Chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach!
[Wishing you a] kosher and joyous Passover!
There are so many ways to wish someone a happy Passover — in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. Check them out here on Chabad.org.
Chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach!
[Wishing you a] kosher and joyous Passover!
There are so many ways to wish someone a happy Passover — in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. Check them out here on Chabad.org.
On Tuesday of this week, I tasted the above Etna Rosso Lenza di Munti by Nicosia as part of the Taste of Italy Virtual Trade Fair presented by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South-Central (my client).
This wine simply blew me (and Tracie) away. Powerful but lithe in the glass, it had that “unbearable lightness” that makes wines like these stand apart from the crowd. And the wonderful balance between its tannin and texture buoyed its perfectly ripe, delicious red fruit and berry fruit. We drank about half the bottle the night I opened it for the virtual tasting. On day two, all kinds of other aromas and flavors kicked in: cinnamon, nutmeg, and wild sage. A gift that just kept giving, this bottle impressed me on so many levels, including the pricing.
But it was also impressive for how “ready-to-go” it is.
Especially now, as the new normal of the pandemic era settles in, Italian winemakers without U.S. representation are facing an uphill battle as they try to carve out a place for themselves on this side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, so many of them don’t have the wherewithal that the U.S. market demands.
In my book, this wine — beyond being utterly moreish — has so much going for it. The pricing aligns with U.S. sensibilities. The packaging is smart and U.S.-friendly. And the winery has a perfectly bilingual, young Roman wine professional serving as its ambassador for our country. He’s familiar with our market, has already spent lots of time here, and he’s working on putting together a network of regional importers and distributors in the U.S.
Wines are like songs. If you write the greatest song in the world but you only play it by yourself in your room, you might as well not have even composed it (unless for your own idiosyncratic enjoyment). Analogously, a wine without the means to reach its target wine lover is like a song sung in the forest without anyone to hear it.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Nicosia — pronounced NEE-koh-ZEE-ah — has the right stuff. And while its international suppler rep Fabio has already lined up a few east coast importers beyond New York, he’s looking for partners in other states across the country.
This wine is 100 percent ready-to-go and 100 percent delicious. My recommendation is run don’t walk.
The world of wine blogging owes an immense debt to Alder Yarrow, whose pioneering blog Vinography offered an early model and roadmap to a generation of wine-focused social media users when it launched in 2004. By 2007, he would become the first wine blogger to be invited to speak at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. And his writing also began to appear in some of the top wine world mastheads, electronic and otherwise. His is a path that so many have followed or aspired to in the meantime.
That was all the more reason that it was disconcerting to read his recent post “Wine Bloggers: An Endangered Species.”
“I think I finally know how my wife’s grandmother felt,” he wrote sorrowfully. “A year or two before she passed at the age of 100, I asked her how she was doing as we sat down together for a meal. She said, ‘I’m just fine, but I’ve been alive too long. All my friends are dead’…”
After his survey of the current field of wine blogging, he pines, “I definitely feel a bit doddering, having just pruned off all that deadwood only to discover what amounts to a stunted little group of branches clinging to life.”
It’s stunning to read that in a time when wine blogging has firmly shifted away from its early “tasting and technical notes” model to a deeply self-aware and socially conscious paradigm.
Just think of blogger sommeliers like Tahiirah Habibi and Liz Dowty. Their courageous posts last year disrupted one of the wine world’s sacrosanct institutions, the Court of Sommeliers. Thanks to them, the lives of wine professionals across the spectrum are safer today.
Some may protest that they are not traditional wine bloggers like the ones Alder references in his post. Yes, their posts appeared on Instagram (and not a WordPress-coded site). And yes, one used videos and live stories instead of written word. Even though they weren’t using the conventional blog post format (that Alder and his contemporaries used), they were regularly updating their readers on an internet platform by means of an online journal — the very definition of blogging.
With the media they shared publicly, they literally reshaped the world they inhabit. That’s some pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me. And it’s an indication that wine blogging, although no longer focused on the latest exclusive (and exclusionary) tasting or sample, is very much alive and kicking harder than it ever has. Tahiirah and Liz don’t get paid for their posts. They do it because they are called to a higher purpose: activism through media. Sounds like blogging to me.
It’s important to underline that Alder’s contribution to the world of wine blogging cannot be overestimated. That’s especially true because one of the other wine blog models of the genre’s early years was authored by an internet troll whose work sadly presaged much of the nastiness that would seep throughout the world of wine media. Alder offered aspiring wine writers a balanced locus amoenus and high quality writing that they could look to as they carved out their own space in the corners of the internets.
And wow, Alder, I’m not sure how you missed this, but there are so many of them out there.
Just think of Cara Rutherford’s wonderful blog Caravino. Based near Albany, New York, she posts traditional tasting and technical notes three to four times a week (the last time I counted).
Or what about Kat René in Houston? She’s a prolific collector and author of one of the most popular wine blogs in the country right now, Corkscrew Concierge.
Cathrine Todd, another highly active and superbly talented wine writer, posts regularly on the multi-author blog hosted by Forbes and her own site, Dame Wine.
(Just think how many wine posts appear on Forbes these days. No, that content isn’t hosted on a traditional, stand-alone, WordPress-fueled site. But it still fits the conventional definition, above, of what blogging is.)
Or what about my former Slow Wine colleague Pam Strayer’s excellent and newly launched blog Organic Wines Uncorked, a site that has disrupted the California wine industry?
I have immense respect for Alder. And I’ll be the first to tell you that he’s a lovely person who has used his status and visibility over the years to make the world of wine a better place — socially and professionally, I’ll add.
But when I look his list of currently active wine blogs, I find that it’s riddled with lacunæ (including some but not all of the writers I mention above). To his list I also add the myriad wine writers and wine trade observers who use social media platforms to host their media. Just because you’re blogging on Instagram, Facebook, or even Forbes or Medium doesn’t mean that you are not a wine blogger. Then add to that mix the countless writers who post on sites and social media for wine shops, importers, distributors, and even wine industry law firms etc.
Pointing to the writers I’ve included in this post on a wine blog, I’d say that the world of wine blogging is more diverse and compelling than ever before. And I’d like to thank Alder for getting this conversation started — on a wine blog.
Above: Italian filmmaker Cecilia Mangini in Rome in 2020. She died in January of this year. Her films are now being rediscovered by a new generation of cinephiles (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons).
Honestly, until my good friend Ben Shapiro (a noted filmmaker himself) brought them to my attention, I was unaware of Italian director Cecilia Mangini’s wonderful pseudo-documentaries, which have recently been rediscovered, restored, and are now being streamed for free by Another Screen.
Her oneiric and highly lyrical depiction of the Italian proletariat (omg, did I just out myself as a Marxist?) in the 1950s and 1960s resonates powerfully today as the pandemic has drawn a stark line and divide between the world’s disenfranchised and the management class.
(A few days ago, a Galveston woman had to be escorted out of a bank after she refused to wear a mask despite the business’ requirement that patrons wear a mask. A police officer was tasked with getting her out of the bank in what became a tragicomic scene. Some will see a parallel between the police officer and the southern Italian Carabinieri who had to face off with bourgeois protesters in 1960s Italy. Pasolini, a Mangini collaborator, wrote extensively about them at the time.)
I highly recommend checking out the link on the Other Screen site. It makes for great viewing and I believe it’s free only until Monday (I also encourage you to donate to Another Screen to support their efforts in preserving film archives).
See this Times profile of Mangini from last year (how did I miss this?).
Buona visione. Enjoy the films. You won’t regret it.
The other night after Tracie made a perfectly cooked dish of fusilli al pomodoro for our daughters and me, the girls were curious about my comment that the pasta (or rather, the pastasciutta because these were dried pasta) had been strained al dente.
Although it’s often mistranslated or used a loanword in English (and especially American English), most Americans know it today to mean pasta that is slightly undercooked. As anyone familiar with home and restaurant cookery in Italy can tell you, Italians like their pasta slightly undercooked or “crisp” (see quote below).
For Italians, al dente is the baseline. Only on rare occasions have I met Italians who like their pasta overcooked. And because it’s such a commonplace expression, it’s by no means extraordinary. But here in America in recent decades, it became very fashionable to draw attention to the al dente cooking time for pasta. I don’t have any hard data on when it began to happen, but I can remember the time before the time when mainstream pasta producers began to indicate regular and al dente cooking times on the front of the box. To this day, pasta packaging in Italy simply reports the regular al dente cooking time or cottura (e.g., cottura 9 minuti or cooking time: 9 minutes).
No one really knows when al dente became a commonly used expression in Italy. There’s no doubt that it’s part of the culinary parlance today. But I haven’t been able to find any usage until the late 20th century.
Many food historians point to Ippolito Cavalcanti’s 19th-century recipe for “vermicelli with tomato” as one of the earliest instances of al dente cooking times (nota bene that Maestro Martino’s 15th-century cookbook mentions cooking time but he doesn’t indicate that the cooking time will deliver slightly undercooked pasta).
Cavalcanti, whose homecooking appendix to his Italian cookbook Cucina teorico-pratica is believed to be the first to be written in Neapolitan dialect, writes: “scauda doje rotola de vermicielli, e vierdi vierdi li levarraje…” Translation: “boil two nests of vermicelli and strain them while still very green” [Italics mine]. Most concur that this is among the first mentions of undercooked al dente pasta.
(In his own landmark 19th-century cookery book, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, Pellegrino Artusi included what would become one of Italy’s canonical recipes for “maccheroni alla napolitana” [Neapolitan pasta with tomatoes] but it doesn’t include a specific cooking time.)
An early mention of the use of the expression al dente popped up surprisingly in a British cookbook from the late 19th century by a writer named Julia Anne Elizabeth Tollemache. The wife of an English sportsman and politician, she focused primarily on biography throughout her career. But she also published what must have been a best-seller in its day, Mrs. Roundell’s Practical Cookery Book With Many Family Recipes Hitherto Unpublished (Bickers 1898).
There’s a lot to unpack in that passage! But to my mind, the big takeaway is that the expression al dente must have already been in common usage in Naples at the time. As an upperclass Brit, she most likely did a “grand tour” of Italy in her youth. The fact that she refers to Neapolitans and their cooking seems to be an indication that she had visited Naples and perhaps even cooked in a Neapolitan kitchen or two during her visit or visits there.
She was active roughly a half a century after Cavalcanti published the first edition of his book. It’s plausible that al dente came into popular usage sometime between Cavalcanti and Roundell.
I still have a lot of research to do here and I suspect that there will be many fascinating layers to this onion (stay tuned).
But in the meantime, please translate al dente as underdone, [slightly] undercooked, or as Mrs. Roundell writes, “rather crisp when bitten.”
Above: a view of the Po River Valley from Montorfano in Franciacorta in Brescia province (to the north of the region at the foot of the Orobic Alps, also known as the Bergamasque Alps, in Lombardy). Restaurants there have been closed for more than four weeks now. They will remain shuttered at least through Easter weekend. Image via the Arcari + Danesi winery.
As of this weekend, nearly all of Italy has been designated zona rossa or red zone. Residents in Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Lombardy, Marche, Molise, Piedmont, Trento, Puglia, and Veneto can only leave their homes for work or emergencies; restaurants are closed for dine-in service and only a few essential businesses remain open.
The following regions have been designated zona arancione or orange zone: Abruzzo, Tuscany, Bolzano, Umbria, Calabria, Liguria, Sicily, Valle d’Aosta, and Basilicata. Residents have slightly more freedom of movement but restaurants remain closed for dine-in service.
Sardinia is the only region in Italy’s zona bianca or white zone. Residents there are restricted from any type of social gathering. But they can travel from township to another and restaurants are open.
The entire country will be designated a red zone for Easter weekend, a holiday when many Italians travel home to visit family in normal years.
According to the New York Times:
In places like Puglia in the south, the new lockdown comes as residents have been enjoying increased freedom of movement and dine-in service at lunchtime. In places like Lombardy, a region now experiencing its third surge in infections (and an epicenter of the first outbreak last year), residents have already been in red zone lockdown for four weeks.
The restaurant closures continue to strain the Italian wine trade, especially among smaller-scale growers who rely on independent restaurants for much of their sales. Those wineries also depend on tasting rooms (now closed) and wine tourism (practically non-existent) to keep their businesses solvent.
After more than a year of rolling lockdowns and restrictions, winemakers there are facing a perfect storm of financial challenges with no relief in sight. Restaurants are a key element in Italy’s social fabric: beyond the economic devastation, the psychological toll of the lockdowns is nearly impossible to overestimate.
The event is open to all.
The event is part of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South-Central’s Taste of Italy Virtual Trade Fair, which takes place here in Houston and throughout Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana with virtual tastings and meetings, March 15-19.
Brian revolutionized the way Italian wine was imported and sold in the U.S. when he started his company Dalla Terra in 1989. Literally decades before anyone else envisioned an importing model that would save consumers money by working outside of the traditional three-tier system (importer-distributor-retailer/restaurateur), he began setting up regional distribution networks that allowed wineries to sell their wines directly to local vendors. Today, Dalla Terra brokers the sales of some of Italy’s most iconic wineries, including Vietti (Barolo), Casanova di Neri (Brunello di Montalcino), Adami (Prosecco), Selvapiana (Chianti), and so many more.
But he is also so much more: winemaker (he made sparkling wine at Ca’ del Bosco after finishing his degree in enology at U.C. Davis); pilot (shuttling between his home in Napa and his mom’s place in LA in his Cessna); and all-around great guy whose company and conversation I enjoyed wholly in the time before the pandemic and virtually over the last 12 months.
He’s got the right energy for this moment. Man, we need us some Brian Larky right now! And he’s going to share some of his time and insights with us next week. You don’t want to miss this. I hope you can join us. Everyone is welcome.
The better part of yesterday’s morning was spent video chatting with my friend Stefano Albano (above) in Rome. He is the owner of VERO Traditional Italian Food. The topic of our conversation was Italy’s “PAT” designation, his company’s specialty (pun intended).
PAT, you ask? We’ll get to that in a second. But first let’s dot some i’s and cross some t’s.
Surely, you already know your DOCs from your IGTs. But here’s a crib sheet and some background for the unitiated (see abridged version below).
DOC is an acronym for denominazione d’origine controllata or controlled origin designation.
IGT stands for indicazione geografica tipica or, when translated slavishly, typical geographic indication (arguably rendered more precisely as authentic geographic designation).
Both of these designations were used in the Italian wine appellation system prior to the European Union overhaul of agricultural product designations in 2010.
Today, DOC is still used internally in the Italian wine appellation. But it is now part of a pan-European designation known in Italy as DOP or denominazione d’origine protetta. It applies to foods and wines and is rendered into English as PDO or protected designation of origin.
IGT, which like its counterpart DOC is still used within Italy’s borders for wine, has now been changed in EU parlance to IGP or indicazione geografica protetta. It is represented in English as PGI protected geographical indication. IGT and PGI are used today for wines and foods, within and without Italy respectively.
The Italians still also internally use DOCG which stands for denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita or designation of controlled and guaranteed origin. This designation isn’t recognized within the broader EU system. (The main difference between the Italian DOC and DOCG is that the DOCG supposedly — and please underline the word supposedly — requires a more stringent evaluation of the wine’s “typicity” or typicality. But that’s another story for another time.)
But what about PAT?
PAT stands for prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale or traditional [food-]agricultural product. It was created by the Italian agricultural ministry in 2000 as a means to retain the designation status of traditional food products in Italy as the EU overhaul began to take shape. At the time, it was feared that many Italian food products would lose their designation status because of more narrow criteria imposed by Brussels.
According to ministerial decree, PAT foods must be “obtained with well-established production, storage, and aging methods that are widely adopted throughout the area in question. They must align with traditional practices and be in use for a period no shorter than 25 years.”
But the Italian government left it up to the regions, with only minimal bureaucratic oversight, to determine which foods would qualify. Today there are thousands of them. Campania has the most of any region, clocking in at more than 500.
They can include meats and cheeses, animal products like honey and milk, candies and pastries, and even recipes in certain cases.
You can browse lists of the products on the Italian Wiki here. Veneto, for example, has four distinct PATs for radicchio. Piedmont has 81 PATs for meat and offal alone.
PAT is akin to but should not be confused with another little-known EU designation, TSG or traditional specialties guaranteed. It requires 30 (as opposed to the Italians’ 25) years of “tradition” and unlike its Italian counterparts doesn’t have to be associated with a delimited region.
Pizza is arguably Italy’s most well known recipe included in the list of TSG or specialità tradizionali garantite (STG). It’s made using a PDO product from Campania but it is produced all over Italy.
Stefano is a lovely man and the apotheosis of the Italian food culture entrepreneur. His company sells and exports PAT products exclusively. And he’s one of the presenters at next week’s Taste of Italy Virtual Trade Fair here in Houston, organized the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South-Central (where I am a paid consultant). To see the complete list of producers who will be presenting their wines and foods, click here. Although the deadline for next week has passed, Texan food and wine professionals can sigh up for virtual meetings and tastings throughout the month of March. The wines and food products are delivered to your doorstep and then the chamber will coordinate the virtual meeting.
Check out Stefano’s site for a wonderful list of PATs.
ABRIDGED CRIB SHEET
DOC = denominazione d’origine controllata or controlled origin designation (Italian).
DOCG = denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita or designation of controlled and guaranteed origin (Italian).
IGT = indicazione geografica tipica or typical geographic indication (Italian).
DOP = denominazione d’origine protetta. Applies to foods and wines. Rendered into English as PDO or protected designation of origin (EU).
IGP or indicazione geografica protetta. Applies to food and wines. Rendered into English as PGI protected geographical indication (EU).
PAT = prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale or traditional [food-]agricultural product (Italy).
STG = specialità tradizionali garantite (Italy).
TSG = traditional specialities guaranteed (EU).
Yesterday at Houston’s first in-person trade tasting since the pandemic began, a young court-track sommelier told me the story of one of her colleagues who had abandoned her apartment in San Francisco after going eight months without working. She recently moved to Texas in search of a job, turning her back on her life in the Bay Area. Her story is just one in a rising tide of top wine professionals who have faced increasingly tough life choices as they navigate the uncharted waters of a pandemic-era career in wine.
In a time when many wine professionals are discovering creative ways to support themselves and further their careers and education, I turned to one of my favorite America sommeliers, Heath Porter, for some insights into how he’s shifted his business model since covid reshaped the way we socialize and dine. For someone like Heath, who had a robust wine tour business before the health crisis began, the new normal has driven him to find new ways to stay afloat. His is a story of survival…
You were operating a highly successful wine tour business when the pandemic struck. How have you shifted your business model?
Holy crap, have I shifted! Understatement of the millennium! I’ve hustled in every direction at 100 mph with no GPS. It’s been insane. Virtual events just like everyone else, some by myself, some straight education, some with chefs and winemakers. I’ve also been able to pick up some consulting gigs and start building really cool wine and food events for high-end resorts around the country. Outdoors gigs with wine tastings, live chefs with smokers, bourbon tastings, you name it. We’ve done Swine & Wine weekends, oyster festivals, dumplings and Riesling, pizza and Champagne, you name it. If it’s fun and slightly educational, I’ve dialed it up to 11! And side note: I’m also releasing my own private wine label next month. I’m not very good at having free time.
As you dove into virtual events, what were some of the surprises about the medium?
After 30 years in F&B, if you can’t tap dance with some “snarkasm” and wit, then you’re in the wrong biz. What I quickly realized is that people need to laugh and drink wine more than ever and needed to be transported from their living room to anywhere around the world. So I started planning events with destinations, recommended regional wines and curbside from regional restaurants to support local and pair the wines with local foods. I also stuck with my guns and became more of a wine entertainer, if I can make people laugh and learn in the same sentence, then I’m rockin’ the juice cleanse hardcore!
What makes for a truly memorable virtual wine event? Any highlights from your series you want to share?
Inside stories with winemakers, tricks of the trade with chefs, seeing personalities and telling stories. I had Ken Wright the OG of Oregon wines on. I asked him who his favorite bands were and the next thing you know he was telling stories about eating dinner with Dire Straits and Van Halen. You should hear Nancy Irelan of Red Tail Ridge do her Scooby Doo impersonation with Shaggy. Really just amazing experiences, I could go on for days.
When do you think we’ll be able to start wine touring again and what’s that experience going to feel/look like?
I’m planning some tours in summer and fall to the Finger Lakes, Walla Walla, Sonoma and harvest in Santa Barbara. I’ve got some private groups trying to get to Italy with me in October. I build the bubble. We take over entire bed and breakfasts, have the same bus and driver all week and go to the wineries as the only people there when they’re closed. The trips have always been intimate but now they’re secluded as well.
Heath will be presenting a virtual tasting in Miami with one of my best friends in the biz, Lambrusco producer Alicia Lini, on Saturday, March 27. The line-up includes Alicia’s classic method Lambrusco. Check it out here.
A photo from the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Taste of Italy Houston trade show in 2018 (image via the IACC Facebook.
When the Miami-based event planning company I.E.E.M. first began discussing today’s Maremma Consortium trade tasting in Houston with the Italy-America of Chamber of Commerce, one thing was clear to everyone involved. This gathering would be Houston’s first in-person wine trade tasting in over a year, everyone on that first Zoom call acknowledged, and all parties — including attendees and staff — would need to make safety protocols a key element in the event.
When roughly 30 Houston wine professionals meet later this morning at a once popular events space, masks will be required (except when tasting) and each taster will be seated at their own table to ensure social distancing of a minimum of six feet.
It’s important to underline the fact that masks and social distancing will be mandatory: even though our state’s rollback of the mask mandate doesn’t officially take place until Wednesday of this week, many Houstonians — at least the barflies — shed their masks and began ignoring safety measures this weekend.
Once the seminar and guided tasting portion of the event have been completed, the walk-around tasting of roughly 40 wines will be divided into four tasting stations, each with a professional sommelier. Tasters will be assigned a color (using a poker chip) and then will be asked to observe social distance while tasting with their group at their assigned station. They will then be asked to follow their group to the next station. The systems is intended to avoid logjams at each station and ensure social distancing.
I’ll be the featured speaker and moderator of today’s tasting. And I’m also one of the organizers through my affiliation with the chamber. It’s not without some trepidation, tempered by hope and faith in human nature, that I’ll pull the cork on that first bottle of wine this morning. But the overwhelming response in the run-up to the gathering has been wonderfully positive and heartwarming. People want to get out and taste, we learned to our surprise when we first announced the date. And they’re ready to do what it takes to make it safe.
There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be a momentous occasion for all concerned.
Today, we will also spend a moment in silence remembering our colleague, beloved sommelier Thomas Moësse who died unexpectedly last month.
We will also take a moment to observe International Women’s Day, which is today.
And in case you hadn’t already seen it, the IACC is hosting its second-annual Taste of Italy Houston Virtual Trade Fair next week and throughout the month. It’s a great model for tasting safely: the food samples and wines are delivered directly to the taster’s home or office and then the IACC coordinates virtual meetings between trade members and the producers.