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?
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