Thursday, December 30, 2010

Colli Orientali Flashback - A Generation Ago

"Follow your own star" ~ Dante Alighieri

The wine trail in Italy  ~ 1988 ~ Colli Orientali del Friuli

It had been a difficult spring. A beer company had bought the wine company I was working for and we were transitioning to their offices. A last minute offer had been proffered (literally “here’s our offer, take it or leave it”) and I reluctantly took it. It was a job, but the pay was terrible, the drive was long and the folks who hired me had no idea what I did or what the fine wine business was all about. It would be the first, and not the last time, beer people invaded my world and made a mess of my life. So what to do, but go to Italy for a couple of weeks?

After settling in at my base on the Adriatic, San Benedetto del Tronto, and having my fill of fresh seafood and white wine from the Marche and Abruzzo, I borrowed a car from a friend and headed up the coast towards Venice. I had my gal Lizanne with me on the trip. She was years away from being diagnosed with the dreaded disease that would kill her in too short of a time. We were in full blaze of youth, bulletproof and had a car.

The plan was to go to Venice, Ravenna and Friuli, specifically the Colli Orientali, where two wine estates were part of the world waiting back home, if there was a home to go back to. Unbeknownst to me, two of my colleagues would unsuccessfully plot to render my position irrelevant in a lustful grab for my job. I had a corner office and a Vice-president title. I learned that those two things are not all what people think they are, myself having long ago surrendered to the fields in flyover country that constantly needed plowing and refreshing. But the sun was shining on an Adriatic Italy and I had my Beatrice, and her love, and was heading to Udine.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Antonio Galloni's Christmas Gift to Pio Cesare

Gregory Balogh, President of Maisons Marques & Domaines celebrates with winemaker Pio Boffa

Folks have been waiting for the latest Wine Advocate to come out, as it is featuring the wines from Piedmont. One of the most respected names in Italian wine, Antonio Galloni, chimes in here with his report and tasting notes for Pio Cesare wines. Bravo to Pio Boffa and family and the Maison Marques & Domaines Importers, for a round of stellar reviews. A great way to end the year and bring in a new one - with a bang! Read the report on The Blend: here.

Buon Anno, y’all!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Once Upon a Spring Day

Looking back over the year, one of the best times I had in 2010 was Easter with Brett Jones and Wink Lorch. We met at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley and stayed in touch via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and email. Wink had invited me to come visit her and Brett at their chalet in the Haut-Savoie. And when I had time between Bordeaux and Italy I made the trek.

It was one of those magical times. The snow was falling and the ski runs were teeming with skiers. I wish I had learned to ski when I was younger. But, alas, I was relegated to the little stops along the way to sit in the sun and drink crisp white wines from the area. Wink and Brett would join me after taking on a mountain or two. We had a great time. And really they taught me so much about the wines from the Jura and Haute-Savoie (is there anyone, anywhere with a greater knowledge of those wines? I don’t think so). And Brett, the consummate wine professional and gentleman. How I wish we had more of him in our business in America. All told, the few days I spent there were magical, the food, the wine, the weather, the intelligent conversation. It was one of the highlights of the year. Thanks so very much, Wink and Brett! By the way their chalet has occasional availability, check it out here Sharing it again, with you, dear readers, on this cold winter day after Christmas, which Brett and Wink know as Boxing Day.

Festive times – I’m on my way to the country for more wine and food and family time. Cheers!

More pictures after the break...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas...

...and here's to a Happy (and Bubbly) New Year!

That's one of the new Prosecco DOCG's, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, from Montesel - a small  grower who makes a lovely wine.

written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Day in the Life...

...of a fool
Where are we? Two days before Christmas? And here I am running around with wine in the back, my apron and box cutter, my camera, running, running, searching for meaning in this little foolish life off to the corner of a country in the middle of nowhere. On the radio, Diane Krall begs, Besame Mucho, while her guitarist (Anthony Wilson?) strums softly in the background. Is that what it is we are merely doing, strumming softly? Perhaps keeping the beat until the beat is no longer beating… OK, OK, I wont get all Irish and maudlin on ya. There are some fun things happening too. And it is Christmas.

Today really was such a wonderful day. A quick trip to the office to check in, make a few notes, get ready for the Vino2011 event in NY in a month (I’ll be on a panel there) and then a couple of quick meetings. And back onto the streets.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Italian Wine and Food Business is booming in Flyover Country!

Yeah, you can laugh at "them Texans" with their funny accents and their big hair, but where in America can you find, on the Monday before Christmas, a restaurant doing a wine dinner that packed the house? Had to turn people away? On Football night? Basketball too? Did I say it was the Monday before Christmas? And the first night in 456 years since we last had a total lunar eclipse?

Well, the friends of Salvatore’s Gisellu’s smashing success, Urban Crust, located, in all places, old Plano, they came, they drank and they ate. And ate. And drank some more. And with long tables like that I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them got up on the tables and starting dancing!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Contemplating the Next Move

Maybe it is because we are nearing the end of another year. Or because the last five months have been so very busy. Perhaps it is the new look of the blog that has caused me to think about this. Or maybe this is just overindulgence from one who thinks too much about this. I don’t really know.

What I do know is this- the world as we know it, as we all know it, is our own little unique world. And everyone has one. Some of us have bigger orbits; some of us have more mobility. A few of us have means to make their world bigger than others. And many more of us have a world that has been handed to them, in an instant, and with little time to plan. And here we are, all together, but separated by our skulls. And so we aren’t really all together. We just live on the same funny little green planet. More by accident than design.

I have been writing here at On the Wine Trail in Italy for almost five years now. I have met new friends, made new acquaintance, widened the network. It has been a good run.

And no, I am not signing off or taking leave. Or at least, I don’t think so. But I am contemplating the next move.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Traffic Cone and Cannolo Porn - Starting the year end wrap-up

One traffic cone, two traffic cones ~ Traffic Cone Porn
I started going over 8,000 photographs from the year. After getting through January and February, I decided to procrastinate. Along the way I found these shots. Just a random offering of images that somehow seem to fit, albeit very loosely. I’m feeling a little risqué, in a laid-back on-the-couch kind-of-way. Anyway, just a little lagniappe. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Good Enough For Now

I’m so very sorry. I seem to have fallen off the wine trail, once again. I don’t know what to tell you. I know you want to know more about where to visit in Tuscany, or which are the best 2007 Barolos on the market. But I’m not able to fulfill those needs. I have been distracted. By life. By work. By the here and now. And here we are entering the mainstream of the holidays, so most likely there will be more of this from these pages.

In five years, the wine trail has gone through Italy, often. But life isn’t all about wine. Or Italy. I love the place and the wines, don’t get me wrong. I just have a larger world that I have been handed. And not a lot of time. So there you have it. Welcome aboard or bon voyage.

New Look for On the Wine Trail in Italy

After five years and countless html fiddling around with this site, I figured I should oughta change it before it becomes a “classic” site. Anyway, just something I have been working on, figured the blog needed a fresher look. I’m still working out some of the kinks, but if I didn’t put it up today, it might have sat in the developer’s box for another five months. So here goes. Hope you like it. The photo above was made in Panzano, Italy, the vineyards of Castello di Rampolla. I shot the picture about four years ago when I visited the place.

Thanks for reading and following my writing on (and sometimes very far off) the wine trail in Italy, and anywhere else my eyes and heart do roam.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Mercury on a Rising Mississippi

Was I in Paris? Palermo? Havana? Walking along a dark street on my way to a dinner appointment I was reminded of the day that had just unfolded. December in an antique of a city. Cold, misty; still hazy from a million nights of hedonism, chastened by a river.

I started with Sherry, a Fino. It seemed to be a good choice with the amuse bouche of candied pecan, Rio Star grapefruit, lying in a mousseline of bacon. A little micro greens thrown on the top, it looked like a deconstructed Christmas tree, and it did match well with the salty sips of the Spanish wine.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

New Oil

Another year has come and vanished. Another harvest. And the new oil is now here. New oil, showing us the promise of the harvest in its sharpest, youngest, most fiery expression. Lovely stuff, as long as you just taste a little bit. Not too much.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Batting .333

It never gets easier. 30 years doing this. Someone forgets something. Like history, for example. And then, there we are, back at the starting gate, back at 1980. Holy cripes, this stings, like a brush-back fastball that veered into the crotch.

But I'm batting 1 for 3, which is better than Derek Jeter did last year. And look what he’s holding out for. Maybe the glass 1/3 full is good enough? Do you really want the details? I guess I better get this confession going.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Brooms that will bring tears to your eyes

Yesterday we traveled south of Dallas to Elm Mott, Texas (somewhere in between Italy and Austin, Texas), for the Annual Thanksgiving Homestead Craft Fair, held at the Brazos de Dios, a 510-acre homesteading community. There are many articles about this place and if you ever travel from Dallas to Austin or San Antonio or Ft. Worth on Hwy 35, you should stop and pay these wonderful folks a visit. It is a religious community, but these folks aren’t there to lay any trip on you. They settled from the east coast some time ago to live a life closer to the earth and to worship in a way they so desired.

Alison Miller recently wrote a piece in the Dallas News, Rediscover lost arts at Homestead Heritage's Brazos de Dios, the reason we day-tripped down to Elm Mott. It’s a great read.

Just a few shots after the break. The brooms were amazing. Their almost mystical connection to something that was once a living, flowering plant, that now has a new life. They mesmerized me and got me to thinking about the way we use products in our daily life. When was the last time you shopped, after Thanksgiving, and really found something made with love to give to your loved ones? Enough of this though, the pictures. Happy Sunday!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ya feel me DOGG?

from the "I tell the truth and I know what I’m talking about" department

In an amazing turnabout, the European Community has decided to immediately suspend the integration of Italian wine appellations into the PDO (Protected Designations of Origin) system. Last minute negotiations between the EU and Veneto President Luca Zaia have been reported and there appears to have been an 11th hour change. Reports have it that actor and record producer Cordozar Calvin Broadus, a.k.a. Snoop Dogg and President Zaia have formed a promotion company in the Veneto to realign Italian wines to fit a "more youthful and energetic" profile. The designation will immediately known as D.O.G.G. and the first designees, 13 of them, will receive the highly coveted denominations at a ceremony on Asolo on November 31, 2010.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Beyond the Aurelian Walls

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

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

East? Marche, Abruzzo.

South? Campania, Basilicata, Calabria.

North? Umbria, Romagna.

West? Sardegna, Maremma.

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Funny Roman Valentine

Rome, ah, Roma. Three times this year I have slept in your arms. Three times we’ve met, if only for a moment. Still, you remain eternally young and ancient at the same time.

Rome is a childhood sweetheart of mine, whom I stay in touch with, if only from a distance. When I was younger, Rome was like a grandmother to me; large, imposing, wise, ancient. As I spent more time in Rome, she became a mother, a lover, a friend, a muse. Rome, all these emotions over a city that will never know I ever stepped in her shadows.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Today's Forecast: Cloudy with a 50% chance of scattered words

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

This, time, I didn’t fall off the wine trail, I was thrown off. Sensing the pain of the customers and the salespeople just isn’t a popular commercial philosophy. After all, why let something emotional like a relationship with our clients get in the way of business?

Those who observe say this has been a challenging O-N-D. October was lackluster. After the November elations there has been a little uptick in the restaurants. Steak houses mainly, expense account meals for large roving bands of white middle aged males who are tired from their day in the rough fairways of commerce. Hey, they eat steak and drink red wine. We’ll take it. Maybe slip an Aglianico in there without them knowing it, eh?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

There is No Truth ~ There are Only Stories

Non essiri duci sinno tu mancianu, non essiri amaru sinno ti futanu*

Those who know me know this has been a heck of a week. Those who read between the lines might have an idea, but don’t worry if it slipped past you. There is too much information in a world that is throwing things at us from every corner. I feel like I have been in a ring with Manny Pacquiao. My head hurts.

So where are we? We are half way in the notorious O-N-D selling season. Lackluster would be high praise. Business is good for the top 1% of the population. My son still doesn’t have health insurance. But I’m not boiling like a teakettle. I’m cool. Really.

I’m cool because I run across signs, all the time, that tell me we are making progress. Like yesterday, walking through the wine department of Whole Foods and seeing a white wine from Sicily for $6. No idea what the grapes are (Catarratto, Grillo or Inzolia would be my guess) but worth a chance. Progress, because we are going beyond a sweet Chardonnay/Semillon Aussie blend, or a German Riesling dumbed down for White Zinfandel tastes. Making progress, one day at a time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Long Life, As Expected?

I was passed a message. “He’s gone.” Just like that. Too young. Too much life left in him. But that was it. The End. Life over for Morro.

Another note, in a text. “She’s here!” Brand new. Just born. Ready for the world. Novella. A fresh beginning.

Non c'è due senza tre. A letter arrives. Old school. “ One year before she turns 100, if she’d only made it a little longer.” And a long life, as expected, still missed, because she was so loved. My Gaglioppa.

You really never know. It could be one long life for a wine, it could be the beginning of a life not yet unfolding, or it could be an abrupt end to a life lost too soon. How many times has it happened, corkscrew at hand, early evening, anticipation, but never really knowing until the moment of truth?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Baby Please Don't Go

Fragments of dreams, thoughts, imaginings….

“What do you expect of me?” Voices were raised. I could hear from behind the closed door, but always it would end the same way. One or the other would walk out and take off. High drama in an Italian family.

A few hours, or days later, there would be a truce. A semi-resolution for the sake of the kids. And life would go back to normal. For a while.

And then there would be the pasta, too long cooked, or the sauce that didn’t have the onions properly strained. Or there would be too much pepper. Or not enough salt. Or the bacon wasn’t crisp. Or the hash browns weren’t brown enough. Or the fish was too limp, the sausage too firm. And on and on it would go like this, all through many Italian-American households, in the days after the war.

It’s amazing how any of us grew up to like food and wine.

Or was it just an isolated experience, imagined, as many things of childhood are?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Dream of a Young Italian Winemaker

I’m a young winemaker in Italy. Let’s say the Marche. My grandfather had vineyards. He grew grapes, on 20 acres. Sangiovese and Montepulciano. And some white varieties. Made a little wine for the house and family and sold off the rest to the local Cantine Sociale. Pretty common occurrence all throughout Italy.

As a child we would spend summers there, it was in the hills. It was cooler. the kids could wander. There were birds, warblers, nightingales, mourning doves. The vineyards were filled with song from dawn to sunset. I loved walking in the vineyards with my nonno.

My father wasn’t really interested in the wine business. He got some law or economics degree. Went off to a bigger city for fame and fortune.

Here I am, I’m 28. My grandfather lived his life. My dad lived his. And I am looking at the history and decide to go back to the Marche, make wine as sincerely as possible and see what kind of a life I can make of it. So far, so good?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Blue, Green & Brown

California - there is a good place to be...

I had a recent comment on this blog:

Thanks for attending the New World Wine Experience. I'm sorry if you were disappointed not to find wines from Italy in the Grand Tasting (Italy not being, after all, one of what we consider the New World wine regions), but I hope you had a chance to taste the Nebbiolo from Cetto in Mexico. And perhaps have dinner at Piero Selvaggio's Valentino in the Venetian, which also has an amazing list of Italian wines.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Wine Spectator

Um, Thomas, thanks for the concern. But as an original Californian, the wines (or the people) from the New World are not a disappointment to me. They are part of my DNA. I am, when it is all said and done, a child of California, and so very proud of my home state (and I'm not talking about baseball).

Walking through the halls of the recent Wine Spectator Experience, so many people who I have worked with for many years. Dear friends. People who speak in my dialect. My tribe.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Last Time I Saw Vegas

The last time I saw Vegas, it was so long ago, the memory of it isn’t even a blip. Which isn’t all that unusual, for many people’s memories of the last time they were in Las Vegas. My story is a little different. I wasn’t gambling; I wasn’t drinking, at least not from a liquor bottle. I wasn’t staying up all night, even though my sleeping pattern, I am told, was erratic. I wasn’t stumbling, hell I wasn’t even crawling.

That’s because I was maybe all of three months old, and my family was on the only vacation we ever took. Too bad I can’t remember it.

Not that there was that much in Vegas, in those days. An occasional puff of smoke in the sky from nearby atomic bomb testing. Other than that, Vegas as we now know it hadn’t been imagined. Imagine that?

Growing up on the other side of that desert, in Palm Springs, California, it wasn’t like we didn’t have our own little pre-Vegas party going. A lot of the folks who made their fame and fortune in Las Vegas lived quieter lives in Palm Springs. The Village, folks liked to call it. It was quiet, at times. It was more of a global village, in that there were people from all over the world living there. I enjoyed it. Hell, I loved it, as a kid. Even on Saturday nights during the height of the season, when I swear I could feel the collective orgasm of thousands of shaking, wiggling bodies, in the hotels, cars and pools, grinding to the post-war beat of the 50’s and 60’s.

But Vegas, that was another story. I had managed to avoid the place, for fun, for business, all these years. Not that I consciously went out of my way not to go there. I just had other priorities. Like Italy, San Francisco, New York, France, Sicily. Ya dig?

And so when the plane finally took me and plopped me down into the 2010 Vegas landscape, can I tell you, it was a bit of a moment for me. Actually, 150,000 moments.

This is my take on Vegas, from the wine trail in Italy perspective. It was also Nevada Day, Halloween weekend and World Series time, so the town was packed. Bustling. Smoking. Walking through the casinos, I feel like I inhaled a carton of cigarettes.

So where to start? How about with Mario Batali? It was rumored he was walking around the hotel I was staying in, the Venetian. No surprise there, he has two restaurants in it and the hotel was hosting the Wine Spectator weekend, the reason why I was in Las Vegas. Work. Got it? Anyway, one in our group suggested we go to B+B for lunch. I still had my watch on Texas time so I drug myself out of the room, after a 90-minute conference call, and hightailed it down to the restaurant. Only to find it was only open for dinner. No problem, little sister restaurant, Enoteca Otto, upstairs, in the Venetian's Piazza San Marco, could accommodate our group.

After walking around the casinos, staring, looking, seeing people sitting in the same slot machine chairs for 5,6,7 hours, my batteries were a little scorched. Lungs too. So when I took the escalator up to the so-called Piazza San Marco, and saw the staged lighting (lovely, actually) and the open space (sans gaming tables) I breathed a smoke-free breathe of relief. I wasn’t in Italy, but it was a very reasonable facsimile. A colleague found me and suggested we have a pre-lunch drink. I spotted a bottle of Aperol and ordered Aperol Spritzes. Perfect way to wait for the rest of the group to join us. At this point I am finding a way to be at peace with Vegas.

Aperol, salumi, a wine list that has Italian wines on it that I like. Even a sommelier who is pleasant to talk to. He knows Italian wine well, knows I know Italian wine well, has read my blog, and starts bringing my attention to the cool wines on the list. Coenobium, the intriguing white from Monastero Suore Cistercensi. Frank Cornelissen’s Monjibel Rosso, you name it. Not just a list of Super-Duper Tuscans (Yeah, Masseto and the usual suspects were on it, this is after all, Vegas, where they might sell). Someone put together a list of really nice wines, and some good prices.

About then, Drew Hendricks and his crew walk in. Drew heads up the wine program at Pappas Bros in Texas and is also one of the founders of TexSom. Great, this gives me an excuse to order some more wines and taste them, pass them over to their table. How about some Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Valle dell’Acate? Now, we’re in a Vegas of my own choosing, now I am liking it so much more. No dark, chilly rooms, no smoke, just a plate of house-made mortadella (they sold out of culatello) and more wine. Yeah, my kind of town.

The Wine Spectator event, the reason I was sent there. Weird, just plain freekin’ weird. I went up to Christophe Baron of Cayuse. I thought I recognized him. “Are you a blogger?” I asked. “No” he answered abruptly as he reluctantly poured me a glass of his Syrah. “Are you a winemaker?” I asked. “No! I am a vigneron!” And he pulled the wine bottle back and announced for us to come back later as he wasn’t pouring any more wine. Maybe he was afraid of the Italian suit. I wasn't drunk. I wasn't being rude. I was merely asking friendly questions. Dude, I was just trying to find put more about you and your wines. No, Christophe, you aren’t a blogger. Or a winemaker. But a world class bonehead, that you are.

Thinking this had to get better, I headed over to see Randall Grahm. He recognized @italianwineguy from Twitter (that happened a lot, Facebook too) and he shared a taste of Le Cigare Volant with me. Nice guy, nice wine. Thanks, dude. Proved all Bio-dynamic winemakers aren’t jerks.

Not much Italian-centric for me to report from that event, but Vegas was an epiphany for me. All these years, in flyover country, feeling like this missionary work just wouldn’t ever end. Or at least end with a victory. Well, Italy has conquered the desert, and Vegas. And maybe it is a little caricature-ized in a grandiose and ramped up way.

I mean, is Mario Batali a God in Vegas? Perhaps. One of many, though, if he is. Vegas blows it up, magnifies it and puts a spotlight on it, for all to see. And if that comes off good, it is a good thing for all my friends and family back in Sunny Italy. In that regard, I think Vegas has been a good thing for Italian food and wine. And hopefully, in respect to things Italian, maybe what happens in Vegas won’t have to stay in Vegas.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Salone del Gusto 2010: Saffron, not Opium

Friends Hank and Phillissa Rossi are on one of their round the world trips again. Hank has a list of places in the world he wants to see and he’s been checking them off at an enthusiastic clip. The guy has wanderlust like no one else I know. Fortunately he likes to share his pictures and his travels. His travel blog is updated from his recent trip to South Africa and Italy.

I asked Hank to send a dispatch from the Slow Food Salone del Gusto, held every other year in Torino. Tierra Madre sounds wonderful; someday I hope to be in Italy at the right time. This last trip to Italy I was a few days away from being able to stay, after all it’s O-N-D time in the U-S-A. And I really have to craft a post to respond to all the emails I have been getting from winemakers, Tuscan and otherwise, who still think the American market is just standing there waiting with open arms for their wine. It’s in the works, and it will be a doozy, I promise you.

But in the meantime let’s hear from Hank:

While perusing the Salon del Gusto map of international vendors, I noticed that there was a booth selling Afghan saffron and wanted to visit. Imagine my surprise to find it not manned by Afghanis but two female soldiers of the Taurinense Alpina Brigade. They were selling the saffron to raise money for Afghanis to develop saffron as a cash crop to replace opium. Not Italians for good food but for good deeds.

A few days before we went to Torino to attend Salon del Gusto, we were watching the news and saw the nationally televised funeral of four members of Italy's Alpini killed in Afghanistan. The Alpini are Italy's elite mountain regiment. They have fought in every war Italy has been involved in since their founding in 1872. They are the oldest active mountain infantry in the world. The Alpini are permanently engaged in Afghanistan, as is our 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, NY. The Italians stopped, united as a country, to mourn the four slain Alpini. Let's raise a glass of Italian wine to the slain Alpini and their efforts to make a difference in Afghanistan, and remember their service and motto, " Di qui non si passa" They may not pass.

Grazie, Hank! Keep ‘em coming. And don’t forget to bring me some of that hot sauce from the Marche.

Enrico “Hank” Rossi on patrol in the Khyber Pass in 2007

Sunday, October 24, 2010

But deliver us from evil

On July 18, 1942, 73 young Jewish children started their journey to safety. They would end up in Nonantola, a small town near Modena. Their new home would be Villa Emma, and thanks to the courage of many, they escaped the horror of the concentration camps.

There are many stories like this told in the Italian countryside, especially in the south. But in the richer, industrial north, closer to the seat of power and in the path of the German army, to shelter 73 young Jewish kids was an act of courage that put so many lives at risk.

Walking through the villa, now part shrine and part working balsameria (a place where balsamic vinegar is made) there are all manner of emotions that jump out, even to the casual tourist. This day we were visiting the Giacobazzi family and their balsamic vinegar operations. They now own Villa Emma.

We had been to an olive oil factory, to a Prosciutto plant and to a dairy where they made Parmigiano. We had been to a winery, and as we were driving towards the Villa Emma I saw the name Giacobazzi and thought of the 1970’s when so much of their Lambrusco invaded the American shelves. That era of the business is over now, but the vinegar business is stronger than ever. In fact, in America it is often hard to find vinegar that doesn’t have the name balsamic on it. A sad note that most vinegar labeled balsamic is a ghostly shadow of the real thing.

We stopped at the Fattorie Giacobazzi near Modena and tasted their products at a nearby restaurant with food. I normally do not like the sweeter style of vinegar, but we were in a center of traditional production and it made all the difference in the world. The wines and foods and vinegars paired beautifully on that day, from appetizer to dessert. But that doesn't seem too important right now.

This post isn’t about wine or food or even vinegar. No, it’s about the Italian spirit that created a space for young lives to continue. The same space that fosters grapes into vinegar, become something greater than the wine it might have been destined to become. Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes, along with a few other native grapes, Sorbara, Salamino, Ancellotta. Their lives transformed.

The upper floor is quiet, serene, like a chapel, filled with ancient kegs of vinegar, from a family that has been keeping it up for more than 200 years. It was like walking through a living mausoleum of family history. The hands of the grandparents and great grandparents, still in evidence in the rooms. The closest thing to life beyond our sentence of 50-70-90 years. Immortality? No. But something greater than just a few moments in the spotlight. And with something to show, to share, for those who come after.

The Jewish survivors, who are no longer young, come back to Villa Emma. They bring their children and their grandchildren, to show them a place, and a time, that honored their beliefs and their lives. And this place lives on to honor the traditions of the elders who toiled in those rooms at the top of the villa. The same villa that sheltered 73 young, scared, homeless, children who had lost most of their family in a war and a sin against humanity. Now they come back to celebrate the victory of good over evil. And toast the victory with the sweet balsamic of the ages from the villa.

Note: this post was written as a result of being on an invited tour of Emilia and Tuscany by the Italian Trade Commission

Friday, October 22, 2010

I ♥ Lambrusco

I must have driven through the region a hundred times. Never stopped. Always on my way to somewhere more important. Alba, Montalcino, Fiumicino, Ciampino. It was often a spot on the highway where I’d zone out. It was flat. It was boring. I was tired. We’d already been to too many places for Italian wine.

And then I spent a few days in the region. No Brunello, no Barolo. I remembered back home, my pal Paul and his love for the stuff. He had people driving all the way from Beaumont, Shreveport, and Abilene to Dallas to get the fizzy wine from him. I didn’t pay any attention to it. Figured they were people who just hadn’t developed a taste for Italian wine and were stuck in a genre. Boy, was I wrong.

I had just finished a very long meeting with Italian apparatchiks, listening to their boring speeches and then listening to the translations. And then having to listen to the Italian speaker correct the translator as to the way she incorrectly translated him. It was long. It was tedious. Staring at the ceiling. Here I was again in this area, not on the highway this time, but the same sensation. Boredom. And then someone announced that lunch was being served and everyone came to life.

I don’t remember ever having had a meal standing up in Italy, except for at an Autogrill or Vinitaly. There was an array of foods from the area, cured meats, cheeses, some over béchameled lasagne, a scant few greens. And over in the corner there was some radioactive looking green fizzy kiwi juice and a bucket of wine. A winemaker came up to me and started pouring me his sparkling Malvasia. Nice. And then his sparkling rosé that he named after his beautiful wife. I liked his wife better. And then he poured me his Lambrusco. And the lights went on.

This was the kind of wine I wanted when I would go into a restaurant in my hometown. I’d probably never find it, though. It wasn’t cool enough for Dallas. Not big and voluptuous with lots of poofy hair and mammalian charm. It was a little subtler than that.

It was tasty. I sucked the first glass down. I feared the afternoon of headache from drinking red wine syndrome. It happens to me. I didn’t need that, what with the nose bleed syndrome that was cramping my style. But I went in for another glass. Wow, this was an epiphany!

Several days later we were at a dairy/bar/salumeria and the same wine popped up. I had a glass. And then another Lambrusco showed up. And I had another glass. After my last two-glass-of-red-wine-lunch-with-no-headache I wanted to test the waters. And the wine was sooo good. I was hooked.

A day or so after that lunch we were in Modena at Antica Moka and another Lambrusco was being poured, strange looking bottle. Looking big. Looking important. Lambrusco di Sorbara “Vecchia Modena” by Cleto Chiarli. I gave it a try. Wow, it was even better than the other two I’d had.

I had this as we were heading out of Emilia towards Lucca and Viareggio. So my little Lambrusco affair was over as soon as it had started. But I will return. This is too good to let another 20 years pass by. I’ll be back.

I ♥ Lambrusco

Note: this post was written as a result of being on an invited tour of Emilia and Tuscany by the Italian Trade Commission
Real Time Analytics