MARCH 2014

March 29 Happy Birthday Francesco and Giovanni

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe head to the Osteria Carroarmato to celebrate the 18th birthday of Ugo and Steffie’s twins.  Twenty some friends and relatives at a long wooden table. Plate after plate of sliced meats, vegetables, polenta, gorgonzola, lots of happy chatter. It felt wonderful to live in Italy at that moment.

March 26- 30 Tasting at the Vinitaly wine Competition.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI decide to share this honor with Matteo, one of my tasting students.  He will take two days and I will do the rest.  The idea of 4 full days of tasting from 9 to 5 just does not appeal to me at the moment.  Thank goodness they use electronic tablets and spare us judges the fatigue of adding up columns of figures and filling out forms.

We average around 44 wines a day, with 3 to 4 minutes for each wine. 

What I do when I am not tasting.
What I do when I am not tasting.

Here is the tip I gave Matteo:  Place the glass that you want to be filled on the right hand side of your table and put your hand lightly on the base of the glass.  That way the sommelier can fill it without having to lean over the table and sort through the confusion of your 12 glasses. The sommelier will appreciate this courtesy. 

I met a fan!  Another judge had read and appreciated one of my books and told me so.  It never fails to please me when someone says he likes what I have written. I invited him along to my pal Annalisa’s osteria, the Carroarmato, for a book presentation and we stayed for dinner. 

I have taken a look at his website and now I am his fan! Here is the address of his blog: Wonderful photographs and gentle, interesting commentary. A lovely and amusing man. 

March 21 Interviewing Andrea Camilleri

3Camilleri, for those who may not know, is Italy’s best loved author and the creator of the wry and observant Sicilian commissario, Salvo Montalbano.  I interviewed him for Publishers Weekly at his apartment in Rome.

Here are two rather nice quotes from Camilleri that I won’t put in my article:

“When I don’t have any ideas I might write a letter, for example, to a man I’ve just encountered at a kiosk. It’s a letter I know I’ll never send, but it serves as an exercise. Without that, you get stuck. What’s behind writing? It’s not that the artist writes when he gets inspiration — it’s the work of each day.”

5“Two great masters for me are Hammett and Chandler.  Perhaps Hammett above all because of his behavior during the Communist Witch Hunt in the 1950s. He ended up going to jail for his views.  Now, this was a man who drank nearly a bottle of whisky a day. So going to jail for him was like having a double sentence. It took a great deal of courage.”

Camilleri very kindly signed books for Stefania (who made her family take their last vacation to Sicily so that she could visit all the sites where the Montalbano TV  series is filmed) and for Susanna (whose favorite book is Il birraio di Preston.)

Susanna was very pleased when I told her that that book was very significant in the development of Montalbano.  In fact without it there might have never been a Montalbano.  You see, Camilleri was stuck when writing Il birraio di Preston so he decided to set himself a “creative exercise”: writing a mystery novel.  He wanted to see if he could write a linear plot – going from chapter one through to the end and linking each chapter logically.  So there you have it, Montalbano started out as a remedy for writer’s block.

March 20 Candy for Camilleri

4My husband went to a small hand-made chocolate shop to buy a box of candy to take to Camilleri. (I had done my homework and discovered that he had not drunk wine since 1947 – yes, 1947.) The shop assistant asked my husband if the chocolates were for a woman and he told her they were for Andrea Camilleri.


Shop Assistant (in awe): He’s one of those people that you think don’t really exist.

Michael: You mean like a mythological creature?

Shop Assistant: Yes, exactly!

 We take the bus to the airport to see the unveiling of the giant posters advertising Soave that the Consortium has put up.  Michael and I helped them tidy up their English slogan. Here are photos of 2 of my favorite Italian Journalists/bloggers.  Carlo G. and Maria Grazia, who looks rather fetching in her new purple glasses. Her site:   


March 16 Dancing to the Tune of Bardolino

The annual Bardolino thrash. Great fun, good band, nice eats, swell people.

March 11 Greek Fans – Wow!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of years ago I got an email from Anistasia K., a teacher at the Iiona School of Music in Greece.  She was bringing some students to the Veneto and wanted to meet with me.  She uses my wine articles in her English classes.  I was unable to meet them on that occasion.  BUT SHE’S BACK!  She is bringing another group and we agree to meet in Verona.  She told me one of her students is writing a thesis comparing Chateau Yquem and Amarone.  My mind boggled, particularly when I was introduced to the 14 year old who is writing the piece.  What a lively, intelligent boy.  All of the students were enthusiastic and polite.  It was a real pleasure to meet them.

March 8, 9, 10  Tergeno IGT Ravenna Bianco 2012 from Fattoria Zerbina and Lunch

Cristina Geminani of Fattoria Zerbina
Cristina Geminani of Fattoria Zerbina

I drank a glass of this blend of indigenous white varieties (and just a touch of Chardonnay) with my lunch three days running.

It has the body and delicately fruity flavor to go with: a salad of dry, shredded meat, olives and artichokes dressed with lemon and oil; rice salad with ham and peas; and breaded chicken cutlet.  A very satisfying wine.  The back label suggests that is goes well with seafood and some kinds of raw fish, liver-based dishes and cheeses, or as an aperitif.  All of this sounds right to me.


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERATidying my office I came across my cigar box of significant letters. Among them was one from Marvin Epstein (ancient Sherlockians may remember him). It was written from Paris where he and his wife were vacationing and were soon to leave for London and a dinner with Lady Jean Conan Doyle.  Among the love and after-love letters I found one from  a boy on whom I had a crush  in High School and with whom, 15 years later, I had a brief but intense affair.  I reread the letters written to me by my friend Helena during the months leading up to her death. We exchanged letters once a week and tried to keep things witty and wry.  My goal was to make her laugh.  She was gallant right up to the end.  

I put the letters away and suddenly felt a great wave of pity for all the people under 40 who will never have a box of letters like mine, who will never know the visceral pleasure of holding that piece of lost time in their hands.

February 28 Annalisa’s unbirthday

Stefania & Annalisa
Stefania & Annalisa

She was born on the 29th of February.  We stop by the Osteria Carroarmato, which Annalisa owns, to wish her well.  Other old pals show up and she sits us down at table 1 (the staff table) and heads down to the cellar to start the parade of old bottles which we will taste together.  (1994 Quintarelli Valpolicella, Alzero 1996, among others.)  “I have a theory,” says Annalisa.” Before 2000 the focus was on making wine, after that time the focus was on making money.”   She may have a point. 

February 24 The Ceramics Museum in Faenza

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERADuring the night my flagging cold has rallied.  I go to a lovely room in the museum where a tasting is to be held.  It is a perfect venue: white walls, natural light, silence.  I pick up the tasting sheet that lists around 100 wines.

My survival instinct kick in and I put the tasting sheet back on the table and walk to the nearest dark room.  I sit on an upholstered love seat until I felt better.  Then Michael and I have a nice leisurely stroll through the fabulous ceramics museum.  It is inspiring, it is beautiful, it is thought provoking.  I love this museum.

We then went outside and sat on a park bench in the sun for an hour: warm sun, cool breeze, bird song.   

February 23 Romagna Sangiovese

Anders, my Swedish cousin (metaphorically speaking)
Anders, my Swedish cousin (metaphorically speaking)

I have the pleasure of attending a brief seminar about the newly designated sub-zones in the Region of Romagna.  This is followed by a tasting of older vintages. 

1994 Fattoria Zerbina Torre Ceparano. Sangiovese.  Bright, vibrant ruby, with deep rose highlights. Clear, fresh, with a waves of ripe fruit on the nose: black currents, sour cherries. Rich, ripe and round on the palate. A candied cherry touch on the long finish. After 20 minutes in the glass the wine is still fresh and appealing.  After 40 it is still giving pleasure.

“I have a lot of affection for this wine,” says Cristina Geminani, the owner and winemaker of Fattoria Zerbina. “When I planted this area I used the albarello training method. It is our first wine made with Albarello.  The 1994 was made from 5 year old vines.”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA2000 Castelluccio Ronco Ciliegi  Deep dar-tinged ruby. Nose a mix of various cherries: sour, candied, bitter, a touch of liquorice. Its like slipping into a pool at the spa – very satisfying.

“This is the first vintage realized by the Fiores,” says the moderator of the tasting.

1993 Zerbina Pietramora. Bright, softly-diffused deep rose over ruby. Nose: clean, warm, soft cfruit – chrries – rising on the nose.  On the palateL elegant, firm fruit shaped by sill sprightly acidity. All of a iece.- like a bolt of silk unfurling. 

After 20 minutes; still firm and fruity.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA1979 Nicolucci Vigna del General (Riserva) Diffused browning ruby, clear rim. Still a note of freshness bursts through a slight oxidation. The wine is old BUT a pleasing fruit persists. Final verdict: an interesting experience rather than a pleasure-giving one. 

1998 Giovanna Madonia Ombroso  Nose: fresh with an undertow of ahses and a burst of decent cherry fruit. Vines planted in 1993.

Tasted and appreciated at dinner. 1998 Fattoria Paradiso  Sangiovese di Romagna. I took no note but the wine left a good impression.

1996 Fattoria Zerbina Scaccomatto A sweet wine made from Albana grapes. Fresh, hazelnuts on the nose with a undertow of botrytis cinerea. Fresh a round swirling of fresh, apricots, candied apricots, green tea, tinned apricots, autumn leaves, figs, candied yellow plums.  It is like a magician pulling a seemingly endless series of brightly colored scarves from his sleeve.   

February 19 Wonderful  Bucci

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the weather is on the cool side, I like to have a glass of red wine.  Ampelio Bucci has sent some samples of his new vintages. I open a bottle of Bucci 2011 Tenuta Pongelli Rosso Piceno and serve it to 4 nascent winemakers (or more precisely wine making students.)  None of them have ever had a wine from the Marche region before.   It is a revelation for them.  It is deep ruby, with purple highlights. On the nose it has hints of violets, spicy cloves and cherries. Dry, mouth-cleansing acidity. Medium-bodied.  Soft tannins.  A lovely wine.

February 18 Writing, writing writing

I finish the essays on Italian cheese, pasta, regions and life in Italy. These will appear in a booklet destined for the Singapore market.  They were fun to write.   

February 17 I begin to emerge from my congestion-filled miasma.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI searched for a wine to renew my interest in daily life and chose Notturno, a 100% Sangiovese IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) from Romagna produced by the Drei Dona family.  I made the right choice.  It is a wonderful wine, one that can be matched with vegetarian cuisine as well as the traditional red meat and cheese pairings. Ah, satisfaction.  What I want in this condition is a wine that has style and substance but which is also easy to drink.   Hooray for Drei Dona.  For my animal-centric pals, the Drei Dona family also has a nice pack of dogs (many of them strays) and some fine horses and a donkey. 

First part of February: A Descent into Toxic Hell

For a number of unfortunate reasons I found myself in the nastiest of environments – mold spores, rising damp, horrible smells.  The only way I could breathe was to sit next to an open window while a vicious storm raged outside.