First Things First – Books

I read Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard.

My favorite quotes: (referring to Homer’s The Odyssey): “the first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’, telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public” and “if women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine rather than women?”

This slim volume could not have appeared at a more appropriate time.

November 21

I visited the Gini Winery. http://www.ginivini.com/

I have followed the development of this winery for more than two decades. Sandro and Claudio’s dedication to making quality wines has never wavered. It is always a pleasure to taste – and drink – their wines.

Among the wines I tasted:

2016 Soave Classico. Fresh, full, fragrant, flora. Enticing scent of blossoms. Lemon sherbet over ripe pear flavor.

2014 Froscá Soave Classico – fresh vibrant alive. An almost mandarin touch to the acidity. Slides down easy.  The grapes are from vines that are between 80 and 90 years old.

2014 Salvarenza (“Vecchie Vigne” – old vines. The vineyards are over 100 years old) A fragrance that draws me in. exotic fruits emerge. Elegant. Well-knit The finish evolves, with new flavors emerging, others receding.

2001 Salvarenza – Clean. Tightly-knit flavor- After 15 minutes in the glass still firm and fresh.

“With our wines. the minerality comes out over time, after 5 or 6 years,” says Claudio.

2013 Campo alle More Pinot Noir – Bright. Vibrant. Alive. On the nose an amalgam of red berry fruit (raspberries, blueberries). On the palate the wine blossoms – all the scents detected on the nose unfurl. An undertow of bruised plum. Long flavorful finish

On to Zymé in Valpolicella. The winery is a work of art. Anyone interested in winery architecture should visit.

November 15

I was at the Colli Euganei winery of Paolo Brunello. We tasted 2 wines blind, with a group of 14 local wine producers.

The first was a Garganega/Tocai blend called Il Bondo. The wine is named for Paolo’s much-loved dog.  It (the wine) was fresh and appealing.

He then opens a red wine. From the first sniff the wine had captured me.  It was one of those Eureka! moments that every professional wine tasters knows: that instantaneous recognition of quality and style. The moment when you realize that you are not just tasting a beverage but rather you are tasting a Real Wine.

I waxed eloquent on the wine, my enthusiasm growing.

Paolo pulled the sleeve from the bottle to reveal that the wine was….Not His.

The winemaker was Franco Zanovello.  Readers of this diary know that I adore Zanovello’s wines.  I often refer to them as Audrey Hepburn wines – elegant yet lush and complex with staying power and longevity. This wine was no exception.

Here is my note:

2009 Natio Ca’Lustra-Zanovello (Merlot, Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon)  – bruised plum color with a ruby sheen. Clean, fresh, with a thrilling undertow of mature fruit (blackberry, brambles, blackcurrants, hint of herbaceousness. Lingering, fruit-filled, ever-evolving finish.  Very satisfying.

Franco’s daughter was at the tasting.  I said to her: “You probably don’t realize this because he is your father but…Franco has a rare talent.”

November 8

I opened a bottle of 1981 (yes, 1981) Masi Amarone. The wine’s lively acidity and rich fruit flavors were wrapped in the incense-like fragrances I always associate with mature Amarones.  It was a lovely tasting experience.

It is safe to say that they don’t make wines like this anymore.

I also tasted a Chateaux Mongravey, Margaux 2011. Fresh, bright, elegant fruit and a long flavorful finish. It deserved all the awards it received.

May 2017

First things first: Books With Strong Girl Protagonists! 1 images tammyTamora Pierce is the winner of the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement in Young Adult Literature, the RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, and the 2005 Skylark Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction. She is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of more than 28 fantasy novels for teenagers, and has been Guest of Honor at numerous conventions, including Worldcon 2016. She has written comic books, radio plays, articles, and short stories, and currently devotes her minimal free time to local feline rescue. TORTALL: A SPY’S GUIDE, a collaborative effort with other experts on her Tortall universe, will be out in October of 2017, followed in Spring 2018 by the first in a three-book Tortall series, TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER. Tammy lives in central New York with her husband Tim Liebe and their uncountable number of cats, two parakeets, and the various freeloading wildlife that reside in their back yard. You may find her at www.tamorapierce.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter. I first met Tammy in the very late 80s when we were living in New York City. Back then she had written a martial arts script and got some NYU film students on board to film it. I “acted” in it – I had a death scene… unfortunately I had a hard time remaining immobile. We even did some clandestine shooting in Central Park, as I recall. I often wonder what ever happened to that film. It would be nice to see us so young and deliciously exuberant. At any rate, I am extremely happy that Tammy has succeeded in bringing strong and daring girls and young women to the forefront in her fiction.

 

May 27 – A Trip down Memory Lane 2 IMG_1173We go to the Osteria Carroarmato for dinner. A few months ago, I took 5 cases of wines from older vintages there. I figured that if they stayed in our wine closet they would never be drunk. At the Carroarmat we could open them and share them – which is exactly what happened. Annalisa (the owner of the Carroarmato) and I trooped down to the cellar and pawed through the cases and chose a 1988 Amarone and a 2009 passito.

 

 

 

 

4WINE LESSON: When tasting older vintages, you look to see how the wine has evolved over time. You revel in the evocative tertiary aromas and enjoy the kind of pleasure it still gives. Example: Paul Newman in his 70s. Yes, he is old…but the corn-flower blue eyes still sparkle and his bone structure is firm. He isn’t the same as he was when he pouted his way through Cool Hand Luke, but he still attractive and vivid. So, a wine that can age well is – in my mind – a Paul Newman wine.

 

1988 Amarone from Masi: A dark, rich tariness over a raisiny fruit. A vaporous scent of grapiness rises from the glass. It still gives pleasure. After 20 minutes, it opens up. The nose has an enticing floral note. I think it is safe to say that they don’t make wines like this anymore. 2009 Fiordilej Passito Villabella. Pleasing. After 20 minutes a touch of honey emerges and is bouyed by mandarin-tinged acidity. Unofficial note: pretty yummy. Annalisa offered a 1988 Cesare Passito from La Salette that was still vibrant and fresh.

 

May 19 Soave – Come Rain or Come Shine We took the bus to Soave for a tasting, a couple of vineyard visits and to hear some speakers who – for the most part – were indeed interesting. Wines that made the trip worthwhile:

Gini 2013 Soave Classico Salvarenza – a citrusy sherbet-y note. I would be happy to wear this scent…so fresh and uplifting.

Soave Classico ”Monte Carbonare” 2012 Creamy texture, an elegant grown-up vivacity. I love this wine.

Domaine Sigalas Assirtiko “Santorini” 2016 Fresh, Vibrant. Citrusy. http://www.sigalas-wine.com/english/ Assirtiko is a white grape variety that is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini. To protect the grapes from the driving wind and fierce sun the vines are trained to form a basket. .

 

8For Importers (and wine fans) looking for something new from Soave: Franchetto http://www.cantinafranchetto.com/ The Franchetto family turns out elegant, satisfying wines. Of particular note: Franchetto Soave La Capelina 2015: Bright, sprightly. Elegant nose. Lightly thyme infused flavor over subtle white fruits (peach and pear) La Capelina 2016 – barely ripe peach sorbet – I want to eat it with a spoon. When we arrived, we learned that La Capelina had won the Decanter award as “The Best White Wine of the Veneto”. So there! If you need more assurance that the company makes good wines let me say this: Of the seven wine journalists present at the winery visit and tasting, three of them bought 3 to 6 bottles of the company’s wines to cart home. Everyone in the wine trade knows that wine journalists only buy wine if the wine in question is indeed special and the price is low with respect to the wine’s value.

 

17 and 18 May Verona Wine Top 9Was a judge once again at the Verona Wine Top tasting. The wines are tasted blind, That means that we tasters do not know that names of the producers. However, we do know the type of wine, such as Soave, Custoza, Valpolicella, Amarone, etc. There were around 8 judges on each of the three panels. My impressions: Of the wines my panel tasted I found the whites to be of a very high standard, with my highest scores going to Custozas.

 

 

WINE LESSON: What is Custoza? Custoza is made from a blend of indigenous varieties – Garganega, Trebbianello (a biotype of Tocai Friulano) and Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese. Where is the Custoza production area? Near Lake Garda. The reds were more problematic. The Ripassos were often unbalanced and many of the older Amarones had not aged well – they were hollow on the middle palate and there was not one whiff of what they might have been in their youth.

 

12-17 May Reading Jenny DSCN0726Our friend Jennifer arrived. The first thing she said was: “I need something to read”. I handed her Brilliant by Marne Davis Kellogg. A fine piece of escapist reading, tightly woven plot, witty narrative, great fun. When Jen finished it, she said: “Wow! What an ending. I didn’t see that coming.” Jen was an ideal house guest – she spent most of her time reading and drinking win on the balcony. We sang show tunes at the top of our voices and if she wanted to see sites she was content to amble out on her own…a pleasure to have her visit.

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.

MAY 2015

May 25 Villa’s Annual Tasting (www.villafranciacorta.it/)
1 a couple of extra brutsAround 50 people gather at the Villa estate in Franciacorta for the 21st annual tasting of older vintages. Franciacorta, just to refresh your memory, is a sparkling wine made with the same method as that used in Champagne. This means that the second fermentation – the one that makes the bubbles – takes place in bottle. The production zone is located in Lombardy. The wine producers here have always impressed me; it would be difficult to find one who does not make decent wine. And then there are those, like Villa, who make simply superb wines.

 

A famous sommelier, on hand at this occasion, says: “These aren’t just wines for aperitifs, they are wines you can drink from morning to night, anytime of day.”

 

I think of AUNTIE MAME. This is a novel by Patrick Dennis, which was subsequently made into a Broadway show and later a film, both starring Roz Russell. There was also a Broadway musical version starring the wonderful Angela Lansbury. This too was made into a film with Lucille Ball in the title role. The reason why the sommelier’s remark made me think of Auntie Mame will be clear to anyone who has read/seen Auntie in one of her versions.

 

We taste the 2008, 2007, 2006, 2001, 2000, 1999,1998, 1997, 1994 and 1993 vintages of Villa’s Extra Brut.

 

Among my favorites:
The 1994. Amazingly fresh. You are aware that it is mature but it is

still vibrant and alive.

 

The 1997 was light and lively. Yes, there was a delicate butterscotch line in there – still fresh and satisfying.

 

The 2006: A balance between delicacy and strength. A sparkling wine for grownups. There is an idea of melting butterscotch on the palate. A coconut cream note and an attractive vibration of sweetness on the long finish.

 

Roberta Bianchi
Roberta Bianchi

I miss wines like these. When I started in the wine trade (three decades ago!), you could find wine that matured gracefully, developing enticing tertiary aromas, while remaining alive on the palate. Nowadays it is not so common to come across such wines.

I was asked to remark on the vintages, and I referred to them as having maturità con grazia (graceful maturity). This phrase struck a chord with several of those present. One young journalist came up and said she was going to use it as the title for her article. This was gratifying because it is nice to know that even though I speak Italian badly I can still communicate.

 

If you happen to be looking for a caterer/restaurant in Lombardy, try Antica Cascina San Zago. (www.anticacascinasanzago.it) They provided the superb lunch – everything fresh, pure and savory. It could not have been better.

 

Every time I come to Villa, I think of Kyle Philips. I miss him still. He was a big man who looked like a former high school football player, with a burr haircut and a plaid shirt. He was also witty, intelligent, knowledgeable and kind. The annual Villa event was the only fixed meeting point for us, although we occasionally ran into each other in Tuscany, where he lived with his wife and two children, or other tasting venues. We always sat together at these events because we liked each other and we knew that our conversation would revolve around books, writers and ideas. Yes, I will always miss him and think of him when occasions like this arise.

 

May 23 Soave Le Battistelle
We go to Soave for an event concerning the 2014 harvest, and taste through wines from the vintage.

 

Once again Le Battistelle stands out. Very good wine from a difficult vintage. Over the last few years Le Batistelle has always made it into my list of top Soaves. If you see this name on a wine-list, order it. It you are looking for a new Soave to import. Taste it. You will not be disappointed.

 

May 19 Stanley the Foto-modello
SONY DSCMy pal Glynis Macri has won a photographic award with a photo of…Stanley! It was taken in Friuli when Glynis and I were there for a mega Pinot Grigio tasting. Stanley accompanied me. The photo deserves to be on the back flap of a book….I suppose now Stanley will have to write one. “The author divides his time between his home and the Osteria Carroarmato.

 

I take Stanley for a stroll and tell everyone we meet about his international fame. At the Osteria Sottoriva, Franco gives Stanley a meatball as a prize for being so photogenic. We then head to the Hostaria Vecchia Fontanina for an aperitif. When we tell the chef about Stanley’s photo, he goes into the kitchen and pinches off a bit of tartar for my little doggie. So, thank you Glynis!

 

May 18 I am on the Radio
I was interviewed about the Colli Euganei book (THE VENETIAN HILLS: A CONNOISEUR’S COMPANION TO THE COLLI EUGANEI). If anyone would like to hear me speaking truly appalling Italian, my interview starts at around 5 minutes, 30 seconds into the show. I also say that I think the Colli Euganei is much more interesting and beautiful than Tuscany! https://soundcloud.com/madeinitalyradio/puntata-56-del-18-maggio-2015

 

May 11 & 12 Country Dancing in PiazzaBra and Chievo Calcio Fan Club cowboy grub.
4 arena and country dancer fotoIn the next few weeks we will be visiting a family with horses (and a swimming pool and a hammock). Oh, if only I could get my pal Marty (who owns a ranch and teaches riding) to express mail us a couple of cowboy hats from the USA!

 

 

10 May Coffele Soave in Piazza Bra
7 ciara at the tastingHere is a picture of Chiara Coffele on the Listone (across from the Roman Arena) pouring her family’s wonderful Soave! Igenio played the accordion, Ugo recited poems to bewildered tourists and a good time was had by all.

 

 

9 May Tasting in Chaos
8 may 9 tastingMatteo and Corina come over and I put them through some blind tasting practice. I also put a ringer in the group: a Speri Amarone 1995. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still had a bit of stuffing left. They both thought it was younger. And the wine had not been stored in the best conditions these last two years of its life. When we moved to this apartment I didn’t immediately find the coolest place to store the wine.

 

May 7 Bruce Turns up at my door
10 mad bruceAfter years of lobbying Bruce (you may read about Bruce in previous diary entries) has finally convinced the Italian national Sherlock Holmes club (Uno Studio in Holmes) to have a convention here in Verona. He arrives breathless at my door, takes a seat and talks and talks and talks. I listen. This is my role in his life. He very kindly asks me to present something during the day. My speech will be titled: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Italians in the Canon.

For those who want to learn more about Sherlock Holmes, I can highly recommend THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MISCELLANY by Roger Johnson & Jean Upton

“This work belongs in the hands of every Sherlockian who has had to explain the lure of Baker Street.” — The Baker Street Journal http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk

 

11 zanyIvanka di Felice, author of A ZANY SLICE OF ITALY, sent me a copy of her book to read…and reading it was a pleasure. The prose is clean and episodes are fast paced. It is a book for people who are married to Italians (or want to be) or who have friends with Italian in-laws. The episodes in this book ring absolutely true. She has captured the zany side of life here.
http: //www.amazon.com/Zany-Slice-Italy-Ivanka-Felice/dp/0993693407

 

May 5 Osteria d’Italia
We meet up with a college pal12 Randall at the osterafoto of mine and his wife. They are in Tuscany, we are in the Veneto, so we decided to meet in Emlia Romagna (half way between the two). The food was only okay…but the company was very fine indeed.

May 2014

May 27   I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAldo called last night and asked me to come out to Soave. I am not sure why. He said something to Michael about me talking about Soave to someone…. “Oh, and bring your hat,” said Aldo.

We arrive to discover that a film (feature-length, they say) is being shot in the beautiful vineyard of Borgo Rocca Sveva. I (and Giovanni and Alessandra) have been cast (by Aldo) in the role of expert sommeliers. I am seated next to one of the main characters of the film.

I soon learn that there is no script…everybody just wings it. During each take the actor turns to me and starts talking….saying different things each time and I reply. He is lucky to be seated next to someone who can Wing It! The director and crew are from Argentina, the actor is Italian, the motor of the production is, I believe, a world-class sommelier from Miami named Charlie.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA30 wine tasting extras, the 4 sommelier judges (dats me and the gang) and the actors sit at our places and wait. The sky darkens as we shoot a scene. Rain falls softly on my hat. In no time big fat drops of rain pelt down. The director mutters stop. We pick up our chairs and run for cover. The sun comes out. We troop out and sit down and watch time pass. We feel the wind as it pushes the fluffy clouds away. The sky grows dim. We start filming again.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“You are a natural actress,” says Aldo. “This is the role you were born to play.”

My hat is a big success.

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8 . Mr. C. and meMay 27    I love Andrea Camilleri
My interview with Andrea Camilleri is up on the Publishers Weekly site. Hooray!!! Below should be the link. If not, just type Under the Sicilian Sun: Andrea Camilleri into Google and the interview will pop up. I am indescribably happy.
www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/62426-under-the-sicilian-sun-andrea-camilleri.html

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Mr. Venturini
Mr. Venturini

May 26   Cheivo Fans at Venturini (www.viniventurini.com)
I have always liked Venturini’s Amarone – juicy, elegant, firm backbone, satisfying.
I took the opportunity of a Chievo fan club outing to tag along and visit the new winery. 40 fans were fed some swell grub and served some very satisfying wines. His Valplicella was lush and appealling.  It was a pleasure to try these wines again.

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May 21 Stanley at the vets
We take Stanley and a vial of his pee to the vets. We wait for 2 hours. In the waiting room are two big, growly, teeth-baring dogs, whose ancient owners occasionally whine the command “Sit” at them.

I feel that as the dogs ignore the “Sit” command. They are highly unlikely to obey the “Release your grip on the neck of the little brown dog” command.

I suggest that Stanley sit under my chair and I prepare to fling myself into harm’s way should one of the Big Dogs get loose from its ineffectual owner.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMay22 & 23   Soave Frolics
We go to the Vicentini winery where we meet up with a pack of very nice German journalists and wine buyers. As readers of this diary already know, I like Vicentini Soaves very much. Fruity, floral, elegant.

We arrive at the Villa Aldegheri for dinner. This very beautiful house and garden is a B&B for the fortunate few who know that it exists. “We don’t advertise, “ says Luisa, the owner. “We depend upon word of mouth referrals.”
Even people who lived in the zone were impressed by the view.

The following morning, accompanied by Stanley, we met at the Coffele winery for a tasting of Soaves from various subzones.

One of my favorite wines of the day is from Pra. The wine is called Otto and is everything a Soave should be.
We visit Filippo Filippi. He is just up the hill from Coffele. His place is idyllic. Bees hum, brilliantly colored flowers at every turn. His vineyards are surrounded by thick woods. His wines sell very well abroad. They are not typical Soave but they are interesting wines.

“Stanley is a real Venetian dog,” they all say.
“Stanley is a real Venetian dog,” they all say.

May  15, 16, 17, 18 Venice with Stanley
We go to Venice to stay with Michelle Lovric, (www.michellelovric.com ) who writes books (for adults and also ones for children) that feature Venice. She has invited Stanley to join us. She also suggests that I write Stanley’s Diary of the trip. You can find this in the Writers & Writing section of this website.

I had never written as Stanley before, although I did write for our dog Ed for many years.

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Edmund Cane, Journalist and Poet
Edmund Cane, Journalist and Poet

Ed got his first byline in Decanter, a well-known British wine magazine. I had already contracted to write about the first wine fair ever held in Brazil 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.

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I never thought of Stanley as a literary dog. He surprised me when I sat down to write his diary.
Here is an excerpt for those who are not in the mood to press a button and read the whole diary:

“On Saturday we go to the fish market and buy plates of fried fish and glasses of wine. We take our vittles to the quayside and sit on the stone pavement to eat our lunch. Seagulls swoop overhead. One drops something into Michelle’s plate. Every molecule in Michelle’s body seems to draw tight and shimmer for a moment. She offers the remainder of her fried squid to me. I love al fresco dining.”

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMay 6 Kafka Springs to Mind
I find myself in a very large castle in a very small town (a few hours from by train from Verona). I am here to be part of a jury that will be tasting a particular indigenous variety with an eye to giving out prizes to the “best” ones. There are around 9 other jurors, plus two event organizers who will taste the 40-some wines blind. In this case blind tasting means that the wines are presented without the tasters knowing the name of the producer. .

 

I learned a new word. Personalità. This evidently means “bad winemaking”.
How do I know this? After the first flight of 6 wines, one of the organizers who was tasting with us said. “Wow, that number 6 has loads of personality.”

 

Then he asked the question I was dreading: “What do you think of the wine, Patricia?”

 

I said: “It is cloudy. It is a faulty wine, with off-odors that I believe are linked to a fermentation problem.”

 

He said: “But it’s made in an amphora! It’s traditional.”

 

I think: “Yeah, even the Romans realized that wines made in amphorae were not great – that’s why they added spices and sometimes heated the stuff up…”

 

At dinner one of the organizers tells a racists joke.
I have been asked to let them know when I write about the event. I don’t believe that I will be writing about the event.

 

NOVEMBER 2013

 

1NOVEMBER’S WINE OF THE MONTH: DREI DONA 2010 Cuvee Palazza Sangiovese Superiore Riserva Its fragrance of warm, ripe fruit (plums and black cherries) is echoed on the silky (near velvety) palate.  The finish is long and flavorful. A very satisfying wine.

Let me go on record as saying that I am partial to wines from DREI DONA (www.dreidona.it). They often have a rich fruitiness that makes them extraordinarily well suited for vegetarian dishes. Yes, they also work well with red meat and cheese based dishes. However, every time I taste a Drei Dona Sangiovese, vegetarian food pairings pop into my mind: bean burritos, tofu chili, lentil casserole or walnut and gorgonzola pasta sauce.  

However, I will confess that the day after I opened the bottle for tasting, I drank a glass with my lunch:  hamburgers and French fries.  Not chic but satisfying.

24 November THE BEST (light and fruity) OLIVE OIL IN THE WORLD

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe take the bus out to the Ilasi Valley to visit the BONAMINI Olive Oil estate (www.oliobonamini.com).  For 5 years running their olive oil has won the Light & Fruity category in the FLOS OLEI Guidei. In 2013, they won out over 3000 producers from 5 continents.

The estate has 3,800 olive trees on two hectares of land. Their major export markets are the USA (importers in New York and the San Francisco area) and Northern Europe. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe guide describes their oil as “complex and round, elegant hints of tomato, apple and banana, with lettuce and celery notes.”

I asked Sabrina Bonamini how she would describe her winning oil. “Elegant. Is the most important descriptive word,” she said.

23 November: GOING HOME

I wake up and weigh the options for the day: stay in Trento until late afternoon or go home and finish writing a chapter for a book.  I choose the latter. 

Michael goes to the Chievo vs Helas-Verona soccer game.  Our team is Chievo.  Cheivo is a small suburb of Verona. One of the reasons we are so fond of this team is the remarkable sportsmanship demonstrated by both the players and the fans.  

Well, Helas Verona lost and Michael and some 500 other Chievo supporters were trapped inside the stadium while the police tried to round up and control the Helas- Verona Hooligans.   He called at 8:30 to say he would be late for dinner.  He called a half hour later not sure when he would get out of the stadium.  He came home a little after 10 p.m.

22 November TRENTODOC TRENTODOC TRENTODOC!!!

4I can hear some of you saying: What in the world is Trentodoc?  Well, it is one of the best kept secrets in the world of sparkling wine.  Its name refers to wines made with the Champagne method (second fermentation in bottle) and produced in the region of Trentino.  These wines are usually made from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Noir (known as Pinot Nero in Italy).  Trentodoc was awarded the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in 1990, the first sparkling wine zone in Italy to receive this designation.

The historic name in Trentino sparkling wines is enologist Giulio FERRARI. It was he who, in 1902, created the Ferrari wine company with the aim of producing wines using the Champagne method.  In 1952, Bruno Lunelli teamed up with Giulio, and together they helped lead the way toward the success of Trentodoc. 

Below you will find deep-fried polenta on a stick.

Deep-fried Polenta on a Stick

I arrive at the Palazzo Roccabruna in the heart of Trento at 10:30 and sit down to blind taste more than 60 wines. A blind tasting is one where the taster is presented with the wine without knowing who made it. 

Here are the names of the producers whose wines captured my highest marks in the blind tasting:  FERRARI, MASO  MARTIS, REVI, ENDRIZZI, SAN MICHELE, GAIERHOF, METHIUS, PISONI, CONTI WALLENBURG, ROTARI and ALTREMASI.  Let me say, that the general standard among Trentodoc producers is very high; there were no duff wines.  

 The Trentodoc that I found exceptionally interesting based on its vintage was the 2002 GIULIO FERRARI RISERVA DEL FONDATORE BRUT.  The yellow-gold wine was mature as indicated by its notes of fresh hazelnuts on the nose. It had a sherbet-like texture and a fine weave of fresh hazelnuts and lemon zest on the palate.

 I opened a bottle of FERRARI 2002 Riserva Lunelli Extra Brut Trentodoc last Christmas and it too was lively and intriguing: Bright, and rich, with citrus notes enlivening the palate. Flavors of cream soda and mandarin orange.   

Our Guide
Our Guide

In the evening, after the tasting, we visit Trento’s natural history museum, the MUSE (www.muse.it). Every time the guide asks for a volunteer I step up. As a result I shook hands with a robot and had a minute massage on a board labeled “The Fakir’s Bed”. 

We then don our coats, hats and scarves and head to a nearby building. As I stand spooning soup into my gob, with creaky Techno music thumping all around me, I realize that I don’t need to stay.  I’ve done my job – blind tasted the wines, smiled or chatted with the producers I like & tried to sell an article about the experience – and in return the organizers of the event have given me a dandy tour of a swell museum.

November 15  SOAVE CASTELLANA TORBOLINO DINNER

The King of Torbolino
The King of Torbolino

We miss our connecting bus and arrive in Soave an hour late.  This turns out to be a good thing because dinner has not yet been served.  All we have missed are the speeches by politicians.  Hooray! 

The Soavettes (as I call the nice ladies at the Soave Consortium) have saved us a seat across from the Torbolino King.  What is Tobolino?  It is a dialect word for grape must that has started to ferment….it is halfway between grape must and wine.  We ask the King how he came to receive this honor. “People vote for the king…so I bought a lot of rounds at the bar,” he says.

Soave is served. On our table there were Soaves from two of my favorite producers: VICENTINI and MONDE TONDO.

November 11 TEAM GARBOLE

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAEttore and Filippo Finetto founders of the GARBOLE winery and protégées of ROMANO DAL FORNO have invited us to join them and 15 others to dine at the POMIEROEU restaurant (www.pomiroeu.it) in Seregno. The Pomieroeu is a bit like Brigadoon – it is difficult to find but once you have found it you never want to leave.

Chef Giancarlo Morelli and his colleague Lorenzo Cogo prepared a tasting menu that was simply fabulous.  My favorite dish was served on a cold slate slab…first a sprinkling of toasted brioche crumbs, on top of this beaten raw shrimp – all this covered with feathery grated foie gras.  I felt blessed to be at this table.

Quotes from the evening:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“The company was born from our ideas. It was not a father to son affair,” says Ettore. “Our dad was a carpenter. He drank wine and was the extent of his interest in it. But we always helped my uncle who had some vineyards.  In 1996 he had a heart attack and we kept his vineyards going by working there a couple of days a week. Then we visited the BERTANI wine estate and that changed everything for us.  We were so impressed that we decided to make wine ourselves.”

After tasting their wines, it is clear to see why Dal Forno has taken such a shine to the Garbole boys.

I particularly liked their 2009 NON-Valpolicella called L’ HELETTO.  By non-Valpolicella I mean that it could use the designation Valpolicella Superiore but the  producers have chosen not to do so.

And, indeed, the wine is so rich and full and has such a complex layering of flavors that it does transcend the word Valpolicella. Deep, opaque yet vibrant ruby/black. A chocolate fusion on the nose and palate.  Almost candied on the finish. Spicy. An evolving flavor of fruit (cherries, black berries) nuts (almonds, fresh hazelnuts), a dash of citrus fruit. And a fine sprinkling of spice (cinnamon and turmeric).

Another very interesting wine was their HURLO 2008, with its opaque ruby, near-black color. A very grapey richness, almost creamy on the palate.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAt a bit after 2 a.m., we all decide to wander out into the night. “NO,” commanded Chef Morelli. “You have to taste my gin and tonics!”

We sit and a superb G&T, garnished with a juniper berry and a thick bit of lime peel, is produced.

At a little after 3, we make our way to the Garbole-mobile.  Ettore and Filippo kindly offered to take us to the dinner and return us to Verona.  At 6a.m. I fall into bed….

OCTOBER 2013

OCTOBER 2013

My pal Federica Schir is a straight-talking, wine-loving, party animal.  She kindly suggested that we exchange links to each other’s sites.  Should you wish to check her out, here is her blog-address: blog.wineterminal.com

OCTOBER 31- Wine (and winery) of the Month

Cristina

Fattoria Zerbina 2009 Sangiovese di Romagna “Torre di Ceparano”. Firm tannins shape the fresh, attractive fruit (ripe cherries and bruised plums).  A long, flavorful finish. All of a piece, from first sniff to the last, lingering, evocative aftertaste.  

I asked Cristina Geminani, the owner and winemaker at Fattoria Zerbina, what she 
would choose as a food match for this wine.  Here is her reply: “For a first course, I 
woould choose tagliatelle with white truffles - we also have some nice white 
truffles in our region.  For a second course I would say lamb chops or
turkey breast with mushrooms.”   
Hummm…turkey….might make an interesting wine for Thanksgiving.   
 

I have followed Fattoria Zerbina for more than 20 years.  And each and every year the quality of the company’s wines has been consistently high.  That, for me, is the sign of a great winemaker.

 

OCTOBER 30  Patricia on the Radio

5I start at around 34:18: compare wine tasting to sex (36:39), Maggie McNie, MW: (38:50) Sangiovese di Romagna (41:15), KANSAS! (52:24) and Frank Zappa (55:00)  Below is the link information.

http://www.velocityradio.fm/roaring-success-radio-hour-eryn-eubanks-patricia-guy/

OCTOBER 27 Barbara Tamburini – tasting Merlot

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI take the train to a tiny, isolated station surrounded by mountains. Fortunately Manuel, one of the helpers at the MondoMerlot event kindly picks me up and whisks me to a tasting of L’Rennero Merlot tutored by Barbara Tamburini (the winemaker, www.barbaratamburini.it) and Nico Rossi (the owner of the Gualdo del Rey estate, www.gualdodelre.it) 

We have a vertical of 7 vintages of l’Rennero (D.O.C. Val di Cornia Suvereto Merlot)

2008 This wine won first place at last year’s MondoMerlot event. After tasting it, it is clear why it was the big winner.   Near opaque, dark ruby/black. A creamy element on the nose, a rich warm rush of dark fruit (plums, brambles, black currents). Palate follows the nose, filled with rich ripe juicy berry fruit. Firm tannins. Long, lingering finish. A dusting of cocoa.   

 

2005 Opaque. The idea of shoe polish (this is not a bad thing for me), rich, ripe forth-coming fruit. Lush on the palate, elegant on the nose. The idea of coffee a dusting of cocoa beans on the long, fruit-filled finish.  

After 30 minutes: the wine stays firm, fresh and appealing.

 2001 Fresh, full silky bolt of fruit on the nose and palate. Whiffs of tobacco and cocoa. Layers of shifting scents (plums, brambles, black currents). A knubbly textured fruit. A lovely wine.

“For me,” says Barbara. “This is in poll position. 2001 was a perfect year from the point of view of a viticulturist.”

Other vintages tasted:

2007 (brighter perfumes), 2006 (velvety and appealing), 2004 (Very firm, tight weave of fruit, the idea of lanolin), 2002 (opaque, dense near black. Spice on the palate.)

There was spontaneous applause for her bravura.

OCTOBER 26 Judging Sparkling Wines at the Euposia Wine Challenge(www.euposia.it)

6Beppe picks me up at the bridge and we drive to Relais Villabella (www.relaisvillabella.it) to taste through the sparkling wines that have already made the cut.  There are some 16 tasters. We plow through just short of 80 sparkling wines: Champagnes, Franciacortas and a myriad of others.

The winner of the blind tasting in the rosé Classical Method category this year is Cesarini Sforza Tridentum Rosé (100% Pinot Nero, www.cesarinisforza.it). A Trentodoc!  Hooray! I think that sparkling Trentodoc wines are too often overlooked.  Whenever I meet a wine buyer I promote these wines: They offer great value for money, as the English say. 

Third place went to an English wine: Balfour Rosé Hush Heat (www.hushheath.com) What a name! It sounds like the title of a Richard Castle novel

OCTOBER 25 RECIOTO DI SOAVE TASTING & INTERVIEW WITH PIEROPAN

6aI interview Leonildo Pieropan (www.pieropan.it) ‎for wine-searcher.com about Christmas traditions. 

My favorite Pieropan quote: “For us, Recioto di Soave is the wine that epitomizes Christmas because there are always lots of sweets around. It is a vino da allegria (a wine that brings happiness).” 

Then off to a tasting of 40 – yes, 40 – Recioto di Soaves.  The event is organized by our pal Lorenzo S.  All the producers are present.

6b soave grapes dryingRecioto di Soave is a wine made from semi-dried Garganega (primarily)  grapes.  The style dates back to the Romans.  It is considered a desert wine.  But, as I wrote in Matching Wine With Asian Food, it also has great potential when paired with many sweet/sour Asian dishes.  I (along with my co-author Edwin Soon) had a Coffele Recioto di Soave with a Nasi Gorman prepared by our Singapore publisher’s wife that was superb.  

Before the tasting begins someone sings excerpts from the Carmina Burana. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAxU8eSIhiQ)  Somehow a lone feminine voice accompanied by the reedy wheeze of a period instrument creates a peculiar – other worldly?  Bizarre? – atmosphere.

Generally speaking the wines are very good.  Top producers included Vicentini, Portinari, Mosconi, Gini and  Fasoli Gino

There are a few wines that have a distinct (for me) small of decomposition.  I give these low marks.  I notice that the woman next to me on the jury bench has given the same wines high marks.  I respect her opinion, so I ask her why she has done this.  She says: “That is what traditional Recioto is supposed to smell like.”

I have just returned from Lambrusco-land.  There too, I sometimes found a whiff of decomposition and there too, when I queried the producers about the smell, they replied: “That is what traditional Lambrusco is supposed to smell like.”

This in turn reminded me of Barolos of 30 years ago.  At that time then there was a huge rift between those who supported “traditional” Barolo (which usually had a whiff of compost heap) and “modern” Barolo (which smelled like wine made from Nebbiolo grapes).  Back then I was all for traditional wines because that was the flavor I was used to.  However, thirty years down the road, it is safe to say that no one in Barolo makes those pong-y wines anymore.  

I suppose the upshot of this muse is that tasters should be just a tad skeptical when Italian producers speak about “traditional” wines.  Ask them to define the term. 

OCTOBER 18,19,20 LAMBRUCO-LAND & BALSAMIC VINEGAR-LAND

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALet me begin by saying that I like well-made Lambrusco.  Unfortunately, in most parts of the great big world the style of wines sold under the name Lambrusco can be summed up in the words “cheap, red fizz”.  What a pity.

The grape variety Lambrusco is actually an umbrella under which you will find (at least) 4 distinct “Lambruco” grapes.  The most successful (in my opinion) are Lambrusco di Sobara and Lambrusco Grasparosso.  Good Sobara wines have a vibrant rosé pink color and fresh, sprightly acidity.  Grasparosso are darker ruby red with a lovely purply froth.

The Lambruscos that I particularly liked:

Righi Quattro Ville Sobara DOC Secco: Bright blue-cherry juice color. Light, fruity, refreshing, clean.  Tart cherry on the palate. Versatile wine. (www.vinirighi.it)

La Piana (organic producer) Lambrusco Capriccio di Bacco Secco.  I smelled down a row of 20 wines and this is the one that made me want to go back and taste it.  Very nice wine.  It is made without the use of sulfites. (www.lambruscolapiana.it)

Others that stood out: Fattoria Moretti (good saturation of flavor, www.fattoriamoretto.it), Manicardi (nice texture, www.manicardi.it), Cavaliera (www.cavaliera.it), Ca Berti (light and fresh, www.caberti.com), Cleto Chiarli & Figli  (dependable and attractive)  

 My notes on unsuccessful Lambrusco: sweat and bubblegun, plastic.  

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“2014 will be like a year zero for Lambrusco,” says Gian Paolo Gavioli, who has worked with these wines for decades. “Because the rules will change and become stricter and more tied to the production area.”   He also forsees the possibility of referring to drier style Lambruscos by their grape name.  That is: Sobara or Grasporossa.  But that is an idea for the future.  As G.P. says: “Wine isn’t a tomorrow morning business…you have to think 50 years ahead.”

We visit 2 balsamic vinegar producers. The first is Boni Romano. We are given a charming and impenetrable description of how the product is made.  But everyone likes the vinegar and there is much buying at the end of the visit.  “90% of our sales take place here at the shop,” says our guide.  There is a superb collection of pottery vessels that once held Balsamic vinegar.  Suprisingly contemporary glazes for 15th and 16th century pots.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe second balsamic vinegar establishment we visit is La Vecchia Dispensa.  The son of the owner, Simone, gave us a superb explanation of the product and techniques of production. He speaks with passion and knowledge.   Again much buying is done before we pile back on the journalists bus.  These exceptional products are found in London at Harrods and Fortnam and Masons.

The thing that Simone wants us all to remember is this: “Traditional Balsamic  Vinegar is NOT a salad dressing!  You don’t work for years and years to make a salad dressing.”

He says that the right way to use Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is as a tonic (taken by the spoonful) or put a few drops on a warm dish – such as a steak or a vegetable platter.  “The warmth of the food releases the fragrance and flavors of the vinegar,” he says.  He also recommends a few drops on roast pumpkin.

My favorite quote from this trip:

Journalist: “Is it always foggy in this area?” 

Producer: “No, on Friday it was sunny.”  

OCTOBER 15 AN ACID TRIP IN FRANCIACORTA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI take the train to Rovato and Marco, the PR for the Franciacorta consortium picks me up and whisks me to the tasting, which is conducted by sparkling wine expert Tom Stevenson. Tom has chosen what he feels are the very best examples of English sparkling wine.  Producers: Nyetimber (They have the largest vineyard holding in the U.K.), Plumptom (an Agricultural School), Camel Valley, Ridgeview, Herbert Hall, Henners (“I’ve been keeping my eye on this producers,” says Tom.), Hambledon (“A seriously gifted winemaker here,” says Tom.) and Hattingley. (www.englishwineproducers.com)

What we learned from Tom, who titled his seminar “An Acid Trip”:

“These wines are sweeter than what you are used to. If they did not have this dosage they would not be drinkable.”

“There are over one hundred brands of sparkling wine in the U.K., and only sixteen that are worth drinking.”

My general assessment: It is almost as if “good taste” stepped in to de-nude these wines of character.  They are well made and clean and vaguely (Tom calls it delicately) fruity (orchard fruits).  But at prices that run between 30 and (a breathtaking) £75 pounds sterling (!!!!), I want a bit more than that. 

My goodness, if I had £75 to spend on a bottle of wine I would want something that made my heart sing, something that brought out the poet in me, something that would create a fragrance memory that would stay with me forever.

I asked myself who would buy these wines at these prices and the answer is: Rich, Patriotic Englishmen, who are rightly proud of producing drinkable wines in their county. 

I think that I will stick with Franciacorta, Trentodoc and Champagne for now.  But who knows what the future will bring?   

OCTOBER 11 GUERRIERI RIZZARDI – THE CANOVA PRIZE

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAGuerrieri 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).

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThis year’s winner is Michele D’Agostino.  He won for his excellent piece titled: La Conoscenza dell’Ascolo.  He put a tiny audio recorder in a jiffy pack and mailed it to London. Once back in his possession, he mounted the audio recorder in the sculpture pictured.  Listening to the audio  inside the sculpture is a strangely hypnotic experience.  Very interesting.

OCTOBER 6  CHIEVO (soccer team) FAN CLUB DINNER

Food in plastic tubs…a live-ish band…

I enjoy watching the boys (our pal’s son Mario and his mate Andrea) eat: stuffing slices of stale bread and sweaty ham into their mouths until their cheeks puff out like chipmunks.

OCTOBER 5th MASI PRIZE MEMORIES

Every year the Masi Foundation awards a handful of truly exceptional individuals. This year among the winners were Marjane Satrapi, who is perhaps best known for her outstanding animated film Persepolis; Giovanni Bonotto, a textile manufacturer who uses ancient production techniques to create contemporary fabrics; Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist from Friuli, who was part of the team that identified “mirror neurons”; and le Vigne di Venizia, a group of intrepid and optimistic vine-growers who are creating vineyards on the islands around Venice.

This award ceremony got me to thinking about the first Masi Prize interview I ever did.

The year: 1998. The subject: The most charming man I have ever had the pleasure to meet, Pierre Cardin.

15Cardin was born not far from the Veneto’s Valpolicella zone. His family moved to France when he was two.  His childhood dream was to be an actor or dancer and in 1945, at the age of 23, due to his uncanny physical resemblance to Jean Marais, he was hired as the actor’s stand-in during costume fittings for Jean Cocteau’s exquisite film La Belle et La Bete.  He later became a professional costumier, not only for Cocteau but also for other important directors, including Max Ophuls and Joseph Losey. 

My favorite quotes from the interview: “I was Dior’s first employee. When I arrived for work the first day there were only three of us there.”  His success with Dior led Cardin to bring out his own haute couture collection. One of his most ardent admirers was Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of York, who, at that time, was the icon of chic.  Cardin was the first haute couture designer to create a prêt-à-porter line. “I wanted to continue dressing the duchess but I also wanted to dress my concierge,” he said. 

However, I almost didn’t get the interview.

I was the last in a long line of journalists waiting to interview him.  The officious PR girl kept letting other journalists go ahead of me because they wrote for fashion magazines and daily Italian newspaper.  I was there to interview him for Decanter magazine. (Cardin owned restaurants in China and imported wine there). My turn finally came and the PR girl rushed up and told him that it was time to go into lunch. My shock (at her rudeness) and disappointment must have been clearly stamped on my face.

Mr. Cardin charmingly but firmly told her that I had waited patiently for him and that he was quite happy to take the time to talk to me. We sat and talked and it  felt like Real Conversation…we talked about films…and his youth. I have never met such a charming man

After the interview he asked me to send him a copy of my article when it was published.  I did. And 10 days later a lovely handwritten thank you note from Cardin arrived for me in the mail.   That kind gesture had a profound effect on me.  For the first time I fully recognized the value of taking the time to say: thank you.

So, thank you, Monsieur Cardin.

PS Yes, I framed the note.