An American in Brescia and “una fiera di merda”

Above: A repast of hard-boiled eggs, piada (savory Lombard flatbread, akin to Emilia’s piadina), housemade gardiniera, and “peperoni bresciani,” brined “peperoni lombardi” that have been tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated Grana Padano.

It’s not easy to describe the utter fatigue that comes with Vinitaly — for the exhibitors and fair-goers alike. For folks like me and Alfonso (who’s been coming to the Italian wine trade fair for 30+ years), you make the trans-Atlantic journey and then you hit the ground running as you attempt to fit in as many meetings and tastings as possible from early in the morning through dinner and beyond.

On the eve of the last day of the fair, I headed with my good friend Giovanni (who showed his wines at the fair) to Brescia, where we decompressed over dinner at the Trattoria Gasparo and later back at Giovanni’s place with a bottle of Camossi Franciacorta (vinified and disgorged by him) paired with Francis Lai and Truffaut.

Above: Valtènesi (Garda) Chiaretto was one of the last DOCs to be approved by Italian authorities before the EU’s CMO reforms of the Italian appellation system went into effect. At dinner we drank Giovanni’s brother-in-law Luca Pasini’s Chiaretto, made primarily with Groppello and macerated with skin contact for “one night,” hence the wine’s subtitle, “vino di una notte.”

According to a press release issued by the fair’s organizer VeronaFiere, “Vinitaly won its gamble and earned the satisfaction of exhibitors, with an increase of professional visitors from abroad and especially from the Italian horeca (hotel/restaurant/catering) channel.”

There may be strength in record numbers but the truth is that the execution of the fair was thoroughly disastrous.

On Sunday and Monday, when attendance hit its peak, a mishap with the wifi network at the fair caused fair-goers to lose all cellular service. As a result, you couldn’t call, text, or message in any format.

And because, once again, the organizers failed to address parking and congestion issues, fair-goers and exhibitors spent up to 1.5 hours every night just trying to leave the grounds.

Nearly every producer I visited with told me privately, è stata una fiera di merda (it’s been a shitty fair).

But despite the logistical challenges, my personal Vinitaly was rewarding and I have many tales to tell.

And, thankfully, the aches and weariness of an American in Brescia were soothed by the bubbles and saltiness of Giovanni’s Franciacorta and a tune from the year that Vinitaly and I were born…

Today I’m in Tuscany for a few meetings and Saturday I head to Friuli for the COF2012 blogger project. Stay tuned…

Flute elitism in this day & age? Assessments from Franciacorta

Above: Many late evenings tasting Franciacorta and kibitzing with my good friend and extreme life force Giovanni Arcari in Brescia…

Franciacorta lover Franco Ziliani’s post this week on “Which Glass for Our Bubbles?” got me thinking fondly about my visit to Brescia and Franciacorta in October of last year for the European Wine Bloggers Conference.

Over the course of five or so days that I spent there, I drank sparkling wine from Franciacorta at nearly every meal and it was never served to me in a conventional flute. Nor was the question of what glass to serve Champagne-method wines ever even posed.

Above: At the restaurant Novecento in Brescia, our server — who wasn’t particularly wine savvy — poured Gatti’s Franciacorta Nature in Bordeaux glasses.

In Franco’s post, he quotes Champagne scion Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger (in a passage culled from a pseudo-advertorial post on Drinks Business).

    “Champagne is not only a wine but a symbol of love and generosity and if we forget that we are dead, and I am fighting that,” [Taittinger] stated.

    Continuing, he referred to a battle with “marketers” who, he said, “want us to drink Champagne in a wine glass.”

    “But we have a specific glass…”

The Taittinger quote brought to mind the infamous statement by Frederic Rouzaud of Cristal from a few years ago: we can’t stop them from drinking it…

It’s been many years since I’ve served Champagne or any other sparkling wine in a flute. In fact, I don’t even own any flutes: in my view and experience, the flute is the worst possible glass to serve any wine in because it obstructs the wine’s aroma, especially when your drinking a Pinot Noir-based wine that can tend toward the tannic and tight (we’ve even begun decanting certain sparkling wines at our house).

Above: The Lago d’Iseo in Franciacorta. I still need to post my notes from some of the interesting tastings I attended in Franciacorta in October. The photo, above, of the Lago d’Iseo gives you a sense of the Morainic subsoil and the maritime climate that give the wines their minerality and make them so fresh. Click the image for the hi-res version.

How do you serve sparkling wine at your house?

Un amico ritrovato

It was great to see Giovanni Arcari (left) and Franco Ziliani (right) last night in Valpolicella. They drove down from Brescia and Bergamo to visit with their friends from the U.S.

Italy recently adopted “zero tolerance” drunk driving legislation and enforcement. The legal limit is .015 g/dL, mass per volume of blood in the body. That means that just one glass of wine can put you over the legal limit! Compare with California where it’s .08! So Franco was their designated driver. Wine writers like Franco have be very careful: even when you spit and do not ingest any wine, the alcohol on your breath from tasting can deliver a false positive.

We all took it easy — especially since our host insisted on serving us barriqued Valpolicella… feh! — but it was great to see both of them and to spend some time with an amico ritrovato

Raise a glass for Luigi Veronelli

Above: I furtively managed to make a scan of Veronelli’s autograph when I visited the Terlato Wines International Tangley Oaks mansion earlier this year.

Luigi Veronelli, “intellectual, writer, liberatarian, literally the inventor of wine journalism in Italy,” wrote Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani this morning on his new blog Le Millle Bolle, raising a glass of traditional method sparkling wine to remember the architect of the Italian food and wine renaissance on the sixth anniversary of his passing.

Regrettably, very little of Veronelli’s writing has been translated into English (aside from what I’ve translated on my blog, where he appears often).

It’s difficult for the solely Anglophone lovers of Italian food and wine to gauge the reach and scope of Veronelli’s legacy (would Eataly have been possible — even conceivable — without him?).

Check out this amazing video, from 1975, when Veronelli was 49 years old and had yet to publish his landmark catalog of the wines of Italy (1983). It was posted in the comment thread of Mr. Ziliani’s post by the brilliant Giovanni Arcari, one of my favorite Italian winemakers and a good friend (look for Giovanni in the Franciacorta pavilion at Vinitaly this year and he will BLOW YOUR minds with the wines he makes and pours).

In it, he demonstrates how to make spaghetti alla chitarra. Italian is not required for viewing but the Pasolinian implications of the subtle dialectal inflections will not be lost on the Italophones among us.

Please join Tracie P and me in raising a glass tonight to this truly epic hero and sine qua non of contemporary Italian food and wine.

Some best bubbles and life beyond Prosecco…

Above: I took this photo earlier this year atop Cartizze, the most prestigious growing site for Prosecco, where the cost of land per acre is higher than in Napa Valley. In 1998, Tom Stevenson wrote that Prosecco is “probably the most overrated sparkling wine grape in the world” (The Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, reprint 2003).

Xenophobe and racist Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia has infamously and nationalistically asked Italians to drink only Italian sparkling wine for their New Year’s celebration this year. His campanilistic call comes in part as the result of a backlash from last year’s nationalized television controversy when the announcers of RAI Uno opened Champagne during a televised New Year’s eve event.

Of course, Zaia is also infamous for the favoritism he’s shown for his beloved Prosecco this year. He even created the Prosecco DOCG, placing the humble Prosecco grape in the pantheon of the top classification, before Common Market Organisation reforms took effect this year.

Above: Italy produces such a wonderful variety of sparkling wines, from the humble yet beloved Prosecco to the often regal, zero-dosage Franciacorta. Franco and I tasted an amazing array of sparkling wines last year together at Ca’ del Bosco.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Prosecco. And I love the place where it produced and the people who produce it. Just ask Alfonso: he remembers well how I guided us to Valdobbiadene from Trento earlier this year, without ever looking at a map, my Trevisan cadence getting stronger and stronger as my beloved Piave river and its tributaries came into earshot. You see, many years ago, I made my living traveling along the Piave river, from Padua to Belluno, playing American music for pub crawlers.

Above: One of the best champagne-method wines I’ve tasted in recent memory was this Franciacorta rosé by Camossi. Structure, toasty notes and fresh fruit flavors, bright acidity and fine bubbles, an excellent pairing for all the lake fish, smoked, pickled, and roasted, that Franco, Giovanni, Ben, and I ate one fateful night in Erbusco.

But there are so many wonderful sparkling Italian wines beyond Prosecco (Sommariva and Coste Piane are my two favorite expressions of Prosecco available right now in this country). Franciacorta is the first obvious destination but there are so many other producers of fine sparkling white wines made from indigenous and international grape varieties: champagne-method Erbaluce from Carema in Piedmont (Orsolani), Charmat-method Favorita from Mango in Piedmont (Tintero), champagne-method Pinot Noir from Emilia (Lini), Charmat-method Moscato known as Moscadello di Montalcino from Tuscany (Il Poggione), a rosé blend of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir from Langa in Piedmont (Deltetto)… Those are the first that come to mind but there are many, many others. Sparkling wines are produced in nearly every region of Italy, from the sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Trentino and South Tyrol to sparkling Ribolla of Friuli and the sparkling Verdicchio of the Marches. Once, I even tasted a sparkling Nerello Mascalese from Sicily that had been vinified as a white wine (but I can’t recall the producer… please let me know if you know one).

Above: Hand-riddled magnums of Chardonnay for Ca’ del Bosco’s Franciacorta.

Why do we feel obliged to drink something sparkling on New Year’s eve, anyway? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between the royal court of Britain, the Czars, Napoleon’s vinous invasion of Russia, and some enterprising Germans who set up shop in Champagne in the 19th century.

Tracie B and I still haven’t decided what we’re going to open on New Year’s but I’m sure it’ll be something good.

On deck for tomorrow…

Best Champagne and other French sparkling values by guest blogger BrooklynGuy.

And in the meantime, please check out Tom’s post today on “classy sparkling wines.”

I have seen Franciacorta future and its name is…

…Giovanni Arcari.

Above: Giovanni Arcari, the Bruce Springsteen of Italian sparkling wine. This man is crazy and I thank goodness for him.

We first met in September of 2008, when he, Franco, and I visited Ca’ del Bosco together, where we tasted 1979 Franciacorta by Ca’ del Bosco (owner of Ca’ del Bosco, Maurizio Zanella, was just elected president of the Franciacorta consortium, btw).

We connected again at Vinitaly, where we got thrown out of the fair for hanging around his booth after hours, drinking Franciacorta and eating salame.

Above: In March, Giovanni led a tasting of artisanal “grower-producer” Franciacorta bottlings at Ceri Smith’s excellent wine shop in San Francisco, Biondivino.

The last time I saw him, he still hadn’t launched his new blog, Terra, Uomo, Cielo (Earth, Man, Sky), “a small man, on a small plot of land, under a small sky.” The blog is now live and so I felt it time to share my vision of the future with you: Giovanni has spearheaded an innovative winemaking program and agenda in Franciacorta, consulting with grape-growers who previously sold their fruit to the large commercial producers of Franciacorta. In doing so, he has helped to create a new genre of grower-producers who make excellent hand-crafted, artisanal expressions of Franciacorta.

Above: Ceri Smith (left) with Giovanni at their March tasting in San Francisco. One of the things I like the most about Giovanni is that he doesn’t just help the growers to make great wines. He also helps them to market the wines. There’s no point in writing a song that no one will ever hear and while there are plenty of reasons to make wines that will never make their way to the market, Giovanni’s wines are too good not to share with the world.

That day in Verona, we tasted a number of bottlings by Andrea Arici’s Colline della Stella and the Dario and Claudio Camossi’s Camossi di Camossi, each tasting better than the last. When sampling these terroir-driven wines, you cannot help but be impressed by their freshness and their structure. The secret, Giovanni will tell you, lies in when the wine is disgorged.

Chapeau bas, Giovanni!

The wines are not currently available in the U.S. but you can find them at Vittorio Fusari’s excellent restaurant and food and wine shop, Dispensa Pani e Vini in Torbiato di Adro in the province of Brescia (Lombardy). Even if you don’t read Italian, check out the photos is this review of legendary chef Vittorio’s new enterprise.