Heartfelt thanks to our friend Katrina Rene for her Scarpa Cellar Dive virtual tasting

Earlier this week when I posted about the virtual tasting video series I’m working on, a ton of folks reached out and said they would put their shoulder to this wheel.

First and foremost among them was our good friend Katrina Rene (above) from Houston.

By day, she’s a super power lawyer. By night (and occasionally by day, too!) she runs the Corkscrew Concierge. Combined with her growing following on Instagram, it’s one of the top wine blogs in the country right now.

She created the video below for the Scarpa Cellar Dive series (Scarpa, my client, is offering to replace bottles that people use in virtual tasting videos).

Kat, you’re a great friend: THANK YOU for helping to support Italian wine by sharing the clip. :)

In coming weeks, I’ll be posting more of my own videos as well as videos by anyone who wants to share them with me. It doesn’t matter which wine you feature. Just make it Italian!

Check out this feature story about Katrina. And be sure to follow her blog.

As all of us hunker down for the ongoing health crisis, I hope this series will bring some light into all of our lives. We could all use a little joy these days and there’s some of that good stuff in every bottle of Italian wine.

Stay safe and isolate! Know that we’re all in this together.

Un abbraccio a tutti. Ce la faremo!

Letter from Italy: “I’m hopeful for what tomorrow will bring” by Piero Mastroberardino

Above: Piero Mastroberardino grows grapes and makes wine in Irpinia.

Atripalada
April 2, 2020

Hardly a month ago, not even the most imaginative writer in the world could have come up with a screenplay like this: Most of the world comes to a stop, at the same time more or less, waiting for events to unfold.

We’re now living at a distance, thanks to technology. And when we encounter another person, during the few moments of the day when we are allowed to leave our homes, it’s a race to avoid contact.

Everything seems different now. And when this terrible health crisis is over, our world will be affected by the early stages of an equally painful but undoubtedly longer socio-economic crisis. It will burn the absurdity of these moments into our memories.

The women and men of wine were accustomed to dividing their time between their vineyards, their wineries, the airport, wine dinners, wine seminars… Today, it all seems so far away and unfamiliar: The frenetic pace, the handshakes, the tastings, the sharing of a glass.

Our little world of fine wine is paying for this strange situation. The early restrictions called for the closure of venues where people socialize, like restaurants, cafés, bars, and clubs. Those are the places where wine does its magic, helping people to be together.

And at the same time, social distancing — the overarching, unimpeachable principle we now live by — has fallen on us like a brick. Everything that facilitates community life has been banished.

But wineries are included among the short list of businesses not required to close. The vineyards still need tending. To abandon them would mean giving up on this fall’s harvest. And it would cause grave harm to the vineyard’s organic balance. Even the wine that’s being aged in the cellar cannot be left on its own. But our friends the restaurateurs aren’t allowed to go back to work. For the time being, we continue to care for our vines and wines with the same devotion we always have as we prepare for what comes next. It seems like that day is coming. The number of new cases, at least in our country, appears to be reaching its peak.

Am I hopeful? Yes, I think we are going to get out of this mess. But I can’t say that we will get out of it unharmed. I’m not sure that everyone is going to be able to absorb the weight of managing the costs that will accumulate as cash flow declines. It’s going to be like this for months.

But the women and men of wine are tough. They don’t lack in creativity. They have an artist’s spirit and it will help them to find their way even through this dense forest.

And that’s why I’m hopeful for what tomorrow will bring.

It will be a different tomorrow and it will take some time to get used to it. But it will still be a tomorrow.

In the meantime, our wines will continue to age and they will find their place in the planet’s rekindled community.

I’m sending out a big hug… to everyone who loves wines.

Piero Mastroberardino

Taste Barolo Monfalletto with Alberto Cordero and me at 3 p.m. EST (2 p.m. CST) on Instagram @EthicaWines

The virtual Italian wine tasting series continues today at 3 p.m. EST (2 p.m. CST) when I’ll be doing a split-screen live story with Alberto Cordero from the Cordero di Montezemolo winery. It will be appearing over at on the EthicaWines Instagram.

I hope you can join us!

I’ve followed Alberto’s family’s extraordinary wines since 1999 when I first tasted them at a dinner at the Four Seasons in New York (back in the day!). But I’ve always been surprised at how few wine professionals beyond New York know and appreciate them.

I finally made to visit the winery in January of this year thanks to my client Ethica, who sent me on a tour of some of their estates. My conversation and tasting with Alberto that day was as fascinating as it was delicious. I’m especially eager to ask Alberto to share his thoughts about the modern vs. traditional dialectic in Barolo. I bet that many old line Nebbiolophiles will be surprised and impressed by what he has to say.

We’ll be tasting their 2016 Barolo Monfalletto and 2017 Barbera d’Alba. Please join the live story if so inclined. I Hope to see you then and THANK YOU for supporting Italian wines. Every click counts, every like matters.

Italian wine NEEDS YOU more than ever before. Help out with a virtual tasting.

Ever since graduate school, Italy has been my lifeline and my livelihood.

It started with a fellowship at the Italian Department at U.C.L.A. Then came my first non-service job as an Italian instructor and researcher. Later came a Fulbright and other grants and scholarships for study in Italy. And during four summers off from school, I made a living playing in a cover band in Belluno, Padua, and Venice.

After school, I shifted to commercial media when I got an assistant editor job at La Cucina Italiana in New York. That led to wine writing. That led to copywriting. That led to marketing consulting. More recent years brought a teaching position at the Slow Food University in Piedmont and a gig as an editor for Slow Wine.

For more than 25 years now, Italy, Italian culture, and Italian food and wine have helped me make a living.

And now Italy and Italian food and wine needs us more than ever before.

Just this morning, I received a press release from the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers outlining the Italian wine industry’s most urgent needs: debt relief, small business loans for wineries and restaurants, relaxed restrictions on retail sales and production limits, etc. It echoed an open letter to Governor Cuomo from a New York-based food and wine association that arrived last night. These were just two of the myriad pleas for help, support, and solidarity that have been flooding my my inbox.

We’re all facing similar challenges in this unprecedented health crisis.

That’s why I’m inviting you to open a bottle of Italian wine from your cellar and share it on social media. Tag me and I’ll share it, too.

My client Scarpa has just launched its “Scarpa Cellar Dive” program: open a bottle of Scarpa, share a video and they’ll replace the bottle.

My client Ethica Wines has asked me to lead a series of live tastings on its Instagram. Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 1) at 3 p.m EST (2 p.m. CST), I’ll tasting with Alberto Cordero from Cordero di Montezemolo (a super cool old-school estate that not enough folks in the U.S. know about).

And yesterday afternoon I shot my first virtual tasting video (below). My good friends at Folio Fine Wine partners generously sent me a care package of wines that Tracie and I have been enjoying over the few weeks of isolation (thank you Folio!). The Ricasoli 2015 Chianti Classico Colledilà Gran Selezione blew me away when I tasted it in Tuscany in January.

Buy Italian wine, drink Italian wine, order from your favorite retailer and/or restaurant (many states are allowing restaurants to sell wine with take-out orders). And if your finances don’t permit any of the above, open a bottle from your cellar and share the joy on social media (tag me and I’ll share it, too).

We can all use a little joy in our lives right now and Italian wine is a great way to find it.

Thanks for being here and thanks for supporting Italian wine.

Letter from Italy: “The day everything changed” by Giancarlo Gariglio.

Giancarlo Gariglio is the editor-in-chief of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of Italy, Slovenia, California, and Oregon. He lives in the town of Bra, where the Slow Food movement was founded in the late 1980s.

I was in America on February 21 when everything changed in Italy. That was when we became the first in Europe and the first outside of China to discover that the novel coronavirus was something more than the flu. It was something we had a read about in the papers, with a death rate of 1 percent. We tended to minimize the threat and even joke about it. Then everything changed in Italy. And it was immediately clear that despite our excellent public health system, it wasn’t going to be easy to face this disease.

I didn’t get back home to Italy until February 28. It was a very strange trip. There were already hundreds of infected persons and the world was beginning to look at us like we had the plague. But who were we to complain? In January, there had been reports of xenophobic attacks on Asians in Italian cities. In Boston, during the Slow Wine Tour, more than one sommelier called us to let us know that they wouldn’t be attending because there would too many Italian producers at the tasting.

It was a tough trip. We had been away from our families for 15 days and we were beginning to fear for them. When I boarded a flight from Munich to Milan, there were just 10 passengers on a plane that could hold 170. It was clear to all of us that our world was changing fast. We had left a chaotic as usual but healthy Italy. When we landed in Milan, Malpensa airport, one of the biggest in Italy, was deserted. It took us five minutes to get off the plane and it took just a few seconds for our baggage to arrive on the carousel. Usually it takes at least 20 minutes.

Outside the deserted airport, they took our temperatures as we passed through immigration (in Munich they hadn’t checked). What followed was a succession of disturbing news. Half of Lombardy had been declared a “red zone.” People couldn’t enter or leave a portion of the region. It had been isolated from the rest of the world. Over the course of just a few days, it had become clear that the rest of the most populous region in Italy was at great risk. It would later be closed with a decree issued by our prime minister. Throngs of people fled to the south packed in overcrowded trains. That was the day that our government decided to declare our entire country a “protected zone.”

At the Slow Food offices where I work, it was clear that we couldn’t stay open. The schools had already been closed for 10 days. Families with children didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t drop their kids off at their grandparents because the elderly are among those most at risk. Bra, where I live, is a small town in the countryside with around 30,000 people. Cuneo province where Bra is located is in Piedmont, the region that has the third largest number of infected persons and earths. Located at the foot of the alps, it’s on the margins, so to speak. We’ve been spared the worst so far, with roughly 300 infected persons in a population of 600,000.

But there is plenty of fear to go around. And you can feel it in the air when you go out, even though we rarely leave our apartment. We have been confined to our homes for more than 15 days. The streets are deserted. The cafés — one of Italy’s most beloved institutions where we gather regularly after work — were among the first venues to be closed by law. Then the restaurants and all the non-essential shops. The handful of fellow residents that you see on the streets are wearing surgical masks and it’s easy to gauge how terrorized they are. They step aside as we walk by. And we do the same, as if out of instinct. Surgical masks can no longer be found. I’ve been using a sleep mask that they gave me on an international flight. I just put it over my eyes and wear latex gloves when I go out.

Over the last 20 days, I’ve only left the house three times. And only to go food shopping for my family. Our two daughters haven’t been allowed out at all. My wife has only gone out once. The event that marks the passing of another day is the e-bulletin issued every night at 6 by the government’s office of emergency planning. They start with the number of people who have recovered. Then the number of infected, the number of people in intensive car, and lastly the number of dead. That’s the number that hurts the most. I’ve started an Excel file where I jot down all of the numbers. And that field is always the most painful to fill. On March 19, Father’s Day in Italy, more than 700 people died in just one day.

I get phone calls from people who live in the hardest-hit cities, Bergamo and Brescia (where Franciacorta is located). The stories they tell seem plucked from science fiction. My wife’s grandmother is 94 years old. She lives near Como in the region of Lombardy. A few days ago, she wasn’t feeling well and so the person who takes care of her called an ambulance. They were told that ambulances are now used only for people 50 years old and younger. Everyone else can only hope that God will protect them. This is the situation that has taken shape in the most productive area in Italy — Lombardy and parts of Emilia-Romagna, a handful of provinces in Veneto, and parts of Piedmont. The rest of Italy is in a holding pattern. There are cases of infection but not many of them. And the hospitals can still keep up with the crisis.

We are all worried about what the future will bring. We’re worried about work and what this will mean for Slow Food given that all activities related to wine have come to a stop. I usually take 40 or 50 flights a year for work, covering thousands of kilometers. Nothing will ever be the same and who knows what’s in store for us.

Since we’ve been on lockdown, I’ve been drinking wines that remind me how much I love my job. Italian wines, French, German, Spanish, and American. Some people say that you should only drink Italian. They’ve even begun using the hashtag #iobevoitaliano, #IdrinkItalian. Not me. I drink the world. If there’s anything that unites the world it’s wine and culture. I’ll never get tired of telling the amazing story of how it crosses borders. Because not just bad things cross borders. Beautiful things cross them, too: Wine, music, poetry, and friendship.

Giancarlo Gariglio

Taste Scarpa Barbera d’Asti with winemaker Silvio Trinchero and me at 10 a.m. CST

Today’s virtual tasting is going to feature Scarpa Barbera d’Asti and winemaker Silvio Trinchero.

Please join me live on Instagram @DoBianchi at 10 a.m. CST (Texas time) when Silvio and I will be discussing life in Piedmont during the health crisis as well open a bottle of 2015 Scarpa Barbera d’Asti CasaScarpa.

This is the second virtual tasting I’m leading with my clients and friends in the wine trade. I’ll be doing more next week.

Please join us! Evviva il vino italiano!

Taste Movia with Aleš Kristančič and me today at 11 a.m. CST @EthicaWines

At 11 a.m. CST today, I’ll be doing an live story with Aleš Kristančič of Movia on the @EthicaWines Instagram.

It’s the first of a series of virtual tastings that I’m leading with them. I hope you can join us.

Aleš and his family are great friends of mine and when I visited them in January of this year, we had a blast remembering when they brought my band Nous Non Plus to play a concert at the winery back in 2008 when we had a hit song in Slovenia (no joke!).

Please join us at 11 a.m. and please look out for more Ethica Wines tastings I’ll be doing.

See you shortly! We’ll be tasting four wines, including the Pinot Grigio Ambra.

Dispatch from Brescia: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a concentration of suffering.”

Above: a vineyard in Brescia province, a photo taken nearly a year ago to the day.

In what’s become a daily ritual, there’s a late afternoon-late night call to Italy when a couple of middle-aged wine professionals — one an American in Houston, the other an Italian in Brescia province — catch up on the ongoing health crisis in their respective cities.

Yesterday’s call was grimmer than most.

“I see the number of cases has actually begun to fall in Italy today,” said the American, noting that there was a drop, however small, in the number of new cases and victims with respect to the previous day’s reporting.

“But not in Brescia,” replied the Italian.

His words were echoed in a story this morning on the front page of the New York Times website: “Dip in Italy’s Cases Does Not Come Fast Enough for Swamped Hospitals.”

“In Brescia,” write the paper’s editors in a caption for the lead image, “hospitals have been reporting hundreds of new cases a day.” The photo that appears at the beginning of the article was taken in the intensive care unit of the Spedali Civili hospital in Brescia.

While the numbers are beginning to level off, just barely, in the rest of Italy, the situation in Brescia and neighboring Bergamo province is getting worse. Bergamo and the Italian region of Lombardy where Bergamo and Brescia are located are the epicenter of the ongoing health crisis.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a concentration of suffering so intense,” says
Dr. Intissar Sleiman in a video the man from Brescia shared with his American friend during their chat. She’s a Brescia medical professional on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic in Italy.

“We’re not used to losing so many people in such a short period of time,” she says as she holds back her tears.

The video left the American wine professional with tears streaming down his face. Just a few months ago, he was there in Brescia province visiting his Italian friend. He was supposed to be in Italy this week. How he wishes he could embrace his friend in Brescia right now! Magari!

The wine professional from Brescia and his partners are donating proceeds from the sale of one of their wines to a fund that supports the struggling Brescia hospital system.

Walter Speller wrote about it for JancisRobinson.com this week.

G-d bless Brescia. G-d bless us all.

Letter from Italy: “I’m proud to be an Italian” by Paolo Cantele.

According to a report published just minutes ago by the Associated Press, “Italy, a country of 60 million, registered 2,978 deaths Wednesday after another 475 people died. Given that Italy has been averaging more than 350 deaths a day since March 15, it’s likely to overtake China’s 3,249 dead — in a country of 1.4 billion — when Thursday’s figures are released at day’s end.”

Above: Paolo Cantele, one of my best friends in the world and my client of many years, standing in front of his family’s winery in Guagnano in Lecce province. He calls me “Jar,” my nickname since I was a teenager.

Dear Jar,

It took me a little time to write you because, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t in the right mood for it.

Writing is supposed to be therapeutic. It’s meant to help you overcome you’re the fears and doubts that grip your brain even as your mind, despite its efforts to remain cool and collected, continues to focus on that damned list of infected and dead.

Everyone is trying to keep working, regardless of how challenging this all is. We all know full well that for the next 3-4 months, there will be no wine sales. There will be no cash flow. And it’s going to be tough to pay the salaries of all the kids who work for us. They’ve been nothing less than fantastic through all of this.

Angelo Gaja has said that he’s not going to fire anyone. Instead, he’s hiring. Good for him! I’m planning to send him my resumé.

Thankfully, the situation in Puglia and the Salento Peninsula isn’t as bad as northern Italy. But that’s only because we were able to implement preventive measures before the virus spread.

You know how critical I can be of Italy and my fellow Italians. But Italians’ true spirit comes out in difficult times like these. We’ve all become aware, more or less, of the enormous challenges that we face. And the only thing we can is to stay closed up in our homes and persevere. We’re doing so, as diligently and rigorously as we can.

I’m proud to be an Italian. And I’m proud to be part of a community that has refused to throw in the towel. A community that fights and will continue to fight even — and especially — after the virus will be defeated. But it’s damaged pride, sadly spurred by a European Union that has shown itself to be more Disunited than ever before.

We need to take stock of the fact that we are going to have to lift ourselves out of this mess by ourselves, through no one else’s efforts but our own.

But I have faith that we can make it because Italians always give their best in moments of crisis.

I hope I get to see you again soon, man. I miss the U.S. I miss our road trips. And I miss our talks about the wondrous invention otherwise known as life.

I love you.

Paolo

Letter from Italy: “We will be reborn” by Angela Mion.

Angela Mion is a wine writer and sommelier who lives in Este in the Euganean Hills outside of Padua. She posts regularly for the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

Above: in the place of weekly hours, a handwritten note in a restaurant in Este reads “everything will be okay” (photo by Angela Mion).

Close but faraway.

Italy doesn’t know what day it is today as it looks out onto the world from its windowsill, whether from home or the hospital.

We have never felt so equal. We are all being chased by the same invisible enemy that’s upending all of our lives.

An economy, probably in need of a rewrite, now seems a post-war economy.

And this is how Italians are no longer average Italians, the ones that cut in line, run red lights, and yell on the subway, or eat dinner out with their rude children.

No, the average Italian no longer exists. The Italian who exists now is dealing with a challenging time within ourselves.

Cafés and restaurants are closed. Everything has come to a stop and the new time on our hands is scary. It’s a time to be with your family if you have one. It’s a time for tears and fear, a time when our passions can help, a time to muster all our strength and positivity.

# I am positive. I’ve always thought, today more than ever, that the best things about us emerge during the worst of times. Wine came into my life during a difficult time, after a bad accident. And it consumed the time otherwise devoted to unpleasant thoughts.

You’ll have time to read up on tannins, for example. Ever heard of them? And the French Paradox vs. resveratrol? What is the ancestral method? How is vermouth made? Have you ever seen the hills of Cartizze?

Wine unites us. It makes us speak the same language. Now more than ever, it can help to fill the time on our hands without relying on old habits.

The Italian will return. We will sing again. We will laugh over a dish of pasta. We will become ourselves again.

Today Italy looks to the future. Like it’s never done before. The world watches us from its windowsill. We watch the world from our windowsill at home: we smile, perhaps with sad eyes.

And for once, we wait. We will be reborn.

Angela Mion