April & May 2010

The way this diary is processed has changed. It is now in a more obvious blog format. So interact to your heart’s desire.
In the April section you will find notes from a vertical tasting of Donnafugata’s Ben Rye and a description of a trip to Trentino (including a stop at Tenuta di San Leonardo), among other things.
The reason the April and May diaries appear together has to do with: a trip to England, a dead hard drive and tragedies with which I will not bore you. However, I am back in the game and ready to go.
Music Pick of the month: Cardio by Miguel Bose This was selected by a record producer I happened to meet at the Braida Stand during Vinitaly. The album entered the Top 40 charts at number 8 and seems to be holding firm.
Book News
Michelle Lovric’s The Book of Human Skin (Bloomsbury Publishing www.bloomsbury.com) has just come out. I had the opportunity to read it in manuscript last year. It is a ripping yarn that takes you through 18th Venice with side-trips to a murky convent in Peru and an island of madness. The names Shakespeare and Dickens have been bandied about when referring to this book. (Michelle’s book The Undrowned Child was mentioned in the April 2009 Diary)

Simon Mawer’s book The Glass Room (shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize) has been shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. (The Glass Room was mentioned in the January 2009 Diary). The winner gets £25,000 pounds sterling. Ah, let us pause and consider that for a moment. I’m impressed. Are you?

May 2010
May 25 I Judge at the Colli Berici tasting
What is Colli be…
May 20 Donnafugata Mille e una Notte
I cook steak – a very unusual occurrence in our house. To celebrate I open a 2006 Mille e Una Notte (Nero d’Avola) from Donnafugata. This is a Contessa Entellina Rosso DOC. It is a lively interpretation of Nero d’Avola. Soft tannins, round and mouth filling, with brambly- wild blue berry flavors. The soft tannins and easy style would make this wine suitable for pairing with a variety of vegetarian dishes. The next time I have a bottle, I will do some experimenting.

May 17 A day out with visiting journalists
May 16 Sipping in Bottega del Vino’s cellar
Michael and I meet up with some visiting journalists. They are in the area to visit the Soave zone. As happens on these events we end up in the cellar of the Bottega. A bottle of 1980 Taurasi from Mastroberardino appears. When first poured it has a slightly sour smell. This blows off rapidly. The nose has a silky sensation. A smoky burst over an elegant fruit. Tar. A very fine weave of bonfire smoke and fresh plums with a fresh burst on the nose. Nice grip.
May 15 Authors meet at my place
If anyone reading this has ideas on how novelists and non-fiction writers can create a rapport with their readers via internet, twitter, radio, etc. Please feel free to give us the benefit of your experience and creativity. Our group website is www.englishwritersinitaly.com.
We drank a magnum of Phileo Brut from Tenuta Il Bosco, an estate in the Oltrepo Pavese. (Pinot Nero) The Oltrepo o It is a very appealing sparkling wine that reminded many of my guests of Champagne. This should make the wine’s producer very happy.
Here are some of things the authors gathered in my small living room had to celebrate:
Peter Popham has just been commissioned by Random House to write a biography of the Burmese freedom fighter Ahn Suu Kyi
Gay Marks is about to deliver the ms of her new novel to her agent.
Michelle Lovric was interviewed by Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour, a BBC radio program, this week, and has been appointed Royal Literary Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
Elizabeth Edmondson has a new book out with Simon and Schuster in USA, Writing Jane Austen.
Simon Mawer could not be with us because – the lucky devil – is doing a book promotion tour.
May 12 Home
We arrive back from London to discover that our water heater has broken. No damage to property – we just have no hot water. I decide to throw myself into writing. I turn on my computer (which has in fact been making ominous grinding noises – kinda like a Piper Cub lowering its landing gear). It winks at me then dies. I start to cry. I crawl into a ball under my desk…my head next to the nest of wires that connect the damned thing…and I cry. After about 15 minutes I realize I could cry till the end of time or get up and clean the house. I do the latter.

April 2010
April 22 through 24 In Trentino
Federica picks me up and we head out for Trentino to join the other journalists: Maria Grazia (who appears in these diaries – she is a blogger, with a passion for technology I lack), Mr. Piedmont Talker and his silent wife (aka The Listener) and Silent Lorenzo.

At every winery Mr. Piedmont Talker, feels the need to talk about Nebbiolo, Barolo and Piedmont. Now, gentle reader, we are in TRENTINO! If he had done it once…well okay…but no. At Every Single Stop. I start looking at my watch and making silent bets with myself on how many minutes it will be before he starts his Piedmont routine. Silent Lorenzo, on the other hand, never speaks unless poked with a sharp verbal stick.

After two days of his silence Federica and the others gang up on Lorenzo over lunch and start peppering him with questions and demands that he “say something!” This sends him (wild eyed) into his shell. After things settle down and the others are back in their own conversations I glance over at him. There is a sly smile on his face. He leans across to Mr. Piedmont Talker and says: “Are there any wines like these in Piedmont.” (Ah, Silent Lorenzo has a sense of humor.) Mr. Piedmont Talker takes the question and runs with it, and Silent Lorenzo is saved from having to utter a word for the next 40 minutes.

First stop San Michele All’Adige. This is a very well-known agricultural college and winemaking institution. Their fiercely varietal wines are always winning awards. While I admire their steely, upright quality, I sometimes find them too extreme. They are, however, excellent for teaching tasting. Believe me, once your students have smelled San Michele d’Adige Sauvignon Blanc you will never again have to suffer any cat’s pee jokes. This wine is pipi di gatto to the max.

Then we are off to visit the Zeni winery.
Roberto Zeni is a straight-spined man, whose Zappa beard and probing eyes always reminds me of a fit Southern Colonel. Here are my notes on his wines.

Muso 2005 (60% Pinot Nero, 40% Chardonnay) Bright salmon pink. The idea of strawberries on the palate. Grapefruity acidity. Pleasing finish.

Rossara 2009 (100% Teroldego) A light to medium depth of blue tinged ruby. Grapefruit nose, then a burr of brambly fruit. A pleasing cream soda note on the finish.

Ororosso 2006 Lively on the nose. Big, juicy fruit.

Roberto describes Teroldego as tasting like “cherries in yogurt”. Nice, that.

Grappa 1997 Wow 59° A creamy, appealing nose, with a dusting of black pepper. A vibrant tawny color with orange/tangerine highlights. I do not taste it but Maria Grazia does. “I taste dates on the finish,” she says.

Tenuta San Leonardo
An exquisite estate – in every sense of the word. Twenty people work here and many of them live here as well.

“In the 1800 we already sold our wine in France,” says Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga. “My family has always had ties with Paris.”

Sitting on the patio beside the kitchen garden we taste. A scrim of fog shrouds the mountains. The 2 caged parrots inside squawk every now and there.

Terre di San Leonardo 2005 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon Can easily last up to 10 years. Medium-deep good consistent saturation of plumy/ruby. I have no desire to dredge up a fruit basket. Suffice it to say: it smells French to me. It takes me back to my years in London, where Bordeaux was (and probably still is) king.

Villa Gresti 2005 (90% Merlot) Bruised ruby color. Fresh on the nose and palate. Silky texture. Brambly fruit merges with the acidity until the two seem like one – very tight weave. Satisfying and elegant.

San Leonardo 2004 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot) Medium depth. Good saturation of ruby, with deep rose rim. Again, I think of France. Not just the grapes but there is something else…a sprinkling of church incense. Nose is fresh – but a freshness wrapped in silky black currant fruit.

“Lots of students come and ask us about how we make our wines – what yeasts we use, what additives,” says cellar-man Antonio Benvenuti, who has lived on the estate since he was a boy. “We do not filter, we use natural yeasts. I am a little embarrassed when confronted by these students because we do everything natural here. I don’t even know what the things they ask about are.”

Cantina d’Isera
I like the director, a lean, intelligent, articulate man. And if you lived locally I would recommend the inexpensive everyday drinking wines the cooperative produces. However, they have not made the jump to major foreign export markets. So, if you happen to be driving by…

The Big Nosiola Tasting
Nosiola is a white indigenous variety. I tasted it for the first time in 2000, when I was researching my book on Italian indigenous grape varieties (Wines of Italy). There has been a decade’s worth of improvements since then.

Here are the one I liked best… (In no particular order)
Battistotti Nosiola 2009 Straw-sheen. Appealing softly fruity – white pears and bouquet freshness. Very drinkable.

Cantina Toblino 2006 “L’Ora” The yellow wine in the set. Floral. It has a burry, sprinkling of hazelnut. On the palate, delicious sensations of hazelnuts and, again, a snap of ripe pear. 14°

San Michele All’Adige Nosiola 2009 Very pale sheen of straw yellow. Full on the attack. It narrows but the lively flavor sensations (lemon sherbet, an idea of toffee) remain firm.

Cantina La Vis e Valle di Cembra Nosiola 2008 “Maso Rosa Bel Nice saturation of pale straw. Okay.

Az. Agr. Cesconi di Paolo Cesconi e Figli Nosiola 2008 Bright. Floral/fruity nose. Grapefruit sherbet, This is a very appealing wine.

Roberto Zeni Nosiola 2009 Yellow sheen. Drinkable – again a lemon sherbet sensation and flavor.

Dinner at Maso Franchi (owned by La Vis). Hidden away on a mountain road is a tiny divot of modern elegance and impeccable service. Everything about this restaurant and spa is just right. The prices at the restaurant are breathtakingly fair: antipasti at 10 to 14 Euros. Second courses from 14 to 18 Euros. The wine list, too, has keen prices.

The dinner is superb. By 10 p.m. we journalist have completely exhausted our ability to converse (even Mr. Piedmont Talker!!!) Unfortunately, the main course has not yet arrived and another hour and a half of dinner stretches out before us.

“What was the wonderful quality of Italy that made you want to move here?” our host asks me.

“Ah, there wasn’t one,” I reply. I cannot be nimble when I am tired.

The following day we go to the castle at Toblino for lunch. (I have written about this in the December Diary ). It is a singularly beautiful spot – surrounded by mountains, on the banks of a wide, placid lake, the fragrance of blossoming trees fills the air.

Silent Lorenzo comes up beside me. “Is paradise,” he says in English.

April 21 Mark Twain
I drop by the Osteria Carroarmato to see Annalisa’s (the owner and my best Italian pal). We knock back a pleasantly woozy amount of Bollinger. “I have had this wine in my cellar for 3 years. But it is not the kind of wine that my customer’s order – well, they order it only when someone else is paying. So I decided we might as well drink it!” She slices open a lovely side of smoked salmon that we make disappear.

Michael sails by and tows me to Bruno’s bookshop to participate in Ugo’s weekly literary sessions. We will read excerpts from Mark Twain in English. Ugo introduces me as a “leading expert on Mark Twain.” This surprises me but then I look around at the small but willing Italian public and realize that, within the context of this event, – by gum! – I am the nearest thing there is to an authority. The reading goes down a treat.

April 20 Abridging Twain
I spend the morning editing the Tom Sawyer and the Fence scene down to a 5 minute reading. It starts out at 9 minutes. I am pleased with the effort.

I open a bottle of 1996 Ca del Bosco Cuvee Annamaria Clementi Nicely saturated gold. Fresh and appealing on the nose. Lush, richness on the palate. When a sparkling wine acquires a certain age it becomes more viscose and weighty in the mouth. Creamy, with still vivid grapiness. A very fine wine. All the more impressive when we consider it is 14 years from the vintage. Most people tend to drink wines right away rather than giving them time to develop. I must confess here that my cellar of old vintages has more to do with my own laziness than a zealots passion for keeping wine.
April 19 Glad to be Alive
I am sitting on the a stone bench on the top of a hill. The sun is just above the hilltops. It is 6:30 p.m. The breeze is warm and occasionally cherry blossoms float by. The air is fragrant with freshly turned earth, flowers and the juicy, grassy smell of the country. Birds sing. I realize that I am so very happy to be alive and so very lucky to be here at this precise moment.

I am in Montecchia di Crosara Benches have been set up on the lawn and a press conference is going on. The topic is M… and the fact that tourists don’t know that Soave is half an hour’s drive from Verona. And that they really have no idea of the existence of this little divot of paradise. After the press conference there is a wine tasting and cheese and salami are laid on. A jazzy combo that plays standards – Autumn Leaves, The Girl From Ipanima – for their own enjoyment. They are very good indeed but only 5 people seem to be listening. Only family members and I applaud at the end of the first tune.

April 16 Pamojo Extravaganza
Anna picks us up and takes up to the annual Pamojo dinner. Pamojo is a soup made principally from a dried bread (pan biscoto). Read all about it and the good works the Brotherhood of Pamojo do in the March 2009 Diary).

The tables are covered in nice white paper. My pen cannot keep still. I start drawing – ladies in fine hats, dancing ladies, serious men, goofy guys, mischievous boys, dour ladies, prim little girls. I fill all the space in front of me. I am at the corner of a “U” of two tables, so I start filling the corner section. I mesmerize the lady seated at the adjoining table, she tells me which of the hats and outfits worn by my ladies she likes best. She calls her friends over to look at my drawings and they ooo and ahhh.
“She does it so quickly,” says the lady. She likes the dancers best. “They look like they are really moving.”
At the end of the evening, while we are putting the tables and chairs away. A young lady asks me to sign the table cloth. Then she very carefully peals back the tape on my table and gently folds up my drawings. She carries around the drawings as if they were precious. And I will admit to being flooded with gratitude and pride. It has been so long since I had a chance to draw on such a nice big expanse of paper. And…someone thought the drawings were worth keeping. It does not matter how long she keeps them, I am humbled and proud at the same time.
My drawing these days is mostly confined to doodling on the back of press releases during the boring bits of press conference. Ah, to be recognized. My thoughts turn to what might have been had I had the opportunity to become a stuff toy designer. Ah….
April 8 through 12 Vinitaly
Here are my notes on the wines that I found truly interesting this year. They are divided into three mini articles: Millennial Wines, Donnafugata Ben Rye are in this diary. Italian Sparkling Wines will be in the next installment.

Millennial Wines
The term Millennial Generation refers to consumers who are open-minded and willing to try things that are out of the ordinary – in fact they are people who seek out products and experiences that are extraordinary. With that spirit in mind I have made a short list of wines I tasted at Vinitaly (the world’s largest annual wine trade fair) that fit this description. They are juicy and appealing but beyond all this – and what makes them Millennial – is that they also have soul, style and originality.

2007 Bullulae Brut from Bruno Bortolotti (78% Lagrein, 15% Pinot Noir and 7% Ripasso Valpolicella)
This sparkling wine has a vivid, vibrant light ruby with definite rich red-orange highlights. It is the color of a wine that could proudly be served on the Starship Enterprise. In fact, it is, in my opinion, a wine of the future in that it manages to convey all the qualities of a fine, concentrated “important red” with the vivacity and liveliness of a superb sparkling wine. The nose is a firm, decisive blend of bright berry fruits: raspberries, blueberries, a touch of cherry all captured in a net of softly citrusy zest. On the palate it has a lovely – and surprising – creaminess. Again, I am left with the feeling that I am drinking something totally original and totally satisfying. It is a wonderful balance between graciousness and character. I love this wine!!! There I have said it outloud!

After 10 minutes in the glass the wine is still firm and fresh and inviting.

How did this unusual blend come about? “I noticed the affinity between wines made from the Lagrein grape and Valpolicella Ripasso so I decided to experiment. You know I like to try new things,” says Bruno Bortolotti, whose company is located in the Veneto Region of Italy. (He also makes, in my opinion, the Prince of Proseccos.)
When asked for a food match, Bruno says: “It is a wine to drink on its own. But if I had to pick something I would serve it with scampi risotto or pumpkin tortellini.”
2008 Erbaluce di Caluso from Benito Favero (100% Erbaluce) Pale gold. Bright, clean, refreshing. On the nose: freshness together with a creamy sensation. On the palate the idea of elderflowers mingles with soft white-fleshed fruits (some peaches, pears). On the middle palate the fruit flavor expands, all the while captured and kept firm by the lively minerality.
“You need to give Erbaluce a lot of time to develop – just like some Soaves,” says Camillo Favero, winemaker at the estate, which is located in the Piedmont Region of Italy.
When asked for a an ideal match, Camillo suggests baked fish or roast white meats.
2009 AS from Fattoria Zerbina (100% Albana) A sheen of pale straw with a clear rim. The fragrance rises up to meet you – full, fruity (apricots) with the idea of sweetness (although this is a dry wine) infused with a minerally acidity/freshness. This pleasing sensation continues onto the palate and through the finish where the vivacious minerality becomes more evident.
The name AS derives from “Albano Secco”. Cristina Geminiani, winemaker and owner of Fattoria Zerbina (which is located in the Italian Region of Emilia Romagna) suggests serving it with egg pasta dishes with vegetable-based sauces, or with soft, fresh cheeses (such as herbed goat’s cheese).
As Cristina has expressed interest in my book Bacchus at Baker Street, which concerns all the wines and spirits mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories, I ask her if she would like to become a member of The Assorted and Stradivarious of Verona, a scion society of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. She is keen on the idea and proposes other lady winemakers who might be interested. Oh Frabjous Day! My dream is to get together a nice collection of great Italian wine makers who like Sherlock Holmes. Oh…..this thought makes me happy. A wine producer’s great grandfather is even mentioned in the stories….more on this later…..
2008 Soave “Monte Carbonare” from Suavia (100% Garganega) A firm saturation of rich yellow, with a scrim of pea-green. The apricot-tinged fruit bursts out of the glass at the first sniff. Again the minerality seems to spin around the fruit, giving it a well-defined shape. The palate echoes the nose: apricot fruit and sprightly minerality. The apricot element broadens and dominates the lively finish. A lovely wine.
After 10 minutes in the glass, the flavors and fragrances are even more finely knit. It takes on a sensation of heavy-silk on the palate.
“We feel that the Carbonare is a true expression of its terroir,” says Meri Tessari, who with her sisters and parents, manages the Suavia estate.
“As regards pairing,” says Meri “I think Monte Carbonare is good with most fish-based dishes because it respects the flesh of the fish, its salinity and delicate meat. It is also excellent with vegetable and truffle risottos or medium-ripened cow’s milk cheese.”
Meri kindly provided some specific (and delicious-sounding) recommendations: lime-marinated sardine bruschetta; grilled red radicchio and Montasio cheese; risotto with pomegranate and Monte Veronese cheese; pasta with zucchini, zucchini blossoms and ricotta; and almond-crusted sardines with savoy cabbage.

2009 Donnaluna from Viticoltori De Conciliis (100% Fiano)Pale gold, clear rim. Soft white-fleshed fruits contained in a fine mesh net of zesty acidity. An intriguing salinity defines the flavor. On the middle palate an attractive steely sensation emerges and the salinity (and minerality) seems to take on an almost visceral character – this is an excellent wine to serve with meals.
When asked for a serving suggestion Bruno Di Conciliis says, “Spaghetti with clams – but with a good sauce – not one of those with a lot of burnt garlic!”.
The Di Conciliis estate is located in Campania. Bruno, by the way, petitioned and got permission to name a road near one of his vineyards: “via Frank Zappa”. I like Bruno.
2004 Ramuner from Zamuner (75% Pinot Nero, 10% Pinto Meunier, 15% Chardonnay) Golden yellow. It is round, easy and pleasing. It has a very full, appealing perfume that gives the idea of ripe, fresh pears and apricots. It is sweet on the nose but dry on the palate.
It is an a fine aperitif, particularly as its fruity fragrance makes it satisfying to drink without food. “But it is also very good with ethnic dishes, “ says Daniele Zamuner. “Particularly Chicken curry.”
2009 500 from Fattoria Zerbina (96% Sangiovese, 4% Merlot) Right from the start this wine seems to shimmer with vibrancy. The color is a blue-tinged ruby with vivid scarlet highlights. The fragrance is embracing. Its lush, velvety sensations ride high on a wave of bracing freshness. The fruit flavors – strawberry, raspberry, blueberry – are so well integrated that they become one glorious whole.
Its name – 500 (cinque-cento) – is reminiscent of the recently-released super compact Italian cars of the 50 and 60s and was chosen because the wine is only sold in 500 cl bottles.
“We know that people want to drink less these days at restaurants and at home, so we decided to bring out the wine in a smaller bottle,” says Cristina Geminani. She suggests that the wine be served lightly chilled.
2008 Montebruna from Braida (100% Barbera) Ripe rich plumy color. The fragrance conveys juicy, pulpy plums. This is echoed on the palate: ripe, fresh, fruity – Barbera at its juicy best. The acidity that is characteristic of the grape buoys the joyous fruit.
“I’d enjoy Montebruna with a great big juicy steak,” says Raffaella Bologna, who with her brother and husband manages the Piedmontese estate.
Braida has long been known for its single-vineyard Barberas. In fact, it was Giacomo Bologna (Raffaella’s father) who first recognized the grape’s potential for producing great, world-class wines. With Montebruna the Bologna family has created a wine in line with the Millennial tastes: that is, a “real” wine, but one that dances across the palate.
Donnafugata’s Ben Rye
Donnafugata is based in Sicily, where the company produces a range of exceptionally appealing reds and whites. However, the jewels in its crown are the wines it makes on the tiny volcanic island of Pantelleria, which lies between Sicily and Africa. There Donnafugata grows Zibibbo (a.k.a. Moscato di Alessandria). Each vine is left to form its own small bush. (In other areas, vines are usually trained onto wires to form tidy rows.) These bushes grow close to the ground and as a consequence are somewhat protected from the winds that sweep across the island. Some of the vines are over 100 years old and, as you can imagine all work in the vineyards must be carried out by hand.
“The vines grow horizontal to the earth,” says Jose Rallo, whose family owns Donnafugata. “It takes a lot of hard work to tend them. You have to really believe in the wines.”
She confesses that Ben Rye, the company’s exquisite sweet wine whose name in Arabic means “child of the wind”, is her favorite wine. “Loving it is almost a duty for me,” she says. “I have to love it and make others love it.”
I was fortunate enough to taste 4 vintages of Ben Rye at the recent Vinitaly wine trade fair held in Verona. Here are my notes.
2002 Ben Rye. A vibrant yellow sheen over a clear, fine tangerine/pale toffee color; clear rim. The nose presents a bright amalgam of citrus (citron, tangerine), with shadows of apricots and figs and a soft, broad grapiness. It is sprinkled with fine, warm spices. The palate echoes the nose. The sensations are firm, the ideas of figs and blossoms broaden and are joined by flavors of fresh pine nuts. The flavor evolves in the long, fine finish. The shades of figs and ripe but firm apricots remain on the palate long after the wine itself has gone.
After 10 minutes: It remains firm and satisfying with a youthful vivacity. A lovely experience.
After 15 minutes: Its freshness holds.
After 20 minutes: Still appealing, still firmly presenting its luscious fragrances and flavors.
“Zibibbo is an aromatic variety,” says Jose “For us the 2002 is a benchmark vintage. It has great acidity that balances the fullness of the flavors.”
2005 Ben Rye Vibrant. Lightly colored rim. A pea green sheen over a tawny color, with vivid tangerine highlights. Fresh, uplifting nose. The freshness is dominant on the nose followed half a beat later by a clean orange-lemon marmalade tinged sensation. A very tight weave on the palate. Again shades of apricots, orange marmalade and tangerines, with a nuance of fresh hazelnuts. A fine line of rich fruit defines the very long faftertaste.
After 10 minutes: The ripe apricot element unfolds on the nose and palate like silk and a sprinkling of tangerine zest emerges.
After 15 minutes: The apricot settles down and melds with the zest. The finish is even more intriguing.
After 20 minutes: It is still fine and fresh.
2008 Ben Rye More yellow in the yellow/tawny blend of colors. The tangerine highlights are softer. There is the suggestion of an expensive scented powder on the nose. (Dior comes to mind, I do not know why.) This lies over a broad apricot note. On the palate the very ripe apricot notes are fully and richly expressed, yet all the while the lively zesty acidity shapes and enlivens the flavors. Very lively on the palate. The finish is a-tingle with pleasing sensations: ripe fruit, tangerine zest and a touch of very fresh pine nuts.
“The 2008,” says Jose. “is like a festa. It has a new label, one that recalls the land and the hard work we have done on Pantelleria.”
After 10 minutes: The wine opens up and the apricot becomes even more generous and inviting. I detect notes of ripe figs.
After 15 minutes: A generous mouthful. The sensation of a comforting cloud of very ripe apricots on the nose. The palate, too, reveals a broad, complex range of flavors.
After 20 minutes. It maintains its luscious generosity.
Last year I served some Italian friends a bottle of 2005 Ben Rye. Let me recount that event here. We served the wine with a Grand Marnier infused cake, decorated with orange slices and gold- flaked pieces of chocolate.
Donnafugata’s Ben Rye 2005 (see December 2009 Diary). Golden tinged with orange. A fresh, full perfume of orange blossoms, mandarin oranges and acacia honey. These ideas carry through onto the palate. High-toned. An idea of dried apricots. The richness is lifted and shaped by sprightly acidity.
We scored big points with our friends, particularly Ugo. (Ugo, like most Italians, just does not “get” the pleasures of older vintages.) The Ben Rye, however, brought comments like: “It has such elegance!” Ugo turned to his wife, Stefi, and said: “Remember when I saw this wine at the restaurant in Trieste and I said: these people have good taste!”
“Is this a Pantelleria?” asked Stefi.

“This is Pantelleria!” replied Ugo, raising his glass.

Italian Sparkling Wine

February 2009

My job is to taste wine and food. Yes, yes, I know (everybody says it): it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. As such, I am invited to dine out and taste fairly frequently. I have decided to share my uncensored notes on these occasions with you for the following reasons: 1) it will give you an insight into what the life of a wine taster-wine writer is like and 2) it will give me an opportunity to write about wines, foods, oddities, Italy and people in an informal way.:
February 2009

28 February 2009

Annalisa’s Birthday
Venue: Osteria Al Carroarmato (Verona)

Annalisa owns the Carroarmato and has been my best Italian friend for 15 years. With plates of salami and cheese we drink sparkling wines.

Muratori Saten Franciacorta soft on the palate, as a Saten should be. Saten is the word used for cremant-style sparkling wines in Franciacorta). Very easy. Palate-cleansing acidity on the finish.

Ferrari Perle creamy mousse that is very pleasing on the palate. The nose and palate are linked by soft sensations of apples and creaminess. An idea of strawberries emerges. Very nice.

Steffi and Ugo arrive. Steff had just bought a copy of Tutto Sherlock Holmes. I had given her a book on learning English that featured a Sherlock Holmes story. She sat down with her dictionary and read it…and love it…and was so pleased that she went right out and bought the stories in Italian so she could read them more easily. I have made a convert. I am so pleased.

Simone (a.k.a. D.J. Simone or Don Simone, because he comes from Sicily) works for Annalisa and has impeccable taste in music. The background for our toasts is the Hungarian group Csokolom. “Molto energetic”: is Annalisa’s review. The violins are pure and warm and the singer – a women – has a wonderful timbre that suits the violin. She is like another instrument at times. Simone gallantly gives me the C.D. at the end of the evening.

Our pal Geppy stops by. On Monday he goes to Milan for the fashion shows – he owns a clothing shop in Veorna. “Armani became rich with T-shirts and jeans made in China. Not high fashion,” says Geppy.

27 February 2009

I receive an email from Jim, a man in Milwaukee. He writes that he works for Bob at the Renaissance Bookshop. Bob had seen my name in the Wall Street Journal and (since he does not have a computer or a cellphone or any of the mod-cons) he asked Jim to find me on the internet. When I was in Milwaukee I wrote television documentaries for the PBS station. Writing is a lonely job, so I went to the Renaissance one afternoon and offered to work part-time in exchange for books – no money just books. This was an offer that Bob could not refuse. The bookshop was (and, I think, still is) housed in a former furniture warehouse. Imagine three vast, slanting floors filled with piles of books. I felt like an African explorer when I was on the upper floors sorting through crates and cardboard boxes. I read Muriel Spark for the first time sitting on an upturned milk crate on the 2nd floor of Bob’s. I still have most of my wages from this work: a copy of Part of a Long Story by Agnes Boulton, Eugene O’Neil’s first wife and a very nice (third edition) of Ah, Wilderness.

26 February 2009

Bucci Rosso Piceno “Pongelli” 2007 Saturated dark ruby. An appealing fragrance of ripe red berry fruit shaped by zesty acidity. This sensation is carried through onto the palate, where it unfolds and expands. A satisfying, richly fruity finish, with an intriguing, barely perceptible hint of coffee. Very nice wine. Also very versatile for food and wine matching.

25 February 2009

Igor (of the Caffe Dante) sent me an email. He writes: “Your website is very rich and complex, like a Barolo smells!”

24 February 2009

I buy the Dolly Parton Love Songs CD. She gives a heart wrenchingly theatrical performance of “I Will Always Love You”.

On Saturday afternoons , when I was a child, Daddy would sit in his Lazy Boy Recliner while I sat cross legged on the wall-to-wall carpet and we would watch the Porter Wagoner Show. Lanky Porter would sing duets with voluptuous Miss Dolly. I remember one outfit she wore had a butterfly appliquéd on the bodice. With each powerful breath Miss Dolly’s butterfly would seem to take flight. “That little gal can sing,” said Daddy. Daddy was right!

23 February 2009

Tasting of Romagnan wines and a few French wines
Venue: Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche

A fine venue. Floor to ceiling windows – light and open spaces, views of a sculpture filled courtyard.

Here are the notes of some of the wines I tasted, in no particular order. (In fact, I tasted very little, having done a full tasting the day before. I did, however, have a complete visit to the museum – wonderful. I still remember the look on my mother’s face the day I told her I wanted to be a professional potter. Ah, but that is another story….)

Fattoria Zerbina Marzieno 2004 Vibrant ruby color. A full, forth-coming nose. Fresh cherry filled fragrance. This wine is magnificent. I swallow. I usually spit. It is very rare for me to actually let a taste slip down my throat. But this wine was just delicious. I sometimes use the word “Yummy” when I find a wine I really like and Italians will invariably ask me what the word means. I tell them it means delicious and satisfying – but warn that only women and children can use the word.

Delamotte Champagne Blanc du Blanc 1999 Fresh, fruity, surprisingly broad and appealing. I am used to a more linear style of Champagne but the appeal of this wine is undeniable.

Fattoria Zerbina Albana di Romagna Passito Scacco Matto 2006 Fresh. A precise note of Noble Rot on the nose. On the palate: mandarin, pineapple, green tea. Rich clean and vibratingly fresh on the finish. Great finesse.

“This is an excellent year for Noble Rot,” says Cristina G.

Fattoria Zerbina A.R. Passito 2005 A broader, fatter style than the preceding wine. Like juicy bubbles of luscious fruit (mandarin, tangerine, and apricot) bursting on the palate.

22 February 2009

Convito di Romagna Le Terra di Sangiovese zone visit and tasting
Visits: Fattoria Zerbina and Drei Dona

I will not tell you about thermal excursion, exposures, clonal selection or training methods…this isn’t the place for that kind of information. Instead I will tell you about children and animals! Cristina Geminiani (winemaker and owner) of Zerbina has 4 large, shaggy, eager, tail-wagging, black dogs. Her small children played with a fairy tale castle made of wood, plastic knights on horseback, a blue-gowned plastic princess and a jester or two. A very nice scene to behold.

At Drei Dona there are 10 dogs – 8 foundlings, 1 son of a foundling and a very attractive, white, sweet-tempered dog of a specific breed. One of the foundlings is called Machi. This is short for “Ma chi sei tu?” (But who are you?) These are the words uttered by Mr. Drei Dona when he opened his front door one morning to find her sitting on his front step. We also visited the Drei Dona stables – at least a dozen horses, a Shetland pony mare and her 20 day old son. It was the best dog and pony visit I have ever experienced.

Venue: for the tasting the Hotel Vittoria dining room (Faenza in Romagna)

2 vintages of each wine were presented. My identifier for Sangiovese is “cherry near the pit” – that means cherry flavor that is narrow and slightly sour (In a good way!). Also often there is silky texture when the wood is kept under control.

These are the notes of the wines I particularly enjoyed tasting.

Drei Dona Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva “Pruno” 2005 – Fresh, well knit – all of a piece. Sprightly. Attractive sour cherry fruit. A warm, spicy overlay of wood.

Drei Dona Sangiovese di Romagna 2008 – Bright beetroot sheen. Fresh, well-knit. The components are so precisely woven together that they create a satisfying whole. (Think tapestry.) Soft on the attack. Must try this when it is ready.

Fattoria Zerbina Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore “Pietramora” 2006 – A vibrant color – ruby with beet root highlights. A very tight weave of silky fruit on the nose and palate. Warm, soft tannin embrace the palate (this is often called “grip”). Satisfying. This is Fine Wine.

Fattoria Zerbina Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore “Pietramora” 2006 – Beetroot. Again. Tight weave that bodes well. A superb creamy cherry fruit and an undercurrent of warm, spiced wood. A wonderful weave of sensations. This is Fine Wine.

Tre Monti Sangiovese di Romagna “Thea” 2006 – Bright. Strangely soft on the palate but an intriguing flavor nonetheless. Sweet ripe cherry fruit.

Tre Monte Sangiovese di Romagna “Thea” 2008 Barrel Sample – Beetroot with fuchsia overtones. Bright. A thick-ish rod of fruit, vibrating acidity. Very young (obviously). Worth trying when it comes on the market.

Tre Monte Sangiovese di Romagna “Petrignone” 2008 Barrel Sample – beetroot color. Purity on the nose- creamy fruit sensations. Attractive – an interesting amalgam of sensations on the palate. Worth trying again to see how it develops.

Dinner with Producers and 20 journalists

Venue San Domenico (in Imola, Romagna)

One of Italy’s top restaurants (Michelin stars). The décor is like that of a well-to-do Italian home. We troop down to the long narrow cellar. It is composed of 4 small rooms. Cobwebby bottles galore. Here we have the aperitif and some pretty fabulous little snack-ettes.

One of the journalists bends low over a tray sitting on the edge of a table. His nose is less than 6 inches from the display of fishy things. He examines each in turn, then picks one up and pops in his mouth…keeping his shoulders hunched and his head within inches of the tray. He chews in this position. He does this act three times and then moves on to repeat the ritual over other plates of snacks. I am strangely fascinated by this bizarre behavior. Most civilized human beings will reach down and take something from a tray, step back so that others can approach the tray and then eat their chosen morsel. Michael says that perhaps he is just near-sighted and too vain to wear spectacles. I am not so kind in my assessment: I think he has slipped over the line from eccentric to insane. This is not based solely on his appalling eating habits.

And now let’s eat.

The bread: brioche-like rolls and a flat bread which Sergio Navacchia (of Tre Monti) tells me is called stregata. Michael describes them as Romagnan popadoms.

Slices of pheasants, a cube of goose liver and a dab of thick apple sauce, decorated with a slice of dried apple.

Uovo in Ravaiolo “San Domenico”. An egg boiled inside a ravioli jacket, served in a pool of butter. Wonderful but wicked. Somewhere I read (possibly in Kitchen Confidential by A. Bourdain) that the reason people find the food so satisfying in restaurants is – butter. Most home cooks are so cholesterol sensitive that they often substitute butter with margarine or omit it all together.

Guancialino di Vitello di Latte I am not much of a meat eater. But those who tried this said it great. All I could think of was how much I would like to bring it home to Stanley.

Desserts were phenomenal and too many to list. The outstanding one for me was crystallized orange slices.

Dinner Wines:

Fattoria Zerbina Pietramora 1995: A licorice undertow, silky, fresh, mature fruit. The idea of violets. Still appealing and youthful.

Fattoria Zerbina Pietramora 1990 Clay, tar, silky. Still an elegant wine but it is on the verge of its decline.

Drei Dona Pruno 1997 Again there is this silky texture that for me says good mature Sangiovese. Silky texture + cherry-near-the-pit flavor = Sangiovese. After 20 minutes it is even nicer.

Fattoria Zerbina Scatto Matto 1998 Pineapple vibration. An impeccable balance. Honey would be too simple to say. Fresh, youthful. It could go on for another 20 years.

Dinner conversation:

Sergio Navacchia: “I’m the founder of the winery and soon I’ll be gone. I started it with my wife as a hobby. She’s been gone twenty years. So, it was the greatest joy for me when my sons decided to devote themselves to the business. My son David has a degree in Law so he had another career when he decided to join Tre Monte.”

21 February 2009

I Grappoli del Veneto, del Trentino e Dell’Alto Adige This is a tasting of the wines that received top awards from A.I.S. (the Italian sommelier society) .
Venue: Palazzo Gran Guardia (Verona)

There are 129 wines on show. No, I do not taste them all. I usually go to these big tastings with a specific tasting plan in mind. (For example: only a particular grape variety or a particular style of wine). Once that assignment is done, then I taste other wines. If I have this kind of plan it makes the tasting more valuable to me. By that I mean that I concentrate on specific characteristics and am better able to deepen my understanding of a grape variety or the evolution taking place in a particular zone (and, hence, understand where the wines of the zone are heading). I am not a promiscuous taster.

Here are some of the wines I tasted listed in alphabetical order:
Begali Amarone “Monte Ca’ Bianco” 2003 A softness on the nose that carries on through the palate – a green note. The wine is aged in barrique and represents a “modern” style. It is produced only in good years. I usually like Begali very much. I will try this again at the next opportunity.

Borin Colli Euganei Cabernet Sauvignon Riserva “Mons Silicis” 2005 Grassy. It lacks the vivacity of some of the other wines of the zone. A bit hollow on the middle palate. Perhaps it is a duff bottle. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and try the wine again on another occasion.

Ca’Lustra – Colli Euganei Merlot Sassonervo Zanello 2006 – Rich, almost candied. Satisfying. Concentrated yet elegant.

“It is a wine to drink and enjoy. Not one to ponder,” said Franco Zanovello, the winemaker, with becoming modesty. Ca’Lustra – Girapoggio Zanovello Cabenet 2006 – Linear yet within that narrow corridor there is rich, fresh fruit. “Nice grip,” says Michael. I like the vivacity of Zanovello wines

I ask Franco why the name Ca’ Lustra does not appear on the front label. He explains that there are two lines: Ca’ Lustra and Zanovello. The Zanovello wines are definitely worth looking out for. Excellent.

Corte Sant’Alda Amarone 2004 This is the real deal. There is potent cherry fruit, vibrating acidity and ever-changing swirls of wood spice. Long flavorful finish.

Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore “Vigneto di Monte Lodloletta” 2004 The color of beet juice. Still very closed. A nice tannin whirl on the palate.

La Montecchia Colli Euganei Cabernet Sauvignon “Ireneo” 2006 Spiciness on the attack. Lovely soft berry fruit. A creamy finish.

Le Vigne di San Pietro Refola 2004 (A Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend – the Cab. has been semi-dried for 1 month before pressing) Elegance. Compact fruit, closely knit, an aura of richness, with an attractive hush of menthol throughout. Long finish. Superb wine.

Viviani Valpolicella Classico Superiore “Campo Morar” 2005 Silky cherry fruit. A nice snap of freshness. Very satisfying. A fine silky weave of cherry fruit and zesty acidity.

Viviani Amarone “Casa dei Bepi 2003 A wonderful cherry nose continues on the palate. Elegance with silky concentration. Soft tannins shape the flavor. Superb.
Music note: Look for Karima Ammar. She sang a song called Come in Ogni Ora on television last night and she was simple superb. Great Voice. Her first CD comes out shortly. Worth finding.

13 February 2006

Our pal Illias drops in on his way from London to Athens.
Venue: Hostaria La Vecchia Fontanina

The apple and Durello risotto is superb. The wines were nothing to write home about.
Table Talk: Illias told me that Dolly Parton wrote the immortal “I Will Always Love You”, a song made famous around the world by Whitney Houston. Illy said that I had not really heard the song until I had heard it performed by Dolly. I am not on a hunt for the song.

11 February 2009

The Valpolicella estate I visited in January has sent over three cases of samples.
Montezovo Ripasso Valpolicella Supeiore 2005 Dark, near opaque color. A very broad fruit-filled nose with a sprinkling of warm spices. Also broad on the palate. The cherry-ripe plum provides a satisfying sensation. A nice wine. Later I had a glass with a beef stew.

5 February 2009

Tasting Evening with wines from (Agostino) Vicentino
Venue: Al Bacaro dell’Arena (in Verona)

The restaurant this evening features the wines of Agostino Vicentini and his wife Teresa Bacco. The menu has been matched with the wines. “We’re eating stuff from the Lessini mountains tonight,” said Agostino as I sat down across from at the table reserved for friends.

The first wine is 2007 Soave Classico

– a fresh, floral nose. Green-gage plums. The palate follows the nose – always a good sign. Well-balanced. After 10 minutes in the glass the wine is still elegant firm and persistent. This too, is a good sign.
Montezovo Ripasso Valpolicella Supeiore 2005 Dark, near opaque color. A very broad fruit-filled nose with a sprinkling of warm spices. Also It is served with salami rounds on bread, assorted sliced meats and julienned vegetables under sweet vinaigrette. Also (fabulous!) thin-crust pizza topped with cheese from the Lessini mountains and mushrooms, with a touch of truffle cream.

“The antipasti are so good that you may eat too much,” says Agostino. “ You have to pace yourself tonight. This is only the beginning.”

The second wine is 2006 Soave Superiore “Il Casale”.

The rich ripe perfumes (of acacia, gentle hints of apricot) opens up even more after 10 minutes. Almost creamy on the palate. Full fruit filled finish. Ripe. Elegant freshness and balance. The creamy idea continues throughout. After 20 minutes it just keeps getting better.

“I use only stainless steel. Never wood. I want my wines to represent the territory. Wood would mask that,” says Agostino.

We taste the 2007 Soave Superiore “Il Casale”. A richness, a minerality. After 20 minutes it is richer and silkier. “It’s still young,” says Teresa.

“With the 2007 I wanted to change the style so I picked earlier,” says Agostino.

The wine is served with thick noodles ,topped with Porcini mushrooms and a sprinkling of freshly grated (at the table) truffle.

“With this dish,” says Agostino. “The 2007 goes perfectly.”

I like Agostino: he is a farmer. He really does work the land. He grows cherries and other fruit as well as the grapes he uses in his wines. I will admit here that I have a soft spot in my heart for wine producers who actually work their land. Somehow when I am confronted with a rich, chicly dressed lady or gent who lives in Rome or Milan but who has kindly decided to drop in at the winery to show the journalists around – well as nice as these people can be – I don’t get the feeling that they care about their products in quite the same way as a farmer does. There is not the visceral link that comes from getting your hands dirty, from seeing your vines change day by day throughout the growing season.

We are also served potato gnocchi with clarified butter and grated smoked ricotta. This dish reminds me of baby food for grownups. It does not work as well with the wine as the pasta.

2004 Valpolicella Superior “Idea Bacco” The name is a little play on words, Bacco being Italian for Bacchus and also Teresa’s maiden name. Firm, ripe cherry perfumes and flavors on the palate. He never uses new wood. Round, satisfying, alive in the mouth. A balance between acidity and flavor that delights.

“I want to make a great Valpolicella. Everyone is putting their best grapes into Amarone – I use them for my Valpolicella,” says Agostino. Hooray! Is what I say to that.

The wine is served with rounds of pork bathed in a wine sauce. Not a success. The sauce is too winey and does not really enhance the meat. This turns out to be a good thing because I ask if I can take my meat home to my dog (only a foreign journalist can get away with this. An Italian would die of shame if forced to ask for leftovers. ) So, small Stanley gets my meat and Teresa’s and some of Agostino’s too. (When I take it home, I wash off the sauce and Stanley is delighted!)

Recioto Bianco made from semi-dried Garganega grapes. Balance – the hallmark of any good sweet wine. Acidity lifting the silky cap of fruit. Greeny gold. Cleans the palate, leaving a rich sheen of fruit.
Served with a cheese plate.

We discuss wines that evolve with time – always the sign of a great wine. “Just today,” says Agostino “the wine buyer of a noted restaurant in the centro storico of Verona asked me if I had any 2008s!!! I had to tell them that the 2008 was still in tank. It would not even be bottled until April. What can you do with people like that?”

January 2009

My job is to taste wine and food. Yes, yes, I know (everybody says it): it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. As such, I am invited to dine out and taste fairly frequently. I have decided to share my uncensored notes on these occasions with you for the following reasons: 1) it will give you an insight into what the life of a wine taster-wine writer is like and 2) it will give me an opportunity to write about wines, foods, oddities, Italy and people in an informal way.:

January 2009

31 January

Amarone 2005 in anteprima
Venue: Giardini Giusti in Verona

This is an annual event. Because I wrote the first book ever devoted to Amarone, I am always eager to attend this tasting. When I was researching my book (1999) there were only around 55 producers who made Amarone in commercially viable quantities (6000 plus bottles). Then the boom came and suddenly everyone who had a back garden in Valpolicella wanted to become an Amarone producer. As a result the wine began to change its nature. (You can read me little tirade on the changes in Amarone in the Wine & Food section of this website. )

The things to look for when tasting Amarone are 1) balance (the alcohol must never seem like a separate element) and 2) the idea of cherries (when from Corvina is the primary grape) and ripe plums (when Corvinone is the predominant grape). Some 60 producers were represented at the tasting. I did not taste all their products but I did taste many.

Here are my favorites: Accordini (Stefano)

Amarone “Acinatico”: A full, satisfying, rich cherry fragrance that carries through on to the palate. A lovely expanding fullness on the finish. It is all of a piece – cherries from the first whiff through to the finish. This is simply superb.

“A good beginning, huh?” says Tiziano Accordini. “My wine has an advantage over some because it has been in bottle for 6 months and that helps. Bottle age is very important for this wine.”

Antolini (Pierpaolo and Stefano)

Amarone: Satisfying. Lots of Corvinone gives it a very ripe plum fragrance and flavor. Tightly knit. My favorite sommelier, Fabio Poli, took me to visit this estate a couple of years ago. “We have vineyards that are 40 years old,” says Pierpaolo. “People tell me to get rid of them and replant. But I say I’m not ready to do that. The vines still produce a very good product.” The most complex wines come from older vines.

Guerrieri Rizzardi

Amarone “Calcarole”: A linear but very concentrated quality. A warm, silky texture. More Corvinone than Corvina. “I prefer a wine that expresses territory to one that merely represents a production method, “ says Giuseppe Rizzardi. “That’s why we continue to also make a valid Valpolicella.” Hooray! Too many producers have stopped making Valpolicella in order to throw everything into their Amarone. Good for Guerrieri Rizzardi!

Speri

Amarone: A nice creamy sensation on the palate. Full-cherry fruit.

The company manages to make a good commercial product in large quantities (100,000 bottles – as compared to from 3,000 to 15,000 for the other producers in this list).

Venturini (Massimino)

Amarone: Cherries. Lovely controlled fullness. Attractive, well-balanced. Palate follows the nose. I like this wine. I ask the price in a shop…17 Euros!!! Wow, what a bargain. When I ask him how he manages to keep his prices so reasonable, Mr. Venturini says: “ Our company is a family business so we can keep are prices right. We have never had exaggerated prices.” Hooray for Venturini!!!

30 January

Venue: Monte Zovo Winery in Caprino Veonese

The very nice and capable PR person takes the circuitous and bumpy (though scenic) road through the hills to the spanking new winery. I arrive slightly carsick. Then fifteen journalists, Diego Cottini (the owner) and his son (Michele, the enologist) take us on a short stroll up to the slopes . For thirty minutes we stand in one of their vineyards. There is a nice cool breeze, warm sun (we have a Southern exposure) and we hear the short history of the enterprise. As new journalists arrive and wander up to join us, the story is repeated. After 25 minutes a plump and playful neighborhood cat strolls into the group and immediately captures the attention of 5 journalists, who eagerly abandon all pretense of listening and begin dragging twigs across the stones and tapping their shins in attempts to woo the cat.

We wander down and take a gander at the cellar. There are velvet drapes flanking the door to the ageing cellar. The gleaming floor is of red marble. Red marble Ionic columns. Large displays of dried flowers. Brocade or velvet drapes, with swags are at every doorway. I have never been in an ageing cellar like this. It looks like it could be used as a reception hall for a wedding party or as a ballroom. “Did you plan on using this space for something else?” I ask Michele. “My mother was in charge of the decorating,” he said. Mother is a fine decorator…she should be doing houses for the rich foreigners who buy places by Lake Garda. Her talents are (almost) wasted in a wine cellar.

A fabulous lunch is planned but I have to skip it in order to return home and do some work…slaving away in front of a hot computer. I taste quickly in a room where the fragrant lunch is being prepared. Not ideal tasting conditions. Diego promises to send sample to my home so that I can taste them in more tranquil conditions. My general impression at the wines is positive.

29 January

– The Missing Suitcase Saga continues…

American Airlines sends me a check for $200. This does not even cover the expense of buying a few clothes to get me through my seven days in New York City. Imagine arriving in a cold city and being expected to get by for a week with only the clothes you have been sleeping in on the plane. I wrote back pointing out that I had given my receipts to the baggage claim person at JFK (who gave me photocopies of them, thank goodness! ). Will this ordeal never end? I swear….all I want is to see my suitcase and its content again.

25 January

Venue: Ugo & Steffi’s on the occasion of Sterffi’s Birthday

An attractive and minerallyConte di Provoglio Franciacorta Saten to start, served with small pieces of lard and a savory potato and carrot strudel. Saten is a crement-style sparkling wine from the Lombardy region. The Castellare Chianti Classico 2006 is wonderfully rounded on the palate. Good cherry-near-the-pit flavor . Rich, fruit-filled finish. Broad unfolding warm fruit on the nose. A zesty minerality seems to spin through the whole and define the structure. It is served with slices of salami from Emilia-Romagna and Tuscan bread and bean soup. Baiocco Merlot from Ticino 2003, produced by Guido Brivio. Supple texture. Brambles and the idea of ashes. Light, clean. Served with roast beef, potatoes roasted with small pieces of lard and rosemary.

With the parmesan cheese: Masi 1988 Amarone. Still fresh and clean on the nose. A breath of fruit rises. The idea of incense on the nose that carries through on the palate. An attractive element. I put the cork back in the bottle between pours as the wine will not hold out much longer.

With a Grand Marnier infused cake, decorated with orange slices and gold- flaked pieces of chocolate: Donnafugata’s Ben Rye 2005. Golden tinged with orange. A fresh, full perfume of orange blossoms, mandarin oranges and acacia honey. These ideas carry through onto the palate. High toned. An idea of dried apricots. The richness is lifted and shaped by sprightly acidity. We score big points with Ugo for bringing this last wine. (Ugo, like most Italians, just does not “get” the pleasures of older vintages…and his lack of comment about the Amarone…spoke volumes). The Ben Rye brought comments like: “It has such elegance!” Ugo turned to Steffi and said: “Remember when I saw this wine at the restaurant in Trieste and I said: these people have good taste!”

“Is this a Pantelleria?” asks Steffi.

“This is Pantelleria!” replied Ugo, raising his glass. ***

We receive an SMS from Maz, who is in NYC representing a Veronese wine company at a trade fair. She is sending the message from Bone Lick Park. She and the Italian wine representatives she has taken there are having a fine old time!

January 17

Venue: The Osteria Carrormato

We take Stanley to the Carroarmato to see Annalisa. The music playing makes me want to dance. This is the first time I have wanted to dance in 11 days. The band that has shaken me back into a good humor is Gogol Bordello. Simone (a.k.a. Don Simone – because he is from Sicily., and D.J. Simone – because he often brings C.D.s to play at work) tells me that the members of Gogol Bordello are mainly Ukrainians, with a Chinese and an Ethiopian. They are based in…New York City. Of course.
January 16

I Campi di Flavio Pra Presentation of a new producer, followed by dinner
Venue: Villa de Winckels (Marsemigo di Tregnago, between Verona and Vicenza)

A fashion photographer from Milan has been hired to take pictures that will express the terroir of the vineyards. The music accompanying the slide show is Beyoncé singing “If I Were a Boy”. This is not a choice a native-English speaker would have made. When the slides are done the “fashion photographer” feels the need to explain each and every image. Here are two examples of his wisdom: “I imagined I was a nose with this one!” he crowed. And “The chair is a symbol of repose.” He mentions that he is a fashion photographer 5 times. He mentions that he is Sicilian 6 times. (Yes, I do keep count of these things.) The man cannot stop talking. The wine producer, Flavio Pra, stands politely to one side waiting his turn to speak. The fashion photographer seems to have forgotten that the event is about Mr. Pra and his wines. Now let’s eat.

The aperitif is a sparkling Durello. The snacks are superb. Two that I will insert into my own repertoire are: light spinach and potato puree balls and white brioche-like bread judiciously studded with pieces of hot pepper.

Our first course: a pool of soft yellow polenta, 2 small fans of sopressa sausage and 2 small braised radicchio leaves. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Excellent combination of textures. This is served with the producer’s Soave. Very nice. The wine has a palate cleansing minerality.

Then we are presented with a small mound of risotto al tartufo. Crunchy bits of black truffle in rice that holds its shape and gives the right amount of resistance. Then cheese gnocchi with grated smoked ricotta. I love the smoky, rich fragrance. This is served with Campi Prognare 2004 Valpolicella Superiore. The wine has a nice integration of wood…it is full, with a mulberry-cherry fruitiness. I like it very much. (I later find out the price and I curb my enthusiasm. 37 Euros strikes me as too much to pay for this wine. But price aside, it is a good wine.)

The main courses are Pastisada di cavallo (horsemeat stew is a specialty in these parts) followed by savory grilled lamb chops and roast potatoes. These dishes are served with the producer’s Amarone. The wine is just the right side of cough syrup. It is not bad but not among my favorites. (I later here that the price for this wine is 80 Euros. That strikes me as much too high. But then again, the producer only makes 500 bottles so I am sure he can probably find 499 clients.)

Then fresh green salad and a plate of Monte Veronses cheese, with a small dab of honey and three walnut halves. Very satisfying. This is followed by apple cake studded with chocolate chips served with a cooperative Moscato Fior d’Arancio from the Colli Euganei. The wine is just what it should be: fragrant, sweet and well balanced. Then a little something to go with the coffee: warm fritters filled with pastry cream.
January 13

I decided to stop in at a diner for one last New York breakfast before heading to the A train and the JFK Express.

“Poached eggs,” I say to the young man behind the counter.
“Eh?”
“Poached eggs.”
“Eh?”
“Huevos,” I say.
“Sandwich,” he asks, his eyes as moist and eager as a Central Park squirrel.
I decide I don’t want breakfast; I only want to go home.
******
I reach the airport 5 hours early in order to try and sort out my suitcase. I tour the vast and very full American Airlines lost luggage room. My suitcase is not there. While I am waiting for a form to fill out, 7 passengers come in to the Baggage Claim Center. All of them have had their luggage lost. I will not write that they lost their luggage because, of course, they did not lose their luggage. The Airline lost the luggage.
The return trip on Air France is uneventful (which is what you want in a flight), the cabin attendants are polite and helpful. If only my original flight had not been cancelled…. Did you know that Air France offered to buy Alitalia but were turned down!! Excuse me, I feel tears welling up. Deep breath!
Back into real life…

I return to find that my pal Simon Mawer has received a glowing review for his new novel The Glass Room. Simon and I are members of the English Writers in Italy group (see our wonderful website www.englishwritersinitaly.com ) I have also received my contributor’s copy of The Business of Wine: An Encyclopedia. The cover looks much prettier than I expected. Most reference books have austere covers in order to prove their seriousness.
January 12

I cry some more on the phone to the baggage claim people. I also cry when alone.
I call a Midtown restaurant that is modeled on a famous Verona Osteria. The manager of the Verona osteria (and daughter of one of the owners of both these places) has suggested that I give the NYC version a ring.
“Ask for Fabio or K.C.,” she says. “Tell them I sent you and that you are a Donna del Vino. Fabio loves Donne del Vino.”
I ring and Fabio gets on the line. I tell him that D…. suggested I call. The silence that follows that remark is deafening. Undaunted I use the Donna del Vino ploy. The response is more silence. I make a third attempt at starting a conversation. The response this time is: “What can I do for you.” I tell him that I would like to drop by and look the restaurant over (not saying that I write restaurant reviews for magazines.) His reply sounds wary.
When I hang up, I run the conversation through my built-in, shock-proof shit detector (as Hemingway calls it) and realize that there is a more than 50% chance that I will be treated like a worm if I show up at the restaurant. After my ordeal with the suitcase I am in no mood to be treated badly by a waiter. So instead….
Russell and I go booking (pawing though old books) at some downtown thrift shops. “It sorta make you think: what’s the point of it all,” says Russell. “I mean, you write a novel knowing that someday its gonna end up here.” We muse on all the names that used to turn up at thrift shops: Thorne Smith, John Collier, Thomas Tryon, Patrick Dennis, Peter DeVries. What happens to books once they are no longer even charity shop worthy? I love Peter DeVries, by the way, and there was a time when every book shop owner knew that Patrick Dennis wrote Auntie Mame.

Lunch with Russell
Venue: Stage, a hole-in-the-wall diner two blocks down from Union Square.
We squeeze onto two stationary stools next to the counter. A griddle sizzles with a pile of chopped potatoes, a couple of eggs and a hamburger. “Heros [in novels] all have to be so perfect these days,” says Russell. “They have to be the best at everything. I like a hero who is flawed.” Russell gives me a Tony Strycharz Memorial Golf Classic duffle bag in which to tote my few new possessions back to Verona.

Dinner with Mickey, Susan, Dore and Priscilla
Venue: Bone Lick Park Bar-B-Que Greenwich Ave. in the Village

I would highly recommend this place. The pork ribs are tender and not overly sauced. I try a forkful of Mickey’s macaroni and cheese that takes me right back to my childhood. An 8-foot long red neon Coca Cola sign hangs behind the bar. Because everything else in the restaurant (tin roof, walls, tables, chairs, etc.) is white, the looping flow of letters looks rather elegant. The service is friendly but not intrusive. I plan on suggesting it to all my New-York-Loving Italian friends. And I plan on returning the next time I am in New York in order to work up a review.
January 11

I call the airline. I want to know when to expect the bag. They haven’t got a clue as to where my bag is. The headache that has been shifting around my frontal lobe during this week suddenly expands into full blown pain. The Madeira I promised for the Watson Fund Charity raffle may never resurface. I feel I have let my friends down. I feel sick.
If we have indeed lived former lives, I am sure I must have been a mutt with a touch of Border Collie in my mix. I have a sense of duty and loyalty that can only be described as “dog-like”. I call Thom U. Unfortunately he could not make it into NYC for the Big Sherlockian Doin’s. Thom is wonderful: he calls me on every major holiday and many points in between. We commiserate.
Once roused, my Border Collie within starts to pace and whine. “It’s not your fault the bottle was lost,” all my friends say. But try reasoning with a Border Collie.
January 10

The Booksellers Room
Venue: The Algonquin Hotel

Vinnie Brosnan, a kind and generous man who deals in Sherlockiana – books and memorabilia – has kindly given me a corner of his table. Partly, I am here to sell copies of Ladies, Ladies: The Women in the Life of Sherlock Holmes and Bacchus at Baker Street. But the main reason I am here is to see all my friends who will not show up at the cocktail party later in the day. Guy M., drops by and says that the Sherlock Holmes Society of London is thinking of making a trip to Italy in 2012. I do my best to convince him to aim for Verona and Cremona. Over the last few years other Sherlockians have found their way to me. I still cherish the visit made by Vinnie, his wife Flavia and son Mike.

Vinnie’s daughter – Cella Blue in arte – comes to help out at the stand. She is a singer with a band called White Ghost Shivers and has just returned from a tour in Italy. She is just as intelligent, confident and kind as the rest of her family. Vinnie is one fortunate man! And while I am promoting bands, Scotland, the designer of this website, is a drummer with the ALSO in Los Angeles.

Baker Street Irregular’s Cocktail Party
Venue: New York Bar Association Club
Decent grub. Okay wine. Jolly waiters. None of the Italian Sherlockians have come but I find a nice nest with the Germans – Jan, whom I met a few days ago, and his pal Michael. I try to convince the other English Sherlockians (or Holmesians as they are called) who cross my path to come to Verona and Cremona. I will continue to lobby for this plan.
January 9

– I find a message on voice mail saying that “for some reason” Alitalia says it will put my bag on the Saturday flight (rather than the Friday flight) and American will deliver the bag to me on Sunday.

Lunch – The William Gillette Luncheon
Venue: Moran’s Chelsea Restaurant (10th at 19th Street)

Brick walls, some wood paneling and a blazing fire in the grate. The management is always very indulgent with their annual Sherlockian invasion. The food is just fine – it is never easy to serve a meal for a pack of 50 or so but the staff manages to do it unobtrusively. I get heaps of lost luggage sympathy from Susan V., Marilynn Mc. and Peter and Beverly B.

A Break with Randall
Venue: Petrossian’s Café in Midtown Manhattan

Lovely smells from the baked goods. Pleasant service. Nice looking sandwiches and, according to Randall my mid-town correspondent, the prices are good. I am sure there are those who pass this place by, fearing that they will be force-fed caviar and Champagne should they enter. (I can think of worse fates.) I will go back the next time I find myself in Midtown.

Dinner: With the Baker Street Irregulars
Venue: The Union League Club (East 37th Street)

I love this do. It is a chance to see most of my Sherlockian pals. However, I am exhausted from a combination of jetlag and bag-stress. I can barely keep my eyes open….the only thing that keeps me upright in my chair is the horrific vision of me slumped over my plate, my cheek resting on a slab of meat, mashed potatoes smearing my glasses. Whenever sleep seems imminent I bring this vision to mind and my head snaps back and my spine straightens. Fortunately the program is amusing…laughter keeps me awake. Quote of the evening (made by Mike W. – a.k.a. Wiggins): “The French Sherlockians are the looniest.” Italian Sherlockians try to reproduce English seriousness. French Sherlockians attempt to capture English eccentricity and end up being manic. The German Sherlockians I have met (all two of them) seem like nice, beer-drinking guys.


January 7

I spend the morning and early afternoon weeping on the phone to airline baggage operators.
Dinner with the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes
Venue: O’Casey’s

Wood paneling and filled book shelves – the right venue for a pack of Sherlockians. I see my old gang and I meet Jan, a nice chap from Germany. Lyndsay Faye, a witty young Sherlockian, passes round pictures of her new book cover.

The novel features Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. The publication timing is excellent as the new SH movie is soon to be released. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as Our Holmes and (Ugh!) Jude Law as Watson. “This will be good for attracting a younger crowd to Sherlock Holmes events,” says Russell. “I mean, Robert Downey Jr. just got through playing Iron Man.” I try for a full 15 seconds to imagine a fan of Iron Man plunked down in the middle of full Sherlock Holmes Mania. Everyone tells me that my bag will turn up tomorrow.

January 8

– I phone the airline and do a fresh job of sobbing; I cannot get out of the automated loop. Dear Miss Susan, who used to be a travel agent, finds the magic number to call in order to talk to a human being. Still no word on my case. I call Rhonda, who is in town just for the day. She and her husband may have a Diego Rivera painting and have taken it in to be appraised at Sotheby’s. OOO, if it is authenticated, the sale price could help send at least one of their three children to college. I have known Rhonda for around 15 years…in Verona. She moved back to the States last year. We have never seen each other in our native country. Unfortunately, my problems with the airline baggage people have eaten up time and I can only talk to her on the phone…no time to see her.
Dinner with Marry Ellen, Philip, Kate, Evelyn, John, and other Sherlockians
Venue: The Player’s Club
The club is in a brownstone near Gramercy Park. The atmosphere is perfect for the occasion – a rippling waver between grand theatricality and cozy comfort. The other patrons of the restaurant make me think of Damon Runyon types: an ageing platinum blonde, a 70-year old man dressed in black with a large red flower in his button hole, sleek youngish (in the dim light of the room) men who burst into song every now and then. The food is fine, the wine better than most New York clubs. The menu features things like Ethan Hawke Pot Roast, Timothy Hutton Filet Mignon and the Bogart Burger. We toast Irene Adler, Sherlock Homes and Mycroft, among others. A lovely evening.
January 6th

The Chaos Begins

It is 5:30a.m. I am standing in front of the train station waiting for the airport bus. Michael rings to say that he has just had an email from my pal (and Travel Queen) Mary Ellen, who has told him that my flight on Air France has been cancelled due to bad weather in Paris. At the airport I am re-ticketed on to Alitalia with a connection to American Airlines. A fist seems to clench around my heart. I look at my bag and think: I will never see this suitcase again.
I look deeply into the eyes of the Alitalia ticket agent and say: “This bag will get to New York, right?”
She rolls her eyes and exchanges an “oh-these-tiresome-passengers”-look with her colleague. “Certo, signora,” she says. “Look the tag says JFK. Don’t worry” There is no time to press the point as I must race to my new flight. I climb up the stairs to the plane and ask the steward if my bag will make the plane. “There is plenty of time, Signora. Don’t worry,” he says. He motions me down the aisle, his eyes already on the person behind me.
I worry.
I arrive at JFK to discover that my suitcase did not make the plane.
I go to Mickey and Susan’s apartment in the Village to pick up the keys to Evelyn’s apartment. While I have been in the air, emails, too, have been flying. I arrive to find that M&S have rustled up a tooth brush and some make-up samples, Kate has packed a bag of clothes for me, Evelyn has given me the run of her closets and Dore has offered anything and everything she has Others have written offering jewelry, petticoats and even shoes. I sit and bask in the joy of friendship. I let myself be convinced that I will once again see my suitcase, which is filled with all my favorite clothes and the bottle of rare Madeira I brought as a prize for the Dr. Watson charity raffle.
At 6 I head downtown to meet Russell at a book signing – not his. His detective novel –

Losers Live Longer – will be out in about 9 months. The cover is going to be used as an example of creative cover art in Publisher’s Weekly. OOO extra publicity! We are all delighted. Russell brings a six-pack of Dortmunder beer to the party and we drink a bottle in tribute to Don Westlake who passed away on New Year’s Eve. (John Dortmunder is a comic character in some of Don’s novels, who was named after the beer.) Many years ago I house-sat for Don at his brownstone in the Village. He was a vital, intense, intelligent man and to die quickly while preparing to go to a party is the right way for him to leave this world.

New Year’s Eve/January 1st

Venue: The kitchen of Ugo & Steffi’s apartment in Verona

We are guests of Ugo, Steffi and their 12 year old twins, Francesco and Giovanni. The other guests are Stefania’s sister and her two children – three and a half year old Tomaso and Greta (who is one and a bit and named for Garbo) – and Stefania’s mother. Ugo is cooking. We start with and apple and shrimp risotto, served with a dry sparkling wine. Then red mullet with a sauce made with grapes (which have been preserved in grappa), pine nuts and thinly sliced and then chopped onions – all sautéed in olive oil. Ugo has cajoled the recipe out of Marco, the chef at the Hosteria Vecchia Fontanina. This trattoria is one of Stanley the dog’s favorites because the cooks there often give him tit-bits of meat. I seldom cook meat at home so Stanley goes into paroxysms of joy whenever he sees one of these gents. He also get’s meatballs at Franco’s (a.k.a. Osteria Sotto Riva) and from Annalisa and Lara at the Osteria Carroarmato. This dog has one great life.

“Ugo, has been worrying all day about this recipe. Marco said to cook the onions until they were tramonte (stunned),says Steffi.

“How do you stun an onion?” We discuss this at length and decide it means to sauté until almost translucent.

With the red mullet we drink Cantaldi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut. Then out comes the Crémant le Bourgogne Rosé for the cheese platter (young Brie, Grana Padano ) served with a Quince jam made by Steffi’s mum.

“It’s snowing! “ The boys cry from the living room. “Come and look!” Snow in Verona is a rare occurrence. “É bianchisimo!” says Tomaso, transfixed by the sight. “Look, it’s staying on the roof tiles!”
We put on a DVD of Natalie Dessay performing her most famous stage roles. What a voice. At midnight the boys pass out sparklers and we watch the fireworks over the roof-tops. Ugo passes round glasses of Champagne (Heidsieck Monoploe Blue Top) then heads into the kitchen to heat up the cotechino (a pork sausage) and lentils. If you start the New Year with this meal you will have good luck and opportunities to make money. Then Ugo passes the grapes around. Everyone must eat exactly 12 grapes – a tradition that will no doubt also ensure more good luck for the coming year. The boys put on their jackets, grab the camera and head out to take photos of snow in the piazza.
At two we walk home. The pavement is made of hard, smooth (and slippery when wet) stone. There are a few people out marveling at the snow.

Feb 2010

My job is to taste wine and food. Yes, yes, I know (everybody says it): it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. As such, I am invited to dine out and taste fairly frequently. I have decided to share my uncensored notes on these occasions with you for the following reasons: 1) it will give you an insight into what the life of a wine taster-wine writer is like and 2) it will give me an opportunity to write about wines, foods, oddities, Italy and people in an informal way.:

February 2010
This month’s music pick is Marco Mengoni. (See December 2009 Diary) He does a version of Psycho Killer that is better than David Byrnes’s. His album is in the Italian charts. You can download some of his music on I-Tunes.
Coming up next month: off to Venice for a restaurant, wine and fancy food show. Also a trip to a Franciacorta producer and some blind tasting with oenology students at the University of Verona.

February 25

A Pet Lawyer is a Joy

There is a Willie Nelson song that goes: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.” In times of depression I re-write those lyrics: Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers. For the last ten days I have had trouble breathing. I have had to take in great ragged breaths to get air into my lungs. Being a writer (and therefore, no stranger to anxiety) I realized that the cause of this respiratory ailment is: Publishers Who Do Not Pay.

I went to a lawyer today. Thank God he is one of those periphery friends that a person acquires as life goes by and, therefore, will not charge me a huge sack of money for the letter he will write on my behalf. Giuseppe, the lawyer, talks about lawsuits in the casual way a wine taster talks about Cabernet. After our meeting I return home and realize that I CAN BREATH.

February 22

Conference on Sangiovese di Romagna and wine marketing on the web.

The title of this section says it all. After the conference we caught the train back to Verona.

February 21

Sangiovese di Romagna – The 2009 vintage

(For tasting notes on 2008 vintage of the following wines, a description of the restaurant San Domenico in Imola and some swell photos of the Drei Dona dogs and horses see February 2009 Diary) We travel to Faenza in Romagna to taste wines from the 2009 vintage. Sangiovese di Romagna is – unfortunately – often overlooked by wine consumers, who sometimes fail to realize that the silky texture and cherry-near-the-pit flavour they appreciate in wines like Chainti Classico and some Brunello di Montalcinos comes from the Sangiovese grape variety. I would urge anyone reading this to try an good Sangiovese di Romagna. What follows are the notes of the wines I tasted today that I particularly like.

All the wines below are from the 2009 vintage and are listed in order of my tasting them.
Thea from Tre Monte Vibrant fuchsia-infused cherry red. On the nose a soft weave of ripe fruit revolves around a firm, fine acidity. A warm plumy fruit on the palate. An idea of dark chocolate. Long satisfying finish.

Montebrullo from Costa Archi Again the fuchsia sheen over dark ruby . A pleasant burnt undertow. Nice, mid-length finish.

Domus Caia from Stefano Ferucci A minerally element on the nose that carries on to the palate. The finish is more astringency than fruit at this point. I would like to try it after it has more time in bottle.

Gallegati from Corallo Nero Bright. Vibrant a bitter cherry fruit. Long fruit filled finish – an amalgam of cherries and raspberries and a tough of tar. Nice.

Pietramora Fattoria Zerbina A soft, deep rose sheen over rich ruby. On the nose a tight weave – silky texture – cherry-like fruit, a touch of minearlity. Very silky on the entry then it expands on the middle-palate becoming almost velvety. A fine ripple of ripe cherries, a light touch of prunes. Lively, uplifting mineral zestiness.

Nonno Rico from Poderi Morini Dark, deep color. Near opaque. Fresh. A bolt of acidity is ringed by firm fruit flavour. Earthy. Very ripe cherries, a gentle plumy undertow.

“Jolly label,” says Michael.

Pruno from Drei Dona A Christmasy spicy fruit shot through with uplifting steely notes. The fruit is on the plumy side. It develops a velvety texture on the finish. Long. Satisfying.

Then with dinner:
2008 Il Tornese from Drei Dona (a Chardonnay and Riesling blend). A nice firm round marble of fruit on the palate suspended in a burry finish acidity. Attractive and versatile. A nice weight on the palate.

2005 Ari from San Patrignano Silky texture. A fresh appealing knobbly blend of blackberry, bitter cherry fruit. Satisfying finish.

1997 Pietramora from Zerbina. An involving fruity warmth. A very inviting wine. Gives smooth, sensual pleasure. An amalgam of ripe cherries, plums with a firm undertow of tar. A fine wine.

Scatto Matto 2001 Zerbina. Ambrosial. Vibrant orange-tinged bursts lift and excite the honeyed fruit. Vibrant is the word. The wine is alive on the palate.

(Last year we had Fattoria Zerbina Scatto Matto 1998 – Pineapple vibration. An impeccable balance. Honey would be too simple to say. Fresh, youthful. It could go on for another 20 years. )

February 14

Giuletta of the Spirits

We go to see the one-woman show: Giulietta. It is based on the Federico Fellini film of the same name. The actress, Monica Ceccardi, is simply superb.

February 13

Photo and Aperitif Opportunities

We spend 4 hours following a Sicilian photographer, 2 good looking models, a make-up lady and 2 Soave consortium reps (Lucia and Anna ) as they set up shots for a publicity campaign devoted to Soave. Why? Because Aldo (the director of the consortium) had wanted Ugo (who is a regular in our life and therefore a regular in these diaries) to act as go-between between the troop and the two bars he had chosen as backdrops for the photos. Ugo is in Berlin for the film festival so Michael has stepped in as osteria consultant. The two osterias by the way are the Mezzaparte in Piazza Erbe and Osteria Sottoriva (a.k.a. Franco’s)

February 12

We go to see M.’s new film. M. Is a young Veronese with a rich and indulgent father.

“It’s a horror film” says Michael

I think: This is good news. If M. has actually picked a genre, maybe this means that the film will have a beginning, a middle and an end – in that order.

M. gets up in front of the audience to introduce the film.

“The film should be 2 hours long,” he says. “But when we were editing we realized that there was something wrong with the audio in the first part and everyone sounds like Yoda. So we are only going to show the last hour. Think of it as being like Kill Bill Vol. I and II.”

At the end Geppy (who crops up in many of these Diaries) says: “If it had been 2 hours it would have been really hard going.”

“Of course,” Geppy says. “M. is young.”

“How old is he?” I ask.

“24.”

“That’s not young,” say I.

“Maybe not in America but it is in Italy,” says Geppy, with a wry smile.

February 11

Ah, Sweet Youth

I receive a missive from the Social Security Administration that lists my income from the time I was 20 years old. Yikes! I am a long way from Social Security Time but the purpose of this kind letter was to suggest that I should be selecting the cardboard box in which I plan on spending my declining years. I pour a glass of the Drei Dona’s Graf Noir and try it with my lunch: a macaroni and spinach casserole. It doesn’t work as well as it did with the bean-based dish of yesterday. But the wine has a softness which functions with the soft mildly cheesy pasta-based dish.

We spend the afternoon extemporizing new lyrics for Desmond Dekker & the Aces’s hit Isrealites. Substituting the word Durell-e-o-lites. Ah, we are easily amused.

February 10

Bean Burrito-ish thing and a Fine Wine

2000 Drei Dona Tenuta La Palazza “Graf Noir” (made form primarily Sangiovese, Negretto Longanesi and Cabernet Franc) A very rich, softly diffused ruby with a warm near brown sheen. A fine supporting acidity surrounded by very ripe berry fruit – cherry, raspberry, wild berry fruit. A silky texture that caresses the mouth. (Forgive me but that is what I felt.) A fine, soft weave of fruit (cherry, very ripe plums) and an almost minerally zest. Long, flavourful finish. Satisfying. After tasting the wine I decide to have a glass with lunch. I feel slightly guilty about setting the glass down beside my bean burrito filling served on an Italian piadina, which is the closest thing to a tortilla I can find at the supermarket. The conventional wisdom is: great red wines with red meat. But! I am surprised at how nice the bean filling merges with the wine.

I email Michelle (Lovric, oh she of the novels set in Venice – see April 2009- which includes a picture of her plastic rat-gun – and July 2009 Diaries) who is a great cook and a vegetarian. I tell her vegetarians should take note of this wine. It certainly has great potential for bean–based dishes.

I write to the South African organization saying that I will judge at their tasting.

“You don’t want to travel right now,” says Michael. “But you will when August rolls around.” He is right.

February 9

Tasting with the Durello-ites
Venue: L’officina di Gustolocale in Vicenza
This is an event in aid of Lessini Durello. A DOC zone located in the Lessini Mountains (near Vicenza). The team at the Soave Consortium also handles the Durello Consortium. I bring an “I Love New York” plastic bag filled with trinkets from my recent trip to NYC for the Soave/Durello crew. I love these people. All are young and energetic and filled with enthusiasm. Believe me when I say that this attitude is NOT at all common for typical consortium employees. The small Durello DOC makes both still and sparkling wines from the Durella (yes the grape ends in “a” and the wine ends in “o”.) Michael and I went to the first Durello symposium – 11 years ago? 14 years ago? It was held at the Bolca Natural History Museum, a very fine archaeological museum in the Lessini mountains. (Should you be in the area and have an interest in fossils or are travelling with children…a visit would be well worth the effort. See fossilized sharks and palm trees! All found right here in the Lessini!)

We taste two flights of 5 wines each blind. (Do I have to tell you that blind means without being informed of the names of the wines in our glasses?) There is a ringer in each set. I get the ringers. But I have to admit that I did not identify the provenance of both of them. One was a Champagne with an apply quality that sometimes says “Chardonnay” to me. But it lacked the zippy acidity of a really top class Champagne so I would not commit myself to more than “Chardonnay. It turned out to be a Champagne on the cheap side.

Let me say this. My identifier for low level Durello is: fizzy aspirin. For good Durello the identifier is a zippy, sweet-lemony-tinged flavour and clean finish.

The first set of 5 were made with the Charmat method. This means that second fermentation (the one that adds the sparkle) takes place in tanks.

I will not tell you the names of the wines we tasted. I will give you highlights (or lowlights) from my notes. “A puff of lemony fruit that narrows to a sappy finish.” “Selzer.” “Lemon Fizzies” (Do your remember Fizzies? They were tablets of sugar and artificial fruit flavours that frothed up when dropped in water. )

The one I liked best was made by the Cantina di Soave. My note reads: Fresh, a smooth visceral sheen. A fine, grapey astringent quality.

The second batch of five were all made with the Champagne Method. This means that the second fermentation takes place in bottle.

My favourite was a 2003 Marcato Durello Pleasing. Fresh nuts mingle with bright, lemony fruit on the finish. A vibration of acidity. A fine swirl of soft fruit. Drinkable (and that is really what we are aiming for).

After 10 minutes the salinity comes to the fore in a pleasing way.

Michael says: “It was a jolly evening. Because there are so few of them, the Durello-ites are all pretty nice.” Durello-ites: remember you heard it here first.

We spoke with young Enrico Marcato, who is travelling with a missionaries zeal to promote Durello. “I go to the States around four times a year,” he says. Having just returned from Germany, he will, in a few days, be heading out for New York, Texas and other points, ending up in Miami.

I have to say it is thrilling to have been here and seen for myself the development of Durello wine. For years I had an active dislike for it. “Fizzy aspirin,” I would mutter contemptuously. BUT… in the last two years I have found sparkling Durellos that are light and charming and imminently drinkable.

However, when some Durello producers try to put Durello in the class with Champagne, I smile indulgently.

2 March

Gusto in Scena
A gray scrim hangs over Venice. There is a vaporetto strike and we walk to the stop where the hotel launch makes its hourly pickups. Streets I have never seen before shimmer out of the fog. We are here to visit Gusto in Scene, a food and wine fair organized by Marcello Coronini, an amiable and enthusiastic man who loves his job.

The event is held (and we stay at) the Molino Stucky Hilton, a colossal brick pile on the Giudecca.

We run into Beppe and Egle, a nice a couple journalists from Genoa who turn up at every single food and wine gathering. I trust their recommendations completely. Beppe takes us to try a culatello, the most delicate part of a prosciutto crudo. The meat is aged for 26 months. The rose-pink slices are transparent. There is a delicately nutty undertow in the flavor.

“This,” says Beppe “is poetry.”

The first wine I taste is from the Franciacorta producer Villa. The 2006 Villa Rose Brut (40% Pinot Noir, 60& Chardonnay) is wonderful. A vibrant orangey salmon color. The nose is firm, creamy and clean with a fine hush of delicate fruit scents. Raspberry, wild berries – merge into something distinct and unique. The palate follows the nose. Very elegant. Flavorful long finish.

“We tried experimenting with the percentage of Pinot Noir,” says Paolo Pizziol. “But we found that increasing the Pinot Noir led to a loss in elegance.”

I said to Michael as we walked away: “If we win the lottery, I want a glass of this wine everyday with my lunch.”

Other wines we tried that particularly appealed to me:

Le Vigne S. Pietro 2008 Custoza Apricot-y fruit. Nice weight in the mouth.

A representative of the winery says: “I believe that our Custozas have the structure to last.” He also says that the winery will be presenting its first Amarone at Vinitaly this year. I will swing by and try it on that occasion.

One of the most intriguing white wines I have come across in a long time is the 2009 Palistorti Bianco from Tenuto di Valgiano. It is a blend of Vermentino, Trebbiano and Chardonnay. A fine tallow gold to a clear rim. Apricot fused with green gauge plums. A crisp minerality. It has energy – undulating acidity. An exceptionally attractive wine. I will try it again when an occasion arises.

I spoke with Laura di Collobiano of Tenuto di Valgiano. She told me that the grapes for some wines are still pressed by foot. “I’ve done it myself,” she said.

The other two wines we tried here were of excellent quality: 2007 Palistorti Rosso Soft ruby color. Very soft on the middle palate. A long finish. Almost thick with dark berry fruit. A gentle undertow of tar.

I have made it a policy to only name the good to great wines that I taste. However, I will include some notes (without identifying the producer) on wines that do not fall into that category. Here comes one now.

We wander up to the end of a table. A man rushes out to greet me. “You visited our cantina last year, Signora,” he says. I have no memory of this. We parry for a while and determine that I visited the winery in 2008. The memories come rushing back when I taste the wines again. They are too soft. They lay – flaccid – in the mouth.

Think about what it is like to shake hands with someone who places his clammy paw in yours and does not participate in the handshake. Think of the creepy feeling that experience leaves you with. Well, that is the impression these wines give me. The raw material is excellent. The packaging is excellent. But this winery needs some human being who will come in and let what personality these wines may be capable of to show itself.

Back to nice wines…

We stop at Tessere, a producer from the Piave. Her dry 2004 Raboso spends 24 months in tonneaux. A lovely, round “furry” (in a pleasing way) sensation. A soft burry fruit, a brambly warmth, an idea of spice rather than a firm sense of it. Intriguing.

“We serve this wine with venison accompanied by chocolate-based sauce,” says owner of the estate.

Tesseres also makes a Piave Raboso-based sweet passito wine called Rebecca that is very appealing.

We meet at the Daniele Hotel for before dinner drinks. The barmen at the Daniele are Real Pros. They are offering Rossini (Strawberry juice and Prosecco) and Vespa Martinis (2 parts Gordon’s Gin, 1 park Vodka and a dash of angostura bitters, garnished with a curl of lemon peel). This drink was invented decades ago when Casino Royale was being filmed here.

Alessandro, the barman, has worked at the Daniele for 14 years. “I love my job,” he says. “You have to love this work because when the rest of Italy is on holiday you have to stay and work.”

A man next to us nods towards the perfect rows of glasses, each garnished with a slice of strawberry. “Notice how each strawberry is exactly the same size and width –now that’s professionalism,” he says.

Then we – some 70 people – troop off to dinner. All of these people have been attending a food and wine event. All of them are professionals in the trade – as journalists, publishers of wine and food magazines or as exhibitors. I will not name the restaurant we went to.

If you have read these diary entries or any of the restaurant reviews I write for magazines – or if you actually know me! – you know that I love to describe good food and that I always take notes when I am dining out in a professional capacity. I try to take notes at this meal but my descriptions for the first three dishes include things like: “too much salt” and “unfocused”. So I gave up. And then there is The Incident of the Imperious Sommelier .

The first wine offered is an entry level wine from a producer that we know well. (An entry level wine is the least expensive wine in a producer’s range.) I taste it and it is not as it should be. There are no chemical faults but the wine seems tired and dull. Since I like this producer and admire his wines I want the wine presented to our table of Italian wine writers and publishers (and one Real Paparazzo!) to show at its best.

I ask the sommelier to bring our table another bottle as the wine did not display its usual freshness. To which she replies:

“We know this producer.”

“So do we. We taste his wines frequently,” I say.

“Three of us have tried the wine,” she says. “And there is nothing wrong with it.”

“I am not saying the wine is corked. But I am saying that the wine is not as fresh as it should be.”

She straightened her spine and says haughtily: “I am a campionessa of (Something, I frankly do not remember the competition that she won because I was still amazed at her condescending tone.) And there is nothing wrong with this wine.”

“I too am a campionessa,” I said. I must confess to experiencing a certain pleasure as I watched her bite back the impulse to shriek: “No you aren’t!” (I figured: I’ve won prizes – haven’t we all?.) “I have also studied enology and worked as a sommelier,” I said. (And I have.) “I am not saying that the wine is corked. I am merely saying that this particular bottle is not showing as well as it should.”

She huffed away.

Now let us examine this little drama. I was asking her for another bottle of a wine that costs the restaurant under $7. I know this price because I know the producer and I have seen his price list. We were not asking her to rip the cork out of another bottle of 1961 Lafite or a rare vintage of Sassicaia. All she had to do was be gracious.

My first evening on the job as a sommelier (at a very chic restaurant in New York City), the head sommelier said: “Our job is to make sure that every customer leaves this restaurant with a smile on his face. Our job is theatre. The protagonist is the client. You are only a supporting player – there to make sure that everything goes well for the client.” Our restaurant’s policy when a client decided to send a wine back was to smile and remove the bottle and bring the client what he/she asked for. If we thought the wine was really in good condition, we would bring it back to the kitchen and give the cooks and wait staff a chance to taste an excellent wine. Everybody was happy.

This incident gave my Italian colleagues a chance to vent their ire at the growing Sommelier Cult in Italy.

“Sommeliers think they are wine experts,” says Otmar. “They are not!”

“They don’t realize that they are there to be wine waiters,” adds Alberto.

At many of the national and international sommelier competitions the participants are quizzed on their knowledge of wine regions, grape varieties, decanting techniques, etc. All of this information is important. However, there is another fundamental aspect of a restaurant sommelier’s job that is often ignored. A good sommelier must be able “to read” a table. He or she must be able to recognize when to offer assistance and when to shut up and serve. This requires sensitivity and grace. Both are qualities to be admired and respected.

5 March

The Castellane di Soave do Corot

I am a proud and happy Castellana di Soave. This means that I was awarded a certificate and the “key” to the town of Soave at a really swell ceremony held in courtyard of Soave castle. Castellane are selected for their active appreciation of Soave wine.

A bus load of some 50 ladies and 8 gents (spouses) arrived in Verona. Michael and I met them at the Gran Guardia and we trooped up the colossal white stone staircase to an exhibition called “Corot e l’Arte Moderna”.

We met up again at the Il Bersaglio for dinner. Leo Ramponi, the boss here, loves people, food and wine. The food is good and rib-sticking. Leo chooses every wine himself – he knows his wine cellar intimately. This ensures that a customer will get good, reliable and sincere advice. The restaurant has an olive oil list that describes the flavors and olive varieties used in each oil. He has a sprits list that includes whiskies, scotches, rums, calvados and more obscure items. Again, Leo knows them all and can help the client make an informed decision.

And guess what wine our group of Castellane is served? The same wine that created “the incident of the Imperious Sommelier in Venice (see March 2 entry in this diary). Vicentini Soave. The wine was Fresh, bright, floral with a zippy acidity.

As we are leaving we spot a Wurlizer jukebox. Buttons indicate Hocus Pocus by Focus (I had this album.), Barry White, Bryan Ferry, Vanilla Fudge, Grand Funk , Roxie Music. Wow! A blast from my past. “ The jukebox dates from the 1960’s” says Leo but the music is the last batch of records the company provided. They date from around 1975.”

6 March

Bardolino on the Lake & Abandoned at an Un-locatable Address

We get up early, take Stanley (the dog) to Peschiera where the dog sitter picks him up. Then we board a public bus to Lasize where we plan to taste Bardolino wines at the annual Banco d’Assaggio.

The bus leaves up off by the side of the highway. We check when the last return bus leaves – 7:30 p.m. We cross the road and enter the lakeside town.

“Lazize is the loveliest town on the lake,” says Michael. The sky is blue. The breeze is cool and the sun is brilliant.

I see Paola, one of the organizers, and ask if anyone from Verona will be going back to the city after tonight’s dinner.

“Oh, yes, probably,” she said eagerly, if abstractly. This should have been a clue.

I taste all of the Sparkling Chiarettos first. Chiaretto refers to a rose wine made in the Bardolino zone. Some of the labels for the Chiarettos remind me of Paris Hilton’s Bedroom (as seen on MTV). Their Hello Kitty Pink clashes with the actual color of the wine, which teeters between rose petal pink and orange.

The color is derived from the grape variety. The primary one in the Bardolino blend is Corvina. This grapes is also part of the blend of Valpolicellas and Amarones.

The Bardolino production zone, generally speaking, lies between Lake Garda (Italy’s largest lake) and the Valpolicella zone in the Veneto region. For those who may have trouble spotting the Veneto on a map of Italy – it’s the region that includes Venice.

Around Lake Garda, Sparkling Bardolino is often paired with grilled freshwater trout. It also, of course, makes a nice, fresh drink-party pour. Here are some of my notes for the sparkling Bardolinos:

Fulvio Benazzoli Chiaretto Spumante 2009 A vibrant rose-pink. Fresh. Floral nose. A crisp vibrant acidity lifts the wild berry fruit. Clean finish. After 10 minutes in the glass it is still firm and fresh.

Cantina di Castelnuovo del Garda Chiaretto Spumante Orangey-rose. Very lively color. On the palate: soft, undefined (but not unpleasant) fruit. A nice vibration on the palate. A cream soda (in a good way) undertow on the finish.

Costadoro Chiaretto Spumante An attractive orangey-pink. Fresh. An idea of mustard bursts on the middle palate. This is a surprise – to say the least. But once I identify it – it is rather nice. It livens up the soft fruit flavors (mulberry, raspberry).Satisfying finish.

Monte Oliveto Chiaretto SpumanteOrange with a rose scrim – a soft wad of fresh berry fruit held in shape by a fine net of acidity.

Villabella Chiaretto Spumante Soft but firm fruit. Appealing. A touch of dry caramel on the finish, which is not unpleasant.

Monte Saline Chiaretto Spumante This is the only wine to be made with the Champagne Method. This means that the second fermentation – the one that creates the bubbles – occurs in bottle rather than in a tank. A lovely vibrant pale orange dominates the rose petal-pink color. It is the color of a wine that could be served on the Starship Enterprise. A firm, appealing fragrance of strawberries. Very silky entry. Nice texture. Clean flavorful finish.

I then taste through the still Bardolino Chiarettos. Here are a few of my notes:

Natale Castellani 2009 Bardolino Chiaretto Nice saturation of rose. Very pleasing, nicely balanced – an elegant wine. The fruit flavors – an amalgam of raspberry, mulberry and wild berries – merge seamlessly.

F.lli Zeni Bardolino Chiaretto Vibrant pink to clear rim. A fresh yet soft nose. Round yet firm fruit. The words “a workman-like job” come to mind. This is not a bad thing. A client ordering this in a restaurant would be satisfied.

Guerrieri Rizzardi Bardolino Chiaretto Soft nose. On the palate, the firm yet easy fruit indicates that the wine can be served on its own. I can see this as a popular “drinks party” wine.

Le Fraghe Bardolino Chiaretto. Pale scrim of rose petal pink with a touch of orange. A nice mouthful of soft fruit that is surrounded by a firm, fine net of acidity. This very elegant wine has a screw cap. I hope more producers make the decision to switch to this type of closure with wines that are not intended for decades of cellaring.

Le Tende Bardolino Chiaretto A fine, elegant mouthful. An appealing wine.

Monte del Fra Bardolino Chiaretto Pale. An obvious softness on the nose. Soft, round, easy. I really need not say more.

Michael and I take a break from tasting and stroll along the promenade by the lake. I conclude that every tasting should have an intermission like this.

We return and taste some 2009 Bardolinos. I will be tasting some of these wines again in April and prefer to wait until then to describe them.

Lunch at Taverna da Oreste, right by the harbor. We sit at a table with Maria Grazia (a blogger who turns up frequently in these diaries. She says to find her blog you must type in soavamente wine blog in Google Search.) and her beau Mario. The food is well prepared – lake fish and polenta. We finish with a crisp lemon sorbet.

Since I have been up since 6 a.m. and have finished the my tasting assignments – I ask Angelo, the main organizer of the event, if I can go directly to the venue for the reception-dinner planned for the evening – a health center cum luxury hotel- Principe di Lazise. Swimming pool, steam bath, meditation rooms, tisans, all of these sound good to me. He agrees.

Mario kindly volunteers to take us there. He sets the GPS for the address of the Spa and is told that it does not exist. He punches in a more general request for the road and off we go. The massive hotel spa is set in the middle of a beautiful but isolated (by my city criteria) area. Very relaxing. The staff is friendly and just attentive enough. Excellent facilities.

7:30 p.m. – the departure time of the last bus ticks away. The aperitif hour (that lasts for nearly 2 and a half hours) begins. It is all very jolly – journalists and consorzio members all stripped to their swimsuits and padding around in bathrobes and flip flops.

The president of the consortium, holding a glass of wine and flanked by two girls in bikinis, sits on a ledge in the swimming pool. Bubbles from the hydro-massage froth around him. A journalist in swim trunks stands in the water, points a video camera at the president and conducts an interview. A genuine You-Tube moment. Very nice.

A tip for party organizers: Once 50 journalists have removed their clothes they become very difficult to herd.

Paola breezes in after 8 p.m.. “Who are we going home with,” I ask.

“Oh, no one,” she replies blythely. “You will just have to stay here.”

I stand rooted to the spot. Inside I am shrieking: Why didn’t she tell us this two hours ago when we still had a chance to organize another way out of this, according to the GPS, un-locatable place?

She senses my dismay and says: “Lucia (of the Soave Consortium) is coming later. See if you can go back with her. Otherwise, I just don’t know.” With that she wanders away.

We see Lucia. I ask her if she will take us to Verona (she lives in the city). “No.” she says. I feel like I have been hit in the stomach. “There is not much room in the car,” she explains.

Her friend (and owner of the car) says: “Do you have any baggage?”

“No,” I wail. “We only wanted to come for the day.”

“Well, in that case, you can squeeze in the back. It’ll be tight but we can manage.”

Hip Hip Hip Hooray Oh Frabjous Day Calloo Calai

We go up to dinner. The chef has reconstructed one of the local Veronese specialties: Bollito Misto. This dish consists of various boiled meats – tongue, beef, chicken, sausage, etc. In restaurants the meat is wheeled to the table on a serving trolley so that the client can select from among them.

“The problem with this,” says Leandro Lupi, the chef. “Is that the meat is cooked to perfection when the trolley is first prepared but as the evening wears on the meat loses its succulence and flavor.” His solution is to layer thin slices of the various meats in a timbale and boil them. The meat indeed is indeed superb. He serves it with a tiny dollop of mustard ice cream on the side.

12 March

Medieval cookies with Recioto di Soave

We attend a press conference-tasting at the Loggia di Fra Giocono in Piazza dei Signori in Verona. Our pal Lorenzo has been studying ancient recipes and after years of trial and error has created a cookie that is ideal for serving with Recioto di Soave (www.svevi.it), the sweet wine made from passito grapes in the Soave zone. The principal ingredients in the cookies are almond paste and rose essence. Very nice.

We then taste through Recioto di Soaves. Of the many attractive wine these are the ones I found particularly intriguing.
2003 Villa Erbice. Like grape juice infused with a bracing acidity.

2007 Vicentini A vibrancy on the palate. A rounded citrus note. The fruit linger on the finish.

2006 Gini A fresh citrusy acidity lifts the elegant (pineapple-tinged) fruit.

19 March

1995 Brunello – yum.

I spend the morning trying to organize my wines. I come across a 1995 Brunello di Montalcino “La Casa” from Tenuta Caparzo. Bright soft, plum color. Fresh on the nose and palate. Ideas of very ripe plums that again show firmly and appealingly on both nose and palate. A fine evolving finish.

20 through 29 March

A series of trips hither and thither

We visit Juliet’s castle in the province of Vicenza.

“Boy, those Veronese were sharp. They staked their claim to Juliet before we did even though Vicenza has a stronger tie with the story,” said a wine producer from Vicenza. But then practically everyone from Vicenza says the same thing.

How did this castle come to be dubbed “Juliet’s”? Well an Italian gentleman (Luigi Da Porto, I believe) wrote an epic tale inspired by a local story that mentioned the castle. In fact, citizens of Vicenza say he wrote at least a part of it while staying at the castle. The work was then read by William Shakespeare who transformed it into Romeo and Juliet.