Montalcino looking good baby

This just in: our wine list at Sotto (by Christine Veys and me) is up for “best wine list in LA” over at the LA Weekly. I’m kinda stoked about that! Please vote if so inclined.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…

best monica larner brunelloIt’s a glorious time to be in Italy right now.

White wine producers have just begun this week to pick and red wine growers are extremely optimistic about the harvest’s potential. Everywhere I go I am surrounded by gorgeous, sexy grape bunches hanging on the vine.

Those are Sangiovese grapes (above) in Montalcino (below), where I’ve spent the last few days.

The abundant rain that arrived Monday morning (knocking out the internet in Montalcino for two days, btw) was just what the appellation needed after a long hot summer. Since the precipitation, the days have been sunny and warm and the nights cool enough that you need a sweater in the evening.

All things considered, it could be a great vintage here. And the same holds for Piedmont, where I spent Saturday and Sunday speaking to growers who are equally pleased with the ultimate progression of the vegetative cycle there.

Today I’m headed to Chianti Classico where I’ll be checking in with growers as well. And then it’s on to Prosecco where some producers have already begun to pick (more notes on that to come).

Friday, I’ll head back to Texas. Man, I’ve been homesick on this trip! But even after my return, I’ll continue to post my harvest notes as the dispatches come in.

Montalcino’s so beautiful right now that it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo (below).

Stay tuned… more to come…

best hotel montalcino

Phylloxera of our times? New outbreaks of Pierce’s Disease in Puglia and Corsica

olive trees puglia xylella fastidiosaAbove: desiccated and dying, olive trees affected by Pierce’s Disease in Salento, Puglia. The photo was taken by Davide de Lentinis, a young man from Salento who has called the crisis and the Italian government’s inaction “a crime against humanity.” Click here to read his stirring Facebook post, which I translated today for my client Cantele.

Late last month, Wine Spectator reported on a newly discovered outbreak of Pierce’s Disease (Xylella fastidiosa) in Corsica, France, where the bacterium is afflicting myrtle bushes.

Yesterday, Italian news outlets reported that authorities have discovered a new outbreak in Puglia, where there is already a vast quarantine area.

According to a report published yesterday, EU officials are holding an emergency meeting in Brussels this Friday to discuss an expansion — a “redefinition,” as they call it — of the quarantine or so-called “buffer zone” (zona cuscinetto).

Even though officials tend to downplay the crisis, thousands of olive trees — some of them a thousand years old or more — have been affected in Puglia. And there is no end in site as growers continue to grub up diseased plants.

In a Facebook chat on Friday with grape grower and Coldiretti Puglia president Gianni Cantele (my client), he told me that he “shudders to think” what will happen if the bacterium travels beyond the buffer zone.

Today, I translated a chilling Facebook post by a young agricultural entrepreneur in Salento that came to my attention via Gianni’s Facebook.

“Thousands of people are at risk of losing everything,” he writes. “Not just the olive growers but other members of the community, as well, like plumbers, electricians, and house painters.”

Click here for the post. And may G-d help them… and us.

Sant’Antimo timeless beauty off the grid

The power is out today in Montalcino after a thunderstorm that dropped rain on the township all morning long. I took advantage of the outage to play hookie from my computer (where I should have been typing away) and I visited the beautiful romanic (yes, “romanic” not romantic, mr. Spellcheck) church of Sant’Antimo where I snapped this photo with my iPhone.

I won’t be meeting with any growers until later today but the rain and seasonally appropriate temperatures are good signs for a healthy crop despite an extremely hot July.

Everywhere I’ve been in Italy so far, people tell me that the weather is “crazy” now every year. But despite the challenges posed by a hot summer, it could turn out to be a good to great vintage for many winemakers throughout Italy. After last year’s extremely wet vintage, that’s good news.

Stay tuned for more notes from the trip when I can get back online.

sant antimo abbey monks chant gregorian.jpg

Laying hearts and wines on the line: thank you, Franciacorta

best hotel lake como italyThat’s Lake Iseo as seen from atop Belvedere to the west.

We visited there yesterday to see what most believe is the highest vineyard in the Franciacorta appellation, where classic method sparkling wines are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.

It was one of the highlights of an extraordinary week of tastings and winery tours. The sojourn was part of my “Franciacorta: the Real Story” project, a year-long blogging campaign sponsored by the Franciacorta Consortium.

Today is my last day here and probably my last visit this year.

I have lots of notes and images to share.

Thank you to the Franciacorta Consortium and its members for their great work in organizing our time here. And truly heartfelt thanks to all the winemakers who received me and the journalist that I’m traveling with.

Opening your wine for someone is like playing them a song you wrote. It means putting your heart on the line and your soul on display. I greatly appreciate the hospitality, the honesty, the earnestness, and the passion that you shared with us.

I’ll see you next year.

maurizio zanella ca bosco franciacorta

Pinot and fig porn and still some grapes in dem der hills

pinot noir pornWhen I finally reached Franciacorta on Sunday morning, I was disappointed to discover that I had missed the grape photo ops that I had so longed for.

But yesterday, my crew and I made our way up to the hamlet of Favento in the northwestern zone of the appellation where, at 200+ meters a.s.l., some growers have been holding out.

Feast your eyes on those Pinot Noir babes!

chardonnay pornThe appellation has been harvested for the most part. A hot July and early August prompted most to start picking on the earlier side of the norm (roughly mid-August).

But those growers who waited were rewarded this week by abundant rain on Tuesday and Wednesday.

How about that Pinot Chardonnay (as it once was called in this neck of the woods), dripping with morning rain water???!!!

fig pussy pornAnd in other fruit porn news, I just had to share these fig shots, taken yesterday in the southernmost zone of the appellation in Cologne township on the south side of Monte Orfano.

Growers there began picking in early August. Wineries on the south-facing side of the mountain are always the first to harvest in Franciacorta because it’s the warmest part of the appellation.

fig pornThese figs might very well have been the best I’ve ever had.

They were so tender and rich in flavor, sweet and fragrant on the palate.

I’m posting in a hurry this morning as my colleague and I head out for another day of Franciacorta tastings and winery visits… stay tuned!

Still some fruit to harvest in Franciacorta and a wild beast on the loose

ca del bosco chardonnay franciacortaDuring my first full day in Franciacorta today, I spoke to a handful of growers who made a point of pointing out that harvest isn’t over quite yet.

Yes, most have harvested the majority of their fruit and nearly all the Pinot Noir has already been picked.

But there is still a considerable amount of Chardonnay in the vineyards, some noted, like the parcel in the image below, in Passirano township.

harvesting grapes in franciacorta whenThere are a few holdouts, I’ve been told.

Ripeness is a sensitive subject among winemakers here and the topic is particularly delicate in a warm vintage like this one.

But across the board, everyone I’ve spoken with says that it’s a good if not great vintage for them, with less fruit that they would have hoped for but healthy fruit nonetheless with good acidity.

The alarming news is that there is a panther on the loose in Franciacorta. Yes, a panther.

On Thursday, a group of roughly 40 officials — police and firepersons — is planning to hunt down the beast, which was first spotted on July 31.

Some have doubted its existence but it’s believed to have been “caught” on a video surveillance tape.

Panthers are not indigenous to Franciacorta and if it does exist, it probably escaped from an illegal trafficker or an eccentric collector of illegally trafficked animals.

The subject came up today when I told my hosts about how I went jogging at dawn near the Franciacorta marshes on Sunday morning.

Evidently, the whole area is on lockdown, especially during nighttime and early morning.

Wouldn’t that have made for a fantastic blog post? “American wine blogger attacked by panther in northern Italian wine country!”

Well, on second thought, probably not worth the clicks…

Click here for notes from our tasting today at Il Mosnel. Thanks again, Lucia and Giulio! Great tasting and tour!

Should winemakers order their own wines when they go out to dinner?

andrea goriAbove: “Tuscan producers who order their own wines at restaurants never drink them at home,” notes celebrity sommelier Andrea Gori. Is it good or poor form for winemakers to order their own wines when they go out to eat?

Sunday evening, my friend and client Luca Ferraro, who produces Prosecco DOCG and Prosecco Col Fondo DOCG in Asolo, asked the following question on his Facebook: What prompts winemakers to go to a restaurant and order their own wines?

At last count, the post had generated nearly 70 comments and had even inspired a humorous post on one of Italy’s most popular wine blogs, Intravino, “Six Good Reasons that Winemakers go to Restaurants and Order Their Own Wine.”

Reason number 6? “Because they secretly hope the sommelier will tell them, ‘I’m sorry, we’ve run out of it,’ and multiple orgasms will ensue.”

Author and celebrity sommelier Adua Villa chimed into the Facebook thread with the following explanations: “A unbridled ego; B insecurity; and C (and above all) a lack of curiosity. And this last reason is the worst.”

Noted consulting enologist, publisher, and author Maurizio Gily weighed in, writing that “the only justification is that it’s a horrible wine list. But in that case, the producers have to ask themselves why their wines are the list.”

I love how he echoes the Marxist paradox: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

But he added, however, that “obviously, if the producer is with clients, it’s a normal thing to do.”

With classically acerbic Tuscan wit, celebrity sommelier and blogger Andrea Gori quipped: “Tuscan producers who order their own wines at restaurants never drink them at home.”

In scrolling through the comments on Facebook (hilarious for the most part), it occurred to me that there is a sizable disconnect between Italian and American attitudes on this topic.

In the U.S., it’s common to see winemakers who order their own wines when they go out to eat.

In my experience, there are a number of reasons for this.

Click here to continue reading…

Rain tempers Italy’s heat wave as Franciacorta harvest is completed

best hotel lake garda italyAbove: a view from the Brescia (Lombardy) side of Lake Garda yesterday. Click for a panoramic view.

When I arrived in Italy on Saturday, I expected the weather to be hot.

From August 5 until August 14 (the day I departed from the U.S.), the highs in Franciacorta (Lombardy, northern Italy) were in the mid-90s; the lows in the mid-80s.

But on August 15 — Ferragosto, a national holiday in Italy (Italian speakers, see this tragically comic video post by Diego Abantantuono that trended on Saturday) — temperatures began to drop and it began to rain.

Yesterday (Sunday), nearly .5 inches of rain fell in Erbusco (in the heart of Franciacorta) and the actual high was 76°. It’s currently (as of 9:40 a.m.) 66° in Erbusco and nearly an inch of rain is forecast for tomorrow and Wednesday.

When I went jogging in Franciacorta early yesterday morning, there were just a handful of pickers harvesting. Nearly everyone in Franciacorta had finished picking by Friday of last week.

Last night, when I sat down to a dinner of homemade pizza and Franciacorta on the banks of Lake Garda, one of the dinner guests asked rhetorically, didn’t they use to harvest in September in Franciacorta? I’ll let the reader draw her/his own conclusion.

During the summer’s prolonged heatwave, some growers were forced to resort to emergency irrigation in Franciacorta and the markedly early harvest is owed to an extremely warm summer in Italy.

I’ve read reports of emergency irrigation in Tuscany and Proseccoland as well.

You can see stormclouds in the photo from Lake Garda above. Shortly after I took a swim, it began to rain there. And rain is forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday in Franciacorta.

Yesterday in Siena, it rained enough that the Palio dell’Assunta was canceled (it’s been rescheduled for today) and rain is forecast in Montalcino this week.

It’s not clear how this harvest is going to turn out. But there will be a mixed bag of results across Italy.

I’m spending this week in Franciacorta tasting with and talking to growers. And next week, I’ll be in Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and later in Proseccoland where I’ll be checking in with winemakers there as well.

Stay tuned. And in the meantime…

italian astronautAbove: Billy the Astronaut was a stowaway in my computer bag.

A lot of people have been asking me and commenting about the little astronaut that keeps appearing on my Instagram.

His name is “Billy the Astronaut” and he comes from NASA in Houston. We still have no idea why Georgia P called him “Billy” and I’m not sure how he found his way into my computer bag before I left the house on Friday.

But I am missing my girls terribly and I’m glad to have some company and a souvenir of the place where I long to be.

I left my heart in Houston…

bush airport united terminalIt seems like it was just yesterday that I walked through this terminal with you on my shoulders.

“Look at all the people, daddy! Look at the airplane, daddy! Daddy, daddy, daddy, we’re going to blast off!”

In fact, it was earlier this week that your sister, mother, you, and I returned from our unforgettable trip to California together.

From the “school bus” that I rode from the parking lot to the pizza concession where we shared a slice (you cheese, me pepperoni), every footstep and every terminal announcement remind me that I won’t be seeing you for another fourteen days.

All the old folks tell me, “cherish these precious days with your little ones; they’ll be grown before you know it.”

I’ll be counting the days, the hours, and the minutes until I’m reunited with you, sweet girl.

Wish me luck, wish me speed. And keep my heart safe for me here in Houston because I simply can’t take it with me…

best beach in del mar california

Historic Barbaresco Tower and appellation viewing station now open to public

The landscape of Barbaresco is a viticultural text. The newly opened viewing station atop Barbaresco Tower is a tool for reading it.

torre tower barbaresco reopeningAbove: the new viewing station atop the historic Torre di Barbaresco, the iconic tower of Barbaresco village (image by Barbaresco producer Giovanna Rizzolio).

The view from atop the newly restored Barbaresco Tower “is spectacular,” writes leading Italian wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti in a post for Intravino this week.

“It gives you a 360° panorama and if you really want to look really cool when you visit, be sure to bring your Enogea map” (the meticulously detailed Barbaresco atlas by celebrated enocartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti).

He is referring to the fact that the now-open-to-the-public tower offers visitors an unparalleled tool for studying the viticultural landscape of one of the world’s greatest appellations and its highly coveted wines.

Visit Alessandro’s post for a breathtaking video on the restoration (in Italian).

Once a medieval fortification, the former ruin is now a destination for wine lovers and visitors to the UNESCO Heritage site known as the Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato.

It includes a tasting room, a wine cellar, a multi-media “history of Barbaresco” exhibit, and the viewing station (above), which is accessible via elevator.

It was opened to the public for the first time earlier this month.

As of the publication of this post, a Google search did not reveal hours and visiting information. Contact information for the offices of Barbaresco township, which manages the site, can be found here.

Image below via the Barbaresco township website.

tower barbaresco tasting room