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

First things first: Books

Every summer from the age of eight until I left for University followed the same pattern: I would soon be burnt to a red and painful crispiness by the Kansas sun and spend the rest of the summer in the shade with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of detective novels. I would read through them one after another. When the stack was finished I would walk to the library to check out another stack or ride my bike around to garage sales, picking up Perry Masons for my Grandmother and assorted 5-cent books for myself.  Now – several decades later – to be paid to read books seems like a dream come true. Readers will understand the incredible pleasure there is to be had in saying as you stretch out on the divan with a book (or one hidden in a computer): “I’m working”.

New Years Eve with Chievo Fans

We have avoided gong out on New Years Eve for many years because of the fireworks that often accompany this event; Stanley, quite sensibly is afraid of the noise. The nice people at the Chievo fan club said: Bring him along.

There was another dog there and both Lucio (a big black something or other) and Stanley (a medium brown something or other) were very well behaved as were the assortment of children, who also attended. This is an artistic photo taken by Michael, with our pal Greta’s profile and Giovanni rattling the pots and pans.

December 26 Boxing Day Tea

Every year on we go to Ugo and Stefania’s for English Tea. Michael is the official Tea Master (because he is English), the ladies all wear hats, and we eat cucumber sandwiches.  Tea drifts into aperitif time and that leads on to dinner.

 

The Twins (Francesco and Giovanni) were home from their university experiences (F.’s in Singapore), G’s in Lisbon) and wanted to learn about wine tasting. We opened one of the wines that we had brought: a Coteaux du Layon 1996. It was stunning. This kind of wine is the reason that people become wine tasters: it is the thrilling combination of sensual and intellectual pleasure. Long, evolving, complex swirl of rich flavors all buoyed by sprightly, dancing acidity. Needless to say, the boys had never tasted anything like it and were entranced by its balance and enticing shifting pattern of flavors (ideas of quince, apricot, mandarin orange. A great way to bid goodbye to 2017

December 24/25 Annual Christmas party at Ugo’s

December 22 Big Cake

Michael donated a Big Cake to the Chievo fan Club dinner.  It provided many photo opportunities.

 

December 15 Donnafugata and the rest….

I opened a bottle of Donnafugta 2016 La Fuga Sicilia Chardonnay – bright, refreshing lively satisfying on the nose and palate, flavorful fruity finish, infused with sprightly notes of exotic fruits and greengage plums. I started thinking of the future – say 20 or so years from now – when I will (perhaps) be sitting in the old folk’s home.  I hope to heaven that wherever I am there are Donnafugata* wines on the menu. I told Michael this and he rolled his eyes and said: Magari (which can be loosely translated as: “Yeah, in your dreams!” ) And I guess he is right…. these are the satisfying (easy to drink yet intellectually interesting) wines that dance through my dreams.

 

And  Zanovello, Bucci, Drei Dona, Fattoria Zerbina. Gini and Podere San Cristoforo would be most welcome on that fictional winelist

December 13

Michael and I took a brief train ride to a small town and were picked up by Michael’s pal Lorenzo, who whisked us to her family’s offices to look at the new brochure and attendant material. For several hours Michael and I argued over word choice until we were pretty sure that the booklet would be a colossal success.  I love words and so does Michael, perhaps this is why we have remained happy together for all these years.

December 8 Children’s theatre

As I often do after seeing an old movie I often look up the cast members to see how their lives evolved over the years.  I looked up David Wood, who played Johnny in If… and read that he has become a leading light in children’s theatre in Britain, has written plays that have been performed around the world and that he wrote a book, which is aptly titled Theatre for Children: A guide to Writing, Adapting, Directing and Acting. I leaped from my chair and began scanning the bookshelves.  Yes, I have that book.  Here is why.

Twice our pal Ugo has pulled me into his orbit with the promise of securing a financial backer for a musical. The first time, we met at the Amnesia Café where he introduced me to a money-dispensing politician from Vicenza, a town an hour away from Verona by train. Over cool glasses of sparkling wine it was decided that I would write a children’s musical depicting the life of Jules Verne and that the Vicenza town council would foot the bill for the production. I was to have a cast of thirty children and adults that would include jugglers, acrobats and ballet dancers!  I was in heaven. Susan in Colorado and Rita in Kansas started sending me books on and by Jules Verne. I wrote six songs and studied stagecraft books in an attempt to figure out how to make fifty small “hot-air” balloons descend from the rafters of the theatre and how to make a volcano erupt on stage. Time passed and whenever I asked Ugo about the funding he was evasive. Jules Verne’s centennial came and went, and with it the dream of producing the show. Funding for it had wandered away while the politico was having drinks with someone else one late afternoon.

The second time Ugo encouraged Michael and me to write an original musical set in Verona. The only catch was that we needed to use his accordion playing pal Eugenio as the composer/arranger. While Michael and I were thinking of boffo end-of-act-one show-stoppers, Eugenio was thinking about a nice little thirty-minute chamber piece for accordion and guitar performed in Veronese dialect. Never has the phrase “artistic differences” had such resonance.

December 7  IF…

Michael and I took the bus to an outlying neighborhood of Verona to a small cinema to see If…  Neither of us had seen the film in a few decades. It was directed by Lindsay Anderson and came out in 1968.  Both Michael and I were too young in that period to see it then – it had an X rating after all.  It marked the first film role for Malcolm McDowell, and it was this film that led Stanley Kubrick to cast him in Clockwork Orange. If… won the Palme d’Or a Cannes and, as Wikipedia tells us “In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine ranked it the 9th best British film ever.”  It was wonderful to see it again.

December 6 Marco Felluga and Mushroom Pie

I wanted something to go with my star anise-infused mushroom pie, so I opened a bottle of Marco Felluga Bianco.

Note: Fiercely bright, with a fine concentration of yellow color. On the nose, creamy, with a lemony note rising and lifting the broad fruit and vanilla notes of wood. On the palate, very round, with the flavors echoing the sensations on the nose Very satisfying…

 

July & August 2017

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

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

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

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

JULLY JULY JULY

30 July Casina Alba Terra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He conceded that yes, that was pretty much it.

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

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

So things are turning over here in Verona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 July Maddalena Crippa at the Teatro Romano

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

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

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

Richard II: An unbalanced King

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

 

March 2016

March 25 Bardolino on my mind
images cordovigoI went to a Press Conference about events taking place in Verona and Bardolino during Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual trade fair.

Press conferences are great for me. Why? Because I get so much work done during the inconsequential speeches. At this conference, I outlined an article on wine and food pairing and drafted a book review.

The problem is: I am usually the only person at these things who is actually writing things down in a notebook. I am therefore the “target” for all the video camera-people who are looking for cutaway shots to edit into their reports. This means that I cannot draw pictures of my dog (I do this often) without looking around to make sure that I am not being videoed.

When I returned home, I decided to open a bottle of wine: 2014 Villa Cordevigo (www.villacordevigo.it) Chiaretto. It was elegantly fruity (frozen strawberries, a touch of red currants) and thoroughly enjoyable.

X_Files_Revival_SliderI drank a glass with an episode of The X Files (the one with Peter Boyle as the clairvoyant). It also went with my dinner of hamburger and oven fries.

The Cordevigo estate includes an impressive 5-star hotel and an excellent restaurant on the premises for those of you thinking of visiting the Lake Garda area.

English Lesson (definition curtesy of Wikipedia): a cutaway shot is the interruption of a continuously filmed action by inserting a view of something else. It is usually, although not always, followed by a cut back to the first shot. A cutaway shot does not necessarily contribute any dramatic content of its own, but is used to help the editor assemble a longer sequence

March 11 Dinner at Eleonella’s
benryeI brought a bottle of Donnafugata’s Ben Ryé 2010, which went down a treat with all the guests, who waxed eloquent on the wine’s superb balance. If you are looking for an end of meal wine to impress your friends and give you genuine luscious pleasure you can do no better than to pull the cork on a Ben Ryé. (www.donnafugata.it)

My note: dark amber, rich enveloping perfume of raisins plumped in syrup.
On the palate, perfect balance. Firm, ripe richness, an idea of fresh hazelnuts. Fresh on the long finish.

“This isn’t too sweet like our dessert wines,” said Geppy, referring to the local Reciotos.

Lesson: Zibibbo is the grape variety used to make Ben Rye. Some say that the name Zibibbo comes from the North African word “zibibb, which means “dried grapes”. Another theory suggests that the name is taken from the nearby Tunisian port of Cape Zibibe. Hundreds of years ago the Arabs, who held sway over the island of Pantelleria (off the coast of Sicily) planted Zibibbo (also known as Moscato di Alessandria) as a table grape. Over the centuries, a thriving business in semi-dried grapes developed, with Pantelleria supplying bakers throughout Italy. All this came to an end with the introduction of seedless varieties. From this economic crisis was born one of the world’s finest dessert wines: Moscato di Pantelleria. Grapes for this passito wine are picked before the rest of the harvest and are left to dry for between 15 and 20 days.

images zappaSomeone’s brother-in-law was also at this dinner and we fell into conversation about music. He used to be a DJ and had brought some CDs. This got me to thinking about significant albums that I had owned and lost along the way. (Travelling light as I did in my youth did not allow me to haul around 40 pounds of fragile records.) Here is my list:

Albums that bring back specific memories
The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 (I wanted the album for the concept alone: great performers coming together for fun.)
Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie (I listened to this every day before heading out to my job as a TV director—“Back in Suffragette City”).
White Album – Beatles (I listened to this while helping to hang an exhibition of a friend’s paintings…we worked through the night stopping every time Blackbird came around).
Uncle Meat – Frank Zappa (the first- of many – Zappa albums I owned)
Primal Roots – Sergio Mendes and Brazil 77 (oh, how I loved this album -something about the – yes, primal – rhythms goes right to my spine.)
A Song For You – Leon Russell (what a song writer, what a performer, saw him in concert)
Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, commonly abbreviated to Lola – Kinks (Who doesn’t love Lola L.O.L.A. Lola. )
Remain in Light – Talking Heads (same as it ever was)
Acqualung – Jethro Tull (I listened to this over and over and over again in college)
At Filmore East – The Allman Brothers Band (Oh, those guitar solos…)

Here is a link to Primal Roots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSmXsEM7YG8

One of my favorite cuts is number 5: Pomba Gira.

5 March Bardolino-A-Lago
DSCN0732We caught the bus to Lasize on Lake Garda for the annual Bardolino Anteprima tasting.

Here are a few of the wines that stood out for me: Le Fraghe’s 2016 “Rodin” (fresh, fruity, long finish- www.fraghe.it/), Le Vigne di San Pietro’s 2016 (bright, fresh a sprinkling of pepper – www.levignedisanpietro.it/) Poggio delle Grazie’s 2016 Chiaretto sprightly – www.poggiodellegrazie.it/), Albino Piona’s 2015 Bardolino (fruit and supple elegance www.albinopiona.it).

December 2016

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 BuddhaWe are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.

1Holiday 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.

Hugh in his youth
Hugh in his youth

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?

Little Ed in his extreme youth
Little Ed in his extreme youth

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.

 

OCTOBER 2015

First, the Books by Friend’s Department:
1 claudia's bookCathy 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
2 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 dis_bio 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.

5We 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
6 annalisaStanley 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
7 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.

 

8 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
9 Claudia signingCLAUDIA 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
10 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.

 

10AI 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.

 

11A 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.
13ALesson: 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.

 

13We 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.

 

11We 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.

 

DSCN0062 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.

 

14Francesca, 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.

MARCH 2013

27 March  Fans

I average around 4 fan emails a month.  That may not sound like a lot to you high flyers out there, but believe me, in this day and age for someone to write an actual, friendly email and sign off with  his/her real name (as opposed to an internet moniker)  is quite a feat.

This month I received emails from an Englishman who runs a wine club, a doctor from Massachusetts who collects wines, a German man who wanted to know my favorite Amarone producers, an American  who is planning her vacation in Italy and wants tips on wineries to visit, and an Italian woman who has bought one of my books and wants to meet up at Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair, to have me autograph it.  What an eclectic group.

24 March Sur Sur From Donnafugata

I receive samples of a new wine from the Sicilian producer Donnafugata.  The wine is called Sursur and is made from the white indigenous variety, Grillo.  I pull the cork:

2012 SurSur Donnafugata: well saturated straw yellow. An apricot note on the nose, with a sprinkling of graphite.  On the palate the wine is round and satisfying. Tangy fruit fills the mouth. The flavor vibrates through a longish finish.  There is a salinity that I often find in indigenous white varieties from Italy (and Portugal and Spain).  Very nice wine.

 

 

23 March Gian Vittorio Baldi – Rennaisance Man

We went to a showing of some of the works of Gian Vittorio Baldi.  I like Gian Vittorio.  I first met him when we were part of a jury at a video festival.  I won my spot because I am, in a small way, a local celebrity and because I have written and directed TV documentaries.  Gian Vittorio’s credentials for the jury were…well….at lot more valid than mine.  He produced films by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bresson and Goddard. He has written and directed films. He has also written poetry and music….and he is an artist whose works are owned by museums in New York and Paris.

Costa-Gravas (the film director) has bought 20 of these works for a museum,” says Gian Vittorio.  “That’s not bad, is it?”

22 March  More Books – I can’t help myself

Italians do not go in for used things. As a result there are no charity shops on the high street and the few second-hand book shops that exist are to be found in University towns and specialize in old textbooks.

Try for a moment to imagine a world without Oxfam, Salvation Army stores or dusty junk shops crammed with potential treasure. Many of my happiest hours have been spent pawing through cartons of old books at the back of such stores.

In the last few months due to the depressing economy two Used Thing stores have popped up on dirty side streets in Verona.  They are both definitely located beyond the tidy confines of the city’s medieval walls.  I stumbled upon one of these today when I tried a new route to one of the Asian shops – you know the ones that sell synthetic wigs, plantains and tofu.

I couldn’t resist and dragged my indulgent husband inside. These places all smell the same. Along with the dusty mustiness there is that tantalizing scent of adventure.  Well, adventure as defined by a book lover. What did we buy? I consulti, insulti e parenri inconsulti: Medicina e umorismo da Charles Dickens a Woody Allen (“This will be just right for the bathroom,” said my husband) and The Third Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders, who is described by the book jacket as “Mr. Best Seller.”   Yes, I know I am trying to get rid of some of my books….but…I suppose in this world of vices compulsive book buying is pretty tame.

21 March To the Extreme Back of Beyond

Federica picks me up and we head out to the little town of Valdobbiadene in the province of Treviso in the Veneto Region.  The car’s navigational system sends us off on narrow roads. After an hour the sun goes down and most human life is hidden behind dark shutters.  Only slow, slow trucks on the roads.  Phrases like: “the middle of nowhere” and “the back of beyond” form in my rapidly tiring brain.

After another hour and a half we arrive in the town.  There are no human beings on the streets.  Here too the shutters are closed…it is not yet  8 o’clock.  Federica parks.  Light from only one window spills out onto the sidewalk.  Fortunately this is our destination: the Dobladino restaurant.  We are greeted by the chef, Cristian Mometti, his wife and their 6 month old baby girl.  The restaurant is bright and elegantly appointed. Cristian is credited with advancing techniques in Vascottura.  This refers to cooking food in small, sealed glass jars.  This method brings out the fragrances and gives new and interesting textures to the food.  Excellent. www.cristianmometti.it.  Should you find yourself by error or design in Valdobbiadene I urge you to stop at this restaurant.  Seriously good and creative cuisine.

We are here for a presentation and dinner organized by Vini Estremi (www.viniestremi.com), Benedetto Cavalieri Pasta (www.benedettocalvalieri.it) and Jolanda de Colo (makers of foie gras and other gastronomic delights www.jolandadecolo.it ).

The wine that stood out on this occasion was the sparkling Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle (2010) from the Valle d’Aosta Region of Italy.  “We are the last stop on the Italian train system.  After that it’s Mont Blanc in France,” Says Mauro Jaccod, President of Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et del La Salle. (www.caveduvinblanc.com).

The wine is made from 100% Prie Blanc, an indigenous vine that thrives on 20-some hectares in Valle d’Aosta and nowhere else. “Every now and then people ask us for vine starts.  We always send them but so far we have not heard back from anyone.”

The wine is fresh, with a flavor of green apples and a pleasingly bitter finish.  It was superb with small balls of fried snails and baccala mantecato (a creamy dried cod mixture popular in Venice.)

Then home again in Federica’s Music-mobile. I love going places with her because she always fills the car with interesting music.

17 March Bardolino, Gin and Rock and Roll

The highlights:

Enzo Richetti Bardolino Classico 2012 (attractive), Le Fraghe Bardolino 2012 (soft, pulpy cherry fruit), La Ca Bardolino Classico 2012 (nice, decent length), La Ca Bardolino Chiaretto 2012 (vibrant pink, a silky nose raspberry, very satisfying), Costadoro Bardolino Cl. 2012 (clean, fresh, fruit-driven, appealing), Bardolino Chiaretto Classcio 2012 (easy cherry/strawberry fruit).

For me, the best sparkling Chiaretto was from Fulvio Benazzoli (info@benazzoli.com) Bright, well-balanced, acidity and fruit are one. All of a piece. Flavor of wild strawberries and mandarins. Nose and palate are in harmony.

And the most interesting Non-Bardolinos tasted:

Le Vigne di San Pietro 2012 CorDeRosa. 100% Corvina vinified as a rosè. Fine pink, with bluish highlights. A mandarin acidity. A sprinkling of minerals.  Palate follows the nose. Vibrant.

Enantio (a red variety indigenous to the area) made by Roeno was so very interesting.

Roeno 2006 Enantio. 14 degrees alcohol. Fresh, vivid. The color of bruised plums. On the nose balsamic notes, very ripe (near over ripe) cherry on the nose and palate. Interesting knubbly texture.

“It went in all sorts of different directions – but in a nice way,” says Michael.

We go to the hotel at which the other journalists will be staying and take advantage of the wonderful swimming pool…all soft lighting and the restful sound of splashing water.

Then a dinner that includes tandoori chicken – quite exotic fare for Italians.  This is followed by cocktails and wild tribal dancing….ours mainly.

The band is great. (www.p-51.it).  They did covers from the 50s and 60s.   At the end of the evening several people came up to Michael and me and (sincerely) complimented us on our dancing.  Clearly, more people should adhere to the maxim: Dance like there’s no one watching.

The party planner and fabulous trumpet player this evening is Roy Paci (www.etnagigante.com ).

16 March Claudio’s Birthday

We head off to Auntie Leo’s.  Why is a lovely middle-aged woman named Eleonella called Zia Leo by contemporaries to whom she is not related?  Because Ugo’s children called her that when they really were children (as opposed to teenagers) and the rest of us started using the name as a joke and now it has stuck.

Claudio, whose mother is the world’s best cook, made a fabulous fish lasagna.  Spices in perfect balance.  I loved it but I will never make it.  Why? I can’t imagine cleaning bags and bags of mussels and clams and making my own pasta and keeping watch on the sauce for hours and hours.  But boy am I glad there are people in the world who are willing to do all these things!

8 March A return to John Fogerty

I return to find a CD of John Fogerty The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again on my desk. Lovely Fabio at the Carroarmato gave it to me.  I heard it played at the osteria and asked him where he got it because it reminded me of my youth. It is out of print but can be found on e-bay.  What a nice man.  I fear he may leave the osteria because he has been offered a job at an insurance company – no night work there.

7 March Off to Sicily

I am at the train station at 4:30 a.m. waiting for the bus that will take me to the airport.  A train station at that hour is a disturbing place to be. People shuffle by with the slow hesitant stumble of zombies

I meet Alessandra, a very nice rep from the Zonin company, and we board the plane for Catania.  In Catania, a driver picks us up and we travel for around two hours.  The sky threatens rain, the landscape speaks of isolation.  I see no human beings or animals for 45 minutes.  We arrive at Feudo Principi di Butera, one of Zonin’s 10 autonomous estates.  Within its gates the landscape seems tranquil rather than isolated and sunshine seems imminent.

We are greeted by Lili and Lulu, these fine dogs were found abandoned on the road and brought in to the glorious life of Butera winery dogs.  They are very well behaved. Friendly enough but they only show their affectionate enthusiasm if begged to do so.

The other journalists arrive as does the eminent wine consultant and we head for lunch.  It is prepared by a famous chef.  After the 5th exquisitely packaged course I begin to long for food that looks like food and not decorative bathroom tiles or Buddhist funeral tokens.  I should underlined here that the food tasted great, all the ingredients were fresh and well-seasoned.  It’s just…well, sometimes artistic presentation can be carried too far for my tastes.

I sat next to Claudio, the on-site enologist at lunch.

“When does the tasting start?” I ask.

“Four.”

“You can’t taste wine at four o’clock after a long, long lunch.” I say.

“You’re right.  Think of it more as a wine conversation than a wine tasting.”  I like this man.

At three thirty. I begin to wish I could change places with Lulu. How wonderful, I thought, to be sitting in the sun, a cool breeze on my neck, listening to the rosemary scented breeze rustle the palm fronds.  At that moment I have an epiphany: what, I asked myself, was keeping me from doing just what I have described?  Nothing.  I get up from the table and go outside.  Bliss.

At 4:30 the tasting starts. My head is pounding; the 3:45 a.m. wakeup alarm has finally caught up with me and I can barely keep alert.  I am so tired that my head hurts. The idea of tasting 6 or 7 wines does not appeal. I listen to the French wash over me, wishing it were the rustle of palm fronds.

Fortunately, after around half an hour of meditation that I hope the others will take for attentive listening, I feel better and start to taste.  Very nice wines, well made, nice fruit filled finishes.

The two that stood out for me were:

Insolia 2012 (served at lunch)  – soft, apricot-tinged fruit with a fine-net of salinity.  A very nice, satisfying wine.  It costs, I believe, around 7 Euros a bottle.

And the Deliella Nero  d’Avola 2005 This is one of the few wines that can really stand up to and – in fact, enhance truffle shavings. Rich amalgam of raspberries and red berry fruit and a roughness that is not roughness…like raw silk. The knubbly quality is on the nose and palate. A decidedly ripe blueberry note emerges on the palate.  A vibration of fruit follows on the long finish.

How did Zonin choose this particular estate when it decided to buy land in Sicily?  Their head winemaker at the time; Franco Giocosa, had worked for many years in Sicily for a company that bought grapes from many different areas on the island Region and he was an expert on the Nero d’Avola and its site sensitivity.  It was he who suggested that the company buy the then tumbled down property and restore it to its original glory because he knew that the microclimate that was responsible for the most elegant examples of Nero d’Avola were to be found there.

I peppered Wine Consultant (and Professor of Enology at the University of Bordeaux) Denis Dubourdieu during lunch and after the tasting with questions.  My favorite quote:  When asked why his sweet wines sell so well. “Because I try to give pleasure. When I make sweet wines I forget myself, my ego and fame. I am invisible. The technique is invisible. No one knows how the wine is made.”  He lets the wine take center stage. “I try to achieve beauty and, above all else, pleasure. And I try to reach this goal through minimalism and simplicity.”

The staff at Butera refers to him as “The Professor”.