JUNE 2011

June 2011
June 29 Burt Bacharach and the Birthday Bash
The day dawns hot and humid. At ten, as sweat trickles down my back, I contemplate (first) the silk finery I have laid out to wear to tonight’s concert and (second) the hour-long late-afternoon train ride from Verona to Brescia where the concert will take place. I put the silk away and start ironing linen: better to arrive in wrinkled linen than damp silk.
We arrive at the Teatro Grande, an exquisite jewel box of a theatre – all gold arabesques and deep cranberry-colored plush. Michael says the color is more a cross between Papal scarlet and cranberry.

The first order of the evening is to honor our host Franco Ziliani, whose 80th birthday coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Franciacorta zone. Mr. Ziliani who met Guido Berlucchi in the 1950s and with him founded Guido Berlucchi & Co. (www.berlucchi.it), was pivotal in the development of this sparkling wine region.

Franciacorta, let me remind you, is in Lombardy (about an hour’s drive from Verona) and has achieved fame for the high quality of its sparkling wines, made with the same grape varieties and production methods used in Champagne.

The seven-piece band and three backup singers take their places and then Mr. Bacharach strolls on stage and seats himself at the piano. What follows is a supremely satisfying hour and a half of good music laced with nostalgia. His songs really did score our childhoods and youth. I hear in my imagination: Dianne Warwick, Jack Jones, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Caterina Valente, Tom Jones, Gene Pitney, Christopher Cross, Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66, Hugh Jackman, The Beatles, The Carpenters.

Mr. Bacharach leaves most of the singing to his powerhouse trio. However, he leans into the microphone to sing Alfie. His voice is hoarse and cracked but his phrasing is superb. It is like hearing the song for the first time.

Thank you, Berlucchi for a lovely evening!

June 25 Stanley’s Big Two Hands Adventure or Two Hands in Paradiso

Rollicking Romagnans
Several weeks ago we received an invitation to visit the Fattoria Paradiso (www.fattoriaparadiso.com) estate in Romagna for a tasting of Shiraz from the Australian winery, Two Hands (www.twohandswines.com).

When no dog-sitter could be found, the organizers kindly said we could bring young Stanley along. Stanley has eaten at top restaurants, travelled by train, bus and private plane and done his share of hotel stays. His manners are impeccable. We did not train him to be a gentleman-dog. It is just his nature.

Stanley on the bus...
Stanley on the train

Michael Twelftree, co-owner of Two Hands led the tutored tastings of Shiraz from his Garden Series. Peacock screams (caws? shrieks?) punctuated the tasting. Fattoria Paradiso has around forty of these birds strutting around the place, so peacock conversations are a part of the rural music here. (The way sirens on 61st and 3rd in New York are just part of that city’s rich pageantry.)

The Two Hand wines have a definite house style : The emphasis is on elegance, purity and expression of terroir.
When I left London (over 20 years ago, yikes!), Australian Shiraz was often a muscular wine with big shoulders and an unyielding attitude. Power was king in those days; the concepts of subtlety and elegance were dismissed as the namby-pamby refuge of ladies and old codgers who remembered the good old days. Thank goodness the pendulum has swung back. (Oh dear, I am beginning to sound like a codger-ette myself.)

“When we started the company ten years ago we wanted to be the first producers to show the regionality of the Shiraz grape,” said Mr. Twelftree. Two Hands has succeeded in this goal. Tasting through the Garden Series is a fascinating way to come to grips with the specifics of soil, climate and terrain that constitute terroir.

The interpreter and Mr. Twelftee

Each wine in the Garden Series is from a small specific area and each is named after a member or members of the families of Michael Twelftree and his partner, Richard Mintz.

My favorite of the six Shirazes we tasted was the 2009 Samantha’s Garden. Of it I wrote: a sprightly acidity lifts the bolt of silky, shimmering fruit (a mingling of cherries, blackberries and raspberries). A dusting of light spice. Long fruit filled-finish. 1000 cases of this wine are made.
Its region: The Clare Valley, near the northern end of Watervale.

2009 Harry and Edward’s Garden (Langhorne Creek Shiraz). A silky sensation undulates through creamy, cherry-tinged fruit. On the palate, there is an amalgam of mulberries, blackberries and just-ripe plums. Soft, firm tannins. Sprightly acidity brightens the velvety fruit.
Michael (my husband not Mr. Twelftree) wrote. “Patchouli/Indian Spices.” 300 cases are made.

2009 Lily’s Garden (McClaren Vale Shiraz) Firm yet soft on the nose – an iron hand in a kid glove. Tightly-knit. Fruit and acidity form a pleasing whole. On the nose very ripe plums, a drizzle of dark chocolate, a powdery sensation. A gentle wave of warm spices laps at the fruit.

The other wines tasted (which were all of very high quality but I will not tire you with my notes) were Max’s Garden (satisfying), Bella’s Garden (more linear) and Sophie’s Garden (a tad hot: fine wine, just not my favorite.)

“I didn’t grow up around wine,” says Mr. Twelftree. “At twenty-four I was invited to a tasting at a wine shop and this beautiful, wonderful world opened up to me.”

In the intervening years he has tasted widely and well, developing a fine natural palate. He also has the refreshing habit of saying exactly what he thinks…and what he thinks is usually vastly entertaining.

Later at the pre-dinner aperitivo (a tasting in disguise), Mr. Twelftree poured us a glass of Brunello di Montalcino Cuprano 2006 (www.cuprano.it). A rich knubbly weave of luscious fruit (there is no precise fruit – everything mingles to form a new entity). This clean, vibrant flavor carries through on the long finish.

As the tasting was winding up Graziella Pezzi, dog-lover and owner of Fattoria Paradiso, came over to compliment Stanley on his patience and to talk about her own dogs. Her company even has a line of wines named for an abandoned dog they found near the French border, which they called Peti Trufi. Her current dog is a small, faun-colored mongrel named Princie.

Graziella Pezzi


Fattoria Paradiso has provided wines for such events as the Nobel Prize ceremonies and dinners at the White House under President Clinton and for Pope John Paul II.

Lorenza Vitali & Merlot

“I am here keeping the boat afloat,” says Sra. Pezzi, beaming. I like this woman and not just because she loves dogs.
Please let me quote from her brochure: “Wine is the supreme landlord of this refined farm that will warmly welcome you with its multi-colored dance of coupling peacocks, its swift flying of lively coloured pheasants, its instantaneous jumping of surprised hares that, here at the Fattoria, have always found a natural place to stay.”

A tired Stanley comes home

June 24 Soave and Dialect Poetry
Ugo (you will find a description of Ugo in the Life in Verona section of this website) hosts another evening of poetry and vino. The producer this time is Le Mandolare. We taste Le Perle Brut Spumante (a bubbly blend of Garganega and Chardonnay), 2010 Soave Corte Menini, 2010 Soave Il Roccolo and 2008 Soave Monte Sella. There is a definite house style. The fruit has gentle apricot flavors and there is an appealing mineral undertow.

Ugo holds up each bottle in turn and parades up and down in front of the tables, presenting the bottles in the way a model on a game show would.

We sit in the yellow electric lights hung from the roof of the arcade that runs along Via Sottoriva. Ugo begins to read a poem.

“He always reads this one,” says Michael. “It’s the one about the guy whose willy is so cold he can’t piss.”

June 20 Hospital Visit
Well, I might as well confess. I took May off because I had to go into hospital for an operation. I had not had an operation since my tonsils were removed at the age of four. I was therefore pretty jumpy. I have to go in again today for yet another operation to tidy up the one that was done in May. A few hours after I had been wheeled back to my room, a clump of doctors sprouted around my bed and began debating whether they could send me home tomorrow. The verdict was decided when one doctor says: “She’s sitting up and reading a book! Of course she can go home!”

I received an email from a well-meaning friend who wrote: “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” It took me a nanosecond to realize the foolishness of that remark. There is no way to prepare for the worst because there is no way of knowing what “the worst” is. No matter how bad you think you have it, look around and you will find someone in a much more distressing state. If you cannot define something you certainly cannot prepare for it. So my plan is to continue drinking fine wine, eating lovely meals and have lively conversation with my husband and friends.

June 19th Matteo’s tasting lesson
My tasting student Matteo has passed the first two exams in the Wine and Spirit Education Trust program. He is now preparing for the next phase and we will step up our tasting practice.
He brought:
2009 Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) Clear, bright. Medium intensity. Straw to pale gold color, with lemony highlights. Fresh, clean. Crisp acidity. Full and fruity (pineapple, greengage plums), with a softly herbaceous undertow. Medium-long finish. A very nice wine, indeed.
2006 Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé Château du Nozet (Loire) The bottle was opened five days ago. Still fresh, still crisp. Pale straw with a wide clear rim. A flinty quality, well-knit flavors. A touch of butterscotch on the finish.
2005 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) The bottle was opened 5 days ago. Medium intensity straw yellow. A touch of exotic fruit. Again, its herbaceous character is more pronounced on the palate. Its fruit fades a bit but its acidity is firm.

June 15 Burt Bacharach – the man who scored part of my youth!
I return home to find an invitation to celebrate the 80th birthday of Franco Ziliani, owner of Guido Berlucchi & Co., makers of fine Franciacorta sparkling wine. To celebrate there will be a concert performed by Burt Bacharach!!! Excuse me, but….I know the way to San Jose…raindrops do keep falling on my head. Wow.

June 4 Zamuner rosé
The day after my visit to Faccioli, I open a bottle of 2003 Zamuner Rosé. It has a lovely, coppery hue. Its fragrance is well-knit, with hints of raspberries and frozen strawberries. On the palate it is light and refreshing.

June 3 A visit to Faccioli and a reflection on Zamuner
We visit the Faccioli winey. Marco Faccioli – who likes to remind us that he is of the new, YOUNG generation – shows us around. He has a genuine passion for sparkling wine and has thrown himself into experimentation, while keeping a watchful eye on the classic styles of Champagne.

He allows us to taste a couple of early trials so that we can better understand how he has learned and improved, based on knowledge gained from his early mistakes. I will keep an eye on these wines because they have potential – although they are a long way from perfection at the moment.

In the same zone, you will find the sparkling wine house of Zamuner. In the February 2011 diary I wrote of the 1998 Zamuner Brut Rosé: “The wine is fresh and inviting on the nose. It is rich, satisfying and lively. A description of flavor? Like all wines with a bit of age, the fruit flavors are not easily categorized. It is a pleasing amalgam of “ideas” of raspberries and “ideas” of strawberries. Well-made wines really do morph into something that is more than the sum of their parts as they mature.”