Archive for Diary
May 25 Villa’s Annual Tasting (www.villafranciacorta.it/)
Around 50 people gather at the Villa estate in Franciacorta for the 21st annual tasting of older vintages. Franciacorta, just to refresh your memory, is a sparkling wine made with the same method as that used in Champagne. This means that the second fermentation – the one that makes the bubbles – takes place in bottle. The production zone is located in Lombardy. The wine producers here have always impressed me; it would be difficult to find one who does not make decent wine. And then there are those, like Villa, who make simply superb wines.
A famous sommelier, on hand at this occasion, says: “These aren’t just wines for aperitifs, they are wines you can drink from morning to night, anytime of day.”
I think of AUNTIE MAME. This is a novel by Patrick Dennis, which was subsequently made into a Broadway show and later a film, both starring Roz Russell. There was also a Broadway musical version starring the wonderful Angela Lansbury. This too was made into a film with Lucille Ball in the title role. The reason why the sommelier’s remark made me think of Auntie Mame will be clear to anyone who has read/seen Auntie in one of her versions.
We taste the 2008, 2007, 2006, 2001, 2000, 1999,1998, 1997, 1994 and 1993 vintages of Villa’s Extra Brut.
Among my favorites:
The 1994. Amazingly fresh. You are aware that it is mature but it is
still vibrant and alive.
The 1997 was light and lively. Yes, there was a delicate butterscotch line in there – still fresh and satisfying.
The 2006: A balance between delicacy and strength. A sparkling wine for grownups. There is an idea of melting butterscotch on the palate. A coconut cream note and an attractive vibration of sweetness on the long finish.
I miss wines like these. When I started in the wine trade (three decades ago!), you could find wine that matured gracefully, developing enticing tertiary aromas, while remaining alive on the palate. Nowadays it is not so common to come across such wines.
I was asked to remark on the vintages, and I referred to them as having maturità con grazia (graceful maturity). This phrase struck a chord with several of those present. One young journalist came up and said she was going to use it as the title for her article. This was gratifying because it is nice to know that even though I speak Italian badly I can still communicate.
If you happen to be looking for a caterer/restaurant in Lombardy, try Antica Cascina San Zago. (www.anticacascinasanzago.it) They provided the superb lunch – everything fresh, pure and savory. It could not have been better.
Every time I come to Villa, I think of Kyle Philips. I miss him still. He was a big man who looked like a former high school football player, with a burr haircut and a plaid shirt. He was also witty, intelligent, knowledgeable and kind. The annual Villa event was the only fixed meeting point for us, although we occasionally ran into each other in Tuscany, where he lived with his wife and two children, or other tasting venues. We always sat together at these events because we liked each other and we knew that our conversation would revolve around books, writers and ideas. Yes, I will always miss him and think of him when occasions like this arise.
May 23 Soave Le Battistelle
We go to Soave for an event concerning the 2014 harvest, and taste through wines from the vintage.
Once again Le Battistelle stands out. Very good wine from a difficult vintage. Over the last few years Le Batistelle has always made it into my list of top Soaves. If you see this name on a wine-list, order it. It you are looking for a new Soave to import. Taste it. You will not be disappointed.
May 19 Stanley the Foto-modello
My pal Glynis Macri has won a photographic award with a photo of…Stanley! It was taken in Friuli when Glynis and I were there for a mega Pinot Grigio tasting. Stanley accompanied me. The photo deserves to be on the back flap of a book….I suppose now Stanley will have to write one. “The author divides his time between his home and the Osteria Carroarmato.
I take Stanley for a stroll and tell everyone we meet about his international fame. At the Osteria Sottoriva, Franco gives Stanley a meatball as a prize for being so photogenic. We then head to the Hostaria Vecchia Fontanina for an aperitif. When we tell the chef about Stanley’s photo, he goes into the kitchen and pinches off a bit of tartar for my little doggie. So, thank you Glynis!
May 18 I am on the Radio
I was interviewed about the Colli Euganei book (THE VENETIAN HILLS: A CONNOISEUR’S COMPANION TO THE COLLI EUGANEI). If anyone would like to hear me speaking truly appalling Italian, my interview starts at around 5 minutes, 30 seconds into the show. I also say that I think the Colli Euganei is much more interesting and beautiful than Tuscany! https://soundcloud.com/madeinitalyradio/puntata-56-del-18-maggio-2015
May 11 & 12 Country Dancing in PiazzaBra and Chievo Calcio Fan Club cowboy grub.
In the next few weeks we will be visiting a family with horses (and a swimming pool and a hammock). Oh, if only I could get my pal Marty (who owns a ranch and teaches riding) to express mail us a couple of cowboy hats from the USA!
10 May Coffele Soave in Piazza Bra
Here is a picture of Chiara Coffele on the Listone (across from the Roman Arena) pouring her family’s wonderful Soave! Igenio played the accordion, Ugo recited poems to bewildered tourists and a good time was had by all.
9 May Tasting in Chaos
Matteo and Corina come over and I put them through some blind tasting practice. I also put a ringer in the group: a Speri Amarone 1995. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still had a bit of stuffing left. They both thought it was younger. And the wine had not been stored in the best conditions these last two years of its life. When we moved to this apartment I didn’t immediately find the coolest place to store the wine.
May 7 Bruce Turns up at my door
After years of lobbying Bruce (you may read about Bruce in previous diary entries) has finally convinced the Italian national Sherlock Holmes club (Uno Studio in Holmes) to have a convention here in Verona. He arrives breathless at my door, takes a seat and talks and talks and talks. I listen. This is my role in his life. He very kindly asks me to present something during the day. My speech will be titled: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Italians in the Canon.
For those who want to learn more about Sherlock Holmes, I can highly recommend THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MISCELLANY by Roger Johnson & Jean Upton
“This work belongs in the hands of every Sherlockian who has had to explain the lure of Baker Street.” — The Baker Street Journal http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk
Ivanka di Felice, author of A ZANY SLICE OF ITALY, sent me a copy of her book to read…and reading it was a pleasure. The prose is clean and episodes are fast paced. It is a book for people who are married to Italians (or want to be) or who have friends with Italian in-laws. The episodes in this book ring absolutely true. She has captured the zany side of life here.
April 29 Villa Bucci
I have made a kind of goulash and decide to open a bottle of wine. I choose Villa Bucci Rosso 2010. I love Villa Bucci – the wines are fruity, well-structured and satisfying.
April 26 The Shopping Network
We go to Milan for a tasting. We meet Angela, a lively, mid-twenty-ish woman in a lace mini-dress. One of her jobs is to act as spokesperson for an Italian Jewelry Company in the USA and Australia. She will be flying out to Minnesota (which is evidently a major center for Shopping Network programs) in a few days. She is interviewed on the shopping shows about Italy and her employer’s new line of products. I am absolutely sure she is fabulous in this job. She is intelligent and…well…the word “bubbly” hardly does her justice. Who knew that such a job existed? Not me.
April 22 Big Chievo Dinner
We go to the headquarters to wait for our ride to the Big Chievo fan clubs dinner. All the players and coaches and the owner of the team will be there, along with around 500 soccer fans.
Our pal Sabrina wrote to the producers of Uomani e Donne (Men and Women), a very popular Italian TV show that purports to match up couples. Here is her story:
“I got a call on Tuesday asking if I could come to Rome on Thursday. I said yes, because I wanted to be on TV. When I got to the train station in Rome there was a limousine waiting for me. Everybody in the station looked at me like I was a movie star. I had brought along a dress to wear. I still have good breasts and the dress showed them off. Well, they said I couldn’t wear it and made me wear a white suit with a plain blouse. I said: okay because I wanted to be on TV. Then they put a whole lot of makeup on me and the hairdresser started blowing out my hair to make it straight and parted it on the side. I never war my hair like that because it makes my nose look too big. But there was nothing I could do to convince them to leave my hair alone. Finally I get my chance to go into the studio. There are all these lights and cameras and people. I was pretty nervous. I stand there in front of the man contestant and he says to me: Do you have any tattoos? I said: yes. And he said: You can go now. And that was it. At least I got to ride in a limo.
On the way home from the dinner someone asks Sabrina what her next venture into television will be. “Contardino cerca Moglie” “There’s this rich farmer in Tuscany…..”
We go to the Hotel (and Spa) Millepini in Montegrotto. My oh my. It has the deepest pool in the world – 42 meters at its deepest part. People from all over the world come to practice scuba diving here. There are also classes that teach babies to swim. Large windows in the foyer /bar area allow you to watch the proceeding. I am mesmerized.
Lucio Gomiero, owner of Vignalta says: “It’s the anti-Prosecco par excellence,” says Lucio.
April 19 Chievo soccer fans host Udinese soccer fans before the big game.
April 12 through 16 The International Consorso
I have been participating as a judge at the International wine competition held at the fair in Verona for the last few days. Blind tasting morning and afternoon – some 40 wines a day.
My goodness! I had a flight of what I believe was supposed to be Proseccos…all but 2 of the 13 tasted like laboratory experiments. They tasted constructed rather than the result of the fermentation of grapes.
So far I have given my highest score to a Lambrusco. Why? Because it was exactly what it was supposed to be – from the purple froth to the lively grapey fragrance and taste. It did not try to be something more or different.
On the last day, we taste wines that have already been vetted by other panels. The flight of reds is good – I would be happy to have any of them on my table in a restaurant.
I am usually the first one back from break. We do around 12 wines take a little break and come back for 12 more. Then it is lunch. In the afternoon we repeat the 12-break-12 routine. The photo was snapped by an oenologist named Paolo, who was on my commission. He said: “My wife reads lots of books too. And then she tells me about them so I don’t have to read them.”
I only do the morning tasting session at the Concorso in order to go to the Carroarmato and taste wines with Ricardo and Laura (his wife and a really good taster) and Annalisa (owner of the Carroarmato). Ricardo started his business a couple of years ago importing Italian sparkling wines into Peru. He is now expanding his line and wanted us to taste his selections and give some assessments of quality levels. Very interesting tasting. My favorite was a ringer that Annalisa poured for us. We tasted the wine blind and I liked it very much. What a happy surprise when it was revealed to be a Valpolicella from Viviani, one of my favorite Amarone/Valpolicella producers. The wine was round, satisfying and food-friendly.
Then on to the Osteria 23 for Ugo’s Birthday Poetry Shout. This is a photo of Ugo that, I believe captures the moment.
April 15: Hooray for Monica!
Monica Sommacompagna at her book launch yesterday for her novel L’Uomo Senza Etichetta. I have just started reading it….wonderful! Hooray for Monica!April 26, 2015
April 2: Combat Poetry
Our pal Glenn (poet and book shop clerk from Connecticut) read his poetry at Osteria 23 in Verona. He had come to town a couple of days earlier. The first evening of his stay we were having an aperitif at the Filippini and in came Ugo. (Michael often calls Ugo when we have out of town visitors because seeing Ugo is a must – like seeing the Great Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower). And when I introduced Glenn as a poet, Ugo said: “He must come to my Thursday night poetry session.” What a night. It was like doing dinner theatre or singing in a Vegas lounge. But Glenn was a pro: Reading poems in English to a room full of Italians, many of whom were tucking into their seafood salad, takes nerve. The book shop he words at, by the way is The Book Barn.
31 March BOOKS, GLORIOUS BOOKS
Kate and Ed come to Verona (from the USA) along with poet, pal and Book Barn (BookBarnNiantic.com) clerk, Glenn Shea, who brought me a satchel of 14 books. Among them was a copy of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I love pre-owned books and this one had belonged to a soldier, who, when assigned to Viet Nam some 40 years ago, had had 400 books leather bound and shipped off with him. Holding this little volume, I felt a sweep of emotion. This soldier had loved Dandelion Wine as much as I did. It was as if – across space and time – we were sharing something profound. So thank you to Glenn for bringing it and thank you to Cleo C. Bresett Jr., the soldier who loved it and took care of it til the day he died.
We meet Ugo for a drink and I introduce Glenn as a poet. “You must read your poetry at my Thursday night poetry evening,” declares Ugo. So Glenn will perform his English-language poems to a group of Italian poetry lovers.
26 LUNCH WITH NEVILLE BLECH
Neville and I met while waiting for a bus that was to take us to a dinner in Valpolicella during the Vinitaly hoopla. We bonded big time in the 45 minutes we spent trailing after our keeper and decided to meet for lunch when the Big Fair was over. There is nothing like adversity to bring people together.
A New York PR guy sees me and says: It’s great to be here, isn’t it?
I reply: No. It is great to be in a place with a hammock and alot of sun. It is…okay to be…here.
Here are the producers I visited who made wines that rang my chimes – as we used to say.
For those unfamiliar with this expression: in this context, it means wines than not only give sensual pleasure but also give intellectual pleasure. In the best cases, it means: wines that life my spirits and make my heart sing.
Umberto Bortolotti’s (www.bortolotti.com) Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut Rive di Col S. Martino “Castel de Donà” was one of the best sparkling wines I have ever tasted – and I love sparkling wines. It was like a classical-ballerina: powerful yet with lilghter-than-air grace. Absolutely exceptional. Full, fragrant, sorbet-like apricot fruit, with a sprightly infusion of steely minerality.
Maeli’s (www.maeliwine.it ) 2013 Fior d’Arancio – Moscato Giallo 100% fragrant, a burst of apricot sorbet on the middle palate. Then a minerally undertow. “It is like Dr. Jeckle and Mister Hyde,” says Elisa Dilavanzo, the manager of the estate. “It starts sweet but becomes dry.”
She recomends drinking it with raost rabbit with olives or eel mousse. Neither one of which is a mainstay on my table. I would like to try it with Nasi Goreng or other chill-hot Asian dishes.
Pasini San Giovanni 100% , mad from – yes – 100% Gropello. This is one of my favorite wines, year after year.
A different kettle of fish but none the less pleasing and satisfying is the Bardolino Chiaretto from Le Tende (www.letende.it ). I have followed this company’s wines for years and they always end up on my list of favorites when I taste Bardolinos.
I made my annual pilgrimage to visit the Librandi (www.librandi.it) stand. Librandi makes superb wines from Calabrian indigenous varieties. One of my favorties is the Efeso Val di Neto Bianco IGT. It is made from 100% Mantonico. This vibrant, complex wine combines a steely note of minerality with a creamy sensation on the nose and palate. The flavor for me is an amalgam of delicate tones of nettle, elderflowers and toffee.
I stopped by the Di Lenardo stand (www.dilenardo.it) because everyone on the stand loves dogs and has a sense of humor! What a pleasure. I particularly liked their coppery Pinto Grigio – fresh, fruity and appealing.
Tramin (www.cantinatramin.it ) Nussbaumer 2013 Gewürztraminer is a Gewürztraminer for grownups. I also tried the 2007 vintage of this wine. Deep yellow, fresh, intriguing…it was a wine that took me to a higher level. Superb.
Roncsoreli’s (www.roncsoreli.com) 2013 Friulano is one of the best I have ever tasted – good structure, an attractive salinity over apricot fruit. The palate follows the nose.
I asked Tania Princic, in charge of export sales for Roncsoreli, what she would serve with this wine. Her answer: Prosciutto San Daniele.
Let me go on record as saying I really like Friulano. I even liked it back in the days when it was called Tocai. My taste identifiers for Friulano: a slight saline note on the nose alongside scents of wildflowers, good structure and creamy texture. I often find ghosts of apricot and crème patisserie.
Roncsoreli’s Scioppettino 2009 had all of the characterisitcs of classic Schioppettino: dark ruby color, full bodied, with a soft black pepper tone over richly textured fruit flavors, which include wild blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.
The Scioppettino grape variety 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.
The lesson is over, we can now return to the diary…
Fattoria Zerbina (www.zerbina.com) Il Marzeino 2009 (a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit of Merlot, syrah and ancelottaA velvety sensation on the nose. So fresh and youthful with a rich burst of rond cherry-like fruit on the middle palate. Fruity filled finish. A very atrractive wine.
Zerbina’s Torre di Ceparano Sangiovese di Romagna 2011. Elegant with a juicy soul. Lively on the palate. A long flavorful finish.
Ca Lustra’s (www.calustra.it) Moro Palo 2011 is a blend of Merlot and Carménère, with a bit of Cabernet. This is an exceptionally nice entry-level wine – satisfying and full on the palate.
Tedeschi’s (www.tedeschiwines.com) Capitel dei Nicolo Valpolicella 2013. Fragrant, almost perfumed. Very attractive.
“Some of the grapes undergo a light drying before pressing,” says Sabrina Tedeschi. “The Valpolicella zone is made up of many styles and price ranges. The zone is also comprised of many different types of soils and exposures – not all of which are capable of making Amarone,” Sabrina continues. “We are going against the trend a bit: while others are making more Amarone, we are increasing the production of our Valpolicella.”
Another producer who is bucking the trend is Agostino Vicentini (www.vinivicentini.com/ he is perhaps best known for his superb Soaves). His Valpolicella Superiore Palazzo di Campiano 2011 is an excellent, satisfying wine.
“This is Valpolicella like it used to be – no semi-dried grapes,” says Agostino. “We use properly ripened grapes – not immature, not overripe. We can do this because there are only 4 bunches on each vine. It also helps that the vineyard is 450 meters above sea level.”
21 THAI SPAGHETTI WITH THE CHIEVO SUPPORTERS CLUB
27 February Hoopla in Venice
A photo of me with Franco Zanovello (who makes wonderful wine) in Venice at the Grancaffé Quadri (www.alajmo.it) for the presentation of the book, The Venetian Hills: A Connoisseurs Companion to the Colli Euganei. St. Mark’s Square was filled with sunshine. The ornate room was filled with friends (some of them brand new), the snacks were superb (the best tartar I have ever eaten), the wine was provided by my favorite producers.
Thank you to everyone…particularly to the members of The Strada del Vino of the Colli Euganei who sponsored the book and who offered insightful suggestions. Thanks also to Giulia Reato of Terra Ferma, who is an attentive and creative editor in both Italian and English. And, of course, a great big thank you to Franco who was instrumental in keeping the book alive.
I was fortunate enough to have pals at the event who took some super photos. The one of the bottles was taken by Annamaria Farina. The others were snapped by Susan Hedblad and Louise Lewis.
22/23 February Sangiovese di Romagna
It is time for my annual love-letter to Sangiovese di Romagna:
I have been following the development of this wine for over two decades, and every year the number of producers who make high quality examples grows larger. And every year, my pleasure in tasting this versatile wine increases.
Sangiovese is the most widely-planted grape variety in Italy and is perhaps best known as a major component (or, in some cases, the only variety used) in a long list of famous wines, most notably Chianti and the Tuscan classics such as Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Like Pinot Noir it is a site-sensitive grape and for this reason the wines of Romagna stand out for me.
Along with the cherry-near-the pit fruit flavor and silky texture that distinguishes the variety, Sangioveses from Romagna have an appealing roundness and softnenss on the palate that makes them very versatile when it comes to matching them with food. Often, when I am tasting wines, food partners for them seem to blossom in my imagination. And with Sangiovese di Romagna I often think of (and indeed eventually serve it with) vegetarian dishes – from bean burritos to nut and lentil casseroles – as well as the more traditional partners such as pasta with meat sauce, or roast and grilled meats. Its broad, soft berry fruit balanced by sprightly acidity also make it a fine match for Chinese Imperial-Style Grilled Spareribs or Kashmir Rogan Josh. And the very qualities that make this wine good with vegetarian cuisine makes it one of the few reds that can be successfully matched with Satay.
My favorite producers remain Fattoria Zerbina and Drei Dona.
At the big tasting I asked one of my favorite sommeliers to suggest a producer or two. She named two producers whose wines I liked: Cantina Braschi (“Montesasso” – clean and juicy) and Francesconi (“Le Iadi” – nice, also organic).
9 february TheVerona Sherlock Holmes Tour (sort of )
Peggy Perdue getting the park bench tour of Verona. We saw all the important Sherlockian landmarks: the Filippini for aperitifs and the Osteria Carroarmato for lunch (with our dog Stanley).
Then we took in a photographic exhibit of pictures by Tina Modotti, silent film actress and pal of the Riveras in Mexico. Pablo Neruda composed her epitaph. I wish the exhibit information-signs had been a little more forthcoming with the juicy details of her life…but I suppose they did not want to overshadow her work.
31 January Amarone Anteprima
We sat through a mercifully brief (one hour) presentation about the 2011 vintage (this is the one being shown today) and then a series of slides that showed how Amarone is doing in the super market sector in a few countries. This led me- and I am sure many other journalists – to ask ourselves: Is the supermarket sector really the target for fine Amarone? Oh well.
We met up with our pal Alfonso C. and tasted and chatted our way through the two large rooms of stands.
I did not taste every wine. I am still recovering from the cold and – frankly – the thought of plowing through 25 or more highly-alcoholic and (let’s say) zesty (to avoid saying acidic) red wines held little appeal for me.
Here are the highlights:
Amarone Corte Sant’Alda. Marinella Camerani asked me what I thought of the wine. As usual, when I am excited, my hands fluttered and I found myself spontaneously miming the wine. It is a habit that I cannot break – it just happens…
“Look you’re dancing. My wine is a tango,” says Marinella.
A producer I had not tried before was Marco Secondo. We tried the 2011 and the 2009. Very nice. I will put the producer on my list of winemakers to watch; I want to see how the wines develop. Also the labels had a touch of whimsy (the drawing of a tiny strongman lifting a barbell over his head), which never hurts.
We stopped by old pals: Zanone, Villa Bella,Massimago, Roccolo Grassi, Santa Sofia.
For other old friends whom I did not visit: I’m sorry. And I will try to make it up to you. But you know as well as I do that when you don’t feel well, it is best not to dive into marathon tasting.
Michael, Stanley and I meet up with Alfonso and go to the Carroarmato for dinner – and a good time is had by all.
30 January Entering into Celestino Gaspari’s head
I, and some 25 Italian wine journalists, arrive at Celestino Gasparai’s Zyme winery for a view of the new structure and a tasting of 7 vintages of Harlequin (1999from 1999 2000, 2001,2003, 2006, 2007, 2008), the first wine to come out under the Zyme name.
It is a long-lived red wine made blend of 15 grape varieties, some of them white. Those who have brushed up on their Italian wine history will know that white grapes were part of the original “recipe” for Chianti.
“I chose to include white grapes because they give a bit of elegance to a wine,” says Celestino. And why did he decide to use 15 different varieties in the blend? Because he didn’t want the wineries he was consulting for to see his wine as being in competition. “I didn’t want to make a wine that already existed – an Amarone, a Bordeaux-blend,” he says.
I will spare you acres of tasting notes. However, one of the interesting words that kept recurring when tasters talked about the wine was “carob”. For me the recurring words/phrases were: “ lively on the palate”, balsamic, plumped raisins.
But let’s talk about the new winery:
Years ago I went to an exhibit of Calder mobiles and stabiles at a Paris museum. As I walked into the brilliantly constructed installation, I felt as if I were walking into the in head of the artist. I had the same sensation as I walked down the wine-red ramp that spiraled into the depths of the winery. With each step I was entering into Celestino’s way of thinking. Unusual angles, sudden views of monumental stone walls, the soft glow of recessed light on a row a barrels, even the gleaming stainless steel pipes became part of this monumental work of art. Designer Moreno Zurlo is more than an architect, with this work he can be considered a portraitist.
27 January Voiceless but fine in Verona – Passing notes at Bertani
I am given a splendid tour by Cristiano (the winemaker) and Michela (the PR) at Bertaini. I have to write (or occasionally croak) my questions.
I still cannot speak due to the cold I picked up in London. What a drag. What I miss most about not being able to speak is: 1) not being able to carry on senseless conversations with my dog, and 2) not being able to sing. I just realized that I sing every day when I am fit.
22 January Missing the tasting I look forward to all year
Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it/ )holds an annual Amarone tasting that is simply fantastic. 50 producers, great opportunities to chat, great grub. But I am still too ill with my cold to attend.
16 -20 January Sherlockian Shenanigans in London
Friday: We arrive at our pal Michelle’s apartment. (Please note photo of Michelle’s most recent novel and listen to the silent voice saying: buy this book. )
Saturday: Today is the big day: The Holmes Society of London’s annual dinner at the House of Commons. I show Michelle my dress for the event and she thinks it is a tad too austere for the occasion. She roots through her magic closets and comes up with one wonderful dress after another – beaded silk flapper-esque dresses, beaded evening dresses, elegant velvet coats, and on and on. We finally settle on a grey silk suit that Michael says is dynamic. He also says it looks like oriental Armani. I decide it is my Baritsu-gi.
Michael kindly takes me to the House of Commons and waves good bye as I go down the ramp and through Airport-style security. It is a splendid venue: vast echoing halls, ornate ceilings, richly colored frescos and paintings, nice policemen.
We eat in the Members Dining Room. The main speech was given by Russell Merrit and concerned the William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes film, which had recently been uncovered in a Paris archive. For more information on this: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/long-lost-silent-sherlock-holmes-737417
Sunday We go to the pub for the Morning After (the dinner) do. Loads of very nice people, decent, rib-sticking grub.
Over tall glasses of London Pride, Guy Marriott, Marcus Geisser and I discuss bringing a band of 60 Sherlockians in Victorian costume to Cremona for a violin recital. Guy suggests that we might throw in a wine tasting while we are at it.
Marcus says to me: We are aiming for 2016 or 2017. Will still be in Verona then?
I reply: I never meant to stay in Verona when I moved there 23 years ago. So chances are that I’ll still be there.
Here is a link to the only song that I know of that mentions Cremona – Lotsa quail in Cremona. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRdmhvvBc3k
We leave to meet Joan. Let me tell you how I came to meet Joan.
More than thirty years ago….
I saw a man strutting through Covent Garden one day and thought: “No one but Tim Curry could walk like that.” So I followed him, trying to get a better look, and he led me to the stage door of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where indeed Tim Curry was playing the swaggering Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance.
The show was sold out but I took a place in line next to a Scottish lady named Beth to wait for return tickets. We got the last two tickets and ended up sitting next to each other. During the interval I told her I was thinking of leaving London for Oxford because I thought things might be cheaper there. Money was tight and my choices were: earn or return to New York. Beth pulled out a card, wrote the name of her son’s café in Lisson Grove on it and told me to report there the next day.
I arrived in a very businesslike suit. Fortunately Mark, Beth’s son, hired me anyway. My colleagues were Henri and Carlos from Colombia and Joan Walker. Her hair was cropped close to her head, except for a few spiky tufts on top. She usually wore ripped jeans and an old school blazer adorned with band badges. She looked like an English Public Schoolboy gone wrong, which was, I believe, the intention.
My first day Mark put me on the counter to take orders. The Irish navvies who were working on a local building site would come up to my counter and say: “W’wanmulkuhtahwidix.” And I would stand there dumb, until Henri would whisper… “He wants milky tea and eggs, Patricia.” I lasted at the counter for an hour before being demoted to carrying orders to the tables. Joan and I worked from seven until noon. Most days, as soon as work was done we would run to the tube station and head for Leicester Square. There we would join the line at the cheap theater tickets booth. Joan had University degrees in psychology and mathematics and had just graduated from drama school. After each show we would dissect the acting, scenery, costume design, directing and lighting, and, if it were a musical, we would sing snatches of our favorite numbers.
Over the ensuing years I would always stop and see Joan when I visited London, and during the times I lived in London, Joan and I haunted the theaters; after every show we had good heart-to-hearts over endless pots of tea – Joan knows every tiny tearoom in Central London. When she acted with the BBC radio rep she would invite me around to the employees’ pub for cheap beer and a “bit of Beeb color, dahling, lovie!” When she made her first appearance on the West End stage, I was there. And I saw her debut at the National Theatre. I returned to the U.K for a weekend to see her singing and dancing and vamping away in Mama Mia! Friends for more than thirty years and all because I found Tim Curry’s strut irresistible!
End of digression….
Here’s a link to Tim Curry and his unmistakable sashay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc80tFJpTuo
We go to a movie theatre in Leicester square to see Whiplash. I love sitting in a comfortable seat in a warm, dark room, while eating Minstrels and After Eight Mints and drinking ginger tea. The film is good too. Made in 19 days. Here is a trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_jQycdQGo
Monday we take in the Sherlock Holmes exhibit at the London Museum. My favorite part was the little Reichenbach Falls room. It is a kind of art installation, with video screens reproducing the effects and sounds of the falls. From various corners of the room came a whispered voice reading lines from the Holmes story. Very nice. I wish that the tiny room had a bench in it so that I could just sit there and be lulled by that whispered voice for a while.
Tuesday: At the airport we see Marinella Camerani Owner of Corte Sant’Alda (www.cortesantalda.com ), Cesar and their daughter Bianca. They are waiting for the same plane that we are.
“Patricia you are so sick,” says Marinella. “You don’t even sound like yourself!” She gives me a throat lozenge and tells us that she was at the Museum of London on Monday doing a tasting with her UK Importer. We tell her that we were there at exactly the same time. “You should have come down. Stefano (Inama) was there too.”
In my present feeble condition I realize that as nice as it would have been to see people we know from home…I would have been incapable of drinking anything more taxing than tap water.
Marinella turns to her daughter: “They had their wedding reception at our house. All the ladies wore hats. I wore a big yellow one.” Here is a photo taken in the mayor of Mezzane’s office at our wedding. Marinella is in the yellow pant suit, Joan is in the red jacket and Annalisa (of the Osteria Carroarmato) is in the white lace blouse.I am in the big hat , Michael is next to me and behind us are Ben (or Joan and Ben) and Illias. The little mites in white hats beside Marinella are Alda and Federica.
I returned home to Verona filled with cold and unable to speak. Every time I have gone to the UK in the last few years I have gotten ill. Am I the canary down the mine? This sorta puts a damper on my Victorian English Time Travel fantasies. If I can’t last 5 days in London 2015, then what are my chances in smoggy foggy 1895?
15 January Hooray for Monica
My good pal Monica Sommacampagna’s novel has just been published. She is sensitive, intelligent, witty and well read. Buy this book, if you read Italian.
11 January Chievo Football Supporters Club lunch
We take the bus to the Chievo football supporters’ clubhouse for lunch – spaghetti followed by sausage and beans.
“Look, cowboy food,” says Michael. I have initiated him into the secrets of cowboy life over the years.
10 January: Stanley kills the Befana….and is very pleased with himself too!
My smallish dog stealthily opened a black tote bag, removed a smaller paper bag and delicately extracted the Befana, leaving everything else tidy and intact. He then quietly took her to another room and ripped her to shreds.
I warn people who come to visit us to hang their bags on a doorknob or put them on high shelves because Stanley is a thief. I did not heed my own warning…the fault is mine.
9 January Donna Leon
I go to Venice to interview Donna Leon, author of the Guido Brunetti mysteries for Publishers Weekly. We meet in a in a sunny piazza and head for the nearest coffee bar. She reminds me of a bird of prey – those swift, intense looks.
I believe she was testing me on my general lit and mystery lit knowledge. Saying things like: “I liked the books written by his wife too.” Patricia, the swot, promptly provided the name Margaret Millar. And “Who was that man who wrote about Charles Paris?” Simon Brett, I supplied. When I pulled the name Per Wahloo out of my brain attic,(the question for this round was: What were the names of that Swedish writing team?) I knew I was on the home stretch. It went on like this until she turned the corner and realized that I was a genuine Reader of Books. Fortunately she also liked my tastes in poets. Whew. And when my husband was able to supply the names of opera singers – I swear, I could see her ticking that off her list and thinking: “Okay these people might be alright.”
6 January At the Gepperia
We go to Geppie and Germana’s for a bang-up lunch made by Germana, with a few things made by Geppie’s mother.
“You are lucky to have a mother who cooks so well,” I say.
“No,” he says. “I am lucky to have been born in Naples.” This means that the food in Naples is better than anywhere else.
The regular gang is there: Auntie Leo and Claudio, Silvio, Steffie and Ugo.
Eleonella (a.k.a. Auntie Leo) brought all the ladies a souvenir of her visit to Naples: a befana. A befana is an old crone with a broom. In these parts she brings presents to children around Christmas time and she is also burnt as a sign of the passing of another year.
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.