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Listel and Tzigane, by John Axelrod ©2012


This month, the Joy of Wine and Music will focus on Tzigane by Maurice Ravel, and the wine that best accompanies it: The Listel Rosé. There is a reason for this particular choice: I have recorded this Tzigane with Rachel Kolly d'Alba and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, for her new CD, French Impressions, which was released on Warner Classics.

Tzigane is Ravel's expression of the folkloristic Gypsy style. Ravel dedicated it to the Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Aranyi, herself a niece of the great Joseph Joachim. I could suggest the historic wine that is Hungarian Tokay, but there is one other wine and place that is today defining that "Tzigane" sound and, given that Ravel was French and even half Basque by origin, we must get closer to Spain and arrive at the village Saintes Maries de la Mer, in the Camargue of South France, on the Mediterranean Sea.

Legend has it that in the year 42 AD, Mary Magadalene, with Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe, fled with Lazarus from Israel after the resurrection. Her Egyptian maidservant, Sarah, is the mythic patron saint of the Roma people. Some have even suggested Sarah was the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, causing no end of debate to the subject.

Because of the nomadic destiny that forced Mary to flee in exile, and Sarah to charitably ask for alms, the village has become a pilgrimage destination for the Roma of the world. Hence, every year on May 24, gypsy groups descend upon Saintes Maries de la Mer and share their stories through music. In fact, the most famous of these groups, the Gypsy Kings, come from Arles and Montpellier, not Spain, despite what many people think.

It is also the festive wine from this region that is among the most simple and yet spiciest of all: the Listel Rosé of the Camargue, grown near Aigues-Mortes, the walled crusader citadel next to Saintes Maries de la Mer.  This should not be confused with the Tavel Rosé "Gris de Gris", the slightly more appreciated and expensive wine coming from higher up the Rhone.   But for no more than 15€, you can chill the delicious Listel rosé, made from the Grenache Noir, Cinsault and Carignan, but instead of an inky, dark texture that one finds in other reds of the Languedoc, the light use of grape skins, combined with a higher sugar content and no oak fermentation, makes for an intensely drinkable wine, that, when chilled with a cube of ice, is perfect for a hot day. This combination of spiciness with a sweet texture and a cool freshness makes for a wine that tastes red but feels white. All that is needed is the ocean blue and the tricolore of France can be found.

Tzigane's virtuosic and dazzling displays of double stops, pizzicati, and swirling melodies creates an effect like the Listel rosé: dizzying yet delicious. And at 15 minutes to play and less than 15 Euro to drink, it means summer is still here.