Thursday, March 28, 2013

For the Love of Barbera

This week on a Twitter conference, #SommChat, one of the guest speakers, John Ragan recommended wines for Spring. Barbera was one of them. One of the listeners tweeted, “Barbera is new to me. What is it? Is it sweet? Fruity? Dry? EXPENSIVE?”

When I first read it, I thought to myself, what? This person doesn’t know Barbera? Where have they been? I was in wine snob mode.

Then I thought to myself, “Here we are a bunch of wine professionals, sommeliers, etc., doing our wine speak, and this person who doesn’t know simply asked the question.”

Of course, the group sent her ideas, suggestions, told her a little about what Barbera is supposed to be. They were very supportive.

But it really got me to thinking about some Italian wine varietals and how underexposed they are to a large part of the wine drinking public. And that’s a darn shame, because there so many, sometimes too many, to choose from.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Soldera to Parker to Galloni: Comets, Meteors and other Eclipses of 2013

"Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble"

If I have learned one thing on Planet Earth it is that every one, all 7 billion of us, consider ourselves the center of the universe. Because of that we go about our business like the others around us just don’t impact our life all that much. Until something runs into us.

This past week, in the rarified atmosphere of Planet Wine, there were some forceful encounters, some of which might affect Italy. No, I’m not talking about the election of the new pope or drawn out drama of Italy without a government. I’m talking about the really important stuff. The Wine Advocate vs. Galloni and Gianfranco Soldera vs. the Brunello Consortium.

Let’s start with the most important one, at least for one of the 7 billion centers of the universe.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What does one bring to a pot luck dinner when the host is a '60s folk music icon?

Dinner with Joanie

Sitting at the bar of a tiny restaurant in the fashionable SoCo zone of Austin last night, two ladies were hugging the corner of the bar. The room was crowded and loud and people were talking in three languages. The younger of the two ladies, she was in her early 30’s, was pouring her heart out at 90 decibels. Bless her heart; she was looking to make sense of her life in this world. She was intelligent, handsome and very fraught with making a meaningful life. Haven’t we all been there?

40 years ago at about this time, I was living in the SF Bay area, finishing up my university studies. The Vietnam War was winding down. The economy having been propped up by military spending was a year away from crashing. College graduates would find it difficult to secure much in the way of meaningful work. The society had been ripped apart into two camps. Those two camps are still wrestling for the soul of the country. It was a mess. In the meantime a friend invited me to a pot luck dinner.

I was 21 and the ability to legally buy wine was mine. I was broke, but wine was cheap. One could always find a bottle of decent Chianti in California. I lived in a house and could have probably brought a dish, but my friend said to just come, there was someone there he wanted me to meet.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Four Days in Ohio – The Woman Who Sought Salvation in Sangiovese

When Natalie Oliveros was a young girl she thought she might become a nun. Her Calabrese grandmother might have liked that. But life has many turns in the road.

As she became a young woman she was drawn to ballet and the world of dance. She moved to New York City at an early age in pursuit of a dream.

Somewhere along the way her dream of dancing led to a dancing job, albeit not the one she probably dreamt of as a girl. And as she progressed in that realm, she found herself in front of a camera. Again, nothing would have prepared her or her family for the career she would have.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Four Days in Ohio – The Man Who Loves Women More Than Wine

Michele Scamacca could have easily been invented by Italo Svevo or Alberto Moravia. Of Sicilian extract, born in Apulia and raised in Friuli, he’s as comfortable with Pasolini as he is with Tornatore. And his story pans across all those worlds.

He was one of the Italians I traveled with this week in Ohio. He is the agent, the broker, the finder of wines. And his specialty is wine of the Veneto, just to shred the lettuce even finer. Michele reflects a complex portrait; a subtle neuroticism that reflects Woody Allen and a head that stands in for Il Duce, a sexual appetite that rivals Mastroianni and a dollop of Uncle Fester. Michele struggles with an existential problem: He loves wine but he loves women even more.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Four Days in Ohio – The Barone

"Don't eat calamari in Columbus"

Ohio in the winter can be a sad and dismal place. Grey skies, flat in many areas, littered with factories and mills that once helped to build America but which now rest in the autumn of their years. How can one make the life there a better experience? None better than to invite a carload of Italian winemakers to tour the countryside city to city with wine tasting showcases. It seemed an improbable feat, but the past four days, that is what I have experienced. Crammed into cars from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati with our crew of Italians and their distributor salespeople and managers.

Cleveland, I think I have already mentioned. Columbus I haven’t. One note of caution: Be very careful when ordering shellfish in a land locked zone. And be even more careful if you desire Calamari. You never know what you might get. You might be better off with hot dogs, apparently. That said, we steered clear of squid and their alternatives, and stayed on a tight regimen of wine, work and laughter. The people on the trip I had never met; once again Italy produces not only great wine but great characters. And if not Italy all the time, the wine business can also create their own players who are attracted to the Italian experience like metal shavings to a magnet.

These past few days could fill at least two books with stories of people. For now I’d like to profile one of them.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday is the New Monday, in Cleveland

What was I thinking? Catch a 9AM flight to Cleveland on the Sunday right when Daylight Savings starts? Yup, that’s what I did. Got up at 5AM (which was 4AM to my brain and body) and got myself (eventually) to the airport. Thought I’d have a window seat. Oops, that once in a blue moon upgrade to 1st class. Not bad, I can sleep on the plane. Oops, turbulence.

Plane lands. Good thing. Cab it to an afternoon Spring Winery Showcase with 55 Degrees Wine Company. That’s right, working it on a Sunday, along with some new Italian friends and in a beautiful room with some of the best Classic Rock I've heard in a long time ( The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was just down the street).

This has been a long-ass day – so y’all get the slide show. Good news is we all love what we do, exposing more people to Italian wine. So have a good luck, see if you recognize anyone. I’ll be in Ohio this week doing this over and over again. Monday in Columbus. Tuesday in Cincinnati. Come see us. Good times.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Tuscany Report: Brancaia

Over the period of several days last week I had full-immersion of the wines from Brancaia. I have to admit I knew very little about the wines other than the estate was somewhere in Tuscany.

What a pleasant surprise it was for me to spend time with the wines and then the winemaker, tasting the wines and getting the story. My friend Carmen Castorina runs the communications in the US for the winery, as it is an agency brand for E&J Gallo Winery. I’ll probably lose those of you who think nothing good comes from the big guys. I’m used to that. But what happened to me was nothing short of an epiphany.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A White Tree, a Red Wall and a Bottle of Blu

There is a period between seasons when things invisible suddenly appear. In this case, for several years I pass over a bridge on my way from home to somewhere important. Usually work, but also the doctor, the bank, the car wash, the hospital or the market. In the summer the forest is green and covers the creek and all the trees. In winter, the trees are settling in for their sleep, but still they seem the same. Then all of a sudden, a lone white trunk appears, by the creek, brighter than anything around it.