Archive for May, 2012

We Return to PUBLIC

For Lorelei’s second trip to New York I asked William if we could dine at PUBLIC. Lorelei had not eaten there and it had been some years since we were last there. It is hard to believe that PUBLIC is now nine years old. Walking around the restaurant instantly reminds me of dinners and New Years Eve of past. The industrial design has not aged which is no surprise since, for example, the bar is lit by Crouse Hinds explosion proof pendant lights. When I look through my old images taken at PUBLIC time is marked by changing hair, glasses, and clothes. At the restaurant it is marked by a changing menu and newer vintages (and some older!) on the wine list.

We joined William for dinner as soon as the doors opened. An early start maximizes the amount of time Lorelei may stay and we needed as much as possible to sample a variety of Chef Farmerie’s excellent dishes. The bar immediately sent out the St. Thyme wine cocktail. The thyme and rosemary infused St. Germain shows ideal balance between herbs, sweetness, and bubbly acidity from the blanc de blanc. We started with such appetizers as the Parsnip soup in an espresso cup (fun to mix the espresso creme fraiche) , Marinated white anchovies (fresh notes of the ocean), Grilled kangaroo on coriander falafel, and Grilled Kobe beef tongue (grilled bits taste great with the relish).

The least we can do is bring up a couple of bottles of wine to drink with dinner. To start we drank the 2002 Donnhoff, Riesling Spatlese, Norheimer Kirschheck, Nahe. At ten years of age there is a rich yellow color. It is still quite young showing great focus, clarity, and honeyed yellow fruit. By the end of the evening a racy vein of fruit developed giving a hint of its future. The fruit, acidity, and ripeness are impeccably balanced. This will surely make old-bones and is best left in the cellar. ***(*) 2017-2035. While our entrees were prepared we lingered over the bottle while enjoying a dish of vegetables such as pickled carrots and crispy leaves with truffled hummus.

Our entrees consisted of the Mushroom and Ricotta tortellini (beautiful texture), Roasted Chatham cod with manila clams (the clams alone are amazing), and Szechuan crusted tenderloin and roasted belly of Berkshire pork. Intensely aromatic there was no need to tilt my head for aromas filled my nose as soon as I was served. For these dishes we drank the 1999 Rene Rostaing, Cote-Rotie. Having been decanted for an hour or so it showed a strong aromatic personality of earth, minerals, and spice. In the mouth it was refined and elegant with flavors that followed the nose. Fresh in the mouth with plenty of acidity it neither subverted nor was upstaged by our entrees. **** Now-2019.

For our dessert we went with Sticky toffee pudding with Armagnac ice cream, Hokey Pokey ice cream, and the PUBLIC chocolate plate. Lorelei devoured the Hokey Pokey ice cream so I deeply satisfied myself with the Sticky toffee pudding and chocolates. Wine Director Erin Scala surprised us with a trio of New Zealand dessert wines. Having never tried this style of wine before I was excited.

The 2004 Dry River, Riesling, Late Harvest, Craighall Vineyard, Martinborough was floral with controlled ripeness on the nose. In the mouth the elegant fruit had some weight easily matched by the acidity. A wine that may certainly be drunk by the glass. *** Now-2022.

The 2010 Seifried, Riesling, Sweet Agnes, Nelson was markedly different with dry toast aromas, cereal, a hint of berries, plenty of acidity. Not my particular style of wine but certainly interesting to taste. ** Now-2017.

The 2004 Vinoptima, Gewurztraminer, Noble Late Harvest, Ormond was the sweetest of the three with viscous tropical flavors, supporting acidity, and though assertive, it had a seductive personality. I opted for a second pour of this one because it worked will with the Sticky toffee pudding. *** Now-2019.

Jenn loves port so Erin brought her two more glasses. I did not get to try the NV Seppeltsfield, Para Grand Tawny, Barossa Valley for Jenn certainly appreciated the glass. The 1985 Bodegas Toro Albala, Don Pedro Ximenez, Gran Reserva, Montilla-Moriles was thick with fig-like texture and flavors, baking spices, and caramel with good acidity and length. I have no clue how these age. Though it should certainly last for a long time why not drink it now? *** Now-2027.

Spurred by Erin’s excitement about wine at our dinner I contacted her after our vacation. Erin is the Wine & Beverage Manager having joined PUBLIC just over one year ago. Having taken on a developed wine list she has made some small changes like including younger Australian producers such as Some Young Punks. The wine list is predominantly focused on the wines of Australia and New Zealand but does include various selections from around the world such as 1981 Adelsheim, Elizabeth’s Reserve, Willamete Valley and 2004 Contino, Gran Reserva, Rioja in triple magnum. Erin’s most notable inclusion is the Antipodean Influence Abroad page. In keeping with the theme of the restaurant this list features wines made from Australian and New Zealand winemakers in Europe and the US. Through these wines she wants to highlight the growing global influence of Roseworthy and Otago. She is particularly excited by Angela Osborne’s Tribute to Grace Grenache and Michelle Reeve’s David Family Pinot Noir. In the early years the wine list gained vintage depth through lots purchased at Langton’s wine auctions in Australia. Today the auction purchases happen locally in Manhattan. With a reduced focus on Australian wines they may readily win interesting lots to add to the list.

I definitely recommend you check out the PUBLIC wine list and at dinner you should ask Erin for help in picking something new. Bring your friends and curiosity for there is much to recommend. Any enthusiasm will be warmly embraced and nurtured. For those wondering what Erin drinks outside of PUBLIC check out her new wine blog Thinking.Drinking.

A Pair of Italian Wines for Dinner

It would be fun to pour both of these wines at dinner this weekend.  For I was quite pleased by both which were recommend by Tim. The Bisceglia, Dry Muscat was quite intriguing with its pure notes of thyme and rosemary.  I became rather hung up on just smelling the wine!  The Casaloste has more vigor as the good fruit stands up to the oak.  Both Jenn and I found it a satisfying wine right now but I would personally cellar it a few years.  Both of these wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.

2011 Bisceglia, Dry Muscat, Terra di Vulcano, Basilicata  – $12
Imported by Winebow.  This wine is 100% Muscat.  The medium-strength nose reveals beautiful Muscat aromas which developed on the second night into delicately floral and fresh, thyme with rosemary.  In the mouth the flavors followed the nose with a dry quality, stones, some ripeness, and drying tannins on the cheeks.  *** Now-2014.

2007 Casaloste, Riserva, Chianti Classico,  – $22
Imported by Massanos Imports.  This wine is 100% Sangiovese which was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel with indigenous yeasts.  It underwent malolactic fermentation then aged up to 14 months in 50% new French oak barriques.  The wine begins with tight, stoney  blue and red fruit before notes of subtle, tight, ripe black fruit comes up.  There is a touch of obvious wood to this medium bodied, well-framed, yet generous wine which wraps up with ripe, drying tannins.  This was slow to open up so either decant for several hours or cellar for the short-term.  *** Now-2019.

Two Lebanese Wines from Chateau Ksara

May 29, 2012 1 comment

Last month I drank a satisfying glass of 2010 Chateau Ksara, Cuvee de Printemps. I recently followed this glass by trying two other red selections.  I would certainly pass on the Reserve du Couvent but would recommend consideration of the Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are new to Lebanese wine then it is a reasonably priced introduction.  Otherwise wait for it to go on sale.  These wines are currently available at Wegmans of Fairfax.

2009 Chateau Ksara, Reserve du Couvent, Bekaa Valley – ~$12
Imported by American Fidelity Trading.  This wine is a blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon which underwent malolactic fermentation then was aged for 12 months.  The fruit was tart with a woodsy note.  The red fruit flavors were soft yet lean with acidity stepping up in the middle with a citrus-like nature.  The tannins were drying and chewy.  * Now-2014.

2008 Chateau Ksara, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvee Speciale, Bekaa Valley – ~$16
Imported by American Fidelity Trading.  This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon which underwent malolactic fermentation then was aged for 14 months in 50% new French oak.  This nose was more interesting with black fruit and cedar box.  In the mouth there was good blue and black fruit, a little more concentration, and fine, spicy, ripe tannins.  There was a juicy quality as old wood notes came out giving this a good twist between modern and traditional.  ** Now-2017.

Recent Purchases from Despana, NYC

May 29, 2012 1 comment

For Memorial Day Weekend we returned to New York City to visit William and a few other friends.  Located near our hotel in Soho is Despana Vinos y Mas at Broome and Lafayette Streets.  Owned by Angelica and Marcos Intriago they have been importing Spanish food products since 1971.  Despana Brand Foods primarily focused on the wholesale and retail markets.  In 2006 they opened the Despana food market as a public store followed by the wine shop in 2011.

The compact store maximizes space by utilizing floor to ceiling shelves to display several hundred selections of Spanish wines and other drinks.  The left side features red wines, flanking the staff door in the back are two wine fridges, and the left side features white wine, sparkling wine, and other beverages.  Rare bottles may be found in wine fridges.  The wines are grouped by region and for other visitors from Washington, DC you will find a comfortable mix of familiar labels alongside those never seen in our area.

Throughout the store and underneath the counter are bottles of Cune, La Rioja Alta, Torres, Vega-Sicilia, and Lopez de Heredia from the 1960s and 1970s.  These cooked and seepage stained bottles are not for sale.  Instead they are evocative of the 1960s Spanish motorcycle which stands in the storefront window.

I asked for help in selecting six red wines from Terra Alta, Montsant, and such which I had never tasted before.  Matt Diaz kindly picked the selections listed below.  Check back in the near future as I start tasting through these wines.  I cannot wait!

  • 2007 Vina Aliaga, Garnacha Vieja, Navarra
  • 2009 Clos de Noi, Negre Samso, Vinyes velles, Montsant
  • 2009 Edetaria, Edetana, Terra Alta
  • 2009 L’Inconscient, Les Cousins, Priorat
  • 2004 Oriel, Setena, Terra Alta
  • 2009 Vinos del Tros, Ay de mi, Terra Alta

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A Vintage Label from Bully Hill Vineyards

I recently attended a birthday part for a friend.  While we were hanging out in the bar room drinking Cava and Prosecco I spotted this old bottle from New York.  The Taylor Wine Company has a long history in the Finger Lakes Region.  In 1958 Greyton and Walter Taylor purchased the land where the winery was originally located.  Over the years they built up the vineyards and winery.  When Walter Taylor was fired from The Taylor Wine Company in 1970, he and Greyton founded Bully Hill Vineyards.  In 1977 The Taylor Wine Company merged with Coca Cola and Bully Hill was sued.  Walter Taylor was no longer able to use his last name on his wine labels but he could use his signature if he stipulated he was not connected to The Taylor Wine Company.  If you look close at this label from the 1977 Bully Hill, Baco Noir, Special Reserve you will see the last name of Walter’s signature scribbled out and “Taylor” in The Taylor Wine Company redacted.

Categories: History of Wine, Image

Two More 2010 Cotes du Rhone

For the second vintage in a row the La Grange de Piaugier is in the top group of my favorite affordable wines.  While it is an appealing wine for weekly drinking or big parties, it certainly stands up to more serious scrutiny.  Starting with the 2005 vintage the Cuvee Jules Rochebonne has been a standout wine for me.  It always evoked earthy, dark, old school flavors.  The 2010 vintage shows traits of these earlier vintages but this bottle was really shutdown.  It should be retasted in several years.  The Piaugier is currently available at MacArthur Beverages.

Sophie Autran of Domaine de Piaugier kindly answered some of my questions.  Thank you!  The La Grange de Piaugier is produced from 15-year-old Grenache vines in Sablet, 15-year-old Syrah vines, and 40-year-old Carignan and Cinsault planted by Jean-Marc’s father.  Indeed this cuvee is the only one which incorporates the Carignan and Cinsault.  The varietals are co-fermented with indigenous yeasts for 10 days in concrete vats before aging for 8 months in concrete vats.

2010 Domaine de Piaugier, La Grange de Piaugier, Cotes du Rhone – $12
Imported by DS Trading. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, and Syrah sourced from 15-45-year-old vines. It was aged in tank.  The color is almost a medium, purple ruby.  Drunk over two nights it delivers a good scented nose which is fresh and framed with red and black fruit along with ripe floral notes.  The mouth follows the nose with good acidity and a touch spicy tannins.  Quite appealing. *** Now-2017.

2010 La Bastide Saint Dominique, Cuvee Jules Rochebonne, Cotes du Rhone – $18
Imported by Simon N” Cellars.  The wine is blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache sourced from 15-35 year old vines.  It was aged 18 months in vats for the Grenache and barrel for the Syrah.  The tight nose lets escape bright red fruit than seen in previous vintages.    This is at most a medium-bodied wine with old-school Syrah notes.  The wine is both restrained and rather young.  There are notes of pencil, fine tannins which coat the lips, and watering acidity.  With a lot of air some black berries and spice come out.  Definitely cellar this for several years before trying again.  **(*) 2015-2022.

Three Recently Released Cotes du Rhones

Here are a trio of Cotes du Rhone wines which recently became available in Washington, DC.  The Saint Cosme provide pleasurable and affordable drinking while still providing elements to engage ones attention.  The Grand Veneur and Gour de Chaule are more serious along with several Dollars more expensive.  The Grand Veneur provides early pleasure whereas the Gour de Chaule should be cellared for a few years.   These wines are currently available at MacArthur Beverages.

2011 Chateau de Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone – $13
Imported by The Country Vintner.  This wine is 100% Syrah.  There are blue and black fruit, stone notes, hints of white fruit, and a straight-up personality.  There are grapey tannins, a touch of spice, concentration, and smokey bacon notes.  This is a good solid wine to be drunk over the short-term.  ** Now-2017.

2010 Domaine Grand Veneur, Les Champauvins, Cotes du Rhone – $16
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.  This wine is an approximate blend of 70 % Grenache, 20 % Syrah, 10 % Mourvedre which was fermented in stainless steel.  The nose shows a pure, red berry nose but with air develops ripe and botanic aromas.  In the mouth the red, ripe fruit wants to jump out into the mouth only to follow with blueberry flavors.  Fresh and assured there is definite body to this wine along with ripe, drying tannins.  This appears destined to drink earlier than the 2009.  I would give this a year to settle down.  **(*) 2013-2017.

2010 Domaine du Gour de Chaule, Cuvee de la vigneronne, Cotes du Rhone – $17
Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant.  This wine is 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre which underwent malolactic fermentation before aging in large foudre.  The tight nose makes way to tight blue and black fruit in the mouth.  There are fine, dusty tannins, black fruit in the finish which matches well with the acidity.  With air the nice fruit takes on a touch of spice, cinnamon in the finish, and very mild ripeness.  **(*) 2015-2019.

A Tasty White Wine From Oregon

May 24, 2012 1 comment

St Innocent Winery has been around since Mark Vlossak founded it in 1988.  In 2006 a new winery was built allowing the fruit to move by gravity, the fermented wine matures in a naturally cooled and humidified barrel room, with the finished wine is bottled by gravity.  This wine is produced using fruit from the Freedom Hill Vineyard which is located on the western side of Willamette Valley.  Lying at 425 feet this vineyard is the first to be cooled by evening breezes.  According to the website texture is a central component of their wines and it is lovingly present in this bottle.   I highly recommend you try this wine.  It is drinking well and slow to evolve.  The open bottle held up well for several days so I suspect this will develop over the next few years and drink for several after that.  At this strong price it is worth buying several to taste over the years. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.

2009 St. Innocent, Chardonnay, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley – $24
This wine is 100% Chardonnay sourced from blocks planted in 1999 and 2006 on sedimentary clay loam.  The fruit was whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented, underwent malolactic fermentation, then aged sur lees for 12 months in used French oak barrels.  The wine is a light, vibrant golden color.  There is firm structure with lots of texture for the supple white fruit.  The wine is a little spicy with a touch of wood.  With air the white and floral fruit takes on a subtle spice in the middle with a  lovely texture, great restraint, and well-integrated, watering acidity.  *** Now-2017.

“There is a Sort of Wine here…that is called Aromatick Wine”

May 23, 2012 1 comment

Vineyard In Valtellina, Image from Original Lou (flickr)

Conti Sertoli Salis is a young winery with an old history in an ancient wine growing area.  The winery is located in the Valtellina area found in Lombardy which is in the north central portion of Italy.  Located south of the Swiss Alps and just north of Lake Como, this region has been cultivated with vines beginning with the Romans.  Over the centuries the steep land has been terraced on both side of the Adda River valley.  The majority of the terracing took place during the 18th century when population increases led to increased demand for wine.  Today there are over 50 km of terraced vineyards.

Palazzo Salis, Image from giacomoraffo (flickr)

Conti Sertoli Salis was created in 1989 and located at Palazzo Salis, Tirano.  Today the 16th century wine cellars beneath the palazzo have been renovated and a modern winery has been built nearby.  The original winery consists of three parts: the tinera which is the room containing the vats for fermentation, the involt which are the vaulted cellars where the carats (small casks) are aged, and the nevera which is the cold storage room.  The nevera was used for the storage of food and wine.  Today it is used to store bottles of wine for there is a natural temperature of 46 Farenheit!

Bishop Burnet, Engraved by Robert Graves, 1837, Image from Andy Brii (flickr)

The wines of this region have been praised for ages including by Virgil and Pliny.  More recently this region and indeed the wines of Madam Salis were detailed by Bishop Gilbert Burnet.  In 1685 and 1686 Bishop Burnet traveled through France, Switzerland, and Germany.  Both a respected theologian and historian his detailed account provides not just an interesting perspective on the region but on the production and taste of its wines.  As we see in this passage, the nevera still in use at Palazzo Salis, were quite common in the 17th century.

On both Sides of the River, the Town, and the Gardens belonging to it, cover the whole Bottom, that lies between the Hills; and at the Roots of the Mountains they dig create Cellars, and Grottoes, and strike a Hole about a Foot Square, ten or twelve Foot into the Hill, which all Summer long blows a fresh Air into the Cellar; so that the Wine of those Cellars drinks almost as cold as if it were in Ice;

Bishop Burnet’s travel through Switzerland, Italy, some parts of Germany, &c. By Gilbert Burnet (bp. of Salisbury), Published by J. Watts, Dublin, 1725.

The Salis family have a long history producing and bottling wine.  In addition to the physical wine cellar there are 17th century documents on the provision of wine for the Court of Leopoldo I of Hapsburg.  More recently, there are certificates indicating the wines were bottled as early as 1861 with existing bottles in the family cellar bearing the Salis name, dated 1890 and 1891.  Today the winery uses a mixture of modern and traditional methods.  The wine featured in today’s post is produced in a similar manner employed by the Salis family centuries earlier.  Again, Bishop Burnet provides a detailed description.

There is a Sort of Wine here and in the Valteline, which I never heard named any where else, that is called Aromatick Wine, and as the Taste makes one think it must be a Composition (for it tastes like a Strong-water drawn of Spices) so its Strength being equal to a weak Brandy, disposes one to believe that it cannot be a natural Wine, and yet it is the pure Juice of the Grape, without any Mixture.  The Liquor being singular, I informed myself particularly of the Way of preparing it:  The Grapes are red, tho’ the Wine is white; they let the Grapes hang on the Vines till November, that they are extream ripe, then they carry them to their Garrets, and set them upright on their Ends by one another for two or three Months; then they pick all the Grapes, and throw away those in which there is the least Appearance of Rottenness, so that they press none but found Grapes.  After they are pressed, they put the Liquor into an open Vessel, in which it throws up a Scum, which they take off twice a Day, and when no more Scum comes up, which according to the Difference of the Season is sooner or later (for sometimes the Scum comes no more after eight Days, and at other times it continues a Fortnight,) then they put it into a close Vessel.  For the first Year it is extream sweet and luscious; but at the End of the Year, they pierce it a little higher than the Middle of the Vessel, almost two Thirds from the Bottom, and drink it off tillit cometh so low, and then every Year they fill it up anew;  Once a Year in the Month of March it ferments, and cannot be drunk till that is over, which continues a Month, but their other Wine ferments not at that time.  Madam Salis, a Lady of that Country, who entertained us three Days with a Magnificence equal to what can be done in London or Paris, had Wine of this Compoisition, that was forty Years old and was so very strong, that one could hardly drink above a Spoonful, and it tasted high of Spicery, tho’ she assured me there was not one Grain of Spice in it, nor of any other Mixture whatsoever.  Thus the Heat that is in this Wine, becomes a Fire, and distills iit self, throwing up the more spirituous Parts of it to the Top of the Hogshead.

Bishop Burnet’s travel through Switzerland, Italy, some parts of Germany, By Gilbert Burnet (bp. of Salisbury), Published by J. Watts, Dublin, 1725.

Within Valtellina there are eight districts.  This fruit for this wine is sourced from the Sassella and Grumello districts.  Sassella produces the fullest bodied wines which are slow to mature and develop aromas of hazelnuts and spice.  Grumello is known to produce wines with aromas of strawberries and faded roses.  The label for this wine bears Con Rinforzo Di Uve Appassite.  Some of the harvested grapes are left to dry on mantavola (planks of reeds) in lofts for three weeks.  The dried grapes are then added to the fresh must in a process called Rinforzo.  The reinforced wine is then aged for 2 years in small oak casks.  This wine is currently available at MacArthur Beverages.

2004 Conti Sertoli Salis, Corte della Meridiana, Riserva, Valtellina Superiore – $26
Imported by Grappoli Imports.  This wine is 100% Nebbiolo.  It is a light garnet color.  The subtle nose revealed tart red fruit and wood notes.  In the mouth there are hard cherry flavors, some ripeness at the front, along with minerals.  There is a straight-through delivery with black and red fruits.  The ripe-ish tannins integrate well with the acidity.  The aftertaste has delicately lifted, sweet spices and lingering acidity.  This is drinking well now for there is a fading quality to the fruit which suggests this will not gain in complexity.  ** Now-2017.

The Mystery of Georg Flegel’s Serpentine Wine Glasses

Georg Flegel self-portrait, 1630, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, Image from Wikimedia

In my earlier posts on the wine related paintings of Georg Flegel I commented on a particularly beautiful serpentine wine glass in Still-Life with Cherries, 1635 and curly cane with stamped prunts wine glass in Still-Life with Stag Beetle, 1635.  These paintings caught my attention because I had not yet come across this style of wine glass while researching for my Dutch series of posts.

Serpentine wine glass from Still Life with Cherries, Georg Flegel, 1635, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart

Georg Flegel produced over one hundred works of art.  In reviewing approximately 40 paintings I have come across only two true serpentine glasses and two glasses with a stem of three or four curly canes adorned with stamped prunts. In addition to the two paintings described above a third painting features a serpentine glass, the undated Still-life with Strawberries on a Plate, see Christies, Lot 56, Sale 5944, 14 April 1998.  A fourth painting features a curly cane stamped prunt, which is Kerzenstilleben (Candle still-life) 1636.  The three dated glasses were painted in 1635 and 1636.  Several other paintings from the same period feature facon de Venise glasses but these have bulbous stems to which curved canes are symmetrically attached thus forming wings.  I have excluded them because the canes attach to the stem and do not form the stem itself.

Tabakstilleben mit Kerze, Georg Flegel,1636-1637, Wallraf Richartz, Museum

I should remark that a rather curious wine glass appeared in Tabakstilleben mit Kerze, 1636.  The bowl is attached to a hollow toroid, adorned with two, winged curly canes with stamped prunts, the bottom of which is attached to a stem. There must be hole connecting the bowl and toroid for it appears to contain the same yellow wine!  I quickly became curious about the appearance of four of these five elaborate wine glasses in the years 1635 and 1636.  Why do they appear in such a short time span?  Where did they come from?  What is the history behind the two serpentine wine glasses?

Wine glass from Still-life with Stag Beetle, Georg Flegel, 1635, Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne

This style of wine glass originated with the Venetians who remained masters at producing them from the 15th through the 17th centuries.   Having first produced a colorless glass known as Cristallo the Venetian glass makers went on to gild the glasses, apply molds for decoration, apply canes, engrave them with diamond-points, and finally assemble a single glass made from these various components.  These luxurious glasses were in demand all over Europe.  The Venetians were so successful at controlling the knowledge required to produce these glasses that glass factories were created throughout Europe in an attempt to recreate these glasses.  These imitation glasses are known as facon de Venise.

Wine glass from Kerzenstilleben, Georg Flegel, 1636

One trait of Venetian glass is the use of canes.  Canes are rods of glass which have color in them.  Opaque white canes were particularly popular.  Known as vetro a filigrana there were three categories: vetro a fili (glass with threads), vetro a retorti (glass with twisted threads), and vetro a reticello (glass with a small network).  In the late 16th century canes were used to produce elaborate glasses which were both symmetrical with wings and jaws (dragon-stem) or even clearly serpentine.  Known as vetri ai serpenti they became a popular Venetian export and were extensively produced in German and Netherlandish glass factories.  These intricate glasses were collected and given as gifts, often being stored in a cabinet.

Serpent-stem goblet (Flugelglas), The Netherlands/Germany, early 17th century, D151-1977, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Georg Flegel moved to Vienna in 1580 and it is here that I initially thought he might have purchased or received these glasses.  It was not uncommon for Baroque painters to include older objects in their painting and certainly not for Georg Flegel.  The Bartmann jug depicted in two of his paintings would have been approximately 100 years old at the time of painting.  Therefore it is reasonable that he might not paint glasses he obtained in Vienna until some 50 years later.

The Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria collected Venetian glass and in his Kunstkammer (cabinet of curiosities) he had an entire cabinet dedicated to glasses.  Not only did he purchase glass from the nearby factory in Hall but he installed a glass making workshop in his imperial court at Innsbruck.  The later is quite fascinating, Archduke Ferdinand became increasingly frustrated with the quality of glass coming from the factory in Hall.  He negotiated with the Venetian ambassador for a temporary loan of Venetian glass makers who would make glass for his court and not for commercial use.  The use of soda ash and some necessary tools required for such quality work had to be negotiated with the Venetian government.  The workshop was productive from 1570 to 1591.  During this time the first glass makers received salary, room, and board but this was changed to remove the salary and allow the glass makers to sell glass made during their own time.  At a cursory level it is reasonable to assume these glasses might have been available for purchase during Georg Flegel’s residency.

Francofurtum, Topographia Hassiae et regionum vicinarum, Martin Zeiller, Frankfurt, 1655

Georg Flegel moved to Frankfurt in 1593 when the Counter-Reformation began to take effect.  Though Germany became caught up in The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) there was initially a minimal effect in Frankfurt.  It is possible that he acquired these glasses in Frankfurt.  German glass factories produced facon de Venise and might have had the technical capabilities to produce serpentine glasses in the 1630s.  For in 1612 Antonio Neri, who was a citizen of Florence and a glass maker, published the famous book L’arte vertraria (The art of glass).  This book describes the entire body of Italian glassmaking knowledge and was one key factor in the decline of the Venetian monopoly on high quality glassware.  Two decades later the plague devastates Venice in 1630-1631 killing off large numbers of master glass makers and scattering others.  Though the government authorized all members of the Venetian mainland to apprentice at the guilds, the glass makers were exempt.  The reduced Venetian exports combined with the increase of glassmaking factories in Bohemia, England, and France shifted the demand to local facon de Venise.

L’art vertraria, Antonio Neri, 1612, Image from The Corning Museum of Glass(

Swedish troops marched into Frankfurt in 1631 where they were garrisoned for several years.  In 1635 the plague arrived at Frankfurt killing thousands over two years including a fair number of troops.  Such was the concern for the plague that the annual book fair was cancelled for 1635.

Still-life with Cherries, Georg Flegel, 1635, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart

It is during these plague years that the datable serpentine wine glass and other intricate glasses appear in Georg Flegel’s paintings.  In fact the Bartmann jug also appears in Still-life with Stag Beetle, 1635.  The same jug appears in the Metropolitan Museum’s undated Still-Life.  Under Provenance it is noted, “Wolfgang J. Müller. Letter to Margaretta Salinger. January 26, 1949, dates it ‘with some certainty’ to about 1630.”  Could it be that Georg Flegel purchased these facon de Venise glasses during the plague years, perhaps from the sale of a devastated family’s goods?  Perhaps the presence of the Bartmann jug isn’t just an example of “prolonged ‘active life'” as described by David Gaimster in “German stoneware, 1200-1900” but a reminiscence of Frankfurt before the plague and Swedish occupation?  I shall pursue this mystery further in a subsequent post.

In the mean time  I recommend the following books:

  • Campbell, Gordon. The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts, Volume 2. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Edwards, Geoffrey. Art of Glass: Glass in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Macmillan, 1998.
  • Lanaro, Paolo. At The Centre of the Old World. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2006.
  • Page, Jutta-Annette and Domenech, I. Beyond Venice: Glass in Venetian Style, 1500-1750. Hudson Hills Press, 2004.
  • Weidhaas, Peter, Gossage, C., and Wright, W. A History of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Dondurn, 2007.