By MIKE CHAIKEN
Frances Mayes is probably best known for the book, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which was an international best seller. The book later was turned into a movie, starring Diane Lane.
Now, Mayes can add another line to her resume. Vintner.
Mayes has a new line of wine, which she will present in Southington at both World Wide Wine and Spirits and Plantsville’s Zingarella’s next Friday.
Mayes’ Tuscan Sun Wines was created in partnership with Curious Cork Imports and is distributed in Connecticut by Cellar Fine Wines. Press materials for the wine say Mayes hand-selected each wine “to embody a different concept that touches on the Tuscan lifestyle.”
The Tuscan Sun Wines selections available in Connecticut includes three reds and one white. Each wine has an Italian name and an English translation and that “showcases the unmistakable vision of Frances Mayes that has become an international sensation since the publication of “Under the Tuscan Sun.”
The four wines available are: Pensiero (“A little gift”), 100 percent Pinot Grigio; Permesso (“May I come in?”), 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon; Tondo Tondo (Just perfect), 100 percent Sangiovese; and Auguri (“My best to you”), 80 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Merlot
Mayes settled in Italy more than 20 years ago, inspiring a series of books, including “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Bella Tuscany,” “Every Day in Tuscany,” “Bringing Tuscany Home,” “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook,” “A Year in the World,” “Shrines: Images of Italian Worship,” “Italy: Where to Go When,” “Swan” (her first novel), and “Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir,” which released April 1, 2014.
We caught up with Mayes via email to speak to her about the wine:
Observer: Frances, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions about the wine prior to your arrival in Southington, Conn. I served some to friends last night and we all loved it.
Mayes: So happy to hear that.
O: How does the line of wines fit into the personal journey of the Frances Mayes that we first met in “Under the Tuscan Sun?”
M: Wine always has been part of my Tuscan story. When we bought Bramasole, the villa abandoned for 30 years, it was so overgrown that we didn’t even know it had been a vineyard. We tried to rescue the old vines—we were sure we would be making our own wine forever. When we finally made wine, however, it was the worst wine in the world. But we’ve always, ever since, wanted our own label gracing our feasts.
O: Talk to me about the process that got us to the point of releasing the wines… what was your role in helping to get the wine into our glasses, and what qualities were you looking for in terms of how they touched the palate?
M: My wine partner is Danny Keefe of Curious Cork. Danny has a house in Cortona, too, and we have thrown around the idea of making wines for several years. At dinner one night last spring, we decided to go for it. With the help of our friends who make Baracchi wines, we sourced around a hundred samples from growers, had several grand tastings, and selected the ones that are now Tuscan Sun Wines. We wanted straightforward, drink-me-now wines with broad appeal. Wines that enhance the great food on your plate. We’ve been drinking Tuscan wines for 25 years now and have tasted first hand the evolution of wine-making in the region. Danny, his wife Liesl, my husband Ed, and I all cook and entertain a lot, and we’ve traveled so extensively in Italy—tasting all the time. We all felt confident that we know Italian wine by heart, and especially what wines represent great value.
O: Talk to me about the individual wines… what appeals to you about each as a lover of fine wines?
M: Being almost a Tuscan by now, I’m a big fan of Sangiovese. I love that it means blood of Jove. Such ancient roots these vines. Our Tondo Tondo is 100 percent Sangiovese, grown practically in our back yard. It’s our beloved house wine. Auguri, a Super-Tuscan, we pour at parties, especially if hearty fare is on the menu. It’s smooth and complex. It stays in your mind like a line of great poetry. Permesso, with 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, packs a punch. It’s hefty but pleasing and silky. Grill those big Tuscan steaks with rosemary and pop this open. It complements all robust fare. I love Sentiero alla Casa, another blend. This one is mostly Sangiovese but is blessed, too, with 20 percent Montepulciano and 20 percent Ciliegiolo, which gives that hint of cherry so nicely balanced with the tannin. I’m pleased with Pensiero, our Pinot Grigo, which is often a bland white. Ours is perky, a little flirty—that is, it has oomph. Watch out though, you may drink more than you think. Our other white, Abbraccio, brings to the traditional, oh so drinkable white Trebbiano, the sophistication of Chardonnay along with a good hit of Grechetto, which gives it a mineral complexity. We will soon release Toccare le Stelle, Touch the Stars, a prosecco for all the celebrations coming up, and there are many. Our website TuscanSunWines.com has more information on each wine.
O: How do you think the wines reflect the mood and feel of Tuscany?
M: Most are Tuscan, but a couple hail from the Alto Adige—but, yes, they all have the gusto of Tuscan life. They’re like certain people you meet who right away engage with you fully, and you know immediately that you’ll be friends.
O: For those who have never been to Tuscany, speak a little bit about how good wine and good food fits into the social fabric of the people there?
M: Life seems to center around the table in Tuscany, and everyone gathers, everyone is welcome. An extra guest? Throw on another handful of pasta, pull up a chair. Wine is part of the food, not a separate entity. I’ve never seen a Tuscan just drink a glass of wine without eating something along with it. Our wines are made to drink that way. So, if serving before a meal, prepare a platter of crostini, some fried zucchini flowers, or at least some olives and grissini, those crunchy bread sticks.
O: Who do you see as the customer who will appreciate these wines?
M: I can’t imagine anyone who’s roasting a chicken or serving forth a great pasta not being thrilled with Tuscan Sun Wines. My daughter is my ideal customer. She loves to cook and have friends over for casual dinners. And she loves pretty labels. So many labels are heavy, serious, masculine. Mine come from images in my books and are meant to invite you to come on over.
Frances Mayes will be making several stops through Connecticut on May 29 and 30.
On Thursday, May 29, she visits Twisted Vine, 1490 Post Rd, Fairfield from 3 to 5 p.m. for a bottle signing and wine tasting. This is followed at 6:30 p.m. with an event at L’Orcio, 806 State St, New Haven, “An evening with Frances Mayes.” The event is $50 per person, which includes four courses with wine pairings and cantucci (total bill subject to Connecticut sales tax and gratuity).” Space is extremely limited. Reservations are required. Call L’Orcio at (203) 777-6670.
On Friday, May 30, at noon, she will be at Zingarella Pizzeria, 83 W Main St, Plantsville for a wine lunch. Price is $30 per person plus tax and gratuity. Call (860) 628-9464 for reservations. Also, from 3 to 5 p.m., she will be at Worldwide Wine & Spirits, 480 Queen St., Southington for a bottle signing and wine tasting. At 7 p.m., she visits The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, 300 Main St., Old Saybrook for a wine tasting followed by a screening of “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Tickets are $15 and are available at TheKate.org.
For more information about Frances Mayes’s Tuscan Sun Wines, go to www.tuscansunwines.com.