Orange was the most highly prized wine in the Italian Renaissance. I can prove it.

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Above: last night, Tracie and I treated ourselves to one of our favorite macerated white wines from Friuli, the Vitovska by Skerlj. I’m now more convinced than ever that the most highly prized wines in the Italian Renaissance were “orange” like this one.

It hit me like a brick of bio char: vin greco (Greek wine) in the Renaissance was neither red or white according to a then best-selling author. It was golden brown, like a lion’s mane noted Cesare Crivellati, a medical doctor and wine writer from Viterbo whose Trattato dell’uso et modo di dare il vino nelle malattie acute, contra il costume de nostri tempi (Treatise on the Use and Mode of Treating Acute Illness with Wine, [a Guide] Counter to the Customs of our Time) was published in Rome in the second half of the 1500s.

On white wines that are not quite “white” but definitely not “red” he writes, “si deve intendere di colore fulvo o flavo come è quello della malvasia, del greco, e simili.”

“They should be considered fulvous or flavous in color, as is the case with Malvasia and Greco and similar [wines].”

The descriptor fulvo is from the Latin fulvus (fulvous in English), a term generally translated as “deep yellow, reddish yellow, gold-colored, tawny” (Lewis and Short).

Similarly, flavo from the Latin flavus meaning “golden yellow, reddish yellow, flaxen-colored” (Lewis and Short).

The word fulvus was used in antiquity to denote the color of a lion’s mane, to put it in context.

The discovery was part of my ongoing research on wines in Italian literature from 1300-1600. In and of itself, the quote is highly significant in our contemporary understanding of wine during the late Italian Middle Ages and Renaissance.

But there’s also an extremely important observation to be made here based on my extensive readings of primary texts from that era.

At the time, the term vin greco (Greek wine) referred not to the modern-era grape variety Greco or family of white grapes known as Greco, Grechetto, Grecanico, etc. Instead, it denoted a style of wine that often arrived by ship via Greece but was also produced in significant quantities, particularly in Naples where it was famously grown and vinified on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius.

Above: a folio from Itinerarium regionum urbium et oppidum nobiliorum Italiae (Itineraries Through the Noble Regions, Cities, and Towns of Italy), a travel log published by Flemish jurist Franz Schott on the occasion of the 1600 Jubilee declared by Pope Clement VIII.

By 1600, when Franz Schott (1548-1622) published his travel guide to Italy (above), Rome was already an important “wine destination,” as we would call it today. And the number-one wine in Rome, as Schott notes, was vino greco (see the image above):

“The Romans and the entire [Papal] court,” he writes, “indisputably drink the best wines [in Italy]. They are as follows. The best is white in color, Vino Greco from Somma, which is grown in the town of Vesuvius in Campania…”

He calls it white. But as noted in the Crivellati quote above, it was common to call tawny-colored wines “white” at the time. The confusion about tawny wines like Malvasia (a style, not a grape) and Vin greco (again, a style, not a grape) was such that Crivellati felt compelled to address it.

So the fact that Schott calls it albus doesn’t mean it wasn’t fulvus.

A few decades later, Francesco Redi, the Italian scientist and poet, would refer to the “amber” color of wines made in Crete (in Greece) and the Neapolitan coast and islands, not far from Vesuvius.

In his poem “Bacco in Toscana” (“Bacchus in Tuscany”), he refers to the “preziosa… ambra liquida cretense” (“precious amber liquid from Crete”) and in another instance, to the “noble wines” of [the island of] Ischia and the town of Posilippo on the Gulf of Naples.

The last however extremely important piece of evidence that leads me to believe that vin greco was an orange wine comes from the Trattato della coltivazione delle viti (Treatise on the Cultivation of Vines) composed at the end of the 1500s by Giovanvettorio Soderini (see one of my posts on Soderini here). In his work, he describes a practice of vinifying wines on the solids from previously vinified vin greco. This would seem to indicate that vin greco was made by fermenting the must on its skins. As any observer of the contemporary Italian wine scene knows, orange wine gets its amber color through the fermentation of white grapes on their skins.

My research is part of a bigger project slated for academic publication on the literary implications of wine in Boccaccio. As I publish more of my work, it will become clear that vin greco and wine in general play a greater role in the Decameron than previous scholars have imagined.

I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed putting it together! More to come… Thanks for being here.


Time to reimagine the Oxford English Dictionary definition for “sommelier”? @OED

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This just in from the department of lexicography…

Anyone who owns or runs a website is familiar with the tide of unsolicited emails from would-be web designers and SEO “experts” who want to sell their services. One such email arrived in my inbox last week. But it had an unusual message.

The sender’s services, the email’s author wrote, would help me to correct myriad spelling errors on my site. And they provided an example of an egregious orthographic error on my site — the word somm.

It struck me as odd because as a rule, the word sommelier always appears in its unabridged form on my blog.

Curiosity killed the cat. Is somm not considered an acceptable rendering? The urge to look up the entry for the lemma in the Oxford English Dictionary was too much to bear (btw look for the OED “draft addition” entry for lemma and you will find the acceptation used here).

The first thing that struck me is that somm is not included as an accepted abbreviation or alternate spelling.

At this point, somm the truncated form has nearly eclipsed the use of sommelier. And especially after the release of the “Somm” films, it has prevailed in winespeak, both professional and laical.

It has also been verbified or denominalized, depending on how you like your grammar.

Tonight Andres will be somming is understood in professional circles to denote that tonight Andres will be working as a sommelier on the floor of the restaurant. (That’s Andres Blanco in the photo above btw).

It’s surprising that the OED hasn’t yet included a definition for to somm.

It’s also dumbfounding to note that the last example reported by the editors is dated 1974. If you’re, say, 30 years old and working as a sommelier, you weren’t even born when the London Times reported that “an awe-inspiringly stately sommelier and long wine lists… can often discourage the sale of wine” (see above).

Wow, how the world of wine has changed since the year when the U.S. had two presidents in the same term (Nixon and Ford)! It’s also the year that the Stones released “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll.” Just think what the wine world was like back then and who populated it.

It’s also no short of nonplussing that the only bona fide meaning the editors give is “wine waiter.” Today, the sommelier is so much more than just an arbiter of good wine and keeper of the cellar. Modern-day sommeliers are hosts, educators, tastemakers, entertainers, performers, human resources managers, entrepreneurs, authors, and even activists. Some would go as far to call the work of a sommelier “art.” None of this spirit is present in the OED entry.

But the thing that made the deepest impression on me is that in all the usage examples offered by the OED editors, each one includes a hint of negativity, a note of condescension, or, at worst, a downright insult to the sommelier profession.

The sommelier is actually a “butler.”

The sommelier jumps at the snap of fingers to fetch a cocktail.

The “fastidious wine-bibber” terrorizes the sommelier.

Standards are high even though there are “some cooks to shoot and many sommeliers to educate.”

And the irony in the “stately sommelier” who “discourages” wine sales is hard not to suppress.

Isn’t it time for the editors to reimagine the definition?

Once we get that taken care of, we can start working on an update of their entry for puttanesca.

Such is the fate of hapless lexicography that not only darkness, but light, impedes and distresses it; things may be not only too little, but too much known, to be happily illustrated.

Samuel Johnson

Parenting in the wine industry, a wonderful piece by Rachel Tepper Paley for Wine Enthusiast.

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Above, our family, from left: Lila Jane (age 8), me, Tracie, and Georgia (age 10). Photo by Bruce Schoenfeld.

What a thrill for our family to be included in Rachel Tepper Paley’s wonderful piece about “Raising Kids Around Wine” for Wine Enthusiast this month!

The funniest thing was that I happened to be on a work call yesterday with Kristi Devlin Delovitch whose family was also featured in the article. You can imagine our delighted surprise when we all made the connection.

Her husband got the best line in the story. Working in wine, he said, has “brought Italy, it’s brought France — people from those countries and their culture into our house. It’s allowed us as a family to see the world and to experience it from the comfort of our own home.”

In my view, that’s what it’s all about: culture and experiencing wine as a cultural expression. After all, there is no culture without agriculture.

The following are excerpts from the answers I sent to Rachel for her piece. I love that writers like her are expanding the horizons of wine writing. Families matter in wine, too.

Check out her excellent article on the Wine Enthusiast website here.


The greatest benefit of our “wine-positive” household is that our children understand that wine is an expression of human culture. They regularly meet Italian winemakers (many of whom don’t speak English; my wife and I are both fluent speakers of Italian). They have visited Italy with me and have toured wineries and wine country. It’s given them a sense of the fundamental role that agriculture plays in all of our lives. Without trying to sound cliché, it helps them understand the connection between the land and what we consume.

It’s also given them an understanding of how wine is something that can give us both aesthetic and intellectual pleasure. They know that wine isn’t just something to drink. It’s also something to think about, something that can open new worlds to the thoughtful consumer.

The only real drawback for our family is that my work requires me to travel a lot.

We don’t make wine a taboo subject. We drink wine nearly every night at dinner and often enjoy more than one glass after dinner as well. But we never conceal our consumption from the girls. We talk about how wine is a type of food, how it aids digestion, and how it can be a healthy part of your diet. We consciously model our culinary life after the Italian diet, where wine is a food to be served with food. I believe that they will have healthier attitudes about wine as a result.

I grew up in a household where alcohol was always taboo. That made it all the more alluring to me as a teenager. We are working to give our kids an understanding of wine and alcohol in a cultural context.

We have so many close friends in Italy who work in wine. It’s never an issue there. As a matter of fact, I have occasionally had to explain to my Italian clients that we don’t allow children to appear in any marketing materials for wine here in the U.S. (because it’s illegal). My wife and I both lived in Italy for years. Based on our experiences there, I believe we knew what to expect.

We are concerned, like all parents, that our kids won’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol when they get older. But our hope is that when they become old enough to drink, their experiences growing up with a parent working in the wine business will help them have a positive and respectful relationship with alcohol.

Wine and alcohol in general were taboo in my family. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have had a safer experience with alcohol had my parents talked more openly about it with us. It was a generational thing, of course. But it led to some excess and abuse of alcohol when I was a kid.

Our kids don’t have any desire to try wine but they LOVE pouring it for Tracie and me. They still can’t use a wine key but we have taught them how to serve wine. They often scold me for not holding my glass correctly!

They watched the recent 60 Minutes show on “weather and wine” (the producers had contacted me because they wanted to use images from my blog; so we watched the show together). Georgia, our 10-year-old, said, “daddy, it’s weird that you only drink Italian wine. You should drink English wine, too!” I’m sure that her obsession with the Beatles and her growing Anglophilia might have something to do with that.

Coravin-Prosecco experiment delivered a surprising result.

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Back in the fall of 2021, attendees at the Boulder Burgundy Festival were blown away by a Champagne tasting organized by the marketing team at Coravin, the event’s title sponsor.

Guests were invited to taste top-tier Champagne that had been accessed weeks, even a month, before the gathering. The freshness of the wines and their vibrance on the nose and palate were nothing short of stunning — no need for apologists. Had they tasted them blind, even some of the world’s top experts on sparkling wine — and there were more than a few in attendance — would have been hard-pressed (excuse the pun) to nail the access date. The wines sparkled (pun intended) as if they had been opened on the spot.

Many of the sommeliers present that day commented how the new Coravin sparkling closure, which officially launched the week of Boulder Burgundy Festival, could be a game-changer for by-the-glass programs.

What happens, one could posit, when a guest arrives not long before closing and asks for one glass of Champagne? Maybe the sommelier is lucky and there is just one glass left in a bottle they have been pouring throughout the evening. But more likely than not, they will have to reach for an unopened bottle, only to pour one glass of the six it contains. What guest is going to want to taste that same wine, opened the night before, the next day? And by next day, that means a whole day before service begins again.

Gauging from my experience in Boulder, the Coravin sparkling closure is going to change all that. If my tasting were indicative of the device’s potential, no guests — not even the experienced sparkling wine lover — would perceive the difference between a newly opened bottle and another accessed the night before.

But would the closure work with other types of sparkling wine? In particular, at least one blogger wondered, would it work with tank-method wines like Prosecco.

Two weeks before the Taste of Italy trade fair and festival, on February 27 (see the time stamp in the video), I had our older daughter film me as I opened four bottles of Villa Sandi Prosecco — two bottles each of classic Prosecco Valdobbiadene and Prosecco Rosé. Then, on Monday, March 14 (the day of the walk-around tasting at the fair), I poured them side-by-side with four bottles of the same wine that I had opened on the spot.

Villa Sandi is known for their signature freshness and their one-tank fermentation method (whereby they never rack the wine during production, thus eliminating nearly all contact with wine’s enemy: oxygen). It was the perfect guinea pig for this experiment.

The wines, which were consumed liberally by candidates in the Villa Sandi Houston Sommelier Competition and by Italian winemakers attending the event, were fantastic, fresh as if they had just been opened. All agreed that the closure had worked brilliantly.

But something surprising happened as well. There was no question in anyone’s mind that both sets of wine were perfectly fresh and vibrant. But the wines that were accessed two weeks prior were actually more vibrant in their fruit flavors. All agreed that you couldn’t tell the difference, in terms of freshness, between the two sets of wines (all the wines, the accessed wines and the wines opened the day of the event, had been shipped to me on the same day in February btw). But there was definitely a subtle however perceptible difference between them.

It was an extremely nuanced and subtle divergence. But the more experienced tasters in our group all picked up on it.

The Coravin closure worked exactly as predicted. But I also have to give a shout-out to winemaker Stefano Gava, one of the top people working in Prosecco today imho, for creating these wines with such wonderful freshness and shelf life.

My advice to on-premise buyers: be sure to ask for the professional Coravin sparkling closure model with its larger gas capsules, ideal for a sparkling btg program.

Darrell Corti to join us at Taste of Italy, March 14 in Houston. Please come out and taste with us.

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Sometimes dreams do come true.

This coming weekend, one of my longtime dreams will be fully realized: my friend and inspiration for my own career, Darrell Corti (above, right) will be coming to Houston this weekend to be the keynote speaker at the Taste of Italy Trade Fair and Festival (March 13-14 at the Hilton Post Oak).

You may remember my post from late last year, The incredible story of how I met the inimitable Darrell Corti, Italian wine pioneer and gastronomic “treasure.”

But to fully understand Darrell’s legacy and his outsized influence on the world of food and wine in the U.S. and beyond, see the 2019 profile, How Darrell Corti became a tastemaker in California food and wine, by Jonathan Kauffman for the Los Angeles Times.

His visit represents a rare occasion for Texas food and wine professionals to interact with him. My hope is that by osmosis — as my beloved professor Vittore Branca used to say — some of his brilliance will rub off on us.

Darrell will be the featured speaker at the exhibitors seminar on March 13, Sunday morning. That event is open only to the companies who are participating in the fair (Eataly USA CEO Dino Borri will also be addressing the group).

But the legendary owner of Corti Bros. in Sacramento — one of the world’s greatest experts on olive oil, cured tuna, California and Italian wine — will also be attending the trade and consumer seminars on Monday. It’s a great opportunity to get to taste with him and I’m sure he will end up speaking at the wine trade seminar in the morning and the consumer BBQ and Chianti seminar in the afternoon.

To read about all of this year’s events, please visit the Taste of Italy website.

To register for Monday’s walk-around tasting, click here.

For the Monday morning Umbria wine seminar with Steven McDonald and Dale Robertson, click here (open only to trade).

For the Monday afternoon BBQ and Chianti seminar featuring food writer Eric Sandler and pit master Ara Malekian, click here (open to all, includes a ticket for the walk-around tasting).

As I’m sure you can tell, I’m just giddy about Darrell’s visit. I hope you’ll come out to meet and taste with him. For me, it’s a genuine dream come true.

And thank you for supporting Taste of Italy. The fair is presented by my client, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South Central. This is the eighth year of the annual event (we skipped 2020 and did the event virtually in 2021). I’ve been the emcee for the last seven of the gatherings.

How Nebbiolo turned an all-night musician into an Italian wine lover.

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Above: Nebbiolo currently on deck at our house.

During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, our weary days and sleepless nights were often filled with long phone calls and Zoom meetings with family and friends.

One of my weekly and sometimes daily chats was with a childhood friend, roughly my age (mid-50s), who still lives in my native Southern California. He’s a full-time musician, a composer and performer of electronica, and a teacher.

He’s also a health nut. Throughout our adult lives, he has been melodically in tune with his body’s rhythms and needs. And even before the pandemic, he was unerringly thoughtful about what he eats and drinks.

And he’s not a big drinker (like me). He’s the “one, maybe two glasses of wine with dinner” kind of guy.

During the closures, he was completely isolated. But his work, thanks to video conferencing, was robust. He could teach and contribute to recording sessions remotely and he would often stay up all night composing, recording, or collaborating with other musicians.

But his isolation also posed a wine consumption problem. For someone who had relied on by-the-glass programs at his favorite eateries (for that “one or two glasses”), it was frustrating to pick up a bottle curbside at his local wine shop only to discover that the wine would lose its vibrance after just one or two nights.

That’s when he started asking me for recommendations. I would scour his wine retailer’s website for wines that would suit his palate and budget.

But it’s also when I suggested to him that he spend a little more than he usually did.

“If you buy the right wine,” I told him, “it will stay fresh for many days, even more than a week.”

And that’s when I recommended that he increase his budget to allow for some classic-style Nebbiolo. At the time, there were some extremely attractive deals on retail wines. With just $35 or so, he could even afford the close-out Barolo or Barbaresco. Especially given the unsure times, he was reluctant to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine. But he said he’d give it a try. His first big purchase was a Barbaresco by Castello di Verduno (a favorite of mine).

I’ll never forget the night he called me, a week later, joyous at his discovery that the Nebbiolo remained fresh over the course of even six days. He would drink one glass each evening. And he was even more geeked to report that the wine got even better over the course of the week.

And that’s how an all-night musician became a lover of Italian wine.

Yesterday when we spoke on my way home from a wine dinner I had presented in town, he talked about his discovery of “acidity” in wine and how that was the key to great wine — and wine that lasts more than a day or so once opened.

“YES! Acidity!” I told him. I couldn’t agree more.

I love my friend and the role he has played in my life is — literally — immeasurable. It couldn’t be more rewarding for me to know that great Nebbiolo plays a healthy and wholesome tune in his life.

One evening recently, after he had listened to some new recordings of mine, I shared my insecurity over my waning musical abilities. “No, no, no,” he said. “Your music is great! I love listening to it.”

“Thank you,” I told him, “that means the world to me. Nobody listens to my music anymore but you.”

“Remember,” he said, “I’ve believed in your music since you we were 12 years old.”

I’m glad that he believes in my wine recommendations, too, and I’m blessed to have him as a friend.

A Coravin experiment: comparing newly opened Villa Sandi Prosecco with the same wines “accessed” two weeks prior. Just one of the tastings at Taste of Italy in Houston (March 13-14).

The new Coravin sparkling wine closure system came to my attention late last year at the Boulder Burgundy Festival (disclosure: I’ve been a media consultant to the festival for more than 10 years).

As soon as our group tasted top-line Champagnes that had been accessed three and four weeks prior, it was clear that this new closure would be a game-changing for sparkling wine programs at restaurants and wine bars.

Sparkling wine, arguably more than any other category, needs to stay fresh and vibrant in by-the-glass programs. And it can be a huge headache for a beverage director who’s trying to manage costs when sparkling wine loses its verve after just one day/night of service.

The fitness of the accessed wines was so impressive that it immediately hit me: why not try a similar experiment with Prosecco?

And what better occasion than the Taste of Italy trade fair and festival in Houston where my friend (and former client) Flavio Geretto would be presenting the Villa Sandi Houston Sommelier Competition?

Villa Sandi’s wines are known for their extreme freshness and shelf life. Their reputation is owed in great part to a one-tank system of sparkling wine production developed by their winemaker Stefano Gava (one of the most brilliant figures working in Prosecco today imho). The idea was born when the winery started shipping its wines across the world. They needed, the owner realized, to extend the shelf life so that the wines would still be fresh on the nose and the palate when they reached far-flung destinations.

On Sunday, March 13, when candidates in the Villa Sandi Houston Sommelier Competition take a break for lunch, Flavio and I will be pouring the above bottles — accessed on Sunday, March 27, two weeks prior to the event — side by side with bottles of the same wine opened the same day.

What better way to test the Coravin closure than with a wine whose signature is freshness and extended shelf life?

In the video below, I documented the opening and sealing of the bottles (thanks to Georgia Parzen for her handy camerawork btw!).

Registration for the competition and the festival, including trade and consumer seminars and tastings, is now open. Please visit the fair’s website for details etc.

The competition is open to all active sommeliers, from anywhere in the world. The first prize includes a $750 stipend and all-paid trip to Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair (back on this year!) next month. I highly encourage you to compete.

Thanks for checking it out and thanks for the support! And here’s to Villa Sandi for their sponsorship of the festival!