February 2012

At the beginning of this month Michelle Lovric sent me a copy of her new book for children: Talina in the Tower.  This is intelligently written:  beautiful prose, witty dialogue, plus enough gore and gruesome Venetian history to satisfy modern children.  Her first children’s book, The Undrowned Child, had imagery so potent that it followed me into my dreams.  She also writes novels for grownups – all set in Venice. www.michellelovric.com

February 29 – Annalisa’s birthday party at the Carroarmato

We are greeted with a glass of 2007 Brut Franciacorta from Villa. This is a favorite of mine.

The wines that impressed me most:

1998 Terra di Fanciacorta “Convento della Santissima Annuciato” from Bellavista. Lively, fresh. Mellow, golding-yellow.  I think I have misread the label and another squint.  No it really is 1998.  Remarkable freshness.

It just occurred to me that most of you have no idea what a Terra di Franciacorta is: and why should you?  The name refers to the still wines made in the sparkling wine zone of Franciacorta.  Whites, like the one above, are based on Chardonnay.

“It has been in its wooden case until this morning,” says Annalisa.  This means that it has spent at least a decade resting in the cellar of the Carroarmato, an idela environment for wine.

1988  Masi Campofiorin in Jeraboam. So elegant, like a bolt of silk unfolding on the palate. Freshness comes to greet you. The fruit has evolved into more interesting fragrances and flavors.  It reminds me of wild cherries.

“They don’t make it like this anymore,” says Annalisa.

“Yes,” says a fellow celebrant. “They haven’t made wine like this since Nino died.”

February 21 – Carnival Dinner at the Carroarmato

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February 18 – 19 – Sangiovese in Romagna – Vino, Art and Snow

An excellent seminar on the various soils and climatic differences in the wine growing areas in Romagna.

One of the wines that impresses me the most is the 2008 Thea Rosso from Tre Monti.  It has everything I like in a Sangiovese: ripe cherry fruit, elegant opulence.

“It has the name of our mother,” says David Navacchia.  “When she died we decided that if we made a great wine we would name it after her.”

This is truly a great wine.

2008 Pietramoro from Fattoria Zerbina. A warm wave of fruit (cherries mostly) subtle. The wine drenches the palate in war, fruit, defined by insistant but pleasing tannins. Very enjoyable wine.

2010 Notturno  from Drei Dona. A swirling funnel of taste: warm black cherry fruit and  brambles. Broad and pleasing.

The pack of journalists and some producers go to dinner at San Domenico’s  – always a treat: excellent food, superb service, relaxing atmosphere.  During dinner a journalist drops off to sleep. I am mesmerized by the swaying of his head as it descends to his chest and the momentary snap back that never quite wakes him up. He sleeps likes this for a full 15 minutes.

Rule Number One in The Professional Wine Writers Handbook: Always remain conscious at business dinners.

February 17 Carnival Parade

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February 10 through 17 Lisbon – Our first vacation in 15 years

Friday 10 – In the taxi from the airport we scan the covers of popular gossip magazines provided by the driver. We learn the word irme from a headline about Kate’s irem Pippa embarrassing the Royal Family.

We go to dinner at a local restaurant.  Jim and Carole are treated like long, lost friends.  A jolly place.

The coffee trolley arrives: a large glass double boiler affair set over a candle. The flame leaps out of control and illuminates the surprise turning to fear in the waiter’s eyes.

We learn the world galgos from the picture of a greyhound on a wine label.

Saturday 11 – We walk through Estrela Park.  I am indescribably happy. If it were a few degrees warmer this park would be my manifestation of heaven.  We gallop along after Jim to the tram terminus. We enjoy a Disneyesque ride to the flea market and stroll through the narrow streets, stopping for lunch at a nice little place with tables against a sunny wall (Tasca Morgandinha).  I take a picture of a man videotaping his beer.  The cheese is superb and we learn the word patinga, which we take to mean whitebait. Then it is off to the center of town and a shot of cherry liqueur at A Ginjinha.  Jim continues to stride out while Michael dawdles in front of signs in shop windows and on street corners.  I know there is nothing I can do to speed him up when he is on the trail of a new language.  However, I am torn between my desire to keep up with Jim and my allegiance Michael.  I pace back and forth between the two men like a nervous Border Collie attempting to keep the flock together.

Jim makes duck for dinner…succulent, superb.

Sunday 12 – To Belém on the tram. We learn the word for dog: cachorro.

We visit the Monastery: loads of arty photo ops and a fascinating timeline that matches world history to Portuguese history.

We race to the ferry and go to lunch in a fine little restaurant. The food is very good and the service is as pleasant as always…and it has the further advantage of having a wonderful English Menu, which features Unlike Lobster, Shellfish in Bark, Supplement of Coal Miners, Tropical Coal Miners and Puppies to the Beckford.

“In the men’s room I learned a new word,” says Michael. The word is muito (very much, as in muito obrigado).

We cross back to the mainland to visit the Belém tower. Then we hot-foot it over to the pasticcceria de Belém for special pastries. There is a long line in front of the place. We elbow our way inside and join a cue for table service. All of Lisbon is here today. Nice cakes….excellent cinnamon.

Monday 13 – On the way through the Vasco da Gama mall, we learn the word bonito from a poster advertising Adam Sandler’s new film.   I can now point and shout: “Cachorro bonito!”  (Handsome dog!) And I do just that…repeatedly.

“You know,” says Michael. “If we were here for two weeks we would be speaking the language.”

“You, maybe. I would only be able to talk to people about their pets.”

The Oceanarium is a wonderful place to visit…be prepared to spend at least 4 hours there.  In the special sea turtle exhibit we enter a Plexiglas bubble inside an aquarium.  Slumped on soft couches we watch fish flit and glide through the water above us.  Again I am indescribably happy.

Michael discovers that the Beckford on the restaurant menu refers to Billy (as we, his new found friends, call him) Beckford, a fabulously wealthy English eccentric who built a fabulously eccentric house in Sintra.

Tuesday 14 We go to Sintra and stroll around the town. Do not snub the Tourist Office: nice brochures and excellent T-shirts.  Oh, I can just see some of you rolling your eyes when you read the bit about the t-shirts…

Then off for a taxi ride down to the restaurant by the beach.  Fine sand, black boulders, gusting winds and an unruly ocean.  Very beautiful.

Once again lunch is rib-sticking chow, simply prepared and pleasantly served: just right for a vacation.

The sugar packets bear the sentences (in Portuguese):

One night rumors will become reality

One night I will make the earth move for you

One night I will dance to seduce you.

The Best New Word award goes to chão, which means ground (soil, floor) as in “chão tremor”.

The taxi that comes to collect us is driven by a chatty man who tells us that his car has over a million miles on it.

I ask him the word for the sound a dog makes and demonstrate my woof.

Latido.  Portuguese is a difficult language,” he says “There are a lot of words that sound similar. Like the word for pinch-pocket: ladron for a man and ladra for a woman.”

Jim makes excellent baccalà for dinner.

Wednesday 15 – Carol, Michael and I head to the Fado museum, then up the hill to the tile museum.  Carol spots a sunny café and we hop off the bus and amble over to a collection of tables in front of the Solar dos Bicos. Michael regales us with the differences between the words bica, bicha and bicos. The latter refers to the nipple-like projections that cover the façade of the house next door to the bar. Carole humors us and lets us take the tram back to the apartment. Our driver is a very angry man.  When a taxi stops on the tram line I think we may be in for a spot of Tram Rage.  Instead he whips out his pen and viciously takes down the taxi’s license number.

Tonight we head to A Morgandinha de Alfama (right across from the Fado museum), for chow and fado.  I am hypnotized by the Portuguese-guitar player. He seems to be finger-picking and strumming at the same time. I fear that if I stayed here I would become this codger’s groupie.

Thursday 16 – Back to my favorite park to watch the dogs and to amuse their owners with my carefully prepared questions – Quantos anos? Nome? – and exclamations – Bonito!  Dog owners don’t really care how badly you speak a language as long as you are babbling about the beauty of their pets.

I return to the apartment and we learn the latest installment in the Blogger Budd vs. Point-Man Parker Saga, and discuss the merchandising potential of the as yet fictitious  thisblogger.com site.  Jim broke the story about Robert Parker’s representative in Spain being involved with a shady character.  Parker has threatened to sue but as yet has not done so for the simple reason that everything Jim wrote was verifiably true. I will not go into the details.  If you like type Jim Budd into Google and the whole story will unfold.

On this trip I learned that Jim is an excellent cook, that I like Vinhos Verde, that Michael cannot travel without a dictionary and that Carole must be encouraged to take guitar lessons.

February 4 Dinner at Auntie Leo’s

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February 1 Snowing in Verona!