31 March BOOKS, GLORIOUS BOOKS
Kate and Ed come to Verona (from the USA) along with poet, pal and Book Barn (BookBarnNiantic.com) clerk, Glenn Shea, who brought me a satchel of 14 books. Among them was a copy of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I love pre-owned books and this one had belonged to a soldier, who, when assigned to Viet Nam some 40 years ago, had had 400 books leather bound and shipped off with him. Holding this little volume, I felt a sweep of emotion. This soldier had loved Dandelion Wine as much as I did. It was as if – across space and time – we were sharing something profound. So thank you to Glenn for bringing it and thank you to Cleo C. Bresett Jr., the soldier who loved it and took care of it til the day he died.
We meet Ugo for a drink and I introduce Glenn as a poet. “You must read your poetry at my Thursday night poetry evening,” declares Ugo. So Glenn will perform his English-language poems to a group of Italian poetry lovers.
26 LUNCH WITH NEVILLE BLECH
Neville and I met while waiting for a bus that was to take us to a dinner in Valpolicella during the Vinitaly hoopla. We bonded big time in the 45 minutes we spent trailing after our keeper and decided to meet for lunch when the Big Fair was over. There is nothing like adversity to bring people together.
22 March through 24 VINITALY RIDES AGAIN!
At Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair.
A New York PR guy sees me and says: It’s great to be here, isn’t it?
I reply: No. It is great to be in a place with a hammock and alot of sun. It is…okay to be…here.
Here are the producers I visited who made wines that rang my chimes – as we used to say.
For those unfamiliar with this expression: in this context, it means wines than not only give sensual pleasure but also give intellectual pleasure. In the best cases, it means: wines that life my spirits and make my heart sing.
Sparkling Wines: Umberto Bortolotti’s (www.bortolotti.com) Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut Rive di Col S. Martino “Castel de Donà” was one of the best sparkling wines I have ever tasted – and I love sparkling wines. It was like a classical-ballerina: powerful yet with lilghter-than-air grace. Absolutely exceptional. Full, fragrant, sorbet-like apricot fruit, with a sprightly infusion of steely minerality.
Maeli’s (www.maeliwine.it ) 2013 Fior d’Arancio – Moscato Giallo 100% fragrant, a burst of apricot sorbet on the middle palate. Then a minerally undertow. “It is like Dr. Jeckle and Mister Hyde,” says Elisa Dilavanzo, the manager of the estate. “It starts sweet but becomes dry.”
She recomends drinking it with raost rabbit with olives or eel mousse. Neither one of which is a mainstay on my table. I would like to try it with Nasi Goreng or other chill-hot Asian dishes.
Pasini San Giovanni 100% , mad from – yes – 100% Gropello. This is one of my favorite wines, year after year.
A different kettle of fish but none the less pleasing and satisfying is the Bardolino Chiaretto from Le Tende (www.letende.it ). I have followed this company’s wines for years and they always end up on my list of favorites when I taste Bardolinos.
White Wines: I made my annual pilgrimage to visit the Librandi (www.librandi.it) stand. Librandi makes superb wines from Calabrian indigenous varieties. One of my favorties is the Efeso Val di Neto Bianco IGT. It is made from 100% Mantonico. This vibrant, complex wine combines a steely note of minerality with a creamy sensation on the nose and palate. The flavor for me is an amalgam of delicate tones of nettle, elderflowers and toffee.
I stopped by the Di Lenardo stand (www.dilenardo.it) because everyone on the stand loves dogs and has a sense of humor! What a pleasure. I particularly liked their coppery Pinto Grigio – fresh, fruity and appealing.
Tramin (www.cantinatramin.it ) Nussbaumer 2013 Gewürztraminer is a Gewürztraminer for grownups. I also tried the 2007 vintage of this wine. Deep yellow, fresh, intriguing…it was a wine that took me to a higher level. Superb.
Roncsoreli’s (www.roncsoreli.com) 2013 Friulano is one of the best I have ever tasted – good structure, an attractive salinity over apricot fruit. The palate follows the nose.
I asked Tania Princic, in charge of export sales for Roncsoreli, what she would serve with this wine. Her answer: Prosciutto San Daniele.
Let me go on record as saying I really like Friulano. I even liked it back in the days when it was called Tocai. My taste identifiers for Friulano: a slight saline note on the nose alongside scents of wildflowers, good structure and creamy texture. I often find ghosts of apricot and crème patisserie.
Red Wines: Roncsoreli’s Scioppettino 2009 had all of the characterisitcs of classic Schioppettino: dark ruby color, full bodied, with a soft black pepper tone over richly textured fruit flavors, which include wild blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.
The Scioppettino grape variety appeared on the Friulian wine scene around 1300. It is primarily cultivated in the hills and foothills of the commune of Prepotto. In its early days, Schioppettino was more commonly known as Ribolla Nera.
In the years following the outbreak of phylloxera (a vine louse that infected many of the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century), Schioppettino lost ground to heartier-high-yielding varieties. The 1970s and 1980s saw renewed interest in Scioppettino, and in 1992, it joined the list of varietal wines made in the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC zone.
The lesson is over, we can now return to the diary…
Fattoria Zerbina (www.zerbina.com) Il Marzeino 2009 (a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit of Merlot, syrah and ancelottaA velvety sensation on the nose. So fresh and youthful with a rich burst of rond cherry-like fruit on the middle palate. Fruity filled finish. A very atrractive wine.
Zerbina’s Torre di Ceparano Sangiovese di Romagna 2011. Elegant with a juicy soul. Lively on the palate. A long flavorful finish.
Ca Lustra’s (www.calustra.it) Moro Palo 2011 is a blend of Merlot and Carménère, with a bit of Cabernet. This is an exceptionally nice entry-level wine – satisfying and full on the palate.
Tedeschi’s (www.tedeschiwines.com) Capitel dei Nicolo Valpolicella 2013. Fragrant, almost perfumed. Very attractive.
“Some of the grapes undergo a light drying before pressing,” says Sabrina Tedeschi. “The Valpolicella zone is made up of many styles and price ranges. The zone is also comprised of many different types of soils and exposures – not all of which are capable of making Amarone,” Sabrina continues. “We are going against the trend a bit: while others are making more Amarone, we are increasing the production of our Valpolicella.”
Another producer who is bucking the trend is Agostino Vicentini (www.vinivicentini.com/ he is perhaps best known for his superb Soaves). His Valpolicella Superiore Palazzo di Campiano 2011 is an excellent, satisfying wine.
“This is Valpolicella like it used to be – no semi-dried grapes,” says Agostino. “We use properly ripened grapes – not immature, not overripe. We can do this because there are only 4 bunches on each vine. It also helps that the vineyard is 450 meters above sea level.”
22 GRAVNER BOOK PRESENTATION – Michael did the English translation!
JULY 7 SPEAKING TO CHINA I went to a conference called Italia in China. It was held at Ca del Bosco for about 100 journalists and wine trade professionals from China and Hong Kong. It was organized by a couple of big quality wine groups. These groups are run by intelligent men. BUT once again, the Italians missed the boat.
The one and only speech was delivered by the publisher of a famous Italian wine magazine. He showed slides for most of the regions of Italy, and supplied pointless little facts about them. Example: Val d’Aosta makes light floral wines and is worth a visit. (Yes, think about that for 30 seconds….light, floral wines…yeah….but the only one that anyone in the wine trade could name is certainly anything but light. For those not in the wine trade I am referring to a wonderful Chardonnay fromLes Crêtes. www.lescretes.it ) He then gave some meaningless statistics about the number of DOCGs and DOCs given awards by 6 Italian wine guides. At the end he asked for questions. No one had any, except for one astute member of the audience who questioned the methodology of the statistics.
The Italians had a room full of people who work in the wine trade and they didn’t ask them (the Chinese and Hong Kong wine trade professionals ) for their thoughts on what was needed to be successful in China and Hong Kong. Nor did they outline their plans for entering the Chinese market, a move that might have yielded some interesting remarks from the guests.
We road home with Sandro Boscaini, Vice President of the Masi Foundation (www.fondazionemasi.it/, and sometimes referred to as Mr. Amarone. (He said: “I have a car that is worthy of your hat.”). He too thought the speech about regions was a lame move.
Summary: The Ca del Bosco Sparkling wine at the buffet was wonderful.
JULY 21 OVER-DUBBING – A TRICKY PLACE BETWEEN DUBBING AND NARRATION
Michael and I head for a recording studio in the suburbs of Verona to over-dub a press conference/wine tasting about Santa Sofia’s Amarone Goiè(www.santasofia.com )
We had participated at the tasting, which was held during Vinitaly, the annual wine trade fair held in Verona. The older vintages showed exceptionally well.
We slip on headphones and step into a tiny padded room and off we go…. It is fun. I will meet with the producer next month to help him insert the English language voice track over the original Italian track.
Hooray. I love doing voice-over work.
JULY 23 through 27 THE SAN GIO VIDEO FESTIVAL
Our pal Ugo created this event and continues to see it through despite a budget of practical nothing. www.sangiofestival.it
No entry fee is charged for the videos that pour in from the Europe, Asia and North and South America. Each evening’s viewing is free to any who cares to stop and watch. Ugo is scrupulous about not charging. In Italy the minute money changes hands, rumors about its provenance begin to circulate. The need to imagine underhandedness and trickery is part of the delicately woven Italian psyche.
Accommodation for visiting members of the jury and the cost of printing the programs and posters comes in the form of grants from various local government bodies. The lavish food and wine laid on to nourish the bodies and souls of the jury and assorted hangers-on is usually provided free of charge by the many osterias and wine producers that Ugo frequents.
Ugo also arranged for the jury to visit local wineries
This year I visited 2 wineries with the group.
We had a tour of the Cesari (www.cesariverona.it ) estate in Bardolino. Among the wines that won me over was the Lugana 2013 (95% Trebbiano di Soave and 5% Chardonnay). Bright and fresh, with floral notes. And their 2005 Bosan Amarone, with its tweedy texture and ripe cherry approaching jam fragrance and flavor.
The following day we visited Tenuta Laca (www.tenutalaca.it/). It too is in the Bardolino area, and is simply beautiful – lush, well-tended vines surrounded by blue mountains that hide the view of Lake Garda.
The winemaker is Damiano Peroni (son of Flavio Peroni). His wines are crisp, vibrant, pure and flavorful. He made a Pinot Grigio (don’t roll your eyes and grimmace) that was simply the best I have ever tasted – and just a few weeks ago I was on a jury that tasted more than 100 PGs. Damiano also consults for other estates around Verona
JULY 28 SPEAKING IN TONGUES
We go to a studio to record some text for an in-house (Zonin) presentation for the prestige marketing department. Great fun. At the end, the owner of the studio said that he would like to present an audition from Michael to a client who was looking for a male English speaker. OOOOO, I hope this works out.
I love doing narration and over-dubbing. I started talking on the radio when I was 16.
My mother had insisted that I get a job afterschool as a simple character-building exercise. Had I applied at the supermarket as she imagined I would, my life would have turned out differently. Instead a school friend took me to the radio station owned by her father. He said I had a good voice and hired me on the spot. For a few hours every afternoon I recorded commercials in a small beige room and on Saturdays I read the local news into a microphone the size of a prizefighter’s fist. This led to other jobs in radio and television.
I paid my university expenses by announcing. Two afternoons a week I assumed my breathy voice and recorded the lead-ins to music for a late-night radio show. “You’re listening to jazz in the night time,” I would purr, elongating the “a” in jazz until it sounded like a moan. I would then hop in my car and drive to a television station where I recorded the tag lines for commercials. “Put a smile in your voice,” the station manager urged. “It comes in Harvest Gold and Avocado Green, batteries not included!” I would exclaim with a perkiness bordering on the giddy.
From this job I developed into a substitute for the technical staff: audioman, cameraman, grip, gaffer and technical director. I eventually became a director and a documentary writer before moving to London to study wine tasting.
Those of a certain age will recognize GTOs as meaning Girls Together Outrageously.
My favorite Verona journalists/sommeliers (Clementina, Maria Grazia, Antonella and Monica), and a very nice photographer named Elisa, and I met up with Sabrina Tedeschi at her family estate Maternigo in the Mezzane valley.
The 84 hectare estate – of which 50 are devoted to woods and 31 to vines, with the rest given over to olive groves – is immaculately maintained. Before the Tedschi family bought the estate the land around the collection of farm buildings had been used mainly as pasture. Now the steep hills are covered in straight, lush rows of vines.
Before the tasting we sample some cheese, meats, vegetables and mostarda from I Sapori del Portico (email@example.com). Pure bliss.
Now to the serious work at hand – tasting.
Among the 7 wines offered – including vintages from the 1990s – here are two that particularly stood out for me.
2011 Maternigo Valpolicella Superiore – very fruity, a satisfying example of Valpolicella.
1998 Monte Olmi Amarone Bruised plum color. Nose: distinct cherry fruit. Palate: Very full velvety fruit. Fine long finish. There is the incense-y quality that I find in mature Amarone.
During and after the tasting we had a very nice natter about biodiversity, the fact that cypresses and gingko trees could be either masculine or feminine, the difficulty of being a woman when it comes to managing a consortium, wine guides and the warring factions in Valpolicella. The prevailing viewpoint on this latter topic was that negotiation and opening a dialogue was more important that being right. After this we all agreed that it was nice to be just women tasting and talking.
Valuable tip: Do not brush your teeth immediately after tasting Amarones – you must wait at least 2 hours. Brushing before that time can damage your enamel.
I teach Clementina the word punkin (a diminutive of pumpkin). She asks me what the word means because when I talk to the skinny little dog who roams the estate and lonely horse in the paddock behind the house, I call them punkin. Yes, I always start a conversation with animals who happen to pass my way.
June 18 through 20 Pinot Grigio – In Friuli with Stanley J. Dog.
Pinot Grigio has become the magic name at Italian restaurants around the world, and its subdued aromas and flavors allow it to move easily from the bar to the table. It is little wonder that it is now the biggest selling Italian white wine in many export markets. Styles range from fresh and supple straw-colored wines, through barriqued versions; and on to splendid copper-colored wines (called ramato – rama means copper in Italian)
The difference in color and structure are determined by the length of time the juice remains in contact with the dark-colored skins of the grape before fermentation. It is sometimes forgotten that Pinot Grigio is, indeed, a red grape, a mutation of Pinot Noir.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I was asked to be one of 24 judges at the Pinot Grigio International Challange held in Friuli. A few days before the 3-day event was to take place, my husband Michael had to leave for England on family business. I rang the organizers and told them that it would be impossible for me to participate because, among other things, I had to stay home with my dog. Having met Stanley, they very kindly said I could bring him along.
We boarded the train for Venice (where we would meet the bus that would take us on to Friuli with the other judges). Children came down the aisle to pet Stanley and have their picture taken with him. Other passengers smiled at him and told me about their own dogs.
His reception on the journalist bus was not so enthusiastic. I could feel the cold emanating from the other passengers when the saw him. Noone made eye contact. They were probably afraid that this would encourage me (and the dog) to sit down beside them.
However, Stanley behaved impeccably. Three days of: on-the-bus, on- the-train, in-the-car, lying quietly under the table while I tasted, trying to get some rest during press conferences, which were interrupted by applause. Stanley interpreted this noise as something along the lines of gunfire. But still he didn’t bark. He only got to his feet ready to run should the need arise.
In fact throughout this whole adventure he never barked, he never got in the way, he never begged at the dinner table, never ran around getting under people’s feet. Almost everyone was won over by him because there really was absolutely NOTHING they could complain about.
Now back to the Competition. We tasted Pinot Grigios from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia and other Italian regions.
The wine that I gave my highest marks to was Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT 2013 “Gossip” made by Di Lenardo. (www.dilenardo.it) It was a pale copper-colored wine, with personality!
I happened to meet Mrs. Di Lendardo and her son before the prize-giving ceremony. At that time we did not exchange names because we were busy chatting about our dogs. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that these unabashed animal lovers also produced the wine that I most enjoyed. By the way, Mrs. Di Lendardo’s dog is a little ragamuffin named Lili, who has even gone to St. Tropez with her mistress.
The overall winner of the competition was from Alto Adige: Pungll AA Sud Tirol Pinot Grigio DOC 2013 made by Nals Margreid. ( www.kellerei.it) It received my second highest vote and was a fresh and fragrant white. Third place went to Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave Doc 2013 from I Magredi winery (www.imagredi.com), which was also considered to be the best value for money. Once again, it was a fresh and fragrant wine.
We also tasted some Alsace Pinot Gris out of competition. Top in this small section was a superb AOC Alsace Pinot Gris 2013 Cuvée Sainte Catherine from Domaine Weinbach (www.domaineweinbach.com) A luscious mouthful.
Dinner at La Subida (www.lasubida.it ) was wonderful as it always is. They love dogs and the food and hospitality are beyond compare.
Here is a picture of one of Friuli’s signature dishes, fricco, as interpreted by La Subida. Yes, it is fried cheese on a stick.
June 12 Sherlockians from Canada
I am so pleased that Verona has become a stopping point for Sherlock Holmes lovers on their European holidays. Peter C., his gracious wife and their friends stopped by. We ended up – as always – at the Osteria Carroarmato.
June 11 My speech to the Veneto Wine Roads Presidents
I go to a little place near Padua to give a speech about how to improve the promotion of Veneto Wine Roads based on my study of wine roads in the USA, South Africa, Australia and Canada. I give those present a look at how two South African wineries increased their overall on-site sales by 30 and 45%, respectively, by simply modifying their website home page and by thinking about ways to make life easier for their visitors – such as parallel tea and juice tastings for designated drivers and children who may have accompanied the wine taster.
At the end of the day, one President raised his hand and asked: “But what’s the point of hearing about what they do in South Africa, we’re in the Veneto.”
It was one of those times that I thank my stars that I cannot speak impulsively in Italian. Had this all been in English, I might not have kept my patience. Let’s see….yes, why should Veneto producers try to treat their visitors better? Hummm, let’s see? 45% increase in on-site sales, perhaps?
June 7 The Autographed Book
We delivered the book that Andrea Camilleri signed for Susanna during the interview I did with him a few weeks ago. What a nice man. Susanna made a Sicilian lunch in honor of the author and the dedication he wrote in her book.
June 1 Chievo Soccer Club Fan Fest in the beautiful little town of Bure
June 1 – 3 Richard and Sue from Kansas via Texas
A high school pal and his very nice wife (Richard and Sue) arrive in Verona and look us up. Their last visit was around 12 years ago. They are lovely people. Our pal Roberta has arrived from the UK to attend a film conference in Bologna and has also stopped by to visit. And a good time was had by all.