Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Modern Italian Woman and Her Journey on the Wine Trail

Happy Birthday, Raffaella!

A picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, 3,500. My friend and colleague, Raffaella, posted a photo from her youth. I thought I recognized that person from my youthful wanderings in Rome. A narrative was begging to be released. But it would be better coming from the woman whose image was reflected in the photograph. It’s timely, as many Italians in the wine trade are putting away their skis and golf clubs from their holiday vacations and getting back on the road. It’s also pertinent for young wine professionals, women and men, to read these words. It covers a life in wine, and in those words might be some guideposts for those whose experience in the wine trade hasn’t yet led them to those posts. Not yet. Thank you Raffaella, for sharing your story. It’s the story of wine, of a woman in modern times and of Italy during one of the most exciting and turbulent times in its history.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is Italian Wine in Danger of Dying from Natural Causes?

I’ve just spent an afternoon looking at Nielsen wine sales reports for America. The exercise came as a response to a colleague who told me “Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is dead, nobody drinks it anymore.” Oh, yeah? Is that so?

Sunday, January 08, 2017

A Guide to Collecting Italian Wine for the 30-Year-Old – Part I

For those who read books, there are numerous treatises on collecting wine. I’ve read all that I have in my little library. Some of them strike a chord, while others sound vaguely disjointed from the times we live in now. My exposure to old Italian wines of recent has come from the new (and some not so new) wave of winemakers in California, who are buying up old Barolo and their ilk from the auction houses. And it has been a rewarding experience to revisit some of my bottled up old friends of late. Economic realities can present the average Joe from having exposure to these rare gems. But if one is predisposed and patient, you can have those peak moments of wine appreciation, with a little careful and well-planned action. This is a very personal, and specific, guide for the 30-year-old collector on a budget.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Is Italian Wine Ready for a Revamp in 2017?

Vision quests, spa treatments, identity crisis wines and start-up disruptors

My Italian friends are posting pictures on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, from Myanmar to Miami and from mountain ski resorts. They are starting the year off with a vacation. Every year it strikes me a bit funny when this happens. Maybe my 7% German DNA overrides the need to take off. In the wine industry we just climbed a high mountain, Mt. O-N-D, and although many of us fought all the way to the end, some of us didn’t quite make it to the very top. Camp 4 maybe, but not the summit. That’s kind of the way it is though, we really never reach the top and once we do, it usually isn’t in bright shiny, fashionable ski gear as we slither down the mountain towards a hip-tone chalet filled with Franciacorta and Prosecco awaiting us. No, the battle is done, for a few days. And then it starts all over again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

11 Years Wine Blogging - On the Wine Trail in Italy – Quo Vadis?

What started out as a journal, a web-log as we called it at the time, has become a journey, now expanding into its second decade. The idea of time as a construct that stretches and takes forever, well maybe that quite ain’t the way it is. But what I do know, in the last eleven years, is “what a long, strange trip it's been.”

From my perspective, smack dab in the middle and below the belt-line of America, I see only the road ahead, the future. If the last eleven years passed in a blink, imagine what the next two, four, eight could be? For wine, and Italian wine at that, it will be great. But what if it is riddled with uncertainty, sitting on lees of confusion and ambiguity? Fortunately, in times of social change, even in extreme cases involving the ultimate breakdown - war - the earth still gives forth. It still rotates, constantly moving through space at unimaginable speeds. The earth really doesn’t care if we are here or not, does not mourn T-Rex or the dodo. It’s up to us to make the right decisions as to how good of a life we can make it on this pretty little water filled orb. One solution: 85-87% water diluted with a little magic from the fermented grapes, a civilized pause for enjoyment, while here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The American Dreamer - From Palermo in 1911 to the United States in 2016

On a Barbarossa class ocean liner, a young man, barely a teenager in 1911, makes it all the way to Ellis Island, by himself. On a ship full of hope and promise, everyone looking, searching for their place in life.

The young man would settle in the west and form a satellite operation similar to his father’s, back in Sicily. He would expand upon the business, and live for nearly 100 years. This is the story of so many of the Italian immigrants who came to America looking for that promise and hope, and opportunity. It was dubbed “The American Dream.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Top 10 Commandments of Italian Wine

With the holiday season fast approaching, and with hallowed respect for Italian wine, let’s take a moment and review the 10 Commandments of Italian Wine.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Bruno Giacosa Retrospective - A Life in Wine


Bruna (L) and Bruno (R) Giacosa, the oracle of Neive, in 2004
Bruno Giacosa has spent a lifetime making great wine. Like the fog that cloaks the many hills of the Langhe, to many he is shrouded in an enigmatic blanket: cryptic, recondite, even Delphian. Impenetrable, to us mere mortals. Mr. Giacosa is a man who talks with his wine, a brujo of Barolo and Barbaresco. Why should we expect any explanation or commentary from him? Are the wines not enough? Does a Rembrandt or a Mozart require a labyrinth of interpretation for their life’s work? Some would say, yes, and there are all manner of academic and commercial industries that have sprung up in service of such explanations. But I think we would be disappointed should we expect this master of Nebbiolo to take the stand in his defense. The wines are – and they stand vigil for him and the energy of his life, which we can experience and enjoy, drop by drop.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Life on Mt. Etna - After the Gadabouts Are Gone

It’s wet and foggy. And some of us are scared. The long days are now a thing of memory. We are steeped in darkness. And all the while the mountain rumbles, all through the night. And all those souls who visited us this summer and autumn, where are they now? Back home in their beds, their comfortable lives, with their brightly lit screens, telling the world what a great place it is here. But they’re not here. Harvest has come and gone. The warm, long days have come and gone. And the Etna worshippers have also come and gone. And now the work for the future begins on this desolate mountain, spewing fire and ash, all through this dark, cold winter of our discontent.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trump's America Beckons: A Challenge for Italian Wine in the Age of Disruption

In two weeks, on December 4, 2016, Italians will vote on a referendum to change their constitution. If electors vote to approve the bill, it would activate constitutional reform in Italy, some say the most extensive since the monarchy ended. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “’If a ‘no’ vote wins, everything remains as it is,’ Mr. Renzi said in a radio interview this past week. ‘In this way, Italy will remain a system that favors instability and backdoor dealings.’” If “no” prevails, Prime Minister Renzi is threatening to resign. If he does step down, most likely a caretaker government will be put in place. Once again, Italians will be denied the right to vote on their leaders. As one Italian friend told me, “We haven’t voted for our government in almost four years, and even then we had a hung parliament,which resulted in this unholy alliance between the center-left and the center-right. We feel powerless. At least you, in America, had the option to vote for your leader – we haven’t had that option for some time now.”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Fanfare for the (un)Common Somm(elier)

Brian Huynh of Gemma in Dallas - photo by Brad Murano
Over the past week, once again in Texas, in restaurants, a wine list was thrust into my hands. “You choose, find us some wine,” my table guests requested. Oh boy, here we go again. The young sommelier at Gemma in Dallas, Brian Huynh, came over to the table to say hi. I imagined him coming over and first upbraiding me for voicing my opinions on this blog, but that isn’t what happened. Instead he smiled and asked if there was anything he could do to help us enjoy our evening. Indeed, there would be questions, but I asked him to fetch us a bottle of Smith Story Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Rheingau in Germany, while we sorted through the menu and made our selections.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The First 40 Years of the Golden Age in Wine

This past week, I happened to come across a copy of the Wine Spectator. I’m an online subscriber, so I don’t often see the print version. But this was the 40th anniversary issue. And it got me to thinking about the last 40 years, and all the things that have transpired, in my world and in the wine world, in that time.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Beyond the Aurelian Walls - Ex Archium

From the Archives - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So you’ve had your Roman holiday. Seen the sights. Taken in the Vatican Museum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Borghese Gardens. Touched the Pietà. You’ve driven on the deserted streets of Rome before the sunrise, past the empty and brooding Colosseum. You’ve had her, Rome. Now what?

As all roads lead to Rome, all roads lead out of Rome as well. Spin the dial, any direction will do.

East? Marche, Abruzzo.

South? Campania, Basilicata, Calabria.

North? Umbria, Romagna.

West? Sardegna, Maremma.

Does it really matter? If you are a trophy hunter, it does. You’d have to go to Tuscany or Piedmont. Maybe the Veneto. Find a stash of Barolo or Brunello, dig in the cellars, among so many Bentleys, parked, waiting to be driven around the table.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Safe-cracking a memory vault in search of the unicorn wine

"Able was I ere I saw Etna"

Memory is an odd bedfellow. Even without the vicissitude of time or trauma it can be a transitory butterfly, flittering about and dropping from time to time upon the landing strip of the brain. Did I really catch that train to Calabria? Did we really eat the stomach lining of a monkfish? Did I really drink that wine?

Over a wonderful lunch prepared by a longtime friend and chef, Carlo Croci, in his restaurant , Bella West, in Ft. Worth and over an embarrassment of riches brought by Piemontese winemaker Franco Massolino, the conversation veered to the past and to long forgotten memories. Carlo and I have been trading wine and stories for longer than we both would like to admit. And along the way, some great wines have passed through our kidneys.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Learning the Joyful Truths" - How wine elders can help today's young wine lovers - Ex Archium

From the Archives - Wednesday February 12, 2104
"I'd suggest that many young wine drinkers do not have access to the great benchmark wines, the paradigms of profundity that are alas beyond their reach financially. They never learned the joyful truths of hierarchy, or to be stirred to their depths by the greatest of wines. They presume on a level playing field in which most things are equally valid. Sometimes this bothers me too. But I think we need to love them, not scold them." – Terry Theise
Life, I’ve learned, is four parts resilience and six parts patience. If the red wine is made well and is allowed to rest in the cellar, the rewards will be greater. And as with wine, why not with the youth who are embracing the life of wine?

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