Sunday, June 09, 2013

A week on (and on and on) the wine trail in California

 A fantastic blogger/judge
Admittedly, not all roads lead to Rome. But eventually they lead to something Italian, at least in my case. This week I spent in California, first in Sacramento at the California State Fair Wine Competition. Three days of heavy spitting ensued. Along the way we had a caper or two.

The folks at the wine competition are great. I love the vibe and I learned a lot about wines made in California that I am underexposed to. There seems to be an enhanced growth of diversity among wine types and varieties. We tasted Barbera, Teroldego, Cabernet Franc, Primitivo, Graciano and Pinotage along with the usual suspects. Cabernet Franc was a huge surprise, a wine that I don’t warm up to so easily. I think we will see big things coming soon about this variety. Stay tuned.

Teroldego and Primitivo were also surprising, in that the ones I tasted displayed characteristics proper to the variety. California is growing up quite nicely.

Dick Peterson (R) with young winemakers Shauna Rosenblum(C) and Jackson Starr(L)
Before I left Sacramento, I happened to spend some time with two of the giants of the California wine industry, Dick Peterson and Darrell Corti. This was the first time I had met Dick and we became fast friends. It’s not often one can talk about old California wines to someone who knows what you’re talking about. It happens I have a few of the wines Dick made in the 1970’s in my wine closet back home.

What I really loved about spending time with Dick, though, was his childlike sense of wonder about things. He doesn’t act like he has all the answers (although he has more than most people) and he keeps an openness that allows for sharing of ideas and in return brings about new ideas and possibilities. I’m hoping we keep in touch; there’s a special project we talked about that could be very interesting.

Lucio and Darrell
Darrell Corti, well, every time I go to Sacramento I seem to end up at Darrell’s house. It’s a hard invitation to get, so I don’t know what I have done to deserve the multiple invites, but I make sure to show up when Darrell opens the door. Through a mutual friend, Lucio Gomiero (Mr. Radicchio USA) who considers Darrell a friend and a mentor, we headed over to the house. Darrell was cooking up something, and Lucio had the wines from his Colli Euganie winery, Vignalta, that he wanted me to taste. We had missed each other at Vinitaly and he drove up from Monterey to make sure we didn’t miss each other again. Now that’s dedication. I sure hope someday we get to work together more completely.

Darrell sat us down and class began with a quinary of Sherry. While he worked in the kitchen with his assistant and friend, Anne Vercelli (a lovely woman) Lucio and I worked our way through the wines. Occasionally Darrell would walk in the room and query us about the different wines.

And then it was dinner time. I have to say I am a little intimidated by Darrell, in that I don’t feel as easy to blog or photograph him. I respect his privacy. But he is a special person and the world should know more about this California treasure. He’s a seminal and historical figure for the Golden Age of California wines.

Lucio (R) with Darrell (L) and Andre Tchelistcheff (C) in earlier days
Lucio’s Vignalta wines are intriguing. The name of the region is difficult for Americans (Colli Euganie) to pronounce and the varieties (Cabernet and Merlot) have to compete with the other worldwide producing areas in regards to quality and price. No easy task. The wines are super; nice fresh fruit, not too much wood, a little high in alcohol but well-balanced. Still, it’s a trudge up the hill of success for my friend. Radicchio has been a much easier (and much more profitable) venture.

One short anecdote. As we were leaving and saying our good nights (way after midnight) I was the last one out the door. And living in Texas, we know to close the door to keep the mosquitos from getting inside (or in Darrell’s case, to keep his birds from getting outside). Anyway, as the door closed, I saw Darrell leap to the door, trying to keep it from closing. No luck. We were locked outside. After a few trips around the house and with Lucio trying to get into the garage for a spare set of keys, we despaired a little. Darrell disappeared, leaving us outside alone in the dark cool early summer night in Sacramento. A few minutes later he returned with a spare key he left with a neighbor. And then he bade us to “go home.” All in good humor. Wonderful night with a master of food, wine and everything else.

Friday saw me heading to Southern California to see my 99 year old mom, who lives near Newport Beach. She was ready, as was my sister. They collaborated and cooked me a “comfort meal” and we enjoyed it with a lively Nero D’Avola "Spaccaforno" Eloro DOC from Riofavara. Kermit Lynch brings this wine into the US and they select grapes from the Noto Valley (where I will be in a few weeks). Juicy, acidic, full of pep and nicely balanced, a lovely wine to go with my mom and sister’s chicken and string beans, “Calabrese” style. Nice to come home and have the women in the family cook comfort food and especially fun to have a great wine ( thanks to my Bro-in-Law, Vance) to go with it.

Saturday mom and I went to see my aunt Mary, who is 95. She’s my dad’s sister and the remaining member of the original nuclear family my dad grew up in. I always see her when I come to town; you never know if it will be the last time. This time was especially poignant, as I could tell she missed her husband and the wonderful life they had. She and her husband Lou traveled the world and really lived the perfect 20th century life. I looked at their life and wanted a piece of it, and they, in part, inspired me to go for what I wanted. Now she says she’s ready for the Lord to take her, she just wants to fall asleep and not wake up. Not the vivacious aunt I knew as a kid and a young adult. But after 90+ years, I think she has earned the right to feel the way she wants to.

My mom is another story though. After we left my aunt, we headed down the Pacific Coast Highway for Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach. I hadn’t been here for her 99th birthday party last month. She also passed her California Drivers test, only missing two questions, so I promised her we would celebrate. And boy, did we ever (right now she’s napping on the couch as she had a “little bit” of wine).

My friend Jonie Karapetian (aka Italian Wine Geek ) alerted the GM and sommelier of Mozza that we were coming. Unfortunately, they weren’t working the lunch shift. But that didn’t slow us up one bit. A trio of appetizers and a couple of light main courses, a fantastic bottle of Vermentino from Liguria, and California on a Saturday afternoon doesn’t get much better than that.

Full bellies, we ambled to the shopping center to find an Apple store to sign mom up for IPad classes. But we drank a little too much wine to walk around a mall looking for the place, so we headed home and took a nap (or at least, I did). When I awoke, mom was making dinner, a vegetarian feast of rapini, fresh garbanzos and eggplant. Another home cooked, comfort meal!

So yes, you have all had to sit though my “vanity” post, those of you who are still here. Hey, it’s been a big week and there’s more to come in the next few weeks.

On June 15th I’m off to France and Bordeaux for the Vinexpo show and then from there I’ll be blogging from the wine trail in Sicily. I plan to make a carousel around Sicily starting in Palermo and ending up in Catania. I have several winery visits lined up and look forward to arranging a few more before I get there. Anyone from Etna or Sicily, let this be a reminder that I’ll be in your neighborhood. Who knows what could happen? I’m looking forward to Bordeaux and possibly even more to my wonderful battery re-charge in Sicily.

More to come.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Marco Trapanese said...

Man oh man! I'll have to track down another Kermit Lynch import. When I saw that piece of paper your mother is holding I thought "speeding ticket". Lots of miles on the odometer, but your mother makes some people I know look like petrified wood. Bona fortuna on your Sicilian Lawrence-Durrell carousel. said...

We bought the Nero da'Vola at the Wine club in Santa Ana. They have a pretty good selection of Italian wines but the choices are always changing.I picked it up and thought we should try it. It was a good choice. It was fun having you, Al, if only for a short time. Sis

Charlie said...

Sicily, got room in your suitcase?


Gary York said...

People keep talking about all this Italian wine from California that is good. All I taste are the ones that are "nice". Still looking for the great ones. I was in Sicily for three days after Vinitaly this year. Very interesting visit to Etna and Benanti, Terre Nere and Passopisciaro. Some great wines. If you are in Taormina you should make a point to eat at Osteria Nero D'Avola. Food was blow you away good. And he had a great list. Owner's name is Turi.

Marco Trapanese said...

Forgot to say cent'anni to Mama Cevola!

Unknown said...

Great recap, Alfonso. It was a real pleasure to have you join the State Fair panel this year, and the photos are terrific. Sorry you missed the Barbera Festival - if not the 108 degrees, but you're from Texas and could have handled the heat with ease.

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks Marco

I know you'll love following the trip in the upcoming weeks

Thanks sis - thanks for the great wine - love you all

Charlie - no room in the suitcase but you can travel along surreptitiously :)

Hey Jeremy - yes - always something cooking @ Darrel's - Lucio is a great guy too

Hi Gary - thanks for the osteria tip in Taormina, I might stop by there

Thanks Mike - great event, I hope to come back next year if invited - really nice wines and great people!

Gary York said...

And if you want some quick eats, little take out place called Da Cristina just off the main square in Taormina. Arincini, pizza and focaccia are simply amazing. We are doing a wine dinner tonight with Passopisciaro and I hope our arancini are close to theirs.

Charlie said...

I travel surreptitiously with every post. My grandfather (who came over around 1908 from Sicily) became a US citizen two years too early or I would eligible for the heritage based dual citizenship, which is too bad because I would seriously consider retiring to Italy.

Unknown said...

happy birthday to your mamma!

Anonymous said...

Dinner at Darrell's is, indeed, a very special treat; to which I've been privileged a number of times over 40 yrs.
One time, for the app course, Darrell served us...canned tuna...w/ a demand that we take tasting notes. Fer gawd's sake...canned tuna!! Turn out, he had just been to Spain and was trying out the AsDoMar canned tuna to consider importing for CortiBros. He did & was the first US importer of it. The stuff was/is danged good.
The food at Darrell's is usually pretty simple,,,but always excellent. The wines terrific and always a learning experience. But the company is always beyond compare.
Darrell is, indeed, a national treasure. I've learned so much from him. A very special guy.

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