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.


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