Truth in wine (writing)? Looking more closely at “in vino veritas,” a motto often misunderstood

From the department of “der Meister des giftigen Spotts”…

“The closer the look one takes at a word,
the greater the distance from which it looks back.”
—Karl Kraus

in-vino-veritasAs I continue to prepare for the seminars on English-language wine writing and wine blogging that I will be leading next week and the following (as part of the UniSG Master’s in Wine Culture program), I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of truth in wine (writing) and how we perceive absolute truths in our awareness of wine when it is depicted or described in words.

There’s an ancient association of truth and wine that looms over the notion of truth in enography: The Latin motto in vino veritas, which, when translated literally, is rendered in English as [there is] truth in wine.

Some attribute the earliest exemplar of the expression to a fragment of a lost poem by the ancient Greek poet Alcaeus (although, beyond a Wikipedia mention, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of substance in the assertion that Alcaeus was the first to utter the phrase).

Italian scholarship points to the sophist (or teacher for hire) Zenobius as the first chronicler of the phrase, which he included in a collection of aphorisms.

To my knowledge, all concur that the Latin expression is an adaptation of the Greek εν οἴνῳ ἀλήθεια (en oinoi aletheia). And here’s where it gets interesting.

Whereas veritas means truth or reality in Latin, aletheia has a slightly different meaning in Greek. It’s generally translated as…

Click here to continue reading my post for the University of Gastronomic Sciences blog. Thanks for reading!

Thank you Jancis, Étienne, and Brett for a remarkable tasting and seminar yesterday in Boulder!

jancis-robinson-tasting-book-signingEarlier in the day, Jancis’ husband Nicholas Lander (a venerated food writer in his own right) had joked wryly: “whole-cluster fermentation? A topic that’s surely on everyone’s minds!”

But there couldn’t have been a more rapt crowd at yesterday’s marquee event at the Boulder Burgundy Festival: a seminar and guided tasting led by legacy winemaker Étienne de Montille, Master of Wine Jancis Robinson (yes, if you are here, you know what a megawatt celebrity and fantastic speaker she is), and Master of Wine Brett Zimmerman, founder of the festival.

I’ve been blogging about the festival (as the gathering’s official chronicler) here.

Thanks again to Brett for making me part of this extraordinary weekend of tastings and seminars. And thanks to Jancis and Étienne for your remarkable contribution. I can’t imagine a more thrilling guided tasting.

So much time and so little to tell: today, I’m making my way to Sotto in Los Angeles where I co-author the wine list and where I’ll be hosting a sold-out tasting of our new fall by-the-glass program tomorrow. Apologies for anyone who couldn’t get into the tasting but please come by the restaurant afterward for a glass if you are in town. Please wish me speed and thanks for your support!

montille-best-wines-vintages

Christian Varas is Houston’s “Iron Sommelier,” David Keck leaves Camerata, and Krug à volonté in Boulder, Colorado

best-champagne-tastingPosting on the fly today from Boulder, Colorado where I’m serving as the Boulder Burgundy Festival’s official blogger.

The party’s just got started: Last night, bromance Paolo and I attended the festival’s Champagne kick-off event where we and guests were treated to a beefy flight of Krug, including 2002 and 2003 bottlings. Holy cow, people… It would be a tough flight to beat but the “Old and Rare Burgundy” seminar this afternoon with Masters Jay Fletcher, Bobby Stuckey, Richard Betts, and featured guest winemaker Étienne de Montille should best it handily. Stay tuned for updates…

In news from home…

My friend Christian Varas (below, center), who serves as wine director at Houston’s exclusive River Oaks Country Club, took home the prestigious Iron Sommelier prize last night at the Periwinkle Foundation’s charity event.

I wrote it up early this morning for the Houston Press (thanks to the Periwinkle’s publicist who sent me the release late last night and photographer Dave Rossman, who shot the gala affair).

Mazel tov, Christian! The prize couldn’t have gone to a more able or talented wine professional. Congratulations…

And in a stunning move that has left many Houston wine lovers fearing that one of the city’s brightest stars will leave them high and dry, David Keck announced yesterday on Facebook that he is leaving Camerata, the immensely successful wine bar he founded. Here’s the write-up by CultureMap, where Keck tells Eric Sandler that he doesn’t plan to leave the Bayou City (phew!).

Can we now tell David that camerata was a fascist salutation? Will his next venture be called Товарищ?

Joking aside, David’s contribution to the growth and health of the Houston wine scene has been enormous and we are all in his debt for his vision and the spirit of collegiality that he instilled into the wine community. He will be sorely missed behind the bar of Camerata, which he named after the Renaissance-era Florentine Camerata (meaning Florentine chamber or salon; camerata is a homonym in Italian that can mean comrade or chamber [in archaic Italian], as in chamber music), a nod to his career as professional opera singer. Thank you, David, for all you’ve done and we look forward to the next chapter!

That’s all the news that’s fit to blog about. Stay tuned for more from the Boulder Burgundy Festival over the weekend, including a seminar and tasting led by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson and Étienne…

christian-varas-river-oaks-wine

The best little wine bar in Las Vegas: thank you Ferraro’s! And wow, Vegas wine peeps, you are some of the coolest around (for real)

sommelier-hakkasan-las-vegasAbove, from left: Las Vegas sommeliers Elise Vandenberg (Milos), Kat Thomas (Hakkasan), Jeffrey Bencus (Lago), and wine blogger and collector Vashti Roebuck, who all came out to taste Franciacorta with me on Monday at Ferraro’s.

What an incredible experience to connect and interact with the group of sommeliers who came out to taste with me on Monday in Las Vegas! Not only were these some of the brightest and most gifted tasters I’ve met in the business, but they were also some of the nicest. In this town, it seems (at least to me), wine chops and hospitality go hand and in hand. And despite the immense talent in the room and the ego that could come with it, cordiality and collegiality (in the purest sense) were the bywords of the day.

I need to send out special, heartfelt thanks to Jaime Smith, who helped me put our Franciacorta Real Story tasting together, and Liz Davar, who organized my post-tasting tour of some of the cooler spots on the Strip. Yall — and all yall — rock, big time. Thank you!

best-wine-bar-las-vegasBut the biggest discovery for me this time around was not on the Strip: Ferraro’s Restaurant and Wine Bar is a gem of a place, with classic Italian cooking and a jaw-dropping Italian wine list.

Gino Ferraro and his family have been working as restaurateurs in Vegas for four decades and I can’t recommend this place highly enough. I really loved it.

italian-octopus-salad-recipeOctopus salad, perfectly executed. Just look at the color of that olive oil, people!

flour-gnocchi-recipePillowy, melt-in-your-mouth-without-losing-their-texture homemade gnocchi. Spot on, with the lightest tomato sauce (a coulis, really).

best-italian-restaurant-las-vegasMaybe not the most photogenic but, man, when I’m on the road, this is the type of homey food I crave. Housemade sausage can often be overly fatty and greasy. But this was light and wholesome tasting. And bring on the leafy greens, Gino! I loved this humble, delicious dish. I can’t wait to get back next year and taste Gino’s tripe.

hakkasan-kim-kardashianAlso need to give a warm shout-out to Kat Thomas who hosted our end-of-the-night group at Hakkasan. No JLo or Kardashian sightings but great food and wines and super cool to watch Kat just killing it on the floor. Man, she has the sommelier goods… Thank you, Kat!

nevada-vanity-license-platesMy peeps in Vegas are believers!

I’d only ever been to Sin City to play with the band (years ago). And I have always been wary of the scene there (it’s a trip on the Strip and if you’ve been, you know what I mean).

But it was so awesome to see this only-in-America city through the eyes of wine professionals who make it all happen — vinously, that is.

Thanks again, Las Vegas, for a truly fulfilling enogastronomic experience and for the warm welcome. I hope to get back in the spring.

Today I’m on my way to Colorado to hookup with bromance Paolo (sorry, Giovanni!) in Boulder for the Boulder Burgundy Festival where I’ll be blogging about the event. Please stay tuned and see you on the other side…

las-vegas-strip-aerial-photo-photography

And they called me prof. (again): Master’s Degree in Wine Culture at Pollenzo

Click here to check out my new blog at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo and learn more about the master’s programs in Wine Culture (where I begin teaching next month) and Food Culture and Communications. And please check out the Master’s in Wine Culture intro video below.

michele-antonio-finoA few months ago, I was contacted by my good friend Michele Antonio Fino (above), the director of two master’s programs at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (Piedmont): Wine Culture and Food Culture and Communications.

Michele had already recruited me as an instructor in the Wine Culture program. And I will be heading to Pollenzo at the end of October to lead a series of seminars on wine writing and wine blogging there (more on that later).

But on this occasion when he reached out on behalf of UNISG (University of Gastronomic Sciences), it was because he wanted me to join their team as a blogger and ambassador for the program(s) with a focus on English-language media geared toward the U.S.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled. As they say in Italian (and the expression couldn’t be more a propos), this was pane per i miei denti (literally, bread for my palate or colloquially put, right up my alley).

My professional life started in academia. And in many ways, my new partnership with the university — as an instructor and blogger/ambassador — represents a return to my beginnings, a peripeteia (as it were) that brings me full-circle back to my early professional aspirations.

In 1989, I complete a bachelor’s degree with honors at the Department of Italian at U.C.L.A. and then embarked a graduate program there that ultimately led to a Ph.D. and a doctoral thesis on Petrarchan prosody and Renaissance transcriptions of Petrarch’s Italian songbook. By the time I was awarded my doctorate in 1997, I had spent many years living and studying (and playing music) in Italy. And my interest in Italian culture, language, and literature had continued to expand over the course of my adult life (I was 30 at the time).

But after moving to New York City that same year, I quickly learned that Petrarch and my interest in Italian versification weren’t going to pay the bills. And so I shifted my focus to Italian gastronomy and food culture. And not long after I landed a job as an editor at the newly launched English-language edition of La Cucina Italiana in Manhattan, I started to concentrate on wine writing.

Today, nearly 20 years later, after a rewarding career as a wine copywriter and blogger, it’s great to return to the academic world that I’ve missed sorely for these last two decades. I’m finally “back where I belong,” you could say.

For the next six months, I will be blogging on the UNISG site as an English-langauge ambassador for the university. Not only will I be writing about my experience as an instructor and “an American in Pollenzo,” but I will also be sharing my insights into and impressions of the master’s programs at UNISG.

If you’re considering applying to UNISG, please feel free to shoot me an email with any questions and/or thoughts (by clicking here).

And please check back soon here on the blog for updates and news from UNISG, Pollenzo, and the world of Italian wine and food.

Thanks for being here and thanks for your support! Stay tuned…

Here’s a link to my newly launched blog over at UNISG. And below you’ll find a video intro to the Master’s in Wine Culture program.

Cristina Ziliani, thank you for coming to Houston!

tony-vallone-houstonIt was SO MUCH FUN for me to host Franciacorta producer Cristina Ziliani last Friday in Houston.

That’s her (left) with my friend and client Tony Vallone (right) and Tony’s general manager, Annie Balest, also a good friend of mine.

I hate to say it but Houston still gets a bad rap among people who don’t know our vibrant food and wine scene. And it was wonderful to see Cristina’s eyes light up with delight and surprise as I showed her around the city and introduced her to some of our enogastronomic highlights (and we only scratched the surface).

She came to see some accounts where they are pouring her wine and (I’d like to think that) she left with a better sense of the role that Houston and Texas play in America’s wine renaissance.

Barely a week goes by that I don’t receive an email from a producer or an importer asking me how to break into the Houston and Texas markets.

My advice is always the same: come to Houston and get a feel for the market; connect with restaurateurs and wine buyers and try to wrap your mind around what they’re interested in and what works for them. That’s the secret to success in the hard-to-crack Texas wine market imho. And over and over again, I see examples of winemakers who have invested their time here and the return it delivers.

On a plane right now to Vegas where I’ll be pouring Franciacorta for my Franciacorta consortium gig from 1-3 p.m. at Ferraro’s. Come out and taste with us if you are in town. Between the wines I’ll be pouring and the distributors who are joining me, this could be the largest flight of Franciacorta wines we’ve presented during my two-year campaign.

Edi Kante, the once and future king of Carso Karst wines, a groovy Amarone in Texas, and miscellanea…

Taste Franciacorta with me in Las Vegas, Monday October 17, 1-3 p.m. Click here for details. Hope to see you there!

edi-kante-winesWhat a stunning flight of wines from Edi Kante poured for me the other night by Kante’s Italian sales rep Edi Tapacino here in Houston!

Stupendous, really.

When I met Edi T (who was visiting Texas for the first time) and we tasted through this extraordinary flight, I couldn’t help but think back to 1999 when I was living in New York and the Italian wine renaissance was just beginning to take shape.

At the time Edi Kante’s wines were part of the new wave, as it were, and they were positioned and poised — thanks to the powers that were at the time — to become one of the next big things.

But a series of mishaps (let’s just leave it at that) led to Edi K’s wines falling off the radar. It’s great to see that Edi T is injecting the brand with some new energy in the States. I’ve always been a huge fan and I am thrilled to see that they are starting get the attention they deserve here in the U.S. Look out for them if you can…

Semi-related: Karst is the English word for Carso, btw. Just saying…

In other news…

best-traditional-amaroneThis week, I was also stoked to taste the Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve 2010 Amarone with Giovanni Bertani who was in town to work the market with his new Texas importer/distributor.

Old-school and classic in style, this wine had that lightness — that unbearable lightness — and that lithe character that real Amarone has to have imho.

I really enjoyed the wine and had a blast (excuse the pun) discussing space exploration with Giovanni who had been down to NASA earlier in the day. A kindred spirits of sorts!

Great to see these wines finding their way to Texas and expand the availability of authentic Italian wines here.

In other other news…

Broccoli raab, yo! One of the dishes I made Tracie P this week for her birthday (below, one of her favs).

Thanks for being here everyone. Have a great weekend and come and see me in Vegas next Monday if you can. And Bob Dylan deserves the Nobel, people! I have a lot of thoughts to share on the matter but am too slammed for that today… Rock on!

broccoli-raab-recipe

Dario Fo, uncompromising theatrical great, dies at 90 (or “mom’s pot is always best”)

dario-foIt felt like a brick hit me in the gut this morning when I learned that Dario Fo, theatrical genius and one of the all-time greats of political and social activism, has died at age 90.

Click here for the New York Times obituary of the Nobel prize winner.

And even if you don’t read Italian, click here for the Repubblica cover-story devoted to his passing. It will give you a sense of the larger-than-life role that he played in Italy’s literary arts and the country’s collective social conscience.

Dario Fo, his wife and partner Franca Rame, and the plays he wrote and produced have shaped my intellectual life since I first read one of his works as an undergraduate student of Italian at U.C.L.A.

His brilliant 1958 farce “Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere” (typically translated as “Not All Thieves Come to do Harm” but perhaps better rendered as “Burglars Aren’t All Bad”) was one of the first modern-era plays I read in the original Italian (after Pirandello). His deft hand at parodying the western bourgeoisie, its bigotry and hypocrisy, blew my mind (by means of both style and substance) and sent me down a path that led to other pivotal texts and discourse (by him and others) that formed and informed much of my view of the world.

As California sits on the verge of legalizing marijuana (creating a de facto “confederacy of state-regulated marijuana use”) his 1975 farce “La marijuana della mamma è la più bella” (“Mom’s Pot is Always Best”) couldn’t be more topical. “The rich consume drugs,” he wrote, but “drugs consume the poor.”

One of the most thrilling moments of my first year at university in Italy was seeing him and Franca Rame perform in Rome and meeting them both in the lobby before the curtain came. When I asked him to sign my program and told him I was an America fan of his plays, he smiled that grand smile and those unforgettably wide eyes sparkled. That starstruck night was the first of many for me in search of unpalatable truths made less bitter by his brilliant and deliciously unforgiving humor.

Dario Fo, as day breaks in America, I wonder to myself: how can the sun come up without you? It must not know yet that you are gone.

Our conscience, ourselves… Donald Trump mustn’t be allowed to drive our country to moral ruin

hermann-memorial-park-houstonAbove: yesterday, our daughters, Lila Jane age 3 and Georgia age 4, were enchanted by their visit to the Japanese Gardens at Hermann Memorial Park in Houston where we have lived for two and a half years now.

I grew up in a familial environment that was shaped, sullied, and shamed by the awful life choices of a serial abuser of women. I have known, firsthand, the emotional legacy left behind by authors of such transgressions, even long after the abuser has moved on to a new life and reality. Sadly, the scars and fallout from that time in my own personal family history continue to affect me and people I love dearly. Never fully healed however cauterized, those lacerations were only made more deep by the media attention devoted to them at the time. Now is not the time or place to go into it, but anyone familiar with this episode in my life (which emerged in the late 1970s) would agree that it was an early instance of the sensationalization of the family tragedy in the contemporary era of mainstream media.
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