Breakfast in Italy

Italian bread

The bread was still warm when I had breakfast this morning at our hotel in Asti. Pillowy on the inside and firm but not too crunchy on the outside. I like bread and butter for breakfast in Italy or bread with one of the many spreadable cheeses.

Italian cuisine — la cucina italiana — has conquered the world over… Pizza, pasta, al dente, panino, focaccia are just some of the words and expressions that have become sine qua non phonemes of the culinary lexicon. (Even cats in America enjoy “Tuscan” cuisine, a fact I find ironic in the light of the recent cat recipe scandal in Italy.)

Above: You’ll find a great breakfast spread even in a modest hotel.

Italy-bound travelers spend so much time thinking and talking the great lunches and dinners but we often neglect to annotate one of the most important meals of the day in any country: breakfast, la prima colazione, literally, the first collation, a first “coming together” etymologically speaking (according to the OED, “A light meal or repast: one consisting of light viands or delicacies (e.g. fruit, sweets, and wine), or that has needed little preparation (often ‘a cold collation’). ‘A repast; a treat less than a feast'”).

Above: We’re in Piedmont where robiola is a queen among cheeses. Robiola, it’s what’s for breakfast, as Robert Mitchum would say.

My “Italian” breakfast usually consists of bread with butter or cheese, fruit juice, and coffee. But the Italian breakfast spread always includes a selection of stewed and fresh fruit, yogurt, charcuterie and cheese (for the German visitors).

Above: Sometimes a pear is more than just a pear. But it’s too early in the morning to go into the Freudian implications of fruit.

This trip, so far so good. We had a fun dinner last night at what seems to be Asti’s most popular Sunday-night pizzeria, Pizzeria Francese, including a stunning Renato Ratti 2001 Barolo Marcenesco (yes, I drank wine with my pizza!).

Tasting starts today at 9 a.m. so I gotta run! More later… Thanks for checking in… and, btw, we’ll be updating the Barbera blog with minute-to-minute updates on our impressions of the tasting… well, not, really minute-by-minute, but you get the picture!

Birthday-anniversary week part I: 99 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano

NEWS FLASH This just in: we’ve posted the list of wines we’ll be pouring at the first-ever San Diego Natural Wine Summit on August 9 at Jaynes Gastropub. On Weds. and Thurs. next week, I am the guest sommelier at Jaynes. Please come out to see me and taste together if you’re in town!

Above: My favorite way to enjoy great Nebbiolo is with cheese. At Central Market, a block from my apartment, I found Robiola, Toma, and Castelmagno (each from Piedmont) and a Val d’Aosta Fontina. The Castelmagno hadn’t been handled properly but the others were good, especially the Robiola. It’s remarkable to think that these moldy creations find their way to central Texas.

Tuesday night’s birthday celebration centered around a gift of 1999 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano (white label) that my true love gave to me for the occasion. She saw me eyeing the bottle a few weeks ago in a San Antonio fine wine shop. I hate to give away one of our best-kept secrets down here in Texas but, as Italian Wine Guy noted the other day, there are lots of shops here and in the Midwest where wine connoisseurs have collected great European wines without the inflated New York, Los Angeles, and Napa/Sonoma/San Francisco prices (I actually know a great place in San Diego, too, but I’m going to keep that best-kept secret to myself!). At this particular retailer in San Antonio, you can find a lot of older Nebbiolo at prices only marked up slightly from the release price (like a 2001 Faset by Castello di Verduno, one of my favorite producers, picked up for a song). The other element that makes things interesting is that few — if any — of these shops put their inventory online (in part because — and I don’t mean this in a disparaging way — they are Luddites when it comes to anything intraweb-related and in part because anachronistic blue laws prevent/impede them from selling their products online or via email). As a result, the inventories are not picked over by internet surfers: you have to visit the store in situ to peruse the wines.

The day that Tracie B and I happened to visit the store in question, everything in the store was 20% off (in fact, the owner gives 20% off on the entire stock every Friday and Saturday). I’m not saying this to attenuate the value of the wonderful gift she gave me but let’s just say — moral of the story — that we didn’t have to break the bank to enjoy a truly extraordinary bottle of wine.

Tracie B made me a blueberry pie with fresh blueberries for my birthday, a tradition started a long time ago by mama Parzen.

I have always detested the Mao Squires/Parker disciples who squeal and scream that opening a bottle like this is “infanticide.” That’s just hogwash. It’s always interesting to open great Nebbiolo and see where it is in its evolution and it’s ridiculous to think that we all have to be like them and drink wine in freezing wine bunkers (the way they do, hence their blue blood) and wait for every single bottle to be at its peak when we drink it. This 10-year-old beauty (made in a vintage when Giacosa didn’t make a Santo Stefano reserve) was stunning. It was one of those wines that left both of us speechless, with gorgeous fruit and earthy flavors. (Btw, Ken Vastola authors an excellent registry of the wines of Giacosa here).

It’s been such a special week for me and for me and Tracie B — with all the well wishes and congratulations. Thank you, everyone, from the bottom of my heart…

@Trace B thanks for sharing such an incredible bottle of wine for my birthday. I already felt like the luckiest guy in the world… :-)

On deck: Part II, 1991 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant… amazing wine and a crazy story of how we got it… stay tuned…