Drinking great at the G8? No great moment in history without Spumante

tony the tigerYou might remember my post White, Green, and Red All Over: Obama to eat patriotic pasta at G8 from a month ago. The G8 summit began today in L’Aquila in Abruzzo and the Italian press is relishing the Obamas’s every move with great gusto.

As Franco pointed out today at Vino al Vino, there was even a post today at the ANSA (National Italian Press Association Agency) site that includes not only the official schedule for today but also the official bottles of wine and spirits to be given to Italy’s “illustrious” guests. G8 members will receive a “magnum of Amarone Aneri 2003 in a wooden box on which the initials of each of the presidents or prime ministers present has been engraved. All official lunches will begin with a toast with Ferrari spumante, [a wine] which is never missing at great appointments with history [sic; can you believe that?]. As an official gift for the illustrious guests, a highly rare ‘Ferrari Perle’ Nerò has been chosen [sic; the wine is actually called Perlé Nero], together with ‘Solera’ Grappa by the Segnana distillery. 1-3 p.m.: working G8 lunch on global economy.” (The post at ANSA’s English-language site did not include the wines or plugs.)

The American press doesn’t seem to be taking the G8 Summit and Silvio Berlusconi’s carefully choreographed hospitality as seriously as the Italian press corps. “Inexcusably lax planning by the host government, Italy, and the political weakness of many of the leaders attending, leave little room for optimism,” wrote the editors of The New York Times today.

With more humble tone, I was forwarded an email from the Dino Illuminati winery announcing that one of its wines had been chosen as the official wine for the luncheon and another for the closing dinner tomorrow. “We are sure You’ll like to enjoy,” it read, “the very good news with us: Our wine ZANNA Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG 2006 has been choiced as official red wine for the G 8 lunch of Wednesday July, 08. Besides, our wine LORE’ ‘Muffa Nobile’ will be the dessert wine for the G 8 dinner of Thursday July, 09.”

I guess Dino didn’t make the ANSA deadline.

In other news…

Check out our post today at VinoWire: Barbaresco producers speak out on Giacosa’s decision not to bottle his 2006. Giacosa claims that the rains of September ruined the vintage but our post reveals other points of view.

Barbaresco and Barolo producers respond to negative reports in English-speaking press

Please read my translation of a press release issued just moments ago by the Barbaresco and Barolo producers associations.

I’m running out the door to do an Italian wine seminar in San Antonio (why do these things always get scheduled for the morning???!!!) and I will post more on this later — an issue that commands every Nebbiolophile’s attention!

In other news…

Today is Alice’s birthday. Happy birthday, Alice!

It’s also Randy’s birthday. Happy birthday Rev. B! (We all celebrated with him at his church yesterday in Orange). :-)

I had a great time in Orange for 4th of July weekend. Thanks again!

Giacosa responds to Ziliani

Giacosa 2006

Above: Tracie B and I tasted the 2006 Nebbiolo d’Alba and 2006 Barbera d’Alba by Bruno Giacosa the other night with our friend and top Austin sommelier Mark Sayre. We all agreed that the wines showed beautifully. (photo by Tracie B).

Today, on his blog, Franco has posted a message he received from the Giacosa winery, signed by Bruno and Bruna Giacosa. My translation of the letter follows. The message was sent in response to Franco’s recent post on “the events surrounding Dante Scaglione” (see below).

    Dear Mr. Franco Ziliani,

    A few months ago, when it was decided (and certainly not without a heavy heart but after many tastings) that our 2006 vintage of Barolo and Barbaresco would not be bottled, no one thought that such a decision could give rise to so much controversy on behalf of certain persons.

    We believe that it is the full right of a winery to choose its own strategy with complete autonomy and serenity, especially when with the aim of maintaining the high level of quality of the winery’s products.

    In doing so, we had absolutely no intention to denigrate or demonize the 2006 vintage in general. We are sure that many wineries will put excellent products on the market. But in our opinion, the Giacosa winery’s 2006 wines — even though good in quality and entirely respectable — do not reach the excellence in quality to which our clients are accustomed.

    In regard to events surrounding Dante Scaglione, no one has ever dared to question his technical abilities. We all admire him and recognize what he has done as our able collaborator.

    We hope that we have definitively clarified any doubts in this regard because much has been said and much has been written — perhaps too much — often without deep-reaching knowledge of all of the details, especially with regard to the relationship between the winery and its collaborators. It is best for certain details to remain within the confines of “domestic walls.”

    Looking forward to the future, we hope to receive you soon as our guest at the winery to taste the new vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco together. It would be our pleasure.

    Best wishes, Bruno and Bruna Giacosa

Mourvèdre envy (and more on Giacosa)

Mourvèdre envy in Freudian psychoanalysis refers to the theorized reaction of a wine lover during her or his oenological development to the realization that she or he does not have access to old Bandol. Freud considered this realization a defining moment in the development of palate and oenological identity. According to Freud, the parallel reaction in those who have access to old Mourvèdre is the realization that others have access to old Nebbiolo, a condition known as Nebbiolo anxiety.

Above: Tracie B and I drank the current vintage of Tempier Bandol Rosé — made from Mourvèdre — by the glass with our excellent housemade sausage tacos at the Linkery in San Diego. Jay Porter’s farm-to-table menu and his homemade cruvinet are hugely popular. The food is always fun and tasty. Jay was one of the first San Diego restaurateurs to use a blog to market his restaurant.

Tracie B and I have had our share of great Mourvèdre lately: we were blown away by the flight of old Terrebrune Bandol — rosé and red — we got to taste last month in San Francisco at the Kermit Lynch portfolio tasting. As the Italians might say, we’re “Mourvèdre addicted.”

Above: Jayne and Jon serve Terrebrune Bandol Rosé in half-bottles at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego — a great summer aperitif wine and a fantastic pairing with Chef Daniel’s scallop ceviche. I was first hipped to Terrebrune by BrooklynGuy: it shows impressive character and structure and costs a lot less than Tempier.

So you can imagine how I began to salivate like Pavlov’s dog when I read BrooklynGuy’s recent post on a bottle of 1994 Tempier Rouge that he had been saving. Like Produttori del Barbaresco, Tempier represents a great value and the current release of the red is generally available at about $50 retail — the upper end of my price point ceiling. In other words, it’s a wine that even the modest wine collector can invest in with fantastic results. Despite the acute case of Mourvèdre envy that he gave me, I really liked BrooklynGuy’s profile of this “natural wine” producer and his tasting notes.

Nota bene: BrooklynGuy and I are both slated to appear in Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine series. My post is schedule for June 20 and you might be surprised at what I had to say. Thanks again, Cory! I’m thrilled to get to participate with so many fantastic bloggers and writers.

In other news…

Above: That’s my lunch yesterday at Bryce’s Cafeteria in Texarkana on the Texas-Arkansas border. Chicken fried chicken steak and tomato aspic stuffed with mayonnaise. Tracie B is gonna kill me if that gravy doesn’t… They sure are proud of their tomatoes in Arkansas and tomato season has nearly arrived.

So many blogs and so little time… I’m on my way back to Austin from Arkansas (where I’ve been hawking wine) and I wish I had time to translate Franco’s post on Bruno Giacosa’s decision not to bottle his 2006 Barolo and Barbaresco, the infelicitous manner in which the news was announced by the winery, and how the news was subsequently disseminated. Upon reading Decanter’s sloppy cut-and-paste job, one prominent wine blogger tweeted “note to self, don’t buy 2006 Barbaresco.” My plea to all: please know that 2006 is a good if not great vintage in Langa and please, please, please, read betweet the lines…

Showdown in Tuscany? Franco and James to face-off this summer

From the “after all, we write about wine not politics” department…

Above: Franco (pictured last September when we tasted together at Ca’ del Bosco) and James haven’t always been on the best of terms but collegiality has happily prevailed in their most recent exchange.

Addendum: if you missed the first part of the exchange, click here for the initial dialog between these two giants of wine writing…

In case you don’t subscribe to the Wine Spectator Online (as I do), I’ve cut and pasted the most recent exchange between Franco Ziliani and James Suckling below. It seems that collegiality has prevailed in an otherwise rocky relationship. (And here’s the link to the original post.)

Their shared insight and opinions regarding the 2006 Langa vintage are definitely worth checking out…

    User Name: James Suckling, Posted: 05:33 PM ET, May 29, 2009

    Your English is perfect Franco! I have always found Mascarello’s Barberas and Doclettos a little unclean. But the Barolos are generally fine, although lighter in style.

    User Name: Franco Ziliani, Italy Posted: 06:56 AM ET, May 30, 2009

    James, I agree (and I’m very surprise for this) with your perplexities about Barbaresco (and Barolo?) 2006. And I said this after a tasting, at Alba Wines Exhibition (why don’t you attend to this tasting with many Italian and international wine writers?) of 60-70 Barbaresco 2006, many among the most important wines of this Docg. The choice of Bruno Giacosa who decided not to bottle his Barolo and Barbaresco 2006 is very significant about the difficulties and the problems of this vintage, but in my tasting I have find at least 15-20 Barbaresco 2006 well made with great personality, richness, elegance and complexity. A question: why we debate about Giuseppe (Mauro) Mascarello wines and an hypothetical “volatile acidity” in his wines in a post you dedicate to Barbaresco 2006? I hope to have sometimes the possibility to meet you and taste with you so to confront our different point of view about Piedmont (Nebbiolo) wines. What do you think? Franco

    User Name: James Suckling, Posted: 09:43 AM ET, May 30, 2009

    Franco. That would be nice one day. May be this summer? As for trade tastings like the Alba Wines Exhibition, I prefer to taste the wines blind in my office in Tuscany. I too found numerous 2006 Barbarescos with elegance and complexity — ie 90 points or so — but I was just a little underwhelmed because I thought there would be more top wines.

    User Name: Franco Ziliani, Italy Posted: 11:29 AM ET, May 30, 2009

    OK for this summer James, in your office or, better, in Langhe region. When you decide that we can meet for discute about Barolo & Barbaresco and taste together, you can contact me at cannubi@gmail.com but don’t forget your promise…

In other news…

There’s another — and in this case, very real — showdown brewing in San Antonio.

1968 Monfortino I need say no more

From the “life could be worse” department…

The other night found me and Tracie B in the home of our dear friend Alfonso, who treated us to one of the best bottles of wine I’ve ever drunk in my life: 1968 Barolo Monfortino by Giacomo Conterno (steaks by Alfonso, photo by Tracie B). It was one of those truly life-changing wines, a miracle in a bottle and a wonder in the glass, at once light and lithe, powerful and awesome. I’ve tasted — tasted, mind you, not drunk — 55, 58, 61, and 71 (some of the greatest years for Langa in the 20th century). Martinelli calls the 1968 harvest “good” (not great) and the wine did have some vegetal notes that I believe were product of the vintage. But quality of the materia prima (there is superb fruit in nearly every vintage, sometimes less of it than more) and the winemaking approach (aged 10 years in botti before bottling according to the back label!) made for a wine that I will never forget.

Need I say more? Check out Tracie B’s tasting notes.

Carissimo Alfonso, grazie per una serata indimenticabile!

In other news…

The other day at Bistro Vatel in San Antonio, I enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve had since I moved to Texas (save for daily dining chez Tracie B!). Owner Damien Vatel is a descendant of legendary 17th-century French chef François Vatel.

The resulting photography is pretty darn sexy, if I do say so myself.

In other other news…

I’d like to mention two series of ampelographic posts that I’ve been following: the one by Alessandro Bindocci at Montalcino Report, who asks “Is Sangiovese Grosso really Grosso?” and the other by Susannah Gold at Avvinare, who is writing an English-language dictionary of Italian grape varieties.

Angelo Gaja, please call me!

From the “just for fun” department…

I like to call him the Giuseppe Baretti of Italian wine writing: my friend and colleague Franco Ziliani (pictured above holding two bottles of would-be [wood-be] Nebbiolo by Giorgio Rivetti) is one of the Italian wine writers I admire most and the feathers he ruffles with his excellent blog, Vino al Vino, often belong to the princes and princesses of Italian wine.

He reminds me of yet another great Italian writer, a Renaissance master of satire, Pietro Aretino: if anyone deserved to borrow Aretino’s motto flagellum principum (flagellator or flogger of princes) it would be my dear friend Franco.

Franco recently posted the above photo together with a post in which he lampoons a Nebbiolo producer (well, should we call him that? his wines don’t really taste like Nebbiolo at all) who — for Franco and for me — represents everything that is wrong with the world of Italian wine today: Giorgio Rivetti is a “wine wizard” and master of marketing who created wines expressly for the American market with little consideration for the great tradition and great people of the place where he makes wine. (You may remember my post on the Spinetta Affair.)

Not long after he posted the photo and satire, he received a phone call from the “bishop of Barbaresco” (who, incidentally, had recently anointed his disciple Rivetti as a member of a putative “national team” of winemakers who will lead Italy into the world cup of the future). Evidently, messer Gaja has forgotten the meaning of irony and satire — notions and literary figures cherished by the ancients and rediscovered during the renewal of learning and then again in the age of enlightenment.

This week, my partner Alfonso Cevola (aka Starsky) and I had some fun with it: Angelo, please call me!

In other news…

Yesterday, Franco sent me this photo, snapped in Maroggia, at the foot of the alps in the Valtellina, where Nebbiolo finds one of its finest expressions.

I moved to Texas for one very special lady only to discover there’s a little bit of Texas in everyone… Thanks, Franco!

A guilty pleasure: Quintarelli 1998 Valpolicella

There was one day during my stay in Verona for Vinitaly when I managed to escape the prison walls of the fairgrounds and enjoy a stroll down the main street of a small Italian town, eat a sandwich, have something refreshing at a the counter of a bar, and chat with the owner of a fantastic charcuterie and wine shop, Francesco Bonomo (above).

The town was San Martino Buon Albergo (on the old road that leads from Verona to Vicenza). Alfonso Cevola (above) and I stopped there for a brief but much-needed hour of humanity on an otherwise inhumane week of too much travel and too many wines. That’s Alfonso munching on a panino stuffed with Prosciutto di Praga, baked and smoked ham (that we bought at the first food shop we visited).

One of the more interesting bottles displayed on Francesco’s shelves was this bottle of 1973 Barolo by Damilano. Now just a collector’s bottle, its shoulder was pretty low and Francesco agreed that the wine is surely sherryized. Francesco let me photograph the bottle using my phone (I didn’t have my camera with me) but he was careful not to disturb the bottle’s patina of dust, of which he was particularly proud.

I wish I could have taken a better photo of this wines-by-the-glass list at the little bar on the main square of San Martino: Cartizze, Verduzzo (sparkling), Soave, Fragolino, Bardolino, and Valpolicella by the glass? All under 2 Euros? The answer is YES!

Francesco presides over a modest but impressively local collection of fine wine, including an allocation of 1998 Valpolicella by Giuseppe Quintarelli, the gem of his collection. I rarely bring wine back from Italy these days but the price on this wine was too good to pass by.

However coveted and mystified in the U.S., Quintarelli is one of the most misunderstood Italian wines on this side of the Atlantic, in part because its importer is one of the most reviled purveyors in the country (his infamously elitist, classist, snobbish, monopolistic, extortionist attitude are sufficient ideological grounds for not consuming the wine here).

I’ve interviewed Giuseppe Quintarelli on a number of occasions by phone and his daughter Silvana is always so nice when I call (and, btw, they happily receive visitors for tasting and purchase of their wines). I love the wines and was thrilled to get to taste this 10-year-old Valpolicella with Tracie B on Saturday night: she made wonderful stewed pork with tomatoes and porcini mushrooms for pairing (with a side of mashed potatoes). The wine’s initial raisined notes blew off quickly, giving way to a powerful, rich expression of Valpolicella. I tasted the wine repeatedly in 2004-2005 and I was impressed by how its flavors and aromas has become even more intense.

Francesco was so proud of his Quintarelli. He told me that he sells it at just a few Euros over cost because he just wants to have it in the store and wants to be able to share it with his customers. It was great to bring back a little Valpolicella to Austin and my Tracie B, direct from the source and sourced from someone who understands it for what it really is.

Post script

Alfonso gave me this nifty “wine skin” to transport the bottle back stateside. It seals tidily, so even if the bottle breaks in your suitcase, you don’t risk leakage. Happily the bottle made it back intact.

In the olden days, you used to be able to take bottles on the plane and you even used to be able to bring your own wine for drinking. Alice developed this system for smuggling natural wine on to the plane (happily, no Cavit Merlot for her!).

The red, white, and sparkling carpet at Vini Veri 2009

Posting hastily this morning as I head out for another day at the fair and then tasting later today at Dal Forno in Valpolicella… Here are some quick highlights from the “red, white, and sparkling carpet” at the 2009 gathering of Vini Veri, the “real wine” movement, “wines made how nature intended them,” as the group’s motto goes.

If ever there were a winemaker who looked like a movie star, it’s got to be Giampiero Bea of Paolo Bea. I finally got to taste his 2006 Arboreus, an Etruscan-trained 100% Trebbiano vinified with extended skin contact. In a later post, I’ll write more about the wine and what Giampiero had to tell me about the 2005 vs. 2006 vintages of his Santa Chiara. The 2004 Sagrantino was the best I’ve ever tasted.

Last year, I tasted Maria Teresa Mascarello’s 2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo out of barrel (literally, when the cellar master brought it up for her to taste for the first time). I was excited to taste it again a year later in bottle. She’s carrying on her father’s tradition of artist labels with polemical messages. Her “Langa Valley” label (left) is pretty hilarious.

I really dig Adelchi Follador’s natural Prosecco, which he ages on its lees and bottles in magnum. His winery, Coste Piane, also makes a still Prosecco. The wine is great, probably the best Prosecco you can find in America (imported by Dressner).

Franco turned me on to the Barbaresco Montestefano by Teobaldo Rivella. I tasted the 2004 and 2005 and was entirely blown away by how good this wine showed. It reminded me of Giacosa in style and caliber and its power and elegance made me think of an Arabian filly in a bottle.

Marco Arturi is a truly gifted writer who marries wine and literature. He posts often at Porthos. He is a steadfast defender and promoter of natural wine. We had never met before but we write to each and check in from time to time on Facebook: when we met in person it felt like we knew each other well. The whole Facebook thing is pretty cool.

Getting to taste with Franco Ziliani is one of the highlights of any trip to Italy for me. I admire him greatly for his writing, his integrity as a wine writer, and his palate, and I am proud to consider him my friend and colleague. When Franco point me in the direction of a wine, I know I’m not going to be disappointed.

Vini Veri without its co-founder Teobaldo Cappellano reminded me of the Lou Reed song “What’s Good”:

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Baldo was a wonderful man and even though the fair was great this year (and expanded to include the Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir tastings), it just didn’t feel the same without him.

The image of Baldo with his son Augusto (above) hovered over the room where he would have presented his wines.

I’ll write more on my experience at Vini Veri when I get home. Off to Valpolicella and then Alto Adige… Stay tuned…

*****

Life’s like a mayonnaise soda
And life’s like space without room
And life’s like bacon and ice cream
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like forever becoming
But life’s forever dealing in hurt
Now life’s like death without living
That’s what life’s like without you

Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony
I see you in my mind’s eye strangling on your tongue
What good is knowing such devotion
I’ve been around, I know what makes things run

What good is seeing eye chocolate
What good’s a computerized nose
And what good was cancer in April
Why no good, no good at all

What good’s a war without killing
What good is rain that falls up
What good’s a disease that won’t hurt you
Why no good, I guess, no good at all

What good are these thoughts that I’m thinking
It must be better not to be thinking at all
A styrofoam lover with emotions of concrete
No not much, not much at all

What’s good is life without living
What good’s this lion that barks
You loved a life others throw away nightly
It’s not fair, not fair at all

What’s good?
Not much at all

What’s good?
Life’s good
But not fair at all

— Lou Reed

On the eve of Vinitaly, a push to create a Montalcino DOC (and reflections on a year past)

Above: Franco Ziliani (left), my friend and co-editor of VinoWire, and Mauro Mascarello, winemaker and producer of one of the greatest expressions of Nebbiolo, Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo. We tasted at Vinitaly last year together. This year, Franco and I will be tasting together at Vini Veri.

Passover and Easter will shortly be upon us and the who’s who of Italian wine is preparing to descend on the province of Verona for our industry’s annual trade fairs: Vinitaly (the largest and most commercial), Vini Veri (a gathering of natural winemakers and the most interesting in my opinion), and VinNatur (an assembly of winemakers who broke away from Vini Veri some years back). I’m particularly excited for Vini Veri because this year’s tasting sees the unification of Vini Veri with the Nicolas Joly biodynamic and quasi-biodynamic tastings, Triple A and Renaissance du Terroir (Return to Terroir).

Above: The Banfi Castle at last year’s Vinitaly. There were rumors — unfounded and untrue — that Banfi’s wines were seized on the floor of the fair last year. I am looking forward to tasting the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by Banfi. Charles Scicolone and Tom Hyland — whose palates I respect greatly — have both told me that it’s classic Brunello, 100% Sangiovese, and one of the best wines Banfi has ever produced.

It’s remarkable to think that at this time last year, the world of Italian wine was gripped by the breaking news of the Brunello scandal: at least five major producers were accused of adulterating their wines from the 2003 vintage. A year has passed, a large quantity of wine has reportedly been declassified, and no indictments have been issued by the Siena prosecutor who supposedly launched the investigation in September of 2007.

It’s not surprising, however, that there has been a new push — albeit weak — within the association of Brunello producers to create a Montalcino DOC. Last week, a proposal to create such an appellation was put to the floor at the consortium’s assembly. (I haven’t been able to find out the results of the vote but according to most observers, it was unlikely that it would be ratified.)

Above: I am always geeked to taste Paolo Bea Sagrantino with Giampiero Bea at Vini Veri (I snapped this photo at last year’s fair). Tracie B and I have been enjoying his Santa Chiara 2006. It’s radically different than his 2005 and I hope to ask him about the vintage variation. (Is it the result of climatic differences or differences in the cellar? I imagine — knowing Giampiero and his radical belief in natural winemaking — that the former is the case.)

Currently, Montalcino producers must label their wines as Toscana IGT or Sant’Antimo DOC if they contain grapes other than Sangiovese. If approved, a Montalcino DOC would allow them to exploit the Montalcino “brand” in their labeling of so-called Super Tuscan wines. The proposed DOC is part of a greater push to create new Italian appellations before OCM reforms take effect in August 2009 and the power to issue new DOCs shifts from Rome to Brussels.

Above: This year, the world of Italian wine mourns the loss of Teobaldo Cappellano (photo courtesy of Polaner). Baldo, as he was known fondly, was one of the founders of the Vini Veri movement and one of Italy’s most zealous defenders and promoters of terroir-driven wines and natural winemaking. He was a truly delightful man and is sorely missed.

There’s a reason why the fairs are held at this time of year: historically and traditionally, the spring marks the moment when winemakers unveil their cellared wines. Long before the hegemony of the Judeo-Christian canon, spring was observed as Mother Nature’s moment of renewal and rebirth.

The ancient allegory — and it is an allegory, not a metaphor — could not be more apt this year.