Sunday, June 16, 2024

Affogato and Averna with a Sicilian Surrealist

Our time at the dinner table was over. Giorgio motioned to me and his wife that he was moving to the drawing room. His wife said she would prepare the affogato. Meanwhile Giorgio foraged in his liquor cabinet for a bottle of amaro. “Seeing as we are all Siculi, shall we have some Averna with our dessert?” he suggested. As long as it wasn’t Cynar, I was fine with it. I’d been plied with the artichoke amaro in Palermo with every family visit. Averna was a relief.

“Isa was visiting a friend near Piazza Navona and brought back some gelato from Tre Scalini.” Isa had a sweet tooth, I gathered. Giorgio too. Fine with me. I was 20, skinny and ready for whatever came my way. I could handle amaro and gelato.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Fettuccine and Forastera with a Sicilian Surrealist

Una favola continuava

It was 7:00 PM and Giorgio’s residence was about 15 minutes away from the pensione I was staying in. But I wasn’t that familiar with Rome, and we didn’t have GPS in 1971. So, I gathered my myself, a little gift I had gotten In Sicily for his wife, and my camera, and headed out. I thought I should probably take a bottle of wine, and earlier in the day I had gone into a shop which sold wine, beer and liquor and looked for something appropriate. I knew little to nothing about wine, despite the fact that my dorm mates  at university had last names like Mondavi, Sebastiani, Heitz, Pellegrini and Filice. My uncle back in California was a wine merchant and he told me a little about Italian wines.

The store had what I would now call a selection of tourist recognizable wines from places like Umbria (Orvieto),  Lazio (Est! Est!! Est!!!) and Campania (Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio). The white wines all looked more amber-like, so I tried to find one that wasn’t as dark. On a display I found a white wine, simply called Ischia Bianco, from the eponymous island that was a popular day trip for vacationers.

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Caffè and Cannoli with a Sicilian Surrealist

una favola...

My first trip to Italy was in 1971. I was a student on summer break and spent days in Rome, wandering the streets at all hours with my camera. One night I happened to be near the Spanish steps when it was very late. In fact, it was almost dawn. And down the street from the steps on the Via Condotti, the familiar noises of a coffee machine, the grinding, the steaming and the drip, drip, dripping, sounded. With the aroma of fresh coffee, I was drawn like an insect to light.  It was there where I first encountered the Sicilian Surrealist.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Duty of Hospitality (is not just expected of the Host)

From the archives: Seeing as summertime is approaching and holiday visits to Italy will increase, along with requests to visit wineries, just a little revisit to this subject during our Memorial Day holiday

My dad, Lou, in the 1950's - the consummate salesman

I received an email from Italy, via a concerned and upset supplier, whom I regard as a friend.

“The person you arranged to visit our property in Tuscany never showed up. They never even called! Do you know what happened? We were waiting. We are still waiting. This happens too many times! Please make sure the people you set up visits for really want to come to visit us!”

I cannot tell you how many times this has happened. And with the tourist season ramping up, I fear more incidents like this. In this case I made three calls, filled out visit forms, three properties I made arrangements for and the client was a no-show at all three. To quote my dad above,

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:

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