Contempt: Italissima “big mess” at Vinexpo in Bordeaux

Above: Produced by Carlo Ponti, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 Contempt, based on Alberto Moravia’s novel, Il Disprezzo, was an Italian and French co-production. The results were decidedly better than last week’s Italissima at Vinexpo in Bordeaux.

It would have been enough that Franco rightly chastised his French counterpart and longtime sparring partner Michel Bettane for the selection of Bordeaux-inspired Italian wines to be presented in Bettane’s seminars at last week’s Italissima, a would-be Italian wine fair held in Bordeaux in conjunction with but with no official affiliation to Vinexpo, the annual see-and-be-seen French wine trade fair.

“Instead of calling it, ‘Italissima, the Italy that you love,’” wrote Franco, “they should have called it ‘Italissima, the Italy that they love,” where the ‘they’ stands for presumptuous French critics who do not know the real Italy of wine. In fact, they don’t understand it at all and they wouldn’t understand even if they seriously tried to study it…”

Wouldn’t the French be offended, asked one commenter to Franco’s post rhetorically, if Italians were to present French wines made with Italian varieties as authentically French?

But making matters worse was a slew of reports and blog posts about how Italissima participants were left sadly disappointed by lackluster turnout and poor organization. One Italian blogger called it a pasticciaccio brutto, borrowing from the title of Gadda’s 1957 novel Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulano written in Roman dialect (That Awful Mess on Via Merulana).

Adding insult to injury, the French daily Sud Ouest called the event the “pavillion de la discorde,” a “monster,” and a case of “parasitism,” where the organizers were trying illicitly trying to piggy back on the exposure of Vinexpo just 200 meters down the road.

There was an even a report of wine destined for Italissima being hidden by Vinexpo organizers and a claim by the Italissima organizer that she had been attacked by one of the Vinexpo organizers.

Some of the greatest movies ever made were the French and Italian co-productions of the 1960s, like Godard’s Contempt. Maybe it’s best if dreamers of French and Italian partnership stick to movie-making.

BYOB Trailer Park Tacos, Soave, and Sangiovese

Above: Tracie B and me’s favorite wine to pair with Torchy’s trailer park tacos is Inama Soave. It has just enough richness in the mouthfeel to wrap itself around the intense flavors of the spicy pork and salsa.

It’s summertime in Texas and that can mean only one thing: BYOB trailer park tacos.

After we watched The Hangover at a matinee yesterday (hilarious, especially the raunchy closing credits), we headed out to spend the steamy summer evening with Tracie B’s childhood friend Jennifer and her husband CJ (check out their cool wedding photography blog), munching on chips and salsa and tacos, sipping Soave and Sangiovese at the Trailer Park Eatery in Austin — trailer park dining world capital.

Above: One of the trailers at the Trailer Park Eatery makes tacos, one makes burgers, and one makes S’mores — yes, S’mores. How’s that for an impossible wine pairing Dr. V?

Inama Soave is always one of our favorite pairings for BYOB tacos because of its bright acidity but also because it has a certain richness and unctuousness to the mouthfeel that wraps around the texture of steaming hot, soft corn tortilla stuffed with juicy roast pork and delivers ineffable pleasure.

I also thought the 2003 Villa di Vetrice Chianti Rufina Riserva showed well. I was a little hesitant to buy this wine: I’ve had too many 03s from Tuscany that are too stewy. But this wine was a beauty: 100% Sangiovese, grown at proper elevations (your ears pop as you drive up to Rufina), and vinified in a traditional manner. Great acidity, great plummy fruit, and lightness in body balanced by tannin that I just can’t resist. Both of these wines retail for under $20, btw, perfect for BYOB tacos.

There’s no doubt about it: Austin has some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten — from the haute to the bas.

Sunday poetry: Dante and wine

Of the entire corpus of Dante’s writings, his Inferno — the first canticle of his Commedia, with its gallery of eternally damned, their sordid tales, and their punishments — is indisputably the most popular (in part because of its inherently cinematic and more immediately accessible content). The other two canticles are much more dense and more difficult to penetrate but they are equally — and in many cases more — inspired, as Dante travels up toward heaven through Purgatorio (see the terraces of Purgatory left) toward Beatrice in Paradiso.

The word vino or wine appears twice in the Commedia, both times in the Purgatorio. In the first instance (Purg. 15, 123), Dante refers to his fatigue, “like a man overcome by wine or sleep.”

In the second, wine plays a much less mundane role. In Purg. 25, 76-78, the Latin poet Statius compares the miracle of winemaking (natural winemaking, I might add) to how God creates life:

    E perché meno ammiri la parola
    guarda il calor del sol che si fa vino,
    giunto a l’omor che de la vite cola.

    And, that you may be less bewildered by my words,
    consider the sun’s heat, which, blended with the sap [must]
    pressed from the vine, turns into wine.

(You can read the tercet in context at the Princeton Dante Project here and I’ve included the Princeton Dante Project commentary to Statius’s lecture on embryology, the physiology of the spirit, and the formation of the aerial body below, together with a link to the entire commentary.)

I had been thinking about this tercet after I posted in Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine Series on the “miracle” of winemaking. (The series continues through July 18 and is definitely worth checking out.)

This passage from Dante is a great example of how Western thinkers and poets saw winemaking as a divine act. I find it beautiful how Dante (in the voice of Statius) uses the example of winemaking to illustrate how life is formed — a concept not easy for the mortal to grasp. As the heat of the sun starts fermentation, so the miracle of grape juice being turned into wine begins. Juice for thought, no?

Thanks for reading and buona domenica! Tracie B and I are off to the movies now…

From the Princeton Dante Project, a great tool for reading, browsing, and studying Dante’s Commedia:

Statius’s lecture on embryology may be paraphrased as follows. He is willing to deal with Dante’s desire to know how the aerial body is formed ([Purg XXV 34-36]): (1) After the ‘perfect blood’ is ‘digested’ (the fourth digestion) in the heart, having now the power to inform all the parts of body, it is ‘digested’ once again and descends into the testicles; (2) it now falls upon the ‘perfect blood’ in the vagina; it is ‘active,’ the latter ‘passive’; (3) the male blood now informs the soul of the new being in the female; (4) but how this soul becomes a human being is not yet clear ([Purg XXV 37-66]). Once the fetal brain is formed, God, delighted with Nature’s work, breathes into it the (rational) soul, which blends with the already existent souls (vegetative and sensitive) and makes a single entity, as wine is made by the sun ([Purg XXV 67-78]). At the moment of death the soul leaves the body but carries with it the potential for both states, the bodily one ‘mute,’ the rational one more acute than in life, and falls to Acheron (if damned) or Tiber (if saved), where it takes on its ‘airy body,’ which, inseparable as flame from fire, follows it wherever it goes; insofar as this new being ‘remembers’ its former shape, it takes on all its former organs of sense and becomes a ‘shade’ ([Purg XXV 79-108]). This ‘lecture’ is put to the task of justifying Dante’s presentation of spiritual beings as still possessing, for the purposes of purgation, their bodily senses even though they have no bodies. Souls in Heaven, we will discover, have no such ‘aerial bodies,’ but are present as pure spirit.

Up in smoke in Austin…

apple juice

Above: Josh used apple juice to baste the pork shoulder.

Folks in Texas like to smoke. No, no, no… It’s not what your thinking. They like to smoke their food.


Above: Smoked pork shoulder was the main attraction.

In other places where I’ve lived, lots of folks like to break out the hibachi or Weber when summer arrives. But, in Austin, a lot of our friends will stoke up the smoker, sometimes the night before.


Above: Josh’s dad gave Seana and him this new smoker as a housewarming gift. They just moved in together and last night’s was a house-warming party. Congrats Seana and Josh!

Last night, Tracie B and me went to a “smoker” party at our friends’s, Seana and Josh.

stuffed jalapeno

Above: Bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with Philadelphia cream cheese.

Josh smoked up whole apples, whole cloves of garlic, a pork shoulder, steaks, bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese, and bratwurst.

deviled eggs

Above: Seana’s deviled eggs. All I can say is HELL YEAH! They’re almost as good as Tracie B’s Mee Maw’s. ;-)

We had a blast at the party, listening to Michael Jackson and arguing over the finer points of his career, remembering all those moments from high school when you heard a song for the first time or how many times you played it over and over on cassette tapes. (Check my friend Shawn Amos’s moving and funny remembrance of Michael Jackson.)

Congrats, Seana and Josh on y’all’s new place!

In other news: flash back 1978…

Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke was released in 1978.

The Jacksons released their first self-produced album, Destiny and their single “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” hit number 7 on the Billboard charts.

The minimum wage was $2.65 and Vietnam invaded Cambodia.

I turned 11 and my whole life changed in 1978.

I read the news today o boy: man in the mirror is gone

michael_jacksonWhere were you when you heard the news? I was outside San Antonio, at the end of the work day, in a traffic jam and on the phone with Tracie B, who saw the lugubrious headline flash across a feed on her computer screen.

Whatever your feelings about Michael Jackson (or lack thereof), you knew his name, you knew his songs, you knew his image, and you knew how he changed the world. He was one of the greatest songwriters and performers of all time and my generation came of age with him — whether you liked his music or not. I have always loved his music and his songwriting in particular.

Last night, Tracie B and I slowly sipped Clos Roche Blanche Cabernet Franc as we listened to MJ on our Ipod and danced and sang along to all of our favorite songs. Then we watched some of the Larry King conga line freak show.

I once had a job, back when I was a grad student back in the 90s, archiving video footage of Motown artists (for Berry Gordy’s publishing company Jobete). In one interview with the young Michael Jackson, the journalist asked him how he felt about racism he encountered while touring in the South. “Sometimes you go to a movie theater,” he said, “and someone says something mean and it just ruins your whole day.”

It’s amazing to think how the world changed in the arc of Michael Jackson’s lifetime — and ours.


If they say
Why, why, tell em that is human nature
Why, why, does he do me that way
If they say
Why, why, tell em that is human nature
Why, why, does he do me that way
I like livin this way

You can take foxes outta the country but…

From the “just for fun” department…

Johnny OtisLife’s been a little stressful lately and there’s so much negativity going around right now in the world of wine that I thought it was time for some “just for fun.”

It had been a while since Tracie B and me popped any Movia. So Sunday night, we invited our friend and fellow natural wine freak Josh Loving over for Tracie B’s famous fried chicken and mashed potatoes and a bottle of Puro, which Josh — the consummate wine professional — ably disgorged (check out the video I shot below).

Dinner was served accompanied by one of my favorite records: Cold Shot! by the Johnny Otis Show. I love every track on that disk and “The Signifyin’ Monkey” is probably the most famous. But my favorite favorite track is “Country Girl.” Toward the end of the song, Johnny Otis doubles the following aphoristic chiasmus with his guitar: You can take foxes outta the country, but you can’t get the country outta foxes. It’s one of the mysteries of life but that line just kills me every time. Check it out, as Josh disgorges the wine:

You’ve probably seen Puro disgorged at Do Bianchi before but in case you haven’t, it’s really easy to do (as in the vid above). Winemaker Aleš Kristančič makes the wine using the méthode champenoise but he leaves the lees and sediment in the wine (i.e., he doesn’t disgorge before release). You store the wine upside down in your fridge (using a cardboard cylinder that comes with the wine) and then you disgorge it upside down in a basin of water. The wine will be totally clear (as in the photo below).

Although Bollinger remains the indisputable official wine of my band Nous Non Plus, we have been known to disgorge a bottle of Puro… or two.

Life could be worse…

In other news…

Today, “the absolutely fabulous Alice Feiring,” as Tracie B likes to call her, is up to bat at 31 Days of Natural Wine. Alice is a dear friend, a great lady, a mentor, and one of the few things — besides Katz’s pastrami and Barney Greengrass whitefish salad — that we miss about New York City. I love the wine she talks about and I can confirm what Cory writes in his intro, that “very Alice Feiring” has become a canonical wine descriptor. How cool is that?

Accattone and old Italian Cabernet

Above: The label on Gasparini’s Capo di Stato (Head of State) depicts Charles de Gaulle as Alexander the Great. The original owner of the estate, Count Loredan Gasparini, was the descendant of a Venetian patrician and doge. Imperialist leanings with your Cabernet, anyone? I used to drive through Venegazzù in the Trevisan hills where this wine is made nearly every week on my way to play gigs when I was a student in Italy in the early 90s.

Last night, following meetings and a business dinner in Dallas, I headed over to Italian Wine Guy’s house for a killer bottle of wine and one of my favorite films, Pasolini’s Accattone (1961)

In my view, Cabernet Sauvignon is a terribly misunderstood grape. In the U.S. and Italy people tend to drink it when it’s too young and too tannic (and as a result, too many modern-style winemakers trick it out to make more “drinkable” early on). This nearly 30-year-old beauty was stunning: lively acidity, truly silky tannin, and gorgeous red fruit. I haven’t tasted any recent vintages of Capo di Stato lately but this wine was made before the barrique craze took off in Italy (following Maurizio Zanella’s historic trip to California with Luigi Veronelli).

There was some irony in sipping such an extravagant bottle of wine and watching a film about a Roman small-time pimp, set in the squalor of the outskirts of Rome. Accattone was Pasolini’s first film and it launched his career as a leading and highly controversial filmmaker and intellectual.

In this sequence, Accattone, played by Franco Citti (remember him from The God Father II and III?), has accepted a challenge and bet that he can survive a dive from a bridge into the Tiber after consuming a large meal. The danger, as is perfectly clear to any Italian, is not the dive itself but rather the contact with water immediately after eating. Throughout the film — which is sometimes funny and ultimately very sad — Accattone (The Sponger) is constantly complaining about how hungry he is and devising schemes to get a free meal.

In other news…

Check out Tracie B’s Joly post over at Saignée, part of the 31 Days of Natural Wine series there. I’m at a Starbucks outside Waco right now catching up online. I’ve had a rough couple of days with work and other stuff. But knowing I’m going to see that lovely lady tonight is like sugar in my bitter coffee.

In other other news…

You can download a really cool new Italian DOC and DOCG map here.

Giacosa responds to Ziliani

Giacosa 2006

Above: Tracie B and I tasted the 2006 Nebbiolo d’Alba and 2006 Barbera d’Alba by Bruno Giacosa the other night with our friend and top Austin sommelier Mark Sayre. We all agreed that the wines showed beautifully. (photo by Tracie B).

Today, on his blog, Franco has posted a message he received from the Giacosa winery, signed by Bruno and Bruna Giacosa. My translation of the letter follows. The message was sent in response to Franco’s recent post on “the events surrounding Dante Scaglione” (see below).

    Dear Mr. Franco Ziliani,

    A few months ago, when it was decided (and certainly not without a heavy heart but after many tastings) that our 2006 vintage of Barolo and Barbaresco would not be bottled, no one thought that such a decision could give rise to so much controversy on behalf of certain persons.

    We believe that it is the full right of a winery to choose its own strategy with complete autonomy and serenity, especially when with the aim of maintaining the high level of quality of the winery’s products.

    In doing so, we had absolutely no intention to denigrate or demonize the 2006 vintage in general. We are sure that many wineries will put excellent products on the market. But in our opinion, the Giacosa winery’s 2006 wines — even though good in quality and entirely respectable — do not reach the excellence in quality to which our clients are accustomed.

    In regard to events surrounding Dante Scaglione, no one has ever dared to question his technical abilities. We all admire him and recognize what he has done as our able collaborator.

    We hope that we have definitively clarified any doubts in this regard because much has been said and much has been written — perhaps too much — often without deep-reaching knowledge of all of the details, especially with regard to the relationship between the winery and its collaborators. It is best for certain details to remain within the confines of “domestic walls.”

    Looking forward to the future, we hope to receive you soon as our guest at the winery to taste the new vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco together. It would be our pleasure.

    Best wishes, Bruno and Bruna Giacosa

Americanata: Mondavi in Italy

From the “no go paroe” department…

big_gulpAs much as Italians generally like Americans and the U.S. of A., they also love to make fun of us. They even have a word for it, americanata: the word (a noun) is used disparagingly to describe Americans’s tendency toward the grandiose, the overblown, exaggeration, bad taste, and kitsch. A classic if banal example of an americanata would be the Big Gulp. According to Wikipedia, the Big Gulp was introduced by 7-Eleven in 1980 and in its largest size, contains 64 fluid ounces of soda pop. Is it humanly possible to drink 64 ounces of Coke in one serving? That’s a lot of corn syrup. The Big Gulp is clearly an americanata.

tiziana nenezicThere is an entire genre of commentary on Americans and their americanate in Italian journalism. Vittorio Zucconi writes about the U.S. from an Italian perspective for the Italian national daily La Repubblica and is perhaps the most famous chronicler of americanate. There is even a blog called Americanata, authored by an Italian writer living in the U.S. Tiziana Nenezic has published two books: How to Survive New Yorkers, the Tale of a Woman Who Managed to Do So (Maybe) and Love in the Times of Globalization.

Over the weekend, Franco and I reported on a new and disturbing wine industry partnership that represents another step in globalization’s seemingly unstoppable march of progress: the behemoth Cantina di Soave has become the exclusive distributor of mammoth Constellation Brands in Italy and will begin to market and sell “new world products of excellence” like Mondavi.

Do Italians really need another barriqued and oaky, overly extracted, jammy, hyperalcoholic Merlot? From California? I fear that this merger does not bode well for those of us who love Italy for its mosaic of indigenous grapes and who crave food-friendly wines made in the traditional style (wines for which no new oak has been used, no artificial concentration has been employed, and wines that express grape and place and people). It will only foster the continued Coca-Colization of the Italian palate. I can’t think of a bigger americanata.

I’m going to get down off of my soap box now but before I do, I invite you to watch the following Coca Cola commercial that aired recently in Italy. In the spot, a girl named Giulia from Pisa says, “lately everyone’s been talking about [the economic] crisis.” But she’s an optimist because she likes “simple things.” She eats pizza instead of sushi, a sandwich with salami instead of caviar. She likes to stay home and eat with her family instead of going to “gala dinners.” The spot ends with a message from Coca Cola, la felicità a tavola non va mai in crisi: “happiness at the table is never in crisis.”

Now watch the parody. In the original version, the girl has an Italianized Tuscan accent in the voice over. In the parody, she has a strong Tuscan accent (the use of dialect and dialectal accents is important and very Pasolinian here, btw). Bear with me if you don’t speak Italian: it’s worth it for the images.

No go paroe, I am speechless, as they say in the Veneto.

(Thanks Ale for sending me the “Real Giulia Commercial”!)

Sunday Poetry: Love is like red, red wine

Above: I snapped this pic with my Blackberry as I drove across Arkansas, on my way back to Little Rock from Texarkana. I like the way the phone’s camera makes the trees look two-dimensional.

There were a lot of things about my recent sales trip to Arkansas that made me think about one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes.

The beautiful trees that line Interstate 30 were one of them. They made me think of his poem “Daybreak in Alabama”:

    When I get to be a composer
    I’m gonna write me some music about
    Daybreak in Alabama
    And I’m gonna put the purtiest songs in it
    Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
    And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
    I’m gonna put some tall tall trees in it

Above: In Arkansas, they’re very proud of their tomatoes. For lunch, I ate Tomato Aspic — tomato jello stuffed with mayonnaise.

Wine appears more than once in Hughes’s poetry. As a child I was fascinated by his poem “Lament over Love,” which I read over and over and set to music:

    I hope my child’ll
    Never love a man.
    I say I hope my child’ll
    Never love a man.
    Love can hurt you
    Mo’n anything else can.

    I’m goin’ down to the river
    An’ I ain’t goin’ there to swim.
    My true love’s left me
    And I’m goin’ there to think about him.

    Love is like whiskey,
    Love is like red, red wine.
    Love is like whiskey,
    Like sweet red wine.
    If you want to be happy
    You got to love all the time.

    I’m goin’ up in a tower
    Tall as a tree is tall,
    Up in a tower
    Tall as a tree is tall.
    Gonna think about my man
    And let my fool-self fall.

Above: Turnip greens in Arkansas were also really tasty.

Many of Hughes’s poems were adaptations of blues songs. As a teenager, I was also fascinated by his autobiography, The Big Sea, which I read over and over again. The chapters devoted to his time in Europe were heavily dogeared in my paperback copy (I wrote about his visit to Desenzano here).

Above: In North Little Rock where I spoke at a wine dinner, I slept at the Baker House, a Victorian home listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. The man who built it was not allowed to live there because of his color.

Life in Arkansas is certainly different than New York, California, or Austin. I’d never been there before this year. People were very nice to me and I had a lot of fun pouring and talking about wine. I certainly can’t complain.

    Though you may hear me holler,
    And you may see me cry
    I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
    If you gonna see me die.

    Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!

    (from “Life is Fine”)

Above: I sold Barolo and Barbaresco to Tom’s Jug Shop in Texarkana. You can buy beer and liquor there at a drive-through window. They give you a cup of ice with your order, if you want. You wouldn’t think it from the sign and facade but they know their wine there.

Life is certainly never boring and as much as I miss Tracie B when I’m away from Austin, I love the travel and the new places I get to visit (Louisiana is next). As Langston Hughes wrote in the epigraph of The Big Sea:

Life is a big sea full of many fish. I let down my nets and pull.