Roberto Bravi (sommelier, juggler and artist) showed his most recent work – his lady robot series – at various sites around Verona. (www.tinsonpanel.com) I have known Roberto for – gasp – a couple of decades now. Strangely, I first knew him as a juggler and later was surprised to see him garbed in his serious black apron and pouring at snooty Verona wine events. But, let me assure you that, in his heart, he is 100% artist.
October 25 In the Suevi (sung to the tune of that Village People Classic: In the Navy)
We troop over the Juliet’s House on this rainy afternoon to see our pals Lorenzo Simeoni and The Soave Team present a new initiative: Suevis & Recioto di Soave in Verona (a.k.a. the City of Love).
Lorenzo, like most Italians, had never read a Shakespeare’s play. Two years ago he decided it was high time to remedy that situation. “I opened Romeo and Juliet,” he tells me. “And the first line my eyes fell upon was Romeo saying: ‘“Save me a piece of marzipan.’”
From that chance glance has grown the Suevi project. Suevis are marzipan-based cookies that Lorenzo developed from a 15th century recipe. Their fragrance is reminiscent of my mother’s bath oil balls. However, they do go down a treat with a decent glass of Recioto. I had one with 2009 Recioto from A. Vicentini (www.vinivicentini.com ). Very Yummy. I also tried a Recioto from a spanking new producer, Damiano Fonaro. “He is our youngest producer,” says Aldo Lorenzoni, director of Soave Consorzio.
October 21 Quintarelli Revelations and Dal Forno gets a look in too
We go to Claudio and Giuseppina’s for dinner. We bring:
1988 Quintarelli Valpolicella. Deep, bright black cherry/plum color. Nose: Fresh, cocoa, lightly candied cherries. Palate: sprightly acidity. The flavor of cherries near the pit, with a touch of cream. Silky verging on velvety texture. Long Finish.
“Cribbio,” says Annalisa. “For other wineries this would be an Amarone. Mama, che gioia! I’m tired of stupid wines that don’t give joy.”
“When I first met Quintarelli,” she continues. “I thought he was going to be huge but he was as small as me. I spent two hours there tasting. We talked about everything but the wine.”
After 30 minutes the wine is still fresh and firm. After 45 minutes coffee and cola notes emerge. After 1 and ½ hours, its freshness is breathtaking. How is it possible that Quintarelli can make a Valpolicella that after 23 years is still giving sensual pleasure, when there are producers who are making Amarones that are dead after 5 years?
1996 Amarone Dal Forno. (www.dalforno.com ) Opaque black/dark plum. Nose: Freshness rises and brightens the senses. It lifts and infuses the creamy cherry fruit. On the palate: a dusting of black pepper on the attack that settles back in to a swell of rich, ripe plums. There is an undertow of tar. Lively. A soft velvety texture. You breathe in and feel the flavors rise. The fruit is so powerful that is nicely balances the 17.5° alcohol.
“Cazzo, che roba,” says Roberto, the doctor.
We also drank 1999 Crozes Hermitage Dom Combier (fresh and juicy), 1994 Sassicaia (vivacious with rich, ripe flavors – blackberries and cream soda), 1995 Sagrantino di Montefalco Arnaldo Caprai (knubbly, mulberry fruit and uplifting acidity) and 2007 Ben Ryé from Donnafugata (my note reads: “bliss”). (www.donnafugata.it).
October 18 I am interviewed and give a tasting lesson
A Latin American journalist comes to interview me for, I believe, an article in a Columbian (or perhaps, Peruvian) wine magazine. Next week she will be moving to Paris where she hopes to tackle the WSET (Wine and Spirit Educational Trust) exams. When she hears that I have prepared (am preparing) students for tasting exams, she asked for a lesson.
Among other wines, we taste 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva “Vigna delle Lepri” from Fattoria Paradiso. (For more on this estate you can whiz down to the June 2011 diary www.fattoriaparadiso.com). Bright. Ruby red with dark highlights. Clear Rim. The nose is full and fruity (ripe red berries, tart cherries) good Acidity. A gentle hint of spice. The palate echoes the nose. A mineral vein runs through the fruit. My student finds elements of chocolate and smoke. She prefers this wine to the others we try, and so do I.
October 16 Bloggers discover the wonders of Soave
The Soave Consortium Team asks me to join the Soave leg of the European Bloggers Conference Tour. The bloggers are impressed with the rare beauty of the Soave Classico zone. I overhear one bloggette say in an awe-filled voice: “But it’s not ugly here. They told us it would be all flat!” I did not go over to find out who this misinformed “they” might be. The bloggers are also amazed at the elegance of the wines and their potential for longevity.
The highlight of the day is a tasting of wines from the SoaveCru association. This is a sort of consortium within the main Soave consortium. Membership is limited to those producers who agree to adhere to much stricter guidelines than those proposed by the official DOC and DOCG regulations.
I taste the 2010 Soave Classico from Gini (www.ginivini.com). This is the company’s entry-level wine and it is simply superb. It gives fruit (apricot, pear) on the nose and palate and a fine sprinkling of minerality. Zippy acidity infuses the fruit to give pure, simple, pleasure. For me, this is what Soave should be.
1995 Gini Salvarenza Soave.(in magnum) Bright, with a golden sheen over deep yellow. I smell mushy peas (I often get this on mature Garganega) and a hint of tar that shapes the fresh, juicy fruit (apricots, pears). It has an almost petroleum note on the nose (the kind one finds on great Riesling). It bursts like fireworks on the palate, filling the mouth with ever-evolving flavor. The apricot notes continue to evolve on the long finish. Its texture is like that of a mature Chein Blanc.
1990 Gini Salvarenza Soave. (in magnum) Freshness on the nose. Flavorful and satisfying. It is tightly knit with a thread of vivacious minerality. On the finish there is a warm snap of fresh almonds.
Okay, let’s think about this for a moment: this SOAVE is 21 years old and still giving pleasure, the 16 year old Salvarenza is still giving joyous burst of luscious fruit. So, who says Soave can’t age?
I talk to Sandro Gini about horses.
“I was driving along a country road in Burgundy,” he says. “When I saw a man using a horse-drawn plow to turn the soil between the vines. I stopped the car, walked out in the field and asked if I could have a try, explaining that my dad had used a horse in the vineyards when I was a boy. I took hold of the plow and went along for a bit and the horse stopped. It refused to go one step further. The farmer and I examined the plow and realized that it was about to hit the vine. The horse knew! No machine would be able to do that.”
“That experience brought back so many potent memories from my childhood. I still remember sitting on the back of a horse-drawn wagon filled with grapes, watching the landscape roll by. I must have been around 8 at the time. And I remember the day my dad bought the tractor. We had to sell the horse because we could not afford to keep it. Dad refused to come down when the horse’s new owner came to pick it up. He sent mother down to see the horse was loaded onto the truck. A while later we found out that the horse had to be put down because it refused to eat.”
There are tears in my eyes at this point and I believe I detect a similar well of emotion in Sandro.
“At the moment I am building a new drying loft and a stable,” he continues on a brighter note. “I want to get a horse and start using it in the field like my father did.”
Sandro has promised to call me when he gets his horse.
Next stop is the Cantina di Soave (www.cantinasoave.it), which has its headquarters right outside the town’s ancient walls. It is well worth taking the tour as the cellars are vast and atmospheric. One blogger thought the grotto room with its copper ceiling was like something out of Doctor Who.
There is a tasting of the company’s wide range of wine. Frankly, I am very tired and it is useless to taste when you are tired. What I really want is a glass of a nice sparkling wine. A representative of the company kindly opens a bottle of their Lessini Durello Chia. I am surprised by its fruitiness.
It is a new product for the company, which has just purchased 60% of the vineyards in the Durello zone.
I mention to the Soave team that I am feeling a bit knackered (I am recovering from an operation) and they very kindly rearrange their schedules so that Anna, Soavette extraordinaire, can drives me home. What very nice people there are in Soave. I urge anyone reading this to go out right now and buy a bottle of Soave and make a toast to kindness.
October 13 Poetry & Wine
I open a bottle of Sada’s 2009 Integolo Toscana I.G.T. (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano and Alicante), the estate’s entry level wine. It is very plumy and round on the palate, yet there is a definite snap at the finish, which reminds you that you are drinking real wine. It is very warm, mouth-filling and satisfying. (www.agricolasada.com)
I, as have all the maids/matrons of honor, have been asked to perform or speak at the wedding I will be attending in New York in November. I have chosen to read the ee cummings poem that begins “somewhere I have never travelled…” and ends “no one, not even the rain, has such small hands”. I decide to practice my recitation and end up in tears each time I read the poem. No doubt a glass and a half of Integolo has loosened my hold on my emotions.
Later in the month I printed up the poem and decided to try the Sada 2008 Baldoro Toscano I.G.T. (Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano). Very deep, ruby, with a blue-plum sheen. On the nose the Cabernet Sauvignon is bold: blackcurrant with a creamy undertow. On the palate, the Montepulciano adds a liveliness and brambly note that gives the wine depth and complexity. Mouth-filling. The House Style at Sada seems to be, based on these two wines, lush drinkability.
October 10 Vintage Bardolino – Could this be the official wine of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes?
We pass a group of jolly stone statues in the hall on the way to the conference room where the “San Zeno Castagne, Bardolino and Monte Veronese”(14 Oct to 14 Nov) project is being presented to the press. Five restaurants will offer special menus based on these products (www.ristosanzeno.it). The press conference ends with a drinks and nosh do: chestnut soup, chestnut-cocoa dessert, pieces of Monte Veronses cheese and an assortment of Bardolino wines. The label of the 2010 Bardolino “Vintage” caught my eye and I thought: This could be the official wine of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, of which I am a proud member. The wine is named “Vintage” because it is made in the old fashioned way and is intended to be a reminder of the good old Bardolino of days gone by. The blend includes 4% of Garganega (the white grape that is the principal a variety in Soave), a dab of Sangiovese, and a good whack (15%) of Molinara and (21%) Rondinella, and Corvina (48%). I know these precise percentages because Giorgio Tommasi, President of the Bardolino Consrozio and maker of this particular wine, pulled a little file card from his wallet and read them out to me. (www.cantinacastelnuova.com)
2010 Bardolino “Vintage” Clear ruby. Nose: Fresh, perfumed rather than juicy. A nice frison of freshness. The palate follows the nose. The fruit (cherries, I am aware of the flavor of cherry skins). It is an easy quaffing wine. Between 5000 and 6000 bottles of it are made each year.
We leave clutching two bottles of Bardolino and a big bag of chestnuts.
October 9 Adventures in the Garda DOC
“What kind of dog is that?” asks a Canadian guy sitting across the aisle.
“A bastardino, a mutt,” I say.
“What’s his name?”
“Why’d ya call him that?”
“We named him after Stan Laurel.”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“Yes, you do. He is there somewhere in your subconscious.” I look at his blank face and say: “Laurel and Hardy. Fat guy and a thin guy. Bowler hats.”
“Did they wear striped shirts,” asks the Canadian.
“Only when playing escaped convicts. Do you know who Buster Keaton is?”
“Do you know who Audrey Hepburn is?”
“Buster is also an important social icon.” I turn to Michael and say: “It’s because Audrey is on tote bags.”
“You could make Buster bags,” suggests Michael.
At the station we meet up with the rest of our bus mates to join the Profumi di Mosto (10th edition) excursion to wineries in the Garda DOC. The event is open to the public, the average age of which hovers around 24.
Garda DOC includes, as you might imagine, vineyard areas around Lake Garda. The principal red varieties are Groppello and Marzamino.
Groppello is bright ruby. It has medium acidity and good body. It is soft and round on the palate with a lightly spicy flavor. The variety is believed to be indigenous to the northern tip of Lake Garda.
Marzemino’s historic claim to fame is the reference to “excellent Marzemino” in the lyrics of the Mozart opera Don Giovanni. The variety produces ruby-colored wines that have tangy perfumes, with hints of black berries, walnuts and vanilla on the nose and palate.
First stop on our Profumi di Mosto tour is Spia d’Italia. This sprawling estate includes a riding school and a cozy looking restaurant (www.spiaditalia.it). We taste the 2007 Garda Classico Superiore (30%Groppello, 30% Marzemino, plus some Sangiovese, Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignon.) It is a simple, juicy, slightly herbaceous wine.
The highlight of the day’s tasting tour for me was a visit to the Az. Agr. San Giovanni winery (www.agricolasangiovanni.it), which is owned by Paolo Passini. A word of warning to the non-locals: Passini is a very common name in these parts – of the 6 wineries we visited 3 were run by Passinis. Every year at Vinitaly I make a point of visiting Paolo Passini’s stand because I love everything about his sparkling Groppello. (If you want to read descriptions you can whiz down to any of the previous April diaries.)
“You have come at a propitious time,” says Paolo. “For the first time there is a Garda DOC with a name tied to a specific subzone: Valténesi.” (For the proper pronunciation of this word imagine Natasha, the Russian Spy from the Bullwinkle cartoon show, saying the word to perky little Rocky J. Squirrel. “Vahl-ten-eh-zee.” I have no idea whether this will improve your pronunciation of the word but it does provide a pleasing image.)
“The Valténise hills only cover a few hectares but it is where the Groppello variety shows at its absolute best, “ says Paolo. “On February 14th of next year the first wines bearing the Valténesi name will be released.”
We taste a 2010 Rosé (70% Gropello) Pure, crisp bright, light cherry fruit along with raspberry and frozen strawberries on the palate. I can hardly wait for Vinitaly.
October 7 Can-tina
For years Morello has been asking me to contribute to his website (www.golosoecurioso.it ) He has never seen my inability to write in Italian as an obstacle. “Scrivi in Inglese!” And thus I have agreed to write: Cantina: the Continuing Adventures of Stanley Dog. “Cantina” is the Italian word for winery and “can” is the local dialect word for dog. Why this association, I hear you ask. Because in recent years producers who like me or who want to curry favor have started allowing me to bring medium-small Stanley along when I drop by to visit and taste. He has already been to Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. Now that he will have his own column perhaps he will receive even more invitations. O Frabjous Day! Caloo Calais!
I think Morello has the impression that Stanley will be writing these articles…..hummm. It is something to think about. I used to write for wine magazines (Decanter and Wine and Spirits, among them) under the name Edmund Cane (a.k.a. my dog Ed). Ed also had a poem published in a book, I am proud to say. But Ed was a much more literary dog than Stanley. When people asked: Where’s Ed? I would always reply: “At home working on his novel.” When they ask: “Where’s Stanley.” My standard reply: “Home watching TV.” Hummmm. Must ponder.
October 4 Facebook Frolics with Maria Grazie
M.G. has kindly offered to come into Verona and explain the mysteries of Facebook to me. I put a profile up a couple of years ago. I went back to visit it a few days later and had a request from someone who wanted to be my “Friend”. I looked at his profile page. It displayed the image of a man holding a submachine gun posed in front of a wall of automatic pistols! I left Facebook never to return…until today.
I sense that Maria Grazia finds it pathetic that I must occasionally hang the computer out the window in order to maintain the connection.
I opened a 2004 Bellavista Brut to celebrate. (Elegant, a subtle amalgam of pear-like fruit and minerality.) The wine is from the Franciacorta zone (in Lombardy). Franciacortas are made with the same grape varieties (principally Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) and same production methods as those used in Champagne. However, due to differences in soil and climate, I usually find that Franciacortas tend to have a fuller flavor and are much easier to insert into the context of a meal than Champagne.
October 2 Federica picks us up and whisks us to Trentino and the Roberto Zeni winery and distillery
(www.zeni.tn.it ). His cantina is participating in the 8th edition of Grapperie Aperte. We pull into the courtyard of the estate. Music from the 1980s scores the event: the Bee Gees, M.C. Hammer, Blondie, Michael Jackson. “My nephew is a D.J.,” explains Roberto. “He compiled the music for today.” I seem to be the only person ready to dance. Alas, this is so often the case.
Roberto Zeni looks to me like a slim, witty Kentucky Colonel. This unshakable image is due in part to the Frank Zappa-style ‘tash and the narrow swipe of beard under his lower lip.
We stand in a small room filled with heady fumes and watch pomace sliding down a metal scoop into the still, while listening to a very informative talk about how grappa is made and learn why Trentino Grappa is special. (For more on grappa slide down to the December diary – Federica took us to a town filled with tiny family-owned distilleries. Almost all of these families in town were named Poli!). This is followed by a bang-up lunch prepared by the ladies of the Zeni family. At one point Roberto’s daughter says: “Hurry up and finish talking, Dad, or my strudel will get cold.”
Grappa Trentino di Teroldego. Clear. Fragrant (a hint of hay), with a certain softness on the nose and palate. Very long finish.
Grappa Moscato Rosa. Rich and full on the nose. “The best fragrances,” says Robert, “Are maintained at 40 degrees or below. The difference between 40 and 45 is enormous.”
And – tah dah – the Best Grappa I have ever tasted in my entire life:
Grappa Pini (aged in wood, Teroldego pomace). If you consider yourself a grappa fan then you must try this one. Utterly superb. A burst of black pepper and white pepper surrounded by a full whisky-like flavor.
“Bags of flavor,” says Michael.
“You must put it in your mouth and let it dissolve,” says Roberto. I ask him where it is sold. His reply: “Italy, Germany, Austria—-and 24 bottles went to Tokyo.”
A word about Federica. She is a woman who can wear a fabulous satin cocktail dress with ankle-length combat boots – and make it work!