Wednesday, December 28, 2016

11 Years Wine Blogging - On the Wine Trail in Italy – Quo Vadis?

What started out as a journal, a web-log as we called it at the time, has become a journey, now expanding into its second decade. The idea of time as a construct that stretches and takes forever, well maybe that quite ain’t the way it is. But what I do know, in the last eleven years, is “what a long, strange trip it's been.”

From my perspective, smack dab in the middle and below the belt-line of America, I see only the road ahead, the future. If the last eleven years passed in a blink, imagine what the next two, four, eight could be? For wine, and Italian wine at that, it will be great. But what if it is riddled with uncertainty, sitting on lees of confusion and ambiguity? Fortunately, in times of social change, even in extreme cases involving the ultimate breakdown - war - the earth still gives forth. It still rotates, constantly moving through space at unimaginable speeds. The earth really doesn’t care if we are here or not, does not mourn T-Rex or the dodo. It’s up to us to make the right decisions as to how good of a life we can make it on this pretty little water filled orb. One solution: 85-87% water diluted with a little magic from the fermented grapes, a civilized pause for enjoyment, while here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The American Dreamer - From Palermo in 1911 to the United States in 2016

On a Barbarossa class ocean liner, a young man, barely a teenager in 1911, makes it all the way to Ellis Island, by himself. On a ship full of hope and promise, everyone looking, searching for their place in life.

The young man would settle in the west and form a satellite operation similar to his father’s, back in Sicily. He would expand upon the business, and live for nearly 100 years. This is the story of so many of the Italian immigrants who came to America looking for that promise and hope, and opportunity. It was dubbed “The American Dream.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Top 10 Commandments of Italian Wine

With the holiday season fast approaching, and with hallowed respect for Italian wine, let’s take a moment and review the 10 Commandments of Italian Wine.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Bruno Giacosa Retrospective - A Life in Wine


Bruna (L) and Bruno (R) Giacosa, the oracle of Neive, in 2004
Bruno Giacosa has spent a lifetime making great wine. Like the fog that cloaks the many hills of the Langhe, to many he is shrouded in an enigmatic blanket: cryptic, recondite, even Delphian. Impenetrable, to us mere mortals. Mr. Giacosa is a man who talks with his wine, a brujo of Barolo and Barbaresco. Why should we expect any explanation or commentary from him? Are the wines not enough? Does a Rembrandt or a Mozart require a labyrinth of interpretation for their life’s work? Some would say, yes, and there are all manner of academic and commercial industries that have sprung up in service of such explanations. But I think we would be disappointed should we expect this master of Nebbiolo to take the stand in his defense. The wines are – and they stand vigil for him and the energy of his life, which we can experience and enjoy, drop by drop.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Life on Mt. Etna - After the Gadabouts Are Gone

It’s wet and foggy. And some of us are scared. The long days are now a thing of memory. We are steeped in darkness. And all the while the mountain rumbles, all through the night. And all those souls who visited us this summer and autumn, where are they now? Back home in their beds, their comfortable lives, with their brightly lit screens, telling the world what a great place it is here. But they’re not here. Harvest has come and gone. The warm, long days have come and gone. And the Etna worshippers have also come and gone. And now the work for the future begins on this desolate mountain, spewing fire and ash, all through this dark, cold winter of our discontent.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trump's America Beckons: A Challenge for Italian Wine in the Age of Disruption

In two weeks, on December 4, 2016, Italians will vote on a referendum to change their constitution. If electors vote to approve the bill, it would activate constitutional reform in Italy, some say the most extensive since the monarchy ended. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “’If a ‘no’ vote wins, everything remains as it is,’ Mr. Renzi said in a radio interview this past week. ‘In this way, Italy will remain a system that favors instability and backdoor dealings.’” If “no” prevails, Prime Minister Renzi is threatening to resign. If he does step down, most likely a caretaker government will be put in place. Once again, Italians will be denied the right to vote on their leaders. As one Italian friend told me, “We haven’t voted for our government in almost four years, and even then we had a hung parliament,which resulted in this unholy alliance between the center-left and the center-right. We feel powerless. At least you, in America, had the option to vote for your leader – we haven’t had that option for some time now.”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Fanfare for the (un)Common Somm(elier)

Brian Huynh of Gemma in Dallas - photo by Brad Murano
Over the past week, once again in Texas, in restaurants, a wine list was thrust into my hands. “You choose, find us some wine,” my table guests requested. Oh boy, here we go again. The young sommelier at Gemma in Dallas, Brian Huynh, came over to the table to say hi. I imagined him coming over and first upbraiding me for voicing my opinions on this blog, but that isn’t what happened. Instead he smiled and asked if there was anything he could do to help us enjoy our evening. Indeed, there would be questions, but I asked him to fetch us a bottle of Smith Story Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Rheingau in Germany, while we sorted through the menu and made our selections.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The First 40 Years of the Golden Age in Wine

This past week, I happened to come across a copy of the Wine Spectator. I’m an online subscriber, so I don’t often see the print version. But this was the 40th anniversary issue. And it got me to thinking about the last 40 years, and all the things that have transpired, in my world and in the wine world, in that time.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Beyond the Aurelian Walls - Ex Archium

From the Archives - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So you’ve had your Roman holiday. Seen the sights. Taken in the Vatican Museum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Borghese Gardens. Touched the Pietà. You’ve driven on the deserted streets of Rome before the sunrise, past the empty and brooding Colosseum. You’ve had her, Rome. Now what?

As all roads lead to Rome, all roads lead out of Rome as well. Spin the dial, any direction will do.

East? Marche, Abruzzo.

South? Campania, Basilicata, Calabria.

North? Umbria, Romagna.

West? Sardegna, Maremma.

Does it really matter? If you are a trophy hunter, it does. You’d have to go to Tuscany or Piedmont. Maybe the Veneto. Find a stash of Barolo or Brunello, dig in the cellars, among so many Bentleys, parked, waiting to be driven around the table.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Safe-cracking a memory vault in search of the unicorn wine

"Able was I ere I saw Etna"

Memory is an odd bedfellow. Even without the vicissitude of time or trauma it can be a transitory butterfly, flittering about and dropping from time to time upon the landing strip of the brain. Did I really catch that train to Calabria? Did we really eat the stomach lining of a monkfish? Did I really drink that wine?

Over a wonderful lunch prepared by a longtime friend and chef, Carlo Croci, in his restaurant , Bella West, in Ft. Worth and over an embarrassment of riches brought by Piemontese winemaker Franco Massolino, the conversation veered to the past and to long forgotten memories. Carlo and I have been trading wine and stories for longer than we both would like to admit. And along the way, some great wines have passed through our kidneys.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Learning the Joyful Truths" - How wine elders can help today's young wine lovers - Ex Archium

From the Archives - Wednesday February 12, 2104
"I'd suggest that many young wine drinkers do not have access to the great benchmark wines, the paradigms of profundity that are alas beyond their reach financially. They never learned the joyful truths of hierarchy, or to be stirred to their depths by the greatest of wines. They presume on a level playing field in which most things are equally valid. Sometimes this bothers me too. But I think we need to love them, not scold them." – Terry Theise
Life, I’ve learned, is four parts resilience and six parts patience. If the red wine is made well and is allowed to rest in the cellar, the rewards will be greater. And as with wine, why not with the youth who are embracing the life of wine?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What is More Important to Winelovers? The News? Or the Story?

In a recent conversation with Elaine “Hawk Wakawaka” Brown - who started out in the world of wine as an artist and blogger and rocketed to recognition as an evocator par excellence - the idea of the story teller kept bobbing its head on the rough seas of the enoblogosphere. Elaine, if you don’t know her, is a storyteller’s storyteller. People like her are the reason the fire in the middle of the circle came about, many moons ago. Connecting the heart and the soul with the mind and the mouth, so that in the sharing of the words, the listeners (and the culture) become more enriched.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

“We have become accustomed to constant change and instant boredom.” - Ex Archium

From the Archives Thursday, June 26, 2014

"The business of wine buying is being handed over to a bunch of fireflies and their life span matches their attention span. It’s no longer about good or even great wines. It’s all about the next wine. Forget about the last wine, even if it was a quixotically unpronounceable and profoundly delicious wine like Txakoli."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Endangered Wine List in the New Millennium

Old man take a look at my life I'm a lot like you
There’s so much I want to say about what I have observed in the marketplace in the last two weeks. For one, it is the beginning of the O-N-D holiday selling season for the wine business. For another, the last two weeks we have had two, not one, but two Barones in from Tuscany and their estates in Chianti, working in the markets. And to have people whose families have been long committed to wine and Chianti, at that, has been a sobering experience.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The staggering weight of a 1000 year old family tree in Chianti

In a world in which there are so many more pressing issues, the fate and the future of Chianti is not even in the top 100. It’s in a quiet little pastoral zone, off the beaten path, making a product that isn’t essential, which doesn’t register high in the contemporary world and the upcoming generation. Chianti is a relic of the 20th century, a fashion that has been forgotten, and a wine that appears to be totally out of touch with today’s tastes. Inotherwords, the timing is perfect for its resurgence on the world wine stage.

Monday, October 03, 2016

ALT: Etna and Eggplant in the National Press: What I shot and how I cooked it

Eric Asimov (L) with Salvo Foti (R) at Quattro Archi in Milo on Etna
In the last month or so, my life of wine (and food) has ventured outside the constraints of the blogosphere. Consider this my brag blog post, for those who don’t read the NY Times or the Dallas Morning News on a regular basis. In today’s era, the ranks of newspaper readership have dwindled, or so we have been led to believe. Then again, who’s reading wine blogs anymore either? I know I’m reading less and enjoying it more, blog wise.

The Etna (and Vittoria) pieces were written masterfully by my friend and colleague (and Sicilian crash tester) Eric Asimov. I was the assigned photographer for the series. It was a once in a lifetime trip and we went to see a lot of folks we both have known for some time.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Etna and Eggplant in the National Press: What I shot and how I cooked it

Eric Asimov (L) with Salvo Foti (R) at Quattro Archi in Milo on Etna
In the last month or so, my life of wine (and food) has ventured outside the constraints of the blogosphere. Consider this my brag blog post, for those who don’t read the NY Times or the Dallas Morning News on a regular basis. In today’s era, the ranks of newspaper readership have dwindled, or so we have been led to believe. Then again, who’s reading wine blogs anymore either? I know I’m reading less and enjoying it more, blog wise.

The Etna (and Vittoria) pieces were written masterfully by my friend and colleague (and Sicilian crash tester) Eric Asimov. I was the assigned photographer for the series. It was a once in a lifetime trip and we went to see a lot of folks we both have known for some time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Italy that found me

There is a place in Italy where all my memories distill into one. And I was there recently, standing on the balcony of a room overlooking the Adriatic Sea, watching the sunrise. For a west coaster it is an odd thing to see the sun rise in the east. And to look out over a place where there are so many memories, and in a time of my life where there have been so many sunrises. It was a bit disorienting. Italy isn’t something simple, something one can pull out of a tour guide and follow the steps like so many people do when they go to Italy. But this wasn’t just anybody’s Italy. This was the Italy that found me.

Yes, after so many airplane flights, and so many arrivals into Rome, picking up the luggage, finding transportation and getting to my destination. Italy, I keep finding out, isn’t something I have been looking for. It is something that has been looking for me.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Stalking the Wild and Indigenous in the New and the Old World

From Parmigiano to Hoja Santa to Pecorino in less than 24 hours

Hoja Santa Harvest - inspected (and approved) by Jacques Pepin at Paula Lambert's Mozzarella Company
After harvesting what seemed like an endless amount of eggplants, okra and Hoja Santa, it was time to come back to Italy for the other important harvest – grapes. For a week or so, I’ll be hovering around Marche and Abruzzo with camera(s). This is my first trip back after narrowly escaping death in Sicily this past June. For those who don’t follow this blog religiously (and why should anyone us follow any wine blog with fervor these days?) suffice it to say I have been given clearance by the medical profession to travel overseas. The past six months have been most challenging, with the accident in Sicily and a series of throat afflictions that eventually led to a tonsillectomy a month ago. All this as background to recovering and getting back on the wine trail in Italy.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

International Style - An Historical Perspective in Wine

It was late Friday afternoon. The week was essentially done. My son had invited a bunch of his friends over for a cooking party. The local newspaper had been there, took some photos and made some videos of a recipe we were putting together. We had tons of food. And loads of wine. And then the door rang.

One of my young colleagues was at the door with his bag of wine. He’d been invited to join us and along with it he thought to share what was left of the wine.

One of them, A Sardinian red, he was pretty excited about. It was a three grape blend, grapes indigenous to Sardegna. I took a sip. It tasted modern. The wine was fresh and firm, well balanced to my palate, and it had a healthy dose of oak. It could have come from any number of places in the world. That is was from Sardegna neither added to it nor detracted from it. But the kicker was that I really liked it. It was a well-made wine, albeit in an international style. We finished the bottle in due time.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

A day in the life (and death) of Nebbiolo

I had a dream last night. And in that dream I was being taken up a grand conveyance, leading to a large structure. Like something one would see in Napa Valley or Bordeaux. Or Piedmont. And as I got closer to the top I realized my life was ending. I wasn’t afraid, for it was time. I’d had a good life, growing in the daytime, witnessing every sunrise and sunset in this serene place. And where I was going wasn’t to my death, but to my next life.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Italo-American Solution to the Dilemma of Nebbiolo in Piedmont

Self-portrait by Salvator Rosa
How do you handle a problem like Nebbiolo? Piedmont bestows upon the grape any number of iterations within the law to allow it to rise and shine. Among the DOP category (DOCG and DOC - Piedmont has no IGP/T classification) there are 25:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Is the Future for Nebbiolo in Piedmont Under Attack?

This has been quite a summer for Piedmont. Historical wineries changing hands, millions of Euros passing from one family to another, and the popularity of Barolo and Barbaresco never higher. In Piedmont, Nebbiolo is a top contender for indigenous grapes with potential to make great wine and the spotlight is on the Langhe. But its neighbors are angling for some of the attention.

A proposed change to the Piemonte DOC will allow the word “Nebbiolo” to appear and be noted on the label. The folks at the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani feel this will damage these loftier appellations, as this will bring in a wine that could compete well below price for the attention of thirsty Nebbiolo lovers.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.III

Third and final installment of my interview with Rebecca Murphy. This last part is shorter and more conversational, but it does provide a coda. And a perfect lead up to events this weekend in Dallas, Texas, where we are in the 12th year of Texsom. As hard of a ticket to get as Burning Man, but 1,000 souls, for some reason, want to stand in air-conditioned rooms, in business attire, for a long weekend and get their wine knowledge on. Becky, as I’ve written before, paved the way for many folks that will be in these rooms. And if you are a young woman (or young man) take time to find her and say hello to her and thank her. For sure, many of us are seeing far because we have stood upon the shoulders of giants like Becky.


Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.II

This is the second part of an extensive interview I did with Rebecca Murphy. Again, it’s long, but that’s life. The first in this series, The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.I , was well received, so I chose to post the second part. There is a third (and shorter) part coming next week in the lead up to Texsom here in Dallas. I think it is a valuable record, especially to the young women and men aspirants in wine to see one person’s successful (and exemplary) path in the wine business. Becky is a trailblazer and a role model – and there a few out there who could probably benefit with being mentored by her - maybe even starting at Texsom.

Robert Lawrence Balzer and Becky, ca 1980

Something happened once at Arthur’s. Behind the restaurant there was mall area. You had a group of California winemakers pouring their wines. How did that come about?

I said earlier that I wound up being in charge of doing P.R. stuff for the restaurant. Part of it was doing wine events. I think I remember  Robert Lawrence Balzer was one of the reasons for this. And it made other people pay attention because the tasting you're thinking about was with the Sonoma County Wine Growers. I remember meeting Harvey Posert at the time who was working with the Wine Institute and these tastings benefited the local P.B.S. station. These were the ways we did events for people to come to. They were sort of P.R. and educational events because we would have that big tasting. We'd also have a press lunch. There might be a seminar in there somewhere They were ways to get people and the press to notice the restaurant. That's the way I got some writing gigs because I would invite Betty Cook and Waltrina Stovall and Dotty Griffith and Byron Harris (from the ABC affiliate). He would say “I don't write about wine.” And I would say, yeah, I know but you like wine. Come to the event. So I used those events to be P.R. vehicles for the restaurants and to meet the media and got to know a lot of media. And I was complaining that there was no local person writing that was back in the day of the Dallas Times-Herald- Two newspapers in town. Wow, go figure. So there are a lot of media people then. So I would invite them to come to the restaurants and attend these things and complain that there was there wasn't anybody locally writing about wine. Betty Cook is the person who finally said, “What would that look like?” And that's when I started doing tasting flights for the Dallas Morning News Sunday magazine. That was when both newspapers had a Sunday magazine. Both papers had to have a Sunday magazine, it was a competitive thing. As soon as the Morning News bought the Times-Herald, there went the Sunday magazines.

But Robert Balzer at the time wrote for Travel Holiday magazine and gave out the Travel Holiday restaurant awards and Arthur’s and Old Warsaw were always on the list and he would come to town. He contacted us because he would go through different cities with a group of six winemakers. And they were Michael Mondavi and Eric and Phil Wente, Rodney Strong, people like that. Principals from the wineries. And so we would do events with them. And that was again a great way for us to get to know those people and to have them see our restaurants.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Ascent of the Female American Sommelier - Interview with Rebecca Murphy - Pt.I

Rebecca Murphy at Il Sorrento 1974
Last week, with the post, You've Come a Long Way, Baby! - The Ascent of the Female Sommelier, there was lively discussion about the history of the sommelier in America. With that, the role of the female, then, as now, has evolved, changing the social landscape. The wine business has long been a bastion of uniformity – mainly white, mainly male - and one which outsiders often see as an impenetrable boy's club. But there are those who have driven a wedge into it and blazed their own unique trail. Rebecca Murphy is such an individual. I’ve known Becky for 30+ years and have watched her ascent into the wine world to where she is now a revered and iconic force who has changed the history of the wine business in America. Becky started out as a sommelier, moved up to a corporate wine director and then started her own consulting business, which encompassed wine trade events, one of the most important wine competitions in America, and years of writing about wine. Becky, to use a well-worn phrase, is a Renaissance woman. But she is also a formidable person, one who had to fight and defend every position, every dream she had, using the sheer force of her will. Here is part one of a two (or three) part series. It’s longer than the average attention span of a blog reader. But it’s an important story and one I hope, with the help of Becky’s own words, to share with those of you who have the time and patience to endure the length. After all, it is the story of one person’s life in wine – and it took them a lifetime to get to this point.


Where did you start as a sommelier? Were you America’s first female sommelier? Was this your first foray into the wine business?

It was definitely my first foray into the wine business. I don't know if I'm the USA's first woman doing this job, if I'm not I'm one of the first. And I'm pretty sure I was the first woman in Texas. I've been looking through some newspaper clips. I certainly didn't read about other women and when I started I needed a job and I went to work for Mario (Messina of Il Sorrento in Dallas). My first husband I were getting a divorce and I moved back to Dallas because my in-laws were there and they've always been there always been very supportive. I needed a job and I my only real professional experience as a flight attendant. I had two five year-old boys, so that wasn't going to work. And so Mario gave me a chance, gave me the opportunity, to work as a cocktail waitress. And there was a young guy working there (as a wine steward) who was a college student and went back to school after I was there about three months I told Mario that I'd like to have that job and he said, “Rebecca, you can't carry the boxes.” Of course, because he kept the wine up (in the cool room) in the attic. I finally said just let me just let me come in on my night off for a few times and do the job, and if I don't make a fool of myself or you, I want the job. And that's pretty much the way it went.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You've Come a Long Way, Baby! ~ The Ascent of the Female Sommelier

Dallas, Texas USA - 1980 - Sommelière Sharman
When I starting delving into the world of Italian wine at an Italian restaurant as a server, we had a sommelier. She was all turned out in a hot pants tuxedo (required uniform by the owner) and she kept her tastevin busy, clinking through the night, hustling and selling wine, one bottle at a time.

She was a force of nature. Very tough lady. She had to be. Her world was filled with macho narcissists, who had little or no regard for her talent or her strengths. But she was a selling machine.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Franciacorta Guy and his Mission to Win in America

Giulio Galli, enjoying a panino with his Franciacorta, at Il Sogno in San Antonio
What is it like to take on a project like Franciacorta in America, to grow its base? Over the past decade, one man has made that his mission, to win over sparkling wine lovers to Franciacorta. And his efforts have yielded positive results.

I’m sharing some panini and a bottle of Bellavista Rosé with Giulio Galli, the Franciacorta Guy, and we’re talking about his strategic plan. From the information given to him by the Franciacorta consorzio back in Italy, the wines he looks after (as American partner to Italian owner Vittorio Moretti), Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi, account for 40% of the sales of Franciacorta in America. That would make him and the wineries he represents one big bad mother. He’s the guy with a business plan who has worked it for the past decade and, by most accounts, has been successful.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The World Fumes and Spews, but the Wine Business Goes On

Why I got into the wine business

Me during my first visit to Carlo Hauner -
Island of Salina, 1987- A kinder, gentler volcano
Last Friday, while handing out Italian wine maps to salespeople, I got to talking with one of the young ones. She will be turning 30 on the day before me, next week, sharing the same birthday as a friend in New York, arguably the finest wine writer in the country and whom I had the honor of accompanying on a recent journey to Sicily. He just published his first of four articles from the trip, and I was fortunate to have my photographs of Etna published alongside his well chiseled piece, “Etna Fumes and Spews, but the Winemaking Goes On.

Memories have recently been rekindled, one as a result of having that conversation with the young wine salesperson, who is the same age I was when I started in the business. The other, as a result of the recent tragic events in Dallas, which have all of us here stunned and saddened beyond words.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

What I love (and hate) about Sicily

We live in a world where every word can be a polarizing one. In the past week, I have felt the sting of words, and some of my readers have as well. While some see it as a line drawn in the sand, with a duel to the end, I see it as the beginning of a longer conversation. So, I will begin with a volley.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sicilian target practice without a license (or a seatbelt)

One of the intriguing aspects about winemaking in Eastern Sicily, especially around Etna and Vittoria, is how tradition has very little to do with it. While Tuscany is foundering with Chianti and their traditions, and Piedmont is riding a wave of popularity, Sicily, especially Eastern Sicily is in re-invention mode. Oak. No oak. Nerello. No, Pinot Noir. Chardonnay. No, Carricante. Moscato, sweet, no dry. Cement tanks. Inox, Amphora. For those who look at it, Eastern Sicily very much resembles the landscape in which it sits. Busy. Cluttered. Fast. But also in this confluence of things that don’t necessarily harmonize with each other, there is a spark of creativity that Tuscany and Piedmont could find inspiration from.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Etna’s little (and formidable) sister, Vittoria

It would be too easy for casual wine trekkers to bypass the area south of Etna. After all, the wines of Etna are among the current darlings of the wine world. And for good reason. But if one were to step off the mountain and head in the direction of Ragusa, you would find a whole 'nother world there. It would take a good GPS (along with some good old-fashioned analog directions), a sturdy car and time.

Time, because the area is spread out, not as concentrated as the Etna wine region. It’s flatter, warmer, not as sexy, and a bit more entrenched in the daily business of winemaking. As I have written elsewhere, Etna’s Golden Age is long gone, in terms of the influence and swath it once had in the western wine world. Not that we’re setting up funereal march, a “second line,” for Etna. Far from it. But the glory days of old are just that.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Is the Time Right for “Big Wine” to Cast Their Footprint on Mt. Etna?

Rolling down SS120 from Randazzo to Passopisciaro, there’s a modern structure, empty and abandoned. It could be a dystopian bunker, built to survive the ravages of a lava flow from Etna above. Or a nuclear attack. But it’s a winery that nobody wants to talk about. So new, it doesn’t even show up on Google Earth. The structure looks like it was airlifted straight out of Napa Valley. It’s gorgeous. And it’s out of place. Will this be the place where “Big Wine” makes its stand on Mt. Etna?

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Wine Zealot's Survival Guide to Etna

After 30 years of going to Etna, I’ve learned there is a simple way and there is the hard way. I’ve done the hard way a time or two. Simple is better. I’d like to share a few tips for those who are aching to go taste wine on the mountaintop.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Wine in Italy – from a Greek Perspective

Italy is a place of confluence, in the flesh, and in the mind’s eye. One of the mindscapes I reach into, especially when going into southern Italy, is the Greek perspective. Soon I will be in Sicily, which once was considered to be part of “great Greece” or Magna Graecia. The food, the language, the customs, the light - when one walks these paths, the Greek influence is revealed. Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria and, of course, Sicily, are part of the ancient colonies. In the next week or so I’ll be “getting my Empedocles on” ̶  ensconced in the primal slime. I can’t wait.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Aglianico’s Ashes - Stockpiling old wine for a new generation

Pity the poor Aglianico vine, set within the shadow of a volcano whose better days are lost somewhere in the dustbin of geology. Imprisoned in a land that missed out on most of Italy’s post-WWII economic growth in the last 70 years. Save for a few points of light, Aglianico in Basilicata is stuck in a time trap, unable to move fast enough to keep up with Barolo or Brunello and eclipsed by a much sexier (and more violently vibrant) Sicilian volcano and her wines. It’s not a good time to be an Aglianico. But it’s a great time for the collector.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The End of Conspicuous Consumption - A View from the Edge

2016 has taken this one down, and sometimes off, the wine trail. Personal detours along with a professional recalibration combined with an evolving re-alignment of what wine means in our daily life are some of what I have found on the journey this year.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mother's (last) Day

Happy Mother's Day, Mom
photo by Louis Cevola
The Italians have a toast. When celebrating someone’s birthday they say “Cent’anni!” (100 years!) with a corresponding reply, “E uno!” (plus 1!). Last year my mom was able to see that moment come to fruition, when she turned 101. This year, sadly, she won’t be around to celebrate her 102nd. She told me last week, “I’ve had enough, I’m done here. I’m ready to go.” And she slipped away peacefully in her sleep surrounded by loving family members.

It’s hard when you lose someone who has been around you all your life. Even harder when that someone is the one who brought you into this world. But it’s the way things are. It’s man’s (and woman’s) fate.

My mom was a special person to me and the many who lived in her world. She was an extrovert, a tinkerer, a talker and not one to look back. She lived in the present more than most people her age or any age for that matter. She had a long and full life and one which was blessed with amazing health and unsurpassed resilience. And she loved to have the occasional glass of (Italian) wine when we were together.

I’m going to miss our calls. On my way home, in traffic, I’d call her and we’d talk about our day. She was a great listener and an even better sympathizer. She was in my court, she had my back and she loved all of us as if we all were her favorite child, grandchild, great-grandchild, sister, friend or long-lost relative. She had it going on. And on. And on.

And while it’s hard to be morose, for she did have a wonderful life, it’s difficult to imagine her not at the end of the phone line ever again.

Early this morning I was out in the garden, clipping some of the plants and I came to a rose bush I call “Hurricane Elissa.” For some reason I name my roses after people, living and dead. A rose bush that reminds me of my long-passed wife Liz is there next to one I call Aunt Mil. She is between Liz and Hurricane Elissa, who hugs the Rosemary bush. And they soak up the sun and talk amongst themselves. This morning in the garden I "called up" my mom and talked to her. She’s not here in physical form, but she’s still here in my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. I love you and salute you - and I’ll make sure the rose bush (and the eggplant) thrives in your honor.



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Just who are the Italians making wine for?

Alois Lageder
For a wine producing country that makes approximately 25% of the world’s wine, Italy is in a unique position. In 50 years, the market for Italian wine has become globally dispersed in a manner that other wine producing nations envy. Forget about Italian Prime Minister Renzi’s claim of “Our wine is better than French wine.” Italy’s worldwide distribution appears to be a model of diversity.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 100 Day Wine Abstinence Program

Has the role wine plays in our lives become too invasive?

After a five hour drive this past week from Dallas to Houston (a bit longer than usual because of storms and accidents) I rolled into my hotel parking lot. A friend and colleague invited me to a wine tasting – 45 rosé wines. I told him I’d pick him up in 20 minutes and would be our designated driver. My friend likes to drink wine.

Odd, going to a wine tasting in a time when I haven’t yet returned to drinking wine. I taste from time to time, but full-on enjoyment isn’t part of my plan. Yet.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Our wine is better than French wine" - Italian Prime Minister Renzi at #Vinitaly2016

From Ripley's "Believe It or Not!" desk

Photo from Palazzo Chigi Youtube
25 Years ago, writing about the 25th Vinitaly in Civilatà del bere, journalist James M. Johnson devoted ten pages to the wine exhibition. Along with that Pino Khail, editor of the magazine, issued an editorial to the growing problem of too much wine produced in a world of diminishing wine exports. The US had just fought a short war in Iraq and the economy was teetering. (View editorial HERE, complete article HERE, the photos are a veritable who's who of Italian wine in the early 1990's).

25 years later, fast-forward to a new world. Italian wines are growing and are indeed respected worldwide. Matteo Renzi, one of a breed of young, entrepreneurial global politicians, elicited thundering applause from a packed room at Vinitaly when he remarked at a session that "Our wine is better than French wine." Italy also produced more wine in 2015 than France or Spain. And in dealing with the quantities of wine available to a thirsty world, Italy is looking again (to China, not Japan, this time) to help assuage a potential glut of wine.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Wine is not the goal"

From the "Dispatch from Dogpatch" desk

In a recent post from Italy and ViniVeri, a blogger referenced the poet/philosopher/wine writer Sandro Sangiorgi. Odd, in that I have been doing research for an upcoming trip to Sicily and came across Sangiorgi’s Ted Talk in Palermo. It’s one of the clearest thought pieces on wines place in one’s world that I have been exposed to in a long time.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Do you have to “love wine” to love wine?

I remember the first time a woman told me, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” I couldn’t quite understand what she meant. But I eventually got the message; it was break-up time. So when I heard that line the 2nd (and 3rd and so on) time I was more prepared for what was coming.

Last week, a colleague asked me, “Are you still not drinking wine?” It had been six weeks and I hadn’t broken the fast. I answered, “That’s right; I’m still not drinking wine.” Something in me wasn’t, isn’t ready. Yet.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter of the Immigrants – A Feast for the Ages

Over the past month, as my personal fog has lifted, there have been dreams. And in these dreams, many of them have had family who are no longer with us. The Grande Cinema of them all is one which has taken on a life after waking.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

San Gimignano – Vernaccia, Fireflies and the Dark Energy of Hope

The vault of memory stores more than kisses, licks, slaps, bites and stings.

A long-time colleague of mine obsesses over Vernaccia from San Gimignano. A white wine from red wine-dominated Tuscany. He must put it on wine lists. A wine that has been forgotten by today’s cadre of sommeliers, searching for brighter, shinier objects. Something newer, more exciting. Sexier. Oh yeah, just wait, Vernaccia from San Gimignano will be back, as soon as someone under 30 “discovers” it.

In the meantime, before they were born, one spring night, I found myself on a dirt path, walking towards a home. Those of us in our group, my future wife Liz and my friend and importer, Eugenio Spinozzi, were heading to dinner with the Arrigoni family. Pietraserena is a peaceful little enclave at the base of San Gimignano. So peaceful, the film director Franco Zeffirelli used the location to film some of his story about St. Francis, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sangiovese and the Duel of Sex

From the "Hello, is it me you're looking for?" dept.

No one looked, no one asked, when Sangiovese frolicked in the hills of Tuscany with childhood friends, Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbiano and Colorino. It was a simpler time. Sure, there were reports of Sangiovese co-mingling with the Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc, near Florence. Florence was more liberal, less discriminating in who they chose as their partners. But in the rugged country, it was loyalty to long time workmates that cast the pattern. And then along came Tachis.

Chianti was boring. Property values made walking away from historic estates a realistic alternative. Head to Florence, embrace the 20th century, have some fun along the way; that was the pattern. No one wanted to stay back at the farm.

But Sangiovese couldn’t go. Rooted to the land, and as with so many marauders over time, overcome by the international army that was hitting the shores of Tuscany.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Giacomo Tachis and his Legacy of Disruptive Innovation

“One riot, one ranger”

Looking out the window on an early morning in March, leaves are falling from the trees. Spring is pushing the last of the old expressions out, making way for new growth. It’s been a month since Giacomo Tachis died. I have some things to say about his life, now that the obituaries and articles have come and gone.

You had to be there. I mean in the streets. Selling Italian wine. What it was like. What was it like? It was dark. It was gloomy. It was discouraging. The gatekeepers, like Pierre, with his aquiline nose and tarnished tastevin, would see us coming with a bag of Italian wine. They’d put up their hand, motioning us to stop there. “This is no place for you. We are a serious establishment. We already have an Amarone on the list. Go somewhere else with your bag of (inferior) Italian wine.” You think it didn’t happen? Oh, it happened. For years.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Life without wine

Inside the glass, this hurdling liquid, rushing into all the empty crevices, seeming to fulfill a need to order the world around us as expressed in love of wine. But are there those times when wine can be in the way, even a toxic element? Life without wine could be a scenario for more and more of us as we age.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hitting the end of the runway with a bump and a needle

“We’re going to hit you with a low dose of morphine, to help you sleep.” Was I dreaming? After a day which saw no sleep, a hurried drive from Napa Valley to San Francisco, a bumpy flight (and sitting in the last row of the plane) and an even bumpier landing. As I exited the plane and headed for my luggage, it felt as if I had been hit on the side of my head by Mike Tyson.

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