Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Celebrate #Cabernet Day

Tomorrow, August 29th, is #Cabernet Day and that’s reason enough for me to pop open a bold Cabernet Sauvignon and toast to the day.
Started by Rick Bakas in 2010, #Cabernet Day has been held as a collaboration through social media.  This is actually a global event now, to be celebrated around the world with a raised glass, or bottle, of your favorite Cabernet (Franc, Sauvignon or blend.)

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

 But why toast to the glories of Cabernet? Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most recognized grapes in the world. It is grown throughout Europe, America, and Canada.

Cabernet Franc Grapes
Sauvignon Blanc Grapes
During the 17th Century an accidental crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc resulted in the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  The grape became very popular in Bordeaux in the 18th Century and continues to be today. The vines are hardy and resistant to disease and cold temperatures, which makes them easier to grow, and they are abundant producers. 

Cabernet Sauvignon was the most planted grape in the world until Merlot took over in the 1990’s. But never fear Cabernet has bounced back and is once again the most planted grape in the world. In fact, in the U.S. 25% of all grapes planted in California are Cabernet Sauvignon.

In France, the majority of the country’s Cabernet grapes come from the Left Bank in the Bordeaux region. (The Right Bank tends to lean toward Merlots.)

Cabernet Sauvignon can be crafted into a wine that cellars well. Mature Cabernets can demand a high price and they are the stars of the wine auctions. It is not unusual for more mature California Cabs to command $300 to $800 a bottle. 

If you’re looking for mature California Cabernets at better than expected prices, check out Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses in New York and Chicago where these bottles can range from 65% to 85% of the prices the same wines go for in San Francisco at Bonhams & Butterfields But one word of caution, know your vintages for the best deals.

And speaking of the high prices, Screaming Eagle 
commands first place as the most expensive California Cabernet with an average selling price of $2,500 a bottle. The reason it can command such a price? When it was first released in 1992, Robert Parker gave it 99 points and Wine Spectator gave it 96 points. It’s now a prestigious bottle for the wealthy to name-drop that they have cellared.

However, Penfolds of Australia holds the title for the world’s most expensive wine, which just happens to be a Cabernet. Last year Penfolds offered 12 handmade ampoules of their 2004 Block 42 Cab for $168,000 each. Why the price? According to Penfolds:

Blowing the Ampoule
"2004 Block 42 is a rare, single-vineyard wine, only released in stellar vintages and produced from the oldest continuously producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world." 

But there's even more bang for the buck(s). You can't open the bottle, only a Penfolds winemaker can. (Watch the video @

Cabernet Ampoule
"When the decision is made to open the ampoule a senior member of the Penfolds Winemaking team will personally attend a special opening ceremony for the owner. The winemaker will travel to the destination of choice, where the ampoule will be ceremoniously removed from its glass plumb-bob casing and opened using a specially designed, tungsten-tipped, sterling silver scribe-snap. The winemaker will then prepare the wine using a beautifully crafted sterling silver tastevin."

But for today, any Cabernet will do. So pour a glass and savor those intense flavors of berries, tobacco, leather and lead pencil. After all, any time we can celebrate with a Cabernet is a good time, indeed.

~ Joy

Friday, August 23, 2013

Valentino and His Ladies in Black

Rudolph Valentino
He was one of the first Hollywood stars and he set the stage for the silent film star look. Rudolph Valentino was known as the Latin Lover and with his suave good looks he quickly became a 1920s sex symbol. 

He was born in Castellaneta, Italy on May 6, 1895 and named  Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolia. Rodolfo did poorly in school and was unable to find a job when he graduated. At the age of 18, he left Italy for the United States and better opportunities.

Dancing Valentino
Once here, Valentino worked in restaurants and as a gardener before becoming a taxi dancer – a dance partner who is paid by the dance – at Maxim in New York. These paid dance partners were sometimes referred to as “a ticket a dance” or “a dime a dance” partner.

Valentino with a Shiner
Valentino and Friend
Valentino was able to support himself like this until he became involved in a prominent love triangle. After the wife murdered her husband, Valentino realized that it was best if he just left town quietly, so he joined a traveling musical troupe and headed out West.

Alexander Hotel
Society Women
By 1917, Valentino was performing in small musical productions in California. But he discovered that the money was better as a taxi dancer at the Alexander Hotel in Los Angles where several older women supported him.

A Scene from Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
In his free time, Rudolph was soon auditioning for parts in the silent films, but because of his dark looks he was always cast as the gangster or thug. His luck changed when he signed with the Famous Players and was cast in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The movie, released in 1921, became the first million-dollar box office success.

A Scene from The Sheik
The Sheik
Valentino soon starred in several other films, but it was The Sheik in 1921 that solidified his reputation as the “Latin Lover.” With his now sought after dark, smoldering looks he had women swooning across America.

Valentino & Rambova
Natacha Rambova
Valentino married Natacha Rambova (Winifred Shaughnessy) in 1922 but the marriage had to be annulled after a bigamy trial. They married again, this time legally in 1923. Valentino and his wife worked on several films together but by 1925 the marriage was in trouble and they separated.

Son of the Sheik
It was the summer of 1926, Valentino was promoting his latest film, The Son of the Sheik when he became ill and collapsed at the Hotel Ambassador in New York City. He was taken to Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital in New York where he was diagnosed with appendicitis. Emergency surgery was performed but peritonitis set in and he developed sever pleuritis in his left lung.

Crowds Watch
Valentino's Funeral
Rudolph Valentino died on August 23, 1926 in New York City at the age of 31. It was reported that mass hysteria broke out across the country when his fans heard the news, some committing suicide. Thousands lined the train route as his body traveled from New York to California. He was laid to rest in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Memorial Park, now Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Several songs were written about his death including “There’s a New Star in Heaven Tonight” and “We Will Meet at the End of the Trail.”

To listen to "There's a New Star in Heaven Tonight" click here:

The First Lady in Black
Valentino's Crypt
In 1927, the first anniversary of his death, a woman dressed in black wearing a long black veil appeared at Valentino’s crypt, carrying a long stemmed red rose. At first, it was thought to be a publicity stunt, but each year the woman returned to pay her respects.

Ditra Flame
Rumors abounded as to who she could have been. Many claimed at the time that they were the Lady in Black but in 1947 Ditra Flame stepped forward and told her story.

As a young girl Valentino had visited Ditra when she was sick in the hospital and afraid she would die there.  Flame said that Valentino assured her that she would outlive him by many years and that when he died, he’d like her to come and talk with him at his grave, to keep him company, so he wouldn’t be lonely.

Flame continued to visit his grave each year until 1954 when there had become a parade of Ladies in Black. In fact, it was said that there were so many Ladies in Black visiting Valentino's crypt that day, it looked like a sale at Woolsworth. Eventually the crowd thinned out and Flame began her annual visits again in 1977, this time without the black mourning clothes and veil. She continued to visit Valentino’s crypt until her death in 1984. 

Estrellita del Regil
But another Lady in Black began visiting Valentino in the early 1970s. Spanish actress Estrellita del Regil paid her respects as a tribute to her late mother whom she believed to be Valentino’s unrequited love. She visited the grave on August 23rd for almost 20 years until illness stopped her visits in 1993. 

Vicki Callahan
Soon after a third Lady in Black took up the mantel and began annual visits. Vicki Callahan said that she was a fan of Valentino’s and simply wanted to pay her respects on the anniversary of his death. Dressed in black she was captured by a TV crew as she placed roses at his crypt and another tradition began.

Valentino and His Ladies
Valentino would probably be pleased with all of the visits (and publicity), for he has never been forgotten. And to this day,there are various adoring females to keep him company…

~ Joy

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Stone Markers of the Cemetery

Stonecutter in Stone
Stonecutting, or stonemasonry, has existed for thousands of years. From cathedrals and cities to monuments and gravestones, carvers have worked to shape something of beauty from the stone around them.


Taj Mahal
Some of the most famous stonemasonry includes the Egyptian Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Easter Island statues, and Stonehenge.

In the US, Vermont is known for its granite quarries and the work of its carvers can be seen in cemeteries throughout the state.
Rock of Ages Quarry

Such examples exist in Barre, Vermont, known as the “Granite Capital of the World,” and home to Rock of Ages Quarry, the largest deep hole granite quarry in the world.

Hope Cemetery Granite Stone
Granite Bi-Plane
Hope Cemetery in Barre is filled with over 10,000 tombstones and memorials, most carved from local Barre Grey granite. 

19th Century Stone Carvers
Stone Masons
By the close of the 19th Century, skilled sculptures from around the world were coming to the US to become a part of the growing stonemasonry industry.

Although gravestones can be crafted from just about any material, there are three types of natural rock that can be carved and used for markers - igneous rock, metamorphic rock, and sedimentary rock.

Granite is an igneous intrusive rock consisting of mica, quartz and feldspar, usually ranging from pink to grey in color. It is a hard stone and one of the most difficult to carve requiring skill to sculpt by hand.

Alexander MacDonald
Kensal Green Cemetery
Alexander MacDonald of Aberdeen, Scotland carved the first polished granite tombstone using his invention of steam-powered cutting and dressing tools.  The stone was erected at Kensal Green Cemetery near London, England in 1833.

Queen Victoria & Prince Albert
Royal Mausoleum
During the next 50 years, MacDonald perfected his carving techniques on granite. The most prestigious granite monument was the Royal Mausoleum in England, located on the grounds of Frogmore, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried. MacDonald’s techniques were later discarded when better machinery became available in the 1880s.

Metamorphic Rocks

Metamorphic rocks make up a large part of the earth’s surface and include marble, slate and quartzite. Gravestones are usually fashioned from marble and slate.

Marble is a recrystallized form of limestone and 
Carrera Quary
Block of Marble
is easy to carve. Marble can range in color from blue/black to white depending on what part of the world it comes from. Italy is known for its Carrera marble- a white or bluish gray color. Sweden produces a green marble, while Tuscan marble can range from red to yellow with violet in it. Pure white marble can be found in Greece and near Marble, Colorado in the US.

Marble Soldier
Older Marble
Marble monuments and gravestones became popular during the early part of the 19th Century. Unfortunately, acid rain can cause damage to the stones over time, making the inscriptions difficult to read.

Slate is the finest grained metamorphic rock. Although very strong, it has a tendency to split. Slate is usually gray in color, but can also be purple, green or a combination of the two.

Slate Gravestone
Slate was commonly used for monuments and gravestones, and when carved carefully a slate marker can have very sharp details.

Slate Quarry
Slate quarries could be found in the US in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and New York, sometimes referred to as Slate Valley.

St Peter's Cathedral

Sedimentary Quarry
Sedimentary stone can be limestone or sandstone. Most of the world’s most famous buildings have been built with these rocks including St Peter’s Cathedral, and the Roman Arena in Italy, the cliff dwellings in Colorado, and practically the entire town of Hot Springs, South Dakota.

Limestone comes from all over the world, but Lawrence County Indiana is known as having the highest quality quarried limestone in the US.

National Cathedral
Indiana limestone was also used for bridges, statues, memorials and buildings, most notably the Empire State Building, the National Cathedral, Biltmore Estates and the United States Holocaust Museum.

Older Limestone Marker
Older Limestone Grave Marker
During the 19th and 20th centuries, limestone monuments, mausoleums and gravestones were very popular, but after the discovery of the effect of acid rain on the stone, limestone is not used nearly as much.

Limestone Marker for a Carver
WW I Soldier in Limestone
For some excellent examples of limestone grave markers a visit to Green Hill Cemetery in Bedford Indiana is in order. Hundreds of carvings, statues, sculptures and engravings exist in minute detail, thanks to limestone’s ability to weather well

Federal Reserve Bank in Sandstone

Sandstone Quarry
Sandstone can also be found worldwide, usually around bodies of water or desert areas with sand. Composed of sand-sized minerals and rock grains, it has been used to build palaces and buildings; Ohio sandstone was used in the construction of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Sandstone Grave Marker
Sandstone is resistive to the elements but easy to carve making it a favorite of carvers for gravestones during the 17th to 19th Centuries.

Lettered Fieldstone
Fieldstone with Initials and Date
Fieldstone is just that, stone found in a nearby field or woods that is used to mark a grave. These were some of our earliest grave markers. In later times, those who could not afford to purchase a gravestone used fieldstone. Many times the deceased’s name and date of death was carved into the rock, but due to the elements and time, most inscriptions are difficult to red, if they remain at all.

Stone markers are just another reason wandering through a cemetery can be such an adventure, and a delight. Especially when you hope to "leave no stone unturned."

~ Joy