November 2018

November diary 2018

Off to the Carroarmato

It was a slow night at the Carroarmato. Annalisa joined us and we began lamenting the loss of the good old days when wine tasters still had ability to taste older vintages. I love to do so: the exhilarating pleasure of feeling a wine unravel on the palate, sniffing a wine that still gives pleasure but also shows you the ghost of what it once was. These are sensual as well as intellectual pleasures.

I told her that I had run into a fellow studying for his WSETs (Wine and Spirit Educational Trust exams) a few days after another session of old vintages. I started to tell him about the wines when I was stopped by the sad look in his eyes and sorry shake of his head.  In a bolt of understanding I realized that he felt sorry for silly old me.  He said: (as if explaining to a child) “I prefer young fruity easy drinking wines. That’s what consumers want now.”

It was now time for me to muster pity for him. He did not realize that the world of wine is vast and that it is possible to appreciate more than one style.  Imagine a person saying: “I only listen to heavy metal” or “I only read non-fiction” or “I only eat white food!”

An Example: As I type this, on my desk is my stack of frequently played albums, which includes: Henry Purcell’s Fantasias, Natalie Coles’s Snowfall on the Sahara, and Dolly Pardon’s Love Songs.  I like them all and will happily listen to them again and again.

A Reminiscence

Some years ago, a company based in Germany that imported fine wines (particularly Italian ones) asked me to come to Hamburg for a special tasting of older vintages.  On the journey from the airport I asked the PR lady which other journalists were attending.

She replied: Jancis Robinson and you.

I blinked twice to make sure that I had heard correctly, then said: Okay I get Jancis Robinson – but why me?

The company had asked all their Italian producers to name someone who knew how to taste older vintages and who would appreciate the opportunity to do so, and my name kept coming up. How gratifying.

But enough of this. Among the wonderful wines tasted with Annalisa was a 1986 Pouilly Fume from Remy Pannier. Bright. A steely note over a rolling line of soft caramel on the palate.

November 16 Villa De Winckels (www.villadewinkels.it ) for Valpolicella Superiore Tasting

I love Villa De Winckels. The place itself is lovely and the tastings that the owners organize are always top notch. Forty-one producers showed their wines.  The four that gave me the most pleasure were: Dalforno 2012 (a buzz of tannin astringency shapes the rich fruit), Marion 2014 (elegant fullness), Vicentini 2013 (fresh, firm fruit) and Giovanni Ruffo 2013 “Le Ceste” (rich yet elegant, full yet supple: this is a real yin and yang of a wine).

I asked Giovanni’s daughter how many bottles of it were made and she replied: “1231”.

“We don’t make many wines,” said Giovanni. “But we try to make them the best we can.”

Here is a photo of Agostino Vicentini, me and my notebook.

 

 

July 2018

Book report:  I received an email from my cousin in Colorado, who is a librarian. She writes “Staff…found a dead man on the bench by the door this morning.  They thought he was sleeping, but after a couple of hours they checked on him.  They don’t know if he was homeless or not. He was an older man who had been in the library the day before. Always exciting at the library.”

film director Elena Gladkova (who always knows were the camera is placed) at the Montenigo estate.

Well, speaking of excitement: it’s the annual San Gio Video Festival – the 24th edition, to be exact.  Those wanting more on the history of the event and behind the scenes glimpses of Ugo Brusaporco, the founder of the festival, may whiz down to any of the earlier July diaries.

I have discovered that if you want to find July diaries you must click on August. I suppose the person who tidied my website a year ago could not get his head around the fact that I put entries up at the end of the month. I do this because I like to think about things before I slap them up.  I know this is hopelessly old-fashioned.

One of the elements that make this 4-day San Gio international video extravaganza different from all the other film fests in the world is Ugo’s insistence that judges and hangers-on visit a different winery (or cheesemaker, or olive oil producer, or salami maker) every morning before the film screenings in the late afternoon.

Michael is one of Ugo’s right hands during this event (think of Ugo as kali-like: he has many hands…none of which know precisely what the others are up to).  Over the years I have gradually shifted away from participation in the event.

I was on the main jury in 2005. Among the awards we were to give was one for Best Actor. I wanted it to go to Michael Cera for a film called Darling, Darling.  I argued that the young actor was the lynchpin of the piece, without him it would disintegrate into plain goofiness. The French jurist wanted to give it to an actor in an English film about a man who boffs a plastic blowup sex toy doll, then washes it and folds it back into its package and returns it to the store.

“He was zho brave,” she said, leaning forward in her chair, sincerity oozing from every pore. I refused to be moved, pointing out that actors simulated all kinds of disturbing things…that is part of their job. But holding a film together – that takes a special kind of talent. I refused to be moved and I swayed the 6-person jury to my way of thinking. Cera won. A couple of years later the San Gio mob was making up a press release and I happened to find that the San Gio win was mentioned on Cera’s Wikipedia page. I showed it to Ugo and crew. They were overjoyed!

After that I gradually stopped going to the films but continued to visit the wineries and food producers.

This years I said I would only go to one winery. I asked Michael for the names of the those on the list for visits so that I could make my decision. The first one he mentioned had Damiano Peroni as their consultant, I said: “That’s the one!”  I think Damiano is a very talented winemaker.

The Montenigo (www.montenigo.it) azienda is known for its olive oil production and has just started producing wine.

Tasting notes: 2017 Valpolicella – a lovely ruby-rose color. Fresh and easy.

“We only made 2000 bottles of this wine,” said Rudi Roncari, owner of the azienda. “We made a mistake because this was the first year we commercially released the wines, because if we had made more we would have sold it all.  Next year we are aiming for 8,000 bottles.”

Any importers looking for wines in the Veneto should consider getting in touch with Damiano.  His email is Damiano@flavioperoni.it.

Of course, I ended up going to the other wineries.

The following morning….

We arrive at Lonigo for a stop at the wine consortium of the Colli Berici. After a quick visit, Ugo says: “We must go! The winery is only 30 minutes away.” He jumps into his assigned car and it races off. Two cars are quick off the mark and follow.  By the time the rest of us have piled into the remaining three cars, no one has any idea which of the four possible roads Ugo’s car has taken. Nor has anyone the address of the winery. We procure this detail. I am in the lead car – and our little caravan sets off. I am the only passenger in the car; the other three are glued to their individual GPS devices, each of which offers a different route to the wine estate. Arguments ensue. After well over an hour of driving down one-lane roads and through enchanted forests, we arrive at the exceptionally beautiful Pegoraro estate (www.cantinapegoraro.it ) where we taste the wines and have a bang-up lunch.

The 2017 Tai Rosso is tangy, sprinkled with hints of black pepper. Chilled it is a fine accompaniment for a hot, sunny afternoon, scored by a chorus of cicadas.

The following morning…

at the Sandro de Bruno winery

We are heading for a favorite producer: Sandro de Bruno (www.sandrodebruno.it ). We have tasted the wines here over the years and have never been disappointed. This company makes my absolute favorite sparkling Durello. We go to the top of a hill where a picnic table and benches are set up near the vineyard. We eat salami and cheese and chat about life and movies.  We also taste the top-notch wines.

The non-vintage sparkling Durello is bright, fresh and elegant. The 2010 Superiore is all that, plus having an attractive creaminess on the palate.

 

 

April 2018

April 2018

Wednesday  Fish and Chef (www.fishandchef.it )

We go to the Regio Patio restaurant in Garda to enjoy a lunch in the Fish and Chef annual pairing of Italy’s top chefs and local wineries – served at snazzy restaurants located on Lake Garda. The chef this afternoon is Terry Giavotella of Ristorante “Inkiostro” in Parma. The accompanying wines are from Costaripa – Mattia Vezzola, starting with a lovely onionskin-colored – and much appreciated – Brut Rosé.

“At Vinitaly this year I decided to write about winemakers I have known for over 25 years,” I told Mattia. “I looked for you but couldn’t find you. I remember the first time we met.”

I had called Bellavista, where Mattia was head winemaker, to set up a visit for an article I was writing. Because I do not drive, it was agreed that he would meet me in a large parking lot in Verona and take me to the Franciacorta estate. When I asked how I would recognize him, he said: “I’ll be the tallest person in the lot.” And he was.

“I left Bellavista 8 or 9 years ago to return to Costaripa, the winery founded by my grandfather in Moniga del Garda,” he said. (www.costaripa.it/en/)

The wines we tasted at lunch were crisp and satisfying, with an undertow of salinity.

“Now that we have found each other again, you must come out to the estate. I can pick you up from the train station,” he said.  And we will.

My 28th Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual trade fair:

Table of Contents

A Word About Influencers, Our First Wine of the Fair, Three Trips down Memory Lane – Bucci, Braida, Fattoria Zerbina and Vignalta, and Other Wines  

First, a word about “Influencers”. I was introduced to two nice young men who proudly told me they had been chosen by Vinitaly International as Important Influencers, and that they wanted to be the most trusted source for information about Italian wine.

Still naïve after all these years, I said: “If you want the names of producers of really fine wine, I would be happy to supply them.”

This remark was met with silence and a shifting of position. A darting look passed between them.

I said: “You mean that you only write or broadcast about people who pay you?

Again, that darting look and a brief uncomfortable silence.

I said: “Look, I understand marketing and if you are promoting your clients there is nothing wrong with taking money for the job.”

At that point they relaxed and said: “Yes, our time is worth something. We have to give away a certain amount of free help now, but the idea is that the producers pay.”

I said. “So, the first one’s free, kid.”  (This phrase is a reference to what drug dealers say to young potential clients in hopes that the first hit will keep them coming back for more.)

And then I thought:  How can you be the most trusted source for information when people are paying? …when the characteristic that is most important is the Money that they give you?

Allow me to revert to my codgerette status. Back in my day, if an actual wine writer accepted money from a producer in exchange for an article he/she would have been fired from any reputable publication.

And yes, I know that magazines accepted advertising. However, paid publicity was clearly identified as such. No one expected unbiased information from an ad.

English Lesson:  Codger means a cranky old man.  Codgerette is a term Michael and I use to indicate a cranky old woman.

My rant over…back to the FAIR…

Our first stop is at the stand of Friulian producer Di Lenardo and our first wine there is Toh!, which is made from the Friulano grape, formerly known as Italian Tocai,. The wine has a rich sensation on the nose, with an amalgam of scents –  pear/elderflower/blossoms. A lovely silky weight in the mouth. And what a great quality/price ratio!

Massimo Di Lenardo and his wife Paola Podrecca, owners of the estate, are mega dog-lovers.

“We tried again this year to convince the Vinitaly management to let us bring Oscar – in a Vinitaly T-Shirt – to stay on the stand but they said no. He would have been much more effective that those girls,” Paola said, referring to the 18 to 20-year-old women dressed in Lycra and Drag Queen shoes, whom some producers hire to take up space in front of their stands. Paola has a point. Happy, tail-thumping Oscar would be much more welcoming than the palpably bored young women. Not to mention the fact that well-behaved, warm-eyed Oscar would be a social media hit.

Four Trips Down Memory Lane

Bucci www.villabucci.com

In the early 1990s Decanter asked me to write an article on the Marche that would include a report on Verdicchio.  Like the good swat I was, I did my research before setting off. This was in the days before Google started dispensing anonymously sourced information. Instead I actually read Italian magazines and – most importantly – I asked trusted wine-savvy friends for personal recommendations. The name Bucci was mentioned multiple times.

I arrived at the Consortium in the Marche for the Big Tasting. A long table sat in the middle of the large room, the wines set up along one side.  The producers stood along the wall. Their expressions ranged from an awkward glumness to an eager puppy-in-the-pet-shop-window hopefulness.  I walked along the line of bottles and noticed there was no Bucci.  Naïve as I was, I went to the director of the Consortium and asked why Bucci wines were not there. An uncomfortable silence followed.

You see, back then, I thought that Consortiums represented the wine zone, not just the paid-up members. When the director started to “erm” and “ah, well…”, I said: “I’ve got the winery phone number. Will you call them for me?” I had backed the poor man into a corner. He finally crumpled and rang the winery. The samples appeared, and my tasting began. The Bucci wines were excellent, and I have continued to enjoy them over the years, and always look forward to tasting them.

Braida www.braida.com/it

My first taste of lardo was from the fingertips of Giacomo Bologna…at Vinitaly. He was a charismatic figure, who put Barbera on the map for lovers of fine wine. He died in 1990 but his children have inherited his go-power, particularly his daughter Raffaella, who has her own dynamic energy and quick wit. Michael (my husband) imported Braida wines into London when I met him 31 years ago. I liked the wines then, I like them now.

We stopped by their Stand at Vinitaly to taste and reminisce.

“Remember when you were judges at the Rocchetta Tanaro cake contest. You and your friend Fred Plotkin. I bought his book on opera,” said Raffaella.  We then spent a few minutes gushing about how much we love Fred. (He is a charming and erudite fellow, who is an expert on opera, but also has written some great books on Italian food.)

“I remember the year we pissed off Raffaella’s cousin, the baker, when our carrot cake was ranked higher than his cake,” said Michael.

What I remember best about our many cake contest visits was the singer who was doing his best to get through Sinatra’s ode to New York.  He crooned: “My little town shoe…..is wanting to do…..”

But now to the wines. Bricco dell’Uccellone (100% Barbera) has been a favorite wine of mine from the very first time I tasted it. My notes on the wine always include the words “plummy”, “creamy”, “richly textured” and “long, evolving finish”. We tasted the 2016 vintage, which did not let me down.

Fattoria Zerbina www.zerbina.com

In the early 1990s I lobbied Decanter to let me do an article on Emilia Romagna so that I could write about Cristina Geminiani of Fattoria Zerbina. Michael had imported her wines into the U.K. since the late 1980s. She literally brought Albana Passito to the attention of fine wine lovers with her stunning Scacco Matto. (Checkmate), and her Romagna Sangioveses have always been at the very top of my list of great red wines. (And, it should be noted, My List includes 1961 Chateau Lâfite.)

When we arrived at her stand, the first thing Cristina said was: “I’ve got a new puppy!”  Yes, there is often dog talk when I run into people.

I inhaled the evocative perfume of her 2011 Marziano. Thought about it, reveled in it, was carried away by the poetry of it.

I looked at Cristina and asked: “When they finally drag me off to the old folks’ home, will you send me a bottle of this wine every month to give me something to live for?

“It might not be the same vintage,” she said.

I love tasting Zerbina wines because when I do so, it is like diving into the wine’s complex universe of flavors and fragrances, an experience that sparks the imagination and makes tasting more exciting and more interesting.

Also, let it be said that I really do love great Romagna Sangiovese wines. They give sensual pleasure when young and juicy and develop into a swirling nebula of rich, fascinating, ever-evolving flavors and scents as they mature.

Vignalta www.vignalta.it/en/

We visited this estate in the Colli Euganei on my birthday 26 years ago, and spent the day with Lucio Gomiero and his business partner at the time, Franco Zanovello. (Readers of this diary are familiar with the name Franco Z. www.calustra.it), I was enchanted by the beauty of the Colli Euganei and by the wines of Vignalta.

I tried to convince Decanter to do an article on the winery but was told that they only wanted to do profiles on wines that were available in the London market, which is fair enough. But I could not get the wines out of my mind. I realized that although I could not highlight Vignalta, I could do an article on the Veneto (loads of names that were already known in the U.K.) and then slip in a little box that would include the names of a couple of good producers who were not yet in the market. I did this, then contacted Vignalta and asked them to get in touch the moment their wines were available in London…and they did. I have tasted the wines every one of the intervening 26 years and they consistently give pleasure.

“Try this. It is the only wine in our list you have never had before because it is brand new,” said Lucio, holding out a bottle of 2015 Nostrum, a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Carmenere.

WINE LESSON: In the 18th century Carmenere was widely planted in the Medoc, where it helped add color and body to the zone’s wines. The variety was first planted in Italy in the Colli Euganei. After phylloxera (a vine louse that devastated the vineyards of Europe) swept through Bordeaux, Carmenere lost ground to less vulnerable varieties.

“There is virtually no Carmenere left in France,” said Lucio. “At Vignalta we started planting it ten years ago.”

Nostrum is deep ruby. On the nose it is fresh and plummy. Round on the palate, with a texture like raw silk. The flavor is an amalgam of cherries, mulberries and blackcurrants, with an earthy undertow. A touch of gentle astringency. A long fruit-filled finish.

Vignalta is another winery whose wines continue to give pleasure. Three words to describe the house-style: rich, complex, textured.

Other Wines I liked at the fair

Musella’s 2016 Valpolicella Superiore Nice, bright cherry red, with fuchsia highlights. Warming, with a buoyant acidity.

Ronc Sorelli’s 2013 Schioppettino A wonderful nose – ripe, enveloping. The palate follows the nose: freshness infuses the flavor, lifting and enhancing the experience of tasting. Dark ruby, scents of dried flowers. Richly textured, with an amalgam of fruit flavors that include blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.

Donnafugata 2017 Grillo. Bright, forward, joyous bursts of acidity and fruit flavors (peach among them). Once again I find that this wine expresses the concept of Spring.

2 April – Big Chievo fan club annual picnic

First Things First – Books

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.

February 2017

1. Evelyn Marsh_dark green_Cover_FinalBooks: A message from Scott Clemens, author of Evelyn Marsh.  (A book I thoroughly enjoyed reading.) “The Kindle version of Evelyn Marsh is scheduled for publication on March 14th. It’s currently available for pre-order at: http://amzn.to/2kGjWve  The more reviews before publication, the better Amazon’s algorithms will push it. So I’d really appreciate it if you’d go to the pre-order page, scroll down to the Customer Review section, and leave a review. It doesn’t have to be long. Even a few lines would help.”

 

 

Feb 23 Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels

Susan H. picked us up and off we go…

2 amaroneI adore the annual Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it) because it includes everyone: from International stars and local heros to the man pictured, Giovanni Ruffo. He makes very nice wines. His annual production is: 650 bottles of Amarone and around 3,000 of Valpolicella, all of which he sells at three local restaurants.

Other producers who stood out for me include (in the order they appeared on the tasting list): Brigaldara, Roccolo Grassi, Santa Sofia, Speri, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Venturini Massimo, Vigneti di Ettore, Zanoni Pietro and Zyme.

I did not taste every wine at the event because there were more than 60 wines and because Amarones have an alcohol level that ranges between 15 to 17+.  I seldom taste more than 25 Amarones at a standup/strolling event. Some of my favorite producers were busy when I passed by and, with good intentions, I vowed to go back and taste their wines later. But anyone who has been at a large tasting knows that the chances of returning are slim.

Tasting Tip: At professional sit-down tasting of wines with alcohol levels that hover between 12 and 14, a taster can do 30 to 40 wines in a morning session and repeat this number in the afternoon. I don’t mind that kind of tasting but I no longer enjoy being frog-marched off to a Big Dinner at the end of one. I much prefer to go home, take a hot bath and have a nice bowl of cottage cheese (to calm down the acidity that builds up after a string of sprightly whites or sparkling wines). Tasting requires metal acuity: you cannot do it well when you are tired.

Feb 19 Lunch at th Carro Armato

3 Luca, in the midst of a busy lunchtimeWe lunched with our friends Lorenzo Z, Meri F. and their daughter Vita and Dog Maggie.  Stanley and Maggie were well behaved. They each chose their spot under the table and waited patiently for any bit of food that might happen to be offered.  Vita, who is 2, had learned the word “NO!” and treated us to its many shades of meaning. Also at lunch was Meri’s pal Marta Carnicero from Spain.

For aspiring novelists, I will tell her story. Marta was taking a creative writing cours, focusing on novels. At the end of the course, she turned in her book to her professor who, upon reading it said: “This is really good, you should look for an agent.”  A short time later a translating student at Columbia University in New York wrote to Marta asking if she could translate excerpts from the novel for her course because she had to work from original, unpublished material. Marta happily supplied a PDF. The translation professor read the excerpts and said: “This is really good. Would Marta mind if I showed this to a couple of publishers?”. Marta certainly did not object. And now two New York publishers are eagerly awaiting the full translation of her book (which is written in Catalan).  “I never wrote it thinking of publication”, said Marta. “I just wanted to fulfil the assignment.”  I asked her why she wrote it in Catalan rather than in Spanish.  “My mother spoke Catalan and it is the language I use to speak with her and with my sister. I felt I could more fully express emotions and intimate ideas in that language.”

When her book is published, I will let you know. New authors should be nurtured and promoted.

Feb 14. Valentine’s day whoopee.

4We (or do I mean I?) had a glass or two of Ca’ Del Bosco’s Cuvee Prestige Franciacorta Brut. Lovely saturated yellow, broad and appealing on the palate. Satisfying.

We then headed out to Danial B.’s birthday party.  Daniel is the brother I wished I had. He is smart and kind and undeniably odd – a fine description of many of my best friends.

 

 

Feb 11/12 50 shades of gray in Valpolicella

5 sabrinaSoccer fans from Udine came to Verona for the weekend. Our Chievo soccer fan club (“Chievo is Life”) organized events for them. We road on their great big bus, while Massimiliano Fornasar, President of his local Chievo Soccer fan club (and jim-dandy wine producer, www.fornaser.com) gave a little tour of the area. Massimiliano, microphone in hand, would say things like:” On your right you could see the Somethingorother winery – if it weren’t so foggy. To your left is an ancient church – you can almost see it.” Of course, the fog was so thick that you could see nothing out the windows. This did not stop the co-mingling fans from having a swell time.  We then went to Massimo’s osteria (Osteria Alla Pieve in San Pietro in Cariano) for chow. I spoke with the head of the Udine supporters fan club about perfume (he sells is) and to another Udine fan about the value of “love letters” – written on paper and spritzed with perfume. I had a wonderful time. No one asked me about sports, my interest for which is extremely low.  We tasted some of excellent Fornasar’s wines. Of particular note is the Il Genio, a warming, fruity, pleasing Valpolicella. Unfortunately the fine label you see here is only used locally. For foreign markets, there is the serious label. Pity. I could just see this wine being served at author’s signing parties.

The next day we had a big fan lunch at the Chievo is Life fan club headquarters before the Udine/Chievo match. There were many more attendees than anticipated because Giorgio, our leader, believes in being all inclusive – Everybody is welcome at a Chieve Is Life” event.  So many people came that another table had to be found to accommodate the throng. Here is a photo of Sabrina, a serious Chievo support, who volunteers to help prepare and serve the food at these events. It was she who marshalled the extra table and took command of the situation. When all was rolling along smoothly I went to her and told her I admired her organizational skill and her ability to come up with solutions at the drop of a hat. “There are some thing you just have to do for love (of the game) and friendship,” she said.  Here is a photo of Sabrina.

 

January 2017

1 -pilgrimsoftombelaine_coverFirst things first: Books.  Glenn Shea’s new book of poetry – The Pilgrims of Tombelaine – has just been published by Salmon Poetry. Glenn, whose poems have been read by Garrison Keillor on Keillor’s radio program, and who has collected fans in many countries (no least of which Italy) writes with elegance and wit. If you realize the value of poetry, buy this book at www.salmonpoetry.com. It should be up on Amazon shortly.  (Pardon the cover cropping; I am inept when it comes to manipulating images.)

 

 

January 29  The Annual Amarone Anteprima Tasting

This tasting is the high point for Veronese wine lovers as it offers a superb opportunity to taste the recent vintage of Amarone and talk directly with the winemakers and owners of the estate. There were many wines that I appreciated. However, my policy is to only write about wine that ring my chimes.

English Lesson: “To ring one’s chimes (or bell)” means to give a particular frisson of pleasure.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLtw3yzq2HE

Here is a link to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (a.k.a Will Smith) Ring My Bell, which gives a more explicit illustration the phrase.

My three favorite wines:

Serious Francesca Sartori
Serious Francesca Sartori

Roccolo Grassi 2013 (it will be released onto the market in a year) A bruised plum color. Fresh, yet with an appealing complexity of ripe fruit. (ripe cherries notes weave in and out of dark berry fruit flavors. (blueberry, brambles) (www.roccolograssi.it)

Viviani 2011 Bright. Almost green note on the nose – a weave of flavor that shifts and changes, leading to a clean flavorful finish. ( www.cantinaviviani.com )

Zyme 2009 a sleek cylinder of fruit, impeccable balance, a close weave of flavor (ripe cherries, blue berries) and spice (mace), superb texture that caresses the palate  (www.zyme.it)

A young-ish winemaker said to me: “Your book on Amarone is an icon. Just yesterday I was with a bunch of producers and they were passing around your book saying: ‘Look at those picture; look at how young we were.’ I like it because you really understand farmers.”   What a nice thing to say.

January 24 Dinner at Porto Alegre 

beer, a lottery and cake!
beer, a lottery and cake!

This restaurant is owned by Sergio Pellissier, the captain of the Chievo Soccer Club. It was a fan dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

January 21 Dinner at the Gepsters

We had dinner at a friend’s house. The usual line up was there. The food was mostly vegetarian. The magnum of Villa 2010 Franciacorta Extra Dry we brought was lovely, satisfying, easy to drink (and I mean that in the nicest way). It was a great way to start the evening. After the snacks, the pasta starters, the main course, the salads, the cheese, the fruit and the nuts, conversation heated up. A rhetorical question about the US directed vaguely at me became a typical lecture about America’s current situation. On and on went the scree, the substance of which seemed to have been trawled from conspiracy theory websites.

3 - piratePontificating is a major sport among three of the 4 Italian men at the table. (and then there is sociable, sensible Michael, the only non-Italian man present. Being the right sort of Englishman he would never blather on like a batty old duffer.) I did what I have always done in these circumstances: I started doing word games in my head. I came up with 30 anagrams using the letters for Claudio – my favorite being lucid. And still the spew of looniness continued. So, I came up with around 30 words from Patricia – my favorite was tiara. I told Michael what I was doing and he came up with piratic – having to do with pirates. Do you understand more fully why I adore my husband? Piratic!!!

 

January 10 Custoza and Chablis, BFFs (that’s Best Friends Forever, for those who don’t use acronyms)

3During  last year’s Vinitaly wine fair, members of the Custoza Wine Consortium (www.vinocustoza.it) had a chat with Raoul Salama, Director of La revue du vin de France (www.larvf.com). From this historic meeting has come a synergistic collaboration between the wine producing zones of Custoza and that of Chablis.

What do these areas have in common? Salama explained: Both are cool climate zones, and the precipitation is practically the same, as are the altitudes of the vineyards.

What sets them apart? Primarily grape varieties. Chablis is 100% Chardonnay, while Custoza is made from a blend of indigenous varieties – Garganega, Trebbianello (a biotype of Tocai Friulano) and Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese).

So, today we find ourselves at the Hotel Milano for a tasting of Chablis and Custozas.  The brief it not to compare the wines. It was not a matter of finding one wine better than the other, rather it created an excellent environment in which to really think about the identifiers for Custoza. For me those identifiers are an idea of candied fruit and a particular texture (that I think of as tweed) on the palate. Among the producers who made a good impression on the tasters present: Cavalchina (www.cavalchina.it), Albino Piona (www.albinopiona.it which presented a wine from the 1999 vintage that was still crisp and appealing), and Monte del Fra ( www.montedelfra.it ).

The Chablis were provided by La Chablisienne (www.chablisienne.com), whose director, Damien Leclerc, was also on hand.

At one point 4 of the 12 wines were presented blind (with the identity unknown to the tasters). Our little task was to tell the Chablis from the Custoza.  I had no problem with this – not necessarily due to my consummate skills as a taster. No, it had to do with memory.  The instant I put my nose in a glass of Chablis I spontaneously and instinctively smiled because the fragrance took me back to the years I worked with French wines in London. One of the Chablis presented stood out because at first sniff I was taken back to my days as a sommelier at snooty New York restaurants. That wine was: Chablis Chateau Grenouilles 2012. Lovely.

Cousin It on a good hair day
Cousin It on a good hair day

We then trooped over to Perbellini’s (www.casaperbellini.com ) in Piazza San Zeno for dinner. The food was imaginatively presented and the service was top notch. I will describe my favorite dish, a dessert:

A small cup (the size of a spool of thread) made of white chocolate. It is filled with pineapple juice and a straw has been inserted into the chocolate.  This is covered with lime-infused spun sugar.  It looked like (The Adams Family’s) Cousin It on a bad hair day and was absolutely delicious and great fun to eat.

Giancarlo Perbellini, the chef, also created a dish designed to go with Custoza, which he will insert into his regular menu: Zuppa Custoza, made with Broccoletto di Custoza, a local leafy green.

In an area that has more than its fair share of well-known wines – Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone, Bardolino – sometimes other local wines with long histories and great potential – like Custoza – are overlooked. It is the Consortium’s plan is to shed a little light on Custoza by concentrating on making it better known at Verona’s restaurants and bars. So, the next time you stop by Verona – to enjoy the opera, to gape at the Roman arena, or soak up some culture – take a moment to try a glass of Custoza.  You might find a new favorite.
8 January Nabucco Yum

My favorite wines this year are turning out to be: juicy, fruity wines that have a well-defined personality, and that can go with a wide variety of food.

5 -Monte delle Vigne’s 2012 Nabucco (a Barbera and Merlot blend). (www.montedellevigne.it )Yes, it is juicy, fruity (raspberry, brambles) and sprightly, with a pleasing spicy element. I served this red with Hokkien Fried Noodles (a dish well suited to a fresh yet elegant and well-balanced red wine, one that is not so rich as to overwhelm the nuances of the seafood. The recipe came from the book I wrote with Edwin Soon – Matching Wine with Asian Food. The next day I had a glass with a fried chicken and cheese sandwich. It was great with both. Michael opined that it would go really well with barbeque ribs. However, by the time he made that suggestion the bottle was almost empty.

The last glass of Nabucco went down a treat with an episode of Masterchef Australia. I love Masterchef Australia because no contestant has ever said: I am not here to make friends, I am here to win. Instead they say things like: I’m, so happy for Kylie, she deserves to win.

Oh, how I admire good sportsmanship.  It is a quality that seems to be dying out.

January 3 A day without books

When I have a day without something to read I do foolish things like clean the closet, wash the floors, etc.  During today’s brief cleaning adventure, I asked Michael to go through his shoes and select the pairs he would never wear again so that we could put them out on the dumpster for the people who come to trawl there in the evening. Here is why I adore my husband: before putting the shoes out, he polished and buffed them.  It is the small, thoughtful actions that make a difference in this world.

 

September 2016

24 September Art in a Fragrant Garden

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

13 September Dancing in the Office

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

1 September Press Conference for Soave VS

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

June 2016

June 2016

1Patrizia Cantini’s new e-book: Patrizia’s Italian Cookbook: 100 authentic recipes from Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna.  As she writes in the introduction:

“I can assure you that the 100 recipes you will find in this book are all true recipes, and many of them come from my family. My mother Mirella was in fact born in Emilia Romagna and then she moved to Florence, where she met and married my father Giorgio. So, I was born in a family with a double culinary tradition.”  The recipes are easy to follow and each is accompanied by a lovely photo of the finished dish. If you like cooking and love Italian food, give this book a try. You can find it at:  http://amzn.to/1WAKMRk

24 June  Art

We head off to a Palladian villa near Lonigo for an art exhibition.  Who is showing we asked Ugo (who, along with his wife, is taking us there in their car.)

“Oh, it’s for emmerging artists,” he says with adismissive wave of his hand. This is the kind ofvauge answer he always give and indicates that he does not know the answer.

We arrive at the lovely villa and discover that the two featured aritists were both born in the 1930. It’s about time they emerged, I thought.

The paintings were…well…old. Old ideas, old exicution.  There were several monochrome paintings: large canvases spray painted with a flat even color. Atisits have been tinkering with this idea since the late 1800s and have continued right on up through the 1960s.

2I was reminded of the play Art by Yasmina Reza (translated into the English by Christopher Hampton). In it a fellow pays an incredible amount of money for a plain white canvas, expecting his best friend to praise his choice. This does not happen. Instead what follows is a series of arguments about the nature of art and an examination of friendship.

But back to the art show at the villa. The venue was lovely.  Here is an atristic  photo of the villa’s resident cat.

 

 

5 June  Happy Carro Armato Day

3We stopped into the Osteria Carroarmato for a visit and Annalisa sat down to chat. “I opened the Carro Armato twenty-eight years ago today,” she announced. “Let’s celebrate.” Champagne, a fine Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc followed. We were joined by Stefania and Ugo.

“I can remember the very first time Patricia and Michael came in here,” she said. “They ordered Tocai Rosso.”

“Wow, what a memory!” said Stefania.

“Oh, I don’t remember everything. Only exception al things. And believe me, 24 years ago foreigners did not order Tocai Rosso! Patricia and Michael were interesting and we started talking.”

And twenty-four years later Annalisa is my best friend in Verona (and one of my 6 truly close friends in the world).   Above is a photo of Annalisa and me and my wedding dinner.

2 June Chievo fans celebrate!

4aWe are off to a Chievo event in Valpolicella.  Michael suggested I bring a sudoku magazine. He tried to bring me up to date on the team gossip – who is staying and speculation on a possible new coach.

I arranged my features into a listening pose while thinking of that Gary Larsen cartoon that shows a person talking to his dog. In a balloon over the dog’s head we see what the dog hears: Blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah.

I actually love this annual event. There’s dancing ancinet disco music. There is always a conga line (called a trenino -little train).

5Several Chievo calico fan clubs gathered in the lovely little Valpolicella hamlet of Bure, to eat and hobnob with the owner of the Chievo team, Luca Campadelli.  What a nice man he is.  Here is a photo of Michael, Campadelli and our pal Maurizio. Campadelli always comes to this event to show his support.  The other big news is that we won a huge Parmesan cheese wedge in the lottery.

 

 

DSCN0362The tail-end of May…I decided to clean out the closet where we keep our wine.  The goal was to see how much of the 5 boxes of mature wine was still drinkable.  And the only way to find that out is to open them.  I called Susan H. and suggested she come to Verona and we could cart 6 of the around 40 bottles to the Carroarmato and taste them with Annalisa, her staff and any clients of the osteria who would appreciate older vintages.  Alas, I made this plan without consulting Annalisa first. She had already decided to close the Carroarmato on the day named.  I decided to pull the cork on 6 wines with Susan and Michael. Two of the wines were good and 2 of them were sublime. The other two had succumbed to old age.  4 out of 6 was a better average than I had anticipated.  The good wines were a Tomasso Bussola TB Amarone 1990 and a Weingut Adalbert Jung Rheinhessen 1992 Riesling Auslese.  The Great Wines were a 1997 Opiz One from Willie Opiz.  It was vivacious and fruity and fresh.  And….  1985 Fieramonte Amarone from Allegrini. Yes, this is a picture of the wine in front of our pizza dinner. The wine was stunning in its elegance: dried cherry fruit finely woven with darker tertiary flavors. A hush of a finish that stays long on the palate and in the memory.

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.