Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking Leap Day into a Whole New Dimension

From the "A lady runs into Jimmy's for an espresso" dept.

Photo - Jeff White

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Embracing the Muse in Napa Valley

One of the marks of a successful and fruitful trip is the reluctance to get on the plane and head back home. There is still work to do. And because of the work this past week, in Napa Valley, under the most amazing weather, we really didn’t want to come home. But the work goes with us, whether we do it in the present or we dream of the memories awaiting us in the future.

To be around writers and editors who are heads and shoulders above you is a great thing. Michael Jordan once said something about playing ball with better players to bring one’s game up. And while it can be a humbling experience, it is filled with unlimited opportunities for growth on a personal and a professional level.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Magical Night in Napa Valley

Master Sommelier Gilles de Chambure  and Peter Mondavi Sr.
A chance meeting at lunch with Kelli White, who will be featured prominently in the future of the wine business, prompted an invitation to dinner last night at Press in St. Helena. While here, for the Symposium for Wine Writers at Meadowood, we had a free night and had wanted to go to the restaurant anyway. Kelli told us they were showcasing the new wine cellar, which exclusively features Napa wines, and opening up a few bottles of old wine. The wine gods were calling.

Look, over the years I get invited to all kinds of wine events. Bordeaux, New York, Chicago, California, Italy, many times over. What happened last night was simply unreal. It doesn’t happen. But it did. And this remedial expat and slave to the wine gods was rewarded for many years of effort. That would be if I were the center of the universe. But I’m not. We just happened to get real lucky.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Master of Grignolino

“You need to go visit one of my student’s dad the next time you go to Napa. He makes a hell of a red wine. Heitz is his name. Joe Heitz.” So my college art teacher, Phil Welch recommended. It would take me 6 years before I took him up on it. I don’t know why I waited so long. Life, again, got in the way of a good time. But I made it up Hwy 29 eventually, the first of many treks up and down that not so lonesome old highway.

It was the summer of 1976 and we had taken the Falcon wagon and the kid(s) up to Northern California to escape the heat of Los Angeles. We were broke, slept in the back of the wagon in parking lots and trailer courts. California in those days was a simpler, safer place. Or so we believed in the mist of our infallible youth.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Great Meal Moment: "Feed me! Feed me!"

Folks who know me know I’m not a BIG MEAT kind of guy. I’ve been steadily progressing back to my hippie days in the ‘70’s, when the life was simpler, more natural and meatless. But in Italy, that’s a different story.

After a harrowing couple of days in the Langhe, what with the snow and ice and the hassle of getting down the hill we made it to Franciacorta-land. Wonderful respite from the cold. I missed a couple of meals too. So when our host, Alberto, recommended we go to their Tuscan styled restaurant near the hotel, my colleague and I were game. And what better way to unwind from a whirlwind trip through the frozen tundra of the Langhe than to share the classic steak of Tuscany?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Great Meal Moment: "I'll have what she's having."

One of the best things I have ever had was this simple dish of pasta, filled with a light cheese, and topped with a little butter and dusted ever so delicately with cheese. I think it was the “Il Plin” con la ricotta di pecora da Murazzano e burro d’alpeggio. I wasn’t paying too much attention when they brought the dish, which was served to me on my recent trip to the Langhe at Locanda nel Borgo Antico in Barolo. Only to say I had a “When Harry met Sally” moment when I first tasted the ravioli. Absolutely perfect in every simple way a pasta should be.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


There are many people who have dreams and once in a while their dreams converge with yours. It isn’t really anything more than water in the river, but isn’t it a good thing when one is recognized for their efforts? Brian Larky is one of those with a dream. And when I met him in the very early 1990’s, I honestly thought what he was talking about was just another scheme. Call me cynical, or distracted, or arrogant, but I never thought he would have the stick-to-it-iveness to do what he did.

What he did was to bring together a stable of iconic wineries in Italy, aligned them with his dream, and proceeded to assemble a company dedicated to growing the Italian fine wine business in America. Old friends, Selvapiana, Badia a Coltibuono, Marchesi de Gresy and Vietti among them. Wineries I sold in the 1980’s and thought I’d never get to be part of their world. But Brian had a dream, a crazy, California kid dream. And maybe Italy lured him into her web too? Whatever the mechanism, now Brian can look at all of those who thought he was a crazy kid with a wacky dream (me amongst them) and he can have the last laugh.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Langhe Report: The Back Story

I love my bed. And my pillows. I was born in July; I essentially revel in being home. But the life I chose has taken me on the road for quite some time now. I must admit after the events of September 11, 2001, it has been more difficult. But hey, after what my grandparents endured crossing the Atlantic, crammed into a ship with hundreds of other hopeful “Americans to be,” it really is small change.

Since being back I have been in the streets, selling and doing wine dinners. Folks who have read recent posts come up to me asking what this “dream job” must be like. Romantic, exciting, involved. Yes, it is that. And more. If I may, for the sake of balance, elaborate? Maybe a timeline would be most illustrative.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Assembling a Rainbow, Brick by Brick

Imagine driving out of a pounding snow storm, ice everywhere, drifts of snow, soaked shoes and gloves, miserably cold. And then to arrive at a place where the sun is shining, the snow still cavorting in the upper ranges. A moment of respite, not from Nebbiolo but from Winter. Sure enough we’d be back in the thick of it the next day, but for now we are looking over the amphitheater-like plain leading down to Lake Iseo. It truly is a beautiful view on many levels. For the moment I am focused on the warmth the sun is spreading about us.

We are in the land of Franciacorta for a short time; playing hooky from Piemonte, just to clear the palate, warm up a little and learn more about some of the greatest sparkling wines of Italy and the world.

How easy it is. If one were in Burgundy and needing a Champagne fix, it would be about the same distance, somewhere around 150 miles. Another parallel I had never thought about.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Italian wine in an age of self-consciousness

Traveling through Piemonte and Lombardia this past week, soul-searching is on the rise. While there is always a certain amount of healthy ego involved in the making of a product like fine wine, what I sensed on this latest trip is that the Italians are vigorously peering inside as to the nature of Italian wine. Winemakers and marketers alike seem to be probing for the next step in the evolution of Italian wine in the 21st century.

William Gibson remarked that in these times Future Shock in no longer an oddity. It is a common state of being among people who travel, read and reach out to the world beyond their village. So in this age of change we have either adjusted to it or we have numbed and climbed into a virtual isolation tank, letting in only that which doesn’t confound.

The Italians enviously and deliciously do outreach so well. Maybe it has to do with the propensity for many Italians to channel their extroversion into something dramatic and interesting to the rest of the planet. I saw it in my dad’s mom, who just loved being the storyteller. Common activities take on uber-heraldic meaning. Is it hype? Or artistic interpretation?