December 26 The Master of Tea Every Boxing Day we go to Ugo’s for Ladies Tea. Michael is there to serve as Tea Master. He warms the pot, makes the tea and serves it with quiet efficiency. “Wow,” says Steffie, our hostess, “I bet I am the only person in Verona who has an Oxford graduate as a butler.”
We eat cucumber sandwiches and an assortment of buns and cookies, and all the ladies wear hats (just like English Ladies).
At 7 Ugo calls us in to watch I Mostri, staring Ugo Tognazzi and Vittorio Gassman. It is a series of vignettes poking fun at Italia foibles. We have all learned not to talk when a film is being viewed at Ugo’s.
Around 8 Michael brings in glasses of sparkling wine and suddenly people find their voices: “This is really good.” “Who is the producer?” “What wine is this?”
Now, to excite comment in Ugo’s living room while a film is being shown means that the wine has really touched a chord. I am happy to say that it is Berlucchi’s “Cellarius” Franciacorta Pas Dosé.
Lesson: Pas Dosé means that the wine is bone dry.
Later, after dinner, we open a bottle of Nero Musqué a wine given to me by winemaker Franco Zanovello. Again, there is sudden excitement and chatter. The people gathered around that dinner table do not work in the wine trade; they are intelligent consumers of wine. So when they start waxing eloquent it means that they are really moved. Here are some of their descriptive words: molasses, pomegranate, prunes , elegant. “It is perfect at the end of a meal because it is sweet but not too sweet,” says Steffie. Everyone wants to know where to find the wine. Plans are made to visit Franco’s Veneto estate (Ca Lustra). He also makes wine in Sicily (Zanovello-Sicilia) and that is where the Nero Musqué comes from.
Michael looks the wine up on his iPad and we discover that there are only 600 bottles made! Here is what the Ca Lustra website (www.calustra.it) says about the wine.
“As a part of an experimentation project on Muscat grape varieties, started a few years ago together with the “Vite e Vino” institute of the Sicily Region, we particularly focused on the now rare “Moscato Nero di Parenzo”. This variety had been abandoned during the ‘900 due to its very low yeld and “wildness”. But for the same reasons this Moscato, if placed on thin, well exposed limestone soils, can give a wine of incomparable aromatic intensity and amplitude.
It lends itself to a natural drying by simply delaying the harvest by a few weeks. This is an incredibly valuable and original sweet wine, a concentration of typical Mediterranean flavors.”
December 18 We go to Villa Cordevigo (a Wine Relais)
We are waiting at the bus stop and run into Matilde Poggi, owner of the Le Fraghe winery in Bardolino (www.fraghe.it) . She is on her way to the train station. Her final destination is Rome, where she will be meeting with politicians to discuss a European Union law that, essentially, says that if a place name is used in the Italian regulations to identify a wine (example Langhe in Piedmont), then that place-name word cannot be used by other producers on their websites, etc. – even if these other producers actually LIVE and WORK in the place so named. To do so could bring a hefty fine and a request to remove the offending place-name from the site.
Let’s think about this for a moment: It’s like asking the owners of a hotel in Springfield to explain where they live without using the name of the state.
The regulation has caused great confusion and a fair share of anger among wine producers.
Our bus arrives at our meeting-point destination and Paola G. picks us up and whisks us to Villa Cordevigo. (www.villacordevigo.com) On the way we discussed the exceptionally beautiful children that photographer Annie Leibovitz has produced, in one way or another, over the last few years, as well as her history making photos. Like the one with John and Yoko taken just a few hours before he was assassinated. That fetal image is burned into the memories of everyone who ever felt a twinge of Beatlemania. Part of our youth died with him.
Here is a quote from Annie Leibovitz about that photo:
“I asked them to pose nude in an embrace. They had never been embarrassed about taking their clothes off. […] John had no problem with my idea, but Yoko said she didn’t want to take her pants off for some reason. So I said, “Oh, leave everything on”. I made a Polaroid of them lying together and John looked at it and said, “You’ve captured our relationship exactly”. […] We were going to get together later to go over the transparencies, but that night, as John was returning home from a recording session, a deranged fan shot him. […] The picture looks like a last kiss now.”
But I digress…..
At the beautiful Villa we are briefed on the new initiatives being taken by the Bardolino Consortium with regard to Chiaretto. Chiaretto is the local name for rosé wine made in the Bardolino zone. It seems that most all of the producers are working together on this project to produce sprightly, lychee-colored wines.
“Now around 2/3rd of the wine made in Bardolino is red and 1/3 is Chiaretto (rosé). We would like to reverse these percentages, with Chiaretto gaining more importance in the zone,” says Angelo Peretti, the promotional guru who is helping to turn the fortunes of the zone around.
Edoardo Lessio, winemaker of Villa Bella (www.vignetivillabella.com) takes us for a walk among the large stainless steel tanks in which this year’s Chiaretto is fermenting.
All of the samples we taste are fresh and appealing.
We return to the Oseleta, the Michelin-starred restaurant at Villa Cordevigo, for a superb lunch.
“We were really surprised when the restaurant got the Michelin star after only being open three years,” says Franco Cristoforetti, who also happens to president of the Bardolino Consortium.
16 December The Meaning of Life at the Carroarmato Twenty film fans turn up at the Osteria Carroarmato to watch Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – in English with Italian subtitles. On the way there I told Michael that I really didn’t think that the Italians would appreciate the Python movie. I was wrong. Loads of laughs. And of course that wonderful Eric Idle classic: The Galaxy song ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buqtdpuZxvk ) Which brings to mind: Always look on the Bright Side of Life (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ECUtkv2qV8), one of the most frequently performed songs at U.K. funerals. Oh, I sometimes miss living in London. There is a true appreciation of silliness. My English husband has this quality in abundance.
Ugo projects the films on the back wall of the osteria. Another thing that amazes me is that people keep their mouths shut during the film. What magnificent behavior. They save up their thoughts and talk about the film when it is finished. They also turn off their cell phones at the beginning of the film without being told to do so.
13 December Think Pink
We meet with Angelo P. to brainstorm about ways to promote the New Chiaretto wines. Chiaretto is what rosé is called in these parts. The new style is fresh and very elegant. I like Angelo because he is always ready to play with a new idea. I will give updates when some of our ideas are put into place. (I’ll give you a hint or two: one idea involves a dog and another involves a semi-nude man.)
Then off to a wine tasting with Matteo at his bar Fuoricorso (www.barfuoricorso.it ) . He is practicing his teaching technique and I am there to act as wingman. We have a lot of fun and I make a few FB Friends.
Michael and I go to the Hostaria La Vecchia Fontanina (www.vecchiafontanina.it) to dine with Lorenzo Zonin (www.poderesancristoforo.it ), his wife Meri (who is a well-known wine journalist in her home country of Spain) and their pal Enric (who has lived in India for several years and now makes his home in London)…and of course Lorenzo & Meri’s dog Maggie and our Stanley.
December 12 Tommasi ( www.tommasiwine.it ) At Tommasi, Giancarlo Tommasi , the winemaker, kindly shows us around. “My great grandfather was a sharecropper. In a sense he started the company,” say Giancarlo.
We have a mini-blind tasting that includes a white wine made from Vermentino as well as their Amarone and Valpolicella. Very nice wines.
We go to a cluster of seminars called wine2wine. At every seminar from ¼ to ½ of the participants text, tweet and blog (or all three) during the presentations. Later I spoke to some of these fast fingered folk. And you know what? Every one of them had made mistakes in their reporting – getting percentages wrong, citing incorrectly the names of places, etc.
I thought: If it is now against the law to text while driving because it has been proven that texting impedes a person’s ability to concentrate and observe what is happening around him….perhaps it is time to ban texting at seminars. (Yes, I know this will never happen. Because the point is not to listen and learn but to show the world that you were there!)
As philosopher Seneca said some 2,000 years ago: “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”
I slapped this link up on Facebook and created a tiny tizzy. I was gratified to see that so many people agree that sometimes it is better to concentrate on the experience that you are having rather than focusing on texting about the experience that you are (NOT REALY) having.
Those of a certain age will recognize GTOs as meaning Girls Together Outrageously.
My favorite Verona journalists/sommeliers (Clementina, Maria Grazia, Antonella and Monica), and a very nice photographer named Elisa, and I met up with Sabrina Tedeschi at her family estate Maternigo in the Mezzane valley.
The 84 hectare estate – of which 50 are devoted to woods and 31 to vines, with the rest given over to olive groves – is immaculately maintained. Before the Tedschi family bought the estate the land around the collection of farm buildings had been used mainly as pasture. Now the steep hills are covered in straight, lush rows of vines.
Before the tasting we sample some cheese, meats, vegetables and mostarda from I Sapori del Portico (firstname.lastname@example.org). Pure bliss.
Now to the serious work at hand – tasting.
Among the 7 wines offered – including vintages from the 1990s – here are two that particularly stood out for me.
2011 Maternigo Valpolicella Superiore – very fruity, a satisfying example of Valpolicella.
1998 Monte Olmi Amarone Bruised plum color. Nose: distinct cherry fruit. Palate: Very full velvety fruit. Fine long finish. There is the incense-y quality that I find in mature Amarone.
During and after the tasting we had a very nice natter about biodiversity, the fact that cypresses and gingko trees could be either masculine or feminine, the difficulty of being a woman when it comes to managing a consortium, wine guides and the warring factions in Valpolicella. The prevailing viewpoint on this latter topic was that negotiation and opening a dialogue was more important that being right. After this we all agreed that it was nice to be just women tasting and talking.
Valuable tip: Do not brush your teeth immediately after tasting Amarones – you must wait at least 2 hours. Brushing before that time can damage your enamel.
I teach Clementina the word punkin (a diminutive of pumpkin). She asks me what the word means because when I talk to the skinny little dog who roams the estate and lonely horse in the paddock behind the house, I call them punkin. Yes, I always start a conversation with animals who happen to pass my way.
June 18 through 20 Pinot Grigio – In Friuli with Stanley J. Dog.
Pinot Grigio has become the magic name at Italian restaurants around the world, and its subdued aromas and flavors allow it to move easily from the bar to the table. It is little wonder that it is now the biggest selling Italian white wine in many export markets. Styles range from fresh and supple straw-colored wines, through barriqued versions; and on to splendid copper-colored wines (called ramato – rama means copper in Italian)
The difference in color and structure are determined by the length of time the juice remains in contact with the dark-colored skins of the grape before fermentation. It is sometimes forgotten that Pinot Grigio is, indeed, a red grape, a mutation of Pinot Noir.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I was asked to be one of 24 judges at the Pinot Grigio International Challange held in Friuli. A few days before the 3-day event was to take place, my husband Michael had to leave for England on family business. I rang the organizers and told them that it would be impossible for me to participate because, among other things, I had to stay home with my dog. Having met Stanley, they very kindly said I could bring him along.
We boarded the train for Venice (where we would meet the bus that would take us on to Friuli with the other judges). Children came down the aisle to pet Stanley and have their picture taken with him. Other passengers smiled at him and told me about their own dogs.
His reception on the journalist bus was not so enthusiastic. I could feel the cold emanating from the other passengers when the saw him. Noone made eye contact. They were probably afraid that this would encourage me (and the dog) to sit down beside them.
However, Stanley behaved impeccably. Three days of: on-the-bus, on- the-train, in-the-car, lying quietly under the table while I tasted, trying to get some rest during press conferences, which were interrupted by applause. Stanley interpreted this noise as something along the lines of gunfire. But still he didn’t bark. He only got to his feet ready to run should the need arise.
In fact throughout this whole adventure he never barked, he never got in the way, he never begged at the dinner table, never ran around getting under people’s feet. Almost everyone was won over by him because there really was absolutely NOTHING they could complain about.
Now back to the Competition. We tasted Pinot Grigios from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia and other Italian regions.
The wine that I gave my highest marks to was Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT 2013 “Gossip” made by Di Lenardo. (www.dilenardo.it) It was a pale copper-colored wine, with personality!
I happened to meet Mrs. Di Lendardo and her son before the prize-giving ceremony. At that time we did not exchange names because we were busy chatting about our dogs. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that these unabashed animal lovers also produced the wine that I most enjoyed. By the way, Mrs. Di Lendardo’s dog is a little ragamuffin named Lili, who has even gone to St. Tropez with her mistress.
The overall winner of the competition was from Alto Adige: Pungll AA Sud Tirol Pinot Grigio DOC 2013 made by Nals Margreid. ( www.kellerei.it) It received my second highest vote and was a fresh and fragrant white. Third place went to Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave Doc 2013 from I Magredi winery (www.imagredi.com), which was also considered to be the best value for money. Once again, it was a fresh and fragrant wine.
We also tasted some Alsace Pinot Gris out of competition. Top in this small section was a superb AOC Alsace Pinot Gris 2013 Cuvée Sainte Catherine from Domaine Weinbach (www.domaineweinbach.com) A luscious mouthful.
Dinner at La Subida (www.lasubida.it ) was wonderful as it always is. They love dogs and the food and hospitality are beyond compare.
Here is a picture of one of Friuli’s signature dishes, fricco, as interpreted by La Subida. Yes, it is fried cheese on a stick.
June 12 Sherlockians from Canada
I am so pleased that Verona has become a stopping point for Sherlock Holmes lovers on their European holidays. Peter C., his gracious wife and their friends stopped by. We ended up – as always – at the Osteria Carroarmato.
June 11 My speech to the Veneto Wine Roads Presidents
I go to a little place near Padua to give a speech about how to improve the promotion of Veneto Wine Roads based on my study of wine roads in the USA, South Africa, Australia and Canada. I give those present a look at how two South African wineries increased their overall on-site sales by 30 and 45%, respectively, by simply modifying their website home page and by thinking about ways to make life easier for their visitors – such as parallel tea and juice tastings for designated drivers and children who may have accompanied the wine taster.
At the end of the day, one President raised his hand and asked: “But what’s the point of hearing about what they do in South Africa, we’re in the Veneto.”
It was one of those times that I thank my stars that I cannot speak impulsively in Italian. Had this all been in English, I might not have kept my patience. Let’s see….yes, why should Veneto producers try to treat their visitors better? Hummm, let’s see? 45% increase in on-site sales, perhaps?
June 7 The Autographed Book
We delivered the book that Andrea Camilleri signed for Susanna during the interview I did with him a few weeks ago. What a nice man. Susanna made a Sicilian lunch in honor of the author and the dedication he wrote in her book.
June 1 Chievo Soccer Club Fan Fest in the beautiful little town of Bure
June 1 – 3 Richard and Sue from Kansas via Texas
A high school pal and his very nice wife (Richard and Sue) arrive in Verona and look us up. Their last visit was around 12 years ago. They are lovely people. Our pal Roberta has arrived from the UK to attend a film conference in Bologna and has also stopped by to visit. And a good time was had by all.
May 27 I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille Aldo called last night and asked me to come out to Soave. I am not sure why. He said something to Michael about me talking about Soave to someone…. “Oh, and bring your hat,” said Aldo.
We arrive to discover that a film (feature-length, they say) is being shot in the beautiful vineyard of Borgo Rocca Sveva. I (and Giovanni and Alessandra) have been cast (by Aldo) in the role of expert sommeliers. I am seated next to one of the main characters of the film.
I soon learn that there is no script…everybody just wings it. During each take the actor turns to me and starts talking….saying different things each time and I reply. He is lucky to be seated next to someone who can Wing It! The director and crew are from Argentina, the actor is Italian, the motor of the production is, I believe, a world-class sommelier from Miami named Charlie.
30 wine tasting extras, the 4 sommelier judges (dats me and the gang) and the actors sit at our places and wait. The sky darkens as we shoot a scene. Rain falls softly on my hat. In no time big fat drops of rain pelt down. The director mutters stop. We pick up our chairs and run for cover. The sun comes out. We troop out and sit down and watch time pass. We feel the wind as it pushes the fluffy clouds away. The sky grows dim. We start filming again.
“You are a natural actress,” says Aldo. “This is the role you were born to play.”
My hat is a big success.
May 27 I love Andrea Camilleri
My interview with Andrea Camilleri is up on the Publishers Weekly site. Hooray!!! Below should be the link. If not, just type Under the Sicilian Sun: Andrea Camilleri into Google and the interview will pop up. I am indescribably happy.
May 26 Cheivo Fans at Venturini (www.viniventurini.com)
I have always liked Venturini’s Amarone – juicy, elegant, firm backbone, satisfying.
I took the opportunity of a Chievo fan club outing to tag along and visit the new winery. 40 fans were fed some swell grub and served some very satisfying wines. His Valplicella was lush and appealling. It was a pleasure to try these wines again.
May 21 Stanley at the vets
We take Stanley and a vial of his pee to the vets. We wait for 2 hours. In the waiting room are two big, growly, teeth-baring dogs, whose ancient owners occasionally whine the command “Sit” at them.
I feel that as the dogs ignore the “Sit” command. They are highly unlikely to obey the “Release your grip on the neck of the little brown dog” command.
I suggest that Stanley sit under my chair and I prepare to fling myself into harm’s way should one of the Big Dogs get loose from its ineffectual owner.
May22 & 23 Soave Frolics
We go to the Vicentini winery where we meet up with a pack of very nice German journalists and wine buyers. As readers of this diary already know, I like Vicentini Soaves very much. Fruity, floral, elegant.
We arrive at the Villa Aldegheri for dinner. This very beautiful house and garden is a B&B for the fortunate few who know that it exists. “We don’t advertise, “ says Luisa, the owner. “We depend upon word of mouth referrals.”
Even people who lived in the zone were impressed by the view.
The following morning, accompanied by Stanley, we met at the Coffele winery for a tasting of Soaves from various subzones.
One of my favorite wines of the day is from Pra. The wine is called Otto and is everything a Soave should be.
We visit Filippo Filippi. He is just up the hill from Coffele. His place is idyllic. Bees hum, brilliantly colored flowers at every turn. His vineyards are surrounded by thick woods. His wines sell very well abroad. They are not typical Soave but they are interesting wines.
May 15, 16, 17, 18 Venice with Stanley
We go to Venice to stay with Michelle Lovric, (www.michellelovric.com ) who writes books (for adults and also ones for children) that feature Venice. She has invited Stanley to join us. She also suggests that I write Stanley’s Diary of the trip. You can find this in the Writers & Writing section of this website.
I had never written as Stanley before, although I did write for our dog Ed for many years.
Ed got his first byline in Decanter, a well-known British wine magazine. I had already contracted to write about the first wine fair ever held in Brazil for another magazine when I got the call from Decanter. My byline could not appear over both stories, so the editor and I agreed to assign the second one to Edmund Cane (a.k.a. Ed Dog), my alter ego. From there Ed’s career blossomed until he had contributed to every major British wine publication. Each time his byline appeared I would whisk his copy of the magazine down to Annalisa at the Carro Armato and she would give him a meatball for being such a clever dog.
I never thought of Stanley as a literary dog. He surprised me when I sat down to write his diary.
Here is an excerpt for those who are not in the mood to press a button and read the whole diary:
“On Saturday we go to the fish market and buy plates of fried fish and glasses of wine. We take our vittles to the quayside and sit on the stone pavement to eat our lunch. Seagulls swoop overhead. One drops something into Michelle’s plate. Every molecule in Michelle’s body seems to draw tight and shimmer for a moment. She offers the remainder of her fried squid to me. I love al fresco dining.”
May 6 Kafka Springs to Mind
I find myself in a very large castle in a very small town (a few hours from by train from Verona). I am here to be part of a jury that will be tasting a particular indigenous variety with an eye to giving out prizes to the “best” ones. There are around 9 other jurors, plus two event organizers who will taste the 40-some wines blind. In this case blind tasting means that the wines are presented without the tasters knowing the name of the producer. .
I learned a new word. Personalità. This evidently means “bad winemaking”.
How do I know this? After the first flight of 6 wines, one of the organizers who was tasting with us said. “Wow, that number 6 has loads of personality.”
Then he asked the question I was dreading: “What do you think of the wine, Patricia?”
I said: “It is cloudy. It is a faulty wine, with off-odors that I believe are linked to a fermentation problem.”
He said: “But it’s made in an amphora! It’s traditional.”
I think: “Yeah, even the Romans realized that wines made in amphorae were not great – that’s why they added spices and sometimes heated the stuff up…”
At dinner one of the organizers tells a racists joke.
I have been asked to let them know when I write about the event. I don’t believe that I will be writing about the event.