Sunday, May 19, 2024

Engendering Madness - What Price for an Authentic Italian Meal?

Seafood with Cheese - Authentic or the Ultimate Culinary Transgression?
 Over the past few days, I’ve been chatting with a foodie friend who spares no expense when it comes to food and wine. This is a person who will fly to Japan to eat raw fish. He was asking me for my take on some Italian places here in Dallas. One of his comments, in response was, “I’d rather fly to New York and go to Rezdora,” where the chef is a (local) friend of ours.

It got me to thinking about the costs of getting on a plane and going to Italy to eat authentic Italian.

What? Of all the profligate, indulgent, extravagant, privileged, entitled, senseless babble!

Well, as Batman said, “The world only makes sense when you force it to.”

So, let’s run some numbers.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Why “Italian” restaurants in America still don’t get Italian wine - Pt. II

Forging ahead with my quixotic crusade, let’s turn to red wines. I’ll try and be a little more circumspect in my presentation.

While Italy now has a plethora of great wines, I’d like to start with the less patrician and more serviceable ones. I say this because we still have legions of folks who don’t understand the intricacies of Italian wine. They are looking for easy road marks and equivalents. Not always so easy, but doable.

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Why “Italian” restaurants in America still don’t get Italian wine - Pt. I *

A classic Vitello Tonnato in a Langhe restaurant

I know, I know. We’ve covered this already. But apparently some folks out there still haven’t gotten the memo. Are we standing still? Or are we falling behind?

But, falling behind, that’s not news to America. We seem to be sliding in many respects. Still, at my stage in life, most of the critical crises are beyond my reach. An Italian wine list? It might be something I can parse.

This was recently triggered by a new Italian restaurant that opened up in town. Lots of flash. The chef is a food media-superstar and recently went to Italy, and was inspired to come back home and, with the help of an enthusiastic investor, got after it in a big way. No indication, one way or another, that they might have skiplagged their way through the food research.

I don’t wish to pick on any one chef or restaurant in particular, but rather see this latest iteration as a pattern of digression. The food menu, along with the wine list, seems to ramble. Dare I use even a loaded comment such as this: It is my belief that Italian food has been culturally appropriated to the point that some of the items (and combinations) that I see on contemporary menus in America, veer so far outside of the deep-roooted, sui generis pantheon of la cucina Italiana so as to barely be recognizable to those of us who truly love all things Italian.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

“Italian wine is an ocean of storms!”

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Vinitaly 2024 – What went down (and what’s going up)

Luca Zaia (L) President of the Veneto Region
It’s been a few days since Vinitaly 2024 ended. Here are some random thoughts about the Italian wine trade show that is held for four days in April in Verona.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

My Brilliant Italy

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante was made into a TV series. We’ve been watching it here on the island. I have been struck by how many places and themes hit home for me. In fact, I had a bit of an epiphany in its 3rd year. I don’t know how to accurately say it, but it was as if a confluence of memory and observation coupled with an ancestral energy. Like recognizing something I am at first seeing. Anyway, it really moved me to thinking about what it really means to be Italian and have Italian feelings. Especially in the wine world, where we witness all manner of people who position themselves (and their “branded selves”) as experts, capable of influential consequences beyond themselves.

It is a bit folly to watch it. Meanwhile, swimming in this genetic/memory/observational soup over that last 50 or so years, I realize I have a unique picture of the Italy that has been presented to me. 60 trips, most for a week, some for months, some for extended weeks. 21 trips to Verona and Vinitaly! Nothing longer than three months. In and out. No full immersion for a year or more. But still, the impression has been made. My brilliant Italy has left an indelible mark on my soul and on my chromosomes.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

A Masterful Class on Franciacorta in Dallas

Since the receding of the pandemic, the wine world has seen the starting up again of traveling shows, seminars and winemaker presentations. And of course, the return of the Master Class, on just about everything.

In today’s hyper-aggrandized environment for aspiring wine professionals, where certification is all the rage, one would think that someone like a master sommelier or master of wine could be more than capable of teaching such a class. And many are. Likewise, I’ve been in master classes led by master sommeliers who had me squirming in my seat for their lack of preparation and dissemination of faulty and incomplete material. After all, they too, are only human. But there is an expectation around an event like a master class, that one who attends such a seminar comes away having greater knowledge of the subject than what he or she had before such an experience. It isn’t necessary that such a class be taught by a master, but it should be handled by someone who has mastery of the subject and is fully capable of communicating the necessary information.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Easter of the Immigrants – A Feast for the Ages

From the archives..
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 24, 2024

Il Carnasciale - There Goes the Cabernet-borhood

We are in the month of March – which has been, traditionally, in the wine trade, a time when winemakers and winery owners jet off and taste their clients on their releases, new and sometimes old. Slow Wine, Gambero Rosso, James Suckling, even Vinitaly with its Road Show, are crisscrossing the planet and spreading the Gospel of Italian Wine.

So, it came to be, on a Friday at Noon, one week before Good Friday, that the proprietor of the fabled Tuscan estate, Il Carnasciale, landed in Dallas, between Slow Wine gigs in Austin and Denver for a quick twelve-hour sip and swirl with local chefs and sommeliers.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

The New Gatekeepers

This past week, it was raining hard, and I needed to walk my new knee. So I went to the local mall, NorthPark Center, which is enclosed and dry and has a lot of great art and stores. It also has Eataly, an Italian emporium, a dozen places to get espresso, clean bathrooms, and some nice shops. I am into watches, so I like to look at the new offerings as I perambulate my way towards new-knee health. But recently I’ve tracked a trend in retail, which I have been sensing also happens in the world of wine – the new gatekeepers.

Three incidents happened, almost at the same time.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

What does it take to be the #1 Italian wine expert in the world?

Recently, I was introduced as an Italian wine expert. I bristled a little, and explained that at this time I am an enthusiast, and maybe one time I had been a little more involved in the day-to-day business of expertise, but that I have never considered myself an expert. But it got me to thinking about proficiency, and specifically, which person out there might be the #1 Italian wine expert in the world. A tall order, for sure, and one which might be different for different people, in different parts of the world.

For the sake of this speculative exercise, though, I decided to erect a few hurdles. Here goes:

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Enrico Scavino - A Remembrance

Last Monday, I received a note from a friend in Italy. “Enrico Scavino has crossed over into the Great Sea.”

Our paths first crossed 40 years ago, in 1984. It was my first business trip to Italy and I was with my friend and colleague Guy Stout. We had a duo of Italian restaurateurs with us and our guide Barone Armando de Rham, who represented Scavino to us in the U.S.

We were coming from Vinitaly, which in those days was a smallish (but growing) affair. Piedmont! It was so exciting to be going to the Burgundy of Italy, which was what we were told. In those days, the Italian wines and regions leaned on French equivalents, so the unknowing could find an entry point. Now, not so necessary, as Italian wine has become a force in the wine world.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

“Am I drinking too much wine?”

I’ve been abstaining from drinking any kind of alcohol for the past month, as I had knee surgery and didn’t want it to interact with any medications I was on. Things also were tasting metallic, probably a reaction from all the chemicals that had been pumped into me. Do you want to know something? I really didn’t miss wine.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Day After - A World and a Lifetime Ago

Yesterday morning, very early, I had this odd sensation. I remember lying in bed, as I have done for the past month, recovering from full-knee replacement surgery. I hadn’t been sleeping well for that month, so I just figured it was part of the process, wailing and flailing and general discomfort.

And then I heard an ancient song, by the Shangri-las, whispering lyrics to their hit song, “Remember”:

(Remember) walking in the sand

(Remember) walking hand-in-hand

(Remember) the night was so exciting

(Remember) smile was so inviting

(Remember) then she touched my cheek

(Remember) with her fingertips

Softly, softly we'd meet with our lips

And then, I remembered.

The same day, a Saturday, 23 years ago to the day, February 17, 2001, I got a call from the care center where my wife Lizanne was. It was 5:30 AM. “Mr. Cevola, you need to come. Your wife doesn’t have much more time.”

So, I got up, fed the cat, got dressed and headed out to say good-bye to my dear wife.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

My Italian Bucket List – Version 2024

After having been to Italy multiple times for work and play, since 1971, one would think someone like me might have ticked off all the boxes of an immersive and exhaustive Italian experience. It seems though, on further contemplation, that there are a few boxes remaining to be filled in. So, here goes.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

What makes up Italian wine now?

As one looks over the evolution of Italian wine, one can find one consistent factor – change. Nothing stays the same, whether it be technological, tastes or styles. Today's bright star was yesterday’s smoldering nebula, just waiting to appear in time. Wines that were thought to be the “end of the world,” in 1980, are now conscripted to the dustbin of history. Not that this jives with quality or value. In fact, some of what propels Italian wine is this contrarian philosophy, a stubbornness to accede to whatever has become dominant, to maybe even become suppositious of that success.

“Every generation re-invents the wheel,” as the saying goes. And in wine, as in Italy, re-invention is part of the culture. “One cannot take chances in the shallow end of the pool – you must dive into the deep end, the unknown, with both dangers and rewards awaiting.”

How can it be that Italian wine, from 1946 until 2000 blazed a trail towards dominance in the wine world with incredible speed and accuracy, only to give it away to the new generation?

Sunday, January 28, 2024

I Left My Heart in Barbaresco

[from the archives while our blog monster is out on medical leave]

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 21, 2024

Embracing Classic Italian Wine While Becoming Your Authentic Self

ed. note: Alfonso is out on medical leave and he is letting one of the young’uns take the reins of the blog until he comes back.

What a kick, it’s 2024! If not now, when? I will make this the year I become the most authentic me I can be. I will curate myself to a more genuine person. And along with that I will embrace classic Italian wine culture. No more orange wine, no more col fondo. Arrivederci, Etna. Hello Tuscany!

Yes, this will be the year, for me, when we go all resto-mod with Italian wine. I want to embrace the tried and true, not the trite and banal fashion imperatives of my ever so au courant contingent. I’m stoked! 2024 is gonna be such a bitchin’ ride! It’ll be the most sui generous saga I’ve been looking to broker, all my short-lived life - I’m ready and raring to go!! On my way to being an epic polyhistor!!

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Making Sense of Today’s Italian Wine Lists

"Everything that is done in the world is done by hope." - Martin Luther

I’ve been checking out some of the new Italian spots in my region, as this area, North Texas, has become one of the most dynamic economic sections of the country. And with commercial development and growth comes the hope of diversity in the new restaurants that have been opening up lately. Further down the rabbit hole, though, is the discussion of what an all-Italian wine list should look like. And because my recent forays in town have offered up a plethora of new choices in Italian wine lists, my quest for the optimally curated wine list is what this post is all about. So, let’s dig in.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

The Small, Small, Small, Small World of Italian Wine

“Compared to what?”

The land mass of Italy figures out to be 0.2% of the world, similar to Poland, Ecuador, New Zealand and Vietnam. In regards to wine production, though, Italy is often the largest producer, occasionally swapping with France, depending on the harvest. How such a small land mass became to account for such a large amount of wine production is a fascinating thought. The reality, is that Italy, like France and a few other select areas of the world, is uniquely situated to produce large amounts of fine wine. A miracle one might even say. However, that miracle took a long time to create and it was not without its share of purgatorial tribulations.

Still, as one observes today on the social media platforms, one might think it to be one giant movable feast. The young generation who’ve inherited it from this point surely make it out to be a well-tanned cake walk, with the commensurate high-toned tastings in exotic places from Bangkok to Miami. Along with that, the four and five star stays at hotels in fascinating spots like Dubai and Singapore, poolside moments notwithstanding, as well as sumptuous dining experiences at all hours of the day and night. One might think the essence of Italian wine was just one long glamorous ride on a magic red carpet, like something out of One Thousand and One Nights. Were that it was as simple as that.

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