Zanotto Prosecco Col Fondo is here! (and my band circa 1993)

Above: Zanotto Prosecco Col Fondo is the Prosecco that I tasted back in the early 1990s when I was living in the Veneto. Bottle fermented, lees aged, unfiltered, salty, crunchy Prosecco made from 100% Glera. That’s the traditional glass, btw, for real Prosecco. No flutes please!

The story of how Zanotto Prosecco Col Fondo got to the U.S. stretches back to the early 1990s when I was the band leader of a cover band touring the Veneto during my summers off from graduate school.

Above, from left: me, Shawn Amos, and Charlie George circa 1993 in the village of Pedavena (Feltre).

After I found success doing a piano bar act in the many pubs and beer houses that line the Piave river, the owner of one of the venues, Renato Dal Piva (who later became one of my best friends in Italy), asked me if I’d be interested in doing a summer residency at the historic Pedavena beer garden just outside of Feltre.

Above, from left: My super good friend and amazing guitar player and all-around musician Gabriele “Elvis” Inglesi and the rest of us at the façade of the Siena duomo. We also played a one-night stand in Montalcino in the village of Bagno Vignoni, a night of fried wild-boar liver and Sangiovese.

That was an amazing and unforgettable time in my life. I was in my twenties, studying Italian philology and cinema, living on the many scholarships I won (including a Fulbright), and playing in a cover band at beer festivals (many of them celebrating unpasteurized beer) throughout the Veneto during the summers.

Above: I believe that this article was published in Il Mattino di Padova. If you really want to read it (in Italian), click the image for a PDF (very large file!).

Fast forward to 2010: I get a Facebook message from Riccardo Zanotto who used to come every summer to see us play and drink many, many beers with us.

In early 2011, on the occasion of my trip to Italy with Tracie P, he organizes a tasting of a small group of brave young producers who are making REAL Prosecco, the wines that I used to drink during my years there in an era before the consumerist hegemony of yeasted, banana-candy large-vat fermented Prosecco (you know the brands).

Here’s the link to our tasting notes.

Riccardo’s Prosecco Col Fondo is bottle fermented, lees aged, unfiltered, and unsulfured.

It’s being brought to California by a Los Angeles importer: I’m making it available for sale retail through my wine club and we’re doing a public tasting of the wine in San Francisco at Ceri Smith’s excellent shop Biondivino on Friday, August 17, 6-8 p.m.

I couldn’t be more thrilled… if only because we love these wines and we want to drink them!

And some story, huh? See, mom? All those years of rock ‘n’ roll actually delivered some great rewards… and they just keep on giving…

Thanks for reading, yall!

Playing guitar in Padua…

All work and no play makes the Jar a dull boy…

After a week of Colli Orientali del Friuli with the “Magnificent 6,” I took time out yesterday to catch up with some of my oldest and best friends in Padua — both of them extraordinary musicians in their own right and genre.

That’s Ruggero Robin (above) in his studio. Ruggero’s played with ’em all: Zucchero, Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and B.B. King, among many others. And his cerebral, dense style of jazz, jazz fusion, and jazz rock has made him one of Italy’s most admired musical artists (no shit). Ruggero was my “first friend” in Italy back in 1987: we met on the night of my first gig in Italy. And I learned from winemaker Angiolino Maule that Ruggero plays every year at VinNatur. Who knew? We listened to some of Ruggero’s mind-blowing tracks and he also played some tracks by his daughter Sara: she is going to be a huge star… I can just feel it… amazing chops, amazing (and remarkably mature) voice at 20 years old, and SO MUCH soul in her songwriting…

Later in the evening, I caught up with Gabriele “Elvis” Inglesi (above), one of the best friends anyone could ever wish for. The first time I made a real living playing music was with Gabriele (whom we used to call Elvis because of his obsession with life and work of Elvis Presley). We remembered how we played 28 gigs in February 1991 (I was 24 years old): 100,000 vecchie lire (about 60 bucks) per man per night and all the beer and food you could drink and eat… Man, we must have a played a thousand gigs together when I lived in Italy…

Elvis has an amazing voice and since those early days in both of our musical careers, he has become a virtuoso chicken picker, basing his style and technique on the category’s inventor and innovator, James Burton. Just ask McDuff, Nicolas, or Alfonso, who all got to meet Elvis and hear him play… he’s a phenomenal guitar player… we even got to hear a few of Elivs’s legendary jokes!

But dulcis in fundo

I finally got to meet Elvis’s son Ettore (above)… what a great kid…

Looking back on it all, I remembered how music got me through some of the most trying and difficult times of my life and how many rewards it delivered in happy times, too. And most of all, I thought, it brought so many wonderful people into my life, people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, love and friendship, solidarity and camaraderie… I wouldn’t trade any of those memories for all the gold in the world… they’re worth much, much more…

I could eat a horse (and I did in Legnaro, PD)

From the “keeping it real” department…

Last April, I hooked up with my really good buddy Gabriele “Elvis” Inglesi after Vinitaly for one of our favorite traditions: meeting the “gang” at the horse restaurant. Yes, the horse — equine meat — restaurant. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in the Veneto (where I lived, studied, and played music for many years) and when Gabriele (aka Lelecaster for his mastery of the Telecaster) and I used to tour as a duo there, we would often spend Sunday evening with our friends at one of the many family-friendly horse restaurants in the hills and countryside outside Padua (btw, Padua is English for Padova, like Florence for Firenze, Rome for Roma, Naples for Napoli). That Sunday night, we went to Trattoria Savio (since 1965) in Legnaro.

Here’s what we ate:

Risotto with sfilacci di cavallo. Sfilacci are thinly sliced “threads” of salt-cured, smoked horse thigh.

Griddle-seared horse salami, sfilacci, horse prosciutto, and grilled white polenta.

Pony filet. Very lean (yet tasty), horse meat became popular in Europe in the 1960s when it was promoted (in particular by the French government) as a nutritious and inexpensive alternative to beef. In Verona, pastissada de caval — horse meat, usually the rump, stewed in wine — is the traditional pairing for Recioto and Amarone (check out Franco’s alarming article on Amarone, overcropping, and excessive production in Valpolicella, published in the February issue of Decanter magazine).

At Trattoria Savio, we drank pitchers of white and red wine. I’m not sure but the white tasted like Verduzzo to me, the red was probably stainless-steel Piave Cabernet and Merlot.

Gabriele is one of the meanest chicken pickers I’ve ever heard. Great friend, great times.