Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bi-Coastal Post-Retirement Italian Wine List Report

In the last two weeks, I’ve been on both sides of the northern corners of America. It must be my busy time of retirement. And it appears the demands of time upon my schedule will be like this until the end of September, when I can really put my feet up and read a book by Ursula LeGuin or Philip Roth again.

Odd, that I’d mention these two writers, as I have been scouting around their respective regions, the Pacific Northwest and NY Metro. The weather in both was cool and pleasant, in contrast to the already balmy and searing heat of a North Texas Spring that has been hijacked by Summer. Both areas abound with plenty of natural beauty, but also with enough of an urban presence to give the Italian wine lover a place to go to, and with a wellspring of choices from the Italian wine palette.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Can (or Should) a Wine Be Life-Changing?

The Flying Wallendas
Life-changing. It’s a pretty tall order. I’ve had some things that have happened that were life changing. Two years ago, almost to the day, I was in the back seat of a car in Sicily. My pal, Eric Asimov was driving. We had just finished an assignment for the NY Times (he the writer, I the photographer) and were heading to the Catania airport. Then, out of nowhere, a somnambulist in a vegetable truck ran a stop sign, T-Boned the car and knocked us unconscious. Out. Just like that. Life-changing.

When my wife Liz was in the end-stage of Multiple Sclerosis, on her last day, as her life energy slipped away and she died, that was life-changing. For both of us. And while she bore the greater brunt of that experience, it changed me forever in this life.

When my son Rafael was born at home, and the mid-wife didn’t show, and outside, storms were raging and lights were flickering on and off, it was also a life-changing moment. To see life appear in front of you, under candlelight, is one of those life-changing events. One I will always be grateful for.

So, can, or even should, a wine be a cause for a life-changing event? A mere wine?

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Getting All Caught Up in the Tangle of this Grape Thing

It’s 4:00 AM and I’m staring at the ceiling in bed, eyes wide open. And I’m thinking about wine. Wine, wine, wine. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was supposed to be retired, and to move on, to putter in the garden, travel a bit, to ply about in the darkroom on my photo portfolio, hang out with the animals, ride my bike, and get off the freeway of the wine world. And this work thing. I’m still trying.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Long Green Mile – An Enduring Life in Italy

It is not without the slightest tinge of envy, that I read the many people who work so hard to taste wine, write about it and share their notes with others as to the color, the aromas, the taste, the feel, the quality and ultimately some kind of appraisal. Somewhere along the line, that chromosome dropped out of my being. Instead, I have been sentenced to walk a long green Italian mile, camera in hand, occasionally with wine glass, maybe even a pencil and paper. But I fail the written test, ultimately. This thing is too big, too much of a thing, for my little brain to adequately quantify. I will never be a Cernilli, or a Galloni, or even a Suckling. I am too distracted by the movie that is constantly flickering in front of me. And in front of me is often the boundless array of nature, in which wine serially steps in front of the camera and makes its brief cameo.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Grand and Beautiful Italian Dilemma

I’ve been in Italy for three weeks now. It has been more than 40 years that I have spent this much time in Italy in one, uninterrupted period. As a result, my perspective on Italy is shifting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Valdobbiadene: The Spirit Center of Italy’s Wine World

A million years ago, KPFK in Los Angeles aired a story about the Rolling Stone performer, Brian Jones, who found a tribe of master musicians in Morocco, that he became very close to. Jones was searching for the beginnings of music on earth, and it was his realization that the musicians of Joujouka were a large part of that story, embodying a tradition of music that went back hundreds of generations. It was a tale I never forgot, so much that I longed to go to hear the music myself. But life, la vita, found another way to divert me in my search for something rare and ancient, towards my own tribe of the vine.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

From the Archives: Pivot or Persevere

(Traveling now and am thinking about this subject, first posted in 2011 and which will have a follow up post.)

Pan di sudore, miglior sapore

The messages emanating from the Italian peninsula in recent days have been ones of concern for their future and whether or not the average Italian will be able to live a life as their father and grandfather have. The reality is that the life their father and especially their grandfather lived wasn’t a bed of roses. Funny how the human mind forgets history so fast. Thankfully the human heart is there to redirect the course of one’s life. And in the average Italian’s life here is what I see.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Starting Your New (Dream) Life in Italian Wine

Dateline: Barolo, Italy and Ian D'Agata's 1st Indigena Symposium

Let’s say you’re 25, finished with formal schooling, looking for a path in life to follow. Let’s say you are in a developed (or developing) country, where the economy is growing, and people are beginning to have time for things beyond the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. And let’s say you live in a town or a city where the population is growing, even burgeoning. And you want to stand out in a crowd and carve out a life of meaning. How in the world does Italian wine fit into this scenario, you say?

For people who think they might like to find their future path on the wine trail in Italy, and speaking from a lifetime of experience in this matter, I’m going to share with you, not so much my singular experience, but a pathway that was not unique to a young man in America in the 1970’s. it could equally apply to a young woman in Shanghai or middle-aged man, starting all over in Copenhagen.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Prosecco: What it is and what it isn’t

Of the epiphanies I had at Vinitaly this year, one of them was over Prosecco. Watching the Prosecco phenomenon over the last 25 years has been one for the books. As I have written before, somewhere in this blog, one of my first encounters with Prosecco was to find a pallet of the stuff in the corner of a warehouse, wondering what the heck it was. What it was at the time, was more frizzante (although the product was so old, it had been “stilled”) than what we now know Prosecco to be. But enough of the rear-view mirror stuff, let’s dive in.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Vinitaly 2018 - Impressions and Epiphanies

For my first time in 34 years, Vinitaly was an exploration of a different kind. While, previously, I have attended as a tradesperson, now I am free to go wherever I want. Thanks to Ian D’Agata and his generous network, I went to in-depth tastings, enjoyed lunch, sitting down, like a civilized human being and had access to the best bathrooms at the fair (not a small thing). But the real epiphany was what I stumbled upon, wondering as I wandered where my feet led.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Italy as the Starting Point on the Journey to the Center of the Wine World

For years, the Italian winemaker has sought to please the global wine lover with a spectrum of flavors, from the rustic and feral to the refined and bridled. Much of this comes from our inborn desire to please. Imagine a highly-trained opera singer, like Pavarotti, crooning Neapolitan folk songs. A bit below his station in life, people said, when he did. But boy, did the masses eat it up. Italians live for love and approval, at least from where I perch on the tree of life.

So, what if the Italian winemakers have, with all their energy (male and female) in the last 60 or so years, created a model where they no longer need to mimic to please, but in which the world now spins on their axis? Bear with me, this is a bit of a thought experiment, but also a way to perceive another way in which Italian wine and culture, by extension, could be a Tesla coil of sorts. And how, you ask? In the way in which we go about perceiving, tasting and even evaluating wines from around the globe, doused by the ablution of Italian wine.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Reorganization Man at the Dawn of a New Age

We’re only a week into this next chapter, and I’m bushed. And I’m also relieved and excited, like I just crossed over on a tightrope, without a net, to the other side. Now what? Well, the now isn’t so much a “hurry up” as much as an “OK, let’s see where this road will take me.”

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Parting with the shadow to pursue the substance

Eo Romam iterum crucifigi

How easy it is, these days, to give in to the dark and destructive tendencies which seem to be roiling the bipeds on the spaceship. What is the best way to say goodbye to some (if not all) of the constant haranguing that is filling up our cup these days? Is there a path out of the shadow, towards a more meaningful purlieu? I have spent the greater part of my adult life in service of something, someone, whether it is family or company or the other. Serving something. I am now at a juncture in my life and the sign on the trail clearly says, quo vadis?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

How Influential is an Influencer?

From the Navel-gazing Observatory on the Italian wine trail

Recently, I peered into the petite armoire of a colleague in wine who passed away a few years back. I was looking in on her husband and had time to dig around the wine collection. What I found was a cornucopia of disparate bottles - some deeply iconic wines, and some which just happened to find themselves ensconced in the little closet along with the rest. There were “unicorn” wines in there by the boatload, and there was a bevy of unadorned wines as well. It sent me down a rabbit hole, wondering “Why do we long for what we long for?”

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Six days in an Italian jail

A story inspired by real-life events...

What would you do if, all of a sudden, you couldn’t drink wine? If the forces of destiny didn’t allow you the freedom you had become accustomed to? To go where you want to go. To see who you want to see and to eat and drink what you want to?

For those of you who have experienced Italy, whether by living there or by visiting, one of the great things about the place is the access to beauty in its many forms. And isn’t beauty a piece of the truth? To sit on a table next to a vineyard, with light spring weather, cool but not cold, and a breeze which is bringing in pollen and butterflies and sand from the Sahara. To tear apart a fresh loaf of crusty bread, to have a platter of salumi and cheese, and a bottle of fresh wine from the nearby vineyard. Things many of us take for granted. To be able to walk out into the field, to be able to sing, to dance, to hug someone you love.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

My (Oh, So Superior) Wine vs. Your (So-So) Wine

from the archives...

Three weeks on the road, driving across Texas - Dallas to Houston to San Antonio to Austin to Dallas - there has been time to talk in the car with my travel mates. We go into a city and see clients, and then get in the car and head to another city. In and out. Over time patterns emerge. Here is what I have seen in these days.

Whether the person you are going to see is a seasoned veteran or a new-on-the-scene wine buyer, they all have opinions. If they are older, they often have a punch list of preferences by which they evaluate the Italian wines we are setting in front of them. If they are the new crop, they too have their list. How the two different types fill out their list is quite different.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

In Search of the Untamed - Is it Too Late for Italy?

In a lifetime quest to uncover every inch of Italy, what I have been looking for lately has been a return to something I found very early and didn’t know just how important it was. And that is the secret life of the wild, the feral, the untamed. Sure, fifty years ago, it was easy to walk down a street in Pozzuoli and see an Italy that was pretty much characteristic at the time – chaotic, noisy, bustling with life, kids running after the tall, lanky Americano in patched jeans and a funky t-shirt, back packing across his ancestor’s lands with a camera. It was everywhere. But is it still there, somewhere?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Wine for the Rest of Your Life

“As wine ages, sometimes it goes into this period, let’s call it a hiccup, in which it is not this robust, vibrant, hunk of a wine.” - I wrote in my notes, years ago, about a California wine, (It was a 1976 Jordan Cabernet). The ’76 was Jordan’s debut wine, and at the time, it caused a stir in the marketplace, for it was juicy and bold and sexy and drinkable. In those days, a premium Cabernet from California was rough and tannic, a built-for-the-road kind of wine. Not necessarily an early-drinker, which is now all the rage (and a PR’s person’s catnip). Jordan went on to make many vintages (still does) and their style evolved, morphed, changed with the times. But that ’76, when I had tasted it and written it up in my log, was in a valley, trapped in the fog of its winter.

The wine came out of that fog and further evolved. In fact, the last bottle I had, must have been 20 years ago, was mature, velvety, and still delicious. The crocus bloomed.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Snapshot of a Twenty-Something – the Somm in the Sky

…my very own walk in the clouds

This week, many of the great palates (tongue and minds) of wine descended from their perches to land in Dallas, to judge at the Texsom International Wine Awards (TIWA). There are not enough reasons to make Dallas a destination, in the wine world, save for the commerce. But twice a year, master sommeliers and masters of wine, along with some of us mere mortals, convene together to plow through an amazing array of wines from around the world.

I’ve been judging at this event for more than 20 years, having first been invited by Rebecca Murphy, when she ran it as the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition. As the world of wine has expanded, so has TIWA evolved into a larger, more international event. And with the plethora of talent that has been attracted to Texas, twice a year, because of events like Texsom, it feels like myriads of Muhammads come to the mountain (or mound) of Dallas.

Actually, to Grapevine, Texas. Yes, Grapevine.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Is Calabria the New Etna?

Bucita, Calabria - 1977 - A Member of the Family
When, in the course of talking about Italy and Italian wine with those around me, in the wine trade, in shops, at wine dinners and among the Italians, we often come around to the latest "hot spot" in Italian wine. Right now, Etna is the darling. And for good reason, many of which I and those better than myself have already elucidated upon. But once you put your boat on that river, where else can it take you, what can you discover, what is waiting for you to conquer? Because after all, isn’t this whole wine thing about what Joseph Conrad whispers in Heart of Darkness? “Come and find out.”

Many of the Italians I have talked to have not visited Calabria. There are all kinds of rationales presented. “It is so dangerous down there.” “It is not an easy place to get to.” “The 'Ndràngheta makes it impossible to travel safely.” “They don’t speak an Italian I can understand.” “Saudi Calabria? No way!”

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Prosecco’s Epic Fail in the New Italian Hotspots in America

What has happened to Prosecco in America? Has it become but a mere commodity, aimed for a populist demographic, with the lowest price now being the main goal? How is it some of the most expensive real estate in the world (Cartizze), with generations of dedicated farmers and landholders, and in a time of the highest degree of popularity a wine has had (Prosecco), that some of the finest producers and winemakers cannot get their wines listed on the up-and-coming Italian wine lists in America? How is it that sparkling wines from Franciacorta, or Trentino, or Emilia Romagna can get those spots, but Prosecco has been relegated to the lower shelves of chain grocery stores? Has success spoiled Prosecco?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Italy’s Unsung Heroes Series – Giuliano Noé

An influencer behind the influencers

The story I am about to tell you doesn’t have anything to do with words or language. Which is odd, because here I am, using words and language. Well, let’s just say this story cannot be limited by words or language, that they are a jumping off ground. An attempt to explain the unexplainable.

I was sitting at a table last fall, in Piedmont, for a symposium on Barbera d’Asti, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Vinchio - Vaglio Serra’s flagship wine, Vigne Vecchie, a Barbera d’Asti DOCG. This last sentence might not mean much to you, dear reader, but to the thousands of souls who have put their life’s work into their soil, and to have it produce, with the help of God, grapes that have been destined to go into such a wine, a Barbera, it is the apotheosis of what almost every winemaker in Italy has been striving for since the end of World War II. I don’t say that lightly.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I Left My Heart in Barbaresco

High on a hill, it calls to me

What is it about a place that marks one’s soul? When a place seems more than recognizable the first time one walks in that place, although one had never been there? And that the spirit of the place infuses upon that soul and being, a sense of belonging, of an intimacy that transcends mere time and place? Such is the effect Barbaresco has had upon me for the greater part of my adult life. And it surprised no one more than myself, this attachment, this passion, for a place and its wine.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Everything I know about Italian wine I learned from the French

Well, almost…

"My favorite" - Jacopo Bacci @ Four Seasons Hotel - Hong Kong."
Bordeaux − I’m [virtually] in the modern center of the business of wine – for the world. Not New York. Not Hong Kong. Not Rome. Bordeaux. Right now, wine experts, critics and influencers, are migrating to this epicenter for wine, to taste wines that are, at this time, undrinkable, and will only be released three years later to the public, before which they will have already been bought and paid for. These wines, the 2017’s, will follow two highly hyped and sought after vintages (the 2015 and 2016), and which was a vintage (2017) that was challenging, at best. Frost, hail, drought, extreme heat, another potential dystopian vintage of the decade. They will sell. And they will be unaffordable to 98% of us. Yeah, the Italians have something else to learn from their French cousins.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

So, You Want to be an Italian Wine Expert?

from the "notes to myself" dept.

We Americans spend a lot of time alone. In the car, in front of a computer, and if one is lucky, taking long walks (or runs or bike rides) in the neighborhoods, in the country or deeper in nature. The monkey mind that is constantly chattering is set aside, and peace, and eventually clarity, arises.

Over the years, my inner Carl Jung has been giving this chat to me, in order to focus my purpose in this livelihood I have been given in the wine trade. It has been an epiphany, of sorts, for me. It is raw and unexpurgated. Proceed with caution – it is not for poseurs.

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