Mingling with the stars: Vinitaly highlights day 3

April 9, 2014

arianna occhipinti

Writing in a hurry, as always, this morning as I prepare to head to Verona for the last day of Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair.

My yesterday was star-studded: I caught up with über cool Sicilian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti (right) while tasting with one of my favorite Abruzzo producers, Francesco Cirelli (far left).

emidio pepe anniversary

What a treat to have been invited by the Pepe family to attend their 50th anniversary vertical tasting of Emidio Pepe’s wines (post forthcoming; very interesting stuff)!

All the top Italian wine writers were there and the tasting was phenomenal (1967-2007). Thank you again, Sofia and Chiara, for including me.

cascina gilli

Chiara Gilli told me that her delicious sparkling Malvasia di Schierano is on its way to Texas. This is going to be a huge hit in the U.S. Loved the wine and was geeked to finally meet Chiara, whom I’ve followed through social media for some time now. She’s super groovy.

aldo vajra

The boys were back in town hanging with one of my favorite Piedmontese winemakers, Aldo Vajra (far left). Those are my buddies Nathan Smith from Houston (center) and Justin Gallen from Los Angeles (right).

The 2010 Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole was smokin’ good.

passerina best abruzzo

Very stoked about this Passerina — probably the best I’ve ever tasted — from a new entry in Abruzzo, the Abbazia di Propezzano.

Look for this by-the-glass at Sotto in the fall of 2014. Another big winner for me.

vigne alice prosecco

One of the most fun things about the fair is running into fellow U.S. wine professionals. Shelly Lindgren recommended that I taste Cinzia Canzian’s Le Vigne di Alice Prosecco. Beautiful, focused wine, fresh and bright, with lovely mineral notes.

My friend Lars Leicht of Banfi likes to say, you haven’t experienced Vinitaly until you’ve been “vinitalizzato” (Vinitalized).

As any veteran fair-goer will tell you, the experience is always stressful and exhausting, in part because of the sheer number of wines and people, in part because of the haywire logistics.

One more day to go… See you on the other side.

Donkey ragù and a Pieropan red Vinitaly day 2

April 8, 2014

donkey sauce

Writing on the super fly this morning as I try to keep up with work and get to the fair on time.

But had to share this pic of classic Veronese bigoli with donkey ragù at the excellent Osteria al Duca, where I joined some colleagues for a late dinner last night after our day at the fair.

I LOVED this place.

calvarino soave

Paired superbly with Pieropan 2011 Soave Calvarino.


And who knew that Pieropan was making a Valpolicella (and an Amarone)? A lot of discussion about this 2011 Ruberpan at the dinner table last night but all agreed it was great.

burlotto rosato

My yesterday at the fair was more about schmoozing and a panel where I spoke.

But I did get to taste this fantastic rosato by Burlotto with Jamie Wolff, owner of Chambers Street Wines in New York.

I am a huge fan of Jamie and it was a thrill to taste and trade notes with him and a producer whom we both love. Jamie’s Italian is great.

Gotta run!

Canaiolo Bianco? GORGEOUS! Vinitaly highlights day 1

April 7, 2014

vinitaly wine trade fair

It’s become a sort of tradition: my first visit at Vinitaly each year is with my good friend Filena Ruppi (above, right, with her daughter Emiliana). Filena and her husband Donato d’Angelo make one of my favorite expressions of Aglianico del Vulture.


I loved this Franciacorta by Vezzoli, a wine made with a new and perhaps revolutionary approach to classic method vinification (more on that later; very groovy stuff).

tauma montepulciano

Alessandro Morichetti, one of the editors of Italy’s most popular wine blog, Intravino, insisted (rightly) that I taste this superb and extremely hard-to-find expression of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Tauma. Stunning, elegant wine. I need this wine.

gianni paolo cantele

My clients and good friends Gianni (left) and Paolo Cantele were in top form.

fanoi primitivo cantele

I was blown away by their new Primitivo Fanòi, an IGT from Sava that they do in a lighter and more traditional style. The acidity in this baby is zinging. This is going to be a big wine for the Cantele cousins.

canaiolo bianco

I was thrilled by this Canaiolo Bianco by the Grati family at Villa di Vetrice. They’re currently working on an ambitious survey of Tuscan ampelography and this is one of the fruits of their labor. I was impressed by the acidity and vibrancy of this wine. Only a few thousand bottles made but they plan to make the grape part of their stable of traditional Tuscan wines.

And now on to day 2… wish me luck! I’m going to need it.

How do you slice prosciutto? This is how you slice prosciutto.

April 7, 2014

And when in Brescia, at the Osteria al Bianchi, here’s what you pair with expertly sliced prosciutto…

ca lojera lugana

A delicious Lugana (from Torbiana or Trebbiano di Lugana) by Ca’ Lojera, the winery’s top-tier Lugana del Lupo.

BBQ Brescia-style TY MAN! :) @TerraUomoCielo #bromance

April 6, 2014

grilled bell peppers

I love my job but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.

The travel is draining and now, more than ever, it’s so hard to be away from my girls.

And the Italian wine trade fair, as anyone in the business knows, is a major slog.

And so, it was wonderful to be welcomed in Brescia (where I’ll be staying during the fair) with open arms, a glass of Franciacorta, and BBQ party in my honor by my bromance Giovanni Arcari (aka Terra, Uomo, Cielo).

arcari danesi

The setting was the Arcari-Danesi winery (that’s one of the property’s vineyards above, a south-facing amphitheater). Giovanni and his partner Nico Danesi acquired the site a few years ago and are slowly building a new home for their new eponymous label. They are Franciacorta consultants who help growers vinify, bottle, and market their wines. And now they have begun to grow their own grapes and bottle under their own label.

italian grilled chicken

The chicken was grilled first. Giovanni’s dad, Gigi, built that grill. The upper grill rotates. It’s a brilliant idea (I told him he should patent it).

italian grilled meats

Then sausage patties, pork ribs, and bell peppers. Note how the griller used a bunch of rosemary to brush the meats with olive oil.

italian grilled cheese

Grilled tomino for dessert.

All of my friends from Brescia came, including the city’s new vice mayor, Laura Castelletti. She and I decided that we should open a Brescia consulate in Houston (with me as consul, of course).

Thank you so much, man. It was a bright moment for a weary traveler who misses his home.

Ragazzi, coraggio! Tutti al Vinitaly!

How a cookie from Siena made the world a better place

April 6, 2014

nannini pastry siena

On Friday, as Francesco and I were driving down to Montalcino from Siena, I couldn’t help but overhear him as he attempted to expedite a shipping of classic Sienese cookies and cakes to a client in Faenza in Ravenna province in Emilia-Romagna (I was driving).

Now that Francesco’s wine shop is part of the historic Nannini patisserie in Siena, he helps out with shipping logistics.

A customer’s package had been lost. And she was desperate to receive the cookies and cakes because she was throwing a milestone party celebrating “her second life”: ten years ago she suffered and survived an aneurysm and she had invited loved ones to commemorate the ten years since this blessing.

She is originally from Siena and the pastry was a sine qua non and centerpiece of her gathering.

The delivery had been scheduled for Thursday. But after a mishap in Florence, the courier reported that the package wouldn’t arrive until Monday.

Knowing that I would be driving north the next day and that I would be passing not far from Faenza on my way to Brescia, I offered to become a Nannini employee for the day.

And so signora Carla and I spoke on Saturday morning and coordinated a handoff on the highway, just south of the Modena Sud exit.

And this is how some ricciarelli from Siena made the world a better place.

Nature’s violent beauty in Tuscany & a Chianti to remember

April 5, 2014

wine documentary tuscany

Yesterday found me in Sant’Angelo in Colle at the Tenuta il Poggione, producer of one of my favorite expressions of Brunello di Montalcino.

My good friend and mentor Francesco Bonfio (left) had asked me to appear with him in a short film that will be part of a new installation at his wine shop’s new location in Siena (as part of the historic Nannini pastry shop in the city’s center).

green tuscany

It was incredible to drive through the preternaturally green Tuscan countryside on our way from Siena to Montalcino.

Unusually warm temperatures, a lack of colder temperatures, and high amounts of rainfall have brought spring early here.

That’s the view from the dining room at Il Poggione where we shot yesterday.

As beautiful as it is, the vibrant color doesn’t bode well for the vintage: if the growing cycle isn’t decelerated, the grapes won’t have sufficient time to ripen as slowly as winemakers would like.

But as one winemaker noted this week in Chianti Classico, the story has yet to be written and things could change from one day to the next.

what difference between prawn scampi

Francesco and his lovely wine Marina treated me to dinner at the excellent Ristorante Casalta in Monteriggioni, where Chef Lazzaro Cimadoro and his wife Barbara also run a great little hotel.

Many Americans think that Tuscan cuisine is centered solely around pork and beef, but the seafood here is always abundant: Cecina, on the Tuscan coast, lies just an hour and a half away by car.

best chianti siena

The biggest treat of the evening, beyond the food and lively conversation, was Francesco’s last bottle of Federico Bonfio Chianti from the 1983 vintage.

Man, this wine was light and bright and right on, with gorgeously balanced alcohol and acidity. Francesco and I paired with delicious roast squab. The fruit in this baby sang.

Today, I’m headed to Brescia where I’ll be staying during Vinitaly (and commuting to the fair).

More enogastronomic adventure to come. But not before I stop off for a brief visit near Bologna to perform a mitzvah.

Stay tuned…

Giorgio Grai’s 1985 Riesling Renano, a wine that spoke more loudly than the man

April 4, 2014

giorgio grai italian wine

I have enjoyed the immense fortune of meeting and tasting with one of Italy’s greatest winemakers, Giorgio Grai, on a few occasions.

But I have also been blessed by the even greater fortune of tasting older vintages of his wines, like the 1985 Bellendorf Alto Adige Riesling Renano (Rheinriesling) that my friend and mentor Francesco Bonfio opened for our table last night in Siena.

Just look at the color of that wine!

It was fresh and bright in the glass and as it warmed up, it revealed layered, nuanced notes of minerality laced with white and stone fruit. To taste it blind, you would have thought it were ten years old.

There isn’t a winemaker in Italy today who doesn’t owe something to Giorgio Grai, an icon in his own time. And in an era when Italian wine is increasingly dominated by international monochromatic tastes, young winemakers continue to look to him as the benchmark, one of the authors and architects of Italy’s wine renaissance.

As much as I cherish the memories of my few, brief encounters with him, the wines speak even more loudly in my mind. They have left an indelible impression that has informed and shaped my palate and my perception of Italian wine’s greatest expression.

Thank you, Francesco. I am eternally grateful.

Dream list at Gatta Mangiona #Rome TY @VinoRoma @MonicaLarner

April 3, 2014

casale trebbiano abruzzo

Most years, my annual trip to the Italian wine trade fairs begins in Venice. But this time around, I started out in Rome because I’ll helping a friend with a video project tomorrow in Tuscany.

It was also an excuse for a much overdue realtime meeting with Hande Leimer, aka Vino Roma, and her lovely husband Theo, a wine nerd in his own right. Hande is a Rome-based wine educator and super cool lady with whom I’ve enjoyed a virtual friendship for a number of vintages now.

As it turned out, friend and Italian wine writer extraordinaire Monica Larner was in town (ever the jet-setter, she was between trips to Bolgheri and France) and so she joined us last night at the Gatta Mangiona — the “glutton cat” — Hande’s choice for our get together.

Posting in a hurry (as always from the road) but I just had to share the joy inspired by the entirely groovy wine list at this excellent Roman trattoria/pizzeria, where they serve a Neapolitan pie.

The gently macerated Casale Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (above) was lip-smacking delicious (who imports this in the U.S.?)

fried artichokes roman rome

Some might say that fried artichokes aren’t ideal when tasting wine. To them I say, when in Rome… you find artichokes everywhere. These were so tender.

suppli romana rome

Classic Roman supplì and calzoncelli.

terpin ribolla gialla

What a thrill for me to get to taste the 2007 Ribolla Gialla by Terpin, one of the Friulian radicals! (I don’t believe that it’s available in the U.S.) It was tannic and very closed but by the end of the bottle its gorgeous fruit had begun to emerge.

This place is a dream for people who dig this kind of thing (like me).

best pizza rome

The pizza is Neapolitan in style. I had to do the Romana (my go-to because I’m a lover of salt-cured anchovies). I loved how they did raw pelati combined with seasoned passato. I could eat (and drink) here every night.

cat lover rome

The “fat cat” also wins the award for cutest menu design.

Hande had reserved for us at 8:30. By 9:30 it was packed (and I believe reservations are required). I highly recommend this place. I loved it.

I’ll post more on our Roman adventure when time permits.

In the meantime, thanks again Hande, Theo, and Monica for making the first night of my trip so memorable! A truly unforgettable evening…

Stay tuned… posting from Siena today…

Workaday Rome is a garden

April 2, 2014

best hotel trastevere

Landed early this morning at Roma Fiumicino and took a regional train from the airport to Trastevere, a roughly twenty-minute ride for €8.

Checked into my budget “four-star” hotel, washed up, took a stroll, ate a sandwich (thinly sliced prosciutto cotto and mozzarella on delightfully unctuous focaccia) and had a coffee before returning to my room, where I’ve been working all afternoon.

Snapped the above photo in this working-class section of Rome, the edge of Trastevere, where you won’t find a lot of tourists.

I love how the Eternal City teems with gardens and plants, like those you can see hanging from the terraces in the photo above.

It reminds me of how, even in Italy’s supreme urban environment, this narrow strip of sun-drenched land in the upper Mediterranean is one of G-d’s gifts to humankind.

I’ll be heading out shortly for dinner with some wine folks… tomorrow on to Siena… stay tuned…


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