Those desperate for wine notes can whiz down to January 24 and 26 for Amarone descriptions, otherwise this diary is mainly about my other favorite topics: books and Sherlock Holmes.

I, like most readers, first met Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson when I was twelve years old – a magic age for readers. Some years later, on the eve of my first fateful trip to France, where I worked in the vineyards in Champagne, Evelyn Herzog, The Principal Unprincipled Adventuress, said to me: “You are going to be living the life of an adventuress so you can’t leave New York without becoming a fully-fledged ASH (Adventuress of Sherlock Holmes).” She gave me the investiture “Mlle. Vernet” (S. Holmes’s maternal grandmother.) Thus, my entry into the wine trade and my official Sherlockian status are forever intertwined.

26 January – Amarone Anteprima

Valentina Cubi
Ca la Bionda

Thirty producers man their tables at the Grand Guardia in Verona for the annual Amarone Anteprima tasting.  Some I have already tasted at Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it)

Among the other wines I liked: Valentina Cubi Amarone 2009, Stefano Accordini Amarone 2009 and Ca la Bionda 2009.

I see Tiziana R. at the tasting and make arrangements to off-load 5 novels, which will help fill the shelves of her vacation apartment (Bed and Breakfast) in Valpolicella.

Then off to Ugo’s apartment to celebrate Stefania’s birthday.  We bring a magnum of Berlucchi “61” Franciacorta Saten (discourged in 2011 – www.berlucchi.it.)  It is near perfect – the fruit (apricot, pear, tangerine) is very finely knit…it has personality and elegance.  It is much appreciated by the 11 adults at the table.

24 January – Villa de Winckels’s Mega Amarone Tasting

Maria Grazia picks us up at the bus stop and we are off to Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it), a fine restaurant and hotel near Tregnago in the Illasi Valley (east of Verona). The owners of the villa organize a superb Amarone tasting there every year.  Forty-eight producers are on hand, each with the current vintage (this year the current vintage is usually 2009) and an older vintage.

Why doesn’t everyone have the same current vintage, I hear you ask. Because Amarone is a very personal wine, one that allows the winemaker to make decisions about how long to let the grapes dry before pressing (which is an essential part of what makes Amarone a unique dry red wine) and what type of wood and size of barrels to use (this determines the impact that wood has on the flavor of the wine), among other things.  These variables allow the winemaker to impress his/her personal style and tastes. Some producers are presenting their 2004s and 2005s, others their 2008s.

Among the wines that caught my attention (and I suppose I should say here that the standard was very high.  I tasted no wines that had faults):

Dal Forno Amarone 2006  17 percent alcohol. Deep,intense color. Round and vibrant on the palate (like a small animal in the mouth – and I mean this in a positive way). Rich weave of fresh, ripe cherries/dark plums, well integrated spice.

“We are trying to lower the alcohol but it is hard,” says Marco Dal Forno. “Appassimento (the semi-drying of the grapes before pressing) automatically means that there will be high alcohol.  We are trying to concentrate the fruit in the vineyards and reduce the time in appassimento. However, for this type of wine it is impossible to get below 15 percent alcohol.”

Speri Amarone 2008  Complete. Very nice roundness on the palate.

I talk to Paolo Speri about books.  We both appreciate the smell and feel of old books…and the pleasure in reading the comments of a book’s previous owner scrawled in the margins. Buy his family’s very nice wines and know you are supporting a book lover.

Marco Sartori

Roccolo Grassi Amarone 2008 Opague with ruby sheen. The nose is heady, pleasing and rich. On the palate: full, cherries, plums and spice are tightly woven, near silky texture.

While I am at Marco Santori’s table (Marco is the winemaker and owner – along with his sister and father – of the Roccolo Grassi estate.) Romano Dal Forno comes up to wish us well.  He takes a glass of Marco’s wine and says: “Bello! Che bel naso. Bel frutta.”

I think: how nice it is when one producer praises the wines of a neighbor. Believe me, this is not standard behavior in many wine zones.


Before we leave we stop by Giovanni Rana’s table. Mr. Rana is a big, generous man who exudes good will.  He is also Mr. Tortellini: his food products are in every supermarket in Italy and in specialty food shops in the USA and elsewhere.

“I’ve just opened a restaurant in New York,” he tells me.

“I just got back from there.”

Mr. Rana pulls a business card from his wallet and handed it to me. “The next time you are in New York you and your friends – up to ten people – can dine there as my guests,” he says.

“Will you put that in writing?”

Do I detect a touch of nervousness in his smile?  I will remind him of this promise before my next trip to NYC.

Should you wish to check out Mr. Rana’s NYC enterprise:

Giovanni Rana Pastificio e Cucina, Chelsea Market, 79 9th Avenue. www.RanaNYC.com

23 January – 2010 Suavia Carbonare Soave

I make a radicchio quiche and open a bottle of this superb single-vineyard wine. It has class, elegance and personality. The wine is bright straw/pale gold in color. On the nose are lovely scents of elderflowers and wild flowers, with an undertow of apricot fruit. On the palate the fruit flavor is shot through with a sprightly minerality. This is fine wine. Dear Reader, if you see this on a wine list in a restaurant and are looking for a white with charm and backbone, order it.

19 January On the Road Again – literally

We miss our connecting bus and end up walking along the highway in Valpolicella Est.  After ten minutes of this we call Agostino Vicentini, who lives up the road and has who happens to make excellent wines as well as growing other fruits, and ask for a ride to our destination.

“It’s no problem,” he says. “It’s too cold to work outside today.” As the car pulls away he says: “I just got back from St. Moritz.”

“Business or pleasure?” I ask.

Do I look like the kind of guy who goes to St. Moritz for a vacation?!?  I went there to participate in a fine food event at a big hotel.  They gave me the room free. It cost 1000 Euros a night. It was too much luxury for me.  Not that I’m not happy to have had the experience. I met the maître of the hotel years ago and he ordered my Recioto di Soave for the restaurant.  He liked it because it matched well with foie gras. Then he tasted my other wines and ended up ordering them too.  So he asked me to come to St. Moriz.  I hope I get more big hotel clients there. There’s money in Switzerland.”

17 January Kitts Estate!

I sleep until 7AM, walk the dog and go back to bed. I awake at 10 and tackle the emails – all 104 of them, including the ever-escalating hysteria of my editor in Singapore.  The electronic images that are to accompany my article on Sandro Gini are not sufficient and he needs sub-heads.  I plow ahead and finally come to the email that reads: “Oh yes I just heard from your husband that you were travelling with no internet connection.  No worries, we couldn’t get the images in time so we had no choice but to push the story to the next issue. So now we have some time, you should go get some rest, and work on the title, stand first and subheads another time!”

What a sweet boy.  You know you are getting old when you think of your editors as “sweet boys and girls”.

I start to cook.  I have not had a great meal in NYC.  The best were an Indian meal with my pal Randall at the Tamarind and the burger and onion rings I had at Mickey and Susan’s apartment. The rest was just fuel.

Along with the roast chicken for tonight I whip up alasagna for tomorrow and decide to open the bottle of wine that Francine Kitts gave me at the Baker Street Irregular’s dinner.  I think: If it is not great, I will use it for cooking.

Well, let me tell you the 2011 Du Pape Chateau Vernet Kitts Estate Winery Red was infinitely better than any of the red wines served at the institutional dinners I attended.  I am not joking or being nice because I like Francine.  The wine was okay: fruity, nicely balanced, pleasing, straightforward and imminently drinkable.  If she brings a bottle to the dinner next year I may ask the waiter if I can open it at the table.

“We made it ourselves,” Francine assures me.  Hooray for Kitts Estates.  Dear wine people who follow this site, you will never find Kitts Estate in a shop – it really is homemade wine.

Michael (who has been in England visiting his father) says to me: “While I was in the U.K I saw a new Sherlock Holmes program on telly.”

“Was it Elementary,” I ask. “The one with Lucy Liu?”

“I  didn’t recognize her as Lucy Liu because she wasn’t sexy,” says Michael.

I  hope this program comes to Italy so I can see an episode and then quiz my husband about what makes Lucy Liu unsexy.

January 15 and 16 In transit

January 9 thru 14 SHERLOCK HOLMES in New York

I  go to New York for the annual Sherlock Holmes Birthday festivities – lunches, dinners, cocktail dos and brunches. I stay at my pal Evelyn’s apartment.


1. Lying in bed in the early hours of the morning and listening to the clip clop of horse’s hooves on 9th avenue. It made me think of Jack Finney’s novel Time and Again. Yes, New York still has mounted police.

2. Watching and listening to a young man in a hoodie who is walking his dogs and singing Night and Day in a fine, full, mellow, professional voice. Oh, this is another reason I love New York.

3. Seeing the tears in Stefano G.’s eyes when he returned to our table after receiving his BSI (Baker Street Irregulars) investiture. We bonded big time. “You made this evening so much nicer for me,” he said.  Although I don’t know how; I translated very little for him. I did, however, pat him on the back when I realized it was time for him to leap from his seat and head to the podium.

4. At the Guggenheim for the Picasso Black and White exhibit and listening to the mature mothers harassing their three-year-olds with impossible questions.  For example: Picasso had at least four paintings named Woman in Hat.  However, the “hats” looked to me like a scrotum, a deflated balloon, a gourd and a limp jump rope.  None of them looked like conventional hats.  These poor misguided mothers (who obviously lacked imagination and were not about to let their children express their own fantasy) would say things like: “What’s on her head?” They would then wait for the child to respond: hat.  Instead they were met with bewildered silence. No person who had only been on this planet for three years should be asked to interpret abstract art.

I told Priscilla about the wonderful book Lump the Dog who ate a Picasso by David Douglas Duncan. It is a photographic essay about how Picasso met his dog Lump and subsequently featured the dog in his paintings, drawings and ceramics. Halfway down the Guggenheim ramp Priscilla and I had grown tired of monochrome paintings, only perking up when we spotted a Lump-ish-dachshund.

In  my quest to find homes for some of my books, I take a couple of memoirs set in Brooklyn and a couple of mysteries with lurid covers to NYC. Russell takes the mysteries and we leave the memoirs on the counter of a bar.  “Somebody will pick them up and take them home,” Russell assures me.