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.

I was talking with a friend with whom I shared a mentor. We were talking about how within certain generations, especially, the access to information and to other people's minds, essentially. And if you want to know what somebody is thinking about wine you can go to their Delectable site or Instagram page and you can get some visual clues immediately by that and know, well, I want to talk to that person, or this one might be a cool friend. And so there's a whole different kind of way in which one can nest their relationships versus the way we had to do it in the analog world. And there's also that aspect where some people are just more introverted and getting that information online is so much easier for them. The actual act of mentoring takes on different forms, these days.

Yeah. So you're lucky, because you are mentoring young people.

A couple, yeah. And it's great in the sense that they actually want to be mentored. It's funny - the ones that need mentoring probably never seek it as much as the ones that want to be mentored.

There's something about the younger ones who are studying for the M.S., for example, they are more - how do I say it - more stand-offish? I'm not easy around new people. I have to really work at it. So there's something about me. Claire Marlin commented on my post on Facebook, where she remembers being at a dinner with me at Nana and was so in awe she couldn't talk to me. I ‘m like, oh, come on! (insert embarrassment emoticon here)

But I think there's something about me if I'm not feeling comfortable then it makes people not willing to approach me. So part of it's my fault, but there's also some of the younger ones that are studying for their M.S. and stuff like that and it’s like they're in a cocoon. I remember several years ago, with James (Tidwell) and Drew (Hendricks), we invested in glasses and they came in in time for Texsom. And so I got some people from the wine competition to go to the hotel and then they had some people, volunteers who were sommelier people, polishing glasses. So my crew is on one side of the room polishing glasses and the sommelier crew is on the other side polishing glasses and there’s like this divide. I said OK - here's my name, here are the people working for me, here’s what we do. Who are you? Tell us who you are – I had to make them tell us who they were! And I understand. It's very competitive and they're working very hard. They're very focused with what they're trying to learn. So it makes it kind of hard to approach them sometimes.

Looking at the incoming generations, not just the millennials, but also one following them ( the Founders?), there are some interesting conversations that they're going to be having as well because there are so much more points that they have to touch.

Yeah, well I think there’s a lot more competition for the jobs in wine. On the one hand, back when I was starting out, it seemed to me that if you knew something about wine you were way ahead of anybody else. It may not have been a lot but if you knew something about wine. I can remember being on trips in some place and being the only woman in the group and feeling like people are “Oh, what’s she doing here?”, and we’d start talking about wine and they would change the way they behaved towards me. Because, I knew what I was talking about. I maybe didn't know about all of it but I knew what I was talking about at that time. And I had tasted a lot of wine.

In that way it was easier then. Maybe people initially were skeptical. But if I had a chance to be around them, that would go away. Today I think there's just so much more competition and all these exams that they're taking, they are into so much minutia and does that really matter? Well, it matters for the exam. It does.

Oh my God, writing about wine! Of course I'm always on the deadline - on the deadline! And it’s midnight and I can’t call anybody (this is pre-internet time we’re talking about). I can’t e-mail anybody because there was no e-mail. And now it's like, I was asking you that question about that wine yesterday and I emailed the supplier, and somebody in the winery in Italy, one of the family members, got right back to me and answered my question.

Well that's good news. You know I’ve been looking at some pictures of events that we were all went to and a lot of those people who are our age are no longer there. They didn't live to be fifty or sixty. They left earlier. Got me to thinking maybe the wine business isn’t’ a really good business for longevity of life. We know a lot of people who died early and with my luck in cars in wine country that's a double whammy.

Well, Alfonso, we’re still here.

Yeah, Becky, we’re still standing. For now.

Yeah.

Yeah, yeah, we’ve got the baton, the fire is burning, and we’re just looking for somebody to hand it to, right?

Oh my God, I've lived long enough to be history!

Texsom 2011 - Becky and Paul Greico

...and good night


wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Is the Time Right for “Big Wine” to Cast Their Footprint on Mt. Etna?

Rolling down SS120 from Randazzo to Passopisciaro, there’s a modern structure, empty and abandoned. It could be a dystopian bunker, built to survive the ravages of a lava flow from Etna above. Or a nuclear attack. But it’s a winery that nobody wants to talk about. So new, it doesn’t even show up on Google Earth. The structure looks like it was airlifted straight out of Napa Valley. It’s gorgeous. And it’s out of place. Will this be the place where “Big Wine” makes its stand on Mt. Etna?

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Wine Zealot's Survival Guide to Etna

After 30 years of going to Etna, I’ve learned there is a simple way and there is the hard way. I’ve done the hard way a time or two. Simple is better. I’d like to share a few tips for those who are aching to go taste wine on the mountaintop.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Wine in Italy – from a Greek Perspective

Italy is a place of confluence, in the flesh, and in the mind’s eye. One of the mindscapes I reach into, especially when going into southern Italy, is the Greek perspective. Soon I will be in Sicily, which once was considered to be part of “great Greece” or Magna Graecia. The food, the language, the customs, the light - when one walks these paths, the Greek influence is revealed. Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria and, of course, Sicily, are part of the ancient colonies. In the next week or so I’ll be “getting my Empedocles on” ̶  ensconced in the primal slime. I can’t wait.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Aglianico’s Ashes - Stockpiling old wine for a new generation

Pity the poor Aglianico vine, set within the shadow of a volcano whose better days are lost somewhere in the dustbin of geology. Imprisoned in a land that missed out on most of Italy’s post-WWII economic growth in the last 70 years. Save for a few points of light, Aglianico in Basilicata is stuck in a time trap, unable to move fast enough to keep up with Barolo or Brunello and eclipsed by a much sexier (and more violently vibrant) Sicilian volcano and her wines. It’s not a good time to be an Aglianico. But it’s a great time for the collector.

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