DECEMBER 2011

To understand how Christmas in Verona has changed in the last 20 years, go to the O Christmas Tree essay in the Life in Verona section of this website. While you are there you can take a look at the Ugo essay, as he orchestrates our Christmas celebrations every year.

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December 28 Happy Birthday Cinema

Every year Ugo organizes “Buon Compleanno Cinema”, at which he shows silent films accompanied by live music – tonight we have Igino on accordion and Federico F. keyboard. Some 60 people gather in a deconsecrated church in Verona’s centro storico to view two films by Georges Méliés – Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) and Au Clair de la Lune ou Pierrot Malheureux (1904). These are followed by Mantrap (1926) directed by Victor Fleming and staring the incandescent Clara Bow, “the hottest Jazz Baby in films”. Clara’s superb acting talent and well-turned ankle sends many hearts a racing and, I am sure, that her name will be Googled and YouTubed by scores of new-found fans.  We also saw Over Silent Paths (1910) directed by D. W. Griffith, a wild west yarn about a gal who avenges her father’s murder.

December 26 Boxing Day at Ugo’s

Every Boxing Day we go to Ugo’s for tea.  These Boxing Day Tea Parties used to be only for women but when they invited me the first time (some ten years ago) they said I could bring Michael. Since he is the only real English Person in attendance his role has morphed into the Tea Maestro. Then around 6 we are joined by Ugo and the boys and the evening wanders into dinner time, with Ugo roasting chicken and that wanders into….well when the children were young a film like Cars….now it is whatever film that is arousing Ugo’s interest at the moment.

With dinner we drink:

Fattoria Garbole Valpolicella Superior 2007 Fruity, satisfying, a real pleasure. A juicy amalgam of cherries and black berries.

Donnafugata Kabir Moscato di Pantelleria 2004 . Gold with vibrant yellow highlights. Nose: tangy citrus notes(mandarin and citron). Moscato sweetness dances across the palate. A very pleasing experience. Lightness and sweetness in perfect harmony is very difficult to achieve. It is like lively nectar.

I drank it with chocolate-covered gingerbread. Excellent.

“Have you tried the Kabir?” I ask Silvio (a.k.a. Mr. Chestnut)

He squints at the bottle. “Ah,” he says. “Donnafugata. You gave me a glass of Tancredi (the winery’s Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon blend) and now every time I am in a restaurant I look for the name Donnafugata on the wine list.  Their wines are always good.” Mr. Chestnut beams. This is significant because he is a man who finds fault with everything and sees the dark side of every experience….but Donnafugata makes him beam.  Wow! I am unable to catch this rare moment on film.

Tonight’s film is Una Signora per Un Giorno (Lady for a Day), directed Frank Capra. You no doubt remember the remake, also directed by Capra, that stared Bette Davis as Apple Annie and Glen Ford as David “lo Sciccoso” (a.k.a. Dave the Dude).

Porca troia, che gioia,” says Ugo at the end of the evening. (loosely translated as: Holy Cow, what joy!”)

I say to Michael: “I think that beats ‘God bless us every one’.”

December 24/25 Christmas Eve at Ugo’s

I give the twins 4 books, 2 of which are over 100 years old, 1 is over 150 years old and the last is closing in on 160. These score a hit with Francesco.

“Where did you find books this old,” he asks.

“When I was young there were used bookshops in every town,” I say.

I am so glad that in my childhood pokey old bookshops existed and that at every summer garage sale there was a stack of books alongside boxes of unneeded baby clothes and broken tennis rackets. I told Francesco that I had worked as a Book Scout to earn extra money when I lived in New York. In those days it was still possible to find First Editions at Charity Shops.  Oh, this is a month of nostalgia for me.

I think I have instilled in Francesco a love of the texture, fragrance and general beauty of an old book.  I hope so as I have already earmarked other books from my collection that will make it into his hands in the coming years.

December 20 Hamburger Helper

Midnight in Paris has revved up my nostalgia-meter.  I begin to long for my childhood and the wonderful hamburgers you could buy at little kiosks and diners before giant burger chains ran the independents out of business.  I wrote to friends asking for tips on making a real hamburger.

My cousin Susan suggests: Get a brisket at the market and have the butcher grind it for hamburger leaving in the fat. Sautee a carrot, onions (half an onion for over a pound of hamburger), a garlic clove and a stalk of celery. Run this through the food processor.  Add soft bread crumbs. Add salt and pepper and mix. Sometimes add a dash Worcestershire sauce.

My pal Rita says: “My entire family has loved my hamburgers from day 1 – whether grilled, broiled or pan-fried – trick is adding half an envelope of dry onion soup mix into the ground beef (one pound of extra lean – I use the other half for my killer meat loaf).”

My own tinkering has led to: finely chopped leeks, a healthy dash of Worcestershire sauce, a dash of oregano and pinch of paprika, plus the obvious salt and pepper. Serve with a slice of fresh tomato and sliced dill pickle.

December 16 Donnafugata and Trout

I taste the Chiaranda 2008 (DOC Contessa Entellina Bianco) from Donnafugata (www.donnafugata.it) (a blend of Chardonny and Ansonica) Bright, pale-gold infused yellow. Full tropical fruit notes on the nose, with an undertow of minerality. On the palate: juicy, fruity (white peaches, a ghost of apricot, an idea of greengage plums), satisfying.

I serve it for lunch with salmon trout seasoned with coriander, parsley and lemon zest. Hooray!

December 12 Nostalgia-land

I go to see Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. This gets me to thinking about The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, and that leads me to my book shelf and Found Meals of a Lost Generation: Recipes and Ancedotes from 1920s Paris (published in 1994 by Faber and Faber).  Many of the luminaries who flocked to Gertrude Steins salon were there for the food lovingly prepared by Alice. The following is her recipe for Nameless Cookies….which I think should be served with Recioto di Soave.

Sift together ¼ cup powdered sugar and 2 cups white flour.  Cream 1 cup butter and add to the flour mixture slowly, little by little; this procedure, stiring rather than beating as flour is added, should take about 20 minutes. At midway point, add 1 tablespon curaçao and teaspoon of brandy. When mixture has been combined, roll the dough into small “sausage” rolls about 2 inches and ½ inch thick. Place on lightly oiled cookie sheet 1 inch apart in a pre-heated 275º F. oven: bake for 20 minutes. Remove gently with spatula, gently shifting powdered sugar over them while still hot. Kept in a tightly closed container, cookies will last up to 3 weeks.

December 8 Happy Birthday Georges Méliés

George Méliés was born on this day in 1861.  He is the “Father of Film Fantasy” and Ugo has organized a celebration at the Osteria 23 this morning at 11. Méliés – for those who are not silent film buffs – created many of the special effects techniques that we take for granted.  He also, according to Ugo, was the first director to take full advantage of the casting couch.

Only 7 people show up.  But the boys at the bar are good sports and lay on a spread of sandwiches and potato chips. We bring along a magnum of 2010 Prosseco Crede from Bisol to help grease the wheels of the festivities.

“This is good,” says Cristina, history teacher and magazine writer, taking a healthy swig.  “It enters dry and then becomes sweet!”

December 4 Swimming, Beatles, Amarone and Walnuts

The image that accompanies this diary insertion is a nativity scene made by Monica’s children, please note the angel made out of a sparkling wine cork.

Monica S. picks me up and we head to the pool with her two young daughters. We sing “There’s Gonna be a Heartache Tonight” by the Eagles at the top of our voices to the pool and the Beatle’ ”When I am Sixty-four” on our return.

Later at her house: “I have come up with an excellent abbinamento (food/wine match),” says Monica.  We taste 2003 Domini Veneti Vigneti di Jago 2003 Amarone (www.cantinanegra.it) with freshly shelled walnuts.  Monica is right; it is a superb combo.

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NOVEMBER 2011

Dear All, I have fallen into internet Hell.  A pal decided I needed to change servers.  When that was done, all my images for the November diary disappeared.  When I try to reinsert them, I am now told that my images are no longer writable by the server.  Bear with me….every day a new problem.

November 29 Burgundy in Bardolino

“Shambolic,” calls Francesco T. from across the lobby of the Hotel Caesius (www.hotelcaesiusterme.com).

“Brouhaha,” I reply.

I taught Francesco these words – and other like them – during a particularly bizarre journalist’s trip in Piedmont. (Details in the March 25-27 Diary entry)

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We are in Bardolino to taste the wines of Stephane Aladame (www.aladame.fr). Stephane’s 7 hectares of vineyards are in the Montagny zone in Burgundy.  At the age of 18 and fresh from enology school, Stephane was offered the opportunity to take over 2 ½ hectares of vineyards belonging to a friend who was ready to retire.

“Mine is not a wine making family,” says Stephane. “My father is in the electrical business. But step by step I slowly learned from practical experience.”  Today his elegant wines are championed by no less than Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse and Jacques Lameloise, and are found on the list of some 70 Michellin starred restaurants.

2008 Crémant de Bougogne Aladame (100% Chardonnay). A broad texture on the nose – pale apricot. Soft mousse. Clean and fresh, with a gentle wave of light apple/apricot fruit that swells through the long finish. Very attractive.

“You can feel the finesse,” says Bernardo P. (See July diary for more on Bernardo).

2009 Montagny 1er Cru Décuoverte Aladame (100% Chardonnay, fermentation in stainless steel). Straw, with wide clear rim. Bright, fresh. A creamy sensation on the nose: hints of apricot, blossoms, a touch of lemon curd. Again, the gentle wave of pale apricot fruit swells on the middle palate and rolls along through the finish. A sprinkling of minerality and citron-acidity focus the flavor.   After 20 minutes the apricot fragrance and flavor becomes rounder and fuller.

2009 Montagny 1er Cru Les Maroques Aladame (100% Chardonnay, ½ in stainless steel, ½ in wood, of which only 5% is composed of new barrels. 30 to 40 year old vines) Straw, wide clear rim. A tight weave of flavors – apricot, graphite, a touch of citron, white blossoms, with bright notes of lemon curd. Fresh and satisfying.  After 10 minutes still firm.  After 20 minutes it fills out on the palate, gaining weight. A light butterscotch note emerges.

The Zeni winery (www.zeni.it NOT to be confused with www.zeni.tn.it the estate of Roberto Zeni in Trentino.) hosts this tasting as they will be importing these wines into Italy.

I love the Aladame wines. They do not shout, rather they speak in a civilized tone. They are wines for adults.

P.S. for dog lovers. Katia Ricarelli (the opera singer) was there with her spindly little bastardina, Dorothy.

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November 28 More Ghosties

Russell (Atwood) sent me his new play.  It will be part of his next down-town (as in lower Manhattan) production. Very scary! Russell has written mystery novels – “East of A” was the first – and has now morphed into a producer and playwright.   OOOOOO.

November 26 & 27 Trentodoc

Federica, Queen of the Brenner Pass, whisks us up to join a group of English speaking journalists who are enjoying the annual sparkling wine festival in Trentino. (A province in the Italian Region of Trentino-Alto Adige.) (www.visittrentino.it)

Trentino and Alto Adige are really two distinct regions joined by a bureaucratic hyphen. (It is akin to creating a State called Texas-Louisiana). The two areas are very different not only in terms of terrain and climate but also in terms history, culture and even language.  In Alto Adige (which borders Austria) most citizens speak German and Germanic grape varieties (such as Sylvaner, Muller Thurgau) thrive.  The subalpine climate means winters are cold, summers hot and night chilly all year round. As the Adige River flows into the province of Trento the valley broadens, the climate is warmer and the cultural ambience becomes noticeably Italian. Trentino produces many of the same varieties as Alto Adige, plus crisp metodo classico (a.k.a. Champagne method) sparkling wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The area also has three notable indigenous varieties. Fruit-filled, red Marzemino (my identifier is an amalgam of blackberries and walnuts), Teroldego (tart cherry-plum, with an almondy note on the finish), and white Nosiola, which produces dry wines and is the main component in the local Vin Santo. My standard identifiers for Nosiolo are a salinity on the palate alongside rather delicate hints of fresh hazelnuts.

Bus Buddies

Jim
Fred
Wink
Michelle
Kyle

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.Okay, the lesson is over. Let’s taste.  What follows are a few of the wines I particularly enjoyed.

2006 Brut (disgorged 2010) Trentodoc Maso Martis (www.masomartis.it) (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Nero) Fine yellow-gold. A creamy sensation on the nose. A sprinkle of spice dances across the broad fruit.  On the palate there is a lemon curd  sensation over fresh fruit (the idea of white peaches). Excellent. Very satisfying.

Brut Rosé (disgorged 2011) Trentodoc Maso Martis (100% Pinot Nero) Color: strawberry juice with a touch of blood orange. Again there is a creamy sensation on the nose that “sets” the fruit fragrances (very light sensation of cherries, raspberries, mulberries, blackberries) A softness of fruit fills the mouth. Clean finish, with lingering berry fruit.    I write “Hot-Diggity!” in my tasting notebook.

2005 Perle Rosé Extra Brut Trentodoc Ferrari (80% Pinot Nero, 20% Chardonnay). Elegant salmon color, with broad clear rim. On the nose: ashes (this is a good thing for me), dried red roses, and an idea of strawberries. Very tightly-knit.

1991 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Trentodoc (100% Chardonnay) (www.cantineferrari.it) Yellow-gold. Nose: Smooth and full. I breathe it in.  I could live in this atmosphere. On the palate: tightly-knit, sensations of fresh hazelnuts, ripe white peaches merge with Bartlett pear notes. Silky freshness, with a vibrant frisson that leaves ideas of peaches and mandarin oranges, fresh creamy hazelnuts and white chocolate. A supremely satisfying wine.

1986 Trento Doc from Roberto Zeni. (www.zeni.tn.it) Reminiscent of zabaglione. A juicy, raisiny aftertaste. Like cream soda on the palate. Texture like heavy silk.

“This was our first experiment to show that Trentodoc can age,” says Roberto.

2008 Teroldego Riserva Superiore Endrizzi (www.endrizzi.it). Rich, lively deep ruby. A sour plum (in a good way) fragrance. A silky perfume. On the palate: a warm infusion of spice and ripe, bruised plums.  Excellent Teroldego.

2008 Ritratto Rosso La Vis (www.la-vis.com) (50-50% Lagrein/Teroldego blend) Opaque ruby sheen. A full silky sensation emerges. Well balanced acidity fruit. It is the texture that defines the wine for me – it is like velvet.  A ripe cherry wave breaks on the middle palate and extends on through the finish.

2005 Riserva Trentodoc Baltar (100% Chardonnay, 72 months on lees) Rightly-knit. Crisp elegance. This is not a wine that shouts, rather it gives smooth refined pleasure.

2005 Trentodoc Riserva D’Isero (in Magnums, 50 months on the lees) Smooth. Elegant. Compressed. Ripe white peaches on the nose and palate. All of a piece from first sniff to lingering finish.  Most of this excellent cooperative’s wines are sold locally.

A producer says: “I am not going to noi you with details.”  The Italian word “annoiare” means to bore.  I think “noi” may enter my English vocabulary the way “wendiamo” has.

November 16 through 24  New York, New York

I am so happy to be back in New York that I take no notes.  What follows is a photo homage to the trip.

The Sherlockian Wedding of the Century (at the Players Club on Gramercy Park)

Bride Mickey
Bride Susan
Photo Op Philip
Mysterious M.E.

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November 11 &12 In Friuli – Fried Cheese on a Stick

We stay at the Edi Keber’s Bed & Breakfast: large rooms, nice, simple furniture and best of all – a first class heating system.

We set out with Alessandra (of the sexy shoes, see September diary) for the castle where this evening’s tasting is to be held. The sky is black. The narrow, twisting road is a shade less than two cars wide. But as there is no traffic this will not be a problem. We seem suspended in total darkness. A milky scrim-like glow from the headlights hits the dark and bounces back. For a second the huge angry shape of a wild boar is caught in the light. I feel I am trapped in a remake of the Blair Witch Project.

We do indeed make it to the 13th century castle: stone floors, high beamed ceilings, leaded glass at the windows, waiters swanning through the tasting rooms bearing trays of deep-fried tit-bits. I am in heaven.

The variety we are focusing on here is Friulano (a.k.a Tocai).  I am fond of this variety and am happy to see that it is holding its own. My taste identifiers for Friulano: a slight saline note on the nose alongside scents of wildflowers, good structure and creamy texture. I often find ghosts of apricot and crème patisserie.

2010 Ronco Blanchis (Grape: Friulano,  around 80% botritized). 9000 bottles made. Elements of tangerine and mandarins infuse the broad creamy fruit.  Zesty acidity.  (www.roncoblanchis.it)

“I’ve had this vineyard for around 10 years,” says Lorenzo Pala.  “We tried everything to avoid the development of botrytis cinerea. Finally we decided to use the botrytized grapes and see what kind of wine would result.”

Botrytis cinerea is also known as Noble Rot and it is the much sought after component in many of the world great sweet wines (Chateau Yquem, among them).  However, the Ronco Blanchis is vinified to dryness.  It is an exceptionally interesting wine.  It provides flavor sensations I have never found in a dry wine. This wine is worth following.

At dinner we taste

2010 Ronco Blachis Mosso Collio Bianco (The blend includes Friulano, with other grapes, including 17% Chardonnay and 3% Sauvignon Blanc.) I am delighted by this wine. It is forthcoming. The fragrance blossoms, filling the senses: Mandarin, tangerine and greengage plum notes. A vibrancy on the nose and palate. After 20 minutes in the glass it is still fine, firm and fresh.  After 25 minutes a distinct apricot undertow emerges.  Very interesting wine.

“It’s turbo-charged,” says Michael.

The producer, Lornezo Pala makes 1300 bottles of this particular wine. “I would like to sell 1000 and keep 300 to see how the wine develops over time,” he says.

2010 Scubla Friulano.  After 5 minutes the nose mellows. Ripe, yellow plum fruit. Bright acidity. A creamy note on the palate. (www.scubla.com)

Sixty percent of the grapes come from 40+ year old vines.

“Older vines,” says Roberto Scubla, the owner of the estate, “are not as affected by the vagaries of weather.  They are better balanced. It’s like people really.”

2010 Obiz Friulano The idea of apricots – a broad creamy texture shot through with sprightly acidity. (www.obiz.it)

“My husband is the winemaker,” says Serena Fedel. “I always recommend that this Fruilano be served with Prosciutto Crostini.”

2010 Ronco del Gelso Malvasia Insonzo del Friuli. Exceptionally nice Malvasia – all hints and suggestions. Nice weight on the palate.  (www.roncoelogelso.com)

2010 Edi Keber (Friulano) Bright, fresh. A very tightly-knit texture. A fine amalgam of crisp fruit flavors (greengage plumes, gooseberries).

Dinner on Friday night is at Rosenbar (www.rosenbar.it).  Excellent as always: imaginative presentation, well-balanced seasoning.

Lunch on Saturday is at La Subida.  (www.lasubida.it) As we enter we are greeted by a lady offering fried cheese (a.k.a. fricco) on a stick. Hooray! The roast deer is lusciously tender. Again the food, presentation and hospitality is impeccable. Plus the restaurant owners have a 19 year old setter named Kelly.

November 8 Anselmi and Art

Giancarlo and Ann pick us up and take us to the Anselmi estate.  “I know Roberto,” says Giancarlo “Because his wife is from my town, Albaredo d’Adige.”

We enter the vast, artistically lighted winery and take an elevator (a Turkish carpet covering the floor) up to the barrel storage and guest receiving area. Flute music plays. Turkish carpets and large yet elegant candelabras at every turn.  Monumental sculptures in carefully lit niches.  It is a masterpiece of set design.  We leave with a half case of samples.

For all the elegant theatricality of the cantina, the wine I tasted – 2010 Anselmi San Vicenzo. Veneto IGT Bianco (grape variety: Garganega) – is straightforward, with clean, full fruit (dried apricots and pears) on the nose and palate. A dusting of black pepper on the finish. No shadowy depths here.

November 3 Scissors and Grief

I harness up Stanley and set off for my hairdressers.

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“Where is Camilla?” I ask Donatella, looking around for her cranky, wheezy little dog.

After a pregnant silence, Donatella pushes a cupcake-pink box across the desk. Tiny artificial flowers are tacked on the lid. “Here,” says Donatella. “She died on Friday.  We could have buried her in our yard but my husband thought that if we cremated her we could have her with us always even if we moved to an apartment.”  She sniffs, holding back tears.

I think: Now is not a good time for her to be cutting hair.  However, it was clear that she wanted to talk about her dog so I sat down, took off my glasses and listened to Camilla’s eulogy.  Mid-way through, Donatella explodes into tears and excuses herself to have a good cry.

I get home and show Michael my haircut. “It’s not too bad,” he says. “It just needs time to grow out a bit.”  He walks around to look at it from a new angle. “Especially in the back,” he says.