MAY 2015

May 25 Villa’s Annual Tasting (www.villafranciacorta.it/)
1 a couple of extra brutsAround 50 people gather at the Villa estate in Franciacorta for the 21st annual tasting of older vintages. Franciacorta, just to refresh your memory, is a sparkling wine made with the same method as that used in Champagne. This means that the second fermentation – the one that makes the bubbles – takes place in bottle. The production zone is located in Lombardy. The wine producers here have always impressed me; it would be difficult to find one who does not make decent wine. And then there are those, like Villa, who make simply superb wines.

 

A famous sommelier, on hand at this occasion, says: “These aren’t just wines for aperitifs, they are wines you can drink from morning to night, anytime of day.”

 

I think of AUNTIE MAME. This is a novel by Patrick Dennis, which was subsequently made into a Broadway show and later a film, both starring Roz Russell. There was also a Broadway musical version starring the wonderful Angela Lansbury. This too was made into a film with Lucille Ball in the title role. The reason why the sommelier’s remark made me think of Auntie Mame will be clear to anyone who has read/seen Auntie in one of her versions.

 

We taste the 2008, 2007, 2006, 2001, 2000, 1999,1998, 1997, 1994 and 1993 vintages of Villa’s Extra Brut.

 

Among my favorites:
The 1994. Amazingly fresh. You are aware that it is mature but it is

still vibrant and alive.

 

The 1997 was light and lively. Yes, there was a delicate butterscotch line in there – still fresh and satisfying.

 

The 2006: A balance between delicacy and strength. A sparkling wine for grownups. There is an idea of melting butterscotch on the palate. A coconut cream note and an attractive vibration of sweetness on the long finish.

 

Roberta Bianchi
Roberta Bianchi

I miss wines like these. When I started in the wine trade (three decades ago!), you could find wine that matured gracefully, developing enticing tertiary aromas, while remaining alive on the palate. Nowadays it is not so common to come across such wines.

I was asked to remark on the vintages, and I referred to them as having maturità con grazia (graceful maturity). This phrase struck a chord with several of those present. One young journalist came up and said she was going to use it as the title for her article. This was gratifying because it is nice to know that even though I speak Italian badly I can still communicate.

 

If you happen to be looking for a caterer/restaurant in Lombardy, try Antica Cascina San Zago. (www.anticacascinasanzago.it) They provided the superb lunch – everything fresh, pure and savory. It could not have been better.

 

Every time I come to Villa, I think of Kyle Philips. I miss him still. He was a big man who looked like a former high school football player, with a burr haircut and a plaid shirt. He was also witty, intelligent, knowledgeable and kind. The annual Villa event was the only fixed meeting point for us, although we occasionally ran into each other in Tuscany, where he lived with his wife and two children, or other tasting venues. We always sat together at these events because we liked each other and we knew that our conversation would revolve around books, writers and ideas. Yes, I will always miss him and think of him when occasions like this arise.

 

May 23 Soave Le Battistelle
We go to Soave for an event concerning the 2014 harvest, and taste through wines from the vintage.

 

Once again Le Battistelle stands out. Very good wine from a difficult vintage. Over the last few years Le Batistelle has always made it into my list of top Soaves. If you see this name on a wine-list, order it. It you are looking for a new Soave to import. Taste it. You will not be disappointed.

 

May 19 Stanley the Foto-modello
SONY DSCMy pal Glynis Macri has won a photographic award with a photo of…Stanley! It was taken in Friuli when Glynis and I were there for a mega Pinot Grigio tasting. Stanley accompanied me. The photo deserves to be on the back flap of a book….I suppose now Stanley will have to write one. “The author divides his time between his home and the Osteria Carroarmato.

 

I take Stanley for a stroll and tell everyone we meet about his international fame. At the Osteria Sottoriva, Franco gives Stanley a meatball as a prize for being so photogenic. We then head to the Hostaria Vecchia Fontanina for an aperitif. When we tell the chef about Stanley’s photo, he goes into the kitchen and pinches off a bit of tartar for my little doggie. So, thank you Glynis!

 

May 18 I am on the Radio
I was interviewed about the Colli Euganei book (THE VENETIAN HILLS: A CONNOISEUR’S COMPANION TO THE COLLI EUGANEI). If anyone would like to hear me speaking truly appalling Italian, my interview starts at around 5 minutes, 30 seconds into the show. I also say that I think the Colli Euganei is much more interesting and beautiful than Tuscany! https://soundcloud.com/madeinitalyradio/puntata-56-del-18-maggio-2015

 

May 11 & 12 Country Dancing in PiazzaBra and Chievo Calcio Fan Club cowboy grub.
4 arena and country dancer fotoIn the next few weeks we will be visiting a family with horses (and a swimming pool and a hammock). Oh, if only I could get my pal Marty (who owns a ranch and teaches riding) to express mail us a couple of cowboy hats from the USA!

 

 

10 May Coffele Soave in Piazza Bra
7 ciara at the tastingHere is a picture of Chiara Coffele on the Listone (across from the Roman Arena) pouring her family’s wonderful Soave! Igenio played the accordion, Ugo recited poems to bewildered tourists and a good time was had by all.

 

 

9 May Tasting in Chaos
8 may 9 tastingMatteo and Corina come over and I put them through some blind tasting practice. I also put a ringer in the group: a Speri Amarone 1995. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still had a bit of stuffing left. They both thought it was younger. And the wine had not been stored in the best conditions these last two years of its life. When we moved to this apartment I didn’t immediately find the coolest place to store the wine.

 

May 7 Bruce Turns up at my door
10 mad bruceAfter years of lobbying Bruce (you may read about Bruce in previous diary entries) has finally convinced the Italian national Sherlock Holmes club (Uno Studio in Holmes) to have a convention here in Verona. He arrives breathless at my door, takes a seat and talks and talks and talks. I listen. This is my role in his life. He very kindly asks me to present something during the day. My speech will be titled: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Italians in the Canon.

For those who want to learn more about Sherlock Holmes, I can highly recommend THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MISCELLANY by Roger Johnson & Jean Upton

“This work belongs in the hands of every Sherlockian who has had to explain the lure of Baker Street.” — The Baker Street Journal http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk

 

11 zanyIvanka di Felice, author of A ZANY SLICE OF ITALY, sent me a copy of her book to read…and reading it was a pleasure. The prose is clean and episodes are fast paced. It is a book for people who are married to Italians (or want to be) or who have friends with Italian in-laws. The episodes in this book ring absolutely true. She has captured the zany side of life here.
http: //www.amazon.com/Zany-Slice-Italy-Ivanka-Felice/dp/0993693407

 

May 5 Osteria d’Italia
We meet up with a college pal12 Randall at the osterafoto of mine and his wife. They are in Tuscany, we are in the Veneto, so we decided to meet in Emlia Romagna (half way between the two). The food was only okay…but the company was very fine indeed.

APRIL 2015

April 29 Villa Bucci
I have made a kind of goulash and decide to open a bottle of wine. I choose Villa Bucci Rosso 2010. I love Villa Bucci – the wines are fruity, well-structured and satisfying.

April 26 The Shopping Network
We go to Milan for a tasting. We meet Angela, a lively, mid-twenty-ish woman in a lace mini-dress. One of her jobs is to act as spokesperson for an Italian Jewelry Company in the USA and Australia. She will be flying out to Minnesota (which is evidently a major center for Shopping Network programs) in a few days. She is interviewed on the shopping shows about Italy and her employer’s new line of products. I am absolutely sure she is fabulous in this job. She is intelligent and…well…the word “bubbly” hardly does her justice. Who knew that such a job existed? Not me.

April 22 Big Chievo Dinner

Sabrina at the Chievo dinner
Sabrina at the Chievo dinner

We go to the headquarters to wait for our ride to the Big Chievo fan clubs dinner. All the players and coaches and the owner of the team will be there, along with around 500 soccer fans.

Our pal Sabrina wrote to the producers of Uomani e Donne (Men and Women), a very popular Italian TV show that purports to match up couples. Here is her story:

“I got a call on Tuesday asking if I could come to Rome on Thursday. I said yes, because I wanted to be on TV. When I got to the train station in Rome there was a limousine waiting for me. Everybody in the station looked at me like I was a movie star. I had brought along a dress to wear. I still have good breasts and the dress showed them off. Well, they said I couldn’t wear it and made me wear a white suit with a plain blouse. I said: okay because I wanted to be on TV. Then they put a whole lot of makeup on me and the hairdresser started blowing out my hair to make it straight and parted it on the side. I never war my hair like that because it makes my nose look too big. But there was nothing I could do to convince them to leave my hair alone. Finally I get my chance to go into the studio. There are all these lights and cameras and people. I was pretty nervous. I stand there in front of the man contestant and he says to me: Do you have any tattoos? I said: yes. And he said: You can go now. And that was it. At least I got to ride in a limo.

On the way home from the dinner someone asks Sabrina what her next venture into television will be. “Contardino cerca Moglie” “There’s this rich farmer in Tuscany…..”

April 21
2We go to the Hotel (and Spa) Millepini in Montegrotto. My oh my. It has the deepest pool in the world – 42 meters at its deepest part. People from all over the world come to practice scuba diving here. There are also classes that teach babies to swim. Large windows in the foyer /bar area allow you to watch the proceeding. I am mesmerized.

 

4 me and Lucio fotoWe are here for the launch of Vignalta’s Metodo Classico Brut Rosé made from the Friularo grape.

Lucio Gomiero, owner of Vignalta says: “It’s the anti-Prosecco par excellence,” says Lucio.

 

 

April 19 Chievo soccer fans host Udinese soccer fans before the big game.

5 ladies serving foto6I love Chievo for their sportsmanship. No hooligans here!

.

.

.

April 12 through 16 The International Consorso
7 Guy 2 yes there were other tasters besides meI have been participating as a judge at the International wine competition held at the fair in Verona for the last few days. Blind tasting morning and afternoon – some 40 wines a day.

My goodness! I had a flight of what I believe was supposed to be Proseccos…all but 2 of the 13 tasted like laboratory experiments. They tasted constructed rather than the result of the fermentation of grapes.

So far I have given my highest score to a Lambrusco. Why? Because it was exactly what it was supposed to be – from the purple froth to the lively grapey fragrance and taste. It did not try to be something more or different.

On the last day, we taste wines that have already been vetted by other panels. The flight of reds is good – I would be happy to have any of them on my table in a restaurant.

JpegStrangely, I am the only one – of the 105 tasters – to bring a book to read during the pauses. The book in the photo is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

I am usually the first one back from break. We do around 12 wines take a little break and come back for 12 more. Then it is lunch. In the afternoon we repeat the 12-break-12 routine. The photo was snapped by an oenologist named Paolo, who was on my commission. He said: “My wife reads lots of books too. And then she tells me about them so I don’t have to read them.”

April 16:

9 ugo's birthdayI only do the morning tasting session at the Concorso in order to go to the Carroarmato and taste wines with Ricardo and Laura (his wife and a really good taster) and Annalisa (owner of the Carroarmato). Ricardo started his business a couple of years ago importing Italian sparkling wines into Peru. He is now expanding his line and wanted us to taste his selections and give some assessments of quality levels. Very interesting tasting. My favorite was a ringer that Annalisa poured for us. We tasted the wine blind and I liked it very much. What a happy surprise when it was revealed to be a Valpolicella from Viviani, one of my favorite Amarone/Valpolicella producers. The wine was round, satisfying and food-friendly.

Then on to the Osteria 23 for Ugo’s Birthday Poetry Shout. This is a photo of Ugo that, I believe captures the moment.

April 15: Hooray for Monica!
Monica Sommacompagna at her book launch yesterday for her novel L’Uomo Senza Etichetta. I have just started reading it….wonderful! Hooray for Monica!April 26, 2015

April 2: Combat Poetry
glenn and igenio fotoOur pal Glenn (poet and book shop clerk from Connecticut) read his poetry at Osteria 23 in Verona. He had come to town a couple of days earlier. The first evening of his stay we were having an aperitif at the Filippini and in came Ugo. (Michael often calls Ugo when we have out of town visitors because seeing Ugo is a must – like seeing the Great Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower). And when I introduced Glenn as a poet, Ugo said: “He must come to my Thursday night poetry session.” What a night. It was like doing dinner theatre or singing in a Vegas lounge. But Glenn was a pro: Reading poems in English to a room full of Italians, many of whom were tucking into their seafood salad, takes nerve. The book shop he words at, by the way is The Book Barn.