Do Bianchi and please try not to curse (if possible)

Before heading to the first-ever meeting of the Unione dei Viticoltori Autentici in Gambellara (Vicenza), Alfonso and I stopped at our favorite bar in the village, the Trattoria al Passaggio for do bianchi — two little glasses of white wine.

If you’ve ever lived in the Veneto, you know that using the name of the Lord in vain is kind of like getting out of bed and going to work each morning. You may not want to, but you just have to.

I asked the owner if the sign below worked: “If possible, we ask that you do not curse [blasphemy].” He said it did…

There’s a long tradition of blasphemy in the Veneto, stretching back to the Venetian Republic’s historic political opposition to the Vatican. Today, although avoided in polite circles, blasphemy is used there — in some extreme cases — the same way American speakers of English might use a “crutch” expression like, you know.

Of course, the ancient notion of “cursing the gods” stretch back to antiquity and beyond. And every Italian region I’ve visited has its own colorful variations of blasphemy — always avoided like the plague in polite society.

I loved the qualifier of the owner’s admonition: if possible…

Probably not the case in a “company town” where the company in question happens to be Zonin…

I can’t smile without them…

We took these Polaroids this morning as I was packing and getting ready to leave for Europe.

I wept in the parking lot at the airport when I kissed them goodbye and when the TSA agent asked me if she could go to Venice in my place, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Everyone says that you can’t know what it’s like to be a parent until you become one and that it changes your life in ways you simply can’t imagine…

No one ever told me about the heartbreak… I just can’t smile without them

You know I can’t smile without you
I can’t smile without you
I can’t laugh and I can’t sing
I’m finding it hard to do anything
You see I feel sad when you’re sad
I feel glad when you’re glad
If you only knew what I’m going through
I just can’t smile without you

You came along just like a song
And brightened my day
Who would of believed that you where part of a dream
Now it all seems light years away

And now you know I can’t smile without you
I can’t smile without you
I can’t laugh and I can’t sing
I’m finding it hard to do anything
You see I feel sad when your sad
I feel glad when you’re glad
If you only knew what I’m going through
I just can’t smile

Now some people say happiness takes so very long to find
Well, I’m finding it hard leaving your love behind me

Alice and I pay a visit to the “Wine Seer” (New York Stories III)

@Levi_opens_wine an amazing wine seer, don’t you think, @DoBianchi?” tweeted Alice at the end of the night after we visited with Levi and Brooklyn Guy uptown last Friday night.

In my view, Levi is arguably the coolest sommelier in the U.S. right now and beyond his razor-sharp expertise in Italian wine, he always seems to be just one step ahead of the curve, shaping the discourse and defining the dialectic — a wine “seer,” as Alice put.

It’s not that I didn’t want to see all of my other friends last week in the City. I only had about 48 hours on the ground and they were consumed mostly by meetings with my top client. And Alice, Brooklyn Guy, and Levi were the people I needed to see on this trip.

It was also great to catch up with celebrity sommelier Michael Madrigale, who was working the floor at Boulud Sud that night with Levi.

But it was Levi who had the goods and the dope that I wanted to smoke.

The first wine he opened was the 2005 Overnoy Arbois Pupillin (made from Savagnin), a wine that Levi knows is hard to find beyond the island of Manhattan. An oxidative, tannic, orange wine from the Jura… In many ways this wine represented a synagoga (a coming together) of fascinations that have exited some of us over the last decade. The wine was salty and dense, with its muscle dominating its grace; its delicacy and nuance emerging and revealing itself only as we patiently observed its evolution.

Brooklyn Guy offered that this was an ideal expression of this wine, noting that he had seen a lot of bottle variation in his purchases.

But the pièce de résistance was the Equipos Navaros Bota de Manzanilla Pasada (Sherry).

Brooklyn Guy (aka “the Brook,” as Eric the Red calls him) and Levi have both visited Jerez in the last few years and it was thrilling to hear them hold court on this wine, produced by a generic, commercial winery that holds back certain privileged casks.

“Sherry is a forgotten wine,” said Brooklyn Guy, as Levi expressed his view that the category delivers wines that should be served with food instead of as an aperitif, as do the English and Anglophilic Americans.

I highly recommend checking both of their blogs — Brooklyn Guy and So You Want to be a Sommelier, respectively — and their threads on Sherry and their discoveries.

Is Sherry going to be the next big thing in the U.S.?

@Levi_opens_wine an amazing wine seer, don’t you think, @DoBianchi?

Angelo Gaja’s State of the Union Address: “the winery next door isn’t an enemy”

Above: The last time I tasted with Angelo Gaja was in March 2010 at his winery in Barbaresco.

Earlier this week Angelo Gaja sent out one of what I call his “papal bulls.” As an elder statesman of Italian wine, he often issues these statements via email — on the state of the Italian wine industry, on the Brunello controversy, on the distillation crisis in Piedmont etc. And a number of Italian bloggers repost them.

As I prepare to leave for Italy to attend the Italian wine trade fair Vinitaly (and to lead a group of bloggers to Friuli the following week), I decided to translate his most recent “state of the union” address.

Whether you agree with him or not, I think that you’ll find his insights and observations as interesting as I did.

For the record, I am the author of the translation below and while you can find the piece on many Italian-language sites, I read it on I Numeri del Vino (an Italian wine industry blog that I highly recommend).

I also highly recommend checking out this post by Alfonso on the DOC(G) to DOP migration (part of the same EEC Common Market Organization Reforms that Gaja references in his statement).

Europe’s Winds of Change

by Angelo Gaja

The Italian wine market is going through a phase of profound change that offers contrasting clues for interpretation.

Domestic consumption is dropping while exports are growing. There are producers who are finding it hard to sell their wines and their cellars are still full of wine. Others take advantage of market opportunities and they empty their cellars with ease.

The current trend of pessimism contrasts with the rhetoric of optimism. Where does the truth lie? The numbers don’t tell the whole story but they help us to understand the current situation.

Nearly twenty-five million hectoliters of Italian wine are exported annually and domestic consumption is just over twenty million hectoliters. Together, these numbers constitute a demand of forty-five million hectoliters, to which we need to add the demand for wine by vinegar producers and users of industrial alcohol. The annual average production of wine in Italy in recent years has strained to meet demand. Will Italian wine fail to rise to the occasion?

Causes that Contribute to a Balancing of the Market

Global warming has contributed to this stress, as has the advanced state of obsolescence of 50 percent of the vineyards in Italy today. But it has also been accelerated by the effects of the European market reforms that were called for, imposed, and implemented by Brussels on August 1, 2009.

These reforms were inspired by common sense — a rare commodity these days. And they were intended to put an end to the waste perpetuated by more than thirty years of public subsidies devoted to the elimination of surplus. And they were implemented by the introduction of measures aimed at re-balancing the wine market.

Once squandered, [European Economic] Community contributions are now devoted to the co-financing of promotion of European wineries beyond Europe’s borders and they have helped exports take off despite the current crisis.

In a short period of time, the number of wineries exporting their products has grown more than 30 percent. A significant number of artisanal producers has begun to ship wines abroad and their success has encouraged to them to combine their resources and to travel beyond Italy’s borders to tell their stories and share their passion, traditions, and innovations. And in doing so, they have helped to contribute to the greater respect that Italian wine now commands throughout the world. As a result, there are many who now believe that the Italian wine market is undergoing a profound and unprecedented structural change that requires them to adopt a new and different cultural approach.

Think Differently

More must be done to monitor and prevent the production of counterfeit wine.

We must stop thinking that we need to compete with one another and that the winery next door is an enemy.

It’s inconceivable that the windfall of European Economic Community contributions for the co-financing of exports beyond Europe’s borders continue uninterrupted: why should European citizens be taxes to achieve this goal?

We must learn how to build business networks using only our own funds.

The domestic market continues to be the most challenging. But its value is undiminished because it’s what shapes and builds business: it’s a mistake to dismiss and neglect it.

The producers whose wines enjoy a healthy presence in the Italian market are often the same producers who reap the rewards of foreign markets.

The balance between supply and demand puts the greatest responsibility on all of our shoulders. And it should impel producers to grow and to become more capable businessmen who are better prepared to rise up to meet the challenges of the market.

Angelo Gaja, March 19, 2012

The many “inos” of New York, a visit to Maialino (New York Stories II)

Above: I loved the fried artichokes at Danny Meyer’s Maialino.

It’s amazing to think that restaurant maven Jason Denton opened his Italian sandwich shop ‘Ino back in 1998 — the same year that Batali-Bastianich launched Babbo. Strolling around the West Village last week, I spotted two new (at least to me) “inos”: Gottino and Corsino.

It occurred to me that the Molto Mario paradigm is like al-Qaeda: it’s not just a working method or brand anymore; it’s a concept. And the rash of “inos” that have appeared across the City in the last fourteen years are akin to the self-appointed “cells” of the Jihad (perhaps modeled more after Lupa and Otto than his earlier successes).

I’m embarrassed to say that I still hadn’t been to Maialino (which opened in 2010), Danny Meyer’s Rome-inspired “ino”. And when Alice and I arrived there at 8 p.m. on Friday, the place was slamming packed.

I was geeked to reconnect with my good friend Nicolas, who works there. And we ended up having a nosh at the bar (including the awesome fried artichokes, above).

Nicolas treated us to a delicious bottle of Perella, one of Bruno De Conciliis’s expressions of Fiano. And I was psyched to see 2006 Produttori di Carema by the glass (!) and a truly courageous selection for the Pinot Grigio by the glass: Vie di Romans Pinot Grigio Dessimis — a vineyard designated, skin-contact, tannic expression of lees-aged Pinot Grigio. That’s a pretty gutsy choice for someone expecting Santa Margherita…

I tasted a 1997 Dessimis a few years ago in Friuli and was blown away by the elegance and power of the wine. And although I thought the 2009 offered at Maialino isn’t fully developed (the wood still resided atop the wine), I loved the fact that the wine director Liz Nicholson (whom I haven’t met) is prompting her guests to question the Pinot Grigio status quo in our nation.

OBut no matter how hard courageous and well informed wine directors like Liz try, you still can’t take the “ino” out of Pinot Grigio…

Up next: New York Stories III, Alice and I pay a visit to the “Wine Seer” uptown and “everything is beautiful at the ballet”…

Loved the Kabaj Rebula (Brda, Slovenia) @anforanyc thx @joecampanale cc @bluedanubewine

Was very geeked to share a glass of rocks, fruit, and spice at Anfora in Manhattan with owners Joe and August (I’m a fan… of the place and the dudes).

Found this cool write-up of the winery by the folks at Blue Danube Wine in California.

Call for emergency irrigation in Brunello by Fabrizio Bindocci @BrunelloMaker

“Let us debunk the common misconception that irrigation serves solely to increase production,” wrote my friend and Brunello producer Fabrizio Bindocci (above) on his son Alessandro’s blog Montalcino Report this morning. “Today, the appellation rules establish low yields and monitoring is implemented in the vineyard to see if these yields are real. For this reason, we would be opening a practice that can only help to raise the quality when there is need because of climatic capriciousness. But until today, not having this possibility, the growers of Montalcino will use the agronomic techniques that they possess to manage their vineyard the best that they can.”

If you’ve been following their blog (as I have), you know that the weather in Montalcino has been very strange this year and there are already forecasts and fears of drought in the 2012 vintage.

Drought isn’t as great of a threat for Fabrizio, his son, and the estate they manage as it may be for other growers: thanks to the age of their vines, their roots reach deeper and have greater success in finding the water table, even in lean years.

But as one of the members of the technical advisory board of the Brunello growers association, Fabrizio is speaking to and for the more than 250 bottlers in the appellation.

Fabrizio has taken a lot of flak for serving on the advisory board under Ezio Rivella, the maligned septuagenarian who continues to lobby for the inclusion of international grape varieties in Brunello.

The way I see it, Fabrizio — a friend of mine and a winemaker I greatly admire — is serving Montalcino’s best interests by working within the current political framework and climate. I can’t think of a more noble and more Tuscan attitude…

And should Montalcino be stricken with another 2003, emergency irrigation would make the blending of Merlot in Brunello much less appealing…

Click here to read his “open letter” calling for emergency irrigation in Montalcino.