The Squires Paradox

February 29, 2008

Unfortunately your registration at Mark Squires’ Bulletin Board on eRobertParker.com did not meet our membership requirements. Therefore your registration was deleted. Sorry, Mark Squires’ Bulletin Board on eRobertParker.com team.

The above message was sent to me the other day, about four hours after I tried to register for the Mark Squires’ Bulletin Board. I didn’t really want to join the Mark Squires’ Bulletin Board. After all, Squires doesn’t seem to like the natural-wine-loving kind. He already booted two of my favorite wine bloggers, Alice and Lyle. I only wanted to read a post by Mark Fornatale, who works for Skurnik (an importer). He had written about recent managerial changes at one of my favorite wineries, Borgogno: the prince of modern-style Barbaresco, Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta, he reported, would be revising vinification practices at the winery. I had been alerted to the post by Franco, who, upon reading Mark’s report, promptly contacted Borgogno’s new owner, Oscar Farinetti, and asked him point-blank if he would allow Giorgio to modify the style. Oscar answered via SMS (entrepreneur Farinetti is the creator of Eataly in Turin):

    Borgogno has no need for any changes in the cellar. As far as Rivetti is concerned, he will play no internal role. He will give us a hand with exports. The following is Borgogno’s corporate strategy: no change in the cellar or in winemaking [and] elimination of wines not internally produce… Borgogno will continue to produce [its wines] using the classic method. (translation mine, see the Franco’s post in Italian with quote from Squires BB in English).

Thank goodness Franco was able to clear things up: to lose Borgogno to the realm of homogeneous modern-style wine would be a tragedy.

Groucho Marx
(above, left) once said famously, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Squires would not have me as a member so I guess I can’t refuse membership. But why did Squires refuse me membership? On paper I met all the “requirements.” Did he see Alice and Lyle on my blog roll? did he visit DoBianchi.com and browse disapprovingly through my blog? (You can’t register with a gmail account so I used my dobianchi.com email.)

I wonder what the great logician Bertrand Russell (left), discoverer of “Russell’s paradox”, would have said about Groucho’s paradox. Russell recognized that self-reference “lies at the heart of paradox.” Groucho’s self-referential line is a not-so classic but very funny example of Russell’s paradox: “I refuse to join the set that would have me as a member of that set,” Russell might have joked. I would have liked to join the club of bloggers who had joined Squires BB and then were booted. But Squires wouldn’t even let me on in the first place. I guess I’ll never know what I’m missing. But who can see the logic in that? Sorry, Mark Squires.


There may be many wine cellars in Valpolicella but…

February 28, 2008

valpolicella map vineyards crus

Above: Google’s “terrain” map shows the “wrinkles” of Valpolicella. The topography of the Valpolicella or “valley of alluvial deposits” is defined by a series of small rivers.

From the Greek topos or place and onoma or name, toponymy is the study of place names.

As is the case with many wine-related place names, the names themselves reflect the vine-growing practices of the place. One of my favorites is the Côte-Rôtie or the roasted slope, so-called because the slopes are “roasted” by the sun and there are countless others.

While many erroneously claim that the toponym Valpolicella comes from a hitherto undocumented Greek term for valley of many cellars, it is widely accepted that the name first appeared in the twelfth century (in a decree by Frederic I of Swabia, aka Barbarossa or Red Beard) and by the sixteenth century was widely found in Latin inscriptions as Vallis pulicellae, literally the valley of sand deposits, from the Latin pulla, a term used in classical Latin to denote to dark soil and then later to denote alluvial deposits.

In fact, Valpolicella is not a valley but rather a series of “wrinkles” defined by the Marano, Negrar, Fumane, and Nòvare torrents (streams).

If you’ve ever traveled through that part of Italy, you’ve seen how the hills roll gently across the landscape. There are other Veronese place names that reflect this tradition, like the towns Pol, Pol di Sopra, and Santa Lucia di Pol where pol denotes the presence of a stream or torrent and the pebbly, sandy deposits it forms.

There are some who point to the lass or pulzella portrayed in the device (emblem) of the town of San Pietro in Cariano as the origin of the name. But this theory seems as unlikely to me as the oft-repeated valley of many cellars (another facile faux ami or false cognate).

Valpolicella’s wines were praised highly by Latin authors, notably Virgil and Cassiodorus. Etruscan and proto-Roman winemakers recognized early on that Valpolicella’s undulating landscape was ideal for growing wine grapes.

As Virgil wrote famously, Bacchus amat colles, Bacchus loves hills.


An Auspicious Year for Amarone

February 25, 2008

Above: the Masi tasting last week featured Campolongo di Torbe 1988 and 1983, top vintages for Amarone.

Dr. Sandro Boscaini (left, owner of Masi) paid a visit to New York City last week to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his winery’s single-vineyard Amarone, Campolongo di Torbe, a bottling believed by many to be the first Amarone cru.

Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella are unique appellations in the panorama of Italian enology and they arguably represent its most misunderstood. They are made from blends of dried Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes grown in Valpolicella in the province of Verona (Corvina is the primary grape and other grapes, including international varieties, are allowed by the appellation). Although vinification practices vary significantly, fermentation is stopped sooner in the case of Recioto, resulting in a sweeter flavor profile; longer fermentation creates a drier flavor profile for Amarone. Sometimes winemakers use a process called ripasso, literally “second passage,” whereby the wine is aged with the skins and lees (dead yeast cells) leftover from previously vinified wine.

Masi’s wines are made in a modern style (as Dr. Boscaini is proud to point out) and the oaky flavors of the younger wines are a big turn off for me (we tasted a horizontal of the winery’s four 2001 crus and a vertical of the Campolongo di Torbe). The 1983 and 1988 — outstanding vintages for Amarone — were however fantastic and the 1988 in particular was stellar. Boscaini noted that 2007 will be a great vintage for these wines and will rival 97, 88, and 83.

But the 2001 Vaio Armarone was a pleasant surprise: this wine, made in collaboration with the Serego Alighieri winery, is aged in cherry-wood casks, and even at a young age, showed beautiful natural fruit. It stood out against the other young wines and weighed in at a slightly lower price point ($75 retail). Serego Alighieri — pronounced seh-REH-goh AH-lee-GHEE’eh-ree — was purportedly founded by Dante’s son Pietro Alighieri in the mid-fourteenth century: following his exile from Florence, Dante Alighieri (left) found his “first refuge” in Verona and his son ultimately settled there. (See Purgatorio, XVII, 70. Check out the awesome Princeton Dante Project to read the line in context — in Italian and translation — and commentary.)

Dr. Boscaini — “Mr. Amarone,” as he likes to call himself — spoke at length about his family’s decision to “modernize” the winery in 1983 (the same year that Veronelli implored Italian winemakers to revisit their growing and vinification practices; see my post on Veronelli). He sought to eliminate “oxidation” and “unpleasant aromas” in his family’s wines, Boscaini told the group of journalists who had gathered to taste the wines. In doing so, he claimed, he single-handedly created a market for Amarone in the U.S. (an assertion we should take cum grano salis since it was a combination of modernization, more aggressive marketing, and renewed interest in Italian wine that opened a new market for Amarone in the U.S.).

I found his lecture fascinating and he made a number of points I found interesting and topical to understanding Amarone in a historical perspective:

  • Recioto, Recioto Amarone, and Amarone are names for a wine that has always been made, he believes, in a dry and sweet style (many believe that Amarone was vinified as a dry wine for the first time in the twentieth century);
  • botrytis or noble rot, he claimed, is a key element in Amarone and gives it an “illusion of sweetness” (many would counter this claim; he showed data to support it but it wasn’t clear how the information was gathered);
  • only Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara should be used to make Amarone, he said (others would say that true Amarone is made from “field blends,” i.e., where Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara are the primary grapes but others are used — sometimes even unspecified and/or grapes growing spontaneously in the vineyard);
  • the term Recioto probably comes from the Latin name for wine produced in Valpolicella, reticum, rather than the commonly accepted recia, Veronese dialect for “ear” or “top bunch” of grapes (I believe he’s right: recioto could very well be a metathesis of reticum);
  • the term Amarone could come from Armaron, a toponym, name of one of the appellation’s oldest growing sites (if this were true, it would indeed bolster his thesis that the wines were always made in a dry style since it would weaken the theory that the wine is called amarone — a linguistic combination of amaro or “bitter” and the augmentative suffix -one — due to the fact that it is dry as opposed to sweet);
  • one of the earliest appearances of the term Amarone on a label was on Masi’s 1948 Recioto Amarone (although he acknowledged that the term appeared as early as the 1930s on bottles produced by the Cantina Sociale Valpolicella).
  • I certainly couldn’t drink Masi’s wines every day: they’re too modern in style for my palate. No matter what the price point (and these wines are expensive), I want to drink something more food friendly (he claimed exactly the opposite: because they are made in a “contemporary style,” he said, his wines are more food friendly). But the wines are very elegant and I can see they can appeal to the modern-style lover while retaining a sense of place.

    If you’ve read this far, then you, too, would have enjoyed Mr. Amarone’s prolixity. I’ll taste his wines with him — however modern they may be — anytime.


    Have you ever been? A glass (or two) in the West Village.

    February 24, 2008

    A friend and I met for a few glasses of wine the other night at The 8th St Wine Cellar, in the heart of the West Village, right down the street from Electric Lady Studio, conceived and created in 1970 by Jimi Hendrix (left), perhaps the first major recording artist to own a studio in the modern era of rock ‘n’ roll. Every time I walk down 8th st., I can’t help but think of the countless classic recordings that were made on this historic block, now lined with head shops and tattoo and piercing parlors (check out the clients page on the studio’s website).

    Even after all these years, the West Village has retained its free spirit and the sense of openness that began to form here in the late 1950s and early 60s. The easy-going bartenders at The 8th St. Wine Cellar were friendly and generous with their pours and when I ordered a glass of Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo 2006 Agamium, our waiter said he didn’t mind at all opening a new bottle for me.

    Above: bacon-wrapped figs with mascarpone with a glass of Agamium.

    Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo (Ancient Vines of Cantalupo) is one of my favorite producers of Nebbiolo and it makes a fairly wide range of traditional-style wines, from their single-vineyard Collis Carellae and Collis Breclemae to the Agamium, their entry-level label. One of the things I love about Cantalupo is the winery’s interest in local ancient history, which expresses itself in the names of their wines: Agamium is the Latin name of Ghemme (a township in the province of Novara) where the grapes are grown and the wines are produced. Ghemme is one of the great, to borrow a Manhattan-centric phrase, “outer-borough” expressions of Nebbiolo (i.e., Nebbiolo grown outside the more noted Barolo and Barbaresco appellations; look for an upcoming post on the historical role of “outer-borough” Nebbiolo).

    The 2006 Agamium was fresh and light in style and I believe that the winery limits maceration time in order to rein in the grape’s tannin, thus making it more approachable at such a young age. Check out the winery’s website. Although the English translations are sometimes awkward, the otherwise excellent site is easy to navigate and highly informative.

    Above: 1480 – 1819 were the start and end dates of the Inquisition, one of the waiters told me. I inferred that his t-shirt’s message was meant to remind us that the Inquisition is indeed over. (For the record, I’m not really sure what information those dates are based on because it’s generally accepted that the official dates of the Spanish Inquisition were 1478 – 1834. A quick Google search revealed that the t-shirts was created by Humanitarians Not Heroes.)

    I really liked the vibe at The 8th St. Wine Cellar and I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a handful of wines that I liked on their relatively small list, including a half bottle of NV Taittinger La Française and Teodobaldo Cappellano Barolo. Honestly, I didn’t expect to find a cool little wine bar on 8th St. between Gray’s Papaya and the bong and tattoo shops. I guess it’s time for me to “cast all my hang-ups over the seaside,” as Jimi once sang (in a song he recorded right down the street).

    The 8th St Wine Cellar
    28 W 8th St
    (btwn 5th and 6th ave)
    New York, NY 10011
    (212) 260-9463

    *****

    Have you ever been (have you ever been) to Electric Ladyland?
    The magic carpet waits for you so don’t you be late
    Oh, (I wanna show you) the different emotions
    (I wanna run to) the sounds and motions
    Electric woman waits for you and me
    So it’s time we take a ride, we can cast all of your hang-ups over
    the seaside
    While we fly right over the love filled sea
    Look up ahead, I see the loveland, soon you’ll understand.

    Make love, make love, make love, make love.

    The angels will spread their wings, spread their wings
    Good and evil lay side by side while electric love penetrates the sky
    Lord, Lord I wanna show you
    Hmm, hmmm, hmmm
    Show you

    – Jimi Hendrix


    Yes, that’s my nephew with Buddy Guy…

    February 23, 2008

    Yes, that’s my nephew, Cole Parzen (then 13-years-old), rocking out with Buddy Guy (left) last summer (photo by proud father Tad Parzen).

    My nephew Cole, age 14, is a rocking guitar player and he just got his first pro axe, a 2006 Gibson Les Paul Studio Limited with Mahogany Top (left).

    “It’s unbelievable,” Cole wrote me, “This guitar is one of a kind. Have you ever had coil-tapped pickups? Coil-tapped pickups can switch between single and double coils. Usually one of the knobs is rigged to be lifted up and down to switch. For this guitar, it’s the bridge pickup volume knob. I used to know a guy with an amazing ’85 Gibson Nighthawk with coil-tapped pickups. There was this little perfect circle on the face of it were the finish was worn away from picking by the previous owner and it was beautiful. This is the first guitar other than that one I’ve seen with them and I’m stoked.”

    Last summer, Cole was invited up on stage at Humphrey’s by the Bay (San Diego) by none other than blues legend Buddy Guy. He held his own with the blues maestro, who commented, “I really shouldn’t say this, but the kid’s a real mother-[expletive].”


    Alice B. Toklas, Wine Critic

    February 21, 2008

    Tirelessly mordacious wine blogger Terry Hughes recently published a post in which he compared contemporary wine writing to New Criticism. His spirited, pungent observations reminded me of my graduate-school days when I used to wrustle with deconstructionists, structuralists and post-structuralists, formalists, and Lacanians (some of whom i actually liked).

    According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, New Criticism was a “post-World War I school of Anglo-American literary critical theory that insisted on the intrinsic value of a work of art and focused attention on the individual work alone as an independent unit of meaning. It was opposed to the critical practice of bringing historical or biographical data to bear on the interpretation of a work.”

    I found Terry’s analogy apt because the current trend of wine writing, with its emphasis on subjective tasting notes, seems entirely bent on disregarding historical, biographical, and – most regrettably – topological information. Like the New Critics who conjured up a new critical theory to deal with modernity, the “New Wine Writers” have concocted a language that disregards history, people, and place: ecce points-based, florid tasting notes.*

    That’s not to say that I don’t like “modern” and “post-modern” literature. In fact, I am a lover of that Caesar of modernity, Gertrude Stein, who published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933 (that’s Alice, above, left). In this work, Stein writes her own auto-biography by writing the “auto-biography” of Alice. In doing so, she reveals that the process of writing is by its nature subjective, intrinsically and inexorably. Consider the following notion: when a wine writer writes her/his impressions of a wine, she/he is really writing her/his autobiography. Voilà, Alice B. Toklas, wine critic. I’ll say no more…

    In other news…

    Although she did not write The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Alice B. Toklas did write a very famous cookbook, the aptly titled Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954), which included a now famous recipe for hashish fudge (the precursor to many of the now ubiquitous pot brownies recipes).

    Does anybody remember Peter Sellers’ hilarious 1968 film I Love You Alice B. Toklas?

    I bet Terry does.

    The “Groovy Brownies” clip below is long and corny but worth it.

    * I owe Peter Hellman this classic example of modern wine writing, where two famous wine writers review the same lot with almost diametrically opposed results:

    Parker: “The 2003 Cornas La Louvee is a blockbuster. Glorious aromas of flowers, blackberries, roasted meats, espresso roast, and white chocolate flow from this full-bodied, concentrated, modern-styled, impressively-endowed, full-throttle Cornas. Drink it now and over the next 15+ years. 93pts”

    Wine Spectator: “Tight and structured, with lots of iron and mineral notes framing the black cherry, plum, briar, tar and olive paste flavors. Long finish sports mouthwatering acidity. Very impressive for Cornas in 2003. Best from 2007 through 2015. 800 cases made. 92pts”


    A visit to the “new” 2nd Ave.

    February 20, 2008

    2nd Avenue Deli
    162 E 33rd St
    (btwn 3rd and Lex)
    New York, NY 10016
    (212) 689-9000

    The bottom line: the “new” 2nd Avenue Deli (on 33rd st) is nearly identical to the original (it’s just not on 2nd Avenue anymore). If you liked it then, you’ll like it now. It’s the same schmaltzy trip down memory lane (photo by Winnie; check out her awesome photos here).

    Some years ago, I included the 2nd Avenue Deli in a piece I wrote about culinary anamorphism for Gastronomica (as I defined it, culinary anamorphism is a refashioning of food to make it resemble something else; in this case, towers — in pre-9/11 New York and fifteenth-century Cremona). Here’s the relevant passage (for the full text, click here):

      One of the most unforgettable instances of culinary anamorphism in recent memory must be attributed to restaurateur Abe Lebewohl, the late owner of the celebrated Second Avenue Deli in Manhattan, who was famous for his chop liver sculptures (he was also known for his Mock Chop Liver, a faux version of the old-world classic that wasn’t even vegetarian because it included schmaltz, i.e., chicken fat; it was just faux for the sake of being so). According to the deli’s eponymous cook book:

      “In 1976, Abe donated 350 pounds of chopped liver—not for the bar mitzvah of an indigent thirteen-year-old, but to New York magazine designer Milton Glaser’s graphic-design studio, Pushpin. Working feverishly in their highly perishable medium (by its second day, the exhibit was deemed ‘ripe’ for destruction), nineteen of the studio’s artists put together a show at Manhattan’s Greengrass Media Art Gallery called ‘Man and Liver’… The winning entry was James Grashow’s monumental six-and-a-half-foot-high rendering of King Kong straddling the World Trade Center’s twin towers.” (p. 4)

      Food in the form of buildings has been popular since the Renaissance. One of the most noted examples in the Italian Renaissance involved Torrone, the famous nougat of Cremona. On the occasion of the wedding of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza, October 25, 1441, the bride and groom were presented with a nougat replica of the city’s church bell tower, the so-called Torrione (today known as the Torrazzo) from which the sweet derived its name. Towers were a sign of power and wealth in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and it was not uncommon for gastronomic effigies to be erected in their likeness. The towers depicted by James Grashow were also a symbol of power, and like the tower of Cremona, they were a synecdoche for the city of New York. That the artist and restaurateur undertook such a labor-intensive rendering of the famous site from the New York skyline was testimony to the irresistible allure of culinary anamorphism.

    I had fun the other night at the “new” 2nd Avenue Deli…

    Ptcha is jellied calves’ feet. It was good with a little horse radish on rye. Mario Batali, eat your heart out.

    Some prefer the matzoh ball fluffy and light, others firmer and denser. This one tended toward light, just like the old days when the 2nd Ave. Deli was on 2nd Ave.

    One of my earliest memories is wondering why people in gray suits ate tongue at funerals. Tip or center? We had center.

    The pastrami was well sliced but a little dry. Once I asked a Hungarian woman, a family friend and a wonderful lady, what she ate when her family landed on the Lower East Side in the early twentieth century. “Meat,” she said. “We ate meat.” She’s in her 90s and doing great.


    Another Night to Remember at Manducatis

    February 19, 2008

    For many years, Manducatis in Long Island City (Queens) has been one of my favorite food and wine destinations in New York City. It remains, for me, an entirely unique, always surprising, and thoroughly rewarding culinary experience. I know some would disagree with me: many friends claim the list has been “too picked over” while others say the food is uneven (and some are afraid to cross the East River into Queens when it’s actually just two stops on the 7 train from Grand Central!).

    But let me let you in on a secret: whenever I dine at Manducatis, I never order from menu; I always let wine director Anthony Cerbone create a menu for me and I simply tell him what I’d like to drink and how much I’d like to spend. He’s never disappointed…

    Last week, I made a trip to visit Anthony and his father Vincent with a group of wine professionals.

    Above: Anthony’s mother’s scialatelli were made with little bits of fresh basil in the noodles themselves. Dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, cannellini beans, and a basil leaf, it was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had there. Besides the classic antipasti, the highlight for me was roast suckling pig served with braised cabbage (a traditional Neapolitan contorno or side for meat) and sautéed broccoli rabe.

    It’s true that most of the older wines have been drunk: when I first started going to Manducatis in 2000, you would invariably see wine directors from across the city there on any given night, opening bottle after bottle (I actually wrote a vignette about an encounter between Anthony, left, and one of NYC’s most unsavory restaurateurs in my contribution to Perché New York?, “Il punto di vista di un gastronomo,” Piacenza, Scritture, 2007, and you’ll have to read the salacious account in Italian). But Anthony (left) continues to develop the wine program there and you might be surprised by what you find. There seem to be a lot of Tuscan wines from the 1990s, for example. The last time I was there, I had a wonderful 1997 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino, for example, at a very reasonable price.

    Anthony’s wine knowledge never fails to impress me and for my money, a meal at Manducatis just can’t be beat: classic Neapolitan antipasti, homemade pasta, classically prepared Italian secondi, and a warm, spacious dining room with an old-world feel, where I’ve never felt rushed.

    Needless to say, we stayed to close the place, chatting with Anthony and his father Vincent.

    I was surprised to learn that before coming the U.S. (where he joined the army, I believe in the 1960s), Vincent had served in the Italian Carabinieri (Italy’s national police force). A native of Naples, he learned about the wines of Piedmont and the Veneto, he told us, because he had been stationed in many different parts of the country. This experience — unusual for a twenty-something Neapolitan in post-war Italy — changed the way he thought about Italian wine. After leaving the U.S. Army, he decided to go into the restaurant business and became friends with the legendary Lou Iacucci, who was among the first to import the great wines of Piedmont to the U.S. The rest is history…

    Above: even the most vehement detractors of new-world-style Nebbiolo appreciate the glory of old Gaja. The 1978 drank beautifully. I am convinced — more than ever — that he added some Barbera to his wines back then. As was the tradition before the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCs were created, producers regularly added small amounts of Barbera to their Nebbiolo. The acidity of the Barbera helped to balance the intense tannin of the Nebbiolo and thus made the wine approachable at an earlier age. But it also helped the wine to age more gracefully: Barbera can age upward of thirty years (when vinified in a traditional style) and I believe this wine’s vibrant acidity was owed to the presence of the humbler grape.

    Manducatis
    1327 Jackson Ave (at 21st St)
    Long Island City (Queens), NY 11101
    (718) 729-4602

    *****

    No one really remembers why the restaurant is called “Manducatis.” I believe that the name is an allusion to Psalm 126 (or 127 depending on the critical apparatus). In this “gradual canticle” (or “song of degrees” or “song of ascents”) attributed to King Solomon, the singer reminds the listener that all toil is useless unless “the Lord builds the house.” In other words, unless you believe in God, you will live your life in vain.

    The line in the Latin Vulgate:

    qui manducatis panem idolorum [alternatively doloris]

    A literal translation:

    you who eat (are eating) the bread of pain [toil, grief, sorrow]


    The Spinetta Affair (and the Virtuous Burglar)

    February 18, 2008

    Who dunnit? Neither Franco Ziliani nor I could have done it because on the night of Tuesday, February 12, Franco was at home with his family typing away at his computer and rubbing sleep from his eyes in Bergamo and I was eating a porterhouse at Keens in midtown Manhattan.

    Who were the daring thieves who, according to La Stampa, arrived at the winery in a van that night, entered the cellar through an unlocked window, opened and tasted a few bottles, and then carried away more than 1,000 lots of La Spinetta’s “top-Wine Spectator-rated” wines? (Click the image above, left, to read the account in Italian, published February 14.)

    Could it have been the mysterious underground organization The Committee for the Liberation of Barolo and Barbaresco from Modernist Hegemony?

    Joking aside, the thieves knew what they were doing because they took only top-rated bottles: “evidently they had read the [wine] guides in which Spinetta has been one of the most highly rated wineries for the last three years.” It’s remarkable to think that the thieves, who somehow carted away more than 1,000 bottles of wine, took the time to uncork a few bottles and sample their booty.

    Reading the account (sent to me by Franco), I couldn’t help but think of the classic play by Italian anarchist and Nobel laureate Dario Fo (left): “Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere,” literally, “not all thieves come to do harm” (the title has also been translated as “The Virtuous Burglar” and “Some Burglars Have Good Intentions”).*

    Here’s the opening of the play:

    A half-dark stage. Sound of breaking glass. Enter burglar. His flashlight shows a living room filled with expensive things. Phone rings. Pause. Rings again. Burglar picks up phone. Very long pause. Burglar, into phone: “How many times have I told you not to call me at work?**

    The caller is the burglar’s wife.

    The play — a farce — is a about a thief who spends an evening in the home of bourgeois family. As he leafs through their belongings, the man of the house comes home with his mistress. The thief hides but when he can no longer conceal himself, the couple contemplate how they can dispose of him so that he will not reveal their secret. Then, the lady of the house appears and her husband asks the burglar to pretend to be the husband of his lover. Then the burglar’s wife appears and then… well, you’ll just have to read the play yourself.*** In this satire of bourgeois hypocrisy, it turns out that the thief is the virtuous one.

    By virtue of their theft, the Spinetta burglars didn’t do anyone any good and I sincerely hope the Rivetti family gets their wine back. So be on the look out for:

    160 6-packs Barolo Campè 2003
    20 6-packs Barbaresco Valeirano 2004
    360 6-packs Barbaresco Gallina 2003
    600 bottles Barbaresco 1999, 2000, and 2001****

    That is to say, look out for those wines if you like the same wines as the editors of The Wine Spectator.

    Notes:

    * First printed in 1962 but first performed in the late 1950s.

    ** For brevity’s sake, I’m borrowing Ben Sonnenberg’s paraphrased version from his 1993 Nobel recommendation of Fo (The Washington Post, December 5). “The main reason I choose Fo,” wrote Sonnenberg, “is because he writes satirical plays that people applaud and governments fear.”

    *** For an English translation, See “The Virtuous Burglar,” translated by Joe Farrell, in Dario Fo. Plays: One, Portsmouth (NH), Methuen, 1992, pp. 313-49. I also found this flawed translation online.

    *** As reported by the Rivetti family.

    Interesting, miscellaneous facts about Dario Fo:

    - He won the Nobel Prize in 1997.

    - In 1980, the U.S. State Dept. refused him (and his wife Franca Rame) entry to the country. He was supposed to attend the Festival of Italian Theater in New York. Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, and Martin Scorsese — among others — attended a rally to protest the U.S. denial of his visa.

    - As is the case with “Non tutti i ladri vengono per noucere,” most of Dario Fo’s titles have a proverbial or aphoristic sound to them. My favorite Fo title is “La marijuana della mamma è sempre la più bella.” I’ll let you translate that yourself.


    Friends in High Places

    February 17, 2008

    Life’s coincidences are funny, aren’t they? The lead singer of my band (Nous Non Plus) Céline Dijon (aka Verena Wiesendanger) knows Peter Ruggie (right), who works for Henriot, because his wife’s dad and her dad are old friends. She knows Babbo’s wine director Peter Jamros (left) because he’s dating one her best friends.

    Céline was in town to celebrate the birthday of her beau, Patrick Woodcock, former member of the French band Air and the founder of Mellow.

    Among other libations, we enjoyed a bottle of non-vintage Henriot rosé. It’s nice to have friends in high places…


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