Champagne, Xerox, and Kleenex

December 31, 2009

antonomasia [ahn-TAH-noh-MAY-zee'ah], the use of a proper name to express a general idea, as in calling an orator a Cicero, a wise judge a Daniel (OED, online edition).

Above: An unforgettable bottle of 1996 Billecart-Salmon that I shared last year with Jayne and Jon at Spago in Beverly Hills. We weren’t celebrating anything. But we were being treated by a famous winemaker.

In this week’s semiotic treatment of Champagne, we neglected to address one of the most fascinating semiotic implications of the lemma Champagne (at least, one of the most fascinating to me).

The term Champagne is a wonderful example of the literary figure antonomasia, from the Greek ἀντί (anti, meaning instead or against) and ὄνομα (onoma, meaning name), whereby a proper name is used to denote a general idea, in this case, sparkling wine.

Above: A bottle of Bollinger that we popped to celebrate pulling the first mix from Nous Non Plus’s 2009 release Ménagerie. The track? “Bollinger” (click to listen)! A song about our favorite Champagne and official band beverage. (We are a “French” band, after all, n’est pas?)

Other examples that immediately come to mind: Xerox and Kleenex. Both are proper names, in fact, brand names, yet both have come to denote generic items, namely, photocopies and tissue paper.

Let’s face it: even though we wine professionals and enthusiasts strictly use the term (toponym and proper name) Champagne to denote sparkling wines sourced from the place and appellation, Champagne, 99% of the intelligent lifeforms in the world interpret it as any sparkling wine. In his 1953 editio princeps of With a Jug of Wine, for example, food and wine writer Morrison Wood casually and regularly makes reference to California champagne.

Above: A bottle of Initial by Anselme Selosse that Alfonso opened for me and Tracie B last year to celebrate my move to Texas. Perhaps more than any other, Selosse is the most coveted and illustrious brand of Champagne in the U.S. It’s not cheap but it’s worth every penny. Check out this great post, from earlier this year, by McDuff.

Just this weekend, I was reminded of this fact when Melvin C and I visited a Walmart in Orange, Texas in search of some Prosecco for Tracie B, and I was greeted by a “stack” (as we say in the biz) of André California Champagne (“the best selling brand of sparkling wine in the U.S.,” according to the Wiki).

Whatever you plan to drink tonight for your New Year’s celebration, Tracie B and I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and serene 2010. Thanks for all the support and love in 2009!

Breaking news: this just in from Italy

Thanks are due to reader Elaine from Italy who identified the champagne-method Nerello Mascaelese by Murgo (Sicily).

Also just in from Italy…

According to the Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, when all is said and done, Italians will have spent Euro 2.7 billion on sausage (cotechino and zampone) and Italian sparkling wine (spumante). “Salmon, oysters, and caviar” were no match for the famed boiled sausages of Modena (both delicious, btw). Nor did Champagne, with a “a 66% drop in sales,” rival its Italian counterparts.

On that part, according to a press release issued by the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene e Conegliano Producers Association, Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia sent 60 “3-liter Jeroboams” of Prosecco to the staff of the “national radio and television stations.”

An early celebration of his upcoming governorship of the Veneto, no doubt.

Happy new year, everyone, everywhere!


BrooklynGuy’s best value Champagne

December 30, 2009

Above: This and the images below were all captured in September 2008, when Franco and I visited the truly marvelous and amazing Ca’ del Bosco in Franciacorta. That’s Anna Caprini, director of media relations, who gave us an excellent tour of the winery.

In the case you don’t know or read BrooklynGuy’s blog, you don’t know what you’re missing! His blog is everything a great wine blog should be: open, honest, with no hidden agenda other than sharing his impressions and knowledge and entertaining us with his wry and dry (pun intended) humor.

BrooklynGuy has one of the purest palates in the blogosphere and even though he doesn’t work in the wine industry, he is often asked to take part in tasting panels — by both major magazines and high-profile trade personalities who want to get his impressions.

Above: Ca’ del Bosco produces a wide range of superb champagne-method wines. And while technology prevails there (after all, Champagne and champagne-method wines are, perhaps more than any other, the fruit of technology), works of art also punctuate the winery tour experience, like this rhino suspended, seemingly precariously, from the facility’s ceiling.

But the greatest thing about his blog, for those of us who have been following it for a while now, is BrooklynGuy’s (and I mean this in the most complimentary way) “Rain Man” approach to tasting and wine writing. He’s never lost that sense of innocence that sets his blog apart from the pack (otherwise dominated by folks who think they’re doing the world a favor by sharing their informed and informative palates).

BrooklynGuy loves him some bubbles (as evidenced by his nearly weekly series Friday Night Bubbles).

Above: The remuage or riddling process was the leap in technology that made Champagne and champagne-method wines like those produced in Franciacorta possible. The bottles are stored in these racks and then “riddled”: every day they are turned, gently, by hand, so that the lees of the wine will settle in the neck.

I asked him to cull his blog for some great-value Champagnes and otherwise bubbly wines and he graciously obliged.

As the Latins used to say, ubi maior, minor cessat

*****

I am not someone who sees Champagne as a seasonal beverage. I drink it the way I drink any other wine — as often as I can. That said, there are many people who will buy champagne in the coming week who do not ordinarily do so, and the variety and prices can get a bit overwhelming. Here are some of my favorite sparkling wines at a few different price points (NYC prices, anyway). These are wines that I are available now, that I would confidently purchase for myself or to share with others at a celebration. There are loads of other great choices too, and these are all rather small production wines, so if you don’t find these, ask your friendly knowledgeable wine clerk, or leave Dr. J [editor's note: that would be me] a comment and he’ll try to get back to you.

—BrooklynGuy

Under $20

Domaine de Montbourgeau Cremant du Jura NV
$20, Neal Rosenthal Imports.

A delicious Blanc de Blancs made from Jura Chardonnay. Refreshing and balanced, very earthy.

Under $30

Huet Vouvray Petillant Brut 2002
$28, Robert Chadderdon Selections.

The finest of the sparkling wines from Vouvray, from one of the finest producers in Vouvray. This is incredibly high quality wine, and at this price it’s a steal.

Above: A detail of the lees (the dead yeast cells) that will be disgorged before the wine is bottled and released.

Under $40

Pierre Brigandat Champagne Brut Reserve NV
$32, Bonhomie Wine Imports.

A lively and expressive Blanc de Noirs that offers ripe and clean fruit, but also a definite sense of soil and mineral.

Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte-Anne Brut NV
$38, Terry Theise Selections, Michael Skurnik Imports.

This to me is a classic Champagne — floral and biscuit aromas, great acidity and tension, a chalky finish, just delicious. A blend of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pierre Gimmonet Champagne Selection Belles Années Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
$35, Terry Theise Selections, Michael Skurnik Imports.

A new cuvée from Gimmonet made of a blend of two vintages of the Cuvée Gastronome, the wine bottled at lower pressure so as to be more harmonious with food. A lithe and tasty wine.

Thanks, again, BrooklynGuy! You ROCK! And happy new year, everyone!


Some best bubbles and life beyond Prosecco…

December 29, 2009

Above: I took this photo earlier this year atop Cartizze, the most prestigious growing site for Prosecco, where the cost of land per acre is higher than in Napa Valley. In 1998, Tom Stevenson wrote that Prosecco is “probably the most overrated sparkling wine grape in the world” (The Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, reprint 2003).

Xenophobe and racist Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia has infamously and nationalistically asked Italians to drink only Italian sparkling wine for their New Year’s celebration this year. His campanilistic call comes in part as the result of a backlash from last year’s nationalized television controversy when the announcers of RAI Uno opened Champagne during a televised New Year’s eve event.

Of course, Zaia is also infamous for the favoritism he’s shown for his beloved Prosecco this year. He even created the Prosecco DOCG, placing the humble Prosecco grape in the pantheon of the top classification, before Common Market Organisation reforms took effect this year.

Above: Italy produces such a wonderful variety of sparkling wines, from the humble yet beloved Prosecco to the often regal, zero-dosage Franciacorta. Franco and I tasted an amazing array of sparkling wines last year together at Ca’ del Bosco.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Prosecco. And I love the place where it produced and the people who produce it. Just ask Alfonso: he remembers well how I guided us to Valdobbiadene from Trento earlier this year, without ever looking at a map, my Trevisan cadence getting stronger and stronger as my beloved Piave river and its tributaries came into earshot. You see, many years ago, I made my living traveling along the Piave river, from Padua to Belluno, playing American music for pub crawlers.

Above: One of the best champagne-method wines I’ve tasted in recent memory was this Franciacorta rosé by Camossi. Structure, toasty notes and fresh fruit flavors, bright acidity and fine bubbles, an excellent pairing for all the lake fish, smoked, pickled, and roasted, that Franco, Giovanni, Ben, and I ate one fateful night in Erbusco.

But there are so many wonderful sparkling Italian wines beyond Prosecco (Sommariva and Coste Piane are my two favorite expressions of Prosecco available right now in this country). Franciacorta is the first obvious destination but there are so many other producers of fine sparkling white wines made from indigenous and international grape varieties: champagne-method Erbaluce from Carema in Piedmont (Orsolani), Charmat-method Favorita from Mango in Piedmont (Tintero), champagne-method Pinot Noir from Emilia (Lini), Charmat-method Moscato known as Moscadello di Montalcino from Tuscany (Il Poggione), a rosé blend of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir from Langa in Piedmont (Deltetto)… Those are the first that come to mind but there are many, many others. Sparkling wines are produced in nearly every region of Italy, from the sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Trentino and South Tyrol to sparkling Ribolla of Friuli and the sparkling Verdicchio of the Marches. Once, I even tasted a sparkling Nerello Mascalese from Sicily that had been vinified as a white wine (but I can’t recall the producer… please let me know if you know one).

Above: Hand-riddled magnums of Chardonnay for Ca’ del Bosco’s Franciacorta.

Why do we feel obliged to drink something sparkling on New Year’s eve, anyway? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between the royal court of Britain, the Czars, Napoleon’s vinous invasion of Russia, and some enterprising Germans who set up shop in Champagne in the 19th century.

Tracie B and I still haven’t decided what we’re going to open on New Year’s but I’m sure it’ll be something good.

On deck for tomorrow…

Best Champagne and other French sparkling values by guest blogger BrooklynGuy.

And in the meantime, please check out Tom’s post today on “classy sparkling wines.”


Champagne by any other name…

December 28, 2009

From the semiotics department…

champagne

Above: A few weeks ago, Tracie B and I attended a “Champagne Party” in south Austin hosted by wine collectors.

Champagne is a place (a province of eastern France).

Champagne is an adjective, “something exhilarating, excellent” (“It was of the two Lytteltons, Alfred and Edward, that the phrase ‘the champagne of cricket’, was first used,” 1928, OED online edition). Champagne is a color.

Champagne is also a compound attributive adjective: you can have “champagne” tastes; you can be a “champagne” socialist (I, for one, certainly am one, although I prefer Brunello socialist); you can even have a “champagne” cocktail.

Champagne is also a wine — a sparkling wine made in the region of Champagne, twice-fermented in bottle.

champagne

Above: It was like a scene from Man Bites Dog when fellow Austinite blogger Alcoholian and I faced off with our cameras at the Champagne party. Meta-blogging at its best!

Champagne perhaps more than any other wine (with Bordeaux a distant second) evokes an ethos, a zeitgeist, an aura, a sentiment, a sensation, a sensual experience…

On any given day, you will find at least three bottles of wine in my refrigerator: a bottle of Prosecco, a bottle of Moscato d’Asti, and a bottle of Champagne. The Prosecco for celebration and/or a great pairing for a small plates dinner (cicchetti). The Moscato d’Asti, with its low alcohol and bright fruit flavors and residual sugar, a great brunch wine, a great a-friend-just-dropped-in wine, a great wine to pair with fresh fruit. But the Champagne? When it comes to a truly special occasion, I wish for no other wine to grace the palate of my beautiful Tracie B than Champagne. Is there any other wine where refinement and elegance meet power and structure as in Champagne? Is it just the ethos behind the wine that inspires this reverence in me?

Today, I’ll leave the technical discussion of Champagne to Eric and BrooklynGuy (I highly recommend both posts, the one on some great grower-producers, the other on varietal expression in Champagne).

I’ll just invite you to consider the word… say it aloud, roll it around your mouth… think of the imagery and ethos it evokes… Champagne… the very word titillates the senses, no? Champagne by any other name just wouldn’t be the same, would it?

Tracie B and I will be opening a Champagne on New Year’s Eve this year but we haven’t decided which one. What’s your “best Champagne” pick?

More tomorrow…

In other news… There is a G-d!

pastrami

Yesterday, Tracie B and I stopped in Houston on our way back to Austin from Orange, Texas and had lunch at Kenny and Ziggy’s Delicatessen. The day I decided to leave New York City, I had resigned myself to never eating great smoked fish and pastrami again (at least, not on a daily basis). But, man, let me tell you: the pastrami at Kenny and Ziggy’s ranks right up there with Barney Greengrass and Katz’s.

I never thought I’d utter the words, “there IS great deli outside of New York.”

Who knew?


Impossible wine pairing? Chicken and dumplings

December 27, 2009

Above: Did I mention the girl can cook? Tracie B made chicken and dumplings last night for the whole B family. Photo by Rev. B.

In Emilia-Romagna they eat tortellini and cappelletti in brodo (filled pasta in capon broth). In Central Europe they eat knödel served in broth. At the Jewish deli, they serve kreplach in broth. And in the South, they make chicken and dumplings.

Above: Tracie B’s chicken and dumplings. I can only wonder what Dr. V’s user-generated content would have to say about this most impossible impossible wine pairings — chicken and dumplings. But, man, were they good! This and below photos by Tracie B.

By its very nature, broth is an inevitably impossible wine pairing: the temperature alone makes pairing like grabbing the moon with your teeth as the French say.

Heeding the adage by restaurateur giant Danny Meyer, if it grows with it, it goes with it, I should have paired Tracie B’s delectable dumplings with Lambrusco (my top pick would have been a Lambrusco di Sorbara). In Emilia, versatile Lambrusco is served throughout the meal, with the appetizer of affettati (sliced charcuterie), with the first course of tortellini in brodo, with the second course of bollito (boiled meats and sausage), and even with the dessert of Parmgiano Reggiano served in crumbly shards, perhaps topped with a drop of aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena or di Reggio Emilia (none of that hokey, watery aromatic vinegar). Lambrusco would have been perfect here.

Above: Don’t try this at home. Frankly, the 2004 Barbaresco Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco is going through a nearly undrinkable stage in its evolution.

But as food writer Arthur Schwartz says of pizza, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with.

Before heading to Orange for the Christmas holiday celebration with the B family, I had reached into our cellar and pulled out a bottle of 2004 Barbaresco Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco. Frankly, the wine was too tight, overwhelmingly tannic, and even though it opened up over the course of the evening, it’s going through a nearly undrinkable period in its evolution. But that’s part of my love affair with this winery: experiencing the wine and the different single-vineyard expressions at different points in its life. And there are more bottles of 04 Pora to be had in our cellar. We ended up lingering over wine, sipping it is a meditative wine as we retired to the living room and watched a movie together and munched on oatmeal cookies that Tracie B and Mrs. B had baked that afternoon.

Above: Nephew Tobey wasn’t concerned with wine pairing. But he sure loved him some chicken and dumplings!

Happy Sunday ya’ll and thanks for reading!


Cajun boudin balls and Dolcetto (how’s that for fusion?)

December 26, 2009

Pam and Melvin Croaker’s fried corn-meal-dusted boudin balls paired superbly with an 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba Monte Aribaldo by Marchesi di Gresy at yesterday’s Christmas day supper. The weather’s been cold and windy here: Dolcetto is such a great wintry grape, with its rich, meaty mouthfeel and nervy acidity pillared by a fulcrum of gentle tannin and meaty flavor. At less than $20 a bottle, the single-vineyard Dolcetto Monte Aribaldo has been my 2009 holiday season standby wine.

Sadly, a bottle of 2004 Rosso di Montepulciano by Sanguineto was corked. It wasn’t corked in the tainted with a corky or wet dog smell, the way “viciously” corked wine can smell (as BrooklynGuy likes to say when he’s disappointed with a much-anticipated bottle like this one). It was just that the fruit had died: as BrooklynGuy might say, it wasn’t “terrible, just dull.”

Boudin balls are made from the filling of boudin sausage — pork, pork liver, rice and Cajun seasoning (spicy). They can be rolled in breadcrumbs or flour but Pam and Melvin used a cornmeal coating (also traditional) for these tasty delights. Soooooo good…

In other news…

Yet another dream came true this Christmas yesterday when Tracie B and I got the 3-quart All-Clad sauté pan we’d been hoping for.

Thanks Mrs. and Rev. B!


Xmas eve gumbo (and they called me “Tex”)

December 25, 2009

Above: “You’re a cowboy, Je-emy,” said Tobey (left) when I tried on the cowboy hat that Melvin Croaker gave me as a Christmas gift last night. When I was his age, I dreamed of being a cowboy… Don’t all little boys?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (online version), the word gumbo comes from the Angolan kingombò or quingombo, meaning okra.

Uncle Tim’s gumbo doesn’t have any okra in it, nor does he make it with seafood. But, man, is it delicious: Texas is the only place I’ve lived in the U.S.A. where folks are so passionate about the food they make and eat and where there exists (what I call) idiosyncratic cuisine, where every family (and seemingly every family member) has its own interpretation and expression of traditional dishes and recipes.

Above: You pour the gumbo over boiled short-grain rice (do not used parboiled rice) and then dress with potato salad (made with hard-boiled eggs).

Uncle Tim makes his gumbo as such:

    Prepare 2 gallons chicken stock using chicken thighs (discard the bones if necessary and shred and reserve the chicken meat). Prepare a roux using 2 cups flour and 2 cups vegetable oil (rendered lard was traditionally used), whisking constantly (about 45 minutes) until the flour has browned. Filter the roux using cheesecloth (or paper napkin) and reserve. Combine the roux and stock, add finely chopped yellow onions and green onions, and then add smoked sausage sliced in rounds, including the casing (Tim uses deer sausage, made from deer he hunts himself). Season to taste with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning (some use Tony Chachere filé, a powder made from finely ground sassafras leaves). Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 3 or 4 hours, as necessary, until the desired consistency is obtained. Serve over boiled rice, dressed with potato salad.

Above: Folks in coonass country all have their own idiosyncratic approach to making gumbo but one thing they all seem to agree on is Tony Chachere’s seasonings.

One of the keys to great gumbo, says Uncle Tim, is smoked sausage: the smokey notes, he explains, are what gives his gumbo its distinctive flavor. Be sure not to use Minute Rice (or any other parboiled rice): it will absorb and mask too much of the flavor, he says.

Tracie B and I paired with Luneau-Papin 2006 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Clos des Allées: the intense aromatic nature of the grape and its bright acidity were great with the spiciness and moreish fattiness of the gumbo dressed with the potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and mayonnaise in the potato salad.

Above: Uncle Tim and his dog Zsa Zsa. I asked Tim if her nails were painted red for Christmas but that’s her regular color, he said.

Beyond the excellent gumbo, the highlight of the evening for me was a special gift that Melvin and Pam Croaker gave me. You see, they’re very close friends of the B family and so they feel very close to Tracie B. Ever since Melvin got a Facebook, he’s been following my metamorphosis of Calfornian turned Texan (via Italy and New York).

cowboy

Above: That’s me with Melvin. When we left at the end of the night, Aunt Ida Jean said, “we’ll see you tomorrow, Tex!”

At a certain point after dinner was served (they’d been serving gumbo at Tim and Ida Jean’s house since 2 p.m.), Melvin asked for the roughly 20 guests to join him in the living room and he sat me on the one side of him, Tracie B on the other.

“I’ve been following Jeremy’s transformation of becoming a Texan,” he told the room. “He’s found himself a beautiful Texan girl, he’s been learning about barbecue, and he’s even got himself a Texas driver’s license. But he’s still missing a few things.”

He then proceeded to give me a six-pack of Lonestar Beer: “Now, I want you to go analyze this the way you do with your wine,” he said. But most importantly, “you need to start dressing like a Texan. And so I got you this hat.” And then he proceeded to fulfill a childhood wish of mine: he gave me a real cowboy hat, a Justin “cutter straw western.”

Tracie B’s little nephew Tobey jumped up and exclaimed, “you’re a cowboy Je-emy!”

Thanks again, Melvin and Pam, for the generous and thoughtful gift and for welcoming me to Texas and the extended B family: I guess some dreams do come true on Christmas…


Fishes, wishes, and thanks this Christmas

December 24, 2009

grigliata di mare

Above: “Grigliata di Mare,” Amalfi Coast, photo by friend and colleague Tom Hyland.

“Crisis or no crisis, Italians won’t say no to fish on Christmas eve,” says the daily dose of Italian wine news that finds its way to my inbox this morning. The tradition of eating fish on Christmas eve stretches back to the middle ages and beyond. Its origins lie in a monastic tradition of fasting as part of the holy rite: in a gesture of self-awareness and sacrifice, one “does without” the richness of fatty meat and milk reserved for feast days. Of course, as the bold statement above reveals, the tradition has been turned on its fish head, as it were: across the western world, we consume seafood delicacies on Christmas eve as an expression of luxury. Where I lived in the north of Italy, eel was served on Christmas eve. In the south, where Tracie B lived, a grigliata di mare (as in Tom’s photo above) might be served. (Alfonso posted interesting insight into the myth of the Dinner of Seven Fishes — yes, a myth! — here.)

gumbo

Above: Uncle Tim is an amazing cook and his gumbo is no exception. In Coonass country, where Tracie B grew up, east-Texas style gumbo is served on Christmas eve. When we visit with Tracie B’s family, Uncle Tim and I sit around and talk about food for hours.

Tracie B and I have a lot to be thankful for this Christmas, as we get ready to head east to her family’s place in Orange, Texas (where she and I will be eating Uncle Tim’s excellent gumbo tonight).

It’s been quite a year: I started a new job in the wine business shortly after I moved to Austin only to start over again during the summer when the company I worked for experienced its own financial difficulties. Somehow I managed to land on my feet and things are looking up for 2010 (I think that the loving support and tender words of my sweet and amatissima Tracie B had a little something to do with that).

However much we struggled financially, Tracie B and I are well aware of how lucky we are to be working and we are painfully aware that some in our business continue to struggle.

jeremy parzen

Above: Tracie B and I are getting married next month! Photo by the Nichols.

Crisis or no crisis, our lives have moved forward in wondrous ways I never could have imagined before Tracie B came into my life.

Thank you, everyone, for all the support and well wishes in 2009 and beyond. It’s been some year and as much as I’m glad it’s over, I’ll be sad to see it go: it’s filled with bright memories, even in the darkest times, of the first year of a new beginning and a new life — la vita nova.

Thank you, Mrs. and Rev. B and the entire B family, for welcoming into your lives and hearts. I’ll never forget the first time I met Tracie B’s meemaw and she explained me, “Jeremy, we’re a huggin’ family! Give me a hug…”

And thank you most of all, my beautiful beautiful Tracie B: words cannot begin to express the joy that your love has brought into my life. I love you, I love you with all my heart and soul and every fiber of my body.

Happy holidays to everyone, everywhere…


Holiday cheer starts with Campari and blood oranges

December 22, 2009

garibaldi

When Tracie B told me she had a yen for Campari the other night, I headed to our neighborhood market and picked up some oranges, soda, and ice (she grabbed a bottle of Campari at our favorite local wine store).

garibaldi

Now, mind you, our California blood oranges are nowhere nearly as tasty as the Sicilian blood oranges that Franco loves to brag about. And he’s right: the tenderness and flavor of the Sicilian blood mesocarp are unmatched. But our California blood oranges (I believe the Tarocco cultivar) are still pretty darn good.

I sliced and strained a half of an orange into each glass over ice (we were joined by good friend Amy, who happened to be in the neighborhood, and so three was company, too).

garibaldi

Earlier this year, JT pointed out to me that my preferred formula for drinking Campari is called a “Garibaldi,” I’m assuming because it is a blend of products from Piedmont and Sicily.

Whatever it’s called, it’s delicious!

Tracie B and I still haven’t decided what sparkler we’re popping for New Year’s Eve but it’s that time of year again…

In other news…

sabato napolitano

I’m in Dallas this morning: Alfonso, who’s going to be the best man at our wedding (he introduced us, after all!), took me to get my suit fitted this morning by “SABATO the TAILOR” (that’s him, left). It seems like a long way to travel for a fitting but Neapolitan tailors — everyone knows — are the best in the world and considering the moment of the occasion, it was well worth the trip.

Thanks, Ace!

And in case you haven’t seen it, Tracie B did this adorable post on our wedding invites. I’m just crazy about her and it’s been so much fun getting ready for our wedding… the date is around the corner!


Zaia watch: Italy’s agriculture minister’s tenure much ado about nothing?

December 21, 2009

It’s already been a big week for Italy’s agriculture minister Luca Zaia, left (note the signature black tie and the green pocket square, both very powerful and provocative symbols for a public minister who’s role is to protect the best interests of the entire country).

His recent and controversial call to arms, exhorting Italians to drink only Italian sparkling wine on New Year’s eve, has been the subject of a tide of chatter in the Italian blogosphere. I agree with Franco when he writes that the self-proclaimed prince of Prosecco is a servant to self-serving provincialism and his “despotic” exhortation reeks of the same self-serving italianità that prevailed in another era in his country when the trains ran on time.

Zaia was also the subject of a wonderfully satiric but ultimately poignant post by the Italian Wine Guy, “The Mark of Zaia.” IWG’s insights are invaluable here and his overview tracing the trajectory of Zaia’s meteoric rise is as frightening it is revelatory.

But the biggest news to arrive from Zaialandia this week was the breaking however much anticipated story that he has received the nomination from separatist, secessionist, racist, and xenophobic political party Lega Nord (Northern League) as its candidate for soon-to-be vacant governorship of the region of the Veneto. He even has a shiny new Facebook fan page for his candidacy.

As Franco pointed out in a recent post, the news is good and bad: on one level, many observers, including those of us who sell and promote Italian wine abroad, will be happy to see the Venetophilic pol leave a position he had no business occupying in the first place (I’ve been told that Zaia started his professional career as a nightclub bouncer); on another level, the news is bad since, in the light of the fact that Zaia will probably win the election and become governor of the Veneto, he will be the leader of one of Italy’s richest and most important wine-producing regions (home to some of Italy’s most important exported wines, namely, Prosecco and Amarone).

The news inevitably fills me with sadness. Ultimately, Zaia’s tenure as the steward of Italian agriculture and the Italian wine industry, was the product of political posturing and maneuvering. An ambitious and able politician, Zaia clearly had set his sights on higher political office and when Berlusconi appointed him agriculture minister, it was not because Zaia was the best man for the job but rather as a political payback to the Lega Nord for their support in Berlusconi’s 2008 bid to reattain the prime minister’s office.

Photo courtesy Alexnews.

Sadly — for Italy, Italians, Italian winemakers, and foreign lovers and promoters of Italian wines — Zaia has presided over one of the greatest crises in the history of contemporary Italian winemaking. And it was all much ado about nothing.

His frequently updated blog has never even made note of the recent news that a new adulteration scandal has surfaced in Tuscany.

In Lombardy, there’s a self-effacing, ironical joke that the intellectuals tell about the peoples of northern Italy, based on a folkloric paradox, probably uttered by an old man on the streets of Milan not so many years ago: Rasista mi? Ma se l’è lü che l’è negher! [You're calling] me a racist? But he’s the one who’s black! (In an essay he published after Berlusconi’s famous gaffe calling Obama “tan” following the 2008 elections, Umberto Eco cites this phrase as an example of northern Italians lack of self-awareness.)

I can’t help but be saddened to think that the Veneto (my beloved Veneto!) will be governed by a racist, xenophobic man who has asked Italians to boycott Chinese restaurants, to avoid eating pineapple, and to open only Italian bubbles on New Year’s eve (Prosecco perhaps?), a man would almost certainly tell the above joke without the self-effacing irony.

But for him to achieve such self-awareness and to grasp its irony would be like the teapot calling the kettle black.


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