Harvest dispatches from Europe are changing the way we understand “vintage”

One of the coolest things about the enoblogosphere this year is the number of European wineries who are posting dispatches from the harvest. I loved the above photo of grapes for Vin Santo posted by my friend Ale at Montalcino Report (he’s been posting regularly about weather conditions and harvest progress).

My friend Laura, also in Montalcino, posted this brutally honest report about the recent heat spike there, entitled “Can someone please turn the hairdryer off?” Not everyone in Montalcino has embraced transparency but a few brave souls like Ale and Laura have.

It’s been a few weeks since he’s posted, but my buddy Wayne in Colli Orientali del Friuli has posted some great photos of harvest (like the one above), including some shots of the young Ethan Bastianich!

Back in July, Wayne did this amazing however sad post of images documenting hail damage in Collio.

Today at the Boutari blog, we posted some images and a report from the harvest in Naoussa by enologist Vasilis Georgiou. Those are Xinomavro grapes, above, waiting to be picked.

Although he doesn’t have a blog, my good friend and Pasolinian comrade Giampaolo Venica has been using social media to document the harvest in Collio. He sent me the gorgeous photo of dawn (above) to illustrate the time of day that they begin picking the grapes, when temperatures are coolest. Beautiful, no?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the 2011 harvest in Europe has been documented like no other before it… all thanks to the internets and a growing number of forward-thinking winemakers.

Know a winery that’s posting about harvest this year? Please share a URL in a comment and let’s a list going! Buona vendemmia yall!

Negroamaro, a supreme expression in Graticciaia (tonight in LA)

In the Salento peninsula of Italy, the Negroamaro harvest will begin any day now, as my friend Paolo reports on his blog.

When I visited Apulia (Puglia) in June of this year as a judge in the Radici Wines festival, I had the great fortune of attending a vertical tasting of Graticciaia, a dry-style dried grape expression of Negroamaro created in 1986 by the Vallone family in Salento, a wine considered by many to be the greatest wine of Apulia. (No relation to my friend and client Tony Vallone in Houston.)

Only made in top years, the grapes for Graticciaia are late-harvested and then dried on mats (graticci in Italian, hence the enonym). They are then vinified in stainless steel and aged in large casks (similar to and inspired by the wines and winemaking of Valpolicella).

When I tasted at Vallone, they served a flight including the 2003, 1997, 1994, and 1990 and we were all impressed by the nuance that these wines attain with age. The 1994, in particular, blew me away: the fruit had emerged brilliantly, as had a wonderful sea salt note that danced with the wine’s bright acidity. The younger vintages were muscular yet elegant, with classic spicy notes accentuated by the winemaking style: think cumin and cinnamon sprinkled over ripe plums and dried cherries.

Starting tonight, I’ll be pouring a mini-vertical — 2006 and 2005 — of Graticciaia at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I’ll be pouring wine on the floor tonight, tomorrow night, and Saturday night).

Please drop by and I’ll tell you some wine tales!

Taurasi, a guest post from Naples (and a vertical of Taurasi tomorrow in LA)

I’ve been doing my homework, getting ready to present a mini-vertical of Taurasi by Struzziero tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday nights at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I curate the wine list). Yesterday, I reached out to my friend Marina Alaimo who works with top Southern Italian wine blogger and journalist Luciano Pignataro in Naples. Here’s what she sent me. Buona lettura!

Dear Jeremy,

In the attached photo, you’ll see old plantings of Aglianico Taurasino. This type of training method is called starzete: it’s a type of high trellis, with four long canes. It allowed the farmers to grow vegetables and other crops below the vines and to bind the canes to trees. As a result, the farmer could use the available land to its greatest potential by employing integrated farming. Furthermore, the starzete training system guaranteed an abundant crop of grapes. As you know, in the past, grape growers aimed for quantity. I’ve also sent you a photo of the Castello di Taurasi, symbol of the appellation.


The best Italian restaurant in the U.S. (and why I was made to love her)

When Tracie P and I talked about one last “babymoon” before the last trimester of our pregnancy (when she can’t fly anymore), she expressed her desire to dine at Frasca in Boulder. And so on Saturday, we headed for the Rocky Mountains and one of the best meals we’ve ever had.

It’s so hard to get properly sliced prosciutto in this country and I have told Tracie P about Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s obsession with reconditioned vintage Berkel slicers and how their beveled blades make all the difference (it’s in the diffusion of the heat, Lachlan explained to me last year when we traveld in Friuli together). When our server asked us about what we wanted to eat, the first thing out of (and into) Tracie P’s mouth was: P-R-O-S-C-I-U-T-T-O!

Co-owner Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey graciously offered to select the wines for us and it was only fitting that we start with 2010 Malvasia by Venica & Venica: Lachlan, he, and I tasted the wine together last September at the winery in Collio not long after it had been harvested. We loved the spice in this vintage of Malvasia by our good friend Giampaolo Venica.

Lachlan’s frico was off-the-charts good.

Bobby surprised us with this 09 lees-aged Sauvignon Blanc by Borgo del Tiglio, a winery I’d never tasted or seen in the U.S. I love the muscular style of Sauvignon Blanc embraced by certain Friulian producers. If ever there were an international grape variety to grow in Italy, it would be Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli, where winemakers can obtain sublime expressions of this aromatic grape. The 09 Tiglio had a crazy spearmint note on it and it was amazing to see this intense wine evolve over the course of the evening. (Note how Bobby decanted it for us.)

Lachlan’s cooking is a benchmark for Italian cuisine in the U.S. His gnocchi had that perfect balance of substance and lightness.

His ravioli were stuffed with a “deconstructed ratatouille,” in other words, all of the ingredients of the classic French dish, but prepared separately. Again, the quality of Lachlan’s pasta is a benchmark for Italian cuisine in the U.S. (Note the yellow color.)

1997 Schioppettino by Ronchi di Cialla was one of the most incredible wines we’ve drunk this year. Unbelievable minerality with this bright, fresh grapey note and under 13% alcohol. Simply incredible… It was gorgeous with Lachlan’s roast pork loin.

After dinner, Lachlan gave us a tour of the kitchen and revealed some of the secrets behind his Neapolitan pizza, served at their new pizzeria next door. Believe it or not, we actually went next door after our 3-hour dinner and ate again! I’ll post on the pizza later this week.

At certain point during our dinner, we were having so much fun that we were nearly overwhelmed by the joy of sharing food and together. Almost simultaneously, we looked into each other’s eyes and it was as if the same thought had just come to our minds at the same moment. I looked at Tracie P and told her I loved her and that it’s a miracle that we found each other: there’s no one else in the world that I could share an experience like this.

See that glimmer in her eye (as she enjoys a Sanbitter before dinner)? It makes me melt like prosciutto on her tongue…

IMHO, Frasca is the best Italian restaurant in the U.S. and you really can’t go wrong there. But it’s so much better if you go with someone you love…

There’s so much more to show and tell about our dinner in Boulder but it’ll just have to wait… Stay tuned and thanks for letting me share this special evening with you!

My gig at the World Trade Center, remembering September 11

Looking back on September 11, 2001, I know I am not the first to think of it as a catastrophic tragedy comparable to the Sack of Rome in the 16th century. But, today, as I reminisce about the gigs I played at The Greatest Bar on Earth — 1 World Trade Center, NY NY 10048, on the top floor of the north tower — I realize that, like the Sack of Rome, the tragedy of 9/11 marks a cultural watershed: it’s as if our frenetic quest to document our lives through digital images and information began after September 2001 (in the same way that art historians and literary scholars point to the Sack of Rome as a cultural turning point, when there was an overarching shift in our self-awareness).

And so I dug up some old photos and fliers from my pre-9/11 world when my band (above) was still called Les Sans Culottes (today Nous Non Plus).

Back then, we played at The Greatest Bar on Earth nearly once a month.

Remember the World Famous Pontani Sisters? We did a lot of shows there together, with the Pontanis on stage with us. “Wear go-go boots and a miniskirt and get in free!” That pretty much sums up the spirit of those days in New York. We played some wild shows back then.

Those were wild, fun years in my life, when I was still in my early thirties and had moved to NYC just a few years previously. Back then, my day gig was writing about wine for La Cucina Italiana. The band played roughly 50 gigs a year in NYC, where we had a great following. It was a super fun time (look at the other bands that were playing the Bowery Ballroom, above, where we often were the headliners). Seems like a lifetime ago now. It was…

On my September 11, I awoke in Brooklyn and learned that something had happened — although I didn’t know yet what — when I called a colleague in TriBeCa to confirm a 9 a.m. morning meeting. I didn’t have a TV back then. And so I tuned in NPR on WNYC on my Mac over the internet. As soon as what was happening sunk in, I picked up the phone and called my mother who was still sleeping in California, three hours behind NYC time.

“Mom, sorry to wake you.”

“That’s okay, honey.”

“Something’s happened in New York. Something bad. I’m not going to be able to call you later. But I’m calling to let you know that I’m okay.”

“Okay, honey. Thanks for calling.”

She hung up and fell back asleep. The whole world had changed.

By the end of the day, singed shards of paper, business documents, rained gently down on my neighborhood in Park Slope, fluttering as they fell back to earth. I’ll never forget that image.

I was very lucky that I didn’t head into the city that day. I would have been on the 2 or 3 train, passing under the WTC.

G-d bless all the people who suffered and lost and gave their lives that day.