Bacalà ala visentina (baccalà alla vicentina) for Easter Sunday

baccala alla vicentina

Tracie P had a pregnancy craving for bacalà ala visentina and so my old friend Renato, manager and chef at the Villa Marcello Marinelli (Cison di Valmarino) where we’re staying, made some especially for us for our Easter lunch today.

carciofi in padella

He’d already been soaking some stockfish for himself and his family and so it was perfect. Man, was it good!

There was no room in the dining room (because the restaurant was already completely reserved for Easter). So we had “room service” in our apartment. He also made us some potatoes and artichokes saltati in padella (pan sautéed).

It couldn’t have been better. :)

villa marcello castelbrando cison

After lunch we took Georgia P for a stroll through the village. That’s the Villa on the left.

And then we went for a drive through misty Valdobbiadene and along the left bank of the Piave (my old stomping grounds)… It was so beautiful and peaceful. And as we drove back, all the folks were in the villages enjoying ice cream and their post-holiday passeggiata (stroll).

I hope everyone had a great Easter Sunday!

Coolest bar in Franciacorta, Andata e Ritorno (Provaglio d’Iseo)

giovanni arcari

After I put the girls to bed at the hotel in Erbusco (Franciacorta) last night, Giovanni (above) took me to the coolest pub in Franciacorta, Andata e Ritorno Stazione di Provaglio d’Iseo, a functioning regionale train station (see video below, shot right outside the pub). Great selection of local, artisanal beers, super cool crowd, and awesome metal and classic rock playlist.

andata e ritorno

The place has the feel of train station circa 1965 (andata e ritorno means round trip in Italian).


Piadina with prosciutto, mozzarella, and salsa rosa.

claudio bertazzoli

I really dug owner Claudio Bertazzoli’s playlist of virtuoso metal: Satriani, Steve Vai, Pantera… This dude knows his shit and digs the shredding!


helmut newton

Tracie P, Georgia P, and I landed early yesterday morning in Milan and made our way in our Alfa Romeo Giulietta to Erbusco (Franciacorta).

We had reserved a room for one night in Franciacorta because we wanted to eat at Vittorio Fusari’s amazing Dispensa Pani e Vini (more on that later).

hotel iris erbusco

The closest hotel I could find (that we could afford) was the Hotel Iris.

It’s a great place to stay: very clean, with all the amenities, and good internet, very affordable for the quality of the room and service.

We were a bit nonplussed by the fact that every room has its own private elevator from the parking garage. A nice security feature but a bit extravagant (see below).

We were even more surprised tickled by the sexy image that greeted us in our room (above).

private elevator hotel italy

The lobby hosts a poster featuring an image (top) from a 1980s photo shoot by Helmut Newton at the Ca’ del Bosco estate, which lies just up the road.

We’ve already eaten at the Dispensa twice and are about to head there again (it’s that good… stay tuned for my posts next week).

And the hotel worked out great (they had a very nice camping cradle for Georgia P). Highly recommended for the value… And hey, a little spice never hurt, right? ;)

Soldera & Brunello consortium spar

soldera montalcino consortium

Above: Gianfranco Soldera with his fermentation casks (I took this photo in 2008). Every time I’ve visited and tasted with him, he’s spoken of the importance of fermenting in wood, “a breathing” vessel, he said repeatedly.

Adding yet another unsavory wrinkle to the sad tale of the now infamous act of vandalism (or “sabotage,” as the Italian media has called it) that took place in December 2012 at the Case Basse winery in Montalcino (more than 60,000 liters of wine destroyed), the estate’s winemaker Gianfranco Soldera and Brunello consortium vicepresident Donatella Cinelli Colombini publicly traded barbs yesterday.

In an interview entitled “Why I am leaving the consortium,” posted online yesterday by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Soldera told editor Luciano Ferraro that the consortium had “wanted to donate wine to me. I was supposed to bottle it as if it were mine, without knowing where it came from. [This was] an unacceptable and offensive proposal, a swindling of the consumer. I asked them [instead] to finance studies in Montalcino. But nothing came of it.”

In a post on her family’s winery’s website entitled “What on earth is Soldera saying?”, Colombini swiftly returned the volley.

“The meanest thing,” she wrote yesterday, “is the accusation that the consortium ‘proposed a swindling [of the consumer].’ How could it be that the producers give him a gift [by donating] a part of their production to help him in a difficult moment, thus creating a ‘solidarity Brunello,’ and he responds in this manner? Isn’t he ashamed of himself?”

In a press release issued by the winery on Friday of last week, Soldera announced — without explanation — that he was leaving the consortium.

He also revealed that he was able to recover a considerable quantity of wine “at the time of the damage.” The winery will resume sales, he wrote (after news of the vandalism spread in December 2012, prices for his wine skyrocketed and he stopped selling and shipping wine from his estate).

Hag sameach! @ZanottoColFondo & gefilte fish for a happy Passover!

gefilte fish passover

The photo was actually taken by my uncle Manny Parzen, the famous statistician.

As you can see, brilliant minds think alike! ;)

Seriously, hag sameach (happy festival), yall!

We’re heading over to the Rosenbergs’, our Austin cousins from the Levy side of the family, for the seder tonight. :)

Bartolo Mascarello imported by Rare Wine Co. GREAT NEWS!

barolo town bartolo mascarello

Above: In November of last year, Giovanni and I visited the village of Barolo and had lunch with Maria Teresa Mascarello, Bartolo Mascarello’s daughter and winemaker at Cantina Bartolo Mascarello.

Doug Polaner actually tweeted about this about a month ago but it’s now official: Rare Wine Co. in Sonoma has become Bartolo Mascarello’s U.S. importer. (I’m a trade wine buyer in California and so I receive price lists and today, I received a pre-offer for B. Mascarello.)

This is SUCH great news.

Historically, Bartolo Mascarello was imported by a wine trade dinosaur, who, by employing a form of racketeering, withheld the wine from scores and scores of honest buyers. You couldn’t just buy Bartolo Mascarello from him: you had to buy other lots that he selected himself. And in many cases, he blacklisted buyers. As a result, it became nearly impossible to obtain the wine in certain markets. Sadly, it would take me more than two hands to count the number of leading wine professionals in Texas who have never tasted these iconic bottlings.

The unmentionable importer was also notorious for trying to get journalists not to talk to winemakers he represented.

One of our country’s highest-profile wine writers recently wrote me that she was “one (of the many) constantly confounded by” him.

When I ate lunch at Maria Teresa Mascarello’s house in November, she still hadn’t decided who the new importer was going to be and I’m thrilled to learn that it will be Rare Wine Co., a liberal, forward-thinking company that treats its clients respectfully and caringly.

And I’m overjoyed that the wine – however expensive — will be readily available to the current generation of Italian wine lovers in our country.

This is great news.

Here’s a thread of my most recent posts on Bartolo Mascarello.

And that’s Maria Teresa below, posing for my camera in her home and “speaking” Barolo.

Piè franco, origins of the designation (more fascinating than expected @finewinegeek)

pie franco meaning

One of the Italian wine bloggers I admire most, Ken Vastola, wrote me this morning asking about the meaning and origins of the Italian expression piè franco.

The designation can be confusing, especially to the non-Italophone among us.

Here’s what he wrote to me:

    I have read in my places that Franco in “Pie Franco” means French. Thus implying European root stock. But Keith Levenberg wrote to me “a correction to the pages for the Pie Franco, “Franco” actually doesn’t mean “French” as is usually assumed — it means “free,” so, free feet as distinguished from feet that got cut off and tied up, I guess.”

    Can you clarify this for me? I know linguistic and Italian in particular is your specialty. I thought Franco was Piemontese, not Italian.

Piè franco is used in Italian wine parlance to denote ungrafted rootstock and is often employed to designate wines made from ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines, like the Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco. It is akin, although not derived from, the French franc de pied.

The word franco means free or independent in Italian (not French). Lexicographers point to the Franks, third-century Germanic invaders of the Italic peninsula, as its etymology. They were “free,” unrestricted by Roman law.

By the time of the Renaissance, the term campo franco (free field) denoted an open field where a duel could be held.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the term lingua franca (free language or tongue) denoted a means of communication between speakers who did not share a common language.

Here’s where it gets interesting…

Piè appears for the first time in Italian in the fifteenth century, as a truncated form of piede (foot). One of the earliest instances is found in humanist poet Politian (Poliziano, who was from Montepulciano, btw). The wonderfully maleable Italian language is ideal for poets and prosodists: syllables can seamlessly be elided and vowels can mellifluously be fused in the name of versification (my dissertation was devoted to Italian Renaissance prosody).

The expression piè franco (literally, free footed or free standing) begins to appear in the eighteenth century, the age of the Italian enlightenment (Parini, for example) meaning with unclouded thought. It’s borrowed from religious parlance, where it meant free willed.

Camminare a piè franco meant to walk with a free gait, as in the English expression to go one’s own gait, in other words, to pursue one’s own course (OED). (It’s interesting to note that Manzoni changed piè franco to passo libero or free passage in his 1840 edition of The Betrothed. But that’s a longer conversation!)

By the mid-nineteenth century, agronomists had begun to employ the term to denote free-standing trees. Many note how lower planting density in orchards can produce higher quality fruit. (The Bindoccis wrote about this recently on their blog in regard to olive grooves.)

Only later, toward the end of the century, does its usage as ungrafted begin to appear and by the end of the century, we see the first instances where it is used to apply to vines.

This makes perfect sense because the evolution of the meaning mirrors the emergence of the phylloxera plague of the 1800s.

So there! Thanks, Ken, for setting me down this path and nudging me to walk with my own gait!

The subtitle of my blog is: “Negotiating the Epistemologic Implications of Oenophilia.”

This little philological romp is just the type of thing that gets me going: using wine as a lens to see and better understand the world around us.

Thanks for reading.