Sunday, September 30, 2007

Brunello in Bergerac

Something that I’ve been thinking about since my trip to France last week. First, this proviso: France is one of the top countries in the world for food, for wine, for cheese, for bread. So let it not be misunderstood that I don’t like French products, culture, etc., because they are a lot closer to the Italian experience than, say, China or India. OK?

One night we were sitting around the hearth with a simple meal. There was cheese, there was a little chicken, there was bread, there was wine. We started with a Bordeaux Supérieur. A nice wine, good flavors, nothing improper about it. We finished the bottle and the owner of the chateau went down to the cave and brought back a bottle of Brunello. By this time we were on the cheese course and pretty much finished with the big meal.

We opened the Brunello, a 2001, and decanted it. Gave it a 10 minute period of adjustment. And dove into it.


About an hour or so later when were well into Cognac, I got to thinking about it. Now this is strictly a personal take. My view and nothing more. A light went off inside, an ah-ha moment. Now I get it, now I understand why people are so intimidated by Italian wine. It’s really, really complicated. It isn’t simple. It’s always changing. You can’t go from one region to other without scores of new grape varieties ending up in the bottle or the carafe on the table. It is difficult.

Like the Italian kitchen. The way they cook in Valle d’Aosta differs from the way they cook in Sicily. Enormously . It ain't all spaghetti and meatballs. Duh. But wait, what is the message pounded year after year; from the Lady and the Tramp café love scene to I love Lucy grape stomps, to the Soprano’s. The message: Italy is this. Meatballs, wicker and goomba's.


Is that Italy? Really?

Well, it just ain’t so. Italy, wine, food and culture, isn’t some cookie cutter representation. It isn’t monolithic and sometimes it isn’t pretty. But it is a work in progress. And for folks who like change and the differences, it is a Holy Land of wine and food. Not to say France is below par, not at all. But for a certain temperament, say mine, Italy resonates so deliciously within me that, even though it is complicated and unpredictable, it fits. Perfectly.

So how does that play into the American landscape? The answer is I don’t know. I do know there are people in Midland who understand what I am talking about, because I have talked with them till late at night about this. And they are infinitely more frustrated than the average Italian restaurateur in Queens or Brooklyn. This I know. But Midland doesn’t present itself as the cutting edge of culture (and don’t we all know that now after these past few years).

My interest is in what places like Birmingham, AL, or Novato, CA, or White Plains, NY or Snohomish, WA think and do, and are showing in their cultural evolution and development in that they are integrating some Italian-ness into their daily lives. It might just be a great espresso or a home made mozzarella. It might be a gelato that rivals Sicily or Venezia, or it might be that they just like living a lifestyle that resembles somewhere on the Italian peninsula. This is the vision I had, sitting inside a 400 year old chateau, sipping on a Brunello, in Bergerac.


Pass the passito.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Random Thoughts at Week's End

I’m staring at a set in the wine section and this old man calls out to me. “How did I get here?” He’s trapped on a label of a Tuscan wine.

He’s hovering around the Tuscan section, but he should be happy. He landed in Austin, Texas and someone will think it’s cool and wierd enough to pick up. There’s a lot of that in Austin. And lots of wealth. Welcome home.
After traveling around France for a week or so, staying far from urban centers and deep in the country, I am happy that owls still shriek at night and bull frogs still bellow into the early morning.

The natural life – a true break from the day to day work of making the world turn.

Yeah, yeah, no one cares about my blog or your blog or Myanmar or Ahmadinejad .

Meanwhile, all the containers are lined up – wine is on its way. Here come the harvests of ’03,’04 and ’05.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kicking Back in Perigord

We were still a few days off from the beginning of harvest. Based in Bergerac for the remainder of the trip, it gave us a good jumping off point to explore nearby areas, St. Emilion, Monbazillac and Perigord. Friends who own a tower invited us over for lunch, commencing at the Perigueux market. And while the grapes were still a few days away, fruits and veggies, and the endless foie gras, were plentiful. The only thing I lacked was a back scratcher. But I improvised.

Actually the back went out right about then, so mobility was limited to a slower pace. No big deal, although 10 days later this is getting a bit tiresome. Meh.

So a short display of pictures I like. Anybody who cares to can go to my Webshots slideshow to see the whole shooting match.

The raspberries. Right behind the oyster counter.

Ever had an oyster with a Kir and a raspberry chaser?

Two little goats. Part of my aroma-vacation. Smelled like an old David Bruce Pinot Noir from the 1970’s.
I like the little guy on the left, he was assertive, in the game. Could use some salespeople like him.

Baby ducks. On a farm called a Ferme Auberge. Similar to an Italian Agriturismo, a Ferme Auberge must produce a large amount of what it serves right there on the farm. The one we went to, Ferme-Biorne, was country cooking at its best. More on the farm and the food here.

The little rabbits we found at the market in Perigueux. The Ferme Auberge also raised the little creatures and they were tasty!

And that’s how Cyrano spent the weekend, a week or so ago, in under 300 words.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

L'Odore Del Tuo Raspare

I’m asleep, dreaming about being trapped in a room full of snakes (triggered by a glass of absinthe?). In the distance, outside, in the dark, a tractor is going up and down the rows of vines, harvesting the white grapes. In the afternoon it had rained and the owner of the chateau was worried. The approach of the harvester wakes me. It smells musty, like rancid heather and ancient, dusty ambergris. It’s 5:30 AM. Again.

A week earlier I was stuffed into a plane to cross over to France, excited about visiting the planet of Aroma. On the plane, a young man in dirty jeans sat next to me. He reeked of mustard, sweat and semen. My nose isn’t my best friend on a plane. I took off my seat belt and headed into the restroom, where I thrust water into my nostrils to wash out the arôme de foutre.


A glass of cheap Bordeaux, an Ambien and 25mg of a generic antihistamine, that’s my “formule”. Six hours later I wake up ready to land in Paris.

I have taken my nose on vacation. The rest of me doesn’t want to be here. Part of me wants to stay home and look after family matters, of which I can do nothing about. Another part of me just wants water, a beach and a platter of grilled langosta. Not this time.

The walk to the rental car. In the airport terminal there lingers the aroma of cigarettes, dark Turkish. Resin, patchouli, more sweat, this time from Africa, paste wax, silicon spray and burnt crust.

Once in the parking lot, the pavement, a mixture of tar and concrete, wet from a recent morning rain, welcomed me to the earth of France with a coppery, rust-like greeting. Once at the counter, the cultures of people from three continents helped me to pick up my car. The European smelled like butter and violets, the Asian reminded me of frankincense and pork brisket and the African smelled of starched cotton, and pine that had marinated in an ant pile.

On the road to Beaune I find an Autogrill. Hoping for un café Italien, I get a soppy mass of dank, dark bitterness.


A moment in Beaune, and back to the road, across the massive central of the country. France, a country as large as Texas. And we are driving down it, across it, over it and, eventually, back to where we started.


Along the way a short stop in a little run down hotel with a restaurant on the second floor. The aromas of burgundy wine steeped in an oven with lamb and veal. Ripe local cheeses, perfume from an elderly lady, and the smell of the dust of baking flour, a thin sheet of mist that settles on everything. It is invisible, but, like scent, is very present. A moment with a bottle of rosé wine, a plate of string beans in butter and olive oil, like my grandmother used to make when I was the only one at the house. I used to ask her, “Nonna, why butter and oil?” She would say, “So we can always remember the times when we can afford both butter and olive oil.” This would be a short long trip across the plane of the country we were now exploring, this planet of perfume and forests, butter and duck fat, Pinot Noir and Merlot.

As mentioned two weeks ago, time to take some deep breaths. And what a place, where all the aromas and smells one could imaging are gathered in this confluence of aromatic ecstasy. A chunk of bread, a slice of cheese and a row of lavender. Did you notice I didn’t mention wine? Not yet. Remember? We've just started harvest.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Coup de Gras


Dale is doing his supertrooper thing, busy ganging up all the local sommelier talent for his latest venture.

Ziff, meanwhile, has been taking pleasure in the delights of the French countryside during the harvest season.

Foie gras entier de canard, Confit ou magret sauce périgueux, cabécou du Périgord.

Grapes, strawberries, raspberries.

Cahors, cognac, absinthe.

The plat thickens.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I'll Be Seeing You


Beatrice , Arthur and I will be taking some time off, convinced it is time to take some deep breaths of fresh air.

When the ship returns, so shall we.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Mortadella, Portobello, Mozzarella


At the Italian buffet today, Francesco had lots of good offerings. Andrea asked the server about the mushroom that was offered. "What is it?” he asked, "Porcini?"

The server said "No, Mortadella."

"Are you sure?” IWG asked. "It looks more like Portobello."

"We call it Mortadella in Spain." the server responded.

“What do you call the meat that looks like Baloney?” Andrea asked?

The server replied, “Mozzarella.”

Guards! seize him!


Click on image to enlarge

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The 300


Beatrice and Arthur challenged me to write something in 300 words or less; a length that wouldn’t lose their generation. I have been on the road, working out of hotel rooms, long hours. So that could be easier than usual.

Today I see many new faces in the wine scene. Young men and women just starting out on wine trail, needing to learn about wine. They are moving through the stages of wine faster than previous generations. What’s that mean? Usually one would start out with fruity or sweet wines, Riesling or a fruity Zinfandel, moving on to Beaujolais and then on the Cabernet and then on to Burgundy. Something like that. But in a time span of maybe 5-15 years. Now we have youth in the 20’s who say, great, Napa Valley Cabernet, what's next? For me that is a revelation. Also, these newborns aren’t afraid of the $20 price tag. Hey, they are driving BMW 3 series and plunking down payments on urban loft spaces. They are expecting the good life. Minor concern is they cycle through the process so fast they keep sailing right out through the exit-chute. Then we are left with the next cycle of bambini and the process of exciting, educating and keeping them engaged in this profession.

What can help? Travel, tasting and talking to different folks in their world of wine. When you see that you belong to a small global community of like-minded people whom you can have friendships with, it makes up for perhaps not having the biggest paycheck in your peer group. Challenging yourself to the mastery of something is an honorable endeavor. I stand along the trail with my pitons and haul bags, ready to help any and all, on their way up the summit.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Dream Storyboard

It isn’t about Italy. It isn’t about wine. And what trail have you been on? Those were the words that came hurtling at me like so many spears in the sky, blotting out the light, bringing on the darkness. If my eyes hadn’t already been closed. And if I hadn’t already been asleep for some time.

Today’s post isn’t so much about words as it is about images from a dream.

Pictures to follow, view on...

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