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.



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.


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.


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….



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


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.


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


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. 


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.”  


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?   


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.


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.


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.


November 29 Illasi Valleys R US

We take the bus out to Tregnago, a little town in the Illasi Valley, about 40 minutes east of Verona. We are here on the occasion of the launch of the Illasi Valleys Association.  Some five hundred people turn out to the event.  Bernardo Pasquali, the president of the association, gives a tour de force presentation.  He is enthusiastic, creative and has the knack of choosing the right partners.   Let me tell you a little about this group. First, there is nothing like it anywhere else in Italy.  Right now it has 55 members.  The members include, wine producers, oil makers, travel agents, limousine and tour bus services, bakers, restaurateurs, spas, an optical manufacture and designer and an artist who fastens beautiful and practical things from wrought iron. They have all banded together to promote their territory: The Illasi Valleys.

At every wine and food event I have been to in Italy in the last 15 years there has been the same bleat about promoting the territory of production.  The Illasi Valleys Group is the first to actually DO something!  I wish them well. Everyone connected with this enterprise vibrates with enthusiasm.  Hooray. Go Illasi Valleys!  www.visitillasivalleys.com

November 28  A fine osteria in Verona and waiting for the plumber or someone like him.

We go to buy vegetables.  It is raining – what else? We trudge to the bus stop our shoulders loaded down with bags of cabbage, carrots and the rest.  We are captured by the display window of a café.  It is beautiful: lovely fresh cheeses, elegant steel-blue and terracotta décor.  A pleasant young man behind the counter waves at us to come into Café Carducci. “My grandfather started the café. It is the oldest family owned osteria in Verona,” he says.

“It is too elegant and welcoming for Verona,” I say, and I mean it.  They place has a fabulous ambiance.

I tell him I would like to write about it for a website I contribute to and he asks me my name.

“You’re famous,” he declares.  This pleases me enormously.  I am famous to a very narrow band of wine lovers around the world.  I have had New York restaurateurs, Canadian journalists, a Dutch businessman, a Greek music teacher and an East Coast doctor tell me I am famous in the last month.  Pretty cool, but the question –then why ain’t I rich? – always floats up in my mind when I hear that declaration.

We take the bus home.  I make lunch. I pull the cork on the open bottle of Tanbe” 2010 from Villa Canestrari. I put a dollop into the pan to deglaze it.  I pause for a moment.  I then pour myself a glass to deglaze me.

The plumbers arrive.

Must meditate.

Ugo and Michael are entertaining a group of Danish business people.  Ugo wants to do a blind tasting – literally.  It turns the event into a very pleasant parlor game…with all the innuendos that blindfolding strangers entails.




November 27 The plumber is supposed to come again….

He doesn’t.

I taste “Tanbe” 2010 from Villa Canestrari (a blend of Garganego, Traminer Aromatico and Sauvignon Blanc). Good saturation of yellow-pale gold. Bright and fruity (ripe pears), with a creamy floral note (peach blossoms) and a grassy note derived from the Sauvignon Blanc. Very satisfying.  I am told that it costs around 5 Euros at the cantina. That is an excellent price.




November 23  Off to Trentino for big Trentdoc tasting

We taste 73 Trentodoc sparkling wines blind.  I like having the opportunity to taste these wines without knowing who the producers are.  It is the only way to shut out all the hype and to really understand who is making good wines.

The top producer for me in terms of the number of wines that – when tasted blind – got my highest marks was Ferrari Fratelli Lunelli,  The company’s Perlè Rosè 2006, Perle Chardonnay 2006, Giulio Ferrari il Fondatore Riserva Brut 2001 and Ferrari Brut non-vintage were stylish, zesty and satisfying – each in its own way.

Among the other producers who stood out were Endrizzi, Abate Nero, Maso Martis, Roberto Zeni,  Cembra, Rotari, Istituto Agrario San Michele and Opera Vitivinicola in Valdicembra.

I also gave high marks to a producer I had never heard of before: Revi.  The wines have all the qualities of top-notch Trentodoc.  The estate’s entire annual production hovers around 13,000.  They don’t export…so, if you happen to find yourself in Trentino, give them a try.

An English photographer said: “But that name – Trentodoc!  They need a different name!”

I explained to him why Trentodoc is, in fact, a good name. “It identifies the region of origin – just like Champagne does.”

“I like Prosecco,” the phohtographer persisted.

“And because the name was not sufficiently tied to the area of production there are now “Proseccos” from all over the world, made in all sorts of way.  Whereas the name Trentodoc  firmly places the production zone in Trentino!”

I don’t think he was convinced.

November 19 Marco Caprai

I interview Marco Caprai whose winery Arnaldo Caprai has just been named European Winery of the Year.   When I asked him if his children were going to join him in the business someday, he said; “My boys are two and three years old, so it is too early to determine if they will follow me into the business. But I can tell you that they enjoy following me into the vineyards because they like to eat the grapes straight from the vines.”  The interview was published on www.wine-searcher.com.

November 18 The Cat Who…lives on my bedside table

I stack all the Cat Who books on my bedside table…I may need to drift into Moose County in the next few days…months….years….

16 November Euposia Champagne and Sparkling Wine tasting

Beppe picks me up at the bridge and drives me out to the Bacco D’Oro Restaurant in the Illasi Valley, east of Verona.  I am one of 20 judges who will be blind tasting over 100 sparkling wines from all parts of the world.

I like the way it is organized.  No talking while tasting. Everyone just marks the wine as they see fit, with no useless and distracting discussion.  Two of the problems with discussion while tasting are:  it breaks the taster’s concentration and it is too easy for a confident person to convince the others to change their opinions. Sometimes confidence does not equate with accuracy.

The Big Winner in the Rosé category this year went to Bollinger Rosé. Creamy elegance.

Coming in a close second is an Italian wine Bellenda Rose 2005.

This is the fifth edition of the Euposia Sparkling Wine event.  At an early edition the top prize went to an English vintner. That fact created quite a stir in the British Press.  Since then the importance of this tasting has grown exponentially.

I am very happy to be a part of the tasting panel.

15 November Moving

The moving men come at 7:20 and spend four hours loading up two trucks. Then we are off to the new apartment and another 4 hours of unpacking.

Before agreeing to rent this new place I asked specifically if the plumbing and electricity were up to code.  I was assured that they were. We flush the toilet and it overflows

My resolve to live my life as a dog emerged. By living like a dog I mean: take everything in stride and be happy with what you have.  I try to look for positive things.  I decide that the positive thing is that I will now start divesting myself of possessions.  Travel light will be my by-word from now on.

As I looked around at the boxes piled everywhere, I realized that I only have 4 boxes of clothes but over 35 boxes of books.  I have thousands of books.  I must divest myself of some of them.  But which ones?  There are some that give me pleasure just holding them, like Mrs Shelly, a biography of Mary Shelly published in 1890.  I have quite a few interesting first editions from the 1800s – most in good condition. I have a lovely leather-bound book with hand colored illuminated letters.  I have 50 or so books that have been autographed to me that date from my days as manager of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York; I can’t get rid of those.

I have hundreds of paperbacks that I will never read again.  But others…

Watching television on the morning of that fateful 9/11 when the airplanes smashed into the Twin Towers, I sank into a deep depression.  All I could do was cry or feel a pressing numbness. The world at that moment had become an ugly, frightening place.  What got me through the next ten days were those silly “Cat Who…”  books by Lillian Jackson Braun.  They provided me with a world where most people are nice, the heros are gentle and calm and most everyone is kind to animals – even the crooks.  For ten days I lived in “Moose County, “four hundred miles North of everywhere”.  It was only after that mental vacation that was I able to come back and join the real world. I can’t get rid of those books.

I have books that I realize have no value anymore: A two volume set of the complete works of Robert Browning, dating from the early 1900s.   But it is a second edition…so no collector would want it and anyone who just wanted the information would Google it or probably download a copy from some internet site.

What am I going to do with all these books – some exquisite, others just readers copies?

There is not the same fervor for collecting books in Italy that there is in English-speaking countries.  And besides, in Italy the market for English books in general is practically non-existent.

If anyone within the sound of my voice has any ideas about how I can sell my good old books, dispose properly of the second and third edition copies of other nice old books and offload hundreds of paperback novels….please let me know.  The idea of E-bay and Paypal, etc. frightens me just a little as I am not technically inclined.  Any help will be much appreciated.

Novmber 4  5-hour Lunch at Geppy and Germana’s