This is Michael’s second selfie. In it you will see Michael Benson, my favorite sommelier Fabio Poli, me and an impressive patch of ceiling. I first met Fabio in 1990 (or perhaps a year or two earlier) when I came from London to Verona with a group of journalists to attend Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair. At a grand dinner at the Vittorio Emanuele restaurant in Piazza Bra we 50-some journalists were served a decent sparkling wine as an aperitif then we were seated for dinner. The waiters came around and plunked 5 bottles of indifferent wine on each table. These were wines of the producers who belonged to organizations that were footing the bill for the meal. One sniff of these wines and I realized that I did NOT want to put any of them in my mouth. I caught a sommelier’s eye, explained my dilemma and asked him to please refill my glass with the sparkling wine. He scanned the main table filled with policticos and producers and I could see him weighing his decision because it was decidedly against the rules to give us journalists the aperitif wine when we were supposed to be forced to drink the wines on the table. He made his decision and for the rest of the meal my glass was discreetly filled with sparkling wine. The sommelier was Fabio Poli. When I moved to Verona in 1991 I met Fabio at many big tastings and dinners. He was knowledgeable, and his assessments of the wines were always spot-on. I trusted and still trust his advice and opinions. So, after 28 (maybe 30) years, he is still my te sommelier.
September 30 Bardolino and Beaujolais
Sub-zones (La Rocca, Montebaldo and Sommacampagna) have been created in the Bardolino wine production zone in an effort to establish the distinctive qualities of these specific areas.
WINE LESSON: The Bardolino zone lies on the hillsides just to the east of Lake Garda and shares it’s name with the small lake-side town of Bardolino. The wine is usually fresh, light and dry. The rosé version is called Chiaretto.
One of the purposes of today’s event is to show that Bardolino’s have a capacity to age well. Of the older vintages we were served, three stood out for me: 2012 Bardolino for Il Pignetto (a lovely nose, still firm fruit, but with a slight hint of rust on the palate that for me indicates that the wine is just starting to decline; 2002 Bardolino Superiore Pradica from Corte Gardoni (supple, elegant): and 1959 Bertani (still attractive vibrations of fruit, smooth on the palate).
Along with Bardolino producers, Beaujolais producers (from Fleurie, Moulin a Vent and Morgon) are present at the tasting. We go to dinner with them and the organizer of the event Anglelo Peretti, to Saporè Downtown, one of the best pizzerias I have ever eaten at. (Best crust! Top quality toppings, pity that the beer was flavored – something citrusy in one and the other boasted on the label about plums – and clearly intended for people who don’t like beer.) The music playing in the restaurant took me right back to the summer I read the news on a Black Music Radio Station (I was 18 at the time). We munched through dinner to a soundtrack of Aretha Franklin, Mary Wells (My Guy), the Stylistics, the Supremes. If only there had been some Tammy Tyrell and Marvin Gaye it would have been perfect. A jolly evening was had by all.
September 29 The Masi Foundation Prize Giving
This is one of my favorite annual events, particularly when the recipients of the awards are scientists or musicians. Why these two professions? Because they usually say things that provoke though and have a keen sense of humor. Among this year’s winners were Egyptologist and director of the Museo Egizio in Turin, Christian Greco; and jolly Gerard Basset, a top sommelier and Master of Wine.
September 21 Il Giardino delle Esperidi
Susan H. picks us up and we head out to Bardolino to Il Giardino delle Esperidi to see our pal Suzy, one of the three owners of Il Giardino. The first thing she said when we arrived was: “I’m going to be a great grandmother!” She is also a a top-notch winetaster.
“The wines on my list are not like those you’ll find at other places – I only list wines I like,” she says. Suzi travels and tastes, finding stunning wines from small producers. (Only 600 bottles were produced of the luscious Falanghina Aganum Vigna di Pino we tasted with dinner.)
We started with a glass of Saint Charmant Blanc de Blancs, and continue to follow Suzy’s suggestions; the Falanghina, Cattarato Shira Castelluccimiano, Bardolino Superiore from Silvio Piona, Taurasi from Perillo, ending with a Champagne Demi sec from Fallet-Prevostat.
Toward the end of the meal, Susan H. looked across the table and said of Suzi, her voice full of awe: “She’s really hip.”
In short: We had a wonderful time: the food was imaginative and delicious, and the wines surprising and satisfying.
Anyone who is coming to Vinitaly in 2019 might want to arrive a day or two early and book a table at Il Giardino delle Esperidi in Bardolino. You will find wines that are selected not on mark-up and easy sells (popular names), rather you will have the pleasure of tastings something new and different.
September 7 The Venice Film Festival, Ugo’s Golden Eel and our Wedding Anniversary
Here is a photo of Michael and me on the ferry taking us over to the Lido. Every year we go the Venice Film festival for a day. Today our visit coincided with our wedding anniversary.
We saw four films. One was exceptionally moving (Sony, an Indian film by a first time director), one was good (an Iranian film called As I lay Dying), one was a nice history lesson about the French revolution (Un Peuple et son Roi) and one was irritating (Zan the English title was Killing). Why was this last film irritating? I am glad you asked. In all the action sequences with the samuris the director wielded a jerky hand-held camera. I had to look away because the movement made me physically ill. Also, every time music was used, the volume was pumped up to the point that the seats we were sitting on vibrated. It could not end quickly enough for me.
But now to the really exceptional film. Sony (the name of one of the protagonists) was about two women police officers in India and, in a larger way, it was about the casual and constant sexism woman encounter and how they deal with it. When the film ended I had tears in my eyes. No, it was not sentimental; the tears were because it touched a chord in me (and evidently in many other women). When I tried to talk about it immediately after the showing I choked up. I was too full of usually suppressed emotion. The director was there with the producer (a woman) and the two main actresses. The audience applauded at the end of the showing and the women in the audience lined up to offer congratulation,
Each year Ugo organizes an alternative (to the official Venice Film Festival) award fest called the Bisato Oro (the Golden Eel as opposed to the Golden Lion). One of this year’s big winners was Australian Director Jennifer Kent. Her film Nightingale won the Special Jury’s Prize at the official Venice Film Festival and she also graciously showed up at Ugo’s do to accept the Golden Eel for Best Film. Here is a link to interviews with Jennifer Kent and members of the cast of the film.
September 8 Vicentini (Agostino)
We arrive at the home of Terresa Bacco and Agostino Vicentini to taste with a friend from Peru who is looking for wines to import. As always, the wines were good and the prices were competitive. We also played with Lily, whose age is unknown but she has been with the Vicentinis for around 15 years. She is a sweet natured little doggie and is still full of pep.
September 1 Recognition
I was recognized at the supermarket this morning. I was wearing my typical Summer outfit of flip-flops, baggy trousers, loose shirt and – of course – my signature Paddington Bear hat.
I was with my husband and I noticed a man glancing at me nervously. We all got into the elevator and he took a deep breath and asked: “Are you writing any new books?” I figured he really didn’t care about the chapter on matching wine and food I just finished for a cookbook to be published in Singapore. I said: “No I am reading more books than I am writing at the moment.” I had no idea who he was, so I tried to find out by asking him what he was up to. His answer gave me no clue.
TIP: If you see someone you do not know personally but have seen in some public context and you wish to engage them in conversation please give them some hint as to who you are. Example: “Hello. I’m Edmund Cane, we met at the tasting in Faenza last year.”
March 25 Bardolino on my mind I went to a Press Conference about events taking place in Verona and Bardolino during Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual trade fair.
Press conferences are great for me. Why? Because I get so much work done during the inconsequential speeches. At this conference, I outlined an article on wine and food pairing and drafted a book review.
The problem is: I am usually the only person at these things who is actually writing things down in a notebook. I am therefore the “target” for all the video camera-people who are looking for cutaway shots to edit into their reports. This means that I cannot draw pictures of my dog (I do this often) without looking around to make sure that I am not being videoed.
When I returned home, I decided to open a bottle of wine: 2014 Villa Cordevigo (www.villacordevigo.it) Chiaretto. It was elegantly fruity (frozen strawberries, a touch of red currants) and thoroughly enjoyable.
I drank a glass with an episode of The X Files (the one with Peter Boyle as the clairvoyant). It also went with my dinner of hamburger and oven fries.
The Cordevigo estate includes an impressive 5-star hotel and an excellent restaurant on the premises for those of you thinking of visiting the Lake Garda area.
English Lesson (definition curtesy of Wikipedia): a cutaway shot is the interruption of a continuously filmed action by inserting a view of something else. It is usually, although not always, followed by a cut back to the first shot. A cutaway shot does not necessarily contribute any dramatic content of its own, but is used to help the editor assemble a longer sequence
March 11 Dinner at Eleonella’s I brought a bottle of Donnafugata’s Ben Ryé 2010, which went down a treat with all the guests, who waxed eloquent on the wine’s superb balance. If you are looking for an end of meal wine to impress your friends and give you genuine luscious pleasure you can do no better than to pull the cork on a Ben Ryé. (www.donnafugata.it)
My note: dark amber, rich enveloping perfume of raisins plumped in syrup.
On the palate, perfect balance. Firm, ripe richness, an idea of fresh hazelnuts. Fresh on the long finish.
“This isn’t too sweet like our dessert wines,” said Geppy, referring to the local Reciotos.
Lesson: Zibibbo is the grape variety used to make Ben Rye. Some say that the name Zibibbo comes from the North African word “zibibb, which means “dried grapes”. Another theory suggests that the name is taken from the nearby Tunisian port of Cape Zibibe. Hundreds of years ago the Arabs, who held sway over the island of Pantelleria (off the coast of Sicily) planted Zibibbo (also known as Moscato di Alessandria) as a table grape. Over the centuries, a thriving business in semi-dried grapes developed, with Pantelleria supplying bakers throughout Italy. All this came to an end with the introduction of seedless varieties. From this economic crisis was born one of the world’s finest dessert wines: Moscato di Pantelleria. Grapes for this passito wine are picked before the rest of the harvest and are left to dry for between 15 and 20 days.
Someone’s brother-in-law was also at this dinner and we fell into conversation about music. He used to be a DJ and had brought some CDs. This got me to thinking about significant albums that I had owned and lost along the way. (Travelling light as I did in my youth did not allow me to haul around 40 pounds of fragile records.) Here is my list:
Albums that bring back specific memories The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 (I wanted the album for the concept alone: great performers coming together for fun.)
Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie (I listened to this every day before heading out to my job as a TV director—“Back in Suffragette City”).
White Album – Beatles (I listened to this while helping to hang an exhibition of a friend’s paintings…we worked through the night stopping every time Blackbird came around).
Uncle Meat – Frank Zappa (the first- of many – Zappa albums I owned)
Primal Roots – Sergio Mendes and Brazil 77 (oh, how I loved this album -something about the – yes, primal – rhythms goes right to my spine.)
A Song For You – Leon Russell (what a song writer, what a performer, saw him in concert)
Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, commonly abbreviated to Lola – Kinks (Who doesn’t love Lola L.O.L.A. Lola. )
Remain in Light – Talking Heads (same as it ever was)
Acqualung – Jethro Tull (I listened to this over and over and over again in college)
At Filmore East – The Allman Brothers Band (Oh, those guitar solos…)
Here is a link to Primal Roots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSmXsEM7YG8
One of my favorite cuts is number 5: Pomba Gira.
5 March Bardolino-A-Lago We caught the bus to Lasize on Lake Garda for the annual Bardolino Anteprima tasting.
Here are a few of the wines that stood out for me: Le Fraghe’s 2016 “Rodin” (fresh, fruity, long finish- www.fraghe.it/), Le Vigne di San Pietro’s 2016 (bright, fresh a sprinkling of pepper – www.levignedisanpietro.it/) Poggio delle Grazie’s 2016 Chiaretto sprightly – www.poggiodellegrazie.it/), Albino Piona’s 2015 Bardolino (fruit and supple elegance www.albinopiona.it).
This was a month almost totally devoted to reading, writing and researching – my favorite activities! So wine tips will be mainly focused on the Bardolinos, Chiarettos and Luganas I tasted at the annual Anteprima event held in the lake-side town of Bardolino.
Once again, the Consorzio pulled out all the stops: the option of tasting on a boat (I preferred to taste on solid ground), an after-tasting event that included a band and cocktails (I went home to walk the dog), and the chance to taste some lovely wines.
The three wines that I enjoyed the most at this tasting: Ca Lojera Lugana Riserva del Lup 2013 (vivacity on the palate, alluring fragrance. Excellent.), Le Tende Bardolino Classico Bio 2013 (backbone, full appealing fruit, vibrant color), Pasini –SanGiovanni Lugana Il Lugana Bio 2014 (pear and apricot tones on the nose and palate. Satisfying).
And pride of place goes to a delicious Bardolino called Vintage, produced by the Cantina Castelnuovo del Garda. Why do I love this wine? Well, yes it is tasty but I will admit that I love the label. It would be a perfect wine for the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. It was the last wine I tasted and a very nice way to end the event.
After putting in a hard day at the computer, I open a bottle of Villa Bucchi Verdicchio 2014. I will go on record as saying I adore Ampelio Bucci and I love this wine, and I have since I first tried it some 20 years ago. It consistently give pleasure. It is a wine where character and charm are perfectly blended. If you see Villa Bucci on a winelist order it. You will not be disappointed.
And what did I do besides read, write and research? I listened to music: Natalie Dessay (the Vocalises album) and Natalie Cole (the Snowfall on the Sahara album).
And Michael and I went to lunch with Susan H. at the Osteria Sottoriva.
31 October Our pal Ugo teaches small children at a public school. Because he is a lively person the school board decided that he should be the school’s English teacher. Fine – except for the fact that he does not speak English. The school board sent him to an accelerated 6 week course. Fine – except for the fact that Michael did his homework for him.
Well, Ugo called Michael and asked him to come to his classes today to explain Halloween. Michael, quick thinker that he is, said: “But Halloween is an American holiday, Patricia should come too.” I spent the morning drawing witches and pumpkins on the blackboard, which I enjoyed. And Michael and I repeated HALLOWEEN! TRICK OR TREAT! WITCH! HAT! overandoverandoeverandover again.
25 October – The Byblos Art Hotel (www.byblosarthotel.com)
We are invited to take part in an artistic field trip organized by Ten Star community. I cannot even begin to tell you how beautiful and creatively invigorating the Byblos Art Hotel is. I took no pictures because I knew that any photo I took would never convey the feel of the place. Among my favorite works of art was a beautifully restored 1950s juke box that played recordings of poetry rather than music. Works by Damien Hirst and Vanessa Beecroft, as if by magic, fit comfortably into the the grandeur of the Venetian Villa’s main reception room. The tuna at the buffet wasn’t bad either.
13 October – Bacchus of Baker Street is mentioned in the Guardian! Tim Kline, a fellow Sherlockian, kindly sent me a link to the article.
It is once again time to say that there is a at least one creepy pirated version of Bacchus out there in the world. The cover you see here – with the nice Basil Rathbone-esque Holmes drawn by Gianni Burato – is the Real Version. Accept no substitutes.
October 11 The Canova Prize Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it) hosted the annual Antonio Canova sculpture competition, which offers young Italian artists an opportunity for international exposure. Works by the finalists were displayed at Villa Rizzardi, which is surrounded by a stunning garden designed by 18th century architect Luigi Trezza (www.pojega.it).
For the first time since its inception, I could not attend the prize giving ceremony. I sincerely regret this because I love this prize. Here’s why:
Italian wine producers are always trying to link their product to Art. Seldom do they actually seem to be truly interested in the subject. It’s like people who go to fancy dinners in order “to be seen” as opposed to going to a dinner to chat with people and enjoy an evening out.
The financial and organizational support provided by the Guerrieri Rizzardi wine company is one of the very few collaborations in which the motivation is art and not just “being seen” to support Art.
This year’s winner is Maria Savoldi, 25, from the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Bologna
10, 11 and 12 October In Friuli-landia for the Scioppettino Fest Scioppettino appeared on the Friulian wine scene around 1300. It is primarily cultivated in the hills and foothills of the commune of Prepotto. In its early days, Schioppettino was more commonly known as Ribolla Nera.
In the years following the outbreak of phylloxera (a vine louse that infected many of the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century), Schioppettino lost ground to heartier-high-yielding varieties. The 1970s and 1980s saw renewed interest in Scioppettino, and in 1992, it joined the list of varietal wines made in the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC zone.
Scioppettiono has a dark ruby color, and is full bodied, with a soft black pepper tone over richly textured fruit flavors, which include wild blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants
The lesson is over, we can now return to the diary…
We – me, Michael and Stanley J. Dog – arrive at the tiny train station of Cividale del Friuli and after much toing-and-froing arrive at the B&B Il Vecchio Gelso, which also produces wine. The staff is gearing up for its post-harvest picker’s party. The owner shows us the certificates that will be awarded to The Harvester Who Always Arrived On Time, the one who Picked The Most in a Single Day and The Biggest Brontolone (grouch).
Then we are off to a dinner with producers at Ristorante da Mario in Abano – and a fine wingding it is too! Marco Grasso, the owner, is exceptionally kind to small Stanley, bringing him water and informing him that the meat course would arrive soon. The food is excellent, as is the company.
By chance, we sit at the table hosted by Flavio Schiratti, owner of RoncSoreli and Tania, his able marketing director. I am relieved to discover that I really like his wines. They are very well- balanced, juicy and satisfying. Here is a photo of Tania and me, note the leash attractively looped around my neck.
We arrive back at Il Vecchio Gelso around 1 a.m., in time to hear the last blast of the harvester’s ball. The happy harvesters are singing and bopping along to the Black Eyed Peas – let’s get it started…in here!
The next day we are informed about a European Union Project that combines research and promotional activities between the wine producers in Propetto and their neighbors over the hill in Slovenia. Then we stroll down the street to watch the blessing of the new open air exhibition space (and potential roller-skating rink). In the space are local foods and wines are on sale, as well as kiosks offering 5 or 6 other local (Slovenian and Friulian) products. Among these is Konopljino Olje – Yes! Oil made from Cannabis Sativa. Note the happy dancing plant on the labels.
It tastes vaguely like peanut skins. It probably doesn’t have any mood-altering properties. We could not resist buying a bottle. “It will be a talking point,” said Michael. The nice man who sold the oil to us (and threw in the flour for free) said it was good for the digestion.
Off to Castello di Albana for a tasting of Scioppettinos. The fellow leading the tasting barked out a loud, maniacal laugh whenever he said something that he thought was amusing. Fortunately this didn’t happen all that often.
The Contessa of the Castella (a.k.a. Isabel von Teufenstein, Financial Assitant/Programme Manager for European Cross-Border Co-Operation) says I can let Stanley off his lead. He races around the courtyard – a wild and free smallish dog. She finds a stick and the three of us attempt to engage Stanley in a game of chase and fetch. Isabel’s family also happens to own a winery in Switzerland – Tenuta Bally & von Teufenstein ( www.tenutabally.ch ).
We visit the RoncSoreli estate. It will be a real showplace once construction of the additions to the winery are completed. Again, I am delighted that the wines; they are fresh and flavorful and very well made.
Back to town…
After a bit of aimless roaming and waiting around, Paolo I. (the valiant organizer of this 3-day event) whizzes us in his van to Vigna Petrussa (www.vignapetrussa.it).
This lovely estate is owned and managed by the dynamic Hilde Petrussa. What was intended to be a winery visit and tasting instantly became a relaxing, amusing party among friends. Some fifteen of us settled chairs in the fragrant garden and chatted and tasted some exceptional wines. Among them her superb Picolit.
Picolit’s production zone is limited to the Friulian Province of Gorizio and Udine. The variety seems to have arrived on the scene in a blaze of glory in the late 18th century, when Count Fabio Asquini created a market for a sweet wine made from Picolit grapes, which he considered an alternative to Hungarian Tokay. The grapes for Picolit are usually semi-dried before pressing.
2 October Lunch with Angelo P. at Trattoria Al Pompiere (www.alpompiere.tv/it) Angelo asks me to pick the wine. I am uncomfortable picking wine when someone else is paying. I say I want something from Alsace or Loire and leave the fine tuning to him. He chooses a Marcel Deiss 2006 Marcel Altenberg de Bergheim. Oh, man, is it yummy – honied yet with a fine slicing acidity, a fragrance that excited the imagination. (www.marceldeiss.com. )
Among other things, Angleo wants to talk about the New Face of Bardolino. The producers are going for a paler, more Provençal-style rosé. I like Angelo. He is creative, intelligent and has a sense of humor.
JULY 7 SPEAKING TO CHINA I went to a conference called Italia in China. It was held at Ca del Bosco for about 100 journalists and wine trade professionals from China and Hong Kong. It was organized by a couple of big quality wine groups. These groups are run by intelligent men. BUT once again, the Italians missed the boat.
The one and only speech was delivered by the publisher of a famous Italian wine magazine. He showed slides for most of the regions of Italy, and supplied pointless little facts about them. Example: Val d’Aosta makes light floral wines and is worth a visit. (Yes, think about that for 30 seconds….light, floral wines…yeah….but the only one that anyone in the wine trade could name is certainly anything but light. For those not in the wine trade I am referring to a wonderful Chardonnay fromLes Crêtes. www.lescretes.it ) He then gave some meaningless statistics about the number of DOCGs and DOCs given awards by 6 Italian wine guides. At the end he asked for questions. No one had any, except for one astute member of the audience who questioned the methodology of the statistics.
The Italians had a room full of people who work in the wine trade and they didn’t ask them (the Chinese and Hong Kong wine trade professionals ) for their thoughts on what was needed to be successful in China and Hong Kong. Nor did they outline their plans for entering the Chinese market, a move that might have yielded some interesting remarks from the guests.
We road home with Sandro Boscaini, Vice President of the Masi Foundation (www.fondazionemasi.it/, and sometimes referred to as Mr. Amarone. (He said: “I have a car that is worthy of your hat.”). He too thought the speech about regions was a lame move.
Summary: The Ca del Bosco Sparkling wine at the buffet was wonderful.
JULY 21 OVER-DUBBING – A TRICKY PLACE BETWEEN DUBBING AND NARRATION
Michael and I head for a recording studio in the suburbs of Verona to over-dub a press conference/wine tasting about Santa Sofia’s Amarone Goiè(www.santasofia.com )
We had participated at the tasting, which was held during Vinitaly, the annual wine trade fair held in Verona. The older vintages showed exceptionally well.
We slip on headphones and step into a tiny padded room and off we go…. It is fun. I will meet with the producer next month to help him insert the English language voice track over the original Italian track.
Hooray. I love doing voice-over work.
JULY 23 through 27 THE SAN GIO VIDEO FESTIVAL
Our pal Ugo created this event and continues to see it through despite a budget of practical nothing. www.sangiofestival.it
No entry fee is charged for the videos that pour in from the Europe, Asia and North and South America. Each evening’s viewing is free to any who cares to stop and watch. Ugo is scrupulous about not charging. In Italy the minute money changes hands, rumors about its provenance begin to circulate. The need to imagine underhandedness and trickery is part of the delicately woven Italian psyche.
Accommodation for visiting members of the jury and the cost of printing the programs and posters comes in the form of grants from various local government bodies. The lavish food and wine laid on to nourish the bodies and souls of the jury and assorted hangers-on is usually provided free of charge by the many osterias and wine producers that Ugo frequents.
Ugo also arranged for the jury to visit local wineries
This year I visited 2 wineries with the group.
We had a tour of the Cesari (www.cesariverona.it ) estate in Bardolino. Among the wines that won me over was the Lugana 2013 (95% Trebbiano di Soave and 5% Chardonnay). Bright and fresh, with floral notes. And their 2005 Bosan Amarone, with its tweedy texture and ripe cherry approaching jam fragrance and flavor.
The following day we visited Tenuta Laca (www.tenutalaca.it/). It too is in the Bardolino area, and is simply beautiful – lush, well-tended vines surrounded by blue mountains that hide the view of Lake Garda.
The winemaker is Damiano Peroni (son of Flavio Peroni). His wines are crisp, vibrant, pure and flavorful. He made a Pinot Grigio (don’t roll your eyes and grimmace) that was simply the best I have ever tasted – and just a few weeks ago I was on a jury that tasted more than 100 PGs. Damiano also consults for other estates around Verona
JULY 28 SPEAKING IN TONGUES
We go to a studio to record some text for an in-house (Zonin) presentation for the prestige marketing department. Great fun. At the end, the owner of the studio said that he would like to present an audition from Michael to a client who was looking for a male English speaker. OOOOO, I hope this works out.
I love doing narration and over-dubbing. I started talking on the radio when I was 16.
My mother had insisted that I get a job afterschool as a simple character-building exercise. Had I applied at the supermarket as she imagined I would, my life would have turned out differently. Instead a school friend took me to the radio station owned by her father. He said I had a good voice and hired me on the spot. For a few hours every afternoon I recorded commercials in a small beige room and on Saturdays I read the local news into a microphone the size of a prizefighter’s fist. This led to other jobs in radio and television.
I paid my university expenses by announcing. Two afternoons a week I assumed my breathy voice and recorded the lead-ins to music for a late-night radio show. “You’re listening to jazz in the night time,” I would purr, elongating the “a” in jazz until it sounded like a moan. I would then hop in my car and drive to a television station where I recorded the tag lines for commercials. “Put a smile in your voice,” the station manager urged. “It comes in Harvest Gold and Avocado Green, batteries not included!” I would exclaim with a perkiness bordering on the giddy.
From this job I developed into a substitute for the technical staff: audioman, cameraman, grip, gaffer and technical director. I eventually became a director and a documentary writer before moving to London to study wine tasting.
We head to the Osteria Carroarmato to celebrate the 18th birthday of Ugo and Steffie’s twins.Twenty some friends and relatives at a long wooden table. Plate after plate of sliced meats, vegetables, polenta, gorgonzola, lots of happy chatter. It felt wonderful to live in Italy at that moment.
March 26- 30 Tasting at the Vinitaly wine Competition.
I decide to share this honor with Matteo, one of my tasting students.He will take two days and I will do the rest.The idea of 4 full days of tasting from 9 to 5 just does not appeal to me at the moment.Thank goodness they use electronic tablets and spare us judges the fatigue of adding up columns of figures and filling out forms.
We average around 44 wines a day, with 3 to 4 minutes for each wine.
Here is the tip I gave Matteo:Place the glass that you want to be filled on the right hand side of your table and put your hand lightly on the base of the glass. That way the sommelier can fill it without having to lean over the table and sort through the confusion of your 12 glasses. The sommelier will appreciate this courtesy.
I met a fan!Another judge had read and appreciated one of my books and told me so.It never fails to please me when someone says he likes what I have written. I invited him along to my pal Annalisa’s osteria, the Carroarmato, for a book presentation and we stayed for dinner.
I have taken a look at his website and now I am his fan! Here is the address of his blog:www.AlfonsoCevola.com. Wonderful photographs and gentle, interesting commentary. A lovely and amusing man.
March 21 Interviewing Andrea Camilleri
Camilleri, for those who may not know, is Italy’s best loved author and the creator of the wry and observant Sicilian commissario, Salvo Montalbano.I interviewed him for Publishers Weekly at his apartment in Rome.
Here are two rather nice quotes from Camilleri that I won’t put in my article:
“When I don’t have any ideas I might write a letter, for example, to a man I’ve just encountered at a kiosk. It’s a letter I know I’ll never send, but it serves as an exercise. Without that, you get stuck. What’s behind writing? It’s not that the artist writes when he gets inspiration — it’s the work of each day.”
“Two great masters for me are Hammett and Chandler.Perhaps Hammett above all because of his behavior during the Communist Witch Hunt in the 1950s. He ended up going to jail for his views.Now, this was a man who drank nearly a bottle of whisky a day. So going to jail for him was like having a double sentence. It took a great deal of courage.”
Camilleri very kindly signed books for Stefania (who made her family take their last vacation to Sicily so that she could visit all the sites where the Montalbano TVseries is filmed) and for Susanna (whose favorite book is Il birraio di Preston.)
Susanna was very pleased when I told her that that book was very significant in the development of Montalbano.In fact without it there might have never been a Montalbano.You see, Camilleri was stuck when writing Il birraio di Preston so he decided to set himself a “creative exercise”: writing a mystery novel. He wanted to see if he could write a linear plot – going from chapter one through to the end and linking each chapter logically.So there you have it, Montalbano started out as a remedy for writer’s block.
March 20 Candy for Camilleri
My husband went to a small hand-made chocolate shop to buy a box of candy to take to Camilleri. (I had done my homework and discovered that he had not drunk wine since 1947 – yes, 1947.) The shop assistant asked my husband if the chocolates were for a woman and he told her they were for Andrea Camilleri.
Shop Assistant (in awe): He’s one of those people that you think don’t really exist.
Michael: You mean like a mythological creature?
Shop Assistant: Yes, exactly!
We take the bus to the airport to see the unveiling of the giant posters advertising Soave that the Consortium has put up.Michael and I helped them tidy up their English slogan. Here are photos of 2 of my favorite Italian Journalists/bloggers.Carlo G. and Maria Grazia, who looks rather fetching in her new purple glasses. Her site: www.soavemente.net
March 16 Dancing to the Tune of Bardolino
The annual Bardolino thrash. Great fun, good band, nice eats, swell people.
March 11 Greek Fans – Wow!
A couple of years ago I got an email from Anistasia K., a teacher at the Iiona School of Music in Greece.She was bringing some students to the Veneto and wanted to meet with me.She uses my wine articles in her English classes.I was unable to meet them on that occasion.BUT SHE’S BACK!She is bringing another group and we agree to meet in Verona. She told me one of her students is writing a thesis comparing Chateau Yquem and Amarone.My mind boggled, particularly when I was introduced to the 14 year old who is writing the piece.What a lively, intelligent boy.All of the students were enthusiastic and polite.It was a real pleasure to meet them.
March 8, 9, 10Tergeno IGT Ravenna Bianco 2012 from Fattoria Zerbina and Lunch
I drank a glass of this blend of indigenous white varieties (and just a touch of Chardonnay) with my lunch three days running.
It has the body and delicately fruity flavor to go with: a salad of dry, shredded meat, olives and artichokes dressed with lemon and oil; rice salad with ham and peas; and breaded chicken cutlet.A very satisfying wine.The back label suggests that is goes well with seafood and some kinds of raw fish, liver-based dishes and cheeses, or as an aperitif.All of this sounds right to me.
Readers of this diary know that I love well-made Sangiovese di Romagna. I have been following the development of this wine for two decades, and every year the number of producers who make high quality examples grows larger. And every year, my pleasure in tasting this versatile wine increases.
Sangiovese is the most widely-planted grape variety in Italy and is perhaps best known as a major component (or, in some cases, the only variety used) in a long list of famous wines, most notably Chianti and the Tuscan classics such as Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.Like Pinot Noir it is a site-sensitive grape and for this reason the wines of Romagna stand out for me.
Along with the cherry-near-the pit fruit flavor and silky texture that distinguishes the variety, Sangioveses from Romagna have an appealing roundness and softnenss on the palate that makes them very versatile when it comes to matching them with food.Often, when I am tasting wines, food partners for them seem to blossom in my imagination.And with Sangiovese di Romagna I often think of (and indeed eventually serve it with) vegetarian dishes – from bean burritos to nut and lentil casseroles – as well as the more traditional partners such as pasta with meat sauce, or roast and grilled meats.
Why is Sangiovese from Romagna different from the others? The simple answer is: terroir. Romagna is separated from Tuscany by the Apennine ridge. The hills on the Romagan side are gentler and have soils rich in limestone and clay, and the climate is mitigated by soft sea breezes from the Adriatic sea.
Besides its wine, the region is perhaps best known for its seaside resorts and as the birthplace of Italy’s greatest film director Federico Fellini, and for its fine restaurants, like the world renowned San Dominico at Imola.
As I was ill this year and missed the annual tasting, Cristina of FATTORIA ZERBINA, kindly sent me cases of samples from TRE MONTI, MORONI, FERRUCI, DREI DONA and, of course, FATTORIA ZERBINA. I will taste these wines over the next few weeks.First up:
TREMONTI 2012 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore “SONO”. It takes its name from the fact that: “SOlo produtti naturali e concimi organici ottimali. NO solfiti in cantina.”No sulfites are added in the winery.The wine is bright ruby. The nose: fresh and filled with ripe cherry flavor. The palate follows the nose. The wine fills the mouth with round, juicy fruit.Very satisfying and versatile.
After tasting I drank a glass with rice and stir-fried vegetables and chicken.
23 June SUNDAY LUNCH
22 June BARDOLINO AND ADVENTURESSES
I take Stanley dog to the press conference. It is held in a loggia off Piazza dei Signori.I hear my name whispered and look up to see the former President of BOLLA (retired).He holds up his iphone, its screen filled with a picture of his cat.
We taste LE TENDE’s sparkling Bardolino Chiaretto”Volutta” at the aperitif.Delightful color – women should wear this color. Its fragrance is of strawberries, with a cherry note on the nose and palate. It’s fine flavour shows through – even when drunk from a plastic glasses. Very satisfying wine. That’s what I am looking for these days: satisfaction.
After the conference we all lunch at Café Dante.(Stanley is fed meat under the table.) We taste Vintage, a wine produced by CANTINA CASTELNUOVO DEL GARDA. It is a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Sangiovese and Garganega, all picked and pressed together. The label makes this a perfect wine for the ADVENTURESSES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.For two years I have been mentioning this to the PR director of the company.However, there are only around 8,000 bottles of it made each year, and it doesn’t go to the USA.
At lunch I once again express the opinion that it would be an ideal wine for the Adventuresses, women who are not afraid to eat, drink, sing and be clever. This time I am overheard by a young woman who works for the company, Lea. She is now on the case and maybe next year I will see Vintage on the table at an Adventuress dinner meeting in New York. What is the wine like? It is simple, old-fashioned, juicy and easy to drink.
June 19th – 21 A WHIRLWIND TOUR OF THE FRESCOBALDI’S TUSCAN ESTATE
A whirlwind tour of Frescobaldi’s 5 estates in Tuscany (located in Montalcino, Ruffina, Chianti Classico, Pomino and the Maremma). As I am writing an article about Tuscany for a magazine, I take this opportunity to think about the differences in landscape of the zones.
I also want to pin down a description of the scent of broom (ginestra).The first time I smell it on these trips, I always turn around expecting to find an elegant, perfume-dabbed woman.It sweetly scents the breeze everywhere we go.A Norwegian journalists suggested that it smells like almond pudding.Leonardo Frescobaldi says it also includes a touch of orange blossoms. The fragrance is an amalgam of these along with hints of ginger and honeycomb.
I wondered why no perfumer had tried to capture this scent. A thirty-second investigation revealed that someone has!Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella launched its Ginestra fragrance in 2001.Top notes: broom. Heart: narcissus, corn flour, orange blossom, orchid and violet. Base: birch, oak moss and resins.
Now let us dive into our whip round Tuscany.
We started at the Ammiraglia estate in the Maremma.
Before the tasting we take a little ride around the estate to look at the pigs and Angus cows, passing olive groves and vineyards along the way.“He (Lamberto Frescobaldi) wants to plant a garden here too so we can grow our own vegetables,” says the enthusiastic Hospitality Director.
I interviewed Lamberto in April and he waxed eloquent about his childhood. He said: “I spent the first 11 years of my life in the country side – in Nipozzano, so I grew up in the country. And I must say it was a wonderful… style of life. Because we had the wine cellar in the basement of the house, we had our olive press mills, we had our cows – so there was fresh milk at night – and then we had bicycles, motor bikes and horses.”I thought: he’s attempting to recreate the pleasure of that childhood experience here.
Among the wines we tasted:
Barrel Sample of Morellino Riserva 2012 (85% Sangiovese) aged around 18 months. Very pure, firm cherry fruit.This will develop into a very interesting wine.
2007 Ammiraglia (100%Syrah) Chocolate. A nice warm wave of juicy fruit (raspberries, interwoven with chocolate and dark spices. Long finish.Very attractive wine. Velvety tannins.
Up to the small zone of Pomino.
“You need a passport to enter here,” Lamberto is fond of saying.And indeed the landscape and climate is very different here.It is densely forested and, today at least, vastly cooler.
“We are the only producers of Pomino, so if you don’t like it, don’t bother looking for others,” says Lamberto.
Fortunately we like it.
2012 Pomino Bianco (Chardonnay, plus other varieties) A sheen of yellow gold. Very floral fragrant.Fresh and appealing.A note of greengage plums and slightly under-ripe apricots on the palate.Refreshing. After 15 minutes: still firm. The perfumes are more pronounced. After 20 minutes: still very fresh on the nose.
2011Benefizio Pomino Superiore. Bright. Deeper gold. Barrel fermented. An exotic fruit (pineapple) note on the nose. Full but supple on the palate.
After 15 minutes it settles down and a creaminess emerges on the nose and palate. The bright greengage fruit element blossoms.After 20 minutes: Still firm, fresh and appealing.
I ask how long Lamberto thinks these wines can age: “We recently opened bottles of the 1990 and they are pretty special. So they can last at least 15 years. For me that is the goal.”
Then out of the woods and into Nippozzano.
We taste 4 vintages of Mormoreto (Cabernet Sauvignon, plus Merlot and Petite Verdot)
2004 MormoretoOpaque Vibrant blue sheen. Nice, clean nose. A cream soda note emerges. Palate: very plummy/prune-y.After 1 hour: still firm and attractive.
“I recently opened ’85 and ’88 and they were showing well,” says Lamberto.
2009 Nippazoan Montesodi A lovely soft perfume, elegant. Nicely saturated fuchsia tinged ruby. Silky, juicy cherry fruit. Firm, long finish. Very nice wine.Satisfying. Montesodi was first produced in 1974 and ranks 4th in the terms of appearance in the Super Tuscan hierarchy. After the granddaddy of them all Sassicaia (commercialized in the mid-1960s), then Vignorello (1968) and Tignanello (1971).
We hear about the Gorgona Project.Gorgona is a prison on a small island off Tuscany. A 2.4 acre vineyard of Ansonica and Vermentino was planted there in 1999. The Frescobaldi’s now support a project that helps the inmates learn the vine-growing/winemaking trade.
“If they are released without a job they are more likely to commit a crime again. I’m really touched by these people,” says Lamberto.
Back to Florence and a tasting of Luce della Vita.
Luce della Vita 1999 (Merlot, Sangiovese) A nice vibration of fruit. Nose: leather, cherry fruit. Perfumes: tight weave of cherry, dark spice. A swirling amalgam of cherry, spice, blueberry raspberry. Nice vibration of fruit in the long finish. A wine for grown-ups.
Then to TENUTA FRESCOBALDI DI CASTIGLIONE and lunch with Leonardo Frescobaldi (Lamberto’s uncle and President of the company).
“My family started from this territory,” says Leonard. “Nippozano is rocky, ideal for Sangiovese. Whereas here the soil is sandy with clay in some vineyards. We grow primarily Cabernet and Merlot.”
Describing the landscape, he says:” It is still pretty much what it was 50 years ago. It gives the idea that time has not passed. It’s a very gentle landscape.”
2011 Tenuta Frescobaldi deep ruby/near black with a beetroot sheen. Rich texture like a bolt of velvet unfurling – blackcurrant, blueberry raspberry, blackberry. An amalgam so well integrated as to seem one flavor.
JOURNALIST MINIVAN MOMENT
The topic of Italian lakes comes up. I say Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and sing the praises of the small towns around it.
“Do you have a home there,” asks the Baroness, a travel writer.
Since it has already been established that I live in Verona, she is of course, referring to a second home.It has also been clearly established that I do not have a trust fund or a rich husband.Noblesse oblige does not come naturally to this woman.
“No,” I reply. “But I sometimes take the bus to Bardolino for tastings.”
My train home arrives in Verona 25 minutes late. We passengers are met at the exit corridor by armed police and some nice sniffer dogs; its either drugs or terrorists.I only have time to shower and change clothes and we are off to hear UTE LEMPER performing/singing the love poems of Pablo Neruda. Here is a link to her strangely hypnotic version of Mack the Knife: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHFXEPYU0FQ
18 June – CUSTOZA FROLICS
“It’s a birthday party,” says Luciano Piona, whose family owns the CAVALCHINAwinery.“We are celebrating 50 years of making Custoza. My granddad was the first to conceive of this wine and he decided to name it Custoza after the hamlet where it comes from.”
The Custoza production zone is located on the south eastern tip of Lake Garda. It is made from a blend that includes Garganega (the principal variety in Soave), and may have Trebbiano, Cortese, and other white varieties.
The photo at above is of Morello P., wearing my hat.
2012 Custoza CALVACHINA. Bright, pale yellow, hint of a green sheen. Expands on the palate, the fruit (apricots and white peaches) emerges on the middle-palate. The medium finish is elegant and firmly fruity.
2011 Amedeo Custoza Superiore CALVACHINA Bright nicely saturated yellow, with pea green sheen. A lanolin quality on the nose, near creamy sensation.The white fleshed fruit flavors are so tightly woven as to be one seamless whole. Elegant.
14 – 16 June CALABRIAN ADVENTURE
First things first. Let me answer the questions: Where is Calabria and why should a wine fancier want to slip this information into his/her brain-pan?
Calabria is the toe and instep of the Italian boot, and is bounded by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas.Wine producers in these parts are very proud of the fact that they have identified and are studying more than 200 indigenous grape varieties.Wine drinkers looking for new flavors and fragrances just may find what they are seeking in this region.
On the coast the glittering blue sea stretches to infinity. Inland the terrain often looks as if a Bruegel wheat field had been photo-shopped onto a lunar landscape. I find this strangely beautiful…or possibly beautifully strange.
The last time I visited Calabria was 13 years ago. This current trip has been organized for around 20 Italian journalists (plus a Russian, a Japanese and me).The theme – as always here – is indigenous grape varieties.
Rather than typing up all my tasting notes, I want to write about the wines I actually chose to drink at meals and as aperitifs.
At a pre-dinner gathering for some 100 people under a star-studded night sky on the terrace of a splendid palazzo…I sat down near three ladies who were exchanging recipes.I asked them what wine I should ask for at the bar as there are some 20 wines from various producers.
“LIBRANDI is always reliable,” says one.
“The Crotone,” says the second lady.
The 3rd lady chimes in: “It is great with the tuna hors d’oeuvres.
They are so right! Lovely, sprightly, fruity (apricots), pleasing and wonderful with the tuna. (Chardonnay, with a touch of Sauvignon Blanc)
LIBRANDI 2010 Gravello. (Gaglioppo and Cabernet Sauvignon blend) Deep ruby near black center. Very smooth on the nose: black currant, yes, but with something wilder underneath. Also hints of frozen strawberry and other red berry fruits.Silky on the palate, Nice fruit-filled finish.
STATTI Mantonico 2010 (100 % Mantonico grapes) Fresh, Bright yellow/pale gold.On the nose an amalgam of white fruit (the hush of apricots and peaches), a fine minerality. A creamy element on the palate. The flavor follows the nose. Very nice medium to long finish. There is a lovely weightiness in the mouth. After 30 minutes still firm and flavorful.
And the wine I drank copiously and happily at both dinners was PODERI MARINI Brigantino Rosato. (based on Sangiovese)Broad, cherry/raspberry fruit. Satisfying, the flavor stays firm in the glass. After 30 minutes it is still as fresh and lively as when it was first opened.
SERRACAVALLO “Don Fili” Rosato.(Magliocco grapes) Fresh. Lively. Color: an amalgam of rust and blood-orange juice. On the nose I find a note of frozen strawberries. Nice weight in the mouth. On the palate, cherry notes emerge. Pleasing. After 30 minutes still fresh and lively.
MALASPINA “Palizzi” IGT (Blend of Calabrese Nero – a.k.a. Nero d’Avola- and Nocera). Dark blue-tinged ruby with deeply colored center. Very plummy on the nose. It is rich and warm.Palate follows the nose. On the finish there is an element of dark minerality. After 30 minutes grassy notes emerge.
They have organized a tasting of 16 wines – 8 from Calabria and 8 Non-Calabrian. Since they tell us before the tasting begins which are the Calabrian wines –the pleasure of the blind tasting is diminished somewhat. Also serving the wines in pairs – one Calabrian and one non-Calabrian sets up a situation where the taster will naturally start to make direct comparisons between the two wines.In a few cases the intention of the producer, the method of production and, of course, the different grape varieties were at such odds as to make a direct comparison impossible.(Think about comparing apples to oranges….both are nice but different from each other.)
The most interesting non-Calabrian wine from a tasters point of view (ah, my point of view) was the Barolo DOCG 2008 from VAJRA.At first impact it seems a bit vague. Then it settles down and blossoms.I re-taste at 10 minute intervals and each time the nose offers more fruit, more spices. It is a shifting kaleidoscopicexperience. After 1 hour in the glass there is still a real, vibrant perfume, a vibration of berry fruit and a dark, intriguing undertow of autumn leaves.Wow.Bravo to the PODERI MARINI, the Calabrian winery which had the confidence to slip this “ringer” in the group.
The PODERI MARINI wine which was shown with the Vajra was Basileus IGT 2010. It was made from 100% Maglicco grapes. On first tasting it: The color was opaque, near black with a deep ruby/blue rim. Very classy. The dark spiciness is well integrated with the fruit. On the finish I find a touch of minerals and earth.
I expressed admiration for the non-Calabrian wines at this tasting.As I am still practically voice-less – I can only croak or speak in a breathy whisper, I wrote this opinion in Italian and someone else read it out to those assembled.WHOA!!!
The remark did not go down well as I discovered at the lunch following the tasting.I sat down and the first thing my tablemate said to me was : So, you hate Calabrian wines.
My first thought was to whip out my pen and write:“I LIKE CALABRIAN WINES and have written about the region for magazines and included descriptions of some of its most interesting wines in one of my books.AND I am revising that book and will write about even more of the indigenous treasures of this region.Thanks to that book thousands of English-speaking wine lovers who have never even given a thought to Calabria, now know the name Gaglioppo. (Although they might still be hesitant to pronounce it.)”
Then I realized that putting this into Italian would just be too much of a bother.So I smiled and mined what I hope will be interpreted as: “Oh, no. I’m a nice person”.
At the final dinner I sat next to a charming woman named Serena.As the evening unfolded I found out that she was the wife of Raffaele Librandi.For some 25 years he worked with this father in the commercial sector of the wine company.Five years ago Raffaele decided to strike out on his own, and he and his wife opened a specialist food business called FATTORIA MONTESCUDIERO.
They started with chocolate-dipped figs and have gradually expanded to include tropeo onions, olives and other gourmet items.They recently started producing a range of pasta sauces for the Swiss market.www.fattoriamontescudiero.com. When they spoke about sourcing and creating new products they were both as radiant as brides.
13 June A MEETING WITH ALDO
4 June SPARKLING WINE TASTING AND A VISIT TO THE CARROARMATO
Our Peruvian friend wants to import top class sparkling wines into Peru.We head for the AGRITURISMO SAN MATTIA (www.sanmattia.it) for a tasting of some of the wines that he has tried and liked in the last few months.
Here are the ones that gave me the most satisfaction:
CA DELBOSCO “Vintage Collection” Brut 2008 (Franciacorta: 55% Chardonnay, with Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero) A pale vibrant gold. Nose: peach with a touch of pleasing bitterness. Clean. A intriguing bitter flavor on the palate that renders it elegant for me.Price 23 Euros.
MONTINA Brut 2001 (Franciacorta: 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Nero) Peach and lanolin on the nose.Very attractive on the palate, peachy fruit.Price: 16 Euros
Then on to the OSTERIA CARRO ARMATO (www.carroarmato.it) to celebrate Annalisa’s 25 years of ownership of this locale. Annalisa was a witness at our wedding, by the way.
We drink 1985 Mazzano Amarone from MASI (from a 3-liter bottle)Tar and cherries. A fine, firm weave of ripe cherries, coffee, dark spices (the idea of nutmeg, cinnamon). Tar and cherries again emerge in the long, fine finish.A Fine Wine. An exhilarating experience.
June1 MY FIRST OUTING AFTER THE BLACK MONTH OF MAY: GUERRIERI RIZZARDI!!!!!
We go to the opening of the new cantina of GUERRIERI RIZZARDI (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it).Let me go on record as saying that I like this company and I like the people who work there.I also sincerely appreciate the way they promote young artists.It is very popular in Italy for wine companies to pretend to support the arts but few actually do anything really significant. Most of their “arts” events are simply excuses to have a cocktail party. (Not that I don’t enjoy cocktail parties.)
The Guerrieri Rizzardi winery (makers of award winning Bardolinos and Amarones among other wines) sponsors the Antonio Canova sculpture contest, which is open to sculptors under the age of 35. Viewing the finalists’ work is always revelatory experience.
Here are two of the wines I tried that I found particularly pleasing.
2012 Rosa Rosae The color of strawberry juice stains. Very fresh. Nice weave of berry fruit: strawberry, raspberry. Fruit-filled finish. Satisfying.
2011 Costeggiola Single-Vineyard SoaveFresh, juicy fruit (ripe apricots). Round, fine, lively amalgam of apricots and greengage plums, with a creamy undertow.Satisfying. Long, evolving finish.
I average around 4 fan emails a month. That may not sound like a lot to you high flyers out there, but believe me, in this day and age for someone to write an actual, friendly email and sign off with his/her real name (as opposed to an internet moniker) is quite a feat.
This month I received emails from an Englishman who runs a wine club, a doctor from Massachusetts who collects wines, a German man who wanted to know my favorite Amarone producers, an American who is planning her vacation in Italy and wants tips on wineries to visit, and an Italian woman who has bought one of my books and wants to meet up at Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair, to have me autograph it. What an eclectic group.
24 March Sur Sur From Donnafugata
I receive samples of a new wine from the Sicilian producer Donnafugata. The wine is called Sursur and is made from the white indigenous variety, Grillo. I pull the cork:
2012 SurSur Donnafugata: well saturated straw yellow. An apricot note on the nose, with a sprinkling of graphite. On the palate the wine is round and satisfying. Tangy fruit fills the mouth. The flavor vibrates through a longish finish. There is a salinity that I often find in indigenous white varieties from Italy (and Portugal and Spain). Very nice wine.
23 March Gian Vittorio Baldi – Rennaisance Man
We went to a showing of some of the works of Gian Vittorio Baldi. I like Gian Vittorio. I first met him when we were part of a jury at a video festival. I won my spot because I am, in a small way, a local celebrity and because I have written and directed TV documentaries. Gian Vittorio’s credentials for the jury were…well….at lot more valid than mine. He produced films by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bresson and Goddard. He has written and directed films. He has also written poetry and music….and he is an artist whose works are owned by museums in New York and Paris.
“Costa-Gravas (the film director) has bought 20 of these works for a museum,” says Gian Vittorio. “That’s not bad, is it?”
22 March More Books – I can’t help myself
Italians do not go in for used things. As a result there are no charity shops on the high street and the few second-hand book shops that exist are to be found in University towns and specialize in old textbooks.
Try for a moment to imagine a world without Oxfam, Salvation Army stores or dusty junk shops crammed with potential treasure. Many of my happiest hours have been spent pawing through cartons of old books at the back of such stores.
In the last few months due to the depressing economy two Used Thing stores have popped up on dirty side streets in Verona. They are both definitely located beyond the tidy confines of the city’s medieval walls. I stumbled upon one of these today when I tried a new route to one of the Asian shops – you know the ones that sell synthetic wigs, plantains and tofu.
I couldn’t resist and dragged my indulgent husband inside. These places all smell the same. Along with the dusty mustiness there is that tantalizing scent of adventure. Well, adventure as defined by a book lover. What did we buy? I consulti, insulti e parenri inconsulti: Medicina e umorismo da Charles Dickens a Woody Allen (“This will be just right for the bathroom,” said my husband) and The Third Deadly Sinby Lawrence Sanders, who is described by the book jacket as “Mr. Best Seller.” Yes, I know I am trying to get rid of some of my books….but…I suppose in this world of vices compulsive book buying is pretty tame.
21 March To the Extreme Back of Beyond
Federica picks me up and we head out to the little town of Valdobbiadene in the province of Treviso in the Veneto Region. The car’s navigational system sends us off on narrow roads. After an hour the sun goes down and most human life is hidden behind dark shutters. Only slow, slow trucks on the roads. Phrases like: “the middle of nowhere” and “the back of beyond” form in my rapidly tiring brain.
After another hour and a half we arrive in the town. There are no human beings on the streets. Here too the shutters are closed…it is not yet 8 o’clock. Federica parks. Light from only one window spills out onto the sidewalk. Fortunately this is our destination: the Dobladino restaurant. We are greeted by the chef, Cristian Mometti, his wife and their 6 month old baby girl. The restaurant is bright and elegantly appointed. Cristian is credited with advancing techniques in Vascottura. This refers to cooking food in small, sealed glass jars. This method brings out the fragrances and gives new and interesting textures to the food. Excellent. www.cristianmometti.it. Should you find yourself by error or design in Valdobbiadene I urge you to stop at this restaurant. Seriously good and creative cuisine.
The wine that stood out on this occasion was the sparkling Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle (2010) from the Valle d’Aosta Region of Italy. “We are the last stop on the Italian train system. After that it’s Mont Blanc in France,” Says Mauro Jaccod, President of Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et del La Salle. (www.caveduvinblanc.com).
The wine is made from 100% Prie Blanc, an indigenous vine that thrives on 20-some hectares in Valle d’Aosta and nowhere else. “Every now and then people ask us for vine starts. We always send them but so far we have not heard back from anyone.”
The wine is fresh, with a flavor of green apples and a pleasingly bitter finish. It was superb with small balls of fried snails and baccala mantecato (a creamy dried cod mixture popular in Venice.)
Then home again in Federica’s Music-mobile. I love going places with her because she always fills the car with interesting music.
17 March Bardolino, Gin and Rock and Roll
Enzo Richetti Bardolino Classico 2012 (attractive), Le Fraghe Bardolino 2012 (soft, pulpy cherry fruit), La Ca Bardolino Classico 2012 (nice, decent length), La Ca Bardolino Chiaretto 2012 (vibrant pink, a silky nose raspberry, very satisfying), Costadoro Bardolino Cl. 2012 (clean, fresh, fruit-driven, appealing), Bardolino Chiaretto Classcio 2012 (easy cherry/strawberry fruit).
For me, the best sparkling Chiaretto was from Fulvio Benazzoli (firstname.lastname@example.org) Bright, well-balanced, acidity and fruit are one. All of a piece. Flavor of wild strawberries and mandarins. Nose and palate are in harmony.
And the most interesting Non-Bardolinos tasted:
Le Vigne di San Pietro 2012 CorDeRosa. 100% Corvina vinified as a rosè. Fine pink, with bluish highlights. A mandarin acidity. A sprinkling of minerals. Palate follows the nose. Vibrant.
Enantio (a red variety indigenous to the area) made by Roeno was so very interesting.
Roeno 2006 Enantio. 14 degrees alcohol. Fresh, vivid. The color of bruised plums. On the nose balsamic notes, very ripe (near over ripe) cherry on the nose and palate. Interesting knubbly texture.
“It went in all sorts of different directions – but in a nice way,” says Michael.
We go to the hotel at which the other journalists will be staying and take advantage of the wonderful swimming pool…all soft lighting and the restful sound of splashing water.
Then a dinner that includes tandoori chicken – quite exotic fare for Italians. This is followed by cocktails and wild tribal dancing….ours mainly.
The band is great. (www.p-51.it). They did covers from the 50s and 60s. At the end of the evening several people came up to Michael and me and (sincerely) complimented us on our dancing. Clearly, more people should adhere to the maxim: Dance like there’s no one watching.
We head off to Auntie Leo’s. Why is a lovely middle-aged woman named Eleonella called Zia Leo by contemporaries to whom she is not related? Because Ugo’s children called her that when they really were children (as opposed to teenagers) and the rest of us started using the name as a joke and now it has stuck.
Claudio, whose mother is the world’s best cook, made a fabulous fish lasagna. Spices in perfect balance. I loved it but I will never make it. Why? I can’t imagine cleaning bags and bags of mussels and clams and making my own pasta and keeping watch on the sauce for hours and hours. But boy am I glad there are people in the world who are willing to do all these things!
8 March A return to John Fogerty
I return to find a CD of John Fogerty The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again on my desk. Lovely Fabio at the Carroarmato gave it to me. I heard it played at the osteria and asked him where he got it because it reminded me of my youth. It is out of print but can be found on e-bay. What a nice man. I fear he may leave the osteria because he has been offered a job at an insurance company – no night work there.
7 March Off to Sicily
I am at the train station at 4:30 a.m. waiting for the bus that will take me to the airport. A train station at that hour is a disturbing place to be. People shuffle by with the slow hesitant stumble of zombies
I meet Alessandra, a very nice rep from the Zonin company, and we board the plane for Catania. In Catania, a driver picks us up and we travel for around two hours. The sky threatens rain, the landscape speaks of isolation. I see no human beings or animals for 45 minutes. We arrive at Feudo Principi di Butera, one of Zonin’s 10 autonomous estates. Within its gates the landscape seems tranquil rather than isolated and sunshine seems imminent.
We are greeted by Lili and Lulu, these fine dogs were found abandoned on the road and brought in to the glorious life of Butera winery dogs. They are very well behaved. Friendly enough but they only show their affectionate enthusiasm if begged to do so.
The other journalists arrive as does the eminent wine consultant and we head for lunch. It is prepared by a famous chef. After the 5th exquisitely packaged course I begin to long for food that looks like food and not decorative bathroom tiles or Buddhist funeral tokens. I should underlined here that the food tasted great, all the ingredients were fresh and well-seasoned. It’s just…well, sometimes artistic presentation can be carried too far for my tastes.
I sat next to Claudio, the on-site enologist at lunch.
“When does the tasting start?” I ask.
“You can’t taste wine at four o’clock after a long, long lunch.” I say.
“You’re right. Think of it more as a wine conversation than a wine tasting.” I like this man.
At three thirty. I begin to wish I could change places with Lulu. How wonderful, I thought, to be sitting in the sun, a cool breeze on my neck, listening to the rosemary scented breeze rustle the palm fronds. At that moment I have an epiphany: what, I asked myself, was keeping me from doing just what I have described? Nothing. I get up from the table and go outside. Bliss.
At 4:30 the tasting starts. My head is pounding; the 3:45 a.m. wakeup alarm has finally caught up with me and I can barely keep alert. I am so tired that my head hurts. The idea of tasting 6 or 7 wines does not appeal. I listen to the French wash over me, wishing it were the rustle of palm fronds.
Fortunately, after around half an hour of meditation that I hope the others will take for attentive listening, I feel better and start to taste. Very nice wines, well made, nice fruit filled finishes.
The two that stood out for me were:
Insolia 2012 (served at lunch) – soft, apricot-tinged fruit with a fine-net of salinity. A very nice, satisfying wine. It costs, I believe, around 7 Euros a bottle.
And the Deliella Nero d’Avola 2005 This is one of the few wines that can really stand up to and – in fact, enhance truffle shavings. Rich amalgam of raspberries and red berry fruit and a roughness that is not roughness…like raw silk. The knubbly quality is on the nose and palate. A decidedly ripe blueberry note emerges on the palate. A vibration of fruit follows on the long finish.
How did Zonin choose this particular estate when it decided to buy land in Sicily? Their head winemaker at the time; Franco Giocosa, had worked for many years in Sicily for a company that bought grapes from many different areas on the island Region and he was an expert on the Nero d’Avola and its site sensitivity. It was he who suggested that the company buy the then tumbled down property and restore it to its original glory because he knew that the microclimate that was responsible for the most elegant examples of Nero d’Avola were to be found there.
I peppered Wine Consultant (and Professor of Enology at the University of Bordeaux) Denis Dubourdieu during lunch and after the tasting with questions. My favorite quote: When asked why his sweet wines sell so well. “Because I try to give pleasure. When I make sweet wines I forget myself, my ego and fame. I am invisible. The technique is invisible. No one knows how the wine is made.” He lets the wine take center stage. “I try to achieve beauty and, above all else, pleasure. And I try to reach this goal through minimalism and simplicity.”
The staff at Butera refers to him as “The Professor”.
The orchids still have most of their blooms…hope springs eternal.
February 27 A Chievo Soccer Club Fan Dinner
I love Chievo Calcio Club fan dinners because they are so sweetly old-fashioned, the other fans are nice and the players are kind and generous with their time.
Around 60 fans meet at a suburban pizzeria for dinner. A television set behind the main table plays continuous funny animal videos. My pal Annalisa, who is facing the set, becomes hypnotized by the animal antics. The players on hand are Cristian Puggioni (goalkeeper) and Roberto Guana (mid-fielder and Mr. Congeniality).
Cristian, addressing the fans before dinner says: “Thank you for letting me be part of this miracle that is Chievo,”
After dinner there is always a raffle. When the raffle had not started by 10:30 Annalisa says to her ward Mario: “Go up and tell the organizers that this is a school night.” Within minutes the prize drawing began. Mario wins a player’s shirt and gives it to his best friend.
Yes, I love going to these dinners because they are like going back in time.
February 22 A Sparkling Gala
A few months ago I was a judge at an international sparkling wine (Champagne Method) tasting sponsored by Euposia Magazine. Tonight we are gathered at the Antico Caffe Dante to dine and award major prizes. The Big Surprise Winner of the top prize is Ancre Hill Estates in Wales (yes, Wales) for its simply superb 2008 Brut made from Seyval Blanc. The wine has a firm, intriguing texture and fine full fruit (apricots) that continues to evolve on the long finish. The owner of the estate Richard Morris and his wife Joy are on hand to pick up their prize – a huge blown-glass sculpture. www.ancrehillestates.co.uk By the way he only makes 3000 bottles of this wine and it goes fast. However, should you find yourself in Wales I beg you to try wines from this estate.
February 19 Into the Jungle
The orchids are beginning to look peaky and Bud lost a flower. I move them to the bathroom – the nearest thing we have to a tropical rain forest – and hope for the best.
February 17 A tasting lesson with my student
We open a bottle of LBV 1986 Port from our collection of bottles. Michael has had it for so long he no longer remembers who the producer is.
Rich tawny, clear rim. Warm and inviting on the nose and palate. A slight note of rust on the nose…indicative of age, Creamy texture of fine Port. Firm fruitiness. On the palate, an idea of figs and dried cherries (sour prunes). A long finish, filled with evolving flavor and narrowing into the flavor of warm fresh hazelnuts. A vibration of rich fruit on the palate. The fig note emerges more strongly on the finish.
Quinta do Noval LBV 2004 Very deep near black color with ruby sheen. Round cherry fruit lifts out of the glass. It tastes tired…perhaps from having been opened a while ago.
The 1986 is a much, much finer wine.
February 14 Valentine’s Day with Morello in Bussalengo (whose patron saint is…)
A visit to the medieval church dedicated to St. Valentine. Maurizio Ferron makes kiwi risotto. A visit to Flover, a huge garden center and one of Italy’s premier purveyors of orchids. The kind owner of the shop gives us each a small orchid. His colleague and bona fide orchid expert says: “Orchids are practically indestructible. You have to really try hard in order to kill an orchid.” I hold up my hand and say: “I’ve managed to kill two.” Others look furtive then confess that they too have never managed to keep an orchid going. The expert repeats his assertion that they are impossible to kill. We name our orchids Bud and Val and hope for the best.
At home I open a bottle of the best Bardolino I have ever tasted. 2011 Le Vigne di San Pietro. It is fruity and satisfying, truly strides ahead of the competition.
I am rereading Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (the Brian Hooker translation) and came upon this bit of perfection:
And what is a kiss, when all is done?
A promise given under seal—a vow
Taken before the shrine of memory—
A signature acknowledged—a rosy dot
Over the i of Loving—a secret whispered
To listening lips apart—a moment made
Immortal, with a rush of wings unseen—
A sacrament of blossoms, a new song
Sung by two hearts to an old simple tune—
The ring of one horizon around two souls
Together, all alone!
And this exchange between Cyrano and Roxane as he is dying: