Sunday, March 25, 2007

Five Things You Should Know About Vinitaly

This week the Big Guns come out to Verona. It's Vinitaly time. Here's my list of five things you ought to know.

1. It’s a place to see some of Italy’s best and brightest winemakers.
Whatever they have been thinking about last year, like their shoes, it is sure to have changed. That is just the nature of the Italian sensibility. Always fiddling always tweaking. Never finished. If you don’t like barrique aged wines, it will (and has) changed. It you don’t like micro-oxygenation, don’t worry. Same goes with “international style”. Hankering for “thereness?” It will be there. Don’t like the label on one of your favorite wines? No problem, that will also change. Don’t understand Italian? Speak English or French or Spanish.
The young generation of Italian winemaking families has started taking the reins and they understand tradition and their responsibility. Italy is the great wine producing country that has managed to stay in front of their past accomplishments. Walk through the Sicilian pavilion and feel (and hear) the energy of the ancient island, now strutting onstage with youthful energy and aplomb. Head over to the Marche booths and taste the wonderfully juicy Sangiovese and Montepluciano wines, the Verdicchio and Pecorino and see what a little region to the side of Rome is doing. Hint: they ain’t standing still. You think Tuscany is boring? Think again, we’re talking major mojo here. And while in the back yard of the Valpolicella producing area, Verona shows her local wines with great pride, and they should. Amarone and the like have never been more exciting and delicious. So there.

2. Verona and the surrounding area have an abundance of great dining.
Since 1984 I don’t recall going to one restaurant more than twice and that would be less than three or four times, at most. Whether in Verona city or on the outskirts, up in the hills or towards Lake Garda, this area is a Mecca for food lovers. Seafood from the Adriatic or the lakes, all kinds of meat (and I mean “all kinds”) braised, boiled, grilled, stewed, roasted and on better than another. Close your eyes, spin around, and when you stop, open and walk to the first place which serves food. That simple. That good.

3. Parking is a major pain. And then there's the rain.
Getting better, but always a challenge. Italians and parking, it’s a pastime; it’s their fantasy football league in kinetic form. And finding the perfect parking place in which to exit the fair quickly in order to make it to dinner, well that’s a fine art. I have two places scoped out after all these years, and I’m not telling anyone where they are. And the rain. Take two umbrellas so you can give one to the person with you who forgot, so you don’t have to share your umbrella and get wet. That has happened too many times, trying to be the nice guy, sharing an umbrella that I planned to bring. Just bring two, only two.

4. You will never be able to see it all.
Imagine all these uber-football field sized pavilions, maybe 10 or 11 of them holding one or two football fields. There is just now way you can conquer the scale of Vinitaly. Appointments are becoming necessary. That’s a good thing. Depending on how long you are going for, if it’s just a day or two, go see some of your favorite producers or friends, but try to make time to explore, be it the Alto Adige or the Campania booths. It’s a little vacation to the region, with folks bringing their lemons and aunts’ cookies, their local weavings to decorate their booths, maybe something particularly indicative of their place. Remember this is Disneyland for Italian wine lovers with Main Street, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride all there, for your enjoyment.

5. The combined energy and ambition of Italy’s wine industry, in one place and for five four days, is a major rejuvenator.
This is the real reward of Vinitaly. Never in one place have I ever felt like I was around like-minded folks. And while like-minded might not be the correct description, most of the people are there to uplift and improve the nature of the Italian wine business. It is art, it is commerce, it is industry. It is also tradition, and local, and international. It’s all that and more. It's tapping into the past, the present and the future, a mainline connection to the Italian Wine gods, Bacchus, Dionisio & Co.

Pictures and reports will follow in the next week or so, if I have a good connection. My “intern”, Beatrice Russo, might also chime in from time to time. She is working on a new project or two, and folks have told me they like her perspective. Thank you.

Ci vediamo!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cadillac Fever

There they were, waiting for me as I landed in Dallas from La Guardia, the good ‘ol boys. I had just come back on a flight with a guy from Midland, born and raised in the dusty desolate town that's had its share of desperados.

This ‘ol boy, he luuuvvved Midland. But his lady friend lived in New York. So he had to haul his tail up there to get whatever he thought he needed from his gal in Gotham.

One thing he said, and he said a lot of things, ‘cause he was about two days too many away from Texas, he said, “There’s too much concrete and not enough sunsets.” I couldn’t disagree. Something about living in the West that just gets under your skin. To make matters worse, he pulled out the latest copy of Texas Farm and Ranch magazine, and he asked me if I wanted a look-see. Damn him.

They got me with that little Hill Country spread in Bandera County. Real nice.

Meanwhile, giant mosquitoes are attacking me in my bed and it's just March. I’ll never get out of here. Cadillac fever’ll get me.

At the Dallas airport, the old man was waiting by the car, lighting up another cigarette. He looked like he just came from a funeral.

It was 12:30, time for a late lunch. All that NY pizza and vegetarian food ‘like to mess up my regimen of steak and ribs. That was about to get rectified.

At the chop house, the usual table was waiting. Liquor was ordered, not wine. Time was slowing down, and something was about to fall from the sky, I felt an impending message coming on. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Better just 'buck up and face it, sooner than later.

“Son,” he said, “do you see what I’m holding in my hand?” I replied that it looked like whisky. “Damn right! And you want to know why we’re drinking it?” I figured he liked the stuff. Sometimes on airplanes, the whiskey was better than most wines offered. He clarified our position. “Son, this whiskey keeps the lights on. If these folks pull the plug, we can all go home. Now, if one of these here whiskey fellers brings us a wine to sell, don’t go into a big song and dance about how smart y'all wine folks are and how ignorant them spirits boys are, ya hiyrr me?”

Yes sir, don’t want the lights to go all blooey on us.

“And when you and your boy head out to Ittly next week, don’t be finding any more wine to fill up the warehouses with. We got enough, and tell them there Eyetalians so. Tell ‘em to make less and make it better and charge less for it. That’s what’ll work here in the lower midsection of America, down heeya in the crotch.”

And with that, juicy steaks arrived with baked potatoes and lots of farm fresh butter and chives and sour cream and fresh pepper. It wasn’t cold outside, and the landscape wasn’t littered with dirty grey-black snow. It was 68°F, and bright and clear.

Crystal clear.

Afterwards I set out to find Beatrice Russo. It seems some of my old wines had been depleted. I noticed a bottle of some ancient Barolo in the trash bin, along with a Champagne bottle or two, a Roederer and a Pol Roger. And a bottle of La Chapelle Hermitage 1985.

Oh yeah, and my bottle of Gran Gala that I had sitting there to take to the newspaper, so they could photograph it for an article; it was 2/3rds empty.

I better go find that young lady.

Images from PLAN59.COM

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gambero Rosso Walkaround in NY

Tre Bicchieri Tasting March 19 – From Italian Wine Guy®, this time.

After a weekend of sleet, snow and ice, New York opened up her skylight and several hundred Italians descended upon the Puck Bldg.

From the observation deck:
• Glasses – plenty available at all times, along with water, up to the end of the tasting.

• Man with the unlit Toscana – of course, and with the requisite mis-matched shoes.

• Man in a bright red jacket - and a long white pony tail.

• Man in a bright orange jacket - with an ascot.

• Man in a bright yellow jacket - looking for the Friars Club Roast down the hall.

• Tall blond women dressed “professionally” – of course, and with the requisite stilettos.

• Very “NY” business environment – with the requisite chatter and b.s.

• Overextracted and reductive wines – unfortunately, too many.

• Wines with individual character – unfortunately, too few.

• Cabernet based wines – Apparently the Italians haven’t read Decanter or even the lowly Wine Spectator; there are too many good wines from Bordeaux, and the Napa Valley vintners have the big and bold and expensive Cabernet category pretty well much wrapped up. But we’ve been talking to the Italians since 1984 about this, why would they listen now? They will when we don't order them.

• Restaurant owners – not many, but the occasional celebrity restaurateur stopping to have their ring or their cheek kissed. Amazing, there were folks walking around the room, some that individually manage over 700,000 cases through their company (that would be a $30 million customer to Italy) and the single restaurateur would be more courted. Odd. Many Italians still don’t know who their big customers are in the US.

• Retailers – even fewer, most likely chained to their computers and online business. Making money.

• The re-emergence of the $40 Chianti Classico Riserva – apparently to go along with the $40 entrée. Good luck with that.

• Best ticket in – Fosco Amoroso's Kinko-inspired "exhibitor passes" that got some of the press folks in earlier than scheduled.

• Most interesting new wine from old vines – Dettori.

• Sicilian with a story – Benanti. Showing their "there-ness" with the local grapes, Carricanti and Nerello Mascalese

• Lessona is More – the 2001 San Sebastiano Allo Zoppo from Az.Ag. Sella. Nebbiolo meets Vespolina.

• Surfer winemaker dude watch – Jim "I can still call mine Tocai" Clendenon.
• Best kineto-holographic representation of a winemaker – the Riccardo Cotarella whirling-dervish installation.

• Under-represented - 21-35 year old group.

• Over-represented - 36-76 year old group.

• Francophiles seen slumming in the Italian crowd - Martin Sinkoff and Robin Kelley O'Connor

• Blogger sightings – East Village Wine Geek, Frederic Koeppel, Alice Feiring, Dr Vino. ( I'm sure there were others, I just dont know them)

• Troubling trend watch - Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Riserva’s approaching Chianti Classico Riserva’s in the "what were they thinking" price range.

• Most quiet table – Dal Forno and their representative ( “here’s your ½ once of greatness, now move along, I’m busy talking to someone more important.”)

• Best wine stained table – Viviani.

• Best wine stained labels - Querciabella.

• Laughing all the way to the bank - Daniele Cernilli.
Today – those Italians who can stand the jet lag and the cross country trip (and the €2500 entry fee per "3 glass" wine shown) will be in San Francisco – Fort Mason for another round.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pizza, Red Wine and a Warning

Continuing commentary by guest reviewer Beatrice Russo

There’s 2 pictures on my email and a note from Italian Wine Guy. “Feeling better now. Pizza and red wine. Need chocolate. Later.” :-X

Italian Wine Guy is Still Gone
The dude is out there. I’m not sure where he’s going. Well, it’s Saturday afternoon, I don’t have much to do. His beat up old cat came back for some food and sunshine. I’m driving his car and opened up a bottle of expensive red wine. Some bottle from Unbria. I called a friend to come and drink it with me, but he was studying for a master sommelier exam next week. Yeah right, that’s gonna get him what he wants.

I’m thinking of learning how to cook some more things. My idea is to lean away from the Food Netwreck, maybe learn how to really cook stuff from scratch. In more than 30 minutes. If the goal is not to be the Julia Child of the double-wide set, then I could just get on a plane and go to Palermo or Bologna. But I’m broke, so that’s out for now.

I met a cook-stud at Burning Man, he had a café in Placerville, told me I could stay in his extra room and work on the line. I’m gonna pass for now.

The chef at this fancy new Italian-disco restaurant, I met him and he said I could work there. But he got fired on opening day. So that’s out.

My Life Sucks?
It kinda does. It better get mo-bettah, soon. Ahright, on to the plunder.

I saw this wine standing up in Alfonso’s wine closet and it had the word BEA on it, which is my nickname. It was called Rosso de Véo, vino da Tavola. On the label it also had “DIFFICLE, ma sorprendente - piovosa,ma buona”

From what I can tell it’s a 2002 red wine from Umbria with the grapes of Sagrantino, Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Lots of writing in Italian on the label, looks like a lab sample. I hope the old guy, oh what the hell, he might not even come back. I could start opening up the old Monfortino or Sassicaia wines, maybe that would bring him, nah. Yeah, but he’s over that, told me last week, “I’m not a Gaja-rexic, I’m not into wine-porn. I don’t have any appetite for these overexposed and overpriced wines. I can’t enjoy them anymore. I just want a good, well-made bottle of wine, I don’t care who made it.”

Sounds a little cynical to me. (Like a guy with gout who's swearing off fois gras.)

I had some pizza dough and the pantry had a bottle of some Sicilian sauce, looked exotic. He probably doesn’t care about that either. Scrounged up a pizza stone, almost started up the fire pit outside. Found some arugula growing wild outside and a corner of some forgotten prosciutto. Dinner. With wine.

Two Hours Later
I hope he takes his sweet time coming back. The cat is feeling better. Someone in this house is finally opening up wine, the weather is perfect. Wish my goofy friend wasn’t so hung up on getting his master sommelier pin. (Vegas called; they need more bouncers and less sommeliers.)

This Rosso from Bea is good! Pretty strong wine, almost 15%. Like I’d know at this point. Smells kinda like my aunt’s porch, when it rained. The flowers and the wood floor, that’s it.

Tastes pretty good. Has an old style, not all gummy and syrupy. Nice with my pizza. I used the arugula and prosciutto, and found some Parm-Regg. The secret Sicilian sauce rocked. I wonder what Pachino means.

You've Been Warned
Hey, Alfonso, if you are out there reading this: I’m thinking of opening up a bottle of wine from way before I was born. If I don’t hear from you today, I guess it will be ok. I told my wine-sommelier junkie about one of the wines I found in your closet and he said I should stand it up and let it settle. Something about a 1968 Barolo from Conterno being ready to drink, way ready.

You’ve been warned, Italian Wine Dude!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Spring Break

Special commentary by guest reviewer Beatrice Russo

Italian Wine Guy has asked me to fill in for him, he says his spring has sprung and needs time to go to one of his favorite wine islands. (poor baby...) He will return soon. - B.R.

Alfonso left me a note, “I’ve got to get away for a few days. Take over.”

I thought the one post he asked me to do last year would be the only one. Now he disappears leaving me holding the blog. It’s not like I have that much to do; I’m in between school and a job and have a little time during this spring break.

I never met my parents, though I was told they were from Italy. One foster parent told me Sicily, another told me Emilia-Romagna. What I am is an orphan, in my 20’s and just entering the world. I’ve been on my own for some time, living between California and Texas. I sometimes wonder if I am the product of someone’s spare time, a leisure moment that when it produced fruit, they left to fall on the ground.

I met Alfonso at a sommelier conference last year; he was giving a talk about Nebbiolo at 8:00 in the morning on a Sunday. I was drinking a latte trying to wake up. Something about the way he made Nebbiolo sound so wonderful at a time of day when the last thing I would want was wine. He introduced me to a couple of his characters and I’ve taken my place at the table. He’s like the father I never knew.

I have wanted to apply for a job as an assistant sommelier, heard about one at this fancy new Italian restaurant near downtown Dallas. They asked me to come in to take a photograph, someone who ran a bar at the top of a trendy hotel had to pass over my “physical qualifications”. I am tall and leggy, dark, hazel eyes, long hair, and my shrink tells me that I would be considered good looking. Whatever.

I don’t think I will take the job at the Italian spot, seemed too much like a disco to me, very loud. They ought to put in a take-out window so the jocks going to the hockey game can load up on meatballs.

I think I might go down to Austin, Alfonso has a friend who has a winery in the hill country and he is building an Italian restaurant. But that’s 6 or 9 months away.

It's really tough being young these days, seems like the economy is tight and a few folks hold all the cards. I’m in good health, and in spite of not having much family, I am pretty optimistic. I don’t have any relationship/attachments, so I’m free to move about the country or the world. I don’t own a cell phone or an Ipod. I use public computers. I don’t belong to Myspace and I don’t have a tattoo. Yet. I love food and cooking and wine, but I can only afford wine that is not expensive, so unless I get invited to a tasting, or get to taste a bottle left over, I usually cannot get to taste much that is beyond my budget. There is a place in old east Dallas that has wine tastings every Saturday and I try to get there. I have a friend who works at a wine bar and he gives me a taste of something special once in a while.

Alfonso has told me, when he is gone and I go over to check his mail and look out for the pitiful black cat that hangs around, to open wines from his cold-closet. He says he’s tasted everything in there and wouldn’t miss the occasional bottle. There is a red wine from the Marche in there, called Ver Sacrum, that looks interesting. If Italian Wine Guy doesn't come back, I'll write about wines I like. But let's see.
That’s my story. I ride a Vespa, don’t have health insurance. An aunt taught me how to make gnocchi and a foster parent once taught me how to make fig preserves and pickled watermelon rind. I’m not an angry person; Alfonso has told me that is a good thing. But I do have a fiery side, I am itching to get involved in something, but don’t feel like it has clicked yet. And another thing, I have an identical twin, she lives in Bologna, and I have never met her. Her name is Laura.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Today on Wine Sediments ~ Italian Wine Guy is Fed Up

Rachel and Rocco do it Dallas style

Rachel Ray is pushing Dunkin Donuts and coffee, Rocco di Spirito is schlepping gourmet cat food and PBS is doing a reality TV show on winemaker wannabees. Does anyone else think the train has come off the rails?

Tonight I was in a steakhouse and ordered a 2002 Chateau St. Georges~St.Emilion. It was on the wine list for US $60. I asked the server what he thought was a better value, the St. Emilion or a Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio for the same price. Mind you, I am in a steak house in Texas.

What he proceeded to say blew my mind. "Oh, I love the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, it's the best Pinot Grigio in the world. Of course, if I could have any wine, it would be a Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon."

I didn't hear that. Wait. I didn't need to hear that.

I have spent the last two days visiting chefs and sommeliers, asking them to come to a Vinitaly preview. I was arranging various cool Italian wines, such as the Nino Negri Sfursat Cinque Stelle and the Cerretto Bricco Rocche Barolo, the Terredora Taurasi and the Terrarossa Primitivo di Manduria from Pichierri, all wonderful wines worth going out of ones way to try.

The response was less than enthusiastic.

So, in a downpouring storm, followed by tornado activity and a power outage, chased by a less than satisfying but nonetheless expensive meal, I have decided to stop talking to Italian folks in Dallas about Italian wines, for a bit.

I am taking a break. For a moment, or a month. I am tired of mediocrity, from a region that thinks itself a major league player, but appears to be Bush-League.

Signing off ~ Back some time. Maybe.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Follow the Yellow Barrique Road

The wine from the 2006 vintage rests in barrels. Winter is winding down. Next week Gambero Rosso hits the road and comes to New York, where it’s still cold. In a few weeks I’ll be walking the cellars of Piedmont and the Veneto, following the progress of the vintage.

Feb 24, 1983, Tennessee Williams died in New York at the Hotel Elysée. Two days later I checked into the Palermo Room of the same hotel. New York was coming out of its 70’s funk in 1983, but nothing like it would be 15 years later.

I’ve thought about his last moments in that hotel as he was choking on a bottle cap. Prescriptions drugs and alcohol were present. He was alone. He is now at rest.

In Piedmont the Nebbiolo vines are stirring from their long rest. In 1984 (when the next few photos were taken) there was a great deal of hope in the region. It was as if they were coming back from death, from a stalwart existence of polenta and black dresses, of dried hard salami and bitter greens. All quite wonderful when it isn’t imposed upon one. The region makes some of the great wine of the world, but we all flock to Burgundy and Napa, to Bordeaux and Tuscany. Everything has a season.

I’ve been reading a bit of the Italian wine blogs, folks deep in the thick of their world. The Italian bloggers love to use the word polemic, as if they were actually effecting world change. Many of them like to call their blogs “Taccuino”, like good little school children. Fallen giants like Armando de Rham, what would he think of all this?
We used to have these long discussions, then by telex, about the changes that were starting to take place in Piedmont. This was the center of a revolution, a polemic even, where all the notebooks were burned.

So when I think about all the chatter that is going on in Italy about micro-oxygenation or Vino-Camp, or corks or no corks, or barrique or no chips, I get to wishing it was New York circa 1983 or Alba in 1984.

And yet, I am just as guilty, in this meandering of random thoughts.

Have we have lost the simple welcome of an Enrico Scavino, or the intuitive sense of Armando, since we decided to follow the yellow barrique road?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Agreeable and unadorned wine. For life.

Sitting at a small French bistro, the server pours a glass of white wine to accompany a bowl of lentil soup.
Winter is being edged out by spring but the broth is welcome in its warmth and fullness. Five, maybe ten minutes, pass before I’m even aware that I have sipping on this glass of white Bordeaux, a 2005 Chateau Ducasse Blanc from Kermit Lynch.

To drink a wine and not have it seem outside of oneself, to feel it so integrated in the plan of one’s life that it is like breathing itself, an unconscious act. But not comatose.

This was an epiphany, something that has been happening more frequently. It is happening with regularity, not with just Italian wines, but California, French and who knows what next.

A glass of wine should be seamless; part of the core of one’s being, in my field. How can we communicate that to folks in the trade and more, wine drinkers, diners, everyday people in everyday situations?

In a way that’s what folks do when they drink a beer, like a Budweiser or a glass of white Zinfandel, like Beringer or Sutter Home. And while it isn’t the same thing, exactly, we in the wine industry and wine lovers alike can take a lesson from the beer drinkers and white Zin lovers.

Whoa. Heresy. Common experiences we are now evangelizing? Bringing it down a notch, eh? Yeah, down to earth.

I’m not saying to emulate a zombie from Night of the Living Dead. Not that. But what if we do see this wine thing as not so sacred, not too precious, what if we come upon a reckoning that sees wine in this integrated, without-effort part of one’s life?

My God, then we’d be French. Or Italian. The dreaded European.

Our Hummer-Bigger-Better culture would be morphing into an emerging-food-and-wine loving one. That might bother the neocons and secular-progressives alike. Wouldn’t that be fun?

I’m looking forward to more such experiences. This past week in Houston I have learned more about Italian wine from tasting French wine than I did tasting Italian wine. You heard me. Two of my Italo-phile friends here have ventured into deep French territory. Have we lost the two Antonio’s to the Gallic sirens? Has the Po river been supplanted by the Loire? Has the Castello lost its slot in favor of a run down Chateau-not-so-neuf?

Is there a difference in the people and the wines?

That’s really what I see. There isn’t a difference between what Joly is doing versus Gravner. Sure it’s a different bee hive, and yes, the honey tastes a little different. But they’re kindred souls. But that’s another story for another day.

Just something to think about, instead of or the latest Gambero Rosso 3 glass extravaganza.

Agreeable and unadorned wine. For life.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Houston, Southeast of California

It’s midnight, the end of a day out in the market, and the freeways have been moved, the entrances have been blocked off. During the day, the roads are jammed and at night they disappear.

This isn’t like California, where the roads seem to make sense for this native Californian now living in Texas for too long. While there is a lot to miss about California, today in Houston was about as good as it gets.

First stop: Spec’s off of downtown. Joseph Kemble, the Italian wine buyer, needs a few minutes of my time. Spec’s has an array of wines where I can always find something I want to take home. Large selection, low prices, a flea-market, let’s-find-a-bargain kind of atmosphere. Joseph has a good aura about him, he’s a good guy, loves the wines, not that interested in scores, wants the personal connection. Pretty unusual in such a big operation. Kudos to Joseph and Spec’s.

A new wine bar nearby, 13 Celsius. That would be the perfect cellar temperature. An old building, basically stripped and cleaned, minimalism and non-interventionist interior design, coffee roaster and Wi-Fi.

Towards the evening a last stop at Catalan, a restaurant that combines small plates with fresh food, an unusually good and well priced wine list and good energy. Tonight we compared Savennières and Kerner.

Long day, bona notte.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Imported from Italy

It’s that time of the year. A month or so before Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade show in Verona, I start getting invitations to visit wineries at their booths. Over the past week I have received several requests to import new wines from various producers in Italy. “We want to be in America,” they say. For this family, let’s take a look at what being in America entails.

For my family, it meant several voyages on large ships over a period of years. First a father would come and get work. Then he might go and bring his wife back to America. We were aliens in those days. But the fences were down, the gates were open. It wasn’t a matter of walking or flying, it was many days, even weeks, of rough seas, cold weather, strange food and crowded conditions. But there was a dream to pursue.

I have an Italian friend today who is new to America. This Italian sees the limitless possibilities America has to offer. Perhaps the mate of my friend, an American, can see the aspiration and the idealism that a new set of eyes grasps so eagerly. America is promise, America is hope. This isn’t some vapid flag-waving on my part, if one can just see though others eyes, it is clear.

Back 100 years or so, with the cart and the donkey, the pace of progress was limited to my ancestors. They got along better than most, but they saw past their horizon to a place where nothing was impossible. There was sickness, there were accidents, there was fate. But there was potential and room for optimism.

In Palermo, my great-grandfather gives his daughter away in marriage. My aunt Vitina stayed on in Sicily with her Giuseppe, they had a good life. They were fortunate; my great-grandfather had a good business, trading in wholesale leather. They had a car, they were upwardly mobile, in the stream of progress.

His son, my grandfather didn’t have to leave Sicily at 15, but he took a chance and set out for America. Less than 20 years later he was a prosperous business man, also in leather goods and real estate, in Southern California. He had a car and his son, my dad, was being groomed to follow in his path.

My mother and my dad’s mother six years later. This time with one of the new V8 Ford roadsters. When my parents married, they took that car up the coast of California and the Northwest, past the new Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. All of life was shiny bright and new to those 21 year olds.

35 years later, in my brand new 1969 Fiat 124, I took that same road up through Big Sur and Carmel, past San Francisco and into the wine country. Last week I revisited some old friends along the wine trail.

A few years ago, my son, Rafael was living in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Again, we pose with our beloved cars. A few months ago he lost control of his car in the rain. The car didn’t make it; fortunately he walked away without injuries. Our freedom, our cars, imported dreams, imported from Italy. Made in America.

Back in Dallas, on a sunny day in the spring of 1917, my mom and her siblings hang on a now-ancient Phaeton.

We made it here on the back of donkeys, on ships stuffed with hopeful souls, and in cars, more cars, fast cars, speeding towards the dream that is still America.

If you think it is going to be easy to bring your wines to America, think again. The gates are full. You must have a better business plan than just a wish to send your wines here on a boat for us to sponsor. You had best book passage as well and join us for a time, get to know America a little better. It will soon be the largest market for Italian wines, larger than even the Italian domestic market.

Welcome to America.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Tuscan Wines from Cecchi

Andrea Cecchi ~ before he hit the jet-lag wall

The day started with a persistent gust of wind from the south. El Niño was pushing the cold weather back north. This was going to be a "Big Night" for East Dallas. Jimmy's was inaugurating their back room, their circolo, with Tuscan vintner Andrea Cecchi and a group of Italian food-and-wine-loving insiders.

Mercedes, Volvos and exotics line the parking spaces in this urban-fusion neighborhood. It's a part of Dallas that has some of the best Asian food, along with an encampment of several Italians, herb-brujo Tom Spicer, a community garden frequented by Cambodian and Vietnamese farmers and Latino and hip-hop locals who call this place home. Everyone gets along well, no one has major turf problems, and Dallas is a richer place because of it.

The day of the inauguration, the foodies started piling in early, Smart Cars and Dodge trucks alike filling in the spaces. Nervous proprietor, Paul Di Carlo, was working the phones to make sure all the folks who reserved were coming. Boxes and boxes of Cecchi wine were scattered and stacked high in the store.
Good-looking people and plates mingled with great wines from Tuscany. The food was homemade and rustic, delicious and fresh. This night was meant to expand the scope of the East Dallas neighborhood grocery store, specializing more in Italian foods and wines. Additional dinners and wine flights are planned for the future. With an Italian winemaking family from Tuscany launching the new space, Dallas was kicking winter back and making room for spring.

Andrea Cecchi's family has been making wine in Tuscany since 1893. They now have Castello Montauto in San Gimignano, Villa Cerna in the Chianti Classico zone, Val delle Rose in Tuscan coastal Maremma and Tenuta Alzatura in Umbria for the famous Sagrantino. A wonderfully Italian interactive map can be found at this link , laying out the properties and the wines.

From the light and delicate Vernaccia to the assertive Vermentino, the white wines were a contrast between themselves. The Morellino and the Chianti Classico Riserva provided counterpoint between the new frontier of the Maremma and the traditional classico area near Florence. A Vino Nobile then danced with a single-vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva, the Teuzzo. Finally we ended with a 2001 Sangiovese Super Tuscan, the Spargolo.

Before the night was over, folks were milling around, drinking real espresso and fresh-made Italian cookies. Cecchi was signing a bottle or two for this smart set of wine lovers before they loaded up their big (and little) cars for the ride back home.

Great memories are made from nights like this. There will be more.

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