Sunday, May 22, 2016

Aglianico’s Ashes - Stockpiling old wine for a new generation

Pity the poor Aglianico vine, set within the shadow of a volcano whose better days are lost somewhere in the dustbin of geology. Imprisoned in a land that missed out on most of Italy’s post-WWII economic growth in the last 70 years. Save for a few points of light, Aglianico in Basilicata is stuck in a time trap, unable to move fast enough to keep up with Barolo or Brunello and eclipsed by a much sexier (and more violently vibrant) Sicilian volcano and her wines. It’s not a good time to be an Aglianico. But it’s a great time for the collector.

In reviewing Ian D’Agata’s groundbreaking book, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press) Bruce Sanderson of the Wine Spectator drives a wooden stake in the heart of the claim that Aglianico is the Barolo of the South. Noting in the review, “He lists Aglianico as one of the world's dozen or so great red grapes, arguing that because Aglianico is similar to Nebbiolo-based Barolo, its quality is comparable. Aglianico is certainly capable of making great wines, but I wouldn't put it at the same level as Nebbiolo—at least not yet and not solely because of its similarities to Piedmont's star variety.”

At a tasting last week, of Southern Italian wines, I made a mental note (for the umpteenth time) that the Aglianico from Basilicata we tasted was dark, brooding, fruity, massive and intense. In no way did it resemble Nebbiolo. It was too dark. It was too full. It bared no resemblance. But it was magnificent, nonetheless.

So, why does Aglianico get little or no respect from the Nebbiolisti or the Etna-crazed somm-set? Why do collectors of Barolo or Bordeaux, Napa Cult Cabernet or Burgundy spurn this Southern beauty?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The End of Conspicuous Consumption - A View from the Edge

2016 has taken this one down, and sometimes off, the wine trail. Personal detours along with a professional recalibration combined with an evolving re-alignment of what wine means in our daily life are some of what I have found on the journey this year.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mother's (last) Day

Happy Mother's Day, Mom
photo by Louis Cevola
The Italians have a toast. When celebrating someone’s birthday they say “Cent’anni!” (100 years!) with a corresponding reply, “E uno!” (plus 1!). Last year my mom was able to see that moment come to fruition, when she turned 101. This year, sadly, she won’t be around to celebrate her 102nd. She told me last week, “I’ve had enough, I’m done here. I’m ready to go.” And she slipped away peacefully in her sleep surrounded by loving family members.

It’s hard when you lose someone who has been around you all your life. Even harder when that someone is the one who brought you into this world. But it’s the way things are. It’s man’s (and woman’s) fate.

My mom was a special person to me and the many who lived in her world. She was an extrovert, a tinkerer, a talker and not one to look back. She lived in the present more than most people her age or any age for that matter. She had a long and full life and one which was blessed with amazing health and unsurpassed resilience. And she loved to have the occasional glass of (Italian) wine when we were together.

I’m going to miss our calls. On my way home, in traffic, I’d call her and we’d talk about our day. She was a great listener and an even better sympathizer. She was in my court, she had my back and she loved all of us as if we all were her favorite child, grandchild, great-grandchild, sister, friend or long-lost relative. She had it going on. And on. And on.

And while it’s hard to be morose, for she did have a wonderful life, it’s difficult to imagine her not at the end of the phone line ever again.

Early this morning I was out in the garden, clipping some of the plants and I came to a rose bush I call “Hurricane Elissa.” For some reason I name my roses after people, living and dead. A rose bush that reminds me of my long-passed wife Liz is there next to one I call Aunt Mil. She is between Liz and Hurricane Elissa, who hugs the Rosemary bush. And they soak up the sun and talk amongst themselves. This morning in the garden I "called up" my mom and talked to her. She’s not here in physical form, but she’s still here in my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. I love you and salute you - and I’ll make sure the rose bush (and the eggplant) thrives in your honor.



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Just who are the Italians making wine for?

Alois Lageder
For a wine producing country that makes approximately 25% of the world’s wine, Italy is in a unique position. In 50 years, the market for Italian wine has become globally dispersed in a manner that other wine producing nations envy. Forget about Italian Prime Minister Renzi’s claim of “Our wine is better than French wine.” Italy’s worldwide distribution appears to be a model of diversity.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 100 Day Wine Abstinence Program

Has the role wine plays in our lives become too invasive?

After a five hour drive this past week from Dallas to Houston (a bit longer than usual because of storms and accidents) I rolled into my hotel parking lot. A friend and colleague invited me to a wine tasting – 45 rosé wines. I told him I’d pick him up in 20 minutes and would be our designated driver. My friend likes to drink wine.

Odd, going to a wine tasting in a time when I haven’t yet returned to drinking wine. I taste from time to time, but full-on enjoyment isn’t part of my plan. Yet.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Our wine is better than French wine" - Italian Prime Minister Renzi at #Vinitaly2016

From Ripley's "Believe It or Not!" desk

Photo from Palazzo Chigi Youtube
25 Years ago, writing about the 25th Vinitaly in Civilatà del bere, journalist James M. Johnson devoted ten pages to the wine exhibition. Along with that Pino Khail, editor of the magazine, issued an editorial to the growing problem of too much wine produced in a world of diminishing wine exports. The US had just fought a short war in Iraq and the economy was teetering. (View editorial HERE, complete article HERE, the photos are a veritable who's who of Italian wine in the early 1990's).

25 years later, fast-forward to a new world. Italian wines are growing and are indeed respected worldwide. Matteo Renzi, one of a breed of young, entrepreneurial global politicians, elicited thundering applause from a packed room at Vinitaly when he remarked at a session that "Our wine is better than French wine." Italy also produced more wine in 2015 than France or Spain. And in dealing with the quantities of wine available to a thirsty world, Italy is looking again (to China, not Japan, this time) to help assuage a potential glut of wine.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Wine is not the goal"

From the "Dispatch from Dogpatch" desk

In a recent post from Italy and ViniVeri, Jeremy Parzen referenced the poet/philosopher/wine writer Sandro Sangiorgi. Odd, in that I have been doing research for an upcoming trip to Sicily and came across Sangiorgi’s Ted Talk in Palermo. It’s one of the clearest thought pieces on wines place in one’s world that I have been exposed to in a long time.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Do you have to “love wine” to love wine?

I remember the first time a woman told me, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” I couldn’t quite understand what she meant. But I eventually got the message; it was break-up time. So when I heard that line the 2nd (and 3rd and so on) time I was more prepared for what was coming.

Last week, a colleague asked me, “Are you still not drinking wine?” It had been six weeks and I hadn’t broken the fast. I answered, “That’s right; I’m still not drinking wine.” Something in me wasn’t, isn’t ready. Yet.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter of the Immigrants – A Feast for the Ages

Over the past month, as my personal fog has lifted, there have been dreams. And in these dreams, many of them have had family who are no longer with us. The Grande Cinema of them all is one which has taken on a life after waking.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

San Gimignano – Vernaccia, Fireflies and the Dark Energy of Hope

The vault of memory stores more than kisses, licks, slaps, bites and stings.

A long-time colleague of mine obsesses over Vernaccia from San Gimignano. A white wine from red wine-dominated Tuscany. He must put it on wine lists. A wine that has been forgotten by today’s cadre of sommeliers, searching for brighter, shinier objects. Something newer, more exciting. Sexier. Oh yeah, just wait, Vernaccia from San Gimignano will be back, as soon as someone under 30 “discovers” it.

In the meantime, before they were born, one spring night, I found myself on a dirt path, walking towards a home. Those of us in our group, my future wife Liz and my friend and importer, Eugenio Spinozzi, were heading to dinner with the Arrigoni family. Pietraserena is a peaceful little enclave at the base of San Gimignano. So peaceful, the film director Franco Zeffirelli used the location to film some of his story about St. Francis, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sangiovese and the Duel of Sex

From the "Hello, is it me you're looking for?" dept.

No one looked, no one asked, when Sangiovese frolicked in the hills of Tuscany with childhood friends, Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbiano and Colorino. It was a simpler time. Sure, there were reports of Sangiovese co-mingling with the Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc, near Florence. Florence was more liberal, less discriminating in who they chose as their partners. But in the rugged country, it was loyalty to long time workmates that cast the pattern. And then along came Tachis.

Chianti was boring. Property values made walking away from historic estates a realistic alternative. Head to Florence, embrace the 20th century, have some fun along the way; that was the pattern. No one wanted to stay back at the farm.

But Sangiovese couldn’t go. Rooted to the land, and as with so many marauders over time, overcome by the international army that was hitting the shores of Tuscany.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Giacomo Tachis and his Legacy of Disruptive Innovation

“One riot, one ranger”

Looking out the window on an early morning in March, leaves are falling from the trees. Spring is pushing the last of the old expressions out, making way for new growth. It’s been a month since Giacomo Tachis died. I have some things to say about his life, now that the obituaries and articles have come and gone.

You had to be there. I mean in the streets. Selling Italian wine. What it was like. What was it like? It was dark. It was gloomy. It was discouraging. The gatekeepers, like Pierre, with his aquiline nose and tarnished tastevin, would see us coming with a bag of Italian wine. They’d put up their hand, motioning us to stop there. “This is no place for you. We are a serious establishment. We already have an Amarone on the list. Go somewhere else with your bag of (inferior) Italian wine.” You think it didn’t happen? Oh, it happened. For years.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Life without wine

Inside the glass, this hurdling liquid, rushing into all the empty crevices, seeming to fulfill a need to order the world around us as expressed in love of wine. But are there those times when wine can be in the way, even a toxic element? Life without wine could be a scenario for more and more of us as we age.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hitting the end of the runway with a bump and a needle

“We’re going to hit you with a low dose of morphine, to help you sleep.” Was I dreaming? After a day which saw no sleep, a hurried drive from Napa Valley to San Francisco, a bumpy flight (and sitting in the last row of the plane) and an even bumpier landing. As I exited the plane and headed for my luggage, it felt as if I had been hit on the side of my head by Mike Tyson.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Half a billion heartbeats, is all

Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?

Hard to imagine, but it is. 15 years since Lizanne took her leave.

The heart is a strong little bugger. And time is even tougher.

But this is our lot. And we got lots and lots and lots of it.

How many heartbeats are there in 15 years? Half a billion heartbeats, is all.



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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