Italy Day 4: finalmente, Vini Veri!

April 27, 2008

Above: tasters nap in the springtime sun outside Villa Boschi where the Vini Veri tasting was held again this year. I don’t know why but my day at Vini Veri made me think of the northern Italian folk song “L’uva fogarina”: “Quant’è bella l’uva fogarina, quant’è bello saperla vendemmiar!” (The Fogarina grape is so good! So good for the pickin’!). See below…

Let’s face it: we all go to Vinitaly every year because we have to: by the second day of the massive trade and consumer fair, the pavilions are a slosh of deal-making, true and otherwise would-be wine professionals, the occasional parasitic wine writer, and a sea of reveling imbibers who show up to get their drink on. Every year, the same parties, the same dinners, the same 45-minute back-and-forth drive from Verona because who can afford a $700-a-night room downtown? Well, I can’t.

But a breath of fresh air awaits those true lovers of real wine who attend the increasing number of satellite, alternative fairs. My favorite is the Vini Veri tasting, held at the Villa Boschi in the heart of the Veronese heartland (Isola della Scala township).

Above: I was captivated by Dario Princic’s whites, all of them macerated with skin contact, like this Pinot Grigio (in the photo). Few realize that Pinot Grigio is a red grape — a light red, but red nonetheless. It was the Santa Margherita white Pinot Grigio craze (which began more than 25 years ago) that made Pinot Grigio a white grape. Princic’s wines are fantastic.

Highlights:

Dario Princic (Friuli, see above, his Tocai was among the best I’ve ever tasted), Vodopivec (Friuli, I tasted some aged Vodopivec Vitovska later on in the trip and will report in an upcoming post), Coste Piane (Veneto, Prosecco aged sur lies and fermented using metodo classico – double-fermented in bottle – in magnum, freakin’ killer), Monte dall’Ora (Veneto, great Valpolicella and his top Amarone is off-the-charts good, need to taste with Brooklynguy) and, of course, Paolo Bea (the inimitable producer of Sagrantino).

But that’s not to exclude so many awesome producers who make natural, real wines: Cappellano, Trinchero, Rinaldi (Giuseppe), Cos, just to name a few (Maria Teresa Mascarello was not at Vini Veri this year).

Above: Gianpiero Bea of Paolo Bea. Gianpiero is one of the founders of Vini Veri.

Dario Princic told me that there is a movement within Vini Veri to reunite with the splinter group Vinatur and the Triple A tasting next year: the idea is that of organizing a fair at the Vicenza fair grounds with 200-250 producers, a fair that “could truly rival Vinitaly,” Dario said.

When I asked Gianpiero Bea about this, he didn’t seem too pleased.

Above: it was great to see my old friends Steve and Sita, high-school sweethearts (they met on an exchange program in Spain), married to this day, with two beautiful daughters. Sita’s friend Giovanni Baschieri got me my first gig in Padua way back in 1987!

My college roommate (from my first year at the Università di Padova) Steve Muench (above left) and his wife Sita Saviolo (above center) drove down from Padua to taste with me. I saw them a few times on this trip and they even made it up to Ljubljana to see Nous Non Plus perform there.

I can’t recommend Vini Veri enough: if you have the chance next year, be sure to make it down there. To me Vini Veri represents a mix of all the best things about Italy: real wine, real people… winemaking as ideology, winemaking that expresses place… heavily-left-leaning politics and homegrown, grassroots organizing… Vini Veri is a wine fair that even Pier Paolo Pasolini would be proud of (especially in the light of his Friulian origins, since so many great Friulian producers present their wines there). Does anyone remember Poesie a Casarsa?

Even if you don’t understand Italian (or Friulian dialect), check out the images in this short on the collection of poetry that won Pasolini fame at an early age:

There are many versions of L’uva fogarina on YouTube but I liked this one the best. Most believe the Fogarina grape to be a type of Lambrusco found near the town of Gualtieri in Emilia. Something about that beautiful spring day in the middle of the fields made me think of L’uva fogarina. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination…


Good Stuff I’ve Been Eating in San Diego

April 27, 2008

Have been back in San Diego for the Passover and a recharge following the epic trip to Italy and Slovenia (“Italy: Day 4″ on deck for tomorrow). Heading back to NYC soon for some tastings but in the meantime, I’ve been indulging in some southern Californian classics as I rest up and get my tan on. Hey, you know, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose/Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free.”

Had a bowl of cioppino at my favorite local fish shack, El Pescador: most food historians agree that cioppino originated in San Francisco, a local catch-of-the-day tomato-based soup probably inspired by Ligurian ciuppin (I can’t find an etymology for ciuppin but my philological intuition points me to the Latin supo supare, meaning to toss or to throw, possibly “to toss everything into the pot”?).

Also had a smoked albacore salad. Man, that stuff is good.

And how could my La Jollan sojourn be complete without a guacamole-bacon omelet with homemade salsa from Harry’s Coffee Shop, the old-school lunch counter stand-by since 1960 (virtually unchanged).

In other news…

On Friday, I caught up with my friend Marco Barat, a super-talented wine professional and local youth soccer coach, who celebrated his namesake saint’s day at the somewhat-over-the-top So-Cal-glam restaurant Pasquale in downtown La Jolla. I really dug his Lion of Venice t-shirt (above). April 25 is also Italian Liberation Day.

The cover band at Pasquale’s did a pretty smokin’ Janis-inspired version of “Me and Bobby McGee.”

ME & BOBBY MCGEE

- words and music by Kris Kristofferson
- first popularized by Roger Miller in 1969 (#12 Country hit)
- lyrics as recorded by Janis Joplin on the 1971 album “Pearl”
(Columbia VCK-30322)

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train
And I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained
It rode us all the way into New Orleans
I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana
I’s playin’ soft while Bobby sang the blues, yeah
Windshield wipers slappin’ time, I’s holdin’ Bobby’s hand in mine
We sang every song that driver knew, yeah

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no
And feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin’ good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

From the Kentucky coal mine to the California sun
There Bobby shared the secrets of my soul
Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done
Yeah, Bobby baby kept me from the cold
One day up near Salinas, Lord, I let him slip away
He’s lookin’ for that home and I hope he finds it
But I’d trade all o’ my tomorrows for one single yesterday
To be holdin’ Bobby’s body next to mine

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, that’s all that Bobby left me, yeah
But if feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
Hey, feelin’ good was good enough for me, mm-hmm
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

La-da-da La-da-da-da La-da-da da-da da-da
La-da-da da-la-da la-da, Bobby McGee, yeah
La-da-la-da-la-da La-da-la-da-da
La-da-la-da-la-la, Bobby McGee, yeah
La-da-da La-da-da La da-da La da-da
La-da-da La da-da La da-da
Hey, my Bobby, Lord, my Bobby McGee, yeah
Lo-da-lo da-la-lo-da-la
Lo-da-la-lo da-la-lo la-la-lo la-la-lo la-la
Hey, my Bobby, Lord, my Bobby McGee, yeah


Italy Day 3: Brunellogate Explodes and Darkness Falls over Vinitaly

April 23, 2008

Above: Laura bestows a laurel wreath on Petrarca in a sixteenth-century illustrated manuscript.

In the third sonnet of Franceso Petrarca’s Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Fragments of Vernacular Things), his fourteenth-century breviary of poems devoted to Madonna Laura (365 Italian sonnets, ballads, sestinas, and madrigals, plus an introductory sonnet), he describes the day he first set his eyes upon Laura in a church in Avignon, Good Friday, April 6, 1327 as follows:

    It was the day the sun’s ray had turned pale
    With pity for the suffering of his Maker

    Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, 3.1-2
    (translation by Mark Musa)

On March 21, 2008, Good Friday seemed to have come early this year: it was on that day that my partner and co-editor at VinoWire.com, Franco Ziliani, published the first account of a scandal that would soon be dubbed Brunellopoli or Brunellogate.

Above: one of the more extravagant stands at this year’s Vinitaly.

By the time Franco and I reached Vinitaly in Verona (Italy’s annual wine trade fair) on April 3, we had been the first to publish English-language reports of the Siena magistrate’s investigation of alleged fraudulent Brunello on VinoWire.com.

The fair buzzed with rumor and hearsay. There were false claims of “storm troopers” sequestering wine on the floor of the exposition, and gossip-mongers whispered names to one another, alleging who had accused whom of this or that infraction.

Darkness had indeed fallen over Vintaly.

Since I returned to the U.S., I’ve had the chance to speak with a number of informed persons who work in Montalcino or who are closely associated with the appellation. My sources have requested anonymity (because the investigation is ongoing) but they have denied any reports of wine being impounded at the fair. There were reports of undercover agents who checked to see if previously sequestered wine was being presented at the fair. The “storm trooper” rumor was evidently started by an unscrupulous Austrian newspaper editor who sought to sell papers through false reporting.

And while it is true that more than 600,000 bottles of wine have been sequestered to date, the majority of these were seized from 2 or 3 large, commercial producers of Brunello — a fraction of the more than 200 producers in the appellation.

It is also important to note that while a handful of producers have been accused of blending grapes other than Sangiovese in their Brunello (the appellation requires 100% Sangiovese), others have been cited for minor infractions (e.g., slightly excessive yields).

Although Italian government officials have been quick to blame the press for “panic” in the marketplace, it would seem that Siena magistrate and prosecutor Nino Calabrese is a would-be Elliot Ness seeking to create a legacy of mistrust before he retires from office on May 1.

Please see this editorial by Franco Ziliani that we published on VinoWire.com.


Italy Day 2 (dinner): felicitiously da Felicin

April 22, 2008

Above: Da Felicin in Monforte d’Alba is one of Langa’s classic old-school trattorie and it boasts one of the best cellars in the area. The current proprietor and chef, Nino Rocca (pictured below), grandson of Felice (hence the name), makes traditional Piedmontese fare. His colorful wit and spirited one-liners reminded me of the classic tavern-keepers you read about in nineteenth-century Italian novels.

After my meeting with Maria Teresa Mascarello in Barolo, I made a pilgrimage of sorts as I headed to Serralunga d’Alba to visit Fontanafredda, the oldest producer of Barolo: before her grandfather Giulio bought the now historic rows in the vineyards Cannubi, Rocche, San Lorenzo, and Ruè and began to make and bottle his own wine, he worked as a mediatore, a mediator or négociant of grapes for what was and remains the largest producer of Barolo, Fontanafredda.

Together with Ricasoli (Chianti Classico) and Cavour (Piedmont), Fontanafredda was one of the three Risorgimento-era winemakers who shaped the birth of a wine nation: Ricasoli established the primacy of Sangiovese in Tuscany, Cavour obtained nuanced bouquet and created world-class expressions of Nebbiolo in Grinzane, and King Vittorio Emanuele II produced Barolo on a large scale and converted his granaries into wine cellars, gathering together the first great Barolo “library” at his Fontanafredda estate.

The king essentially lost control of Fontanafredda during the Fascist era and the royal family was exiled from Italy after the second world war. But before the war began, Giulio Mascarello negotiated the purchase of fruit for Fontanafredda. According to Maria Teresa, this was one of the reasons he knew the growing sites so well and why he was able to chose so wisely when he decided to purchase select rows in some of Langa’s most coveted vineyards.

More on the “birth of a wine nation” in another post…

Felicin is a favorite gathering place for local and extra-communitarian Barolisti alike. Its cellar is replete with old bottlings of Nebbiolo (as well as a few unfortunate bottles of La Spinetta that Nino thankfully hides away in a corner of his cellar lest brazen thieves attempt to ferry them away in the middle of foggy night).

The asparagus with zabaglione were decadent, worthy of Louis XIV.

Tagliatelle generously dusted with grated black truffles and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

In Langa, the cheese course is traditionally served with cognà (center), a jelly made from the must of Dolcetto grapes after pressing.

Saving my energy for the first day of Vinitaly (which began the next day in Verona), I treaded lightly with a bottle of 1996 Lazzarito by Fontanafredda to accompany the cheese course. The nearly twelve-year old wine showed nicely.

The wise-cracking and ever-gracious Nino reminded me of an “oste” that you might come across in a Manzoni novel. He speaks multiple languages. One cannot help but have a felicitous experience Da Felicin.


Wasabi-Horseradish, Gefilte Fish, and Petit Chablis

April 20, 2008

Now, that’s what I call fusion!!!

The Parzen family celebrated the Passover last night chez Judy in La Jolla, twelve people at our seder (which I led for the first time). A fun time was had by all and the evening ended with a medley of Beatles songs (check out nephew Abner giving me a hand with the guitar playing in the clip below).

I thought I had seen it all until I opened Judy’s fridge to find a jar of Yoda-green wasabi-horseradish sauce by Manishewitz. My sister-in-law Marguerite made some excellent gefilte fish and we paired with one of my favorite white wines, 2004 R&V Dauvissat Petit Chablis (Camus label). (I probably should have asked Lyle for a Reisling pairing, which would have been more appropriate — culturally and flavorwise — with the gefilte.) We also drank 2003 Rosso di Montalcino by Canalicchio di Sopra, which went great with my mom’s roast leg of lamb.

Japan meets Ashkenazi meets Burgundy in this wasabi-horseradish, gefilte fish, and Petit Chablis pairing.

Tomorrow’s post: Italy Day 2 bis, dinner at Felicin in Monforte d’Alba.


Italy Day 2: Bartolo’s Beret

April 19, 2008

Above: will Bartolo Mascarello’s real beret please stand up?

Although she was happy to learn that her father has achieved cult status in the über-hipster wine culture of lower Manhattan and she liked the allusion to Che Guevara, Maria Teresa Mascarello (Bartolo’s daughter) told me that the beret pictured in the Terroir wine bar t-shirt below is a photomontage. Maria Teresa didn’t know about the tee until someone printed out a copy of my post Is Mascarello the New Che Guevara? and brought it to her (she doesn’t use the internet). When I got back to NYC, I put in a call to Paul Grieco, owner of Terroir, who sells the tee. But he never called me back. I guess I’ll just have to go buy a t-shirt and send it to Maria Teresa myself.

Maria Teresa and her mother Franca (below, left) concluded that the Terroir t-shirt (below) is a photomontage.

Italy Day 2…

On April 2, I awoke in the guest room of the Castello di Zumelle, the fairy tale serenity of the Piave river valley broken only by the sound of a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-do in the distance. I bid the Dalpiva family farewell and headed south to the A4 autostrada and then west toward Piedmont and the Langhe hills where I had an appointment with Maria Teresa Mascarello of the famed Bartolo Mascarello winery, ardent defender of traditionally made, blended (as opposed to single-vineyard) Barolo.

When I showed Bartolo’s wife Franca and Maria Teresa an image of the Bartolo Mascarello t-shirt, they couldn’t get over the fact that Bartolo’s physiognomy has taken on such an aura in the U.S. They loved it. (In the photo above, they are viewing an image of the t-shirt on my laptop.) They also greatly appreciated the text written on the verso of the tee, “Bartolo Mascarello, my wine revolution…”

Before we went to tour the cellar and taste some wines together, Maria Teresa told me that her father only allowed her to install a phone in their home and adjoining winery in 1989, “after the Berlin wall fell.” He insisted that the phone be listed not under the winery’s name but rather in Maria Teresa’s name, as it remains today.

As we were tasting the 2004 Barolo, the cellar master came up to the tasting room and brought us a taste of the 2005: they had just finished blending the wine in that instant and we were literally the very first to taste it. What a thrill… (I’ll be posting a tasting note together with a profile of the Bartolo Mascarello winery next week on VinoWire.com.)

Above: a collection of old bottles in the Bartolo Mascarello cellar.

In other news…

Tonight is the first night of Passover and I’m very happy to report that I am spending the holiday with my family in La Jolla (something I haven’t done in too many years).

Last night I had dinner at my favorite San Diego restaurant, Jaynes, where I met owner Jayne Battle’s father Frank Battle (above, left with daughter Jayne).

Frank grew up in Liverpool and is the “same age as Paul McCartney.” He knew all the Beatles growing up and he also knew their long-time confidant, the true “fifth Beatle,” Neil Aspinall, who recently passed away. Frank told me that he also met Beatles’ impresario Brian Epstein when he went to buy records at his record shop. How cool is that?

Above: the fresh halibut served over pea tendrils and fingerling potatoes at Jaynes, paired with 2006 Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir. Yes, there are some California wines that I like.


Italy Day 1: Chianina and pisacan with old friends

April 16, 2008

Above: the Castello di Zumelle rises above the historic town of Mel nestled at the foot of the Dolomite Alps. Zumelle is the ancient name of Mel (in the province of Belluno, about an hour and a half south of Cortina d’Ampezzo). It means “two twins” in Bellunese dialect. According to legend, the castle was built in the 700s by twin brothers whose sarcophagus still resides within the castle walls.

So here goes: Italy Day 1…

I arrived in Venice on April fool’s day, picked up my Fiat Idea, and headed toward the hills. My first destination was the Castello di Zumelle, lunch, dinner, and sleep over with some of my oldest Italian friends, the Dalpiva family. I first met Renato and Lucia (left with their son, Nicola) in 1989 when I was in my second year at the Università di Padova and was making a living by playing blues and covers with my good friend Elvis (more on him later) in the many pubs and beer gardens that line the Piave river. At the time, they ran the Casa Rossa, one of the most successful venues, and in 1991, they were asked to manage the famous Birreria di Pedavena, a beautiful 1930s beer garden and botanic garden, where I spent three summers playing six nights a week with a cover band comprised of friends from California (including Charlie George, John Krylow, Ted, and Shawn Amos).

Today, they live atop a hill in a castle… yes, a castle, just like in fairy tales. A few years back, after they had retired (at a very young age, I might add), Renato won the local competition to open a restaurant in the town’s medieval castle. Not only did he build a beautiful restaurant there, but he also refurbished the living quarters and the family moved in. The ever-industrious Renato also created a medieval re-enactment walking tour for children: three or four times a week, he dons his medieval garb (as in the photo above) and teaches school children how to make chainmaille and medieval dumplings, he lectures, accompanied by music, on life in the Middle Ages.

For dinner, Renato threw some fiorentine on the grill (Tuscan porterhouse steaks, butchered from Chianina cows). Note how he chars the top of the steaks before grilling them — a sine qua non.

After our steaks, Lucia served a salad made with tarassaco (Taraxacum), a local variety of dandelion green known in Veneto dialect as pisacane or dog pisser. The name is not very appetizing but the bitterness of these tasty greens was offset by a drop or two of balsamic vinegar.

The castle armory is a highlight of Renato’s tour. He’s like a kid in a candy store…

A diorama of the castle as it appeared in the Middle Ages.

Sunset in the valley as seen from the castle tower.

Next post: a visit with Maria Teresa Mascarello, Bartolo’s beret, and the mystery of his Che Guevara star…


This Just in from Slovenia…

April 15, 2008

Too slammed with work stuff to post today but received this link from a Slovenian photoblogger with images from our Ljubljana show.

We really had no idea how big we are there. As the promoter put it, every kid in Slovenia knows our song Lawnmower Boy from the Mobitel commercial. Earlier in the day, they did a promo giveaway on the radio and the winners got their pictures taken with us. Who knew we were huge in Slovenia?


Homeward Bound

April 14, 2008

Above: winemaker Aleš Kristančič draws off a barrel sample of his 2005 Pinot Noir.

Sunday morning found me in Mira along the banks of the Brenta River, which leads from Venice to Padua. I was lucky enough to snag a room in what has now become my officially favorite hotel, the Villa Alberti, one of the many summer villas built by Venetian nobles built during the eighteenth century.

I leave today for New York and will begin blogging again once stateside. The trip to Europe was amazing and I have many posts in store, including a post on how biodynamic winemaker Aleš Kristančič of Slovenia (above) gave me new insights into the use of barrique… yes, barrique…

Stay tuned for more!


The Virtual Conversation

April 7, 2008

Me and Franco down by the schoolyard (outside Vinitaly).

Believe it or not: even though Franco Ziliani (above left) and I launched our collaborative project VinoWire more than a month ago, we had never met in person until the first day of Vinitaly last Thursday.

We have corresponded by email since July of last year and the idea for the project was born late last year. The very same day we shook each other’s hand for the first time, Eric wrote this post about the emerging Brunello controversy and our coverage.

I head out for Slovenia this afternoon and don’t know when I’ll be able to get online again. But I’m looking forward to posting about the many wines I’ve tasted, meals I’ve enjoyed, and interesting people I’ve met at the Italian trade fairs.


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