Sunday, December 31, 2023

Walking on Frozen Water

“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is bitter, say thank you and grow.” — Shauna Niequist

Often, I sit down at the desk here and just start typing, as I am doing now. And then the words appear, maybe making sense, and sometimes not so much. After eighteen years doing this, at least once a week, often more, I’m resigned to seeing where it takes me, and you, if you’re still with me.

About 85% of you will not make it to this sentence and new paragraph. So, it goes. We want it in small bites, and we want the punch, the energy and the electricity right from the get-go. No time to waste.

Knowing more acutely about that aspect of time at this point in life, I empathize. There is precious little to waste.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

We’ve Come So Far, So Good

Looking back over the past year, if I were to assess it as a grape-into-wine harvest, I might say this:

We started with a late but mild spring. Rainfall was average, with little to no hail or tornadoes. Once summer arrived, in June, the heat went up and stayed there for months. And months. And months. For humans, as well as grapes, it made for a difficult growing season, as there was no recovery available during the night. Often temperatures never went below 90⁰F, even at midnight! It was a brutal summer, the second in a row.

Still not as brutal as the summer of 1980 or even 2011. In 1980, it was just plain hot for hundreds of days, temperatures over 100⁰F the whole time. And 2011 also had extreme drought. Thousands of cows died from lack of water and relief. So, 2023 wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

And if a wine were to come from a harvest like that?

Sunday, December 17, 2023

What do you call home?

Having migrated to Texas from California 45 years ago now, I have been occupied with two things: the next chapter and the meaning of home.

Years ago, I read a book, Gods, Men and Wine. Somewhere in it there was a passage about how humans and grapes traveled together through time and history. Making home where they landed and hopefully thrived. Italy was surely a good move, for both grapes and humankind.

I’ve wondered if 45 years has been enough for me in Texas. And I’ve gone to other places to research uprooting and transplanting myself. It’s getting late for these old vines, to be sure, but what if? I grew up in California and spent my early years and most of my youth there. I loved it. But that was then, and the California of my youth no longer exists.  To quote Yogi. “Nobody ever goes there anymore — it's too crowded.” It’s also too expensive now.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Where in Heaven's Name?

This past week I’ve been racking up miles across the great Southwest looking for the future. The journey has taken me to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place I hadn’t been to in more than 25 years. It used to be a place I went to often, for work and for play. I even went there once for a honeymoon. So, there are plenty of good memories in that place.

This time, while on other business I managed to go to a few wine shops and restaurants. I was happily surprised to see Italian wine thriving there. Mind you, you could fit Santa Fe into one of the new developments in Dallas or Houston. But the place attracts artists, intellectual and the very well healed. Some of the folks in Santa Fe have another home in Tuscany, from the conversations I was privy to. The Italian connection is alive and well.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

It All Depends on You

Jackson Pollock Salmon
It is so very entertaining observing from the edge of the river. Swimming along are the young fish, all bright and shiny and determined to show the world just what great swimmers they are. And aren’t they beautiful? Along with that, regulated by the river and depending on the fish, they might just be swimming somewhere to save their species, as members of their group have done for countless generations.

Likewise, it is a similar swim, on land with the up-and-coming crop of wine tradesmen and women. They’re all suited up and shimmering in the bright room, say, at a wine tasting. I love to study their movements in the room, who they talk to, what they talk about, which wines they are drawn to, and the people they connect with. We all did it, consciously or otherwise. It’s part of our humanity.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Right Time to Open That Bottle

The clock of time is a wild child...” - Priyansha Vashi

Lately, as it seems I have a lot more time on my hands, although it is somewhat abbreviated compared to 30 years ago, I often muse upon the logistics of when to open a bottle. During the recent holiday, I wanted to find something red and with a little bit of age on it, maybe 10 years. Along with that, I needed a crisp fresh white wine to complement the foods we were serving along with the preferences of the other folks enjoying the wine with me. Both wines needed to be opened at the right time. In the case of the white wine, that was a little bit easier. But in the case of the red, a 2013 Barolo, I wondered just what I might be getting myself into. No, not anything dramatic. More of a desire to pinpoint the right bottle at the right time kind of thing. And if it didn’t work, well, there are plenty more willing participants in that cold, dark room, where they huddle in peace waiting for their moment to shine.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Pivoting While Whirling

Recently, longstanding and noted wine bloggers have been declaring. Things like:

“I don’t suppose I have many of you checking this site daily for updates…” - Vinography

“I have in fact been blogging without a break about every two weeks for more than a dozen years now, and I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to feeling a little stale at it…and (will) take a brief sabbatical from this blog” - Tom's Wine Line

“…the blog will end its 16-plus year run on Jan. 15…sadly, I don’t think it’s relevant anymore.” - The Wine Curmudgeon

And while I have noticed the world of blogging in general doesn’t seem to have the oomph it once had in the world (it’s no longer the bright shiny thing in the corner) my take on anyone who might be having an existential moment (we don’t need another crisis) in regards to their relevancy is an optimistic one.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Most Important Wine Harvest of All Time

How many times have you read it? The harvest in process and the ensuing data regarding the weather, the quantity and the quality that inevitably leads to an initial prediction that this year will be the wine of the decade? Wine of the century? Greatest of all time?

Recently I looked back over a slew of articles, going back forty years, and read something similar to that. At the time, I’m sure many of the journalists thought, indeed, that they were reporting an accurate assessment.

What I find curious, though, over time, is that the “lesser” vintages, the ones not thought to be so great, actually delivered wonderful vinous experiences. That probably indicates that my interaction with the wine might have had less to do with the climatological conditions of past than the present conditions of my perceptual and emotional being.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Remember Me? I'm Your Brother

From the archives: Grappling among the Offshoots ~ Gaglioppo and Nerello Mascalese

I’m the one who played tag with you and listened to you sing and play the piano. I’m the one who fell, more than once, sometimes just to the earth and sometimes out of sight. I’m your brother.

In the vineyards, when the grapes were full, you called from afar to pick the ripe ones for wine. You made pasta and poured red wine and gave shelter for the time. And when the harvest was over you bid adieu, until the next time you were in need. You paid just enough to make it through the winter.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Bidding Adieu to a Longtime Friend

Lately, on the blog and IRL I’ve been opening up elderly bottles from the wine closet. Part of that stems from an analysis I did of the wines in the closet, and found that 25% of the wines in there were over 25 years old. While that might be magical words for some wine collectors, to me it caused a sense of dread on two fronts. Firstly, that old wines tend to get even older if not opened. And as we see from elderly humans, not all get old in the same way. Secondly some of those wines 25 years or older (especially from the 1990's) I remember putting them in there on release and wondering when and if they’d ever be ready.

Well, did I get a wake-up call on that! Seems that a majority of red wines 25 years and older are either ready, sick or dying. Or already dead. And it happened faster than I thought it would. So much for my glorious wine collecting aspirations from youth. These bottles are like tattoos. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t. But all of them were an oblique reference to an earlier me and my state of mind. Fortunately, an off bottle of Barolo is easier to dispose of than a faulty tattoo of Jerry Garcia.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Interviewing Italian Wine - The Moment When Everything Changed

Italian culture is a timeless and ongoing revolution. Wine has been swept up in that benevolent maelstrom. Thus, it seems like a good time to revisit our old friend, Italian Wine, and interview them. Over several long lunches and a myriad of bottles opened, young and old, this interview has been streamlined for today’s attention span deficient society. However, this process has been going on for hundreds of years. Glad for you to dip in.


Q: Ciao, and thank you for joining us.

IW: Niente, you’re most welcome.

Q: Let’s jump right in. Did you notice an inflection point, a moment of illumination, internal/external, when your awareness changed (when you awoke to the meaning/ direction in your process), was there an event that changed or was there something that took place, internally, that happened?

IW: Wow, a long question with not a short answer. But I will try and explain. As you know, we’ve been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, in some form or another. But realistically, it wasn’t until the 20th century that wine, in general, took on a more rapid evolution. It seems to have coincided with the technological changes the world was undergoing. But there was also a new energy coming from the earth, a novel expression of life, that was being captured in the vines. It was as if the earth was awakening from a long sleep. And Italy is more than blessed to be an epicenter of the world’s energy, or so the Italians like to think. And maybe that is so. In any case, the momentum right after World War II gave impetus to the most rapid set of changes in Italian (and I daresay the world) wine creation. Technology, rebuilding a world that was destroyed by war, economic investment, more rapid and efficient forms of communication and transportation, and the desire to get back to life and living, by the humans, gave us hope in the ground. The long sleep was over and a new dawn was upon us.  So, I hope that begins to answer our question, although there could be a book written about that subject.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Battle for Wine – Symbolic vs. Economic Value

“When, and under what emotional pressure, does a memory shift from being a reliable account of something to a story that we tell ourselves about what we wish had occurred?
– Anthony Lane reviewing the film, “Anatomy of a Fall” 

As with almost anything on planet Earth these days, wine is also experiencing conflict. Mostly from dueling perspectives and accounts about what wine is. Throw in a dollop of virtuousness, a sprinkle of inexperience, a teaspoon of youthful confidence and a cup of the shifting of cultures, and right before your eyes all the tried and true, the mainstays, the fundamental market movers, shift in their relevance.

A young writer friend who I admire put it this way: “I sometimes feel like there’s the actual wine market and what moves it, and then there’s the tiny bubble that a small number of cool kids in NYC and LA think is cool. Which has symbolic value, but actual economic value? Not so much, I guess!”

Sunday, October 08, 2023

What I learned about wine writing from a Black female science-fiction author

When I graduated from college I moved back to the town where I was born, Altadena, California. Unbeknownst to me, one of my neighbors was a budding science-fiction writer. She lived one street above us, and she was on her way to becoming one of the greatest science-fiction novelists of our time.

I was working various jobs. In the morning I would head up the hill to work making custom furniture. After lunch, at our home workshop I would work on custom frames. And in the evening, I would drive to Pasadena or Hollywood where I worked as a waiter. We were starting a family, we were broke, the economy sucked, and I still entertained visions of becoming a great photographer. I had a full plate in my 20’s. So did my sci-fi neighbor, as she was also in her 20’s and no one had any idea the greatness she could achieve. Except for her. She was on a mission. Her name was Octavia Butler. And she changed my world.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

A Remembrance ~ Anisetta in Palermo

revised from the archives... 
I remember that sinuous ceramic floor, on top of the building on Via Roma. Of all things, why that floor? Perhaps the floor was the safe, the repository for all the memories stored up on the roof overlooking Palermo. All the long dinners, late lunches, cups of coffee in the early morning looking out over the water, watching the ships pull into the harbor. Looking at Monte Pellegrino in the afternoon, in the aperitivo moment. For whatever reason, that odd squiggly tile floor pulls me into the shots. Most of these people are family in some way, most of them are now gone. But here it is, Memorial Day, and one of their kin is remembering them, channeling them, looking back into the past peering into the magic mirror of images my grandfather brought back.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Countdown to Zero

There’s this sci-fi novel about the end of the world. In it, the people of earth are trying to figure out how to get all the people on earth off. And with that there are those in denial who think it’s just some kind of fake news. Suffice to say, some get off and some don’t. Those who do are shepherded to another planet, similar to earth, far, far away in another corner of the galaxy. And those who don’t, well we the readers never find out.

That’s kind of how I see Texas now. It’s almost October here, and the temperature today is 99⁰F. And coming off two of the hottest summers I’ve experienced here in nearly 45 years. In other words, I feel like one hell of a slow-braised rump roast.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Celebrating Two Giants from California

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – 1968 Charles Krug and 1983 Far Niente

This past week, in Texas, we've experienced with mixed results. For one, the weather has finally cooled down to mid-80’s, from a summer which saw an endless assault of 100+ degree days. Literally made me sick.

The other, not so welcome, was the expected outcome of the impeachment proceeds of our Attorney General. Acquitted on all counts, but it came as no surprise. Why would overwhelming evidence of corruption and unethical behavior (I watched the proceedings) necessitate an impeachment, when the political landscape here is so broken beyond repair, in my estimation. I’ve been here 45 years now - a stranger in a strange land.

That said, to end the week, a dear couple celebrated their 30th anniversary and we were invited. A generous wine couple I should say, with a rich and deep cellar. So, why not celebrate being alive and well, with maybe a cool evening, regardless of the celebrations that were probably going on (and most likely at taxpayer expense) in Austin.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

A Very Difficult Buyer

Social media has become the sound of a Band-Aid being ripped off with abandon. Last week, a friend of mine who has a wine shop in California posted a funny picture of a car that had landed on a roof, for a friend and colleague. Just something funny. That friend had a “friend” on Facebook, who commented about the poster. “A very difficult buyer.” And then proceeded, in later comments to remark that said buyer also had other enduring qualities of a toxic nature. This from someone in the wine trade, a supplier rep, commenting in a public forum, about a buyer, and not in a positive or affirming way.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

The Invisible Wine

“Sometimes the older ones, the ones that have been in there a long time, they get forgotten. They become invisible."

It had been a month of Sundays since I last updated my cellar list. Over the years I managed to work up a spread sheet. It was far from perfect, but at least it provided me a list with what I had collected over the course of a life and a career in the wine trade. Sometimes it was in multiples – of three, of six, even twelve. And often it was a lone solitary bottle, stashed away for that perfect dinner, or celebration.

And sometimes, a bottle would get away from me. Maybe we only had eleven and drank all of them. Maybe we actually drank the twelfth and I forgot to mark it off the spreadsheet. It happened from time to time. But when I’d do a full inventory, those stragglers usually showed up and were put back on the list.

This wine was different. It was, well, let’s just say, one of a kind. It was old and dark and from an odd vineyard. Not terribly fashionable with the snotty somm set that beat their drums loudly over every pét-nat and grower’s champers, or an ancient Barolo from Mascarello or Conterno, Aldo or Roberto.

No, this was a wine that had gone out of style around the turn of the 21st century. You could imagine where it came from.

But first, it had to reveal itself to me.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Leading From Behind

Recently I watched an absorbing and compelling documentary about the musician, Ron Carter. A giant in the jazz world, Ron is now 86 and still playing. Or working, however you might see it. I was fortunate enough to see him perform in 1968 at UCLA, when he was part of the Miles Davis Quintet. He’s a master, not one who passed a written test or a blind tasting. He mastered his art as he journeyed through time and his world, slowly, often painfully. But he succeeded. In the documentary, towards the end, he talks about what success is:

"I think success involves more than me. I’m sure that I could have been successful a lot sooner and maybe a lot longer. I thinks success is a difficult word to define, because it means different things to different people. Does it mean that you work all the time, is that successful? Does it mean that you walk onto a street and everybody knows who you are without your instrument? Does it mean you get paid on time? Being able to fill a house with my name being the band leader? Call three or four guys and say, ‘Hey, now, I got this gig, can you make it?’ They all say yes ‘cause I called? Is success going into the bank and they know you’re not going to rob them? I mean, what is success? I don’t know. I’m not sure how I would determine success 'cause I'm still trying. I haven’t gotten to the place where I necessarily see me as being successful, given all those possible definitions. Having said that, I like where I’m going. My last efforts have been honest. I have meant every note that I have played.”

The man is 86 and he likes where he’s going. If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is. Or at least, that explanation struck a chord in me.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Rare and precious – And other unlikely juxtapositions

from the archives...
It started last night while I was looking for a bottle of wine to go with the lasagne. I wanted something a bit rustic, not too heavy, maybe with some age on it, and red. Isn’t that how everyone does it? Go to your wine closet and pick out something fabulous?

Earlier in the day, at the nearby supermarket, I noticed a display of wine and saw the word Rosatello. Once upon a time, that meant a lightly dry rosé wine from Tuscany, long before “that” was famous. Now it means sweet, red or rosé, still or fizzy, depending on which bottle is presented. But someone shopping in this supermarket would probably get a bottle of either, to go with their lasagne.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sicily ~ The Oldest Kid in Italy

from the archives..

Ed. note: Prescient this post was, in 2014. For when I next went to Sicily in 2016, I indeed was in a pretty awful car accident that sent several of us to the hospital. Knocked me unconscious and broke a few ribs and cracked my skull (again). A produce truck ran a stop sign, a sign that had fallen to the ground and was not seen. The conspiracist in me might say I was targeted by the produce cartel in Sicily, ha-ha! Nonetheless, I survived. But this tale eerily foretold of things to come, c'est ne pas?


Of all the places in Italy, Sicily is the one that scares me the most. I have cancelled trips to Sicily because I was afraid something was going to happen. I have gone to Sicily when my bones were sore from a car wreck. I have driven a car in the streets of Palermo and Catania, which is questionable for an able bodied person. I have stared at dead people, their skin dry, their eyes missing, their bones falling off their skeletons. I have walked on mosaic floors that were laid thousands of years ago. I have gazed up at ancient temples, the sun glaring back. I have walked the streets in the heat in the dark with a bum leg, with the legs of youth and with the gait of one who is no longer young. And all through it ancient Sicily kept getting younger.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

A Paean to He Who Started with Nothing and Now Has Everything

It’s not every day one can expound about an American success story. Sure, there are scores of them - this country exists for attainment, at any and all costs. Some are dearer than others, and some have cost our collective soul more than we sometimes wished to pay. But pay we do, ultimately. And now, we arrive at another crossroad, this one surely historical, if not now, then definitely in the uncertain future, if it indeed the future will exist. But this isn’t an elegy or an obituary, it’s a celebration of a native son’s success in life. He started with nothing. Now, his cup overfloweth. He has everything.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

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wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

July ~ The Juicy Middle of a Hopeful Summer

July was an amazing month for On the Wine Trail in Italy. The readership is tremendous and the response has been marvelous for a category (wine blogs) that everyone, myself included wrote the obituary for, years ago. It has shown extraordinary resilience. In my case, I think part of the success lies in telling personal stories, not just rehashing wine notes and features told over and over again (Really, how many times do we need to hear the “true” story of Etna, or about the existential crisis in Champagne? Enough, already!)

That said, I am re-listing the blog posts for July here on August 1st, in case anyone lost track of them or forgot to check out OTWTII, where I have been religiously posting EVERY WEEK! Wine blogging may be dead in some parts of the world, but not in this space.

So, here goes, and happy reading:

July 2nd - The Luxurious Privilege of Outrage

I was taking a coffee break recently with a friend, catching up, and he remarked about some crappy restaurant service he’d recently gotten. I quipped back at him, “Yeah, you’ve got it real rough. You’re white, you’re financially set and you’re relatively healthy and young enough. Sounds like your 1%er white privilege is kicking in, cowboy…”

July 9th -  Reinventing Italy  The Italy that Americans forget

Lately I’ve taken to reading excerpts from people’s trips to Italy. Wine country, the cities, the fashionable resorts, the restaurants, the countryside. And one thing has stood out from some of those missives. It is the unique position we all have, the singular perspective of Italy from our own point of view, and how it affects how we see and interpret Italy to others…

July 16th -  What kind of life have you had?  In memory of Luigi Pira and Dino Illuminati

I was in the room next to my wine closet when I thought I heard the murmur of low voices. There was no one else in the house, and it startled me a bit. But as I inched closer to where the wine was, I realized the voices were coming from inside…

July 23rd - Confessions of a Salesperson: Lessons from a Bygone Era

Recently, I stopped in to see an old friend and erstwhile client, an Italian restaurateur. We had a glass of Gavi together and caught up. He told me this anecdote:

“This wholesale rep showed up with (a very large and new Italian supplier) longtime supplier rep friend. We’ve known each other 30+ years. We’re chatting and having fun…  

July 30th - Falling Out of Love with Wine

This week, I was re-organizing my wine collection. There were several cases of white and rosé wine that had stacked up in the utility room, and we weren’t drinking it that regularly, of late. So, I made room in the wine cave for them. I keep a spreadsheet and was slightly annoyed to be adding to the list, rather than subtracting to it. Why, one might ask? Isn’t the purpose of a wine collection to continually add and subtract, refine and replenish...?

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Falling Out of Love with Wine

This week, I was re-organizing my wine collection. There were several cases of white and rosé wine that had stacked up in the utility room, and we weren’t drinking it that regularly, of late. So, I made room in the wine cave for them. I keep a spreadsheet and was slightly annoyed to be adding to the list, rather than subtracting to it. Why, one might ask? Isn’t the purpose of a wine collection to continually add and subtract, refine and replenish? I suppose so, but with our diminishing drinking habits, I fear I might outlive some of my wines. And that, in my view, would be an egregious offense.
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