Friday, April 30, 2010

It's a Wine! Wine!! Winey!!! World

Some of our peers in the wine world seem to have left their interactivity in the drawer, next to the ink and the quill. I get it, we’re all so busy (what's with the folks on the East Coast?). But let me just say this in the most polite way I can. The new world of communicating isn’t really that new at all. It is a dialogue. Talking. Listening. Responding. Repeat. Insert thoughtful moments to move the dialogue forward. And so on.

But it looks as if some of the folks in the conversation pit have become too busy, or disinterested, to engage in the reciprocal part. Which is a shame. And quite frankly, their loss. I’d say they know who they are, but they probably won’t read this post. And that is ok, because I have moved on. I am in the future with my friends and colleagues who have gotten over Future Shock, or Freelance Blues or Deadline Dilemma or whatever else little mishegas name that can be given to it. I’d say lack of interest. No problem.

We’ll be there on the other side, having a ball. Money? We’ll all get by. Blog stats? Who cares? Fame? Ask James Brown or Philo T. Farnsworth about the consolation of celebrity.

Meanwhile, I’m lining up Nebbiolo bottles for a gigantic retrospective of great wines from Barolo and Barbaresco with my home boys. Hip hooray, 1st of May, outdoor *swilling* begins today (or in this case, April 30th) . Too bad my interactive buds cant be here tonight: 1 Wine Dude, Amy, Anthony W, Brooklyn Guy, Charles and Ed, DavidTracie P, Fabio, Frances, Franco, GaryV (too, too busy) Gabrio, Genevelyn, GianPaolo, Guy, Jack, Jeff, Keith, Ken W, Ken P and Donna C-T &Co., Marco Numero Mundo, McDuff, Michael W, Regina, Samantha and Ron, Robert P and Kevin H, Russ, Serge, Strappo, Susannah,Texicali Ali, The Brad, Thomas P, Tom H, Whitney, Winey Wink and The Good Brett , Wolfgang and anyone else (apologies if I missed you on the blog roll) whom I have had such wonderful interactions with these past five years in the bloggy-blog wacky world of wine! wine!! wine!!!

Buon weekend, y’all.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Who says it's all fun and games?

One more pass by the Perini Ranch and the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit, before I turn my thoughts to Italy again. Actually the Italian connection in Buffalo Gap (Population 463) was evident. Tom Perini’s family comes from the Italian side of Switzerland. But Tom is known as the father of Texas Cowboy Cuisine although you can find his famous Zucchini Perini (zucchini rounds baked in an Italian meat sauce and topped with grated Parmesan cheese) on the menu. But the place is about steak and smoke and sashaying around for a Texas sized good time. I know it looks like fun, but we were working, Mom. Honest!

Perini Ranch is a working ranch. And yes, Simona, they also have oil wells

They may look like mild mannered Longhorn Cows, but these beauties are also my secret SEO weapon

My posts are always too long, I know. I get into it and get all wind-baggey. Or I get crotchety and start griping about some small minutiae about the wine biz. Or the Italians. Or the Americans. But not today. I feel fine. And I’m gonna keep it short. A few pix. A few licks. And back to work. Busy time in the wine biz.

Llana Estacado winemaker Greg Bruni(Yes Sandra, he's an Eyetalian-American) enjoying a little wine, a little dance

All I’m gonna say about working all weekend, tasting wine and beef and dining and drinking all kinds of wine and then trying to make it look like fun. It is fun. My dad taught me that if you aren’t enjoying what you do for a living, then you aren’t living. His example was a huge road sign to get me on the wine trail and keep me there. But this past weekend we leapt off a little and got on the chuck wagon trail.

Last words: Thank Texas and Tito's for Bloody Mary Sunday Mornings. After drinking all that fine wine I can’t think of a better way to set my palate straight and get it ready for Monday. Thank you, amigo! Now where’d plate of fried chicken livers go?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Riding a Gravy Train with Biscuit Wheels

Out in the West Texas town of Buffalo Gap

As I woke this morning and looked out over an emerald green mesa, I knew this was something unique to West Texas, a place of beauty, but also a tough-as-nails place. A place where, for the life of me, I’ll never understand the politics. But a place I am drawn to because it speaks to the independent streak that runs through me. I love the space, I dream about it when I am in Italy. And today when I left it, it made me sadder than when I have to leave Italy. But this isn’t on the wine trail in West Texas, is it? I must remember my place, mustn’t I? Ah gee, humor me for just this little post (or two) while I whittle the events down to some words and pictures. And a career of connections and some great memories. At least to little ‘ol me.

I knew I was in for it last night at the Big Party at Perini Ranch when I started hearing myself sound like my Uncle Lou in Midland. I love my uncle and he speaks in the doggondest West Texas dialect. Not as difficult to understand as Visentin in the Veneto, but here I was again, on a Sunday at a cookout, speaking in dialect. This time it was West Texas in purezza.

I don’t know what it was; the land (for sure), the people (yes), the food (senza dubbio) and the wine (don’t forget the beer, too) made the evening under the twilight blue skies magical. All around me were old friends, people who had shaped some part of my life in wine, both California and Texas. I am a child of three countries: California, Italy and Texas. How lucky it is for those of us who can call these three countries home. But for those of us who can call all three of them home- well that’s just about the luckiest break a guy (or gal) can get. There aren’t too many of us, and I don’t want the other folks getting all jealous (hell, just about any connection to a place is wonderful) but I am a lucky, lucky guy.

I am almost becoming one with my camera again. The digital camera evolution has been slow to come up to speed to those of us who learned how to shoot in a fast and intuitive manner. A rangefinder, set focus, knowing the film and the light so one could set the shot up, exposure-wise, and then get on to the important piece, shooting. Behind all of that is the pre-visualization process, preparing oneself for the decisive moment. I am almost accepting of the digital camera in that it has evolved so that we can get the camera out of the way of taking a picture. It’s about the vision, about seeing. And the past few days, hell, this whole month, has been an orgy of visuals for this lonesome dove on the wine trail. Isn’t this better than a crabby post?

Some of my favorite people and their wines were gathered this weekend out in the West Texas town of Buffalo Gap. Tom and Lisa Perini host the annual Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit out past a ways beyond Abilene (prettiest women you’ve ever seen) and man were they kicking it up in style. Anyways, the Italian wine trail wound past the Brazos River and beyond to the deep blue skies (sunny and clear) and a Texas in bloom that we all dream of.

I don’t know if I could ever tell all the stories we heard these past few days, from the hidden Italian vineyards in North Texas to the chemistry lab in the Panhandle that launched the modern wine industry in Texas (yes, we make wine here too!).

A buddy of mine, Stefano Salvini from near Forli in Emilia Romagna asked me to bring him some Viognier when I return to Italy. Stefano is making an experimental Viognier (or as we say in Texas, Vee-ahjj-ner) in Italy and is interested in how other folks craft the wine in places heretofore thought of as unlikely to succeed.

Say "Viognier y'all" - Pat Brennan with Kim McPherson

Well, let me tell you, they are making some kick ass Viognier in Texas and my two buddies Pat Brennan, from Comanche, Texas (isn’t that a romantic name?) and Kim McPherson from Lubbock (not so pretty name but definitely the high range of Texas viticultural areas) have found some local terroir in which to make a Viognier worth hauling across the pond to show off.

Other grapes, Syrah and Grenache, do well here too. Kim makes a lip-smacking, delicious Rosé from them thar two grapes and Pat makes a very admirable Syrah. We drank up a slew of them this weekend and I am a happy camper in my double wide tonight.

Gene Estes of Lone Oak Winery with Doc McPherson

Kim’s dad, Doc McPherson, well let’s just say I go right back to the beginning of my wine career and well, Doc was there, making wine and selling it to the distributor who sold it to me at my wine bar. Staked Plains Red and White in 1.5’s. I’d sell it as an entry level wine for $3.50 a glass. I was fresh and clean and perfectly acceptable as a glass of wine. And it was from Texas. Doc is the Peynaud, Tchelistcheff and Tachis of Texas. What a wonderful guy, still truckin’ at 91 and counting.

That’s about all I’ve got to say about this tonight. I’ll be back for one more pass around on the subject before I head on back to the wine trail. There are lots of adventures fixin' to come up in Italy. Meanwhile, I’m so lucky it’s like riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Do you want to tell the story?

How many times does it have to happen? I’m the speaker at a wine dinner. A guy walks up and says, “Are you the guy hawking the wine at tonight’s dinner?”

Yeah, that would be me. I just drove from San Antonio to Austin to Dallas to sell you a bottle of wine. Because I live to sell wine. Screw the stories, the wine trail adventures, I just want to get all the money that you have in your pocket and suck it out of your wallet. That’s my m.o.

I've done hundreds of wine dinners and I often say I’ll never do another one. And then, just when I think I am out, they pull me back in. Actually it’s a good way to do a nice service for a restaurant, to meet people and to promote the wines, the blog, and the Italian culture. You know, keeping the world safe for Italian wine? And then you get that guy, and it’s usually a guy. Usually middle aged or older, upper income, white guys. You know the type? The kind that come out to stump the expert.

Usually there will be the question of aging or barrel or vintages. “I love the 1997 vintage, they made such opulent wines in Tuscany.” If I had a nickel for each time I heard that line I could make more money collecting from those jokers than the money I never make on this blog.

Or, “I don’t really think Italian wines are as good as French wines.” Or “I have a friend in Napa Valley who made a killing in the (submit _________ here) business. He makes a killer wine that only sells out of the winery for $150. He makes the wine by letting the grapes drip.” I kid you not. I am not making this stuff up.

So there we are tasting the red, a Valpolicella Classico Superiore, a ripasso method, and this fellow, the same one who thinks I schlep wine for a living, comes up to me and says "I don’t like this wine - it needs to breathe for a day before it will be any good.” A day? You think?

I let it go. It’s a wine dinner. He could be a distant in-law; I need to let it go. And so I do.

And then he makes another pass. “Hey not bad, you had 3 out of 4 wines that were pretty darn good.” I tell him, “Great, that’s a .750 batting average – all star stuff. Or better.” Trying to keep it light.

But he just can’t help himself. He’s from a privileged economic and social class and he thinks his opinions have that certain gravitas. So he lobs another ball over the strike zone. “But that red wine, do you think it will ever be drinkable?”

Actually everyone at the table was enjoying the wine until he so inhospitably served up a platter of doubt. The chef paired the wine with lamb and a fruity sauce and it was a brilliant pairing. And I'm not even into that kind of thing. But the wine and the food were singing. Big time.

I wanted him to go away now. But I took a swing. “Look, the whole thing about breathing is a myth. And a day for a wine to breathe will, in most cases, just result in a dead wine.”

“Bullshit,” he snorts.

“Excuse me? Do you want to tell the story?” At this point I am thoroughly fed up with this guy trying to act like an expert. It is clear that he drinks unwieldy wines too young and that has led him to believe that he needs to let a wine breathe for a day. I'm curious if he makes those same calculations with the women he tries to shag. I wonder how that's working out for him.

What can you do with someone who thinks they are the expert? Have they just spent three weeks tasting any number of wines from France and Italy, tasting with the great winemakers of Bordeaux and Italy? Who is more qualified?

I’m not saying I want to be known as the expert. But in this instance I am the pro in the room and it is my story and I’m the one the folks came to hear. I even feel bad having these thoughts, because they sound like nails on the chalkboard when I read them. But after thirty years, I have stories to tell. And the last thing I am in the mood for is to drive all day and have some knucklehead get up on the stage and spew foolish drivel. It cheapens the whole experience of the wine dinner. Like I said, it is an inhospitable act. It is rude. And it is inaccurate.

And this has been the dark side of the Italian wine business for as long as I can remember. So when I talk all rosy and poetic about the vineyards and the winemakers, and I do, and I mean it, just remember that I have to come back to the native land and deal with the infidels.

Pass the ripasso please.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just One Word

Kudos to the folks in the Marche region for not parading another scantily clad Miss Italy around to promote their wines. But Dustin Hoffman? What in God’s green earth does he have to do with the furthering of Conero or Piceno? Using celebrity to sell Montepulciano? I’m sorry Italian wine marketers, I for one, just don’t get it. It’s another disconnect, like the constant use of Flash on Italian web sites or the misunderstanding of social media like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, hell even Youtube, to integrate the new media into the culture of Italian wine.

Are you trying to seduce us?

If you are, it just isn’t working folks.

I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Are you listening?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Growing Italian DOCG List ~ Now up to 51

From the "Say it isn't so" département

The French would never do this. Only the Italians. Not that it matters to that many people, but to try and figure out how many Italian wine DOCG’s there really are has become a hobby for me. Yes, I have seen the Wiki DOCG entry, why can't those people even count the wines on their list? 44? Count the wines, people, I counted 47 on the list that they claimed were 44! They didn’t yet list Aglianico del Vulture (1), Elba Aleatico Passito (1) and Amarone della Valpolicella” and “Recioto della Valpolicella” (2). That would make 51! So what slipped in?

They have included a separate a listing for Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba and according to Sourcews Italia it is now also a DOCG.

Someone get in touch with those Wiki people and illuminate them, please!

The updated list after the break.

Complete Listing of Italian DOCG Wines (as of April 2010) : 51

Abruzzo (1)
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Colline Teramane"

Basilicata (1)
Aglianico del Vulture Superiore (new)

Campania (3)
Fiano di Avellino
Greco di Tufo

Emilia Romagna (1)
Albana di Romagna

Friuli-Venezia Giulia (2)
Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit

Lazio (1)
Cesanese del Piglio

Lombardia (5)
Oltrepo Pavese
Sforzato della Valtellina
Valtellina Superiore
Moscato di Scanzo (new)

Marche (4)
Vernaccia di Serrapetrona
Verdicchio di Matelica (new)
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico (new)

Piemonte (13)
Asti spumante - Moscato d'Asti
Barbera d'Asti
Barbera del Monferrato Superiore
Barolo (Chinato, as well, falls under this DOCG)
Brachetto D'Acqui o Acqui
Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore o Dogliani
Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore
Gavi o Cortese di Gavi
Roero (Rosso & Bianco)
Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba (new)

Sardegna (1)
Vermentino di Gallura

Sicilia (1)
Cerasuolo di Vittoria

Toscana (8)
Brunello di Montalcino
Chianti Classico
Elba Aleatico Passito (new)
Morellino di Scansano
Vernaccia di S.Gimignano
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Umbria (2)
Montefalco Sagrantino
Torgiano Rosso Riserva

Veneto (8)
Bardolino Superiore
Recioto di Gambellara
Recioto di Soave
Soave Superiore
Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore (new)
Asolo Prosecco Superiore

Amarone della Valpolicella and 
Recioto della Valpolicella (2)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's a Man's Man's Man's World

The past few weeks in France and Italy has cemented in my mind the reality that, in the wine business for at least half of the known wine made in the world, it is still a man’s world. Rather, it is a paternalistic point of view that still dominates, whether those views are held by a man or a woman.

At Vinitaly all one had to do was look at the seminars and panels and know that the world is still heavily populated by white middle aged and rapidly graying men. But a new product is being promoted, and who do they send out to blow the horns about it?

Where was I? Oh yes, the archetype - father knows best.

My dad loved the TV show, I Dream of Jeannie. He used to say this to me all the time in the 1970’s. “Son, man’s job is to provide and woman’s job is to love.” Imagine how well that would have played if I had bought into that and taken that back to my northern Californian university life. Needless to say, I became indoctrinated in the movement that had women striving for equality. It was a tilt and a shift from the cultural perspective the women in my highly matriarchal family (they lived longer than the men – man’s world indeed!) dispensed. They were highly supportive of their young men growing up in which they were the "center" of some world. It is just that in the Italian (and Greek and pretty much the Latin) world, the women are so benign (and protective) that the majority of men grow up thinking they can do no wrong. So off they go to conquer the (wine) world.

Giacomo Tachis just announced that he was retiring, and for a generation Tachis has been a guiding light. I never spent that much time with the Dottore, except to meet him a time or two. But his influence had been wide among man and women in the wine world. If Maria Gazzaniga or Teresa Lungarotti had been accorded with the same level of gravitas in the world of wine, would it have changed things much? I don’t know. But I know this – I am tired of the domination of the wine world, indeed the world indeed, in which the history has been written by a quill that has been dipped in the inkwell of testosterone. I see it so much in Italy, especially at Vinitaly where everything is concentrated and magnified 10x.

It seems that even the ascendant women in the business have a great deal of that paternalistic juice flowing in their veins, blue bloods and terrones alike.

And while it might be more a matter of those who like to dominate the process vs. those who jump around in the creative pond, I am navel gazing a little bit this Sunday morning.

How else can that explain this continuing mania for oak and alcohol? The need for an “important” wine, which means a Cabernet @ 14.8% drenched in new oak, screaming for a huge piece of meat. Please, that’s so 1982. Or so 1962.

I was sipping on a Soave last night and enjoyed it thoroughly. And that is the way it seems to be going.

Personally, I will enjoy it more when the important men and the women in our world come down off their magic carpets and relate a little more with us little people. There are plenty of wines in Italy and the world ( of man, woman and all the other creatures in it) that are not important and are a perfect joy to be around. Kind of like the people in it.

To be continued….

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Air Space, #ashtags & Aglianico

Scientist says Icelandic volcano activity increases, warns of more travel disruptions – AP

Real time map of planes in the air here

What a difference a week makes. This time last week, Vinitaly was in crescendo. I had been on the road more than two weeks, and had a good three more days of putting the pedal to the metal. And now back home, in a jet lag stupor, working, reflecting and hopefully preparing for the next trip out. For now those trips will take me around the great State of Texas, but someday, sooner than I think, the wine trail in Italy is going to get lit up. That’ll be when the volcano calms down (live webcam here) and when the planes start to fly again.

Some of the feeds from Facebook and Twitter that I have been following:

Air space over northern Italy is closed because of ash from the Icelandic volcano, about 2000 miles away - Corriere della Sera

Lufthansa cancels all flights until 6 p.m. GMT (2 p.m. ET) due to volcanic ash, no Lufthansa plane is flying anywhere in the world.

'there are no trains in France. They're on strike.' No other details on how long or how many affected.

Flavors From Afar Day One of our first group for our Spring Food and Wine Trips to Tuscany. Tons of cancelled flights due to Iceland volcano cloud. Picking up four of our six travelers this morning at the Roma airport. Two are still stuck in Dallas. We're on to Grosseto them San Gimignano today and hope the Radkes get in tomorrow!

All Heathrow flights suspended until at least 01.00 on Sunday 18 April due to volcanic ash #ashtag ( if you want to track the news on Twitter #ashtag is the #hashtag)

This sort of eruption could go on for days, weeks, maybe months. As long as the ash is thrown up with such intensity it is very difficult for anyone to predict what will happen next.-Sky's Greg Milam in Hvolsvollur

Meanwhile, we’ve got some Italian wine in the closet. I have an old bottle of Aglianico just daring me to open it. It’s spring. I have a slew of seeds for the garden that need sewing and I’m pretty happy to just drive my couch around the living room for the time being. Happy weekend y’all!

@BreakingNews - British Airways cancels all flights until Monday afternoon - Sky News

Friday, April 16, 2010

Vinitaly: Instant Impressions

Friday lagniappe - a few instant shots from the retro-mobile - Homage à Polaroid.

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