Wednesday, June 30, 2010

the cumulative furor over the raisins

Nothing. Just a bunch of random tweets I have been gathering, some of you folks might recognize a line or two. Inspired by a piece I read by Jonathan Safran Foer in the New Yorker, which had nothing to do with twittering, although the style of writing inspired this post, after the jump:

My website is broken. This is not nice. Your eggplant pic reminded me of when I waited for a strawberry to

ripen as a kid.I planted watermelon this year and will be making Sicilian "gelo". i want to come to Sweden....

maybe in September.Thanks, I'm only going away for three days to celebrate midsummer. there's enough red in the

background! another red head would just be too much on the eye! thank you yes on the mend.oh do you do that

regularly? Lucky them!and more horseradish by all accounts.Well that and riding in the rain! I wish I could

double follow you for the Radiohead remark. I just don't *get* it. Man, you are so annoying.FYI i am an organ

donor probably A+ class.I am about to eat airport quiche. Because I apparently angered the gods. Tanned is a

given. Ill take him a little pink. if the bus shows up, which is already late. Such a Princess! She did so

amazing on the boat. Yes, they know, but most don't care. I take it with a grain of salt.I told him the only

thing he should say to her is "never contact me again". He wants to have dinner but I cannot endure more of

this.Bayonet shopping in Philadelphia. First time ever that I remember living in a town home to 'spies'.Got home

to a destroyed house it's going to take a week just to clean this place. When I see people power washing their

driveways, I begin to feel incredibly guilty about never mopping my floors. Ha, love the cumulative furor over

the raisins. Charred peaches on panna cotta chaise, topped w cilantro tufts. Bourbon to finish. good for her -

she hung in there!More details. Blind date? How did you get out of there? It feels like I didn't even go to bed

last night.trapped! on the border of Tarragona c/1 new yorker, 1 california, 1 valencian and 1 catalunian,

plenty of trapet. please never find me. And a great pleasure to be at your place today. Loved that sausage.see

you in guantanamo. There are things you never expect to hear. Like 'The pirate has the captain. What do we do,


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Interview with an Italian Winemaker

From the "recent conversations with winemakers" department...

Q. I noticed in a recent meeting we were in one of the people was talking to you about winemaking. What was that all about?

A. Interesting question. They talking to me about how to make wine. They ask me about how high my sugar levels are and why I pick at such high levels.

Q. What did you tell him?

A. I can’t tell him much. He is too much trying to tell me how to make wine. I make wine everyday for 20 years.

Q. Who was this person?

A. I think he was accountant, or lawyer, who has blog about wine. That is what he tells me. He writes review on his web site and considers himself expert, I think.

Q. Do you get this a lot?

A. Oh yes, but more in America than it Italy. In Asia, it is totally different. No one there tell me how to make wine, but they do ask a lot of question.

Q. Like what?

A. In America, it is usually young men before the age of 40, they act like they have an answer they are trying to get me to give. Either the answer they are looking for or an answer they are looking me to give that they do not agree with so then they can lecture me about how to properly make wine.

Q. What?

A. Oh yes. The community on the West Coast, especially in San Francisco area, near the wine country, they love to lecture me on acidity and filtration. Also on whether or not the wine is organic.

Q. What about the East Coast?

A. One time a fellow who runs a wine bar asks me why I use oak in my wines. He was telling the producer before me that he hates oak and small barrel wines. It was really funny because he loves my oakiest wine.

Q. The other day we were in a restaurant and a fellow came up to you. I was not paying attention, but later he sent me an email telling me he thought your wines were too modern.

A. He was studying for a degree in wine masters, and his group is talking about winemaking and the difference between wine from America and wine from Europe. I am not sure what he is talking about because the wine we discuss is my entry wine, which is 12.5% alcohol, has no oak, and is dry. Of course it is a 2009, so the fruit is fresh. But modern? Healthy, yes. Modern, I don’t know what he is talking about. But I have that happen all the time. A sommelier in the Midwest argues with me about a wine I make. He has just released a wine with a label, where it says he makes the wine. I know the winery and know he doesn’t make the wine. He contracts to have a wine made. But he thinks himself a winemaker and so I think he feels he has the right to argue with me as he considered himself on the same level. That is Ok if he has been making the wine like me for 20 years, cleaning tanks and sleeping at the winery during harvest. But I look him up on Google. He flies around from one place to another. He drinks great wine in those places, but he is not winemaker. But he still wants to tell me how to make wine. I get email from him.

Q. How do you deal with that?

A. Well, if one is willing to do the work, they can then take place at the table and we can share ideas. Look, I am not an angry person, I like people. But they should stick to what they do best, whether it is serve people in a restaurant or sell in their wine shop, or even if they import or distribute.

Q. You do not use an importer? Is there a reason for that?

A. I decide to go direct because there is always a value in relation to the quality. If someone goes to Italy and buys a Tocai for €3 Euros, and after it goes through the necessary steps in importation, the wine arrives to the table in a restaurant and is $60, that wine probably doesn’t have good chance to be sold before it is too late for that delicate wine, no?

Q. And in your travels around the world you have seen this pattern?

A. Look, Italy is an economy that is weak right now. And America had a crumbling economy started two years ago. But nature doesn’t stop. The vines are growing. We need to move the wine out of the tanks. Tocai is hard enough sell, but when it sells in a wine shop for $18 when all around there are good wines for $9 - $10- even $12, what kind of future those wines will have?

Q. I know Tocai is dear to your heart, as you spent a lot of time in Friuli. What do you think of the orange wines from Radikon, Gravner, Movia?

A. These are friends of mine, when Josko’s son died last year we are all saddened. I know these people; we have same language, culture. I think this is part of philosophy of wine. These are not wine we sit down and drink to enjoy. They are like reading Giambattista Vico, a little goes far ways. But with my Piadina I want a nice glass of fresh wine like a Sangiovese or a Barbera, not a cloudy wine for a night when I cannot sleep and my candle is burning. No, like I tell the sommelier winemaker, these are not wine for drinking as much as they are wine for talking about. And here we are talking about them.

Q. So what do you like to drink?

A. I am really in love with the Nerello of Etna. I have a friend who works on the mountain and his wines are exciting. They are Sicily’s Pinot Noir in that they give a little heart break to make them. I love Tocai. And I am interested in Viognier, because I have found a climate and a terroir in Italy where the grapes do well. And Sangiovese, but not the Tuscan style. Really I like the way Sangiovese on the Adriatic coast is lighter and less muscule.

Q. Do you like rosé wines?

A. I make them for me and my friends, but the wine are too expensive to make, and really we always get them too old in the shops, and in the café’s they never show up. We make a wonderful one from Sangiovose that is a little deeper in color, but we love with some cheese and snacks. But we always lose money on rose wine and so we make a little for ourselves and leave it at that. America likes more white Zinfandel and the rosé wines are for people in wine business, or wine writers - like orange wines, only more drinkable when young.

Q. The future? What do you see in your imaginary crystal ball?

A. Wine that drink like they are $30 but sell in wine shops for $16. Less complicated wines, not so important, for people to enjoy every day. Not much dependent of Wine Spectator or Parker scores, or Gambero Rosso. People now have their I-phone; they can find out when someone tries to sell them something at the store or the table. And more direct way to get wine; faster, easier, fresher. I love America, I hope for a long time of enjoying working with the people in America.

Images from Courtyard of the Cloisters at Monreale Cathedral in Sicily

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dreams In My Cellar

From the archives August 12, 2007

The Dream:

I walk into an ancient Italian restaurant where I used to work that no longer exists. Ali is standing by the salad pick-up line, in his waiter clothes. I say hello to him. Then I ask him, “What are you doing here?” He says, “What?” I say, “Ali, you died. What are you doing here?” He says, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where I am.” I move forward to give him a hug and tell him, “You’ll be back. Just relax and move through this.”

I’m still in the restaurant, now discovering that the building that went up over it (a 4-story condo complex) has kept most of the original restaurant. The owner is there with his wife, and they are running the place. All this at their current ages (he is 90). People are coming in. I think to myself that I should bring the restaurant critic here. I see the wines that are there and that the selection needs work. The interior of the restaurant is looking more Mexican-Southwestern than Italian.

I am now shirtless and shoeless and know I must get out of the restaurant because the owner will say something to me.

My friend, Ali, died almost two five years ago. He was in his early 50s. Although he played soccer and didn’t smoke, he had diabetes and was overweight. He had a heart attack and died. It was Christmastime, and his parents came from Iran. They have a large and close family. They buried their son and went back to Iran.

I felt like I lost my friend and his family. We talked of going to Iran; this was before the two countries started acting like enemies. Then he dies, and the country turns into our enemy.

How would it affect me if this happened to Italy? I don’t know what I would do. My parents and their parents had to deal with it during WWII. I remember talking to my cousin Luigi in Calabria about what that was like, from his perspective. He had been compelled to join the Italian army and was captured by the Americans and sent to a prison in Tunisia. While he didn’t seem bitter 30 years later, he lost part of his youth, incarcerated for the crimes of his leader.

Ali and I often talked about Persia, one of the birthplaces of the grape. I studied the Persian people from my work in restaurants and learned some of their language, enough to back off the most macho bullies. I think the Persians were, to me, the most Italian of the peoples of the Middle East. I recognized some of the moves and traits, probably from my own DNA, the Sicilian melting pot that houses all these codes.

And, out of the blue in my dream, Ali appears and looks lost and confused. As if he hasn’t even been able to rest in peace. I know there are souls who don’t know they have lost their bodies. Was he one of them? And what was I doing telling him to relax, that he’d return?

Another friend of mine, Brad, should have died many times, but he is very much alive. Working as a war correspondent, he reported from the front lines of the first gulf war (GWI?), under the night lights, in front of the advancing Marines. And in Afghanistan and China and Albania, wherever there was a conflict or trouble, Brad was there. When he wrote me and told me he had stage 4 cancer, we stayed in touch. My wife was entering the beginning of the end of her life, which had been ravaged by multiple sclerosis. So we had a common thread, the closeness of death and the fragility of life.

After my wife died and after my friend overcame his cancer, through meditation (and with a little luck), I have managed to stay in touch with him. As with many people in my life, it seems I have to be the one to reach out over to their side. Now Brad has embraced yoga, is on his way to mastery of it, changed his name to a more appropriate yogic moniker, and passed into the fogless realm of self-realization. It’s not that we aren’t friends. It’s just that he seems too busy to be an active friend. So I talk to my dead friend while a living one is as if he had passed over.

These friends are like wines in my cellar. There are old wines that have lost their life and sit in the darkness, not knowing they will never be opened or enjoyed. There are wines that are still alive but going through a stage where they are undrinkable. Of course there are wines in there that are ready today, like some of my friends. A Carlo or a Patty or a William or a Joe. A Chianti or a Riesling or a Zinfandel or a Barbera.

Choose your wines like your friends. Enjoy them both. Forgive the friends (and the wines) if they don’t come up to par all the time. And open them all, often.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Conjuring Cognacious Consultations with a Major Urban Poet

from the "Shake your money maker" files

Chris Bridges, aka Ludacris, in Italia Blue and
yours truly, aka Italian wine guy, in Armani Blue.

Sometimes the work just kinda gets to you. After a couple of hard hitting weeks with Italian winemakers, export managers and winery owners, yesterday I took a ride to one of our warehouses to pick up some more wine for a day of presentations. Roaming the halls, a colleague poked her head out the door. “AC, come in here, there’s someone you ought to meet. Bring your camera.”

Sure enough, inside the meeting room, none other than Chris Bridges, aka Ludacris, was kicking off the brand launch of his Cognac, Conjure.

Chris was decked out all right fine in Italian Soccer Blue, fitting as we’re in the midst of World Cup fever all across the world.

My colleague, Jamie, likes to have her picture taken in this style with famous celebs. I couldn’t refuse her wishes (neither could Ludacris) - so there you have it – and yes, this is work, in a sense (meetings are work, aren't they?). Chris is uber-excited about this project, his enthusiasm was contagious in the normally sedate sales room.

The Sprit at the center of attention yesterday? Conjure Cognac – It sure went down smooth after a hard day pounding in the Texas sun trying to make sense of Italian wine in Flyover Country.

One of the best guys in the biz, Brian "Soopafly" Hogan.
Over 6 Million Served. Thanks, Brian, for making it happen

Now where’d I put my seersucker Blazer?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gathering the Stories ~ From Sicily to Italy, Texas

Blogger is still a little sluggish lately. I gathered the links for posts I did in the past few weeks, in case you missed one or two, or just wanted one place to find them all. I know I posted a lot, and many new folks have been visiting the site. it really is so encouraging. But if you were looking to catch up or just have all of them listed in one place, I will post the list after the break.

Thanks for reading and feeding my obsession with the wine trail in Italy. I cannot tell you how much your notes of thanks and encouragement mean to me.

Thursday, June 03, 2010
In Praise of Street Food ~ La Milza

Monday, June 07, 2010
Sicilian Wine – It’s Complicated

Thursday, June 10, 2010
Taking a break from too tannic wines

Sunday, June 13, 2010
Ferruccio Ferragamo, please call me!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010
No Time for La Bella Figura

Thursday, June 17, 2010
Keeping it Kool in Flyover Country

Sunday, June 20, 2010
Fathers and Sons

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers and Sons

Great-Grandfather Assuntino Luigi Cevola in Palermo - 1890's

I never knew my Great-Grandfather, Assuntino, but I met him, thirteen years after he died in Palermo, in 1971. I was feeling sick and was in his bed, in the house on Via Roma, 97. It was August and sweltering. I had eaten something, I think it was an omelet, and it didn’t set well with me. I was going in and out of sleep, sweating, the heat and fumes from the busy street, floors below; it was a confluence of moments. And then, in a dream, I think, he appeared. “What are you doing in my bed?” he asked. “I am sick and resting in it,” I answered. “Who are you?” he questioned again. “I am Alfonso.” He looked at me, “You are not my son.” I returned the look. “No, I am your great-grandson.” He gave that sideways stare he was known for and replied, “Va bene, you can stay.” And he disappeared.

I often have conversations with family members who are no longer alive. In fact, some of the best conversations I have had were with family member who have passed away. They are easier, less stressed, less busy. They understand the concept of eternal reconciliation.

Grandfather Alfonso Cevola in America - 1910's

My grandfather, he was such an enigma. He looked to me more Japanese than Italian. But then his father could have just come from Genghis Khan’s campfire. My grandfather really had the charmed life. A woman to look after his every need, cleaning, great cook, raising the kids. And he would go about his business and be home in time for dinner. She would make him breakfast, and lunch. I often wonder how my grandfather thought of my grandmother. I often wonder about women, too, who treat their husbands like little boys, seeing after their every need. I wouldn’t know about that, save for the brief time when I was young and cute and my mom and sisters would look after me.

Father Louis and Grandfather Alfonso Cevola in California - late 1920's

For the last half of my life, I have raised a son and buried a wife. Today my son had to work. We got together Friday night and made a great dinner. Bistecca Fiorentina, baked potatoes, roasted corn and a sumptuous green salad. With bottles of Soave, Sangiovese and Syrah. So we had our moment.

Father Louis Cevola in California - 1932

I loved being a dad when my son was young. I loved doing all the things that I thought a son would want. I pulled it from the pages of my childhood. My dad was a salesman, and always working. We never took a vacation. The few days we took off, we’d end up looking at real estate and going to restaurants where the bacon wouldn’t be cooked well enough and the hash browns weren’t brown enough. I guess he had his demons. But I vowed I’d be there for my son. I remember coaching the soccer team, though to this day I have no idea how soccer really works. When I was in little league baseball, my mom would be there in the stands, and in other times throwing the ball with me. My dad was making deals. My dad, the deal maker. Big deal. He missed out on his son’s life. He missed out on his life. He was so busy running around that before he knew it, kaplooey, he was dead at 69. My grandfather lived seven years past the death of his son. He died when he was 97. Great grandfather Assuntino made it one month shy of 86.

Grandfather Alfonso, author Alfonso, son Rafael and father Louis Cevola in California - late 1970's

So I really never knew any of the fathers in my life. Except for the dream, my great grandfather and I were separated by the ocean and time. My grandfather really didn’t have any contact with me other than basic ones. No advice, no talks, no intellectual connection. My dad, he was a philosopher after the testosterone died down and he mellowed. But until then he was an emotional whirlwind. He was always warning me about women. Too bad he didn’t slow down a little, like his dad, and stick around for me and his grandson.

Son Rafael and author Alfonso Cevola in Texas - early 1980's

My son, who knows if he’ll carry the name forward? It doesn’t look like my life will be one that will be populated with adoring (or otherwise) grandchildren. So it goes.

Son Rafael Cevola in his clan kilt - early 2000's

When it is all said and done, what have any of the fathers before me left for the future family members? There are pictures, tons and tons of pictures. And films. My father wrote a book about world history, when he was a young boy. He did leave us that. But what is it that they would have wanted to leave for their future sons? I really cannot say. I don’t know. I look at the pictures and stare at them, and try to ascertain their dreams. But I really don’t know what they were looking for.

Son Rafael Cevola the fire-breather - early 2000's

Maybe they were just looking to get through the day with enough food and money and safety. Basic needs. But I really cannot say. I wish life would have worked out where I had been able to really dig into their minds, and they into mine. But they are gone now. Only me and my son remain standing in the New World.

Son Rafael and author Alfonso Cevola in Ireland - 2006

However passionate, however rebellious the heart that rests in a tomb, the flowers that have sprung up over it look peacefully at us with their innocent eyes; they speak to us not only of eternal repose, of that perfect repose of "indifferent" nature ; they speak to us also of eternal reconciliation, and of a life which cannot end.
-Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev ~ Fathers and Sons

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Keeping it Kool in Flyover Country

Italy, Texas, y'all

Just a quickie as my winemaker colleague from Romagna, Stefano Salvini, and I are working the Texas market. Stefano is in Texas to introduce his wine from the Campodelsole estate. So far we haven’t done any 1,000 kilometer days, but we have been racking up the miles. And let me tell you, the wines are selling like hotcakes. In fact we are so hot right now we can barely stand it.

To all of you sitting behind a computer screen in an air conditioned room, pondering the vagaries of natural wine or oak, either way, you are in a cooler place then we are. My car is fitted with two coolers, one which needs ice and the 30 year old Koolatron, still working after all these years. Just like me.

Stefano is a good egg – I think we almost hit the wall yesterday – it got up to 104° F – and this is just June. Stefano originally comes from Friuli (his Godfather is none other than the great Livio Felluga). As we drove from Dallas to Austin, the corn fields were getting higher – June is busting out all over!

Lots of fun, though. Last night we were treated to a “professional men’s dinner.” After a hard day of work and an Italian wine seminar at Vino Vino our host rushed home to put out a spread of tuna, bruschetta, a tomato and mozzarella salad, a beautiful bucatini and another green salad (we can use the roughage, believe me). But the pièce de résistance was his "killer" California Guacamole.

I’m not going to spoil it by telling his little secret (he might want to post that himself) but suffice it to say, he knocked it out of the park. Being from California myself, I knew exactly which region his “guac” was from and it reminded me of my childhood in Palm Springs and going to Las Casuelas on Palm Canyon Drive. And to top it off it went great with the indigenous whites we brought from Campodelsole, the Bombino Bianco ‘San Pascasio Pagedebit’ and the ‘Selva’Albana. Thanks a million, Dottore.

I probably shouldn’t have had that taste of tequila. I know I was warned, but I am a sucker for a triple distilled Anejo, especially the Tres Generaciones. Oh well, “live and learn, die and forget it” as my dear gal Liz used to tell me.

Anyway folks, we have some driving to do, and a sold out wine dinner to make back in Dallas. And it’s already 8:00 am and 90+ °F. Gotta run. More over the weekend. Stay Kool y’all.

"Selling like crazy in Texas"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No Time for La Bella Figura

While the wine world wrestles with the issue of what makes a wine natural, I am pointing my camera in another alley. I love natural wines, women and songs. But today I focus on the pressing issue of how Italians approach wine with regard to the impressions that surround those wines. The standard definition (and one which can be debated for hours) for la bella figura is “to cut a good figure - to make the right impression - to look good.” But that’s more a jumping off point for where I am taking this post. No, the alley I am walking into is lined with ideas and desires, an italo-centric view of the way things work - Italy as the center of the world. Egotistical? Could be. Fantastical? Without a doubt. Harmless? Absolutely not! As the Italians travel more, to Singapore, to India, to Plano, to other parts of their country ( and not just the tony resorts in Sicily or Sardegna) their view of the world is opening up. A thousand points of Marco Polo, going out into the world and coming back home with something to think about on their beach mats during August. But something is off. Many of them come back, readjusted to the realities of the world. But the comfort of being Italian, the easy access to great weather, food, scenery, the infinitesimal ease of living lulls one back into the mother’s cradle. “We love you just the way you are.” A sentiment that is repeated millions of times. And perfectly ok for human affection and love. If that is your thing. But to take the future of Italian wine and run forward with the feeling that everything one does and will do will be alright because momma loves me, well, that’s not my idea of where the Italian wine future is waiting. My point? Something stirring on my arm, my hair raises, but I am not sure I can really elucidate clearly. More of a feeling. And I will keep this short. My feeling is that our beloved Italians fall too quickly in love with an idea and then pursue it without regard to a long term process. Switching Tuscany over to Syrah, the agglomeration of Nero D’Avola into an overly muscular and unwieldy wine, the approbation of Amarone’s that no one can finish or really enjoy, let alone afford. All this seems to be a corruption of some bella figura maneuver that just isn’t working. As a previous owner of four Fiats (from the 1970’s and 1980’s) I have endured an certain Italian nonchalance. I have rebuilt those engines with my own hands. Impossible? Inescapable. But today, what is avoidable, with the communications we all have available, is the ability to cut through the noise (even if it is in one’s own head) and attend to the needs of the times and the markets. We’re not all mid-town Manhattan or Dubai (wait, they are affected by this economic roll down too, yes?). If one wants to roll in today’s’ world, perhaps they should start listening to the young and pretty wine lovers coming up in the world. A perfect sentiment was voiced to me yesterday. I was in a wine seminar with a group of servers. We tasted a range of wines from crisp whites to light, fruity reds to fuller-bodied reds with some alcohol, more flavor and oak. A young lady takes me aside. She is early 30’s, smart, with long flowing hair in a natural style. She cuts a fine figure herself. “These wines you brought. I know the manager liked the big wine, because it is expensive and full. And because he thinks we can sell it and make a lot of money for the restaurant. But a big wine like that might be for him a surrogate Viagra. Ok for him if he likes that, but our clients are young and impatient. They want to come in, have a pizza and a nice glass of wine. They come in here thinking they should be drinking red, even when it is 100 degrees outside. This young red Sangiovese you brought, the 2009, is perfect for them. It isn’t pretending to be a middle-aged millionaire. It is young; it doesn’t have a lot of money. But it has a nice life ahead of itself. Bring us more of these wines, please.” This is a great time for wine. And a great time to hide the mirrors. The world is waiting. Images courtesy of Museo del Vino della Terra d'Arneo

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ferruccio Ferragamo, please call me!

From the “just think about it” department…

Dear Mr. Ferragamo,

I know you wield power over a huge corporation and family in Italy. I know you live the life many of us can only dream of. But I have to tell you a couple of things. Or, at the very least, I have to get them off my chest.

It has been my practice, over the last generation or so, to give solid advice about the American market, in regards to Italian wine, to Italian wine makers and marketers. And it has also been my experience that seldom, if ever, do those to whom I give advice take it. I imagine it doesn’t sound right to them. Or it isn’t their idea. Or it simply isn’t the way they do things in Italy.

But we are not in Italy trying to sell your wines. We are in A.m.e.r.i.c.a. And you want to be here, yes? So let me respectfully share a few generic ideas, and ones that apply to your wines as well, Mr. Ferragamo.

First, if you have a famous mark, or brand, as we call it here, that ties in with your wine, why not let the American people know about your related companies? Maybe it didn’t work for Mr. Lamborghini's wine. But Mr. Ferragamo, people are dying to know about your wine. They are so likeable. It doesn’t really carry much weight with the shoppers in Neiman-Marcus that James Suckling lives at your wine estate in Tuscany, Il Borro, and quite possibly enjoys your wines with his now-famous Supertuscan burgers. He cannot help you any more than he already has.

And to be one beautiful estate in Tuscany, well, I’m sorry but that is a story that is repeated by wine marketers from Tuscany often. I cannot tell you how many beautiful estates there are in Tuscany with a wine. So that alone will not suffice to build your brand.

The wine? How is it? I like it. It has style. It is identifiable. Your Chardonnay is gorgeous. But make no mistake, these will be considered modern wines. There is oak and fruit and flavor. Lots of flavor. Don’t worry. There are probably more who like a wine like that than those who hold hands in a circle under a full moon singing the Kumbaya and praising all things natural. The hairy armpit crew. Hey, no complaints about their habits – I lived in California for 30 years - I get it. But they are in the minority and often, but not always, those folks don’t have the money to shell out for wines in your category. So, they are not a target. Hence their criticisms aren’t relative in this case. Not that they don’t carry weight in some very important circles.

Meanwhile, on any given Thursday, go around to a bar in Dallas and see a plethora of big hair blonds who absolutely love Ferragamo clothes and Il Borro wines. They just don’t know it, because they don’t identify the wines with the makers. You have to give them a hint. Maybe something like this:

Is that too crass and distasteful to your sensibilities? Most likely it is, but if I did the perfect example, then it wouldn’t be you. No, I took it out to the edge to give you an extreme idea. Now bring it back to the center and polish it up, make it yours and give us some help here in America.

Your man Franco is traveling and working his tail off for you. We love him. But give the man an arm up in this competitive and demanding (in a reverse obtuse kind of way) market.

Don’t hate me- I really want your wines to sparkle and shine in every beautiful woman’s home. And I am sure your man Franco does too, judging from the many phone calls he received when we were working together, - women from India from Sweden, from California, from Minnesota. Yes, the man is doing a great job, the women love him. The women love you. Now let’s show them some love back and help them out with better indentifying your wines with your famous family mark. Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Taking a break from too tannic wines

Now this is a bridge to somewhere

A perky blond walks into my cubicle. “Do you have a moment? There’s someone you might like to meet.”

I duck into a large, grey meeting room, darkened for a slide presentation. I cannot make out the presenter. I really have many other things to do back in my cubicle. A pile of Supertuscans to taste. Some important Barberas bucking for my attention. A gaggle of Gaglioppos lumbering in the corner. Oak+acid+alcohol=lots of pressure. Really. But I am a team player, I go along. This better be good, I tell myself.

The presenter turns out to be Ernst Loosen, one of a small handful of German wine ambassadors. He looks a little like Ozzy Osborne, with a shock of hair, a well-nourished paunch, and a rock star ease about him. Here is a man who immediately present himself as one who is comfortable in Dallas, Singapore or Bernkastel. A true citizen of the world and ultimately an emissary of Bacchus.

“Welcome to the Rocky Horror Riesling Show.” Who begins a seminar with a line like that? Ernst, who admits his love for Pinot Noir ( he casually throws out to us that he has 7,000 bottles of Grand Cru Burgundy in his cellar, loves Rousseau, and it sounds like he has an annual buying budget of $30-50,000). Note to self: Visit Ernst (and his cellar) in Germany.

He starts us out with his Pfalz Pinot Noir from the Wolf Estate (tasting notes follow post if anyone really cares).

“So how was the 2007 vintage?” someone in the room asks. 2007 – Excellent vintage (not hot), long hang time, early bud break. In 2007 160 days of hang time (Ernie says the average in the US is 100) without over ripeness.

Who knew Germany was the 3rd largest grower of Pinot Noir in the world?


Ernst talks about food and wine pairings – something he is very passionate about. When an Italian recognizes passion in one of his German colleagues, let me tell you, that is some passion.

He loves certain Asian pairings, noting his joy with the counterpoint between the acidity and fruit of a Riesling and the saltiness of soy, the pleasure of pairing with pork on the pleasingly plump side.

In his home town Bernkastel where the Loosen estate is based, Ernst says the best restaurant is Indian and the wines work so well with the spicy curry, especially old Rieslings (as they dry out a little). Looks like on the wine trail in Italy might need to try a little on the wine trail in Germany for un’ po divertimento.

My takeaway from all of it concentrates down to this (and this is very good news for Riesling):

Sweet balances out:
► Salty
► Bitter
► Sour
► Spicy (as long as the alcohol is lower, not hot)

“If there’s anybody happy about global warming, it’s the Mosel.” – Ernst Loosen

He thinks like a Burgundian, in fact thinks Pinot Noir and Riesling are similar in a philosophical way, compares the sensation of old Burgundies with old Rieslings. Different flavors but similar emotions.

“At the end of the day, I drink what I like, and great wine always works” – Ernst Loosen

He speaks of a recent celebration at a Wehlener Sonnenuhr celebration (Peter Liem was there and blogged about it) with the Prüm brothers where they drank vintages of ’37,’47,’47,’53’,’59,’66,’69 and went for the ’71 – Jos. Prüm said, “Ernst, the ’71, that’s far too young.”

A great story teller, a passion for great wines, and a history of family and engagement in protecting the patrimony of some of the great cru’s of Germany. Right now as well, working to prevent a bridge from being built right upon these historical hills. Check out this site, get involved. Dr. Loosen's blog also has an update here.

Let’s see, Dallas to Frankfurt on Lufthansa? Do I have a moment? Anytime, Dr. Loosen, anytime.

My (lame) TN's – Hey they’re just really for me, if you want knocked out tasting notes read Karen MacNeil. Karen is a great teacher- she taught me that I dont know how to write a decent tasting note. So I leave that tattered kingdom in her care.

The Wolf Estate wines

1) 2007 Wolf Pinot Noir -Peppery cherry, soft flavors, reminds me of the Alto Adige PN’s in Italy.
2) 2007Wolf Pinot Gris – Acidic, lovely
3) 2008 Wolf Pinot Gris – Riper than the 2007, soft, lovely.
4) 2008 Wolf Gewurztraminer – Dry restrained, great fruit, nice quaff.
5) 2007 Wolf Gewurztraminer – Bright acidity, spicier than the 2008, richer, riper, luscious

6) 2008 J.L. Wolf “Pechstein” Riesling Spatlese – Considered a first-growth vineyard in the Pfalz, Pechstein is a grand cru from the village of Forst (Forster Jesuitgarten is famous) Most vineyard driven wine in the area.
Beautiful glorious nose – floral – gorgeous; Rich Unctuous goose bumps 200-300 cases made

Mosel wines – Dr. Loosen

7) 2009 “Dr L” Riesling -Bright fruity good spice

8) 2008 “Dr L” Riesling - Acid fruit, great balance wonderful sipper
Dr L wines are sourced from the slopes

9) 2008 Estate “Blue Slate” Riesling Kabinett 7.5%
Great acidity, wine just rolls across the ridges of the palate, smooth but with power. Quite a nice interplay, like a polyphonic Bach piece.

10) 2008 Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett
Mouthfilling explosion – richness – apricot – rich rich (red slate) exotic – voluptuous – naughty
Wow! Ernst says a perfect match is gravlox with mustard sauce

11) 2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese
Slightly salty, citric, apricot- Rush of fruit – like a fired apricot pie-Creamy – mellow

12) 2006 Dr. Loosen Estate “BA” – Massive harvest 40,000 bottles (1975=5,000 bottles, most years maybe 500-1000 bottles, maybe) - Rich flavors, not cloying, nice mellow finish.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Sicilian Wine – It’s Complicated

Looking back over the days and years, I find myself mystified by what Sicilian wine means to me. I go back to 1981, in the business sense, when there were inexpensive wines like Bonifato in 1.5 liter bottles that we sold to restaurants for $2, and 1 liter flip-top bottles of Segesta that we also sold for ridiculously low prices. The wines were cheap and fresh and even though they were made in an industrial manner, back in those days industrial was a little less involved. There was no need for chapitalization, not in Sunny Sicily. Perhaps acidification. Most likely to cover rushed winemaking. Oak? At those prices it was 100% concrete. Which is now raging back into fashion. No, what we got, at that level, was a wine with a short shelf life, but a wine that was straightforward, basic, and serviceable. No epiphanies, but wine as they drank everyday in Sicily.

And then something happened. I call it the Planeta phenomenon. Grapes like Catarratto and Insolia took a backseat to Chardonnay. Nero’s and Nerello’s also were left at the altar for Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Sicily took a leave of absence from its winemaking soul. It was time to show the world they could play on the international stage. And did they. But was it all a ruse?

You visit Planeta today and the buzz is all about their indigenous grapes and wines. Sure they make their killer Chardonnay (for Italians more than Americans, I wonder?) and they pump out Cabernet and Merlot and Syrah. Others follow. But along the fringes, in Licata, in Passopisciaro, in Noto, there have been awakenings. The Sicilian soul is stirring.

Has Sicily really found the grape that will define her wines? Is it really Nero d’Avola? What’s fomenting up on Etna? Where is Sicily going?

In the following months I am going to be taking on these questions and talking about them on these pages. I think Sicily is looking to re-connect with their primordial forms when it comes to wine. I will be thinking a lot about this. Something awakened inside me when I was in Sicily. It will not go back to sleep. We will dig deeper.

Friday, June 04, 2010

40 years ago: Lyrics Written Blue...

...still ring true

I find it hard to get riled up about HR5034 or the Brunello mess or the use of sulfur in wine or the overuse of barrels in winemaking when I look south to the Gulf of Mexico and witness a disaster of Biblical proportions. I am sick at heart over this rape of our Mother Earth for the sake of letting folks storm down highways at breakneck speeds in their air-conditioned tanks.

Sorry to be such a bummer blogger today, but this is what is occupying my mind and breaking my heart.

More, after the break...

Man's a filthy creature
Raping the land and water and the air
Tomorrow may be too late?
Now's the time that you must be aware
Nature's disappearing
Polluted death is coming, do you care?

Garbage going nowhere
Soon the dumps will spread to your front door
Lakes and rivers stagnant
Nothing lives or grows like years before
Nature's disappearing
The world you take for granted ... soon no more

Read about pollution
Make manufacturers uncomfortable
Boycott at the market
Containers that are non-returnable
Aluminum, glass or plastic
Eternal waste that's not destructible

We're of a generation
That may live out our natural time
But as for all our children?
Born to suffocate in human slime
Nature's disappearing
And we are guilty of this massive crime
-John Mayall

From "USA Union" (Polydor 1970) - Produced by John Mayall w/ Sugarcane Harris, Harvey Mandel, Larry Taylor "After the breakup of the drummer-less Turning Point band, I moved to Los Angeles and put together my first band of American musicians. I was very aware of the comparatively new concept of ecology and wrote this song to encourage people to recycle. The searing and moving violin of Sugarcane Harris still gives me shivers." (John Mayall)

If you would like to contribute to the wildlife rescue effort from the oil spill, you can donate online or mail a check, payable to Tri-State Bird Rescue, to 110 Possum Hollow Rd, Newark, DE 19711. You can also become a member of Tri-State or "Adopt-a-bird".

Thursday, June 03, 2010

In Praise of Street Food ~ La Milza

Palermo ~ La Vucciria - Then and Now

Palermo - La Vucciria - August 1971

Once upon a time I went to Sicily as a young man. My family lived in the historic center of Palermo, and that was my base. My uncle, Peppino, was a tall man who walked fast. And I would follow him on his daily walks through Palermo, going to the bank, the post office, the market. When we walked though La Vucciria, the open aired market, we would arrive through the small vicolo (think piccolo + via = small streets) where barely a Vespa could make it through. But one day, I ventured out by myself, alone with my camera. I didn’t know it but that day would make me a fan of street food for the rest of my life.

Prior to that day, I had known fast food as maybe McDonald’s, or Taco Bell. In the 1960’s it might not have been as processed as it is today. But no matter, the fast street food of Palermo 40 years ago and today are more similar than not. The famous sandwich, known as the spleen sandwich, has many names. According to Roberta Gangi, “the old Sicilian word was vastedda or vastidda.”This humble panino also goes by the name Pane con la Milza or Pane cà Muesa. Gangi writes "It has been suggested that spleen was first popularised by Palermo's Jewish community, but this is not known with certainty." Could this have been an ancient precursor to the modern-day deli sandwich?

Palermo - Centro Storico - May 2010

Last week, I went down a staircase in my hotel room and found myself in a sealed courtyard. At one end (it was a Sunday) there was a private dining room with some sort of reception. The room was “guarded’ and I wasn’t going to ask them for directions. I headed towards the street, past rusting cars and feral cats. I found a door, but it was locked. After a few minutes I figured out the code to open the door. Finally escaping, I came upon the Antica Focacceria S. Francesco, famous for elevating and restoring the prestige of Palermo’s street foods. Their menu has an homage to the “Cibo del Strada” with items such as Arancine (sfera di riso, ragù di carne, piselli) , Caponata (melanzane, salsa di pomodoro, capperi, sedano, olive, aceto, zucchero, olio e. vd oliva Mandranova, mandorle tostate), Focaccia Maritata (pane, milza, polmone, strutto, ricotta fresca, trucioli di cacio cavallo), Panelle (frittelle di farina di ceci), La Vecchia Palermo (moffoletta, pomodorini, acciughe, caciocavallo, oregano), Crocchè, Quarume, Sarde a Beccafico, Stigghiole and Zucca in Agrodolce- foods that I saw on my grandmothers table, alongside the menu alla Monzù that she also prepared.

I never made to the Antica Focacceria S. Francesco this time (interesting story about the place, here). Our itinerary was complete. But I heard wonderful jazz floating out the windows on a late night back from an evening out, and I saw a wine bar that I’d like to try (word to Anthony: this might be a place to check out when you are there).

Still I have wonderful memories of walking Palermo under the hot August sun, photographing in the streets, writing poetry on a typewriter with only 22 letters and sneaking the occasional Pane cà Muesa, while my aunt and uncle napped and dreamt their Sicilian dreams.

Pane ca' Meusa - the preparation

And yes, this still occasionally being a wine blog, what wine would I have with this sandwich? I would have whatever cold white wine is available nearby, likely made from Catarratto or Inzolia or Grillo. Nothing "important."

If pressed I would gladly reach for a Zibibbo secco, like the Gibelê, from Carlo Pellegrino's Duca di Castelmonte. We had it on Favignana Island and it was beyond lovely.

Two good videos showing the philosophy
and the preparations of Pane ca' Meusa

Real Time Analytics