#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….”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
First things first: Books With Strong Girl Protagonists!Tamora Pierce is the winner of the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement in Young Adult Literature, the RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, and the 2005 Skylark Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction. She is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of more than 28 fantasy novels for teenagers, and has been Guest of Honor at numerous conventions, including Worldcon 2016. She has written comic books, radio plays, articles, and short stories, and currently devotes her minimal free time to local feline rescue. TORTALL: A SPY’S GUIDE, a collaborative effort with other experts on her Tortall universe, will be out in October of 2017, followed in Spring 2018 by the first in a three-book Tortall series, TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER. Tammy lives in central New York with her husband Tim Liebe and their uncountable number of cats, two parakeets, and the various freeloading wildlife that reside in their back yard. You may find her at www.tamorapierce.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter. I first met Tammy in the very late 80s when we were living in New York City. Back then she had written a martial arts script and got some NYU film students on board to film it. I “acted” in it – I had a death scene… unfortunately I had a hard time remaining immobile. We even did some clandestine shooting in Central Park, as I recall. I often wonder what ever happened to that film. It would be nice to see us so young and deliciously exuberant. At any rate, I am extremely happy that Tammy has succeeded in bringing strong and daring girls and young women to the forefront in her fiction.
May 27 – A Trip down Memory LaneWe go to the Osteria Carroarmato for dinner. A few months ago, I took 5 cases of wines from older vintages there. I figured that if they stayed in our wine closet they would never be drunk. At the Carroarmat we could open them and share them – which is exactly what happened. Annalisa (the owner of the Carroarmato) and I trooped down to the cellar and pawed through the cases and chose a 1988 Amarone and a 2009 passito.
WINE LESSON: When tasting older vintages, you look to see how the wine has evolved over time. You revel in the evocative tertiary aromas and enjoy the kind of pleasure it still gives. Example: Paul Newman in his 70s. Yes, he is old…but the corn-flower blue eyes still sparkle and his bone structure is firm. He isn’t the same as he was when he pouted his way through Cool Hand Luke, but he still attractive and vivid. So, a wine that can age well is – in my mind – a Paul Newman wine.
1988 Amarone from Masi: A dark, rich tariness over a raisiny fruit. A vaporous scent of grapiness rises from the glass. It still gives pleasure. After 20 minutes, it opens up. The nose has an enticing floral note. I think it is safe to say that they don’t make wines like this anymore. 2009 Fiordilej Passito Villabella. Pleasing. After 20 minutes a touch of honey emerges and is bouyed by mandarin-tinged acidity. Unofficial note: pretty yummy. Annalisa offered a 1988 Cesare Passito from La Salette that was still vibrant and fresh.
May 19 Soave – Come Rain or Come Shine We took the bus to Soave for a tasting, a couple of vineyard visits and to hear some speakers who – for the most part – were indeed interesting. Wines that made the trip worthwhile:
Gini 2013 Soave Classico Salvarenza – a citrusy sherbet-y note. I would be happy to wear this scent…so fresh and uplifting.
Soave Classico ”Monte Carbonare” 2012 Creamy texture, an elegant grown-up vivacity. I love this wine.
Domaine Sigalas Assirtiko “Santorini” 2016 Fresh, Vibrant. Citrusy. http://www.sigalas-wine.com/english/ Assirtiko is a white grape variety that is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini. To protect the grapes from the driving wind and fierce sun the vines are trained to form a basket. .
For Importers (and wine fans) looking for something new from Soave: Franchetto http://www.cantinafranchetto.com/ The Franchetto family turns out elegant, satisfying wines. Of particular note: Franchetto Soave La Capelina 2015: Bright, sprightly. Elegant nose. Lightly thyme infused flavor over subtle white fruits (peach and pear) La Capelina 2016 – barely ripe peach sorbet – I want to eat it with a spoon. When we arrived, we learned that La Capelina had won the Decanter award as “The Best White Wine of the Veneto”. So there! If you need more assurance that the company makes good wines let me say this: Of the seven wine journalists present at the winery visit and tasting, three of them bought 3 to 6 bottles of the company’s wines to cart home. Everyone in the wine trade knows that wine journalists only buy wine if the wine in question is indeed special and the price is low with respect to the wine’s value.
17 and 18 May Verona Wine TopWas a judge once again at the Verona Wine Top tasting. The wines are tasted blind, That means that we tasters do not know that names of the producers. However, we do know the type of wine, such as Soave, Custoza, Valpolicella, Amarone, etc. There were around 8 judges on each of the three panels. My impressions: Of the wines my panel tasted I found the whites to be of a very high standard, with my highest scores going to Custozas.
WINE LESSON: What is Custoza? Custoza is made from a blend of indigenous varieties – Garganega, Trebbianello (a biotype of Tocai Friulano) and Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese. Where is the Custoza production area? Near Lake Garda. The reds were more problematic. The Ripassos were often unbalanced and many of the older Amarones had not aged well – they were hollow on the middle palate and there was not one whiff of what they might have been in their youth.
12-17 May Reading JennyOur friend Jennifer arrived. The first thing she said was: “I need something to read”. I handed her Brilliant by Marne Davis Kellogg. A fine piece of escapist reading, tightly woven plot, witty narrative, great fun. When Jen finished it, she said: “Wow! What an ending. I didn’t see that coming.” Jen was an ideal house guest – she spent most of her time reading and drinking win on the balcony. We sang show tunes at the top of our voices and if she wanted to see sites she was content to amble out on her own…a pleasure to have her visit.
Books: A message from Scott Clemens, author of Evelyn Marsh. (A book I thoroughly enjoyed reading.) “The Kindle version of Evelyn Marsh is scheduled for publication on March 14th. It’s currently available for pre-order at: http://amzn.to/2kGjWve The more reviews before publication, the better Amazon’s algorithms will push it. So I’d really appreciate it if you’d go to the pre-order page, scroll down to the Customer Review section, and leave a review. It doesn’t have to be long. Even a few lines would help.”
Feb 23 Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels
Susan H. picked us up and off we go…
I adore the annual Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it) because it includes everyone: from International stars and local heros to the man pictured, Giovanni Ruffo. He makes very nice wines. His annual production is: 650 bottles of Amarone and around 3,000 of Valpolicella, all of which he sells at three local restaurants.
Other producers who stood out for me include (in the order they appeared on the tasting list): Brigaldara, Roccolo Grassi, Santa Sofia, Speri, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Venturini Massimo, Vigneti di Ettore, Zanoni Pietro and Zyme.
I did not taste every wine at the event because there were more than 60 wines and because Amarones have an alcohol level that ranges between 15 to 17+. I seldom taste more than 25 Amarones at a standup/strolling event. Some of my favorite producers were busy when I passed by and, with good intentions, I vowed to go back and taste their wines later. But anyone who has been at a large tasting knows that the chances of returning are slim.
Tasting Tip: At professional sit-down tasting of wines with alcohol levels that hover between 12 and 14, a taster can do 30 to 40 wines in a morning session and repeat this number in the afternoon. I don’t mind that kind of tasting but I no longer enjoy being frog-marched off to a Big Dinner at the end of one. I much prefer to go home, take a hot bath and have a nice bowl of cottage cheese (to calm down the acidity that builds up after a string of sprightly whites or sparkling wines). Tasting requires metal acuity: you cannot do it well when you are tired.
Feb 19 Lunch at th Carro Armato
We lunched with our friends Lorenzo Z, Meri F. and their daughter Vita and Dog Maggie. Stanley and Maggie were well behaved. They each chose their spot under the table and waited patiently for any bit of food that might happen to be offered. Vita, who is 2, had learned the word “NO!” and treated us to its many shades of meaning. Also at lunch was Meri’s pal Marta Carnicero from Spain.
For aspiring novelists, I will tell her story. Marta was taking a creative writing cours, focusing on novels. At the end of the course, she turned in her book to her professor who, upon reading it said: “This is really good, you should look for an agent.” A short time later a translating student at Columbia University in New York wrote to Marta asking if she could translate excerpts from the novel for her course because she had to work from original, unpublished material. Marta happily supplied a PDF. The translation professor read the excerpts and said: “This is really good. Would Marta mind if I showed this to a couple of publishers?”. Marta certainly did not object. And now two New York publishers are eagerly awaiting the full translation of her book (which is written in Catalan). “I never wrote it thinking of publication”, said Marta. “I just wanted to fulfil the assignment.” I asked her why she wrote it in Catalan rather than in Spanish. “My mother spoke Catalan and it is the language I use to speak with her and with my sister. I felt I could more fully express emotions and intimate ideas in that language.”
When her book is published, I will let you know. New authors should be nurtured and promoted.
Feb 14. Valentine’s day whoopee.
We (or do I mean I?) had a glass or two of Ca’ Del Bosco’s Cuvee Prestige Franciacorta Brut. Lovely saturated yellow, broad and appealing on the palate. Satisfying.
We then headed out to Danial B.’s birthday party. Daniel is the brother I wished I had. He is smart and kind and undeniably odd – a fine description of many of my best friends.
Feb 11/12 50 shades of gray in Valpolicella
Soccer fans from Udine came to Verona for the weekend. Our Chievo soccer fan club (“Chievo is Life”) organized events for them. We road on their great big bus, while Massimiliano Fornasar, President of his local Chievo Soccer fan club (and jim-dandy wine producer, www.fornaser.com) gave a little tour of the area. Massimiliano, microphone in hand, would say things like:” On your right you could see the Somethingorother winery – if it weren’t so foggy. To your left is an ancient church – you can almost see it.” Of course, the fog was so thick that you could see nothing out the windows. This did not stop the co-mingling fans from having a swell time. We then went to Massimo’s osteria (Osteria Alla Pieve in San Pietro in Cariano) for chow. I spoke with the head of the Udine supporters fan club about perfume (he sells is) and to another Udine fan about the value of “love letters” – written on paper and spritzed with perfume. I had a wonderful time. No one asked me about sports, my interest for which is extremely low. We tasted some of excellent Fornasar’s wines. Of particular note is the Il Genio, a warming, fruity, pleasing Valpolicella. Unfortunately the fine label you see here is only used locally. For foreign markets, there is the serious label. Pity. I could just see this wine being served at author’s signing parties.
The next day we had a big fan lunch at the Chievo is Life fan club headquarters before the Udine/Chievo match. There were many more attendees than anticipated because Giorgio, our leader, believes in being all inclusive – Everybody is welcome at a Chieve Is Life” event. So many people came that another table had to be found to accommodate the throng. Here is a photo of Sabrina, a serious Chievo support, who volunteers to help prepare and serve the food at these events. It was she who marshalled the extra table and took command of the situation. When all was rolling along smoothly I went to her and told her I admired her organizational skill and her ability to come up with solutions at the drop of a hat. “There are some thing you just have to do for love (of the game) and friendship,” she said. Here is a photo of Sabrina.
First things first: Books. Glenn Shea’s new book of poetry – The Pilgrims of Tombelaine – has just been published by Salmon Poetry. Glenn, whose poems have been read by Garrison Keillor on Keillor’s radio program, and who has collected fans in many countries (no least of which Italy) writes with elegance and wit. If you realize the value of poetry, buy this book at www.salmonpoetry.com. It should be up on Amazon shortly. (Pardon the cover cropping; I am inept when it comes to manipulating images.)
January 29 The Annual Amarone Anteprima Tasting
This tasting is the high point for Veronese wine lovers as it offers a superb opportunity to taste the recent vintage of Amarone and talk directly with the winemakers and owners of the estate. There were many wines that I appreciated. However, my policy is to only write about wine that ring my chimes.
Here is a link to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (a.k.a Will Smith) Ring My Bell, which gives a more explicit illustration the phrase.
My three favorite wines:
Roccolo Grassi 2013 (it will be released onto the market in a year) A bruised plum color. Fresh, yet with an appealing complexity of ripe fruit. (ripe cherries notes weave in and out of dark berry fruit flavors. (blueberry, brambles) (www.roccolograssi.it)
Viviani 2011 Bright. Almost green note on the nose – a weave of flavor that shifts and changes, leading to a clean flavorful finish. ( www.cantinaviviani.com )
Zyme 2009 a sleek cylinder of fruit, impeccable balance, a close weave of flavor (ripe cherries, blue berries) and spice (mace), superb texture that caresses the palate (www.zyme.it)
A young-ish winemaker said to me: “Your book on Amarone is an icon. Just yesterday I was with a bunch of producers and they were passing around your book saying: ‘Look at those picture; look at how young we were.’ I like it because you really understand farmers.” What a nice thing to say.
January 24 Dinner at Porto Alegre
This restaurant is owned by Sergio Pellissier, the captain of the Chievo Soccer Club. It was a fan dinner.
January 21 Dinner at the Gepsters
We had dinner at a friend’s house. The usual line up was there. The food was mostly vegetarian. The magnum of Villa 2010 Franciacorta Extra Dry we brought was lovely, satisfying, easy to drink (and I mean that in the nicest way). It was a great way to start the evening. After the snacks, the pasta starters, the main course, the salads, the cheese, the fruit and the nuts, conversation heated up. A rhetorical question about the US directed vaguely at me became a typical lecture about America’s current situation. On and on went the scree, the substance of which seemed to have been trawled from conspiracy theory websites.
Pontificating is a major sport among three of the 4 Italian men at the table. (and then there is sociable, sensible Michael, the only non-Italian man present. Being the right sort of Englishman he would never blather on like a batty old duffer.) I did what I have always done in these circumstances: I started doing word games in my head. I came up with 30 anagrams using the letters for Claudio – my favorite being lucid. And still the spew of looniness continued. So, I came up with around 30 words from Patricia – my favorite was tiara. I told Michael what I was doing and he came up with piratic – having to do with pirates. Do you understand more fully why I adore my husband? Piratic!!!
January 10 Custoza and Chablis, BFFs (that’s Best Friends Forever, for those who don’t use acronyms)
During last year’s Vinitaly wine fair, members of the Custoza Wine Consortium (www.vinocustoza.it) had a chat with Raoul Salama, Director of La revue du vin de France (www.larvf.com). From this historic meeting has come a synergistic collaboration between the wine producing zones of Custoza and that of Chablis.
What do these areas have in common? Salama explained: Both are cool climate zones, and the precipitation is practically the same, as are the altitudes of the vineyards.
What sets them apart? Primarily grape varieties. Chablis is 100% Chardonnay, while Custoza is made from a blend of indigenous varieties – Garganega, Trebbianello (a biotype of Tocai Friulano) and Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese).
So, today we find ourselves at the Hotel Milano for a tasting of Chablis and Custozas. The brief it not to compare the wines. It was not a matter of finding one wine better than the other, rather it created an excellent environment in which to really think about the identifiers for Custoza. For me those identifiers are an idea of candied fruit and a particular texture (that I think of as tweed) on the palate. Among the producers who made a good impression on the tasters present: Cavalchina (www.cavalchina.it), Albino Piona (www.albinopiona.it which presented a wine from the 1999 vintage that was still crisp and appealing), and Monte del Fra ( www.montedelfra.it ).
The Chablis were provided by La Chablisienne (www.chablisienne.com), whose director, Damien Leclerc, was also on hand.
At one point 4 of the 12 wines were presented blind (with the identity unknown to the tasters). Our little task was to tell the Chablis from the Custoza. I had no problem with this – not necessarily due to my consummate skills as a taster. No, it had to do with memory. The instant I put my nose in a glass of Chablis I spontaneously and instinctively smiled because the fragrance took me back to the years I worked with French wines in London. One of the Chablis presented stood out because at first sniff I was taken back to my days as a sommelier at snooty New York restaurants. That wine was: Chablis Chateau Grenouilles 2012. Lovely.
We then trooped over to Perbellini’s (www.casaperbellini.com ) in Piazza San Zeno for dinner. The food was imaginatively presented and the service was top notch. I will describe my favorite dish, a dessert:
A small cup (the size of a spool of thread) made of white chocolate. It is filled with pineapple juice and a straw has been inserted into the chocolate. This is covered with lime-infused spun sugar. It looked like (The Adams Family’s) Cousin It on a bad hair day and was absolutely delicious and great fun to eat.
Giancarlo Perbellini, the chef, also created a dish designed to go with Custoza, which he will insert into his regular menu: Zuppa Custoza, made with Broccoletto di Custoza, a local leafy green.
In an area that has more than its fair share of well-known wines – Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone, Bardolino – sometimes other local wines with long histories and great potential – like Custoza – are overlooked. It is the Consortium’s plan is to shed a little light on Custoza by concentrating on making it better known at Verona’s restaurants and bars. So, the next time you stop by Verona – to enjoy the opera, to gape at the Roman arena, or soak up some culture – take a moment to try a glass of Custoza. You might find a new favorite. 8 January Nabucco Yum
My favorite wines this year are turning out to be: juicy, fruity wines that have a well-defined personality, and that can go with a wide variety of food.
Monte delle Vigne’s 2012 Nabucco (a Barbera and Merlot blend). (www.montedellevigne.it )Yes, it is juicy, fruity (raspberry, brambles) and sprightly, with a pleasing spicy element. I served this red with Hokkien Fried Noodles (a dish well suited to a fresh yet elegant and well-balanced red wine, one that is not so rich as to overwhelm the nuances of the seafood. The recipe came from the book I wrote with Edwin Soon – Matching Wine with Asian Food. The next day I had a glass with a fried chicken and cheese sandwich. It was great with both. Michael opined that it would go really well with barbeque ribs. However, by the time he made that suggestion the bottle was almost empty.
The last glass of Nabucco went down a treat with an episode of Masterchef Australia. I love Masterchef Australia because no contestant has ever said: I am not here to make friends, I am here to win. Instead they say things like: I’m, so happy for Kylie, she deserves to win.
Oh, how I admire good sportsmanship. It is a quality that seems to be dying out.
January 3 A day without books
When I have a day without something to read I do foolish things like clean the closet, wash the floors, etc. During today’s brief cleaning adventure, I asked Michael to go through his shoes and select the pairs he would never wear again so that we could put them out on the dumpster for the people who come to trawl there in the evening. Here is why I adore my husband: before putting the shoes out, he polished and buffed them. It is the small, thoughtful actions that make a difference in this world.
A Memory of Professor Eco It has taken me a while to come to terms with the death of Umberto Eco, whom I interviewed on September 21st of last year. I have never laughed so much while doing an interview. He told jokes while we waited for the elevator. He showed my husband and me his library, which – considering it consisted of over 30,000 books – was contained in every room in the apartment. “These are the Art and Architecture books. My wife is an architect,” he said, waving to a wall of books. “There is the philosophy section,” he said pointing to another wall. Here is a picture of Mr. Eco in his “fiction corridor. “These are German. These are English. Those American. Here are the Scandanavian…..” He told me it took around 6 years to write a novel. “So you must come back again when I am 90,” he said. I thought I would.
After I had finished my interview for Publishers Weekly about his new book, Numero Zero, I asked Professor Eco if I could interview him for my Sherlockian friends. He graciously agreed. That interview will be published in English in the Spring edition of the Serpentine Muse, the newsletter of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. An Italian translation will appear in the next issue of The Strand Magazine: Organo dell’Associazione Uno Studio in Holmes. This latter issue will be devoted entirely to Professor Eco.
Here are some quotes : “There is also another distinction to consider, the one between narrative and mythography. For example, The Three Musketeers is wonderfully written, with a jazz style. The Count of Monte Cristo, on the other hand, is terribly written: it is like a muddy, sludge-filled river. But it, too, manages to create a myth that everyone knows and that has been reproduced in many films and many other forms – theatrical, radiophonic, television, etc.”
“So, there are texts that, from the point of view of aesthetics, don’t amount to much and were perhaps only written for the money but they have the power to create a myth. I think Sherlock Holmes belongs to the classification: mythography. It is not as if the works of Sherlock Holmes are written in a sublime way – like Dickens. But they have created a myth that would exist even if the stories no longer existed. The Holmes stories are models of inductive reasoning and they are therefore very interesting beyond being mere entertainment. I don’t think that they carry with them great philosophical merit because the philosophy in which Conan Doyle believed was spiritualism – at night making little tables dance around.” Eco s fingers flutter as if distributing fairy dust.
I asked the Professor if he planned on writing more about Sherlock Holmes. “I have written about Holmes in many other books, not only in the Sign of Three. So I have written enough about him.” Eco leans back in his chair, in a contemplative mood. “If I were to belong to a fraternity of or sect it would not be that of Sherlock Holmes but rather Nero Wolfe.” He smiles, a glint of the exuberant zeal of a fan lights up his eyes. “I paid ten dollars to receive their newsletter.” His rumbling laugh fills the room. “I know all of the Nero Wolfe stories by heart!” Ah, spoken like a true fan.
Here is a link to the Publishers Weekly interview:
28 February Elena Gladkova in Verona
We met up with Russian film director Elena Gladkova. Here is a link to one of her films: the delightful Jazz etude 2014. The audio is music and ambient sound so don’t be afraid to watch it – you don’t have to speak Russian. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBm4ItGEwvQ&feature=youtu.be
Stanley and I then set off for the Osteria Carro Armato to celebrate the birthday of Annalisa (the owner and my best Italian friend). Among the wines: a 1998 Fratta from Maculan. It was surprisingly fresh and complex on the nose and palate, touches of mint. “It went from being in Maculan’s cellar to mine here at the Carro Armato, so its storage conditions were optimal,” said Annalisa, when we began enthusing about its vivacity.
25 February Amarone A-Go-Go at Villa de Winckles
Villa de Winckles (www. villadewinckels.com ), a hotel/restaurant in the Illasi Valley, organizes wonderful tastings. Tonight there were over 60 top notch Amarone producers on hand. I will admit that I did not try all 60 – I am only human. But of the 40 I did sample, here are some of my favorites (in no particular order).
2007 Santa Sofia “Gioè” (cherries and cream, long evolving finish); 2011 Speri (delivers a very good wine in commercial volumes, which is not an easy thing to do.); 2010 Dal Forno (cream soda and dark cherries, a raw silk texture); 2011Roccolo Grassi (hypnotic mingling of austerity and lush fruit); 2010 Accordini Stefano “Acinatico” (elegant balance of fruit); 2011 Begali (juicy, satisfying); 2009 Pietro Zanoni (amalgam of black and red berry fruit) and the wonderful 2011 Corte Scaletta (juicy, figgy, pruney, luscious).
22 February Sangiovese di Romagna – one of my favorite annual tastings
We went to Faenza, a town world famous for its museum devoted to ceramics, for one of my favorite annual events: the tasting of Sangiovese di Romagna. Year in and year out, my top producers at this event remain Fattoria Zerbina and Dre Dona.
Fattoria Zerbina: Cristina Geminiani makes consistently outstanding wines – juicy, elegant and long-lived. If you see a Zerbina wine on a list – buy it. There is simply nothing else to add. Here is a photo of Cristina in her caffeine molecule earrings. Dre Dona: when I taste these wines and immediately think of all the ways they can be paired with food.
A New Entry at this tasting was a wine called Famous…because it is made from an local indigenous variety that goes by the name of Famoso (aka Uva Rambela). It is produced by the Romagna winery Santa Lucia (http://www.santaluciavinery.it ). This vibrant white wine has a finely-knit texture, with touches of sage and mint on the nose and palate.
The label is particularly attractive and I asked Paride Benedetti, owner of S. Lucia about it. “I was in Austria and my colleagues took me to the Klimt museum. And there I saw The Kiss for the first time. I stood in front of it rapt. I looked at it and saw grapes. So I brought my graphic designer to the museum and said: that’s what I want.”
The wine has everything, a good story, an original flavor…and its organic!
The town of Faenza was also hosting an art exhibit featuring cat-themed ceramics, paintings, tiles and dolls. It is held every year because – as I was told – February is Cat Month.
30 January Amarone A-go-go, Alfonso and Libre! We go to the annual Amarone panel discussion and tasting. One of the speakers says: “Amarone is wine for all kinds of foods.” I roll my eyes toward heaven and groan. Amarone is NOT a wine that is easy to match with most daily meals. People don’t eat great chunks of meat that often anymore. Nor do they want 14, 15 or even 16° alcohol at lunch most days. Amarone is a great wine; I really can’t understand why there is a push to make it small. Forgive me but I think of that Norma Desmond line from Sunset Boulevard: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
Among the Amarones that rang my chimes: Viviani 2010 Casa dei Beppe (Cream soda on the finish. Rich, deep cherry fruit. Long finish, very appealing), Corte Sant’Alda 2012 (fresh, firm fruit, a fine undertow of spice.) and Accordini 2012 (A fine firm weave of fruit and zippy freshness. Undertow of spice in the finish.)
We met up with Alfonso C. at the tasting and he kindly invited us to lunch, during which we had a good old gossip and grouse and a decent piece of fish.
I go to Libre! (www.libreverona.it/progetto/) to talk to Lia Arrigoni about books. Here is a photo of Lia (with wine) and Stanley (with charm).
25 & 23 Proposta Vini (www.propostavini.com) Federica S. whisks us out to Bussalengo for the annual Proposta tasting. There is a seminar on Riesling, with several Austrian examples for tasting.
Riesling used to be lumbered with the word “petrol” when it came time to make a tasting note. But the wines I tasted today were fresh and pure, with a fruit that might be described as an amalgam of apricot, white peach and a touch of Bartlett pear. My three favorites: 2013 Riesling Riserve Kellerterrassen from Hermann Moser, 2013 Riesling Reserve Heiligenstein from Topf and 2013 Reisling Preussen from Fuhrgassl-Huber.
“Austria is like Portugal,” says Michael. “They make really good wines but no one talks about them very much.”
At dinner the nice producer from Vadiaperti brought out a bottle of his 1994 Fiano di Avellino. Excellent, compressed fruit. Texture like raw silk. Pure firm fruit on the nose, a slightly smoky finish. I subsequently tasted the 2014 version. Lovely style.
The wine among the hundreds available at the tasting that gave me the most pleasure was the 2012 Riserva Rabaja Barbaresco from Castello di Verduno. One sip and I felt that I had suddenly stepped into the world of Fine Wine. Fine Wine used to be a term that denoted exceptional quality and elegance. It has fallen from use like the word breed. Michael Broadbent defines this term as: “An abstract qualitative term. A fine wine of good pedigree should display breed.” Oh, I miss those old tasting terms sometimes.
We ended the tasting with some superb artisanal beers from Giratempo (www.giratempo.it) . The grape Ale made with a small percentage of Moscato, was refreshing and appealing. All the beers we tasted were well balanced and elegant.
21 January Plumbing the Depths
The plumber came to sort out our ancient, rotting pipes under the kitchen sink. He was a nice man who swore at the pipes for a solid 5 hours. Porca Troia! (Pig Whore) I needed something to read in order to defend myself from listening to Italian cussing. The only book in the house that I hadn’t read for a while was the (4 vol. ) complete Shakespeare, and I will admit that I had never read the introduction – until today. It was written in the 40s and had that slightly stuffy university professor lip-curling sneer to it. By that I mean he put down all the other scholars who had – of course – gotten the facts completely wrong…
We finally have hot water in the kitchen. Hooray!
14 January Another life I might have lived I just finished reading Tony Hillerman’s autobiography, Seldom Disappointed. It stirred memories. I met Tony when he came to New York to promote one of his first novels. He was a very nice man and I enjoyed his detective novels that are set in the American Southwest and featured Indian/Native American protagonists, Joe Leaphorn and Jimmy Chee. These books made me nostalgic for the wide open spaces of my youth.
I subsequently wrote to him saying that I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in New York and was toying with the idea of moving to New Mexico. I arrived in Albuquerque and he kindly took a day to show me around. We drove up to Santa Fe, a wonderfully odd town that I could have been happy in. We talked about books and writing and life. He also told me that should I decide to move there I would be welcome at a writers’ group he belonged to.
I returned to New York after a few days…and life progressed as it did. But reading his autobiography made me think of all the “alternate” directions my life could have taken. Not because I am unhappy with where I am now. In fact I love where I am now. But every now and then it is nice to be reminded that your future is being decided every day.
For Sherlockians I was also warmly welcomed by John Bennett Shaw while in Santa Fe.
13 January What do you do with a wine that is too sweet?
A very nice producer – unbidden – sent me some samples of his Proseccos. I opened one labeled Brut, thinking that it would indeed be on the dry side. That way I could taste the wine, write a professional note and then enjoy a glass with my lunch of spaghetti with shrimp and mussel sauce. I poured a glass. Because the word “Brut” had set up expectations in my mind, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming sweetness of the wine. Let me say that the wine was well-made, there were no faults in it. However, it was nowhere near dry. What to do? I couldn’t drink it. You can’t give an opened bottle to Italian friends (US and UK pals would have no problem accepting decent free vino). I hated to pour it down the sink. I already had a sweet wine open for cooking. The answer came to me in a flash: Jello! Yes, I bought some gelatin leaves and used the wine as the base liquid.
6 January I love Chievo Fans We go to the clubhouse of our soccer fan club. Today Chievo is playing Roma, and our fan club has invited a Roma fan club to lunch. When the Roma contingent arrives, they are applauded by the Chievo fans. I felt a melting kind of love for everyone in the room; I appreciate good sportsmanship – and Chievo fans and players have that in spades! There was the ceremonial exchange of gifts. Roma brought hams and cheeses and calendars featuring soccer players. Chievo had the usual hamper filled with cakes – the owner of the soccer team also owns a well-known cake factory.
Here is a poem I wrote on a napkin during the event. It scans but does not rhyme. It sounds like extended hiku.
Wine in unlabeled bottles
Poured into clear plastic cups
Disco music fills the room
The Village People live on
At the Chievo Fan Club
2 Januay Sherlockains in Verona Guy Marriott, his wife Liz and their pal Shelia came to Verona for a visit. Guy is President of the Holmes Society of London and we had been scouting opportunities to bring a group of English Sherlockians to Cremona to visit the Stradivarius museum…and have a private concert performed on historic instruments. Alas, the majority of the group lacks the desire to make this little detour to Cremona during their journey from Reichenbach Falls to Florence. Michael had even lined up a Mostarda producer who agreed to come to Cremona for a tasting of her wares. Oh, well, mustn’t grumble. Maybe some other time. Should any other intrepid Sherlockians wish to “do” Cremona, drop me a line.
28 December HAPPY BIRTHDAY CINEMA Every year on this date our pal Ugo celebrates the birth of cinema by showing a silent film. This year it was D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. This three and a half hour epic was projected in a deconsecrated and unheated church in the center of town. Around 30 of us sat on metal chairs in our coats and hats. The film was indeed wonderful. However, I tolerated only an hour and a half of it, I was driven out by the cold. Michael to enjoy it to the bitter end.
Christmas Eve at Ugos
Every Christmas Eve and many an evening in between we climb the six steep flights of stone stairs, worn soft and smooth by hundreds of years of treading, to dine, drink, laugh, play silly games and argue at Ugo’s small apartment on the top floor of a building in the centro storico. I am grateful that our social life revolves around Ugo and his kith and kin.
17 December BLACK IS BLACK, I WANT MY COLOR BACK!
I went to a spiffy do at the Due Torre Hotel – an event celebrating the restoration of some circus-themed frescos from the 1950 by a local artist. There were circus performers from Verona’s circus school, decent eats…all very nice. BUT every single woman (but me! And my pal from down South) wore black. Once again, I am not talking about an Audrey Hepburn Little Black Dress black. Rather it was light-sucking black in baggy, body covering shapes.
I, of course, wore red.
“In Verona all women wear black to evening events,” said my pal from Southern Italy, who had some nice vivid blue (on a field of black) patterned top.
I thought: I have been to swankier events in New York, London, Paris, Florence and Milan…and in those places women choose dresses to match their skin tones and personal style – daffodil yellow; shimmering, smoky silver; emerald green. I find it so depressing to be in a room filled with black. Life is full of color!
16 December A BOOK PRESENTATION WITH A SIDE ORDER OF SPAGHETTI
TIP: Don’t present a book in a venue where the main event is eating.
The 30-some people dining in the back room at Scapin’s were polite to me but a book by a funny foreign lady didn’t stand a chance against spaghetti with duck sauce. The owner of the restaurant is a very nice man and he asked for a book to put on the shelf in the restaurant. Bless him. The wines were provided by clever Francesca Salvan. They were fragrant and juicy. If you ever find yourself in the Colli Euganei I would urge you to drop by the winery. Her family is truly geared up to accept visitors.
12 December LUNCH AT VILLA WITH THE GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) Susan H., Clementina P. and Michael and I enjoyed a merry lunch at the Villa Estate in Franciacorta. We look forward to this annual event. Yes, the photo is out of focus but I believe that helps capture the tone of the day. Oh my but we laughed! The fabulous earrings I am wearing, by the way, are a gift from Roberta Bianchi, whose family owns Villa.
4 December AROUND THE WORLD
By chance (OKAY, I’ll admit it: I was Googling myself), I came across an article in an Indonesian publication about Number Zero that mentions my interview with Umberto Eco in Publishers Weekly. It’s amazing how this interview is being picked up and sent around the world.
2 December MARINELLA CAMERANI OF CORTE SANT’ALDA AT THE CARROARMATO
Marinella, owner and winemaker of the Corte Sant Alda estate in Valpolicella, lives life on her own terms and makes wines just the way she wants to, without concern for fleeting trends. Her estate is certified organic and biodynamic – she produces Italy’s only biodynamic Amarone. She was as entertaining as ever at tonight’s tasting. I like her because she just says what she thinks – no mincing words for Marinella. We also had our wedding reception at her wine estate and our dog Ed is buried there. So, I admit to being partial.
1&2 December Wine2Wine
We went to a two day marketing/networking fest for people in the wine trade. On both days 90% of the women wore black. I don’t mean Audrey Hepburn chic black enhanced by diamonds and elbow length gloves. I mean life and light sucking black. In the two days I counted only 10 women who were not in black…they were in dark brown, grey or beige. Yikes! The world needs color!
31 July Umberto Eco (!!!!)
I get an email from Publishers Weekly asking if I want to interview Umberto Eco for them. My reply: You betcha!
29 Tim Parks in Milan
I went to Milan to interview Tim Parks for Publishers Weekly about his new book “Painting Death”. Tim Parks, fit and tan in a striped T-shirt, a straw hat shading his face, rolled up on his bike in front of the subway station in the Navigali section of Milan and we set off to find a comfortable bar. Over cold beers we discussed writing, Italy and the irrepressible Morris Duckworth, who is protagonist of his new book Painting Death.
23 through 27 San Gio Video Festival Every Year – for the past 21 years – on these dates our pal Ugo organizes an international video festival here in Verona. Videos/digital downloads arrive from all over the world.
Members of the Juries this year hailed from Spain, Canada, Italy, Chile and Iran.
70 films from: Germany, Italy, Spain, USA, Ireland, Chile, Russia, Poland, Canada, Mexico, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Iceland, Belgium, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, U.K., Egypt, France, Tunisia, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Austria, Armenia, Australia, Switzerland, Iraq and Greece.
One of the many things that sets this video festival apart is that Ugo organizes Cultural Trips for the juries. By “cultural” I mean, winery visits. He very kindly lets me tag along on these excursions.
We tasted a sparkling Gewurztraminer at Cantina Valdadige. (www.cantinavaldadige.it ) Its freshness and very lightly touch of sweetness made me immediately think of is as being a good by-the-glass drink in a cool, hipster bar.
We visited Az. Ag. Fasoli (Franco). (www.vinifasoli.it ) It was lovely. Mr. Fasoli and family are down to earth and – by gum – they make very nice straight forward Valpolicella – juicy, supple and approachable. The wines are sold mostly at the cellar door or to restaurants in zone. I urge anyone with a restaurant to give these wines a try. Franco also took us to his salami room and we walked through his orchards, eating peaches and figs along the way. It was a delightful visit.
We stopped by Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve (www.tenutapieve.com ) and visited fabulous Villa Mosconi Bertani. Among the wines I liked were the Pràgal Igt Verona, a Merlot-Syrah blend that was rich and satisfying (and had a very good quality price ratio!) and the Valpolicella Ripasso. I usually do not like ripasso wines. When not done well they can be clumsy and unintersting. However, the Santa Maria alla Pieve Ripasso was outstanding. It had elegance as well as jucy appealing flavor.
17 July Saved from the heat I get a call asking me to carry the photographer’s tripod around all day tomorrow. I thank my lucky stars that I already have an appointment and can decline without guilt. Walking around in the slick, slimy heat of summer while totting photographer-paraphernalia for eight hours is not an appealing offer.
16 July Vescovo Moro dinner
We have dinner at the Vescovo Moro with the organizer and teachers of courses for unemployed young-ish people. Diego tells of some of the projects they organize, one of which is a course on mixology (that’s cocktail making to the uninitiated) for people with mental handicaps. “It doesn’t matter if you order a glass of wine and they serve you a mojito,” says Diego. “It is just so nice to see them having fun and learning something new.”
The desserts at the restaurant are super duper! Diego and Alessandra and the crew take a tour of the downstairs area of the restaurant and are suitably impressed.
15 July Back at Scapin for a Slow Food dinner with Cà Rovere
Cà Rovere, located in the Colli Berici, is a sparkling wine specialist. The Colli Berici is just up the road, in a manner of speaking, from the Colli Euganie! (which, in turn, is not far from Padua.) The family owned winery has won its share of awards and is sold mainly in Italy. Alessia Biasin, owner (along with her brothers), spoke about the wines and we then all happily dived into eating the interesting dishes chosen to accompany the wines. Conversation was – of course – mainly about dogs!
Of particular interest was Brut Etichetta Blu 2010 (40% Garganega and 60% Chardonay). “Garganega adds complexity, with its acidity, making this wine good even with fatty foods,” says Alessia. The wine is bright yellow-gold, with a very nice weight in the mouth. Full firm perfumes – an amalgam of under-ripe pears, with an elegant line of salinity.
14 July Dinner at Osteria Enoteca Alcov del Frate Bertie takes us (Michael, Stanley and me) to the Osteria Enoteca Alcova del Frate (www.alcovadelfrate.it) for dinner. Very impressive. Service was personable and professional. The food was exceptionally well presented: fresh, flavorful and attractive. We had a Soave from Gini to start and then a Montelpulciano d’Abruzzo from Marina Cvetic (www.masciarelli.it ) The other patrons commented on how well behaved Stanley was – when they realized he had actually been sitting under the table quietly receiving morsels throughout our meal.
Here is a photo of Stanley displaying the rawhide ring given to him by Roberta.
12 July Go Chievo Roberta, Michael and I head up to Giorgino’s family summer house in the hills near Lake Garda. Giorgino is the life and soul of the Chievo Soccer Fan club that Michael and I (in my fashion) belong to. Plates of grilled meats, beans, polenta and an assortment of cakes are consumed. Around 5 o’clock the others go to a Chievo training camp game. I, on the other hand, choose to sit in a very nice plastic chair with a fabulous view of the Lake and read a book. A good time was had by all.
July 10 Tim Parks for Publishers Weekly
I get an email from Publishers Weekly asking me to interview Tim Parks. I am very pleased. I write him and we agree to set up a time and place for the end of July.
July 6 Walking in – Slimey, Slick – Sunshine
I spend 8 hours walking around Verona carrying photographer paraphernalia for the photographer Aldo has chosen for the wee osteria bookie. I am wilting by 7 p.m. when Michael and Stanley pick me up at the Bottega del vino (the last stop of the day). We had planned to go to the movies to see Birdman but I am too exhausted from tramping the streets all day in this heat. So we go to Bar Stella, a fine little hole in the wall just around the corner from Juliet’s House that specializes in organic and biodynamic products – wines, beers and cold cuts.
July 3 Loooong Lunch
I go to a 12:30 business lunch that finished at 6:15. What a surprise….there were 8 people and from 6 countries: Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Russia, UK, Italy, with Susan Hedblad and me representing the USA. It gave our host, Aldo L., a chance to feel like the director of the United Nations.
July 1 In the world and seeing the Veneto
Aldo L. takes Michael, Marta (who works for the Soave winery Pagani) to EXPO in Milan. The theme of this Mega fair, with pavilions from just shy of 100 countries, seems to be sustainability and food. We are pulled along in Aldo’s wake. This means that we visit the Italian wine pavilion, taste Veneto wines and then pick up a lunch at Saporem (4 Consortiums – Mortadella di Bologna, prosciutto San Daniele, Grana Padano and Conegliano Valdobbiadene – who have band together to present their wares at Expo. ) Off for a coffee tasting organized by Aldo at the bar. Then we set off for Verona.
Michael and I force him to stop at Vescovo Moro because the restaurant has space that could be very useful for tastings, presentations and seminars. Marta, who had not been allowed to bring her Soave samples into the fair, gave one to us and one to the barman. I taste it a few days later and am impressed with it. I will certainly keep an eye out for Pagani at future tastings. www.vinipagani.it
25 through 30 In Soave-land with Michael and Stanley. The organizers of this project have put us up at the Best Western Soave Hotel (www.soavehotel.it) because we are travelling with Stanley Dog. This hotel is wonderful if you have a domestic pet. The staff is universally kind and attentive to animals. Upon checking in you are issued a coverlet for the dog to sleep on if he chooses to sleep on the bed or sofa rather than the bone-shaped cushion provided. They supply stainless steel water and food bowls, dog toys, doggie treats. Oh, yes, it is very nice for people too. Thank you, dear Stanley, for giving us the opportunity to stay here.
I taste 2 Soaves at Monte Tondo (http://www.montetondo.it/ita/cantina.html) I have followed this winery for many years and am happy to report that the quality remains consistently high. And I am even happier to report that the Magnabosco family has developed their estate into a real wine center, offering tastings, cellar visits and a lovely B&B (with swimming pool).
The evening of the 24th Slowfood Dinner with Franco Zanovello A tasting and dinner with winemaker Franco Zanovello organized by Antonella Bampa, great sommelier and Slow Food representative. The venue: Scapin in Verona. The food and wine matches were excellent and the wines were, as always, superb. I always say that Franco’s wines have the elegance and staying power of Audrey Hepburn. I love them. Oh yes, they also happen to be organic.
19 through 24 June Puglia Six journalists/five nationalities (Japanese, Swiss, German, Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese and me). We are together for 3 full days from early morning to late at night. And you know what? We all got along. Politeness and friendliness reigned supreme.
We arrive at Massaria Ponenti (www.tenutapotenti.it), a walled oasis of calm in the midst of a vast expanse of palms and olive trees. “We have 60,000,000 olive trees in Puglia,” says Laura, our guide. “That’s one for every person living in Italy.
Here is a photo of Bugsy Dog snoring loudly through Laura’s welcome speech.
The first morning I wear a Biba T-Shirt. Junko (Japanese living in Germany) recognized it as from a Swinging 60s Carnaby Street designer. We bond!
After an adventure with the GPS (that included a dead-end and a wait in the parking lot of an egg production plant), we arrive at Varvaglione Vigne & Vini ( www.vigneevini.eu)
We are in Manduria, in the southern part of Puglia. The main wine here is Primitivo di Manduria. “It is called Primitivo because it is an early-ripener,” says Cosimo Varvaglione. “Not because it is a Neandrathal.”
A WINE LESSON: Studies carried out by the University of California at Davis have determined that Zinfandel and Primitivo share elements of the same DNA. As a Puglian producer once put it: “They are like twins separated at birth – one growing up in Manhattan, the other in the Bronx.” (He declined to say which was which.)
The Primitivo di Manduria zone lies on the Salento Peninsula and is limited to the areas around a few communes (one of them being Manduria) in the provinces of Taranto and Brindisi.
As we stroll in the vineyard we often see albarello-trained vines. In France and much of the USA this method is known as Gobelet (or Goblet) and in Australia it is sometimes called bush training. This latter name concisely sums up the method: vines are grown without an external support system, and resemble a bush, with a short trunk and short grape-bearing branches. END OF LESSON
My criteria for mentioning a wine in my dairy is this: It must be one I would recommend to a friend.
Among the wines that I liked are Varvaglione’s Schacciano 2013, a Negroarmaro. Opaque black center, soft on the palate, black pepper over almost bruised plum. Long fruit-filled finish. A tweed-like texture. . (www.vigneevini.eu)
We lunch on the covered terrace of La Barca di Ciro, overlooking the sea. The food was fresh and flavorful, the view superb and the company amusing.
On to Jorche (www.jorche.it) Very new. Very modern. Before 2010 they sold in bulk. “We think the future is in bottled wine and hospitality,” says Emauela Gianfreda, winemaker/co-owner.
We dine at Antica Masseria Jorche. “The cooks are ladies from the town, Not chefs,” says Emanuela. And of course, like everywhere in Puglia, the food is excellent.
On to Tenute di Eméra.(www.claudioquarta.it). The wine I liked best here was Sud del Sud 2012. 70% Negroamaro/Primativo), 14% Merlot, 14% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. ) vibrant deep ruby with a fucshia rim. Very interesting nose: earth a find tapestry of fruit flavor ripe plums, mulberries good acidiy. Long finish. The owners of the estate have a superb herb garden and are seriously interested in sustainability and the environment.
We head Salice Salentino and the historic winery: Leone di Castris. (www.leonedecastris.it). Every now and then journalists decide to write The-Strong-Women-who-Shaped-the-Wine-Trade article. They pull out the Widow Clicquot and Madame Pommery. I would like to suggest that these journalists add the name Donnalisa, whose portrait hangs in a wood paneled reception room at the company’s headquarters. She believed in paying women the same wage as men and she provided daycare before that word even existed. As our guide said: “She was a very clever woman. Many times she gave her husband good advice on how to go ahead with business. Many of the policies she initiated were revolutionary. That is why many of our products are dedicated to her.”
Of the many wines we tried and enjoyed, I will mention the 2012 Five Roses Sparkling Rosé: Coppery-pink. Bright, fresh. Salinity along with an undertow of frozen strawberries on the palate.
This wine went down a treat at a dinner at which Junko gave me tips on cooking with tofu – a container of miso is in my future.
We head to Andria in the northern part of Puglia, and the Rivera winery (www.rivera.it). We meet with Sebastiano de Corato, the president of the Consorzio Movimento Turismo del Vino Puglia, and owner of the Rivera winery.
WINE LESSON: The principal grape in this area is now Nero d’Troia (a.k.a. Uva di Troia.) It is safe to say that Rivera was instrumental in developing the potential of this indigenous variety. Rivera experimented with vinification methods and vineyard techniques designed to bring out the variety’s fresh violet scents. END OF LESSON
Over lunch someone asked when Sebastiano and I had first met. I said I couldn’t remember. He, however, said: “We met at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 1991. We went around tasting together and then you went back and wrote an article about my winery. I was so angry with you.”
“Why?” I asked, surprised because I really liked Rivera wines then and I like them now.
“Because in your article you described me as ‘the Harry Potter of Puglian Wine’. Oh that made me angry.”
He has forgiven me. Look at the photo of Sebastiano as he is today. For those of you who can, try to peel away over twenty years and imagine dark hair and round tortoiseshell glasses: I rest my case.
We lunch at Antichi Sapori, where chef and owner Pietro Zito whips up sensational dishes that include ingredients that he grows in his large garden.
This is a photo of Carlo, the photographer , tasting one of the fabulous desserts at Antichi Sapori.
“This restaurant is very important for the whole region. The village was practically abandoned until Pietro started the restaurant 25 years ago. Now there are 8 restaurants in the area,” says Sebastiano.
One of the wines we drink at lunch is Rivera’s 2000 Il Falcone, made primarily from Nero di Troia. Closely-knit flavors – berries, red liquorice, finely textured.
18 June Tedeschi Dinner
The diner is in honor of Professor Thomas Hoffmann, Director of the Bioanalytics Department of the Central Institute for Nutrition and Food Research at the University of Munich. His work is focused on the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of human taste perception and the structures of biomolecules with chemosensory activity. In short, that means he has been doing research on the pleasure response to certain molecules in wine – in particular Amarone…and even more precisely Tedeschi Amarone. “At the beginning of this research my colleagues and I tasted through a large sample of Amarones and we found the Tedeschi wine gave us great pleasure so we chose it for our studies,” says Hoffmann.
14 June Bomba!
They found an unexploded WWII Bomb in The Arsenale (which is now a children’s park, a dog run and, on Thursday mornings, a farmer’s market). We are in the orange zone…right across the street from the Red Zone. People there must leave their home by 9 a.m. and not return until the afternoon. We must turn off the gas, stay away from the windows and not leave the apartment. Men and women from the Protezione Civile in their iridescent lemon-line jumpsuits are policing our streets.
Frankly, Michael’s attempt to re-light the gas after this is over is likely to be much more dangerous for us than the bomb.
Here is the address of a medley of Whoops I did it Again and Sex Bomb (which comes at 1 minute and 40 seconds in) performed by Max Raabe and the Palast Orchestra.
13 June Sherlock Holmes in Verona!!! This year’s National Meeting of the Uno Studio in Holmes association – titled Holmes e Watson: I due Gentiluomini di Verona – was held in Verona. Why was the convention here this year rather than Florence or Naples or Rome, as usually happens? Well, you can put it down to the persistence of Bruce, whose Sherlockian commitment is more a symptom than a hobby. He cannot have a regular conversation; he can only talk, talk, talk about Sherlock Holmes and because I am the only person in Verona who understands his ramblings, he talks to me. He had evidently also talked to the president of Uno Studio in Holmes, Michele Lopez, (on a weekly basis, I gather) about the joys of having Verona as the venue.
I arrive at the Biblioteca Civica to find Bruce, his large backpack filled with his collection of Victorian photo albums, pacing in front of the still-locked doors of the library. He spies me: “We’re the first ones here!” he cries joyously. It makes me happy to see him in such good humor.
The others arrive and we troop up the stairs to a beautiful meeting room. Richly-colored frescos cover the top third of the walls. There are elegant plants, surprisingly comfortable chairs and, best of all, the room is air conditioned. My hat is off to my old pal Claudio Gallo, former head librarian of the Biblioteca, who suggested this venue.
The speeches include a cross referencing of Shakespearean and Holmes quotes, and a talk by Carmen S. about the suspicious similarities between the film Young Sherlock Holmes and the Harry Potter books. She made a good case to support her conviction that more than a little cross-pollination of ideas occurred by citing the times that Chris Columbus (director of Young Sherlock) and J.K. crossed paths…and at times…swords.
I gave a little talk entitled: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Not to Mention the Dog): Italians in the Canon.
During all of the presentations, Bruce wandered in and out of the room, rustled papers, engaged people in urgent whispered conversations, rummaged in his rucksack and rooted around in plastic bags. During my fifteen-minute speech he tried three times to engage the moderator – who was sitting 6 inches from me – in crucial (for Bruce) conversations. Listening politely to others is a skill that Bruce has yet to learn.
During his fist interruption, although I kept talking, I was in fact thinking that had the disruption been caused by anyone else but Bruce I would have stopped my speech and said in my firm training-the-puppy voice: “Shut up and sit down”. But I realized that getting angry at him would be as pointless as being angry with a cat because it won’t sit in a chair and eat its slab of processed liver with a knife and fork. I mean, you have to recognize the nature of your fellow creatures and accept them.
At the end of the event a Sherlockian said to me: “We have given Bruce a gift.” And indeed they had. This just may have been the most fulfilling day of his life.
I then went up to Bruce and patted him on the back and said: Congratulations., You’ve done it.” To which he replied: “I could do this every year! Yes, a yearly event! I could do it …with your help.”
My blood ran cold. I realized that we must not only recognize the limitations of our fellow creatures but we must also recognize our own. The thought of listening to Bruce’s endless loop of self-referential Sherlockian babble daily for the weeks or perhaps months necessary to organize a national event would stretch my ability to be a kind and quiet listener to breaking point. I took a step back and said: “I don’t think that would be a good idea.” I turned and walked briskly to the door.
June 11 Bravo! Roberto Bravi Roberto, a former sommelier and skilled juggler, is also an artist of note. I have written about him in this diary several times over the years. He wrote to tell me that works from his Metal Pictures collection will be used as part of the stand at a fashion show in Florence this month.
10 June To the Vicentinis for Cherries Agostino Vicentini and his wife Teresa Bacco make very fine Soave and Valpolicella. They are also skilled fruit growers. It is a pleasure to stroll through their cherry orchards.
9 June Books And the Best Meal I have eaten in Verona
We go to a presentation for a book titled: “I Segreti: dal territoria, dei vigneti e del vino Amarone della Cantina Valpantena“. An excitably historian gave an impassioned speech about promiscuous agriculture. And then Diego Tomasi gave an excellent presentation of the book’s highlights. I like Mr. Tomasi. He can express his views in very technical terms when called upon to do so, or, as today, he can explain things clearly for the layman.
And then we went to dinner with some colleagues at the Vescovo Moro… Oh! Oh! Oh! I love this place.
I have already written about it for a booklet on Verona’s osterias (but a few cafes and other eateries are included), which will be published in the coming months. Here is what I wrote.
“The Vescovo Moro (Via Pontida 3 Tel. 045 8035084) is not an osteria. However, wine and food lovers cannot pass through San Zeno without stopping in for an aperitivo or a meal. The interior design manages to be warm as well as sleek and chic. The ground floor dining room seats around 60. There is a large window behind the bar that allows guests to watch the chefs at work. The food is imaginative and delicious. The wine list is excellent – listing the grape variety and style of each wine. They offer a variety of gluten-free pastas, which the diner can match with any of the sauces, and vegetarians will not go hungry. Downstairs, which can be reached by an elevator as well as by a wide staircase, is an enoteca (wine shop), a wine tasting room, as well as a room for cheese and salami tastings.”
Everything at tonight’s dinner was perfectly perfect. The food was fresh and the flavors were well-balanced and lively. I had raw fish with a whipped lemon condiment and for dessert I had a Campari semifreddo, accompanied by a small pile of candied orange peel slivers. Wonderful: bitter and sweet and sour all at the same time.
The wines – Franciacorta, Champagne and Nosiola – were top notch. The Nosiola was a real surprise. I have tasted it several times…but it is not a variety that jumps out at me when perusing a wine list. Manoman, it was perfect with my raw fish, our pal’s steak tartar, Michael’s rice/seafood salad and our other pal’s spaghetti with tomatoes and shellfish. OOOOO and then they gave us little glasses of their homemade ginger liqueur.
Damiano P. said at least three times (with real wonder in his voice): ”I prezzi sono onesti” (The prices are fair.) I said to Michael that I would investigate suggesting this restaurant to the people at the Villa winery in Franciacorta for their next Sparkling Menu competition. If the Vescovo Moro chef were asked to create a dish to go with a wine, I have no doubt that it would be superb, surprising and satisfying.
6 June Crying at the Gipsotec Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it), which helps sponsor the annual Antonio Canova sculpture competition, kindly invited us to visit the Museo e Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in the tiny town of Possagno, in the province of Treviso. Though the town is small (some 2000 inhabitants) the number of visitors to the museum runs into the tens of thousands.
The tour was – as always – entertaining and enlightening and I would recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in art or history (or exotic plants) make the pilgrimage to this splendid place.
There was also a show of sculptures by a contemporary sculptor.
“It is minimalist art,” they said.
“Perhaps it is just small ideas,” I thought.
3 June Villa Sparkling Menu at a restaurant in Verona I have been invited to be part of the jury for “Sparkling Menu”, an event organized by the Franciacorta producer, Villa. The idea is to challenge chefs to create a dish that is a good match for a particular sparkling wine – their Cuvette.
I have been at the final of this event several times and the matches have been phenomenal. Well, this year they asked me to be on the Verona jury. They also will have juries in Naples, Brescia and other cities.
We go to a restaurant that is part of a boutique hotel in the center of Verona. The décor is nice. The internal courtyard is lovely. We are primed with 2 or 3 glasses of Villa’s really fine Extra Brut and then we go into dinner. Yikes! The chef (who has only been there 4 months) cannot blend flavors (or, perhaps, discordant is his style.) The only dish that worked for me was a deconstructed Russian Salad…in which the ingredients were supposed to be separated. Then the dish he had chosen for Cuvette was served. Each judge (sommeliers and food and wine writers) was given a sheet of paper on which to score the wine pairing and the dish. I gave it a 7 out of 10 to be kind, knowing that out there somewhere in Naples or Brescia or wherever there would be 8s, 9s, and 10s.
Across from me was a journalist from the local paper. She handled the breadsticks the way Groucho Marx handled his cigar. She spoke to no one for the entire dinner. I tried to engage her in conversation over the apertifs to no avail. She sat there and poked at her cellphone. She was sitting between one of the owners of the place and a very sweet, non-threatening but knowledgeable sommelier; so there was no excuse for her behavior. Has she never dined in a restaurant? Has she never been forced to talk to strangers as part of her job? (Journalists interview strangers all the time!)
If the food had been exceptional, I might not have spent the evening amusing myself by imaging her with Groucho eyebrows and moustache.