Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Resurrection of Italian Wine

It is truly a miracle to consider what we humans do to the land and the resilience that land exhibits. We pour chemicals on it, stir them up and grind them in. Then we put more poisons on the plants that grew up from that chemical baptism. When the leaves send their shoots and the flowers send their fruits, we then trim them, shave them and cast them to the ground.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The World’s First Chianti Classico Gran Selezione

Pietro Losi's 2007 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 
When I was in Tuscany earlier this month, inevitably the subject of the Chianti Classico classification came up. Roberto Stucchi at Badia a Coltibuono is at the spearhead of trying to move the Chianti Classico Consorzio towards a more comprehensive ordering of the different terroir of the classic zone. That is a slow dance, taking many years, but one which Roberto and many other people are very passionate about. Alessandro Masnaghetti is moving the discussion further with his mapping strategy, which gives a visual person like me the possibility to imagine the differences without necessarily having to reorganize the discipinare. In all, good things happening, albeit at a snail’s pace. That’s said, if a snail can still traverse the path the meaning is that the waters (and the lands) haven’t been poisoned.

In a discussion with Valeria Losi and her dad Pietro of Querciavalle they have positive impressions about the Gran Selezione. They are excited about it. “We have always had a Gran Selezione, which we call Millennium.” I remember this selection starting with the 1997 from the Losi estate. “To us it makes sense, because we are already doing it,” Valeria Losi noted.

Indeed, Losi has also, from what I can gather, released the first Gran Selezione in the world. First in that it comes from the oldest harvest yet bottled as a Gran Selezione, in this case the 2007.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

#Vinitaly2014 - New white wine, old red wine, Renzi's hashtag (#campolibero) and new bathrooms

 Baron Alessandro de Renzis Sonnino - Vintage Raleigh, low carbon footprint and kid gloves
Vinitaly 2014 was a little different than the first Vinitaly I went to in 1984. In 1984 there were fewer pavilions and producers. One could see the whole show in about two days, back then. Now, four days doesn’t even begin to cover it. But any longer would be too much.

This year was difficult. Two days before the show started, my throat started to get sore and closed up. I had a slight fever and muscle pain. Mind you, I had been in Italy for some time, first as a judge for 21st Concorso Enologico, the international wine competition sponsored by Vinitaly. After that I went to see producers in Tuscany, trying to get a jump on only having four days at the show. By the time I had done that I was exhausted. But then the real reason for why I came to Italy started, that being the Vinitaly show (and all the satellite shows nearby), so I did what one does, I willed myself to get through Vinitaly.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Loneliest Man in the World

Sixteen years ago I was walking out of the Vinitaly wine fair with a friend and colleague. Crossing the street, we spotted a well known importer looking at the ground. A local fellow had a shell game going on and he had stopped to look at it. My friend touched my arm to get my attention to look in that direction. He pulled me to the side and spoke in a lowered voice. “That man over there, see how unhappy he appears. He looks like the loneliest man in the world.” 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Dramas of Life

Here in Italy, as in everywhere on Spaceship Earth, there are the daily dramas. We all have them. For each and every one of us, our personal dramas are often of utmost importance. After all we are the center of our universe. Our life is most important to us. Multiply that by 7,000,000,000 in this moment and probably another 7,000,000,000+ in time. A caveman searching for food for his tribe. An explorer discovering a new route to the Pacific Coast. A winemaker finding a better way to make Sangiovese in Tuscany. Nothing is missed. We are like ants, covering every minute detail of our lives as if the universe wasn’t the large expanse beyond which we could never imagine. And it is probably correct to think often in that way, for to veer into the abyss would surely lead to madness, or worse.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

What’s it all about, Alfio?

After an intense few days in Verona for the Concorso Enologico International, Vinitaly’s wine competition, where I sat as a judge, I made my way from the Veneto. I’m conflicted about many of the wines from that region, mainly because so many producers have decided to make a wine with so much power and fruit. Poor Valpolicella, it has really been upturned. At a reception for a book on Corvina, many producers in the book showed up with their wine. One very famous one walked in with several bottles of his Valpolicella. After an hour or two, someone poured me a taste. I looked for the spit bucket, the wine was undrinkable. It was like drinking a fence post, harsh and stiff. And they charge how much for this perversion?

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Frank Zappa: On Sicilian Wine and Snotty Sommeliers

As sometimes happens in the eno-blogosphere, magical connections are made. Unbeknownst to me Frank Zappa went to Sicily in 1982 to look up his Sicilian family. I know this because a friend of mine in Verona, Patricia Guy, told me about a recent documentary about Zappa’s visit. In light of the changing of the seasons, the move (over in Italy) this past Sunday to daylight savings time and this 1st day of April, I “channeled” the spirit of Frank Zappa to ask him about Wine in Sicily and snotty sommeliers. Surprisingly enough, Frank took time out from his post-life activities to respond.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What's New? What's Compelling? What Are You Looking For?

Sitting at a table earlier this week with a handful of new wines to taste, I started to think “What’s new about these wines?” I really was thinking “What is compelling” about them. But in our race to find the latest, greatest and rush it to market, I’ve started looking at the Italian wine market a little differently.

Maybe “What’s new?” isn’t the best way to frame the conversation. We go from Frascati, to Verdicchio to Galestro. Galestro? Who even thinks about that wine anymore? But once upon a time it was billed as the next best thing. And then Pinot Grigio came along.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Week That Was: Resuming the Hunt for La Cucina Italiana

Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo

This past week it seemed I had been trapped in a time warp. I’m sure the deaths our family experienced in the past two weeks had something to do with it. One spends time with relatives going over the good times, telling stories, recounting this event or that episode. It takes a lot out of one to go back and look at all those things.

The death of our family friend Mario really signaled the end of a chapter in all of our lives. Friend to my father, the man who gave me a start when I stepped into a new city with nothing, along the way finding something that would occupy my time and passion for years, Italian wine. It wasn’t about wine, though. The overarching theme centered on elevating la Cucina Italiana to a place one takes for granted in Italy. But in America, it was rarely found.

I saw it, experienced it, was indoctrinated in the school of la Cucina Italiana. I saw it grow up in my adopted town, saw the rest of the country embrace it, take it run with it. It has been a great time to witness this moment, a golden age for Italian cooking in America.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My "other" Italy ~ sans tourists, sans checklist

This week, while doing a wine dinner for a private group, the subject of where I liked to go in Italy was asked. I hesitated for a moment, thinking to myself “Do I really want to tell all these strangers about my special place in Italy where no one goes? Do I want this loud room of revelers to invade my beach, my mountains, my serenity?”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Great Fast-Track Resources to Learn More About Italian Wine

Sara Maule of Nino Negri at Caracol in Houston w/wine director Sean Beck
In the past week, while on the road with Sara Maule of Nino Negri, we encountered many questions about Valtellina wine and Italian wine in general. Sommeliers, wine lovers, retail store managers, the list goes on. People ask me, all the time, what they can do to get a clearer picture on Italian wines. Here are some ideas

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Life of a Great Italian, in 12 bottles

In Memory of Mario Messina 1916-2014

We have finally arrived. I started with eleven others, wrapped ever so carefully in soft, white tissue. Laid ever so gently in the wooden box and covered on top.

The voyage from our place of birth to my new world took a long time. First we traveled on a cart, drawn by horses. Then we were set inside a dark, cool store room, to wait for the warm months to subside. Then, finally we were put on a great ship to cross the ocean.

The great lull of the water, back and forth, like being held as a child by one’s mother, rocking, back, forth, gently. It was a peaceful voyage; the first Great War was over. Peace reigned over the sea and the land.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Why Young Wine is as Good as Puppy Love

Born to be Delectable

There are so many wines available in today’s world that just weren’t around 10 or 20 years ago. In our flatter world, access to good, dependable wine is greater than it has ever been. And Italy has contributed some excellent examples: wines that are tasty, friendly and good values. And wines you can have often. Most of these wines come to the stores and the restaurants relatively young. And they are built to go, not for show, or to stow. These are casual wines, flings, if you will. This is as good as puppy love. But, while you wait for your true love to mature, in the cellar or the wine vault, what is one to do? Live life as an ascetic? Abstain? Wait? Absolutely not.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Looking for La Morra in All the Wrong Places

A Cautionary Tale from the Langa

Mariondino was beginning to feel the winter thaw in his loins. He longed to jump into one of his Cars and steer his little Pira past his Pora to visit his dear Bernadot.

“It’s been ages since I saw her sweet little Muncagota,” he pronounced. “What I wouldn’t give for a Ronchi in her Montefico.” It had been too long since his Ornato had been in anyone’s Vallegrande. “I’m too young to hang on, I need some Cannubi!” The Ovello seemed in a lot of pain.

So down the Via Nuova he steered, rolling many past lovers, now still slumbering. “Gallina, she was one of my first. How calm she was with me, I much younger than her, so patient she was as she caressed my Balluri.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Live and Let Die

Letter from a half-full bottle to an apostle of wine

I see you, sitting there on the deck of your house overlooking the peaceful valley, watching the sunset. I know you’re tired. But the sun will set soon and you can rest then. We still have half a bottle left before I lose my stream, so let me share my thoughts with you about your long and glorious career.

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