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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hoopin' it up!

Motivation "in the hoop" w/the best in the biz, Carlo Pellegrini

This has been a tough couple of months. It's not always fun and games. The weekend brought me to NY for a "mission". Around the corner from the hotel, the Verona wine bar, Bottega del Vino, opened up a satellite here in NYC, with panini and espresso. Nice people. I was in town for just a short trip and an appointment with Charles Curtis, an American Master of Wine and the Moet Hennessy Director of Wine Education. Charles and I will be presenting a symposium on Nebbiolo at the Texas Sommelier Conference in August. More info here to come and on the Texsom link.


My friends Carlo and Patty met us in the city for a day at Central Park. It was hula hoop day. Carlo is a great soul a clown and a juggler and a bigger than life person in my life. Check out his site, Juggling Matrix. Patty, she’s just the best. All friends for many moons. And Kim too….we all hula hooped it up.

So why this posting? Eric Asimov is blogging about Arbois from Puffeney and Alder Yarrow over at Vinography is in Gravner heaven. The Italian in me is saying, "August is just around the corner, your mind will be on vacation for a few weeks."

Tomorrow I’ll be in Nebbiolo Nasa Prep center for the symposium, but today is all about the hula hoop. August isn't here yet.

Little did we know when we ran into a recent NYU grad that the hula hoop is cool again. All I wanted to do was to be able to do it again like we did so many summers ago. Lithe and effortless, our teacher showed us a few moves while Carlo showed her how to juggle. Simple pleasures, you don’t have to be in the investing class to enjoy this lesson. Or this day.

The wines? A walk in the park today. We started out with a little Prosecco with poached eggs and an egg white omelet. Lunch was light and easy, a few take out panini from Bottega del Vino and a sip of a nice Santi Ripasso. For dinner, a light salad and some fresh grilled seafood. To go with it, a fresh Pino & Toi from Maculan . All three wines from the Veneto, once known for cheap and plentiful wines. Now the Veneto is a lion again.

There's enough serious in the world these days....there's not enough good hula hooping, though. But that's about to change! See you back here on Wednesday


photo's by Patty Ferrini

Friday, July 28, 2006

T.G.I.F. ~ Thank God It's Fusion

Today we're tooling around in the Alto-Adige with the top down . On the wine trail is the Abbazia di Novacella, founded in 1142. One of the oldest wineries in the world, the Abbey was built in the middle of the vineyards, located between 600 meters above sea level.

The wine is Kerner, a fusion between Riesling and Trollinger, developed in the 1960's. It's that 60's show again.
The Abbazia do Novacella 2005 Kerner is brand spankin' new and ready to roll! This was the best wine I've had this week, so it is my T.G.I.F. wine choice for the weekend.

Bright and floral in the nose, these wine went well with Mussels in a broth of white wine and garlic, topped with pommes frites and aioli mayo and then a cool cucumber soup, mmm good!

Fruit and slate, crispy and tight-rope precise, really focused flavors that are a treat to sip or to gulp.


Alto Adige is far northeastern Italy and even the web site is first in German and then in Italian. Ancient and modern at the same time.
My days in the Alto Adige were limited ( alas, aren't they all?) but I came away from there with a respect and love for my northern cousins with the steel blue eyes and the penetrating clarity.

the floral quality of this wine is rock star fabulous! This is fusion in the slow lane, on the wine trail in Italy...











Links

Abbazia di Novacella

Via Travel Design




Wednesday, July 26, 2006

All that glitters isn’t gold in Orvieto ~ Umbria Underground

Many are told, when they go to Orvieto, to stop by the Duomo and take in the brilliance of the gold laden façade. It is especially brilliant during sundown, when it mirrors the sun in the finest garments of gold the people of the time could afford. Inside the church are frightful depictions of the Apocalypse, around small corners in alleys Mad Madonna’s stare right into our grimy little souls with little mercy for our inadequacies. All very bright and fearful and dreary. Oh well…Little known to the outsider are the underground passages that line the world below. In times past those passages would be used to ferry out princes and royal families, other times to smuggle provisions and weapons in to punch up the warriors in the ongoing struggles between the warring city-states. Never conquered by force.

In later years these tunnels would be lost or would cave in or be resurrected as a disco or a laundromat. I remember Riccardo Cotarella telling me, as we wound up the hill to the hilltop town, of his boyhood adventures in the selvatici (wilderness), hmmm… I’ve seen the Fellini boyhood memories; could our globe trotting winemaker have another side that we don’t know about?

There are many mysteries in Italy; mystery is to mystical Umbria as opera is to Naples or Palermo. Part of the DNA of the landscape.

One such path on the wine trail in Italy takes us back into the hills for such a visit back in time. Our visit was to a small producer of Orvieto, and the destination was to visit the grandfather’s cave, where the ancient abboccato, the muffa nobile, was enshrined.

This has been one of those wonderful mysteries of the wine trail, for I saw this and heard about it and have never heard about it again. It’s like a train vanishing in time and we got a last glimpse before it disappeared in the tunnel. I hope this isn’t so. It would be like losing an opera from Rossini or a sculpture from Giacometti; it is part of the liquid history of Italy.

A forest behind a clearing and a little shack. To the left a cave, sealed to intercept the bats and the insatiable Italian teenagers. Once inside we saw these mead-like wines sitting in jars along the walls of the cave.
Like being inside of a truffle, there was the sensation of the humidity, the texture, even the aroma. And this golden elixir sitting in bottles covered by months, years of cosmic dust layered like a delicate Neapolitan pastry.

Our host opened a few bottles from various decades and again the room filled with narcissus and lily, honey and rose petal. This wasn’t a wine, this was a perfume! This was the alchemists gold at the end of the rainbow, or tunnel. Here was the same energy, underground that we witnessed the day before falling on the façade of the Church, and here was a wine we could take as communion in honor of a time that is only a memory now.

On the way back we ran into a group of nuns, in town for a wine tasting. Should we direct them to the catacombs of that rapturous liquid noble rot? What? Could there be any question, after first encountering the mad Madonna? We must have happiness among the nuns of us. Of course, we told them. From the angels lips to everlasting bliss.We can only hope...



< Thanks to Hank "Enrico" Rossi for some of his wonderful photos >

Sunday, July 23, 2006

California Dreamin' ~ 5 that made a difference

1969 – San Francisco Bay area – an exciting time in history. For a young whippersnapper like me, it was a time of wonder. And it was when I was first bit by the wine bug.

University life in Northern California exposed me to the young wine industry all around. At the time it was slow and artisanal and more of a cottage industry. Things were just gearing up.

Overall, the industry had been dominated by bulk production, and many a bottle of jug wine was uncapped in those days.

There were many, but these five people made a difference in my life.

Martin Ray
André Tchelistcheff
Robert Mondavi
Amerigo Rafanelli
Tony La Barba



Living in the Santa Clara Valley, going to the University of Santa Clara, was like going to a school for winemaker’s kids. Even the president of the college, Father Terry, was a winemaker. So it was kind of “in the water”.

On weekends some of us would trek about. One favorite was to head up to Los Gatos on our bikes.
Martin Ray was one of our stops. This was before he went into the battles with his investors and lost part of the vineyards that would later be known as Mt. Eden. It was a quiet time, and it was Old California, casual, slow and friendly. What I remember was a man who conveyed the sense of mystery and wonder about the miracle of grapes into wine. Here was a man who was laboring in the fields and in the cellar, a busy man, too busy for young students sent there by the winemaker of Novitiate Winery for a learning experience. But time he took. A teacher once told me, “If you want to know something go find someone who is the best and ask them. Doesn’t matter if they are famous, go knock on their door.” And knock we did. I think my love for white wine stems from this mans willingness to open a few bottles and show us the difference. High above what was to become Silicon Valley, we sat on that mountain and tried wine after wine, white, and then red. Young and new and older than us and whatever he brought out of his cellar. Thank you, Rusty.

When one of my friends wanted to go home to see their parents in Napa, often I’d tag along. Get out of familiar settings and head on up. Highway 29 was a sleepy little road and one could go from Yountville to Calistoga in 15 minutes. Not so today. My friends would usually have an errand to run before we headed all the way up. Stopping at a winery like Beaulieu Vineyards was just part of the errand. In those days André Tchelistcheff was not a young man but André was a romantic and like so many of us, didn’t see his age as a barrier from interacting with those of his mindset. Youth were who he related to. Here again was another soul who just embodied the spirit of the wine gods. And his red wines, in those days, when we stopped and he was around, the rest of the day would disappear behind stories and bottles and lore. God, did we love it! André taught me to love red wine and to love red wine as it came from where it came from. I don’t think they were using the word terroir too much back then and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. What I remember tasting is now what I think of as the liquid history of a place I dearly love. California, Napa, Red, Wonderful. Thank you André.

In those days we’d be in San Francisco with any free time. Music and revolution, the place was hopping. Napa folks were active in the antiwar movement and often after a day in the city, we’d keep heading up and back to Napa. Understand it is nothing like it was then. Napa Valley was Slow. And mellow. Robert Mondavi had just started his winery only a few years earlier and kids at our college always had an “open door”. Mike Mondavi had recently graduated from Santa Clara and was blazing his way though history. Robert, he was a busy guy. But again, these guys made time for the young-uns. The Mondavi winery was like a sunrise in the valley, foretelling of things bigger and better to come. Napa Valley, in those days, was for sale. Orchards and a few vineyards, it was considered a second cousin, agriculturally, to the greater Santa Clara Valley or the “Big Valley” in central California. But the vibe here in Napa was not going to do it that way. Here were artists and tastemakers. Robert Mondavi ( we called him Mr. Mondavi ‘cause he was as old as our parents, but he always said, call me “Bob”.) would take us into a shiny new lab, pick up a few bottles and head outdoors somewhere. Was it a dream or a memory? So many of these experiences start feeling like a dream, they seem like they were so long ago and far away. I remember my first taste of white wine with wood ageing. And a Cabernet Sauvignon blended with other “Bordeaux” grapes. Something was going on here, this place wasn't going to stand still. And the energy of this place, this Robert Mondavi and his vineyards, moved me. Thank you, Bob!

Years later I would move southwest to Texas and wine would take on other influences. One such influence was when I’d go on wine trips back to California and into Dry Creek. A buddy of mine and I would go see our friend and client, Amerigo Rafanelli. Am, as he was called, and as we called him, was like an uncle to us. I really loved that man. And his wines, his wines were what an Italian American really felt bridges the two cultures in a bottle. His simple red, Gamay Beaujolais (that’s what we called it then) or as he called it, Gemmay. There are Pinot Noirs today that would sell their soul to taste like that Gemmay. Am really nailed it! At lunch his wife would set out little spread and he’d bring a bottle of Colombard to start. Not for sale, only for him and the family. Crisp and clean and fresh and fruity and dry and fresh and wonderful! Zinfandel? In those days that was just starting. Cabernet? Just a twinkle in the eye at that time. Man, do I miss people like Amerigo Rafanelli, A gentle guy and as open as his open top fermenters he loved so much. Thank you, Am!

Last but not least, not a winemaker, but a tastemaker and a history shaker. Tony LaBarba. Texas is and probably always will be a sovereign state in some form or another. Something here lives in strength, not always right but always certain of its place in destiny. Tony’s mission was to bring wine to the frontier.
But it was with California that he played a great part in its eastward migration of New World wine culture.
Tony would go out to California time after time, like a violin maker going to a forest, looking for the perfect piece of wood for that perfect instrument. He was the great salesman, he sold California wines. No, he believed in California wines before the Californians did themselves. Talk about selling water by the river, Tony just loved wine and people more than anything. He taught me not to give up, to pull myself up after getting thrown off that horse and get back in the show. I miss you Tony, California and Texas is poorer because of your loss. But richer because of your belief and your determination. Thank you, Tony!


Without these people and many more we'd still be here. Thanks, Guys! Happy Trails!


Friday, July 21, 2006

T.G.I.F. ~ Thank God It's Falanghina

Global Warming circa 79 A.D. ~ Pompeii

It’s still summer and it’s still hot here in the southwest. Just recently read that we in the southwest use more energy to stay cool in the summer than folks in the most northern parts use in the winter to keep warm. So here might be a remedy a, convenient way to handle the inconvenient truth of the hot spots on this warbled orb.

For several thousands of years, the farmers in Campania have been working this grape, what we know as Falanghina. Thanks to the diligence of those folks, and their respect for things local, we now can seek a remedy for the blazing sun. Last year I made a visit to the area and to the Terredora di Paolo winery, owned by the landholding side of the Mastroberardino family. Before it was part of the Roman Empire, it was part of Magna Graecia, ancient Greece, and all along the way you can see signs of the pagan cult of the goddess as is now interpreted by Christianity. Hera becomes Maria. Strong women. This is also an area where the ancient Romans would spend their summers, for it was up in the inland highlands and is cooler than most spots in Italy. Go to the weather map on this blog and see for yourself. On the right hand side are two boxes, one showing the hottest spots and the other showing the coolest spots in Italy. Often, Avellino is cooler than northern Italy.

Known as the Switzerland of the south, here is where these grapes live life as we can only dream about, at this time. The Falanghina grape thrives around this region and now we are seeing a resurgence of this variety on wine labels.

Ancient writings pegged this grape as the fabled Falernum, but I’m not so sure. The ancient Falernum was red. Or was it more like a maderized white, in the vein of a Marsala? I am asking.

I also liked the name and where it came from. One Italian friend told me it was related to what we know now as the word phalanx. His version, it seems, had the Roman army going from teat to Falanghina, thereby fortifying the troups and securing the future of the Empire. Ok, tastes great, let's go a conquering!

Today we are seeing indigenous grapes coming back into the fold, like heirloom varieties of other fruits and vegetables. This gives one an easy opportunity to experience a sense of place, the terroir, of a region like Campania. Very nice.

The Terredora Falanghina Irpinia D.O.C. is cultivated at altitudes of 1350 feet. on land made fertile by volcanic and seismic activity. Shake, rattle and roll, ring of fire and all that jazz.

On the palate, it is crisp and slightly forest pine-like. Simple and clean, bone dry with healthy freshness.

This isn’t Greco di Tufo , this isn’t Fiano di Avellino, the two more famous sibling whites. This is these two wines on training wheels, but it is a real wine and in this inferno, a real cool gift from the goddess. Ave Maria!

Links

Terredora di Paolo



Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Day Job - Wine Slogging Wednesday

A busy day at the office
9:30 AM ~ Wednesday July 19, 2006
Today, Italian Wine Guy goes off the Italian trail. Actually the Trail just expanded to a 4 lane autostrada on the wine trails of Italy, Spain, Germany, Luxembourg, France, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, California, Oregon and Washington state.

This wasn't Wine blogging Wednesday...more like Wine Slogging Wednesday.
I set to taste through 80 or so wines with a journalist and Master of Wine candidate, Rebecca Murphy. We do this about once every 70 or so days and for me it offers many windows into the world of winemaking outside of my focus. Very interesting wines usually and today was a pretty good day. For one, we only had two corked wines ( not mentioned) and maybe one or two wines that were screw top enclosures that were a bit reductive. Not bad for this many wines.
I will list the wines at the end of the post for anyone who is so interested.


To me, the some of the standouts were:
PARINGA SPARKLING SHIRAZ
IRON HORSE ROSATO OF SANGIOVESE 2005
ILLUMINATI COSTALUPO 2005 (already blogged)
ARANCIO SICILIAN GRILLO 2005
OROYA SUSHI WINE 2005 ( already blogged)
CHATEAU MALTROYE CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET 2003
CLOS DES ROCHERS PINOT GRIS 2004
DR. PAULEY NOBLE HOUSE RIESLING 2005
MUSEUM REAL RISERVA CIGALES D.O. TEMPRANILLO 2001
CLAYHOUSE PASO ROBLES PETITE SIRAH 2003
CONCANNON CENTRAL COAST PINOT NOIR 2004
QUERCIABELLA CHIANTI CLASSICO 2003
QUERCIABELLA “CAMARTINA” TOSCANA IGT 2001

Notes below...

The Paringa Sparkling Shiraz was quite a perky treat. I had been of the school that thought sparkling Shiraz tasted like “liquefied roast beef”, one step up the evolutionary scale from an Arby’s sandwich. So my expectations were low. Red and frothy, fruity and acidic, so this wine was probably made from a recipe. Australian wines in the low end are associated with manipulation and “seasoning”. This one, however, was a nice quaff, would go well with figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped with prosciutto.
The Iron Horse Rosato of Sangiovese 2005. I am not a big fan of Cal-Ital wines. In fact I have a bottle of the 1994 Iron Horse Sangiovese sitting on a wine rack for way too long.
So I went into this thinking, uh-uh, not for me. Of all the rose wines we tasted (see list below) this one was the most stylish. Reminded me of a sleek Ferrari Lusso, cool, fabulous color, great body, fast…..nice….another preconception blasted away!
The Illuminati Costalupo 2005, I have written about before and still liked the way it showed in the company of this flight..Like I said, Illuminati has re invented the Costalupo.
The Soletta "Prestizu" Vermentino di Sardegna 2004, although it has a little more age on it than I would like, this wine was developing in the bottle with a smoky, sage-like quality. More akin to a Sauvignon Blanc or a Viognier from the northern Rhone. They make a reserve wine that sees wood but this wasn’t it. However it had sufficient fruit and body to balance out this seasoned but classy wine. A favorite last year @ Vinitaly for Master Sommelier Guy Noel Stout.
The Oroya 2005 from Spain, I have also written about. Again, there was nothing about the wine that was out of kilter, the sum was greater than the parts, but the net result was a refreshing wine that didn’t display overt narcissistic tendencies. In other words, it served the pleasure of the imbiber. Well done.
The Arancio Grillo 2005 – You must understand I am sitting in a room, the sun has gone down for some time now and it is still 93F outside. I am living in hell. So a wine that cools and refreshes is very welcome. And this sunny little Sicilian is like a dip in the ocean, cool, fresh and vivacious. Over at Italian's Insight to Travel Italy, Signore Davide has a more in depth account of this wine, please check it out.
The Clos de Rochers Pinot Gris 2004, from Luxembourg was interesting. A Weinbach meets Felluga kind of wine, this is a sleeper. With all the inferior Pinot Grigio wines abounding from all areas, Luxembourg put their best foot forward. And the terroir of the place came though. The white had healthy acidity and a rich fruity note that hinted at botrytis but didn’t go there. Like a perfume that is used wisely, behind the ears in small doses. Very pretty.
My journalist friend commented on the next wine, the Chateau Maltroye Chassagne Montrachet 2003. Her sense was that there was something about French white wine and oak that works. Yes! The Vermentino and the Sauvignon Blancs are weighted down by oak, but the French have a winning formula. This wine went with us to the restaurant that night.
So did this one, the Dr. Pauly Noble House Riesling 2005. Entry level, fresh, good wholesome hill-side farmed fruit, clean slate acidity and focus.
The Museum Real Reserva 2001, a Spanish Cigales D.O. , is fruit and wood and flamingo extravaganza of a red wine. I shouldn’t like a wine like this, it doesn’t fit my profile. But once again, my preconception bubble was smashed and I was happy.
Two Petite Sirah wines from California’s central coast, the Clayhouse Paso Robles 2003 and the Barnwood Santa Barbara 2004, were ink-a-dink-a-delicious!
You see this dark as midnight violet gusher pour out of the bottle and think, “My God, I’m going to have to hold me breath to take this in”. And then you get this velvety, fruity, soft, almost underwhelming (but very welcome) sensation. You can have Syrah and Zinfandel too. Petite Sirah is my girl.
The Concannon Central Coast Pinot Noir 2004 is not an expensive wine or a dramatic statement wine. What it is is what it was born to be- an everyday beverage that rises to the occasion and more than satisfies this tasters expectations. Look, before you get after me about great Burgundies from France or wonderful Pinot Noir’s from Oregon and California, stop. You’re preaching to the choir. You had me at hello, I dig ‘em. Just noting this little wine made it over the net. Love it.

Querciabella will be a whole post by itself, in the future.

So, once again I've gone over my self imposed word limit, so I will sign off and say bye-bye..
Ciao for niao...

The Wines ~
BUBBLES
 ZARDETTO PROSECCO
 CHARLES DE FERE DRY ROSE
 LUCIEN ALBRECHT CREMANT D’ ALSACE BRUT ROSE’
 PARINGA SPK SHIRAZ
 VIVANTE SPARKLING DRY LAMBRUSCO
 ALBINEA CANALI “OTTOCENTONERO” DRY LAMBRUSCO
 MARQUIS DE ROYS PECHE
ROSE’
 LA VIELLE FERME ROSE 2005
 B DOON VIN GRIS CIGARE 2005
 BUEHLER WHITE ZIN 2005
 PEDRONCELLI ZINFANDEL ROSE’ 2005
 IRON HORSE ROSATO OF SANGIOVESE 2005
 FALESCO ROSE 2005
WHITE WINE
 ILLUMINATI COSTALUPO 2005
 SOLETTA VERMENTINO 2004
 SANTA MARIA VERMENTINO 2004
 ARANCIO SICILIAN GRILLO 2005
 PIO CESARE CORTESE 2004
 CUNE BLANCO MONOPOLE 2004
 OROYA SUSHI WINE 2005
 HUGH HAMILTON “THE LOOSE CANNON” VIOGNIER 2005
P.GRIS-GRIGIO
 MORGAN PINOT GRIS 2005
 CLOS DES ROCHERS PINOT GRIS 2004
 TAMAS ESTATES PINOT GRIGIO 2005
SAUVIGNON BLANC
 MOON MTN SAUV BLANC 2004
 CH DUCASSE GRAVES BLANC 2005
 BOOTLEG NORTHERN WHITE SB 2004
 MATUA SB PARETAI 2005
 BEYOND SB 2005 SOUTH AFRICA
 BARNWOOD SB “THE BORDER” 2004
 CLAYHOUSE PASO ROBLES SB 2005
 FAUNA MARLBOROUGH NZ SB 2005
CHARDONNAY
 FIRESTONE CHARD CENTRAL COAST 2004
 CH MALTROYE CHASS MONT 2003
 TRUCHARD CHARD CARNEROS 2004
 LAETITIA CHARD ARROYO GRANDE 2004
 LEVENDI CHARD NAPA 2004
 HUGH HAMILTON “THE SCALLYWAG” UN WOODED CHARD 2005
 SEBASTIANI SONOMA COUNTY CHARD 2004
 ARANCIO SICILIAN NO WOOD CHARDONNAY 2005
 WHITE KNOT MCLAREN VALE CHARD 2004
 DELOACH RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY CHARD 2004
RIESLING
 DP NOBLE HOUSE RIESLING 2005
 WENTE MONTEREY RIESLING 2004
 J.BOOKWALTER RIESLING COLUMBIA VALLEY 2005
RED WINES
ITALY
 SANTA MARIA LA PALMA “LE BOMBARDE CANNONAU 2004
 BOOTLEG SOUTHERN RED ( 4 GRAPES) PUGLIA IGT 2003
 LA CORTE “SOLYSS” NEGROAMARO PUGLIA IGT 2004
 QUERCIABELLA CHIANTI CLASSICO 2003
 QUERCIABELLA “CAMARTINA” TOSCANA IGT 2001
 RUFFINO “IL DUCALE” ROSSO TOSCANA IGT 2003
 RUFFINO “MODUS” ROSSO TOSCANA IGT 2000

SPAIN
 FONTANA “MESTA” TEMPRANILLO V/T CASTILLO 2004
 MONJARDIN TINTICO TEMPRANILLO NAVARRA D.O. 2004
 MUSEUM REAL RISERVA CIGALES D.O. TEMPRANILLO 2001
 CUNE ROJO CRIANZA RIOJA 2002
NEW WORLD
PETITE SIRAH
 CLAYHOUSE PASO ROBLES P.S. 2003
 BARNWOOD “ LONG SHADOW” S.BARBARA P.S. 2004
SYRAH/SHIRAZ
 TWO UP SHIRAZ S. AUSTRALIA 2004
 FETISH “THE WATCHER” BAROSSA SHIRAZ 2004
 FOREFATHERS MCCLAREN VALE SHIRAZ 2004
 RAZORS EDGE MCCLARENRHONE/ZIN/GRENACHE ETC
 LANGHORN CREEK –KANGARILLA ROAD MCCLAREN VALE ZIN 2003
RHONE TYPE BLENDS
 BONNY DOON CLOS DU GILROY GRENACHE 2004
 CLAYHOUSE PASO ROBLES PETITE VERDOT 2003
 CLAYHOUSE PASO ROBLES MALBEC 2003
 CLAYHOUSE “ADOBE RED” PASO ROBLES 2004
PINOT NOIR
 VILLA MARIA PRIVATE BIN PINOT NOIR NZ 2004
 VAN DUZER WILLAMETTE VALLEY PINOT NOIR 2004
 CONCANNON CENTRAL COAST PINOT NOIR 2004
CABERNET SAUVIGNON
 CLOS DU VAL NAPA CAB 2003
 BUEHLER NAPA CAB 2004
 BARNWOOD “3200” S.B. CAB SAUV 2003
 FOREFATHERS ALEX VALLEY CAB 2002
MERITAGE (?) BLENDS
 J.BOOKWALTER LOT 20 COLUMBIA VALLEY
 PENDULUM COLUMBIA VALLEY 2003


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Non ce' rose' senza spina

It has been a weekend of rose' wine.
For some reason this has been a component of the measure of my pleasure during these past few days. All around is hot and miserable, so hot, even the wine is sweating. And outside of my little world, fires are burning more fiercely than the nightmares that dot my dream world from time to time. Is this the beginning of World War III?

An Italian saying goes, Non ce' rosa senza spina, there is no gathering the rose without being pricked by the thorns.

It seems a surreal time again, like so many times in the past.

My lady friend, writing about the love of her life, noted that my gas grill was pathetic. I don’t know what caused her to strike out like that, perhaps she didn’t have enough of that wonderful pineapple cake my sister-in-law baked for my birthday.

A dinner from the Browning era, a cool cucumber soup, more cool salads and a little chicken sesame entree that was new, yet reminded me of something in time that had been lost. But the pineapple cake, that was the irresistible force of nature set before me on a plate. With it, a rose' wine, not too dry and not to red.


Something about red wine seems unnatural in this heat. Maybe it's the headache from the tannins, maybe it's the 13%+ alcohol. Maybe I just like rose' wine. Yes, I'm guilty. Are you or have you ever been a rose' wine lover?

Ask any wine lover, not the Parker toting wineabee types, but the real wine lovers. Like Parker or Kermit Lynch or Guy Stout or Paul Roberts..these folks bow to the alter of the rose wine. And so do I.

Anyway, while said lady friend flew away towards the nation’s capital, on her secret mission, I set about rebuilding my gas grill and her faith in my manly man-ness.
With sweat and drills and white lightning grease remover, I set to re-incarnate that pitiful hearth. To celebrate, my son and I inaugurated the new and improved grill with a set of Angus T-bones. And more Rose' wine, this time a Coteaux du Languedoc '05.

Many years ago, I took a drive from Firenze up to Fiesole up in the hills. It was July and hot down in the city. Fiesole was a bit cooler. At the Villa San Michele, I sat in at a dinner on the portico. The server, one of the the best I had ever seen, brought a rustic soup with beans and bread. And with it, a rosato of Sangiovese, I remember it like it was last week. The pale hint of embarrassment at being a rose', this Sangiovese didn’t make the cut to go on to Chianti Classico. Not in the cards. But the life of that wine left a legacy that has lived on to this day, many Chianti’s having passed this way and gone on to obscure corners of my memory. But the rose'...

Rose' and pineapple cake, rosato with rustic bean soup, rose' with grilled T-bone steak. Yes, this summer is hell, but I'm not letting it get me down.

You can't have the rose without the thorn. So when I came upon the fork in the road, I took the cake.






Saturday, July 15, 2006

Lombardia ~ vini, formaggi e olio in vetrina a Dallas

La missione di Federlombarda. Chiusa ieri la promozione delle eccellenze lombarde
di Giuseppe Rizzo DALLAS (Texas) — Un successo. I sette prodotti lombardi – quattro formaggi, i vini di Franciacorta e Valtellina, l’olio del Garda – promossi alla ‘Fiera del gusto di Dallas’ con la missione di Federlombarda Agricoltori, hanno incontrato le simpatie del pubblico americano. Oltre, forse, le stesse attese degli imprenditori italiani. «Ce ne torniamo a casa con indicazioni importanti – ha spiegato Mario Maestroni, presidente della Libera Agricoltori di Cremona e membro della giunta di Confagricoltura – e con una certezza in più: l’Italia è vista molto bene negli Usa e qui in Texas in modo particolare. Ci hanno circondato di simpatia e le eccellenze dei nostri prodotti hanno colpito nel segno. Epperò va anche detto che agli americani non basta vedere il prodotto in esposizione, lo vogliono vedere nel piatto. E provarlo. In tutti i modi. Ma gli chef che si sono esibiti hanno soddisfatto pienamente le esigenze dei nostri interlocutori». La missione lombarda in Texas ha chiuso le sue cinque giornate di lavori con la visita al ‘Buzzard Hollow Ranch’ di Granbury (ove si alleva bestiame di qualità) ed un seminario in serata sul gusto al ‘Ferrè Ristorante’ in McKinney Avenue, nel cuore di una città relativamente giovane (è stata fondata nel 1841) ma esplosa dopo il primo ritrovamento dei pozzi petroliferi (1930) tanto che oggi conta un milione e duecentomila abitanti nel solo capoluogo; l’intera area metropolitana è ormai avviata a toccare quota 5 milioni e trecentomila. La missione italiana lascerà Dallas oggi alle ore 13 (locali); il rientro in Italia è previsto per domani mattina alle ore 9 (Malpensa). E’ difficile, in sede di primo bilancio, stabilire quale dei ‘magnifici sette’ prodotti lombardi abbia avuto maggior successo. I formaggi (Grana Padano, Taleggio, Gorgonzola, Provolone) hanno suscitato molta curiosità; ma se il Grana Padano Dop non è nuovo da queste parti, gli altri tre hanno dovuto essere presentati con il loro, straordinario retroterra di cultura, di lavoro. In particolare ha molto colpito il fatto che il procedimento di preparazione del Gorgonzola e del Taleggio sia stato scoperto 600-700 anni prima della fondazione di Dallas. Eccellente l’impatto dei vini di Franciacorta, meritato il successo dell’azienda ‘Cà del Bosco’ (presidente Maurizio Zanella, enologo Stefano Capelli); una sorpresa i grandi vini della Valtellina, qui presentati come il prodotto della più grande area viticola terrazzata di montagna e trascinati dallo Sforzato (o Sfursat), vino simbolo di Valtellina Docg, ottenuto dall’appassimento delle uve nebbiolo (ma citati sono stati pure i vari Sassella, Inferno, Grumello, Vagella e Maroggia). Infine commenti ampiamente positivi per l’olio extravergine di oliva ‘Garda’ Dop, denominazione (così è stato spiegato) condivisa con il Veneto e il Trentino. Insomma I ‘magnifici sette’ sono parsi la sintesi, emblematica, di un mosaico di sapori che dalle vallate alpine alla Bassa Padana, caratterizzano la Lombardia sul versante della varietà (ricordate anche le carni, i salumi, i cereali) e della qualità. Valori che i texani hanno colto con immediatezza già il primo giorno al ‘Southwest Food Service Expo’ e poi con i vari seminari che sono stati organizzati con relative degustazioni al ‘Viking Culinari Arts Center’ (i vini sono stati illustrati dal sommelier Alfonso Cevola). Conclude Mario Maestroni: «Credo che il sistema americano sia proprio rimasto soddisfatto. Ora non resta che rafforzare i rapporti».

Links
Valtellina
Summer festivals in Valtellina
Nino Negri - Inferno & Sfursat wines

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Folonari Pink Pinot Grigio ~ Calamari Here I Come

Hey -- Lighten up...it's 104 F, here in the sunbelt...and that's in the shade... Last night at the horse races we sipped Prosecco and that was perfect...But now we need a little pink...just a little bit!
All I want right this moment is a sipping wine, I'll get back to redolence and gravitas soon. Bombs are dropping all over us, the fields are frying and I just have to stop, for a moment and clear my mind of all this evil!
Pinot grigio, in the distant past, came to the consumer as a slightly suntanned (ramato) wine. Due to the dark grapes (grigio=grey) some color is "available".
What do you want me to say? Yes, it's light, yes it's fresh, yes it's fruity...ok?
And the appeal here is that it is very cool and light and fresh....goodbye...

Folonari Pink Pinot Grigio 2005

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Planet Sicily ~ What went on here?

Three wines that have been intriguing me are from the Planeta family. Cometa, a Fiano; Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which is the newest DOCG from Sicily; and Moscato di Noto, the dessert wine.

It's really easy to glom onto the fashionable attractiveness and the energy of the Planeta phenom. In a recent posting, I mentioned how I thought Diego Planeta must have felt when he first looked out and thought about the road that he was taking his family down. What I was also talking about was my vision of 35+ years ago and how hard it looked, as an outsider (albeit with a DNA window), to get the Sicilian engine stoked into the next generation of wine making. I grew up in California and we moved as fast as the waves offshore. Sicily was just awakening from a post war slumber.

America was entrenched in a war across the world and I was cannon fodder standing in line to take my turn. When I walked into Palermo with patched jeans, desert boots and some crazy shirt, along with my lengthy curls, peace signs and surplus army camera bag, folks looked at me as if I were from another planet. I was.
Looking around then, all I saw was the future running from the past. Looking around now, all I see is the future then.

From Palermo my uncle would cram us into his little Cinquecento and we would head off into the hills. Those hills would have hectares of wheat or artichoke, depending on where we were on the island. Now we see the beginning of the California sequence in Sicily. It is very wonderful for the innovation of the new world and the absolutely wonderful tradition of this palimpsest we've come to see as Sicilia (for can any of us ever "know" this island?). What Zio Peppino would tell me with his tours no language could ever, ever begin to explain.
We made a little tour of Sicily once, and when we did it was to "run errands". And to taste wine. First stop was Sambuca di Sicilia, where one of our cousins had some vines. He grew Cataratto, Grillo and Inzolia, white wine varieties. The idea was to grow as much as he could, for the local co-op would pay for bulk. Somewhere around the corner the germ of this wine was being dreamed up out of the astral mindscape of Diego Planeta.

Cometa, the first time I saw this wine was in Pantelleria and it fired me up! I love white wine, and in the summer climate of Sicilia and Texas this kind of pleasure is taken, often and willingly. For me, this is a red wine trapped in a white wine body. Look, you can go to the Cernilli's and the Maroni's of the current scene and get your scores and your stars. Frankly, the Planeta machine is moving quite fast without someone like me (or them) to sing their praises.

But.

I like this wine, I really like this wine. I could have only hoped, once I went back to California wine country and witnessed the birth of that scene there and then, that Sicily would "get it"...To "see" it is one thing to get there is another.
Yes. Yes. Yes... to plagiarize Joyce...

We followed the southern coast to Vittoria on the next day, Zio had a friend who grew tomatoes and Zia Vittina wanted to put some up for the fall. I don't know how we hauled all those pomodori back in that tiny Fiat. Along with the wine.

A Jesuit priest who lit the fire under me for Sicily was a gourmand and he told me this story of how he loved to say mass in the little parish towns along the southern coast. Every town had a different wine for the mass, and in Scoglitti he recalled a red wine they supplied, all he could remember was the word Cerasuolo. So over the years when I was in Sicily I'd hunt down a bottle or two of Cerasuolo and take it back with me, one for him one for me. This padre was able to tell me more stories about Sicily and when we opened a bottle of wine, this Cerasuolo, though it was rustic, the genie came out of the bottle and onto his lips. History, wars, eras, empires rose and fell with every glass of Cerasuolo. I only wish my Aunts tomato sauce and her wonderful arancini could have made the trip back to America with me and the Cerasuolo. This is a historical wine from what many of us consider the heart of Ancient Greece. Yes it is now Sicilia, but the Louisiana Homer taught this student more about the Ancients when this wine was opened than I ever learned out of the books.

Before we returned to Palermo, Zio had one last stop in Noto. Zia Vittina needed some special potion from a man who mixed herbs into a potion. She had the softest skin I had ever seen.

Noto, this little gem of a town, now almost as quiet as it was in the last century. The herb man is there and the almond milk man is there. This is a town Unesco has established for protection as a heritage center. Go there...just go there. Forget about Taormina..go to Noto, make a note to go to Noto...ok?

My first love, I still remember how she smelled. I have never, ever smelled that aroma, ever since the last time I kissed her. I still remember that wonderful sensation of her skin and her perfume. Something evoked that olfactory memory, dredged it out of the hulls of my skull. Maybe it was the herb man and his concoctions, Maybe the almond milk man's delicacy or maybe it was the dessert wine from this little treasure, this Moscato di Noto. This would be my mass wine, this would be my almond milk, this would be my lost aromatic memory of first love. I cannot tell you or even myself why these sweet things mean what they do to me, but this opened up a door and swept 40 years away!

go there....go now..

Suntanned Sicilian Tricolore ( all photos by the author)

Links ~

Planeta

Viaggio in Sicilia ~ Art and landscape project inspired and created by Planeta and Nuvole

Unesco World Heritage (re: Noto)

Val di Noto

Wines ~

Fiano

Cerasuolo di Vittoria

Moscato di Noto


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sardegna, Sicilia & Pantelleria ~ ' 5WG ' tasting

Wine dinner July 7, 2006 at home of Janet and
Phil Cobb in Highland Park (Dallas), Texas.
A few of us guys (5WG) get together on a regular basis and taste wines. Not really structured but some theme is agreed upon and then we meet and eat and drink. Guys include Phil Cobb, Hank Rossi, Neal Sleeper, Dave Whitney and me, Italian Wine Guy.
The Wines
Vintage -Winery – ‘Wine Name’ – Appellation - grape
White
1)2004 –Arcodoro (Cantina Sociale del Giogantinu) ‘Lughente’- Vermentino di Gallura D.O.C.G. - Vermentino
2)2004 -Cantina Il Nuraghe Mogoro- ‘Anastasia’ – Sardegna Semidano di Mogoro D.O.C . – Semidano grape
Red
3)1997 -Santadi -‘Terre Brune’ – Carignano del Sulcis D.O.C. – Carignane grape
4)2004 –Flli. Pala- ‘Essentija’- Bovale Isola dei Nuraghi I.G.T. – Bovale grape
5)2003 - Cantina Il Nuraghe Mogoro- ‘Vignaruja’- Cannonau di Sardegna D.O.C. – Grenache grape
6)2003 -Firriato -‘Chiaramonte’ - Sicilia I.G.T. – Nero d’ Avola grape
7)2002 –Terredora- Irpinia I.G.T. – Aglianico grape
8)2003 -Rapitala -‘Nadir’ - Sicilia I.G.T. – Syrah grape
9)2003 -Planeta -Sicilia I.G.T. – Syrah grape
Dolce
10)1994 Minardi- Passito di Pantelleria D.O.C. – Zibbibo (Moscato) grape


The Meal
-Mozzarella Pomodoro-buffalo mozzarella, flown in from Italy, with fresh tomatoes and basil

-Gnocchetti Sardi al Cinghiale- Sardinian teardrop pasta with wild boar

-Risotto al Nero con Gamberi alla Griglia- squid ink risotto with grilled prawns

-Couscous- semolina grain with fresh mediterranean vegetables

-Pescespada alla Griglia -Grilled Swordfish

-Dolce – light, fresh ricotta and pastry fantasy thing..went really well with the dessert wine.


Francesco Farris, executive chef of Arcodoro in Dallas prepared the meal.

The wines are listed above as is the food. I will comment on the wines and the foods in my fashion.

Notable to say this. One wine from the mainland slipped in, the Aglianico from Terredora. We let him stay. And two, the well know wines from Sardegna, Argiolas, Capichera, Contini and Soletta were not present. No reason, not enough time or room. So this wasn’t meant to be an all inclusive deal anyway. Sicily, too, a few well known ones are in the lineup but in no way could we even begin to cover it all. That being said, here’s what we sampled.

The first two whites were opened , the ‘Lughente’ Vermentino and the ‘Anastasia’ Semidano. Vermentino is a fairly well known grape from the region and Semidano is a “heritage” variety recently resuscitated and now back in play. The Vermentino, a private label of the Farris boys, was a refreshing, clean and very straightforward wine, very nice. The Cantina Sociale of Giogantinu has made great strides in rushing towards the new millennia and the wines are showing well.


The Semidano was an interesting wine and one that I had to research after the dinner. Spritzy like an Arneis but quite a refreshing wine. A bit effervescent on the palate but bone dry.

Sardinian white wines are, like much white from Italy, improving at light speed. Thank Bacchus!

The reds, first with an older carignane, the ‘Terre Brune’. At first the wine, because of its age, showed a little adobe color. But carignane has layers and we eventually found a few under the brick pile. Spicy and a little salty, the fruit was mature and enjoyable. Brought directly from Italy a week before, straight from Bugari’s Enoteca. Nice .

The ‘Essentija’, made of Bovale grape, thought to have been brought from Spain, was bright and lively. Some of the gents didn’t latch onto the wine at first, but its light refreshing quaffability made it a good match for the Gnochetti with wild boar sauce.


The ‘Vinayruju’ (sounds like an Indian deity) – was full throttle Cannonau (grenache) and at first opening was throwing off some carmel-like aromas. This dispelled, and like so many of these wines that are rooted in a rustic terroir, evolved and changed through the night. A deep wine, almost what I would think to be approaching the “vino da meditazione" category. Also brought directly from the enoteca by Hank.


We then stepped on the barge and went over to Sicilia, starting with a Nero d’Avola from Firriato. This is an interesting winery with a very strong-willed, charismatic woman at the helm. I’m finding this more in the wines of Sicily, strong women. Well, it makes sense, my grandmother sure was, and I’m glad for it. She had opinions and convictions and character. And things like that make for good components in a wine, especially when one is looking for the reflection of the land, some depth and above all character, in wine and in people.
Her Nero d’Avola, Chiaramonte, was rich and not too New World, alcohol was in check and wine was in balance. That was our only Nero d’Avola. Alongside Frappato, which is the grape of the important Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Nero d’Avola is a historic grape and one of interest to those who look to the region for their indigenous expression. Nero d’Avola is Sicily.

We popped on over to the Campanian countryside like a cold front settling in the valley where the Terredora winery sits. Look at a weather map of Italy in summer and you will often see it cooler in Avellino than in Trento. Locals refer to it as the Switzerland of the South. Nice…We had a basic red, their Aglianico Irpinia IGT. In the group and it showed fairly well, though it was a bit overwhelmed by the riper and extracted reds of the islands. It was a little older (2002), which wasn’t a problem vintage for the south like it was in Tuscany and Piedmont. It grew on the group through the night. Terredora is owned by the land-owning side of the Mastroberardino family, and they make, arguably, the greatest wines from their region. While the owners are pretty laid back folks and don’t beat their drums like their competitors, you can find their wines on the greatest of the great wine lists all over the world. So they may speak softly but they carry a big stick.

Back to the big island, and straight in to the arms of two Syrahs, from Rapitala and Planeta. Rapitala, owned by Hugues Bernard, Count of Gatinais, France, and his wife Gigi Guarrasi, a descendant of a prominent Palermo family, really attaches itself to the Arab roots planted in Sicily. Rapitala, from the Arabic, Rabidh-Allah, meaning river of Allah, and Nadir, from the Arabic Nazir, meaning deep, rare, precious. The wine has a restrained holding back side to it, revealing itself layer by layer, like a slow dance. Very European.


The Planeta family is high energy from the get go! These folks are seeing through a set of eyes, the eyes of visionary Diego Planeta, who must have felt very alone when he first saw where he was going and where he was taking his family. And now Planeta the winery, with the young sons and daughters at the helm, sits on a plateau looking forward and hearing the chant of the legacy given by the blood and sweat of many who went before them. Very exciting to see, one who has been watching Sicily from afar for almost 40 years now. The wine was rich and full-bodied; all the gents really seemed to like this wine.

But how can one not like a Cucinotta ?

For a finale we took a small plane to Pantelleria and sampled the Zibbibo passito from a small family, Minardi. These are not Parker-chasing people; probably don’t even know who that is. Straightforward and honest people, Andrea Minardi and his family are great friends. Pantelleria is a favorite stop of mine, and I’d live their part of the year if I could. I love the island and the people, and opening a bottle of wine like this instantly transports me there. The wine is the embodiment of terroir; this wine smells like the island, tastes like the island, looks like the island, feels like the island. Really a bizarre and wonderful experience to have this happen.

This has gotten too wordy and so I must stop now. I will suggest links, wineries and websites and photo links.

One last note. The Enoteca Bugari, in San Benedetto del Tronto in Porto d' Ascoli, if you ever get a chance to go there, is a wonderful place in time that is really a shrine to some of the forgotten wines of Italy. Started by a man who has been acknowledged as a seminal figure in the understanding and communicating of wine Italian, Signore Bugari. A friend and mentor of mine took me to see him 20+ years ago, for this was his mentor. This man was friend to Veronelli and Tachis, and more so to the lonely vine grower, toiling in the wine fields on land far from the sight of society and industry. Here was an ambassador who brought back word and wine from these outposts to tell the Italians and the world about the riches in the fields. By all means it is not a great address, and if you go you might think me crazy for wasting your time, but I can tell you this is an oasis in time and space, and that is important to people like me.

Ciao ciao









Links
Cantina Sociale del Giogantinu
Cantina Il Nuraghe Mogoro
Santadi
Flli. Pala
Firriato
Terredora
Rapitala
Planeta
Minardi

Arcodoro the restaurant
about the chef, Francesco Farris

Photos of Pantelleria
Photos of Sicilia and wineries