April 2018

April 2018

Wednesday  Fish and Chef (www.fishandchef.it )

We go to the Regio Patio restaurant in Garda to enjoy a lunch in the Fish and Chef annual pairing of Italy’s top chefs and local wineries – served at snazzy restaurants located on Lake Garda. The chef this afternoon is Terry Giavotella of Ristorante “Inkiostro” in Parma. The accompanying wines are from Costaripa – Mattia Vezzola, starting with a lovely onionskin-colored – and much appreciated – Brut Rosé.

“At Vinitaly this year I decided to write about winemakers I have known for over 25 years,” I told Mattia. “I looked for you but couldn’t find you. I remember the first time we met.”

I had called Bellavista, where Mattia was head winemaker, to set up a visit for an article I was writing. Because I do not drive, it was agreed that he would meet me in a large parking lot in Verona and take me to the Franciacorta estate. When I asked how I would recognize him, he said: “I’ll be the tallest person in the lot.” And he was.

“I left Bellavista 8 or 9 years ago to return to Costaripa, the winery founded by my grandfather in Moniga del Garda,” he said. (www.costaripa.it/en/)

The wines we tasted at lunch were crisp and satisfying, with an undertow of salinity.

“Now that we have found each other again, you must come out to the estate. I can pick you up from the train station,” he said.  And we will.

My 28th Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual trade fair:

Table of Contents

A Word About Influencers, Our First Wine of the Fair, Three Trips down Memory Lane – Bucci, Braida, Fattoria Zerbina and Vignalta, and Other Wines  

First, a word about “Influencers”. I was introduced to two nice young men who proudly told me they had been chosen by Vinitaly International as Important Influencers, and that they wanted to be the most trusted source for information about Italian wine.

Still naïve after all these years, I said: “If you want the names of producers of really fine wine, I would be happy to supply them.”

This remark was met with silence and a shifting of position. A darting look passed between them.

I said: “You mean that you only write or broadcast about people who pay you?

Again, that darting look and a brief uncomfortable silence.

I said: “Look, I understand marketing and if you are promoting your clients there is nothing wrong with taking money for the job.”

At that point they relaxed and said: “Yes, our time is worth something. We have to give away a certain amount of free help now, but the idea is that the producers pay.”

I said. “So, the first one’s free, kid.”  (This phrase is a reference to what drug dealers say to young potential clients in hopes that the first hit will keep them coming back for more.)

And then I thought:  How can you be the most trusted source for information when people are paying? …when the characteristic that is most important is the Money that they give you?

Allow me to revert to my codgerette status. Back in my day, if an actual wine writer accepted money from a producer in exchange for an article he/she would have been fired from any reputable publication.

And yes, I know that magazines accepted advertising. However, paid publicity was clearly identified as such. No one expected unbiased information from an ad.

English Lesson:  Codger means a cranky old man.  Codgerette is a term Michael and I use to indicate a cranky old woman.

My rant over…back to the FAIR…

Our first stop is at the stand of Friulian producer Di Lenardo and our first wine there is Toh!, which is made from the Friulano grape, formerly known as Italian Tocai,. The wine has a rich sensation on the nose, with an amalgam of scents –  pear/elderflower/blossoms. A lovely silky weight in the mouth. And what a great quality/price ratio!

Massimo Di Lenardo and his wife Paola Podrecca, owners of the estate, are mega dog-lovers.

“We tried again this year to convince the Vinitaly management to let us bring Oscar – in a Vinitaly T-Shirt – to stay on the stand but they said no. He would have been much more effective that those girls,” Paola said, referring to the 18 to 20-year-old women dressed in Lycra and Drag Queen shoes, whom some producers hire to take up space in front of their stands. Paola has a point. Happy, tail-thumping Oscar would be much more welcoming than the palpably bored young women. Not to mention the fact that well-behaved, warm-eyed Oscar would be a social media hit.

Four Trips Down Memory Lane

Bucci www.villabucci.com

In the early 1990s Decanter asked me to write an article on the Marche that would include a report on Verdicchio.  Like the good swat I was, I did my research before setting off. This was in the days before Google started dispensing anonymously sourced information. Instead I actually read Italian magazines and – most importantly – I asked trusted wine-savvy friends for personal recommendations. The name Bucci was mentioned multiple times.

I arrived at the Consortium in the Marche for the Big Tasting. A long table sat in the middle of the large room, the wines set up along one side.  The producers stood along the wall. Their expressions ranged from an awkward glumness to an eager puppy-in-the-pet-shop-window hopefulness.  I walked along the line of bottles and noticed there was no Bucci.  Naïve as I was, I went to the director of the Consortium and asked why Bucci wines were not there. An uncomfortable silence followed.

You see, back then, I thought that Consortiums represented the wine zone, not just the paid-up members. When the director started to “erm” and “ah, well…”, I said: “I’ve got the winery phone number. Will you call them for me?” I had backed the poor man into a corner. He finally crumpled and rang the winery. The samples appeared, and my tasting began. The Bucci wines were excellent, and I have continued to enjoy them over the years, and always look forward to tasting them.

Braida www.braida.com/it

My first taste of lardo was from the fingertips of Giacomo Bologna…at Vinitaly. He was a charismatic figure, who put Barbera on the map for lovers of fine wine. He died in 1990 but his children have inherited his go-power, particularly his daughter Raffaella, who has her own dynamic energy and quick wit. Michael (my husband) imported Braida wines into London when I met him 31 years ago. I liked the wines then, I like them now.

We stopped by their Stand at Vinitaly to taste and reminisce.

“Remember when you were judges at the Rocchetta Tanaro cake contest. You and your friend Fred Plotkin. I bought his book on opera,” said Raffaella.  We then spent a few minutes gushing about how much we love Fred. (He is a charming and erudite fellow, who is an expert on opera, but also has written some great books on Italian food.)

“I remember the year we pissed off Raffaella’s cousin, the baker, when our carrot cake was ranked higher than his cake,” said Michael.

What I remember best about our many cake contest visits was the singer who was doing his best to get through Sinatra’s ode to New York.  He crooned: “My little town shoe…..is wanting to do…..”

But now to the wines. Bricco dell’Uccellone (100% Barbera) has been a favorite wine of mine from the very first time I tasted it. My notes on the wine always include the words “plummy”, “creamy”, “richly textured” and “long, evolving finish”. We tasted the 2016 vintage, which did not let me down.

Fattoria Zerbina www.zerbina.com

In the early 1990s I lobbied Decanter to let me do an article on Emilia Romagna so that I could write about Cristina Geminiani of Fattoria Zerbina. Michael had imported her wines into the U.K. since the late 1980s. She literally brought Albana Passito to the attention of fine wine lovers with her stunning Scacco Matto. (Checkmate), and her Romagna Sangioveses have always been at the very top of my list of great red wines. (And, it should be noted, My List includes 1961 Chateau Lâfite.)

When we arrived at her stand, the first thing Cristina said was: “I’ve got a new puppy!”  Yes, there is often dog talk when I run into people.

I inhaled the evocative perfume of her 2011 Marziano. Thought about it, reveled in it, was carried away by the poetry of it.

I looked at Cristina and asked: “When they finally drag me off to the old folks’ home, will you send me a bottle of this wine every month to give me something to live for?

“It might not be the same vintage,” she said.

I love tasting Zerbina wines because when I do so, it is like diving into the wine’s complex universe of flavors and fragrances, an experience that sparks the imagination and makes tasting more exciting and more interesting.

Also, let it be said that I really do love great Romagna Sangiovese wines. They give sensual pleasure when young and juicy and develop into a swirling nebula of rich, fascinating, ever-evolving flavors and scents as they mature.

Vignalta www.vignalta.it/en/

We visited this estate in the Colli Euganei on my birthday 26 years ago, and spent the day with Lucio Gomiero and his business partner at the time, Franco Zanovello. (Readers of this diary are familiar with the name Franco Z. www.calustra.it), I was enchanted by the beauty of the Colli Euganei and by the wines of Vignalta.

I tried to convince Decanter to do an article on the winery but was told that they only wanted to do profiles on wines that were available in the London market, which is fair enough. But I could not get the wines out of my mind. I realized that although I could not highlight Vignalta, I could do an article on the Veneto (loads of names that were already known in the U.K.) and then slip in a little box that would include the names of a couple of good producers who were not yet in the market. I did this, then contacted Vignalta and asked them to get in touch the moment their wines were available in London…and they did. I have tasted the wines every one of the intervening 26 years and they consistently give pleasure.

“Try this. It is the only wine in our list you have never had before because it is brand new,” said Lucio, holding out a bottle of 2015 Nostrum, a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Carmenere.

WINE LESSON: In the 18th century Carmenere was widely planted in the Medoc, where it helped add color and body to the zone’s wines. The variety was first planted in Italy in the Colli Euganei. After phylloxera (a vine louse that devastated the vineyards of Europe) swept through Bordeaux, Carmenere lost ground to less vulnerable varieties.

“There is virtually no Carmenere left in France,” said Lucio. “At Vignalta we started planting it ten years ago.”

Nostrum is deep ruby. On the nose it is fresh and plummy. Round on the palate, with a texture like raw silk. The flavor is an amalgam of cherries, mulberries and blackcurrants, with an earthy undertow. A touch of gentle astringency. A long fruit-filled finish.

Vignalta is another winery whose wines continue to give pleasure. Three words to describe the house-style: rich, complex, textured.

Other Wines I liked at the fair

Musella’s 2016 Valpolicella Superiore Nice, bright cherry red, with fuchsia highlights. Warming, with a buoyant acidity.

Ronc Sorelli’s 2013 Schioppettino A wonderful nose – ripe, enveloping. The palate follows the nose: freshness infuses the flavor, lifting and enhancing the experience of tasting. Dark ruby, scents of dried flowers. Richly textured, with an amalgam of fruit flavors that include blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.

Donnafugata 2017 Grillo. Bright, forward, joyous bursts of acidity and fruit flavors (peach among them). Once again I find that this wine expresses the concept of Spring.

2 April – Big Chievo fan club annual picnic

March 2018

First Things First: books: Stephen Weeks is a film maker, a restorer of castles and the author of a hugely entertaining series of mysteries set in early 20th-century Prague featuring the irrepressible Countess Beatrix von Falklenburg. I asked him a few questions on behalf of Publishers Weekly and, not surprisingly, the name Sherlock Holmes came up.

He said: The Victorian world was perfect, in some ways (ie if you had some money) – that comfortable world of Sherlock Holmes that we all love. It was through this filter that when I came to look for my own castle, aged 25 – with the money from my first films, I chose a real medieval one, the tower of which had been built around 1129ad, on the borders of England and Wales. I restored a virtual ruin to be a wonderful home, shared willingly with the enthusiastic public, and which I sold in 2003 in order to move to Prague. Since the Castle had been lived in since the 12th century, it was proved to be ‘Wales’ oldest lived-in castle’ – friends, seeing their breath in the air while at dinner used to call it ‘Wales’ coldest lived-in castle’! But that was all part of its charm.

His new novel is Sins of the Father, published by Poisoned Pen Press. I have read it and enjoyed it. Weeks evokes the mores and manners of the period with a blend of richly nuanced details and sly wit.

March 7 –  Kate and Ed from America come for a visit

The high point was a visit to the beautiful hamlet of Valeggio sul Mincio. The breeze was fragrant with rich undergrowth, the sound of the waters of the Mincio slapping against the rocks was hypnotic and the sunshine fairly sparkled. After wallowing in this splendor for a few minutes I began to feel like an extra in Brigadoon.  When I glanced at the bridge and could easily imagine Gene Kelly capering with the ever elegant and long-limbed Cyd Charisse, I knew it was time to leave.

For those who have forgotten the fair Cyd Charisse here is a video clip from Brigadoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHJYqcjXsl8

March 3 Tasting at Marinella Camerani’s estate

I like Marinella. She always says exactly what she thinks. This can be disconcerting.  I once wrote that if a feral cat could speak it would sound like Marinella.

We tasted wines from her Corte Sant’Alda and Adalia estates in Mezzane di Sotto. Both are biodynamic and certified organic.

Among the wines that left a very positive lingering impression:

2017 Corte Sant’Alda’s Soave. After several minutes in the glass the wine opens up. An idea of greengage plums, ripe pears. Very appealing. Buoyant freshness.

2017 Corte Sant’Alda Ca Fui Valpolicella. It unfurls on the palate like a bolt of silk – flavors of black cherries, raspberries.

2012 Corte Sant’Alda Valmezzane Amarone Tingling acidity shapes the fruit. Very interesting, satisfying wine.

A Memory of Piccolo Ed & Marinella

We took Ed to the bus station with the intention of taking him to visit Francesca, his dog sitter at her kennel in Castelnuovo del Garda. He had been sneezing a bit for months but we had assumed it was just an allergy, perhaps to the dust that plagues our apartment. We entered the bus station and Ed sneezed. Time stopped. Everything focused on the spray of blood fanning out around our little foxy dog. Ed looked up at us happy as ever, his tail wagging, ready to go on a bus ride. We left the station and walked to the doctor’s office. Tests were done and we were told that Ed had a tumor in his muzzle. For several months following the operation, we took Ed to the vet’s every day for an infusion of antibiotics.

One December morning he awoke feeling weak and shivery. Michael and I took turns holding him for the next five hours. His eyes glazing over, he seemed to stop seeing what was around him. He arched his back in a spasm and went limp. I searched for a heartbeat…but could find none. I wrapped him in a sweater and put him in a 6-bottle wooden wine crate. We called our friend Eleonella, who agreed to drive us to Marinella’s. It was a sunny but brisk day in Verona. We headed east toward Mezzane where a thick layer of snow lay on the ground. It was scattered with sparkling points of reflected light. We drove up Marinella’s steep hill and parked.

Marinella was waiting for us. Her eyes strayed to the wine crate and she shook her head sadly when she saw the name of the producer burned into its side.  “Ed deserved better,” she said. “You should have told me; he could have had one of my boxes.”

She led us to a terrace of olive trees with a sweeping view of the entire valley.

“Pick a spot you like,” she said. “I wish I could be buried here but the government won’t let me. They have all these rules. We have to be buried in a cemetery.”

Cesar, Marinella’s companion, dug the grave under a tree and we laid Ed to rest. I planted a small cactus on the mound of fresh turned earth as a symbol of his independent personality. Then we trooped up to Marinella’s tasting room.  She opened a bottle of her Amarone and pushed a glass toward me.  I sipped the wine but could taste nothing. I was too filled with emotion of a different sort to make any room for the scents and texture of wine. We went outside and watched the sky turned a wonderful orange-rose as the sun set.

March 2 Villa de Winckels

I adore the annual Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it) because it includes everyone: international darlings, local heros, and producers whose total production of Amarone rarely makes it to 100 bottles.

 

Here are three of my favorite wines from the tasting:

Zyme 2006 Amarone “La Mattonara”. It is like cherries melting on the tongue.

Graziano Pra 2008 Amarone. A nice tingling sensation. Black peppery scrim over supple fruit.

Vicentini 2007 Amarone. Intriguing bruised fruit shot through with refreshing acidity.