My pal Federica Schir is a straight-talking, wine-loving, party animal. She kindly suggested that we exchange links to each other’s sites. Should you wish to check her out, here is her blog-address: blog.wineterminal.com
OCTOBER 31- Wine (and winery) of the Month
Fattoria Zerbina 2009 Sangiovese di Romagna “Torre di Ceparano”. Firm tannins shape the fresh, attractive fruit (ripe cherries and bruised plums). A long, flavorful finish. All of a piece, from first sniff to the last, lingering, evocative aftertaste.
I asked Cristina Geminani, the owner and winemaker at Fattoria Zerbina, what she would choose as a food match for this wine. Here is her reply: “For a first course, I woould choose tagliatelle with white truffles - we also have some nice white truffles in our region. For a second course I would say lamb chops or turkey breast with mushrooms.”
Hummm…turkey….might make an interesting wine for Thanksgiving.
I have followed Fattoria Zerbina for more than 20 years. And each and every year the quality of the company’s wines has been consistently high. That, for me, is the sign of a great winemaker.
OCTOBER 30 Patricia on the Radio
OCTOBER 27 Barbara Tamburini – tasting Merlot
I take the train to a tiny, isolated station surrounded by mountains. Fortunately Manuel, one of the helpers at the MondoMerlot event kindly picks me up and whisks me to a tasting of L’Rennero Merlot tutored by Barbara Tamburini (the winemaker, www.barbaratamburini.it) and Nico Rossi (the owner of the Gualdo del Rey estate, www.gualdodelre.it)
We have a vertical of 7 vintages of l’Rennero (D.O.C. Val di Cornia Suvereto Merlot)
2008 This wine won first place at last year’s MondoMerlot event. After tasting it, it is clear why it was the big winner. Near opaque, dark ruby/black. A creamy element on the nose, a rich warm rush of dark fruit (plums, brambles, black currents). Palate follows the nose, filled with rich ripe juicy berry fruit. Firm tannins. Long, lingering finish. A dusting of cocoa.
2005 Opaque. The idea of shoe polish (this is not a bad thing for me), rich, ripe forth-coming fruit. Lush on the palate, elegant on the nose. The idea of coffee a dusting of cocoa beans on the long, fruit-filled finish.
After 30 minutes: the wine stays firm, fresh and appealing.
2001 Fresh, full silky bolt of fruit on the nose and palate. Whiffs of tobacco and cocoa. Layers of shifting scents (plums, brambles, black currents). A knubbly textured fruit. A lovely wine.
“For me,” says Barbara. “This is in poll position. 2001 was a perfect year from the point of view of a viticulturist.”
Other vintages tasted:
2007 (brighter perfumes), 2006 (velvety and appealing), 2004 (Very firm, tight weave of fruit, the idea of lanolin), 2002 (opaque, dense near black. Spice on the palate.)
There was spontaneous applause for her bravura.
OCTOBER 26 Judging Sparkling Wines at the Euposia Wine Challengewww.euposia.it)
Beppe picks me up at the bridge and we drive to Relais Villabella (www.relaisvillabella.it) to taste through the sparkling wines that have already made the cut. There are some 16 tasters. We plow through just short of 80 sparkling wines: Champagnes, Franciacortas and a myriad of others.
The winner of the blind tasting in the rosé Classical Method category this year is Cesarini Sforza Tridentum Rosé (100% Pinot Nero, www.cesarinisforza.it). A Trentodoc! Hooray! I think that sparkling Trentodoc wines are too often overlooked. Whenever I meet a wine buyer I promote these wines: They offer great value for money, as the English say.
Third place went to an English wine: Balfour Rosé Hush Heat (www.hushheath.com) What a name! It sounds like the title of a Richard Castle novel
OCTOBER 25 RECIOTO DI SOAVE TASTING & INTERVIEW WITH PIEROPAN
I interview Leonildo Pieropan (www.pieropan.it) for wine-searcher.com about Christmas traditions.
My favorite Pieropan quote: “For us, Recioto di Soave is the wine that epitomizes Christmas because there are always lots of sweets around. It is a vino da allegria (a wine that brings happiness).”
Then off to a tasting of 40 – yes, 40 – Recioto di Soaves. The event is organized by our pal Lorenzo S. All the producers are present.
Recioto di Soave is a wine made from semi-dried Garganega (primarily) grapes. The style dates back to the Romans. It is considered a desert wine. But, as I wrote in Matching Wine With Asian Food, it also has great potential when paired with many sweet/sour Asian dishes. I (along with my co-author Edwin Soon) had a Coffele Recioto di Soave with a Nasi Gorman prepared by our Singapore publisher’s wife that was superb.
Before the tasting begins someone sings excerpts from the Carmina Burana. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAxU8eSIhiQ) Somehow a lone feminine voice accompanied by the reedy wheeze of a period instrument creates a peculiar – other worldly? Bizarre? – atmosphere.
Generally speaking the wines are very good. Top producers included Vicentini, Portinari, Mosconi, Gini and Fasoli Gino
There are a few wines that have a distinct (for me) small of decomposition. I give these low marks. I notice that the woman next to me on the jury bench has given the same wines high marks. I respect her opinion, so I ask her why she has done this. She says: “That is what traditional Recioto is supposed to smell like.”
I have just returned from Lambrusco-land. There too, I sometimes found a whiff of decomposition and there too, when I queried the producers about the smell, they replied: “That is what traditional Lambrusco is supposed to smell like.”
This in turn reminded me of Barolos of 30 years ago. At that time then there was a huge rift between those who supported “traditional” Barolo (which usually had a whiff of compost heap) and “modern” Barolo (which smelled like wine made from Nebbiolo grapes). Back then I was all for traditional wines because that was the flavor I was used to. However, thirty years down the road, it is safe to say that no one in Barolo makes those pong-y wines anymore.
I suppose the upshot of this muse is that tasters should be just a tad skeptical when Italian producers speak about “traditional” wines. Ask them to define the term.
OCTOBER 18,19,20 LAMBRUCO-LAND & BALSAMIC VINEGAR-LAND
Let me begin by saying that I like well-made Lambrusco. Unfortunately, in most parts of the great big world the style of wines sold under the name Lambrusco can be summed up in the words “cheap, red fizz”. What a pity.
The grape variety Lambrusco is actually an umbrella under which you will find (at least) 4 distinct “Lambruco” grapes. The most successful (in my opinion) are Lambrusco di Sobara and Lambrusco Grasparosso. Good Sobara wines have a vibrant rosé pink color and fresh, sprightly acidity. Grasparosso are darker ruby red with a lovely purply froth.
The Lambruscos that I particularly liked:
Righi Quattro Ville Sobara DOC Secco: Bright blue-cherry juice color. Light, fruity, refreshing, clean. Tart cherry on the palate. Versatile wine. (www.vinirighi.it)
La Piana (organic producer) Lambrusco Capriccio di Bacco Secco. I smelled down a row of 20 wines and this is the one that made me want to go back and taste it. Very nice wine. It is made without the use of sulfites. (www.lambruscolapiana.it)
Others that stood out: Fattoria Moretti (good saturation of flavor, www.fattoriamoretto.it), Manicardi (nice texture, www.manicardi.it), Cavaliera (www.cavaliera.it), Ca Berti (light and fresh, www.caberti.com), Cleto Chiarli & Figli (dependable and attractive)
My notes on unsuccessful Lambrusco: sweat and bubblegun, plastic.
“2014 will be like a year zero for Lambrusco,” says Gian Paolo Gavioli, who has worked with these wines for decades. “Because the rules will change and become stricter and more tied to the production area.” He also forsees the possibility of referring to drier style Lambruscos by their grape name. That is: Sobara or Grasporossa. But that is an idea for the future. As G.P. says: “Wine isn’t a tomorrow morning business…you have to think 50 years ahead.”
We visit 2 balsamic vinegar producers. The first is Boni Romano. We are given a charming and impenetrable description of how the product is made. But everyone likes the vinegar and there is much buying at the end of the visit. “90% of our sales take place here at the shop,” says our guide. There is a superb collection of pottery vessels that once held Balsamic vinegar. Suprisingly contemporary glazes for 15th and 16th century pots.
The second balsamic vinegar establishment we visit is La Vecchia Dispensa. The son of the owner, Simone, gave us a superb explanation of the product and techniques of production. He speaks with passion and knowledge. Again much buying is done before we pile back on the journalists bus. These exceptional products are found in London at Harrods and Fortnam and Masons.
The thing that Simone wants us all to remember is this: “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is NOT a salad dressing! You don’t work for years and years to make a salad dressing.”
He says that the right way to use Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is as a tonic (taken by the spoonful) or put a few drops on a warm dish – such as a steak or a vegetable platter. “The warmth of the food releases the fragrance and flavors of the vinegar,” he says. He also recommends a few drops on roast pumpkin.
My favorite quote from this trip:
Journalist: “Is it always foggy in this area?”
Producer: “No, on Friday it was sunny.”
OCTOBER 15 AN ACID TRIP IN FRANCIACORTA
I take the train to Rovato and Marco, the PR for the Franciacorta consortium picks me up and whisks me to the tasting, which is conducted by sparkling wine expert Tom Stevenson. Tom has chosen what he feels are the very best examples of English sparkling wine. Producers: Nyetimber (They have the largest vineyard holding in the U.K.), Plumptom (an Agricultural School), Camel Valley, Ridgeview, Herbert Hall, Henners (“I’ve been keeping my eye on this producers,” says Tom.), Hambledon (“A seriously gifted winemaker here,” says Tom.) and Hattingley. (www.englishwineproducers.com)
What we learned from Tom, who titled his seminar “An Acid Trip”:
“These wines are sweeter than what you are used to. If they did not have this dosage they would not be drinkable.”
“There are over one hundred brands of sparkling wine in the U.K., and only sixteen that are worth drinking.”
My general assessment: It is almost as if “good taste” stepped in to de-nude these wines of character. They are well made and clean and vaguely (Tom calls it delicately) fruity (orchard fruits). But at prices that run between 30 and (a breathtaking) £75 pounds sterling (!!!!), I want a bit more than that.
My goodness, if I had £75 to spend on a bottle of wine I would want something that made my heart sing, something that brought out the poet in me, something that would create a fragrance memory that would stay with me forever.
I asked myself who would buy these wines at these prices and the answer is: Rich, Patriotic Englishmen, who are rightly proud of producing drinkable wines in their county.
I think that I will stick with Franciacorta, Trentodoc and Champagne for now. But who knows what the future will bring?
OCTOBER 11 GUERRIERI RIZZARDI – THE CANOVA PRIZE
Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it) hosted the annual Antonio Canova sculpture competition, which offers young Italian artists an opportunity for international exposure. Works by the finalists were displayed at Villa Rizzardi, which is surrounded by a stunning garden designed by 18th century architect Luigi Trezza (www.pojega.it).
This year’s winner is Michele D’Agostino. He won for his excellent piece titled: La Conoscenza dell’Ascolo. He put a tiny audio recorder in a jiffy pack and mailed it to London. Once back in his possession, he mounted the audio recorder in the sculpture pictured. Listening to the audio inside the sculpture is a strangely hypnotic experience. Very interesting.
OCTOBER 6 CHIEVO (soccer team) FAN CLUB DINNER
Food in plastic tubs…a live-ish band…
I enjoy watching the boys (our pal’s son Mario and his mate Andrea) eat: stuffing slices of stale bread and sweaty ham into their mouths until their cheeks puff out like chipmunks.
OCTOBER 5th MASI PRIZE MEMORIES
Every year the Masi Foundation awards a handful of truly exceptional individuals. This year among the winners were Marjane Satrapi, who is perhaps best known for her outstanding animated film Persepolis; Giovanni Bonotto, a textile manufacturer who uses ancient production techniques to create contemporary fabrics; Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist from Friuli, who was part of the team that identified “mirror neurons”; and le Vigne di Venizia, a group of intrepid and optimistic vine-growers who are creating vineyards on the islands around Venice.
This award ceremony got me to thinking about the first Masi Prize interview I ever did.
The year: 1998. The subject: The most charming man I have ever had the pleasure to meet, Pierre Cardin.
Cardin was born not far from the Veneto’s Valpolicella zone. His family moved to France when he was two. His childhood dream was to be an actor or dancer and in 1945, at the age of 23, due to his uncanny physical resemblance to Jean Marais, he was hired as the actor’s stand-in during costume fittings for Jean Cocteau’s exquisite film La Belle et La Bete. He later became a professional costumier, not only for Cocteau but also for other important directors, including Max Ophuls and Joseph Losey.
My favorite quotes from the interview: “I was Dior’s first employee. When I arrived for work the first day there were only three of us there.” His success with Dior led Cardin to bring out his own haute couture collection. One of his most ardent admirers was Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of York, who, at that time, was the icon of chic. Cardin was the first haute couture designer to create a prêt-à-porter line. “I wanted to continue dressing the duchess but I also wanted to dress my concierge,” he said.
However, I almost didn’t get the interview.
I was the last in a long line of journalists waiting to interview him. The officious PR girl kept letting other journalists go ahead of me because they wrote for fashion magazines and daily Italian newspaper. I was there to interview him for Decanter magazine. (Cardin owned restaurants in China and imported wine there). My turn finally came and the PR girl rushed up and told him that it was time to go into lunch. My shock (at her rudeness) and disappointment must have been clearly stamped on my face.
Mr. Cardin charmingly but firmly told her that I had waited patiently for him and that he was quite happy to take the time to talk to me. We sat and talked and it felt like Real Conversation…we talked about films…and his youth. I have never met such a charming man
After the interview he asked me to send him a copy of my article when it was published. I did. And 10 days later a lovely handwritten thank you note from Cardin arrived for me in the mail. That kind gesture had a profound effect on me. For the first time I fully recognized the value of taking the time to say: thank you.
So, thank you, Monsieur Cardin.
PS Yes, I framed the note.