Archive for Diary
First things first: Books. Glenn Shea’s new book of poetry – The Pilgrims of Tombelaine – has just been published by Salmon Poetry. Glenn, whose poems have been read by Garrison Keillor on Keillor’s radio program, and who has collected fans in many countries (no least of which Italy) writes with elegance and wit. If you realize the value of poetry, buy this book at www.salmonpoetry.com. It should be up on Amazon shortly. (Pardon the cover cropping; I am inept when it comes to manipulating images.)
January 29 The Annual Amarone Anteprima Tasting
This tasting is the high point for Veronese wine lovers as it offers a superb opportunity to taste the recent vintage of Amarone and talk directly with the winemakers and owners of the estate. There were many wines that I appreciated. However, my policy is to only write about wine that ring my chimes.
English Lesson: “To ring one’s chimes (or bell)” means to give a particular frisson of pleasure. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLtw3yzq2HE
Here is a link to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (a.k.a Will Smith) Ring My Bell, which gives a more explicit illustration the phrase.
My three favorite wines:
Roccolo Grassi 2013 (it will be released onto the market in a year) A bruised plum color. Fresh, yet with an appealing complexity of ripe fruit. (ripe cherries notes weave in and out of dark berry fruit flavors. (blueberry, brambles) (www.roccolograssi.it)
Viviani 2011 Bright. Almost green note on the nose – a weave of flavor that shifts and changes, leading to a clean flavorful finish. ( www.cantinaviviani.com )
Zyme 2009 a sleek cylinder of fruit, impeccable balance, a close weave of flavor (ripe cherries, blue berries) and spice (mace), superb texture that caresses the palate (www.zyme.it)
A young-ish winemaker said to me: “Your book on Amarone is an icon. Just yesterday I was with a bunch of producers and they were passing around your book saying: ‘Look at those picture; look at how young we were.’ I like it because you really understand farmers.” What a nice thing to say.
January 24 Dinner at Porto Alegre
This restaurant is owned by Sergio Pellissier, the captain of the Chievo Soccer Club. It was a fan dinner.
January 21 Dinner at the Gepsters
We had dinner at a friend’s house. The usual line up was there. The food was mostly vegetarian. The magnum of Villa 2010 Franciacorta Extra Dry we brought was lovely, satisfying, easy to drink (and I mean that in the nicest way). It was a great way to start the evening. After the snacks, the pasta starters, the main course, the salads, the cheese, the fruit and the nuts, conversation heated up. A rhetorical question about the US directed vaguely at me became a typical lecture about America’s current situation. On and on went the scree, the substance of which seemed to have been trawled from conspiracy theory websites.
Pontificating is a major sport among three of the 4 Italian men at the table. (and then there is sociable, sensible Michael, the only non-Italian man present. Being the right sort of Englishman he would never blather on like a batty old duffer.) I did what I have always done in these circumstances: I started doing word games in my head. I came up with 30 anagrams using the letters for Claudio – my favorite being lucid. And still the spew of looniness continued. So, I came up with around 30 words from Patricia – my favorite was tiara. I told Michael what I was doing and he came up with piratic – having to do with pirates. Do you understand more fully why I adore my husband? Piratic!!!
January 10 Custoza and Chablis, BFFs (that’s Best Friends Forever, for those who don’t use acronyms)
During last year’s Vinitaly wine fair, members of the Custoza Wine Consortium (www.vinocustoza.it) had a chat with Raoul Salama, Director of La revue du vin de France (www.larvf.com). From this historic meeting has come a synergistic collaboration between the wine producing zones of Custoza and that of Chablis.
What do these areas have in common? Salama explained: Both are cool climate zones, and the precipitation is practically the same, as are the altitudes of the vineyards.
What sets them apart? Primarily grape varieties. Chablis is 100% Chardonnay, while Custoza is made from a blend of indigenous varieties – Garganega, Trebbianello (a biotype of Tocai Friulano) and Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese).
So, today we find ourselves at the Hotel Milano for a tasting of Chablis and Custozas. The brief it not to compare the wines. It was not a matter of finding one wine better than the other, rather it created an excellent environment in which to really think about the identifiers for Custoza. For me those identifiers are an idea of candied fruit and a particular texture (that I think of as tweed) on the palate. Among the producers who made a good impression on the tasters present: Cavalchina (www.cavalchina.it), Albino Piona (www.albinopiona.it which presented a wine from the 1999 vintage that was still crisp and appealing), and Monte del Fra ( www.montedelfra.it ).
The Chablis were provided by La Chablisienne (www.chablisienne.com), whose director, Damien Leclerc, was also on hand.
At one point 4 of the 12 wines were presented blind (with the identity unknown to the tasters). Our little task was to tell the Chablis from the Custoza. I had no problem with this – not necessarily due to my consummate skills as a taster. No, it had to do with memory. The instant I put my nose in a glass of Chablis I spontaneously and instinctively smiled because the fragrance took me back to the years I worked with French wines in London. One of the Chablis presented stood out because at first sniff I was taken back to my days as a sommelier at snooty New York restaurants. That wine was: Chablis Chateau Grenouilles 2012. Lovely.
We then trooped over to Perbellini’s (www.casaperbellini.com ) in Piazza San Zeno for dinner. The food was imaginatively presented and the service was top notch. I will describe my favorite dish, a dessert:
A small cup (the size of a spool of thread) made of white chocolate. It is filled with pineapple juice and a straw has been inserted into the chocolate. This is covered with lime-infused spun sugar. It looked like (The Adams Family’s) Cousin It on a bad hair day and was absolutely delicious and great fun to eat.
Giancarlo Perbellini, the chef, also created a dish designed to go with Custoza, which he will insert into his regular menu: Zuppa Custoza, made with Broccoletto di Custoza, a local leafy green.
In an area that has more than its fair share of well-known wines – Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone, Bardolino – sometimes other local wines with long histories and great potential – like Custoza – are overlooked. It is the Consortium’s plan is to shed a little light on Custoza by concentrating on making it better known at Verona’s restaurants and bars. So, the next time you stop by Verona – to enjoy the opera, to gape at the Roman arena, or soak up some culture – take a moment to try a glass of Custoza. You might find a new favorite.
8 January Nabucco Yum
My favorite wines this year are turning out to be: juicy, fruity wines that have a well-defined personality, and that can go with a wide variety of food.
Monte delle Vigne’s 2012 Nabucco (a Barbera and Merlot blend). (www.montedellevigne.it )Yes, it is juicy, fruity (raspberry, brambles) and sprightly, with a pleasing spicy element. I served this red with Hokkien Fried Noodles (a dish well suited to a fresh yet elegant and well-balanced red wine, one that is not so rich as to overwhelm the nuances of the seafood. The recipe came from the book I wrote with Edwin Soon – Matching Wine with Asian Food. The next day I had a glass with a fried chicken and cheese sandwich. It was great with both. Michael opined that it would go really well with barbeque ribs. However, by the time he made that suggestion the bottle was almost empty.
The last glass of Nabucco went down a treat with an episode of Masterchef Australia. I love Masterchef Australia because no contestant has ever said: I am not here to make friends, I am here to win. Instead they say things like: I’m, so happy for Kylie, she deserves to win.
Oh, how I admire good sportsmanship. It is a quality that seems to be dying out.
January 3 A day without books
When I have a day without something to read I do foolish things like clean the closet, wash the floors, etc. During today’s brief cleaning adventure, I asked Michael to go through his shoes and select the pairs he would never wear again so that we could put them out on the dumpster for the people who come to trawl there in the evening. Here is why I adore my husband: before putting the shoes out, he polished and buffed them. It is the small, thoughtful actions that make a difference in this world.
First things first: Book. December was such a bitter-sweet month, filled with so much sadness, that I found myself dipping into Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha. We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.
Holiday Wines: These wines are ideal for the holidays because they are so incredibly versatile when it comes to matching them with food. This means they can be served with an important meal…and they can also be served the next day with creatively prepared leftovers. Each also has the added value of being excellent choices for vegetarian cuisine.
Donnafugata’s Sur Sur (made from the Grillo grape). I had always thought of this as a warm weather wine. However, I discovered that it is excellent on a grey, melancholy December day, when its lively floral, grassy fragrance brings a welcome breath of Spring. Its broad fruity flavor and sprightliness on the palate means that it can go with a wide variety of dishes as well as being excellent when served simply with friends and good conversation.
Drei Dona’s 2010 Cuvee Palazza Sangiovese Riserva. I liked Cuvee Palazza from the very first time I tried it – lo these many years ago. It is rich, silky, full, flavorful and can be easily matched with nut-based (particularly walnuts) and bean-based vegetarian dishes.
And, let’s face it, if you are serving a super-mega chocolate and raspberry jam enhanced hand-crafted Panettone, then Donnafugata’s Ben Rye is the wine to choose. It can maintain its dignity while generously accompanying this buttery bomb of flavor.
High spots this December: A dandy lunch at the Osteria Carro Amato with Susan H. and Annalisa. Going to Mantova with Gian Paolo to visit the Palazzo Ducale. Dancing to 60s music in the tiny basement of a Verona pub. Meeting with 8 other members of the Chievo Soccer fan club (and Stanley) to watch X Factor because one of our members had a cousin in the competition: Eva, who came in third! The winning band, Soul System, was from Verona. Here is a link to Eva’s performances. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqEc2n3G-Vw
A Memory: Hugh Johnson’s breathtaking wine notes
I was cleaning out my filing cabinet – yes, I still have a filing cabinet containing pieces of paper – when I came across the program from a Chateau Latour tasting -The Grand Tasting New York Wine Experience, dated Sunday 27th October 1991.
How well I remember that huge tasting. Hugh Johnson, an imposing figure with wild eyebrows and a firm jaw, took the stage to talk the roomful of eager tasters through a series of Château Latour vintages. In his posh, mellow English voice he rhapsodized about one of the wine’s “soft, suede bag of tannin holding jewels of flavor” He described the “threatening intensity” of another wine, “its rapier thrust, that deep penetration of entry.” Of a 1985 Latour he said: “It makes your mouth feel as if it is not quite big enough.” He spoke of its “brooding, but slow, unthreatening pace of entry.”
I was stunned and stopped taking professional notes and began writing down everything he said. “It ravishingly enters the mouth in velvet slippers. It opens without effort….” I glanced furtively at the tasters on either side of me. Was I the only one in the room who realized that besides having a highly successful career as a writer of gardening and wine books, Hugh had the potential to open new and exciting avenues in soft-core pornography?
I also came across my dog Ed’s first article, which was written for Decanter, along with the commissioning note from the editor. What a dog! I miss him still.
Dog Lovers Please Note: Missing Ed does not diminish my total adoration of Stanley.
Book News. Scott Clemen’s novella Evelyn Marsh has won the Amazon Contest and will be published as a Kindle e-book. Hooray!
19 through 21 Bologna Frolics
I was kindly invited to Enologica, the annual three-day celebration of the wine and food products of Emilia-Romagna, held in the elegant Palazzo Re Enzo in the center of Bologna. If you find yourself in the city next November, I would urge you to buy a ticket and enter into this gentle, low-key environment. Of the many fine producers whose wines I tasted, those who stood out for me were:
Monte delle Vigne (www.montedellevigne.it) The Lambrusco (from the Lambrusco Maestre grape) I tried at the stand was the most elegant I have ever had the pleasure to taste. Also stunning (an every changing pattern of dark fruit flavor) was the Rosso Monte delle Vigne (Barbera 75%, Bonarda 25%). The prices too are very reasonable. If importers are looking for a new addition to their Italian line, look no further.
Tenuta S. Lucia (www.santaluciavinery.it ) I first tasted these wine last year at a tasting if Sangiovese di Romagna in Faenza and found the wines original, fresh and capable of giving both intellectual and physical pleasure. The company prides itself on its adheerance to organic (and biodynamic) principals.
Also on hand were some of my favorite Emilia-Romagnan producers, whom I have written about many, many times over the years: Fattoria Zerbina, Giovanna Madonia, Righi and Montevecchio Isolani.
The final day of the visit, some of us were taken to the 33rd annual edition of Tartófla, the annual truffle festival held in small town of Savigno. We had lulnch in a large tent set up in the town square. What bliss: Tartufo lasagna; cream of Porcini mushrooms and Borlotti beans, with black truffles; Passatelli (a pasta formed of bread crumbs, eggs, grated Parmesan cheese) with either white or black truffles; poached egg with white truffle or black truffles. Oh, I could go on and on. Suffice it to say the food was sublime. The “cooks” were local people who pitched in to prepare the dishes and sere them. This delicious grub was washed down by some very interesting wines, among them:
Pignoletto Superiore Classico Classico DOCG from Vigneto San Vito (Federico Orsi – www.vignetosanvito.it ) Pignoletto Frizzante Sui Lieviti (on the lees). It is a semi-sparkling wine that is neither clarified nor filtered. It is absolutely delicious, succulent, and sprightly. The flavor: ripe apricots, a light note of tangerine and an attractively bitter finish. Well worth giving a try.
WINE LESSON I first wrote about the Pignoletto grape variety in my 2003 book Wines of Italy, in which I said it was very likely a synonym for Grechetto. Well, as of July 2016 (as part of the regulations governing Italian wines) the concept of Pignoletto as the name of a grape variety has been vaporized from wine consciousness. Now Pignoletto refers to wines made from the Grechetto (Gentile) grape variety grown in a specific place, namely the Pignoletto DOCc zone and the Pignoletto Colli Bolognese DOCG zone. These wines are very versatile when it comes to matching them with food.
Why this change in nomenclature? Basically it was to avoid the fate suffered by the producers of wines such as Prosecco. For decades if you heard the name Prosecco you could be fairly certain that the wine came from vines grown around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. With increased popularity, producers from anywhere in the world could plant the Prosecco vine (also known as Glera) and start pumping out “Proseccos”. The name Prosecco has become so debased that even in Italy the word “prosecchino” is often used generically to refer to any simple sparkling wine.
The wily Bolognese realized that in order to protect their increasingly popular Sparkling Pignoletto they would have to create a place called Pignoletto. For example: Champagne is a place name and no other sparkling wine can call itself Champagne.
Thus I found myself trudging up a muddy rutted path in thick fog with around twenty other journalists to “the place” that has been declared Pignoletto.
The highlights of the visit to Bologna
What I learned from the tour guide during our hour-long march in the rain through the streets of the city:
Bologna is the city of ….
What I learned from walking through the streets on my own:
Bologna is a real city, in the way that New York, Paris and London are real cities. By that I mean there is a strong sense of identity that emerges. For Bologna that identity is summed up as creative energy and streetlife.
18 November Zappa and Nostalgia
The morning started with Frank Zappa – his last album, a gift from my pal Randall. During our bright college days, Randall made the silkscreen posters that advertised bands performing at a local venue. I occasionally helped. In this way I was able to see Richie Havens, Leon Russell, Kansas and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention – TWICE! (once with Eddie and the Florescent leach and once during Zappa’s Big Band phase). As I listen to this last album melancholy sets in. Grief has been on my mind for the last week or two. I find it all too easy to slide into nostalgia tinged with sadness…but then I suppose sadness is always a part of nostalgia.
12 November Birthday Party
Twenty-eight of Michael’s friends (plus two children under two, a very clever 8 year-old and two dogs) gathered in the cellar at Sandro di Bruno to celebrate Michael’s Big Six-OH! The sparkling Durello followed freely. Some of Michael’s pals asked him how come he had friends with young children – as if age were a qualification for friendship.
Evelyn Marsh by Scott Clemens
I had intended to read it when I returned from Sicily…but thought I would just dip into it to get a feel for it before leaving. I started to read and did not stop. Believable characters. Fine dialogue. Good pacing. If you like Anne Tyler, Allison Lurie or John Updike (when he is being particularly kind) then give this book a chance. Scott has submitted Evelyn Marsh to the Amazon Scout program, where authors post samples of unpublished works, and readers vote on which ones they’d like to see published. PLEASE go and vote for him. He deserves a wider audience. Vote here:
October 20 Villa Bucci welcomes me home
I had the urge to drink a fine wine in the quiet of my office, with my dog by my side. I searched the wine closet for my last bottle of 2013 Villa Bucci Rosso (from Sangiovese and Montepulciano). Ah, sublime.
October 8th through 18 – the Fabulous, the friendly and the sometimes very nice
I received two invitations to go to Sicily (in the area around Mount Etna) this month. As the events were just three days apart, I decided to go to both, with a visit to our friend Simone’s place between the two.
Michael and I have very different packing styles.
He asks himself the question: How much can I stuff into the Big suitcase.
I ask myself: How much do I really want to carry in my tiny carry-on suitcase.
We arrive at the hotel Palazzo Judica (www.rtapalazzojudica.com) in the exceptionally lovely late Baroque town of Palazzolo Acreide, which is one of eight Baroque towns recognizes as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. We are guests of Fuoco Food Festival. (The festival has a Facebook page).
The entire Festival/visit was one of the nicest experiences in my professional life. I say this because it did not seem for an instant like a “journalist trip”, instead I felt part of a family of friends. Everyone – producers, organizers, chefs, other visitors – shared the same level of enthusiasm and generosity of spirit.
Toward the end of the stay, the film team asked some of us to share our favorite memories of the experience and I realized there were so many magical and unforgettable moments. Turning the corner of a narrow street in Buccheri and coming upon a grazing bull, seeing the smoke rising from the cooking fires, sun filtering through the trees, dining at U Locale (www.ulocale.com ), eating warm ricotta that was as soft as a cloud. Among the many great participants was Alveria artiginal beer (www.birrificioalveria.it), Saponifico Zimmitti (www.saponificiozimitti.it) and Damigella flour and pasta (www.graniantichidamigella.it). Top Chefs from Rome, Milan and the local area prepare meats, vegetables and breads over leaping flames, whilehappily wielding barbeque forks with the all the gaiety and enthusiasm of backyard cooks. Fine food consultant Simone Masuzzo (originally from Palazzolo, now working in Milan, who has trained with top chefs both in Italy and abroad) provided a surprising and delicious pairing of chocolate ganache and capers.
If any Italian food/beverage importers are reading this, I urge you to get in touch with Fuoco Food Festival organizer Daniele Miccione (via Facebook), who hand-picked all the products and participating chefs.
We go to Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto (Su Mare) to visit our pals Simone and Rosie (and their almost three year-old daughter Rebecca). For eight years Simone worked for Annalisa at the Osteria Carroarmato in Verona. His dream was to return to his home town of Barcellona PdG and open a bar. He has achieved his goal. His Osteria Malarazza (Bad Company in English) is wonderful. Top notch wines.
With only a couple of exceptions, the best wines I drank on this trip were from Simone’s carefully selected wine list. Here are the names of two that I tried at Simone’s bar: Tenuta Gatti (www.tenutagatti.com) Mamertino Rosso Curpanè (Nero d’Avola, with Nocera) – warm, rich plume/prune, silky on the palate, and Cantina Fina (www.cantinefina.it) produced Taif Zibibbo “Terre Siciliano” – vibrant, richly perfumed and broad on the palate. Both were very reasonably priced.
I had been given a sample at Fuoco of 2013 Nero d’Avola from Feudo Marccari (www.feudomaccari.it ), which I brought along and tried at Simone’s bright kitchen table. I had tasted it at the winery at a presentation conducted by a famous sommelier. He had won international awards for his ability and certainly deserved accolades. However, he had decided to style himself as a Rock Star. Now if you are slim and sexy you can flounce and strut and still maintain residual cool. If you lack the requisite physique of – say – a David Bowie or a Mick Jagger – then all that posing just doesn’t create a positive effect. And his speaking style was much more aligned with that of a televangelist; he shouted, exhorted, slapped people on the back, demanded high-fives. At a certain point I gave up trying to taste the wines and started thinking about Jim Jones (and wondering when the sommelier was going to ask us to drink the Kool-aid.) For those who do not understand the reference look up Jim Jones and Kool-aid on Google and learn about mass hysteria and how the phrase “drink the Kool-aid” has entered into the language.
However, when the wine was tasted in the quiet of Simone’s kitchen, the Nero D’Avola from Feudo Marccari was very good indeed. Bright, deeply saturated ruby, Nose: rich, full and dark (some might say licorice) Lively on the palate a fine amalgam of flavors blackberry/blueberry and overripe plum. Long finish.
WINE TASTING LESSON: When tasting it is best to do so in a quiet, well-lighted place. Do NOT listen to the opinions of others until you have formed your own. It is too easy for a loud voice to impose ideas on others. Once you have formed your opinion – then and only then – listen and discuss the wine.
I miss Simone. He picked the best music and the Carroarmato is not the same without him. His young daughter is a dab hand at tablets and computers in general. She is allowed to have her own Play List and leans toward the music of Zio Bruce (Uncle Bruce). Do I need to tell you that Simone and Rosie are big Springsteen fans?
Rosie very kindly agrees to drive us to our next destination, which, in her words, is “in the middle of nowhere”.
By chance Monica L. and her dog Tappo are also at this very nice building in the middle of nowhere. She is tasting wines in her room for her magazine. I envy her having her dog for company. She drove 12 hours from Rome because little Tappo is just a smidgeon over the “small dog” weight for airplanes.
I am here to be part of a jury, tasting Sicilian wines. There are 8 tasters and 200 wines. The nominal organizer of the tasting tells us there will be two juries – an international jury and a local jury – and each will be tasting different wines. Each of us on the “international” jury politely suggest that there be just one jury and therefore all the judges will be able to taste all the wines. The nominal organizer says no – 8 judges on one jury is too many. We politely say that each of us has been on juries with 8 judges and that there has been no problem. He then says that it is not possible for a taster to taste 200 wines in 2 and 1/2 days. Again, each of us tells him: no, 200 wines in 2 and ½ days is NOT too many and that each of us has upon occasion done just that.
He ignores us. It is as if we were speaking to a cardboard box.
We dutifully go to our assigned table and he reveals how the wines will be divided. The local jury will get all the wines from specific areas that are made from specific grape varieties and with specific methods. The international jury will get all the Sicilian IGTs. These are wines that can come from anywhere in Sicily, can be made from any varieties and with any method.
Professional tasters among you can immediately recognize the inequity of this division.
NOTE TO TASTING ORGANIZERS: Do NOT underestimate foreign judges. We are NOT unintelligent, we are not insensitive, we certainly are not unobservant. We are, however, experienced and prepared. And if all of us – independently – make the same suggestion, then perhaps it should be considered as a valid option.
The high point of the last two days come at a dinner hosted by Diego Cusumano at his family’s new estate: Alta Mora. (www.altamora.it) We tasted the silky, elegant and enticing 2014 Guardiola (Etna Rosso DOC, 100% Nerello Mascalese). My tablemate Daniele C. suggested it was like “wild strawberries in aspic”. I fell in love with that description – perfect.
Then off to the Taormina Gourmet event.
We met the marketing director of Settesole, (www.cantinesettesoli.it) whose Zibibbo won the IGT “International” jury top prize. The wine was indeed very fresh, fragrant and straightforward.
One of the two highlights of the event was a tasting with Walter Massa, the white knight of the Timorasso variety. I first interviewed him way back in 2002 for a book I was writing on Italian Indigenous Grape Varieties called Wines of Italy. I had to kick butt to get the publisher to include this variety because it was so little known. It gave me great pleasure to see that Walter M. was as enthusiastic and passionate as ever. He kept comparing wines to different actresses and actors. I found my mind wondering to the question: If Kevin Spacey were a wine, what kind of wine would he be?
WINE LESSON: Timorasso originated in Piedmont’s Novi Ligure and Tortona zones. Before phylloera infestation struck the region in the late 19th century. Timorasso was among Piedmont’s most widely planted white varieties, and it was cultivated as far away as Genova, where it was used as a table grape. Post-phylloxera, many of its vineyards were replanted with other varieties. Timorasso’s fortunes were again diminished by the international success of Cortese di Gavi in the 1960s and 1970s, when it became easier for producers to market the already established Cortese variety. Fortunately, Walter Massa, championed the variety and began producing elegant age-worthy wines.
The other highpoint was a tasting of Chardonnay Cuvee Bois produced by Val d’Aosta producer Les Crêtes (www.lescretes.it) and hosted by Costantino Charrère. We never pass up the opportunity to taste wines from this estate.
WINE LESSON: Valle’d’Aosta is Italy’s smallest region (1260 square miles) and lies in the north-west corner of the country. It is separated from France and Switzerland by Alpine peaks (among them Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Gran Paradiso). Most of its vineyards are planted on steep terraced slopes.
We taste 2014, 2013, 2011, 2006 2004, and 1990. The Les Crêtes house style is one of elegance, freshness and finesse that combine to create superb fine wines.
To explain the wonder of these wines let me just say that after 40 minutes in the glass the 1990 was still firm, fresh and elegant.
We ran into Daniele M. (driving force behind Fuoco Food Festival) in the lobby of our hotel. He tells us that the everyone was so pleased with the outcome of this, the first Fuoco, they are already planning the second edition. Hooray! I wish them every success!
24 September Art in a Fragrant Garden
The annual Canova prize for young sculptors, sponsored by the Canova Foundation and the Guerrieri Rizzardi wine company, is a magnificent opportunity for young artists. The prize consists in part of a showing of the winner’s work at the Museo e Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in Possagno. This year was a joint show of the works of Maria Savoldi and Giulia Berra.
Savoldi’s work is site specific, which means the sculpture is created in and for a particular place. Arranged around the large room in the exhibition hall were photographs of her sculptures – all of which are made of colored wire. These images are the result of a bicycle trip she made through France, Spain and Portugal. “I would find a place that inspired me but at the same time seemed to lack something. Then I would fill the void,” says Savoldi. “When I was working, people would gather around and watch. There were lots of children who would come up and ask me what I was doing and we would talk. I was never alone on this trip. I left the pieces in situ for people to touch or take away.” She also attached tags on the work with her email address should someone wish to contact her and discuss the work.
Her act of creation can be seen as a work of art in itself. I hope that many other opportunities come her way to travel and share her experiences and artistic vision.
Giulia Berra produced vessels (made of bent wood and feathers) which were suspended from the ceiling in a smaller room. The interaction and movement of the shadows they cast created the interesting sensation of walking inside a work of art. Again, there was a transitory nature to the work.
After the show, all the guests trouped out to the beautiful garden and forked down nice plates of spaghetti and drank excellent Guerrieri Rizzardi wine.
Michael and I got home, loaded up Stanley and headed down to the train station on our way to Vicenza, where we had dinner with Susan H. – all the vegetables were from her garden and we washed things down with Champagne. Yes, it was a good as it sounds.
17 September Meeting Myra And tasting a Valpolicella from another space and time
Myra lives in the Collie Euganei. I wrote a book about this incredible place (The Venetian Hills: A Connoisseur’s Companion to the Colli Euganei). She saw the book and wrote an email suggesting we meet.
Myra brings her book, a memoir of her life in a Colli Euganei spa town: The Best Mud in Italy.
Tocati, the annual festival of street games is in full swing in the centro storico. The games are those that involve sticks, balls, rocks and chalk. Yes, real old fashioned games! One of the founders of this event was Gianni Burato, a wonderful illustrator and very kind and intelligent man. His friends still miss him. The logo you see was drawn by Gianni. He also did the cover for my book Bacchus at Baker Street – the version with the cover featuring a Basil Rathbone-ish gent sipping Champagne.
We go to the Osteria Carroarmato for lunch and ask Annalisa, the owner, to choose a wine for us. The 2010 Taso Valplicella Classico Superiore from Villa Bellini is superb. Brilliant rich cherry color with a dark sheen. It is vibrant on the nose and palate, with firm seductive flavors of mature cherry. Supple yet vivacious – a 3 dimensional sensation. The wine just keeps on giving pleasure. After 40 minutes in the glass it is still firm and flavorful. I have no idea why this photo has come out sideways….if you are looking for techical perfection I fear you must look elsewhere.
“The first time I tasted this wine I thought of that 1988 Quintarelli Valpolicella you brought to dinner a few years ago. It had that same staying power,” says Annalisa. “This is probably the last chance to taste this wine or a wine of this style from Villa Bellini because the owner has sold the estate to a big company.”
She said this because, as every wine lover knows, Great Wines are made by individuals with vision and a soul. This certainly does not mean that Villa Bellini will necessarily be making lesser wines. But they will be making different wines, ones that reflect the current winemaker/owners. I wish them well.
13 September Dancing in the Office
It is 10 a.m. I slip Xavier Cugat: King of Cuban Rhythm! into the cd player and Michael and I rumble a rumba. Ahi ahi ahi! I will confess: I dance and sing every day. I don’t do either of these activities exceptionally well…but boy do I have fun. This is the first time I have enticed Michael into a morning dance.
4 September Lunch with Gian Paolo and family at the Carroarmato.
Oh, I have known Gian Paolo for 20 years! We met at the first ever International Wine fair to be held in Brazil. The fair itself, held in a big hotel complex, was nice enough. The tranquility of the event was marred only by the periodic shattering of glass shelving. The organizers had not realized that heavy glass bottles are best displayed on something a bit tougher – if less elegant – than plate glass. And the urge to put one more bottle on a thin sheet of glass was just too tempting for some.
One of the positive results of the trip was that Gian Paolo became a good friend and was, in fact, the Italian Best Man at my wedding. He also gave Michael one of his first freelance translating jobs. The relationships you forge during difficult times are usually meant to last.
However, the most delicious outcome of this trip as far as I am concerned is that Ed, our dog, got his first byline in Decanter, a well-known British wine magazine. I had already contracted to write about the fair 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. Ed was less than 200 grams when we got him and the doctor estimated that he was around 3 weeks old. He had been abandoned. He was the smartest dog I have ever had the pleasure to know.
3 Tasting and smoozing at Soave VSHere is a photo of Charlie Atuola with Stanley. Charlie is the international wine consultant behind the Duel of Wine film, which will be presented (out of completion – way out of competition) at the Venice film festival. He is sublimely happy.
There is an Italian expression: non c’e un cane (there’s not even a dog), which is used to indicate that few people turned up at an event. That can certainly not be said of Soave Versus. The place was packed. Yes, I tried to edit the image but to no avail.
2 September Dinner in the Grand Guardia to kick off Soave VS.
We arrive and mill around a bit. The mayor of Verona comes in and recognizes Michael – Michael usually participates in the San Gio Video Festival Press Conference which takes place in July – and comes up to shake Michael’s hand. I can see Aldo’s eyes light up. Being on cordial- greeting-terms with local politicians is a much prized attribute in Italy.
I was fortunate to sit next to a person who enjoyed talking about books. Everyone at the table gave me their leftover meat to take home to Stanley. What a great group. Doing something as brutta figura (in this case we can translate the expression as gauche) as taking home leftovers to the dog is frowned upon in Italy. But the Soave-ites know me by now and indulge my little foibles.
1 September Press Conference for Soave VS
We roll up to the town hall to attend the Press Conference. I bring a paperback (PerryMason e la Voce Fantasma a.k.a. The Case of the Mythical Monkeys). Soave Versus is the annual 3-day event (with tasting) that is now held in the Grand Guardia in Piazza Bra. After the Press Conference Aldo (the director of the Soave Consortium) suggests we follow him and a couple of bloggers and a politician of some sort (I try not to remember the names and positions of local politicians – no matter how nice they may be personally). We go to Signore Vino and chow down on sliced meats and SOAVE!
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.