Veraison wireless in Montalcino

My friend Ale at Il Poggione (Sant’Angelo in Colle, Montalcino) is not the only one who’s been posting about the 2010 vintage on his blog.

Another good friend, Laura, has been doing some amazing posts at the blog she authors for Il Palazzone. The photo above comes from a wonderful post she did showing the different ripening times in different growing zones of the winery’s estate.

One of things I’ve been enjoying about following Laura and Ale’s respective blogs is how it illustrates the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in the various subzones of the appellation.

In the case of Ale in the southwest subzone, the rate of ripening has accelerated slightly (80% of the grapes have changed color, he writes, catching up to the average) while Laura’s grapes are still about a week behind schedule. I love how she writes: “The ripening seems to be more than a week behind schedule, if it is appropriate to apply such concepts to nature.”

Check out Laura’s most recent post and Ale’s thread on the 2010 harvest in Montalcino.

In other news…

Another Brunello has been born with the 2010 vintage…

Over the weekend, Tracie P and I got to visit with our good friends Melanie and Noah, who have just welcomed Bruno into the world. Don’t they look angelic?

Noah and I grew up together (even attending Hebrew School together!) and luckily their stay in La Jolla overlapped with ours. Melanie has taken to calling the little one “Brunello.”

I still haven’t had a chance to pick up my copy but Melanie’s new book Eating for Beginners is now available.

Mazel tov, Melanie, Noah, and Bruno!

@Bruno I’ll be sure to put away some 2010 Brunello to drink with you when you turn 21!

Sicilian food porn (via Brooklyn): Focacceria di Ferdinando

From the “favorite places on planet earth” department…

Above: The potato croquettes at the Focacceria di Ferdinando in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn — a sine qua non of the classic Sicilian focacceria (see note on usage and meaning of the designation focacceria below).

Saturday morning in New York City found me and Tracie P on the F train to Carroll Gardens, where we had a date with one of my childhood friends (since our bar mitzvah days), Noah (the German professor as he is known on his wife’s blog) and his lovely wife, Melanie (whom we also adore), mother to the Cheese-Hater and author of the recently published Eating for Beginners.

rice ball

Above: The arancino or rice ball, served in this instance as the rice ball “special.” The arancino is a rice ball stuffed with ground meet and cheese, dredged in breadcrumbs and then fried, and in this case, dressed with tomato sauce and ricotta and sprinkled with grated Pecorino Romano.

Our destination? The Focacceria di Ferdinando, one of my favorite restaurants in the world and one of those places that brings nearly all of my favorite palates together — like Anthony and BrooklynGuy. (In one of our insanely close degrees of separation, Anthony wrote me to tell me how much he loves the Focacceria and to hip me to the fact that awesome Brooklyn songwriter Jesse Harris used to have a band called “the Ferdinandos” in homage to this storied joint.)

chickpea fritter

Above: The pièce de résistance, the “panelle special” sandwich. A panella (pl. panelle), pronounced pah-NEHL-lah, is a fried chickpea fritter, a classic of Sicilian street food.

The Focacceria di Ferdinando opened its doors in 1904, when it catered to Sicilian longshoremen who worked the dockyards in Brooklyn. The current owner, Francesco Buffa, took over from the second owner in the 1970s, and very little has changed there. (Francesco is one of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered in New York, a true vitellone as he describes himself in Fellinian terms, an ex-Carabiniere and judo instructor who fell in love with the owner’s daughter when he visited the city in the 70s, still sporting a Mark Spitz mustache.)

chickpea fritter

Above: The vasteddu (or vastedda), slowly braised spleen, served on a roll with ricotta and Pecorino. Alfonso’s post on vasteddu in Palermo is not to be missed.

Long before Batali and Psilakis made offal fashionable again in New York, Francesco served vasteddu (the Sicilian classic slow-braised spleen) in the same way it was served to proletarians who could have as easily stepped out of a De Sica film in the 50s or a Pasolini film in the 60s. This remarkable dish is a trace of another era and a Freudian red thread that ties our culinary heritage to the fiefdoms of pre-Lampedusian insular life.


Above: Still life with cannolo.

One might ask: Where is the focaccia? In fact, the terms focaccia and focacceria (foh-KACH-eh-REE-ah) come from the late Latin focaciam, from focus, meaning fire or hearth. A focacceria is not necessarily a place where focaccia (i.e., the savory flatbread made with olive oil) is baked and sold (although in Liguria or Tuscany, you would most certainly find focaccia at a focacceria). It means simply an eatery or bakery of some sort and as such is applied in Sicilian parlance (again, see Alfonso’s post on his recent trip to Palermo).

Also highly recommended at the Focacceria di Ferdinando: the Caponatina (made in the style of Carini, the town near Palermo where Francesco is from), the Pasta con le Sarde (long noodles with sardines, another Sicilian classic), and — when it’s available — Francesco’s marinated tuna steak with celery sauce.

Sunday Poetry on Friday and a painting too: Parmigianino and Ashbery

Tracie B and I are headed out to spend the weekend with her family at Canyon Lake — for swimming, relaxing, visiting, and playing Mexican Train. I’m really looking forward to going offline for the next few days and so I thought I’d post Sunday Poetry today (next week, btw, I’ve got a great post on deck on Petrarch’s “generous wine”).

The reflection in the spoon in the photo of the panna cotta in yesterday’s post made me think of the great American poet John Ashbery’s poem “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” in which he writes — ut pictura poësis — about Italian Renaissance master Parmigianino’s wonderful oil on wood. When I was studying poetry as a graduate student at U.C.L.A. and in Italy, I was fascinated by both works and every time I read the poem, I discover a new layer of meaning and semiosis — the “secret knowledge” that a distorted image can often reveal.

From “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”
by John Ashbery

As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,
Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together
In a movement supporting the face, which swims
Toward and away like the hand
Except that it is in repose. It is what is
Sequestered. Vasari says, “Francesco one day set himself
To take his own portrait, looking at himself from that purpose
In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers . . .
He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made
By a turner, and having divided it in half and
Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself
With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass,”
Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection once removed.
The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
Which was enough for his purpose: his image
Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keeps it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
But how far can it swim out through the eyes
And still return safely to its nest? The surface
Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases
Significantly; that is, enough to make the point
That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept
In suspension, unable to advance much farther
Than your look as it intercepts the picture.
Pope Clement and his court were “stupefied”
By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission
That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is,
Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane,
The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,
Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay
Posing in this place. It must move
As little as possible. This is what the portrait says.

Read the poem in its entirety here.

Eating for Beginners once interviewed John Ashbery. I’m really looking forward to her upcoming posts on her passage on the Queen Mary 2 back from Europe with the German Professor and the Cheese Hater.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend y’all!

My dinner with the Weinsteins

BrunelloWire: light rain today and so no picking.

Strappo reports from Montepulciano: “Still a way from harvest in Montepulciano. But they are about 600 m above sea level here.”

Above: no, that’s not the Weinsteins… that’s Melanie and Noah. Noah and I go way back: we even went to Hebrew School together! Today, he’s a leading German scholar and she a writer of non-fiction, critic, and poet.

No, I didn’t really have dinner with the Weinsteins. But that was the joke the other night when my good friends Melanie Rehak and Noah Isenberg (above) took me to Weinstein, a wonderful traditional German wine bar just off the Helmholtzplatz in their neighborhood, the Prenzlauer Berg, in Berlin (note the über-hip extension “.eu” in the Weintstein URL).

Riesling is a lacuna in my enological formation and so I was in pig heaven, so to speak, between a great flight of Rieslings poured by excellent sommelier Marc Metzdorf and my Wiener Teller (“Viennese platter,” including delicious cured suckling pig among other delicatessen) and Königsberger Klöße (pork and veal — if I’m not mistaken — dumplings).

The star of the evening was the 1995 Dr. Loosen Urziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese, which Marc pours by the glass. Being the neophyte Riesling-lover that I am, I put myself in Marc’s hands and I was really impressed by the care and devotion he and his colleague, Claudia, showed for these wines. Weinstein’s list is impressive and stretches back to the 1970s, with roughly 250 lots. Good stuff…

On the plane back to LAX from Berlin the next day, I read Noah’s new tome on the film noir classic Detour. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it.


Earlier in the day, Melanie and I paid a visit to the “legendary” food department at KaDeWe, where German cuisine is featured alongside cuisine from all over the world. Melanie’s finishing edits on a book about her experience working in farm-to-table restaurant in Brooklyn. I can’t reveal the name but I’m looking forward to its release sometime next year. Here are some pics from KaDeWe…

I love anything marzipan. The more kitsch, the better.

Cured heaven…

Please don’t feed the eels…

The “American” section was really a joke… an irony in the context of the fantastic traditional German, French, Italian, and Japanese counters. But Melanie and I had fun perusing the candy canes, Pop Tarts and Swiss Miss.