Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Gathering of Tomatoes, Olives and Harvest Songs in a Little Corner of Tuscany

The sad and abandoned tomato patch was enduring the last few warm days of the year. Tomatoes were hanging on, with little hope, as the house had been closed for the season. Thanks to the olive harvest it was briefly re-opened to feed and shelter the scant army of olive pickers, of which I was one. After four days of visiting wineries in Piemonte and gorging ourselves on white truffles, these few days under the sun in Tuscany’s hilly Maremma area would be a good way to balance the life. The olives were ready to become oil, but what of the tomatoes?

Federico, one of our band of brothers in the olive harvest went out to the patch and rescued the survivors. “I will make a nice tomato sauce for lunch,” he declared. And so it was, the life of the tomatoes in that scrawny little patch would not be for naught.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What’s Old is New Again @LaScolcaWines

Giorgio Soldati is a very lucky man. Famous for a white wine in red wine country, dancing to the beat of his own drum, making memorable wine against the tide of fashion, and staying true to a vision that he has cast aside in favor of an easier way. And though the years are catching up with him as they do with all of us, he has an energetic daughter, Chiara, who not only has the past emblazoned in her veins, she sees the future and is very much heading towards it with no fear or reluctance. Chiara is one of a burgeoning cadre of women in Piedmont who are a force of nature unto themselves and will not relent to a kitchen and an apron and a basket of laundry. The tale of Gavi is ongoing, and as a white wine lover, I am very much in favor of this continuing crusade.

How many times have a driven through Alessandria and Gavi, on my way to another place? In the past five years though, this has begun to nag on me. “Why aren’t you stopping at Gavi? How is it you’ve been selling and serving the wines of La Scolca for over 30 years and you’ve never made the time to visit the Villa?” No one needed to guilt me about this; my childhood Catholic sense of guilt did the job well enough. Finally, I got off my high horse and made the appointment.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A museum in Nizza Monferrato: the life and times of Arturo Bersano

Carrozza Siciliana ~ Emozioni Tantrici
Often when visiting wineries in Italy they will have a space set aside for a museum. This past trip we visited no less than three such museums. The most interesting one though was at the Bersano winery in Nizza Monferrato. One of a handful of historical wineries in Piedmont that are grandfathered in to make Barolo and Barbaresco, even though the winery is in the Asti province, Arturo Bersano was a forward thinking man and one with many eclectic interests. His Print museum is a fascinating place to linger and peer into the mind of an early 20th century collector. Many passions, a fair amount of personal wealth and power, Bersano is a fascinating study of a Piemontese wine baron. His widow still lives above the building, is past 90, and let us in to look over the dusty collection, which is interesting beyond any of the panegyric attempts we read so often on the internet, often describing the most mundane and insignificant things.The museum, created before the hype of the 21st century, is a trip back into a silent world of thought and emotion. Quite a wonderful experience.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Tuscan Family Reunion

Teresa (Scalora) Borgia and grandson Andrea Farru with picture of her parents in 1921
It appeared to be just a coincidence. We were out picking olives, trying to stay away from the stinging calabrone, when one of the neighbors pulled up in his truck to help. Giovanni owns the sheep farm next door. “My wife’s mother comes from Sicily.” Giovanni came here from Sardegna with his brothers Mario and Bernardo. The terrain is conducive for raising sheep (resulting in great pecorino). Giovanni’s brother Mario also appeared. Mario was more gregarious and joined in the conversation. Mario asked me where my parenti were from. When I told him Sicily and Calabria, he shouted out, “You are terrone, cento percento.” Even in his Tuscan/Nuorese accent, I knew what he meant. He qualified it by saying, “but all of us, we are all terroni in purezza.” Where had I heard that before?

When we delved deeper, we come to find out Giovanni’s mother-in-law came from the same village as my paternal grandparents, Piana degli Albanese. “You must come to Sunday dinner,” Giovanni urged. “Come meet your cousins.” It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"James Suckling is dead"

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times in America. But in Italy, it’s very different story. One would think, from an American point of view that James Suckling committed career suicide when he decided to go out on his own. What we Americans didn’t calculate into the equation are the relationships Suckling has developed, from Italy to France, California to Hong Kong and Havana.

Here in the last week in Italy I have been hearing that he still is relevant to the Italians. More so than Gambero Rosso, which under their present guardianship there is a cloud of concern regarding their impartiality and even their relevance. “No, Suckling has never made any doubt about his motives. He helps us, we help him,” one winemaker replied. “Yes, he has made a good living off of us, but we too, gained. When one of our wines gets 90+ points, we sell it. Maybe not as much in America, but in the global market, Suckling still has pull.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Secret to Buying Real White Truffles from Alba

"Location, location, location" 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tajarin and white truffles with @JuventusFC ~ this time with Barolo

How does the taste of fresh white truffles differ when having them with Barolo versus Barbaresco? In a rare confluence of coincidence, we had the opportunity to gauge the pros and cons, at a private dinner with the Torino soccer team, Juventus, and their executive management team.

Monday, October 15, 2012

“The Last of the ’90 Paje’ ~ The First of the Tartufi Bianchi” – Aldo Vacca

Ovello to Novello redux

Our first stop this Monday on the Langhe Harvest Trail was Barbaresco. Aldo Vacca, director of Produttori del Barbaresco, had just finished the harvest and the wines were fermenting. I’ve never seen a more relieved Aldo. “2012 harvest is safely tucked in the tanks – let’s go eat lunch.” Not one to argue with Aldo when his winery is across the street from one of my favorite trattorias in Italy, Antica Torre.

Over an impeccable plate of carne cruda (with no truffle oil, America) and followed by a plate of tajarin with shavings of white truffles, Aldo started us with a bottle of his 2011 Langhe Nebbiolo. If that wine is any indication of the harvest we are in for a treat when the classic Barbaresco is released followed by the crus.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Marziano Abbona Sulfite-Free Langhe Rosso - "No Amphora, No Nomblot, Just the Moon"

Marziano puts an un-sufured cork in it
A wine I wasn’t expecting to try, as I started my lap around the Langhe, was the ZEROSOLFITI Langhe Rosso of Marziano Abbona. After a stellar lineup of Arneis, Viognier (don’t cringe - there’s a story - for later), a Dogliani DOCG Cru, a Barbera from Alba and a host of uber-delicious Nebbiolo wines from Barolo and Barbaresco, Marziano’s daughter pulled out this red wine. “We only make a little of it, to see how far we can try to take the wine without sulfur.” She explained the rites: painstakingly and excruciatingly rigorous denial of sulfuring in the vineyards, in crushing and wine-making, in the aging and in the bottling, including in the barrels and the bottles and even going so far as to wash the vines off after copper preparations. Wow, I’m tired writing this, let alone all the work that went into it.

Kinetic Graffiti and Sunburnt Sicilian Orange Wine in Milan

Near the Porta Genova
How does one explain “orange” wine to friends outside the natural wine cabal? Last night, I had a free night in Milan and met up with a fellow I had been wanting to meet ever since I read about him in the New York Times. Carlo Bevilacqua is a photographer who is of the great tradition of shooters from Italy who witness the world that most of us walk right through. But the world through his lens is a richer place and one he is willing to share with all 100% of us.

One of my favorite indulgences is to wander a place alone with a camera. I slip into my invisible clothes and take to the streets without map, GPS or a destination. I’ve done it in Rome, Venice, Palermo, Naples, Torino, Florence, and not just Italy or the cities. The cities are fecund with the amalgam of the human condition. Milan is a working laboratory for all those little heartbeats that fill the canvas. I’m not sure if the graffiti that infects the city acts as a de-sensitizing buffer or as a Rosetta stone to its greater understanding. As an outsider I find it immensely interesting, a palimpsest of visual imagery that makes me dizzy drunk. And that’s before I’ve even had a sip of wine.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Difference between a Secret and a Lie

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Harvest Trail 2012 - First Stop - Piemonte

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hoja Santa Harvest in Dallas - One Down- Three To Go

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Do you want to be a Master Sommelier? Fast-Track it in Italy for as little as €1044

Alma Wine Academy, which is part of the Alma Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana, whose tagline on their web site is, “the world’s leading international educational and training centre for Italian Cuisine,” claims you too can be a master sommelier.

As unbelievable as it sounds, this school, in collaboration with the Associazione Italiana Sommelier (AIS), is offering a Master Sommelier Alma-AIS diploma. I was alerted to this by a blog post that Josko Gravner forwarded to me via Facebook, entitled, My Master Sommelier Thesis: "Josko Gravner's Ribolla gialla and the orange wines in the U.S. market." 

Monday, October 08, 2012

Columbus Day in America and Corruption in Calabria - 100 years later

I’m not sure why my grandfather from Calabria initially left the region without his wife and son for America over 100 years ago. I know where he came from, Reggio Calabria, there had been a massive earthquake. But where he lived with his wife in Bucita, it was away from the city, the corruption and the terremoto. Maybe he was looking for new opportunities, following in the path of Columbus. Maybe he just wanted to get away from it all. I know the feeling.

100 years later, folks in Calabria are facing continuing corruption and a retreat from the promise of affluence that Italy, north of Rome, has had greater access to. An article in the New York Times reports the latest trials and tribulations from a part of Italy I love and am tied to, and which causes me no little anguish. Friends of mine who live in Calabria face these issues daily. One friend told me,"We have to mark our steps very carefully when we walk out of our home. Calabria is more like Syria than Siena.”

Saturday, October 06, 2012

What the world needs now is better tasting wine

“The natural wine movement is for culturally affluent Americans with too much time and money on their hands,” remarked an overheard Italian who is more concerned with larger, pressing issues. Hard as it may seem for proponents of the instinctive wine cabal in America, right now Italy is struggling with a crisis of economics and a larger, existential confrontation of identity and direction.

“Everywhere you go, people talk of the ‘crisi’ in our everyday lives. The cost of energy, of food, of transportation, of looming taxations and many Italians fear the shadow the European community ministers have cast over our country will spread even further.”

Friday, October 05, 2012

No more talks with Catholic wine rebels: Vatican official

Thursday, October 04, 2012

A full-bodied approach to natural wine-making

Open topped fermenters lined by animal pelts, amphorae, concrete eggs – what else? If some folks have it their way, they next wave of grass roots wine-making will be done in recycled Etruscan sarcophagi.

It’s not that far fetched. Etruscan stone coffins litter the Tuscan countryside, making it difficult to develop the land when they are discovered. Being wine country, Tuscany has a ripe opportunity to cash in on eno-tourism. Winemaking, from the cradle to the grave.

One observer was noted as saying, “This is win-win for all. We can’t move the things. And many of them are resting in underground caves. It would be the perfect place to make small-batch artisanal wine the likes of which the Georgians, the Friulans and the French terroirists can only dream of making.”

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

No two tastes for wine (or women) are alike

These gents are about as far away from each other as anyone can be. One is an American country singer and songwriter and the other was an Italian filmmaker and poet. Some folks like one and not the other. Some folks like them both. Some hate ‘em equally. So what?

The “so what” is, there are tastes in art and food and film and song and woman and wine and everyone’s tastes aren’t the same as everyone else’s. And if you read about something and then try it and don’t like it, don’t worry about it. Move on.

Didn’t like the recommendation? Keep moving. Try another one.

I’ve been trying scads of wines from Abruzzo this year and thought there was one benchmark wine I would always put at the top. Know what? I tried a few others and like them as well or better.

There were also one or two I didn’t like. Couldn't enjoy 'em. Wouldn't sleep with them if they were the last women on earth.

We can have different tastes in wine (and women) from our friends and colleagues, even from the experts.

Hey, I still like Merle and Pasolini though…

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