Down and out in Beverly Hills (but still drinking well)

Above: chefs shop at the Cheese Store in Beverly Hills, arguably the top fromagerie in Los Angeles.

Last night found David Schachter and me at his place up Coldwater Canyon, drinking label-damaged 1996 Giacosa Barbaresco (David’s contribution) and munching charcuterie and cheese from the Cheese Store in Beverly Hills (I stopped in the flats on my way up).

Above: life’s too short not to drink well.

The Giacosa was a little cloudy and had begun to sherryize slightly (possibly because damaged?). This wine should have had many, many years ahead of it. But even in the twilight of its life, this powerful Barbaresco from one of the greatest and most classic vintages in recent memory showed admirably well.

I really liked the aged taleggio from the Cheese Shop but I was a little disappointed to find that the prosciutto and bresaola was a bit dry and not sliced as well as it could have been. But who’s complaining?

In other news…

Legendary Italian winemaker Giacomo Tachis weighs in on the appellation system debate. Read more here.

*****

This old town is filled with sin
It’ll swallow you in
If you’ve got some money to burn
Take it home right away
You’ve got three years to pay
And Satan is waiting his turn
The scientists say it’ll all wash away
But we don’t believe anymore
‘Cause we’ve got our recruits
In their green mohair suits
So please show your I.D. at the door

This old earthquake’s gonna
leave me in the poorhouse
It seems like this whole town’s insane
On the thirty-first floor your gold-plated door
Won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain

— “Sin City,” Flying Burrito Brothers

Why Italians are offended by our ratings and rankings

Above: the architects of Italian unification (1861). To the far left, Count Camillo Cavour, Italy’s first prime minister, a winemaker (Piedmont). To the far right, Baron Betting Ricasoli, Italy’s second prime minister, a winemaker (Tuscany). In the center, unified Italy’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II, a winemaker (Piedmont). Ricasoli’s estate Brolio and Vittorio Emanuele’s Fontanafredda still produce wine today.

A wine writer whom I admire greatly (and who happens to work in the editorial office of the Wine Spectator) wrote me today to express his dismay (warranted) with the recent back-and-forth between VinoWire (which I co-edit with my friend Franco Ziliani) and Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews. (I translated and posted Franco’s most recent entry today).

I can understand his position. After all, we are wine writers, not ideologues. My colleague is right to point out that our debate and discussion should be carried out in a spirit of collegiality and good faith. But I also feel that it is difficult for Americans (in general, not him specifically) to understand how our lists and rankings offend Italian winemakers and Italians in general. Italy was born as a “wine nation” and wine is woven indelibly into its national identity.

Italy’s founding fathers (above) envisioned wine and indigenous grape varieties as an integral part of the nascent Italian economy (remember: beyond its value as a luxury product, wine was considered a food stuff).

One of the reasons why Piedmontese winemakers grow Nebbiolo today is that Italy’s first prime minister, Count Camillo Cavour (1810-1861), recognized its potential in fine winemaking.

The primary reason why Tuscan winemakers grow Sangiovese is that Italy’s second prime minister, Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880), wrote extensively and prolifically on the virtues of Sangiovese married with Tuscany’s terroir and he boldly replanted his estate — where he had grown a wide range of French grapes — with Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Malvasia.

Americans do not feel the same connection to wine that the Italians (and French) do. Winemaking was born in this country as a luxury industry and the tastes of our opinion leaders (Robert Parker and James Suckling foremost among them) have been shaped by a youthful winemaking tradition that favors opulence and power over balance and nuance. There’s no doubt about this. Imagine what it feels like to be an Italian and to read that one of your country’s greatest wines (Case Basse) receives pitiful scores (and even in its top vintages!) while a young Brunello producer (owned by one of Italy’s largest commercial winemaking groups) received the coveted 90+.

In the spirit of healthy debate, I encourage you to take a look at the comments at VinoWire to get a sense of the offense perceived by some of our readers in Italy.

Wine Spectator vs. Ziliani: Round Two

Above: Orazio Gentileschi’s “David and Goliath,” one of my favorites.

“Incredible but true,” writes Franco today at Vino al Vino. “David’s prickling — the criticism in this blog and that of VinoWire, an even smaller blog with the advantage of being written in English — has begun to annoy Goliath Wine Spectator.”

He was referring to Wine Spectator Executive Editor Thomas Matthew’s response to a recent editorial posted at VinoWire. Click here to read Matthew’s remarks.

Tomorrow, I’ll translate and post Franco’s retort.


Caravaggio


Vignon


Buonarotti

Stay tuned…

We met on the internet: the virtual sommelier in realtime

Above: my buddy John Rikkers isn’t always this serious — only when he’s tasting 1999 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino.

“We met on the internet.” It still sounds kinda creepy, doesn’t it? No matter how you euphemize it (we met via the internet?), the expression still retains a note of alienation, a coldness that belies the reification of our lives in this digital age. Maybe this is true only for those of us who still remember rotary dial phones.

Above: of the many Italian wines we opened Thursday night, the 2003 Monleale (Barbera) by Walter Massa and the 1999 Canalicchio di Sopra where my favorites. John bought the Canalicchio for a song in a local wine store where the clientele generally reaches for Bordeaux and California Cabernet.

Thursday night found me in the home of my friends John and Laing Rikkers. We met online in September when John emailed me (after disovering my blog), asking me to recommend some wines for him and his lovely wife Laing for dinner in New York City. We stayed in touch via email, trading tasting notes and restaurant tips. And then, in October we met in realtime at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego and we’ve been friends ever since.

Above: this chicken lives in the stable at their classic Californian 1920s ranch house in North County San Diego.

Jayne and Jon and I were invited to the Rikkers’ holiday party last Thursday at their gorgeous estate in North County San Diego. (They lost their home in the October fires and so they are currently renting a furnished ranch house.) When we arrived, John produced a fantastic flight of Italian wines that he had reserved especially for us. I began pulling corks and pouring wine for his guests and we all traded stories and tasting notes about the wines and our wine experiences. We stayed ’til the very end and the coda of our evening was a rendition of “Let It Be” by Jon (Erickson) on the beautiful grand piano in the living room.

I guess this blogging thing is paying off after all.

I soliti ignoti and blogs I’ve been reading lately

My friend and co-editor of VinoWire, Franco Ziliani, has posted recently on the Wine Spectator‘s Top 100 List (my translation is posted at VinoWire) and James Suckling’s top Piedmont picks (in Italian). Franco points out rightly: it’s simply appalling that Giacomino (Lil’ James) Suckling and the Wine Spectator elide an entire swath of traditionalist wines and even include wines virtually unknown to Italians and their palates. After all, aren’t they the Italians’ wines first and foremost? If you want a list of Nebbiolo not to get me for Christmas, read Suckling’s article (to be published on December 15). His wines are the soliti ignoti, the usual suspects, that appear on his list every year and he arrogantly ignores the wines that have historically defined the region. (See IWG’s post.)

Over at Montalcino Report, winemaker Alessandro Bindocci has published some interesting posts about olive oil made from depitted drupes and “integrated farming.”

Ever the devoted fan, I always love to read Simona Carini’s excellent blog Briciole. And I owe Simona a thanks for the help she’s been giving me with the desserts in a translation I’m doing for Oronzo Editions.

Alice Feiring posted this conflicted take on the California Conundrum.

Tracie B just posted this irresistibly delicious piece on pasta e fagioli (but, then again, I might be a bit biased when it comes to her cooking).

And on a totally unrelated note, I’m in the Marines Too! reminds me that we are a country at war and that world conflicts affect the lives and hearts of the people who live in my hometown.

*****

Even if you don’t understand Italian, watch this clip from Monicelli’s 1958 classic, I soliti ignoti (literally, the usual unknowns or the usual suspects but released in English as Big Deal on Madonna Street). Totò’s performance is brilliant…

The amazingly talented Mr. Lou on Vine

Above: he has my vote. No, that’s not Lou. That’s my comrade and co-conspirator in tasting Howard Rodman at Lou on Vine, my all-time favorite wine bar in the world — yes, in the whole wide world. Howard was just nominated for a Spirit Award for best screenplay (Savage Grace, 2007). Congratulations, Howard!

My travels are taking me away from Austin and back to California, where I’m going to work some holiday parties with my friends at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego (I’ll be pouring on the floor there on Friday and Saturday nights, btw). During the week, I’ll head to LA to take care of some business and surely stop in to taste at my all-time favorite wine bar, Lou on Vine (at the corner of Melrose and Vine in Hollywood).

Above: Lou Amdur, nez extraordinaire and proprietor of the eponymously named Lou on Vine.

Lou’s menu features farm-to-table materia prima and his extensive by-the-glass list never fails to surprise and thrill me, whether with a biodynamic Pecorino from Abruzzo, a stinky Gamay from Beaujolais (Rachel Ray’s favorite, Lou claims wryly), or a grape that I’d never tasted, like Zierfandler from the Thermenregion.

Before I headed out to Austin a few weeks ago, Lou graciously let Howard and me pull the cork on Howard’s 1998 Cascina Francia by Giacomo Conterno, which showed beautifully. I’ve recently tasted the 97 (at Jaynes courtesy John Greer) and the 99 (courtesy David Schacter): while the 99 was still way too tight and the 97 began to open up nicely only after extended aeration, the 98 was simply singing in my opinion.

*****

got a pocket full of nickles
a pocket full of dimes
going back to Watts
drink a little wine
come on
baby don’t you want to go
going back to LA
sweetest place I know

— Johnny Otis Show

In the SD Reader and Guide to Italian Cinema

Do Bianchi made an appearance last week in the San Diego Reader in an entertaining piece written by Matthew Lickona on a dinner he and I shared a few weeks ago with Maurizio Zanella at Jaynes Gastropub.

In other shameless self-promotion…

I was thrilled to see the cover (left) for my translation of Brunetta’s narrative guide to Italian cinema, due out in May from Princeton University Press.

I owe a hearty thanks to my editor Hanne Winarsky who patiently and generously stood by me through thick and thin as I translated this behemoth of a book. Warm thanks also to PUP editors Kathleen Cioffi and Adithi Kasturirangan for all their help and to copy editor Maria denBoer for her deft hand.

From the Princeton University Press 2009 catalog:

The History of Italian Cinema

A Guide to Italian Film from Its Origins to the Twenty-First Century

Gian Piero Brunetta

Translated by Jeremy Parzen

The History of Italian Cinema is the most comprehensive guide to Italian film ever published. Written by the foremost scholar of Italian cinema and presented here for the first time in English, this landmark book traces the complete history of filmmaking in Italy, from its origins in the silent era; through its golden age in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and its subsequent decline; to its resurgence today.

Gian Piero Brunetta covers more than 1,500 films, discussing renowned masters including Roberto Rossellini and Federico Fellini, as well as directors lesser known outside Italy like Dino Risi and Ettore Scola. He examines overlooked Italian genre films such as horror movies, comedies, and Westerns, and he also devotes attention to neglected periods like the Fascist era. Brunetta illuminates the epic scope of Italian filmmaking, showing it to be a powerful cultural force in Italy and leaving no doubt about its enduring influence abroad. Encompassing the social, political, and technical aspects of the craft, he recreates the world of Italian cinema, giving readers rare insights into the actors, cinematographers, film critics, and producers that have made Italian cinema unique. Brunetta’s passion as a true fan of Italian movies comes across on every page of this panoramic guide.

A delight for film lovers everywhere, The History of Italian Cinema reveals the full artistry of Italian film.

Gian Piero Brunetta is professor of the history and criticism of cinema at the University of Padua in Italy. His many books include the acclaimed five-volume History of World Cinema.

MAY

Cloth $35.00

978-0-691-11988-5

368 pages. 6 x 9.

FILM

THE RISE, FALL, AND RESURGENCE OF ITALIAN CINEMA

“Brunetta is without doubt Italy’s foremost historian of Italian cinema, and this outstanding synthesis of his three decades of research on the subject belongs on every bookshelf devoted to film in general and Italian cinema in particular. It represents not only a brilliant overview but also a comprehensive reference guide to the entire history of Italian film from the silent era to the present.”

—Peter Bondanella, author of The Cinema of Federico Fellini