Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the Nature of Being Sicilian in the Wine Business

Lest you think this will be the obligatory paean to all things Sicilian, after these last days spent on the island, many things are simmering. Yes, it is a Sunday, and to the millennials this might sound like a sermon. Pity.

How does one explain the blood in the veins? How does one look at a street, year after year, and still struggle to recognize what is right in front of one’s eyes? How much analysis is required to decode the Sicilian passeggiata of the last 40 years? I am obsessed with this. This is my mental mistress, never letting me inside the private chamber, ever tempting me with the promise of understanding, of clarity, of revelation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Drinking Our Way Through Sicily ~ 2014

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, we didn’t drink and drive, and when we did, we always had a designated driver. But we always, always, had food with our wine. Unless we were tasting. Then we had little food stuff around. And it always wasn’t wine. There was lots of coffee, but more about that at the end of this post.

It was harvest time in Sicily, so there was a lot of activity. With that in mind, we were able to unearth the scared and the profane, the common and the rare. Nothing was off limits; there was no agenda, no dogma to follow. Sicily doesn’t care about all the little games we play in America to bring balance to our life. Their life is pretty darn good, all things considered. And wine is a huge part of the life.

Please enjoy this short eno-log, my version of the slide show, with brief comments from time to time.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eating Our Way Through Sicily ~ 2014

Indulge me. Or rather, let me indulge you, dear reader, and share some of the plates we were offered on this recent trip to Sicily. While Palermo would be enough in terms of gastronomic ecstasy, we didn’t stop there. We made our carousel around Sicily and along the way we had some of the most glorious food on earth.

Note: I don’t think of Sicilian food as Italian. It takes its cues from anther muse. There are similarities: pasta, tomatoes, wine, sweets, seafood. But as with all things Sicilian, the interpretation is different. Not necessarily better than on the peninsula, but a thinking about the products and the interplay of ingredients that I have found to be unique in Sicily. Even our lowliest meal, at a fast food cafeteria in Piazza Armerina, the vegetables were to die for. Unfortunately I didn’t photograph them.

Let’s stop talking and start gawking, shall we? First stop, Sambuca di Sicilia.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sicily ~ Thinking Outside the Boot

I’m nothing, if not overwhelmed, when I step away from Italy and into Sicily. I am also liberated. Freed from thinking things are as they are, because Sicily has its own interpretation for everything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sicily ~ The Oldest Kid in Italy

Of all the places in Italy, Sicily is the one that scares me the most. I have cancelled trips to Sicily because I was afraid something was going to happen. I have gone to Sicily when my bones were sore from a car wreck. I have driven a car in the streets of Palermo and Catania, which is questionable for an able bodied person. I have stared at dead people, their skin dry, their eyes missing, their bones falling off their skeletons. I have walked on mosaic floors that were laid thousands of years ago. I have gazed up at ancient temples, the sun glaring back. I have walked the streets in the heat in the dark with a bum leg, with the legs of youth and with the gait of one who is no longer young. And all through it ancient Sicily kept getting younger.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Texas Turd-Floater in Passopisciaro #Etna

2014 has been a crazy year for weather patterns. There seems to be controversy brewing over the quality of the 2014 vintage in Italy. It’s too early to tell, but there are some things that have been happening that are not advantageous to the growers in Italy. One is the unseasonably cool weather in the summer. Another is accompanying rain. Doubtless there will be growers who will have great conditions, but the quantities are down. Here in Sicily, everyone is telling me their harvest is anywhere from 15-30% lower than last year. After two years of double digit increases, perhaps this year is Nature’s way of slowing down. Sicily is still a warm and sunny place, most of the time. But today, following a visit to the Tascante farms, we ran smack dab into a Texas turd-floater.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Sicily 2014: Palermo "Full Immersion" ~ Wine

Posting on the fly as we head out of Palermo on our carousel around Sicily. While Palermo was mainly about food and the evolving multi-cultural experience of a very old city, wine plays a part on the table. We visited one winery, Cusumano. Today our journey takes us to more. For now this is what we’ve tasted with the foods we’ve had. Enjoy. More to come…

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sicily 2014: Palermo "Full Immersion" ~ Food

Eggplants at Mercato di Capo - Palermo
Full immersion is just what it means. We land in Palermo and drop the luggage at the hotel and hit the streets. First La Vucciria and the Capo open markets. A trattoria and an osteria, and a small event with elevated street food. And that’s just the food.

This is complete vanity. Palermo is a fascinating place. These are the highlights. The wine will follow. But there is a saying in Sicily, “Porta cu tia e mancia cu mia” (Bring the food and eat with me).

Without food, wine is incomplete.

Palermo is a walking city and walk we did. All around the old historic center, two of the important open markets, a special selection of local spots and a trip to a macabre spot, the Catacombe dei Cappuccini. It’s always good to remember we will not be here forever, regardless of our wealth or our station in life.

That said, these last two days were a dream. Every time I thought I was near someplace I was looking for it was a matter of a block or two away. My life as a tour guide, albeit a short one, is looking good so far.

For now we are on our way into the country of Sicily. Harvest is on. We are here also for the wine. For now, feast your eyes on the food, some of the most glorious food in Italy. But we are in Sicily, which is another reality. You must come.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Wine Blog Death Watch: Two wine blogs that are bright lights in a forest of darkness

photo from Tim Gaiser's blog
Brooklyn Guy has turned off the tap. Alice has her newsletter. Reign of Terroir has hit a drought. Eric is safely entrenched within the pages of The Gray Lady. Joe Roberts thinks the wine blogging community might be a joke. Is wine blogging dead? In the word of the inimitable Hosemaster, “No one has any damned idea who is reading a blog.” Who cares if it dead, alive or on life support? As HMW says, “it's a solitary sport. We blog at home, at all hours, in our underwear, drunk, or avoiding our real life.”

Yes, it's been a long, dreadful summer. That said, there are two newish blogs that deserve our positive attention. They are:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Native (Italian) American

As we get more science on exactly who we are and where we came from via DNA mapping, we often find out we aren’t who we think we are. In my case, I found out I am 51.6% Italian. I also found out I have a small percentage of East Asian and Native American.

Since my grandfathers and grandmothers came to America over 100 years ago, their descendants have multiplied. In a paternal lineage that will most likely stop. We will have had roughly 150 years of being in America by those sets of measurements.

What does it matter? There are 7 billion of us right now, a small portion of the roughly 107 billion who have been born on earth. Staggering numbers. Even more staggering is how each and every one of us thinks 1) we’re the center of the universe and 2) with a little luck we might not die.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Postcard from Naples ~ August 21, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad,

Italy, I finally made it to Rome The last week has been warm. Hotter than where I came from. Rome was miserable. And empty, save for a few Americans who actually had lire. Wartime in America. Nixon devalued the dollar the day I arrived in Rome to get more European countries to buy things from us. We need the money to pay for the war in Vietnam. And it looks like we are going into a recession that could last for years.

Naples from Rome on a train. Walking. I have a day before the ferry takes me to Palermo. I have a day to kill. I start walking.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wild Figs and Ancient Chants

From the archives ~ April 8, 2007

Fishermen from Calabria, Italy - Alan Lomax
I turn on the music, and Albanian chants from Calabria flood my jet-lagged skull. “We’re not through with you yet. Take this back with you. Forget about filling up your suitcase with brochures and bottles of wine. Forget about the ties and the shirts and the socks. Do not forget us.”

“We are the ancient, the local, the thread in the core of the soul of this land. Get out of bed. You’re not sleeping anyway. Wake up and hear the clarions calling like so many souls from inside you.”

I was sitting in a palace near Lake Garda talking to a woman and her husband. They had been living in Istanbul for the better part of their adult lives. Her childhood home was just downhill from the villa, but she, like me, had found another way, another place to call home. While we all come back to visit and stay, there are those of us who must return to a place not where we came from.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Vacating Italy ~ Ferragosto 2015

Odd how time reshapes things. In another era, one could not get anyone on the line, start (or finish) any kind of business or move anything in Italy during the month of August. This week I reached out to several folks for info. For the most part, I got a response within an hour. They may be on the boat in Corsica or taking a nap on a warm summer afternoon in Pontignanello, but they are responding better than they ever have.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Franciacorta's "little" problem

“I just don’t get Franciacorta,” the tall lady muttered to her friend at a recent reception. Her friend was pouring all manner of cool wines from Germany, Austria and France. Grower Champagnes chilled in iced trays, alongside Franciacorta. I wondered why she said that, but I was in full-introvert mode, and was in no shape to investigate her motives.

Friday, August 08, 2014

10 Years of Texsom ~ 2005-2014

It was the winter of 2004-5. We were sitting at a table, myself with Guy Stout, Drew Hendricks and James Tidwell. I hadn’t yet started this blog. Guy, Drew and James were months away from becoming master sommeliers. And they were kicking around this idea about starting a conference to encourage wine professionals from around Texas to become more involved in wine, in attaining certifications and in being better at their trade. That’s how I remember it all starting. Ten years later, Texsom is huge. Drew and James are still running the thing, but there has been a quantum leap in the quality, the engagement and the momentum of Texas wine professionalism and, indeed, wine professionalism from all over the country. Now there are scores of master sommeliers, masters of wine and other highly engaged folks from the wine trade who invade Texas at the peak of summer, to teach, to learn and to enjoy what it is about wine that attracted us to it in the first place.

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