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.

And how different a place like New York City can be from Portland, Oregon, when it comes to what appears to be important in each of those places to Italian wine enthusiasts. While these are only my snapshots, taken within 1/100th of a second, and gathered over a quick couple of days in each city, I came away from both places with a different idea of what is currently important in those places. These are impressions, not dogmatic doctrines. These are what I saw and tasted and gathered, with my senses, and by looking at wine lists and reading and talking to the people around me.

The two cities couldn’t have been more different, in the places in which I roamed. Well, they are, aren’t they? For one, I would probably never have a NY taxi driver talk to me about Barolo and Montrachet. And in an intelligent manner. No, that really isn’t my experience driving in the back seat of those cramped, stuffy, invasive little yellow vehicles that control the city. But Portland, that was de rigueur when I was recently there.

In my several days of walking, passengering, wine-slinging, and shooting with my camera, Portland is my American Piedmont, with old (and new) friends and their wines, like Burlotto, Vajra, Scavino, Vietti, Cavalotto and Giacosa. I salivate over wines lists like Nostrana and Serratto, Renata and Gallo Nero, wishing I lived in Portland, at least during June, July and August. And everywine Piedmont, not just the usual suspects, Barolo, Barbaresco and so on. But Erbaluce, Carema, Grignolino, Freisa show up as well. Did I say Freisa? It all seemed naturally woven into the fabric of the place, like a foot in a well-fitted shoe. Even the natural wine movement has their place on these lists, not separated like they are some undocumented illegals, sequestered in their own little detention center wine lists. They are part of the family, like the dreadlock daughter and the tattooed son. The dreamers live amongst us in Portland.

New York, meanwhile, has moved far beyond the confines of the Langhe. Gone South. They’ve “loaded up the truck and moved to” Passopisciaro (and Bronte, Milo. Linguaglossa. Zafferana, et al). I’m not altogether unhappy that New York wine cognoscenti have gone bonkers for Etna. In fact, one night at Maialino with my Napa Wine pal, Dan Petroski, I sampled an Etna rosato from Girolamo Russo (in between copious amounts of French Grower Champagne – yeah, it’s still a thing) followed by a Grecanico Dorato, Millesulmare, from Sonia Spadaro Mulone’s Santa Maria La Nave. Maialino wine director, Jenni Guizio. Ms. Guizio has moderated and polished a deep list of Italian gems, and her Sicilian (as well as her Piemontese) selections are drool-worthy. But this night she was especially smitten with the Grecanico Dorato. Ian D’Agata identifies Grecanico Dorato as Garganega in his Native Wine Grapes of Italy. It seems Grecanico Dorato loves volcanic soils, whether it be in the Veneto or in the heart of darkness on Etna. While I confess to a love for Carricante that at times rivals my infatuation with Riesling, I love a good Soave. Well, I just love white wine, period. But the Millesulmare drew me into its lair. It was the quiet wine in the busy cacophonous bar of Maialino. And it serenely commended the attention of our rapt group, one of which was an importer, along with Dan and another winemaker, as well as another Etna wine ambassador. Inotherwords, we were transported to Zafferana, sans the crazy drivers.

Would a Pelaverga from Fabio Alessandria have been the forgotten man in the corner, that night in NYC? I rather hope not. But NY has taken on the crusade of showcasing Etna in all her glory. I only wish I could see that level of dedication in my home town, here in the sweaty bowels of America. We still have to contend with those little Napoleons, who never turn away a lap-dance from a Super Tuscan red, in the heat of the summer no less. Ursula LeGuin wrote, “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.” So, for this traveler, both coasts have been a welcome respite from the narrow spectrum we sometimes must deal with in the South. It offers a chance to walk in the cool of the night with lit candle, unconcerned with the shadow it casts, while waiting for the dragons to finish their meal back home.

Random Impressions (from my field- notes):
Note: Natural wine appears to be more integrated in PDX wine lists/culture/ lifestyle than presently it is in NYC, where it is a “thing.” While no city is entirely natural (or unnatural, as in the universe of Bucky Fuller), it appears that places on the West Coast have just had more time to acclimate to the natural movements, food, wine, clothing, etc. (after all, we were resoling our Birkenstocks in the late 1970’s). And while the folks in NY are closer to Italy and have their (supply-line) advantages, the natural thing there is just newer. I say this as an unabashed (and admittedly prejudiced) Left-Coaster. No shame, my NY brothers and sisters. We’re glad to have you on board the magic bus. Now, if you would please, start sharing more of those Etna wines with us, and don’t bogart all the Cornelissen and the Santa Maria La Nave.

Note: the tide of women wine directors in rising, all across the country (yay!) – It is so much easier to talk to women about wine, than so many of the hormonal musk ox’s we all have to deal with in the wine biz. To actually have a conversation, a dialogue, a mini-salon of sorts, is so much more rewarding than the head butting with a highly testosteronized wine buyer, who has a little power (and probably some other little shortcomings). In any case, I am glad to see my Italian wine daughters take up the reins…this is your future…And I am very glad to drink wine from your lists, natural and otherwise.

Note: that Salvo Foti is like a god in Portland…even though Piedmont appears to be, generally, more prevalent. That might also be due to the geographical reality that Portland is thousands of miles further from Italian supply-line than NY, and has no real Italian community (much like Texas) – unlike NY Metro, which is teeming with all clonal strains of Italian ethnicity.

Note: Aspen F&W has become the Burning Man of the Cool Kid Somm crowd… so fun to watch the children dance and swig from the bottles at the magnum party. I must save the Super-8 films to show them one day, when these things become part of their hazy memory.

Note: One of the most kick-ass restaurants in NYC is in Queens, and two blocks from my favorite new Hotel (the Paper Factory). It is a working seafood market (Astoria Seafood Market, to be precise) but you can queue up and pick your own fish (and you better be BYOB’ing too). The Greek family that runs it is friendly (at least they were to me, after I proffered my few perfunctory words of Greek). And the fish and other seafood were awesome. The Greek (Αμερικανός) salad had the crisp, tangy blast of real Vinegar (not that limp balsamic handshake). And the Spanakopita was deelish. Next time I’m bringing wine (and friends) - who wants to meet me there next time?

I will report back more as I will be in Portland and New York in the coming weeks, again and again. Yes, I’m a busy man, now that I am retired and have all the time in the world….

Retirement? Yeah, when pigs fly

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Tablewine said...

What a wonderful post, Alfonso. More like an essay. I'm going into my fifth year of retirement and find the time to read one of its best benefits. As much as we love NYC, the weather became more of an adversary and led to us moving to San Diego. Best of luck in this new chapter of your career. Roland

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