Popcorn recipe and Bandol rosé pairing by Kermit Lynch

Above: Rock star importer Kermit Lynch is one of nearly every natural wine lover’s heros. Me? Guilty as charged. (Photo courtesy the SF Gate)

I cannot conceal my thrill that Kermit Lynch commented on my blog yesterday. In case you missed it, he wrote:

    One of my favorite pairings is the Bandol rosé (Domaine de Terrebrune also makes a winner) with popcorn. No, not buttered popcorn. To really make the wine and popcorn work wonders, I use olive oil, salt, and dried thyme stirred into the popped corn. A hit of Provence.

Mr. Lynch, thank you for stopping by and thanks for reading.

I also heard from Clark Terry who works with Kermit. He contacted the “Beaune” office: roughly 5,000 cases of Bandol Rosé are released by Tempier each year. I’m glad that a few of them make to Austin so that me and Tracie B can enjoy our Bandol with our Idol! Next week, we’ll have to try Kermit’s popcorn…

Idol and Bandol

Above: On Tuesday nights, Tracie B and I watch American idol, play armchair critic, and open a good bottle of wine. Last night we splurged (in celebration of my Princeton translation) and opened the 2007 Bandol Rosé by Tempier, which I found at a surprising palatable price at a “local” market. We paired with her excellent nachos.

The counterpoint wasn’t lost on me and Tracie B last night: we watched what may be the apotheosis of the commercialized and reified American dream (where rags-to-riches hopes are dashed or indemnified by the almighty texting hand of the American consumer) and we sipped a rosé made by a small winery in Provence in the south of France, that counts a meager 8 employees and just 30 hectares (that’s about 74 acres, 6 less than 2 X 40 acres and 2 mules!).

Tracie B and I had tasted the rouge a few weeks ago and she had not-so-subtly mentioned how she wanted to taste the winery’s famous rosé. There’s not a lot of this wine in the U.S. and not a lot of it made: according to Domaine Tempier’s site, its total production is 120,000 bottles, of which 29% is the rosé. I really wanted to surprise Tracie B with a bottle and I struck out at a few of my favorite wine stores.

But when I called my colleague, wine specialist Jen Powell, at a little local grocery store called Whole Foods in Austin, she told me that she had a nice allocation — at a great price. Btw, just because I work in the wine trade doesn’t mean I don’t have to buy wine like everyone else (even though the company I work for reps this wine!).

Above: Tracie B’s nachos are awesome. You can read her recipe here. The bright acidity in the rosé was a perfect match for the spicy flavors of the salsa, the wine’s tannin a great complement to the fat of the refried beans and her sautéed ground turkey topping.

One can argue whether or not Tempier’s Bandol Rosé is the best in the world (as a few did in the comments of a recent post), but when you taste this wine, there’s no question that it is a hand-crafted, artisanal wine that truly tastes of place where it is made, Provence — a classic and superior example of a terroir-driven wine, imported by rock star terroiriste Kermit Lynch, who, btw, just launched a new blog.

I can’t help but wonder (on tax day in our great land): is our country interesting because our Coca Cola (official sponsor American Idol) culture reigns supreme or because at our “local” markets we can find the wines of a tiny little winery in Provence in southern France, where slopes are so steep that they must be tended by hand? Or is our country interesting at all? Or does the answer lie in the fact that the two phenomena live side-by-side?

Rock on Bandol, rock on idol.

Labor amoris and a dedication

Above: This labor amoris is dedicated to the one I love.

The first exam I took at the University of Padua in 1988 was History of the Italian Language, with Professor Gianfranco Folena (1920-1992), one of the great linguists and philologists of the twentieth century. (The exam was on Parini’s Il giorno and 18th-century Italian neologisms.) He was the first to encourage me to continue my studies in philology and he wrote me the reference letter that ultimately won me my fellowship and teaching position in the graduate studies program at the Department of Italian, U.C.L.A.

Professor Folena was a delightful, gentle, and generous man, he loved to laugh, and he loved to remember how he sold turpentine for a living when he returned to civilian life from the concentration camp where he had been imprisoned (as a political undesirable) during the war.

I could never aspire to the greatness Professor Folena achieved while on this earth (nor have I suffered the way that he and his generation did). But I do think of him often and how his turpentine is my wine. I am so very fortunate to make a living doing something that I enjoy, a career that brings me into contact with interesting people and takes me to interesting places.

I hawk wine for a living because translating and writing a blog doesn’t pay the bills. But I have never abandoned my labor of love and I am very proud to share the news that my translation of Professor Gian Piero Brunetta’s The History of Italian Cinema has been published by Princeton University Press. Professor Brunetta still teaches at the University of Padua (where I also studied Italian cinema) and we both remembered Professor Folena fondly in our email correspondence on queries I had for him regarding the translation. The book arrived yesterday in the mail and is my third hard-cover university press translation.

I’d like to dedicate it to the woman I love, Tracie B.

you are more brilliant than Lina Wertmüller
more sexy than Stefania Sandrelli
and more beautiful than Monica Vitti in any frame by Michelangelo Antonioni

This labor amoris is for you…

Brunello, a peculiar form of wine writing, and Antonioni’s surface of the world

The mere exposure to the visible surface of the world will not arouse ideas unless the spectacle is approached with ideas ready to be stirred up.
—Rudolf Arnheim

For now we see through a glass, darkly…
Corinthians 13.12

Above: Alfonso took this Antonioni-inspired (Blow up?) photo of me while he and I were traveling in Italy last week with a group of wine professionals following the wine trade fairs, visiting wineries and tasting together. In reading the “signs” of the Brunello affair, I must employ my sensibilities as semiotician and see beyond the “surface of the world.”

Last Wednesday, two days after the conclusion of Vinitaly (Italy’s annual wine trade expo), the Italian daily La Nazione reported that 1) Biondi Santi and Col d’Orcia have been cleared of any wrong doing in the Siena prosecutor’s Brunello inquiry; 2) other wineries implicated in the investigation have declassified their wines and have reached agreements with the prosecutor, avoiding further action against them; 3) “preservation of evidence” hearings were to be held (on Friday) for Argiano, Frescobaldi, and Valdicava. (You can read my translation of the article at VinoWire.)

One of things that has kept many — or at least some — of us rapt in the imbroglio of the Brunello controversy has been the Sciascia-esque twists and turns it has taken. Even though Nino Calabrese, the Siena prosecutor, has never spoken directly about those implicated in the investigation (and although he has claimed to be “abstemious” when it comes to the media), he has used ciphered leaks and statements to the press to move his agenda along. He has never directly addressed the question of who was investigated but he did issue a statement in which he claimed that:

    Many of the companies implicated have violated the appellation regulations for Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Rosso di Montalcino DOC… 6,500,000 liters of Brunello di Montalcino and 700,000 liters of Rosso di Montalcino were impounded. Roughly 1,100,000 liters of Brunello di Montalcino have been declassified to IGT Toscana Rosso. Roughly 450,000 liters of Rosso di Montalcino have been declassified to IGT Toscana Rosso.

The article published last Wednesday does not cite its source but it would appear that the information came from the prosecutor’s office.

There is certainly some significance to the fact that the prosecutor waited until the day after the conclusion of Vinitaly to release this information. It’s not clear to me why he has singled out Argiano, Frescobaldi, and Valdicava — especially when Argiano opted to declassify voluntarily shortly after news of the inquiry broke.

Calabrese claims to be “abstemious” when it comes to the media (what an apt word choice!) but beyond the surface, he has certainly indulged in a peculiar form of wine writing!

Some of the more beautiful things I saw in Italy

The caliber of my photography never rises above the amateur (in the etymologic sense of the word) but sometimes I get lucky. I guess it’s about place and time.

Tasting with the Marquis Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga at the Tenuta San Leonardo in Trentino. I was moved at the thought of shaking the hand of a descendant of one of the most influential families of the Northern Italian Renaissance.

I photographed this bee at the highest point in Cartizze, the top growing site for Prosecco. Matteo Bisol of the Bisol winery opened his family’s Prosecco Cartizze and we tasted it right there among the vines. It was fun to return to Valdobbiadene where I spent so much time during the summers of years at university in Italy.

The baroque basilica at the Abbazia di Novacella was most impressive. That was the farthest north I’ve ever traveled in Italy. Driving through the Alps, I couldn’t help but think of the line from Petrarch canzone 128:

    Nature provided well for our safety when she put the shield of the Alps between us and the Teutonic rage.

The incipit of the song is one of Petrarch’s most moving and appeals to the then divided and bellicose Italian states:

    My Italy, although speech does not aid those mortal wounds of which in your lovely body I see so many, I wish at least my sighs to be such as Tiber and Arno hope for, and Po where I now sit sorrowful and sad. (translation by Robert Durling)

I’ve been traveling to Italy for more than twenty years and as in years past, I took time to catch up on my newspaper reading and to ask people about their outlook for the future. In my view, the Italians’ “tenuous sense of nationhood” seems more fragile than ever (between the jockeying of Berlusconi, Fini, and Bossi) and the balance of Po, Tiber, and Arno all the more precarious.

But the beauty of this country has always been accompanied by peril — the one seemingly unable to exist without the other.

I’ll begin posting about my trip and other developments next week. Stay tuned and thanks for reading…

The best meal I had during Vinitaly: polenta e baccalà

As much as I love what I do and as fortunate as I feel to work in wine and get to travel to Europe for work, a career in the wine business is not as glamorous as it may seem. When I go to Verona for the annual trade fairs, I get up very early and taste wine all day, running from one “stand” to another, trying to keep with appointments, hoping to see all the people I need to see. It’s exhausting and and by no means as fun as “getting to taste wine all day” may sound.

Above: There wasn’t enough sausage to go around at the dinner I attended on Sunday night in Breganze, near Vicenza in the Veneto. When it was served, they piled the other meats on top of it and all of the juices mingled to make a rich “tocio” (TOH-choh) or jus, as they say in the Veneto dialect. The grilled polenta sopped in the tocio was as good as it gets.

And the worst part is that I was a stone’s throw (an hour or so drive) from so many of my very best friends, like Steve and Sita and Gabriele (aka Elvis) in Padua, Stefano and Anna in Milan, and Corradino and Puddu in Bologna. But when I attend the fairs, I am bound to use my time there to taste as much wine as possible (taking notes on new vintages and learning about new labels) and talking and schmoozing with as many “suppliers” as possible.

Above: Roast guinea hens.

Another thing that really sucks is the food. There I was in Italy, one of the world’s greatest food destinations, and imprisoned in the trade fair grounds in Verona where the only chance for something good to eat is stopping by Alicia Lini’s stand for a snack of erbazzone and mortadella.

Most of the dinners you attend are held in cafeteria-style restaurants where you sit at long tables with sales reps and suppliers. For the most part, the conversation is boring, everyone is tired of tasting and running around, and all you want to do is to go back to your hotel room and crash.

Above: I sat with Chris and Cynde Gangi, a delightful couple who own and run Josephine’s in Frisco (Dallas), Texas.

The one good meal I had during the fair was a dinner I attended with Italian Wine Guy in Breganze near Vicenza. The Veneto is the Italian region to which I feel the greatest bond since I went to university there (Padua) and I spent three summers playing music there (Belluno). The menu that night included some of my favorite dishes, Veneto comfort food: baccalà mantecato (creamed salt cod, a classic Venetian dish); radicchio di Castelfranco (a type of red-spotted white leafy chicory, dressed with olive oil, salt, and a drop of traditional balsamic vinegar; Castelfranco is a town not far from where we were); homemade tagliatelle tossed with radicchio trevigiano sautéed with bits of prosciutto (radicchio trevigiano is a type of long-leaf, red chicory from Treviso, also not far from where we were); Bassano white aspargus risotto (it was white asparagus season in Bassano, also not far); grilled sausages and chicken thighs (bone-in), and roast guinea hens; and the best Veneto comfort food of all, grilled polenta.

It reminded me of a song that I love and used to sing many moons ago:

Se il mare fosse de tocio
e i monti de polenta
oh mamma che tociade,
polenta e baccalà.
Perché non m’ami più?

If the sea were made of gravy
and the mountains of polenta
oh mama, what sops!
polenta and baccalà.
Why don’t you love me anymore?

— from “La Mula de Parenzo,” traditional folksong of the Veneto and Friuli

Thanks again, Alfonso, for hooking it up…

In other news…

It is SO GOOD to be back in Austin!

Will another earthquake dim hopes of a renaissance for Abruzzo winemakers?

pizza_beer

Above: Pizza romana and BEER last night at Il Giardinetto in Marghera (Venice), Italy.

When I came downstairs to the lobby of the crusty and salty 3-star hotel in the Venetian port city of Marghera, where I spent the last night of my Italy stay, I was greeted by the news that another earthquake had struck Abruzzo — 5.2 on the Richter Scale. I haven’t been able to get online with much success (and I am posting today from the Amsterdam airport where I have a short layover before a flight to Houston) but I was able to read Eric’s excellent post (using my blackberry) on the impact the earthquakes will have on Abruzzo winemaking.

To some, it could seem shallow to think about winemaking at a time like this but it’s not. Unlike the majority of Americans, Italians drink wine every day and the wine industry there is not an elitist industry that caters primarily to the affluent (as it does in the U.S. where wine is considered a luxury product, marketed to and consumed primarily by the wealthy). In a region like Abruzzo — one of the more economically depressed among Italy’s 20 regions — the wine industry is the life blood for a sizable amount of the population (including the retail, restaurant, and transport sectors).

The larger and more well-established wineries like Illuminati and Cataldi Madonna will certainly weather the current crisis and their wines will continue to represent some of the best values for quality both domestically and abroad. But it now seems likely (especially considering the current economic climate) that many of the smaller wineries will be forced to shutter their cellar doors. I regret to think that a much-anticipated and hoped-for renaissance in Abruzzo winemaking will not happen in this generation.

The tragedy in Abruzzo

My heart goes out to the victims of Monday morning’s earthquake — all the folks who have lost loved ones and their homes in Abruzzo. According to reports published this morning, more than 150 persons have lost their lives, more than 1,500 have been injured, and more than 17,000 are now homeless.

Today, I’m in Trento, in the far north of Italy, and I was in Verona, asleep, when the earthquake hit at about 3:30 in the morning on Monday, with a magnitude of 6.2 on the Richter Scale (you couldn’t feel it where I was). These are the towns and villages that have been affected: L’Aquila, Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Castelvecchio Calvisio, San Pio, Villa Sant’Angelo, Fossa, Ocre, San Demetrio ne Vestini, and villages in Altopiano delle Rocche.

Evidently, there were smaller tremors the night before, at around 10 p.m., near Florence and Forlì.

Abruzzo is a place of immense natural beauty and it produces fantastic wines. On Sunday afternoon, at the fair in Verona, I tasted with Abruzzo producers Daniela and Sofia Pepe and their father Emidio (of the Emidio Pepe winery) and Stefano Illuminati of the Illuminati family and eponymous winery.

In 1994, I was a graduate student at U.C.L.A. and I lived in West Hollywood on Larabee St. when a big earthquake hit at around 4:30 in the morning. I have never been so scared in my life.

Thank you to everyone who wrote, texted, and posted on my Facebook asking if I was OK. I am.

My heart goes out to all the folks who are suffering.

The red, white, and sparkling carpet at Vini Veri 2009

Posting hastily this morning as I head out for another day at the fair and then tasting later today at Dal Forno in Valpolicella… Here are some quick highlights from the “red, white, and sparkling carpet” at the 2009 gathering of Vini Veri, the “real wine” movement, “wines made how nature intended them,” as the group’s motto goes.

If ever there were a winemaker who looked like a movie star, it’s got to be Giampiero Bea of Paolo Bea. I finally got to taste his 2006 Arboreus, an Etruscan-trained 100% Trebbiano vinified with extended skin contact. In a later post, I’ll write more about the wine and what Giampiero had to tell me about the 2005 vs. 2006 vintages of his Santa Chiara. The 2004 Sagrantino was the best I’ve ever tasted.

Last year, I tasted Maria Teresa Mascarello’s 2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo out of barrel (literally, when the cellar master brought it up for her to taste for the first time). I was excited to taste it again a year later in bottle. She’s carrying on her father’s tradition of artist labels with polemical messages. Her “Langa Valley” label (left) is pretty hilarious.

I really dig Adelchi Follador’s natural Prosecco, which he ages on its lees and bottles in magnum. His winery, Coste Piane, also makes a still Prosecco. The wine is great, probably the best Prosecco you can find in America (imported by Dressner).

Franco turned me on to the Barbaresco Montestefano by Teobaldo Rivella. I tasted the 2004 and 2005 and was entirely blown away by how good this wine showed. It reminded me of Giacosa in style and caliber and its power and elegance made me think of an Arabian filly in a bottle.

Marco Arturi is a truly gifted writer who marries wine and literature. He posts often at Porthos. He is a steadfast defender and promoter of natural wine. We had never met before but we write to each and check in from time to time on Facebook: when we met in person it felt like we knew each other well. The whole Facebook thing is pretty cool.

Getting to taste with Franco Ziliani is one of the highlights of any trip to Italy for me. I admire him greatly for his writing, his integrity as a wine writer, and his palate, and I am proud to consider him my friend and colleague. When Franco point me in the direction of a wine, I know I’m not going to be disappointed.

Vini Veri without its co-founder Teobaldo Cappellano reminded me of the Lou Reed song “What’s Good”:

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Baldo was a wonderful man and even though the fair was great this year (and expanded to include the Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir tastings), it just didn’t feel the same without him.

The image of Baldo with his son Augusto (above) hovered over the room where he would have presented his wines.

I’ll write more on my experience at Vini Veri when I get home. Off to Valpolicella and then Alto Adige… Stay tuned…

*****

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like forever becoming
But life’s forever dealing in hurt
Now life’s like death without living
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind’s eye strangling on your tongue
What good is knowing such devotion
I’ve been around, I know what makes things run

What good is seeing eye chocolate
What good’s a computerized nose
And what good was cancer in April
Why no good, no good at all

What good’s a war without killing
What good is rain that falls up
What good’s a disease that won’t hurt you
Why no good, I guess, no good at all

What good are these thoughts that I’m thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
No not much, not much at all

What’s good is life without living
What good’s this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
It’s not fair, not fair at all

What’s good?
Not much at all

What’s good?
Life’s good
But not fair at all

— Lou Reed

Nebbiolo Super Freak: gulf oysters and Produttori del Barbaresco

WARNING: EXTREME PAIRING AHEAD, PROCEED WITH CAUTION

It’s a very kinky pairing/the kind you don’t bring home to mother…

In Italian you say, ti tolgo il saluto, literally, I withdraw my greetings from you.

I imagine that’s what Franco will say to me tomorrow at the Vini Veri tasting when he learns that Tracie B and I paired Nebbiolo with oven-fired gulf oysters last night.

Since I moved to Texas last year, gulf oysters have become something of an obsession. I’ve always been a fan of the mollusk but I never thought the shucked shellfish of New York and Long Island could be beat. That lasted until I tasted my first gulf oyster in New Orleans last month.

Above: Coalminer Mark, aka Mark Sayre, aka “the best sommelier in Austin” serves 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco by the glass at happy hour at Trio, the excellent steakhouse in the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. The wine list is killer, the comfort food appetizers menu is yummy, the prices are right, and the valet parking is FREE! Run, don’t walk.

The 2007 harvest in Langa was a classic vintage and will potentially be a great one, probably similar to 96, 01, and 04 in its profile. The 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco was showing handsomely last night and I cannot conceal that I am ENTIRELY geeked someone in Austin is doing it by-the-glass at a happy hour price. Wine director Coalminer Mark of the Four Seasons and the San Diego Kid might just have to bury the hatchet.

Above: Tracie B’s boss Jon Gerber served raw gulf oysters at his annual “Shuck and Suck Crawfish Boil,” a yearly blow-out party, benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

Nebbiolo and spicy, oven-fired gulf oysters? An unconventional pairing to say the least, but the freshness of the Langhe Nebbiolo and its lighter body and acidity was delightful with savory oyster and chorizo that adorned its silky surface. Hey, Franco, call me a Super Freak… ;-) I’ll see you tomorrow in Isola della Scala.

In other news…

The Italian wine trade fairs start today and I’m about to get on a plane for Venice. Stay tuned: next post from Italia…