Thursday, January 30, 2014

Oh, The People You’ll Meet! (At a Winemaker Dinner)

By my purely unscientific reckoning I’ve participated in over 400 “winemaker” dinners over time. For the most part these have been pleasurable social events. If I was lucky we actually saw information and inspiration imparted and folks went home knowing more about wine. They even might have gone home with some of the wine. In the best of times some of them have even been heraldic moments, in that folks not only have a good time and learned something, bonds were created, some of those bonds lasting for years. Along the way I have come to recognize certain archetypal players that one encounters at many of these dinners. Here are a few of the stand-out characters.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sexy Italian Wines That I Love

Cars, women, beaches. Italy is downright sexy. Whether you are 26 or 62, the sensuality of living the Italian life is invigorating. And the wines of Italy are part of that lifestyle.

Barolo? Waiting 25 years for something big isn’t sexy. Brunello? Some things that are hard aren’t that sexy. Amarone? Weight can sometimes be a turn-off, especially when it is on top of you. No, I’m thinking a whole different way.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Night Caruso Came to Dinner

L-R my Mom, sisters Josephine and Amelia and brother Felice. Mom and Josephine are living.
Texas in the beginning of the 20th century was an outpost. Ft. Worth was the Wild West. My dad’s dad arrived there in 1910 at the age of 15. His first job was as a film projectionist on 7th street. He later moved to Dallas and set up shop, following in the tradition of his father, whose life revolved around leather.

My mom’s family also gravitated to Dallas in those days. Her father came and went, but the family was rooted there. Her uncle, Alessandro, by the best account I could gather, was a “promoter.” He and my maternal grandfather were not as risk averse as I am. They lived the high life, even when they might not have been able to. America was a land with no limits and these two brothers took it right to the edge. One night they found Uncle Alessandro in the Trinity River with a new pair of shoes, ones made of concrete.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Italy at a Grande and Languorous Impasse

One of the conundrums for Italian wine is that with all of the varieties of grapes and styles of wines, there are essentially four wines that make up the majority of wines exported into America. Coincidentally those wines mesh with four basic types of wine: red, white, sweet and sparkling. Chianti, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco and Moscato. That is the stark reality. And Italian wines have much more diverse exposure than many other countries wishing to see their wines coming to America.

This past week in New York, Italy and her wine was front-row and center during many meetings and discussions, dinners and tastings. From the more obvious wines, like the top four, to more esoteric wines, like Caprettone and Catalanesca from Campania, Nebbiolo and Chiavennasca from Piedmont and Lombardy and Muller-Thurgau and Traminer from Basilicata. We talk about these grapes, drink these wines, push, push, push the limit of what can fit on the big boat sailing to America, but most of the seats are still filled by the top four categories.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The End of the World – Live at the Apollo

The Tree of Hope
In New York this week, meetings, end of year wrap-ups, annual trip. While the days are filled with meetings and tastings, the evenings aren’t meant to be so serious. An diversion was planned to Harlem. First stop, the Apollo Theatre.

The Apollo means different things to different people. For me it recollects a moment in history that was probably one of the most intense periods in my life and, most likely in the life of the world.

As I stepped through the doors of the Apollo, the names of important musical souls, their names engraved on plaques and set into the walk, I saw the name of James Brown.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Italian Culture and Compassion in the Post-Berlusconi Era of Francis I

It hasn’t been a year since Francis became Pope, but already signs abound for a new direction in Italy. After 25 years under the allure of Berlusconi’s idolatry of money and power, Italy needs to reflect and repair. Whether a Jesuit from the New World can help fix Italy (let alone the world), my hope in 2014 is that Italy has hit bottom and will work itself back up.

What is it I observe? With the eyes of a photographer I look, I listen and I dig into the life of Italy and Italians for 40 years. And while sadly my foreign language skills fall short, I still have my eyes and my heart with which to interpret what I sense. In years of traveling around Italy I do not recall having seen so little energy for the future as I have seen these last six, when Italy entered into the “era of malessere.” I look now at Italy and wonder at the parallels when my grandparents left Italy 100 years ago.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Are There Too Many DOP’s in Italy?

Since Italy aligned their wine regulations with the European Community in 2012, the unbridled enthusiasm to rush wine towards the vaunted DOCG position has been stultified. With 73 DOCG’s and 330 DOC’s rolled into the DOP categorization, some have wondered aloud if there are too many (403) appellations in Italy. With more DOCG’s coming on line (Nizza in 2015) and some confusion as to what is a DOP wine (is it DOC? DOCG? Both? Something else?) and looking at the large numbers of wines with appellation (DOC/DOP) that make up a minute amount of actual wine produced, Carlo Flamini (who has submitted some interesting comments here) has written an article in the “Il Corriere vinicolo”, "Tempo di Scegliere", (password required) proposing Italian winemakers (and lawmakers) might step back and revisit how they are promoting "Brand Italy" to the world.

Thanks to Donatella Cinelli Colombini, who lives and works in Tuscany for a thought provoking piece on here website, “Le 327 piccole denominazioni di vino devono sparire?(translated here for English speakers) which in essence outlines a proposal by Flamini to consider eliminating 327 DOC/DOP wines in Italy.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

What a Jesuit priest, a Zen monk and a Yaqui shaman taught me about life, wine and Italy

“There is a crack between the two worlds.” – Don Juan Matus

In time, the perception of things as they are and as they seem are two sides of a wall. Spending one’s life piercing that wall is the work of ones who aspire to a simpler existence. People run around looking for all manner of things they think will fill their life with meaning, from fame and acceptance to wealth and material objects, from power and influence to a total abnegation of the corporeal and worldly. Three influences during my time of earth helped to re-shape and reinforce an inner sense that I was instilled with at birth. And as I walk the wine trail in Italy these influences have been instrumental in directing my attention towards destinations that these teachers intended.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Italian Wine in 2014 - Personal Strategies for Collecting - Part II

During the last two weeks I’ve had more than one occasion to dig into my wine closet and pull out some gems. Barolo, Brunello, Champagne, old California wine, Hermitage, vintage Port and some older whites from Friuli and Marche. And while the cellar is far from emptied, there is a little more room for some of the wines I left out in the first post I wrote on December 22, Italian Wine in 2014 - Personal Strategies for Collecting - Part I. So let’s venture forth.