Nerello Mascalese vinegar from Etna is sexy (but Ancellotta pudding from Emilia is sexier)

Another cool thing about this year’s Vinitaly was the expanded food component.

I spent most of my time at the fair tasting wines and meeting with winemakers and grape growers. But I also managed to break away and hit up the Sol&Agrifood pavilion where Italian producers where joined by counterparts from Morocco, Iran, Greece, and many other international entries.

One highlight was a vinegar made from a blend of Nerello Mascalese wine- and cooked-must vinegars by Romano, an Etna-based olive oil producer. Their oils were extraordinary as well. But the vinegar, produced for Romano by Acetaia Guerzoni in Modena province, really blew me away with its balance of acidity, sweetness, and nutty flavors.

Wine professionals spend so much time parsing over the nuances of fermented grape must. But relatively little attention or energy are devoted to one of the grape’s ultimate expressions — vinegar. Like wine, vinegar can achieve greatness when produced expertly and thoughtfully (and patiently).

Why do we spend excessive amounts of money on wine at dinner in a fancy restaurant and then dress our salads with industrially produced crap? (Similarly, we serve grass-fed slow-smoked $21-per-pound brisket on hydrogenated-oil white bread. What’s the point? as an Italian food colleague asked me the other day.)

Another compelling taste came in the form of Sugoli d’Uva, a grape pudding obtained by thickening Ancellotta grape must with flour.

It’s a nearly forgotten traditional dish from Emilia where it was typically produced during the grape harvest. It represents yet another way to capture the essence of the vine and prolong its utility and deliciousness.

Older Emilians still remember grandma making the pudding in the fall when the grapes were picked. I was thrilled to see that my friends at Acetaia Guerzoni have revived it.

You eat it with a spoon by itself, they said. But many across the internets suggest serving it with crumbly Torta Sbrisolona. Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong with this dangerously moreish sweet!

Coming away from this tasting, I thought about how important it is to remember that viticulture is part of larger agricultural and nutritional system. To focus solely on wine would be to eclipse so much flavor from your world! [Wine and] food for thought…

Legal cannabis in Italy: a clarification and a confession

The first time I smoked cannabis in Italy it was in 1987 at a Peter Gabriel concert at the (Roman) Arena in Verona (a great venue for rock shows; I saw the “So” tour, one of the many times I saw him perform in my late teens and early 20s). I was 20 years old.

Back then, even small amounts of cannabis were illegal in Italy. Although I never heard of anyone getting arrested for possession or for smoking in public, my stoner peers made it abundantly clear that we risked arrest and possibly jail if we were caught by authorities.

At the same time, pot smoking was ubiquitous among young people: in the dorm where I lived in Padua and at rock shows I attended, my fellows weren’t shy about consuming cannabis — by any means.

After I started chatting with some of the concert-goers and explained my weedless predicament, they generously shared their terra cotta chillum. Back then, you couldn’t find “bud” (what is known in contemporary cannabis parlance as “flower”) in Italy. You could only find hash (a cannabis derivative), which users mixed with tobacco before consuming.

The concert was awesome… And I learned that pot culture in Italy and Europe in general was very much alive, rich, and vibrant.

In Saturday’s online New York Times, one of the paper’s Italy correspondents, Elisabetta Povoledo, published a piece titled “Cannabis Flowers Are Legal in Italy. You Just Can’t Eat or Smoke Them.” In her article, she describes Italy’s nascent legal cannabis trade. I highly recommend it to you.

She writes:

    Italy’s cannabis mania, as it has been called, exploded after a December 2016 law regulating hemp production went into effect, a series of norms meant to help revive a crop that was once widely cultivated in the country. In the 1940s, Italy was said to be the world’s second-biggest producer of industrial cannabis, after the Soviet Union…
    The law was created for farmers growing industrial hemp, which has commercial uses like food, fabrics, clothing, biofuel, construction material and animal feed, but has minute levels of a psychoactive compound. But it did not regulate the use of cannabis flowers, also known as buds, and an entire economy emerged from the legislative void.

The marketplace for cannabis flowers, as she notes, has “exploded” in Italy since January 2017 when it became legal to sell flowers (buds) with less than 0.6 percent THC content (THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the component that makes users feel “stoned”).

Elisabetta actually reports that the flowers can have only up to 0.2 percent. The 0.2 percent limit applies to legal edibles, oils (like CBD oil), and infusions (teas). But as long as they are sold exclusively for “ornamental use,” the flowers can have up to 0.6. (This is due to a legal loophole in the law that absolves growers from responsibility for how their products are used as long as said products are not sold for consumption; read bullet point 7 and following gloss in this link from the Italian Senate website.)

I photographed the window sticker above at the Rovato train station, a small-town stop in Lombardy, last week. The station tobacconist, like countless others across the country, sells “cannabis flowers” (infiorescenze di canapa) for “technical use” (uso tecnico). The labels state clearly that “combustion is forbidden.”

Whether it’s 0.2 or 0.6 percent THC content is besides the point. At those levels, the THC is imperceptible and the effect is purely analgesic (i.e., relaxing and therapeutic but not hallucinogenic and not a “high”). The average THC content for recreational cannabis in the U.S. is around 18 percent. And some flowers can have up to 30 percent. (I speak from personal experience.)

But the big takeaway here is that Italian cannabis growers have positioned themselves on the forefront of the growing cannabis culture in Europe.

In my three decades of traveling to Italy and interacting with Italians, I’ve found that pot doesn’t have the same stigma that it has here in the U.S. (thank you, Richard Nixon!). It’s not socially unacceptable like it is in certain circles in our country. And no one, at least in my experience, is shunned or dismissed as intellectually inferior because of it.

The U.S. is the hands-down world leader when it comes to progressive cannabis regulation. California, my home state, is the most populous in the nation and recreational cannabis became legal there this year. Even in regressive and “reliably red Texas, cannabis entrepreneurs expect some green soon,” wrote the editors of the Dallas Morning News last month.

Italy’s not far behind. And I can also tell you from personal experience that many grape growers are planning to launch legal cannabis production this year. Stay tuned…

Vinitaly: why the fair matters now more than ever…

Above: many of Italy’s best wine writers and bloggers gather each year at the Intravino party at Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair in Verona. Intravino is Italy’s most popular wine blog and one of the few platforms where readers enjoy a broad spectrum of voices.

There really wasn’t much to complain about this year at Vinitaly, Italy’s largest wine trade fair, held each spring in Verona.

The weather was nearly perfect. The wifi worked (for the most part). Even on the Monday of the fair, typically its busiest, it didn’t feel overly crowded. Only one drunken consumer tripped over me. I never had to wait in line for a bathroom.

And the fair organizers even have a nifty new app that allows users to look up exhibitors, view of map of the fair ground, and track their own location on their phones. How cool is that?

Above: this week’s fair marked the 52 years since the first gathering. Vinitaly remains unrivaled for its scope and size.

I missed the fair last year because it coincided with the Passover (one of the most important holidays in Judaism). There was no way I was going the Seder with my mother (she’s in her 80s).

But back again this year, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the organizers have made good on their promise to address some of the fairgoers’ perennial grievances: long lines for unclean bathrooms; spotty at best wifi and frequently disrupted cellular service; too many consumers crowding the pavilions and making it all the more challenging for professionals to maintain their schedules; saturated parking, etc… Those issues persist but to a lesser degree thanks to genuine efforts by the organizers. (Thank you, Verona Fiere! We really appreciate it!)

All in all, gauging from the three of four days I attended, it was a great fair.

Above: I spent a lot of my time at the fair with two young wine professionals from Los Angeles, Skylar Hughes (left) and Theo Greenly (right). Gianluca Colombo (center) was one of the many winemakers who tasted with us.

Beyond the many super wines I tasted, the thing that thrilled me the most about this year’s event was the opportunity to taste with a couple of first-timers (above), my colleagues from Los Angeles who were attending thanks to a trip sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission.

Back at home in America where the three of us work together, consolidation of import and distribution channels is rapidly reshaping the fine wine landscape in alarming ways. As the big-kid companies continue to absorb or displace the small independent players, often through unchecked predatory business practices, the variety of wines available to U.S. wine professionals seems to grow more and more narrow.

I’m not talking about “wine persons” working in progressive markets like San Francisco or New York. I’m thinking of people who work in places like Austin, Chicago, Las Vegas, or Miami where the top players in distribution increasingly drive the market. Even in Los Angeles (where I do some consulting on a couple of wine lists), I see the small distributors struggling day-to-day to stay alive while the biggies show up with fat expense accounts and deep discounts.

As consolidation continues to whittle away at the field of wine available across the U.S., I am increasingly concerned that many young wine professionals are missing out on the Italian wine’s bigger picture, where people, culture and tradition — Italian people, culture, and tradition — make the difference.

It was wonderful to see my California fellows having so much fun at the fair as we bounced gleefully across the grounds together: tasting at Abruzzo’s regional stand; tasting at the Vivit (natural) and Bio (organic) pavilions; tasting with winemakers whose wines don’t make it to their market; tasting with winemakers they’ve never even heard of because their reps have never mentioned them; tasting wherever the hell they wanted to and without anyone pressuring them to buy.

Especially since Vinitaly’s organizers incorporated the newer Vivit and Bio pavilions into the fair a few years ago, the gathering represents an unrivaled opportunity for young Italian-wine-focused professionals to expand their knowledge, hone their chops, and make new and lasting connections and friendships that will transcend the monolithic “three-tier system” back in America.

Now that they have one Vinitaly under their belts, I hope they’ll branch out and attend the many wonderful unaffiliated specialized fairs that take place the same week. But I am so glad that they started here, at Vinitaly, the truly “big picture” of Italian wine today.

Thanks, Vinitaly, for a really great one (my fourteenth).

“What would Soave have been without him?” On the eve of Vinitaly, Italian wine mourns the loss of Leonildo Pieropan…

Above: Legacy producer Leonildo Pieropan with his two sons and grandchildren in an udated photo (image via the Slow Wine blog).

News of Leonildo Pieropan’s passing swept across the world of Italian wine this weekend.

On the eve of Vinitaly (the annual wine trade fair in Verona), remembrances of the Italian wine legend and pioneer poured out over the internet. Not only was Pieropan the architect of Soave’s great revival, he was also one of the founders of FIVI, the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers, a now powerful advocacy group. His wines have shaped the palates of a generation of Italian wine lovers, including mine.

Don’t miss Ian D’Agata’s wonderful post, published yesterday on Vinous, “In Memory of Leonildo Pieropan.”

And here’s a remembrance by Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio (excerpted translation mine):

Everyone knew Leonildo Pieropan as Nino. He was a pillar of Italian viticulture. He was one of those rare, singular winemakers who embody their appellations.

What would have Soave been without him? It would have been a much poorer appellation. And not just because of his legendary wines. His wines were captivating in their youth. And as they aged, they made decades seem like mere months. But Nino was also able to inspire other producers to follow his vision of what the appellation could be.

Slow Wine: Michael Alberty named senior editor for new Oregon guide (2019)

I couldn’t be more thrilled to share the news that Michael Alberty has agreed to join the Slow Wine team as Senior Editor for Oregon.

The 2019 edition of the guide will be the first to feature Pacific Northwest estates. And it will be the second edition to include California. We also have plans to expand our California coverage significantly. Michael will be giving us a hand with that as well.

About Michael:

Michael Alberty recently ended a 16-year retail career that specialized in Pacific Northwest wines to pursue full-time wine writing. In addition to a monthly column about rare and unusual Oregon wines that appears in the Oregon Wine Press, Alberty’s freelance articles have appeared in Terre Magazine, Willamette Week, Edible Portland, and on Jancis Robinson’s “Purple Pages” website. In the fall of 2016, Wine & Spirits Magazine named Alberty one of “Fifty Masters of Place” for his work in the Willamette Valley. He has also published in the fields of international environmental politics and Major League Baseball. Alberty lives just outside Portland, Oregon with his college professor wife and teenage son.

Roman-Jewish artichokes and other cool stuff tasted this week in Houston

After the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that carciofi alla giudia, the famous fried artichokes of Rome’s ancient Jewish ghetto, had been ruled traif by Israeli chief Rabbinate, the owners of Houston’s Mascalzone swiftly added the dish to their menu.

She’s Israeli and he’s a famous Italian boxer. And I help out with their online media.

100 percent delicious and I’m extremely proud of the photo above, which I took with my phone.

Gambero Rosso was back in town this week with their traveling road show.

I really loved the Tollo Pecorino (above), a first kiss for me.

Pecorino can be a one-trick pony but when it’s handled thoughtfully, it can really deliver nuanced flavor. Great wine, one of the best expressions of Pecorino I’ve ever tasted.

Another stand-out discovery for me was the Costanzo Etna Bianco di Sei (above).

Everyone’s so crazy about Etna red and rightly so. But Tracie and I are mad for Etna white.

This wine delivered the spectrum of flavor and minerality I’ve come to expect from the top producers in the appellation. What a fantastic wine.

And just in case you were worried that we weren’t eating and drinking well in our adoptive city, Tracie and I attended a dinner last night hosted by Chef Marco Sacco (from restaurant Piccolo Lago in the Lake District, 2 Michelin stars) at a new event space launched by an Italian gazillionaire here.

Chef Marco (above, left) and his sous chef Silvestro had been flown in especially for the dinner. I was the night’s emcee.

Not a bad gig… but not as good as Sergio Scappani’s. He had also been flown in from Italy to dazzle the guests with his midified Roland V-Accordion FR-7X (stage left).

And just in case you still haven’t been tuned in to our groovy food and wine scene, check out this profile of one of my favorite wine programs in the city, Matt Pridgen’s wine list at One Fifth (by my friend Megan Krigbaum, one of my fave wine writers, for PUNCH).

Still not convinced? Hit me up and I’ll hip you to my fave spots.. Seriously. And thanks for reading!

Matteo Ascheri elected new president of Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Langhe, and Dogliani consortium

Last week, the Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Langhe, and Dogliani consortium elected Matteo Ascheri (above) as its new president (source: Millevigne). He will replace outgoing president Orlando Pecchenino.

From Millevigne (translation mine):

“Matteo Ascheri, a wine industry business leader from Bra, born in 1962, with a degree in economics and commerce, will lead the consortium, including its more than 500 wine grower members, representing 10,000 hectares of vineyards in Langa and Roero and 65 million bottles produced annually.

“Ascheri was consortium’s vice president from 1992-1994 and has also served in numerous institutional roles in the Piedmont wine industry…”

“‘The invaluable contribution of the producers I have met with over the last few days,’ said the newly elected president, ‘is a sign of our appellations’ and consortium’s shared vitality and positive energy. We will begin by re-activating the committee roles. With their mandate to oversee appellation management, they represent an important tool for producer participation. Our first order of business will be the marketing of our appellations with a focus on specific campaigns. They will based on a wide variety of needs that will emerge over time.”

Image via MatteoAscheri.it.

How do you translate “scheletro” (soil type) into English? Italian wine glossary updated.

Over the weekend, reader Enzo commented on my Italian-English wine glossary:

“Please add ‘scheletro’ in there. The most sensible translation I found is ‘rock fragments.’ Thank you for your work.”

Thank you, Enzo, for the nudge!

The Italian term scheletro (akin to the English skeleton) denotes soil texture composed of grains that are greater than 2 mm in diameter.

According to the Wentworth scale (the standard in modern granulometry), soil texture with grains between 2-4 mm in diameter is classified as “very fine gravel.”

For Italian readers, see the Italian Wikipedia entry for Tessitura (terreno) here.

Readers may wonder why it’s called scheletro or skeleton in Italian.

The word skeleton comes from the Greek σκελετός (skeletos) meaning dried up or arid. Fine gravel is a great soil type for fine wine growing because it doesn’t retain water.

Here’s the complete glossary, updated. I hope you find it useful. Thanks, as always, to wine writer and vineyard consultant Maurizio Gily for his invaluable contributions.

ITALIAN ENGLISH
a giropoggio vines planted across a slope (along the contour of the slope; compare with a ritocchino)
a ritocchino vines planted up and down a slope (from peak to valley, as it were; compare with a giropoggio)
acciaio [inossidabile] stainless-steel [vat/tank]
acinellatura millerandage [alt.: shot berrieshens and chicks, or pumpkins and peas]
affinamento aging
alberello head-trained bush vines
allegagione fruit set
allevamento training
argilla clay
arresto di fermentazione stuck fermentation
assemblaggio blend
azoto nitrogen
barbatella rooted cutting
barrique barrique [small French oak cask]
bâtonnage stirring on the lees
biodinamica biodynamics/biodynamic
biologico organic
botte traditional large cask
bucce skins
Cabernet [Sauvignon] Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Franc
calcare/calcareo limestone/calcareous [limestone-rich]
capo a frutto fruit cane
cappello sommerso submerged cap maceration
chioma canopy
cordone cordon
cordone speronato cordon-trained spur-pruned [vines]
cru vineyard designation/single vineyard
cuvée blend
délestage rack and return
diraspare/diraspatrice de-stem/de-stemmer
diradamento pruning/thinning grapes/dropping fruit
diserbante termico weed torch/weed flamer
DOC DOC [designation of controlled origin]
DOCG DOCG [designation of controlled and guaranteed origin]
DOP PDO [Protected Designation of Origin]
doppio capovolto double-arched cane [training]
drenaggio drainage
esca esca [alt.: black dead arm or black measles]
escursione termica [diurnal] temperature variation
fermentazione arrestata stuck fermentation
femminella lateral shoot
flavescenza dorata grapevine yellows (flavescence dorée)
follatura punching down
galestro galestro [a marl- and limestone-rich subsoil unique to Tuscany]
giropoggio vines planted across a slope (along the contour of the slope; compare with a ritocchino)
grappa grappa
grappolo cluster/bunch
grappolo spargolo loosely clustered grape bunch
Guyot Guyot
IGP PGI [Protected Geographical Indication]
IGT IGT [typical geographical indication]
leccio holm oak
lievito naturale native/ambient/indigenous/wild yeast
lievito selezionato cultured yeast
limo silt
macchia mediterranea Mediterranean maquis [shrubland]
maestrale (vento di maestrale) north-westerly wind
malolattica malolactic fermentation
marna/marne marl
monovitigno single-grape variety [wine]
mosto must
oidio oidium [powdery mildew]
pedicello pedicel
peduncolo stem (peduncle)
peronospora peronospora [downy mildew]
pied de cuve pied de cuve [native yeast starter]
pigiatura crush/crushing
pirodiserbatore weed torch/weed flamer
pirodiserbo weed torching
portinnesto rootstock
pressa press
pressare to press
quercia oak
rachide rachis
raspo stem
rimontaggio pumping over
ritocchino vines planted up and down a slope (from peak to valley, as it were; compare with a giropoggio)
sabbia/sabbioso sand/sandy [sandy soil]
Sauvignon [Blanc] Sauvignon Blanc
scacchiatura shoot-thinning and disbudding
scheletro very fine gravel
siccità drought/drought conditions
sistema di allevamento training/trellis system
sottosuolo subsoil
sovescio cover crop/green manure
spargolo (grappolo spargolo) loosely clustered (grape bunch)
sperone spur
spollonatura disbudding and suckering
stralciatura shoot-thinning
stress idrico hydric stress
sulle bucce skin contact [macerated on the skins]
sulle fecce nobili lees aged [aged on its lees]
sur lie lees aged [aged on its lees]
svinatura racking (devatting, drawing off)
terreno/terreni soil
tignola della vite vine moth [Eupoecilia ambiguella]
tralcio shoot/cane
tramoggia hopper/feeder
tufo tufaceous subsoil [porous limestone]
vasca vat/tank
vento di maestrale north-westerly wind
vigna/vigne vine/vineyards
vigneto vineyard
vinaccia/vinacce pomace
vite vine
vitigno grape variety

Image via Wikipedia.

Protest: Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas, Sunday, April 8, 2-4 p.m.

We will be protesting the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas this Sunday.

Tracie and I have spots available in our cars for anyone who needs a ride from and back to Houston.

We are advocating that the owners of the site repurpose it to reflect community values (we don’t want to tear it down).

Click here to read more about our campaign and how it got started.

Please join us (shoot me an email if you need a ride from Houston or need more info).

Please note: Due to a forecast of rain, we have changed the date for this weekend’s protest from Saturday, April 7 to Sunday, April 8.

Join us in PROTEST of the Confederate Memorial in Orange, Texas (at Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and Interstate 10, north access road):

Sunday, APRIL 8
location: Confederate Memorial of the Wind (Google map)
time: 2-4 p.m.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE REPURPOSE EMAIL NEWSLETTER
to receive event details and updates.

Roman artichokes declared unkosher by Israeli Rabbinate prompt global crisis

According to a report published by the Israeli daily Haaretz on Wednesday, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has declared that carciofi alla giudia, “Jewish-style” artichokes, are traif or unkosher.

“A few months ago,” writes reporter Davide Lerner, “Israel’s Rabbinate banned imports of a ready-made version of the dish, ordering its immediate removal from shelves.”

The issue, according to the report, is that artichoke leaves may contain insects that are impossible to remove before cooking.

The consumption of insects is strictly forbidden by Jewish law.

A “common problem with vegetables,” write the editors of Chabad.org (a leading English-language resource for explanations of Jewish traditions and law, including dietary laws), “involves possible insect infestation. The prohibition against consuming insects, even very tiny ones — as long as they are visible to the naked eye — is mentioned five times in the Torah and is very strict.”

“Some particularly severe problem vegetables are artichokes, asparagus, brussel [sic] sprouts, cauliflower, and leafy vegetables.”

Here’s what the Rabbinate’s Import Division head, Rabbi Yitzhak Arazi, had to say, as quoted by Haaretz: “The heart of the artichoke is full of worms, there is no way you can clean it. It cannot be kosher… This is not our policy, this is Jewish religious law.”

It’s not clear what prompted the Rabbinate to reconsider this dish (above), which traces its roots to the Renaissance and beyond.

One of the most popular foods served in Rome’s historic ghetto, carciofi alla giudia are made by flattening the artichoke buds and then frying them in olive oil until tender. The artichoke was prized by ancient Romans and modern Romans still flock to the Jewish quarter to enjoy Jewish-style artichokes (not to be confused with Roman-style carciofi alla romana).

I have eaten the dish in Rome many times but have never seen the “ready-made” kind. I was able to find this version in a jar online. But canning or jarring the dish would seem to defeat the recipe’s essence: the delight is delivered by the delicate crunch of the gently bitter leaves balanced by the sweetness and tingling sensation produced by the thistle’s heart.

The Rabbinate’s ruling seems to apply to pre-packaged carciofi alla romana and it remains unclear whether or not the made-to-order version will also be deemed traif.

Lerner writes:

    Removing the signature dish from a restaurant renowned for its Roman-Jewish cuisine led to some awkward conversations between customers puzzled at not finding it on the menu and embarrassed hosts. When the restaurant manager negotiated a revised version of carciofi alla giudia being on the menu, disappointed restaurant patrons commented that it was not the same.

Read the Haaretz article here (accessible for free if you register with the site).

Jews across the world are known for their love of wordplay. And the piece in the English-language Haaretz inspired some true nuggets:

“Artichoke on this” (the title of the article).
“It breaks one’s [artichoke] heart” (a comment).

Special thanks to the inimitable Francesco Bonfio for bringing this story to my attention.

Image via seventyoneplace’s Flickr (Creative Commons).