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.

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.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Darkest Day

It starts in darkness and ends in darkness. It is short and uncertain. At this point. There is hope and there is fear. And it will be quick.

How else could it be, here in my own private Ireland?

We All Live in a Yukon Gold Submarine
Snapshots of dreams, some while awake.

A snake descends from the ceiling, hovering over my neighbor’s bed, looking down over his plump little body. The snake has no fangs but he reaches out for his arm and draws blood anyway.

A cat and a squirrel play with each other, chasing each other around a back yard and into an outside brick oven. The two disappear inside and are not seen again.

Black birds circle the restaurant. Gold and Sapphire Jaguar convertibles, with their tops down, are valet parked in front. A man too busy with his Blackberry sits down in his, on a pile of bird crap.

The four-legged and two-legged animals are doing strange things, these short days and long nights.

The View from McCain’s Suite in the Hanoi Hilton
I had been wondering for a day or so if perhaps I had really died and this was all some Monroe-vian dimension where one doesn’t realize they have died and were trapped in some nether land between life and thereafter.

Time to open a bottle of Barolo or Amarone, something heavy and dark, moody. Something to get us in the groove for the next few days of crossing over into the new season and beginning that long endured cycle of pulling up out from the primordial slime back into the light of day.

There I go, There I Go, There I Go Again
Someone leads you into a private room and pours you a glass of Champagne. To get you to stop complaining. What, isn’t Dom Perignon Rose 1990 good enough for you? Or would you rather be waterboarded?

A couple of days ago, Drew Hendricks, the head sommelier at Charlie Palmer, brings over to the table a nicely aged French white, from his Next Vintage wine shop. Just a little something to go with the Diver scallops on artichoke pesto. It happened in darkness, under the shadow of Pegasus.

Twelve hours later in another urban setting, hundreds of miles away, sommelier Antonio Gianola grabs a Fumin, tears off the capsule and places it aside. He then opens up a Pinot Noir from the Vallé D'Aoste. A sip and a sensation. A slight pain is crawling up inside my skull towards the monkey brain. What happened to that bottle of Fumin?

Eight hours after that, a crisp Chablis is sampled; again we are in the pitch black of night. Black birds, all of them, this time with firm acidity to go with tabbouleh and seared tuna. Animals and dreams, darkness and wines.

Pardon My Elbow
Yesterday, on the plane coming home, I hit a woman in the face. It was an unplanned moment, a mishap. We were just too jammed together, and there wasn’t enough room to put my jacket on. I have had it with travel, until after one last Argentina. Time to settle in for a day or so, while the longest night approaches.

Open the pod bay doors, Hal baby.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The American Deliverance

The Butterfly Madonna (with child) ~ Balboa, California ~ 1974

The notes from Italy keep coming. This time is was from Gianpaolo Paglia, a winemaker in the Maremma. He’s in the trenches, working the vines, punching down the caps and dealing with all the changes in Italian society in the 21st century.
Some of his thoughts:
“I can tell you that there is something wrong here.

“People here are afraid of this new world and this new age.

“...They don't (know) what to expect next. They are not used to it, they have never been faced with the outside world, with this new world where economies that once were considered third world countries are now running at a speed that we don't understand. Our schools, our politicians, our people are not prepared to (do) that, hence the feeling of dis-ease.

“The only thing we really need is to reset the country. Have a new start with a new and more realistic vision of the world. We have to grow up and abandon our nest, which is falling down the tree anyway.”

His complete comments here.

Those remarks could have come from someone in the US today as well. The only difference is that our country is younger and more confident in our youthful idea that we are right. Does that make sense? Talk to a young person in their 20’s and they have it all figured out. Or so they believe. And it is like that with this young society. But, there is a key to getting us all through it, in the confluence of the old world with the new world.

This dovetails with something I was talking about to a group of restaurant operators. Italy gave many of their people to America, albeit not so voluntarily. They came to America looking for opportunities. They were entrepreneurial in their nature. America was (and still is) a laboratory for immigrants looking to remake themselves, like Gianpaolo says, to reset their lives. And along with that they made a life here in these lands. But somewhere along the way, many of us turned back to the old country to see where our grandparents came from. And we saw beauty and possibility. It was easier to see it from a distance.

In any event, it is probably a pipe dream, thinking that we could start something up in Italy faster than we could in the US. I have already abandoned the idea of living part-time in Italy in the future. In fact, my preference will be to find a rural area somewhere like in the hill country of Texas. Why? Because I know it will be less of a hassle to get things done. Bit I have veered off course. Back onto the Autostrada.

There is a great deal of cynicism in Italy among people in their 50’s and beyond, people who control the economy and the cultural strings that keep the kites in the air. A large part of it is economic power, but that is conservative in nature and it muffles the entrepreneurial spirit so prevalent in the bones of Italians, specially the young ones. Politicians also keep that under cover because they want their power and the money that goes with it. Comfort, ease, control.

What we owe to Italy, here in America, is repayment for sending some of their best and their brightest out into the world, never to return home. Italy, unlike places like France, shared much of their talent with the world. Italy went global before it was an idea. And now they see countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore catching up, fast. It is important to let Italy know that we understand the sacrifice the country made in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the Italian diaspora into the new worlds.

So what can we do?

We have to be patient with things like the exchange rate, which has changed 15% since July. Gasoline - in Italy is $8.00 a gallon. Salaries - $30,000 is considered a good wage. Housing – 1,500 square feet for 3-4 people is a goal. This is really a pittance compared to our super-sized expectations here in the US. Our grasp exceeds our needs. But Italy looks to America and says, “We want some of that.”

Cernilli, The Reluctant Midwife?

Yet, we will still buy the wines and the clothes and the cheeses and prosciutto and the cars. Quality will always have a market but the market might recess a little in 2008. Today an importer told me one of his top-selling Pinot Grigios was going up $15 a case. That translates to almost an additional $2.50 per bottle on the retail shelf (online a little less, but there is delivery costs). He also told me that one of his best-selling Ripasso style wines was going up $20.00. Again, that is close to $3.00 more on the retail shelf. Maybe $1.80 if you are Vaynerchuk & Co. selling it, but again there are delivery costs and the hassle of buying a wine under $25.00 and waiting for it to get to your home.

The market will sort most of this out. Today I am tasting more than 30 Malbec, Carmenere, Bonarda and Cab/Merlot blends from South America. A wine writer is looking for good-tasting reds that will be considered values. That used to be the home turf of wines like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Valpolicella Ripasso, Primitivo and Nero D’Avola. No longer. The Italians who moved to Argentina and Chile are creating wines to compete with their uncles' wines back home. Interesting and challenging times.

My point? A rambling one at that, it seems. But if someone would ask me how we could get through this next 18 months, how an Italian wine producer could contribute to making this less painful, here's what I would say:

Please stay in the fields with us, you with the vines, us with the newly born wine drinkers. Let’s tighten up our habits of affluence. Maybe not a new car this next year. Maybe not spending so much time and money on leisure. Spend a little more time not on vacation, perhaps? Pursue what Gianpaolo calls a “more realistic vision of the world.” Get your global goggles on, folks, and gather your tools.

Let’s get busy and deliver this baby.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Italian Affliction

I got a note from a friend in Italy. Small talk about the holidays, the wine harvest, comings and goings about a couple of mutual friends. Then my friend dropped a bomb.

“Nobody here gives a damn. Everybody is upset. Kids aren’t talking to their parents. Restaurant owners aren’t buying wine from their neighbors. Gasoline is impossible to find. It’s like Italy has become this giant bowl of pissed-off minestrone. I don’t know how much longer before something inside here blows a whistle and says: Time out. Wait a minute. We’re all in this together. Let’s not sink this ship.

“It’s not like were some Third World country.”

That hit me hard, shattered my idealistic view of Italy, so finely honed from 30-plus years of traipsing all over the place. How could this be?

I looked back over many years of impressions. From my notebooks, which I still have, to the scores of photographs taken, some approaching historical value for the era they captured. And then it was like a light went off.

My first trip to Italy, I walked around in jeans and sandals, with long curly hair, looking at “my people.” I really felt that I’d found the tribe I came from. I gazed upon the people as if they weren’t capable of any crime, sadness or malaise. I wandered the streets of Rome with a camera and a canteen, capturing images from every epoch on display.

And then one day I was walking in the hills near a modern art museum. On the street, a man and a woman in a car come to a screeching halt right in the middle of the street. The man pulls the woman out and starts yelling at her and slapping her. He was beating the hell out of her. And while she was screaming, she didn’t call for help or run away. I was maybe 100 feet away. This went on for probably a minute, seemed like hours. And then they get in the car and drive away. The stopped traffic, a municipal bus, continued on its route. Just like that.

I went back to my little room in the pensione and took a shower. It was August. I felt like I had just been beaten up. But that little moment was seminal in breaking the spell of my perfect Italy with something that was probably closer to the real Italy.

These days, the more I go to Italy, the less I understand it. And while I am at it, I can also say the same thing about the country where I was born, the US, the state I moved to, Texas, and the city I live in, Dallas. It’s like an Ingmar Bergman film: There is some meaning here, but it’s pretty hard to get at. So while the Italians are struggling with this new world order in their country, it isn’t foreign to these shores.

The animals make more and more sense to me everyday. They live in balance with our world. They know not of our rules; they answer to a higher source than man. I like the animals more everyday. The pitiful little black cat that waits by my front door for a little food, sometimes in the bitter cold. The baby possums and their mom that come out at night and empty the dish when the cat has gone. The bees in my tree that have set up their business in the owl house. The sparrow hawk couple that comes back every year to nest and mate in the big tree next to my house. The chimney sweeps that come back in the late spring to hang out in my chimney. These creatures aren’t mad, they aren’t angry. They don’t need therapists. They haven’t stopped talking to their mothers. They don’t have these modern problems of civilization. But they do have to live in harmony with people, or at least figure out how to stay out of the way of our oncoming, “Get the hell out of my way” Hummer mentality.

So while the Italians work through their dis-ease and the rest of us figure out how to bleed all we can out of this turnip called Christmas, how will we face ourselves in the mirror of our Self Affliction?

Aldous Huxley had a saying, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.”

Heaven help us.

Special thanks to Camilla Lopez for permissionto use the last photograph

Friday, December 14, 2007

What’s So Important?

The path of the wine trail took me today to a Chinese family who has had their restaurant for 33 years. The father has passed on, and the son and his wife now gaze into the pond of his dream and are working to re-cast their nets into it for the next 33 years.

Restaurants are like trees. If they get planted into good soil and are watered and fed and pruned, then they will flower or bear fruit or perhaps just look pretty and create a little shade. Restaurants, a subject that I have been pondering over lately, can turn into a beautiful tall tree that gives pleasure to people for many years. If the family that has the restaurant, or if it is an individual, either way, as long as there is someone with a vision, and a fair amount of passion, then that can translate into something wonderful.

Just like the winemaker. It can start with one person, and then maybe the family, a son or a daughter, can take it into the next generation. In Italy we see it often, because it has to be carried forward. There is more tradition in Italy with the wine, but we’re also talking people’s lives being lived in the service of the land and the fruit and the miraculous process and lastly, the people who will open the bottles and hope to enjoy the fruits of the labors.

So it can be with the restaurateur. It could be someone like Sharon Hage at York Street, who invites you into her living dining room. There she offers you her fresh produce and ultra fresh, but oh so simple, catch from the seas. Maybe a little sample of a tartare, and then a close encounter with the 6th taste – heat. Little seared padrons, peppers that can be better than dessert, as they leave you teetering on the ledge of an experience that has your palate hanging over, peering into the precipice. Lingering, waiting to fall into the abyss, only to be caught and taken back to safety. The tightrope is still there if you care for another bite. And why wouldn’t you want to go around on that carousel one more time?

It’s like the lace curtains with the pattern of the hills on it and the actual hill behind the curtain. What’s so important? Everything and nothing.

The Chinese couple, meanwhile, is dreaming up this place where the classic Chinese dishes dance with the four corners of their culture. “People ask if we will do fusion, you know where we mix up the Japanese with the Vietnamese and the Thai foods. But with the Chinese, we have so much richness to draw from, how can we confuse people with fusion?”

Understood. The northern Italian restaurant run by a Southern Italian, serving Fettuccine Alfredo, a dish invented in Rome. An Italian restaurant that thinks it has to have French wines or Australian Shiraz because they want to keep their clientele supplied with what they think they want. As if a wonderful Gavi or an amazing Aglianico wouldn’t suffice? As if a little common sense couldn’t go a long way?

I was talking to a long time colleague today. He said, “We’re the only industry where the experts serve at the pleasure of those who haven’t a clue.” Yes, I have prostrated myself before one or two of those this week. They are usually young and bullet-proof. They’re not that interested in what I have to offer them.

Another colleague nailed it today. He was once a cowboy and he roped cattle. He had learned a few tricks along the way, but whenever he volunteered to tell a young buck how he could save himself a lot of trouble (and pain), usually they’d shoot back at him with the response that he didn’t know what he was talking about, and they could handle it. Well, this ol’ boy told me that when these young bucks ate enough dirt, they’d usually come back to ask him how he kept himself out of harms way. But they had to want to know what you have to offer them; you can’t volunteer it for free, because they see no value in it until they need the knowledge to keep themselves from getting hurt. But they gotta ask for the help – you can’t give it away – no value in that.

That’s what’s so important.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Life at the Table

Why do we eat out? That was the question I was asking myself today at lunch. I was in a little Italian-styled restaurant where we had convinced the owners to do a progressive wine list. Unfortunately they hired a manager, still wet behind the ears, who thinks he knows better. “The people can’t find the wines they are looking for; we need to make it easy for them.” We were – by arranging the wines in the order of their styles so they wouldn’t have to depend on the constant turn of wait staff and managers who have no real life experience in these matters.

Young people with old minds – old people with young thoughts – the argument about people wanting something more traditional is just not correct. If that were the case, this same style of wine list, which we put into use in the most traditional Italian restaurant over 10 years ago and which worked magnificently, well it would have failed there and then. But it didn’t. So what we have here is a failure to communicate.

The picture above was shot in 1969 on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, in what is still known as Café Mediterraneum. It was a magic moment for me seeing the light coming though the windows and on to the table.

The table, that one ring circus where it all takes place; food, wine, romance, engagements, break ups, life and death.

All through the world we break our stride and stop. Today a friend and I just took the time to talk about our world, our families, our time on earth, and yes a little of the wine business. With this new crop of ill prepared restaurateur, it gives us much to ponder over; lots of mulch for the fields in which we still must toil.

The Italians have been wonderful for all of us. Who would have thought a simple plate of pasta would give so much pleasure day after day, throughout the generations? A little flour, an egg, some water. A little tomato or maybe some porcini. And cheese, my heroin.

Not just the Italians though. One day on a Good Friday in Frankfurt, we happened to walk by their Wall Street, the Börse. Outside, tents had been erected and impromptu wine bars were pouring Riesling and Muller-Thurgau to the businessmen and women. What a grand revelation – the leaders of business for one of the strongest industrial and economic powers, lollygagging outside, talking to each other on the eve of a holiday. Drinking wine, not making money. How civilized, I mused, how very wonderful.

The fabulous city of slow food, Eataly, in Torino. Table after table of the different stages of eating, with people, families, sitting together, enjoying prosciutto or gelato. The table, always the table.

A picnic in Perigord. A visit to the farmers market and a wine shop or two. A roasted chicken, some potatoes, and green beans. And red wine from Cahor. A light breeze through the trees that were shading and cooling us, and people we just met were strangers no more. Today one of the couples emailed me from New York. They were at Babbo and were wondering about a Traminer on the list. Not some traditional, tired wine list. They had their hands on a list with spunk, with balls. For lovers and fighters, with passion and purpose.

It doesn’t always have to be life changing. After all, it’s a meal, something we do thousands of times in our lives. But it needn’t be mundane. We have plenty of choice in the matter, how we nourish ourselves through the days of our lives. Sometime it might be a simple freshly baked loaf of bread and some cheese. And of course the wine. It could be burgers and Brunello or it could be Fontina and Fumin. Or it could be a bottle of cognac and a lifetime of stories.

But restaurateurs take notice – we are traveling more – we are expecting more from you and your concepts. It is too easy to make a simple, wholesome meal at home. We aren’t always looking for some epiphany over Peekytoe crab. We just want you to treat our future memories with the proper care and feeding.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Menu for Hope 4 -- December 10-21

This is the fourth year of A Menu For Hope, the grassroots charity event for wine and food bloggers, started by Pim ( of the Chez Pim Blog) in response to the horrible Tsunamis of 2004. Last year's event raised more than $60,000 for the UN's World Food Programme, which set the stage for this year's remarkable event. Because of our success last year, the World Food Programme essentially told us to figure out what we wanted, and they'd make it happen.

Pim sat down with them and arranged the perfect donation scheme. 100% of the donations go directly to the people in need. We get to choose exactly where every cent goes, and we get to talk to the people it goes to. In fact, Pim has already been in contact with some of the families that will get our aid money. She sent them some disposable cameras and asked them to take pictures of their lives. The results are quite extraordinary, both for their immediacy, but also some of the images are quite beautiful in their own right.

So we're feeding some very needy farmers in Lesotho. And how are we doing it? By holding a virtual-global charity raffle, with prizes donated from bloggers all around the world.

HOW IT WORKS: The campaign is essentially a big raffle for prizes. You look through the prizes, figure out which one(s) you want to try to win, and then you buy "virtual raffle tickets" -- one for each $10 of donation you make to our cause on the special web site set up for that purpose.

When you make your donation, you simply specify the prize number(s) (each prize should have one) and the "number of tickets" your donation is buying. Donate thirty bucks, get three tickets, and use them for one prize, or for three. Just be specific in your request.

Here's the site to enter / donate.

THE PRIZES: So first of all, remember that these are just the wine blog prizes. There are many other prizes awaiting you over on Chez Pim’s site. Go check them out too. But not before taking a look at Alder Yarrow's Vinography and all the generous and creative donations from wine bloggers far and wide:

All of the wine donations are listed on the Vinography site

Specific instructions for entering the raffle can be found at the bottom of this post.

If you are interested, this is the On The Wine Trail in Italy item:

WB06 - 6 bottle lot of Italian wines -$295 value.
Principiano Barolo "Boscareto" 2000
Tenute le Querce Aglianico del Vulture "Il Viola" 2000
Gravner Bianco "Breg" 2000
Soletta Cannonau di Sardegna "Firmadu" 2003
Soletta Cannonau di Sardegna "Firmadu" 2003
Maculan Cru "Fratta" 2003
Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva "Berardo" 2000

Principiano Barolo "Boscareto" 2000
$50.00 SRP
92 WS
“The last 15 years have seen a real revolution in the way wine is made. Back then there were just two or three wineries in Monforte d`Alba and today there are about 20, “Ferdinando says. “I don’t think the Langhe will change much more. We are at the right dimension and the right concentration of vineyards.” Ferdinando Principiano, who refurbished the winery 10 years ago with new equipment, is responsible for vinification and aging with consulting enologist Giuseppe Caviola. Fifty-year-old Nebbiolo vines are planted in the Boscareto vineyard in Serralunga d`Alba and 70 year- old Barbera vines are located in the Pian Romualdo vineyard of Monforte d`Alba called Le Coste. making two Barolos (Barolo Boscareto and Barolo Le Coste) They produce only 35,000 bottles per year.

Tenute le Querce Aglianico del Vulture "Il Viola" 2000
$20.00 SRP
Aglianico vines near Barile that grow straddling the caldera of the volcano Vulture produce striking reds with spice, unique licorice and dark cherry casts and an unfeigned sense of rusticity. Craftsmanship by the Pietrafesa family is sparing no expense in the field work, the winery, or in the bottle results.

Il Viola shows the purity cast with a small amount of wood. New wave wines of old world reality.

Gravner Bianco "Breg" 2000
$90.00 SRP
3 Glasses Gambero Rosso
Josko Gravner was for many years on the cutting edge of white wine production. He was one of the first to introduce new oak barriques in this region. Since then, however, the relentless passion for perfection through experimentation changed his whole philosophy, and his wine-making methods have changed greatly. Over the past decade he sold off all of his high-tech equipment to other wineries and began making wine the old-fashioned way. Indeed, Gravner started studying and reverted to ancient Roman texts for inspiration to fulfill his very unique vision of what wine should express.

Breg, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling Italico, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The grapes come from his 18 hectares of vineyards. The terroir there is unique, and a number of vineyards are terraced. Gravner works organically and goes for maximum ripeness and concentration in the vineyards. The crops are very low and the vines (some up to 80 years old) are planted up to 10,000 per hectare. This gives the fruit a wonderful concentration and expression of terroir. “I am convinced that wine is a product of Nature, not of Man, whose role therefore is to accompany its maturation process while avoiding any artificial intervention”, says Gravner.

Soletta Cannonau di Sardegna "Firmadu" 2003
$20.00 SRP
This excellent wine comes from the Estate vineyard “Firmadu” and is made from the Cannonau grape
varietal which is the Sardinian version of Spain’s Granacha. The Firmadu vineyard is located in the mountains of Corona Majore, S’ Erenazu and Su Frigadore at 400 meters above sea level in sandy-calcareous soil with East-Southwestern exposure to the sun. The vines are 30-40 years old.

This varietal takes on styles of its own here in the potent reds under the Cannonau di Sardegna DOC. It is aged for a total of two years, part of which is in barrels and then six additional months in the bottles. The wine has an intense ruby color with granite reflections. The bouquet is very intense and persistent, herbaceous and delicate. It has a typical scent of dried fruits, walnut hull and prunes. Dry & Full-Bodied. Number of Cases Produced: 2,500 per year

Maculan Cru "Fratta" 2003
$80.00 SRP
91 Wine Spectator
94 Wine Enthusiast - Editor's Choice
“Seductive, succulent and hedonistic. This 77% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Merlot blend is incredibly forthcoming and ready to drink immediately thanks to its rich toasted notes, chocolate fudge, blackberry, leather, tobacco, menthol and herbal aromas. There’s a ton of vanilla and sweet spice on the velvety finish and melted chocolate on the close.”

Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva "Berardo" 2000
$35.00 SRP
4 Stars Decanter
"A gorgeous wine."
90 Wine Advocate
"...richly fruity and spicy on the nose, fuller and deeper on the palate, rounder and more polished in its tannins, and very persistent on the finish."

The Bossi Castle is located in the town of Castelnuovo Berardenga, the southernmost appellation of Chianti Classico, amidst evergreen woods and long rows of vines. With a history dating back to the 9th century A.D., the estate embraces modern technology, while at the same time respecting the traditional character of the lands of Chianti. This balance has been a key part of Marco Bacci’s vision as he has brought Castello di Bossi to the highest ranks in the realm of international wine.


If you're interested in buying into the raffle, here's what you need to do:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at

2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation. Each $10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice.

3.Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. The prize code for the 6 bottle lot of Italian Wine is WB06. Do tell us how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code -for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for WB02 and 3 for WB06.Example:

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

6. Check back on Chez Pim on January 9 when we announce the result of the raffle. (The drawing will be done electronically. Derrick at Obsession with Food is responsible for the application that will do the job.)

Thanks for your participation, and good luck in the raffle!

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