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

pie franco meaning

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

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

Here’s what he wrote to me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where it gets interesting…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Fruit flies, best way to get rid of them

best remedy fruit flies

Remember the malathion-spraying helicopters in the opening sequence of Robert Altman’s 1993 love letter to Los Angeles, Short Cuts?

That movie and the 1989 medfly invasion in my southern California are such vivid memories of my early adulthood.

If you work in or around the wine industry, you know that fruit flies can be a chronic problem.

Ever since Tracie P quit her job in wine sales to be a full-time mother, we’ve had a lot less trouble with fruit flies (she used to come home every night with a wine bag full of open bottles she had “shown” that day).

But especially as we have begun to consume a larger quantity of organically grown fruits and vegetables, we still get the occasional fruit fly.

Mrs. B (my mother-in-law and the world’s number-one nanna) can’t remember where she read about the remedy but it’s worked out great for us (thanks, again, Mrs. B!): simply pour roughly a “finger” of red wine vinegar into a glass and then add 3-4 drops of dishing washing detergent.

The little critters are attracted to the vinegar but when they land on the surface of the liquid, they are unable to free themselves from the viscosity of the detergent.

As cruel as it sounds, you need to make sure that they die before you flush them down the drain (if they’re still squirming, they can reside in the drain and reappear later).

Buona domenica! Happy Sunday, yall!

Neb[b]iolo and Politics in 1950s Italy

luigi einaudi vignetta large

Above: This caricature of the second president of the Italian republic Luigi Einaudi, farm owner and producer of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo, was published in 1950 in Italy. The monarchist publisher was convicted of libel. Click on the image for a larger version and note that Nebbiolo is spelled with one b.

The often workaday nature of my professional life is balanced by my insatiable curiosity and the unmitigated access to all kinds of information via the internets.

Yesterday, as I was roaming around the web and trolling for nuggets about the Einaudi winery in Dogliani (for one of the many restaurant sites that I curate), I came across this wonderful caricature of Italy’s second president (and winemaker), Luigi Einaudi, a figure whom I admire immensely for his opposition to historic fascism.

The Einaudi family has played impressive roles in Italian contemporary history, society, and culture, including Luigi’s son Giulio’s legacy as a publisher (the bookshelves of our home are line with works of literature and critical essays published by Einaudi, including collections of Pasolini’s writings), his son Ludovico’s legacy as a musician, and son Mario’s strident anti-fascism.

In 1950, when Luigi Einaudi became the second president of the Italian Republic, the monarchist review Candido parodied him in the caricature above.

Einaudi is the figure in the center, guarded by corazzieri (a presidential guard of Neb[b]iolo) at the Quirinale, Italy’s presidential palazzo.

The episode reveals how fine wine, and Nebbiolo in particular, was viewed as an elitist indulgence at the time. It also gives us an indication of how wine visionaries like Einaudi (he was among the first to modernize his winery and he was a pioneer in his vision of building the wine export industry in Italy) were seen as misguided.

The satirical message of the vignette is this is how our new president expects to rebuild our country… with wine.

Einaudi sued the publisher for libel and won.

An Einaudi Dolcetto was Eric and Levi’s top pick this week in their The New York Times tasting panel. I’m a big fan myself… for the wine’s traditional and classic style… and for the family’s legacy as anti-fascists and intellectual celebrities…

New York Public Library gems (a Quintavalle autograph)

The New York Public Library is one of the city’s greatest gifts to America and a trésor for which the entire world should be grateful.

When I travel to New York, I do so primarily for business (meetings with clients and editors), to catch up with dearly missed friends, and to revisit the convivium and rock ‘n’ roll of my 30s.

But my greatest pleasure is the precious hours I spend at the library.

This latest trip delivered the discover of an Uberto Paolo Quintavalle autograph — a dedication to New York publisher Blanche Knopf (above)!

The twentieth-century novelist was a good friend of Pasolini and appeared in his last film, the Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).

(This film and my study of Pasolini continue to recur in my life and work… My sojourn in the city delivered an incredible first-hand anecdote about the movie and I will write about it in a post later this week.)

What a thrill for me to get to examine his handwriting!

food guides italy 50s

Another gem was this 1957 food guide to Italy (above).

This visit’s research was devoted the origins of famous Roman dish. I think that many of you will be surprised by my findings and I’m looking forward to posting them tomorrow.

In the meantime, buona lettura!

urban botanical milan #milanobotanica @LinariaRete @SpigaSt cc @TerraUomoCielo

Those of us who work in the wine business rarely go to Milan. But I try to go every chance I get: not only is Milan where many of my friends from Padua university days live and work (in the publishing industry), it’s also one of the most thrilling European cultural capitals, one of the best places in Italy to eat seafood (surprising but true), and now the subject of a microblog devoted to the city as botanical garden.

The author and curator is one of my oldest and dearest friends in Italy, Stefano Spigariol.

You can follow the microblog via #MilanoBotanica or by visiting the Facebook of Linaria, a Milanese publisher and non-profit environmental activist group.

Those are snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus) in the photo above. And the map that will lead you to them below…

Here are some hedge-apples (Maclura pomifera)…

And here’s the map…

The wonderful project has received a lot of attention from both literary and gardening circles in Italy.

What fascinates me about it is how it speaks to a theme that pervades the twentieth-century Italian narrative: the natural alienation (estrangement) of citizens who migrate from rural areas to major urban centers.

While I grew up in a big city and have lived in big cities all of my life, many of my Italian friends — like Stefano — left small towns in rural areas to study in major metropoles. Stefano’s taxonomic “discovery” of urban botanical Milan represents a subversion of such alienation, however fleeting.

It’s a great project and I’m looking forward to following along…

Tomato sauce and condoms…

If you learned Italian as a second language then you surely know the joke I’m talking about.

For those who haven’t studied Italian, I thought I’d share this extremely cute post that Tracie P composed for one of our clients…

Buon weekend, yall! :)

Above: If you ask for “passato di pomodoro” without “preservativi” you might be greeted with a a funny stare…

We want you to be able to speak like an Italian, but we must warn you that there are some pretty easy ways to stick your foot in your mouth if you’re not careful.

Today’s Italian lesson is on false cognates, or “false friends.”

Cognates are words that basically sound the same in both languages in question. For example, there’s intelligente (intelligent) and farmacia (you guessed it, pharmacy). But don’t get caught asking for pepperoni on your pizza if what you want is cured sausage because what you’ll end up with is bell peppers. This is why it’s called a false cognate.

We don’t want you to get caught in a sticky situation where either hilarity or calamity can ensue, so here’s our top ten list of false friends:

1. Sensibile: it means sensitive, not sensible.

2. Preservativi: condoms (Watch out for this one! You don’t want to have a conversation about why condoms are bad for human consumption. Conservanti are preservatives in Italian.)

3. Baldo: courageous (You can describe to the local authorities that the taxi driver who ripped you off is baldo, but you won’t be referring to his head.)

4. Collegio: boarding school or dormitory (Explaining your educational background might make your new Italian friends think that you are very rich.)

5. Morbido: soft (Your little brother’s obsession with horror movies is… soft? I don’t understand!)

6. Genitori: This means parents. Get your mind out of the gutter.

7. Fabbrica: factory (Farm is fattoria and fabric is tessuto. Confused yet?)

8. Camera: room (Want to take a picture with your… room? Instead, make sure and ask for the macchina fotografica.)

9. Romanzo: novel (No, you do not want to have a great novel on your vacation, you want a storia d’amore.)

10. Educato: polite (Telling someone that their children are so educated when you mean polite is not an insult, but it may be confusing when referring to a toddler.)

My life as a Knight of Malta (and why wine blogging matters)

Above: The amazing Hawk Wakawaka posted this wonderful depiction of our family yesterday on her blog. Click the image to enlarge.

For many years now, I’ve thought of enogastronomy as an exegetic tool that can be mustered to achieve a deeper and greater understanding of the human experience and condition.

And over the course of nearly five years that I’ve maintained my blog, I’ve discovered that above and beyond the epistemological discourse spurred through the enoblogosphere’s hypertext, wine blogging has also unexpectedly delivered other rewards through intensely and intrinsically meaningful friendships with other wine bloggers across the world.

Alfonso (Dallas) is one such friend. Brookyn Guy (Brooklyn) another. And there are so many others, many of them in Italy, France, Britain, and even Australia.

Of course, Tracie P and I met through wine blogging (here’s the post on the story of how we met). Our union ultimately led to the birth of our beautiful daughter, Georgia P (who, as you can imagine, already has a blog).

Earlier this year, when Alfonso suggested that I contact Hawk Wakawaka and ask her to join the Colli Orientali del Friuli blogger project, I knew that I would find in her a friend, colleague, and peer: our tightly knit community of wine bloggers prizes collegiality and camaraderie, professionalism and courtesy, brilliance and acumen.

You can imagine my joy this morning when I awoke to discover that Hawk Wakawaka had depicted me as a Knight of Malta and a protector of my family (in the image above).

I’ll point you to her post for the story behind the drawing and our experience together in Friuli.

And I’ll send her a heartfelt thanks for helping me to understand the human condition and experience in a new and newly meaningful way… all thanks to wine blogging…

Boccaccio and wine blogging

An allusion to Boccaccio in my post today for the Houston Press (on water and wine) was irresistible: citing the third novella, eighth day of the Decameron, I used a mention of wine in his description of Bengodi (the land of plenty) as an illustration of how water was commonly blended into wine in the middle ages. In the text, he describes a Vernaccia so good that no water was added to it.

Here’s the text in English (and here it is in Italian):

    Calandrino heard what passed between them, and witting that ’twas no secret, after a while got up, and joined them, to Maso’s no small delight. He therefore continued his discourse, and being asked by Calandrino, where these stones of such rare virtues were to be found, made answer: “Chiefly in Berlinzone, in the land of the Basques. The district is called Bengodi, and there they bind the vines with sausages, and a denier will buy a goose and a gosling into the bargain; and on a mountain, all of grated Parmesan cheese, dwell folk that do nought else but make macaroni and raviuoli, and boil them in capon’s broth, and then throw them down to be scrambled for; and hard by flows a rivulet of Vernaccia, the best that ever was drunk, and never a drop of water therein…”

The fact that he points out that never a drop of water was found in the wine is an indication that wine to which water wasn’t added was considered superior in quality.

There are so many wonderful mentions of wine in the Decamaron: ahimè, if I didn’t have to make a living, I could collate them into a neat little book with a critical apparatus (a little philological speak there for you).

In the meantime, any excuse to revisit Boccaccio is a good one!

The tale is one of my favorites and is a great (and funny) read: English and Italian.

Buona lettura e buon weekend yall!

Italy’s greatest rosé? Biondi Santi’s Rosato di Toscana

I couldn’t resist translating this post by Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani for VinoWire today. And the mimetic desire was so overwhelming that I was compelled to post my translation here as well. I haven’t yet tasted the 2008 Rosato by Biondi Santi but the 2006 was fantastic. Until I get back to Italy, I’ll just to live vicariously through Franco’s post… Buona lettura!

When my fifty-fifth birthday arrived this year, I didn’t reach for a powerful red, nor an elegant Champagne, nor a juicy Franciacorta. No, I drank a stunning rosé on my birthday, perhaps the most important and most celebrated of all the Italian rosés (and probably the most expensive, since more than one online wine store offer it at Euro 33). I’m talking about the Rosato di Toscano, 100% Sangiovese, created by the Gentleman of Brunello, Franco Biondi Santi on his Tenuta del Greppo estate in Montalcino.

On another occasion, I wrote the following about this wine: It is the youngest child of the Greppo estate, a wine obtain by vinifying estate-grown Sangiovese at 16-18° C. without skin contact, aged for 18 months in stainless steel. We could call it a youthful Sangiovese, a quasi Brunello… in pink, obtained from young vines roughly 5 to 10 years in age. The vineyards are located in zones rich with stony subsoil and galestro [schist], with exposition to the North-East, South, and North, and elevation ranging from 250-500 meters.

I drank the 2008 Rosato di Toscana by the great Franco Biondi Santi with a simple however delicious, everyday dish: exquisite beef meatballs braised in tomato sauce and paired with green beans that had been sautéed with bread crumbs. We’re talking about enthusiasm cubed here: a truly extraordinary rosé in every sense.

Light cherry in color, jus of squab with an orange hue. Dry and direct on the nose, very salty and focusedd, dominated by red cherry followed by a gradual evolution of citrus ranging from pink grapefruit to mandarin oranges and citron. Then came notes of multi-colored Mediterranean maquis, tomato leaf, flint, and hints of rose. Together, they created a weave of color and mosaic of aroma.

Ample in the mouth, juicy, overflowing with personality and refined, ample layers of texture. Well structured on the palate, with vertical depth, endowed with focus, an absolute release of magnificent vitality and complexity.

A stony, salty wine, with perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin (the magnificent tannin of Sangiovese from Montalcino). Great harmony, extreme polish, aristocratic elegance, and absolute drinkability despite the 13.5% alcohol and richness of this highly enjoyable Rosato di Toscana.

It would be suited to a wide variety of dishes, from Caciucco alla Livornese to fish soup, to baby octopus cooked in red wine to braised calamari with peas. But it also could be paired with a roast beef, braised beef, or even veal… and even a well-stocked pizza. Why not?

The greatest of Italian rosés and one of the greatest rosés in the world, including France. Chapeau bas!

Franco Ziliani

Letter to Baby P (Thanksgiving 2011)

Baby P, the image above is your first “close up” from an early ultrasound. Someday we’ll tell you about what it felt like to “see” you for the first time.

Dear Baby P,

Mom is going to have a laugh when she reads this and discovers that I am at a loss for words… since I’m generally the one who talks too much!

She and I talk to you all the time and sometimes — especially in the morning when we say goodbye before the workday — I put my lips to her belly and I tell you I love you.

I’ve finally sat down to write you the letter I’ve been meaning to write you. But today I don’t know what to say.

I thought I’d have some nuggets of wisdom to share or some insights about becoming a parent. But I don’t.

When folks find out that you’re pregnant, they always ask the same three questions: is it a boy or a girl? do you have a name? are you excited? Sometimes I think they ask you those questions because they want to say something but, like me, they don’t know what to say.

There are plenty of people who offer advice about being a parent and much of it is sound and some of it has been useful. But most of it is their way of sharing the experience with you. As one Italian friend of our wrote, having a child is the most normal thing in life and it is also the most extraordinary.

But then there are the grandparents. They don’t offer advice. But nearly all of them say the same thing: having a child will change your life in ways that you can’t imagine.

Baby P, that’s a photo of your beautiful mom! And it’s also a photo of you. Some folks say she’s the most beautiful mother-to-be they’ve ever seen. I have to say that I agree! She’s been such a good mother to you and I love her so much.

Becoming a parent sure does change your life: your rhythms and daily routines change; your lifestyle changes; your body changes. Every time mom and I go to the doctor for your checkup, we marvel at the miracle of life. Even with all the science of the twenty first century, the great brains of the world still can’t figure out how it all works. (And it’s probably better that way.)

But it also changes how you see the world: from the milk that I buy for mom at the store to the way a line from the poet Virgil scans; from the car seats that I installed last week to the financial challenges that we and our friends in Europe are facing every day; from your baby clothes neatly folded in your nursery to the sadness in a best friend’s voice when he talks about missing his child. Everything looks, tastes, smells, feels, and appears differently to me. But it’s not because everything is different. It’s because I’m different.

Baby P, that’s my silver milk cup from when I was born. Your grandmother, Mamma Judy, had your name engraved on the other side of the cup.

Baby P, there’s so much I want to tell you. About the world and its great cities, about music and poetry, about philosophy and art…

But today, the words just won’t come.

And so I think I’ll just put my lips to mom’s belly and tell you I love you…



Thanksgiving Day, 2011