It was a slow night at the Carroarmato. Annalisa joined us and we began lamenting the loss of the good old days when wine tasters still had ability to taste older vintages. I love to do so: the exhilarating pleasure of feeling a wine unravel on the palate, sniffing a wine that still gives pleasure but also shows you the ghost of what it once was. These are sensual as well as intellectual pleasures.
I told her that I had run into a fellow studying for his WSETs (Wine and Spirit Educational Trust exams) a few days after another session of old vintages. I started to tell him about the wines when I was stopped by the sad look in his eyes and sorry shake of his head. In a bolt of understanding I realized that he felt sorry for silly old me. He said: (as if explaining to a child) “I prefer young fruity easy drinking wines. That’s what consumers want now.”
It was now time for me to muster pity for him. He did not realize that the world of wine is vast and that it is possible to appreciate more than one style. Imagine a person saying: “I only listen to heavy metal” or “I only read non-fiction” or “I only eat white food!”
An Example: As I type this, on my desk is my stack of frequently played albums, which includes: Henry Purcell’s Fantasias, Natalie Coles’s Snowfall on the Sahara, and Dolly Pardon’s Love Songs. I like them all and will happily listen to them again and again.
Some years ago, a company based in Germany that imported fine wines (particularly Italian ones) asked me to come to Hamburg for a special tasting of older vintages. On the journey from the airport I asked the PR lady which other journalists were attending.
She replied: Jancis Robinson and you.
I blinked twice to make sure that I had heard correctly, then said: Okay I get Jancis Robinson – but why me?
The company had asked all their Italian producers to name someone who knew how to taste older vintages and who would appreciate the opportunity to do so, and my name kept coming up. How gratifying.
But enough of this. Among the wonderful wines tasted with Annalisa was a 1986 Pouilly Fume from Remy Pannier. Bright. A steely note over a rolling line of soft caramel on the palate.
I love Villa De Winckels. The place itself is lovely and the tastings that the owners organize are always top notch. Forty-one producers showed their wines. The four that gave me the most pleasure were: Dalforno 2012 (a buzz of tannin astringency shapes the rich fruit), Marion 2014 (elegant fullness), Vicentini 2013 (fresh, firm fruit) and Giovanni Ruffo 2013 “Le Ceste” (rich yet elegant, full yet supple: this is a real yin and yang of a wine).
I asked Giovanni’s daughter how many bottles of it were made and she replied: “1231”.
“We don’t make many wines,” said Giovanni. “But we try to make them the best we can.”
Here is a photo of Agostino Vicentini, me and my notebook.
#cisonoanchio (#i’mheretoo) by Monica Sommacampagna
Monica tackles cyberbullying in this novel about Asia, a lonely 13-year-old girl who finds a light in the darkness of the digital night thanks to a conversation with her artist grandmother, and her grandfather, a former soldier. #cisonoanchio @gabriellieditori In Italian.
February 28 Annalisa’s Birthday Party
Annalisa, owner of the Osteria Carroarmato and one of my dearest friends, celebrated her almost-birthday in style. (She was actually born on February 29.) And a good time was had by all. Wine lovers may want to take a peek at the wine lineup.
3 February Amarone Anteprima
This is an important annual event in the Verona – the presentation of the vintage that producers may choose to release on the market. In this case it is the 2014 vintage.
But first we went to the annual conference that precedes the tasting. For as long as I have been attending this event, the conference has always followed the same track: a couple of politicians tell us that Amarone is a symbol of Verona in the world, a technician tells us some statistical details and someone in the audience brings up Prosecco’s success – as if Amarone (big, red, high-alcohol) and Prosecco (white, sparkling, moderate alcohol) are direct competitors.
This year they invited Vittorio Sgarbi to take the dais.
Sgarbi, for the many of you who do not know him, is a former television personality, alleged art historian and minor politician. He made his name 30 years ago ranting about art to the television masses whom he clearly thought of as the unwashed hoards.
In the first minute of his presentation he compared wine to a marocchina (literally a Moroccan woman, also often a general a term for black women). I moaned aloud: oh, god. He plowed on with more of the women and wine comparisons (woman like sweet wine while MEN appreciate drier (amaro) wines. He then gave that old sop: “women are, of course, smarter than men.” A smirk twisting his lips before adding: “That’s why we have to keep them in their place
I will concede that he got in a few good political jibes (that had nothing to do with wine or Amarone). But he also drew laughs for sprinkling his spew with words like cadzo, scoppare, merde, culo (you can look these up yourself). He uses these words to demonstrate that he knows how to speak the language of plebs – like wot we, in the audiences, wuz. He also drops the names of artists – Dali, Raphael, Warhol – to prove his intellectual superiority.
For the sake of full disclosure: my university degree was in Art History and I did graduates studies in Chinese At History. (I can still tell a Han from a Tang at thirty paces – even while wearing my reading glasses.) I therefore find the flaunting of these names especially irritating. He makes these artists mere props to support his towering ego.
At the tasting I spoke with producer Piero Zanone about the presentation. He said: “For a bizarre year like 2014 maybe you need a bizarre speaker.”
Which brings us to the bizarre 2014s. It was an uneven vintage, one that none of the producers would declare great. However, a few were able to make decent wines due almost entirely to the position of their vineyards. Among the successful 2014 are: Zanone and Marinella Camerani,
Nice wines that were NOT from the 2014 vintage:
Marco Secondo 2012 Very nice. Fresh. Firm black cherry fruit, fruit-filled finish.
Zyme 2003 cherry jelly, long, firm finish, with an undulating meandering fruit. After 5 minutes in the glass, the flavors settle into pure pleasure.
There is something uplifting about Zyme wines; they make me want to stand up straighter.
I did not taste all the wines on offer – there is a limit as to how many high-alcohol (15° plus) wines one can taste effectively.
As I was leaving I ran into Arturo Stochetti, who said. “Non scherzo con Amarone (You don’t fool around with Amarone.) With regular wines you can taste – and spit – twenty or thirty wines. But with Amarone….”
We headed upstairs at the Teatro Filarmonico di Verona and were escorted to a private box overlooking the stage. I love these boxes: they offer leg room, and a brilliant view point for observing the audience as well as the stage. This years winner of the International Prize went to Rwandan author Yolanda Mukagasana.
27 September Off to the Carroarmato
Visitors from the U.K.. A good time was had by all. When you come to Verona you must visit the Osteria Carroarmato. Dogs and children are welcome…as is every sort of grownup.
September 8 In Venice for the day
We (Michael, Stanley and I) arrive in Venice for lunch with Michelle Lovric. She writes novels and poetry – and just wrote/ghosted a best seller about Milly Dowler -My Sister Milly. She said it was a shattering two years: talking to the family and interviewing police, etc. She has a very elegant writing style, it would be interesting to read the book.
Then off we go to the Lido for our pal Ugo’s prize giving ceremony. Each year Ugo organizes an alternative (to the official Venice Film Festival) award fest called the Golden Eel (as opposed to the Golden Lion). Stanley loved the day. He got ham at Michelle’s and eel skin at Ugo’s do. Who could ask for more? Here is a photo of Stanley making friends on the Lido.
Here is a link to a poem by Michelle (a work in progress).
We are here to listen to the delicious announcement of a new wine from Lake Garda: Spumante Garda DOC. The wine is fresh, fruity and lively and it is hoped it will offer consumers an alternative to the ubiquitous Prosecco. It is sure to find its niche: the wine is crisp and good, the volumes are significant and the prices seem reasonable.
The announcement was followed by a bang-up lunch at Mantova’s historic il Cigno restaurant. Top notch service, good food and delightful company. The Garda sparkling wine flowed freely!
The organizers had cleverly planned the event to coincide with the Mantua Book Fair and had procured tickets for some of the events for the assembled journalists.
We were treated to a very witty and amusing panel discussion (titled “Ironici malinconici” ) featuring Marco Malvaldi (who writes a mystery series that is translated in to English and published by Penguin) and Diego De Silva (who writes comic novels, which are also translated into English and published by various companies.) At one point the moderator asked for questions from the audience and a woman rose and grabbed the mic. She started in on a long rambling introduction that included the words: “I too am an author…” The collective groan from the 400 members of the audience was invigorating.
September 1 – 2 Off to Campania
I fly off to the heart of Aglianico del Taburno-land in Campania to be was part of a panel discussing Aglianico.
Wine Lesson: The Aglianico grape variety has been called “The Barolo of the South”. Certainly, its versatility makes it one of the most important Southern red grapes in terms of wine production. It lends body and character to lively rosés; to fruity quaffing wines and to well-structured and velvety textured, long-lived reds. It is cultivated primarily in Campania, Basilicata, Puglia and Molise. Aglianico del Taburno is a DOCG wine whose production zone is located in the Province of Benevento.
It seems that the producers here are trying to solidify their wine’s identity and expand its visibility on the world stage. During my whirlwind visit to the zone I taste wines from two producers and was impressed by them both.
I will be tasting some samples next month and will write about the wines at that time.
What I am writing at the moment is a Holiday Season (December) article on Champagne cocktails for a Singapore magazine. The topic was my choice. The editor just said “Festive tipples”, and I was fed up with writing the “affordable alternatives to Champagne” article. For those interested: Kir Royale was sipped by Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story and a round of French 75s was ordered in Rick’s Bar in that Bogart classic Casablanca.
First things first: Books With Strong Girl Protagonists!Tamora Pierce is the winner of the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement in Young Adult Literature, the RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, and the 2005 Skylark Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction. She is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of more than 28 fantasy novels for teenagers, and has been Guest of Honor at numerous conventions, including Worldcon 2016. She has written comic books, radio plays, articles, and short stories, and currently devotes her minimal free time to local feline rescue. TORTALL: A SPY’S GUIDE, a collaborative effort with other experts on her Tortall universe, will be out in October of 2017, followed in Spring 2018 by the first in a three-book Tortall series, TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER. Tammy lives in central New York with her husband Tim Liebe and their uncountable number of cats, two parakeets, and the various freeloading wildlife that reside in their back yard. You may find her at www.tamorapierce.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter. I first met Tammy in the very late 80s when we were living in New York City. Back then she had written a martial arts script and got some NYU film students on board to film it. I “acted” in it – I had a death scene… unfortunately I had a hard time remaining immobile. We even did some clandestine shooting in Central Park, as I recall. I often wonder what ever happened to that film. It would be nice to see us so young and deliciously exuberant. At any rate, I am extremely happy that Tammy has succeeded in bringing strong and daring girls and young women to the forefront in her fiction.
May 27 – A Trip down Memory LaneWe go to the Osteria Carroarmato for dinner. A few months ago, I took 5 cases of wines from older vintages there. I figured that if they stayed in our wine closet they would never be drunk. At the Carroarmat we could open them and share them – which is exactly what happened. Annalisa (the owner of the Carroarmato) and I trooped down to the cellar and pawed through the cases and chose a 1988 Amarone and a 2009 passito.
WINE LESSON: When tasting older vintages, you look to see how the wine has evolved over time. You revel in the evocative tertiary aromas and enjoy the kind of pleasure it still gives. Example: Paul Newman in his 70s. Yes, he is old…but the corn-flower blue eyes still sparkle and his bone structure is firm. He isn’t the same as he was when he pouted his way through Cool Hand Luke, but he still attractive and vivid. So, a wine that can age well is – in my mind – a Paul Newman wine.
1988 Amarone from Masi: A dark, rich tariness over a raisiny fruit. A vaporous scent of grapiness rises from the glass. It still gives pleasure. After 20 minutes, it opens up. The nose has an enticing floral note. I think it is safe to say that they don’t make wines like this anymore. 2009 Fiordilej Passito Villabella. Pleasing. After 20 minutes a touch of honey emerges and is bouyed by mandarin-tinged acidity. Unofficial note: pretty yummy. Annalisa offered a 1988 Cesare Passito from La Salette that was still vibrant and fresh.
May 19 Soave – Come Rain or Come Shine We took the bus to Soave for a tasting, a couple of vineyard visits and to hear some speakers who – for the most part – were indeed interesting. Wines that made the trip worthwhile:
Gini 2013 Soave Classico Salvarenza – a citrusy sherbet-y note. I would be happy to wear this scent…so fresh and uplifting.
Soave Classico ”Monte Carbonare” 2012 Creamy texture, an elegant grown-up vivacity. I love this wine.
Domaine Sigalas Assirtiko “Santorini” 2016 Fresh, Vibrant. Citrusy. http://www.sigalas-wine.com/english/ Assirtiko is a white grape variety that is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini. To protect the grapes from the driving wind and fierce sun the vines are trained to form a basket. .
For Importers (and wine fans) looking for something new from Soave: Franchetto http://www.cantinafranchetto.com/ The Franchetto family turns out elegant, satisfying wines. Of particular note: Franchetto Soave La Capelina 2015: Bright, sprightly. Elegant nose. Lightly thyme infused flavor over subtle white fruits (peach and pear) La Capelina 2016 – barely ripe peach sorbet – I want to eat it with a spoon. When we arrived, we learned that La Capelina had won the Decanter award as “The Best White Wine of the Veneto”. So there! If you need more assurance that the company makes good wines let me say this: Of the seven wine journalists present at the winery visit and tasting, three of them bought 3 to 6 bottles of the company’s wines to cart home. Everyone in the wine trade knows that wine journalists only buy wine if the wine in question is indeed special and the price is low with respect to the wine’s value.
17 and 18 May Verona Wine TopWas a judge once again at the Verona Wine Top tasting. The wines are tasted blind, That means that we tasters do not know that names of the producers. However, we do know the type of wine, such as Soave, Custoza, Valpolicella, Amarone, etc. There were around 8 judges on each of the three panels. My impressions: Of the wines my panel tasted I found the whites to be of a very high standard, with my highest scores going to Custozas.
WINE LESSON: What is Custoza? Custoza is made from a blend of indigenous varieties – Garganega, Trebbianello (a biotype of Tocai Friulano) and Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese. Where is the Custoza production area? Near Lake Garda. The reds were more problematic. The Ripassos were often unbalanced and many of the older Amarones had not aged well – they were hollow on the middle palate and there was not one whiff of what they might have been in their youth.
12-17 May Reading JennyOur friend Jennifer arrived. The first thing she said was: “I need something to read”. I handed her Brilliant by Marne Davis Kellogg. A fine piece of escapist reading, tightly woven plot, witty narrative, great fun. When Jen finished it, she said: “Wow! What an ending. I didn’t see that coming.” Jen was an ideal house guest – she spent most of her time reading and drinking win on the balcony. We sang show tunes at the top of our voices and if she wanted to see sites she was content to amble out on her own…a pleasure to have her visit.
Books: A message from Scott Clemens, author of Evelyn Marsh. (A book I thoroughly enjoyed reading.) “The Kindle version of Evelyn Marsh is scheduled for publication on March 14th. It’s currently available for pre-order at: http://amzn.to/2kGjWve The more reviews before publication, the better Amazon’s algorithms will push it. So I’d really appreciate it if you’d go to the pre-order page, scroll down to the Customer Review section, and leave a review. It doesn’t have to be long. Even a few lines would help.”
Feb 23 Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels
Susan H. picked us up and off we go…
I adore the annual Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it) because it includes everyone: from International stars and local heros to the man pictured, Giovanni Ruffo. He makes very nice wines. His annual production is: 650 bottles of Amarone and around 3,000 of Valpolicella, all of which he sells at three local restaurants.
Other producers who stood out for me include (in the order they appeared on the tasting list): Brigaldara, Roccolo Grassi, Santa Sofia, Speri, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Venturini Massimo, Vigneti di Ettore, Zanoni Pietro and Zyme.
I did not taste every wine at the event because there were more than 60 wines and because Amarones have an alcohol level that ranges between 15 to 17+. I seldom taste more than 25 Amarones at a standup/strolling event. Some of my favorite producers were busy when I passed by and, with good intentions, I vowed to go back and taste their wines later. But anyone who has been at a large tasting knows that the chances of returning are slim.
Tasting Tip: At professional sit-down tasting of wines with alcohol levels that hover between 12 and 14, a taster can do 30 to 40 wines in a morning session and repeat this number in the afternoon. I don’t mind that kind of tasting but I no longer enjoy being frog-marched off to a Big Dinner at the end of one. I much prefer to go home, take a hot bath and have a nice bowl of cottage cheese (to calm down the acidity that builds up after a string of sprightly whites or sparkling wines). Tasting requires metal acuity: you cannot do it well when you are tired.
Feb 19 Lunch at th Carro Armato
We lunched with our friends Lorenzo Z, Meri F. and their daughter Vita and Dog Maggie. Stanley and Maggie were well behaved. They each chose their spot under the table and waited patiently for any bit of food that might happen to be offered. Vita, who is 2, had learned the word “NO!” and treated us to its many shades of meaning. Also at lunch was Meri’s pal Marta Carnicero from Spain.
For aspiring novelists, I will tell her story. Marta was taking a creative writing cours, focusing on novels. At the end of the course, she turned in her book to her professor who, upon reading it said: “This is really good, you should look for an agent.” A short time later a translating student at Columbia University in New York wrote to Marta asking if she could translate excerpts from the novel for her course because she had to work from original, unpublished material. Marta happily supplied a PDF. The translation professor read the excerpts and said: “This is really good. Would Marta mind if I showed this to a couple of publishers?”. Marta certainly did not object. And now two New York publishers are eagerly awaiting the full translation of her book (which is written in Catalan). “I never wrote it thinking of publication”, said Marta. “I just wanted to fulfil the assignment.” I asked her why she wrote it in Catalan rather than in Spanish. “My mother spoke Catalan and it is the language I use to speak with her and with my sister. I felt I could more fully express emotions and intimate ideas in that language.”
When her book is published, I will let you know. New authors should be nurtured and promoted.
Feb 14. Valentine’s day whoopee.
We (or do I mean I?) had a glass or two of Ca’ Del Bosco’s Cuvee Prestige Franciacorta Brut. Lovely saturated yellow, broad and appealing on the palate. Satisfying.
We then headed out to Danial B.’s birthday party. Daniel is the brother I wished I had. He is smart and kind and undeniably odd – a fine description of many of my best friends.
Feb 11/12 50 shades of gray in Valpolicella
Soccer fans from Udine came to Verona for the weekend. Our Chievo soccer fan club (“Chievo is Life”) organized events for them. We road on their great big bus, while Massimiliano Fornasar, President of his local Chievo Soccer fan club (and jim-dandy wine producer, www.fornaser.com) gave a little tour of the area. Massimiliano, microphone in hand, would say things like:” On your right you could see the Somethingorother winery – if it weren’t so foggy. To your left is an ancient church – you can almost see it.” Of course, the fog was so thick that you could see nothing out the windows. This did not stop the co-mingling fans from having a swell time. We then went to Massimo’s osteria (Osteria Alla Pieve in San Pietro in Cariano) for chow. I spoke with the head of the Udine supporters fan club about perfume (he sells is) and to another Udine fan about the value of “love letters” – written on paper and spritzed with perfume. I had a wonderful time. No one asked me about sports, my interest for which is extremely low. We tasted some of excellent Fornasar’s wines. Of particular note is the Il Genio, a warming, fruity, pleasing Valpolicella. Unfortunately the fine label you see here is only used locally. For foreign markets, there is the serious label. Pity. I could just see this wine being served at author’s signing parties.
The next day we had a big fan lunch at the Chievo is Life fan club headquarters before the Udine/Chievo match. There were many more attendees than anticipated because Giorgio, our leader, believes in being all inclusive – Everybody is welcome at a Chieve Is Life” event. So many people came that another table had to be found to accommodate the throng. Here is a photo of Sabrina, a serious Chievo support, who volunteers to help prepare and serve the food at these events. It was she who marshalled the extra table and took command of the situation. When all was rolling along smoothly I went to her and told her I admired her organizational skill and her ability to come up with solutions at the drop of a hat. “There are some thing you just have to do for love (of the game) and friendship,” she said. Here is a photo of Sabrina.
First things first: Book. December was such a bitter-sweet month, filled with so much sadness, that I found myself dipping into Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha. We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.
Holiday Wines: These wines are ideal for the holidays because they are so incredibly versatile when it comes to matching them with food. This means they can be served with an important meal…and they can also be served the next day with creatively prepared leftovers. Each also has the added value of being excellent choices for vegetarian cuisine.
Donnafugata’s Sur Sur (made from the Grillo grape). I had always thought of this as a warm weather wine. However, I discovered that it is excellent on a grey, melancholy December day, when its lively floral, grassy fragrance brings a welcome breath of Spring. Its broad fruity flavor and sprightliness on the palate means that it can go with a wide variety of dishes as well as being excellent when served simply with friends and good conversation.
Drei Dona’s 2010 Cuvee Palazza Sangiovese Riserva. I liked Cuvee Palazza from the very first time I tried it – lo these many years ago. It is rich, silky, full, flavorful and can be easily matched with nut-based (particularly walnuts) and bean-based vegetarian dishes.
And, let’s face it, if you are serving a super-mega chocolate and raspberry jam enhanced hand-crafted Panettone, then Donnafugata’s Ben Rye is the wine to choose. It can maintain its dignity while generously accompanying this buttery bomb of flavor.
High spots this December: A dandy lunch at the Osteria Carro Amato with Susan H. and Annalisa. Going to Mantova with Gian Paolo to visit the Palazzo Ducale. Dancing to 60s music in the tiny basement of a Verona pub. Meeting with 8 other members of the Chievo Soccer fan club (and Stanley) to watch X Factor because one of our members had a cousin in the competition: Eva, who came in third! The winning band, Soul System, was from Verona. Here is a link to Eva’s performances. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqEc2n3G-Vw
A Memory: Hugh Johnson’s breathtaking wine notes
I was cleaning out my filing cabinet – yes, I still have a filing cabinet containing pieces of paper – when I came across the program from a Chateau Latour tasting -The Grand Tasting New York Wine Experience, dated Sunday 27th October 1991.
How well I remember that huge tasting. Hugh Johnson, an imposing figure with wild eyebrows and a firm jaw, took the stage to talk the roomful of eager tasters through a series of Château Latour vintages. In his posh, mellow English voice he rhapsodized about one of the wine’s “soft, suede bag of tannin holding jewels of flavor” He described the “threatening intensity” of another wine, “its rapier thrust, that deep penetration of entry.” Of a 1985 Latour he said: “It makes your mouth feel as if it is not quite big enough.” He spoke of its “brooding, but slow, unthreatening pace of entry.”
I was stunned and stopped taking professional notes and began writing down everything he said. “It ravishingly enters the mouth in velvet slippers. It opens without effort….” I glanced furtively at the tasters on either side of me. Was I the only one in the room who realized that besides having a highly successful career as a writer of gardening and wine books, Hugh had the potential to open new and exciting avenues in soft-core pornography?
I also came across my dog Ed’s first article, which was written for Decanter, along with the commissioning note from the editor. What a dog! I miss him still.
Dog Lovers Please Note: Missing Ed does not diminish my total adoration of Stanley.
I had intended to read it when I returned from Sicily…but thought I would just dip into it to get a feel for it before leaving. I started to read and did not stop. Believable characters. Fine dialogue. Good pacing. If you like Anne Tyler, Allison Lurie or John Updike (when he is being particularly kind) then give this book a chance. Scott has submitted Evelyn Marsh to the Amazon Scout program, where authors post samples of unpublished works, and readers vote on which ones they’d like to see published. PLEASE go and vote for him. He deserves a wider audience. Vote here:
I had the urge to drink a fine wine in the quiet of my office, with my dog by my side. I searched the wine closet for my last bottle of 2013 Villa Bucci Rosso (from Sangiovese and Montepulciano). Ah, sublime.
October 8th through 18 – the Fabulous, the friendly and the sometimes very nice
I received two invitations to go to Sicily (in the area around Mount Etna) this month. As the events were just three days apart, I decided to go to both, with a visit to our friend Simone’s place between the two.
Michael and I have very different packing styles.
He asks himself the question: How much can I stuff into the Big suitcase.
I ask myself: How much do I really want to carry in my tiny carry-on suitcase.
We arrive at the hotel Palazzo Judica (www.rtapalazzojudica.com) in the exceptionally lovely late Baroque town of Palazzolo Acreide, which is one of eight Baroque towns recognizes as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. We are guests of Fuoco Food Festival. (The festival has a Facebook page).
The entire Festival/visit was one of the nicest experiences in my professional life. I say this because it did not seem for an instant like a “journalist trip”, instead I felt part of a family of friends. Everyone – producers, organizers, chefs, other visitors – shared the same level of enthusiasm and generosity of spirit.
Toward the end of the stay, the film team asked some of us to share our favorite memories of the experience and I realized there were so many magical and unforgettable moments. Turning the corner of a narrow street in Buccheri and coming upon a grazing bull, seeing the smoke rising from the cooking fires, sun filtering through the trees, dining at U Locale (www.ulocale.com ), eating warm ricotta that was as soft as a cloud. Among the many great participants was Alveria artiginal beer (www.birrificioalveria.it), Saponifico Zimmitti (www.saponificiozimitti.it) and Damigella flour and pasta (www.graniantichidamigella.it). Top Chefs from Rome, Milan and the local area prepare meats, vegetables and breads over leaping flames, whilehappily wielding barbeque forks with the all the gaiety and enthusiasm of backyard cooks. Fine food consultant Simone Masuzzo (originally from Palazzolo, now working in Milan, who has trained with top chefs both in Italy and abroad) provided a surprising and delicious pairing of chocolate ganache and capers.
If any Italian food/beverage importers are reading this, I urge you to get in touch with Fuoco Food Festival organizer Daniele Miccione (via Facebook), who hand-picked all the products and participating chefs.
We go to Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto (Su Mare) to visit our pals Simone and Rosie (and their almost three year-old daughter Rebecca). For eight years Simone worked for Annalisa at the Osteria Carroarmato in Verona. His dream was to return to his home town of Barcellona PdG and open a bar. He has achieved his goal. His Osteria Malarazza (Bad Company in English) is wonderful. Top notch wines.
With only a couple of exceptions, the best wines I drank on this trip were from Simone’s carefully selected wine list. Here are the names of two that I tried at Simone’s bar: Tenuta Gatti (www.tenutagatti.com) Mamertino Rosso Curpanè (Nero d’Avola, with Nocera) – warm, rich plume/prune, silky on the palate, and Cantina Fina (www.cantinefina.it) produced Taif Zibibbo “Terre Siciliano” – vibrant, richly perfumed and broad on the palate. Both were very reasonably priced.
I had been given a sample at Fuoco of 2013 Nero d’Avola from Feudo Marccari (www.feudomaccari.it ), which I brought along and tried at Simone’s bright kitchen table. I had tasted it at the winery at a presentation conducted by a famous sommelier. He had won international awards for his ability and certainly deserved accolades. However, he had decided to style himself as a Rock Star. Now if you are slim and sexy you can flounce and strut and still maintain residual cool. If you lack the requisite physique of – say – a David Bowie or a Mick Jagger – then all that posing just doesn’t create a positive effect. And his speaking style was much more aligned with that of a televangelist; he shouted, exhorted, slapped people on the back, demanded high-fives. At a certain point I gave up trying to taste the wines and started thinking about Jim Jones (and wondering when the sommelier was going to ask us to drink the Kool-aid.) For those who do not understand the reference look up Jim Jones and Kool-aid on Google and learn about mass hysteria and how the phrase “drink the Kool-aid” has entered into the language.
However, when the wine was tasted in the quiet of Simone’s kitchen, the Nero D’Avola from Feudo Marccari was very good indeed. Bright, deeply saturated ruby, Nose: rich, full and dark (some might say licorice) Lively on the palate a fine amalgam of flavors blackberry/blueberry and overripe plum. Long finish.
WINE TASTING LESSON: When tasting it is best to do so in a quiet, well-lighted place. Do NOT listen to the opinions of others until you have formed your own. It is too easy for a loud voice to impose ideas on others. Once you have formed your opinion – then and only then – listen and discuss the wine.
I miss Simone. He picked the best music and the Carroarmato is not the same without him. His young daughter is a dab hand at tablets and computers in general. She is allowed to have her own Play List and leans toward the music of Zio Bruce (Uncle Bruce). Do I need to tell you that Simone and Rosie are big Springsteen fans?
Rosie very kindly agrees to drive us to our next destination, which, in her words, is “in the middle of nowhere”.
By chance Monica L. and her dog Tappo are also at this very nice building in the middle of nowhere. She is tasting wines in her room for her magazine. I envy her having her dog for company. She drove 12 hours from Rome because little Tappo is just a smidgeon over the “small dog” weight for airplanes.
I am here to be part of a jury, tasting Sicilian wines. There are 8 tasters and 200 wines. The nominal organizer of the tasting tells us there will be two juries – an international jury and a local jury – and each will be tasting different wines. Each of us on the “international” jury politely suggest that there be just one jury and therefore all the judges will be able to taste all the wines. The nominal organizer says no – 8 judges on one jury is too many. We politely say that each of us has been on juries with 8 judges and that there has been no problem. He then says that it is not possible for a taster to taste 200 wines in 2 and 1/2 days. Again, each of us tells him: no, 200 wines in 2 and ½ days is NOT too many and that each of us has upon occasion done just that.
He ignores us. It is as if we were speaking to a cardboard box.
We dutifully go to our assigned table and he reveals how the wines will be divided. The local jury will get all the wines from specific areas that are made from specific grape varieties and with specific methods. The international jury will get all the Sicilian IGTs. These are wines that can come from anywhere in Sicily, can be made from any varieties and with any method.
Professional tasters among you can immediately recognize the inequity of this division.
NOTE TO TASTING ORGANIZERS: Do NOT underestimate foreign judges. We are NOT unintelligent, we are not insensitive, we certainly are not unobservant. We are, however, experienced and prepared. And if all of us – independently – make the same suggestion, then perhaps it should be considered as a valid option.
The high point of the last two days come at a dinner hosted by Diego Cusumano at his family’s new estate: Alta Mora. (www.altamora.it) We tasted the silky, elegant and enticing 2014 Guardiola (Etna Rosso DOC, 100% Nerello Mascalese). My tablemate Daniele C. suggested it was like “wild strawberries in aspic”. I fell in love with that description – perfect.
Then off to the Taormina Gourmet event.
We met the marketing director of Settesole, (www.cantinesettesoli.it) whose Zibibbo won the IGT “International” jury top prize. The wine was indeed very fresh, fragrant and straightforward.
One of the two highlights of the event was a tasting with Walter Massa, the white knight of the Timorasso variety. I first interviewed him way back in 2002 for a book I was writing on Italian Indigenous Grape Varieties called Wines of Italy. I had to kick butt to get the publisher to include this variety because it was so little known. It gave me great pleasure to see that Walter M. was as enthusiastic and passionate as ever. He kept comparing wines to different actresses and actors. I found my mind wondering to the question: If Kevin Spacey were a wine, what kind of wine would he be?
WINE LESSON: Timorasso originated in Piedmont’s Novi Ligure and Tortona zones. Before phylloera infestation struck the region in the late 19th century. Timorasso was among Piedmont’s most widely planted white varieties, and it was cultivated as far away as Genova, where it was used as a table grape. Post-phylloxera, many of its vineyards were replanted with other varieties. Timorasso’s fortunes were again diminished by the international success of Cortese di Gavi in the 1960s and 1970s, when it became easier for producers to market the already established Cortese variety. Fortunately, Walter Massa, championed the variety and began producing elegant age-worthy wines.
The other highpoint was a tasting of Chardonnay Cuvee Bois produced by Val d’Aosta producer Les Crêtes (www.lescretes.it) and hosted by Costantino Charrère. We never pass up the opportunity to taste wines from this estate.
WINE LESSON: Valle’d’Aosta is Italy’s smallest region (1260 square miles) and lies in the north-west corner of the country. It is separated from France and Switzerland by Alpine peaks (among them Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Gran Paradiso). Most of its vineyards are planted on steep terraced slopes.
We taste 2014, 2013, 2011, 2006 2004, and 1990. The Les Crêtes house style is one of elegance, freshness and finesse that combine to create superb fine wines.
To explain the wonder of these wines let me just say that after 40 minutes in the glass the 1990 was still firm, fresh and elegant.
We ran into Daniele M. (driving force behind Fuoco Food Festival) in the lobby of our hotel. He tells us that the everyone was so pleased with the outcome of this, the first Fuoco, they are already planning the second edition. Hooray! I wish them every success!
A Memory of Professor Eco It has taken me a while to come to terms with the death of Umberto Eco, whom I interviewed on September 21st of last year. I have never laughed so much while doing an interview. He told jokes while we waited for the elevator. He showed my husband and me his library, which – considering it consisted of over 30,000 books – was contained in every room in the apartment. “These are the Art and Architecture books. My wife is an architect,” he said, waving to a wall of books. “There is the philosophy section,” he said pointing to another wall. Here is a picture of Mr. Eco in his “fiction corridor. “These are German. These are English. Those American. Here are the Scandanavian…..” He told me it took around 6 years to write a novel. “So you must come back again when I am 90,” he said. I thought I would.
After I had finished my interview for Publishers Weekly about his new book, Numero Zero, I asked Professor Eco if I could interview him for my Sherlockian friends. He graciously agreed. That interview will be published in English in the Spring edition of the Serpentine Muse, the newsletter of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. An Italian translation will appear in the next issue of The Strand Magazine: Organo dell’Associazione Uno Studio in Holmes. This latter issue will be devoted entirely to Professor Eco.
Here are some quotes : “There is also another distinction to consider, the one between narrative and mythography. For example, The Three Musketeers is wonderfully written, with a jazz style. The Count of Monte Cristo, on the other hand, is terribly written: it is like a muddy, sludge-filled river. But it, too, manages to create a myth that everyone knows and that has been reproduced in many films and many other forms – theatrical, radiophonic, television, etc.”
“So, there are texts that, from the point of view of aesthetics, don’t amount to much and were perhaps only written for the money but they have the power to create a myth. I think Sherlock Holmes belongs to the classification: mythography. It is not as if the works of Sherlock Holmes are written in a sublime way – like Dickens. But they have created a myth that would exist even if the stories no longer existed. The Holmes stories are models of inductive reasoning and they are therefore very interesting beyond being mere entertainment. I don’t think that they carry with them great philosophical merit because the philosophy in which Conan Doyle believed was spiritualism – at night making little tables dance around.” Eco s fingers flutter as if distributing fairy dust.
I asked the Professor if he planned on writing more about Sherlock Holmes. “I have written about Holmes in many other books, not only in the Sign of Three. So I have written enough about him.” Eco leans back in his chair, in a contemplative mood. “If I were to belong to a fraternity of or sect it would not be that of Sherlock Holmes but rather Nero Wolfe.” He smiles, a glint of the exuberant zeal of a fan lights up his eyes. “I paid ten dollars to receive their newsletter.” His rumbling laugh fills the room. “I know all of the Nero Wolfe stories by heart!” Ah, spoken like a true fan.
Here is a link to the Publishers Weekly interview:
28 February Elena Gladkova in Verona
We met up with Russian film director Elena Gladkova. Here is a link to one of her films: the delightful Jazz etude 2014. The audio is music and ambient sound so don’t be afraid to watch it – you don’t have to speak Russian. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBm4ItGEwvQ&feature=youtu.be
Stanley and I then set off for the Osteria Carro Armato to celebrate the birthday of Annalisa (the owner and my best Italian friend). Among the wines: a 1998 Fratta from Maculan. It was surprisingly fresh and complex on the nose and palate, touches of mint. “It went from being in Maculan’s cellar to mine here at the Carro Armato, so its storage conditions were optimal,” said Annalisa, when we began enthusing about its vivacity.
25 February Amarone A-Go-Go at Villa de Winckles
Villa de Winckles (www. villadewinckels.com ), a hotel/restaurant in the Illasi Valley, organizes wonderful tastings. Tonight there were over 60 top notch Amarone producers on hand. I will admit that I did not try all 60 – I am only human. But of the 40 I did sample, here are some of my favorites (in no particular order).
2007 Santa Sofia “Gioè” (cherries and cream, long evolving finish); 2011 Speri (delivers a very good wine in commercial volumes, which is not an easy thing to do.); 2010 Dal Forno (cream soda and dark cherries, a raw silk texture); 2011Roccolo Grassi (hypnotic mingling of austerity and lush fruit); 2010 Accordini Stefano “Acinatico” (elegant balance of fruit); 2011 Begali (juicy, satisfying); 2009 Pietro Zanoni (amalgam of black and red berry fruit) and the wonderful 2011 Corte Scaletta (juicy, figgy, pruney, luscious).
22 February Sangiovese di Romagna – one of my favorite annual tastings
We went to Faenza, a town world famous for its museum devoted to ceramics, for one of my favorite annual events: the tasting of Sangiovese di Romagna. Year in and year out, my top producers at this event remain Fattoria Zerbina and Dre Dona.
Fattoria Zerbina: Cristina Geminiani makes consistently outstanding wines – juicy, elegant and long-lived. If you see a Zerbina wine on a list – buy it. There is simply nothing else to add. Here is a photo of Cristina in her caffeine molecule earrings. Dre Dona: when I taste these wines and immediately think of all the ways they can be paired with food.
A New Entry at this tasting was a wine called Famous…because it is made from an local indigenous variety that goes by the name of Famoso (aka Uva Rambela). It is produced by the Romagna winery Santa Lucia (http://www.santaluciavinery.it ). This vibrant white wine has a finely-knit texture, with touches of sage and mint on the nose and palate.
The label is particularly attractive and I asked Paride Benedetti, owner of S. Lucia about it. “I was in Austria and my colleagues took me to the Klimt museum. And there I saw The Kiss for the first time. I stood in front of it rapt. I looked at it and saw grapes. So I brought my graphic designer to the museum and said: that’s what I want.”
The wine has everything, a good story, an original flavor…and its organic!
The town of Faenza was also hosting an art exhibit featuring cat-themed ceramics, paintings, tiles and dolls. It is held every year because – as I was told – February is Cat Month.
28 December HAPPY BIRTHDAY CINEMA Every year on this date our pal Ugo celebrates the birth of cinema by showing a silent film. This year it was D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. This three and a half hour epic was projected in a deconsecrated and unheated church in the center of town. Around 30 of us sat on metal chairs in our coats and hats. The film was indeed wonderful. However, I tolerated only an hour and a half of it, I was driven out by the cold. Michael to enjoy it to the bitter end.
Christmas Eve at Ugos
Every Christmas Eve and many an evening in between we climb the six steep flights of stone stairs, worn soft and smooth by hundreds of years of treading, to dine, drink, laugh, play silly games and argue at Ugo’s small apartment on the top floor of a building in the centro storico. I am grateful that our social life revolves around Ugo and his kith and kin.
17 December BLACK IS BLACK, I WANT MY COLOR BACK!
I went to a spiffy do at the Due Torre Hotel – an event celebrating the restoration of some circus-themed frescos from the 1950 by a local artist. There were circus performers from Verona’s circus school, decent eats…all very nice. BUT every single woman (but me! And my pal from down South) wore black. Once again, I am not talking about an Audrey Hepburn Little Black Dress black. Rather it was light-sucking black in baggy, body covering shapes.
I, of course, wore red.
“In Verona all women wear black to evening events,” said my pal from Southern Italy, who had some nice vivid blue (on a field of black) patterned top.
I thought: I have been to swankier events in New York, London, Paris, Florence and Milan…and in those places women choose dresses to match their skin tones and personal style – daffodil yellow; shimmering, smoky silver; emerald green. I find it so depressing to be in a room filled with black. Life is full of color!
16 December A BOOK PRESENTATION WITH A SIDE ORDER OF SPAGHETTI
TIP: Don’t present a book in a venue where the main event is eating.
The 30-some people dining in the back room at Scapin’s were polite to me but a book by a funny foreign lady didn’t stand a chance against spaghetti with duck sauce. The owner of the restaurant is a very nice man and he asked for a book to put on the shelf in the restaurant. Bless him. The wines were provided by clever Francesca Salvan. They were fragrant and juicy. If you ever find yourself in the Colli Euganei I would urge you to drop by the winery. Her family is truly geared up to accept visitors.
12 December LUNCH AT VILLA WITH THE GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) Susan H., Clementina P. and Michael and I enjoyed a merry lunch at the Villa Estate in Franciacorta. We look forward to this annual event. Yes, the photo is out of focus but I believe that helps capture the tone of the day. Oh my but we laughed! The fabulous earrings I am wearing, by the way, are a gift from Roberta Bianchi, whose family owns Villa.
4 December AROUND THE WORLD
By chance (OKAY, I’ll admit it: I was Googling myself), I came across an article in an Indonesian publication about Number Zero that mentions my interview with Umberto Eco in Publishers Weekly. It’s amazing how this interview is being picked up and sent around the world.
2 December MARINELLA CAMERANI OF CORTE SANT’ALDA AT THE CARROARMATO
Marinella, owner and winemaker of the Corte Sant Alda estate in Valpolicella, lives life on her own terms and makes wines just the way she wants to, without concern for fleeting trends. Her estate is certified organic and biodynamic – she produces Italy’s only biodynamic Amarone. She was as entertaining as ever at tonight’s tasting. I like her because she just says what she thinks – no mincing words for Marinella. We also had our wedding reception at her wine estate and our dog Ed is buried there. So, I admit to being partial.
1&2 December Wine2Wine
We went to a two day marketing/networking fest for people in the wine trade. On both days 90% of the women wore black. I don’t mean Audrey Hepburn chic black enhanced by diamonds and elbow length gloves. I mean life and light sucking black. In the two days I counted only 10 women who were not in black…they were in dark brown, grey or beige. Yikes! The world needs color!
First, the Books by Friend’s Department: Cathy Huyghe’s memoir Hungry For Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass (www.provisionspress.com/hungry-for-wine/) is a collection of very personal essays that plot her course from amateur blogger to professional wine writer. Publisher: Provisions Press
Claudia Farina’s entertaining novel is called Sull’Onda: Intrecci d’amore e di viaggio (Riding the Wave: entwinings of love and travel – this is how I would translate it). More about the book in the October 7 diary entry) Publisher: Delmiglio (www.delmiglio.it
George Truby reveals his love affair with the world’s most popular sparkling wine in: Campagne Undressed: An Expert Bares All.
25 October Lunch at the Gepperia We had lunch with the gang (Eleonella & Claudio, Stephania & Ugo and Silvio at the home of Geppi and Germania. Germana’s cooking, as always, was simply wonderful. We brought a 2008 Mille e Una Notte from Donnafugata. (www.donnafugata.it/ ) At first Geppi was skeptical that a 2008 would still be drinkable – ah, did I tell you that no one in the group works in the wine trade? They were all amazed at the elegance of its fresh, frim fruit. We also brought a sweet Fior d’Arancia from Quota 101 (www.quota101.com ) This too was a hit. The nose, as you might guess, was very forward and inviting. On the label of the wine the producers list a musical accompaniment – nice touch. For this wine the producers chose: Blackbird by the Beatles. Here is a link to Blackbird. It is not the slickest version but it is Young Paul… (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3sYgtIzqXo )
21 October Good bye to Gianni Burato, artist and Illustrator & The Colli Euganei Moscato Gianni Burato was a handsome man, kind and witty. We went to his not-exactly-funeral today in a reception room at the cemetery. His casket sat in the center of the room, a case of wine placed at the foot of it. Some of his many political cartoons and illustrations were projected on the wall. (I laughed out loud twice at his wit.) The music was intelligent rock and roll. As we left Jimi Hendricks was singing: “There must be some kinda way outta here…” (The Watchtower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLV4_xaYynY ) His beloved wife was brave and tried to keep smiling, as Gianni had wanted.
We take the train to Vicenza and Susan H. picks us up and we start our adventure in the Colli Euganie. I love the sunsets in this zone. Then it got very dark…no city lights…no village lights, a few farm house lights. We arrive at the Quota 101 winery for a very interesting tasting of dry Moscatos from various Italian regions, including Quota 101’s very fragrant 2014 dry Moscato Fior d’Arancio. This wine and Lo Triolet – Marco Martin Muscat Petit Grain 2014 from Valle d’Aosta were my top two wines.
We tasted the wines with food prepared by Mattia Barbieri of the Enoteca Centrale. (www.enotecacentrale.it/giovedegusta )
I was a tad skeptical at the beginning. I thought the intensity of the fragrance would make matching difficult. I was wrong: the pairings worked wonderfully well. Particularly nice were the carpaccio of cod and the baccalà mantecato. The photo is of Susan enjoying her vittles.
18 October Lunch at the Carroarmato with Sherlockians and Sommeliers from America Stanley and I meet a nice Italian woman (who is doing a thesis on Sherlock Holmes and Food) and her thesis advisor, a big Sherlock Holmes fan. They wanted to buy copies of Bacchus at Baker Street (cover by Gianni Burato) and talk about The Great Detective’s eating habits, among other things. We arrived at the Carroarmato at around 11 am and were later joined by Michael and his troop of American wine buyers and sommeliers who are in town (guests of the Soave Consortium) for the Osteria event, and to meet and taste Soaves and Durellos. We all sat down to lunch together – well, Stanley went racing around after Annalisa and Lara and helping waiters deliver plates of meat to other tables.
14 October The Annual Canova Sculpture Prize-giving 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).
The financial and organizational support provided by the Guerrieri Rizzardi wine company is to be commended. This year’s winner is Giulia Berra, from the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Brera, Milano.
13 October In Milan for another stomp around Expo in the rain with a bus-load of Soave-ites.
10 October Off to Milan for the The Ulitimate Wine Guide/Tasting
In Milan for the launch of Daniele Cernilli’s Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2016. Scores of Italy’s top producers were there showing their award-winning wines. Among my favorites was Vintage Tunina from Jermann. I still remember the first time I tasted this wine over twenty years ago. I was at the International Wine Challenge in London back in the days when this Mega-tasting was organized by Robert Joseph and Charles Metcalf.
I can still see Robert racing across the airplane-hanger-sized venue toward me, holding a glass of white wine aloft. I took in the glint in his eye and thought: “He’s going to try to trick me. He knows I specialize in Italian wines, so the wine is likely to be Italian. It is also likely to be a complicated blend – not a simple two or three grape jobbie. There are only two wines at this Mega-tasting that fit that profile.” He handed the glass to me with a flourish, I casually sniffed and, without tasting it, said: “Vintage Tunina”. The look of surprise on his face remains bright in my memory to this day.
As Sherlock Holmes said in The Adventure of the Dancing Men: “It is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. After doing so, one may produce a startling effect.”
Vintage Tunina (a blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana and Picolit) has remained among my favorite white wines.
8 October Opera on Ice
Yes, a rink was set up in the 1st Century Roman Arena in Verona’s main square for a stupendous show that included Olympic Gold Medal winners and superb opera and pop singers (Ellie Goulding). My favorite performer was Baritone Palle Knudson, who happily played along with the bizarre but still entertaining production.
7 October Claudia Farina’s book launch CLAUDIA SIGNING Claudia Farina’s novel is called Sull’Onda: Intrecci d’amore e di viaggio (Riding the Wave: entwinings of love and travel, is how I would translate it). The event takes place at Scapin’s (Via Armando Diza, 20, near the Ponte della Vittoria) and was hosted by the Veneto Chapter of Slow Food. Claudia, who has had a life filled with adventure and travel working as a reporter, decided that she had reached the point in her life when she was ready to write a novel. The book is funny and serious by turns, with chapters set in Sri Lanka, Egypt, Libia, Kenya, Sicily and Mantua, among many other locations. “This book is a collection of places that few have seen,” says Claudia. “Some of them no longer exist.” Be prepared for love, a bit of sex and insights into other cultures.
4 through 6 Puglian “Educational” trip For visits to great wine producers and restaurants whiz down to my June diary. To hear about some very nice Masserias/agriturismos, read on.
A Lesson: A masseria is a fortified farmstead. Many have now been renovated to become wonderful oases of calm and tranquility for travelers. They offer all the modern conveniences in a rural setting, surrounded by gardens, orchards, vineyards and olive groves.
The small group consists of Tour Operators, 2 Journalists and a Blogger, who says he hates to write.
I arrive at the Agriturismo Sant’Andrea (www.agriturismocastellaneta.it). I speak to the owners and tell them that my husband had looked them up on Trip Advisor, which said that they had one of the best restaurants in the area. “Here’s the chef,” they say, presenting a kindly, smiling woman, who also happens to be their mother. The family is extremely obliging and generous.
I sit next to Veronika (an Austrian journalist who lives in Berlin) on our first long bus ride. I mention the wonderful and poetic film Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin), directed by Wim Wenders. Veronika tells me that she was fortunate enough to attend the 25 anniversary showing of the film, at which Wim Wenders, Bruno Ganz (the protagonist) and Peter Handke (one of the writers), spoke about the making of the movie. Our mutual love for this film leads to us becoming bus-buddies.
We visit a very nice bakery (www.panificiocostantino.it) and some of us get to push the dough around. I go outside and sit on the low wall in front of the shop. Two guys are eating sandwiches and drinking beer at small tables. The town dog comes over to me and I gently massage his temples and get the benefit of watching his expression of Doggie Bliss.
Lunch at the Agriturismo Sierro Lo Greco (www.sierro.it) After lunch the owner shows us where he makes his essential oils. The conversation devolves into a series of acronyms (an acronym is a word formed from the first letters of each one of the words in a phrase. Example NATO.) These acronyms referred to local, regional and European political funding organizations, and the use of them makes conversation incomprehensible to a person who has no interest in local project funding. I go outside to look at the animals – ducks, donkeys, dogs…
On to Matera. Lesson: Matera is in the region of Basilicata. We have come to see the town’s historic center, known as “I Sassi”. This area traces its origins to a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We meet up with our local guide, Nicola Taddonino (www.matera2019tour.it), a man who is passionate about his city and its history. Unfortunately we have arrived too late to visit his favorite church but he quickly finds another to round out our very interesting two-hour tour.
We drive back to the Agriturismo. We have 30 minutes to change and get back to the bus to go to dinner. We have been from 40 minutes to an hour and a half late for every stop listed on the schedule. As it will be close to 9 by the time we get to the restaurant. The listed return time is 10 P.M. . A more realistic return time will probably be 12:30. I go to Our Keeper and tell him that I think I will skip dinner and remain here. At around 12:30 the dogs begin to bark, alerting me to the fact that the tour bus is returning. I happily drift back to sleep.
The next morning, my bus friends turn up at breakfast looking exactly like people who ate too much at a late three-hour dinner and now fully realize that they must spend a grueling day touring. They all agree, however, that I missed some fine food at Tenuta Orsanese – Ginosa Marina (www.tenutaorsanese.it ). We stow our luggage in the bus and set off for Round Two of this adventure.
We visit two large cooperative wineries, tasting Primitivo at each one. (If you want to know more about Primitivo and the Manduria production zone, whiz down to my June diary.)
At our next destination we stand in the dusty parking lot while the very nice owner of the olive mill talks and talks with great enthusiasm. Some of us take shelter from the sun in the shadow of the bus, others hunker down to relieve stress on our knees. As he talks I look across the road at a fine ancient olive tree and the grove behind it. I think: Why can’t we be having this long talk over there – in the shade?
We go to the Relais di Terre di Terre (www.terrediterre.it ) A lovely place, with a large pool and a grassy play area for children. It is 7 kilometres from the beach. We take a look at the stylishly decorated rooms. The soap, and moisture lotion in the rooms is based on olive oil.
We go to another winery and tour the very nice farming equipment museum. At the inevitable tasting I ask if we can taste a sparkling wine. I ask this because it is closing in on 5 pm, everyone is exhausted and droopy. A sparkling wine is what is needed to get us back in a jovial mood. The sommelier very kindly pours a glass of rosé…then we must move on to the Primitivo.
Back in the bus, we ask politely if we can skip the visit to the 17-hectare archeological park and go to the Masseria. “The visit will only take 10 minutes,” says the Promotion Board Lady.
Veronika turns to me and says. “But their 10 minutes is usually 40 minutes”. As it turned out that was much too conservative an estimate.
We take a little tour. Then Our Keeper pulls up in his car. He has taken one of our group back to a winery where she had left her notebook. She is willing to forgo a visit, Our Keeper is not. They enter the park.
Francesca, an intelligent and observant woman who owns Chic and Unique Tours (www.chicanduniquetours.com), Veronika and I sit down on a bench and watch a small pack of adolescent boys kick a soccer ball around. German Chris slouches on an adjacent bench.
“Well, at least it isn’t raining,” says Francesca, who lives in London.
Time passes. Finally the two Promotional Board Ladies and Our Keeper emerge. They stop to chat. Francesca calls Our Keeper’s name several times. He eventually glances our way. “Perhaps we can go now,” she says. “No,” he replies. “We’ve got time.”
In stunned silence we settle back on the bench.
“One of the things I have learned from doing the Yoga tours is to live in the moment,” says Francesca. “Problems are in the Past and in the Future, not in the Present.”
We meditate on this while the adolescent boys play on under a late afternoon sky. Ever so slowly the sky darkens toward dusk. When dusk becomes gloom, the boys put the ball away and head home for dinner. We meditate some more. At last the Promotional Board Ladies and Our Keeper have exhausted every possible thread of their conversation and allow us to board the bus.
We arrive in pitch blackness at Masseria Pepe (www.masseriapepemaruggio.it). “Oh, it is such a pity that you didn’t arrive sooner so you could see the animals,” says our hostess. “Yes, it is,” I reply.
Veronika and I love the romantic and atmospheric use of lighting on the long veranda and around the pool. Again, room décor is an exhilarating blend of rustic and elegant and – once again – the owners and staff are exceptionally kind and helpful.
At dinner – a much appreciated buffet – Our Keeper asked us if we had any suggestions for improving future Educational trips. We did.
3 October The 34th Annual Masi Prize
As always this was an entertaining and thought-provoking affair. It took place at the Verona Philharmonic Theatre, a lovely little jewel box of a venue: crystal chandeliers and gold-leaf abound. Awards were presented to physicist Carlo Rovelli Physiscist, singer Elisa, Michelin-starred chef Massimiliano Alajymo, top-dog sommelier Giuseppe Martinelli and The Italian Navy in the person of Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi.