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Malcolm Jolley: Great wines never go out of style

Commentary

I’m afraid I didn’t make it to the de-alcoholized wine tasting. I meant to. I thought I would have time after I first attended a regular wine tasting around the corner. I would have a couple of mouthfuls of half a dozen wines, spit them into a bucket, make some notes, and then carry on to the next. People make plans and God laughs.

People laugh, too. That first tasting turned out to be a lunch. A second lunch for me, but hey, I’m a pro, and when Chef Alida Solomon at Toronto’s Tutti Matti is cooking, I’m eating. Also when Alberto Moretti Cuseri is pouring, I am tasting, and I am likely not spitting. At least not after I have scribbled a few sober notes and the food begins to arrive.

Segnor Moretti Cuseri played host to me and a small group of sommeliers and wine media at a tasting arranged by his Ontario importer, Noble Estates. He is the third generation of his family to work at Tenuta Sette Ponti; his nephew is training as an oenologist and is the fourth. Sette Ponti means seven bridges, which is the number of them that span the Arno River between the property and area just west of Arezzo and Florence. 

Chef Alida Soloman and Alberto Moretti Cuseri in Toronto, November 2023. Credit: Malcolm Jolley.

The Moretti Cuseri acquired Sette Ponti from the heirs of Prince Amadeo, Third Duke of Aosta in the 1950s. The Duke was a member of Turin’s House of Savoy, who were once Italy’s royal family. The Duke planted vines, but he was more interested in his twin passions of aviation and Africa. He served as the viceroy of Ethiopia when it was briefly an Italian colony. He died of malaria at the age of 43 as a prisoner of war in a British internment camp in Kenya in 1942.

While they enjoyed their once-royal estate for most of the latter half of the twentieth century, the Moretti Cuseri family focused the lion’s share of their attention on a successful fashion business. They turned their attention to serious winemaking at Sette Ponti in the 90s. They also began acquiring a handful of wine-making properties elsewhere in Tuscany and in Sicily. Alberto Moretti Cuseri serves as the export director for the family’s wineries and wines.

Over a lunch of ribollita soup, burrata with roasted pears and housemade pizza bread, and stewed wild boar on crostini, Moretti Cuseri poured three vintages of two wines: Oreno, which comes from Sette Ponti, and Orma, which comes from Bolgheri, in the Maremma near the Tuscan Coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Orma means footprint, which may or may not allude to the Moretti Cuseris’ success in the shoe business, but also definitely, as Alberto Moretti Cuseri explained, is meant as a declaration of the family’s intent of making their mark in the prestigious Bolgheri DOC. The family established their winery at Orma in 2004 on a property situated in between the renowned estates of Ornellaia and Santa Guida, which famously makes Sassacaia. They wished to make a wine as prestigious as those of their neighbours.

The move to Bolgheri was not a departure. Alberto’s father began making a “Super Tuscan” wine at Sette Ponti from a blend of Merlot (50 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (40 percent), and Petit Verdot (10 percent) in the late 1990s: Oreno. If Oreno’s success was inspired by the success of the Frescobaldi (by way of Antinori) family’s Ornellaia, and the Rochetta family’s Sassacaia, then it only makes sense that the Moretti Cuseris’ would also come west to Bolgheri. As a point of comparison, Orma is made from the same 50:40 of Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon blend, although the missing 10 percent is not rounded out by Petit Verdot, but rather Cabernet Franc. It’s made by the same oenological team in the same way, and really does make for an interesting tasting when lined up across from one another.

We began with Orma from the Bolgheri DOC. Two glasses stood in front of us: the 2020 (about $100 a bottle) and the 2016 (about $150 a bottle). Both held the profile of a classic Super Tuscan. At first the recognition of the Bordeaux grapes, with blackberry and cassis notes, then an indication that the wines were neither Atlantic nor Pacific, but Mediterranean, with notes of garrigue, or in Italian, macchia.

The 2020 was silky, but young and tight. It gave intimations of future greatness. The 2016 Orma was revelatory, and exceptionally vibrant and alive. Black fruit and violets, lively acidity. Still very youthful, but also clear and clean.

Next came the Orma 2010 (about $180 a bottle), which at thirteen years of age showed little sign of it—at least it would have if the younger wines weren’t there to compare. It showed a tension between black and blue fruit and a red pepper jelly note. Alberto Moretti Cuseri had explained that the clay soils of the Irma property were high in iron; was there some of it on the glass, or was that just the power of suggestion? In any event, it drank very well.

Moving from the coast, up into the hills around the Arno River, we next turned our attention to the Sette Ponte estate and its Super Tuscan, Oreno. Again we began by comparing the most recent vintage available, the Oreno 2021 (about $100 a bottle) to the 2016 (about $150 a bottle). And again, the effect was rather similar: the 2016 seemed confoundingly younger somehow.

In the 2021dark cherry and black fruit notes simmered quietly in an inky interplay. A calming wine, that was a bit closed and shy. The 2016 on the other hand showed a cassis and black fruit energy over velvet tannins.

Then the last wine: the 2010 Oreno, from a magnum (about $400 for 1.5 litres), it had been decanted earlier. Even with the exposure to air it was slowly rousing and showing like a wine much younger than thirteen years. My note is scribbled: perfect Claret but with garrigue. If I had tasted it blind, I would have guessed Bordeaux; if I was on my game the blackberry notes might have put me onto Merlot, and possibly the Right Bank. But then, there would be the finish that’s herbal with the suggestion of mint, placing the wine firmly into the spine of Italy. Super Tuscan indeed.

Antonio Moretti Cuseri’s late twentieth-century gamble with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon has paid off and the dividends are delicious. All the wines we tasted only improved when sipped between mouthfuls of food, the purpose for which, after all, they were made. It’s become accepted practice in some wine circles to downplay the so-called “international grapes” in favour of those called “indigenous”. But great wines never really go out of style, as the price tags on the Sette Ponti wines attest. Nor does pleasure, which should be taken when and where it’s found.

Jeremy Roberts: We can’t afford to take our caregivers for granted

Commentary

When I was in high school my brother went through what we affectionately refer to as his “nudist phase”.

Every time he would go to the washroom, he would strip buck-naked and leave his clothes in the bathroom. 

This made for some interesting conversations. He once scared off a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who got much more than they bargained for when they rang our doorbell.

At my 14th birthday party, I was in my living room with some friends, preparing to blow out the candles on a cake. From my vantage point behind the table, I could see the stairs that ran to our second floor. Suddenly, perched at the top of the stairs was my brother, in all his glory. 

Mortified that my friends might see, I shot a panicked look to my best friend, who was well-familiar with my brother’s latest phase. I did my best to send a psychic plea for help.

To my relief, my friend got the message, glancing quickly to the top of the stairs.

Summoning all of my dramatic flair, I drew my other friends’ attention out the front window, pretending to see a wild animal. Everyone rushed to the window, while my best friend dove up the stairs and successfully redirected my giggling brother back into the bathroom to get dressed.

Crisis averted.

My brother wasn’t actually a nudist. While he does have a mischievous personality, his phase was largely driven by his being on the autism spectrum.

Like many individuals with autism, my brother has dealt his whole life with a severe developmental delay as well as many behavioural challenges. His stripping, for example, may have been the manifestation of a sensory tactile aversion to the fabrics, tightness of clothes, or a feeling of being confined. He is also completely non-verbal and suffers from epilepsy. 

While his “nudist phase” is something that we laugh about today, it is emblematic of the experience of countless caregivers across the country. Whether you have a family member with a developmental disability, dementia, or a chronic illness, you have to be constantly ready to address your loved one’s needs. You are always on duty

With my brother, this includes helping him go to the washroom, getting him dressed, feeding him, making sure he takes his medications, and assisting him with recreational activities. Keeping him safe is always top of mind: in parking lots, the pool, shopping malls, and social outings. It is a 24/7 job.

It is estimated that over 8 million Canadians, like my parents and me, are caregivers today. That’s around one-quarter of the population. These caregivers spend a combined 5.7 billion hours supporting their loved ones. Their contribution to care is valued at approximately $97.1 billion. For context, that’s more than double what the federal government spends on health transfers to the provinces each year.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without family members assisting with the care of their loved ones our health and social support systems would collapse.

Despite their vital role in the system, caregivers receive little to no support from our governments. Because of this, they often experience high levels of burnout, mental health challenges, and difficulties maintaining jobs.

A few years ago, a group of concerned citizens banded together and, with support from the Azrieli Foundation, launched the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence (CCCE), our first umbrella organization to advocate for caregivers across Canada. This week, CCEC convened Canada’s first National Caregiving Summit in Ottawa, which brought together hundreds of advocates, researchers, caregivers, and government partners to kick-start a discussion about how we as a society can better support these vital contributors. I was proud to be a panelist and participant. 

The goal is to develop a comprehensive National Caregiver Strategy, which would ensure that we have a coordinated approach nationwide for supporting caregivers. A plethora of problems could be addressed through such a strategy, including:

  • How can we ensure that caregivers who balance responsibilities at home and work have the proper Human Resources supports and protections?
  • How can we help caregivers better navigate the complex web of public supports available to their loved ones?
  • How can we put in place stronger mental health supports for caregivers experiencing burnout?
  • How do we better ensure a strong and stable health care and developmental sector workforce that can assist with respite and ease the burden?
  • How can we better financially support caregivers who are giving up work in order to help care for a loved one?

All of these questions and others will have been addressed at this summit. And not only will we have had experts from around the country coming together to talk about this challenge, but we’ll also have had the benefit of many experts from abroad who flew in to share their experiences. 

Some might ask: why is this necessary? Don’t family members have a moral obligation to care for their loved ones? 

The answer is: of course they do. That’s why there are so many of us doing it every day.

But that doesn’t mean that they should have to do it without any support.

When boarding a plane, flight attendants always advise parents that, in the event of an emergency, they should put their own oxygen mask on before helping their children with theirs. This isn’t ageism. It’s because we need the parents to stay healthy so that they can continue to assist their children as needed. 

The same principle applies here. As a society, we’re not providing an oxygen mask to our caregivers even though they dedicate countless hours to providing invaluable care to their loved ones. We risk losing some if we don’t.

Rosalynn Carter, America’s former First Lady, is quoted as saying: “There are only four kinds of people in the world—those that have been caregivers, those that are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

As you read this, you yourself may be taking care of an ageing family member or a loved one with a disability or chronic illness. You yourself might rely on someone as a caregiver. And even if you don’t fall into this category today, chances are you might at some point in your lifetime. Statistics suggest that half of us will be a caregiver during our lives. 

So join our conversation! Check out the updates from the summit. And talk to your elected official about what they are doing to support caregivers. Together, we can make sure that caregivers get the supports we need so that we can continue doing what matters most: caring for those we love.