25 through 30 In Soave-land with Michael and Stanley.
The organizers of this project have put us up at the Best Western Soave Hotel (www.soavehotel.it) because we are travelling with Stanley Dog. This hotel is wonderful if you have a domestic pet. The staff is universally kind and attentive to animals. Upon checking in you are issued a coverlet for the dog to sleep on if he chooses to sleep on the bed or sofa rather than the bone-shaped cushion provided. They supply stainless steel water and food bowls, dog toys, doggie treats. Oh, yes, it is very nice for people too. Thank you, dear Stanley, for giving us the opportunity to stay here.
I taste 2 Soaves at Monte Tondo (http://www.montetondo.it/ita/cantina.html) I have followed this winery for many years and am happy to report that the quality remains consistently high. And I am even happier to report that the Magnabosco family has developed their estate into a real wine center, offering tastings, cellar visits and a lovely B&B (with swimming pool).
The evening of the 24th Slowfood Dinner with Franco Zanovello
A tasting and dinner with winemaker Franco Zanovello organized by Antonella Bampa, great sommelier and Slow Food representative. The venue: Scapin in Verona. The food and wine matches were excellent and the wines were, as always, superb. I always say that Franco’s wines have the elegance and staying power of Audrey Hepburn. I love them. Oh yes, they also happen to be organic.
19 through 24 June Puglia
Six journalists/five nationalities (Japanese, Swiss, German, Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese and me). We are together for 3 full days from early morning to late at night. And you know what? We all got along. Politeness and friendliness reigned supreme.
We arrive at Massaria Ponenti (www.tenutapotenti.it), a walled oasis of calm in the midst of a vast expanse of palms and olive trees. “We have 60,000,000 olive trees in Puglia,” says Laura, our guide. “That’s one for every person living in Italy.
The first morning I wear a Biba T-Shirt. Junko (Japanese living in Germany) recognized it as from a Swinging 60s Carnaby Street designer. We bond!
After an adventure with the GPS (that included a dead-end and a wait in the parking lot of an egg production plant), we arrive at Varvaglione Vigne & Vini ( www.vigneevini.eu)
We are in Manduria, in the southern part of Puglia. The main wine here is Primitivo di Manduria. “It is called Primitivo because it is an early-ripener,” says Cosimo Varvaglione. “Not because it is a Neandrathal.”
A WINE LESSON: Studies carried out by the University of California at Davis have determined that Zinfandel and Primitivo share elements of the same DNA. As a Puglian producer once put it: “They are like twins separated at birth – one growing up in Manhattan, the other in the Bronx.” (He declined to say which was which.)
The Primitivo di Manduria zone lies on the Salento Peninsula and is limited to the areas around a few communes (one of them being Manduria) in the provinces of Taranto and Brindisi.
As we stroll in the vineyard we often see albarello-trained vines. In France and much of the USA this method is known as Gobelet (or Goblet) and in Australia it is sometimes called bush training. This latter name concisely sums up the method: vines are grown without an external support system, and resemble a bush, with a short trunk and short grape-bearing branches.
END OF LESSON
My criteria for mentioning a wine in my dairy is this: It must be one I would recommend to a friend.
Among the wines that I liked are Varvaglione’s Schacciano 2013, a Negroarmaro. Opaque black center, soft on the palate, black pepper over almost bruised plum. Long fruit-filled finish. A tweed-like texture. . (www.vigneevini.eu)
We lunch on the covered terrace of La Barca di Ciro, overlooking the sea. The food was fresh and flavorful, the view superb and the company amusing.
On to Jorche (www.jorche.it) Very new. Very modern. Before 2010 they sold in bulk. “We think the future is in bottled wine and hospitality,” says Emauela Gianfreda, winemaker/co-owner.
We dine at Antica Masseria Jorche. “The cooks are ladies from the town, Not chefs,” says Emanuela. And of course, like everywhere in Puglia, the food is excellent.
On to Tenute di Eméra.(www.claudioquarta.it). The wine I liked best here was Sud del Sud 2012. 70% Negroamaro/Primativo), 14% Merlot, 14% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. ) vibrant deep ruby with a fucshia rim. Very interesting nose: earth a find tapestry of fruit flavor ripe plums, mulberries good acidiy. Long finish. The owners of the estate have a superb herb garden and are seriously interested in sustainability and the environment.
We head Salice Salentino and the historic winery: Leone di Castris. (www.leonedecastris.it). Every now and then journalists decide to write The-Strong-Women-who-Shaped-the-Wine-Trade article. They pull out the Widow Clicquot and Madame Pommery. I would like to suggest that these journalists add the name Donnalisa, whose portrait hangs in a wood paneled reception room at the company’s headquarters. She believed in paying women the same wage as men and she provided daycare before that word even existed. As our guide said: “She was a very clever woman. Many times she gave her husband good advice on how to go ahead with business. Many of the policies she initiated were revolutionary. That is why many of our products are dedicated to her.”
Of the many wines we tried and enjoyed, I will mention the 2012 Five Roses Sparkling Rosé: Coppery-pink. Bright, fresh. Salinity along with an undertow of frozen strawberries on the palate.
This wine went down a treat at a dinner at which Junko gave me tips on cooking with tofu – a container of miso is in my future.
We head to Andria in the northern part of Puglia, and the Rivera winery (www.rivera.it). We meet with Sebastiano de Corato, the president of the Consorzio Movimento Turismo del Vino Puglia, and owner of the Rivera winery.
WINE LESSON: The principal grape in this area is now Nero d’Troia (a.k.a. Uva di Troia.) It is safe to say that Rivera was instrumental in developing the potential of this indigenous variety. Rivera experimented with vinification methods and vineyard techniques designed to bring out the variety’s fresh violet scents.
END OF LESSON
Over lunch someone asked when Sebastiano and I had first met. I said I couldn’t remember. He, however, said: “We met at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 1991. We went around tasting together and then you went back and wrote an article about my winery. I was so angry with you.”
“Why?” I asked, surprised because I really liked Rivera wines then and I like them now.
“Because in your article you described me as ‘the Harry Potter of Puglian Wine’. Oh that made me angry.”
He has forgiven me. Look at the photo of Sebastiano as he is today. For those of you who can, try to peel away over twenty years and imagine dark hair and round tortoiseshell glasses: I rest my case.
We lunch at Antichi Sapori, where chef and owner Pietro Zito whips up sensational dishes that include ingredients that he grows in his large garden.
This is a photo of Carlo, the photographer , tasting one of the fabulous desserts at Antichi Sapori.
“This restaurant is very important for the whole region. The village was practically abandoned until Pietro started the restaurant 25 years ago. Now there are 8 restaurants in the area,” says Sebastiano.
One of the wines we drink at lunch is Rivera’s 2000 Il Falcone, made primarily from Nero di Troia. Closely-knit flavors – berries, red liquorice, finely textured.
18 June Tedeschi Dinner
The diner is in honor of Professor Thomas Hoffmann, Director of the Bioanalytics Department of the Central Institute for Nutrition and Food Research at the University of Munich. His work is focused on the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of human taste perception and the structures of biomolecules with chemosensory activity. In short, that means he has been doing research on the pleasure response to certain molecules in wine – in particular Amarone…and even more precisely Tedeschi Amarone. “At the beginning of this research my colleagues and I tasted through a large sample of Amarones and we found the Tedeschi wine gave us great pleasure so we chose it for our studies,” says Hoffmann.
14 June Bomba!
They found an unexploded WWII Bomb in The Arsenale (which is now a children’s park, a dog run and, on Thursday mornings, a farmer’s market). We are in the orange zone…right across the street from the Red Zone. People there must leave their home by 9 a.m. and not return until the afternoon. We must turn off the gas, stay away from the windows and not leave the apartment. Men and women from the Protezione Civile in their iridescent lemon-line jumpsuits are policing our streets.
Frankly, Michael’s attempt to re-light the gas after this is over is likely to be much more dangerous for us than the bomb.
Here is the address of a medley of Whoops I did it Again and Sex Bomb (which comes at 1 minute and 40 seconds in) performed by Max Raabe and the Palast Orchestra.
13 June Sherlock Holmes in Verona!!!
This year’s National Meeting of the Uno Studio in Holmes association – titled Holmes e Watson: I due Gentiluomini di Verona – was held in Verona. Why was the convention here this year rather than Florence or Naples or Rome, as usually happens? Well, you can put it down to the persistence of Bruce, whose Sherlockian commitment is more a symptom than a hobby. He cannot have a regular conversation; he can only talk, talk, talk about Sherlock Holmes and because I am the only person in Verona who understands his ramblings, he talks to me. He had evidently also talked to the president of Uno Studio in Holmes, Michele Lopez, (on a weekly basis, I gather) about the joys of having Verona as the venue.
I arrive at the Biblioteca Civica to find Bruce, his large backpack filled with his collection of Victorian photo albums, pacing in front of the still-locked doors of the library. He spies me: “We’re the first ones here!” he cries joyously. It makes me happy to see him in such good humor.
The others arrive and we troop up the stairs to a beautiful meeting room. Richly-colored frescos cover the top third of the walls. There are elegant plants, surprisingly comfortable chairs and, best of all, the room is air conditioned. My hat is off to my old pal Claudio Gallo, former head librarian of the Biblioteca, who suggested this venue.
The speeches include a cross referencing of Shakespearean and Holmes quotes, and a talk by Carmen S. about the suspicious similarities between the film Young Sherlock Holmes and the Harry Potter books. She made a good case to support her conviction that more than a little cross-pollination of ideas occurred by citing the times that Chris Columbus (director of Young Sherlock) and J.K. crossed paths…and at times…swords.
I gave a little talk entitled: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Not to Mention the Dog): Italians in the Canon.
During all of the presentations, Bruce wandered in and out of the room, rustled papers, engaged people in urgent whispered conversations, rummaged in his rucksack and rooted around in plastic bags. During my fifteen-minute speech he tried three times to engage the moderator – who was sitting 6 inches from me – in crucial (for Bruce) conversations. Listening politely to others is a skill that Bruce has yet to learn.
During his fist interruption, although I kept talking, I was in fact thinking that had the disruption been caused by anyone else but Bruce I would have stopped my speech and said in my firm training-the-puppy voice: “Shut up and sit down”. But I realized that getting angry at him would be as pointless as being angry with a cat because it won’t sit in a chair and eat its slab of processed liver with a knife and fork. I mean, you have to recognize the nature of your fellow creatures and accept them.
At the end of the event a Sherlockian said to me: “We have given Bruce a gift.” And indeed they had. This just may have been the most fulfilling day of his life.
I then went up to Bruce and patted him on the back and said: Congratulations., You’ve done it.” To which he replied: “I could do this every year! Yes, a yearly event! I could do it …with your help.”
My blood ran cold. I realized that we must not only recognize the limitations of our fellow creatures but we must also recognize our own. The thought of listening to Bruce’s endless loop of self-referential Sherlockian babble daily for the weeks or perhaps months necessary to organize a national event would stretch my ability to be a kind and quiet listener to breaking point. I took a step back and said: “I don’t think that would be a good idea.” I turned and walked briskly to the door.
June 11 Bravo! Roberto Bravi
Roberto, a former sommelier and skilled juggler, is also an artist of note. I have written about him in this diary several times over the years. He wrote to tell me that works from his Metal Pictures collection will be used as part of the stand at a fashion show in Florence this month.
10 June To the Vicentinis for Cherries
Agostino Vicentini and his wife Teresa Bacco make very fine Soave and Valpolicella. They are also skilled fruit growers. It is a pleasure to stroll through their cherry orchards.
9 June Books And the Best Meal I have eaten in Verona
We go to a presentation for a book titled: “I Segreti: dal territoria, dei vigneti e del vino Amarone della Cantina Valpantena“. An excitably historian gave an impassioned speech about promiscuous agriculture. And then Diego Tomasi gave an excellent presentation of the book’s highlights. I like Mr. Tomasi. He can express his views in very technical terms when called upon to do so, or, as today, he can explain things clearly for the layman.
I have already written about it for a booklet on Verona’s osterias (but a few cafes and other eateries are included), which will be published in the coming months. Here is what I wrote.
“The Vescovo Moro (Via Pontida 3 Tel. 045 8035084) is not an osteria. However, wine and food lovers cannot pass through San Zeno without stopping in for an aperitivo or a meal. The interior design manages to be warm as well as sleek and chic. The ground floor dining room seats around 60. There is a large window behind the bar that allows guests to watch the chefs at work. The food is imaginative and delicious. The wine list is excellent – listing the grape variety and style of each wine. They offer a variety of gluten-free pastas, which the diner can match with any of the sauces, and vegetarians will not go hungry. Downstairs, which can be reached by an elevator as well as by a wide staircase, is an enoteca (wine shop), a wine tasting room, as well as a room for cheese and salami tastings.”
Everything at tonight’s dinner was perfectly perfect. The food was fresh and the flavors were well-balanced and lively. I had raw fish with a whipped lemon condiment and for dessert I had a Campari semifreddo, accompanied by a small pile of candied orange peel slivers. Wonderful: bitter and sweet and sour all at the same time.
The wines – Franciacorta, Champagne and Nosiola – were top notch. The Nosiola was a real surprise. I have tasted it several times…but it is not a variety that jumps out at me when perusing a wine list. Manoman, it was perfect with my raw fish, our pal’s steak tartar, Michael’s rice/seafood salad and our other pal’s spaghetti with tomatoes and shellfish. OOOOO and then they gave us little glasses of their homemade ginger liqueur.
Damiano P. said at least three times (with real wonder in his voice): ”I prezzi sono onesti” (The prices are fair.) I said to Michael that I would investigate suggesting this restaurant to the people at the Villa winery in Franciacorta for their next Sparkling Menu competition. If the Vescovo Moro chef were asked to create a dish to go with a wine, I have no doubt that it would be superb, surprising and satisfying.
6 June Crying at the Gipsotec
Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it), which helps sponsor the annual Antonio Canova sculpture competition, kindly invited us to visit the Museo e Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in the tiny town of Possagno, in the province of Treviso. Though the town is small (some 2000 inhabitants) the number of visitors to the museum runs into the tens of thousands.
The tour was – as always – entertaining and enlightening and I would recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in art or history (or exotic plants) make the pilgrimage to this splendid place.
There was also a show of sculptures by a contemporary sculptor.
“It is minimalist art,” they said.
“Perhaps it is just small ideas,” I thought.