Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Perfect Italian

I was sitting at the bar of a restaurant, don’t remember where. It could have been Columbus, Ohio or St. Louis, Missouri. Or Yountville, California. I travel alone most of the time, so often I sit at the bar of a restaurant and order from the food menu. It’s kind of like work, in that I see what is going out to the folks, libations and wine, and get an idea of where I am at.

This time another solitary traveler sat nearby. She started up a conversation, found out I was in the wine business. When I told her my area of concentration was Italy, she perked up. “Oh, I love Italians, the wine, the countryside, the men; it's all so gorgeous.” She was younger than me; I don't think she was coming on to me. Or at least I wasn’t picking up that vibe. No, she was just talkative and I am a good listener. So I listened.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rating the Italian Natural Winemakers’ Websites

California - 1970's
After a couple of days back in my natural medium of California, I’ve been giving some thought to the natural winemaking movement in Italy and just how natural their web presence seems. Over the years I have railed against things like Flash, pop-ups and the myriad of ways the Italians prevent the rest of the world from getting simple, clear, natural information. Now is a good time to look over many of them and see how they are doing in that area.

Growing up in California and entering independence and adulthood in the 1970’s marked some of my habits for life. For six years I was a vegetarian when it was difficult to be one. We found fresh eggs under our neighbor’s chickens and ate raw cheese from the local dairy in our town. Organic vegetables were the norm, not the exception, in our house. And as far as wine went, well in those days I had little money for things, so I’d usually go down to my local Trader Joe’s (one of the originals) back in the day when they had bins and bins of inexpensive wines from France, Italy and Spain. And often those wines were simple, unpopular types (Loire whites, Spanish Sherries, Italian reds from Umbria or Piemonte) but they seemed to fit in the context of the life we were living. These days when folks make a big deal out of natural styled wines, I have to admit I am a bit embarrassed for them. On both side. The haters, well, they could just look away and go back to their In-n-Out double-double animal style ways. And the defenders, while I admire their spunk, methinks they wail and flail about in a manner that distracts from the original attraction these wines have. I won’t judge any further, I have no stake in it. I just came from a place where doing things naturally was just a little more, let’s say, natural?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tasting Tuscany: Today’s Challenge for Chianti

Wed, Feb 20
Earlier this week, I sat on a panel. We were judging at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition. Day one was California; Mendocino Zinfandel, Napa Chardonnay and a smattering of miscellaneous wines.

Day two was all about Italy. Midway through the morning flights we went through several flights of Tuscan reds, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Toscana IGT, Maremma, Vino Nobile and the unmentionable wine I have given up for Lent.

But it was plain vanilla Chianti that really woke me up. In all likelihood these were inexpensive wines, many hovering around the $10 mark. Our group, all of them fully vetted for Italian wine, tasted them blind. What we tasted quite literally reset my ideas about Chianti and more importantly Chianti Classico.

And while these wines we evaluated in no way represent the total spectrum of possibilities for Sangiovese in Tuscany, there were more than enough wines tasted to begin to think that there might be something up in this little throwaway wine we have come to regard as Chianti.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The last dress in the closet

I’ve been living in this house of mine for longer than I have ever lived in any one place. We moved here when the family got a little bigger, when my gal Liz and I decided to move in together and get married. We lived together there for about 3 ½ years before the disease she had, M.S., took her last breath. Most of her earthly belongings, her furniture, her writings, her computer, her car, her clothes, eventually went elsewhere. Her ashes were gently laid in a spot in Assisi; I mourned her loss.

Over the years, the darkness in the tunnel became less or I just became adjusted to living in the tunnel. I kept my home dark, a man cave. Over the years I moved furniture around, changed the carpet, painted here, added there. It wasn’t my dream home, but it is home. For now. And for the last 15 ½ years.

A few months ago, I was consolidating things in a closet and saw her wedding dress. I never had the heart to part with it; who could want it? Like her diamond ring and her pearl ear rings – they were hers.

But the dress, enshrouded in a shiny red garment bag, there it was peeking out from a corner, telling me, “It’s time.”

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Why Galloni Matters

This week, when Antonio Galloni announced the launch of his independent site,, it was a surprise. Many folks thought he was the heir apparent to Robert Parker. Well, he might just be. But now he's the driver, not a passenger.

I have long admired Antonio’s calm presence. He doesn’t get washed over by waves of attention or scrutiny. He plies his trade, goes about his business, does the work. And while it may appear to be a glamorous career, anyone who travels extensively knows there is more to it than dining and drinking.

I wish him well. He did it with class. He didn’t come out with a TMZ video declaring all that he touches gets 95 points. He is the introvert’s critic. A thinking man, not just hedonistically driven by fame and fortune.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Italian Beachcomber

Happy St.Thomas, St.Croix, St.John and St. Valentine's Day

Work took me this week to the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. My assignment was to evaluate the condition of the wines in the warehouses for the family I work for. They recently invested in a company down there.

The first day we flew from our base on St. Thomas to St. Croix. Balmy weather in February, around 80 degrees F. The warehouses were temperature controlled.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Brunello Can Learn From Prosecco: A Tale of Two Consortiums

2013 is starting out to be one of those years in which tumult is the equilibrium. I have participated in the melee in what some people have noted to be a somewhat unfiltered and unchained assault upon Italian wine institutions. Those would be the regional consortiums, the political and marketing bodies of groups of producers formed to advance their goals and success.

In my case I have targeted the consortiums of Brunello and Prosecco in separate posts. They both know how I feel about what is wrong. But things evolve, so let me tell you what I think about their different responses to my lobbing a couple of eggs at them. Let’s start with the one that made an omelet.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

How Lambrusco Started in America - Tom Abruzzini's North Beach Stories

From the "alta cacca chronicles"

You find the oddest things on You Tube. Noodling around for my next post I came across this video of Tom Abruzzini talking from North Beach in San Francisco. I first met Tom on the needle-ridden steps of a crumbling four-star hotel in Genoa in 1989. I spent a week with him and learned all manner of things historical about Italian wine. “On the first day”, as the saying goes, Tom was there. If you don’t believe me, take a load off and bear through his story on how Lambrusco won America’s heart. Videographer and "alta cacca historian" Cush Dehkordy has produced a number of clips of Tom (who loves to talk and tell stories about the early days of the wine business.) Something we don’t have a lot of in this here old wine business, the oral tradition, captured.

You may not think every thing Tom says rings with your version of things (Tom is passionate and polarizing at the same time), but it is a record. I'd love to hear him talk about Lou Iacucci on video some time. That'd be entertaining!


More videos here if you are interested:

Tom Abruzzini Wine Tales Part One
Tom Abruzzini Wine Tales Part Two
Tom Abruzzini Wine Tales Part Three
Tom Abruzzini Wine Tales Part Four

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Everything I know about wine I learned from Catholic school - Part II

It seems that some friends in the wine business who read the first post, “Everything I know about wine I learned from Catholic school” had ideas about their experience in Catholic school. Over a bottle of unoaked Verdicchio followed by swigs of Chartreuse, we brainstormed and came up with a second part.

Freshly starched habits – When Sister Bernadette or Sister Claire came into the room, perhaps it was the start of spring. The days were getting longer, the air was still cool, but by mid-day the temperature would rise. When one of the sisters would walk into the room with a newly starched habit, one could feel the difference. Fresh, clean, crisp, slightly citric, an edge to it, with a faint perfume of lilacs and lavender. Not unlike the white wines from Italy. Take a fresh Verdicchio (unoaked) fermented in concrete and driven all the way out to dry-ville. No butter, no apples, no milk, no heaving breathing. These were no Portuguese nuns; these were by the book, old-school proper nuns.