We headed upstairs at the Teatro Filarmonico di Verona and were escorted to a private box overlooking the stage. I love these boxes: they offer leg room, and a brilliant view point for observing the audience as well as the stage. This years winner of the International Prize went to Rwandan author Yolanda Mukagasana.
27 September Off to the Carroarmato
Visitors from the U.K.. A good time was had by all. When you come to Verona you must visit the Osteria Carroarmato. Dogs and children are welcome…as is every sort of grownup.
September 8 In Venice for the day
We (Michael, Stanley and I) arrive in Venice for lunch with Michelle Lovric. She writes novels and poetry – and just wrote/ghosted a best seller about Milly Dowler -My Sister Milly. She said it was a shattering two years: talking to the family and interviewing police, etc. She has a very elegant writing style, it would be interesting to read the book.
Then off we go to the Lido for our pal Ugo’s prize giving ceremony. Each year Ugo organizes an alternative (to the official Venice Film Festival) award fest called the Golden Eel (as opposed to the Golden Lion). Stanley loved the day. He got ham at Michelle’s and eel skin at Ugo’s do. Who could ask for more? Here is a photo of Stanley making friends on the Lido.
Here is a link to a poem by Michelle (a work in progress).
We are here to listen to the delicious announcement of a new wine from Lake Garda: Spumante Garda DOC. The wine is fresh, fruity and lively and it is hoped it will offer consumers an alternative to the ubiquitous Prosecco. It is sure to find its niche: the wine is crisp and good, the volumes are significant and the prices seem reasonable.
The announcement was followed by a bang-up lunch at Mantova’s historic il Cigno restaurant. Top notch service, good food and delightful company. The Garda sparkling wine flowed freely!
The organizers had cleverly planned the event to coincide with the Mantua Book Fair and had procured tickets for some of the events for the assembled journalists.
We were treated to a very witty and amusing panel discussion (titled “Ironici malinconici” ) featuring Marco Malvaldi (who writes a mystery series that is translated in to English and published by Penguin) and Diego De Silva (who writes comic novels, which are also translated into English and published by various companies.) At one point the moderator asked for questions from the audience and a woman rose and grabbed the mic. She started in on a long rambling introduction that included the words: “I too am an author…” The collective groan from the 400 members of the audience was invigorating.
September 1 – 2 Off to Campania
I fly off to the heart of Aglianico del Taburno-land in Campania to be was part of a panel discussing Aglianico.
Wine Lesson: The Aglianico grape variety has been called “The Barolo of the South”. Certainly, its versatility makes it one of the most important Southern red grapes in terms of wine production. It lends body and character to lively rosés; to fruity quaffing wines and to well-structured and velvety textured, long-lived reds. It is cultivated primarily in Campania, Basilicata, Puglia and Molise. Aglianico del Taburno is a DOCG wine whose production zone is located in the Province of Benevento.
It seems that the producers here are trying to solidify their wine’s identity and expand its visibility on the world stage. During my whirlwind visit to the zone I taste wines from two producers and was impressed by them both.
I will be tasting some samples next month and will write about the wines at that time.
What I am writing at the moment is a Holiday Season (December) article on Champagne cocktails for a Singapore magazine. The topic was my choice. The editor just said “Festive tipples”, and I was fed up with writing the “affordable alternatives to Champagne” article. For those interested: Kir Royale was sipped by Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story and a round of French 75s was ordered in Rick’s Bar in that Bogart classic Casablanca.
It is August. Italy still more or less shuts down and so do I.
A high point is a visit from Australian journalist/photographer Glynis Macri who took a day out of her vacation in Italy to swing by Verona to see me. We have been friends for a very long time and share many a war story.
The horribly hot weather broke twice. The first time I was so excited that I pulled out a bottle of Bucci Pongelli. I love this red wine. It has everything I crave, juicy fruit wrapped in supple elegance. Yum. The second time, I opened a bottle of Donnafugata’s Tancredi. “That’s serious wine,” said Michael. Indeed, it is, and it also rich and intriguing.
For the rest of the month I sat by the open French doors reading and writing and hoping for a little breeze to come my way.
JULLY JULY JULY
30 July Casina Alba Terra
The Cascina Alba Terra project grew out of a meeting between the Coffele wine estate in Soave and the Association on the Orme Onlus. The goal is to rediscover traditional methods of raising animals and crops, with an emphasis on organic techniques. Visit their website: http://www.cascinaalbaterra.it/
After visiting the Coffele estate, sipping some wine and inhaling the fragrant breeze, Susan H., Michael and I head to Il Drago in Soave for dinner. And a good time was had by all. Thank you, Susan.
July 23-27 The 23rd San Gio Verona Video Festival
We are in the midst of the annual San Gio video festival: This is organized every year by our pal Ugo, assisted by Michael.
I spoke to a fellow who photographed the Beatles in Tahiti in 1964.(Piero Oliosi)
He said: “I was there to photograph Marlon Brando on his Island. I got to talking to a local guy who said: ‘You know I ‘ve rented my boat to an English band. The Bootles. The Battles. Something like that.’ I immediately rented a boat and went out there, told them who I was and
they invited me on board.”
I asked him how old he was at that time because he must have been a boy. He told me he was 32, to which I replied ‘No Way!’
He said: If you do something you enjoy, something that makes you happy, you never get old.”
He later photographed Michael and me and said he was going to send the photos to his New York agency. I said to Michael: “Gee, just think we may find a photo of ourselves in an adult diaper ad some day. Yikes!”
I talked to a guy from Germany who, when he was young and needed money, wrote the captions for porno films.
“I never saw the films,” he added hastily. “They only sent me the scripts.”
I asked him if there were plots or just – Yes. Yes! Yes!! and Now. Now! Now!! and Harder. Harder! Harder!!
He said there were plots. I said: “Like. Hi, we are carpenters. Do you want to see our tools?”
He conceded that yes, that was pretty much it.
Many years ago when I was living in New York…I needed to make a little extra money. A friend of mine (doing creative writing at Columbia) confessed that he wrote “letters to the editor” for Pent House Magazine. He said: “I’ll arrange an interview with the editor for you and go with you…but you have to tell him that what you are going to write is true. Everybody knows that this is not the case but we all have to pretend.” So, I got the interview and did my pitch: phone sex. I wrote what I thought was incredibly naughty stuff. A few weeks later I got a rejection letter from the very nice editor who said that my submission was “too romantic”. Man, I wish i had saved that rejection letter.
An Iranian documentary filmmaker told me she wanted to invite me to Iran to do a documentary, featuring me tasting Persian food (traditional and contemporary). I said okay, secure in the fact there was no way I would be issued a visa to go to Tehran. I like the idea of tasting Persian food…but geeze I no longer like the discomfort of long-distance travel. Also the distance between an idea for a film and the production of an actual film is a long, long one…and often the original idea gets lost along the way.
So things are turning over here in Verona.
Ugo arranges for winery visits in the morning (with the festival taking place in the late afternoon and evening.
We visited. Le Mandolare (www.cantinalemandolare.com), owned by the Rodighiero family. A lovely visit, charming company. At the tasting the winery’s entry-level Soave wine, went down a treat: fresh, with a burst of apricot on the middle palate that carries on through the finish. It was just what was needed on a hot day.
I asked Chiara Rodighiero what she would have done had she not entered the family business. “Music,” she said. “I play the Sax and the French Horn. My husband went to the conservatory and studied French Horn.” She still plays in a band under the direction of Carlo Montanari.
COFFELE. (www.coffele.it) Wow! What a visit! The Coffele family pulled out all the stops, giving the San Gio crowd an exceptional experience. We visited their animals – donkeys, goats, chickens and a really fine work horse -, we lolled on the lovely lawn overlooking the most splendid view of Soave, and then they provided us with a bang-up lunch. (The chef was the winner of Hell’s Kitchen Italia). AND the wines were – of course- great as always. Among them there was the elegant, pear-tinged 2015 Soave Brut and the Ca Visco Soave, with its enticing undertow of ripe pears on the palate.
We also visited another producer, who has a very beautiful facility but has not yet come to grips with what it means to do a winery visit.
PRODUCER TIP: If it is a broiling hot summer day, with the sun directly over-head (as it is around High Noon), then it would probably be best to NOT deliver the lengthy opening remarks in a shade-less, chair-less portion of the terrace. In the same vein, it would NOT be wise to take a group of people who can still feel rivulets of sweat sliding down their spines into a chilled cellar room (ice cream would not have melted or even softened in this environment) to stand for over 30 minutes. In short: visitors are human beings and should be treated with the courtesy you would show to any mammal.
6 July Maddalena Crippa at the Teatro Romano
I like the trend of allowing women to play Shakespearean kings and princes. A few years ago, the great British actress Fiona Shaw played the role of Richard II and of course last Glenda Jackson appeared as King Lear.
We arrive at the Teatro Romano, built in the late 1st century BC, to see Richard II, the title role performed by Maddelena Crippa.
For those that need reminding, here is a brief description of Richard II, from 1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates (yes, I get most of my British history form this wee bookie.)
Richard II: An unbalanced King
Richard II was only a boy at his accession: one day, however, suspecting that he was now twenty-one, he asked his uncle and, on learning that he was, mounted the throne himself and tried first being a Good King and then being a Bad King, without enjoying either very much: then, being told that he was unbalanced, he got off the throne again in despair, exclaiming gloomily: “For God’s sake, let me sit on the ground and tell bad stories about cabbages and things.” Whereupon his cousin Lancaster (spelt Bolingbroke) quickly mounted the throne and said he was Henry IV Part I. Richard was thus abdicated d was led to the Tower and subsequently to Pontefract Castle where he died of mysterious circumstances, probably a surfeit of Pumfreys (spelt Pontefracts).
I have tried to correct the year to 2017 in every way I know how…to no avail. So I have given up. YES, it is supposed to read 2017. Perhaps it will correct itself in time…who really knows?
First things first: Book Fairies and more Book Fairies
The Book Fairies (http://www.thebookfairies.org) “collects reading materials for people in need throughout metropolitan New York. The reading materials foster literacy and academic success, provide a respite from personal struggles, and nurture a love of reading across age groups. Visit the site to find out how to become involved.
started in London with the Books on the Underground project, but has now spread to 26 countries. Anyone can become a Book Fairy. Take a look at the website.
20 June Lunch with Maz and Arne
I have known Maz for a very long time: she can cook, she can sew and she is the only person in Italy that I would trust in my home with a hand drill. We brought a magnum of sparkling wine of 2010 Berlucchi Cellarius (Franciacorta, bright, lively, mature pleasure. www.berlucchi.it/i-franciacorta/cellarius/) Maz and Arne opened a bottle of a Swiss Chardonnay made by Donatsch (a touch of wood, nice. www.donatsch.info/chardonnay-passion.)
24 June Dinner at Daniels
We brought a 2002 Giulio Ferrari, disgourged in 2014. Bright gold. Firm persistent bubbles enliven the palate. “There is still enough acidity there – it’s still nervy on the palate. We’re tasting a Grand Old Dame,” said Daniel. Daniel opened a 2015 Soave from Pra called Otto. (a fine amalgam of soft ripe pear and a pleasing frisson of acidity. www.vinipra.it/it/vinipra) The name is not derived from the number eight, rather it is the name of Graziano Pra’s dog.
Wine Tasting memories
In the 1980s wine tasting in New York was a competitive sport (and it probably still is). There always had to be winners and losers. I remember being invited to a young wine salesman’s apartment for a Burgundy tasting. He threw open the door instantly at my knock. A manic brightness gleamed in his eyes. Superciliousness burst from every pore. He pulled me into the room, thrust a glass of red wine in to my hand and exclaimed: “Identify this wine!” I glanced at the dozen or so people, each turned toward us, waiting for the show to begin, and silently I thanked Daddy for all those games of poker we played in my childhood. For I knew in an instant that whatever was in that glass, it would surely not be Burgundy. Only the day before I had read about French producers who had invested in the United States. I knew the answer to his question before the scent of the wine reached my nostrils. I casually waved the glass under my nose handed it back to him and said, “Oregon Pinot Noir.” He gaped, stepped back and frowned. One of the spectators, a brash young man given to wearing yellow ties, stepped forward and said, “Who’s the producer?” I promptly supplied the name. A frisson of pleasure rippled down my spine as I watched him crumble. Game, set and match to me.
How did I know the name of the producer? Elementary, my dear reader. From the proprietorial way in which he asked the question I deduced that it was probably he who had brought the wine to the tasting. I knew who he worked for and I knew what Burgundies his company represented. I recognized, from the article I had just read, that one of those companies had had successful results from their plantings in Oregon. Did I gushingly confess this line of reasoning to the assembled company? Of course not. As Sherlock Holmes says. “Results without causes are much more impressive.”
At other times winning the New York tasting game seemed to be determined by the volume of a player’s voice and by the length of time he could monopolize the conversation. The occasion of a tasting allowed a player to recite every great vintage he had ever sipped and the name of every Important Person he had ever met. The name of practically anyone English rated almost as high as Nobility. There also seemed to be points for getting as many of these names as possible into each minute of play. I found these lengthy digressions as interesting as listening to a baseball fan recite the RBI stats of every World Series since the year dot. George shared my opinion on this.
One evening we dined with two rich wine collectors. The starters came and our hosts launched into a detailed list of their Great Wines Past. The main courses arrived and they continued their recitation without a pause. We ate, they talked at us. Over the remains of our steaks and the drone of our hosts, George leaned over to me and said quietly: “You, know, Patricia, I have always wondered why you and I never became lovers.”
“Because you have a girlfriend,” I replied.
“Couldn’t I have two?”
“Not with me.” Silence suddenly drenched our table. The rich collectors had, at last, lost their ability to speak.
First things first: Books With Strong Girl Protagonists!Tamora 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 LaneWe 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.
WINE 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. .
For 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 TopWas 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 JennyOur 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.
23 April – A Big Game between Chievo and Torino
As usual the “Chievo is Life” soccer fan club invited fans from Torino to lunch. I will always love Chievo fans for their good sportsmanship. Oh, if only all sports fans could be so generous and gallant.
16 April Ugo’s Birthday
He organized an osteria crawl. Four osterias along via Sotto Riva, at each stop there was pasta, sliced meats of risottos and vino. A good time was had by all.
15 April A visit to Valpolicella Ricardo (who imports Italian wine into Peru) and his friend Soledad (a wine journalist from Lima) picked us up and took us to Tenuta Sant’Antonio (www.tenutasantantonio.it ) for a visit and tasting. Soledad was in town for the annual Vinitaly wine trade fair at which Ricardo had organized a tasting of Pisco, a wine-based distillate, with an alcohol level of between 40 and 48°.
We talked about wine fairs and Soledad told us about one held in Lima.” The problem was they also had Pisco at the fair. People would go from wine to Pisco and then back to wine and then back to Pisco and then…to the floor.”
We arrived at our destination and were met by Armando Castagnedi. Fifteen years ago, Michael and I were in London for a tasting of Italian wines. Armando was there and in those days spoke no English. After the tasting, he was at loose ends so we invited him to go with us to see Chicago. This was the first time he had seen a musical and his first time in an English theatre. It was wonderful watching his face. He was in thrall. Now that he can speak English he was able to say: “The show was great!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpMtrj4FhzMda A link from a Hollywood Bowl production. The camerawork is a bit shaky at first but it gives an idea of what the production is like on stage.
We visited the impressive winery and tasted through an astonishing number of wines. I will not load you up with a pile of tasting notes. Just one: 2015 Monte Ceriani Soave cru – a nice little dance of mandarin-tinged acidity dances across the palate.
We had arrived at around 10:30 and left at 2:30 – starving. We stopped at a wide spot in the road called San Bricco. Even though the kitchen was closed, the owner kindly brought us some excellent sliced meats, cheese and vegetables in a light vinegar. She brought us a bottle of Valpolicella that was just exactly what we wanted: fruity, easy to drink and satisfying. We asked who made and she said: My dad.
Dad turned out to Giovanni Ruffo. I told her that I had tasted his wines and really like them and had written about him on Facebook. To which she replied: “No, you must mean my uncle.” I insisted and she refused to be swayed. Fortunately, Michael had a photo of Dad at the tasting, which did indeed convince her.
Here is what I wrote in my February Diary and on Facebook:
I 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. English Lesson: The expression “wide spot in the road” means a teeny, tiny village. 9-12 April Vinitaly Frolics and a digression about Remembrances of Boyfriends Past
Here is a photo of a docile explosive-sniffing police dog with her woman at Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair.
I will not fill this page up with tasting notes. Anyone reading this should know that I like supple wines that have firm characters; I like wines that combine intellectual pleasure (complexity, the emergence of tertiary aromas) with visceral pleasure (generosity of flavor, sprightliness on the palate).
Here is a list of the producers whose wines gave me pleasure: Fattoria Zerbia. Owner/winemaker: Cristina Geminian. www.zerbina.com House style: Graceful lusciousness, wines with real staying power. I tasted the range from the juicy, appealing “500” to the vibrant 1997 Pietramora (100% Sangiovese), silky sensations from the start to the long finish, ideas of tart dark chocolate along with plumminess. Exciting wine. The last day of the fair we returned to Zerbina and finished Vinitaly with a vertical (2013, 2006, 1990) of her outstanding Scacco Matto: Sublime. Drei Donà www.dreidona.it I have followed this winery since the early 90s. Year in and year out they have consistently produced richly flavorful and elegant wines. Among those I tasted today: 2006 Pruno (Sangiovese) – supple, round, long and flavorful finish, sheer elegance and 2005 Graf Noir (Sangiovese) the flavor unfurls on the palate like a bolt of silk.
Vignalta www.vignalta.it Another estate I have followed since the 1990s. The company goes from strength to strength: crisp, flavorful whites and luscious reds. Of the many wines I tasted I will force myself to choose one: 2012 Rosso (their entry level red): juicy, fruity (ripe cherries with a blackberry undertow), generous, appealing. The retail price is between 12 and 14 Euros. As Lucio Gomiero say: “It is a lot of wine for 14 Euros.”
Villa Bucci www.villabucci.com Riserva (Verdicchio) 2013 Elegant and fragrant. “We don’t bring young wines to the fair,” says Ampelio Bucci “For the Riserva it is even more important to wait.”
Ronc Soreli www.roncsoreli.com Friulano delle Robinie 2016 A fine example of Friulano. Also excellent wines made from the other indigenous varieties of the Friuli Region: Schioppettino, Ribolla Nera and Ribolla Gialla, among them.
Di Lenardo www.dilenardo.it Also based in Friuli. The Chardonnay 2016. Bright and fresh, with a lively citrusy dollop on the nose. Very pleasing.
Pagani – a Back to the Future Valpolicella. It is like fine Valpolicella used to be: sprightly and fruity. “Ours has this character because we use Molinara in the blend and lots of Corvina,” says Beatrice Pagani, owner and winemaker. www.vinipagani.it.
Vicentini – Soave DOC Terre Lunghe 2006 An excellent example of what a Soave should be: well-balanced, firm, floral and forthright. www.vinivicentini.com
Monte delle Vigna – Lambrusco (from the Lambrusco Maestre grape) was once again, elegant and a luscious pleasure to taste. Also of note the aromatic Callas (100 % Malvasia di Candia). www.montedellevigne.it
Here are a few notes on wines that I did not enjoy at the fair:
…appassimento does not help this. It’s like the wine is wearing a heavy woolen overcoat on a Spring day.
…a softness that slides into nothiningness.
…fiercely varietal. Interesting as a scientific experiment but I cannot imagine any human being actually drinking this outside the lab.
…a vapor of minerality is exhaled as the fruit brutally compresses
Did I taste every wine I wanted to, or see every old friend? No, I simply do not have the stamina (wait, change that to I never had the stamina) to walk around a trade fair for 5 or 6 hours, tasting wine in chaos.
This year I declined any invitations for gala dinners. I have come to realize that these things are seldom gala, the food is never as good as it is billed and – nowadays – there is always the chance of getting stuck at a table with young wine salesmen or marketing people who spend the evening staring into their cell phones.
Wine dinners used to be fun because, generally speaking, people who worked with wine were sociable – willing to chat and to listen, ready for some laughs. Those dear days are dwindling.
I am reminded of dates I had in New York City back when stock brokers referred to themselves as Masters of the Universe. A guy would ask me out and then spend the evening going over his resume. Does a woman really need to know what university you went to, or see your Phi Beta Kapa key, or know how important you are to your firm – all on a first date? Whenever I tried to steer the conversation to books, films, art, music, he would just steamroller on back to his favorite topics: himself and his importance. I sat through a few dinners like this bored outta my gord, thinking: why didn’t this guy just fax me his CV and spare us both a disappointing evening.
I soon got the lay of the land, and for the rest of my 9 years in New York I dated novelists, musicians, actors, artists and once a playwright and once a stand-up comedian. Whenever I said something funny, the stand-up comedian would not laugh, instead he would whip out his pen and notebook and say: “That’s good. Can I use that?”
I broke up with the playwright not long after a hugely invigorating fight we had on the subway. A couple of days later I happen to see the play he was working on up on his computer screen. A line on the electronic page jumped out at me and I sat down and read through the script…growing more incensed by the moment. Not only did he use verbatim the things I said BUT – what really made me angry was – he gave my best lines to the man in the scene. Whoa, you should have heard the dandy fight we had then. I am sure I gave him enough material to use for a decade or two.
English Lesson: Idiom: lay of the land. According to Merriam Webster the definition is “the disposition of circumstances which one is considering”.
March 25 Bardolino on my mind I went to a Press Conference about events taking place in Verona and Bardolino during Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual trade fair.
Press conferences are great for me. Why? Because I get so much work done during the inconsequential speeches. At this conference, I outlined an article on wine and food pairing and drafted a book review.
The problem is: I am usually the only person at these things who is actually writing things down in a notebook. I am therefore the “target” for all the video camera-people who are looking for cutaway shots to edit into their reports. This means that I cannot draw pictures of my dog (I do this often) without looking around to make sure that I am not being videoed.
When I returned home, I decided to open a bottle of wine: 2014 Villa Cordevigo (www.villacordevigo.it) Chiaretto. It was elegantly fruity (frozen strawberries, a touch of red currants) and thoroughly enjoyable.
I drank a glass with an episode of The X Files (the one with Peter Boyle as the clairvoyant). It also went with my dinner of hamburger and oven fries.
The Cordevigo estate includes an impressive 5-star hotel and an excellent restaurant on the premises for those of you thinking of visiting the Lake Garda area.
English Lesson (definition curtesy of Wikipedia): a cutaway shot is the interruption of a continuously filmed action by inserting a view of something else. It is usually, although not always, followed by a cut back to the first shot. A cutaway shot does not necessarily contribute any dramatic content of its own, but is used to help the editor assemble a longer sequence
March 11 Dinner at Eleonella’s I brought a bottle of Donnafugata’s Ben Ryé 2010, which went down a treat with all the guests, who waxed eloquent on the wine’s superb balance. If you are looking for an end of meal wine to impress your friends and give you genuine luscious pleasure you can do no better than to pull the cork on a Ben Ryé. (www.donnafugata.it)
My note: dark amber, rich enveloping perfume of raisins plumped in syrup.
On the palate, perfect balance. Firm, ripe richness, an idea of fresh hazelnuts. Fresh on the long finish.
“This isn’t too sweet like our dessert wines,” said Geppy, referring to the local Reciotos.
Lesson: Zibibbo is the grape variety used to make Ben Rye. Some say that the name Zibibbo comes from the North African word “zibibb, which means “dried grapes”. Another theory suggests that the name is taken from the nearby Tunisian port of Cape Zibibe. Hundreds of years ago the Arabs, who held sway over the island of Pantelleria (off the coast of Sicily) planted Zibibbo (also known as Moscato di Alessandria) as a table grape. Over the centuries, a thriving business in semi-dried grapes developed, with Pantelleria supplying bakers throughout Italy. All this came to an end with the introduction of seedless varieties. From this economic crisis was born one of the world’s finest dessert wines: Moscato di Pantelleria. Grapes for this passito wine are picked before the rest of the harvest and are left to dry for between 15 and 20 days.
Someone’s brother-in-law was also at this dinner and we fell into conversation about music. He used to be a DJ and had brought some CDs. This got me to thinking about significant albums that I had owned and lost along the way. (Travelling light as I did in my youth did not allow me to haul around 40 pounds of fragile records.) Here is my list:
Albums that bring back specific memories The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 (I wanted the album for the concept alone: great performers coming together for fun.)
Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie (I listened to this every day before heading out to my job as a TV director—“Back in Suffragette City”).
White Album – Beatles (I listened to this while helping to hang an exhibition of a friend’s paintings…we worked through the night stopping every time Blackbird came around).
Uncle Meat – Frank Zappa (the first- of many – Zappa albums I owned)
Primal Roots – Sergio Mendes and Brazil 77 (oh, how I loved this album -something about the – yes, primal – rhythms goes right to my spine.)
A Song For You – Leon Russell (what a song writer, what a performer, saw him in concert)
Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, commonly abbreviated to Lola – Kinks (Who doesn’t love Lola L.O.L.A. Lola. )
Remain in Light – Talking Heads (same as it ever was)
Acqualung – Jethro Tull (I listened to this over and over and over again in college)
At Filmore East – The Allman Brothers Band (Oh, those guitar solos…)
Here is a link to Primal Roots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSmXsEM7YG8
One of my favorite cuts is number 5: Pomba Gira.
5 March Bardolino-A-Lago We caught the bus to Lasize on Lake Garda for the annual Bardolino Anteprima tasting.
Here are a few of the wines that stood out for me: Le Fraghe’s 2016 “Rodin” (fresh, fruity, long finish- www.fraghe.it/), Le Vigne di San Pietro’s 2016 (bright, fresh a sprinkling of pepper – www.levignedisanpietro.it/) Poggio delle Grazie’s 2016 Chiaretto sprightly – www.poggiodellegrazie.it/), Albino Piona’s 2015 Bardolino (fruit and supple elegance www.albinopiona.it).
Books: 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…
I 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
We 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.
We (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
Soccer 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.
First 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.
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:
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
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.
Pontificating 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)
During 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.
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.
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.
I had intended to read it when I returned from Sicily…but thought I would just dip into it to get a feel for it before leaving. I started to read and did not stop. Believable characters. Fine dialogue. Good pacing. If you like Anne Tyler, Allison Lurie or John Updike (when he is being particularly kind) then give this book a chance. Scott has submitted Evelyn Marsh to the Amazon Scout program, where authors post samples of unpublished works, and readers vote on which ones they’d like to see published. PLEASE go and vote for him. He deserves a wider audience. Vote here:
I had the urge to drink a fine wine in the quiet of my office, with my dog by my side. I searched the wine closet for my last bottle of 2013 Villa Bucci Rosso (from Sangiovese and Montepulciano). Ah, sublime.
October 8th through 18 – the Fabulous, the friendly and the sometimes very nice
I received two invitations to go to Sicily (in the area around Mount Etna) this month. As the events were just three days apart, I decided to go to both, with a visit to our friend Simone’s place between the two.
Michael and I have very different packing styles.
He asks himself the question: How much can I stuff into the Big suitcase.
I ask myself: How much do I really want to carry in my tiny carry-on suitcase.
We arrive at the hotel Palazzo Judica (www.rtapalazzojudica.com) in the exceptionally lovely late Baroque town of Palazzolo Acreide, which is one of eight Baroque towns recognizes as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. We are guests of Fuoco Food Festival. (The festival has a Facebook page).
The entire Festival/visit was one of the nicest experiences in my professional life. I say this because it did not seem for an instant like a “journalist trip”, instead I felt part of a family of friends. Everyone – producers, organizers, chefs, other visitors – shared the same level of enthusiasm and generosity of spirit.
Toward the end of the stay, the film team asked some of us to share our favorite memories of the experience and I realized there were so many magical and unforgettable moments. Turning the corner of a narrow street in Buccheri and coming upon a grazing bull, seeing the smoke rising from the cooking fires, sun filtering through the trees, dining at U Locale (www.ulocale.com ), eating warm ricotta that was as soft as a cloud. Among the many great participants was Alveria artiginal beer (www.birrificioalveria.it), Saponifico Zimmitti (www.saponificiozimitti.it) and Damigella flour and pasta (www.graniantichidamigella.it). Top Chefs from Rome, Milan and the local area prepare meats, vegetables and breads over leaping flames, whilehappily wielding barbeque forks with the all the gaiety and enthusiasm of backyard cooks. Fine food consultant Simone Masuzzo (originally from Palazzolo, now working in Milan, who has trained with top chefs both in Italy and abroad) provided a surprising and delicious pairing of chocolate ganache and capers.
If any Italian food/beverage importers are reading this, I urge you to get in touch with Fuoco Food Festival organizer Daniele Miccione (via Facebook), who hand-picked all the products and participating chefs.
We go to Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto (Su Mare) to visit our pals Simone and Rosie (and their almost three year-old daughter Rebecca). For eight years Simone worked for Annalisa at the Osteria Carroarmato in Verona. His dream was to return to his home town of Barcellona PdG and open a bar. He has achieved his goal. His Osteria Malarazza (Bad Company in English) is wonderful. Top notch wines.
With only a couple of exceptions, the best wines I drank on this trip were from Simone’s carefully selected wine list. Here are the names of two that I tried at Simone’s bar: Tenuta Gatti (www.tenutagatti.com) Mamertino Rosso Curpanè (Nero d’Avola, with Nocera) – warm, rich plume/prune, silky on the palate, and Cantina Fina (www.cantinefina.it) produced Taif Zibibbo “Terre Siciliano” – vibrant, richly perfumed and broad on the palate. Both were very reasonably priced.
I had been given a sample at Fuoco of 2013 Nero d’Avola from Feudo Marccari (www.feudomaccari.it ), which I brought along and tried at Simone’s bright kitchen table. I had tasted it at the winery at a presentation conducted by a famous sommelier. He had won international awards for his ability and certainly deserved accolades. However, he had decided to style himself as a Rock Star. Now if you are slim and sexy you can flounce and strut and still maintain residual cool. If you lack the requisite physique of – say – a David Bowie or a Mick Jagger – then all that posing just doesn’t create a positive effect. And his speaking style was much more aligned with that of a televangelist; he shouted, exhorted, slapped people on the back, demanded high-fives. At a certain point I gave up trying to taste the wines and started thinking about Jim Jones (and wondering when the sommelier was going to ask us to drink the Kool-aid.) For those who do not understand the reference look up Jim Jones and Kool-aid on Google and learn about mass hysteria and how the phrase “drink the Kool-aid” has entered into the language.
However, when the wine was tasted in the quiet of Simone’s kitchen, the Nero D’Avola from Feudo Marccari was very good indeed. Bright, deeply saturated ruby, Nose: rich, full and dark (some might say licorice) Lively on the palate a fine amalgam of flavors blackberry/blueberry and overripe plum. Long finish.
WINE TASTING LESSON: When tasting it is best to do so in a quiet, well-lighted place. Do NOT listen to the opinions of others until you have formed your own. It is too easy for a loud voice to impose ideas on others. Once you have formed your opinion – then and only then – listen and discuss the wine.
I miss Simone. He picked the best music and the Carroarmato is not the same without him. His young daughter is a dab hand at tablets and computers in general. She is allowed to have her own Play List and leans toward the music of Zio Bruce (Uncle Bruce). Do I need to tell you that Simone and Rosie are big Springsteen fans?
Rosie very kindly agrees to drive us to our next destination, which, in her words, is “in the middle of nowhere”.
By chance Monica L. and her dog Tappo are also at this very nice building in the middle of nowhere. She is tasting wines in her room for her magazine. I envy her having her dog for company. She drove 12 hours from Rome because little Tappo is just a smidgeon over the “small dog” weight for airplanes.
I am here to be part of a jury, tasting Sicilian wines. There are 8 tasters and 200 wines. The nominal organizer of the tasting tells us there will be two juries – an international jury and a local jury – and each will be tasting different wines. Each of us on the “international” jury politely suggest that there be just one jury and therefore all the judges will be able to taste all the wines. The nominal organizer says no – 8 judges on one jury is too many. We politely say that each of us has been on juries with 8 judges and that there has been no problem. He then says that it is not possible for a taster to taste 200 wines in 2 and 1/2 days. Again, each of us tells him: no, 200 wines in 2 and ½ days is NOT too many and that each of us has upon occasion done just that.
He ignores us. It is as if we were speaking to a cardboard box.
We dutifully go to our assigned table and he reveals how the wines will be divided. The local jury will get all the wines from specific areas that are made from specific grape varieties and with specific methods. The international jury will get all the Sicilian IGTs. These are wines that can come from anywhere in Sicily, can be made from any varieties and with any method.
Professional tasters among you can immediately recognize the inequity of this division.
NOTE TO TASTING ORGANIZERS: Do NOT underestimate foreign judges. We are NOT unintelligent, we are not insensitive, we certainly are not unobservant. We are, however, experienced and prepared. And if all of us – independently – make the same suggestion, then perhaps it should be considered as a valid option.
The high point of the last two days come at a dinner hosted by Diego Cusumano at his family’s new estate: Alta Mora. (www.altamora.it) We tasted the silky, elegant and enticing 2014 Guardiola (Etna Rosso DOC, 100% Nerello Mascalese). My tablemate Daniele C. suggested it was like “wild strawberries in aspic”. I fell in love with that description – perfect.
Then off to the Taormina Gourmet event.
We met the marketing director of Settesole, (www.cantinesettesoli.it) whose Zibibbo won the IGT “International” jury top prize. The wine was indeed very fresh, fragrant and straightforward.
One of the two highlights of the event was a tasting with Walter Massa, the white knight of the Timorasso variety. I first interviewed him way back in 2002 for a book I was writing on Italian Indigenous Grape Varieties called Wines of Italy. I had to kick butt to get the publisher to include this variety because it was so little known. It gave me great pleasure to see that Walter M. was as enthusiastic and passionate as ever. He kept comparing wines to different actresses and actors. I found my mind wondering to the question: If Kevin Spacey were a wine, what kind of wine would he be?
WINE LESSON: Timorasso originated in Piedmont’s Novi Ligure and Tortona zones. Before phylloera infestation struck the region in the late 19th century. Timorasso was among Piedmont’s most widely planted white varieties, and it was cultivated as far away as Genova, where it was used as a table grape. Post-phylloxera, many of its vineyards were replanted with other varieties. Timorasso’s fortunes were again diminished by the international success of Cortese di Gavi in the 1960s and 1970s, when it became easier for producers to market the already established Cortese variety. Fortunately, Walter Massa, championed the variety and began producing elegant age-worthy wines.
The other highpoint was a tasting of Chardonnay Cuvee Bois produced by Val d’Aosta producer Les Crêtes (www.lescretes.it) and hosted by Costantino Charrère. We never pass up the opportunity to taste wines from this estate.
WINE LESSON: Valle’d’Aosta is Italy’s smallest region (1260 square miles) and lies in the north-west corner of the country. It is separated from France and Switzerland by Alpine peaks (among them Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Gran Paradiso). Most of its vineyards are planted on steep terraced slopes.
We taste 2014, 2013, 2011, 2006 2004, and 1990. The Les Crêtes house style is one of elegance, freshness and finesse that combine to create superb fine wines.
To explain the wonder of these wines let me just say that after 40 minutes in the glass the 1990 was still firm, fresh and elegant.
We ran into Daniele M. (driving force behind Fuoco Food Festival) in the lobby of our hotel. He tells us that the everyone was so pleased with the outcome of this, the first Fuoco, they are already planning the second edition. Hooray! I wish them every success!
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.
Savoldi’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
Myra 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.
Tocati, 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.
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.
However, 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 VSHere 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!