Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Italy that found me

There is a place in Italy where all my memories distill into one. And I was there recently, standing on the balcony of a room overlooking the Adriatic Sea, watching the sunrise. For a west coaster it is an odd thing to see the sun rise in the east. And to look out over a place where there are so many memories, and in a time of my life where there have been so many sunrises. It was a bit disorienting. Italy isn’t something simple, something one can pull out of a tour guide and follow the steps like so many people do when they go to Italy. But this wasn’t just anybody’s Italy. This was the Italy that found me.

Yes, after so many airplane flights, and so many arrivals into Rome, picking up the luggage, finding transportation and getting to my destination. Italy, I keep finding out, isn’t something I have been looking for. It is something that has been looking for me.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Stalking the Wild and Indigenous in the New and the Old World

From Parmigiano to Hoja Santa to Pecorino in less than 24 hours

Hoja Santa Harvest - inspected (and approved) by Jacques Pepin at Paula Lambert's Mozzarella Company
After harvesting what seemed like an endless amount of eggplants, okra and Hoja Santa, it was time to come back to Italy for the other important harvest – grapes. For a week or so, I’ll be hovering around Marche and Abruzzo with camera(s). This is my first trip back after narrowly escaping death in Sicily this past June. For those who don’t follow this blog religiously (and why should anyone us follow any wine blog with fervor these days?) suffice it to say I have been given clearance by the medical profession to travel overseas. The past six months have been most challenging, with the accident in Sicily and a series of throat afflictions that eventually led to a tonsillectomy a month ago. All this as background to recovering and getting back on the wine trail in Italy.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

International Style - An Historical Perspective in Wine

It was late Friday afternoon. The week was essentially done. My son had invited a bunch of his friends over for a cooking party. The local newspaper had been there, took some photos and made some videos of a recipe we were putting together. We had tons of food. And loads of wine. And then the door rang.

One of my young colleagues was at the door with his bag of wine. He’d been invited to join us and along with it he thought to share what was left of the wine.

One of them, A Sardinian red, he was pretty excited about. It was a three grape blend, grapes indigenous to Sardegna. I took a sip. It tasted modern. The wine was fresh and firm, well balanced to my palate, and it had a healthy dose of oak. It could have come from any number of places in the world. That is was from Sardegna neither added to it nor detracted from it. But the kicker was that I really liked it. It was a well-made wine, albeit in an international style. We finished the bottle in due time.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

A day in the life and death of Nebbiolo

I had a dream last night. And in that dream I was being taken up a grand conveyance, leading to a large structure. Like something one would see in Napa Valley or Bordeaux. Or Piedmont. And as I got closer to the top I realized my life was ending. I wasn’t afraid, for it was time. I’d had a good life, growing in the daytime, witnessing every sunrise and sunset in this serene place. And where I was going wasn’t to my death, but to my next life.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Italo-American Solution to the Dilemma of Nebbiolo in Piedmont

Self-portrait by Salvator Rosa
How do you handle a problem like Nebbiolo? Piedmont bestows upon the grape any number of iterations within the law to allow it to rise and shine. Among the DOP category (DOCG and DOC - Piedmont has no IGP/T classification) there are 25:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Is the Future for Nebbiolo in Piedmont Under Attack?

This has been quite a summer for Piedmont. Historical wineries changing hands, millions of Euros passing from one family to another, and the popularity of Barolo and Barbaresco never higher. In Piedmont, Nebbiolo is a top contender for indigenous grapes with potential to make great wine and the spotlight is on the Langhe. But its neighbors are angling for some of the attention.

A proposed change to the Piemonte DOC will allow the word “Nebbiolo” to appear and be noted on the label. The folks at the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani feel this will damage these loftier appellations, as this will bring in a wine that could compete well below price for the attention of thirsty Nebbiolo lovers.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.III

Third and final installment of my interview with Rebecca Murphy. This last part is shorter and more conversational, but it does provide a coda. And a perfect lead up to events this weekend in Dallas, Texas, where we are in the 12th year of Texsom. As hard of a ticket to get as Burning Man, but 1,000 souls, for some reason, want to stand in air-conditioned rooms, in business attire, for a long weekend and get their wine knowledge on. Becky, as I’ve written before, paved the way for many folks that will be in these rooms. And if you are a young woman (or young man) take time to find her and say hello to her and thank her. For sure, many of us are seeing far because we have stood upon the shoulders of giants like Becky.


Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.II

This is the second part of an extensive interview I did with Rebecca Murphy. Again, it’s long, but that’s life. The first in this series, The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.I , was well received, so I chose to post the second part. There is a third (and shorter) part coming next week in the lead up to Texsom here in Dallas. I think it is a valuable record, especially to the young women and men aspirants in wine to see one person’s successful (and exemplary) path in the wine business. Becky is a trailblazer and a role model – and there a few out there who could probably benefit with being mentored by her - maybe even starting at Texsom.

Robert Lawrence Balzer and Becky, ca 1980

Something happened once at Arthur’s. Behind the restaurant there was mall area. You had a group of California winemakers pouring their wines. How did that come about?

I said earlier that I wound up being in charge of doing P.R. stuff for the restaurant. Part of it was doing wine events. I think I remember  Robert Lawrence Balzer was one of the reasons for this. And it made other people pay attention because the tasting you're thinking about was with the Sonoma County Wine Growers. I remember meeting Harvey Posert at the time who was working with the Wine Institute and these tastings benefited the local P.B.S. station. These were the ways we did events for people to come to. They were sort of P.R. and educational events because we would have that big tasting. We'd also have a press lunch. There might be a seminar in there somewhere They were ways to get people and the press to notice the restaurant. That's the way I got some writing gigs because I would invite Betty Cook and Waltrina Stovall and Dotty Griffith and Byron Harris (from the ABC affiliate). He would say “I don't write about wine.” And I would say, yeah, I know but you like wine. Come to the event. So I used those events to be P.R. vehicles for the restaurants and to meet the media and got to know a lot of media. And I was complaining that there was no local person writing that was back in the day of the Dallas Times-Herald- Two newspapers in town. Wow, go figure. So there are a lot of media people then. So I would invite them to come to the restaurants and attend these things and complain that there was there wasn't anybody locally writing about wine. Betty Cook is the person who finally said, “What would that look like?” And that's when I started doing tasting flights for the Dallas Morning News Sunday magazine. That was when both newspapers had a Sunday magazine. Both papers had to have a Sunday magazine, it was a competitive thing. As soon as the Morning News bought the Times-Herald, there went the Sunday magazines.

But Robert Balzer at the time wrote for Travel Holiday magazine and gave out the Travel Holiday restaurant awards and Arthur’s and Old Warsaw were always on the list and he would come to town. He contacted us because he would go through different cities with a group of six winemakers. And they were Michael Mondavi and Eric and Phil Wente, Rodney Strong, people like that. Principals from the wineries. And so we would do events with them. And that was again a great way for us to get to know those people and to have them see our restaurants.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.I

Rebecca Murphy at Il Sorrento 1974
Last week, with the post, You've Come a Long Way, Baby! - The Ascent of the Female Sommelier, there was lively discussion about the history of the sommelier in America. With that, the role of the female, then, as now, has evolved, changing the social landscape. The wine business has long been a bastion of uniformity – mainly white, mainly male - and one which outsiders often see as an impenetrable boy's club. But there are those who have driven a wedge into it and blazed their own unique trail. Rebecca Murphy is such an individual. I’ve known Becky for 30+ years and have watched her ascent into the wine world to where she is now a revered and iconic force who has changed the history of the wine business in America. Becky started out as a sommelier, moved up to a corporate wine director and then started her own consulting business, which encompassed wine trade events, one of the most important wine competitions in America, and years of writing about wine. Becky, to use a well-worn phrase, is a Renaissance woman. But she is also a formidable person, one who had to fight and defend every position, every dream she had, using the sheer force of her will. Here is part one of a two (or three) part series. It’s longer than the average attention span of a blog reader. But it’s an important story and one I hope, with the help of Becky’s own words, to share with those of you who have the time and patience to endure the length. After all, it is the story of one person’s life in wine – and it took them a lifetime to get to this point.


Where did you start as a sommelier? Were you America’s first female sommelier? Was this your first foray into the wine business?

It was definitely my first foray into the wine business. I don't know if I'm the USA's first woman doing this job, if I'm not I'm one of the first. And I'm pretty sure I was the first woman in Texas. I've been looking through some newspaper clips. I certainly didn't read about other women and when I started I needed a job and I went to work for Mario (Messina of Il Sorrento in Dallas). My first husband I were getting a divorce and I moved back to Dallas because my in-laws were there and they've always been there always been very supportive. I needed a job and I my only real professional experience as a flight attendant. I had two five year-old boys, so that wasn't going to work. And so Mario gave me a chance, gave me the opportunity, to work as a cocktail waitress. And there was a young guy working there (as a wine steward) who was a college student and went back to school after I was there about three months I told Mario that I'd like to have that job and he said, “Rebecca, you can't carry the boxes.” Of course, because he kept the wine up (in the cool room) in the attic. I finally said just let me just let me come in on my night off for a few times and do the job, and if I don't make a fool of myself or you, I want the job. And that's pretty much the way it went.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You've Come a Long Way, Baby! ~ The Ascent of the Female Sommelier

Dallas, Texas USA - 1980 - Sommelière Sharman
When I starting delving into the world of Italian wine at an Italian restaurant as a server, we had a sommelier. She was all turned out in a hot pants tuxedo (required uniform by the owner) and she kept her tastevin busy, clinking through the night, hustling and selling wine, one bottle at a time.

She was a force of nature. Very tough lady. She had to be. Her world was filled with macho narcissists, who had little or no regard for her talent or her strengths. But she was a selling machine.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Franciacorta Guy and his Mission to Win in America

Giulio Galli, enjoying a panino with his Franciacorta, at Il Sogno in San Antonio
What is it like to take on a project like Franciacorta in America, to grow its base? Over the past decade, one man has made that his mission, to win over sparkling wine lovers to Franciacorta. And his efforts have yielded positive results.

I’m sharing some panini and a bottle of Bellavista Rosé with Giulio Galli, the Franciacorta Guy, and we’re talking about his strategic plan. From the information given to him by the Franciacorta consorzio back in Italy, the wines he looks after (as American partner to Italian owner Vittorio Moretti), Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi, account for 40% of the sales of Franciacorta in America. That would make him and the wineries he represents one big bad mother. He’s the guy with a business plan who has worked it for the past decade and, by most accounts, has been successful.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The World Fumes and Spews, but the Wine Business Goes On

Why I got into the wine business

Me during my first visit to Carlo Hauner -
Island of Salina, 1987- A kinder, gentler volcano
Last Friday, while handing out Italian wine maps to salespeople, I got to talking with one of the young ones. She will be turning 30 on the day before me, next week, sharing the same birthday as a friend in New York, arguably the finest wine writer in the country and whom I had the honor of accompanying on a recent journey to Sicily. He just published his first of four articles from the trip, and I was fortunate to have my photographs of Etna published alongside his well chiseled piece, “Etna Fumes and Spews, but the Winemaking Goes On.

Memories have recently been rekindled, one as a result of having that conversation with the young wine salesperson, who is the same age I was when I started in the business. The other, as a result of the recent tragic events in Dallas, which have all of us here stunned and saddened beyond words.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

What I love (and hate) about Sicily

We live in a world where every word can be a polarizing one. In the past week, I have felt the sting of words, and some of my readers have as well. While some see it as a line drawn in the sand, with a duel to the end, I see it as the beginning of a longer conversation. So, I will begin with a volley.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sicilian target practice without a license (or a seatbelt)

One of the intriguing aspects about winemaking in Eastern Sicily, especially around Etna and Vittoria, is how tradition has very little to do with it. While Tuscany is foundering with Chianti and their traditions, and Piedmont is riding a wave of popularity, Sicily, especially Eastern Sicily is in re-invention mode. Oak. No oak. Nerello. No, Pinot Noir. Chardonnay. No, Carricante. Moscato, sweet, no dry. Cement tanks. Inox, Amphora. For those who look at it, Eastern Sicily very much resembles the landscape in which it sits. Busy. Cluttered. Fast. But also in this confluence of things that don’t necessarily harmonize with each other, there is a spark of creativity that Tuscany and Piedmont could find inspiration from.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Etna’s little (and formidable) sister, Vittoria

It would be too easy for casual wine trekkers to bypass the area south of Etna. After all, the wines of Etna are among the current darlings of the wine world. And for good reason. But if one were to step off the mountain and head in the direction of Ragusa, you would find a whole 'nother world there. It would take a good GPS (along with some good old-fashioned analog directions), a sturdy car and time.

Time, because the area is spread out, not as concentrated as the Etna wine region. It’s flatter, warmer, not as sexy, and a bit more entrenched in the daily business of winemaking. As I have written elsewhere, Etna’s Golden Age is long gone, in terms of the influence and swath it once had in the western wine world. Not that we’re setting up funereal march, a “second line,” for Etna. Far from it. But the glory days of old are just that.

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