Be Thankful For Your Friends But Avoid The Friendship Cup

The object above isn’t the holy grail, an objet d’art, vase, fancy pipe or some kind of crazy teapot, it’s a friendship cup.  As Thanksgiving approaches, one of the things we are most grateful for this year is all of the friends we’ve made in Switzerland.

A friendship cup (also known as Coppa dell’amicizia, grolla or grolle ) is a round container with a lid and multiple spouts made of turned wood.  It is used for drinking special hot adult beverages with friends.  There’s a saying, “he who drinks it alone, will choke.”  Here’s how it works.

Gather your friends, or nearby people you want to become friends (because after you finish one of these you will be.  Traditionally you have at least one more person than the number of spouts on the cup.  Why?   You end up sharing and drinking from a different spout as the cup gets passed around the table.  People don’t worry about the germs for two reasons.  First, it’s your friends.  Secondly, what they put in the cup is strong enough that it could probably be classified as some sort of disinfectant.   You pass the cup around your group, not setting it down until it’s empty.  Trust me when I tell you that this is easier said than done.

We first encountered it when we visited the Aosta Valley in Italy.  Thank goodness no one whipped out a camera that night…  The friendship cup is an after dinner (or later) tradition in Lombardy and the rest of the Italian Alps.  It comes from the “Soldats de la Neige” (which translates into Soldiers of the Snow) who acted as guides to travelers in this rough terrain.   They needed extra “energy” to survive in the cold.   Having had some, it does seem to warm you up.  The drink’s popularity spread to include everyone who needed a little pick me up to brave the cold.

What’s in a Friendship Cup?  Valdostana coffee, a liquor ( usually Génépy, but it can be plain or fruit grappa, cognac, Cointreau, red wine or cum), sugar and spices.  Sometimes people add butter and orange peels.  Just make sure you have friends around to drink it with you.  It sounds delightful.  It’s not.  It’s Trouble.  That’s right, trouble with a capital “t.”

So as Thanksgiving approaches, thanks guys, we’re raising our glasses (or beers from the snow) to you and giving thanks, just don’t expect us to bust out the friendship cup.   Here’s to you, Cheers!  Kippis!  Chin Chin!  Santé!  Prost!  Slàinte!  Skål!  L’Chaim!  Na zdrowie!

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Burgundy Part Un – A Geology Lesson?

See this guy.  His name is Jean-Michel.  He has ruined wine for us. Before we took the best wine tour ever with him, we were happy drinking almost anything.*  The other night after a long day of work, he passed on a (free) red because he didn’t like the smell. I rest my case.

Jean-Michel (a tour guide par excellence) said that to understand Burgundy, we must understand its geology.  Burgundy doesn’t produce tons of wine, but it produces very good wines and some outstanding (ridiculously expensive) ones.  Why? Geology.

Millions of years ago, Burgundy was the seaside.  Over time, as pressure from the African and European plates, caused the layers of soil to bend and fracture.  Glaciers further shattered them.  The vineyards still follow this fault line.  There is a narrow strip with great soil (for growing wine) whose diversity is due to the breakup of these layers.

The shakeup of the seaside yielded the  perfect mix for growing wine in certain really specific areas (the dispersed bits and pieces combined with microclimates are the main reasons for Burgandy’s notorious complexity).

Burgundy is in France.  As a result, it didn’t take long for people to realize and exploit its wine growing potential.  Jean-Michel explained that the monastic orders became the first major vineyard owners.  With land, time to study and a dedication to physical labor, they quickly learned how different vineyard plots consistently gave different wines.  When popes took a liking to their wines, the monks had a powerful bargaining chip that they used and keenly protected (keeping the quality high).

Making a valuable commodity like good wine made the monks rich and powerful.  This is just one of their several wine presses.  they meant business.  The monk’s summer residence.  Clearly, they weren’t hurting.

After Burgundy became part of the France, the power of the church decreased and many vineyards were sold.  During the French Revolution, the church’s remaining vineyards were seized and sold.  Napoleonic inheritance laws caused the continual subdivision of the most precious vineyard land.  As a result, many modern day growers only hold a row or two of vines!  The different colors, stakes and markers at the end of the rows below differentiate the rows of different owners!

*Except for maybe Boone’s Farm.