Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Boca ~ From Noah to Moses

There are those places on the wine trail in Italy that really pay homage to a glorious past. But sometimes they don’t have to shout. All it takes is a whisper, a caress, a memory. So it was we made our way back into the snow and ice to the hilltop town of Boca in Piemonte. Not in the Langhe anymore, but a place that more people have forgotten about than remember.

Christoph Künzli is a modern day Moses for this area. Technically a foreigner, from nearby Switzerland, over 20 years ago he came here and fell under the spell of Antonio Cerri.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Langhe Report: Barbaresco at a Crossroads

The young in this world don’t remember the past; the old can’t imagine the future. As it goes throughout the world and history, this pattern keeps repeating. And in a place like Barbaresco, once again we are at a crossroads. Can the advances of the past be passed along to the new generation? Are they ready? Are there enough to pass it to that are receptive? Wine communities all over the world struggle with this passing of the baton to the new crop. I find myself in the Langhe again, in the Barbaresco of past and future.

Old people look around and shake their heads, wondering who will work as hard as they feel they had to. And equally, the very young look at the old ways and dismiss the folly of the older but not always wiser ones who still assert their control over the future.

Somewhere along the way, both sides have to either take that leap of faith or just throw up their hands and move on.

Oddly, what I sense in a place like Barbaresco is a change in direction, a tug-of-war between lifestyle and wine.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Langhe Report: First Snow of 2012 (and It's a Big One)

From the "Cuckoo for Cocconato Files

Just the beginning...
Have you ever gotten into a car and headed to a place, feeling there was something waiting for you that you might not be waiting for yourself? Yesterday (Day 3) in Alba after I finished my appointment with the Pio Cesare folks, I looked towards Asti and wondered if I should be driving up there. I sent a text to my colleague, Robert Bava, but didn’t hear back. I took that for an “all clear.”

As I neared Cocconato I started to see a light dusting of snow, and as I climbed the snow started to fall a little harder. If I had not been born a fool, I would have turned around right then and there. But I didn’t.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Langhe Report: From Ovello to Novello to Bolly in only 14 hours

Day 2 started out early in Barbaresco to visit with Aldo Vacco at Produttori. Aldo was running late, but Luca met us with hot espresso. Luca’s grandfather was one of the very first to help set up the cooperative and at only 26 his life’s course it set. Like a monk, Luca diligently explained to us all the new improvements and the comings and goings (one grower recently passed and the property was sold to another grower, etc.) along with the new construction at both of the facilities. The places are beautiful and I will have to post on that progress in another post.

Aldo showed up and led John Roenigk and I through a tasting of the 2007 crus. I noticed Aldo seemed pretty excited. As we worked our way through the wines from Muncagotta to Montestefano to Asili, across the hilly vineyards of Barbaresco, Aldo got more and more animated. Now Aldo is a pretty sedate fellow. But with wines like this and with Produttori essentially being a hue control experiment for the quality of Barbaresco, I could sense Aldo, after all these years, is more than a director of a winery. To me he represents one who is actually charting the course for a village of winemakers. And not just any village, but a spot on earth where one of the great wines is made. And yes, there are people in the village who also chart their own destiny, folks like Gaja and de Gresy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Langhe Report: Nebbiolo "Full Immersion" Day 1

I had no longer said goodbye to my Austin amigo, Devon, sending him on his way to the Real Madrid –Barcelona game in Barcelona, than I set upon to make my way to Marseille, so I could catch a very early plane to Milan to gather up another Austinite friend, John Roenigk. Before that though I had to endure a night in a smoky room and some Colombard-Chardonnay to go with my (most-likely) Atlantic farm raised Salmon. But after 36 hours of being the walking dead, and working through it, it was not too bad. Other than I had to leave behind the pure and wonderful wines and friends I made in Montpellier. But that is the life and… Italy calls.

So a 4:30 AM alarm to catch a shuttle and a plane to get to a noon appointment in Serralunga. No more Grenache or Carignan. No more Viognier or Grenache Blanc. On to Nebbiolo and company.

All went well as I found my traveling companion earlier than expected. A sturdy little Lancia and before long we were in the Langhe.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Millésime Bio: Three days, too many wines and only one master sommelier

From "the times they are a changing" département

Somewhere in the last few days, here at Millésime Bio 2012, the subject of Gravner came up. Millésime Bio is a three day expo of organic and bio-dynamic wineries from France, Italy, Spain and all the rest who showed up. Pretty impressive showing for the natural yeast, sans sufre, bio-groupies. Nirvana for the hairy armpit lovers.

Oddly enough, friend Alice was nowhere to be seen. I reckon she was off in more fertile pastures, ensconced in egesta, harvesting the fruits of her desire. Still, there was plenty of folk at the show to make three days in Montpellier a time well spent. Outside it was La Californie.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Zero to 80 in two hours

I’ve been under the weather. And I’ve been over it too. The past few days I have been in many airplanes. Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Paris, Montpellier. The O-N-D season seems light in comparison. But this is the life. Well, not exactly “the life” but a life. Freely chosen.

I knew I wasn’t feeling good when I went to Chicago. An early work week in Houston, and a layover at my house. When we got to Chicago is was bitterly cold. What does one expect in January? We shuttled between hotels, meetings and restaurants. On the return back to Dallas (for another brief layover) the temperature was zero and the storm was approaching rapidly from the west.

Barely made it off the runway. Landing in Dallas was another world. 80 degrees, cloudless, smoggy like LA, but no storm, no chill. But my head was throbbing, my throat was raw.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Baby, baby, don'cha go away mad

We’ve all had it happen to us. You walk into an Italian restaurant, somewhere in America, and the place is bustling. Waiters are carrying trays of steaks, pasta, chops. Bartenders are mixing up classic drinks. Women have their bright red lipstick on. And resounding from the ceiling, good old blue eyes is crooning. You think, “now we're in for a good time, Sinatra is in the house.”

Music doesn't seem that crucial to the success of restaurants in Italy. It’s a place to eat, to talk to friends, hear one another, even. But it’s not a scene you see that often in Italy, using music to recast nostalgia as cutting edge.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Booking passage on the 2012

Babies are born. Winemakers die. Ships take people to different places. Clothes sit in a dryer until they get folded. All part of life’s laundry list.

This is the time of the year when winemakers in the Veneto start thinking about their second wine. The grapes dry, to press for Amarone, are just about ready. The Valpolicella has been sitting in the tanks for a few months now. Some of that wine will be transformed when the pressed grapes for the Amarone lend what little life is left to re-infuse the Valpolicella with its energy. We call it Ripasso.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Vin Santo: Full Moon in the Microcosm of Tuscany

I recently drove from Dallas to San Antonio for a meeting. It was decided at the last minute; the plane ride would have cost more than one to California. So my frugal being got up early one morning, before sunrise and with sheets of rain falling from the dark heaven. It’s what we do in the wine biz. Go see potential customers, taste wine with them, and try and get them to like the stories we tell, enough so that they will buy the wines or better, let us improve their wine lists.

The meeting went well enough, but we didn’t make a sale. We weren’t there to take an order, but to plant seeds. Ok, we did that well enough. My colleague told me, “He never spent that much time with me, " referencing the wine buyer I had driven 300 miles to see.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

What John Fahey Taught Me About Wine, Women and Song

A reminiscence

College life was one of my most cherished periods. I was away from home and the parents for the first time. My college was in the San Francisco area and the era was the late 1960’s - early 1970’s. Radio stations in the Bay area were progressive and the music scene was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Sure, during high school I had gone to concerts and love-ins; seen Jimi Hendrix and Iron Butterfly, Country Joe and The Electric Prunes. I’d had the rock ‘n roll indoctrination just like all youth in that generation. But when I got to Northern California, the music scene took me in a direction I had never expected. Folk music was still popular, tied in with the anti-war movement, and the general changing of the guards associated with the times. One night I’d even sat around with a group of folks and we all had dinner with Joan Baez. My little town upbringing, somewhat isolated in the desert of Southern California, didn’t prepare me for the larger world I was stepping into. But that was alright with me; I was all ears and eyes and heart as I stepped into an uncertain adulthood.

John Fahey was an acoustic guitarist who made simply some of the most melodic and beautiful music I had ever heard. Listening to his music was like falling in love over and over again. And it seemed some of the young, long haired ladies in my generation also fell for his music.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Out with the Old, in with Newton's Italian Wine DOCG +

from the "Pour Me a Little More Wine" desk

Giuseppe Martelli = DOCG                   Wayne Newton = DOCG +
It no longer appears to be a secret that there are 73 Italian wine DOCG’s. Everyone's discovered it. Walter Speller is writing about it for Jancis Robinson’s Purple pages. Giuseppe Martelli is proclaiming it within the pages of Gambero Rosso. Even bristly architechts in Southern Italy are laying claim to advancing the information. We’ve come a long way baby, from Wiki pages describing a scant 23 DOCG’s to various Italian government agencies reporting different numbers. Now the whole world knows. But what Walter Speller or Giuseppe Martelli or the occasional draftsman down South doesn’t know is that a whole new category of Italian wine DOCG has been born. Not in Italy but in the good old U.S. of A. That’s right, what Italy cannot do, America will. And who better to do it than Americans of distant Italian ancestry. So here it goes. You heard it here, first.

The statement:

In order to keep up with the demands of the marketplace and to insure the continued appreciation of Italian wine, we the people of distant Italian ancestry, have so proclaimed the creation of Italian Wine DOCG +. The criteria for the first group of Italian wines selected, the initial 10, are that they be:

1) From a traditional producing region.

2) That they utilize indigenous grape varieties that have been historically established in Italy.

3) That the use of popular blending grapes, such as Merlot, Cabernet or Syrah not be exploited to enhance the wine flavor and garner high scoring points from the dominant and influential international wine press.

4) That the use of oak be only for subtle purpose and not as a flavor substitute.

5) That the wines respect tradition but do not shun technology.

6) That the wines exhibit Italian character and delicious qualities.

Simply these wines offer a solid bulwark for the patrimony of Italian agriculture and viticulture to the world at large and represent all that is pure and good and fine about Italian wine.

This is not to limit these claims to these 10 wines solely. But initially that these wines are national treasures and should be so designated.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Can Italy be Roused in 2012?

Posted from a sunny perch in America ~ Somewhere between a "cloud of unknowing" and "unknown knowns"

2011, that was the year that was. The numbers aren’t all in yet, but for the world I chart, which is the mid-section of America, Italian imports are up 8% for the year. Maybe we should have started an Italian wine import index fund; it surely would have performed better than most investments in 2011. But that is looking backwards, and today is a day to look the future straight in the eyes and move forward.

That said, I will channel my inner Don Draper and attempt to offer any Italian who would care to know, how to succeed in business in America in 2012.