Sunday, December 30, 2007

It’s a Wonderful Year

During this past year, On the Wine Trail in Italy has been a pretty good trip. Many wonderful encounters with our Italian wine colleagues. A few ventures off the Italian trail into France, Napa, Sonoma, New York and all across Texas. I’ve met some relatives I didn’t know I had, made some new friends, kept up with some old ones, said farewell to some others. Life is taking us on this spaceship earth to new experiences everyday. Getting older, maybe a little wiser, sometimes a little more tired, but when a new day breaks through it’s a whole new ballgame.

Just a short thanks to those of you reading who have been coming back to these pages, reading about whatever has been on my mind, every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday now for over a year and a half. I have a friend or two who tell me they don’t have time to read everything I write, it’s just too much. Believe me, I know what they mean. It’s like something has gotten ahold of me and is sifting itself through these transmitters, as if there is a race for time and it just has to happen. I don’t really know where it is taking me and not sure for how long, but as long as the energy is there, we’ll keep transmitting.

Next year there will be some changes. Sometime I’d like to clean up this site and make it purtier. Somewhere inside, I imagine, a book is making its way to a shore somewhere. There may only be one, but I imagine it’ll need to be dealt with. Lord knows, I’ve written enough in a year for a book, so the discipline has been forged. Now if I can just make sense of all these ideas, thoughts, emotions and hopes I've got inside well enough to express something that would justify tearing down trees in order to make the paper. We’ll see, we’ll see.

I ride around all day with my sidekick, the one that I’ve been riding with all my life and I'm a little surprised when I look in the mirror and see that aging fellow that looks like my father. Inside I’m still a 25 year old young'un with a lot of hopes and some fears, some innocence, and some fire. I’m not going to let them snuff the fire as long as I can help it. It seems sometimes, that all I’ve got. But I look around and I see my peers getting older and older and giving in or giving up and I just am not going to go quietly. So I better find something to say.

All this to say to those of you who have read some of what I have written in the last year or so, thank you for coming by and staying a while, I really appreciate it. There are more of you reading and writing back with kind words of encouragement. I only have one thing to say: send money. Nah, just kidding.

So where will the Italian wine trail take us next year? Who in God’s name knows? As we say in Texas, I reckon we’ll just have to set back and see where it takes us. It’s a process, it’s a goal, it’s a circus. That’s what it really is, a circus. And we're all sitting in the seats, under the big tent, waiting for the elephants and the tigers and the clowns.

Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages, see you all next year.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pictures of 2007

Looking back at my Best of 2007 on Flickr, the Slideshow

DSC01458 tore's mom DSC02688 DSC01997
DSC02065 DSC01702 DSC02108 DSC02369
DSC01678 DSC01919 DSC03091 DSC03206
DSC03227 baby tattoo DSC02044 DSC02009
DSC00062 DSC02208 Baked figs wrapped in their leaves corkscrew
burr on heat Hugo and the 1913 Model T Francesco and Mario DSC00091
DSC01758 DSC02221 DSC02250 DSC01779
DSC02822 DSC00028 DSC00165 DSC03600
DSC03901better DSC00077red sm DSC03928 DSC01493 o f



Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Eggplant, Caesar and Pudding

The wines I have been enjoying over the past few days?

Christmas Eve the kids came over to the house for the Eggplant, Caesar and Pudding Eve meal.

Three wines from Piemonte:
1999 Anselma “Vigna Rionda” Barolo
2001 Cortese “Rabaja” Barbaresco
2002 Damilano Barolo

I opened the Anselma first, to have before the meal started and then worked it around the room. Pleasant, with some life in it. The acidity was bracing, the fruit was glorious and the overall balance was just right. The wine was 14%.

I was excited to open the Cortese Barbaresco, a cru from Rabaja. Two bottles, the first one, as expected, was a little softer in the acidity than the Barolo. The fruit was rich and plum-like. It was served with the eggplant dish, this timbale of eggplant, hard boiled eggs, mozzarella, reggiano and tomato sauce. It went very well. Unfortunately the second bottle, which we needed, was corked. The wine was 13.5%.

I punted with the Damilano, which would have benefited from some air. However it disappeared soon enough. Free wine and young ones (all legal drinking age) have a way of emptying bottles. The Damilano was tight, with focused fruit flavors. In spite of the 2002 vintage the wine was still 14%.

The salad, my classic Caesar, the one that I made, tableside, hundreds of times, in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, was mellow enough and underdressed in a proper way so as to allow wine to be enjoyed with it.

We finished with chocolate pudding (made from scratch – America’s Test Kitchen cookbook) and vin Santo.

On Christmas day we had a family invitation. The meal centered on a beautiful ham, garlic-cheese grits, and many wonderful vegetable dishes. I brought two wines to enjoy with that meal.

The 2003 Petra a Cabernet Merlot from the Maremma and a 2006 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese from Dr. Loosen.

The Petra was something I thought the gang would like, as they started out drinking Merlot from California and afterwards stayed in the Cabernet category. They all seemed to love it and I should have brought more. Again, young folks (again, all legal) and free wine, the bottle emptied before I could get a sip.

I was perfectly happy sipping on the Wehlener with the ham. Confession: I love German Rieslings, especially during the holidays. The wine usually matches well with the foods, the alcohol is lower, so I can drive home unimpaired, and usually folks go after the big reds, so the bottle and I have our high noon moment enjoying each others company before one of us dies, which is always the bottle. I am a faster draw.

The Wehlener had that shower of slate softened by the rasp of fruit that entered the palate ever so gracefully. I could have taken the bottle outside and sat on a swing (it was 65 degrees F and sunny) and made a day of it.

The ham, the grits, the Wehlener, one of those magic match points in food and wine. I like the Noble Riesling grape, I am a closet Riesling lover, yes it is true, guilty as charged.

We have another week of outings. The end of the year is upon us. In the wine business, we still have two more week of selling this year. Something we call the extended selling season, in order to make the numbers. The year 2007 will end on December 35th. More about that phenom in another post.

A presto!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Let Us Praise the Farmer

Controguerra, Abruzzo 1984 - Italy was a mess then too

The recent articles about Italy being in a funk, having just been surpassed by Spain in living standards, the national discussion about the “malessere”, and a general discontent with the way things are in Italy are part of a cycle that the Italian soul goes through. I cannot offer any solutions in the short term, but I think there is parallel story.

The discussions are often at a table at the end of a meal, when bellies are full and the room is warm. When one eats well and then sits back to discuss the other problems that need to be solved (hunger having been vanquished), it’s easy to see why this kind of dialogue is taking place. During the holidays, when more families and friends are gathered in such a manner and when the topic is flying about, there is an inherent love for discourse, for argument, for conflict and resolution.

The arguments can linger, after grappa, after the short Tuscan cigars, after all the telling and the retelling of the jokes. If nothing is resolved, then there is always that faithful plate of spaghetti al peperoncino in the early hours of the morning.

It’s easier on a full belly. But is the farmer in the country having these conversations, these fears, these doubts?

We sit in our luxury of affluence, able to talk about where such and such a country or a culture is heading, while someone on earth dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds.

Bucita, Calabria 1977 - The economy ground to a sudden halt. Political crisis and stagflation led to the formation of a government of national unity, as left-and right-wing terrorism spread.

It wasn't that long ago when I went to visit relatives in Southern Italy, and hunger wasn’t that far removed from their daily fears. My cousins, Luigi and Antonio, were simple fellows who worked the land. They were farming their crops and harvesting their grapes. They made wine and worked their little plots for food for the table. The table that we take for granted, as we bring home groceries and worry about what to do with the bags they came in.

A woman in Rome recently lamented, “I’m buying fewer presents this year, and cheaper ones. And as for food . . .” Eleven per cent of Italian families live under the poverty line.

David, who lives in the US but whose daughters are Italian citizens, worries about them. He confides to me that one of his daughters is getting politically active, that there is an undercurrent of anger among the young, tired of waiting for the older population to share the wealth.

So while we witness this stirring in the Italian soul, what about the farmer? Where is his place in this opera? And what have we to say to the ones who help to provide food for the tables which fill our bellies which lead us into discussions of whether we have lost our way or our soul or our purpose? What about the farmer?

From my perspective, I also wonder, once one gets all that they think they need, from a materialistic point, then what? And if one continues to want a bigger house, a faster car, a younger wife, and gets it and it doesn’t solve anything, then what?

I had a note from another friend in California who, it appears, is shedding his materialistic trappings. He almost died a few years back when he turned 50, from cancer, and since then his discipline with yoga has helped to keep him alive. He actually has become a different kind of person. I think he might look at this and simply say that we have too much stuff. I agree.

Italy, take this holiday time to discuss with your friends and family. Delve into what really is essential for your life. Do you really need another perfume? Or another leather handbag? Or a new motor scooter? Do you really need to buy that villa in the Maremma or that vineyard in Montalcino? Does that Super Tuscan blend really need to cost as much as a Napa Cabernet or a second growth from Bordeaux? Do you really need to raise prices to keep up with the appearance of success because your neighbors are? Do you really need to take all that time off and then, when it is all said and done, not even have the money to spend in that free time? Do you really need to “keep up” in a time when 800 million people around the world go to bed hungry? Ask yourself these questions, and while you are at it, get down on your knees and thank your farmers for giving you the sustenance so that you may ask these very civilized questions that have you and your countrymen in such a quandary.

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