Thursday, December 29, 2011

20- 25 years, max…

Lately, folks around me have either been dying, dropping out or retiring. Yes, I know almost everyone living looks in a mirror and sees the young person they were or indeed they are. For the moment. After a day of throwing boxes in retail, my knees tell me what my mirror won’t: You don’t have that much time. And that goes for all of us.

I have seen some ridiculous things this year. Folks who got the boot who not only showed up for work, but who also stayed after the lights went out in the office. And other folks, who by merely being in the right place at the right time, caught the big fish. There is no pattern of reason – sometimes it just gets down to luck. But in the time department – time, the great leveler – luck has no chance. Whether it is a big-face watch that costs $5,000 or a $50 Timex, the clock, she keeps on ticking.

Let’s say you are in your early 30’s. You have a good job or a position in a company somewhere that allows you to think you’re in a good place. Let’s talk about the wine business, and let’s drill down to the Italian wine business. You travel, stay in places like New York, Hong Kong, Helsinki, Berlin. It all seems so important, balancing the travel and the business with the stuff you have at home. Maybe you live in the Tuscan countryside by the winery. Maybe you live near Alba. Maybe Palermo. And when you are out “in the world” you are making a difference, moving Italian wine forward. Maybe you allow yourself the indulgence to feel powerful, important. You are a game changer, a force of nature. You are young, with all of life handed to you on an enormous buffet plate. It’s all there; all you have to do is show up, wearing the nice clothes, whether it’s the snazzy suit or the shabby but chic jeans. You’re Italian, and Italians are known for this kind of thing. You come from a great country with a great heritage and a history and a mission and a purpose, and you are in the stream and you are fishing for your fortune and fame and you catch a fish every now and then, and life feels just bloody wonderful. Yes?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Prosecco vs. the world

Sergio Mionetto on top of Cartizze
Wine writers must be running out of meaningful subjects, the latest diversion from significant stories being this little piece about Prosecco finally triumphing over Champagne. Perhaps this is just an unconscious jab at France and Sarkozy over dragging the Italians into the current existentialist predicament of the Euro zone. Or maybe it’s that folks have run out of things to talk about between Christmas and the New Years. It would be better for most of the writers to take another stab at a turkey sandwich, watch the “Law and Order” marathon and let the ship pass. This is not important news. Somewhere in the world other sparkling wines are outselling Prosecco and Champagne combined. Should we write that once again for the 25th year, Andre has outsold Champagne too? That’s the image I get in my head when I see these silly stories.

I don’t have a bone to pick with Prosecco. They are riding high. Price increases are forthcoming, by the way, so the Ferris wheel, she goes up, the Ferris wheel, she also goes down. Rarely does the Ferris wheel stop for one at the top. So there will be challenges in 2012, with an election year in the USA, to move the category forward in double digit growth territory.

Champagne, what do they care? They sell everything they make. Veuve-Clicquot (I was told by a highly placed person in the company) has been in “allocation” mode this year. Regardless of how you fell about any brand of Champagne, one can rest easily knowing the plans the Champenoise have for their brand can take you or leave you. Not so with Prosecco.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A very complex grain of sand...

...this little orb is - twirling, seething, rushing at an almost unimaginable speed through the universe. And inside it and all around it are us, thinking, feeling, worrying, hoping, laughing, crying, wishing, loving.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pivot or Persevere

Pan di sudore, miglior sapore

The messages emanating from the Italian peninsula in recent days have been ones of concern for their future and whether or not the average Italian will be able to live a life as their father and grandfather have. The reality is that the life their father and especially their grandfather lived wasn’t a bed of roses. Funny how the human mind forgets history so fast. Thankfully the human heart is there to redirect the course of one’s life. And in the average Italian’s life here is what I see.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Please Send Me Some Wine to Love

The week before the holidays and the wine and food shops across America are buzzing with people looking for food, for wine, for connection with something that descends upon humanity in these times, allows for a few moments to stop the machine, get off, and let a little fresh air in. I saw it all weekend in the stores, as we go into the final stretch of the O-N-D selling season. For Italy and her food and wine, this has been a very good year, again.

“What Chianti do you suggest to go with our spaghetti and meat ball dinner?” “Do you have that Brunello with the coat of arms that has the wings on it?” “Where is the Orvieto?” All these and many more questions are peppered at us, like at an important press conference. Except we aren’t solving the massive problems of a country. We are merely trying to help folks set their tables for their friend and their families.

Show the world how to get along,
Peace will enter when hate is gone,
But if it's not asking too much,
Please send me some wine to love.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Three Wise Wines

From the "I'm Dreaming of a White (Wine) Christmas" Collection

In the traditions of the wine world, the conventional wisdom has been that the real serious wines are red. Old wine books push the adage, “The first duty of wine is to be red.” And scores of wine connoisseurs wandered into Burgundy or Bordeaux, Piedmont or Tuscany. But the times they are a changing.

For all of my wishing, I have hoped to be one of those types, where red wine was placed high on an altar so I could too worship it. And I do love red wine. This evening we sampled an Etna Rosso next to a Chateauneuf du Pape. But I cannot get over how much I love white wine. I really have affection for cool, crisp, luscious wines. They seem to go with the foods I love and I never have enough of them around the house.

Here are three wines that I do hope to have around for the holidays. Please read on.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

All in the (Italian Wine) Family

From the archives - posted 12/27/09

The temperature was barely above freezing when I took a longer than intended run today. When I got back home, there was a message on my voice mail, from my friend Cassandra in Italy. “Alfonso, where are you? I need to talk to someone who I am so close to but not related by blood.” I could tell by the tone of her voice that this would be a long talk. So I poured myself some tea and called her.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Million Point March

In the early 1980’s in the United States, the practice of selling wine in the trade was a fairly simple process. You made an appointment (or had a set appointment time) and you took wines into the account, showed them, often tasting them, and then talked about them and tried to get an order. There weren’t a lot of third party endorsements, reviews, sales aids. There were a few writers; Finigan, Balzer, Connoisseurs Guide, a little newspaper coming on called the Wine Spectator, Hugh Johnson, Gerald Asher, Michael Broadbent, and a handful of historical books. But it was pretty slim pickin's. That said, many folks were well read, reasonably educated, fairly open minded. And ready for whatever could help them sell more wine. And then a young lawyer from Maryland came on the scene with his newsletter, aptly named The Wine Advocate. And the race for the high scoring wines began.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Italian Wine List in America

From the "Knick-knack paddywhack" dept.

The setting: A hip Italian neighborhood restaurant, once upon a time in America.
The clientele: Well-traveled, well-heeled, conservative but adventurous with food.
The chef: Inspired, deft touch. Hails from the neighborhood; sensitive to the seasons and the spirit of Italy.
The wine buyer: Newish, youngish, enjoys big wines; is not from the neighborhood.
The challenge: fitting the sensibilities of the chef, the expectations of the clientele, the tastes of the wine buyer and trying to make it all work in harmony.

I am setting up this scenario, an amalgam of places I have noticed, from Park Slope, Brooklyn to San Francisco, California (and places in between) in order to try to understand how something like this can work best.

Let’s say this is not a classic Italian place, for which there might be other factors, such as a well established wine cellar, a clientele who are used to certain things and don’t want to see much change in them. After all there is a place for vitello tonnato and Gavi. Or pasta Bolognese with a hearty red wine.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The 31st Dec 1

James Di Carlo delivers the pies
Do you ever have one of those weeks when all you can say is “What do you say?” Well, let me tell you, this has been one of those weeks. We entered into the final month of the O-N-D wine selling season and we are just hitting our stride. Lots going on. Let’s get right into it.

First off, I was with a young salesman in an account today and I told him that Dec 1 was traditionally the busiest day of the year. “Traditionally?” he asked. “Yes” I replied. “That’s so old school.” Uh hum, that it would be. But that’s where my ship launched from and I’m now sailing into my 31st Dec 1. I still get that surge of energy, that certain butterfly in the stomach feeling when Dec 1 rolls around. Call me old school.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

So glad our paths crossed in this world, Doc.

There are all kinds of people one encounters on the wine trail, but once in a while one comes upon one of the gentle souls. Arthur Levine was one of those.

I met Dr. Levine many years ago at a wine tasting and we hit it off. He was frank, funny and didn’t take himself too seriously. He was a bit self-deprecating and he had a wonderful wife, Harriet. She looked like Janet Leigh’s twin.

They both loved food and wine and banter and people.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Interviewing Marty

If there is one person I could sit down and share a bottle of Italian wine with and talk to for an afternoon, Martin Scorsese has to be at the top of that list. I am an unabashed fan of his movies. When I get puny there are two things I want: home made chicken soup and a stack of Scorsese films, starting with Goodfellas. I love his energy, his passion and the way he has captured the American spirit and the Italian-American experience in his films. They are gritty, they are harsh and often they are crude. But they come from the streets. I have walked some of those streets; I feel his films in my bones.

So with a nice bottle or two of Sicilian wine, some Rapitala, a little Regaleali, maybe an Etna Rosso, if I could sit down and talk with Mr. Scorsese, I would love to. Until then, I must have a conversation with him by way of the dialogue (in italics) in films such as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, The King of Comedy, Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Aviator and The Last Temptation of Christ. So, dear reader, no, this is not an actual interview, but one made up, as it is done in the blogosphere, exercising a little creativity and wasting a lot of time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank You, Italy

1) Thank you for the wonderful variety of your sparkling wines, especially the ones from Lombardia, Trentino and the Veneto. Franciacorta is a delicious wine for food, for pleasure and for more than just special occasions. Thank you for not thinking you have to be Champagne and forging ahead with your own sparkling destinies.

2) Thank you for the bright and mineral rich white wines of the Alto Adige and Friuli. I love your whites, whether it be Sauvignon or Kerner, Friulano or Sylvaner.

3) Thank you for the fruit driven Montepulciano wines from Abruzzo. For many of us who cut our teeth on field blends from California, Montepulciano is a taste that hearkens back to the roots of many of us reared in the West. And thank you when you let Montepulciano be Montepulciano; not Cabernet, Merlot or Pinot Noir.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 1976. My son had just been born, we were living in Altadena and I was working in Pasadena at a restaurant known as The Chronicle. I had been working there a few months as a server. Dressed in a uniform (essentially a tuxedo outfit without the jacket, and was allowed to keep my hair and mustache). The main clientele, it seemed at the time, were wealthy and very conservative types. “Business and social elite”, I think it has been described as. The restaurant was mere miles from a John Birch Society office.Moderate conservatives were considered liberal in that neighborhood.

I remember working the restaurant the night Jimmy Carter was elected. We had just gone through the Bicentennial year, and Jerry Ford, who had stepped into office when Nixon was forced to resign, was running against Carter. But early on, with polling stations already closed on the East Coast, and this being dinnertime in California, we could already sense there was a change coming. The clientele were pretty upset by it and I could feel their anger and their fear. But I was young, had a new baby days away from being born and didn’t feel as wary about the future as the older establishment folks did. They had more to lose than me, I guess. I was glad for the change, always felt Jerry Ford had been thrust into a position that he really didn’t relish.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No Dignity in Dying

We’ve all read it many times over. The obit said “Shirley died after a courageous battle with ovarian cancer.” Of course, Shirley isn’t anywhere to dispute whether she waged a battle or if it was even courageous. Having written an obituary once upon a time, I know folks stumble together a jumble of words; they’re in pain and shock and are just looking for a little way to assuage the ache. So they make mention of the deceased person's bravery in the face of insurmountable odds. But in reality, none of us are getting out of this alive, no matter how much valor and grit we gather up. We are born to live and then to go away.

I’m in a pensive mood tonight. Live with it. I’ve been doing some looking back. Over decades of joyfully carrying a wine bag into accounts, year after year, many times with wine I now am no longer associated with. But wines that still dot the various wine lists in the regions I have worked in. Not that the influence is due to my influence, if at all. In reality, the longer you are at this game, the more insignificant you come to realize you are.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Haven’t we had enough?

With news of Berlusconi finally stepping down, I can now look towards the wine trail of the future in Italy. I am sure all manner of reforms will transpire in the coming days, months and years. One can only imagine what changes we will see in Italy in the next 5-10 years. This is my punch-list for improving the Italian wine industry:

Thursday, November 10, 2011


What a week for no one to care. Not that this is the reason. No, it’s more complicated than that. Looking back in the mirror, so much easier now, but in that space of time, who could resist? Life, the embodiment of the moment, the fleeting moment. Piled one upon another until ten, eleven years have passed, and ten more coming and rushing through the canyon, picking up speed before shooting towards the Big Sea.

Yesterday, thirteen years ago, the wedding. Tomorrow, 100 years ago, the birth. Along the way, tears, laughter, food, wine, sex, loss, life.

Lasagna and Sagrantino. Cerasuolo and chocolate. Franciacorta and fava beans. Cococciola and pizza bianca. Pale ale and hazel green eyes staring out from a million years ago.

What a week.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Finally, they are here.

This all started in 2005. Roberto Bava was in town and for some reason we were hanging out. I’m not really sure how we met, but I liked that he was interested in all the things around wine besides just trying to get me to buy a bunch. After all, his wines are from Piedmont, and in 2005 that category wasn’t exactly tearing it up. The events of Sept 11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the worsening world financial slump, in its early stages then. Oh, and a miserable 2002 harvest and a hot, over ripe 2003. Along with that prices were rising, for less than perfect vintages, the demand was off and let’s just say Barolo and the other reds of Piedmont weren’t a hot commodity. But Roberto Bava was unphased.

But unphased not in a “Hey, we have a great tradition, and our wines are the best in the world and we are from ancient royal lineage” way. No Robert was interested in music, in visual patterns, in seemingly unmatched intangibles making a new expression of art or culinary achievement, or a new sound. Anything but Barolo. Or so it seemed.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Italy’s 1%

Recently I was perusing Doctor Wine’s website. Dr. Wine, aka Daniele Cernilli, had to settle for the English moniker (Dr. Vino having been snapped up by Tyler Colman years ago). But don’t cry for Cernilli, for he hasn’t missed much. If anyone knows how to monetize the internet (or anything else) it is Doctor Wine.

On his site, he has a post about the Gambero Rosso awards from 1988 up to now. Cernilli recounts, “The idea of a classification in terms of ‘Glasses’ was mine”, in case anyone had doubts. Whomever had the idea, a virtual Pandora’s Box was unleashed, when Slow Food, in concert with Gambero Rosso, and their “Three Glass” awards started gaining momentum. Recently Gambero Rosso and Slow Food parted ways, with both pursuing their own “awards” process. It is too soon to tell if the separation will dilute an already fatigued public, confused from now having to follow Wine Spectator and James Suckling, a new Wine Advocate (with Galloni taking much of the work over for Parker), all the fractured publications along with the eno-blogosphere and any number of other critical corridors in the wine world, all supported by what the futurist Alvin Toffler called “The great growling engine of change - technology.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What makes a wine great?

"They say that life itself is really just the dead on vacation." - Tom Waits

Over the years my ideas about wines have changed a little. A lot less than I would have thought. Looking back over 35+ years of seriously tasting wine, there have been moments when I tasted greatness. What was it about those moments? Was it the stage the wine was in, a moment coinciding with its peak? Was it the season? Was it my physiology? Was it a magical confluence of all the above and more? Or was it just dumb luck?

What makes a wine great? It’s in the back of my mind all the time, a touchstone sought and rarely found. Not that the pursuit of great wines is my primary task. I must constantly taste and evaluate wines for my work that needn’t be great. They just need to be good enough, or good values, or in-offensive. Not all days are vacation days. But this is not the time for that discussion. Today, I am pursuing greatness. So what is it that evades these pages, darts about, zips off the screen like a dragonfly or a refraction from a light source? Where does one find this greatness factor?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Mirage of the Maremma ~ Ghost Stories from Grosseto

~ True Story ~

This time last year, I was traveling with a group in Italy. We were one day away from being finished and were in Grosseto to meet up with Morellino producers. At the end of the day we headed back into town, checked into our hotel and agreed to meet later for one last dinner.

Settling into my room, I opened my window, only to be greeted by the onerous barking of a hound below. I went down to see what the poor little creature was crying about, but was unable to find his owner. About then it was time to go to dinner.

We’d had a long day and most of us were tired. One in our group, a young buyer (let’s call her Carrie), wanted to stay up, so I hung out with her. She was cool, had good energy, and although she probably would have rather been there with her boyfriend, humored me. She was kind of an old soul, and that was how we interacted.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"In Texas you still live in a happy country."

Two-stepping across Texas with Marco Bacci

Marco Bacci with Damian Mandola near Austin, Texas

How does one top a week of Italian wine in New York? How about piling in a car with an Italian and his wine and traveling across the state from Dallas to Austin, and then to Houston and back to Dallas, in four days? That was my mission this week, back home in Texas with the Tuscan Marco Bacci and wines from two of his properties in Montalcino and the Maremma.

I have just about resigned myself that as long as I deal with Italian wines I will be dealing with Tuscany. And I say that not with a sense of resignation, although it sounds that way, but as an inevitable acceptance of the realities of the wine business in Italy. Tuscany has a lot to say about the way wine from Italy is perceived and they represent a huge portion of the wine made in Italy that comes to America and the rest of the world – correction – Fine wine made in Italy – because Tuscany is a leader and they have a pole position in the high stakes race to make Italian wine seen and thought of as the finest wines in the world.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An America Without Italian Wine

From the "nothing to kill or die for" dept.

Let’s take a imaginary scenario – trade between Italy and the USA is halted for economic and security reasons. No more Italian wine comes to America, ever again. What would this mean to Italians in the vineyards? To Americans in Kankakee?

Assuming we had no choice, let’s say the distribution of wealth had been arranged so that the bottom 80% of the population held 15% of the wealth and the top 20% of the population held 85% of the wealth. And about that time someone got the idea that to trade with Italy would cause further economic imbalance and would jeopardize the peace in the world.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New York snapshot – Barbetta's timeless appeal

This week has been absolutely beautiful in New York City. Autumn is in full swing, with cooler weather, gusts of cooler wind with a scattering of rain and wine makers from Italy (and everywhere else) crawling all over the city. And though I am headed back to Texas and ready for some blue skies and dramatic sunsets, this time New York was really a joy.

Last night, in a moment of spontaneity, a friend who grew up here and spends a lot of time in New York, invited me to dinner. As we walked from the NY Wine Experience (a total mosh pit, but filled with many friends in the wine world – my tribe) we headed towards a dark little spot. “I promise you this isn’t a dive. Although I like dives,” he pleaded. I was game. We headed into a darkened bar and he greeted the man at the bar. They reminisced like old friends.

We were led to a dining room that looked like it came straight out of Il Gattopardo (or the Savoy era). I started getting goose bumps. I am after all a bumpkin from out west, remember? As we were seated and handed the menu’s I instantly recognized Piemontese influence. The restaurant was Barbetta, one of the oldest continuously owned Italian restaurants in New York, perhaps the USA.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

DOCG Comeuppance, Classified Dregs from the 90's and Other NY Tales

From the “life’s too short to drink bad wine or eat bad cheese” dept.

Anyone who follows this blog for that last few years probably have read about my friend Andrea Fassone. Andrea moved to NY from Torino in August of 2001. Great timing. And in Oct of 2008 he started his own wine importing business. Again, his timing was impeccable. Andrea lost both his parents when he was young and essentially has a sister and aunt and uncle left in Italy. Let’s say when Andrea came to America he burned the boats (but not the bridges). Now he is happily married to Lorraine Hinds and has been welcomed into her wonderful family. Andrea and Lorraine recently had twins, Max and Matteo. Those boys are a post for a whole ‘nother time, but suffice to say, Andrea and Lorraine have their hands full. In the very best sense of the word.

Yesterday while in NY on a panel for Social Media for the Vinitaly USA tour, I stopped by and tasted wines with various friends and producers. I don’t do business with Andrea – we’re friends – but I do enjoy seeing what he has found in Italy – he is not an industry insider – but he is a natural – and he has good business sense and an even better work ethic – he is a model importer/wholesaler on the small scale – and he is growing – remember he started up in a downturn.

Anyway, a long way to say he really gigged me the other day with a DOCG question. He knows I am the unofficial watchdog of the ongoing DOCG cavalcade of wines to be nominated and awarded the vaunted ribbon of excellence.

“Did you know, Alfonso, that the only wine that has a DOCG that is both red and white is Roero?” As a matter of fact I did not. So to elucidate and share with the rest of the room, I snapped his picture with one of his wines, from a producer he knows simply as “PACE”. So there you have it – news you can use – from NY.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Full Immersion

One has to know that the Italian influence has gone deep when the official wine of the 125th Texas State Fair is a Sangiovese. I never thought I’d see that day, but last week while giving an informal talk about the history of Texas wine (bet you didn’t know I knew something about that) I not only came across the wine but also uncovered a treasure trove of information about wine and grapes in the early days of Texas wine lore.

To say that I love the Texas state fair is an understatement. Who could not when it is in one’s own home town? For as long as I have lived here I have been drawn to the timeless aspect of our yearly festival. Three weeks long, with food, beer, wine, and any number of imponderables.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Full Moon Under the Spell of the Spanish Sun

There are those days when the wine business can be a real treat. Yesterday was one of those. In fact all week has been a textbook “perfect beginning” to the October onslaught. Earlier I was driving home at the 11th hour and thinking about all the wines from the many countries I had tasted. New Mexico, Italy, Texas, Germany, California, Spain, Washington, Australia, Chile, Argentina and Germany. What, no France?

And while it has been a parade of riches from the vineyards of the world, what has really grabbed me? This week, I’d have to say, hands down, that I have been under the spell of Spain.

Starting earlier in the week, when I popped into a room to grab a glass and saw an array of wines from Montilla. Sherry-like, but with their own identity. I blogged about it a little on the business site. That really primed the pump.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Burden of Beauty

Italy’s charm is her innate beauty. Art, architecture, music, food and the multi-act opera we’ve come to know as family. Youth, strength, prowess; throw them into the pasta bowl and careful observers look at Italy as a paean to perfection. Beauty is the crown, the reason why the eyes look towards her, why they lust for her art, her food and her wines.

And then there is Brunello. The first wine to be exalted with a DOCG, back in the days before personal computers. Brunello, a simply lovely wine, content to amble about the countryside in search of adventure and love, only wanting to make people happy.

Brunello was so beautiful when young. Stylish, but strong. Complex, but not confusing. Rich, but accessible to the other 99%. And then somewhere Brunello tumbled on a slippery path in the forest. And she has been spending more than a few years trying to get back up.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sore Losers

Where O-N-D meets O-M-G

I figured it must be the holiday season when I woke up from a dream that had me arguing for Italian wines on a wine list. During the sacred O-N-D season (October-November-December) where a lot of wine and spirits are moving through the system, the emotions and the expectations run high, so much that they invade the subconscious. My hope is to go into that cavern and try to effect changes on those who dwell more in the unconscious than in the reality I would prefer to see them in. But, alas, after 30 years of battling in the trenches, I have come to realize there are some folks who just will never get it. Do you want to know a secret? I’m Ok with that. Because I have moved on. I am limiting my exposure to the slow pacers and those who don’t run to win. I have found other fields that will accept the seeds I have brought to them from Italy.

It really all gets down to intellectual engagement, for me. I mean, after pounding on a chap for 20 years and he really doesn’t get it, isn’t it time to abandon that plot if there are richer lands to harvest? Yes. And man are they out there.

So rather than lamenting about the many suns that are setting, let me tell you about a sunrise over a rich field.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

My Last Meal

I came across a magazine article the other day that posed the question “What would you order for your last supper?” and it got me to thinking.

For one, I wouldn’t order out. I figure I won’t be in a position to order anything or anyone. If indeed it were to be my last meal, I would hope I would be beyond trying to orchestrate those around me to do my will. But in the spirit of the question…

….what I would really like, if I could, would be to make the dish I have been making for as long as I can remember. That would be something loosely known in our family as Eggplant Parmigiana. And while it bears little resemblance to any eggplant dish I have ever seen outside my family, it is my ultimate comfort food and would be the dish I would want to have in my belly as I crossed over into my very own Valhalla.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Parallel Paths - La Cucina Italiana and Jazz in New Orleans

Limoncello by symbiosis at Domenica
New Orleans has a relationship with things Italian similarly as it does with jazz. While there is a lot of traditional food and jazz in the Crescent City, there is also a good deal of improvisation. And in the world of La Cucina Italiana, this is welcome news. New Orleans is experiencing new and renewed energies in this arena. Places like A Mano, Ancora and Dominica are shining examples of innovation and experimentation. And just like jazz, there are some pretty little melodies floating out of the neighborhoods of New Orleans. In three short days, I just touched the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bouzeron in the Afternoon and Biancolella in the Evening - Just Another Day on the Wine Trail in New Orleans

This week finds me in Louisiana, starting in New Orleans, one of my great-great-grandfather’s haunts. Meetings in the morning and an afternoon tasting of French wines, mainly Burgundy, at the Windsor Court Hotel. A chance to see old acquaintances and make some new ones. And a great showing of wines.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Italian High Noon: Five Rode In

As morning dawned, only five were left. After many wars and battles, they couldn’t claim victory. They had been left behind, without any entitlements to greatness, as their fellow warriors had enjoyed. No victory laps, no medallions, nothing. Just the blank stare from the sun as it rose to shine upon everyone else but them.

How many more years before these five could taste the glory of greatness, riding tall in their saddles, heads held high? As if it were ever in the cards for these five?

Soon, the curtain would fall, and there would be no more pageantry, no more striving for the highest honor. Before long, they and all their compatriots would be swept away into a larger procession. And with it, dashed is the chance to go into new battles with a taste of triumph.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Picking and Pulling in Tuscany

Regardless of the political or economic situation in Italy, there are some certainties that the Italians will faithfully address: When the grapes are ripe they will be picked and when the sheep are full they will be milked. Though many of us are dreamers, Italians know when it is time to pick and pull.

That’s one of the wonderful things about this country that my family emigrated from over 100 years ago. Yes, the political scene is a disgrace. Giving a lifetime stipend of €3,000 Euros a month to a hard-corn porn star or giving the country away to a failed torch singer who treats it like his own personal bordello is an ineffable shame. But to neglect the grapes or the sheep, where I took these photographs, in the Tuscan countryside, that would be a bigger shame. And so the harvest proceeds. And the milk is drawn. And wine and cheese are made. And Italy sustains herself for another day, to fight on the moral grounds. I do not doubt it for a moment.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pensions for Porn Stars and the Newest, Bestest Italian DOCG list ~ now "73"

It’s been a long, lonely summer, but the Italians are back from holiday. Two important new DOCG appellations now have received their well-tanned reward. Almost as good as giving a hard-core porn star (who was in the Italian Parliament for five years, albeit with a lawyer hired to “write” legislation for her) a reward of a pension of €3,000 a month - for the rest of her life - Bunga! Bunga!! Bunga!!!

Ahh, Italy, you make all of us emigrants so proud.

Here are the two latest deliveries :
· Suvereto
· Val di Cornia Rosso (or Rosso della Val di Cornia)

Making a grand total of Italian wine DOCG’s now, for the moment, “73”

The complete list, and new map, after the jump…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Does your rosé swing both ways?

Joe Bastianich, please call me

It never rains in California
But girl, don't they warn ya
It pours, man, it pours
My mom, for anyone who hasn’t been perusing this blog lately, is not one to shrink from an opinion. She didn’t get to be 97 by being a pushover. I don’t know too many people who win an argument with her. Ask my sisters. Or her numerous grandchildren. So when she gets something into her head, let’s just say, there isn’t anyone I know, dead or alive, who can talk her out of it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Which wine with the world's most expensive Cannoli?

from the “nicest things sometimes happen for no reason whatever” department

The world's most expensive cannoli (o) James Ferris Photography
Down in Deep Ellum this morning I happened to meet a fellow Sicilian (and customer I might add, in Kansas City, MO), Jasper Mirabile. One of the nicest fellas I’ve met in a long time, Jasper owns the eponymous (and great) restaurant, Jasper's, and being a lover of cheese, he was visiting our mutual friend Paula Lambert, who is the iconic cheese goddess of New American cooking. I grow (and just harvested) Hoja Santa and Epazote for Paula (it’s an Herbs for Cheese barter program) and we all met on the steps of the Mozzarella Company. Jasper and his wife Lisa were in town visiting their daughter Alex, who is attending SMU.

Anyway, after we talked about some of the new Italian spots in town (Lucia, Dough, Nonna and Il Cane Rosso) Paula and I both asked if he had made it to Jimmy’s yet.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mixed Case

and around and around it goes in the circle game

Wacky week, really a mixed bag, so far. Gotta say, so many of my friends are grieving over things going on around them, around all of us. I am kind of stunned by most of it. Like I said to my closest confidant tonight, it seems like we are looking at a train wreck in slow motion and it is right there in front, heading straight at us, and there’s not much any of us can do except possibly get out of its way.

In the meantime, these divertiti from the wine trail and beyond.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Red Wrath & Beyond

From the "You say you want a revolution..." department

I am in one of those states where I don’t really know which direction to go. Finding myself again as a stranger in a strange land, among friends, workers, family, countrymen. I know it’s me. It must be, the perception versus the reality. But it feels way too convincingly familiar as no man’s land, these trails I find myself walking. And as the Zen koan goes, nothing above, nothing below, so I leap off.

And leaping I find myself looking at the Italian peninsula and the latest revolution that seems to be emanating from Tuscany, in regards to red wine and the emotions that have been stirred these past few weeks via the Montalcino consorzio vote to keep the cépage of Rosso di Montalcino from being vitiated with Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Brother, a Father, a Son

Our little group had an appointment at a winery which our host imports. We were on the outskirts of San Gimignano and the family has been established there since the 15th century. We were slated to have a tasting and then after a meeting, a little light lunch.

We had been on the road for almost a week, and the August holiday was winding down. I don’t ever remember being in Italy at the beginning of August and at the end. It was a passage for me; seeing folks heading north on the Via Aurelia on August 1 from Rome to the coastline of Tuscany. And then, traveling south on that very same highway at the end of August. It almost got me into the mindset of an Italian on holiday. Not that I was there on vacation. I just happened to be there, for work, both times. But I do have an imagination and a sense of placement when it comes to trying to get myself inside the head of an Italian.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Bibere Umanum Est. Ergo Bibamus.

From the Weightwatchers intervention department

And yes that is true...the saying on the old piece of furniture above, "To drink is human, let us therefore drink."  And one must have food to go with wine. Ergo, some pictures from the recent harvest trip and business meetings, lunches and dinners. The Italians eat well, even when we are workshopping...

More pictures and the jump

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Tuscan Harvest of 2011 - Maremma Report

Warm days with breezes – followed by a little moisture release. One of the hottest summers in a while. The grapes are coming into wineries along the Maremma. We captured some of the action in Suvereto at the Petra estate.

I’m back home in Texas, where the wind is howling outside my window. The temps are down here as well.

A great week past in Italy. We covered over 1,000 miles in 4 days. Tired, but happy. I’ll post more in the coming days, but wanted to drop a few pictures in and let everyone know the harvest in Italy is in process, and it’s looking like a good, maybe not great, vintage. Too soon to tell.

Meanwhile back in the USA we have the last of the summer holidays. So I am powering down and going to catch up with the time zone I am in.

Thanks, all!

more pictures after the break

Friday, September 02, 2011

New Maremma Wine, Qaddafi's Hummer & Late Night Pasolini

There is no lack of news and oddities in the vineyards of the Maremma, or the rest of Italy, for that matter.

I have been on the road all day, driving back from a whirlwind tour of Tuscany during what is turning out to be a very hot and dry harvest, and one with a few distractions.

We arrived back in Milan for a few last meetings and a quick dinner at a restaurant run by sweet folks from Apulia. But the real news is the wine I was shown at La Badiola winery. When asked the grape the winemaker told us it was called Marselan. It was light in color, totally unoaked and fresh, spicy and a delicious sipper. In fact I did not spit any of the wine. Anyone heard of this grape? Some reports say it is a hybrid between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. It was not too tannic. It was refreshing in the heat of the Tuscan sun at the end of the August month.

Odd. On August 1 I was driving north on SS1 (the Aurelia) and on August 31 I found myself driving south on the very same highway. The month of August, the revered month for Italians to vacation. And twice I found myself running from winery to winery. Consider myself very lucky to be working in the playground of many Italian holiday goers. And glad to be working, rather than catching more sun. Something which we have more than had our share of in Texas.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Quiet Mountain

Blow your horn, Gabriel, there are other mountains

Sunrise in Montepulciano
While some concerned eyes of the Italo-enoblogosphere are on Montalcino in the last (and most likely, in the next) week, much of Italy is focused on the harvest or on their own particular problems. Imagine the president of a country wanting to get in front of the leaders and the opposition telling that person, “No” because a couple of political hopefuls are debating somewhere in flyover country. Then imagine the Italian opera, whereby this kind of scenario is light weight in comparison. And one gets a small view through the crack in the door.

The furor over the proposed Rosso di Montalcino DOC alliterations seems to me a bit silly and self-indulgent. As one producer’s representative said over dinner the other night, “The biggest problem is there is no market for Rosso di Montalcino, when one can find Brunello in the low end for a similar price.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Well-Kept Wine

Whether we’re talking Italy or America, it doesn’t matter. Someone has an opinion about the way one should treat a wine. I rather imagine this comes from deeper seated ideas about life, love and one’s place in the scheme of things. If one is the center of their universe or if one is watching the spectacle from a corner seat, there is plenty of variation. And entertainment value.

I am in Franciacorta today. The harvest is wrapping up; the wineries are redolent with the smell of grapes having wild monkey sex in the fermentation tanks. This is the moment. Tonight’s the night. Or in the case of Franciacorta, tonight, and sometime maybe 6 years from now, is the night.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Little 'ol Hurricane Ain't Nothin' to a Terrone

I’ll be posting from Italy in the next week or so. Work takes me back again, this time for an educational trip with a couple of managers in my company. We’ll be meeting up with some of our winery friends in Franciacorta-land and Tuscany.

Before heading off though, I managed to meet a future client over at the latest pizzeria Napoletana in Dallas, named Dough. Doug Horn has taken the concept on the road from his original spot in San Antonio. I am especially excited about this one because, 1) it is near my home and 2) the wine list is exciting and 3) the pizza is as good as it gets.

We started off last night with an Aperol spritz before heading into wine country. Fortunately for us, the heat is still blistering and that extends the rosé season.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Italian Wine Map Porn, Long Lost Cousins and My Favorite Fizzy Red in Austin

Ron Wight and Scott Ota checking out the sexy Italian centerfold
Sometimes I think I should just shuck it all and live out of my suitcase. It seem like that’s pretty much what I have been doing all summer. And with a full fall schedule ahead of me, maybe it’s time to do the radical downsize. Who would know? All my stuff? Yeah, right.

This week I have been holding out in Austin, where wine dinners and work-withs have taken me. Not too many folks are buying, but this is the seed planting time. Working in August doesn’t produce instant results, but when the cool weather returns and folks get their minds right to do some business, all the hard work in the heat pays off.

Austin just passed a milestone: 70 days over 100 °F, breaking the previous record set in 1925. Right now as I write, it is almost midnight and outside the temperature is still 99°F. Like one lady said on the radio today, “I don’t want to die and go to hell, but it just might be cooler than Austin.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thinking Locally, Fighting Globally

"Just Do It"
Photo by Samuel Aranda  for The New York Times
With events in Libya seemingly coming to a conclusion, I happened upon the NY Times Lens blog and looked back at six months of events in that country. A couple of images stood out. They referred to a larger identity, one beyond a tribal or Libyan or African identity. For better or worse, global brands have infiltrated even the revolution. The images tell the story.

Along with that, the ad campaigns, the slogans, for some of these iconic brands, how they intersect the living history we are witnessing before our screens and our eyes. Often not the slogan that fits, in this insurrection, but a moment to think about those things and larger issues.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Night Li Veli

from the "critical-schmitical" dept...

Anyone who knows me a little might have figured out that I love white wine. Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Verdicchio, Vermentino, Friulano, you name it. I love white wine. And then I love rosé. But not to steal anyone’s thunder, I am here to heap praise upon a white wine I just had.

From Apulia and the Masseria Li Veli comes the Askos Verdeca. Old vines, certified organic, no wood, no malo, just a glass of scrumptious flavor. A white wine that is as serious as a red wine. A wine after my own heart, even in its semi-broken down state. A wine for today, for tonight and for all night long. Does it sound like I am wanting to get my drink on?

Well, my friend, if you just went through the week I went through, you might be looking for something to take you away. And hey, you probably did go through the week I just went through, or maybe something similar. If not last week, then another time. In any case, I think you know what I am saying.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

TexSom 2011 - Slideshow

A smattering of images from the epic weekend. Craig Collins, MS, reported, as Rajat Parr was leaving to catch a jet to another fabulous place, he told him that "TexSom 2011 was the best wine conference" he'd ever been to. Great work guys!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Serge Hochar Blows My Mind – Again!

…from the déjà vu département

Serge Hochar shares a story with sommelier Jason Huerta
When I first met Serge Hochar, he was making a quick run through the United States to promote the wines of his family’s Château Musar. It was the early 1980’s and he literally had to take his life in his own hands to get to the airport to leave Beirut, as Lebanon was in the midst of a war that would take the lives of countless souls. The stories he told me over lunch that day 25+ years ago, etched in my mind and fueled the fire in my belly to pursue a life of wine with passion and without fear.

And here we were again, a generation later, our skulls now colored grey, celebrating the wines of Musar and life with our younger peers.

Serge is like the Sardinian shepherd to me. He lives in a small world but a very large universe. And his universe is populated with interesting people, passionate subjects and spices and intrigue in a life of wine one can only dream of.

That said, his life hasn’t been easy. In fact, Serge and his family, the closest thing we have to the heirs to the throne of Bacchus, have had to struggle most of their lives. But Lebanon is a special place for wine. The Romans built a temple to the wine god in Baalbek, a town in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, known in ancient times as Heliopolis. So, those of us who are devotees of Bacchus have a fondness in our hearts for Lebanon and her wines.

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