Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Mother of Intervention

Before there was Rolland and Accad, long before Helen Turley and Clark Smith, ages before Cotarella and Tachis, there was an influence in winemaking that probably has had as much authority, over time, as all the above combined. (And you can throw in all the high-ranking wine critics too). Were his techniques natural, or did he meddle?

Recently I read this in one of the old books on wine that I inherited from a friend and mentor who recently passed away. The passage went like this:

Q. In winemaking, what do you get if you don’t intervene?
A. Vinegar.

The following are some excepts regarding winemaking, translated from his mater lingua. Seems that was the way in those days in sunny old Frascati, i.e. Tusculum. Have some fun; nothing new under the sun?

• Wine for the family to drink through the winter: Pour into a jar 10 quadrantals of must, 2 quadrantals of sharp vinegar, 2 quadrantals of boiled must, 50 quadrantals of fresh water. Stir with a stick thrice a day for five consecutive days. Then add 64 sextarii of old sea-water, cover the jar, and seal ten days later. This wine will last you until the summer solstice; whatever is left over after the solstice will be a very sharp and excellent vinegar.

• If your place is far from the sea, you may use this recipe for Greek wine: Pour 20 quadrantals of must into a copper or lead boiler and heat. As soon as the wine boils, remove the fire; and when the wine has cooled, pour into a jar holding 40 quadrantals. Pour 1 modius of salt and 1 quadrantal of fresh water into a separate vessel, and let a brine be made; and when the brine is made pour it into the jar. Pound rush and calamus in a mortar to make a sufficient quantity, and pour 1 sextarius into the jar to give it an odor. Thirty days later seal the jar, and rack off into amphorae in the spring. Let it stand for two years in the sun, then bring it under cover. This wine will not be inferior to the Coan.(Coan wine is wine from the Greek island of Kos)

• Preparation of sea-water: Take 1 quadrantal of water from the deep sea where no fresh water comes; parch 1½ pounds of salt, add it, and stir with a rod until a boiled hen's egg will float; then stop the stirring. Add 2 congii of old wine, either Aminnian or ordinary white, and after mixing thoroughly pour into a pitched jar and seal. If you wish to make a larger quantity of sea-water, use a proportionate amount of the same materials.

• Recipe for Coan wine: Take sea-water at a distance from the shore, where fresh water does not come, when the sea is calm and no wind is blowing, seventy days before vintage. After taking it from the sea, pour into a jar, filling it not fully but to within five quadrantals of the top. Cover the jar, leaving space for air, and thirty days later pour it slowly and carefully into another jar, leaving the sediment in the bottom. Twenty days later pour in the same way into a third jar, and leave until vintage. Allow the grapes from which you intend to make the Coan wine to remain on the vine, let them ripen thoroughly, and pick them when they have dried after a rain. Place them in the sun for two days, or in the open for three days, unless it is raining, in which case put them under cover in baskets; clear out any berries which have rotted. Then take the above-mentioned sea-water and pour 10 quadrantals into a jar holding 50; then pick the berries of ordinary grapes from the stem into the jar until you have filled it. Press the berries with the hand so that they may soak in the sea-water. When the jar is full, cover it, leaving space for air, and three days later remove the grapes from the jar, tread out in the pressing-room, and store the wine in jars which have been washed clean and dried.

• To coat the brim of wine jars, so as to give a good odor and to keep any blemish from the wine: Put 6 congii of the best boiled must in a copper or lead vessel; take a hemina of dry crushed iris and 5 pounds of fragrant Campanian melilot, grind very fine with the iris, and pass through a sieve into the must. Boil the whole over a slow fire of faggots, stirring constantly to prevent scorching; continue the boiling, until you have boiled off a half. When it has cooled, pour into a sweet smelling jar covered with pitch, seal, and use for the brims of wine jars.

• If you wish to determine whether wine will keep or not, place in a new vessel half an acetabulum of large pearl barley and a sextarius of the wine you wish to test; place it on the coals and bring it to a boil two or three times; then strain, throw away the barley, and place the wine in the open. Taste it the next morning. If it is sweet, you may know that the wine in the jar will keep; but if it is slightly acid it will not.

• To make sharp wine mild and sweet: Make 4 pounds of flour from vetch, and mix 4 cyathi of wine with boiled must; make into small bricks and let them soak for a night and a day; then dissolve with the wine in the jar, and seal sixty days later. The wine will be mild and sweet, of good color and of good odor.

• To remove a bad odor from wine: Heat a thick clean piece of roofing-tile thoroughly in the fire. When it is hot coat it with pitch, attach a string, lower it gently to the bottom of the jar, and leave the jar sealed for two days. If the bad odor is removed the first time, that will be best; if not, repeat until the bad odor is removed.

• If you wish to determine whether wine has been watered or not: Make a vessel of ivy wood and put in it some of the wine you think has water in it. If it contains water, the wine will soak through and the water will remain, for a vessel of ivy wood will not hold wine.

• To impart a sweet aroma: Take a tile covered with pitch, spread over it warm ashes, and cover with aromatic herbs, rush and the palm which the perfumers keep, place in a jar and cover, so that the odor will not escape before you pour in the wine. Do this the day before you wish to pour in the wine. Pour the wine into the jars from the vat immediately; let them stand covered for fifteen days before sealing, leaving space for air, and then seal. Forty days later pour off into amphorae, and add one sextarius of boiled must to the amphora. Do not fill the amphorae higher than the bottom of the handles, and place them in the sun where there is no grass. Cover the amphorae so that water cannot enter, and let them stand in the sun not more than four years; four years later, arrange them in a wedge, and pack them closely.

• If you wish to make a laxative wine: After vintage, when the vines are trenched, expose the roots of as many wines as you think you will need for the purpose and mark them; isolate and clear the roots. Pound roots of black hellebore in the mortar, and apply around the vines. Cover the roots with old manure, old ashes, and two parts of earth, and cover the whole with earth. Gather these grapes separately; if you wish to keep the wine for some time as a laxative, do not mix it with the other wine. Take a cyathus of this wine, dilute it with water, and drink it before dinner; it will move the bowels with no bad results.

• Throw in a handful of black hellebore to the amphora of must, and when the fermentation is complete, remove the hellebore from the wine; save this wine for a laxative.

• To prepare a laxative wine: When the vines are trenched, mark with red chalk so that you will not mix with the rest of the wine; place three bundles of black hellebore around the roots and cover with earth. Keep the yield from these vines separate during the vintage. Put a cyathus into another drink; it will move the bowels and the next day give a thorough purging without danger.

• To blend a wine as a remedy for retention of urine: Macerate capreida or Jupiter, add a pound of it, and boil in 2 congii of old wine in a copper or lead vessel. After it cools, pour into a bottle. Take a cyathus in the morning before eating; it will prove beneficial.

• To blend a wine as a remedy for gout: Cut into small chips a piece of juniper wood a half-foot thick, boil with a congius of old wine, and after it cools pour into a bottle. Take a cyathus in the morning before eating; it will prove beneficial.

• Recipe for myrtle wine: Dry out black myrtle in the shade, and when dried keep it until vintage. Macerate a half-modius of myrtle into an urn of must and seal it. When the must has ceased to ferment remove the myrtle. This is a remedy for indigestion, for pain in the side, and for colic.

And my personal favorite,
• Dogs should be chained up during the day, so that they may be keener and more watchful at night.








Thanks to William P. Thayer for the translation and the actual words from the Loeb Classical Library, 1934

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Festival of Malvasia

This is the ideal time of summer; lying out in the pool, on my isola, thinking about the little sounds and sights and smells that make up the perfect day in July.

As I take a little nap, under the sun, above the body of water that occupies my isola, I have a dream. We are back in Southern Italy, walking. Somewhere off the distance there is a masserie; they are waiting for us, with wine and lunch. We are just a few minutes late, but we parked the car when the road would take us no further. There is music and the sound of drums coming from the distant winery. They are celebrating the Festa della Malvasia.
This is a yearly event, bringing dancers, artists, musicians, actors, clowns and jesters to this one place in the country, to celebrate the casks and the wine and the middle of the summer. Large women are seen carrying these gigantic platters for the fire; today they are feeding the artistic community and we have been invited by the winemaker.

My friend, Carlo the clown, is already there. We have a psychic communication, he is wondering where we are. But he’s fine, he’s playing with the monkey. My musician friend from California has called me; he is bringing a philosopher friend from Paestum, so he is behind us.

The invitation was only sent a few days before. To get all the players together was a major feat, but this is a dream, all things are possible. The invitation went like this:

Please, all who come, bring a little piece of your past to share, and take home a piece of your future. We have cooks from Naples, so no one should go home hungry. The wine is neither the old, dirty wine nor the new, lifeless wine. We are cracking open the barrels of real Italy; please bring a demijohn to take some home with you. Bring your mother, bring your sister, bring your sons and daughters and lovers. Or bring the priest, for we will all need him eventually. Come as you are, not as you wish to be. The party will last three days. We will not sleep, you’ll see. Do not RSVP. Just arrive when you can. Don’t be late.


I thought it a little strange when I got closer and started hearing all kind of animal sounds. A tent by the side of the building was pitched, a circus had stopped by. The smell of fresh seafood and garlic, mixed with the exotic aroma of capers, saffron and rosemary, filled the air.

Once inside the building we were greeted by an older woman with grayish to white hair, long and gathered in the back. She had a handful of young children surrounding her and her eyes where bright green. She handed us goblets. One of the young children took us to a room where there were pitchers. We were poured some cool, white wine.

Across the hall was a large open room, with tables and music and tiellas of rice and mussels, steaming and aromatic. Jugglers were practicing with tomatoes and squash, packs of trained dogs followed their every move. There seemed to be an order to all of this, although it didn’t seem to make any sense, nor like this could ever happen in real life. And then we sipped the wine.

This was the wine we had been searching for. It wasn’t some baked, tired, brown mass of lifeless juice with an alcohol base. And it wasn’t a mass of vanilla and butter, seamless and uniform, as if it could have come from anywhere in the New World Order of Winemaking. It was perfect. Crisp and juicy, an acidic marmelata to relieve the rice and the mussels of their responsibility to be the sole nurturing force. It was golden, it was sunshine, the tan on the arms of a young woman working in the fields, the little hairs on the small of the back of the newborn baby, the strength of the pizzaiolo, gathered after all those years in front of a hot oven, working his life away for his art.

The food, the circus performers, the exotic animals, they all retreated to the edges of the dream. All that was left was a pitcher in the late afternoon sun by the edge of the water and the sublime silence of a hot summer day; the synchronization of a life searching for that perfect moment, found by accident, over a festival for an ancient grape.






Punchinello Drawings by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gig Order

Commentary by Beatrice Russo


IWG wrote about going off the reservation, in his last post. Have you seen the movie Apocalypse Now? Well, it’s one of is favorite movies, I know, because once when I watched his house for a week, I went through all his movies. And he had two versions of it.

For my generation, it’s a Vietnam era movie in which a couple of Green Berets go deep into Cambodia to assassinate a former soldier who has “gone native.” This Captain Willard dude is going after the renegade Colonel Kurtz. See the movie. I’m watching it close-up. Alfonso has gone “Kurtz” on me.

A few months ago he helped get me settled into this gig where I was around a lot of good wine, some money to pay the bills and a career track. Or so I thought. The reality was that if I don’t fight myself through the jungle I’ll never end up with much of anything. The whole wine biz deal is pretty much set on reaching these conditional goals that are constantly changing. I am Ok with a moving target, but, hey, I don’t see much incentive to excel, when the warlords at the top are controlling the numbers. IWG tells me to be patient, it will all work out. Like hell.

He’s off for a few days; has to take the vacation time or lose it. When he does, he escapes to his “isola” and leaves me with the keys. Only rule is that I don’t get all wicked and profane. No problem for me, I know how to make myself understood.

Anyway, he’s in the middle of a deal to bring in a line of new Italian wines and all of a sudden he’s verklempt about it. Dude has some gnarly emotions. Feels like he was handled. I told him to get over it, think about the poor suckers in the vineyards. Little young me, telling he who aspires to the pinnacle. Whatever. So he goes and takes off. Fine with me.

I IM’d my friend in Austin, tried to help her get me a bead on the scene. She was out “blitzing” some brand before the hurricane hits land. So she couldn’t help shore up the yurt.

Anyway, thank God he left a freezer filled with some better-than-sex Limoncello. Did I say that? Oh well, it’s been a dry haul lately and relief from Campania in the form of lemons and alcohol will offset my temporary personal disappointments.

And, you ask me, what does this have to do with the blog? Nada. Anymore than sequestering all the jalapenos has anything to do with making folks feel better. Don’t get me started. Here goes. We are now treating produce like we treat terrorists travelers. Stand here. Go through this screening process, drop your drawers, oops you have been infected with salmonella. It wasn’t bad enough that we all had to be infected with fear from the governmental overlords who get the jollies when all of us are scared to get on a plane? Now we have to be afraid of tomatoes? And jalapenos? What is going on in this country?

IWG is really going to freak with this one, but how about what we are all witnessing, this summer? I’m glad this is happening in my youth, although I’m not sure there will be much left in my older years. If I ever make it that far.

Ok, wine. That what everyone wants. I did try some flawless wines from the Loire. Neal Rosenthal stuff. Not Italian, so IWG will probably fuss. Not Verdicchio, he says. Not Fiano. Well, the last Fiano I had wasn’t Fiano. What’s up with that? I want acid, not bubble gum. I tell you, when that producer shows up next month, I’m going to corner him and defy him to turn his property back on track, little ‘ol me. I’ll get my friend in Austin and her southern Italian girlfriend to help me. I don’t want another wine from Southern Italy to taste like it’s from Australia or Paso Robles. Yeah, there’s a kind of hush, all over the world, alright. Telling me to shut my trap.

When the heck is IWG coming back? I can’t do this gig twice in a row.



Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Sea of Affluence

Over the past year a little thread has been drifting past me. I hear a story about a couple going to Italy to spend time on a large yacht, another story about a fellow who travels to Italy with a concierge-in-waiting. A trend, or something that has always been there? It seems there is a whole 'nother Italy for a group of people who travel. I call it Italy-in-a-bubble.

For Americans who don’t travel much outside of their comfort zone, which in the last eight years there seems to have been a surge, there is the experience of getting on a very comfortable plane and going to the Italian peninsula. Once the craft touches ground, it seems everything is done to make sure this elite group of travelers never touches their feet on true Italian soil. Usually some kind of driver is waiting there to pick these affluent souls up out of the squalor in which the natives squat, and then there are whisked to some 5 or 6 or 7 star resort, the ones with the 800 count sheets and the white-goose-only down pillows. Or better yet, whisked straight to a port, like Naples or Ostia, where an offshore vessel awaits, private chef, staff and ambience included.

In the last month I have had a handful of people tell me they were “going to Italy” and described something similar to what I just laid out. Then they asked me where they should go once they got to Italy.

My first answer? How about going off the reservation? Dump the boat, get on land, get your Cole Haan’s dirty, and step outside of your protective cover. Inotherwords, go to Italy.

First of all, you are not a high ranking government official who needs security. What you need is some oxygen. Dress down; you can “do a Google” to help you find out how to do that. And get out of the hands of your handlers.

I understand it is difficult to go into a strange land where the language is different and the food comes from a garden instead of a freezer. Or that you might have to try the fresh Swordfish when you’d really rather have Chicken Parmesan.

Chi mangia solo crepa solo.

So you travel halfway across the world in your private jet or in business class with the headphones and the champagne and the lay-down seat. And you get to the airport where someone is waiting for you. And you are whisked away to a private resort on some secluded hilltop town that has been remade for the travel-elite, so you can rest from your journey. Then what? Is there a plan B, someway to escape the Stalag?

A million years ago I was in Naples for the first time. I was traveling alone, with a backpack and a couple of cameras. I decided to walk west from the Marina, see what I could see. It was August. About 10 miles later I end up in a little place called Pozzuoli. In those days there were lots of cork products, shoes made of cork, you name it. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wasn’t too broke to buy a groovy pair of cork-soled sandals. I was surely not traveling the elite route, but it was the real Italy.

Along the way I met scads of children who were amazed at this tall, Italian-looking, jean-wearing alien. I spoke even less Italian than now. But you know what? That day was one of the great memories of travel for me, ever.

Sure I was out of my element. And I was walking alone in a poor part of Italy, that only 25 years earlier had seen war and destruction and famine. Starvation. Poverty. Got the picture? The children, many of whom are now the folks running the place, what were they going to do to me, rob my soul? Let’s say someone took a roll of film or even a camera, or a pair of jeans, so what? But it didn’t happen. Old women sitting on the outside of their homes greeted me as if I were a grandson. Some invited me in for a bowl of pasta, a glass of wine. That wonderfully real Campanian stuff. Kids wanted me to take pictures of them and kick the soccer ball around with them. Merchants wanted me to take things home for a pittance (this was the era when the dollar was worth 600 lire, and you could buy a meal for about 1100 lire).

I didn’t have a place to go back to. The super yacht wasn’t waiting off the coast for me to finish my day with the natives. There wasn’t a concierge in a Mercedes waiting up the street, car running, air conditioner conditioning. And guess what, I survived. Not only that, but with memories more golden than the sunset from that isolated cruiser that was never there waiting for me. And for those souls on those super-yachts who think they got a taste of the real Italy, or real anything, I am sorry for them. Because they got the freezer. For those who take that step outside of their Italy-in-a-bubble, they get the garden.

So who is basking in affluence, in the end? Is it the wealthy trophy wife who got off for an hour to go shopping at the boutiques in Capri? Or the young student with a backpack and a dream? I know which road I took, and will continue to take, as long as the real Italy will be there for me. And the deeper you go, the more gold you will find. And that is something that can never be taken from you, never pick-pocketed, never, ever goes away. Because it is the stuff of memories. And memories are the elite treasures of travel.






Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Stake Behind the Sizzle

Driving along the scuttled roads of urban Austin, I finally found a parking place, after 10 minutes of searching. By some twist of fate, I managed to find a place in front of a building that once sheltered one of the most wonderful Italian spots in Texas. It was long gone now, replaced by serial restaurateurs with cash and concepts. The place was called Speranza’s, run by a young couple, Michael and Hallie Speranza, and it was a Mecca for anyone trying to show offbeat Italian wines in those days. The era was the early 1980’s and in those 25 years or so, many places have come and gone, and come again, professing to hold high the banner for all things Italian.

Austin is a place that defies categorization. So I won’t. But I am not sure the place is ready for the real deal, this time again. Italy isn't a fashion, not a flash-in-a-pan kind of thing.

Back to Speranza’s. Hallie was in the kitchen, and Michael would guard the door for interlopers. I remember him once telling me that people would come in looking for spaghetti and meatballs, or lasagna, and he would escort them out the door and show them to the nearby Spaghetti Warehouse, send them on their merry way. Speranza’s wasn’t a spaghetti and meatballs kind of place. Though if you wanted a really authentic Bolognese, you hit the jackpot.

Wine wise, we would bring in Dolcetto’s and Nebbiolo’s, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’s and Tocai’s and they would be welcomed into this crazy little vortex of tipicita’. For a few brief moments, you were in a little trattoria in the Langhe or of some little side road in the Chianti zone. And then it went away. The Speranza’s shuttered their wonderful gem of a restaurant. It was like a death of a friend.

These days Hallie has rekindled her love for things Italian by offering to cater for private parties. And here we have the crux of the dilemma. Why does something as wonderful as the real Italian thing have to resurface on the side street of an emerging culture? Is it that the culture of Austin is so dominating there isn’t room for another “real” experience? Is the importance and coolness of Austin so restrictive that there isn’t any air in the room for poor little Italian culture to breathe? Is the heat from a Neapolitan kitchen just a little too hot for the cool culture? I find that really hard to believe.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful experiences that have sprung up. There is the casual and laid back Asti, which is always fun to see the convergence of things Italian in the spirit of Austin. There is Siena, which is this lifelike reproduction of an Italian Castello, complete with the smells of the open hearth. And there is Vespaio, with its frenetic, Italian-with-a-nod-to-Nice fare. Good times. And there is Damian Mandola’s Trattoria Lisina in Driftwood, which gets so close you can almost smell it. But the real deal, without compromise, hasn’t been back since the Speranza’s shut the door on their little place.

I was talking with my Italian friend Daniela, a wonderful lady from Naples, who runs an Italian-styled place in Austin. I believe if she had the proper finances behind her, she would bring not only la cucina Italiana, but even better, la cucina povera, from the alleys and backstreets of Naples and Pozzuoli. That would be a dream worth hatching. With all respect to the hipness of Austin, to bring the ancient soul of Naples to the streets of Austin, complete with the proper, unspoofulated wines of Campania; a full-out love-fest from the Mezzagiorno.

I’m not talking about some Dellionaire who has a place in Tuscany and wants to impress their friends back in Austin with their manipulation of millions to appear to be Italian. I’m talking sweat, warts, octopus, Margherita pizza without Parmigiano, real, real, real. No compromises.

The Spaghetti Warehouse that Michael Speranza used to shuttle wayward clients off to is still there. OK, fine.

But for one moment, to just dream of gnocchi like Aunt Jena makes, to have an insalata di mare like one can only hope to find in Naples, or Ischia, or Mondello, or Austin? That is madness beyond anything imaginable, no?

Or maybe Austin will be remembered for its shrines to Tacos and Tex-Mex, and Bar-B-Que beyond belief, maybe that is really the channel for this lifestyle center. I’m OK with that, too.

But what if we could give someone like Daniela the means to fly her kite high and bring to Austin the thousands of years of imbedded love and lust and sweat and inspiration from Campania? Would that this were also a sweet dream of someone out there reading this, with a few extra dollars and would love to see, with those of us who know it is possible.

Then maybe we could feel the heat from an authentic Southern Italian sizzle.





Friday, July 18, 2008

The Tune-Up


I have been driving around lately like gas wasn’t $4 a gallon. Just looked at the miles I've covered this week and I probably could have fed a family of four. In any event, Wednesday I headed out early from Dallas to Austin with a trunk full of wine, my trusty Koolatron chugging right along, ready to celebrate its 27th birthday in a few months.

Round Rock, Texas – once a low-water crossing on the Chisholm Trail, now an ex-urb with row after row of strip mall and tollway overpasses.

The day would start somewhat ominously; I got lost. That kind of thing happens when the empty field that was there a few months ago is now a sprawling complex of low rise apartments, retail shops, with nary a gas station in sight. Where there once was a Bar-B-Que pit, it now houses a sushi bistro. Texas has taken to crudo in century 21.

What else? A "gentlemen’s" club or two, after all, they are on the route sheet. Disciplina, as they said in Ancient Rome. Imagine this: making a cold call in 100°F weather, going into dark and dank clubs, the smell of stale beer and cigarettes pounds you as you escape the heat of the day. Inside the dark, the wet, chilly air conditioning, the heavy bass beat and an empty pole waiting for the dancers to change their shift.

A sign that says “WiFi here”, as if someone would come here to surf the net. Over in the corner a lonely guy is getting a heartless lap dance.

And somewhere around a series of corners, we lurch to find the bar manager.

My colleague walks straight and deliberate, like she is on a high wire. I'm impressed with her lack of fear in this den of improbability. But then again, she lived in Naples for four years.

We find a congenial guy, a businessman trying to figure out how to keep his margins healthy so he can stay open for this mixed blue and grey collar establishment. Every minute or so a “waitress” comes up to the bar with an order, Jack Black and Coke, Stoly on the rocks, that kind of thing. High octane in a tumbler.

Everyone is looking for an opportunity. The Piemontese make a low alcohol sweet slightly frizzante red that sells well in these places. The client can buy it for $12 and sell it for $80. The girls can drink it all night and never lose their balance, on the job. We talk about pitching it on another visit, after all the formal introductions have been made.

Flash-forward several hours later, after our main event. A couple of us are sitting outside under the warmish Austin night, quenching our thirst with an Alsatian Riesling. One in our party, a Master somm, related a story of how they charged, in one of their clubs in the meat packing district of NY, $700 for a bottle of Cristal. It seems that was too low, the wine was selling too fast; they had to go around the regular channels of procurement. So they raised the price, $1200, $1700, $2500. It got to the point that they couldn’t ask too much for a bottle of the stuff. Makes the $80 buck bubbly look like chump change.

Back to the main event. After driving in circles around the torn up streets of downtown Austin (everything is under construction, reminds me of Rome) I finally find a valet park ( which I hate) close to the spot where we be having the tune-up, Taste Select. I’ve got a baker's dozen selections of Italian wine for the event. We have Italians coming and a Master sommelier, a wine buyer for one of the hottest Japanese places in town, another top restaurant owner who lived in Italy, an MW candidate, an assistant winemaker, and several colleagues from the wine biz. Wines opened:
• Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut

• 2007 Araldica “La Luciana” Gavi
• 2006 Re Manfredi Basilicata Bianco (Muller-Thurgau/ Traminer aromatico)
• 2000 Gravner Breg

• 2004 Capezzana Carmignano
• 2001 Podere Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione (corked)
• 2000 Castello di Rampolla Sammarco

• 2003 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino ( the forbidden label)
• 1997 Angelo Sassetti Pertimali Brunello di Montalcino

• 2004 Re Manfredi Aglianico del Vulture
• 2004 Nino Negri “5 Stelle” Sfursat

• 1999 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco
• 2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo

• 2006 Fama Fiororange (Maculan Dindarello)

With the exception of the corked Il Carbonaione, all the wines showed well. Plates of charcuterie and small producer cheeses were served, this was a simple event, food wise, but the foods served were way above the high water mark. I know folks in NY, LA, SF, Italy are saying, yeah, but. Whatever, last night at Taste Select in Austin, we had the Family Table rockin'. And we learned lots of words in Napolitan' dialect.

Next month Texsom runs in Austin. Any folk who live nearby should get on the bus, when we feature Italy for two seminars along with Argentina, Washignton, Loire Valley, New Zealand, Medoc & Graves, Porto, Madeira & Sherry and an important seminar on Erstes Gewaches. If you are a sommelier and live in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma or wherever, consider coming to this. This is a growing event. Where else in the US can you go for a couple of days and hang out with a lot of great wine geeks?

Speakers & Panel Members-The List So Far:

• Guy Stout MS
• Fred Dame MS
• Greg Harrington MS
• Shayn Bjornholm MS
• Ken Fredrickson MS
• Keith Goldston MS
• Charles Curtis MW
• Brian Cronin MS
• Bartholomew Broadbent
• Wayne Belding MS
• Laura DePasquale MS
• Brett Zimmerman MS
• Larry O'Brien MS
• Alfonso Cevola CSW
• Joe Spellman MS
• Tim Gaiser MS
• Fernando de Luna
• Josh Raynolds
• Rebecca Murphy
• Diane Teitelbaum
• Paul Roberts MS
• Sally Mohr MS
• Joe Phillips MS
• Darius Allyn MS

I know the guys that have put this together, Drew Hendricks and James Tidwell, would love to see you at the 2008 Texas Sommelier Association Conference, August 17-18, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin Texas.






Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shelf Deception

With everything in play the way it has been for the last 50 or so years, is anyone surprised that we now find ourselves in prime-time navel gazing mode regarding our future? In the early 1970’s we were not so gently warned to get our oil-addiction in check. And now, everyone is acting surprised that gas is $4 a gallon, like it’s the end of the world? Hello, that was the price of gas in Italy, in 1984.

Now we are starting to reluctantly see the introduction of the new pony cars, like the new Dodge Challenger or the new Chevy Camaro, which were designed way back when the price of oil was $40 a barrel and now it is $140. No wonder there isn’t too much excitement about those cars, except in places like the Chinese Billionaire Club or the Dubai Gazillionaire’s Guild.

Is it any surprise that now, not many fellows want to shell out the bucks for a pony car that will cost them $50 a day to run? The world that these cars were designed for no longer exists.

Likewise, in the Italian wine world, we also have these pony car wines that were dreamt up for a world that isn’t there waiting for them. The shelves are not begging for it, I have this on good counsel from the streets.

I know some of my importer friends and colleagues don’t like to hear it, but the world has presently turned away from something thought up to be uber and special, a luxury item created for an emerging market that can barely keep its head above water.

"It's not easy being green"

What is the typical wine of which I talk about? It is often from Tuscany but not limited to that area. The Maremma figures in here, seeing as there was a lot of investment and planting some years ago, in anticipation of the growth of the phantom category. It can be a blend of Sangiovese with Bordeaux varietals. Syrah can also be a component. It can also be found in the Veneto, in Piedmont, in Sicily, Sardegna, the Marche, almost anywhere. But Tuscany seems to be the poster child for these mis-planned opportunities that never materialized.

And I’m not meaning to throw down hate on my Tuscan brethren, but folks, I really don’t see how it will fly in these times. If anyone can find the rubes, please send some of them to me.

OK, so we get an email, or a meeting whereby we get this plea, more often in the form of a requisite for continued good relations. Time out.

Let’s say I am a salesman coming to your place, to sell you, let’s see, brushes. And I knock on your door, because you have been a good customer, have bought a lot of brushes from me in the past. Even tooth brushes and brushes to clean out the spokes in your car wheels. So you are a loyal client and you pay me always on time. Good times.

And I come to you and tell you I have built this brush factory and have invested heavily. And those brushes I have been selling to you for $5-6, I still want to sell them to you. But I need you to also buy a bunch of brushes for your house and they cost $12-15 and they only are good for the second floor. You can’t use them in the garage and they are useless in the dining room. They are only for the study on the 2nd floor or the guest bedroom. And not the bathrooms. And I need you to buy a dozen of them.

And you look at me and tell me you don’t need them, let alone a dozen of them. And I respectfully answer back that I hear you but I still need you to step up to the plate and honor the commitment that our relationship requires.

Can you feel the force of the door as it just got slammed in my face?

Now, I’m not saying that it would go that far. But just like Detroit has invested in something that is really not appropriate for the current market, so in other endeavors, there are products developed that just aren’t the greatest ideas for the world we find ourselves in.

What the world needs now - is it really another highfaluting Maremma wannabe that sells for $60, $80, $100?
I don’t see it, anymore than I see myself getting behind the wheel of a 9mpg Viagra-mobile.

What does excite me is to press on with the refinement of those wines that appear to be Italian concept wines, but closer to entry level prices. Look at the Asian car market, or better, look at the European car market. Within 2 years VW is going to have a car for sale that will get 235 mpg. How about an Italian wine that doesn’t suck all the spare change out of the glove compartment, something we can drive around our dining rooms and still be able to put pasta and salad on the table as well?


Something for the wine-concept gurus to think about, when they’re staring at themselves in the mirror, while they put on their sunscreen, before they head out to the seaside, during the month of August.







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