tagliatelle ai funghi porcini & a note from Francesco Bonfio

In my post yesterday for the Houston Press, I recounted the last time I was served a bottle of wine that was technically correct but nonetheless off:

    I was in Siena, Italy, the last time this happened to me (about a year ago). My colleague Francesco — the president of the Italian wine shop association — and I ordered a bottle by one of my all-time favorite producers of Chianti Classic, an icon in the field, Castell’in Villa.

    The vintage was 1995, a great one for the appellation. As we ate our delicious tagliatelle ai funghi porcini, we realized that the wine had simply lost its life. It was good. It just wasn’t what it could have been (and he and I had tasted it many times before). Something about it was just off.

    When the restaurateur noticed that we had left three quarters of the bottle on the table, he immediately offered to open something else for us. We thanked him but declined. One glass of wine was enough that evening, however mediocre.

    Francesco bought dinner that night and while I didn’t see the bill, I’m sure that the proprietor didn’t include the cost of the bottle of wine. Next time I’m in Siena, I wouldn’t be surprised if Francesco and I go back to the same place. He eats there at least once a week.

    In my view, this is a great parable about restaurant-going. The economics of fine dining are as much about relationships and human interaction as they are about good food, wine, and service. A bad bottle of 1995 Castell’in Villa? Lupus in fabula

The Francesco in question was my good friend Francesco Bonfio, owner of the excellent Enoteca Piccolomini in Siena and president of the Italian wine shop association, Vinarius.

He encountered technical difficulties as he attempted to leave a comment on the Houston Press site and so he asked me to post it for him (don’t mind his “formal” tone; it’s part of his schtick):


    Thank you for mentioning that occasion. Let me underline one aspect: it is true that the owners of the restaurant know me, and it is true that they did not charge for that bottle. It is also true and I may guarantee to you that they do this all the time because they have this policy with anybody dining at their restaurant. It is also true that this is possible ONLY when the people who dine AND the restaurants owner do know the object of discussion. That bottle was an “unhappy bottle” not a bad bottle and this difference can be found only if both sides know that wine. Consequently it is different if the bottle is sent back just because the customer simply does not like that type of wine. By the way the restaurant was Enoteca I Terzi.

I wanted to share it with you here and I wanted to share the wonderful tagliatelle ai funghi porcini that we were served that night (above). The dinner took place last year in October, the time of year when the porcini are in season.

Thanks, everyone, for all the comments and RTs of the post over on the Twitter. And thanks, again, Francesco for dinner and the wine: even when it’s off, a bottle of Castell’in Villa is always memorable!

Arianna Occhipinti & Giorgio Grai walk into a winebar…

From the department of “public service announcements”…

How’s this for a premise? [hipster Sicilian Natural wine producer] Arianna Occhipinti (above) and [legendary winemaker, master blender, and race car driver] Giorgio Grai walk into a winebar in Siena… The two winemakers represent the antipodes of Italian winemaking in nearly every way (including geographically!). And they are two of the nicest and most intelligent people in Italian wine today.

I probably won’t be getting up at 3 a.m. (10 a.m. Italian time) on March 16 to watch the streaming of a conversation between Arianna, Giorgio, the original Italian celebrity chef Gualtiero Marchesi, Giuseppe Vajra (one of our favorite winemakers), and a few other Italian food and wine luminaries. But I’m hoping that someone will have the good sense to post a YouTube somewhere. The icing on the cake: one of my favorite Italian food bloggers, Stefano Caffarri, curator of Appunti di Gola, will be moderating.

My good friend Francesco Bonfio, president of Vinarius (the association of Italian wine shops) is the organizer.

Here are the details.

In other news…

One of the winemakers I admire the most (for the superb wines he makes and for his honesty and soulfulness), Angiolino Maule has announced the dates of the VinNatur conference and tasting at the Villa Favorita, March 24-26.

Of all the Natural and biodynamic wine fairs in Italy, VinNatur is perhaps the one that thrills me the most and its selection process is the most rigorous. Not only are producers required to practice chemical-free farming, but they are also required to submit soil samples to ascertain whether or not “residual” chemicals are present in their vineyards (resulting from runoff from their neighbors’s vineyards).

In past years, my very close friend and jazz guitar virtuoso Ruggero Robin has performed at the event (he and Angiolino — an accomplished musician in his previous life — are good friends, as well). I don’t know yet if Ruggero will be there but I hope so!

The Saint of Sangiovese Gambelli

Yesterday, I received yet another round of remembrances of the great Giulio Gambelli (who passed away a few days ago), including one by my good friend Francesco Bonfio, president of Vinarius, the association of Italian wine shops.

    He was an exquisite, deeply humble person whose humility was rivaled only by his extraordinary knowledge of Montalcino and especially Chianti Classico. Every time I saw him at the presentations of new vintages he would whisper to me the names of two or three wines that I should taste. But he didn’t just say the name of the farm: he noted the vintage, category, and often the vineyard, specifying this one, yes and this one, no. And they were all his wines. But at the same time, being the great gentleman that he was, he would also point out wines from wineries that he had just tasted — wines, although not his own, that had piqued his interest. Honestly, I’d have to say that he was more apt to praise these than his own creations.

For all the bitter discord that inhabits Montalcino and Chianti Classic and the continuing acidic debate over the inclusion of international grape varieties in Montalcino and Chianti Classico, the hagiography of Gambelli has united the entire spectrum of Tuscan grape growers, winemakers, wine writers, and lovers.

If, in vita (in life), this man championed Sangiovese in purezza (in purity) as Tuscany’s greatest and ultimate vinous expression, let us hope that in morte (in death) his legacy will continue to inspire all of us to transcend our earthly weakness.

Sit tibi terra [tuscolana] levis Juli.