Sunday, May 30, 2010

Swept Away on a Sunday for a Sicilian Sojourn

From an unusual destiny in the blue sea of May dept...

I’m crazy about islands. In fact, my bucket list has every island off the coast of Italy. I’m about halfway there.

Favignana is close to my beloved Pantelleria, about an hour or so from the port of Marsala. On my recent swing through Sicily I took the opportunity to sail (on a 52'er) to Favignana. It was one of those gorgeous days that make one want to chuck it all, sell everything, buy a boat and sail the Mediterranean for the rest of one’s life.

At the port of Favignana (the picture of the houses on the port were re- imagined by yours truly) the scene was serene. But in a month or so the place will be hopping. Once a vital port for the harvesting of Tuna (the Mattanza is famous here) now Favignana is a sleepy little island. It feels so Greek to me, like Paros. But of course there is great pasta and seafood and the wine, the wine. Tonight with friends we will recreate some of that with the capers and the bottarga and the Ventresca di Tonno Rosso that I lovingly smuggled back home.

So feast your eyes on these little vignettes of a day spent in joy among the wind and the sun and a little speck of earth in the middle of the sea somewhere in a place and time called Sicily.

Our two Sicilian sailors (sailing with their hands, of course)

Favignana Port re-imagined as Burano

Pasta as one can only dream of...

Pack your bags, Marco!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vino Cotto ~ My Elisir d'amore

Last night we drove to Ft. Worth to the Bass Hall for a performance of Donizetti’s L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixir of Love). Fitting coincidence, as I have been thinking about dessert wines after my recent swing through Southern Italy. It seems every region has a passito or some kind of vin santo wine. But this time the wine that I zeroed in on I found both in Abruzzo and Basilicata.

I first encountered vino cotto in Ortona at the Ristorante al Vecchio Teatro. I was spying the cooler of Abruzzo wines in the restaurant when I saw a large hand blown bottle of wine. I asked chef Armando Carusi what it was. “It is my grandfather’s vino cotto,” he said. And he proceeded to pour me a glass.

As I sat back down at the table, another winemaker looked over at me and asked what I had. When I told him, he said, “They don’t know how to make vino cotto well. They make it the old way. My vino cotto is better; I need to send you a bottle and you will know what really good vino cotto is,” he blustered.

Indeed the grandfather’s wine was from another time. It was sherried, and acidic and almost bitter. But it felt so real. I imagined this wine would serve as a wonderful digestive for the meal I had just had and I thanked the chef for the pleasure of the glass he shared with a stranger. It was really one of those sweet moments one gets when one strays off the tourist trails.

My second encounter was a week later, in Basilicata. Paolo Montrone, who oversees operations at Terre degli Svevi's Re Manfredi winery, had us at the winery as guests for lunch. His wife and two other women cooked an unforgettable feast of fresh vegetables, pasta and two kinds of meat to go with a gorgeous Muller Thurgau/Traminer white blend, an off-the-charts beautiful Aglianico rosé and a vertical of Aglianico going back to 1998. Wow, I was in heaven, and my reward was Aglianico. Then an amazing display of cookies and pastries were presented to the table.

I left my heart in Re Manfredi

Paolo, who resembles a well-fed Tony Bennett, stepped away from the table and minutes later appeared with a carafe of warm red wine. From Aglianico grapes, he brought his version of Vincotto (as they called it in Basilicata). This time the wine was deeper in color (not a surprise, seeing as Aglianico is a heavily pigmented and polyphenolically rich grape). I had stepped away from the table to take a picture and when I returned I saw that he had served everyone.

When I asked Paolo for a little glass to try as well, he looked at me funny but in a 1/1000th of a second kind of way. As I took the wine up to smell he looked a little nervous. And as I went to taste the wine I could sense even more trepidation, coming not just from him but from the rest of the locals in the room. Thank God I can sometimes sense these 1/1000th moments, and I drew the glass away and set it down. I then picked up one of the cookies and procceded to dip it in the warm, sweet elixir. The room melted in ease, assured that I wasn’t some American yokel who didn’t understand their customs. Dumb luck on my part, but a lesson, once again, to me, not to underestimate the traditions and the customs but to work to always be open and available for an autochthonous experience.

In Donizetti’s L'elisir d'amore, the elixir is a bottle of Bordeaux. I couldn’t but help laugh last night at the joke. The traveling salesman, Dr. Dulcamara, pawns a bottle of French wine off on poor love sick Nermorino. Thinking he has gotten the mother of all love potions, Nemorino proceeds to carry the farce of the opera out to its happy conclusion. But I was thinking all the way home, how my Dr. Dulcamaras pressed these ancient wines upon me and how they indeed cast a spell upon this equally love sick traveler. In love with Italian wines and sick that folks back home will rarely get a chance to see and taste and feel and smell such wonderful wines in such a rich and enchanting country.

Maybe we’ll have to do something about that in the future.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Making a Case for Italian Wine

2004 Montepulciano Passito Clematis from Zaccagnini

As promised, images from the last Italian wine trail journey. Twelve wines that crossed our paths, twelve singular experiences. But without the food, the people, the places, they are meaningless. Hence you will find no tasting notes, only captions and images. Breathe deep, you can almost smell them, and if you have an open imagination you are already there, on the wine trail in Italy with us.

Buon weekend y’all!

2009 Montepulciano d''Abruzzo Cerasuolo from Illuminati

2009 Cococciola Aer Terre di Chieti IGT

2008 Pecorino Ciprea Offida DOC from Podere Capecci San Savino

1997 Valentini Montepulciano d' Abruzzo

Rattafia Elisir d'Abruzzo Michele Jannamico & Figli (Montepulciano & Amarena)

2009 Rapitala Casali Sicilia IGT

Duca di Castelmonte Gibelè Zibibbo secco Sicilia IGT

1961 Chianto Classico - Castello di Bossi

Vino Cotto di Nonno - Abruzzo (made by chef's grandfather)

2001 Serpara Aglianico del Vulture from Re Manfredi ~ Terre degli Svevi

Vincotto of Aglianico from Terre degli Svevi winemaker's personal stash

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eating your heart out

Stepping onto the scales this week at the doctor (“You’ve gained two pounds, Mr. Cevola”) caused me to pause and look back at some of the great meals I had on this last Italian wine trail work/adventure. From Emilia Romagna to Marche to Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Sicily, Tuscany and Rome, what a trip it was. Here’s a little eye candy, sans traffic cones. Food, beautiful food.

Wines for another time. Sailing pix in the Mediterranean too. I reckon if one's gonna gloat, one's gotta flaunt the yacht shots, eh?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Duty of Hospitality

is not just expected of the Host

My dad, Lou, in the 1950's - the consummate saleman

I received an email from Italy, via a concerned and upset supplier, whom I regard as a friend.

“The person you arranged to visit our property in Tuscany never showed up. They never even called! Do you know what happened? We were waiting. We are still waiting. This happens too many times! Please make sure the people you set up visits for really want to come to visit us!”

I cannot tell you how many times this has happened. And with the tourist season ramping up, I fear more incidents like this. In this case I made three calls, filled out visit forms, three properties I made arrangements for and the client was a no-show at all three. To quote my dad above, "WHAT'S THE DEAL?"

The client, whom forever going forward will be persona non grata in my books, emailed me a month ago. “I am going to Italy, to Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. Please set up some appointments for me and my colleague. We are planning a fall trip to take our customers on a tour and we’d like to find some nice spots to visit.”

So I drop everything, make some calls, fill out some forms, stop what I am doing. Because that is what we do. We are in the service business. I can go straight to the vineyard, these people are my friends. But even friends have limits.

I don’t know how to say this but in the most direct of ways. Italians value hospitality above almost anything else. So when someone, a client or a friend, is presented to them by someone with credibility, such as myself, they treat a visit as if it were a family visit. Ospitalità. Often cranking up the oven, cooking lunch. Bringing out the linen table cloths. Friends of my friends are my friends. That kind of thing.

When one crams appointments, trying to make two or three stops in Tuscany in a day, and the inevitable happens, and one doesn’t call, it makes it an embarrassing situation; the impression is that ugly self-centered Americans are at it again. And of course I get the inevitable call asking me why I didn’t know better than to set up an appointment for these deadbeats. The Italians don’t say it that way but that’s what they mean, when they ask me simply, “Why?” And I cannot provide them with a suitable answer.

So, going forward, to anyone reading this, if you ask someone to set you up in Italy (or France or California), for God’s sake have the courtesy to show up and if for some reason you cannot make it, at the very least, call and express your regrets at not being able to make the appointment.

You are being welcomed into someone’s home. It is simple civility to act with a modicum of respect for everyone else’s time.

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