Archive for Diary
December 26 The Master of Tea
Every Boxing Day we go to Ugo’s for Ladies Tea. Michael is there to serve as Tea Master. He warms the pot, makes the tea and serves it with quiet efficiency. “Wow,” says Steffie, our hostess, “I bet I am the only person in Verona who has an Oxford graduate as a butler.”
We eat cucumber sandwiches and an assortment of buns and cookies, and all the ladies wear hats (just like English Ladies).
At 7 Ugo calls us in to watch I Mostri, staring Ugo Tognazzi and Vittorio Gassman. It is a series of vignettes poking fun at Italia foibles. We have all learned not to talk when a film is being viewed at Ugo’s.
Around 8 Michael brings in glasses of sparkling wine and suddenly people find their voices: “This is really good.” “Who is the producer?” “What wine is this?”
Now, to excite comment in Ugo’s living room while a film is being shown means that the wine has really touched a chord. I am happy to say that it is Berlucchi’s “Cellarius” Franciacorta Pas Dosé.
Lesson: Pas Dosé means that the wine is bone dry.
Later, after dinner, we open a bottle of Nero Musqué a wine given to me by winemaker Franco Zanovello. Again, there is sudden excitement and chatter. The people gathered around that dinner table do not work in the wine trade; they are intelligent consumers of wine. So when they start waxing eloquent it means that they are really moved. Here are some of their descriptive words: molasses, pomegranate, prunes , elegant. “It is perfect at the end of a meal because it is sweet but not too sweet,” says Steffie. Everyone wants to know where to find the wine. Plans are made to visit Franco’s Veneto estate (Ca Lustra). He also makes wine in Sicily (Zanovello-Sicilia) and that is where the Nero Musqué comes from.
Michael looks the wine up on his iPad and we discover that there are only 600 bottles made! Here is what the Ca Lustra website (www.calustra.it) says about the wine.
“As a part of an experimentation project on Muscat grape varieties, started a few years ago together with the “Vite e Vino” institute of the Sicily Region, we particularly focused on the now rare “Moscato Nero di Parenzo”. This variety had been abandoned during the ‘900 due to its very low yeld and “wildness”. But for the same reasons this Moscato, if placed on thin, well exposed limestone soils, can give a wine of incomparable aromatic intensity and amplitude.
It lends itself to a natural drying by simply delaying the harvest by a few weeks. This is an incredibly valuable and original sweet wine, a concentration of typical Mediterranean flavors.”
December 18 We go to Villa Cordevigo (a Wine Relais)
We are waiting at the bus stop and run into Matilde Poggi, owner of the Le Fraghe winery in Bardolino (www.fraghe.it) . She is on her way to the train station. Her final destination is Rome, where she will be meeting with politicians to discuss a European Union law that, essentially, says that if a place name is used in the Italian regulations to identify a wine (example Langhe in Piedmont), then that place-name word cannot be used by other producers on their websites, etc. – even if these other producers actually LIVE and WORK in the place so named. To do so could bring a hefty fine and a request to remove the offending place-name from the site.
Let’s think about this for a moment: It’s like asking the owners of a hotel in Springfield to explain where they live without using the name of the state.
The regulation has caused great confusion and a fair share of anger among wine producers.
Our bus arrives at our meeting-point destination and Paola G. picks us up and whisks us to Villa Cordevigo. (www.villacordevigo.com) On the way we discussed the exceptionally beautiful children that photographer Annie Leibovitz has produced, in one way or another, over the last few years, as well as her history making photos. Like the one with John and Yoko taken just a few hours before he was assassinated. That fetal image is burned into the memories of everyone who ever felt a twinge of Beatlemania. Part of our youth died with him.
Here is a quote from Annie Leibovitz about that photo:
“I asked them to pose nude in an embrace. They had never been embarrassed about taking their clothes off. […] John had no problem with my idea, but Yoko said she didn’t want to take her pants off for some reason. So I said, “Oh, leave everything on”. I made a Polaroid of them lying together and John looked at it and said, “You’ve captured our relationship exactly”. […] We were going to get together later to go over the transparencies, but that night, as John was returning home from a recording session, a deranged fan shot him. […] The picture looks like a last kiss now.”
But I digress…..
At the beautiful Villa we are briefed on the new initiatives being taken by the Bardolino Consortium with regard to Chiaretto. Chiaretto is the local name for rosé wine made in the Bardolino zone. It seems that most all of the producers are working together on this project to produce sprightly, lychee-colored wines.
“Now around 2/3rd of the wine made in Bardolino is red and 1/3 is Chiaretto (rosé). We would like to reverse these percentages, with Chiaretto gaining more importance in the zone,” says Angelo Peretti, the promotional guru who is helping to turn the fortunes of the zone around.
Edoardo Lessio, winemaker of Villa Bella (www.vignetivillabella.com) takes us for a walk among the large stainless steel tanks in which this year’s Chiaretto is fermenting.
All of the samples we taste are fresh and appealing.
We return to the Oseleta, the Michelin-starred restaurant at Villa Cordevigo, for a superb lunch.
“We were really surprised when the restaurant got the Michelin star after only being open three years,” says Franco Cristoforetti, who also happens to president of the Bardolino Consortium.
16 December The Meaning of Life at the Carroarmato
Twenty film fans turn up at the Osteria Carroarmato to watch Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – in English with Italian subtitles. On the way there I told Michael that I really didn’t think that the Italians would appreciate the Python movie. I was wrong. Loads of laughs. And of course that wonderful Eric Idle classic: The Galaxy song ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buqtdpuZxvk ) Which brings to mind: Always look on the Bright Side of Life (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ECUtkv2qV8), one of the most frequently performed songs at U.K. funerals. Oh, I sometimes miss living in London. There is a true appreciation of silliness. My English husband has this quality in abundance.
Ugo projects the films on the back wall of the osteria. Another thing that amazes me is that people keep their mouths shut during the film. What magnificent behavior. They save up their thoughts and talk about the film when it is finished. They also turn off their cell phones at the beginning of the film without being told to do so.
13 December Think Pink
We meet with Angelo P. to brainstorm about ways to promote the New Chiaretto wines. Chiaretto is what rosé is called in these parts. The new style is fresh and very elegant. I like Angelo because he is always ready to play with a new idea. I will give updates when some of our ideas are put into place. (I’ll give you a hint or two: one idea involves a dog and another involves a semi-nude man.)
Then off to a wine tasting with Matteo at his bar Fuoricorso (www.barfuoricorso.it ) . He is practicing his teaching technique and I am there to act as wingman. We have a lot of fun and I make a few FB Friends.
Michael and I go to the Hostaria La Vecchia Fontanina (www.vecchiafontanina.it) to dine with Lorenzo Zonin (www.poderesancristoforo.it ), his wife Meri (who is a well-known wine journalist in her home country of Spain) and their pal Enric (who has lived in India for several years and now makes his home in London)…and of course Lorenzo & Meri’s dog Maggie and our Stanley.
December 12 Tommasi ( www.tommasiwine.it )
At Tommasi, Giancarlo Tommasi , the winemaker, kindly shows us around. “My great grandfather was a sharecropper. In a sense he started the company,” say Giancarlo.
We have a mini-blind tasting that includes a white wine made from Vermentino as well as their Amarone and Valpolicella. Very nice wines.
We go to a cluster of seminars called wine2wine. At every seminar from ¼ to ½ of the participants text, tweet and blog (or all three) during the presentations. Later I spoke to some of these fast fingered folk. And you know what? Every one of them had made mistakes in their reporting – getting percentages wrong, citing incorrectly the names of places, etc.
I thought: If it is now against the law to text while driving because it has been proven that texting impedes a person’s ability to concentrate and observe what is happening around him….perhaps it is time to ban texting at seminars. (Yes, I know this will never happen. Because the point is not to listen and learn but to show the world that you were there!)
As philosopher Seneca said some 2,000 years ago: “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”
I slapped this link up on Facebook and created a tiny tizzy. I was gratified to see that so many people agree that sometimes it is better to concentrate on the experience that you are having rather than focusing on texting about the experience that you are (NOT REALY) having.
22 November Opening a Canadian market!!!- Ah, maybe.
A Facebook Friend who lives in Canada contacted Laura from Terre di Pietra (www. terredipietra.it) about placing her wines in Canada after seeing her mentioned in my FB message. This pleases me to no end. Very nice people – veeerrrry nice wines. I hope I can put more good producers in contact with someone who can help them expand their markets.
21 November Annual Lunch with Cantina del Soave
Café Vittorio Emanule in Piazza Bra. The view from the window says it all. I like the guys (I mean the president and director, of course) from the Cantina del Soave. They are jolly and sincere. Of the many wines they make, I particularly like the Equipe 5, a very decent and reasonably priced sparkling wine. They also do a jim-dandy Durello.
20 November Off to Villa di Wyncles to taste Valpolicella and Smooze
Clementina (pictured here) Palese and Alessandra Piubella (wow, what a great name – Morelovely. It sounds like a James Bond Girl name. I also know an Italian journalist whose last name is Bellagamba (beautiful leg!). But I digress…..
Clementina and Alessandra pick me up and we set off for the Illasi valley, east of Verona and Villa De Wyncles. This hotel/restaurant organizes wonderful tastings.
Tonight 50 Valpolicella producers are on hand. I will state right now that I did not taste all of the wines. We arrived at 7pm and I tasted til 9pm, after that I felt it would be useless to go through the motions. I was tired and when I am tired I tend to be hyper critical when I taste. So, better to simply take note of the names of producers I did not taste and vow to try them on another occasion. That said…
There were seven producers that particularly impressed me:
Vicentini Valpolicella Superiore 2011- the wine unfolds on the palate like one of those Chinese tea flowers – lush and lovely. Readers of this diary know that I am fond of Agostino Vicentini because he does not mince words – he says exactly what he thinks without holding back.
“I am sick of ripasso,” he said. Do you wonder why I love this guy? I could not agree with him more.
A LESSON: Simply put, Ripasso on the label of a Valpolicella means that the grapes for the Valpolicella were refermented on the lees/pomace of the preceding year’s Amarone.
Many of the Ripassos I tasted at this event had a thick flavor…it was like popping a gelatin cube in your mouth. I do not find this a pleasant experience.
But back to the wines I particularly liked…
Terre di Pietra Vigne del Peste 2012 – lovely tight weave of rich flavors.
“I wanted to present a Valpolicella without wood, without appassiment,” says Laura Albertini, co- owner of the estate.
I also liked her 2009 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Mesal – pure, fresh, with a fine perfume. A very different style that the first wine but equally interesting and satisfying.
Here are some quotes from a previous interview I did with Laura.
“I wanted to work in the vineyards but my father was against it. He said women worked in the office not in the fields,” says Laura. “Fortunately my husband’s father didn’t mind if I worked his vineyards. We made our first wines in his garage.”
Her own father was not happy with Laura’s decision. “For the first few years my father criticized everything I did. Now he comes out to the field when I’m working just to chat,” she pauses and smiles. “So, it looks like I won in the end.”
Fattoria Garbole weighed in with what is not – technically speaking – a Valpolicella but an IGT called Heletto , a satisfying wine.
As always special mention to Speri. Why special mention? Because the company makes bright, fresh, tasty, satisfying wines…in large numbers. They make 70,000 bottles of their 2011 S. Urbano Valpolicella Superiore, which had a lovely burst of fruit on the palate.
Tedeschi 2011 Valpolicella Superiore Maternigo Fresh appealing with a compression of black cherries and black berries.
Marion 2010 Valpolicella Superiore Hebaceous on the nose and palate but with a deep note of fruit.
Ca dei Conti Valpolicella Superiore 2011 (I can see serving this in an American restaurant.)
Antolini 2012 Ripasso (yes, ripasso) but elegant and fresh on the palate.
Clementina, Alessandra, Ottmar and I were nattering away about the problem of defining the taste profile for Valpolicella when Leonido Pieropan stopped by the table.
“What is Valpolicella?” someone asked him.
“It’s pleasure,” he said, smiling broadly.
He then sat down and the conversation continued. We of course got around to talking a bit about Soave because Pieropan is the father of single-vineyard Soaves.
“I spoke with Lorenzoni (the director of the Soave Consortium) the other day,” he said.”And I said that the best way to distinguish Soave Classico was to have all the producers in the area go organic!”
What a wonderful idea. Eventually this will happen….but don’t hold your breath.
17 November Viva The Adventuresses!
I have been a member of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes since 1982. I lived in New York City in those days and enjoyed the monthly meetings, where eating, drinking and singing were the order of the day. I left New York (for Paris, London and finally Verona) many years ago, but my memory of those early ASH frolics remains bright. Every now and then, I supply an essay or a report on the Sherlockian doings in Verona for New York meetings. The following paper was delivered on my behalf by Evelyn, The Principal Unprincipled Adventuress, at the ASH Autumn Lunch.
The Assorted and Stradivarious of Verona Septennial Report
After a flurry of industry on the part of The Assorted and Stradivarious of Verona that included a detective film series and field trips to the Lucrezia Borgia exhibition in Ferrara and the violin museum in Cremona, we have settled down to become a stopping-off point for Sherlockian world travelers.
Our most recent visitor was Peter Calamai of Ottawa, his wife and their travelling companions. A ritual has evolved for these visits. First we meet in Piazza delle Erbe for drinks at the Filipini and then off to the Osteria Carro Armato (this means Tank in Italian, and refers to one designed by Michelangelo), where a good time is had by all. Various Italian friends wander up to the table to entertain with poetry (this is Ugo) and anecdotes about North American history and literature (this is Davide). General good cheer is provided by Annalisa, who owns the place.
The A&S of Verona still mainly consists of Michael and me….and – in a strange alternate universe kind of way – Bruce.
We met Bruce at the first meeting of the Assorted and Stradivarious, which was announced in the local newspaper. Bruce, who is an Italian bank employee, has assumed his nom de Holmes in honor of Nigel Bruce. He is a collector of films and books, and he believes that the other Italian Sherlockians don’t take him seriously. He is, of course, absolutely correct.
While I find him a strange cove I still feel the need to defend him from his countrymen. He may be a mad Sherlockian but he is MY mad Sherlockian.
It is clear to all that Bruce’s Sherlockian interest is more a symptom than a hobby. I am sure that you have all heard of autistic children who can play complicated piano concertos but who cannot tie their shoes. Well, that’s Bruce. His balding head is chocked full of erudition and arcane Sherlockian facts but he is incapable of schmoozing, or even holding what would pass for a normal conversation.
When I lived in the center of town Bruce used to hang about on the street waiting for me to come out of my building so that he could launch into his most recent Sherlockian riff.
Two years ago we moved to a neighborhood some 15 minutes on foot from our former apartment. We had not been there a day before I got a call from Bruce. He wanted to know my new address. I was cagey, I admit, and only told him the general area. The next day – yes, the next day – I was out walking the dog and spotted Bruce on his motor-scooter, cruising the streets. Unfortunately, he also spotted me. We chatted and I confessed that I did indeed live in the building on the corner. Now when I come home I occasionally find him astride his motor-scooter on the pavement by my front gate.
In the center of town he could hang out at the comic book store or the record shop. Or he could sit and have a coffee at the bar. My new neighborhood is strictly residential. I have no idea how he amuses himself while he waits for me.
His infrequent appearances no longer fill me with dread. I realize that I am providing a therapeutic service to a lonely Sherlockian and were it not for these occasional face to face meetings he would most likely be sucked into a world filled only with Facebook Friends. As a faithful Sherlockian, I cannot allow that to happen.
Bruce rang last night. He had commissioned a 90-centimetre (that is nearly 3-feet) puppazzo of Sherlock Holmes, with a latex face fashioned after that of Peter Cushing. “I have it sitting in a chair in my living room. It really scared my cleaning lady the first time she saw it,” Bruce joyously crowed. He then went on to outline a project he has been working on for the last several years, and to lament that he did not get the support he deserved from the Italian Sherlockian Community. I remained neutral. Then he said: “It doesn’t matter if they understand my work or not: The Sherlockian World is big enough for everybody!”
Once again, Bruce is, of course, absolutely correct.
November 15 Art in the hills
We go to a beautiful little town in the Valpolicella Classico hills to see an art show by Ico Naline. I like his style.
Someone says: “How wonderful to live here.” I recoil in horror. It reminds me of the Village in the ‘60s cult TV show The Prisoner – everything is so quaint and cute. How long, I ask myself, could I stay here before looking for an escape route. I have the answer to this: 45 minutes. I find myself looking down at the view and wondering if I could scale the fence and make it to the shelter of the trees without being seen. And could I avoid capture and make it down to the highway?
Our pal Ugo teaches small children at a public school. Because he is a lively person the school board decided that he should be the school’s English teacher. Fine – except for the fact that he does not speak English. The school board sent him to an accelerated 6 week course. Fine – except for the fact that Michael did his homework for him.
Well, Ugo called Michael and asked him to come to his classes today to explain Halloween. Michael, quick thinker that he is, said: “But Halloween is an American holiday, Patricia should come too.” I spent the morning drawing witches and pumpkins on the blackboard, which I enjoyed. And Michael and I repeated HALLOWEEN! TRICK OR TREAT! WITCH! HAT! overandoverandoeverandover again.
25 October – The Byblos Art Hotel (www.byblosarthotel.com)
We are invited to take part in an artistic field trip organized by Ten Star community. I cannot even begin to tell you how beautiful and creatively invigorating the Byblos Art Hotel is. I took no pictures because I knew that any photo I took would never convey the feel of the place. Among my favorite works of art was a beautifully restored 1950s juke box that played recordings of poetry rather than music. Works by Damien Hirst and Vanessa Beecroft, as if by magic, fit comfortably into the the grandeur of the Venetian Villa’s main reception room. The tuna at the buffet wasn’t bad either.
13 October – Bacchus of Baker Street is mentioned in the Guardian!
Tim Kline, a fellow Sherlockian, kindly sent me a link to the article.
It is once again time to say that there is a at least one creepy pirated version of Bacchus out there in the world. The cover you see here – with the nice Basil Rathbone-esque Holmes drawn by Gianni Burato – is the Real Version. Accept no substitutes.
October 11 The Canova Prize
Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it) hosted the annual Antonio Canova sculpture competition, which offers young Italian artists an opportunity for international exposure. Works by the finalists were displayed at Villa Rizzardi, which is surrounded by a stunning garden designed by 18th century architect Luigi Trezza (www.pojega.it).
For the first time since its inception, I could not attend the prize giving ceremony. I sincerely regret this because I love this prize. Here’s why:
Italian wine producers are always trying to link their product to Art. Seldom do they actually seem to be truly interested in the subject. It’s like people who go to fancy dinners in order “to be seen” as opposed to going to a dinner to chat with people and enjoy an evening out.
The financial and organizational support provided by the Guerrieri Rizzardi wine company is one of the very few collaborations in which the motivation is art and not just “being seen” to support Art.
This year’s winner is Maria Savoldi, 25, from the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Bologna
10, 11 and 12 October In Friuli-landia for the Scioppettino Fest
Scioppettino appeared on the Friulian wine scene around 1300. It is primarily cultivated in the hills and foothills of the commune of Prepotto. In its early days, Schioppettino was more commonly known as Ribolla Nera.
In the years following the outbreak of phylloxera (a vine louse that infected many of the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century), Schioppettino lost ground to heartier-high-yielding varieties. The 1970s and 1980s saw renewed interest in Scioppettino, and in 1992, it joined the list of varietal wines made in the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC zone.
Scioppettiono has a dark ruby color, and is full bodied, with a soft black pepper tone over richly textured fruit flavors, which include wild blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants
The lesson is over, we can now return to the diary…
We – me, Michael and Stanley J. Dog – arrive at the tiny train station of Cividale del Friuli and after much toing-and-froing arrive at the B&B Il Vecchio Gelso, which also produces wine. The staff is gearing up for its post-harvest picker’s party. The owner shows us the certificates that will be awarded to The Harvester Who Always Arrived On Time, the one who Picked The Most in a Single Day and The Biggest Brontolone (grouch).
Then we are off to a dinner with producers at Ristorante da Mario in Abano – and a fine wingding it is too! Marco Grasso, the owner, is exceptionally kind to small Stanley, bringing him water and informing him that the meat course would arrive soon. The food is excellent, as is the company.
By chance, we sit at the table hosted by Flavio Schiratti, owner of RoncSoreli and Tania, his able marketing director. I am relieved to discover that I really like his wines. They are very well- balanced, juicy and satisfying. Here is a photo of Tania and me, note the leash attractively looped around my neck.
We arrive back at Il Vecchio Gelso around 1 a.m., in time to hear the last blast of the harvester’s ball. The happy harvesters are singing and bopping along to the Black Eyed Peas – let’s get it started…in here!
The next day we are informed about a European Union Project that combines research and promotional activities between the wine producers in Propetto and their neighbors over the hill in Slovenia. Then we stroll down the street to watch the blessing of the new open air exhibition space (and potential roller-skating rink). In the space are local foods and wines are on sale, as well as kiosks offering 5 or 6 other local (Slovenian and Friulian) products. Among these is Konopljino Olje – Yes! Oil made from Cannabis Sativa. Note the happy dancing plant on the labels.
It tastes vaguely like peanut skins. It probably doesn’t have any mood-altering properties. We could not resist buying a bottle. “It will be a talking point,” said Michael. The nice man who sold the oil to us (and threw in the flour for free) said it was good for the digestion.
Off to Castello di Albana for a tasting of Scioppettinos. The fellow leading the tasting barked out a loud, maniacal laugh whenever he said something that he thought was amusing. Fortunately this didn’t happen all that often.
The Contessa of the Castella (a.k.a. Isabel von Teufenstein, Financial Assitant/Programme Manager for European Cross-Border Co-Operation) says I can let Stanley off his lead. He races around the courtyard – a wild and free smallish dog. She finds a stick and the three of us attempt to engage Stanley in a game of chase and fetch. Isabel’s family also happens to own a winery in Switzerland – Tenuta Bally & von Teufenstein ( www.tenutabally.ch ).
We visit the RoncSoreli estate. It will be a real showplace once construction of the additions to the winery are completed. Again, I am delighted that the wines; they are fresh and flavorful and very well made.
Back to town…
After a bit of aimless roaming and waiting around, Paolo I. (the valiant organizer of this 3-day event) whizzes us in his van to Vigna Petrussa (www.vignapetrussa.it).
This lovely estate is owned and managed by the dynamic Hilde Petrussa. What was intended to be a winery visit and tasting instantly became a relaxing, amusing party among friends. Some fifteen of us settled chairs in the fragrant garden and chatted and tasted some exceptional wines. Among them her superb Picolit.
Picolit’s production zone is limited to the Friulian Province of Gorizio and Udine. The variety seems to have arrived on the scene in a blaze of glory in the late 18th century, when Count Fabio Asquini created a market for a sweet wine made from Picolit grapes, which he considered an alternative to Hungarian Tokay. The grapes for Picolit are usually semi-dried before pressing.
2 October Lunch with Angelo P. at Trattoria Al Pompiere (www.alpompiere.tv/it)
Angelo asks me to pick the wine. I am uncomfortable picking wine when someone else is paying. I say I want something from Alsace or Loire and leave the fine tuning to him. He chooses a Marcel Deiss 2006 Marcel Altenberg de Bergheim. Oh, man, is it yummy – honied yet with a fine slicing acidity, a fragrance that excited the imagination. (www.marceldeiss.com. )
Among other things, Angleo wants to talk about the New Face of Bardolino. The producers are going for a paler, more Provençal-style rosé. I like Angelo. He is creative, intelligent and has a sense of humor.
28, 29, 30 September Off to the Hills Once Again
I went to the Colli Euganei (a.k.a. The Venetian Hills) to visit the sites with Francesca Salvan (President of the Strade del Vino) and Franco Zanovello, my favorite winemaker. Why is he my favorite winemaker? Because he makes satisfying and elegant wines (which also just happen to be organic). I think of them as Audrey Hepburn wines. I also like him because he actually reads poetry! And those of us who like to read and who enjoy poetry are duty bound to stick together.
A few of the places we visited:
The garden at Villa Barbieri-Pizzoni. Armando Pizzoni came loping up the path to show us around the vast grounds. He is wearing shorts, a T-shirt, a ball cap and around his waist is a utility belt with secateurs and other handy devices tucked into its pockets. I ask him about it:
“Oh, I always wear it,” he said. “With a garden this size there is always something that needs to be done.”
We are shown around Praglia Abbey by Brother Mauro. We see the formidable library and the immaculate wine cellars.
Because the springs are located within the confines of the Regional Park, there can be no new building. This means that the common rooms of the hotels often retain the ornate elegance of days gone by, with gilt mirrors, marble flooring and Turkish carpets. This touch of grandeur goes a long way in creating the sensation of timelessness that is fundamental to the spa experience. They are also often family-run affairs, which leads to a reassuring continuity of commitment.
Standing in the cool night air watching vapor rising from a grid of thermal pools fed by the hot springs leaves a lasting impression.
“When I was a child, the water level was higher and you could see vapor like that at all the fountains in town… and even coming from the drains along the streets. It was like living in a fairy tale,” says Ida Poletto, whose family owns the Albano Ritz. (www.abanoritz.it).
I have a massage. In place of the irritating New Age Elevator-Music usually played during such occasions, the masseuse slaps on a Leonard Cohen album. I haven’t listened to an entire Leonard Cohen album since 1972. And then I only did so to impress a new boyfriend with my intellectual cool.
We (Franco Z., Giorgio and Rosanna Salvan) have lunch at La Montecchia, which is run by the Alajmo family. (www.alajmo.it)
The food is simply sensational – imaginative, tasty, an experience.
I did not take notes on the food because I simply enjoyed what was placed in front of me.
“Dining here is like going to the theatre,” says Franco.
Among the wines we tasted was a 1997 Merlot Riserva from Salvan that is still fresh and flavorful and a 2000 Merlot from Villa Alessi (Zanovello) that is juicy and elegant. These wines are proof of the level of quality and longevity that is possible in the Colli Euganei.
25 September L’Ambasciata di Quistello
This restaurant, in the little town of Quistello (not far from Mantua), is a landmark in Italian dining. We, along with some 10 other journalists have been invited to lunch as part of a re-launch of the restaurant. For fans of the place let me assure you: Nothing has changed, the chef is the same, the food is still superb, the service impeccable and the décor remains as it ever was.
The dining room reminds me of a rich child’s playhouse decorated with the castoffs of Grandmama, the Duchess: Turkish carpets, silver serving platters, candelabras, china teapots, mammoth floral arrangements and stacks of books.
On the way home Diego, who kindly took us to the event, said that they are looking for a young chef who would like to apprentice there, with an eye to eventually taking over kitchen responsibilities. If you know any talented young person who would like to live in the Mantua area….this is a golden opportunity.
17 September Venice and the Canova Competition
A moment of genuine laughter with Tiziana Ravanelli on the Grand Canal on our way to a press conference for the Antonio Canova Sculpture Competition, sponsored by Guerrieri Rizzardi. I love this event because it offers young artists a significant opportunity to gain recognition for their work.
The press conference is held in Palazzo Fero Fini in a room whose walls are covered in hand-tooled leather. It is a bit like being inside a rich man’s humidor. (The question arises: do poor men have humidors?) The ornate, white glass chandelier is the size of a Volkswagen. Two former winners – Daniele Salvani and Alberto Gianfreda – are there, along with Agostino Rizzardi (son ofi Maria Cristina Rizzardi, who conceived the idea of a prize to support young sculptors).
After the conference we wandered back toward Stanley J. Dog’s favorite osteria: Bacaro da Fiore. Who should we see upon entering the bacaro but Agostino Rizzardi. Clearly this place appeals to a vast range of clients.
I told the woman behind the counter that we returned because everyone had been exceptionally nice to our dog – and to us – the last time we were there. She said it was because everyone who works at the bacaro has a dog. She then confided that dogs were much easier to deal with than children. “I don’t know what it’s like in other countries,” she said. “But here in Italy…parents come in and start talking on their cell phones, and pay no attention to their children.” Foreigners, she believes, at least insist that the children stay in their chairs.
14 September Talking on the Phone
I called Roberto Cipresso, intrepid flying winemaker and owner of a the La Fiorita wine estate and luxury B&B in Montalcino, to get a bit of clarification about the conman who tried to sell false Brunello. I learned the word furfone…which means scoundrel.
We then head out for the Colli Euganie for a visit to a country house and Villa dei Vescovi (a national treasure). And – the main event – a ride in a canal boat. The organizer kindly agreed to let Stanley and Michael come along.
Here we are on the boat trying to imagine what it would be like if we weren’t cold and damp. The answer of course is: It would be wonderful….the strange lunar-landscape of the Colli Euganei…the magnificent villas….
10 September Scandal in Montalcino
I interview the President of the Montalcino Consortium, Fabrizio B. about the recent scandal (cheap wine in bottles labeled Brunello) for wine-searcher.com. It was the consortium who tipped off the police. Their quick action nipped the scam in the bud before any of the fake bottles reached the market.
7-8 September Soave Versus
This year Soave Versus, the annual Soave thrash, was held in Verona’s Grand Guardia. This stately building is in Piazza Bra, across from the 1st century Roman Arena.
Here are the names of some of the producers whose wines I tasted and enjoyed: Coffele, Vicentini, La Cappucina, Gini, Le Albare, Portinari and Le Battistelle. There were other wonderful wines on show but we didn’t have time to taste everything.
What I liked about these wines was their freshness and structure. Very nice Soaves!
6 September The Venice film Festival
“It is a world of pretty young things and scruffy old men,” said Michael as we sat nursing cold beers at the Venice Film Festival.
We hear waves of girlish shrieks and go investigate. The exception to Michael’s pronouncement is beaming from the Red Carpet – a nattily attired (though shorn) James Franco. He is surrounded by paparazzi. I snapped his picture.
We saw three films – all of them mind-numbingly earnest…two of them prize-winning.
We go to Ugo’s annual Bisato d’Oro (The Golden Eel) Awards Ceremony. It is held at Tiziano Wine Bar on the Lido. The owner has prepared what looks like a seafood buffet but is in reality a series of marzipan and cake creations. He is very proud of his work. I will admit to being a bit sadden that those nice fat, gleaming muscles are really compressed almond paste. There is of course the traditional platter of eel. The wine for this evening’s festivities was provided by the excellent Soave producer Agostino Vicentini and his wife Terresa Bacco. I like Agostino: he always says exactly what he thinks….no holding back. Therefore he is always good fun.
In August many Italians take the entire month off from work and devote themselves to getting a tan and eating spaghetti alle vongole in a trattoria on the beach. This mass urge to frolic in the sun can be traced directly to Italy’s pagan past, although some Italians try to pin the work stoppage on the Virgin Mary and others think it has something to do with workers’ rights.
In 18 B.C. the Roman Emperor Augustus decided to gather up all the rituals and celebrations devoted to the harvest gods and place them in the month that bears his name. What better tribute to himself than officially establishing a continuous eating, drinking and orgy binge? In the fifteenth century the Roman Catholic Church began to absorb pagan rituals into their own rites by tying them to an existing Christian celebration. The fifteenth of August had been designated, since the sixth century, as the date of the Virgin Mary’s assumption into heaven. Hence, the harvest festivals metamorphosed into a celebration of the Virgin Mary. The fifteenth is now a national Italian holiday called Ferragosto. And thus, thanks to Augustus, the lazy tail end of summer is still given over to holiday-making.
I, however devoted my August – in equal measure – to writing a book and lying in the hammock on the front balcony and watching the clouds change shape.
In the middle of the month I received an email asking me to write a news follow-up on a flooding incident that occurred in the Prosecco zone. Fortunately I have the private cell phone numbers of a couple of producers and was able to get quotes – not an easy thing to do in Italy in August. And, as with all news stories, it had to be written immediately.
Then the WSET (The Wine and Spirits Educational Trust) sent me an email asking if I could suggest someone who could translate their course work into Italian. I had a bit of time tracking down the person I wanted to recommend – she was on vacation, of course. But I found her and all’s well that ends well.
Shortly after this, I got a call from a voice from the past telling me that a book project that I had given up for dead, had a chance – after six (yes, 6) years – of being resuscitated. How nice if this actually comes to pass. But I no longer get excited by these offers. I save my excitement for when my payment check clears.
We went to dinner at Silvio’s…on the roof of his building. It has the most beautiful view in Verona. We weren’t supposed to dine on the roof because the condominium contract clearly states that it can only be used for drying laundry. But once the tenants had seen the view (particularly at sunset) tables and chairs began to appear. I brought a bottle of Bucci Verdichhio 2011 to the festivities. I love this wine. Order it should you see Bucci on a wine list.
In September we are off for a day in Venice – the film festival and Ugo’s prize giving ceremony. But for now, I think I will watch the clouds roll by.
JULY 7 SPEAKING TO CHINA
I went to a conference called Italia in China. It was held at Ca del Bosco for about 100 journalists and wine trade professionals from China and Hong Kong. It was organized by a couple of big quality wine groups. These groups are run by intelligent men. BUT once again, the Italians missed the boat.
The one and only speech was delivered by the publisher of a famous Italian wine magazine. He showed slides for most of the regions of Italy, and supplied pointless little facts about them. Example: Val d’Aosta makes light floral wines and is worth a visit. (Yes, think about that for 30 seconds….light, floral wines…yeah….but the only one that anyone in the wine trade could name is certainly anything but light. For those not in the wine trade I am referring to a wonderful Chardonnay from Les Crêtes. www.lescretes.it ) He then gave some meaningless statistics about the number of DOCGs and DOCs given awards by 6 Italian wine guides. At the end he asked for questions. No one had any, except for one astute member of the audience who questioned the methodology of the statistics.
The Italians had a room full of people who work in the wine trade and they didn’t ask them (the Chinese and Hong Kong wine trade professionals ) for their thoughts on what was needed to be successful in China and Hong Kong. Nor did they outline their plans for entering the Chinese market, a move that might have yielded some interesting remarks from the guests.
We road home with Sandro Boscaini, Vice President of the Masi Foundation (www.fondazionemasi.it/, and sometimes referred to as Mr. Amarone. (He said: “I have a car that is worthy of your hat.”). He too thought the speech about regions was a lame move.
Summary: The Ca del Bosco Sparkling wine at the buffet was wonderful.
JULY 21 OVER-DUBBING – A TRICKY PLACE BETWEEN DUBBING AND NARRATION
Michael and I head for a recording studio in the suburbs of Verona to over-dub a press conference/wine tasting about Santa Sofia’s Amarone Goiè (www.santasofia.com )
We had participated at the tasting, which was held during Vinitaly, the annual wine trade fair held in Verona. The older vintages showed exceptionally well.
We slip on headphones and step into a tiny padded room and off we go…. It is fun. I will meet with the producer next month to help him insert the English language voice track over the original Italian track.
Hooray. I love doing voice-over work.
JULY 23 through 27 THE SAN GIO VIDEO FESTIVAL
Our pal Ugo created this event and continues to see it through despite a budget of practical nothing. www.sangiofestival.it
No entry fee is charged for the videos that pour in from the Europe, Asia and North and South America. Each evening’s viewing is free to any who cares to stop and watch. Ugo is scrupulous about not charging. In Italy the minute money changes hands, rumors about its provenance begin to circulate. The need to imagine underhandedness and trickery is part of the delicately woven Italian psyche.
Accommodation for visiting members of the jury and the cost of printing the programs and posters comes in the form of grants from various local government bodies. The lavish food and wine laid on to nourish the bodies and souls of the jury and assorted hangers-on is usually provided free of charge by the many osterias and wine producers that Ugo frequents.
Ugo also arranged for the jury to visit local wineries
This year I visited 2 wineries with the group.
We had a tour of the Cesari (www.cesariverona.it ) estate in Bardolino. Among the wines that won me over was the Lugana 2013 (95% Trebbiano di Soave and 5% Chardonnay). Bright and fresh, with floral notes. And their 2005 Bosan Amarone, with its tweedy texture and ripe cherry approaching jam fragrance and flavor.
The following day we visited Tenuta Laca (www.tenutalaca.it/). It too is in the Bardolino area, and is simply beautiful – lush, well-tended vines surrounded by blue mountains that hide the view of Lake Garda.
The winemaker is Damiano Peroni (son of Flavio Peroni). His wines are crisp, vibrant, pure and flavorful. He made a Pinot Grigio (don’t roll your eyes and grimmace) that was simply the best I have ever tasted – and just a few weeks ago I was on a jury that tasted more than 100 PGs. Damiano also consults for other estates around Verona
JULY 28 SPEAKING IN TONGUES
We go to a studio to record some text for an in-house (Zonin) presentation for the prestige marketing department. Great fun. At the end, the owner of the studio said that he would like to present an audition from Michael to a client who was looking for a male English speaker. OOOOO, I hope this works out.
I love doing narration and over-dubbing. I started talking on the radio when I was 16.
My mother had insisted that I get a job afterschool as a simple character-building exercise. 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 other jobs in radio and television.
I paid my university expenses by announcing. Two afternoons a week I assumed my breathy voice and recorded the lead-ins to music for a late-night radio show. “You’re listening to jazz in the night time,” I would purr, elongating the “a” in jazz until it sounded like a moan. I would then hop in my car and drive to a television station where I recorded the tag lines for commercials. “Put a smile in your voice,” the station manager urged. “It comes in Harvest Gold and Avocado Green, batteries not included!” I would exclaim with a perkiness bordering on the giddy.
From this job I developed into a substitute for the technical staff: audioman, cameraman, grip, gaffer and technical director. I eventually became a director and a documentary writer before moving to London to study wine tasting.
June 26 GT(almost)Os at Maternigo
Those of a certain age will recognize GTOs as meaning Girls Together Outrageously.
My favorite Verona journalists/sommeliers (Clementina, Maria Grazia, Antonella and Monica), and a very nice photographer named Elisa, and I met up with Sabrina Tedeschi at her family estate Maternigo in the Mezzane valley.
The 84 hectare estate – of which 50 are devoted to woods and 31 to vines, with the rest given over to olive groves – is immaculately maintained. Before the Tedschi family bought the estate the land around the collection of farm buildings had been used mainly as pasture. Now the steep hills are covered in straight, lush rows of vines.
Before the tasting we sample some cheese, meats, vegetables and mostarda from I Sapori del Portico (email@example.com). Pure bliss.
Now to the serious work at hand – tasting.
Among the 7 wines offered – including vintages from the 1990s – here are two that particularly stood out for me.
1998 Monte Olmi Amarone Bruised plum color. Nose: distinct cherry fruit. Palate: Very full velvety fruit. Fine long finish. There is the incense-y quality that I find in mature Amarone.
During and after the tasting we had a very nice natter about biodiversity, the fact that cypresses and gingko trees could be either masculine or feminine, the difficulty of being a woman when it comes to managing a consortium, wine guides and the warring factions in Valpolicella. The prevailing viewpoint on this latter topic was that negotiation and opening a dialogue was more important that being right. After this we all agreed that it was nice to be just women tasting and talking.
Valuable tip: Do not brush your teeth immediately after tasting Amarones – you must wait at least 2 hours. Brushing before that time can damage your enamel.
I teach Clementina the word punkin (a diminutive of pumpkin). She asks me what the word means because when I talk to the skinny little dog who roams the estate and lonely horse in the paddock behind the house, I call them punkin. Yes, I always start a conversation with animals who happen to pass my way.
June 18 through 20 Pinot Grigio – In Friuli with Stanley J. Dog.
Pinot Grigio has become the magic name at Italian restaurants around the world, and its subdued aromas and flavors allow it to move easily from the bar to the table. It is little wonder that it is now the biggest selling Italian white wine in many export markets. Styles range from fresh and supple straw-colored wines, through barriqued versions; and on to splendid copper-colored wines (called ramato – rama means copper in Italian)
The difference in color and structure are determined by the length of time the juice remains in contact with the dark-colored skins of the grape before fermentation. It is sometimes forgotten that Pinot Grigio is, indeed, a red grape, a mutation of Pinot Noir.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I was asked to be one of 24 judges at the Pinot Grigio International Challange held in Friuli. A few days before the 3-day event was to take place, my husband Michael had to leave for England on family business. I rang the organizers and told them that it would be impossible for me to participate because, among other things, I had to stay home with my dog. Having met Stanley, they very kindly said I could bring him along.
We boarded the train for Venice (where we would meet the bus that would take us on to Friuli with the other judges). Children came down the aisle to pet Stanley and have their picture taken with him. Other passengers smiled at him and told me about their own dogs.
His reception on the journalist bus was not so enthusiastic. I could feel the cold emanating from the other passengers when the saw him. Noone made eye contact. They were probably afraid that this would encourage me (and the dog) to sit down beside them.
However, Stanley behaved impeccably. Three days of: on-the-bus, on- the-train, in-the-car, lying quietly under the table while I tasted, trying to get some rest during press conferences, which were interrupted by applause. Stanley interpreted this noise as something along the lines of gunfire. But still he didn’t bark. He only got to his feet ready to run should the need arise.
In fact throughout this whole adventure he never barked, he never got in the way, he never begged at the dinner table, never ran around getting under people’s feet. Almost everyone was won over by him because there really was absolutely NOTHING they could complain about.
Now back to the Competition. We tasted Pinot Grigios from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia and other Italian regions.
The wine that I gave my highest marks to was Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT 2013 “Gossip” made by Di Lenardo. (www.dilenardo.it) It was a pale copper-colored wine, with personality!
I happened to meet Mrs. Di Lendardo and her son before the prize-giving ceremony. At that time we did not exchange names because we were busy chatting about our dogs. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that these unabashed animal lovers also produced the wine that I most enjoyed. By the way, Mrs. Di Lendardo’s dog is a little ragamuffin named Lili, who has even gone to St. Tropez with her mistress.
The overall winner of the competition was from Alto Adige: Pungll AA Sud Tirol Pinot Grigio DOC 2013 made by Nals Margreid. ( www.kellerei.it) It received my second highest vote and was a fresh and fragrant white. Third place went to Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave Doc 2013 from I Magredi winery (www.imagredi.com), which was also considered to be the best value for money. Once again, it was a fresh and fragrant wine.
We also tasted some Alsace Pinot Gris out of competition. Top in this small section was a superb AOC Alsace Pinot Gris 2013 Cuvée Sainte Catherine from Domaine Weinbach (www.domaineweinbach.com) A luscious mouthful.
Dinner at La Subida (www.lasubida.it ) was wonderful as it always is. They love dogs and the food and hospitality are beyond compare.
Here is a picture of one of Friuli’s signature dishes, fricco, as interpreted by La Subida. Yes, it is fried cheese on a stick.
June 12 Sherlockians from Canada
I am so pleased that Verona has become a stopping point for Sherlock Holmes lovers on their European holidays. Peter C., his gracious wife and their friends stopped by. We ended up – as always – at the Osteria Carroarmato.
June 11 My speech to the Veneto Wine Roads Presidents
I go to a little place near Padua to give a speech about how to improve the promotion of Veneto Wine Roads based on my study of wine roads in the USA, South Africa, Australia and Canada. I give those present a look at how two South African wineries increased their overall on-site sales by 30 and 45%, respectively, by simply modifying their website home page and by thinking about ways to make life easier for their visitors – such as parallel tea and juice tastings for designated drivers and children who may have accompanied the wine taster.
At the end of the day, one President raised his hand and asked: “But what’s the point of hearing about what they do in South Africa, we’re in the Veneto.”
It was one of those times that I thank my stars that I cannot speak impulsively in Italian. Had this all been in English, I might not have kept my patience. Let’s see….yes, why should Veneto producers try to treat their visitors better? Hummm, let’s see? 45% increase in on-site sales, perhaps?
June 7 The Autographed Book
We delivered the book that Andrea Camilleri signed for Susanna during the interview I did with him a few weeks ago. What a nice man. Susanna made a Sicilian lunch in honor of the author and the dedication he wrote in her book.
June 1 Chievo Soccer Club Fan Fest in the beautiful little town of Bure
June 1 – 3 Richard and Sue from Kansas via Texas
A high school pal and his very nice wife (Richard and Sue) arrive in Verona and look us up. Their last visit was around 12 years ago. They are lovely people. Our pal Roberta has arrived from the UK to attend a film conference in Bologna and has also stopped by to visit. And a good time was had by all.
May 27 I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille
Aldo called last night and asked me to come out to Soave. I am not sure why. He said something to Michael about me talking about Soave to someone…. “Oh, and bring your hat,” said Aldo.
We arrive to discover that a film (feature-length, they say) is being shot in the beautiful vineyard of Borgo Rocca Sveva. I (and Giovanni and Alessandra) have been cast (by Aldo) in the role of expert sommeliers. I am seated next to one of the main characters of the film.
I soon learn that there is no script…everybody just wings it. During each take the actor turns to me and starts talking….saying different things each time and I reply. He is lucky to be seated next to someone who can Wing It! The director and crew are from Argentina, the actor is Italian, the motor of the production is, I believe, a world-class sommelier from Miami named Charlie.
30 wine tasting extras, the 4 sommelier judges (dats me and the gang) and the actors sit at our places and wait. The sky darkens as we shoot a scene. Rain falls softly on my hat. In no time big fat drops of rain pelt down. The director mutters stop. We pick up our chairs and run for cover. The sun comes out. We troop out and sit down and watch time pass. We feel the wind as it pushes the fluffy clouds away. The sky grows dim. We start filming again.
My hat is a big success.
May 27 I love Andrea Camilleri
My interview with Andrea Camilleri is up on the Publishers Weekly site. Hooray!!! Below should be the link. If not, just type Under the Sicilian Sun: Andrea Camilleri into Google and the interview will pop up. I am indescribably happy.
May 26 Cheivo Fans at Venturini (www.viniventurini.com)
I have always liked Venturini’s Amarone – juicy, elegant, firm backbone, satisfying.
I took the opportunity of a Chievo fan club outing to tag along and visit the new winery. 40 fans were fed some swell grub and served some very satisfying wines. His Valplicella was lush and appealling. It was a pleasure to try these wines again.
May 21 Stanley at the vets
We take Stanley and a vial of his pee to the vets. We wait for 2 hours. In the waiting room are two big, growly, teeth-baring dogs, whose ancient owners occasionally whine the command “Sit” at them.
I feel that as the dogs ignore the “Sit” command. They are highly unlikely to obey the “Release your grip on the neck of the little brown dog” command.
I suggest that Stanley sit under my chair and I prepare to fling myself into harm’s way should one of the Big Dogs get loose from its ineffectual owner.
May22 & 23 Soave Frolics
We go to the Vicentini winery where we meet up with a pack of very nice German journalists and wine buyers. As readers of this diary already know, I like Vicentini Soaves very much. Fruity, floral, elegant.
We arrive at the Villa Aldegheri for dinner. This very beautiful house and garden is a B&B for the fortunate few who know that it exists. “We don’t advertise, “ says Luisa, the owner. “We depend upon word of mouth referrals.”
Even people who lived in the zone were impressed by the view.
The following morning, accompanied by Stanley, we met at the Coffele winery for a tasting of Soaves from various subzones.
One of my favorite wines of the day is from Pra. The wine is called Otto and is everything a Soave should be.
We visit Filippo Filippi. He is just up the hill from Coffele. His place is idyllic. Bees hum, brilliantly colored flowers at every turn. His vineyards are surrounded by thick woods. His wines sell very well abroad. They are not typical Soave but they are interesting wines.
May 15, 16, 17, 18 Venice with Stanley
We go to Venice to stay with Michelle Lovric, (www.michellelovric.com ) who writes books (for adults and also ones for children) that feature Venice. She has invited Stanley to join us. She also suggests that I write Stanley’s Diary of the trip. You can find this in the Writers & Writing section of this website.
I had never written as Stanley before, although I did write for our dog Ed for many years.
Ed got his first byline in Decanter, a well-known British wine magazine. I had already contracted to write about the first wine fair ever held in Brazil for another magazine when I got the call from Decanter. My byline could not appear over both stories, so the editor and I agreed to assign the second one to Edmund Cane (a.k.a. Ed Dog), my alter ego. From there Ed’s career blossomed until he had contributed to every major British wine publication. Each time his byline appeared I would whisk his copy of the magazine down to Annalisa at the Carro Armato and she would give him a meatball for being such a clever dog.
I never thought of Stanley as a literary dog. He surprised me when I sat down to write his diary.
Here is an excerpt for those who are not in the mood to press a button and read the whole diary:
“On Saturday we go to the fish market and buy plates of fried fish and glasses of wine. We take our vittles to the quayside and sit on the stone pavement to eat our lunch. Seagulls swoop overhead. One drops something into Michelle’s plate. Every molecule in Michelle’s body seems to draw tight and shimmer for a moment. She offers the remainder of her fried squid to me. I love al fresco dining.”
May 6 Kafka Springs to Mind
I find myself in a very large castle in a very small town (a few hours from by train from Verona). I am here to be part of a jury that will be tasting a particular indigenous variety with an eye to giving out prizes to the “best” ones. There are around 9 other jurors, plus two event organizers who will taste the 40-some wines blind. In this case blind tasting means that the wines are presented without the tasters knowing the name of the producer. .
I learned a new word. Personalità. This evidently means “bad winemaking”.
How do I know this? After the first flight of 6 wines, one of the organizers who was tasting with us said. “Wow, that number 6 has loads of personality.”
Then he asked the question I was dreading: “What do you think of the wine, Patricia?”
I said: “It is cloudy. It is a faulty wine, with off-odors that I believe are linked to a fermentation problem.”
He said: “But it’s made in an amphora! It’s traditional.”
I think: “Yeah, even the Romans realized that wines made in amphorae were not great – that’s why they added spices and sometimes heated the stuff up…”
At dinner one of the organizers tells a racists joke.
I have been asked to let them know when I write about the event. I don’t believe that I will be writing about the event.
April 23 A Chieveo lunch and a Chievo dinner.
Chievo is the name of the soccer team that Michael supports. He goes to every home game and occasionally climbs on the bus with other local fans to go to away games. The team is composed mainly of good-natured young men who are happy to pose for photos and sign autographs for the children. Going to a Chievo lunch or dinner is like travelling back in time…I love these goofy, sweet, simple, happy occasions.
A party for me
April 15 A visit to a Real Contardino, Elio Fedrighi
We arrive at Negrar by bus. Tiziana R. picks us up and takes us to visit Elio Fedrighi and his family. We drive up a narrow winding road and emerge into a spot that can only be described as idyllic: the air is fresh and fragrant with Spring growth, the sun is bright, and the farm dogs are sweethearts.
“This is the real Valpolicella,” says Tiziana. “Not the area on either side of the main road – filled with houses and shops.”
Elio is a grape grower, par excellence. He has supplied the fruit for Masi’s Mazzano Amarone for decades. And unlike many who own renowned vineyards, he has no desire to make wine. He is content to produce the best, healthiest grapes possible from his high, hill-side vineyards and leave winemaking to others.
“The grapes up here ripen later than those lower down,” says Elio. This longer growing cycle means that the grapes are often richer in the polyphenolic substances that gives flavor, fragrance and substance to a wine.
We taste 2004 Mazzano. Dark, austere cherry. We leave our glasses and take a walk in the vineyards. Thirty minutes later we return to our wine. It has opened up. Fine, sprightly cherry fruit surround by a mist of mocha.
“It has an earthy quality,” says Michael. “The Mazzano was the benchmark by which I measured Amarone when I entered the wine trade.”
“There are not many true farmers like Elio anymore,” said Tiziana. “Today to sell wine you’ve got to travel all over the world – stay in the best hotels. Young wine producers are losing contact with the land.”
April 13 Monica’s Turquoise Party
We met Simone Butturini (www.simonebutturini.it) at Monica’s birthday party. I like his paintings.
April 6 through 9 Vinitaly
Below you will find descriptions of some of the wines that I particularly liked this year (in no particular order), and a selection of dark but jolly photos of producers and winemakers. I must get my camera fixed…
I went to a vertical tastingof Gioe Amarone from Santa Sofia (www.santasofia.com– a very interesting opportunity. My favorite among the wines was the 1998, fresh, full, satisfying, ripe cherry fruit. It continues to evolve in the glass.
I visit the stand of Paolo Passini, owner of the Azienda Agricola San Giovanni (www.pasiniproduttori.it ), every year. Paolo’s estate is located in the small wine zone of Valténesi.” (For the proper pronunciation of this word imagine Natasha, the Russian Spy from the Bullwinkle cartoon show, saying the word to perky little Rocky J. Squirrel. “Vahl-ten-eh-zee.” I have no idea whether this will improve your pronunciation of the word but it does provide a pleasing image.)
His Chiaretto Valtenesi: Vibrant antique rose color. Fresh, distinct notes of raspberries and melon on the nose. A lovely burst of soft ripe berry fruit shaped by salinity. Most of this wine is sold in New York, he tells me.
Another annual visit is to Cristina Geminani owner/winemaker at Fattoria Zerbina, Her 2012 Bianco di Ceparano (100% Albana grapes) is crisp, with a fragrant, citrusy nose. On the palate it is tangy with a sprightly minerality. Serving suggestions from Cristina: charcuterie, asparagus and eggs and soft cheese.
I found out that this wine is available at the Jet Rock Bar and Grill at La Guardia Airport…next time you are waiting for a plane ….
Yet another annual visit is to Bortolotti www.bortolotti.com, this company really does make the best Prosecco. I described it in on a website report from Vinitaly as the Rolls-Royce of Proseccos. The basic Brut N.V. (100% Glera) is very forward peach/pear fragrance, a fine salinity on the finish. Exceptionally elegant and appealing.
Pietracupa Fiano. Simply the best Fiano I have ever taste. Older vintages continue to have firm structure and fine, enticing fragrances.
Donnafugata (www.donnafugata.it ), Lighea (100% Zibbibo – a.k.a. Moscato di Alessandra) grown on the island of Pantelleria. On the nose the wine bursts with sweet, ripe fruit (apricot, a sweet grapiness). Some drink this as an aperitif. For me the nose is too potent for that use, instead serve it at table—the sweet flesh of lobster or crab might make a good pairing.
I drop by for my annual visit to the Bucci (www.bucciwines.com ) stand. I like Mr. Bucci. Fortunately I also like his wines. They are elegant, smooth and built to last. Particularly appealing this year was 2012 Villa Bucci Verdicchio – elderflower fragrance and rich and lively on the palate. A broad but supple fabric of fruit. Mr. Bucci suggests serving it with the summer dishes – chicken in aspic or vitello tonnato.
Damilano (www.cantinadamilano.it). I taste through several of their wines and note a fresh, zippy house style. Their Cannubi Barolo 2009 has an elegant nose, on the palate it blooms with soft but precise fruit, alongside a smoky undertone. Silky texture. Very nice appealing wine.
- I was willingly pulled into the Nino Franco tasting area and tasted through some of their wines with Annalisa Franco. My favorite wine was the Primo Franco Prosecco (100% Glera). Lovely, forward nose. Ripe pear on the nose and palate. Long, fruit-filled finish. English chef Rick Stern paired this wine with Goan Lobster Curry. OOOO, what a good idea! Annalisa also showed me the brochures for her stately guest house Villa Barberina. www.villabarberina.it
More sparkling wine. We (Michael and I) taste through the range at Bellavista (www.bellavistawine.it). Franciacorta is a small zine in Lombardy that produces top-notch sparkling wines using the Champagne method of second fermentation in bottle. Fabio, the agronomist, pours for us. “I would like to ask the signora to taste again and make your description just with your hands,” he says, referring to the fact that when I am trying to find a word I automatically find myself miming the sensations. I can’t help myself.
My favorite wine 2006 Riserva Vittorio Moretti. (Pinot Nero, plus some Chardonnay, old vines) A broad, uplifting nose – like silk rising on a puff of air. On the palate the same image forms in my mind: silk on a breezed.
On to Berlucchi (www.berlucchi.it), where Mr. Ziliani (whose family owns the Berlucchi winery) suggests matching the company’s 61 Rose Franciacorta (60% Pinot Nero, 40% Chardonnay) with crustaceans, prosciutto crudo or risotto. “Rosé is a type of wine we have experimented with a lot,” he says. “I personally like rosé, it combines the elegance and freshness of Chardonnay with the body and texture of Pinot Nero.”
Final stop of the fair: Villa (www.villafranciacorta.it) in Franciacorta. Brut 2009 Emozione (85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero, 5% Pinto Bianco). Very smooth, ideas of delicate fruit. “Almost a touch of earthiness,” says Michael.
My favorite quote from the fair: The World is small, but Vinitaly is large. If there is someone that you do not want to see, you can be sure to run into him at Vinitaly,” said our pal Franco, owner of the Osteria Sottoriva in Verona.
I went to a large Gala Dinner during the Vinitaly wine fair. There were 6 of us at our table, 3 of whom immediately whipped out their cellphones and peered intently into their glowing screens. They stayed in this position during the starter and managed to eat a few spoonfuls of the soup, while glancing at their little phones. They did not speak to the other diners. I wondered if it would be considered bad manners for me to pull out my pen and Sudoku magazine and begin filling in squares. I decided it would.
5 April Canova’s Garden
Italian wine producers are always trying to link their product to Art. Seldom do they actually seem to be truly interested in the subject. It’s like people who go to fancy dinners in order “to be seen” as opposed to going to a dinner to chat with people and enjoy an evening out.
The financial and organizational support that the Guerrieri Rizzardi wine company gives to the annual Canaova Prize is one of the very few collaborations in which the motivation is art and not just “being seen” to support Art.
The Prize goes each year to a young Italian sculptor/sculptress, and includes the opportunity to show his/her work at the Museo e Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in the tiny town of Possagno, in the province of Treviso. Though the town is small (some 2000 inhabitants) the number of visitors to the museum runs into the tens of thousands.
The museum itself is located in the family home of Canova and surrounds a wonderfully fragrant garden filled with exotic trees and bright flowers. “I love this place,” says the Contessa Guerrieri Rizzardi, as we walked down the gravel path. “It is like another world here. I lived not far from this museum when I was a girl and I remember coming here and being enchanted by the place. This is Canova’s garden.”
The artist featured this year was Alberto Gianfreda, he entitled this collection of his work: Earthquake Museo. My favorite piece is: Earthquake Mano.
Later we visited the Cemetery where Canova is buried.
March 29 Happy Birthday Francesco and Giovanni
We head to the Osteria Carroarmato to celebrate the 18th birthday of Ugo and Steffie’s twins. Twenty some friends and relatives at a long wooden table. Plate after plate of sliced meats, vegetables, polenta, gorgonzola, lots of happy chatter. It felt wonderful to live in Italy at that moment.
March 26- 30 Tasting at the Vinitaly wine Competition.
I decide to share this honor with Matteo, one of my tasting students. He will take two days and I will do the rest. The idea of 4 full days of tasting from 9 to 5 just does not appeal to me at the moment. Thank goodness they use electronic tablets and spare us judges the fatigue of adding up columns of figures and filling out forms.
We average around 44 wines a day, with 3 to 4 minutes for each wine.
Here is the tip I gave Matteo: Place the glass that you want to be filled on the right hand side of your table and put your hand lightly on the base of the glass. That way the sommelier can fill it without having to lean over the table and sort through the confusion of your 12 glasses. The sommelier will appreciate this courtesy.
I met a fan! Another judge had read and appreciated one of my books and told me so. It never fails to please me when someone says he likes what I have written. I invited him along to my pal Annalisa’s osteria, the Carroarmato, for a book presentation and we stayed for dinner.
I have taken a look at his website and now I am his fan! Here is the address of his blog: www.AlfonsoCevola.com. Wonderful photographs and gentle, interesting commentary. A lovely and amusing man.
March 21 Interviewing Andrea Camilleri
Camilleri, for those who may not know, is Italy’s best loved author and the creator of the wry and observant Sicilian commissario, Salvo Montalbano. I interviewed him for Publishers Weekly at his apartment in Rome.
Here are two rather nice quotes from Camilleri that I won’t put in my article:
“When I don’t have any ideas I might write a letter, for example, to a man I’ve just encountered at a kiosk. It’s a letter I know I’ll never send, but it serves as an exercise. Without that, you get stuck. What’s behind writing? It’s not that the artist writes when he gets inspiration — it’s the work of each day.”
“Two great masters for me are Hammett and Chandler. Perhaps Hammett above all because of his behavior during the Communist Witch Hunt in the 1950s. He ended up going to jail for his views. Now, this was a man who drank nearly a bottle of whisky a day. So going to jail for him was like having a double sentence. It took a great deal of courage.”
Camilleri very kindly signed books for Stefania (who made her family take their last vacation to Sicily so that she could visit all the sites where the Montalbano TV series is filmed) and for Susanna (whose favorite book is Il birraio di Preston.)
Susanna was very pleased when I told her that that book was very significant in the development of Montalbano. In fact without it there might have never been a Montalbano. You see, Camilleri was stuck when writing Il birraio di Preston so he decided to set himself a “creative exercise”: writing a mystery novel. He wanted to see if he could write a linear plot – going from chapter one through to the end and linking each chapter logically. So there you have it, Montalbano started out as a remedy for writer’s block.
March 20 Candy for Camilleri
My husband went to a small hand-made chocolate shop to buy a box of candy to take to Camilleri. (I had done my homework and discovered that he had not drunk wine since 1947 – yes, 1947.) The shop assistant asked my husband if the chocolates were for a woman and he told her they were for Andrea Camilleri.
Shop Assistant (in awe): He’s one of those people that you think don’t really exist.
Michael: You mean like a mythological creature?
Shop Assistant: Yes, exactly!
We take the bus to the airport to see the unveiling of the giant posters advertising Soave that the Consortium has put up. Michael and I helped them tidy up their English slogan. Here are photos of 2 of my favorite Italian Journalists/bloggers. Carlo G. and Maria Grazia, who looks rather fetching in her new purple glasses. Her site: www.soavemente.net
March 16 Dancing to the Tune of Bardolino
The annual Bardolino thrash. Great fun, good band, nice eats, swell people.
March 11 Greek Fans – Wow!
A couple of years ago I got an email from Anistasia K., a teacher at the Iiona School of Music in Greece. She was bringing some students to the Veneto and wanted to meet with me. She uses my wine articles in her English classes. I was unable to meet them on that occasion. BUT SHE’S BACK! She is bringing another group and we agree to meet in Verona. She told me one of her students is writing a thesis comparing Chateau Yquem and Amarone. My mind boggled, particularly when I was introduced to the 14 year old who is writing the piece. What a lively, intelligent boy. All of the students were enthusiastic and polite. It was a real pleasure to meet them.
March 8, 9, 10 Tergeno IGT Ravenna Bianco 2012 from Fattoria Zerbina and Lunch
I drank a glass of this blend of indigenous white varieties (and just a touch of Chardonnay) with my lunch three days running.
It has the body and delicately fruity flavor to go with: a salad of dry, shredded meat, olives and artichokes dressed with lemon and oil; rice salad with ham and peas; and breaded chicken cutlet. A very satisfying wine. The back label suggests that is goes well with seafood and some kinds of raw fish, liver-based dishes and cheeses, or as an aperitif. All of this sounds right to me.