March 2018

First Things First: books: Stephen Weeks is a film maker, a restorer of castles and the author of a hugely entertaining series of mysteries set in early 20th-century Prague featuring the irrepressible Countess Beatrix von Falklenburg. I asked him a few questions on behalf of Publishers Weekly and, not surprisingly, the name Sherlock Holmes came up.

He said: The Victorian world was perfect, in some ways (ie if you had some money) – that comfortable world of Sherlock Holmes that we all love. It was through this filter that when I came to look for my own castle, aged 25 – with the money from my first films, I chose a real medieval one, the tower of which had been built around 1129ad, on the borders of England and Wales. I restored a virtual ruin to be a wonderful home, shared willingly with the enthusiastic public, and which I sold in 2003 in order to move to Prague. Since the Castle had been lived in since the 12th century, it was proved to be ‘Wales’ oldest lived-in castle’ – friends, seeing their breath in the air while at dinner used to call it ‘Wales’ coldest lived-in castle’! But that was all part of its charm.

His new novel is Sins of the Father, published by Poisoned Pen Press. I have read it and enjoyed it. Weeks evokes the mores and manners of the period with a blend of richly nuanced details and sly wit.

March 7 –  Kate and Ed from America come for a visit

The high point was a visit to the beautiful hamlet of Valeggio sul Mincio. The breeze was fragrant with rich undergrowth, the sound of the waters of the Mincio slapping against the rocks was hypnotic and the sunshine fairly sparkled. After wallowing in this splendor for a few minutes I began to feel like an extra in Brigadoon.  When I glanced at the bridge and could easily imagine Gene Kelly capering with the ever elegant and long-limbed Cyd Charisse, I knew it was time to leave.

For those who have forgotten the fair Cyd Charisse here is a video clip from Brigadoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHJYqcjXsl8

March 3 Tasting at Marinella Camerani’s estate

I like Marinella. She always says exactly what she thinks. This can be disconcerting.  I once wrote that if a feral cat could speak it would sound like Marinella.

We tasted wines from her Corte Sant’Alda and Adalia estates in Mezzane di Sotto. Both are biodynamic and certified organic.

Among the wines that left a very positive lingering impression:

2017 Corte Sant’Alda’s Soave. After several minutes in the glass the wine opens up. An idea of greengage plums, ripe pears. Very appealing. Buoyant freshness.

2017 Corte Sant’Alda Ca Fui Valpolicella. It unfurls on the palate like a bolt of silk – flavors of black cherries, raspberries.

2012 Corte Sant’Alda Valmezzane Amarone Tingling acidity shapes the fruit. Very interesting, satisfying wine.

A Memory of Piccolo Ed & Marinella

We took Ed to the bus station with the intention of taking him to visit Francesca, his dog sitter at her kennel in Castelnuovo del Garda. He had been sneezing a bit for months but we had assumed it was just an allergy, perhaps to the dust that plagues our apartment. We entered the bus station and Ed sneezed. Time stopped. Everything focused on the spray of blood fanning out around our little foxy dog. Ed looked up at us happy as ever, his tail wagging, ready to go on a bus ride. We left the station and walked to the doctor’s office. Tests were done and we were told that Ed had a tumor in his muzzle. For several months following the operation, we took Ed to the vet’s every day for an infusion of antibiotics.

One December morning he awoke feeling weak and shivery. Michael and I took turns holding him for the next five hours. His eyes glazing over, he seemed to stop seeing what was around him. He arched his back in a spasm and went limp. I searched for a heartbeat…but could find none. I wrapped him in a sweater and put him in a 6-bottle wooden wine crate. We called our friend Eleonella, who agreed to drive us to Marinella’s. It was a sunny but brisk day in Verona. We headed east toward Mezzane where a thick layer of snow lay on the ground. It was scattered with sparkling points of reflected light. We drove up Marinella’s steep hill and parked.

Marinella was waiting for us. Her eyes strayed to the wine crate and she shook her head sadly when she saw the name of the producer burned into its side.  “Ed deserved better,” she said. “You should have told me; he could have had one of my boxes.”

She led us to a terrace of olive trees with a sweeping view of the entire valley.

“Pick a spot you like,” she said. “I wish I could be buried here but the government won’t let me. They have all these rules. We have to be buried in a cemetery.”

Cesar, Marinella’s companion, dug the grave under a tree and we laid Ed to rest. I planted a small cactus on the mound of fresh turned earth as a symbol of his independent personality. Then we trooped up to Marinella’s tasting room.  She opened a bottle of her Amarone and pushed a glass toward me.  I sipped the wine but could taste nothing. I was too filled with emotion of a different sort to make any room for the scents and texture of wine. We went outside and watched the sky turned a wonderful orange-rose as the sun set.

March 2 Villa de Winckels

I adore the annual Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it) because it includes everyone: international darlings, local heros, and producers whose total production of Amarone rarely makes it to 100 bottles.

 

Here are three of my favorite wines from the tasting:

Zyme 2006 Amarone “La Mattonara”. It is like cherries melting on the tongue.

Graziano Pra 2008 Amarone. A nice tingling sensation. Black peppery scrim over supple fruit.

Vicentini 2007 Amarone. Intriguing bruised fruit shot through with refreshing acidity.

 

 

February 2017

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

 

 

Feb 23 Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels

Susan H. picked us up and off we go…

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

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

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

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

Feb 19 Lunch at th Carro Armato

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

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

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

Feb 14. Valentine’s day whoopee.

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

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

 

 

Feb 11/12 50 shades of gray in Valpolicella

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

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

 

January 2017

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

 

 

January 29  The Annual Amarone Anteprima Tasting

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

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

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

My three favorite wines:

Serious Francesca Sartori
Serious Francesca Sartori

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

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

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

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

January 24 Dinner at Porto Alegre 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

January 21 Dinner at the Gepsters

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 3 A day without books

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