Napa Valley take-out

Check out Avvinare’s post in the “Remember Abruzzo” series. Thank you, Susannah, for participating!

Above: We dined yesterday evening atop Howell Mt. in Napa Valley, looking out on to one of the most beautiful (and most manicured) vineyards I’ve ever seen. Napa Valley take-out isn’t just any old take-out: roast brisket sandwiches, locally grown lettuces, and can’t-be-beat California asparagus.

It’s hard to believe… neither Tracie B nor I have ever been to Napa Valley.

Above: Tracie B looked so beautiful in the early evening light atop the mountain, the lush valley playing backdrop to the golden sunlight on her face.

Frankly, I am embarrassed that I know so little about the winemaking history and tradition of my own country — and my home state, for that matter. As Craig Camp points out rightly, wine professionals — above all — should drink locally.

Above: From left, Tracie B., Dan Redman (the owner of the company I work for), Dan’s lovely wife Melinda, and our friend Elton Slone.

We’ve only been here for a day but it’s been fascinating to see these places — some of them, the most famous growing sites in the world — and try to wrap my mind around what Napa Valley is and what it means.

Above: Our hotel room in downtown Napa looks out on to the Napa river.

I’m posting in a rush this morning as we get ready to go out and taste with some of the wineries the company I work for represents but I’m sure Tracie B and I will both have lots to post about in the days that follow.

Stay tuned…

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.

Brunello vote, a different perspective, and some blogs I’ve been reading

Above: this photo of me and Gianfranco Soldera of Casse Basse appears in this month’s issue of The Tasting Panel Click the image to read my piece, “The Sun Also Rises, a dispatch from Montalcino” (photo by Ben Shapiro). The sun also rises in Montalcino…

My relief to read that Brunello producers had voted to “let Brunello be Brunello” last week was tempered when I read an editorial post authored by my friend and colleague Franco Ziliani, who pointed out — rightly — that among the “overwhelming majority” who voted not to change the appellation, there were also the same producers who, just days earlier, were calling for a more flexible appellation and “tolerance” for grapes other than Sangiovese.

“With this hypocritical vote,” wrote Franco, “I truly fear that Brunello di Montalcino will continue to have problems. A battle has been won, no doubt, but I fear that the war — even if it is an underground guerrilla war — will continue. Good luck, dear Brunello, I believe you will continue to need it desperately!”

Read my translation of his post at VinoWire.

Some other blogs I’ve been reading…

I’ve always been a fan of Eric’s blog and I really admire how he weaves literature and music into his posts. He and I are both fans of the Camilleri novels and our musical tastes are pretty much in tune, as well. I really liked this recent post on novelist Hillerman and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (I also liked Eric’s excellent notes in the paper of record on his Montepulciano d’Abruzzo tasting).

Susannah is relatively new to the world of Italian wine blogging and I’m glad to see another Italocentric wine blogger jump into the mix. I really like her “Women in Wine” posts. Not enough attention is given to women winemakers in Italy, a country still plagued by chauvinism.

People often ask me why I blog and a lot of folks are curious as to why I do it when it doesn’t pay. Blogging has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my entire life, professionally and personally. As obsessively as I may check my blog stats (although probably considerably less than Strappo), the blog has enriched my life far beyond the immediate narcissistic reward. It is a medium for seeing the world that has transformed my life in truly wondrous ways that I never could have imagined. I really liked this post on wine blogging by Alder, a blogger whom I admire immensely for his work ethic, integrity, and palate. His sound advice should be required reading for any budding wine blogger.

Lastly but not least, proceed with caution: “Priming Stemware = Foreplay” by Benoit over at Anti Yelp.