Asparagus gone wild

wild asparagus asparagi selvatici italyWhen it rains it pours.

I’ve only been in Italy for a few days but I already have so much to tell. And the frenetic, chaotic windup to the fairs has already begun.

Team Do Bianchi is about to head out from Brescia for Cerea, where we’ll be tasting at the Vini Veri fair.

But in the meantime, all I can think about is the wild asparagus (above) that we were served at a wonderful home-cooked dinner in Franciacorta last night.

It’s one of those foraged delicacies that come around only once a year.

How to describe their delicate flavor? They taste like spring…

Another highlight last night was meeting the acting priest of Gussago village, a young fellow.

“Enough with your Latinorum!” I wanted to tell him (I’ll buy a bottle of Franciacorta for the first person who can name the novel that inspires my joke).

I didn’t, of course. But it was fun to meet him and trade notes about religion. He was super nice.

Thank you again, Arici family, for hosting us. The tagliatelle tossed in salmon and cream, the spit-roast rabbit, the zero dosage Chardonnay… everything was fantastic.

But those wild asparagus? Unforgettable.

Barolo: getting the story right. My post on the Roberto Conterno purchase of Arione for @WineSearcher

price conterno wine monfortinoI learned of Roberto Conterno’s purchase of the historic Barolo cru Arione via Kerin O’Keefe when I met her at a dinner in her honor hosted by Chambers St. Wines owner Jamie Wolff a few weeks ago at Maialino in NYC.

After reading one too many sensationalist reports on the transaction (and their xenophobic subtext), I called the various parties and set the record straight for WineSearcher this week.

Here’s my post.

Just landed in Brescia… Man, I’m fried and I miss my girls terribly. But I’m glad to be in a place where everyone knows my name.

Let the games begin!

Franciacorta the movie: a film by Ben and me

ben shapiro director filmAbove: Ben (center) and I interviewed Chef Vittorio Fusari (left) in October of last year at his Dispensa Pani e Vini in Franciacorta, one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

It all began in September 2008. I was on my way to Italy for a business trip as I was just beginning to launch my new marketing consulting company. And Ben, who lives in New York City, wanted to get out of town for a few weeks.

We were both single at the time. And so we went on our own personal Sideways.

It was an amazing trip, with some incredible producer visits and meals. And by the end, Ben, who is a journalist and filmmaker, suggested that we return someday to Italy to make a short movie.

In October of last year, six years after that fateful and unforgettable trip, we set out for Italy again but this time with Ben’s camera (check out Ben’s most recent full-length feature film, “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters,” here; Ben is a longtime producer and journalist for NPR and he teaches journalism at Columbia, among other things).

It was on the same 2008 trip that I met Giovanni Arcari for the first time. Since then, he’s become one of my best friends and he’s the reason that Brescia and Franciacorta have become my home-away-from-home when I travel to Italy.

I love the wines and I cherish the friendships I have made there. And so, it was only natural that Ben and I would make our first film together on Franciacorta.

Looking back on it now, I realize that when we started out on the project, we imagined that the growers would be the ones to tell the story of Franciacorta. But in the end, it was the chefs who really captured the spirit of the place.

I hope that you enjoy our short film as much we enjoyed making it. Buona visione! And thanks for watching.

Tuscan winemakers face ban on new plantings and construction

highest rated suckling brunelloIf the Tuscan regional council approves the current plan for territorial oversight in a vote today, winemakers there could face a ban on new plantings and construction.

In the words of Stefano Cinelli Colombini who has lobbied aggressively against the proposed restrictions, “it would be a disaster…”

I wrote about it for WineSearcher.com.

Franciacorta tasting Monday, March 23, Vinitaly update

Please note that the Intravino-Franciacorta Consortium blind tasting on Monday, March 23 (11 a.m.) at Vinitaly is by invite only. I apologize for any confusion.

For anyone who would like to taste with me in the Franciacorta pavilion on Monday, please meet me at 1:30 p.m. at the Franciacorta Consortium stand (location: PalaExpo B/C16). From 1:30-4:30 p.m. (more or less), I’ll be tasting with as many producers as I can. You are welcome to join!

Please send me an email or message me via social media to let me know you’ll be joining. We already have a super groovy group of bloggers who have contacted me. And I’ll be interpreting for those who don’t speak Italian (when necessary).

franciacorta high res tie dye logo

“Pasolini’s girlfriend” and a poem in the shape of a rose

pasolini poems poetryImage via GoogleBooks.

Happily, I’m not alone in my insatiable interest in Italian essayist, poet, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini.

With the current financial crisis looming over Italy and the nation’s general malaise, many Italians agree with me that his writing is more relevant today than ever.

A number of Italian intellectuals have invoked his name, for example, when addressing the continuing controversy over the construction of a new high speed train in the northwest Alps.

Sadly, most Americans know Pasolini only as a cineaste. In fact, his essays and his poetry are the works that have most greatly shaped his legacy following his assassination in 1975.

Beyond my scholarly fascination with his writings, Pasolini has become a sort of code word for me. In my social interaction, the utterance of his name is a synecdoche for an overarching attitude and an ideological stand against consumerism, the reification of our bodies, and the subjugation of the disenfranchised.

And Pasolini has also been the catalyst of some of my most cherished friendships.

One of those best friends is Paolo Cantele, who is also my client.

Earlier this week, he brought a wonderful blog post to my attention: “Pasolini’s girlfriend,” by Rome-based blogger and author Carmelo Albanese.

However apocryphal the story may be, it touches the heartstrings of Italians’ self-awareness and counter-culture today. The comments to the post, alone, would merit the attention of a doctoral thesis: this is the power of Pasolini’s towering presence in the country today.

I loved the story so much that I have translated it for Paolo’s winery’s English-language blog.

Please click over to read it.

Spoiler alert: the tale’s denouement revolves around a poem by Pasolini, “A un papa” [“To a Pope’].

Unfortunately Stephen Sartarelli’s translation of the poem was not included in his landmark Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a Bi-Lingual Edition, published last year by University of Chicago Press. (Stephen is a friend and a mentor and he’s the Italian translator I admire most.)

But here’s a note on the importance of the poem by James Ivory (the celebrated director) who wrote the book’s introduction.

“Early in 1959…,” he writes, “problems” with Pasolini’s then publisher Bompiani arose “because of a polemical poem [by him]: ‘A un papa’ (‘To a Pope’), a rhetorical invective against Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, considered by many to have been compromised by his silence and inaction during the Fascist-Nazi epoch. As the publisher was close to the Vatican, the controversy created strife with the editorial board… The poem itself, part of a series of what Pasolini called ‘epigrams,’ represented a new vein for him, merging politico-moral invective with verse, which he would tap with varying degrees of frequency for the rest of his life.”

Carmelo reveals in the post that he’s not an avid reader of Pasolini’s poetry. And I wonder if he was aware of the significance of the work in the arc of Pasolini’s literary career.

Anyone intimately familiar with the Pasolini mythologies would surely agree with me when I say that Carmelo’s post is even more moving because of the very fact that he hadn’t ever read the poem.

When you read Carmelo’s post, you might wonder — as I did — why he didn’t call the post Poesia in forma di rosa (Poetry in the Shape of a Rose, Pasolini’s famous collection of poetry published in 1964).

I hope you enjoy my translation as much I did composing it. Buona lettura!

Taste Franciacorta with me at Vinitaly

barone pizzini rosato franciacorta bestVinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair, begins a week from Sunday in Verona.

I’ll be there for all four days of the event and I’ll be posting on my tastings and meetings etc.

But I’ll also be there in my capacity as the Franciacorta Consortium’s English-language blogger.

Most — but not all — Franciacorta producers have their stands in the PalaExpo building just inside the main entrance of the fairgrounds. That’s where you’ll find the Franciacorta Consortium stand as well.

Here’s a link for the Vinitaly directory (which has some cool new search features this year).

On Monday of fair week (March 23), the popular Italian wine blog Intravino and the Franciacorta Consortium are co-presenting a blind tasting of ten classic-method wines from around the world at 11 a.m. I’ll be there (I believe it’s going to be held in the Franciacorta Consortium conference room at the Consortium’s stand but I’m not sure. I’ll post the details as soon as I receive them.)

Following the tasting, which should be done by 1 p.m. if not sooner, I’m going to be hanging out all afternoon “in Franciacorta,” tasting with as many producers as I can.

Anyone and everyone are welcome to join me. Please shoot me an email to give me a heads up and we’ll schedule a meeting time and place to connect before we start hitting the stands.

If you’ve never been to Vinitaly before, be sure to check out Alfonso Cevola’s map to the bathrooms there. It’s actually very useful. He’s included the link in a post with links to some other useful posts and interviews he’s done on working with Italian wines in the U.S. I highly recommend it.

I hope to see you at the fair! Please be in touch and we’ll taste together.

Tasting old Nebbiolo with Jamie Wolff and Kerin O’Keefe at Maialino

kerin o keefeAbove: the guests at last Thursday night’s dinner honoring Kerin O’Keefe (center) had some tough questions for her. I really admired her grace in explaining omissions from her new book on Langa wines.

On Thursday of last week, I had the great fortune to attend a dinner in New York honoring wine writer Kerin O’Keefe and her 2014 book on Barolo and Barbaresco (Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, UC Press; check out Ed McCarthy’s review here).

I was the guest of my friend Jamie Wolff, co-owner of Chambers Street Wines, who had hosted Kerin for a book-signing and talk at the store.

If you’ve never been to the shop, be sure to check it out the next time your in Manhattan. Beyond the fact that it’s one of world’s most renowned independent wine retailers, it’s also an independent wine lover’s locus amoenus. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to describe than by means of the Latin. It’s a truly lovely place, a safe harbor for those seeking soulfulness in their wines.

As Jamie writes on the store’s Twitter, “we are committed to stocking the best naturally made, small-producer wines from around the world.”

best vintage bartolo mascarelloAbove: the undisputed champion of the flight was the 1971 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. It almost seems pleonastic to mention B. Mascarello and Barolo in the same utterance. To my mind, it is the apotheosis of the appellation.

I learned on Thursday night that Jamie’s independent spirit spills over and rubs off — by means of organic osmosis — on his clientele. In all my experience over the years attending dinners and tastings like this, I’ve never come across such a lovely group of collectors, with not a braggart or blowhard in the bunch.

Of course, no event featuring old Nebbiolo would be complete without the sine qua non parsing of the wines’ maturity.

best vintage cavalotto baroloAbove: one of the wine’s I was the most excited about was the 1979 Cavalotto Barolo Riserva Colle Sud Ovest. While I’ve tasted older bottles from the other estates represented that night, I’ve never tasted Cavalotto beyond the 1990s. On my Facebook, California legacy retailer Gerald Weisl wrote, “Back in the mid-1980s, Langhe winemakers all conceded Cavallotto’s 1979 was THE best wine of the vintage….glad to know it’s still got it.” This was another standout for me and still has many years ahead of it.

The 1989 Marcarini Barolo Brunate from double-magnum was too young, some grumbled.

But I wasn’t complaining. While the wine’s muscular character dominated the fruit, I thought it was supreme example of Marcarini’s rigidly traditional style. A great wine from one of my favorite vintages (and not just mine).

best vintage aldo conternoAbove: the 1982 Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia Soprana was also a real treat for me. Aldo was and is one of Langa’s undeniable greats. But I’ve always found his 1990s to be a bit modern-leaning. This wine danced in the glass to a song that was a hit before your mother was born.

Beyond Kerin and the stellar wines, the other star of the evening was the wine staff at Maialino, where Jamie hosted the dinner.

Even on a day when the snow had fallen from dawn to dusk, the Gramercy Park restaurant was bustling with a full book (as they say in the trade).

But the wine team, led by wine director Jeff Kellogg, didn’t miss a beat. From the presentation of the wines to the service, the execution was truly flawless. Very impressive stuff.

The only disappointment was the 1974 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino, which never seemed to come into focus — a great wine from an extremely challenging vintage.

With such a bounty of fabulous and (arguably) mature expressions of Nebbiolo, it was Nature’s way of reminding us on a wintry night in Manhattan that there would be no yang without the yin.

Here’s the complete flight:

Giacomo Conterno Barolo 1964, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 1971, Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 1974, Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Colle Sud Ovest 1979, Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia Soprana 1982, and Marcarini Barolo Brunate 1989 (from double-magnum).

My goodness, Jamie, thank you… thank you. Your generous spirit is rivaled only by the soulfulness of your selections. I can’t tell you how much I cherish our friendship and conversations.

Modern vs. traditional pecorino: a cheese shop grows in Brooklyn at Pair

chung park pair cheese bar brooklynOne of the more interesting conversations I had while in New York last week was with veteran cheese monger, Chung Park (above), who recently opened a new cheese bar on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn called Pair (no site but you can find details on his Yelp).

We were tasting my client La Porta di Vertine’s Chianti Classico — a wine that falls squarely on the traditional side of the modern vs. traditional spectrum.

Even though he says he’s new to wine tasting, Chung is one of those naturally gifted tasters who — at least in the flight of roughly six wines we tasted together — doesn’t get caught up in painful self-awareness or affectation.

As we tasted together, we talked about the clichéd differences in the wine world between old school and new. And he said something that was as entirely unexpected as it was wholly brilliant.

In the cheese world, he noted, you don’t really have this divide.

After all, he pointed out, “there are many differences in how pecorino is made. It can be aged in straw. It can be buried and aged in the ground. The rind can be rubbed with wine [solids]. But all of these traditions stretch back literally thousands of years.”

“There is no ‘modern vs. traditional’ pecorino,” he said wryly.

oma cheese vontrappAs we munched on some Latium pecorino and Von Trapp cow’s milk oma (yes, the Von Trapp family) paired with our Sangiovese, I reveled in the notion of a world without an old world vs. new world dialectic.

In the last four decades, wine tastes and winemaking philosophies have oscillated radically and often with breakneck speed.

The cheese world, it seems, is free from yoke of post-post-modern critical and commercial subjugation. I’m sure the truth is more nuanced than my reductive take on it. But wouldn’t it be nice if the wine world had glossed over and glided through the era of modernization?

I really liked Chung and his cheese bar a lot. Brilliant guy, great palate.

I’ll be rooting for his new place, Pair.

More New York stories to come. Stay tuned…