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

September 2017

September 2017

30 September The 36th edition of the Masi Prize

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).

http://the-history-girls.blogspot.it/2017/09/beaver-country-michelle-lovric.

And while we are talking about poetry, here is a link to a youtube of poet Glenn Shea reading “A Luddite Relents,” from the second book.

https://youtu.be/1uvpH5PRV3A

7 September – Off to the Mantova

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.

 

 

June 2017

June 2017

I have tried to correct the year to 2017 in every way I know how…to no avail. So I have given up. YES, it is supposed to read 2017.  Perhaps it will correct itself in time…who really knows?

First things first: Book Fairies and more Book Fairies 

The Book Fairies (http://www.thebookfairies.org) “collects reading materials for people in need throughout metropolitan New York. The reading materials foster literacy and academic success, provide a respite from personal struggles, and nurture a love of reading across age groups. Visit the site to find out how to become involved.

And internationally…

The Book Fairies (http://ibelieveinbookfairies.com/)

started in London with the Books on the Underground project, but has now spread to 26 countries. Anyone can become a Book Fairy. Take a look at the website.

20 June Lunch with Maz and Arne

I have known Maz for a very long time: she can cook, she can sew and she is the only person in Italy that I would trust in my home with a hand drill.  We brought a magnum of sparkling wine of 2010 Berlucchi Cellarius (Franciacorta, bright, lively, mature pleasure. www.berlucchi.it/i-franciacorta/cellarius/) Maz and Arne opened a bottle of a Swiss Chardonnay made by Donatsch (a touch of wood, nice.  www.donatsch.info/chardonnay-passion.)

24 June Dinner at Daniels

We brought a 2002 Giulio Ferrari, disgourged in 2014. Bright gold. Firm persistent bubbles enliven the palate. “There is still enough acidity there – it’s still nervy on the palate. We’re tasting a Grand Old Dame,” said Daniel.  Daniel opened a 2015 Soave from Pra called Otto. (a fine amalgam of soft ripe pear and a pleasing frisson of acidity. www.vinipra.it/it/vinipra) The name is not derived from the number eight, rather it is the name of Graziano Pra’s dog.

Wine Tasting memories

In the 1980s wine tasting in New York was a competitive sport (and it probably still is). There always had to be winners and losers. I remember being invited to a young wine salesman’s apartment for a Burgundy tasting. He threw open the door instantly at my knock. A manic brightness gleamed in his eyes.  Superciliousness burst from every pore. He pulled me into the room, thrust a glass of red wine in to my hand and exclaimed: “Identify this wine!” I glanced at the dozen or so people, each turned toward us, waiting for the show to begin, and silently I thanked Daddy for all those games of poker we played in my childhood. For I knew in an instant that whatever was in that glass, it would surely not be Burgundy. Only the day before I had read about French producers who had invested in the United States. I knew the answer to his question before the scent of the wine reached my nostrils. I casually waved the glass under my nose handed it back to him and said, “Oregon Pinot Noir.”  He gaped, stepped back and frowned. One of the spectators, a brash young man given to wearing yellow ties, stepped forward and said, “Who’s the producer?”  I promptly supplied the name. A frisson of pleasure rippled down my spine as I watched him crumble. Game, set and match to me.

How did I know the name of the producer?  Elementary, my dear reader. From the proprietorial way in which he asked the question I deduced that it was probably he who had brought the wine to the tasting. I knew who he worked for and I knew what Burgundies his company represented. I recognized, from the article I had just read, that one of those companies had had successful results from their plantings in Oregon. Did I gushingly confess this line of reasoning to the assembled company? Of course not. As Sherlock Holmes says. “Results without causes are much more impressive.”

At other times winning the New York tasting game seemed to be determined by the volume of a player’s voice and by the length of time he could monopolize the conversation. The occasion of a tasting allowed a player to recite every great vintage he had ever sipped and the name of every Important Person he had ever met. The name of practically anyone English rated almost as high as Nobility. There also seemed to be points for getting as many of these names as possible into each minute of play. I found these lengthy digressions as interesting as listening to a baseball fan recite the RBI stats of every World Series since the year dot. George shared my opinion on this.

One evening we dined with two rich wine collectors. The starters came and our hosts launched into a detailed list of their Great Wines Past. The main courses arrived and they continued their recitation without a pause. We ate, they talked at us. Over the remains of our steaks and the drone of our hosts, George leaned over to me and said quietly: “You, know, Patricia, I have always wondered why you and I never became lovers.”

“Because you have a girlfriend,” I replied.

“Couldn’t I have two?”

“Not with me.”  Silence suddenly drenched our table. The rich collectors had, at last, lost their ability to speak.

 

OCTOBER 2016

6aBOOKS BOOKS BOOKS!!!!

Evelyn Marsh by Scott Clemens

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:

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2OVJKYK96QRH3

October 20 Villa Bucci welcomes me home

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

dscn0611I 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.

 

 

2We 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.

 

3Toward 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.

 

Stanley specific dog sign
Stanley specific dog sign

56

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Simone & Bro
Simone & Bro

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.

 

9I 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.

dscn0598 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.

11 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.

img_0353We 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.

img_0080 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!

 

 

September 2016

24 September Art in a Fragrant Garden

The annual Canova prize for young sculptors, sponsored by the Canova Foundation and the Guerrieri Rizzardi wine company, is a magnificent opportunity for young artists. The prize consists in part of a showing of the winner’s work at the Museo e Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in Possagno. This year was a joint show of the works of Maria Savoldi and Giulia Berra.

 

2Savoldi’s work is site specific, which means the sculpture is created in and for a particular place. Arranged around the large room in the exhibition hall were photographs of her sculptures – all of which are made of colored wire. These images are the result of a bicycle trip she made through France, Spain and Portugal.  “I would find a place that inspired me but at the same time seemed to lack something. Then I would fill the void,” says Savoldi.  “When I was working, people would gather around and watch. There were lots of children who would come up and ask me what I was doing and we would talk. I was never alone on this trip.  I left the pieces in situ for people to touch or take away.” She also attached tags on the work with her email address should someone wish to contact her and discuss the work.

Her act of creation can be seen as a work of art in itself.  I hope that many other opportunities come her way to travel and share her experiences and artistic vision.

Giulia Berra produced vessels (made of bent wood and feathers) which were suspended from the ceiling in a smaller room. The interaction and movement of the shadows they cast created the interesting sensation of walking inside a work of art.  Again, there was a transitory nature to the work.

After the show, all the guests trouped out to the beautiful garden and forked down nice plates of spaghetti and drank excellent Guerrieri Rizzardi wine.

Michael and I got home, loaded up Stanley and headed down to the train station on our way to Vicenza, where we had dinner with Susan H. – all the vegetables were from her garden and we washed things down with Champagne.  Yes, it was a good as it sounds.

 

17 September Meeting Myra And tasting a Valpolicella from another space and time

4-myraMyra lives in the Collie Euganei. I wrote a book about this incredible place (The Venetian Hills: A Connoisseur’s Companion to the Colli Euganei). She saw the book and wrote an email suggesting we meet.

Myra brings her book, a memoir of her life in a Colli Euganei spa town: The Best Mud in Italy.

 

 

 

4aTocati, the annual festival of street games is in full swing in the centro storico. The games are those that involve sticks, balls, rocks and chalk. Yes, real old fashioned games! One of the founders of this event was Gianni Burato, a wonderful illustrator and very kind and intelligent man. His friends still miss him. The logo you see was drawn by Gianni. He also did the cover for my book Bacchus at Baker Street – the version with the cover featuring a Basil Rathbone-ish gent sipping Champagne.

 

 

5-wine We go to the Osteria Carroarmato for lunch and ask Annalisa, the owner, to choose a wine for us. The 2010 Taso Valplicella Classico Superiore from Villa Bellini is superb. Brilliant rich cherry color with a dark sheen. It is vibrant on the nose and palate, with firm seductive flavors of mature cherry. Supple yet vivacious – a 3 dimensional sensation. The wine just keeps on giving pleasure. After 40 minutes in the glass it is still firm and flavorful.  I have no idea why this photo has come out sideways….if you are looking for techical perfection I fear you must look elsewhere.

“The first time I tasted this wine I thought of that 1988 Quintarelli Valpolicella you brought to dinner a few years ago. It had that same staying power,” says Annalisa.  “This is probably the last chance to taste this wine or a wine of this style from Villa Bellini because the owner has sold the estate to a big company.”

She said this because, as every wine lover knows, Great Wines are made by individuals with vision and a soul.  This certainly does not mean that Villa Bellini will necessarily be making lesser wines.  But they will be making different wines, ones that reflect the current winemaker/owners. I wish them well.

13 September Dancing in the Office

It is 10 a.m. I slip Xavier Cugat: King of Cuban Rhythm! into the cd player and Michael and I rumble a rumba. Ahi ahi ahi!  I will confess: I dance and sing every day.  I don’t do either of these activities exceptionally well…but boy do I have fun. This is the first time I have enticed Michael into a morning dance.

4 September  Lunch with Gian Paolo and family at the Carroarmato.

Oh, I have known Gian Paolo for 20 years! We met at the first ever International Wine fair to be held in Brazil. The fair itself, held in a big hotel complex, was nice enough. The tranquility of the event was marred only by the periodic shattering of glass shelving. The organizers had not realized that heavy glass bottles are best displayed on something a bit tougher – if less elegant – than plate glass. And the urge to put one more bottle on a thin sheet of glass was just too tempting for some.

One of the positive results of the trip was that Gian Paolo became a good friend and was, in fact, the Italian Best Man at my wedding.  He also gave Michael one of his first freelance translating jobs. The relationships you forge during difficult times are usually meant to last.

 

8However, the most delicious outcome of this trip as far as I am concerned is that Ed, our dog, got his first byline in Decanter, a well-known British wine magazine. I had already contracted to write about the fair for another magazine when I got the call from Decanter. My byline could not appear over both stories, so the editor and I agreed to assign the second one to Edmund Cane (a.k.a. Ed Dog), my alter ego. From there Ed’s career blossomed until he had contributed to every major British wine publication. Each time his byline appeared I would whisk his copy of the magazine down to Annalisa at the Carro Armato and she would give him a meatball for being such a clever dog.  Ed was less than 200 grams when we got him and the doctor estimated that he was around 3 weeks old.  He had been abandoned.  He was the smartest dog I have ever had the pleasure to know.

 

3 Tasting and smoozing at Soave VS9Here is a photo of Charlie Atuola with Stanley.  Charlie is the international wine consultant behind the Duel of Wine film, which will be presented (out of completion – way out of competition) at the Venice film festival. He is sublimely happy.

There is an Italian expression: non c’e un cane (there’s not even a dog), which is used to indicate that few people turned up at an event. That can certainly not be said of Soave Versus. The place was packed. Yes, I tried to edit the image but to no avail.

2 September Dinner in the Grand Guardia to kick off Soave VS.

We arrive and mill around a bit.  The mayor of Verona comes in and recognizes Michael – Michael usually participates in the San Gio Video Festival Press Conference which takes place in July – and comes up to shake Michael’s hand.  I can see Aldo’s eyes light up. Being on cordial- greeting-terms with local politicians is a much prized attribute in Italy.

I was fortunate to sit next to a person who enjoyed talking about books. Everyone at the table gave me their leftover meat to take home to Stanley.  What a great group.  Doing something as brutta figura (in this case we can translate the expression as gauche) as taking home leftovers to the dog is frowned upon in Italy. But the Soave-ites know me by now and indulge my little foibles.

1 September Press Conference for Soave VS

We roll up to the town hall to attend the Press Conference.  I bring a paperback (PerryMason e la Voce Fantasma a.k.a. The Case of the Mythical Monkeys).  Soave Versus is the annual 3-day event (with tasting) that is now held in the Grand Guardia in Piazza Bra. After the Press Conference Aldo (the director of the Soave Consortium) suggests we follow him and a couple of bloggers and a politician of some sort (I try not to remember the names and positions of local politicians – no matter how nice they may be personally). We go to Signore Vino and chow down on sliced meats and SOAVE!

July 2016

First Things First: Books.

This is something I wrote for the book Raising Global Children by Stacie N. Berdan and Marshall S. Berdan.

DSCN0535When I decided to see Europe for myself – and not through the eyes of Frances Hodgson Burnett, Arthur Conan Doyle or Victor Hugo – I was ready. My childhood reading had prepared me. Novels had shown me other ways of approaching life, of making decisions, of assessing the world around me.

Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and R.L. Stevenson showed me wickedness and taught me to keep my eyes open for both evil and good. Ray Bradbury and T.H White reinforced in me a delicious sense of being alive in a world filled with wonders.

Novels are where children learn to solve problems and sympathize with people unlike themselves. They also learn that there exist different sets of manners and attitudes from those in their own homes. These are fundamental characteristics for a person who wants to live in a world beyond narrow national borders.

A well-written novel allows a child to live in the skin of another person – the hero – and to hereby understand heroic behavior: defending the weak, forgiving the foolish, having the confidence to take that first daring step into the world alone. In short: to grow up. It allows them to recognize that the world isn’t either black or white: it is in fact in glorious Technicolor.

23 through 27 San Gio Video, Vino and Salami festival

 

Every year (for over two decades) Ugo organizes – in a manner of speaking – a video festival, which is held in a Verona piazza. Films – both short and long – are shown every afternoon and evening for anyone who wants to draw up a chair and watch. A WONDERFUL PHOTO  of my favorite judges at the festival has repeatedly failed to load….how sad.  Imagine 4 beautiful women in summer resses sitting on a marble diaz.  Here it the caption that would go with such an image.  From left to right: documentary director Cuini Ortiz (from Argentina), director Elena Gladkova (Russia), actress Erica Rivas (Argentina) and entrepreneur Asal Emanmi (Iran).

My favorite short film this year was The People’s Palaces, a 16-minute film about Moscow’s beautiful and monumental subway stations directed by Elena Gladkova. The rousing score perfectly matched the on screen movement and lent energy to the piece. I asked the director if she had studied music. She replied: “Yes, for many years at school. Also I was a dancer and choreographer.”  As soon as I heard that she had been a choreographer everything fell into place. Her sensitive choice of music matched the rhythm so well that something as simple as commuters exiting from a train became as elegant as a ballet.

The juries at the festival (and me a hanger-on) visit a different winery every morning.  Here are my favorite visits.

3Poggio delle Grazie (www.poggiodellegrazie.it)  The two wines that were a big hit with me and the others were the lively, fresh wines made with a natural re-fermentation in bottle: the Rosato made from a blend of Corvina 60 %, Rondinella 40 % + 5 % Garganega Passita, and Bianco made from primarily from Cortese.

We also visited Le Battistelle (www.lebattistelle.it/) I have always liked Battistelle’s Soave Classico, finding it complex with lively flavors of ripe pear and a note of mandarin orange.

We slipped and slid through their heroic vineyard, proving our own heroism in the process.

Lesson:  An heroic vineyard is one that is in a location (usually a steep terraced hillside) that makes the use of machinery impossible. So all work in the vineyard must be carried out by hand.

Le Battestille also made my summer dream come true – a hammock in the breeze.

Our merry band also visited other wineries but I don’t feel like writing about them. Remember, in this diary I only write about wines I think are exceptionally appealing.

TIP for wineries:  If it is high noon in the middle of summer …and if your visitors are slick with sweat and their skins are turning blotchy with sunburn…then keep the vineyard visit short.  If you want to answer general questions or talk about technical issues that have nothing to do with the vineyard your guests are standing in…THEN maybe it would be a good idea to continue the discussion in a cooler place, preferably one where glasses of cold water are on offer.

21 Borgo di Bardolino

5Wow! The Guerrieri Rizzardi  family has given a new sheen to the town of Bardolino. Their former lakeside winery and villa has been transformed into an elegant complex that includes a wine bar, a pizzeria, a restaurant, a meeting center and holiday apartments – all within the context of a lush, plant-filled garden. The project was piloted by Agostino Rizzardi, who chose his architects and interior designers well. The look is harmoniously eclectic, and manages to be both stylish and comfortable. And did I say dogs are welcome?  Here is a photo of Otto Rizzardi, whom I met at the event.

 

 

10 July Sunday, Sushi and… 

We meet up with Susan H. and taste a 1993 Vino da Tavola from COS – Viticoltori di Vittoria (www.cosvittoria.it/).  Bright Ruby, fresh, still vibrant cherry fruit a creamy element on the palate. After 15 minutes in the glass, the wine was still firm and appealing.  Needless to say, they don’t make it any more

Then we head off for sushi at Zushi.  The food was fresh and delicious, the atmosphere cool and, perhaps, more important the staff was kind to Stanley. For his part, Stanley was his impeccably behaved self.

8 July Trentodoc, tra-la-la

Maria Grazia picked me up and we headed for Trentino and the Cantine Monfort winery. (www.cantinemonfort.it)

Lesson: Trentodoc is a name used to encompass quality sparkling wines produced in the Italian region of Trentino. From my personal experience (spanning a couple of decades) I can say that most – if not all – Trentodoc wines are well-made.

This was the case with Monfort’s non-vintage Brut and Rosé. Both wines were fresh, lively and appealing.

6As always happens when visiting Trentino in the company of wine journalists, one bright spark decided to blather on about how the name Trentodoc needs to be changed.  His arguments have all been heard before – too many times before.

My feeling is that if you want to provide a valid alternative to the name, along with a program that would maintain the wine’s reputation around the world, and even bring it more luster – then take this idea to the directors of the Trentodoc organization. But no, that never happens.  All we get it more useless bleating. (Imagine me rolling my eyes and sighing heavily.)

My favorite quote of the day came from journalist Giuseppe C. He said: “My son lives in America and when people ask him where he is from, he says Trentino. Then they ask him: where is that? And he replies: it is between Venice and Paris.”

The Simoni Family, owners of Monfort, are extremely nice.  Here is a photo of Lorenzo S. in front of the lavender bush in his wife’s garden.  He gave me some to take home.  I love Trentino in the summer…cool, breezy and always pleasant, welcoming people.

May 2016

1First things first: Books.  A few months ago Publishers Weekly sent me a collection of short stories featuring detectives Bryant and May by Christopher Fowler to review.  I laughed out loud as I read. I vowed I would find as many of the novels featuring Bryant and May as possible. Once again the fabulous Glenn at the Book Barn in Connecticut came through, finding me 4 books.  I, of course, read them one after the other. Witty dialogue, fascinating peeks at London history and characters who are fun to know.  Who could ask for more?  I am very glad that there are 10 more Bryant and May novels out there waiting for me.

 

 

May 9 Terra di Pietra

2We go out to Torbe, a hilltop village in Valpolicella to taste the wines of Terra di Pietra and visit their new vineyard. The tasting and dinner were held at Trattoria Caprini. (www.trattoriacaprini.it).

One of my favorite wines from the tasting: 2013 Le Peste (vinified in cement) Soft ruby. Fresh, pure nose. On the palate: red berry fruits, black cherries and a delicate floral note (hybicus). Silky texture.

“I wanted to make a good superior without wood and using natural yeasts,” says Laura Albertini, co-owner of the winery.  She succeeded.

After the tasting, they served the best pasta I have every had (10 eggs for every kilo of flour and the pasta is rolled out by hand using mega-long rolling pins.)  I was so impressed I asked one of the owners (it has been family-owned for generations) for a business card.

He said : “We don’t have business cards anymore because with technology nobody needs them…BUT we have bookmarks instead.  They are always useful.”  On one side there is the address etc of the place and on the other there is a poem by a dialect poet.

Do I need to tell you the surge of love I felt for that man and the restaurant at that moment?  “Bookmarks are always useful!”   If you know any small business owners suggest they do this; they will certainly garner the loyalty of the Real Book Reading cult.

May 11  Dining with the Players!

Albano Bizzarri (goal keeper) surrounded by fans.
Albano Bizzarri (goal keeper) surrounded by fans.

I went to a Chievo Calcio (Soccer) Dinner. There were 130 fans, 3 Chievo players and a couple of people from Chievo’s management.

When the players arrived there was as much applause and I thought: If Cumberbatch walked into a BSI (Baker Street Irregular) or ASH (Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes) event there would be the same goofy pleasure on the faces of those present, the same level of applause, the same amount of surreptitious (and blatant) selfies, the same amount of polite and respectful requests for autographs. Hummmm fans.  There has been a Big Dispute for the past few years among some factions of the U.S. Sherlockian world about using the term “fans” to describe, well, those with a more literary turn of mind.  I believe that the English Sherlockians (called Holmsians) don’t really care about that kind of nomenclature and just get on with enjoying the camaraderie. But perhaps they have their own tiffs about this matter.

NOTE for Italians: Tiff.  This is a lovely word that means a little quarrel.

May 19 Getting the boot(s) in Soave

 

567The three highpoints of this visit to Soave in the rain.  (in order of occurrence) 1. The rubber boots laid on for the visitors at Coffele Winery (www.coffele.it )    2. Ciara Coffele’s beagle puppy and 3. The superb 2005 Soave Salvarenza from Gini – lively, evolving flavors. (www.ginivini.com)  I took my glass of the wine from the tasting to the dinner.  I sniffed it every 5 minutes.  After 40 minutes it was still firm, fresh and fragrant.  I could have continued my experiment in longevity but I couldn’t hold out any longer and drank the wine for the pure pleasure of doing so.

Note for Italian readers: The expression “to get the boot” means to be kicked out.

21 and 22 in The Colli Euganei

8I went to the Colli Euganei to present my book about the zone to groups of journalists at various points throughout the 2-day event. I arrived hoping that I would only have to speak in English (hooray the Germans, Scandinavians, Poles and Japanese – not to mention the English, Australians and Americans – usually speak decent English.) And in fact – thank goodness – the Italian travel writers also understood English. When I addressed this latter group I had made myself so nervous that I just threw in the towel and did my little song and dance (a.k.a. presentation) in an insane mix of the two languages.

I become irrationally nervous when I must address a group of Italian who are strangers to me.  In my head there are always two monologues going on: 1. What I have to say and 2. The voice that is noting, with mounting hysteria, every error – after it has emerged from my mouth.

9 - Colli Euganei e nuvoleI can do interviews on wine and books in Italian. (Usually it is just me and the interviewee so a kind of comfortable intimacy evolves.) I can easily do simultaneous translations of the things said to me in Italian – BUT standing in front of people who would rather be eating their lunch/dinner completely unnerves me.

NOTE on English/American expression for Italian readers:

To throw in the towel means to give up in order to avoid further punishment when facing certain defeat. The expression derives from boxing: when a boxer is being beaten up and has no chance of winning, his manager literally throws his towel into the ring as an indication to stop the fight.

NOTE for those who do not know what the Colli Euganei are:

10-VignetiThey are the most unusual collection of hills you will find on this planet. Over the centuries those inspired by them – poets, artists, and geologists – have most often describe them as looking like islands emerging from a wave-less sea.  The hills were formed (between 34 and 33 million years ago) by a series of seismic shifts of rock substrata. In some cases, these shifts allowed molten lava and gases from deep within the earth to surge upwards, pressing against but not quite breaking through the ocean floor. As a result of erosion of this type of formation some of the hills have an odd, soft rounded shaped, like a soap bubble emerging from a bubble pipe. Others are the conical form we typically associate with volcanoes, although they are not actually volcanoes, as an eruption never took place. Most of the hills have a volcanic core. They are simply amazing to see.  This area – it should be noted – was fundamental in the development of Venice as we know it. Venice is paved with stone from Colli Euganei quarries, wood from the Colli Euganei forests was used to build the Venetian armada and produce and grains from the Colli Euganei zone were carried by boats along canals to Venice in order to feed hungry Venetians.  In the summer – to escape the heat of the city – Venetians built superb summer homes here (complete with stunning gardens).  All this plus thermal spas that were famous since Roman times and some excellent wines as well.  Really, who could ask for more?

Highlights of the visit:

111 Seeing old pals

2 Floating in the thermal pool at the Abano Ritz (www.abanoritz.it ) I would take up residence in this hotel if I could.

3 Doing a Sudoku while sitting on a bench in front of Villa Beatrice d’Este on Mont Gemola. The breeze was fragrant with scents of new mown grass, pine sap and meadow blossoms, and the only sound was bird song and the soft rustling of leaves.

  1. An olive oil tasting conducted by Devis from the Cornoleda Olive Mill. He has great energy and knowledge. (www.frantoiodicornoleda.com )
  2. A ride on a canal boat.
  3. Dinner at “Relais La Montecchia”, a restaurant run by the exceptionally talented and imaginative members of the Alajmo family.
  4. Listening to hypnotic, ancient Chinese music at the Museo Nazionale Atestino in Este.
  5. Tasting the wines of Ca’Lustra (www.calustra.it ) outside, in good company and with – as always – a stunning view. My favorite wine of those I tasted today was the 2007 Sassonero (100% Merlot) Long finish, backbone and brambly fruit, with an undertow of dark tones that are reminiscent of tar.

1227 May The Goose Man

I prepare a stuffed goose neck made by www.michelelittame.it.  The Goose Man gave a little talk and a taste while I was in the Colli Euganeis. My favorite quote: “We decided to raise geese because goose was the only meat not found in the supermarket.”  Very tasty, too.

These wonderful photos of the Colli Euganei were taken by Elena Bianco.

January 2016

30 January Amarone A-go-go, Alfonso and Libre!
1We go to the annual Amarone panel discussion and tasting. One of the speakers says: “Amarone is wine for all kinds of foods.” I roll my eyes toward heaven and groan. Amarone is NOT a wine that is easy to match with most daily meals. People don’t eat great chunks of meat that often anymore. Nor do they want 14, 15 or even 16° alcohol at lunch most days. Amarone is a great wine; I really can’t understand why there is a push to make it small. Forgive me but I think of that Norma Desmond line from Sunset Boulevard: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

 

Among the Amarones that rang my chimes: Viviani 2010 Casa dei Beppe (Cream soda on the finish. Rich, deep cherry fruit. Long finish, very appealing), Corte Sant’Alda 2012 (fresh, firm fruit, a fine undertow of spice.) and Accordini 2012 (A fine firm weave of fruit and zippy freshness. Undertow of spice in the finish.)

 

2We met up with Alfonso C. at the tasting and he kindly invited us to lunch, during which we had a good old gossip and grouse and a decent piece of fish.

I go to Libre! (www.libreverona.it/progetto/) to talk to Lia Arrigoni about books. Here is a photo of Lia (with wine) and Stanley (with charm).

 

25 & 23 Proposta Vini (www.propostavini.com)
3Federica S. whisks us out to Bussalengo for the annual Proposta tasting. There is a seminar on Riesling, with several Austrian examples for tasting.

 

Riesling used to be lumbered with the word “petrol” when it came time to make a tasting note. But the wines I tasted today were fresh and pure, with a fruit that might be described as an amalgam of apricot, white peach and a touch of Bartlett pear. My three favorites: 2013 Riesling Riserve Kellerterrassen from Hermann Moser, 2013 Riesling Reserve Heiligenstein from Topf and 2013 Reisling Preussen from Fuhrgassl-Huber.

 

“Austria is like Portugal,” says Michael. “They make really good wines but no one talks about them very much.”

 

At dinner the nice producer from Vadiaperti brought out a bottle of his 1994 Fiano di Avellino. Excellent, compressed fruit. Texture like raw silk. Pure firm fruit on the nose, a slightly smoky finish. I subsequently tasted the 2014 version. Lovely style.

 

The wine among the hundreds available at the tasting that gave me the most pleasure was the 2012 Riserva Rabaja Barbaresco from Castello di Verduno. One sip and I felt that I had suddenly stepped into the world of Fine Wine. Fine Wine used to be a term that denoted exceptional quality and elegance. It has fallen from use like the word breed. Michael Broadbent defines this term as: “An abstract qualitative term. A fine wine of good pedigree should display breed.” Oh, I miss those old tasting terms sometimes.

 

We ended the tasting with some superb artisanal beers from Giratempo (www.giratempo.it) . The grape Ale made with a small percentage of Moscato, was refreshing and appealing. All the beers we tasted were well balanced and elegant.

 

21 January Plumbing the Depths
The plumber came to sort out our ancient, rotting pipes under the kitchen sink. He was a nice man who swore at the pipes for a solid 5 hours. Porca Troia! (Pig Whore) I needed something to read in order to defend myself from listening to Italian cussing. The only book in the house that I hadn’t read for a while was the (4 vol. ) complete Shakespeare, and I will admit that I had never read the introduction – until today. It was written in the 40s and had that slightly stuffy university professor lip-curling sneer to it. By that I mean he put down all the other scholars who had – of course – gotten the facts completely wrong…
We finally have hot water in the kitchen. Hooray!

 

14 January Another life I might have lived
4 HillermanI just finished reading Tony Hillerman’s autobiography, Seldom Disappointed. It stirred memories. I met Tony when he came to New York to promote one of his first novels. He was a very nice man and I enjoyed his detective novels that are set in the American Southwest and featured Indian/Native American protagonists, Joe Leaphorn and Jimmy Chee. These books made me nostalgic for the wide open spaces of my youth.

 

I subsequently wrote to him saying that I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in New York and was toying with the idea of moving to New Mexico. I arrived in Albuquerque and he kindly took a day to show me around. We drove up to Santa Fe, a wonderfully odd town that I could have been happy in. We talked about books and writing and life. He also told me that should I decide to move there I would be welcome at a writers’ group he belonged to.

 

I returned to New York after a few days…and life progressed as it did. But reading his autobiography made me think of all the “alternate” directions my life could have taken. Not because I am unhappy with where I am now. In fact I love where I am now. But every now and then it is nice to be reminded that your future is being decided every day.

 

For Sherlockians I was also warmly welcomed by John Bennett Shaw while in Santa Fe.

 

13 January What do you do with a wine that is too sweet?
A very nice producer – unbidden – sent me some samples of his Proseccos. I opened one labeled Brut, thinking that it would indeed be on the dry side. That way I could taste the wine, write a professional note and then enjoy a glass with my lunch of spaghetti with shrimp and mussel sauce. I poured a glass. Because the word “Brut” had set up expectations in my mind, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming sweetness of the wine. Let me say that the wine was well-made, there were no faults in it. However, it was nowhere near dry. What to do? I couldn’t drink it. You can’t give an opened bottle to Italian friends (US and UK pals would have no problem accepting decent free vino). I hated to pour it down the sink. I already had a sweet wine open for cooking. The answer came to me in a flash: Jello! Yes, I bought some gelatin leaves and used the wine as the base liquid.

 

 

6 January I love Chievo Fans
5We go to the clubhouse of our soccer fan club. Today Chievo is playing Roma, and our fan club has invited a Roma fan club to lunch. When the Roma contingent arrives, they are applauded by the Chievo fans. I felt a melting kind of love for everyone in the room; I appreciate good sportsmanship – and Chievo fans and players have that in spades! There was the ceremonial exchange of gifts. Roma brought hams and cheeses and calendars featuring soccer players. Chievo had the usual hamper filled with cakes – the owner of the soccer team also owns a well-known cake factory.

 

Here is a poem I wrote on a napkin during the event. It scans but does not rhyme. It sounds like extended hiku.

Wine in unlabeled bottles
Poured into clear plastic cups
Disco music fills the room
The Village People live on

At the Chievo Fan Club

 

2 Januay Sherlockains in Verona
Guy Marriott, his wife Liz and their pal Shelia came to Verona for a visit. Guy is President of the Holmes Society of London and we had been scouting opportunities to bring a group of English Sherlockians to Cremona to visit the Stradivarius museum…and have a private concert performed on historic instruments. Alas, the majority of the group lacks the desire to make this little detour to Cremona during their journey from Reichenbach Falls to Florence. Michael had even lined up a Mostarda producer who agreed to come to Cremona for a tasting of her wares. Oh, well, mustn’t grumble. Maybe some other time. Should any other intrepid Sherlockians wish to “do” Cremona, drop me a line.

DECEMBER 2015

28 December HAPPY BIRTHDAY CINEMA
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAEvery 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 spiffy2 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

GIorgios Copertina_Colli_EuganeiTIP: 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)
4Susan 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!

NOVEMBER 2015

1aFirst, as always, books by friends: Killed in the Ratings by William L. De Andrea. This was his first novel and won The Edgar (The top award from the Mystery Writers of America).

 

I met Bill at an MWA cocktail party in New York. He came over to me and said: “Look around. We are the only two people in this room who are under thirty. Let’s blow this pop stand.” And we did. We went to a diner for burgers and then to a movie. He was a witty and kind man, who died much too soon (aged 44).

 

Re-reading this book made me nostalgic for a world where the memory of elevator operators in posh buildings was still green and payphones were on every corner. Cellphones that do everything have certainly made it more difficult for mystery writers today. An entertaining book. I plan on re-reading his other novels.

 

30 November Cooking at San Mattia
We set off for Corte San Mattia Agriturismo (www.sanmattia.it), Giovanni Ederle’s lovely restaurant and hostelry. The view from the terrace is stunning. If you want an agriturismo holiday, this is the place! We are here for a cooking demonstration and have brought Stanley, who behaves impeccably. He spends some time sniffing the Agriturismo Dog and inviting her to play. She sits like a rock, aware of him but uninterested in the jumping, leaping, racing around play that Stanley has in mind.

What I learned: If you want to peel onions without tears either hold the onion under hot water before cutting or wear sunglasses.

 

29 November Go Chievo
1bWe head out for Montorio and a big pre-game lunch organized by our soccer fan club (Chievo is Life) for three Udinese fan clubs. Chievo will be playing Udine this afternoon. “May the best team win,” says a Chievo fan across from me. This is why I love Chievo – the players and followers are so nice. Along with the 220 sports fans there is a crew from the RAI (the Italian National television company). Stanley – decked out in his Chievo scarf – is a big hit with them. We hope he makes the Dominica Sportiva program tonight.

 

27 November Golosario A-go-go
3We make our way to the La Collina dei Ciliegi winery (www.lacollinadeiciliegi.it )to attend a presentation for the annual Il Golosario guide, compiled by Paolo Massobrio. (www.ilgolosario.it ) The book has over 1000 pages and is chocked-full of information about some of Italy’s best food and wine producers. A few of them were on hand, showing their wares. I cannot even begin to convey the purity of flavors on offer. Among my favorites were B73, a maker of organic jams, sauces and liquors; Az. Agr. Vallier, makers of an array of products based on walnuts and La Giardiniera di Morgan – I have never tasted such fresh, crisp vegetables preserved in white wine vinegar. I could go on and on. If you are in Italy and you want the best local products The Golosario guide is for you.

 

By the way, I tried the Il Corvino 2014 from La Collina dei Ciliegi and found it fresh, fruity easy-drinking. The price is right too. Around a tenner.

 

I spotted a pleasant looking man heading for the door and asked him for a ride down the hill to Grezzane, where we could catch the bus. When he found out that our final destination was Verona, he very graciously offered to take us there. During the ride we found out his name was Savino Poffa and he owns Trattoria Urbana Mangia Fuoco in Brescia. (www.trattoriamangiafuoco.it ). Around 15 years ago he and some friends started an organization to save racing greyhounds called GACI, which stands for Greyhound Adopt Center Italy. (www.adozionilevrieri.it.)

 

“The dogs were kept in cages and only let out to run. When their racing days were over they were put down. So the average life span was around 4 years. My Josie is 15,” says Savino, referring to one of the dogs he adopted. “She is a wonderful dog. Sometimes she comes to work with me.”

 

25 November Zanoni at the Carroarmato.
4We are the Carroarmato (www.carroarmato.it ) for a dinner and tasting of Pietro Zanoni’s Valpolicellas (www.pietrozanoni.it) Our Pal Ugo is the moderator and Graziano Guandalini (www.grazianoguandalini.sitiwebs.com) masterfully plays the upright piano.

 

I ask Pietro: “What’s new?” He replies: “I’ve got a cat. My daughter named it Tito. I’ve never had an indoor cat. It sleeps on the bed!” He says this last bit with real wonder in his voice.

 

Annalisa, the owner of the Carroarmato, is a great fan of Pietro’s Valpolicellas. She likes their fresh, direct style.

 

Tonight we taste 4 vintages: 2013, 2011, 2009 and 2007. All were fresh and firm. My favorite of the evening was the 2011. It has a rich undertow of ripe fruit, with an almost orange-zest sensation. A very, very nice wine. Michael describes it thus: “Like the pages of an old book…the smooth texture of a well-read book.” I feel I have infected him with my bookishness.

 

23 Durello in Milan
6I am up at 6 a.m. to walk the dog and get some work done before heading out on the Soave Bus that will take us to Milan for the Big Durello/Sparkling Wine tasting.
We arrive. Susan H. and I have a productive meeting, kicking around some ideas for a mutual project. Then off to the tasting. We sit through the press conference. A representative from Euposia (www.euposia.it) says he will announce the winners of the Euposia mega sparkling wine tasting, at which I was a judge. However he does not reveal all the winners. But we do find out the winner in the White Sparkling Wines made from Indigenous Varieties category is – a Durello. This makes everyone very happy.

The winning wine is from Sacra Mundi. It is fresh and clean, with a pleasingly tart flavor.

A Durello/Durella Lesson:
5The grape name is Durella but wine made from this grape is called Durello. This is due to the fact that the Italian word for grape (uva) is feminine and thus ends in an “a”, while the Italian word for wine (vino) is masculine and thus ends in an “o”.

The name of this very vigorous vine is derived from its tough (dura) skin. Its most important DOC zone lies in the Lessini Mountains in the provinces of Verona and Vicenza, north of the Soave zone. It is grown specifically in mountain sites on soils of volcanic origin.

Lessini Durello is a light dry white wine with a minimum alcohol level of 10%. When it has an alcohol level of 11% it can be labeled “superiore”. This grape’s high acidity makes it ideal for sparkling wine production. Lessini Durello Spumante is rapidly becoming the aperitif of choice in Soave and Verona, where it is served with fairly fatty goods, such as cheese and salami.

The Durella grape can only be found in the wines of this region, and may be used as a lesser components in Breganze Bianco, Gambellara and Lugana.
Lesson Over

 

At around 3 p.m., I have tasted what I want to taste. I go sit in the foyer and read a battered paperback copy of Agatha Christie’s The Clocks. Aldo, the director of the Durello Consorzio comes up and says: “Patricia, you are always reading books that are un po ossidato (a little bit oxidized).

At 4 p.m. I take a 10-minute stroll to the train station and head for home, leaving Michael to hang around for the prize giving.

 

18 November The Week and Beyond….
7 The WeekMy interview with Umberto Eco was cited in The Week Magazine. They used one of my favorite quotes: the one about Dan Brown. Hip, hip, hip hooray.

The set up and Dan Brown quote: Foucault’s Pendulum is about three waggish publishing employees who, having read far too many manuscripts about crazy theories, decide, as a game, to make up a conspiracy theory of their own, in which they link the Knights Templars to practically every occult manifestation in history, and suggest that the Templars are destined to take over the world. The trio soon find themselves in fear of their lives, threatened by a secret society which has taken their game all too seriously.
“It was I who invented Dan Brown, he was a character in that book,” says Eco, laughing.

 

November 12 and 13 Euposia Sparkling Wine tasting

8Beppe G. picks me up at the bridge and whisks me off to The Aqualux Hotel in Bardolino (www.aqualuxhotel.com ) for the annual Euposia mega-tasting of Sparkling Wines from around the world.

 

I am one of 21 judges. Each of us has our own table. There is total silence and the sommeliers are efficient. The wines are tasted blind. (That means that the identity of the wines in the glass are not revealed to the tasters.)

 

Day One we tasted 91 wines. The overall quality level was high. However, I sometimes found myself writing “a bit dull but without faults”.

 

THEN Day Two, the second wine (number 202) was poured. I put my nose in the glass and every atom in my body buzzed. YES! EUREKA! From the first sniff the quality was clear. Fresh, vibrant, fragrant. The palate followed the nose. I put the glass aside and warned the sommeliers not to take it away.

 

I kept it for 2 hours while going through the rest of the wines (there were around 70 for Day Two). Sample 202 stayed firm and fresh and appealing. I wrote “I love this wine.” on my tasting sheet.

 

After some unseemly begging and whining on my part I finally got the organizer to tell me the name of the wine. However, he rightly insisted that he would tell me only after all the tasting sheets had been handed into the invigilator and the results had been put in the computer. It was a Champagne Jacquart Mosatique Brut. Oh, I hope it gets a prize.

 

12 November My Dog Ate It.
9There is a happy ending to this. I took the nibbled note and the nibbler himself to the bank and they gave me a nice new 50 Euro note. And I have learned to put my purse on a higher shelf because I now know that my dear little Stanley can open zipper pockets

November Happy Birthday to Michael
We celebrate at the Osteria Vecchia Fontanina www.ristorantevecchiafontanina.com  The food there is excellent. The service friendly – and they like Stanley.