Thursday, June 30, 2011

2006 Vietti "Rocche" Barolo and Mom's iconic Eggplant Parmigiano

Taking a break from the DOCG madness and the Calabria Sequence, which got a nod from Eric Asimov and the New York Times this week. A brief flashback to Southern California and last week, when I made a quick trip to see my Mom and my Aunt Mary, who are both nonagenarians. Aunt Mary, my dad’s sister will be 95 soon and my mom was just 97. Both live independently ( my mom still drives and goes to the gym!) and both are good barometers, on both sides of the family, for longevity and health. We should all be so lucky.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bare with us: Italian DOCG wines are now "71" and climbing

Got the wings of heaven on my shoes, I'm a dancin' man and I just can't lose

It was too good to be true, that we might have a brief hiatus in the race to guarantee every appellation in Italy before the curtain shuts. But alas, the latest folly is the Castel del Monte DOCG – a trio of guaranteed appellations. Because three is three times greater than one! Oy, what a kebash in old Italy.

Here are the three, not one, but three new appellations:

• Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva
• Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva
• Castel del Monte Bombino Nero

Making a grand total of Italian wine DOCG’s not 69 but an asymmetrical 71

The complete list, and new map, after the jump…I hope the Italians take a break soon, so I can get back to blogging the things I really want to blog about.

A huge thank you and shout out again to Franco Ziliani and also to Hande Leimer for alerting me to this development. I will be forever grateful to all y’all.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Calabria: Full Circle

I was really wondering what I had just done. On the road with a young family which seemed like an eternity, only to land in some desolate town in the hills of Calabria. What on earth was I thinking, that I could just walk into a village in southern Italy and hook up with my long lost Calabrese relatives? We barely spoke any Italian; our lives were as different from these people as they could be. We had two young children, one in diapers, and we arrived in the midst of harvest, typical Americani.

I looked over to my wife, shrugged my shoulders and said “Let’s walk back to San Fili, take the train and go back to Cosenza. There’s nobody here who will claim us as kin.” She could see the despondency in my eyes, hear it in my voice. I walked hunched over, at a loss to know where to go next. And then.

A fellow on a donkey ambles over in our direction. Kind of gruff and looking like Ray Bolger’s scarecrow character in the Wizard of Oz. But we weren’t on the yellow brick road, were we?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Blockbuster Season Begins: Italian Wine DOCG map - for the moment 68 69"71"

Click here and hit the magnify button when you get there to enlarge map.Or click on the map and enlarge...Enjoy!

Note to American sommeliers studying to pass various levels in the Guild of Sommeliers:
I gather if you all are looking for a list that Guild of Sommelier governing board deems to be the official one for their purposes in order to set a standard for their testing, then by all means stay at 59 (and counting). However in the Italian wine (and sommelier) community, most of us know the Italian government is painfully slow in publishing the new DOCGs, rendering them "official". In those circles, the number is now 71, whether the “official” paperwork has been filed or not. And with a summer vacation upon them, those of you studying for your MS, etc in late July in Vegas will be even more stressed to differentiate between the Guild of Sommeliers official number and what we know in the Italian wine community to be the current ( and climbing) number of DOCG’s. Sorry for the confusion. I didn’t set it up, just reporting it.

All pretty silly when one takes into consideration this whole Italian appellation system will cease to be relevant about the time the Mayan calendar ends, in late 2012.

Good luck, in any event…

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Calabria: High Noon in the Hills

“Sometimes you need to go forward to go back in time.” That was the word being transmitted to me in a dream on the 21st floor in downtown LA, mere miles from where I was born. I awoke to the sound of traffic below – it was 4:00 AM. It was going to be another long night before I started seeing the light, But I was a million miles away, in Cosenza, on the road to Bucita, in Calabria.

It’s often hard to try and understand why certain pieces of the puzzle are scattered on the table as they are. This week, I found myself walking around the Hollywood Forever cemetery, looking at gravestones. One of the first things we did when we walked into the little Calabrese town was to go into the cemetery and look at the names. The immersion into life (and death) of Calabria forged a life of wine and service in wine. Today as I walked around Hollywood Forever, visiting the graves of Mel Blanc, Rudolph Valentino, and innumerable unknowns, I thought of the symmetry. Not one mile away, I worked for a time after I got back from Calabria, fired up with food and wine and family. Later in the day, I’d attend a wine dinner in an Italian place specializing in Southern Italian wines, with the promise of a rare wine from Calabria. Looking back now, I wonder how these seemingly unrelated events weave into a life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Calabria: The Goddess and the Scoundrel

Settling into Cosenza with my little American family that I dragged from Greece to Italy, our little hotel seemed empty, save for a handful of women who seemed to be staying there intermittently. I thought it odd, and asked my wife what she thought was going on. One of her eyebrows lifted and with a twinkle in her eye she said, “I think I know why they are here.” The year is 1977.

Italy has a particular connection with women. In one way, women are revered, so much in the South that the ancient cult of the Goddess, Diana, et. al., has controlled the cultural creep through the millenniae. It only takes a little stroll through a church or coming upon one of the many country shrines to Mary (Athena, Diana,etc) to know the prime energy force of humanity is driven through the female energy.

On the other hand, women are treated like lesser citizens at best, whores at worse. It is only recently that the widespread practice of honor killings has stopped, or ceased being reported.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Calabria: Wild at Heart

Unbridled in ways I had never imagined. Verdant and abundant, dripping with the stuff of life. If the gods ever stepped down from Olympus and they didn’t go directly to Athens, they headed to Calabria. Anyone who has ever stumbled into this region know Calabria is full of the raw material that makes life and the life of plants, grapes, eggplants, tomatoes, garlic, squash, you name it, this is the place to be.

And so it was the first time I arrived to this place, to Cosenza, from which I would fan out and explore the wild heart of Italy.

Where Sicily is philosophical, Calabria is emotional. When Sicily inspires with words, Calabria draws me out with music and dance. Sicily is where I look for strategy, for planning, for the chess game. Calabria for the dance in the darkness across the fiery coals.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Palermo: One last stroll before leaping

La Vucciria and beyond...

I love the legend about the Sicilian philosopher Empedocles, who at the age of 60 leapt into the abyss of Etna. In the summer of '71, who knew a mere 40 years later one would find themselves standing on a similar precipice? A year later at the base of Mt. Shasta in Northern California in a Zen Monastery a retired restaurateur would repeat his favorite Zen koan, “Nothing above, nothing below, so I leap off.” Time is no longer linear, but stitched together perfectly for this traveler.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Palermo: It’s now or never

“Se Non Ora, Quando?”

I was young, but there were younger. And now they like to think they run things in Palermo and Sicily. And sure, they should know better in places like Padova and Modena. Italians should be running a fairly smooth country by now. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Italy is stuck. A generation of endless childhood, contrived by a previous generation of folks who ran things expecting entitlements. Like retirement money and health care and sex with multiple partners, 20-30- 40 years younger. Italy is mired. How, when the country is in a mess like it is, can things still happen and people still take the month of August off?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Everything's Bigger in Texas - Including the Italian (Wine) Expo

From the "are we having fun yet?" dept.

"Grappa Joe" Kemble - the "brains and the bag man" for the highly successful Italian Expo held every year in Houston

“What’s with you and Palermo?” my pal Giulio asked me. I reckon it’s time for a little divertimenti, so while my Puccia obsessed pals in Apulia kill me with the food shots, I’ll take a note from that play book and put down the serious conductors baton and get all light and fluffy on you for this Sunny Sunday in Texas. I’ve got the top down and a trunk full of Franciacorta and am on the Italian wine trail in Texas for the next few days.

Huge kudos to Joseph Kemble and the fine folks at Specs and the Italian American Chamber of Commerce for another great Italian Expo in Houston. And a huge Grazie to all the Italian wine partners who made the trek from Italy and all over the USA to show the Italian wine love to Joseph and his company. It means a lot to me and the folks who sign my checks.

Happy Sunday y’all – Drive Safe – and remember – don’t drink (or text) and drive, ya hear? Enjoy the glam shots below...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Palermo Underground

Another sleepless afternoon in Palermo. Tossing, the noise from outside on the Via Roma. The smoke, the heat, the life outside waiting, waiting for me to walk among the living and the dead. All of Palermo is throbbing to the heartbeat of a distant Etna. I can feel the heat, searing my youth with its eternal flame. I must get out of this room.

Again, slipping out. Taking the stairs down the four floors so as not to disturb any family with the sound of the ancient elevator. The man guarding the entrance to the family compound on Via Roma sleeps in his chair by the gate.

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