Marco and Ann Marie Borghese, picked a bunch of cabernet franc grapes so I could take them home to make my own wine.

Back at Chateau de Zezima, I decided to re-create the famous scene in "I Love Lucy" in which Lucille Ball crushes wine grapes with her feet. I put my grapes in the bathtub, removed my shoes and socks, and stomped away. Then I plopped the crushed grapes into a stainless steel pot, covered them and let them ferment. A week later, I strained the mess, poured the juice into an empty wine bottle, which I capped with a party balloon to trap the vapors and prevent the house from blowing up, and let it ferment for another week.

When I took my wine, which I dubbed Cabernet Jerry 2002, back to Castello di Borghese, the winemaker took one sip and spluttered, "It tastes like nail polish remover!"

After assuring me that my feet were not responsible for the disaster, he took me down to the cellar so I could help make real wine. This required me to again take off my shoes and socks, put on a T-shirt and a pair of swim trunks, and climb through a small porthole leading to the inside of a 3,000-gallon stainless steel tank containing 4 tons of thick, soggy merlot grape skins.

My job was to stand knee-deep in the bone-chilling gunk and, using an orange plastic shovel, dump the skins into an auger-driven pump that funneled them into a 900-gallon press. After a fermentation process that would last slightly longer than the two weeks it took to make my cabernet, the result would be the 2004 Reserve Merlot.

Slow forward to 2009. My wife, Sue, and I, along with our older daughter, Katie, and her huband, Dave, drove out to the vineyard to see if my merlot was ready.

"You're in luck," said Marco Borghese. "We're just coming out with it now."

Although the label year is 2004, Marco explained, "Wine has to stay in barrels for at least three years and in bottles for as long as you want."

Since the winery has been voted best vineyard on Long Island (more info at, I had no doubt that Marco knew the proper time to come out with my merlot. "It's not our very finest," he acknowledged. "And it's not because of your feet. Still," added Marco, who gave me a bottle with his compliments, "I hope you enjoy it."

At home, I opened the bottle and, like a true oenophile, took a whiff of the cork. It smelled like cork. Then I poured some of my merlot into glasses for Sue, Katie, Dave and yours truly. I took a sip, let the wine sit on the back of my tongue and swallowed. "Magnifique," I announced.

"It's good," Sue said. "Very peppery."

"And sharp," Katie added.

Dave said, "I smell pepper. No feet as yet. Very good."

My merlot had passed the family test, but what would a professional wine critic say? To find out, I asked my pal Peter M. Gianotti, a respected food and wine critic for Newsday, to give me his unbiased opinion.

Because there are no wine glasses in the office, Peter used a paper cup. "It's plummy," he said after taking a sip. "And it has a back bite. It might need a little more time in the bottle, but I would have it with pizza."

The ultimate compliment! What more could a winemaker want? I don't know how you say it in Latin, but I do know that, if she were still around, Lucy would be proud.

Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima