Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, finger-licking good

Tracie P, Georgia P, and I are in Maiolati Spontini (Province of Ancona), a small village in the heart of Verdicchio country and just a stone’s throw up the road from Morro d’Alba.

On the final leg of our trip, we stayed last night at the humble but sturdy and friendly Hotel La Torre, where we found refuge from the heavy rain and filled our bellies with warm crescia (above), the half-baked and then grill-fired flat bread, a standby of the Marches (Le Marche) and Umbria.

The olive oil-based dish was a perfect pairing for a wonderfully juicy 2010 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba by Lucchetti. A classic expression of this grape, poppy with acidity and fruit, light in body but delightfully chewy.

The bottle — the winery’s upper-tier Guardegno label — was more than reasonably priced and recommended to me by the proprietor, who told me — as she winced at the thought of it — that she doesn’t allow barriqued wines on her list.

We LOVED this wine. And I’m happy to report that it’s available in the U.S. (in at least a handful of states).

We have just one more meeting and tasting before we head to Venice this evening and back to Texas tomorrow.

It’s been an incredible trip for us, the first with our daughter, who taught us that mozzarella and paccheri ai frutti di mare (and pasta in general) are among her favorite foods.

Thanks to everyone for following along with us and sharing the joy of our trip.

Angelo Gaja’s 2012 vintage notes

Above: Monforte, late July 2012. Photo by my excellent friend David Berry Green, who graciously shared this with me on the spur of the moment.

Angelo Gaja winemaker, Angelo Gaja entrepreneur, Angelo Gaja larger-than-life wine personality, Angelo Gaja writer…

Most don’t think of him as a great writer but he is. In part because of his insights and experiences. In part because of his style and performance (as the Italians say).

Sadly, his “papal bulls” (as I like to call them) are often poorly translated.

And so, once again, I’ve taken it upon myself to translate his most recent notes on the 2012 vintage in Italy (below, sent to me in the original by one of his media outlets). I think you’ll be as interested as I was to read what he had to say.

In the original Italian, he uses a word — farlocco (translated here as easy mark) — a term that most Italians first heard when they read Pasolini’s Ragazzi di vita (published in Italian romanaccio [Roman street dialect] in 1955). Gaja probably first heard it as a youngster in the inflection ferloch in Piedmont, where the term most likely originated, meaning loud mouth. I could devote an entire post to this lemma and its epistemological implications…

In the meantime, I’d like to give the floor to messer Gaja…

*****

A Weatherglass for the 2012 Vintage

Climate change — marked by prolonged summer heat and drought — is the cause for the sharp drop in Italy’s grape production for 2012. It was also the reason behind the light vintages of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011.

Now, as a result, another scarce year adds to the lack of wine from previous vintages lying in Italian cellars. In the space of just a few short years, we have shifted from a situation in which Italy perennially produced a surplus of wine to the current shortage.

The shower of vintage forecasts that begin in late July have been rendered an easy mark by climate change. This is because the heat and drought now last for the entire month of August, the period when the grapes are formed, drying them to the point of a berry-wrinkling phenomenon. This condition causes a consistent loss of weight that eludes the hurried predictions.

Wine production in Italy is tightly regulated. The surface area planted to vine cannot be increased. In order to plant a new vineyard, you must grub up an existing one and it must be equal in size.

Wine is a natural product. Its quantities are determined by climatic conditions and the sky is the vineyard’s ceiling. It’s not like producing steel, glass, bricks, or plastic in a well-sheltered factory. And this concept often eludes the world of finance and those who follow the economic bottom line of the wine industry.

There are those who fear that Italian wine will not be able to keep up and that it will not produce enough to satisfy domestic demand while maintaining the export levels that Italian winemakers have worked so hard to achieve. In the last six months, a slow in exports has given us reason to reflect.

But this shouldn’t be cause for worry because the loss is concentrated in bulk wine, much of which was being sold at slashed prices. It’s better that this wine remain in Italy so as to fuel the production of box wine. The average price of exported Italian wine per liter is still one of the lowest in the world, widely outpaced by not just France but also surpassed by the U.S., New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina.

It’s right to be proud of the wines that are produced in Italy. But less so when the wines are sold at highly discounted prices. If supply of Italian wine goes down and demand grows or remains the same, it’s inevitable that the prices will go up.

Grape prices are already strained and wine wholesale prices will soon be strained as well. They haven’t changed for ten years! The retail price of wines under 3 Euros, which represent 70% of sales by Italian distributors, will also begin to go up.

But it’s also possible that higher grape and wine wholesale prices will be good for the wine trade by prompting producers to improve quality, to work to create greater demand in mid-to-low price points, and to become better salepeople.

Climate change has also sparked a generational shift among grape growers. In the Italian regions most affected by the heat, growers are asking that currently prohibited emergency irrigation now be allowed, even for appellation wines. Growers also need to learn how to better protect their vineyards from the evaporation of humidity in the soil.

Certain vine diseases, once believed to have been contained, are now returning and there is an urgent need to use less pesticide in viticulture. The knowledge acquired in the past needs to be rapidly integrated with current research, technology, and the grower’s own capacity for observation. This transition is our greatest cause for concern.

—Angelo Gaja
September 7, 2012

First bite: @MyLifeItalian eats fave e cicorie & makes a wish (TY @PaoloCantele)

When you visit Le Zie in Lecce for the first time, owner Carla Perrone insists that you let her feed you your first bite of fave e cicorie (favas and green chicory), a classic dish of Puglia.

And as she feeds it to you, she asks you to esprimere un desiderio… to make a wish…

I visited this wonderful restaurant for the first time in June 2011 and made a wish. It came true: I couldn’t wish for anything more than Georgia P and Tracie P.

I can only wonder what Tracie P wished for. She won’t tell… ;)

Thanks again, Paolo, for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in the world!

Casanova di Neri supermarket Brunello in Lecce

It’s hard to believe, I know: tasting notes for Casanova di Neri 2004 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG on Do Bianchi.

But when I saw this bottle at a downtown Lecce supermarket for Euro 22.90 (see receipt below), I couldn’t resist the temptation to pick it up (that’s $29.51 based on today’s exchange rate).

I opened and tasted the wine today before lunch and I have to say that it’s pretty good. Lighter in body than Giacomo Neri’s U.S.-bound Brunello, with bright fruit and some wood tannin on the finish. If it weren’t for the wood, I’d even say it was more than pretty good.

I’m guessing that this wine is akin to his “white label,” as it is called in the states.

On Winesearcher, I see Casanova di Neri for as low as $40. But never this low. Who knew it was a supermarket wine in Italy?

I plan to taste it tonight with pucce for dinner (on our first night in Lecce, we had an early dinner of grilled vegetables at a rosticceria and last night we had take-out pizza in our B&B; tonight is puccia night and generally we’ve either been eating very early or back at our hotel).

In an hour or so, we’re heading to one of Lecce’s culinary landmarks for lunch, Le Zie. I can’t wait!

Paccheri ai frutti di mare on the Ionian (TY 4 rec @PaoloCantele)

On Paolo’s recommendation, we headed to Porto Cesareo for lunch today. We wanted beach chairs, umbrella, and a restaurant right on the sea and he pointed us to the west coast of the Salento peninsula to Bacino Grande.

The paccheri ai frutti di mare were one of the best things we’ve eaten on the entire trip. The key to a dish like this is for the jus of the seafood to be absorbed by the pasta. The sauce had just the right consistency and texture and gave the pasta a wonderful savory character, with just a touch of sweetness from the tomato. Superb…

The frittura di paranza: a paranza is a wooden fisherman’s boat used for coastal fishing. This dish is akin to a “captain’s platter” fry. This, also, was over the top good.

It doesn’t really get any fresher than this. I really loved the place, even though the staff was a little bit grouchy.

Georgia P LOVED the paccheri and she had a blast dipping her toes into the warm water of the Ionian. I love how Italians rejoice when you bring a baby into a restaurant and no one ever gives you a dirty look. We are having SO MUCH fun on this trip… She is our joy…

Basilicata’s scorched and rare earth

After arriving in Melfi on Sunday night, Tracie P, Georgia P, and I took one of the most amazing road trips of our lives: starting Tuesday morning from Melfi, we drove to Venosa to visit Aglianico del Vulture vineyards; then through the vast endless wheat fields of the Basilicata plains; on to Gravina in Puglia (where we stopped to nurse) and then to Gioia del Colle (Puglia), where we took the autostrada and then superstrada through Taranto, over to Brindisi, arriving in Lecce around 5 p.m.

I have much to say about the experience and what we saw. But the most amazing thing was the color of the earth: as Tracie P put it, striations of black, gold, red, brown, green… The Aglianico grapes are at full ripeness and I imagine the growers will be picking soon.

Much more to write and many more photos to post… but now it’s time to take the ladies to the beach… :)

Frank Cornelissen @SottoLA November 11 with @LouAmdur

“Mt. Etna speaks through Frank Cornelissen.”
Alice Feiring, author of Naked Wine and The Battle for Wine and Love: How I Saved the World from Parkerization

“Naturalness is the road, not its end.”
—Frank Cornelissen

It’s official: I’ll be hosting a dinner for Etna winemaker Frank Cornelissen at Sotto in Los Angeles on Sunday November 11.

Click here for details.

Lou will be there, too!

Neapolitan lunch in Caianello (Caserta)

As we journey through Italy, our travels times depend on Georgia P’s napping and nursing schedule. And so we had to rely on the fates for a late lunch yesterday as we made our way from Montalcino to Melfi in Basilicata, where we slept in the shadow of Mt. Vulture last night.

Tracie P’s one desire was that we cross over into her beloved Campania from Latium before stopping for our repast.

We took the exit for Caianello not knowing that the gods would deliver us to the Ristorante Maracuja (Passionfruit), where manager Gennaro graciously offered to feed us despite the fact that his venue was host to parties celebrating a communion, a baptism, and a teenager’s birthday respectively.

As Tracie P likes to note, it’s difficult to eat badly in Campania. And while Ristorante Maracuja (at least in our experience) is a relatively humble banquet hall (complete with DJ that sings Fred Buscaglione and Dean Martin classics), its food was delicious.

The pièce de résistance was the cortecce with clams (above), thoroughly enjoyed by Georgia P as well.

The parsley in the stewed baby octopus was — hands down — the most flavorful I’d ever had and bordered on piquant. Italian gastronomy is unrivaled in its variety and its richness but no one — anywhere in the world — can compete with the materia prima of southern Italy.

The potatoes and mussels were — there’s no other way to say it — sublime. I would return just for this dish.

Little did we know that we had stumbled onto a corridor that hosts one of the most popular mozzarella mongers in Campania (even our friends in Basilicata knew of it).

This is the best photo of the Caseificio La Pagliara we took and this is the best listing that I can find.

Even at 4 p.m. on a Sunday, the line was literally 20 persons deep.

We didn’t want to wait that long since we had such a long trip and so we went to the Bottega dei Buoni Sapori down the road (I can’t find any listing). When Tracie P entered the shop, the owner said, “o, they must have already closed up the road.” That’s how good La Pagliara must be…

Today we plan to go up to Rio Nero (on Mt. Vulture) before heading to Lecce… Stay tuned! And thanks for reading! :)

On the evils of truffle oil (@EatingOurWords) and corkage (@Eater @TaliaBaiocchi @SottoLA)

My editor at the Houston Press asked me if I’d like to share my thoughts on (and loathing for) truffle oil.

So Tracie P, Georgia P, and I stopped at that huge Autogrill just south of Bologna (you know, the one right before you head up into the Apennines). And I bought this bottle of the petroleum-laced stuff.

Hilarity and farts ensued.

*****

And in the meantime, Talia Baiocchi, my favorite wine writer in America right now, posted interviews with sommeliers from around the U.S. who shared their thoughts on corkage, present company included.

Inflammation ensued.

*****

My girls and I are headed to Melfi today… then it’s on to Lecce on Monday…

Buona domenica yall!