February Diary 2019

The Annual Anteprima Amarone Tasting of the 2015 vintage  

We then stopped by the stands of our historic favorites and tasted some producers that were new to us.

Generally speaking, 2015 was a very good commercial vintage. Practically every wine we tasted had a juicy richness.

As I chatted with producers the themes that have been cropping up for the past four years once again emerged. 1) The Consortium should stage the Anteprima Amarone tasting in a major city in the USA and in China.  2) The Consortium should make peace with “The Amarone Families – Famiglie dell’Amarone d’Arte”. Those of you who know what this last entity is need no explanation. Those of you who do not – well, you really don’t need to know. It just concerns some squabbling among local producers and does not affect you in any way. 

English Lesson: Squabble is such a fine word. As a noun squabble means a noisy quarrel about something trivia.  As a verb “to squabble” means to quarrel noisily over a trivial matter.

I decided to dig in my wine closet and haul out three old Amarones…just to see how they had fared. The triumph of trio was the 2005 Nicolis – a lively, fresh undertow buoyed the clean velvety fruit. I have been fond of Nicolis since I first tried the wines in the 1990s and was happy to see that this Amarone went the distance.

I will not name the producers of the two other wines – a 1990 and a 2006. Suffice it to say that both had won major international awards. A sip of these wines left me feverish. This has happened to me with certain wines since I entered the wine trade 30-some years ago. In recent years this reaction has abated because general hygiene and winemaking techniques have improved.

I used to feel like the canaries they sent down in the mines. if a wine made me feel feverish, I refused to write about it – even if it had won a ton of prizes and the producer wanted to buy major advertising in the magazines I wrote for. My feeling was that if I had tasted through several samples of wines from the same area and supposedly made from the same grape varieties, using the same methods as prescribed by the DOC/G laws, and one of these wines (out of all the wines in the flight) made me ill, then that meant that that one sample was not a wine I would ever recommend to others.  

For those of you who do not understand the reference to “canaries sent down the mine: (from Wikipedia): Etymology. An allusion to caged canaries (birds) that miners would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.

December 2018

24 December  Il Cappero (Via Generale Gaetano Giardino, 2 – there is no website)

We meet up with Susan H. and go to Il Cappero. As we puruse the winelist, the owner says: “If you like a rosè, I have one from Donnafugata – it’s Sicilian”. We told him that we loved Donnafugata. Here is my note. Lumera 2017. Color: diluted cherry juice with slight copper overtones. Nose: freshness, a steely crispness.  Palate: clean, leaving a whispery cloud of mingling flavours (blackberry, mulberry, brambles).  The wine is made from Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Pinot Noir.

23 December  Cheers, Rita

I opened my wine closet looking for something suitable with which to toast my friend Rita. She did not work in the wine trade and had no pretensions, but she could recognize quality. And so, I poured us a glass of Donnafugata’s Sul Vulcano Etna Rosso Doc 2016. Mulberry-color. It has the brightness and freshness on the nose and palate that is a hallmark of Donnafugata. A pleasing whirl of fruit (mulberries, blackberries), with a long flavourful finish. Very versatile. I drank a glass on subsequent days with lunch: spaghetti with tuna, vegetable & tofu soup, shrimp/celery/tomato sauce on spaghetti. I also had a glass while watching an episode of Midsommer Murders (L’ispettore Barnaby).

I met Rita when I was twelve and she eleven. She lived a few blocks away from me in a huge white clapboard house on a corner lot. The previous owners had converted it to make an upstairs flat with a separate entrance. This became Rita’s domain. There has always been something of the gypsy in Rita and her bedroom and parlor reflected the best theatrical clairvoyant style. Gauzy scarves covered the tabletops and lampshades and, if memory serves, there was even a crystal ball.

The boys in our set all proclaimed undying love for Barbara Streisand and Judy Garland. These women are strong icons, particularly for Kansas boys and girls. We knew all the songs from Funny Girl and sang them with very little provocation. It is not that Black Magic Woman and Hey, Jude had no place in my life back then, but these popular tunes had to make room for the likes of Don’t Rain on my Parade and The Man Who Got Away.

Our pastimes included playing Wizard of Oz at the local band shell. We trooped up on the empty stage and acted out the story to empty chairs. I always wanted to be The Straw-man, because I liked his loose-limbed dance style, and occasionally doubled as Glenda. (“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” asks Dorothy. “Why I’m not a witch at all, I’m Glenda!”). Peter got the part of the Wicked Witch of the West because he had the most evil laugh. Roddy was Dorothy because he was the shortest and because he insisted on it. He also made an effective Kim (the Ann-Margret role) in Bye Bye Birdie. Rita reserved the Tin Man as her own, “If I only had a heart” being her big number. We did not confine our spontaneous singing and dancing to the band shell. Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain exerted a strong influence on us and we were often to be seen swinging on posts and leaping on and off curbs.


The big day came when Rita and her husband Jim arrived in Verona for a ten-day visit. Jim had never been on a plane before and was naturally a little nervous about the whole enterprise, particularly the take-offs and landings. Rita, who had done some European trekking with her sister, assured him he had nothing to worry about. As the plane was coming in for its first landing the wheels stuck and the plane was forced to bump and jerk and slide along on its belly along the runway. Rita sat white-knuckled, afraid to speak. When the plane came to a stop, Jim, who had nothing to compare it with, turned to her and said, “You were right. That wasn’t so bad.” I think there is a lesson in life there if you wish to dig for it.

Goodbye, Rita. You will always be witty, insightful, creative and kind, and I was fortunate to know you.

December 17  West Side Story

Michael took me to see a restored version of the film West Side Story. I sing modified versions of many of the songs from this musical to our dog several times a week.  Who can forget “Who’s that pretty dog in the mirror there? Who can that attractive dog be?” or “Stanley. I just met a doggie named Stanley and suddenly that name will never be the same to me”.  The rhythm of “America” provides opportunities for extemporaneous lyrics.


November 2018

November diary 2018

Off to the Carroarmato

It was a slow night at the Carroarmato. Annalisa joined us and we began lamenting the loss of the good old days when wine tasters still had ability to taste older vintages. I love to do so: the exhilarating pleasure of feeling a wine unravel on the palate, sniffing a wine that still gives pleasure but also shows you the ghost of what it once was. These are sensual as well as intellectual pleasures.

I told her that I had run into a fellow studying for his WSETs (Wine and Spirit Educational Trust exams) a few days after another session of old vintages. I started to tell him about the wines when I was stopped by the sad look in his eyes and sorry shake of his head.  In a bolt of understanding I realized that he felt sorry for silly old me.  He said: (as if explaining to a child) “I prefer young fruity easy drinking wines. That’s what consumers want now.”

It was now time for me to muster pity for him. He did not realize that the world of wine is vast and that it is possible to appreciate more than one style.  Imagine a person saying: “I only listen to heavy metal” or “I only read non-fiction” or “I only eat white food!”

An Example: As I type this, on my desk is my stack of frequently played albums, which includes: Henry Purcell’s Fantasias, Natalie Coles’s Snowfall on the Sahara, and Dolly Pardon’s Love Songs.  I like them all and will happily listen to them again and again.

A Reminiscence

Some years ago, a company based in Germany that imported fine wines (particularly Italian ones) asked me to come to Hamburg for a special tasting of older vintages.  On the journey from the airport I asked the PR lady which other journalists were attending.

She replied: Jancis Robinson and you.

I blinked twice to make sure that I had heard correctly, then said: Okay I get Jancis Robinson – but why me?

The company had asked all their Italian producers to name someone who knew how to taste older vintages and who would appreciate the opportunity to do so, and my name kept coming up. How gratifying.

But enough of this. Among the wonderful wines tasted with Annalisa was a 1986 Pouilly Fume from Remy Pannier. Bright. A steely note over a rolling line of soft caramel on the palate.

November 16 Villa De Winckels (www.villadewinkels.it ) for Valpolicella Superiore Tasting

I love Villa De Winckels. The place itself is lovely and the tastings that the owners organize are always top notch. Forty-one producers showed their wines.  The four that gave me the most pleasure were: Dalforno 2012 (a buzz of tannin astringency shapes the rich fruit), Marion 2014 (elegant fullness), Vicentini 2013 (fresh, firm fruit) and Giovanni Ruffo 2013 “Le Ceste” (rich yet elegant, full yet supple: this is a real yin and yang of a wine).

I asked Giovanni’s daughter how many bottles of it were made and she replied: “1231”.

“We don’t make many wines,” said Giovanni. “But we try to make them the best we can.”

Here is a photo of Agostino Vicentini, me and my notebook.



October 2018

October 23

LISTEN UP Charity Givers with a PASSION for fine wine and the INTELLIGENCE to appreciate a bargain. The Veneto Chapter of AIS (the Italian Sommeliers’ Association) has teamed up with Zýmē (www.zyme.it ,which has donated magnums of their award-winning wine Kairos). The entire proceeds of the sale of these magnums goes to ABEO Onlus Verona, an association that aids children with  cancer. The cost of the MAGNUMS is 70 Euros. (The price of this wine in a restaurant runs at around 180 Euros!). They may be purchased at www.spaghettimandolino.it . So, help children in need, drink fine wine and have that secret shiver of pleasure at having found a bargain – all at the same time!

We tasted three vintages of Kairos:

2005 Opaque, lively dark. Dusty rose over a near black center, an overtone of rust. Nose: Nose, , ideas of greengage plums over red berry fruits. The firm fruit arrows slightly on the long finish. Sweet and sour snap at the end.  My favorite sommelier Fabio detected “a note or barley”.

2010 rich vibrant ruby with clear rim. A silky sensation on the nose, an overtone of plumped raisins, a hush of cinnamon. After 30 minutes: Ideas of white chocolate emerges. After 45 minutes it really comes into its own. This wine still has several years of pleasure-giving life.

2015 Rich deep blue/ruby with a dark cherry sheen. A tweedy texture. On the palate, there is again firm up-right fruit. (I see this as a spinning cylinder in my mind.) Rich and juicy. After 45 minutes it finds its way.

Wine Lesson:  When a wine continues to evolve in the glass, giving pleasing flavors and sensations for 30 to 40 minutes, this means that the wines is well made and long-lived.

October 16 Una Partita per Tommy


We went to a charity event sponsored in part by the Chievo Soccer Club. It was in aid of children with ichthyosis, a rare skin disease.  The Tommy in the title of the event is a sweet natured five year old who suffers from the disease. The evening started with a friendly soccer game and then went on to a lovely buffet at a nearby glider airport. There was, as always, a drawing for prizes, some of which were donated by local wineries and restaurants, and, of course, the Chievo Soccer Club. We won dinner for two at a pizzeria – what a swell evening.

To learn more about the disease and how you can help, google UFFI (United For Fighting Ichthyosis).

Early October

I went to a press conference about business etiquette. Why? Because the organizer took the trouble to phone me – twice – and I did not really have another appointment.  The speaker got up touting the need for her service: teaching young people who are breaking into the business world how to behave.

Lesson: Etiquette is a set of hard and fast rules to follow. These rules vary depending on the country in which you are living/working.

However, Good Manners – which might actually help you get a job and win hearts – is simply thinking about the person you are talking to. This means looking people in the eye, listening to them and being courteous. It means following their lead as to what is acceptable behavior.

The etiquette teacher went on and on about appearance being important; how to dress for an interview. Her description for the ideal clothing option sounded like attire for someone seeking employment as a functionary at a provincial bank. If that is your aim, then her advice was sound. However, there are hundreds of wonderful jobs for which such attire would be completely inappropriate.

Here is my advice, children. For a job interview all you need to be is be clean, tidy and…yourself.

This means that if you wear big junky jewelry every day, then wear it for the interview.  If you like bold splashy colors, wear them for the interview.  This will be of service to you and to the interviewer.  If you are hired while being yourself, this means that you will NOT BE FORCED to put on a disguise every morning in order to go to work. Wearing disguises can be fun for a while but are soul destroying in the long run.

Fortunately, Michael came in half way through the presentation and tapped me on the shoulder.  I had seated myself on the back row near the door.  We slipped out and had some fun with our pal Ugo at Café e Chocolate. It was time better spent.




September 2018


My Favorite Sommelier

This is Michael’s second selfie. In it you will see Michael Benson, my favorite sommelier Fabio Poli, me and an impressive patch of ceiling.  I first met Fabio in 1990 (or perhaps a year or two earlier) when I came from London to Verona with a group of journalists to attend Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair. At a grand dinner at the Vittorio Emanuele restaurant in Piazza Bra we 50-some journalists were served a decent sparkling wine as an aperitif then we were seated for dinner.  The waiters came around and plunked 5 bottles of indifferent wine on each table. These were wines of the producers who belonged to organizations that were footing the bill for the meal.  One sniff of these wines and I realized that I did NOT want to put any of them in my mouth.  I caught a sommelier’s eye, explained my dilemma and asked him to please refill my glass with the sparkling wine. He scanned the main table filled with policticos and producers and I could see him weighing his decision because it was decidedly against the rules to give us journalists the aperitif wine when we were supposed to be forced to drink the wines on the table.  He made his decision and for the rest of the meal my glass was discreetly filled with sparkling wine. The sommelier was Fabio Poli. When I moved to Verona in 1991 I met Fabio at many big tastings and dinners.  He was knowledgeable, and his assessments of the wines were always spot-on. I trusted and still trust his advice and opinions.  So, after 28 (maybe 30) years, he is still my te sommelier.

September 30 Bardolino and Beaujolais

Sub-zones (La Rocca, Montebaldo and Sommacampagna) have been created in the Bardolino wine production zone in an effort to establish the distinctive qualities of these specific areas.

WINE LESSON:  The Bardolino zone lies on the hillsides just to the east of Lake Garda and shares it’s name with the small lake-side town of Bardolino. The wine is usually fresh, light and dry. The rosé version is called Chiaretto.

One of the purposes of today’s event is to show that Bardolino’s have a capacity to age well. Of the older vintages we were served, three stood out for me: 2012 Bardolino for Il Pignetto (a lovely nose, still firm fruit, but with a slight hint of rust on the palate that for me indicates that the wine is just starting to decline; 2002 Bardolino Superiore Pradica from Corte Gardoni (supple, elegant): and 1959 Bertani (still attractive vibrations of fruit, smooth on the palate).

Along with Bardolino producers, Beaujolais producers (from Fleurie, Moulin a Vent and Morgon) are present at the tasting.  We go to dinner with them and the organizer of the event Anglelo Peretti, to Saporè Downtown, one of the best pizzerias I have ever eaten at. (Best crust! Top quality toppings, pity that the beer was flavored – something citrusy in one and the other boasted on the label about plums – and clearly intended for people who don’t like beer.)  The music playing in the restaurant took me right back to the summer I read the news on a Black Music Radio Station (I was 18 at the time). We munched through dinner to a soundtrack of Aretha Franklin, Mary Wells (My Guy), the Stylistics, the Supremes. If only there had been some Tammy Tyrell and Marvin Gaye it would have been perfect.  A jolly evening was had by all.

September 29 The Masi Foundation Prize Giving

This is one of my favorite annual events, particularly when the recipients of the awards are scientists or musicians. Why these two professions?  Because they usually say things that provoke though and have a keen sense of humor.  Among this year’s winners were Egyptologist and director of the Museo Egizio in Turin,  Christian Greco; and jolly Gerard Basset, a top sommelier and Master of Wine.

September 21 Il Giardino delle Esperidi

Susan H. picks us up and we head out to Bardolino to Il Giardino delle Esperidi to see our pal Suzy, one of the three owners of Il Giardino. The first thing she said when we arrived was: “I’m going to be a great grandmother!” She is also a a top-notch winetaster.

“The wines on my list are not like those you’ll find at other places – I only list wines I like,” she says. Suzi travels and tastes, finding stunning wines from small producers. (Only 600 bottles were produced of the luscious Falanghina Aganum Vigna di Pino we tasted with dinner.)

We started with a glass of Saint Charmant Blanc de Blancs, and continue to follow Suzy’s suggestions; the Falanghina, Cattarato Shira Castelluccimiano, Bardolino Superiore from Silvio Piona, Taurasi from Perillo, ending with a Champagne Demi sec from Fallet-Prevostat.

Toward the end of the meal, Susan H. looked across the table and said of Suzi, her voice full of awe: “She’s really hip.”

In short: We had a wonderful time: the food was imaginative and delicious, and the wines surprising and satisfying.

Anyone who is coming to Vinitaly in 2019 might want to arrive a day or two early and book a table at Il Giardino delle Esperidi in Bardolino. You will find wines that are selected not on mark-up and easy sells (popular names), rather you will have the pleasure of tastings something new and different.

September 7 The Venice Film Festival, Ugo’s Golden Eel and our Wedding Anniversary 

Here is a photo of Michael and me on the ferry taking us over to the Lido.  Every year we go the Venice Film festival for a day. Today our visit coincided with our wedding anniversary.

We saw four films. One was exceptionally moving (Sony, an Indian film by a first time director), one was good (an Iranian film called As I lay Dying), one was a nice history lesson about the French revolution (Un Peuple et son Roi) and one was irritating (Zan the English title was Killing). Why was this last film irritating? I am glad you asked. In all the action sequences with the samuris the director wielded a jerky hand-held camera.  I had to look away because the movement made me physically ill. Also, every time music was used, the volume was pumped up to the point that the seats we were sitting on vibrated. It could not end quickly enough for me.

But now to the really exceptional film. Sony (the name of one of the protagonists) was about two women police officers in India and, in a larger way, it was about the casual and constant sexism woman encounter and how they deal with it.  When the film ended I had tears in my eyes. No, it was not sentimental; the tears were because it touched a chord in me (and evidently in many other women). When I tried to talk about it immediately after the showing I choked up.  I was too full of usually suppressed emotion.  The director was there with the producer (a woman) and the two main actresses.  The audience applauded at the end of the showing and the women in the audience lined up to offer congratulation,

Each year Ugo organizes an alternative (to the official Venice Film Festival) award fest called the Bisato Oro (the Golden Eel as opposed to the Golden Lion).  One of this year’s big winners was Australian Director Jennifer Kent. Her film Nightingale won the Special Jury’s Prize at the official Venice Film Festival and she also graciously showed up at Ugo’s do to accept the Golden Eel for Best Film. Here is a link to interviews with Jennifer Kent and members of the cast of the film.


September 8 Vicentini (Agostino)

We arrive at the home of Terresa Bacco and Agostino Vicentini to taste with a friend from Peru who is looking for wines to import. As always, the wines were good and the prices were competitive.  We also played with Lily, whose age is unknown but she has been with the Vicentinis for around 15 years.  She is a sweet natured little doggie and is still full of pep.

September 1  Recognition

I was recognized at the supermarket this morning. I was wearing my typical Summer outfit of flip-flops, baggy trousers, loose shirt and – of course – my signature Paddington Bear hat.

I was with my husband and I noticed a man glancing at me nervously.  We all got into the elevator and he took a deep breath and asked: “Are you writing any new books?”  I figured he really didn’t care about the chapter on matching wine and food I just finished for a cookbook to be published in Singapore.  I said: “No I am reading more books than I am writing at the moment.”  I had no idea who he was, so I tried to find out by asking him what he was up to. His answer gave me no clue.

TIP: If you see someone you do not know personally but have seen in some public context and you wish to engage them in conversation please give them some hint as to who you are. Example: “Hello. I’m Edmund Cane, we met at the tasting in Faenza last year.”

August 2018

First things first: Books I finally found someone who would take around 500 of my books.  No one – and I have tried for 2 years to find someone – wanted books of any kind – even for free.  Hooray. Picking what to let go and what I needed to keep was easier than I thought it would be.

I kept the Nabokov and Peter De Vries and let the Louis de Bernières and Isabelle Allende go.

I kept all the books that were signed by  the authors. I used to manage the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City and some of these books are still important to me – those by Stanley Ellin – he was an intelligent and kind man. I went with him and his wife to a Quaker meeting in Brooklyn once. The experience left a lasting impression.  The Bill DeAndrea books – we had front row seats for the Broadway production of Sleuth – another exceptionally kind person. I kept all the Tony Hillerman books (both autographed and just plain paperbacks, as well as his autobiography and history books). He was another kind man; he drove me around Albuquerque and up to Santa Fe when I was thinking about leaving New York and moving to New Mexico. My life would have been different had I made that move. Not better. Not worse. Just very different. I also kept his books because in November 2016 I was numb with shock. It was so good to slide into the Hillerman universe and sit on a mesa with capable Joe Leaphorn surveying the austere beauty of the landscape. I could be sure that Leaphron would figure out all that was wrong and make everything right by the end of the novel.

Most of the biographies went – all of the poetry stayed.

I also ran across the last card I received from Vinnie Brosnan. The inscription inside: The last great adventure.

When I would turn up at the annual Sherlock Holmes BSI Dinners in New York, Vinnie was always waiting to welcome me when the big elevator doors opened. The dinners I attended after he was gone were…sadder.  Vinnie and I put together a Sherlock Holmes Calendar using images from his vast collection of film stills. He and his wife and son even came to Verona for a visit, a thoroughly nice family. I was very fortunate to know him.

30 August Off to Baldo-land

Antonella Bampa, top-class sommelier and local Slow Food representative, very kindly invited us to a truffle-themed dinner to mark the establishment of L’Associazione Marchio Baldo, a group of wine and food producers located in the area that lies between Monte Baldo (a mountain range in the Italian Alps) and Lake Garda (Italy’s largest lake). The event was held at Villa Cariola. Originally constructed in the 15th century, it is now a luxury hotel and popular venue for weddings. The dinner gave us a chance to taste the wares of members of the association. Among my favorite products: a fruity, mild and well-balance beer from Birra Monte Baldo, succulent and flavorful sliced meats from Salumeri Lenotti (ww.salumidelmontebaldo.it) and the delicately smoky truffles.

I was so impressed by the quality level, I asked Antonella if the producers were looking for importers.  “No,” she said. “Most of the producers are too small for that. The main goal of the association is to encourage tourism to the area.”  What can visitors do here besides eat well? They can hike, bike, horseback ride, go canoeing and the truly adventurous can para-glide from Monte Baldo all the way down to the lake. And let’s not forget daily cooking classes at Villa Cariola (www.villacariiola.it).

July 2018

Book report:  I received an email from my cousin in Colorado, who is a librarian. She writes “Staff…found a dead man on the bench by the door this morning.  They thought he was sleeping, but after a couple of hours they checked on him.  They don’t know if he was homeless or not. He was an older man who had been in the library the day before. Always exciting at the library.”

film director Elena Gladkova (who always knows were the camera is placed) at the Montenigo estate.

Well, speaking of excitement: it’s the annual San Gio Video Festival – the 24th edition, to be exact.  Those wanting more on the history of the event and behind the scenes glimpses of Ugo Brusaporco, the founder of the festival, may whiz down to any of the earlier July diaries.

I have discovered that if you want to find July diaries you must click on August. I suppose the person who tidied my website a year ago could not get his head around the fact that I put entries up at the end of the month. I do this because I like to think about things before I slap them up.  I know this is hopelessly old-fashioned.

One of the elements that make this 4-day San Gio international video extravaganza different from all the other film fests in the world is Ugo’s insistence that judges and hangers-on visit a different winery (or cheesemaker, or olive oil producer, or salami maker) every morning before the film screenings in the late afternoon.

Michael is one of Ugo’s right hands during this event (think of Ugo as kali-like: he has many hands…none of which know precisely what the others are up to).  Over the years I have gradually shifted away from participation in the event.

I was on the main jury in 2005. Among the awards we were to give was one for Best Actor. I wanted it to go to Michael Cera for a film called Darling, Darling.  I argued that the young actor was the lynchpin of the piece, without him it would disintegrate into plain goofiness. The French jurist wanted to give it to an actor in an English film about a man who boffs a plastic blowup sex toy doll, then washes it and folds it back into its package and returns it to the store.

“He was zho brave,” she said, leaning forward in her chair, sincerity oozing from every pore. I refused to be moved, pointing out that actors simulated all kinds of disturbing things…that is part of their job. But holding a film together – that takes a special kind of talent. I refused to be moved and I swayed the 6-person jury to my way of thinking. Cera won. A couple of years later the San Gio mob was making up a press release and I happened to find that the San Gio win was mentioned on Cera’s Wikipedia page. I showed it to Ugo and crew. They were overjoyed!

After that I gradually stopped going to the films but continued to visit the wineries and food producers.

This years I said I would only go to one winery. I asked Michael for the names of the those on the list for visits so that I could make my decision. The first one he mentioned had Damiano Peroni as their consultant, I said: “That’s the one!”  I think Damiano is a very talented winemaker.

The Montenigo (www.montenigo.it) azienda is known for its olive oil production and has just started producing wine.

Tasting notes: 2017 Valpolicella – a lovely ruby-rose color. Fresh and easy.

“We only made 2000 bottles of this wine,” said Rudi Roncari, owner of the azienda. “We made a mistake because this was the first year we commercially released the wines, because if we had made more we would have sold it all.  Next year we are aiming for 8,000 bottles.”

Any importers looking for wines in the Veneto should consider getting in touch with Damiano.  His email is Damiano@flavioperoni.it.

Of course, I ended up going to the other wineries.

The following morning….

We arrive at Lonigo for a stop at the wine consortium of the Colli Berici. After a quick visit, Ugo says: “We must go! The winery is only 30 minutes away.” He jumps into his assigned car and it races off. Two cars are quick off the mark and follow.  By the time the rest of us have piled into the remaining three cars, no one has any idea which of the four possible roads Ugo’s car has taken. Nor has anyone the address of the winery. We procure this detail. I am in the lead car – and our little caravan sets off. I am the only passenger in the car; the other three are glued to their individual GPS devices, each of which offers a different route to the wine estate. Arguments ensue. After well over an hour of driving down one-lane roads and through enchanted forests, we arrive at the exceptionally beautiful Pegoraro estate (www.cantinapegoraro.it ) where we taste the wines and have a bang-up lunch.

The 2017 Tai Rosso is tangy, sprinkled with hints of black pepper. Chilled it is a fine accompaniment for a hot, sunny afternoon, scored by a chorus of cicadas.

The following morning…

at the Sandro de Bruno winery

We are heading for a favorite producer: Sandro de Bruno (www.sandrodebruno.it ). We have tasted the wines here over the years and have never been disappointed. This company makes my absolute favorite sparkling Durello. We go to the top of a hill where a picnic table and benches are set up near the vineyard. We eat salami and cheese and chat about life and movies.  We also taste the top-notch wines.

The non-vintage sparkling Durello is bright, fresh and elegant. The 2010 Superiore is all that, plus having an attractive creaminess on the palate.



June 2018

We celebrated Annalisa’s 30 years at the Carroarmato by tasting some wonderful wines and laughing and sharing.

Here is a photo of us toasting Cristina Geminiani after tasting her fabulous Scacco Matto, a passito made from Albana grapes.



And now to slip in to reminiscence.

At the age of sixteen I took my first after-school job. My mother intended this to be a simple character-building exercise. For me it became an entry into the first of my careers. Had I applied at the supermarket as she imagined I would, my life would have turned out differently. Instead a school friend took me to the radio station owned by her father.  He said I had a good voice and hired me on the spot.

For a few hours every afternoon I recorded commercials in a small beige room and on Saturdays I read the local news into a microphone the size of a prizefighter’s fist.

This led to a summer job at the black soul station in a nearby city. Its studio occupied two floors of a narrow corner building across the street from the university. My first day on the job I slipped into the thread-bare office chair in my little booth and looked through the thick glass window at the D.J., an exceedingly tall and muscular young man going to the university on a basketball scholarship.  He flashed me a wide, reassuring smile. Tammy Tyrell and Marvin Gaye warbled “The world is just a great big onion. Ah huh.”

My hands shook. The pages of my script rustled.  I took deep breaths, hoping to calm down.  I adjusted my trendy wire-rimmed specs and brushed the dark, uneven bangs from my forehead. More deep breathing. Again the D.J. flashed me a smile. He turned a knob and Tammy and Marvin faded. He moved in close to the mike and crooned in his Barry White Voice: “Now let’s welcome my sexy little news mama.”  My hands stopped shaking: I was horrified.  Sexy Little News Mama!!!  What if my father was listening!

I filled my ten-minute spot with news about local fires, marijuana busts and the highlights (if they could be called that) of the most recent city council meeting. The second our mikes were off I charged into his booth ready to do battle with the D. J.  “Wow,” he said mildly. “I’ve never seen anyone turn pink before.” From that day forward his goal was to make me blush. My three months at this job prepared me for anything radio could dish up and left me with an abiding fondness for Marvin Gaye.

Here is a link to The Onion Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ElC4UwYVuA


May 2018

First things first books: As most of you know I read and review 3 books a week for Publishers Weekly. Those who do not read books think that this is impossible. Those who love to read – as I do – think that this sounds like heaven. And it is.

Since I have been busy reading I have decided that instead of my usual diary I will reminisce.  

Hitchhiking into the Wine Trade

At seventeen I had made a list of things I wanted to accomplish in the coming decade. Number one was to go to the moon on a tourist shuttle. Visit Paris was number two on the list. With my twenty-eighth birthday just a few heartbeats away, I bought a plane ticket, gave my three weeks’ notice to the owner of Foul Play and happily began planning my new life sous le ciel blu de Paris.

My approach to learning French consisted of singing along with Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand, neither of whom, I was to learn later, is actually French. Charles is a native son of Armenia and Yves (born Ivo) is proudly claimed by Italy.

I rambled through Paris making her my friend. I love that city and can still remember the books I read during that period: Robertson Davies’ A Mixture of Frailties on a bench in the Luxembourg Gardens, Matthew Head’s Murder at the Flea Club at a café on the square in front of St. Sulpice. I often carried a copy of Peter Devries’ Rueben, Rueben or Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands to posh restaurants when I was dining alone. I always came early – 7:30. As a result I was always given a nice table, usually by the window.

One dark autumn morning I stopped into the French Quaker meeting room in Paris seeking some silent contemplation, unaware of the French Quakers’ need to speak…at length. The only other meeting I had ever attended had been in Brooklyn, where thirty-six people sat in a sunny room and said nothing for an hour. I had gone to that meeting with Stanley Ellin and his wife. Stanley is perhaps best remembered for his much-anthologized stories “The Specialty of the House”, a chilling little masterpiece for the gourmet, and “The Last Bottle in the World”, a wine connoisseurs delight. I loved to watch Stanley’s face light up when his wife entered a room. It was possible to see the beautiful, incandescent woman he had married thirty years before reflected in his eyes.

After the French meeting, over broken butter-cookies and watery tea, I met Lucy, a spare, taciturn English Quaker with long brown hair and a tan. That she had worked as a chambermaid at ski resorts and as a cheese-maker on a dairy farm impressed me, and my ability to sort out the intricacies of city life had the same effect on her.

“If we traveled together,” said Lucy “We could hitchhike and save some money.  Just don’t ever tell my dad.”

We met at the Gare de Lyon station the next morning. Our travel plans consisted of buying a ticket for the destination with the prettiest or most intriguing name. My appreciation of fine mustard led us to Dijon. And the direction of my life changed once again.

We arrived in the late morning of a gloriously sunny autumn day. After a tramp around to get our bearings we stopped to take the sun in a public park. A young man lounged on the grass beside his backpack, turning the final pages in a book. When he finished it he walked to a dustbin by the footpath with the clear intention of dumping the book so as to lighten his load. Desperate to read something in English, having just finished off Travels With a Donkey, I swooped down on him and he offered the book to me. The word “wine” stood out in large black letters across the cover. I started to read. The author, Hugh Johnson, wrote in an appealingly witty way about wine and I found myself seduced by his writing style and by the topic. He mentioned causally that the village of Avize in the Champagne region produced Chardonnay grapes. It was harvest time and the village was less than an hour away. It seemed kismet. We headed out to the main road, flagged down a small flatbed truck and set off for Avize.

The driver pulled over to the side of the road and let us off just outside the village.  I hoisted my small suitcase, Lucy slung her knapsack over her shoulder and we walked into the deserted lanes of Avize. All able-bodied residents were working in the vineyards that surrounded the village. At Lucy’s suggestion we headed to the church. “Our things will be safe here,” she said, lifting a curtain that covered the back of the confessional. When I shoved my bag underneath the priest’s chair I felt the spasm of guilt that betrays a person with no religious upbringing. I knew I had committed a sacrilege of some kind, but the precise spiritual details escaped me.

We walked into the nearest vineyard. The workers bent low over the vines and continued to pick the pendulous bunches of pale golden-green Chardonnay grapes. Only an old woman in a straw sun hat acknowledged us.  She removed her work gloves and whipped her hands on her apron.

Qu’est-ce que tu veux?” She asked.


“It’s hard work,” she said.  Her eyes narrowed as she sized us up. We must have looked strong and hearty or perhaps we just looked hungry. “Okay,” she said. “We’re about ready to break for lunch anyway. Come with me.”

We followed her along the narrow lanes of Avize to the winery. Waiting for us with other members of the family was a young matron. From her chic yet casual clothes, city shoes and the carved arabesques that decorated her spectacles, I rightly guessed she would rather be in Paris than visiting the wine estate at that particular moment.

“Nice glasses,” I said, admiring her elaborate wooden frames.  “I looked at a similar pair in Paris.” And I named a trendy optical shop.

She gave me a reflective stare. I watched thoughts pass across her broad, handsome face. She grasped the notion that we might not be typical farm laborers.

“Wait here,” she said.  She walked to a cluster of other family members and a whispered conversation ensued. There were enough guarded looks in our direction for us to realize that our fate was being decided.

“Come this way,” she said, leading us toward the family home, while our co-workers headed off to wash up for lunch. We followed her up the stair to a small sunny room at the top of the house. Lace curtains hung at the windows and soft duvets made from cotton imprinted with pastel flowers covered the beds. From our window we could just make out the barracks where the other workers bunked.

That first evening, after a long day laboring in the vineyard, we settled down to our place at the workers’ dining table set up in the tasting room of the winery. Muscles aching, I felt as if I had earned my hunger.

Glasses of some rough and ruddy vinegar were placed beside each worker’s plate of meat and two veg. I took my glass to the lady with the trendy glasses and said, “I think there is something wrong with this wine.” Again. she gave me that hard stare before taking the glass from me. “You are quite right,” she said. I went back to my place and she soon returned with a fresh glass of darker, richer colored wine.  I tasted it. Flashes of my first sips of wine danced across my memory: rich but elegant, fruity yet graceful. Fine Burgundy, I realized, was my equivalent of Proust’s madeleines.

I went to the kitchen and thanked her. She looked furtively toward the kitchen door to make sure there was no one around then opened a cupboard and showed me a bottle of Vosne-Romanée from, as I was to learn much later, an excellent vintage. From that point on, the color of my wine always matched that in the family’s own glasses.

Lucy would pick one side of the row and I would work the other. The vines are trained relatively low in Champagne, so we were on our knees most of the time. To while away the working hours we told each other the plots of Fred Astaire movies, enriched by a few snatches of songs. Dancing Cheek to Cheek, Isn’t It Romantic, They All Laughed.  The fruit was round and ripe, the sun shone. There was only a little rain on the last day of picking. Even with safety secateurs – the other workers had those dangerous looking needle-nosed jobbies – Lucy and I managed to cut our fingers.

In the middle of the harvest Grace Kelly’s car sped off a cliff on a winding road near Monte Carlo. Beautiful, blonde Grace Kelly epitomized movie-star chic for us.  She could swirl into Jimmy Stewart’s life in Rear Window and give him a slow-motion kiss infused with Hitchcock’s eroticism. She could ignite Cary Grant’s passion while fireworks lit the sky. That evening Lucy and I walked down to a little bar not far from the winery and ordered small glasses of Cointreau. Looking at our hands, covered in cuts, sticky grape juice still under our nails, we thought about elegance and glamour and all the times our hands had been kissed by French boys trying hard to assume savoir-faire. How long, we wondered, would it take for our hands to heal?




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