JANUARY 2012

In this month’s diary: The Taiwanese Ambassador sings! (Jan 21), Romano Dal Forno quashes “malicious rumors”, plus a fine Amarone tasting (Jan 18), a Verona B&B that still has rooms available during Vinitaly (Jan 14), Berlucchi “61”, Germana’s mysterious liqueur, and the result of serving the aperitivo in magnums (January 7), Bellavista Brut and spicy shrimp (January 1), among other things.

JANUARY 2112

January 29 – Voting for Carnival King & The Papa del Gnocchi

Image these images scored by 1980s disco funk.

January 28 Amarone Anteprima 2008

The conference and tasting is held in a very grand building facing Piazza Bra. There are 50-some producers showing their 2008 vintage Amarones, many of these are barrel samples.  I taste 20 wines.  Why didn’t I taste them all? Well, for three reasons: first, on Jan 18 I had participated at a really wonderful Amarone tasting at the Villa de Winckles;  second, it was very cold in the tasting area and, third, I am only human.

Two of the wines were decent reds but completely lacked any Amarone character.  This makes me sad and a tad angry. What is the point of using the appassimento technique (the semi-drying of grapes before pressing) if your goal is to make an ordinary red wine? Why do that? (For more of my thoughts on Amarone go to the Wine and Dine section of this website).

Anyway, dear reader, here are the names of some producers who gave me particular pleasure: (in no particular order) Bertani Villa Arvedi (www.bertani.net This wine is made from grapes grown in the Valpantena. “It will get rounder in a year or two,” said Mateja Gravner, of Bertani. “Every year we are using more cherry wood barrels, these bring out the fruit flavors.”), Roccolo Grassi (www.roccolograssi.it deep, rich a velvety texture), Accordini, Stefano (www.accordinistefano.com Near opaque color. Cherry/cream, spicy – nutmeg cinnamon. Tiziano Accordini: “Amarone has a wide range of styles. There is something for those looking for forward fruit and also there are wines for those who like more evolved flavors and aromas.”), Valentina Cubi (www.valentinacubi.it black pepper, concentrated cherry. It will improve with a bit more time in bottle.), Scrivani, barrel sample (www.scriani.it 50% of his production is sold in Verona.) and Pasqua Villa Borghetti (www.www.passionperilvino.com ).   Whiz down to Jan18 for a real Amarone adventure.)

January 27 Bucci and my Grandma Guy

I drink a glass of i Bucci’s 2010 Verdicchio (note found below in Jan. 26) with my Grandma Guy’s Baked Salmon. The recipe is taken from Leon’s Favorite Recipes, published in 1950.  Leon, by the way, is the name of the small town where she lived.  Again the wine’s sprightly acidity is a wonderful foil for the broad flavors of the fish.

January 26 Bucci Verdicchio oooooo

I opened a bottle of 2010 Castelli di Jesi from the producer Bucci. (www.villabucci.com) Pale yellow-gold color. Immediately on the nose there is a fresh, floral fragrance, with a creamy undertow: I often find elderflowers on the nose of Verdicchios. On the palate, the wine gives satisfying white peach fruit. The finish is long and filled with undulating flavor.  Yippee!

I have a glass with lunch.  This is high praise because tasting wines is part of my profession and sometimes I taste, write my note and then the rest of the wine goes for cooking. The Bucci Verdicchio, however, is a wine I want to actually drink – not just taste – with my lunch. I have it with a turkey roll and pasta in a light pumpkin sauce.  The broadness of the wine’s fruit is like a cushion upon which the pumpkin pasta can be displayed.  Yummy.

At dinner I have a glass with a (sort of) pumpkin and bacon soufflé.  Again, the wine’s lively acidity lifts the pumpkin flavor, while the broad fruitiness of the wine allows the soufflé to take center stage.  Yummy.

I think that this is one of the wines I will recommend to my vegetarian friends.  There is loads of potential here for attractive vegetarian pairings.  And speaking of pumpkins, I make pumpkin rolls from a recipe found in Greene on Greens by Bert Greene, a superb cookbook.

January 25  Tremors and Aftershocks in Verona

At 1 a.m. we heard a loud bang, and the room shook and the windows rattled: an earthquake.

This morning as I am returning from the fruit and vegetable market I pass through Piazza Erbe.  It is filled with people staring at their cell phones.  I ask what is going on, assuming there was some sort of flash-mob.

“Oh, another aftershock from the earthquake is predicted and they say that being outside is safest,” said a lady.   She looks down: “Where’s your little dog? At home? You better go get him and bring him here.”

I arrive home and relate this exchange to Michael who is nonplussed.   So I put the chicken in the oven to roast and start chopping veg for soup.

Growing up in Kansas, land of a million tornadoes, I have a certain fatal streak in my makeup.

January 24 Lunch with Roberto Cipresso

Roberto Cipresso (winemaking consultant and Facebook friend!) has asked Michael and me to translate his wine memoir.  He comes to Verona for a little meeting to see if we are indeed on his wavelength.  We dine at the Carroarmato and have a lively chinwag about music, art, wine and New York.  Everyone is happy at the end of the meeting.  It will be fun to do this memoir.  We did the translation for Ezio Rivella (Io e Brunello) a while back. That too was an entertaining experience.

January 23 Cough syrup and something nice )

Still in my pursuit of the ultimate hamburger (This version: chopped onions, Worchester sauce, salt and pepper, served on a tomatoes slice, sweet pickle and chopped arugula), I decide to open a bottle of red wine.

“I’m going to open a (a producer whose name will not be spoken) Valpolicella Ripasso,” I say.

“If you must,” says Michael.

I open it.  Pour it. Taste it…and spit it into the sink.  “Ohmigod, it tastes like cough syrup,” I say.

The reason I am telling you this, gentle reader, is to help you to understand that not all wines that have fancy words on the label are decent.  There are some fine ripassos…this is not one of them.  I will not mention the producer because my policy is to only mention in this diary the names of producers and wines that give me pleasure.

I search our informal wine cellar looking for a decent wine to wash the residue of the baaad wine out of my mouth.

I open:

2006 Rosso Piceno from Villa Bucci (from the Marche and made from a blend of Montepulciano, 70% and Sangiovese, 30%).  Hooray.  Firm ruby, with an orange/brick sheen. Bright freshness on the nose. The wine fills the mouth with a complex tapestry of flavor – ripe cherries, a slight undertow of tar. The finish is long and fruit-filled, with an appealing slightly bitter snap.  Excellent with my burger….and no doubt with other red meat based dishes.

I get a call from the Franciacorta Consortium asking if I am available to do a tasting of Franciacorta for 60 people during Vinitaly. I say: “You bet! And thanks for not asking me to do it in Italian.”

I get nervous when I have to speak in Italian. This comes from living with a linguist. My husband, Michael, speaks Italian like and Italian, French like a Frenchman and German…like a good linguist – no one has ever mistaken him for German.  He picks up languages with a facility that I will never have. Michael can land in a new country and by the time the taxi has whisked him from the airport to the hotel he has grasped the basic grammar of the new language and learned important words like thank you, you’re welcome and good morning, plus a slew of others he has picked up from glancing at passing signs.  Once you are fluent in two languages, he tells me, the others are easy.  I assume this to be true but I do not know for sure because for many years I spoke only English and Foreign (a conglomeration of French and Spanish, filled out with gestures and mime.)  Living with a linguist has served to put the kibosh on my language confidence.  I will happily natter away in Italian with people I know BUT when asked to address a group of strangers the voice of Michael (the pedant, or pignolo in Italian) starts shouting inside my head.

January 21 Soave and Asia

We take the bus…no let me be precise…we take 3 buses (with changes in odd deserted parking lots) to get to a winery near Monteforte for a seminar on the Taiwan wine market organized by the Soave Consortium.  The bus leaves us on the shoulder of the highway.  The fact that we do not own a car creates awe in the minds of our Italian colleagues.  After the conference we dine with the participants, a couple of mayors, the Taiwanese delegation and the Soave Consortium staff.  At one point the Taiwanese Ambassador to the Holy See gets up, takes the microphone and sings “Strangers in the Night”.  He sings well.  I ask him if he would rather be a singer or an ambassador.  There follows a poignant silence and then he says: “It is too late for me to be a singer.”

After the Italian mayors get over the shock of spontaneous Frank Sinatra tributes, they join in the revelry and soon the entire table is singing O Sole Mio.

January 18 Amarone in Villa

Giuseppe Quintarelli’s funeral is today.  His death marks the end of an era.  Go to the October diary for a description of his 1988 Valpolicella, a wine that was still, bright, fresh and evolving after 23 years.  His Valpolicellas are better than most of today’s “Amarones”.

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That said…

Our pal Maria Grazia picks us up and we head out to the hamlet of Borgo di Marcemigo and Villa De Winckels, an impressive complex that includes a restaurant and a wine shop. In the Villa itself there are 12 bedrooms available for vacation rental.  (www.villadewinckels.it)   The Villa is hosting a phenomenal Amarone tasting (plus fab buffet. Cost to the punters: 40 Euros – and a bargain at that).   Thirty-eight producers have tables set up in a large airy room.  Among my favorites are:

2006 Amarone from Viviani (www.cantinaviviani.com). Deep ruby with a blue sheen. Cherries fragrances jump right out of the glass. Lively, satisfying juicy cherries on the palate, with a swirl of lightly bitter flavor that adds depth to the experience. A lovely buzz of pepper spice. Cherries and cream on the finish.  (Go to the July diary to read the results of the blind tasting of 107 Amarones that I did with Bernardo Pasquali – also known in these diaries as Bernie P.- for the Buoni Vini Italia Guide.  Viviani came out tops for me in that tasting.)

2007 Amarone from Allegrini (www.allegriniestates.it) .  Dark, rich. Distinct cherries on the nose, a brighteness on the palate, an undertow of tar. Elegant and appealing.

2006 Amarone “Campo degli Giglio” from Tenuta Sant’Antonio (www.tenutasantantonio.it). Opaque, a juicy red-berry sheen. On the nose: red berry fruit, a smooth ribbon of flavor unfurls on the palate. A very satisyfying wine. It has freshness and depth. A tangy finish.   “It caresses the palate,” says Michael.

2004 Amarone Dal Forno. Opague.  Sprightly acidity over dark fruit. A rich, velvety knap on the palate.  (Go to the October diary for a description of Dal Forno 1996 Amarone.)

Romano Dal Forno sees me and comes over.  A rumor has been circulating that he has sold his winery to Nestles.

“I have a question for you,” I say.

“I know the answer already. It is not true,” says Romano.  “I have not sold out to the chocolate business.  I don’t know how these malicious rumors get started.  That doesn’t mean that if somebody came along and offered me a boat-load of money I wouldn’t consider it though.  Come out to winery for a visit.”

“Okay. Can I bring my dog?”  I explain about the Can-tina column I do every now and then for Morello, in which I only write about wineries that allow me to bring Stanley.

Dal Forno takes a step closer to me.  Our noses are two inches apart.  I see his eyes narrow as he tries to determine if I am joking.  He realizes that I am not:  “Okay, I’ll make a special dispensation for you.”

Michael and I take a break from tasting and go to the rooms that are set up for the buffet.  We sit at a table with Giovanni Rana and his guests: a deli owner and a journalist friend.  Giovanni Rana, for those who don’t know, is The Tortellini/Ravioli King.  His pasta, sauces and gnocchi are in every supermarket in Italy.  He is a big rubbery-faced man, with large dark eyes, who positively exudes bonhomie.  He asks us where we are from: I tell him Kansas and Michael says he is English.

Mr. Rana says to Michael (we are speaking in Italian): “I can believe she’s from Kansas but you; I can’t believe you are not Italian.”  He pulls a magnum of Ferrari Perle 2004 from the ice bucket and offers us a glass.

I decline – not wanting to be forward.

“Come on,” says Mr. Rana. “I have never dined with a person from Kansas before. So this is a special occasion.”

The wine is superb and just what is needed after tasting some 15 Amarones.

Michael and I return to the tasting room refreshed and renewed.

We run into Flavio Peroni, a top consulting enologist for several wineries in the zone and – tah dah – our pal Ugo’s brother-in-law. (To find out who Ugo is go to the “Ugo” essay in the “Life in Verona” section of this website.)  We taste some of the wines that Flavio has made for his various Valpolicella clients.

Fattoria Garbole– 2007 Opague with a deep ruby sheen. Cherries on the nose. Always a good sign. A very interesting velvety texture. Will try again at a later date.

Fumanelli 2006 Again a satitisfying swatch of ripe cherries on the nose and palate. A racy finish.  2005 A fresh uplifting fragrance.

Latium 2007 spicy dark rich cherries, cream soda.

By the time we got to the Terre di Pietra table I can detect the “consultant’s” style – this is not a bad thing because I like the consultant’s style:  the wines always have clear, precise impression of cherry fruit and are elegantly balanced.

“Some Saturday or Sunday I can take you around to visit the wineries,” says Flavio.

“Can I bring my dog?”

“Sure.”

I get great pleasure out of building my dog’s career.

There were other good Amarones, but a series of tasting notes is tiresome to read – so here are the names of the other producers I tried and liked for assorted reasons.  Antolini, Ca’Rugate, Corte Canella, Corte Sant’Alda, Ferragu, Pieropan, Ernesto Ruffo, Tedeschi, Tommasi and Zanoni.  I did not taste all 38 wines – a couple had already been consumed by the time I got to their tables.

January 9 Not by Bread Alone

I open a bottle of 2003 Zamuner Rose Brut (made from Pinot Noir grapes using the metodo classico – a.k.a. the Champagne method). Lovely coppery color. A hint of hazelnuts on the nose and palate.

The wine inspires me to bake oatmeal bread

January 14  Agriturismo San Mattia still has rooms available during Vinitaly. The agriturismo and small winery are dynamically managed by 23 year-old Giovanni Ederle and his sister.  www.cantinaederle.itInfo@cantinaederle.it

January 7 Dinner at the Gepster’s

We arrive toting a magnum of Berlucchi “61” (www.berlucchi.it) . I insist that Geppy immediately pull the cork.

Berlucchi “61” Franciacorta Brut . Excellent. On the nose a light peach note flutters alongside soft greengage plum notes. The palate echoes the nose.  It enters the mouth full and pleasing: a delicate fruitiness, with a frisson of minerality.  It pleases all palates: for me this is high praise.  Anyone who works with wines knows there are wines that you serve aficionados and wines you serve your non-wine trade buddies.  This Berlucchi “61” has the ability to cross those boundaries – it satisfies all palates.

“I’ll impress the garbage collectors tomorrow morning,” says Geppy, holding aloft the empty bottle.

“What? A magnum only has 8 glasses,” says Germana, Geppy’s wife.

Silvio arrives toting a magnum of Muré Cremant d’Alsace  “Cuvee Prestige”.  (For those wanting a wine lesson: cremant means that there has a lower pressure inside the bottle than that of regular sparkling wine.   And this means that the wine will be softer and creamier on the palate.)

Soon Germana gets out her new wig and everyone tries it on.  “Oh, this is what comes from serving the apertivo in magnums,” she says.

We sit down to dinner and dig into Germana’s fabulous pasta al forno (lasagnette with meat sauce and mozzarella baked in the oven).

Geppy uncorks an Amarone from a producer I have never tried.  “My cousin says it’s one of the best Amarones,” says Geppy. “Since you are the expert I’d like your opinion.”

It was not one of the best Amarones but at least it had the idea of cherries on the palate. Geppy took my lukewarm reply with good grace.  I won’t mention the name of the wine because, as I said, I only write up wines for this diary that are exceptional.

Then Germana brings out the homemade liquors.  Germana seldom drinks but she has a passion for concocting cordials.  She sets a jar and a collection of small spoons on the table.  In the jar is a cloudy viscous liquid with hazy bursts of yellow and orange in it.  I take a spoon and have a taste.  It is not horrible.  I do not want to have another go….but it is not bad.

“What is the secret ingredient,” I ask.

Germana beams: “Gummy bears.  I macerated them for a year in Absolut vodka, keeping them in the freezer and turning the jar every so often. ”

“I tried it after 3 months,” says Geppy. “The gummy bears had absorbed a lot of alcohol and had swelled to three times their original size. Boy, I wouldn’t advise eating more than 2 of those!”

January 1

We toast in the New Year with 2002 Bellavista Franciacorta (Franciacorta is an Italian wine zone that uses the same grapes and production methods as those used in Champagne.  The wines tend to be softer and more food-friendly).

I make up a sauce that works well with the wine: 8 jumbo shrimp (de-shelled and deveined), around ½ inch ginger root, 1 clove garlic, 1 teaspoon coriander (I smashed seeds with a mortar and pestle, if you use pre-ground coriander you might want to use a dab more), around a teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon paprika, a dash of Tabasco, around 3 Tablespoons water, the juice of 1 lime, a splash of cooking cream, a splash of olive oil.

Peel and chop the ginger and garlic.  Whiz them in the food processor with the coriander, cumin, tobacco, paprika, lime juice and water. Taste.  Add the cream – the amount of cream will be determined by your response to spicy food – use more to tone down the heat.  Put the oil in a frying pan and add the sauces. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the shrimp.  Cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes.   I served this sauce on linguini. But it would work on rice or toast.