September 2018

 

My Favorite Sommelier

This is Michael’s second selfie. In it you will see Michael Benson, my favorite sommelier Fabio Poli, me and an impressive patch of ceiling.  I first met Fabio in 1990 (or perhaps a year or two earlier) when I came from London to Verona with a group of journalists to attend Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair. At a grand dinner at the Vittorio Emanuele restaurant in Piazza Bra we 50-some journalists were served a decent sparkling wine as an aperitif then we were seated for dinner.  The waiters came around and plunked 5 bottles of indifferent wine on each table. These were wines of the producers who belonged to organizations that were footing the bill for the meal.  One sniff of these wines and I realized that I did NOT want to put any of them in my mouth.  I caught a sommelier’s eye, explained my dilemma and asked him to please refill my glass with the sparkling wine. He scanned the main table filled with policticos and producers and I could see him weighing his decision because it was decidedly against the rules to give us journalists the aperitif wine when we were supposed to be forced to drink the wines on the table.  He made his decision and for the rest of the meal my glass was discreetly filled with sparkling wine. The sommelier was Fabio Poli. When I moved to Verona in 1991 I met Fabio at many big tastings and dinners.  He was knowledgeable, and his assessments of the wines were always spot-on. I trusted and still trust his advice and opinions.  So, after 28 (maybe 30) years, he is still my te sommelier.

September 30 Bardolino and Beaujolais

Sub-zones (La Rocca, Montebaldo and Sommacampagna) have been created in the Bardolino wine production zone in an effort to establish the distinctive qualities of these specific areas.

WINE LESSON:  The Bardolino zone lies on the hillsides just to the east of Lake Garda and shares it’s name with the small lake-side town of Bardolino. The wine is usually fresh, light and dry. The rosé version is called Chiaretto.

One of the purposes of today’s event is to show that Bardolino’s have a capacity to age well. Of the older vintages we were served, three stood out for me: 2012 Bardolino for Il Pignetto (a lovely nose, still firm fruit, but with a slight hint of rust on the palate that for me indicates that the wine is just starting to decline; 2002 Bardolino Superiore Pradica from Corte Gardoni (supple, elegant): and 1959 Bertani (still attractive vibrations of fruit, smooth on the palate).

Along with Bardolino producers, Beaujolais producers (from Fleurie, Moulin a Vent and Morgon) are present at the tasting.  We go to dinner with them and the organizer of the event Anglelo Peretti, to Saporè Downtown, one of the best pizzerias I have ever eaten at. (Best crust! Top quality toppings, pity that the beer was flavored – something citrusy in one and the other boasted on the label about plums – and clearly intended for people who don’t like beer.)  The music playing in the restaurant took me right back to the summer I read the news on a Black Music Radio Station (I was 18 at the time). We munched through dinner to a soundtrack of Aretha Franklin, Mary Wells (My Guy), the Stylistics, the Supremes. If only there had been some Tammy Tyrell and Marvin Gaye it would have been perfect.  A jolly evening was had by all.

September 29 The Masi Foundation Prize Giving

This is one of my favorite annual events, particularly when the recipients of the awards are scientists or musicians. Why these two professions?  Because they usually say things that provoke though and have a keen sense of humor.  Among this year’s winners were Egyptologist and director of the Museo Egizio in Turin,  Christian Greco; and jolly Gerard Basset, a top sommelier and Master of Wine.

September 21 Il Giardino delle Esperidi

Susan H. picks us up and we head out to Bardolino to Il Giardino delle Esperidi to see our pal Suzy, one of the three owners of Il Giardino. The first thing she said when we arrived was: “I’m going to be a great grandmother!” She is also a a top-notch winetaster.

“The wines on my list are not like those you’ll find at other places – I only list wines I like,” she says. Suzi travels and tastes, finding stunning wines from small producers. (Only 600 bottles were produced of the luscious Falanghina Aganum Vigna di Pino we tasted with dinner.)

We started with a glass of Saint Charmant Blanc de Blancs, and continue to follow Suzy’s suggestions; the Falanghina, Cattarato Shira Castelluccimiano, Bardolino Superiore from Silvio Piona, Taurasi from Perillo, ending with a Champagne Demi sec from Fallet-Prevostat.

Toward the end of the meal, Susan H. looked across the table and said of Suzi, her voice full of awe: “She’s really hip.”

In short: We had a wonderful time: the food was imaginative and delicious, and the wines surprising and satisfying.

Anyone who is coming to Vinitaly in 2019 might want to arrive a day or two early and book a table at Il Giardino delle Esperidi in Bardolino. You will find wines that are selected not on mark-up and easy sells (popular names), rather you will have the pleasure of tastings something new and different.

September 7 The Venice Film Festival, Ugo’s Golden Eel and our Wedding Anniversary 

Here is a photo of Michael and me on the ferry taking us over to the Lido.  Every year we go the Venice Film festival for a day. Today our visit coincided with our wedding anniversary.

We saw four films. One was exceptionally moving (Sony, an Indian film by a first time director), one was good (an Iranian film called As I lay Dying), one was a nice history lesson about the French revolution (Un Peuple et son Roi) and one was irritating (Zan the English title was Killing). Why was this last film irritating? I am glad you asked. In all the action sequences with the samuris the director wielded a jerky hand-held camera.  I had to look away because the movement made me physically ill. Also, every time music was used, the volume was pumped up to the point that the seats we were sitting on vibrated. It could not end quickly enough for me.

But now to the really exceptional film. Sony (the name of one of the protagonists) was about two women police officers in India and, in a larger way, it was about the casual and constant sexism woman encounter and how they deal with it.  When the film ended I had tears in my eyes. No, it was not sentimental; the tears were because it touched a chord in me (and evidently in many other women). When I tried to talk about it immediately after the showing I choked up.  I was too full of usually suppressed emotion.  The director was there with the producer (a woman) and the two main actresses.  The audience applauded at the end of the showing and the women in the audience lined up to offer congratulation,

Each year Ugo organizes an alternative (to the official Venice Film Festival) award fest called the Bisato Oro (the Golden Eel as opposed to the Golden Lion).  One of this year’s big winners was Australian Director Jennifer Kent. Her film Nightingale won the Special Jury’s Prize at the official Venice Film Festival and she also graciously showed up at Ugo’s do to accept the Golden Eel for Best Film. Here is a link to interviews with Jennifer Kent and members of the cast of the film.

 

September 8 Vicentini (Agostino)

We arrive at the home of Terresa Bacco and Agostino Vicentini to taste with a friend from Peru who is looking for wines to import. As always, the wines were good and the prices were competitive.  We also played with Lily, whose age is unknown but she has been with the Vicentinis for around 15 years.  She is a sweet natured little doggie and is still full of pep.

September 1  Recognition

I was recognized at the supermarket this morning. I was wearing my typical Summer outfit of flip-flops, baggy trousers, loose shirt and – of course – my signature Paddington Bear hat.

I was with my husband and I noticed a man glancing at me nervously.  We all got into the elevator and he took a deep breath and asked: “Are you writing any new books?”  I figured he really didn’t care about the chapter on matching wine and food I just finished for a cookbook to be published in Singapore.  I said: “No I am reading more books than I am writing at the moment.”  I had no idea who he was, so I tried to find out by asking him what he was up to. His answer gave me no clue.

TIP: If you see someone you do not know personally but have seen in some public context and you wish to engage them in conversation please give them some hint as to who you are. Example: “Hello. I’m Edmund Cane, we met at the tasting in Faenza last year.”

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!

September 2015

27 September New book to review for Publishers Weekly.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! (This is not the name of a book, rather it is an expression of delight cadged from Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky. )

 

26 September The Colli Euganei At Expo
1I arrive on time to give my speech. The host of the event starts his introduction of me. This consists of reciting the CV of the person I am here to fill-in for and a lament on how sorry he was that she isn’t going to be here. And then he basically says: so, here’s Patricia …and mispronounces my last name.
Fortunately my fan club in the front row (thanks Michael and Marina) correct him.

I smile thinking: I didn’t need to get up at five o’clock in order to get to this event on time. I didn’t need to spend half a day writing a speech for this event. I could have spent the time so much more productively writing my Eco interview; or watching groovy, psychedelic reruns of Ironside (the Raymond Burr series); or sleeping.

 

Fortunately, I have chosen as my topic the Colli Euganei zone, so at least I am able to give them a plug. I really and truly love the Colli Euganei and the nice – if staid – people who live there…and the wine…and the food…and the landscape…and the…well, I’ll stop now.

 

FOR ITALIAN READERS: Staid means of settled or sedate character; not flighty or capricious.

 

TIP FOR EVENT ORGANIZERS: Introduce the person who had the courtesy to show up at your event rather than the one you wish had been there.

 

There were so many people crammed into Expo, with long lines for every restaurant, kiosk and pavilion, that we decided to attend the lunch organized in conjunction with the event at which I participated. The food was provided by Peck (www.peck.it), executive chef Matteo Vigotti. Every dish was perfectly matched with wines provided by 7 Italian celebrities, among them Al Bano, a venerable singer who graciously belted out snatches of his hits a cappella when asked to do so.

 

23 September Corrado Benedetti
2 meat IMG_2339Our pal Maria Grazia picks us up and we head out to Corrado Benedetti Salumi e Formaggio Dalla Lessinia (www.corradobenedetti.it) , a deli that makes its own superb cheeses and salamis. We, and around 8 others, are here to take part in a hands-on cooking demonstration. First we don our white paper coats, shoe-covers and hair nets and shuffle through the new salami-making facility. (I visited the cheese-making building on my last visit.) The work areas are elegantly designed. While you expect pristine conditions, you don’t necessarily expect long low windows that provide stunning views of the nearby valley. Details of this kind make for a happier work environment. No wonder their employees stay with them for decades.

 

22 September Passport and Tony Hillerman
3aI go to Milan to renew my passport. I, of course, bring a book to read for the train journey and the waiting around that is bound to occur. When I go up to the window to get my receipt, I put People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman down on the counter and the lady behind the bullet proof glass says: “Oh, my aunt lived next door to him.” I showed her the inscription he had made to me on the title page. We then went on to reminisce about what a very nice man he was. Any of you who have never read Tony Hillerman, I urge you to do so. He has interesting protagonists, loads of Indian/Native American lore and good pacing. I have decided to reread them all.

 

I return home to find that an Italian journalist has asked me to come to Expo in Milan to give a speech on Saturday morning about what Italian wine zones might be part of a modern Grand Tour of Italy. I will be filling in for someone who has been forced to cancel at the last minute. I agree only because the last time Michael and I went to Expo we spent the entire day in our pal Aldo L.’s wake, which means we tasted Veneto wine and ate Veneto food. This time we want to visit some of the other countries who are participating.

 

4Franco Zanovello (whose wine companies are Ca’Lustra and ZanovellaSicilia)comes to whisk us to the Colli Euganei for the presentation of my new book, The Venetian Hills: A Connoisseur’s Companion to the Colli Euganei. We have a full house at the Biblioteca Civica in Albano, around 55 people. Some of them bought books, all of them were very polite and pleasant.

 

21 September Patricia and the Professor
6I go to interview Umberto Eco for Publishers Weekly. Here is a photo of the Professor showing me a 500 year old book in the incunabula room of his library. Every question I asked him had from 4 to 7 responses, all of them tangentially related. The interview will be difficult to write but it was fascinating to experience.Once I have finished my article for PW, I will put up some quotes.

 

 

20 September Sparkling Menu at Villa, my favorite Franciacorta Producer
8 villa-franciacorta-vignetiAlessandra Piubello (I love her last name – it always reminds me of a Bond Girl – Sandy More-beautiful) drives us to the Villa estate (www.villafranciacorta.it)in Franciacorta for the final round of the Sparkling Menu event. We, along with scores of others, are here to taste the 5 top dishes selected to pair with Villa’s versatile Cuvette Brut, a sparkling wine made from Chardonny (85%)and Pinot Nero (15%).

The food and hospitality is superb. First, I will tell you my favorites as far as food/wine paring is concerned. First, for me, was the imaginatively presented dish of Pancetta and various potatoes from the chef at Metamorphosis. The restaurant is located in Lugano, Switzerland. (You can find info about it on the Facebook page and on Trip Advisor).

 

Coming a close second for me was a beet risotto from the Brescia restaurant Castello Malvezzi. (www.castellomalvezzi.com) I believe that had the rice been cooked a tad longer, it would have been a perfect accompaniment.

 

The actual winner of the evening was prepared by the friendly and enthusiastic Chef from Aqua Crua in Barbarano Vicentino (www.aquacrua.it. ) His dish was excellent, it just didn’t seem (to me) to go with the wine quite as well as a couple of others.
The other two participants also received high-marks. They are Castello di Casiaglio (in Erba, www.hotelcastellodicasiglio.it) and San Rocco (in Verteneglio, Istria – www.san-rocco.hr/it).

 

The Bianchi family, who own Villa, kindly let me stay in one of their guest apartments so that I would not have to leave quite so early in the morning in order to make the train to Milan for my interview with Umberto Eco. What nice people they are!

September 17 My first book review
I have received my first book to review: Marco Vichi, Death in Florence. Hip, hip, hip hooray. Fortunately I like the book very much, so writing the review will be easy.

 

September 15 What I like to Read
9I have been asked to review books for Publishers Weekly. The editor asked me give him an idea about what I liked to read. This is what I wrote:

I read mysteries for publishers when I was in New York…and for Book of the Month club I read things that didn’t fit into easy categories (a book on Masai warriors) and artist’s biographies (I had studied art history at university) and, of course, mysteries.

 

However, a wander through the books on my shelves reveals that my favorite novelists are Nabokov (the first chapter of Lolita is pure poetry), John Updike, William Boyd (except for his James Bond pastiche), Louis de Bernieres (although sometimes the narrative in his books becomes untethered and floats away), Peter DeVries (he makes me laugh out loud). Of course most of these authors are dead. But they have styles I enjoy reading….they play with words and still deliver emotional punch. I will also confess to reading Allison Lurie and Anne Tyler, although they are not displayed on my shelves. They are secret “girly” reading.

 

I like showbiz biographies, I studied enology, viticulture and wine tasting and have written about wine for closing in on 30 years….so I can assess wine books.

 

I don’t like those big fat Japanese books – nor do I like those slim, slight Japanese books, where everyone is just soooo sensitive. I don’t like books that pump up their page count by hammering in slabs of Googled “history” and “science”. I am beginning to find the Mystery writers who pump out one big fat book after another, tiresome. I am sure they are nice people but I want to shake them and say firmly: Stop repeating the same story, do something else!

 

On my bedside table at the moment: Michael Caine’s Autobiography The Elephant to Hollywood, Le Carre’s The Tailor of Panama, Elmore Leonard’s Djibouti and The Name of the Rose.

 

I will read anything if it is nicely written.

 

12 September The Film Festival.
10We went to the Venice film Festival yesterday (as we do every year). I love the Lido. If someone put a gun to my head and said: You must live in Venice…I would opt for the Lido. It was incredible….great weather and the lovely white beach was practically empty.

We saw three excellent films – each of them harrowing in its own way. About an hour into the film about a girl trapped in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai during a terrorist attack. I found myself thinking: Where is Bruce Willis when you really need him?

 

September 3rd George and Toni
11My old pal George T. and his granddaughter Toni came from New Zealand for an Italian vacation and stopped to visit me in Verona. Some 20 years ago George was head sommelier at Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. He came to visit us then and suggested that Michael and I come to work for him there. He tried to lure us with mentions of 5000 dollar tips. Evidently these tips do not come from high-rollers. Rather they come from the wives and girlfriends who are handed a wadges of money and told to amuse themselves while the gamblers sweat away at the gaming tables. “In two years you can come back to Verona with enough money to buy an apartment,” said George. We considered it for a bit, then realized that while George, with his hooded eyes, soft voice and flirtatious manner, was indeed pulling down the 5000 dollar tips…Michael and I might not fare so well with ladies on the loose.