April 2018

April 2018

Wednesday  Fish and Chef (www.fishandchef.it )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

Again, that darting look and a brief uncomfortable silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rant over…back to the FAIR…

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

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

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

Four Trips Down Memory Lane

Bucci www.villabucci.com

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

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

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

Braida www.braida.com/it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fattoria Zerbina www.zerbina.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vignalta www.vignalta.it/en/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Wines I liked at the fair

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

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

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

2 April – Big Chievo fan club annual picnic

July & August 2017

It is August. Italy still more or less shuts down and so do I.

A high point is a visit from Australian journalist/photographer Glynis Macri who took a day out of her vacation in Italy to swing by Verona to see me. We have been friends for a very long time and share many a war story.

The horribly hot weather broke twice.  The first time I was so excited that I pulled out a bottle of Bucci Pongelli. I love this red wine. It has everything I crave, juicy fruit wrapped in supple elegance. Yum.  The second time, I opened a bottle of Donnafugata’s Tancredi. “That’s serious wine,” said Michael. Indeed, it is, and it also rich and intriguing.

For the rest of the month I sat by the open French doors reading and writing and hoping for a little breeze to come my way.

JULLY JULY JULY

30 July Casina Alba Terra

The Cascina Alba Terra project grew out of a meeting between the Coffele wine estate in Soave and the Association on the Orme Onlus. The goal is to rediscover traditional methods of raising animals and crops, with an emphasis on organic techniques. Visit their website: http://www.cascinaalbaterra.it/

After visiting the Coffele estate, sipping some wine and inhaling the fragrant breeze, Susan H., Michael and I head to Il Drago in Soave for dinner.  And a good time was had by all.  Thank you, Susan.

July 23-27 The 23rd San Gio Verona Video Festival

We are in the midst of the annual San Gio video festival: This is organized every year by our pal Ugo, assisted by Michael.

I spoke to a fellow who photographed the Beatles in Tahiti in 1964.(Piero Oliosi)
He said: “I was there to photograph Marlon Brando on his Island. I got to talking to a local guy who said: ‘You know I ‘ve rented my boat to an English band. The Bootles. The Battles. Something like that.’ I immediately rented a boat and went out there, told them who I was and
they invited me on board.”

I asked him how old he was at that time because he must have been a boy. He told me he was 32, to which I replied ‘No Way!’
He said: If you do something you enjoy, something that makes you happy, you never get old.”

He later photographed Michael and me and said he was going to send the photos to his New York agency. I said to Michael: “Gee, just think we may find a photo of ourselves in an adult diaper ad some day. Yikes!”

I talked to a guy from Germany who, when he was young and needed money, wrote the captions for porno films.

“I never saw the films,” he added hastily. “They only sent me the scripts.”

I asked him if there were plots or just – Yes. Yes! Yes!! and Now. Now! Now!! and Harder. Harder! Harder!!

He said there were plots. I said: “Like. Hi, we are carpenters. Do you want to see our tools?”

He conceded that yes, that was pretty much it.

Many years ago when I was living in New York…I needed to make a little extra money. A friend of mine (doing creative writing at Columbia) confessed that he wrote “letters to the editor” for Pent House Magazine. He said: “I’ll arrange an interview with the editor for you and go with you…but you have to tell him that what you are going to write is true. Everybody knows that this is not the case but we all have to pretend.” So, I got the interview and did my pitch: phone sex. I wrote what I thought was incredibly naughty stuff. A few weeks later I got a rejection letter from the very nice editor who said that my submission was “too romantic”. Man, I wish i had saved that rejection letter.

An Iranian documentary filmmaker told me she wanted to invite me to Iran to do a documentary, featuring me tasting Persian food (traditional and contemporary). I said okay, secure in the fact there was no way I would be issued a visa to go to Tehran. I like the idea of tasting Persian food…but geeze I no longer like the discomfort of long-distance travel. Also the distance between an idea for a film and the production of an actual film is a long, long one…and often the original idea gets lost along the way.

So things are turning over here in Verona.

Ugo arranges for winery visits in the morning (with the festival taking place in the late afternoon and evening.

We visited. Le Mandolare (www.cantinalemandolare.com), owned by the Rodighiero family. A lovely visit, charming company. At the tasting the winery’s entry-level Soave wine, went down a treat: fresh, with a burst of apricot on the middle palate that carries on through the finish. It was just what was needed on a hot day.

I asked Chiara Rodighiero what she would have done had she not entered the family business. “Music,” she said. “I play the Sax and the French Horn. My husband went to the conservatory and studied French Horn.” She still plays in a band under the direction of Carlo Montanari.

COFFELE. (www.coffele.it) Wow! What a visit! The Coffele family pulled out all the stops, giving the San Gio crowd an exceptional experience. We visited their animals – donkeys, goats, chickens and a really fine work horse -, we lolled on the lovely lawn overlooking the most splendid view of Soave, and then they provided us with a bang-up lunch. (The chef was the winner of Hell’s Kitchen Italia). AND the wines were – of course- great as always. Among them there was the elegant, pear-tinged 2015 Soave Brut and the Ca Visco Soave, with its enticing undertow of ripe pears on the palate.

We also visited another producer, who has a very beautiful facility but has not yet come to grips with what it means to do a winery visit.

PRODUCER TIP: If it is a broiling hot summer day, with the sun directly over-head (as it is around High Noon), then it would probably be best to NOT deliver the lengthy opening remarks in a shade-less, chair-less portion of the terrace. In the same vein, it would NOT be wise to take a group of people who can still feel rivulets of sweat sliding down their spines into a chilled cellar room (ice cream would not have melted or even softened in this environment) to stand for over 30 minutes. In short: visitors are human beings and should be treated with the courtesy you would show to any mammal.

6 July Maddalena Crippa at the Teatro Romano

I like the trend of allowing women to play Shakespearean kings and princes.  A few years ago, the great British actress Fiona Shaw played the role of Richard II and of course last Glenda Jackson appeared as King Lear.

We arrive at the Teatro Romano, built in the late 1st century BC, to see Richard II, the title role performed by Maddelena Crippa.

For those that need reminding, here is a brief description of Richard II, from 1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates  (yes, I get most of my British history form this wee bookie.)

Richard II: An unbalanced King

Richard II was only a boy at his accession: one day, however, suspecting that he was now twenty-one, he asked his uncle and, on learning that he was, mounted the throne himself and tried first being a Good King and then being a Bad King, without enjoying either very much: then, being told that he was unbalanced, he got off the throne again in despair, exclaiming gloomily: “For God’s sake, let me sit on the ground and tell bad stories about cabbages and things.” Whereupon his cousin Lancaster (spelt Bolingbroke) quickly mounted the throne and said he was Henry IV Part I. Richard was thus abdicated d was led to the Tower and subsequently to Pontefract Castle where he died of mysterious circumstances, probably a surfeit of Pumfreys (spelt Pontefracts).

 

August 2014

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIn August many Italians take the entire month off from work and devote themselves to getting a tan and eating spaghetti alle vongole in a trattoria on the beach. This mass urge to frolic in the sun can be traced directly to Italy’s pagan past, although some Italians try to pin the work stoppage on the Virgin Mary and others think it has something to do with workers’ rights.

 

In 18 B.C. the Roman Emperor Augustus decided to gather up all the rituals and celebrations devoted to the harvest gods and place them in the month that bears his name. What better tribute to himself than officially establishing a continuous eating, drinking and orgy binge? In the fifteenth century the Roman Catholic Church began to absorb pagan rituals into their own rites by tying them to an existing Christian celebration. The fifteenth of August had been designated, since the sixth century, as the date of the Virgin Mary’s assumption into heaven. Hence, the harvest festivals metamorphosed into a celebration of the Virgin Mary. The fifteenth is now a national Italian holiday called Ferragosto. And thus, thanks to Augustus, the lazy tail end of summer is still given over to holiday-making.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI, however devoted my August – in equal measure – to writing a book and lying in the hammock on the front balcony and watching the clouds change shape.

In the middle of the month I received an email asking me to write a news follow-up on a flooding incident that occurred in the Prosecco zone. Fortunately I have the private cell phone numbers of a couple of producers and was able to get quotes – not an easy thing to do in Italy in August. And, as with all news stories, it had to be written immediately.

 

Then the WSET (The Wine and Spirits Educational Trust) sent me an email asking if I could suggest someone who could translate their course work into Italian. I had a bit of time tracking down the person I wanted to recommend – she was on vacation, of course. But I found her and all’s well that ends well.

 

Shortly after this, I got a call from a voice from the past telling me that a book project that I had given up for dead, had a chance – after six (yes, 6) years – of being resuscitated. How nice if this actually comes to pass. But I no longer get excited by these offers. I save my excitement for when my payment check clears.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to dinner at Silvio’s…on the roof of his building. It has the most beautiful view in Verona. We weren’t supposed to dine on the roof because the condominium contract clearly states that it can only be used for drying laundry. But once the tenants had seen the view (particularly at sunset) tables and chairs began to appear. I brought a bottle of Bucci Verdichhio 2011 to the festivities. I love this wine. Order it should you see Bucci on a wine list.

 

In September we are off for a day in Venice – the film festival and Ugo’s prize giving ceremony. But for now, I think I will watch the clouds roll by.