Archive for Diary
I ran into a man in the Vet’s waiting room yesterday who said: “Aren’t you Patricia? I read you every month because you have polemica about wine.” I said “thank you” and thought: Polemic? Me! By the way, Stanley is fine. He just strained a muscle in his back due to his joyous jumping.
Those looking for polemic in this August diary will be disappointed because everyone goes on vacation in August. It is the time when Italian wine trade professionals start posting pictures of themselves on the beach clutching brightly colored cocktails. So instead you will get the story of how I met Michael and how I became a wine writer (with the help of Perry Mason). Are we sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
Michael and the Sweet Etcetera
I had just turned thirty-five when my tasting tutor Maggie McNie M.W. took me to a wine shop of which she was part owner. We entered the converted stable on Clerkenwell Road and my life changed in an instant. Michael, an importer of fine Italian wine, ascended the broad staircase from the basement where he rented offices. I saw him and my heart (etcetera, as ee cummings so properly put it) beat fast. I had read about such visceral experiences but nothing prepared me for the feeling in real life. I assure you the air vibrated, it tingled. Yes, a slightly built, balding young man in a gray pin-striped suit turned my world upside down with a smile. My first words to Maggie after we left the shop were, “Is he married?” He was not.
A romantic but decorous courtship followed…the theater, where he impressed me by pulling a giant chocolate Toblerone bar from his serious briefcase during the intermission, and Champagne picnics in Hyde Park.
Being entirely unexpected made this romance all the sweeter. I had reached the point in life where I had become the man I had always wanted to marry: I knew about wine, I knew how to order and even enjoy exotic cuisines and, after stays in Paris, New York, and London, I could be thought of as a person “of the world”. The last thing on my mind was slipping in to the giddy joy of being in love. Fortunately, the etcetera was surrounded by the rest. Michael loved food, we could talk about wine without having to measure our enthusiasm and he made me laugh.
Then Michael’s boss in Italy requested that he transfer to Verona. I had been brought up in the good old days of feminism when women did not give up their careers and home to follow a man: follow adventure, yes; follow a man, no. So, Michael went to Verona and I stayed in London.
I imagined him in an Italy where all the women wore perfect shoes and never went red and blotchy when they cried. He imagined me attending tastings with other (perhaps taller) young men in pin-striped suits. We were miserable. After a year apart, I came to my senses, finally realizing that I could recognize real love when I felt it. And if in the end I lost him to a short, dark-haired girl in elegant Gucci sling-backs…so be it. I left my job, my apartment, my friends, my clients (I was brokering Bordeaux at the time) and moved to Verona, to live with my own true love in a small apartment with a sunny balcony.
Thinking solely of love, I had let the little matter of speaking the local language fade into insignificance.
Finding a New Career With the Help of Perry Mason
My biggest handicap in learning Italian turned out to be my adored Michael, the linguist. He speaks four languages fluently. French people think he is French. Italians think he is Italian (just not local). Germans do not think he is German but they admire his fluency. And of course he speaks English with dulcet Oxonian tones that my American accent has eroded over time.
Michael the linguist is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Michael the teacher. His method consisted of barking out corrections every time I opened my mouth. While there may be a student in some part of this vast universe for whom this method is valid, it did not work for me.
I turned to fictional heros for help. I bought a nice thick, brightly colored Topolino (a Mickey Mouse magazine). Once I had mastered voglio vedere Paperone, ora! (I want to see Uncle Scrooge now!) and lascia stare quei panini, ingordo! (Leave those rolls alone, glutton!), I moved on to comic books like Racconti della Cripta (Tales From the Crypt). Some of the many fine words I learned and have never been able to insert into conversations include dischi volanti (flying saucers), lupo mannaro (werewolf) and distorsione del tempo (time warp).
Perry Mason and his dutiful secretary Della Street conducted my first serious language lessons. They spend an inordinate amount of time discussing what they plan to have for dinner. “Andiamo a pranzo. Sono affamato,” says Perry. (Let’s go to lunch. I’m hungry.) “Dove potremmo far colazione,” Perry asks, with occhi sorridenti. (Where shall we go for a meal? asks a smiling-eyed Perry.) And boy does Perry eat! While Della makes do with pane integrale tostato e tè senza zucchero (wholewheat toast and tea without sugar), Perry tucks into crema di pomodoro, filetto “mignon”, carciofi e patatine, un budino col liquore e una Macedonia di frutta (cream of tomato soup, filet mignon, artichokes and potatoes, a liquor-drenched pudding and fruit salad). However, his most satisfying contribution to my use of the Italian language was that most wonderful phrase: Mi oppongo! (I object!) Oh, the pleasure these words have given me over the years.
I then made friends with Brooke, Stephanie, Ridge, Clark and Sally, the protagonists of The Bold and the Beautiful. The words and phrases I learned from this soap opera proved an excellent means of communicating gossip. Brooke è incinta ancora! (Brook is pregnant again). “Sgualdrina,” (slut) Stephanie would snarl at Brooke. “Mandrillo,” (lecher) Sally would growl at Clark. A few years after beginning my daily language lessons with the Beautiful crowd, I went to New York on business and saw the show in its original language for the first time. What a come-down! “Lei è molto affascinante” became “Wow. She’s hot.” It sounds better in Italian, doesn’t it?
Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair, offered a lifeline to my drowning self-esteem. In high spirits I boarded the special bus laid on by the city of Verona to carry foreign visitors to the fair ground. As I wallowed in the steady stream of English babble about wine prices, I noticed a slim bespectacled woman sitting hunched in an oversized raincoat.
I took the empty seat beside her and fell into conversation. She admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the task of tasting Italian wine. “I’ll give you a tasting lesson,” I said. “And some sure-fire phrases to use to put overbearing people in their place. Remember your opinions are just as valid as theirs…we just have to give you the right vocabulary.” We entered the Sicilian Pavilion and lesson one began. As we tasted I told her what was wrong with most English writers when they wrote about Italian wine – mainly their need to compare every Italian wine with French styles and grape varieties. On and on I went, happy to be talking about Italian wines and joyous to be speaking in English!
“That’s jolly interesting,” she said. “Why don’t you write it for my magazine.” I had not known she had a wine magazine. I agreed, found a typewriter and entered the world of “the check is in the mail” journalism, working for European magazines whose payment policy is: we will pay if you catch us.
“But eet ees peanutz,” a sleek little Frenchman sneered down the phone line at my eighth request for money owed.
“But they are my peanuts,” I countered.
His laugh echoed in my ear and could easily be translated as “You are in Verona and I am in gay Pa-ree…zho zhere is nothing you can do about eet.”
It was at that precise moment that I began having my Arnold Schwarzenegger fantasies. Arnold, in full Terminator regalia, enters the reception room of the publisher’s offices and requests my check. When told that it is not ready he says, “I’ll vait.” He leans his mega-galactic weapon of mass destruction next to the potted ficus and settles into a white ultra-modern architecturally-molded (for a much smaller person) chair. Ah, Arnold, how that fantasy helped me during my early days in journalism.
Arnold and my other fictional friends provided me with the confidence to take on my new career. Perry and Della prepared me for business lunches (eating is an integral part of being a wine journalist), knowing the current plot twists of Beautiful provided fuel for small talk, and my knowledge of viticulture and enology when filtered through the Italian vocabulary of mystery novels and action films made my interviews with Italian winemakers memorable for both parties.
I found myself transformed into a wine writer with magazines in three countries owing me money – I had a career!
First Things First: Books.
This is something I wrote for the book Raising Global Children by Stacie N. Berdan and Marshall S. Berdan.
When I decided to see Europe for myself – and not through the eyes of Frances Hodgson Burnett, Arthur Conan Doyle or Victor Hugo – I was ready. My childhood reading had prepared me. Novels had shown me other ways of approaching life, of making decisions, of assessing the world around me.
Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and R.L. Stevenson showed me wickedness and taught me to keep my eyes open for both evil and good. Ray Bradbury and T.H White reinforced in me a delicious sense of being alive in a world filled with wonders.
Novels are where children learn to solve problems and sympathize with people unlike themselves. They also learn that there exist different sets of manners and attitudes from those in their own homes. These are fundamental characteristics for a person who wants to live in a world beyond narrow national borders.
A well-written novel allows a child to live in the skin of another person – the hero – and to hereby understand heroic behavior: defending the weak, forgiving the foolish, having the confidence to take that first daring step into the world alone. In short: to grow up. It allows them to recognize that the world isn’t either black or white: it is in fact in glorious Technicolor.
23 through 27 San Gio Video, Vino and Salami festival
Every year (for over two decades) Ugo organizes – in a manner of speaking – a video festival, which is held in a Verona piazza. Films – both short and long – are shown every afternoon and evening for anyone who wants to draw up a chair and watch. A WONDERFUL PHOTO of my favorite judges at the festival has repeatedly failed to load….how sad. Imagine 4 beautiful women in summer resses sitting on a marble diaz. Here it the caption that would go with such an image. From left to right: documentary director Cuini Ortiz (from Argentina), director Elena Gladkova (Russia), actress Erica Rivas (Argentina) and entrepreneur Asal Emanmi (Iran).
My favorite short film this year was The People’s Palaces, a 16-minute film about Moscow’s beautiful and monumental subway stations directed by Elena Gladkova. The rousing score perfectly matched the on screen movement and lent energy to the piece. I asked the director if she had studied music. She replied: “Yes, for many years at school. Also I was a dancer and choreographer.” As soon as I heard that she had been a choreographer everything fell into place. Her sensitive choice of music matched the rhythm so well that something as simple as commuters exiting from a train became as elegant as a ballet.
The juries at the festival (and me a hanger-on) visit a different winery every morning. Here are my favorite visits.
Poggio delle Grazie (www.poggiodellegrazie.it) The two wines that were a big hit with me and the others were the lively, fresh wines made with a natural re-fermentation in bottle: the Rosato made from a blend of Corvina 60 %, Rondinella 40 % + 5 % Garganega Passita, and Bianco made from primarily from Cortese.
We also visited Le Battistelle (www.lebattistelle.it/) I have always liked Battistelle’s Soave Classico, finding it complex with lively flavors of ripe pear and a note of mandarin orange.
We slipped and slid through their heroic vineyard, proving our own heroism in the process.
Lesson: An heroic vineyard is one that is in a location (usually a steep terraced hillside) that makes the use of machinery impossible. So all work in the vineyard must be carried out by hand.
Le Battestille also made my summer dream come true – a hammock in the breeze.
Our merry band also visited other wineries but I don’t feel like writing about them. Remember, in this diary I only write about wines I think are exceptionally appealing.
TIP for wineries: If it is high noon in the middle of summer …and if your visitors are slick with sweat and their skins are turning blotchy with sunburn…then keep the vineyard visit short. If you want to answer general questions or talk about technical issues that have nothing to do with the vineyard your guests are standing in…THEN maybe it would be a good idea to continue the discussion in a cooler place, preferably one where glasses of cold water are on offer.
21 Borgo di Bardolino
Wow! The Guerrieri Rizzardi family has given a new sheen to the town of Bardolino. Their former lakeside winery and villa has been transformed into an elegant complex that includes a wine bar, a pizzeria, a restaurant, a meeting center and holiday apartments – all within the context of a lush, plant-filled garden. The project was piloted by Agostino Rizzardi, who chose his architects and interior designers well. The look is harmoniously eclectic, and manages to be both stylish and comfortable. And did I say dogs are welcome? Here is a photo of Otto Rizzardi, whom I met at the event.
10 July Sunday, Sushi and…
We meet up with Susan H. and taste a 1993 Vino da Tavola from COS – Viticoltori di Vittoria (www.cosvittoria.it/). Bright Ruby, fresh, still vibrant cherry fruit a creamy element on the palate. After 15 minutes in the glass, the wine was still firm and appealing. Needless to say, they don’t make it any more
Then we head off for sushi at Zushi. The food was fresh and delicious, the atmosphere cool and, perhaps, more important the staff was kind to Stanley. For his part, Stanley was his impeccably behaved self.
8 July Trentodoc, tra-la-la
Maria Grazia picked me up and we headed for Trentino and the Cantine Monfort winery. (www.cantinemonfort.it)
Lesson: Trentodoc is a name used to encompass quality sparkling wines produced in the Italian region of Trentino. From my personal experience (spanning a couple of decades) I can say that most – if not all – Trentodoc wines are well-made.
This was the case with Monfort’s non-vintage Brut and Rosé. Both wines were fresh, lively and appealing.
As always happens when visiting Trentino in the company of wine journalists, one bright spark decided to blather on about how the name Trentodoc needs to be changed. His arguments have all been heard before – too many times before.
My feeling is that if you want to provide a valid alternative to the name, along with a program that would maintain the wine’s reputation around the world, and even bring it more luster – then take this idea to the directors of the Trentodoc organization. But no, that never happens. All we get it more useless bleating. (Imagine me rolling my eyes and sighing heavily.)
My favorite quote of the day came from journalist Giuseppe C. He said: “My son lives in America and when people ask him where he is from, he says Trentino. Then they ask him: where is that? And he replies: it is between Venice and Paris.”
The Simoni Family, owners of Monfort, are extremely nice. Here is a photo of Lorenzo S. in front of the lavender bush in his wife’s garden. He gave me some to take home. I love Trentino in the summer…cool, breezy and always pleasant, welcoming people.
“I can assure you that the 100 recipes you will find in this book are all true recipes, and many of them come from my family. My mother Mirella was in fact born in Emilia Romagna and then she moved to Florence, where she met and married my father Giorgio. So, I was born in a family with a double culinary tradition.” The recipes are easy to follow and each is accompanied by a lovely photo of the finished dish. If you like cooking and love Italian food, give this book a try. You can find it at: http://amzn.to/1WAKMRk
24 June Art
We head off to a Palladian villa near Lonigo for an art exhibition. Who is showing we asked Ugo (who, along with his wife, is taking us there in their car.)
“Oh, it’s for emmerging artists,” he says with adismissive wave of his hand. This is the kind ofvauge answer he always give and indicates that he does not know the answer.
We arrive at the lovely villa and discover that the two featured aritists were both born in the 1930. It’s about time they emerged, I thought.
The paintings were…well…old. Old ideas, old exicution. There were several monochrome paintings: large canvases spray painted with a flat even color. Atisits have been tinkering with this idea since the late 1800s and have continued right on up through the 1960s.
I was reminded of the play Art by Yasmina Reza (translated into the English by Christopher Hampton). In it a fellow pays an incredible amount of money for a plain white canvas, expecting his best friend to praise his choice. This does not happen. Instead what follows is a series of arguments about the nature of art and an examination of friendship.
But back to the art show at the villa. The venue was lovely. Here is an atristic photo of the villa’s resident cat.
5 June Happy Carro Armato Day
We stopped into the Osteria Carroarmato for a visit and Annalisa sat down to chat. “I opened the Carro Armato twenty-eight years ago today,” she announced. “Let’s celebrate.” Champagne, a fine Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc followed. We were joined by Stefania and Ugo.
“I can remember the very first time Patricia and Michael came in here,” she said. “They ordered Tocai Rosso.”
“Wow, what a memory!” said Stefania.
“Oh, I don’t remember everything. Only exception al things. And believe me, 24 years ago foreigners did not order Tocai Rosso! Patricia and Michael were interesting and we started talking.”
And twenty-four years later Annalisa is my best friend in Verona (and one of my 6 truly close friends in the world). Above is a photo of Annalisa and me and my wedding dinner.
2 June Chievo fans celebrate!
I arranged my features into a listening pose while thinking of that Gary Larsen cartoon that shows a person talking to his dog. In a balloon over the dog’s head we see what the dog hears: Blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah.
I actually love this annual event. There’s dancing ancinet disco music. There is always a conga line (called a trenino -little train).
Several Chievo calico fan clubs gathered in the lovely little Valpolicella hamlet of Bure, to eat and hobnob with the owner of the Chievo team, Luca Campadelli. What a nice man he is. Here is a photo of Michael, Campadelli and our pal Maurizio. Campadelli always comes to this event to show his support. The other big news is that we won a huge Parmesan cheese wedge in the lottery.
The tail-end of May…I decided to clean out the closet where we keep our wine. The goal was to see how much of the 5 boxes of mature wine was still drinkable. And the only way to find that out is to open them. I called Susan H. and suggested she come to Verona and we could cart 6 of the around 40 bottles to the Carroarmato and taste them with Annalisa, her staff and any clients of the osteria who would appreciate older vintages. Alas, I made this plan without consulting Annalisa first. She had already decided to close the Carroarmato on the day named. I decided to pull the cork on 6 wines with Susan and Michael. Two of the wines were good and 2 of them were sublime. The other two had succumbed to old age. 4 out of 6 was a better average than I had anticipated. The good wines were a Tomasso Bussola TB Amarone 1990 and a Weingut Adalbert Jung Rheinhessen 1992 Riesling Auslese. The Great Wines were a 1997 Opiz One from Willie Opiz. It was vivacious and fruity and fresh. And…. 1985 Fieramonte Amarone from Allegrini. Yes, this is a picture of the wine in front of our pizza dinner. The wine was stunning in its elegance: dried cherry fruit finely woven with darker tertiary flavors. A hush of a finish that stays long on the palate and in the memory.
First things first: Books. A few months ago Publishers Weekly sent me a collection of short stories featuring detectives Bryant and May by Christopher Fowler to review. I laughed out loud as I read. I vowed I would find as many of the novels featuring Bryant and May as possible. Once again the fabulous Glenn at the Book Barn in Connecticut came through, finding me 4 books. I, of course, read them one after the other. Witty dialogue, fascinating peeks at London history and characters who are fun to know. Who could ask for more? I am very glad that there are 10 more Bryant and May novels out there waiting for me.
May 9 Terra di Pietra
We go out to Torbe, a hilltop village in Valpolicella to taste the wines of Terra di Pietra and visit their new vineyard. The tasting and dinner were held at Trattoria Caprini. (www.trattoriacaprini.it).
One of my favorite wines from the tasting: 2013 Le Peste (vinified in cement) Soft ruby. Fresh, pure nose. On the palate: red berry fruits, black cherries and a delicate floral note (hybicus). Silky texture.
“I wanted to make a good superior without wood and using natural yeasts,” says Laura Albertini, co-owner of the winery. She succeeded.
After the tasting, they served the best pasta I have every had (10 eggs for every kilo of flour and the pasta is rolled out by hand using mega-long rolling pins.) I was so impressed I asked one of the owners (it has been family-owned for generations) for a business card.
He said : “We don’t have business cards anymore because with technology nobody needs them…BUT we have bookmarks instead. They are always useful.” On one side there is the address etc of the place and on the other there is a poem by a dialect poet.
Do I need to tell you the surge of love I felt for that man and the restaurant at that moment? “Bookmarks are always useful!” If you know any small business owners suggest they do this; they will certainly garner the loyalty of the Real Book Reading cult.
May 11 Dining with the Players!
I went to a Chievo Calcio (Soccer) Dinner. There were 130 fans, 3 Chievo players and a couple of people from Chievo’s management.
When the players arrived there was as much applause and I thought: If Cumberbatch walked into a BSI (Baker Street Irregular) or ASH (Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes) event there would be the same goofy pleasure on the faces of those present, the same level of applause, the same amount of surreptitious (and blatant) selfies, the same amount of polite and respectful requests for autographs. Hummmm fans. There has been a Big Dispute for the past few years among some factions of the U.S. Sherlockian world about using the term “fans” to describe, well, those with a more literary turn of mind. I believe that the English Sherlockians (called Holmsians) don’t really care about that kind of nomenclature and just get on with enjoying the camaraderie. But perhaps they have their own tiffs about this matter.
NOTE for Italians: Tiff. This is a lovely word that means a little quarrel.
May 19 Getting the boot(s) in Soave
The three highpoints of this visit to Soave in the rain. (in order of occurrence) 1. The rubber boots laid on for the visitors at Coffele Winery (www.coffele.it ) 2. Ciara Coffele’s beagle puppy and 3. The superb 2005 Soave Salvarenza from Gini – lively, evolving flavors. (www.ginivini.com) I took my glass of the wine from the tasting to the dinner. I sniffed it every 5 minutes. After 40 minutes it was still firm, fresh and fragrant. I could have continued my experiment in longevity but I couldn’t hold out any longer and drank the wine for the pure pleasure of doing so.
Note for Italian readers: The expression “to get the boot” means to be kicked out.
21 and 22 in The Colli Euganei
I went to the Colli Euganei to present my book about the zone to groups of journalists at various points throughout the 2-day event. I arrived hoping that I would only have to speak in English (hooray the Germans, Scandinavians, Poles and Japanese – not to mention the English, Australians and Americans – usually speak decent English.) And in fact – thank goodness – the Italian travel writers also understood English. When I addressed this latter group I had made myself so nervous that I just threw in the towel and did my little song and dance (a.k.a. presentation) in an insane mix of the two languages.
I become irrationally nervous when I must address a group of Italian who are strangers to me. In my head there are always two monologues going on: 1. What I have to say and 2. The voice that is noting, with mounting hysteria, every error – after it has emerged from my mouth.
I can do interviews on wine and books in Italian. (Usually it is just me and the interviewee so a kind of comfortable intimacy evolves.) I can easily do simultaneous translations of the things said to me in Italian – BUT standing in front of people who would rather be eating their lunch/dinner completely unnerves me.
NOTE on English/American expression for Italian readers:
To throw in the towel means to give up in order to avoid further punishment when facing certain defeat. The expression derives from boxing: when a boxer is being beaten up and has no chance of winning, his manager literally throws his towel into the ring as an indication to stop the fight.
NOTE for those who do not know what the Colli Euganei are:
They are the most unusual collection of hills you will find on this planet. Over the centuries those inspired by them – poets, artists, and geologists – have most often describe them as looking like islands emerging from a wave-less sea. The hills were formed (between 34 and 33 million years ago) by a series of seismic shifts of rock substrata. In some cases, these shifts allowed molten lava and gases from deep within the earth to surge upwards, pressing against but not quite breaking through the ocean floor. As a result of erosion of this type of formation some of the hills have an odd, soft rounded shaped, like a soap bubble emerging from a bubble pipe. Others are the conical form we typically associate with volcanoes, although they are not actually volcanoes, as an eruption never took place. Most of the hills have a volcanic core. They are simply amazing to see. This area – it should be noted – was fundamental in the development of Venice as we know it. Venice is paved with stone from Colli Euganei quarries, wood from the Colli Euganei forests was used to build the Venetian armada and produce and grains from the Colli Euganei zone were carried by boats along canals to Venice in order to feed hungry Venetians. In the summer – to escape the heat of the city – Venetians built superb summer homes here (complete with stunning gardens). All this plus thermal spas that were famous since Roman times and some excellent wines as well. Really, who could ask for more?
Highlights of the visit:
2 Floating in the thermal pool at the Abano Ritz (www.abanoritz.it ) I would take up residence in this hotel if I could.
3 Doing a Sudoku while sitting on a bench in front of Villa Beatrice d’Este on Mont Gemola. The breeze was fragrant with scents of new mown grass, pine sap and meadow blossoms, and the only sound was bird song and the soft rustling of leaves.
- An olive oil tasting conducted by Devis from the Cornoleda Olive Mill. He has great energy and knowledge. (www.frantoiodicornoleda.com )
- A ride on a canal boat.
- Dinner at “Relais La Montecchia”, a restaurant run by the exceptionally talented and imaginative members of the Alajmo family.
- Listening to hypnotic, ancient Chinese music at the Museo Nazionale Atestino in Este.
- Tasting the wines of Ca’Lustra (www.calustra.it ) outside, in good company and with – as always – a stunning view. My favorite wine of those I tasted today was the 2007 Sassonero (100% Merlot) Long finish, backbone and brambly fruit, with an undertow of dark tones that are reminiscent of tar.
I prepare a stuffed goose neck made by www.michelelittame.it. The Goose Man gave a little talk and a taste while I was in the Colli Euganeis. My favorite quote: “We decided to raise geese because goose was the only meat not found in the supermarket.” Very tasty, too.
These wonderful photos of the Colli Euganei were taken by Elena Bianco.
First things first: Books
The very nice editor at Publishers Weekly came to the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes Spring lunch in New York and he brought me a book to read: Adam’s Rib by Antonio Manzini (Original Italian title: La Costola di Adamo). It is set in Aosta. Yes, Aosta. The main character Rocco Schiavone is complex and intriguing and I will happily follow him into future adventures.
My pal Glenn from The Book Barn in Connecticut rounded up some books I wanted, and pals Kate and Ed brought them to New York for me. These included several of the later Tony Hillermans. I had asked Glenn to find the books Tony had written after I left New York in 1987.
When I returned to Verona I had the need to go and live in those books for a while. I read The First Eagle, The Thief of Time, Sacred Clowns and Talking God. I really do love these books. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are people I like to be with. I like to be in the beautiful and strange landscapes that Tony describes so eloquently. I have a few more, but I will save those for another time when I am feeling nostalgic for Big Sky country.
People who have never lived on the Great Plains or in the desert really cannot understand the way such landscapes make a person feel. I’ll try to explain: you feel small and by feeling small you allow yourself to become part of a greater whole. Also what at first seems austere and arid is, on closer examination, juicily alive with beauty. In the plains and desert you have to really look and by looking you see worlds within worlds. Well, it seems I cannot express this concept as well as I’d like. All I can suggest is this: go to the desert in springtime when tiny red and yellow flowers sprout on the upturned arms of giant cacti OR stand in the middle of a vast wheat field that stretches right up to the flat horizon line above which is an equally vast blue, cloudless sky. Then think about how you feel.
April 22 THANK YOU, SUSAN
Susan H. takes Michael and me to dinner at the Vescovo Moro. The food was good, the wine flowed freely and the talk touched on some shared favorite things: old roses with heady scents, Indian and Asian spices, friendship, etc. A lovely evening.
April 10 to 13 VINITALY
Yes, the world’s largest annual trade fair took place once again. I will spare you a long series of tasting notes. Instead I will just list the wines that Rang My Chimes. Suffice it to say, I recommend all these wines and the producers who made them. If you see the producer’s name on a wine list, buy the wine. You will not be disappointed.
There were of course many great wines at the fair that I did not taste for lack of time.
WINES THAT RING MY CHIMES
Fattoria Zerbina Sangiovese di Romagna “Pietramora” I tasted a flight of older vintages: 1990, 1997, 2004, 2007. Generally speaking, the wines were round, between velvet and silk, with an amalgam of fruit so firmly mixed that red berry and cherry fruits merge into one flavor.
Fattoria Zerbina Albana Passito “Scaccomatto” – a flight of older vintages: 1990, 1992,1996, 1997, 2001. General style: All the components mesh seamlessly – honey, flowers and a squeeze of lemon.
Podera Sant Cristofo Petite Verdot 2013 – Full, rich, fruity, appealing
Villa Bucci Verdicchio 2013 – Full perfume, a fine weave of elegant apricot and elderflower and bright salinity.
G.D. Vajra – Barolo “Liugi Baudana” 2012. – Luscious, heady, satisfying. I could go on and on.
Braida Barbera d’Asti “Bricco della Bigotta” 2014 – Just as luscious as ever.
Braida Bricco del Ucellone 2014 – Creamy, rich and round – like chocolate covered cherries.
Marina Cvetic Trebbiano dìAbruzzo 2013 – Elegant balance between wood and fruit.
I had a job to do during the fair: taste wines from South Africa for an Italian/English language website. I am glad this assignment came up because it is unlikely I would have taken a morning to concentrate on South African wines under usual Vinitaly conditions. There were some nice bright whites and rich reds. Producers I liked: Diemersdal, Idiom, Morgenster and Ayam.
April 1 through 7 NEW YORK, NEW YORK
I am indescribably happy to be in New York. Many of my dearest friends live here and things have been organized so that The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes will have their Spring Meeting during my visit. Hooray!
Things I did that gave me great pleasure (besides just seeing and talking to wonderful people whom I have known for decades):
I went to see the Broadway Musical Something Rotten. Fabulous choreography, great dancing, an appreciative audience, two songs that stick with you – who could ask for more.
Here is a link to the opening number: Welcome to the Renaissance.
My pal Randall (friend since college) took me to The Modern, the Museum of Modern Art’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Extraordinary interior design, excellent food and the service was perfection. It was so perfect that it was almost creepy – it was like being served by the Stepford Wives. I got used to that pretty quickly. Then we went to the Degas exhibit and selected paintings for our various imaginary country houses. Thank you, Randall.
After the ASH lunch I went up to Guy and Julia’s (she is Kate’s sister). We convinced Julia to show us some of her collection of around 100 hats from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
Why I like the people of New York:
We went to the Transport Museum in Brooklyn. My pal asked the security guard if the museum had wi-fi.
He replied: “Why? If we had wi-fi everyone would be looking at their phones and not reading the display signs and not learning anything about their city.”
We went to a Cuban restaurant. I asked the waiter for a business card. He returned with a baggie containing two cigars and three boxes of matches with the restaurant name and address. (Havana at 94 Christopher Street havananyc.com).
Here is a quote from E.B. White’s Here is New York:
On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.
This was a month almost totally devoted to reading, writing and researching – my favorite activities! So wine tips will be mainly focused on the Bardolinos, Chiarettos and Luganas I tasted at the annual Anteprima event held in the lake-side town of Bardolino.
Once again, the Consorzio pulled out all the stops: the option of tasting on a boat (I preferred to taste on solid ground), an after-tasting event that included a band and cocktails (I went home to walk the dog), and the chance to taste some lovely wines.
The three wines that I enjoyed the most at this tasting: Ca Lojera Lugana Riserva del Lup 2013 (vivacity on the palate, alluring fragrance. Excellent.), Le Tende Bardolino Classico Bio 2013 (backbone, full appealing fruit, vibrant color), Pasini –SanGiovanni Lugana Il Lugana Bio 2014 (pear and apricot tones on the nose and palate. Satisfying).
And pride of place goes to a delicious Bardolino called Vintage, produced by the Cantina Castelnuovo del Garda. Why do I love this wine? Well, yes it is tasty but I will admit that I love the label. It would be a perfect wine for the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. It was the last wine I tasted and a very nice way to end the event.
After putting in a hard day at the computer, I open a bottle of Villa Bucchi Verdicchio 2014. I will go on record as saying I adore Ampelio Bucci and I love this wine, and I have since I first tried it some 20 years ago. It consistently give pleasure. It is a wine where character and charm are perfectly blended. If you see Villa Bucci on a winelist order it. You will not be disappointed.
A Memory of Professor Eco
It has taken me a while to come to terms with the death of Umberto Eco, whom I interviewed on September 21st of last year. I have never laughed so much while doing an interview. He told jokes while we waited for the elevator. He showed my husband and me his library, which – considering it consisted of over 30,000 books – was contained in every room in the apartment. “These are the Art and Architecture books. My wife is an architect,” he said, waving to a wall of books. “There is the philosophy section,” he said pointing to another wall. Here is a picture of Mr. Eco in his “fiction corridor. “These are German. These are English. Those American. Here are the Scandanavian…..” He told me it took around 6 years to write a novel. “So you must come back again when I am 90,” he said. I thought I would.
After I had finished my interview for Publishers Weekly about his new book, Numero Zero, I asked Professor Eco if I could interview him for my Sherlockian friends. He graciously agreed. That interview will be published in English in the Spring edition of the Serpentine Muse, the newsletter of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. An Italian translation will appear in the next issue of The Strand Magazine: Organo dell’Associazione Uno Studio in Holmes. This latter issue will be devoted entirely to Professor Eco.
Here are some quotes : “There is also another distinction to consider, the one between narrative and mythography. For example, The Three Musketeers is wonderfully written, with a jazz style. The Count of Monte Cristo, on the other hand, is terribly written: it is like a muddy, sludge-filled river. But it, too, manages to create a myth that everyone knows and that has been reproduced in many films and many other forms – theatrical, radiophonic, television, etc.”
“So, there are texts that, from the point of view of aesthetics, don’t amount to much and were perhaps only written for the money but they have the power to create a myth. I think Sherlock Holmes belongs to the classification: mythography. It is not as if the works of Sherlock Holmes are written in a sublime way – like Dickens. But they have created a myth that would exist even if the stories no longer existed. The Holmes stories are models of inductive reasoning and they are therefore very interesting beyond being mere entertainment. I don’t think that they carry with them great philosophical merit because the philosophy in which Conan Doyle believed was spiritualism – at night making little tables dance around.” Eco s fingers flutter as if distributing fairy dust.
I asked the Professor if he planned on writing more about Sherlock Holmes. “I have written about Holmes in many other books, not only in the Sign of Three. So I have written enough about him.” Eco leans back in his chair, in a contemplative mood. “If I were to belong to a fraternity of or sect it would not be that of Sherlock Holmes but rather Nero Wolfe.” He smiles, a glint of the exuberant zeal of a fan lights up his eyes. “I paid ten dollars to receive their newsletter.” His rumbling laugh fills the room. “I know all of the Nero Wolfe stories by heart!” Ah, spoken like a true fan.
Here is a link to the Publishers Weekly interview:
28 February Elena Gladkova in Verona
We met up with Russian film director Elena Gladkova. Here is a link to one of her films: the delightful Jazz etude 2014. The audio is music and ambient sound so don’t be afraid to watch it – you don’t have to speak Russian. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBm4ItGEwvQ&feature=youtu.be
Stanley and I then set off for the Osteria Carro Armato to celebrate the birthday of Annalisa (the owner and my best Italian friend). Among the wines: a 1998 Fratta from Maculan. It was surprisingly fresh and complex on the nose and palate, touches of mint. “It went from being in Maculan’s cellar to mine here at the Carro Armato, so its storage conditions were optimal,” said Annalisa, when we began enthusing about its vivacity.
25 February Amarone A-Go-Go at Villa de Winckles
Villa de Winckles (www. villadewinckels.com ), a hotel/restaurant in the Illasi Valley, organizes wonderful tastings. Tonight there were over 60 top notch Amarone producers on hand. I will admit that I did not try all 60 – I am only human. But of the 40 I did sample, here are some of my favorites (in no particular order).
2007 Santa Sofia “Gioè” (cherries and cream, long evolving finish); 2011 Speri (delivers a very good wine in commercial volumes, which is not an easy thing to do.); 2010 Dal Forno (cream soda and dark cherries, a raw silk texture); 2011Roccolo Grassi (hypnotic mingling of austerity and lush fruit); 2010 Accordini Stefano “Acinatico” (elegant balance of fruit); 2011 Begali (juicy, satisfying); 2009 Pietro Zanoni (amalgam of black and red berry fruit) and the wonderful 2011 Corte Scaletta (juicy, figgy, pruney, luscious).
22 February Sangiovese di Romagna – one of my favorite annual tastings
We went to Faenza, a town world famous for its museum devoted to ceramics, for one of my favorite annual events: the tasting of Sangiovese di Romagna. Year in and year out, my top producers at this event remain Fattoria Zerbina and Dre Dona.
Fattoria Zerbina: Cristina Geminiani makes consistently outstanding wines – juicy, elegant and long-lived. If you see a Zerbina wine on a list – buy it. There is simply nothing else to add. Here is a photo of Cristina in her caffeine molecule earrings.
Dre Dona: when I taste these wines and immediately think of all the ways they can be paired with food.
A New Entry at this tasting was a wine called Famous…because it is made from an local indigenous variety that goes by the name of Famoso (aka Uva Rambela). It is produced by the Romagna winery Santa Lucia (http://www.santaluciavinery.it ). This vibrant white wine has a finely-knit texture, with touches of sage and mint on the nose and palate.
The label is particularly attractive and I asked Paride Benedetti, owner of S. Lucia about it. “I was in Austria and my colleagues took me to the Klimt museum. And there I saw The Kiss for the first time. I stood in front of it rapt. I looked at it and saw grapes. So I brought my graphic designer to the museum and said: that’s what I want.”
The wine has everything, a good story, an original flavor…and its organic!
30 January Amarone A-go-go, Alfonso and Libre!
We go to the annual Amarone panel discussion and tasting. One of the speakers says: “Amarone is wine for all kinds of foods.” I roll my eyes toward heaven and groan. Amarone is NOT a wine that is easy to match with most daily meals. People don’t eat great chunks of meat that often anymore. Nor do they want 14, 15 or even 16° alcohol at lunch most days. Amarone is a great wine; I really can’t understand why there is a push to make it small. Forgive me but I think of that Norma Desmond line from Sunset Boulevard: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
Among the Amarones that rang my chimes: Viviani 2010 Casa dei Beppe (Cream soda on the finish. Rich, deep cherry fruit. Long finish, very appealing), Corte Sant’Alda 2012 (fresh, firm fruit, a fine undertow of spice.) and Accordini 2012 (A fine firm weave of fruit and zippy freshness. Undertow of spice in the finish.)
We met up with Alfonso C. at the tasting and he kindly invited us to lunch, during which we had a good old gossip and grouse and a decent piece of fish.
I go to Libre! (www.libreverona.it/progetto/) to talk to Lia Arrigoni about books. Here is a photo of Lia (with wine) and Stanley (with charm).
25 & 23 Proposta Vini (www.propostavini.com)
Federica S. whisks us out to Bussalengo for the annual Proposta tasting. There is a seminar on Riesling, with several Austrian examples for tasting.
Riesling used to be lumbered with the word “petrol” when it came time to make a tasting note. But the wines I tasted today were fresh and pure, with a fruit that might be described as an amalgam of apricot, white peach and a touch of Bartlett pear. My three favorites: 2013 Riesling Riserve Kellerterrassen from Hermann Moser, 2013 Riesling Reserve Heiligenstein from Topf and 2013 Reisling Preussen from Fuhrgassl-Huber.
“Austria is like Portugal,” says Michael. “They make really good wines but no one talks about them very much.”
At dinner the nice producer from Vadiaperti brought out a bottle of his 1994 Fiano di Avellino. Excellent, compressed fruit. Texture like raw silk. Pure firm fruit on the nose, a slightly smoky finish. I subsequently tasted the 2014 version. Lovely style.
The wine among the hundreds available at the tasting that gave me the most pleasure was the 2012 Riserva Rabaja Barbaresco from Castello di Verduno. One sip and I felt that I had suddenly stepped into the world of Fine Wine. Fine Wine used to be a term that denoted exceptional quality and elegance. It has fallen from use like the word breed. Michael Broadbent defines this term as: “An abstract qualitative term. A fine wine of good pedigree should display breed.” Oh, I miss those old tasting terms sometimes.
We ended the tasting with some superb artisanal beers from Giratempo (www.giratempo.it) . The grape Ale made with a small percentage of Moscato, was refreshing and appealing. All the beers we tasted were well balanced and elegant.
21 January Plumbing the Depths
The plumber came to sort out our ancient, rotting pipes under the kitchen sink. He was a nice man who swore at the pipes for a solid 5 hours. Porca Troia! (Pig Whore) I needed something to read in order to defend myself from listening to Italian cussing. The only book in the house that I hadn’t read for a while was the (4 vol. ) complete Shakespeare, and I will admit that I had never read the introduction – until today. It was written in the 40s and had that slightly stuffy university professor lip-curling sneer to it. By that I mean he put down all the other scholars who had – of course – gotten the facts completely wrong…
We finally have hot water in the kitchen. Hooray!
14 January Another life I might have lived
I just finished reading Tony Hillerman’s autobiography, Seldom Disappointed. It stirred memories. I met Tony when he came to New York to promote one of his first novels. He was a very nice man and I enjoyed his detective novels that are set in the American Southwest and featured Indian/Native American protagonists, Joe Leaphorn and Jimmy Chee. These books made me nostalgic for the wide open spaces of my youth.
I subsequently wrote to him saying that I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in New York and was toying with the idea of moving to New Mexico. I arrived in Albuquerque and he kindly took a day to show me around. We drove up to Santa Fe, a wonderfully odd town that I could have been happy in. We talked about books and writing and life. He also told me that should I decide to move there I would be welcome at a writers’ group he belonged to.
I returned to New York after a few days…and life progressed as it did. But reading his autobiography made me think of all the “alternate” directions my life could have taken. Not because I am unhappy with where I am now. In fact I love where I am now. But every now and then it is nice to be reminded that your future is being decided every day.
For Sherlockians I was also warmly welcomed by John Bennett Shaw while in Santa Fe.
13 January What do you do with a wine that is too sweet?
A very nice producer – unbidden – sent me some samples of his Proseccos. I opened one labeled Brut, thinking that it would indeed be on the dry side. That way I could taste the wine, write a professional note and then enjoy a glass with my lunch of spaghetti with shrimp and mussel sauce. I poured a glass. Because the word “Brut” had set up expectations in my mind, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming sweetness of the wine. Let me say that the wine was well-made, there were no faults in it. However, it was nowhere near dry. What to do? I couldn’t drink it. You can’t give an opened bottle to Italian friends (US and UK pals would have no problem accepting decent free vino). I hated to pour it down the sink. I already had a sweet wine open for cooking. The answer came to me in a flash: Jello! Yes, I bought some gelatin leaves and used the wine as the base liquid.
6 January I love Chievo Fans
We go to the clubhouse of our soccer fan club. Today Chievo is playing Roma, and our fan club has invited a Roma fan club to lunch. When the Roma contingent arrives, they are applauded by the Chievo fans. I felt a melting kind of love for everyone in the room; I appreciate good sportsmanship – and Chievo fans and players have that in spades! There was the ceremonial exchange of gifts. Roma brought hams and cheeses and calendars featuring soccer players. Chievo had the usual hamper filled with cakes – the owner of the soccer team also owns a well-known cake factory.
Here is a poem I wrote on a napkin during the event. It scans but does not rhyme. It sounds like extended hiku.
Wine in unlabeled bottles
Poured into clear plastic cups
Disco music fills the room
The Village People live on
At the Chievo Fan Club
2 Januay Sherlockains in Verona
Guy Marriott, his wife Liz and their pal Shelia came to Verona for a visit. Guy is President of the Holmes Society of London and we had been scouting opportunities to bring a group of English Sherlockians to Cremona to visit the Stradivarius museum…and have a private concert performed on historic instruments. Alas, the majority of the group lacks the desire to make this little detour to Cremona during their journey from Reichenbach Falls to Florence. Michael had even lined up a Mostarda producer who agreed to come to Cremona for a tasting of her wares. Oh, well, mustn’t grumble. Maybe some other time. Should any other intrepid Sherlockians wish to “do” Cremona, drop me a line.
28 December HAPPY BIRTHDAY CINEMA
Every year on this date our pal Ugo celebrates the birth of cinema by showing a silent film. This year it was D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. This three and a half hour epic was projected in a deconsecrated and unheated church in the center of town. Around 30 of us sat on metal chairs in our coats and hats. The film was indeed wonderful. However, I tolerated only an hour and a half of it, I was driven out by the cold. Michael to enjoy it to the bitter end.
Christmas Eve at Ugos
Every Christmas Eve and many an evening in between we climb the six steep flights of stone stairs, worn soft and smooth by hundreds of years of treading, to dine, drink, laugh, play silly games and argue at Ugo’s small apartment on the top floor of a building in the centro storico. I am grateful that our social life revolves around Ugo and his kith and kin.
17 December BLACK IS BLACK, I WANT MY COLOR BACK!
I went to a spiffy do at the Due Torre Hotel – an event celebrating the restoration of some circus-themed frescos from the 1950 by a local artist. There were circus performers from Verona’s circus school, decent eats…all very nice. BUT every single woman (but me! And my pal from down South) wore black. Once again, I am not talking about an Audrey Hepburn Little Black Dress black. Rather it was light-sucking black in baggy, body covering shapes.
I, of course, wore red.
“In Verona all women wear black to evening events,” said my pal from Southern Italy, who had some nice vivid blue (on a field of black) patterned top.
I thought: I have been to swankier events in New York, London, Paris, Florence and Milan…and in those places women choose dresses to match their skin tones and personal style – daffodil yellow; shimmering, smoky silver; emerald green. I find it so depressing to be in a room filled with black. Life is full of color!
16 December A BOOK PRESENTATION WITH A SIDE ORDER OF SPAGHETTI
The 30-some people dining in the back room at Scapin’s were polite to me but a book by a funny foreign lady didn’t stand a chance against spaghetti with duck sauce. The owner of the restaurant is a very nice man and he asked for a book to put on the shelf in the restaurant. Bless him. The wines were provided by clever Francesca Salvan. They were fragrant and juicy. If you ever find yourself in the Colli Euganei I would urge you to drop by the winery. Her family is truly geared up to accept visitors.
12 December LUNCH AT VILLA WITH THE GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously)
Susan H., Clementina P. and Michael and I enjoyed a merry lunch at the Villa Estate in Franciacorta. We look forward to this annual event. Yes, the photo is out of focus but I believe that helps capture the tone of the day. Oh my but we laughed! The fabulous earrings I am wearing, by the way, are a gift from Roberta Bianchi, whose family owns Villa.
4 December AROUND THE WORLD
By chance (OKAY, I’ll admit it: I was Googling myself), I came across an article in an Indonesian publication about Number Zero that mentions my interview with Umberto Eco in Publishers Weekly. It’s amazing how this interview is being picked up and sent around the world.
2 December MARINELLA CAMERANI OF CORTE SANT’ALDA AT THE CARROARMATO
Marinella, owner and winemaker of the Corte Sant Alda estate in Valpolicella, lives life on her own terms and makes wines just the way she wants to, without concern for fleeting trends. Her estate is certified organic and biodynamic – she produces Italy’s only biodynamic Amarone. She was as entertaining as ever at tonight’s tasting. I like her because she just says what she thinks – no mincing words for Marinella. We also had our wedding reception at her wine estate and our dog Ed is buried there. So, I admit to being partial.
1&2 December Wine2Wine
We went to a two day marketing/networking fest for people in the wine trade. On both days 90% of the women wore black. I don’t mean Audrey Hepburn chic black enhanced by diamonds and elbow length gloves. I mean life and light sucking black. In the two days I counted only 10 women who were not in black…they were in dark brown, grey or beige. Yikes! The world needs color!
First, as always, books by friends: Killed in the Ratings by William L. De Andrea. This was his first novel and won The Edgar (The top award from the Mystery Writers of America).
I met Bill at an MWA cocktail party in New York. He came over to me and said: “Look around. We are the only two people in this room who are under thirty. Let’s blow this pop stand.” And we did. We went to a diner for burgers and then to a movie. He was a witty and kind man, who died much too soon (aged 44).
Re-reading this book made me nostalgic for a world where the memory of elevator operators in posh buildings was still green and payphones were on every corner. Cellphones that do everything have certainly made it more difficult for mystery writers today. An entertaining book. I plan on re-reading his other novels.
30 November Cooking at San Mattia
We set off for Corte San Mattia Agriturismo (www.sanmattia.it), Giovanni Ederle’s lovely restaurant and hostelry. The view from the terrace is stunning. If you want an agriturismo holiday, this is the place! We are here for a cooking demonstration and have brought Stanley, who behaves impeccably. He spends some time sniffing the Agriturismo Dog and inviting her to play. She sits like a rock, aware of him but uninterested in the jumping, leaping, racing around play that Stanley has in mind.
What I learned: If you want to peel onions without tears either hold the onion under hot water before cutting or wear sunglasses.
29 November Go Chievo
We head out for Montorio and a big pre-game lunch organized by our soccer fan club (Chievo is Life) for three Udinese fan clubs. Chievo will be playing Udine this afternoon. “May the best team win,” says a Chievo fan across from me. This is why I love Chievo – the players and followers are so nice. Along with the 220 sports fans there is a crew from the RAI (the Italian National television company). Stanley – decked out in his Chievo scarf – is a big hit with them. We hope he makes the Dominica Sportiva program tonight.
27 November Golosario A-go-go
We make our way to the La Collina dei Ciliegi winery (www.lacollinadeiciliegi.it )to attend a presentation for the annual Il Golosario guide, compiled by Paolo Massobrio. (www.ilgolosario.it ) The book has over 1000 pages and is chocked-full of information about some of Italy’s best food and wine producers. A few of them were on hand, showing their wares. I cannot even begin to convey the purity of flavors on offer. Among my favorites were B73, a maker of organic jams, sauces and liquors; Az. Agr. Vallier, makers of an array of products based on walnuts and La Giardiniera di Morgan – I have never tasted such fresh, crisp vegetables preserved in white wine vinegar. I could go on and on. If you are in Italy and you want the best local products The Golosario guide is for you.
By the way, I tried the Il Corvino 2014 from La Collina dei Ciliegi and found it fresh, fruity easy-drinking. The price is right too. Around a tenner.
I spotted a pleasant looking man heading for the door and asked him for a ride down the hill to Grezzane, where we could catch the bus. When he found out that our final destination was Verona, he very graciously offered to take us there. During the ride we found out his name was Savino Poffa and he owns Trattoria Urbana Mangia Fuoco in Brescia. (www.trattoriamangiafuoco.it ). Around 15 years ago he and some friends started an organization to save racing greyhounds called GACI, which stands for Greyhound Adopt Center Italy. (www.adozionilevrieri.it.)
“The dogs were kept in cages and only let out to run. When their racing days were over they were put down. So the average life span was around 4 years. My Josie is 15,” says Savino, referring to one of the dogs he adopted. “She is a wonderful dog. Sometimes she comes to work with me.”
25 November Zanoni at the Carroarmato.
We are the Carroarmato (www.carroarmato.it ) for a dinner and tasting of Pietro Zanoni’s Valpolicellas (www.pietrozanoni.it) Our Pal Ugo is the moderator and Graziano Guandalini (www.grazianoguandalini.sitiwebs.com) masterfully plays the upright piano.
I ask Pietro: “What’s new?” He replies: “I’ve got a cat. My daughter named it Tito. I’ve never had an indoor cat. It sleeps on the bed!” He says this last bit with real wonder in his voice.
Annalisa, the owner of the Carroarmato, is a great fan of Pietro’s Valpolicellas. She likes their fresh, direct style.
Tonight we taste 4 vintages: 2013, 2011, 2009 and 2007. All were fresh and firm. My favorite of the evening was the 2011. It has a rich undertow of ripe fruit, with an almost orange-zest sensation. A very, very nice wine. Michael describes it thus: “Like the pages of an old book…the smooth texture of a well-read book.” I feel I have infected him with my bookishness.
23 Durello in Milan
I am up at 6 a.m. to walk the dog and get some work done before heading out on the Soave Bus that will take us to Milan for the Big Durello/Sparkling Wine tasting.
We arrive. Susan H. and I have a productive meeting, kicking around some ideas for a mutual project. Then off to the tasting. We sit through the press conference. A representative from Euposia (www.euposia.it) says he will announce the winners of the Euposia mega sparkling wine tasting, at which I was a judge. However he does not reveal all the winners. But we do find out the winner in the White Sparkling Wines made from Indigenous Varieties category is – a Durello. This makes everyone very happy.
The winning wine is from Sacra Mundi. It is fresh and clean, with a pleasingly tart flavor.
A Durello/Durella Lesson:
The grape name is Durella but wine made from this grape is called Durello. This is due to the fact that the Italian word for grape (uva) is feminine and thus ends in an “a”, while the Italian word for wine (vino) is masculine and thus ends in an “o”.
The name of this very vigorous vine is derived from its tough (dura) skin. Its most important DOC zone lies in the Lessini Mountains in the provinces of Verona and Vicenza, north of the Soave zone. It is grown specifically in mountain sites on soils of volcanic origin.
Lessini Durello is a light dry white wine with a minimum alcohol level of 10%. When it has an alcohol level of 11% it can be labeled “superiore”. This grape’s high acidity makes it ideal for sparkling wine production. Lessini Durello Spumante is rapidly becoming the aperitif of choice in Soave and Verona, where it is served with fairly fatty goods, such as cheese and salami.
The Durella grape can only be found in the wines of this region, and may be used as a lesser components in Breganze Bianco, Gambellara and Lugana.
At around 3 p.m., I have tasted what I want to taste. I go sit in the foyer and read a battered paperback copy of Agatha Christie’s The Clocks. Aldo, the director of the Durello Consorzio comes up and says: “Patricia, you are always reading books that are un po ossidato (a little bit oxidized).
At 4 p.m. I take a 10-minute stroll to the train station and head for home, leaving Michael to hang around for the prize giving.
18 November The Week and Beyond….
My interview with Umberto Eco was cited in The Week Magazine. They used one of my favorite quotes: the one about Dan Brown. Hip, hip, hip hooray.
The set up and Dan Brown quote: Foucault’s Pendulum is about three waggish publishing employees who, having read far too many manuscripts about crazy theories, decide, as a game, to make up a conspiracy theory of their own, in which they link the Knights Templars to practically every occult manifestation in history, and suggest that the Templars are destined to take over the world. The trio soon find themselves in fear of their lives, threatened by a secret society which has taken their game all too seriously.
“It was I who invented Dan Brown, he was a character in that book,” says Eco, laughing.
November 12 and 13 Euposia Sparkling Wine tasting
Beppe G. picks me up at the bridge and whisks me off to The Aqualux Hotel in Bardolino (www.aqualuxhotel.com ) for the annual Euposia mega-tasting of Sparkling Wines from around the world.
I am one of 21 judges. Each of us has our own table. There is total silence and the sommeliers are efficient. The wines are tasted blind. (That means that the identity of the wines in the glass are not revealed to the tasters.)
Day One we tasted 91 wines. The overall quality level was high. However, I sometimes found myself writing “a bit dull but without faults”.
THEN Day Two, the second wine (number 202) was poured. I put my nose in the glass and every atom in my body buzzed. YES! EUREKA! From the first sniff the quality was clear. Fresh, vibrant, fragrant. The palate followed the nose. I put the glass aside and warned the sommeliers not to take it away.
I kept it for 2 hours while going through the rest of the wines (there were around 70 for Day Two). Sample 202 stayed firm and fresh and appealing. I wrote “I love this wine.” on my tasting sheet.
After some unseemly begging and whining on my part I finally got the organizer to tell me the name of the wine. However, he rightly insisted that he would tell me only after all the tasting sheets had been handed into the invigilator and the results had been put in the computer. It was a Champagne Jacquart Mosatique Brut. Oh, I hope it gets a prize.