August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 August Off to Baldo-land

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

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

July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following morning….

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

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

The following morning…

at the Sandro de Bruno winery

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

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

 

 

June 2018

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

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

 

 

And now to slip in to reminiscence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 2018

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

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

Hitchhiking into the Wine Trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qu’est-ce que tu veux?” She asked.

“Work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

April 2018

April 2018

Wednesday  Fish and Chef (www.fishandchef.it )

We go to the Regio Patio restaurant in Garda to enjoy a lunch in the Fish and Chef annual pairing of Italy’s top chefs and local wineries – served at snazzy restaurants located on Lake Garda. The chef this afternoon is Terry Giavotella of Ristorante “Inkiostro” in Parma. The accompanying wines are from Costaripa – Mattia Vezzola, starting with a lovely onionskin-colored – and much appreciated – Brut Rosé.

“At Vinitaly this year I decided to write about winemakers I have known for over 25 years,” I told Mattia. “I looked for you but couldn’t find you. I remember the first time we met.”

I had called Bellavista, where Mattia was head winemaker, to set up a visit for an article I was writing. Because I do not drive, it was agreed that he would meet me in a large parking lot in Verona and take me to the Franciacorta estate. When I asked how I would recognize him, he said: “I’ll be the tallest person in the lot.” And he was.

“I left Bellavista 8 or 9 years ago to return to Costaripa, the winery founded by my grandfather in Moniga del Garda,” he said. (www.costaripa.it/en/)

The wines we tasted at lunch were crisp and satisfying, with an undertow of salinity.

“Now that we have found each other again, you must come out to the estate. I can pick you up from the train station,” he said.  And we will.

My 28th Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual trade fair:

Table of Contents

A Word About Influencers, Our First Wine of the Fair, Three Trips down Memory Lane – Bucci, Braida, Fattoria Zerbina and Vignalta, and Other Wines  

First, a word about “Influencers”. I was introduced to two nice young men who proudly told me they had been chosen by Vinitaly International as Important Influencers, and that they wanted to be the most trusted source for information about Italian wine.

Still naïve after all these years, I said: “If you want the names of producers of really fine wine, I would be happy to supply them.”

This remark was met with silence and a shifting of position. A darting look passed between them.

I said: “You mean that you only write or broadcast about people who pay you?

Again, that darting look and a brief uncomfortable silence.

I said: “Look, I understand marketing and if you are promoting your clients there is nothing wrong with taking money for the job.”

At that point they relaxed and said: “Yes, our time is worth something. We have to give away a certain amount of free help now, but the idea is that the producers pay.”

I said. “So, the first one’s free, kid.”  (This phrase is a reference to what drug dealers say to young potential clients in hopes that the first hit will keep them coming back for more.)

And then I thought:  How can you be the most trusted source for information when people are paying? …when the characteristic that is most important is the Money that they give you?

Allow me to revert to my codgerette status. Back in my day, if an actual wine writer accepted money from a producer in exchange for an article he/she would have been fired from any reputable publication.

And yes, I know that magazines accepted advertising. However, paid publicity was clearly identified as such. No one expected unbiased information from an ad.

English Lesson:  Codger means a cranky old man.  Codgerette is a term Michael and I use to indicate a cranky old woman.

My rant over…back to the FAIR…

Our first stop is at the stand of Friulian producer Di Lenardo and our first wine there is Toh!, which is made from the Friulano grape, formerly known as Italian Tocai,. The wine has a rich sensation on the nose, with an amalgam of scents –  pear/elderflower/blossoms. A lovely silky weight in the mouth. And what a great quality/price ratio!

Massimo Di Lenardo and his wife Paola Podrecca, owners of the estate, are mega dog-lovers.

“We tried again this year to convince the Vinitaly management to let us bring Oscar – in a Vinitaly T-Shirt – to stay on the stand but they said no. He would have been much more effective that those girls,” Paola said, referring to the 18 to 20-year-old women dressed in Lycra and Drag Queen shoes, whom some producers hire to take up space in front of their stands. Paola has a point. Happy, tail-thumping Oscar would be much more welcoming than the palpably bored young women. Not to mention the fact that well-behaved, warm-eyed Oscar would be a social media hit.

Four Trips Down Memory Lane

Bucci www.villabucci.com

In the early 1990s Decanter asked me to write an article on the Marche that would include a report on Verdicchio.  Like the good swat I was, I did my research before setting off. This was in the days before Google started dispensing anonymously sourced information. Instead I actually read Italian magazines and – most importantly – I asked trusted wine-savvy friends for personal recommendations. The name Bucci was mentioned multiple times.

I arrived at the Consortium in the Marche for the Big Tasting. A long table sat in the middle of the large room, the wines set up along one side.  The producers stood along the wall. Their expressions ranged from an awkward glumness to an eager puppy-in-the-pet-shop-window hopefulness.  I walked along the line of bottles and noticed there was no Bucci.  Naïve as I was, I went to the director of the Consortium and asked why Bucci wines were not there. An uncomfortable silence followed.

You see, back then, I thought that Consortiums represented the wine zone, not just the paid-up members. When the director started to “erm” and “ah, well…”, I said: “I’ve got the winery phone number. Will you call them for me?” I had backed the poor man into a corner. He finally crumpled and rang the winery. The samples appeared, and my tasting began. The Bucci wines were excellent, and I have continued to enjoy them over the years, and always look forward to tasting them.

Braida www.braida.com/it

My first taste of lardo was from the fingertips of Giacomo Bologna…at Vinitaly. He was a charismatic figure, who put Barbera on the map for lovers of fine wine. He died in 1990 but his children have inherited his go-power, particularly his daughter Raffaella, who has her own dynamic energy and quick wit. Michael (my husband) imported Braida wines into London when I met him 31 years ago. I liked the wines then, I like them now.

We stopped by their Stand at Vinitaly to taste and reminisce.

“Remember when you were judges at the Rocchetta Tanaro cake contest. You and your friend Fred Plotkin. I bought his book on opera,” said Raffaella.  We then spent a few minutes gushing about how much we love Fred. (He is a charming and erudite fellow, who is an expert on opera, but also has written some great books on Italian food.)

“I remember the year we pissed off Raffaella’s cousin, the baker, when our carrot cake was ranked higher than his cake,” said Michael.

What I remember best about our many cake contest visits was the singer who was doing his best to get through Sinatra’s ode to New York.  He crooned: “My little town shoe…..is wanting to do…..”

But now to the wines. Bricco dell’Uccellone (100% Barbera) has been a favorite wine of mine from the very first time I tasted it. My notes on the wine always include the words “plummy”, “creamy”, “richly textured” and “long, evolving finish”. We tasted the 2016 vintage, which did not let me down.

Fattoria Zerbina www.zerbina.com

In the early 1990s I lobbied Decanter to let me do an article on Emilia Romagna so that I could write about Cristina Geminiani of Fattoria Zerbina. Michael had imported her wines into the U.K. since the late 1980s. She literally brought Albana Passito to the attention of fine wine lovers with her stunning Scacco Matto. (Checkmate), and her Romagna Sangioveses have always been at the very top of my list of great red wines. (And, it should be noted, My List includes 1961 Chateau Lâfite.)

When we arrived at her stand, the first thing Cristina said was: “I’ve got a new puppy!”  Yes, there is often dog talk when I run into people.

I inhaled the evocative perfume of her 2011 Marziano. Thought about it, reveled in it, was carried away by the poetry of it.

I looked at Cristina and asked: “When they finally drag me off to the old folks’ home, will you send me a bottle of this wine every month to give me something to live for?

“It might not be the same vintage,” she said.

I love tasting Zerbina wines because when I do so, it is like diving into the wine’s complex universe of flavors and fragrances, an experience that sparks the imagination and makes tasting more exciting and more interesting.

Also, let it be said that I really do love great Romagna Sangiovese wines. They give sensual pleasure when young and juicy and develop into a swirling nebula of rich, fascinating, ever-evolving flavors and scents as they mature.

Vignalta www.vignalta.it/en/

We visited this estate in the Colli Euganei on my birthday 26 years ago, and spent the day with Lucio Gomiero and his business partner at the time, Franco Zanovello. (Readers of this diary are familiar with the name Franco Z. www.calustra.it), I was enchanted by the beauty of the Colli Euganei and by the wines of Vignalta.

I tried to convince Decanter to do an article on the winery but was told that they only wanted to do profiles on wines that were available in the London market, which is fair enough. But I could not get the wines out of my mind. I realized that although I could not highlight Vignalta, I could do an article on the Veneto (loads of names that were already known in the U.K.) and then slip in a little box that would include the names of a couple of good producers who were not yet in the market. I did this, then contacted Vignalta and asked them to get in touch the moment their wines were available in London…and they did. I have tasted the wines every one of the intervening 26 years and they consistently give pleasure.

“Try this. It is the only wine in our list you have never had before because it is brand new,” said Lucio, holding out a bottle of 2015 Nostrum, a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Carmenere.

WINE LESSON: In the 18th century Carmenere was widely planted in the Medoc, where it helped add color and body to the zone’s wines. The variety was first planted in Italy in the Colli Euganei. After phylloxera (a vine louse that devastated the vineyards of Europe) swept through Bordeaux, Carmenere lost ground to less vulnerable varieties.

“There is virtually no Carmenere left in France,” said Lucio. “At Vignalta we started planting it ten years ago.”

Nostrum is deep ruby. On the nose it is fresh and plummy. Round on the palate, with a texture like raw silk. The flavor is an amalgam of cherries, mulberries and blackcurrants, with an earthy undertow. A touch of gentle astringency. A long fruit-filled finish.

Vignalta is another winery whose wines continue to give pleasure. Three words to describe the house-style: rich, complex, textured.

Other Wines I liked at the fair

Musella’s 2016 Valpolicella Superiore Nice, bright cherry red, with fuchsia highlights. Warming, with a buoyant acidity.

Ronc Sorelli’s 2013 Schioppettino A wonderful nose – ripe, enveloping. The palate follows the nose: freshness infuses the flavor, lifting and enhancing the experience of tasting. Dark ruby, scents of dried flowers. Richly textured, with an amalgam of fruit flavors that include blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.

Donnafugata 2017 Grillo. Bright, forward, joyous bursts of acidity and fruit flavors (peach among them). Once again I find that this wine expresses the concept of Spring.

2 April – Big Chievo fan club annual picnic

March 2018

First Things First: books: Stephen Weeks is a film maker, a restorer of castles and the author of a hugely entertaining series of mysteries set in early 20th-century Prague featuring the irrepressible Countess Beatrix von Falklenburg. I asked him a few questions on behalf of Publishers Weekly and, not surprisingly, the name Sherlock Holmes came up.

He said: The Victorian world was perfect, in some ways (ie if you had some money) – that comfortable world of Sherlock Holmes that we all love. It was through this filter that when I came to look for my own castle, aged 25 – with the money from my first films, I chose a real medieval one, the tower of which had been built around 1129ad, on the borders of England and Wales. I restored a virtual ruin to be a wonderful home, shared willingly with the enthusiastic public, and which I sold in 2003 in order to move to Prague. Since the Castle had been lived in since the 12th century, it was proved to be ‘Wales’ oldest lived-in castle’ – friends, seeing their breath in the air while at dinner used to call it ‘Wales’ coldest lived-in castle’! But that was all part of its charm.

His new novel is Sins of the Father, published by Poisoned Pen Press. I have read it and enjoyed it. Weeks evokes the mores and manners of the period with a blend of richly nuanced details and sly wit.

March 7 –  Kate and Ed from America come for a visit

The high point was a visit to the beautiful hamlet of Valeggio sul Mincio. The breeze was fragrant with rich undergrowth, the sound of the waters of the Mincio slapping against the rocks was hypnotic and the sunshine fairly sparkled. After wallowing in this splendor for a few minutes I began to feel like an extra in Brigadoon.  When I glanced at the bridge and could easily imagine Gene Kelly capering with the ever elegant and long-limbed Cyd Charisse, I knew it was time to leave.

For those who have forgotten the fair Cyd Charisse here is a video clip from Brigadoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHJYqcjXsl8

March 3 Tasting at Marinella Camerani’s estate

I like Marinella. She always says exactly what she thinks. This can be disconcerting.  I once wrote that if a feral cat could speak it would sound like Marinella.

We tasted wines from her Corte Sant’Alda and Adalia estates in Mezzane di Sotto. Both are biodynamic and certified organic.

Among the wines that left a very positive lingering impression:

2017 Corte Sant’Alda’s Soave. After several minutes in the glass the wine opens up. An idea of greengage plums, ripe pears. Very appealing. Buoyant freshness.

2017 Corte Sant’Alda Ca Fui Valpolicella. It unfurls on the palate like a bolt of silk – flavors of black cherries, raspberries.

2012 Corte Sant’Alda Valmezzane Amarone Tingling acidity shapes the fruit. Very interesting, satisfying wine.

A Memory of Piccolo Ed & Marinella

We took Ed to the bus station with the intention of taking him to visit Francesca, his dog sitter at her kennel in Castelnuovo del Garda. He had been sneezing a bit for months but we had assumed it was just an allergy, perhaps to the dust that plagues our apartment. We entered the bus station and Ed sneezed. Time stopped. Everything focused on the spray of blood fanning out around our little foxy dog. Ed looked up at us happy as ever, his tail wagging, ready to go on a bus ride. We left the station and walked to the doctor’s office. Tests were done and we were told that Ed had a tumor in his muzzle. For several months following the operation, we took Ed to the vet’s every day for an infusion of antibiotics.

One December morning he awoke feeling weak and shivery. Michael and I took turns holding him for the next five hours. His eyes glazing over, he seemed to stop seeing what was around him. He arched his back in a spasm and went limp. I searched for a heartbeat…but could find none. I wrapped him in a sweater and put him in a 6-bottle wooden wine crate. We called our friend Eleonella, who agreed to drive us to Marinella’s. It was a sunny but brisk day in Verona. We headed east toward Mezzane where a thick layer of snow lay on the ground. It was scattered with sparkling points of reflected light. We drove up Marinella’s steep hill and parked.

Marinella was waiting for us. Her eyes strayed to the wine crate and she shook her head sadly when she saw the name of the producer burned into its side.  “Ed deserved better,” she said. “You should have told me; he could have had one of my boxes.”

She led us to a terrace of olive trees with a sweeping view of the entire valley.

“Pick a spot you like,” she said. “I wish I could be buried here but the government won’t let me. They have all these rules. We have to be buried in a cemetery.”

Cesar, Marinella’s companion, dug the grave under a tree and we laid Ed to rest. I planted a small cactus on the mound of fresh turned earth as a symbol of his independent personality. Then we trooped up to Marinella’s tasting room.  She opened a bottle of her Amarone and pushed a glass toward me.  I sipped the wine but could taste nothing. I was too filled with emotion of a different sort to make any room for the scents and texture of wine. We went outside and watched the sky turned a wonderful orange-rose as the sun set.

March 2 Villa de Winckels

I adore the annual Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it) because it includes everyone: international darlings, local heros, and producers whose total production of Amarone rarely makes it to 100 bottles.

 

Here are three of my favorite wines from the tasting:

Zyme 2006 Amarone “La Mattonara”. It is like cherries melting on the tongue.

Graziano Pra 2008 Amarone. A nice tingling sensation. Black peppery scrim over supple fruit.

Vicentini 2007 Amarone. Intriguing bruised fruit shot through with refreshing acidity.

 

 

February 2918

First things first: Books

#cisonoanchio (#i’mheretoo) by Monica Sommacampagna

Monica tackles cyberbullying in this novel about Asia, a lonely 13-year-old girl who finds a light in the darkness of the digital night thanks to a conversation with her artist grandmother, and her grandfather, a former soldier. #cisonoanchio @gabriellieditori In Italian.

February 28  Annalisa’s Birthday Party

Annalisa, owner of the Osteria Carroarmato and one of my dearest friends, celebrated her almost-birthday in style. (She was actually born on February 29.)  And a good time was had by all.  Wine lovers may want to take a peek at the wine lineup.

 

 

 

 

 

3 February Amarone Anteprima

This is an important annual event in the Verona – the presentation of the vintage that producers may choose to release on the market.  In this case it is the 2014 vintage.

But first we went to the annual conference that precedes the tasting. For as long as I have been attending this event, the conference has always followed the same track: a couple of politicians tell us that Amarone is a symbol of Verona in the world, a technician tells us some statistical details and someone in the audience brings up Prosecco’s success – as if Amarone (big, red, high-alcohol) and Prosecco (white, sparkling, moderate alcohol) are direct competitors.

This year they invited Vittorio Sgarbi to take the dais.

Sgarbi, for the many of you who do not know him, is a former television personality, alleged art historian and minor politician. He made his name 30 years ago ranting about art to the television masses whom he clearly thought of as the unwashed hoards.

In the first minute of his presentation he compared wine to a marocchina (literally a Moroccan woman, also often a general a term for black women). I moaned aloud: oh, god. He plowed on with more of the women and wine comparisons (woman like sweet wine while MEN appreciate drier (amaro) wines.  He then gave that old sop: “women are, of course, smarter than men.” A smirk twisting his lips before adding: “That’s why we have to keep them in their place

I will concede that he got in a few good political jibes (that had nothing to do with wine or Amarone).  But he also drew laughs for sprinkling his spew with words like cadzo, scoppare, merde, culo (you can look these up yourself). He uses these words to demonstrate that he knows how to speak the language of plebs – like wot we, in the audiences, wuz.  He also drops the names of artists – Dali, Raphael, Warhol – to prove his intellectual superiority.

For the sake of full disclosure: my university degree was in Art History and I did graduates studies in Chinese At History. (I can still tell a Han from a Tang at thirty paces – even while wearing my reading glasses.) I therefore find the flaunting of these names especially irritating. He makes these artists mere props to support his towering ego.

At the tasting I spoke with producer Piero Zanone about the presentation.  He said: “For a bizarre year like 2014 maybe you need a bizarre speaker.”

Which brings us to the bizarre 2014s. It was an uneven vintage, one that none of the producers would declare great.  However, a few were able to make decent wines due almost entirely to the position of their vineyards.  Among the successful 2014 are: Zanone and Marinella Camerani,

Nice wines that were NOT from the 2014 vintage:

Marco Secondo 2012 Very nice. Fresh. Firm black cherry fruit, fruit-filled finish.

Zyme 2003 cherry jelly, long, firm finish, with an undulating meandering fruit. After 5 minutes in the glass, the flavors settle into pure pleasure.

There is something uplifting about Zyme wines; they make me want to stand up straighter.

I did not taste all the wines on offer – there is a limit as to how many high-alcohol (15° plus) wines one can taste effectively.

As I was leaving I ran into Arturo Stochetti, who said. “Non scherzo con Amarone (You don’t fool around with Amarone.) With regular wines you can taste – and spit – twenty or thirty wines. But with Amarone….”

 

 

January 2018

First things first, Books. The War Service of Sherlock Holmes, published by The Baker Street Irregulars. I have a chapter on Tokay in the book. Here is a link where people can purchase it, if they so desire.

http://www.bakerstreetjournal.com/trenches.html

January 6th is the designated birthday of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  Every year there are celebrations in New York City and in London. I have been to these dinners many times. This year, I just could not face the weather in New York.  I do not own snow boots or a decent winter coat.  Nor do I own anything made with “camping in the Arctic” padded insulation.  I regret not being able to attend as I miss the camaraderie.

The only organizations I have ever willingly joined are the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH) and the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI).

Here is a photo taken a few decades ago: from left to right: top row: Mickey Fromkin, Susan Dahlinger, Evelyn Herzog, me. bottom row:  Roberta Pearson, Susan Rice, Sara Montegue, M.E. Rich.

The following is an edited excerpt from my contribution to “Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game,” edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2017.0888.

When I moved to New York City in late 1977 to manage The Mysterious Bookshop—a job I was offered because I have always been a voracious reader of mystery novels—I was fortunate enough to immediately fall in with the Adventuresses, and I began attending their monthly get-togethers (ASH Wednesdays) in 1978.

What a magnificent group we were! I look back on those days fondly. We Adventuresses loved books, we loved to laugh, we knew how to have a good (and occasionally riotous) time. We were free to be who we really were—women with agile minds and a knack for mischief. Perhaps even more than an appreciation of the Holmes stories themselves, it was the camaraderie and the feeling of having found a home that drew me to ASH.

I was staying at the apartment of Mickey Fromkin and Susan Rice, two fabulous ASH, on the eve of my first trip to France in 1982. It was to be one of my free-wheeling rambles around Europe in search of some as yet undefined je ne sais quoi. That year, serendipity led me to picking grapes in Champagne and living for a time in Paris, and this in turn led me to my entry into the wine trade.

That late summer evening in Mickey and Susan’s book-filled front room, Evelyn Herzog, ASH’s Principal Unprincipled Adventuress and founding-mother of the organization, told me that I could not set out to live the life of an Adventuress without becoming one officially. She invited me to join ASH and gave me the investiture name of Mlle. Vernet, the name of Sherlock Holmes’ maternal grand-mère. It is a name with which I am very proud to be associated. The fading yellowed certificate that commemorates this event hangs in my office as I type this.

In 2006, in a hotel room at the Algonquin on a sunny morning after the Big January Dinner, I called a little meeting of some of my favorite ASH and proposed a idea, one conceived because I was lonely for Sherlockian companionship. I asked them and some clever Boys to write essays for a book called Ladies, Ladies: The Women in the Life of Sherlock Holmes. I did this not so much to amplify the place of women in the Holmes stories (although it does this handily), but rather to have a reason to be in weekly contact with some of my closest friends. The book is lovely. It is chock-full of information. But for me, it is a document attesting to long-time friendship.

In 2010, thanks to the lobbying of Venerable Ash and Old Boys from my New York youth, I was invited to join the Baker Street Irregulars, with the investiture of Imperial Tokay. This is a reference to a fine wine with startling medicinal properties, which is mentioned in The Sign of Four and His Last Bow. The investiture name is, of course, a reference to my career in the wine trade. I am grateful for this honor: the BSI parchment shares wall space with my ASH certificate.

I went back to New York for the first time after many years in Europe in the mid-2000s to attend a BSI dinner, I was assailed by a covey of young women. One of them looked at me reverently, her eyes wide with wonder, and said: “You’re one of the old ASH.” Over the rest of the weekend, I found myself saddled with that label. It was disconcerting, because I knew that—in her heart, mind, and soul—an ASH never grows old.

First things first: Books

Every summer from the age of eight until I left for University followed the same pattern: I would soon be burnt to a red and painful crispiness by the Kansas sun and spend the rest of the summer in the shade with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of detective novels. I would read through them one after another. When the stack was finished I would walk to the library to check out another stack or ride my bike around to garage sales, picking up Perry Masons for my Grandmother and assorted 5-cent books for myself.  Now – several decades later – to be paid to read books seems like a dream come true. Readers will understand the incredible pleasure there is to be had in saying as you stretch out on the divan with a book (or one hidden in a computer): “I’m working”.

New Years Eve with Chievo Fans

We have avoided gong out on New Years Eve for many years because of the fireworks that often accompany this event; Stanley, quite sensibly is afraid of the noise. The nice people at the Chievo fan club said: Bring him along.

There was another dog there and both Lucio (a big black something or other) and Stanley (a medium brown something or other) were very well behaved as were the assortment of children, who also attended. This is an artistic photo taken by Michael, with our pal Greta’s profile and Giovanni rattling the pots and pans.

December 26 Boxing Day Tea

Every year on we go to Ugo and Stefania’s for English Tea. Michael is the official Tea Master (because he is English), the ladies all wear hats, and we eat cucumber sandwiches.  Tea drifts into aperitif time and that leads on to dinner.

 

The Twins (Francesco and Giovanni) were home from their university experiences (F.’s in Singapore), G’s in Lisbon) and wanted to learn about wine tasting. We opened one of the wines that we had brought: a Coteaux du Layon 1996. It was stunning. This kind of wine is the reason that people become wine tasters: it is the thrilling combination of sensual and intellectual pleasure. Long, evolving, complex swirl of rich flavors all buoyed by sprightly, dancing acidity. Needless to say, the boys had never tasted anything like it and were entranced by its balance and enticing shifting pattern of flavors (ideas of quince, apricot, mandarin orange. A great way to bid goodbye to 2017

December 24/25 Annual Christmas party at Ugo’s

December 22 Big Cake

Michael donated a Big Cake to the Chievo fan Club dinner.  It provided many photo opportunities.

 

December 15 Donnafugata and the rest….

I opened a bottle of Donnafugta 2016 La Fuga Sicilia Chardonnay – bright, refreshing lively satisfying on the nose and palate, flavorful fruity finish, infused with sprightly notes of exotic fruits and greengage plums. I started thinking of the future – say 20 or so years from now – when I will (perhaps) be sitting in the old folk’s home.  I hope to heaven that wherever I am there are Donnafugata* wines on the menu. I told Michael this and he rolled his eyes and said: Magari (which can be loosely translated as: “Yeah, in your dreams!” ) And I guess he is right…. these are the satisfying (easy to drink yet intellectually interesting) wines that dance through my dreams.

 

And  Zanovello, Bucci, Drei Dona, Fattoria Zerbina. Gini and Podere San Cristoforo would be most welcome on that fictional winelist

December 13

Michael and I took a brief train ride to a small town and were picked up by Michael’s pal Lorenzo, who whisked us to her family’s offices to look at the new brochure and attendant material. For several hours Michael and I argued over word choice until we were pretty sure that the booklet would be a colossal success.  I love words and so does Michael, perhaps this is why we have remained happy together for all these years.

December 8 Children’s theatre

As I often do after seeing an old movie I often look up the cast members to see how their lives evolved over the years.  I looked up David Wood, who played Johnny in If… and read that he has become a leading light in children’s theatre in Britain, has written plays that have been performed around the world and that he wrote a book, which is aptly titled Theatre for Children: A guide to Writing, Adapting, Directing and Acting. I leaped from my chair and began scanning the bookshelves.  Yes, I have that book.  Here is why.

Twice our pal Ugo has pulled me into his orbit with the promise of securing a financial backer for a musical. The first time, we met at the Amnesia Café where he introduced me to a money-dispensing politician from Vicenza, a town an hour away from Verona by train. Over cool glasses of sparkling wine it was decided that I would write a children’s musical depicting the life of Jules Verne and that the Vicenza town council would foot the bill for the production. I was to have a cast of thirty children and adults that would include jugglers, acrobats and ballet dancers!  I was in heaven. Susan in Colorado and Rita in Kansas started sending me books on and by Jules Verne. I wrote six songs and studied stagecraft books in an attempt to figure out how to make fifty small “hot-air” balloons descend from the rafters of the theatre and how to make a volcano erupt on stage. Time passed and whenever I asked Ugo about the funding he was evasive. Jules Verne’s centennial came and went, and with it the dream of producing the show. Funding for it had wandered away while the politico was having drinks with someone else one late afternoon.

The second time Ugo encouraged Michael and me to write an original musical set in Verona. The only catch was that we needed to use his accordion playing pal Eugenio as the composer/arranger. While Michael and I were thinking of boffo end-of-act-one show-stoppers, Eugenio was thinking about a nice little thirty-minute chamber piece for accordion and guitar performed in Veronese dialect. Never has the phrase “artistic differences” had such resonance.

December 7  IF…

Michael and I took the bus to an outlying neighborhood of Verona to a small cinema to see If…  Neither of us had seen the film in a few decades. It was directed by Lindsay Anderson and came out in 1968.  Both Michael and I were too young in that period to see it then – it had an X rating after all.  It marked the first film role for Malcolm McDowell, and it was this film that led Stanley Kubrick to cast him in Clockwork Orange. If… won the Palme d’Or a Cannes and, as Wikipedia tells us “In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine ranked it the 9th best British film ever.”  It was wonderful to see it again.

December 6 Marco Felluga and Mushroom Pie

I wanted something to go with my star anise-infused mushroom pie, so I opened a bottle of Marco Felluga Bianco.

Note: Fiercely bright, with a fine concentration of yellow color. On the nose, creamy, with a lemony note rising and lifting the broad fruit and vanilla notes of wood. On the palate, very round, with the flavors echoing the sensations on the nose Very satisfying…

 

First Things First – Books

I read Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard.

My favorite quotes: (referring to Homer’s The Odyssey): “the first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’, telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public” and “if women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine rather than women?”

This slim volume could not have appeared at a more appropriate time.

November 21

I visited the Gini Winery. http://www.ginivini.com/

I have followed the development of this winery for more than two decades. Sandro and Claudio’s dedication to making quality wines has never wavered. It is always a pleasure to taste – and drink – their wines.

Among the wines I tasted:

2016 Soave Classico. Fresh, full, fragrant, flora. Enticing scent of blossoms. Lemon sherbet over ripe pear flavor.

2014 Froscá Soave Classico – fresh vibrant alive. An almost mandarin touch to the acidity. Slides down easy.  The grapes are from vines that are between 80 and 90 years old.

2014 Salvarenza (“Vecchie Vigne” – old vines. The vineyards are over 100 years old) A fragrance that draws me in. exotic fruits emerge. Elegant. Well-knit The finish evolves, with new flavors emerging, others receding.

2001 Salvarenza – Clean. Tightly-knit flavor- After 15 minutes in the glass still firm and fresh.

“With our wines. the minerality comes out over time, after 5 or 6 years,” says Claudio.

2013 Campo alle More Pinot Noir – Bright. Vibrant. Alive. On the nose an amalgam of red berry fruit (raspberries, blueberries). On the palate the wine blossoms – all the scents detected on the nose unfurl. An undertow of bruised plum. Long flavorful finish

On to Zymé in Valpolicella. The winery is a work of art. Anyone interested in winery architecture should visit.

November 15

I was at the Colli Euganei winery of Paolo Brunello. We tasted 2 wines blind, with a group of 14 local wine producers.

The first was a Garganega/Tocai blend called Il Bondo. The wine is named for Paolo’s much-loved dog.  It (the wine) was fresh and appealing.

He then opens a red wine. From the first sniff the wine had captured me.  It was one of those Eureka! moments that every professional wine tasters knows: that instantaneous recognition of quality and style. The moment when you realize that you are not just tasting a beverage but rather you are tasting a Real Wine.

I waxed eloquent on the wine, my enthusiasm growing.

Paolo pulled the sleeve from the bottle to reveal that the wine was….Not His.

The winemaker was Franco Zanovello.  Readers of this diary know that I adore Zanovello’s wines.  I often refer to them as Audrey Hepburn wines – elegant yet lush and complex with staying power and longevity. This wine was no exception.

Here is my note:

2009 Natio Ca’Lustra-Zanovello (Merlot, Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon)  – bruised plum color with a ruby sheen. Clean, fresh, with a thrilling undertow of mature fruit (blackberry, brambles, blackcurrants, hint of herbaceousness. Lingering, fruit-filled, ever-evolving finish.  Very satisfying.

Franco’s daughter was at the tasting.  I said to her: “You probably don’t realize this because he is your father but…Franco has a rare talent.”

November 8

I opened a bottle of 1981 (yes, 1981) Masi Amarone. The wine’s lively acidity and rich fruit flavors were wrapped in the incense-like fragrances I always associate with mature Amarones.  It was a lovely tasting experience.

It is safe to say that they don’t make wines like this anymore.

I also tasted a Chateaux Mongravey, Margaux 2011. Fresh, bright, elegant fruit and a long flavorful finish. It deserved all the awards it received.