Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Call of the Wild

Recalling untamed dreams under a full moon

Italy, when are you going to let down your hair and get wild again?

How long has it been? What more of a signal do you need? The world is waiting on you; will you let it pass you by, one more time, again?

When I dream of Italy and the wine and the people and the politics, I just want to pack my bags and move to deep cover out West. I want to drift away from it all. I am talking of my dream of Italy now. Italy, what in the hell are you thinking? Get off your complacence and bring the wild back into your wines!

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Was it a dream or did it really happen?

Outtakes from a storyboard imagining the direction a recent dinner might take in honor a member of a somewhat famous Italian winemaker family

The first course was a spinach salad, lightly dressed, and served family style. I am a shy person and know no one at the table save a few colleagues. Thankfully they were there. The winemaker was at another table. Really, really nice person.

Backing up first. I called the host and asked when the event would be over, as I wanted to stop by a friend’s restaurant and have a glass of wine with him. We talk food, he is on the cutting edge of Italian things in town, and I hadn’t seen him since December. The host said, wed be through about 9:30 tops. Great.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pure and Simple

After two days of solid rain in the San Francisco bay area, I’m waiting. For the power to come back up. For the wireless to reappear. And for a better understanding of natural wines. Specifically, the Italian ones.

Before anyone thinks I’m about to take on the sacred cow, invoking the “N” word with unabashed acceptance and reverence, turn away. While I am a devotee of many natural things in life, I know things aren’t always what they seem. In essence, the words I heard uttered by one of the Renaissance men of the 20th century, Bucky Fuller, who told me to my face, “Anything that nature lets you do is natural.”

So, given a wide berth, I’ll dig in.

It started on the drive over the Bay Bridge from Berkeley to the City, on my way to Biondiviono to see a friend who brought in some winemakers for the Gambero Rosso tasting earlier in the week. A small reception for the winemakers and their wines in a convivial neighborhood setting in only the way one finds in San Francisco and other cities who have devoted their urban spaces to a accommodate the human scale. With dogs. My kind of place. The pump is primed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Deep Dishin' and Dolcetto in da 'burbs- Ain't Life Sweet?

Just a quickie, ‘cause we’re on the run, with the family and hanging out in the East Bay. Last night we opted for Deep Dish Pizza and Dolcetto. With a Trader Joe’s a block away and a downpour, I headed into one of my old haunts. Wow, has TJ’s changed since I first went into the place back in the '70's. Lots of private labels and a generally dismal wine selection. Thank God Ceri @ Biondivino left us with a killer bottle of Rosso from Montalcino.

But there was a little bottle of Dolcetto begging me to take it home. Ok, not great, but @ 6.99, not bad either. Better than the mystery bastardo Nerello the wine guy was trying to sell me on. “These use indigenous grapes that we can’t put on the label” Yeah, right. A quick glance on the back label told me the importer ( whom we call the "wine criminals" back home, because nobody can import an Amarone to sell in the US for $17, unless it ain’t the real deal).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Elegia di Nera

I pulled out the bottle of 2000. Around this time it was being born, right about that time we were watching her last sunrise, she was breathing her last breaths. The appassimento was only ten years old, I shouldn’t have opened it. It was too soon. But things happen.

What can one say about the last ten years that this wine cannot? In ten years I have lived everyday without her, thinking about her, losing her everyday I wake up. She is now younger than me, than all of us. She doesn’t age, unlike this wine. But like this wine, neither had the time to grow old, really age. And so, once again, something is in front of me, dying.

The wine from the Veneto. I was just there. I should have gone down to Umbria and visited her site. I’ll go in the spring, when the lilies are covering her spot on the hill. Now, I am relegated to the gloomy skies of winter, and this bottle of wine and my memories of a love lost to the ages.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Colli Orientali del Friuli 2011: A Few of My Favorite Things

Fire and friendship on cold winter mornings

Farmers who work in their fields without stopping

Doors that are opened to reveal new mysteries

These are a few of my favorite things

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The nail I hang my purpose on

Driving back to the airport in a fog. After a week with my compadres it’s time to go back home. Leave Italy. Again.

I have this thing I do when I am getting ready to leave Italy. I get nostalgic. Must be something I inherited from my immigrant grandfather. I look at the ledges of windows in a bathroom and imagine all the people who will come in and use this space when I am gone. Or looking down a walkway in a town, when on Saturday night, in the summer, people will walk, arm in arm, doing their little passegiata through their time on earth. I won’t be there, but Italy will be just fine.

A week in Friuli, one place, Colli Orientali, how valuable is that for one to get an idea of this Italianita? Who really knows? Traveling with folks who have such a command of the language, who confirm to me that I have no idea what the Italians are talking about, it has been like a forty year walk along the Italian landscape as a deaf man. I know nothing. Thank God I took my camera with me all those times.

So, what? Nothing. Just that I will continue to walk in my own way and see, if not hear, what it is that Italy is now.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gli American wine bloggers conquer Italy? How about Italians try to conquer Italy first?

And so my fellow Italians,ask not what America can do for Italy; ask what Italy can do for Italy"

The flash on my camera is not working. It's stuck. So is Italy. As much as there is talk of wines being natural, we even go so far as to walk in the vineyards, pull up a stone and look under it, or tear out a piece of soil and see the live snails tearing up the matter, still there are elements in Italy that rip it out only to throw it up in the air. For what? To see where it will go? To see if it will fly?

Italy has their barking poodles too, Ron. Maybe the television shows are not as entertaining as American ones, Starsky and Hutch, CSI, Dexter. Maybe there is a need for blood. Or controversy.

17 °F in Dallas and 17 °C here in Friuli

My neighborhood back home in Dallas today - Photo: Jessica Meyers/DMN
It is so hard to believe back home it is 17 °F in Dallas and yesterday in Friuli it was 17 °C ! They had ice, snow, sleet, and the coldest night of the past 15 years. Meanwhile, here we were walking around in shirts, even after the sun set.

All the better to get after it here with the COF 2011 crew. And also a little work with wineries I represent back home. Yesterday, an early morning meeting with my Friuli friend Stefano, who makes wine here, where we are staying at Il Roncal, and also the winery in Emilia, Campodelsole, which I represent in Texas. We had a short strategy meeting before setting off to taste 40 Schioppettino and Pignolo wines.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Colli Orientali del Friuli: Field Report

The field at Miani in Buttrio. I nearly tripped on the stones that covered the yard and the fields. The wines are immense, like the winemaker. The cellar, only 79 barrels (a little more than Chateau Le Pin), is colder than the outdoors. When garagiste Enzo Pontoni tells me the wines are more about the place (Buttrio) I think back almost a year when a winemaker took me out from his winery in Abruzzo and tasted the Montepulciano in the vineyard. Here, as well, I would like to do that. Out of the garage and back into the fields

Mother of winemaker Pontoni with Christian Patat of Ronco del Gnemiz chatting in Friulan
His mother is animated, very direct in her Friulian language and her naturalness with expressing herself simply and clearly. The wines too are very direct though not too simple. They are big wines; I am transported back 20+ years when Colli Orientali was asserting itself on the world stage. Now Colli Orientali is no longer a child, but a young person, full of energy and spunk. There are a few wine lovers in Dallas who would love these wines with their hearty Western fare.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sunsets and Revelation in Friuli

Earlier in the week, back home in Texas, I was lying in bed late at night. The wind was howling. A huge winter storm was bearing down over my roof. Snow, ice, winds, tornado sirens going off, alarms. Another winter surge, another whiteout. And so my mind raced, thinking about Friuli.

I don’t really know that much about the area. It isn’t exactly in the center of things. And for me, it isn’t one of my go-to regions. Alto-Adige has more draw in my business life, as does the Veneto. In fact, as I think more about it, I have spent an inordinate amount of time talking about wines from Friuli without the requisite sales volume. That’s a real shame, because these are good wines. But there are problems. And after tasting through a series of wines from Friuli last week at the Vino2011 events in New York, some of the same problems exist that I initially observed when I first got interested in these wines back in the early 1980’s.

Seeing as I am on my way with the COF2011 blog crew to Friuli, and specifically the Colli Orientali, I thought it would be illustrative to make some notes and see if the following week addresses concerns I have for these wines as they pertain to the American market.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Marea with the Maestro

That's right Marea - not Marfa - not yet

There ain’t too many people I would get out of a warm, dry taxi and go hunt down a shovel to clear a path for, in a snowfall, but Filippo De Belardino is one of them. And to do it, to make a way to one of the best meals I will have this year, let’s say it was worth it. Oh yeah! Man if I was a gambling man, after SD26 and Marea, I should just go home. First the disclaimer and then the details.

I know some folks just don’t like reading these kinds of posts. It could come off like a nah-nah-nah-nah-nah kind of brag-fest. But I promise to interject love and life and good times about friends and the most important thing in the wine business – the relationships. If I remember. Or I might just brag.

It’s hard not to love a guy like Filippo. Even when I get mad at him (rarely) I still love the cat. He is warm and generous and he gives me room to be myself. I think of him as a brother-in-arms. Thankfully, not a brother-in-law.