Thursday, July 30, 2009

Junk in the Trunk

Dallas, Texas
So a recent Monday didn’t start out so well. Around 5:00 AM it sounded like someone was banging on my back door. I was already up. A few minutes later I heard some sirens and then what sounded like a full tilt gunfight with automatic weapons. Weekend is over.

Around 12:30 I stepped into the local Whole Foods looking for a sandwich. A demo person was asking me if I wanted to try their prosciutto. I asked her what kind of prosciutto it was, because it didn’t look like it had meat in the little demo cup.

She said something about not knowing what it was, but there was no meat. I looked at the product and it said bruschetta. I said, “Oh you mean brew-skeh-tah.”

She cast this askew glance at me as if to say “Whatchoo talking about Willis?” I said,” My people come from Italy where bruschetta originated and we pronounce it brew-skeh-tah. Brew.Sket.Ahh. Not too hard to say now, is it?”

She started to look truly afraid like I had said something vulgar or worse, threatening. So I wished her luck and ran, not walked, away from this pitiful creature.

The sad thing is, I was trying to help her market the product to a group of customers who most likely have been to Italy. This was in a wealthy part of town in a very upscale store. But once again to use the words of Jim Schutze, I was “Forever the foreigner. More than 30 years I've been here, sawing this same log.”

Other notes: I love the photographs of Kors van Bennekom (all of the B&W's on this post are his), who has an impressive and enormous body of work. I found him on another site Bint photobooks on Internet, which is also a great source for interesting images. People ask me where I get all the images on this blog. I take many of them, but I am a visual forager, always looking for interesting images. These are two additions to where I will now scour for interesting shots.

Uber Blogger Mike Wangbickler showing an impressive array of Rueda whites

Wine notes: I can’t remember a day when I tasted so many unusual (and good too) wines in one evening. Dornfelder and Kerner from Lodi, Verdello from Rueda, St. Laurent from Austria, Zilavka, Bena and Krkosija from Bosnia Herzegovina, Plavac Mali from Croatia (some say the "Noah" of Primitivo Zinfandel), Kékfrankos from Hungary (good blog here for those wines: http://www.bluedanubewine.com/blog/) and an old vine Barbera from Lodi (a great story here too). I tried these at a walk around reception at the Society of Wine Educators yearly conference, this year in Sacramento. It is a great place to learn, to taste and to comingle with many people, at all levels, in the wine biz. And a great value. Highly recommended. Tomorrow I am presenting a topic, The Italian influence in California winemaking with my sidekick, Guy Stout, who has more initials behind his name than Niels Bohr. But that’s a whole’nother story for another day. Gotta get on the wine trail now. Cheers!





Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fill 'er Up

Pit Stop - Deadlines, work, preparation for many things. Will return later this week.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Buñuel on Brunello: Ballo Finale

Have we heard enough? Is Brunello dead? Have the Italians taken one of their greatest wine symbols and thrown it to the devil? From the looks of it, that seems to be the perception in the shattered market of late. The timing of the whole incident was horrible, but would there ever have been a good time for deception, misrepresentation and the endless mobius strip of Italian bureaucracy? But it isn’t the first time. It won’t be the last.

Colleague Do Bianchi laments about his depression over Brunellopoli. He cites a passage from Luis Buñuel’s autobiography. The vines have been pulled out, the rifles put away. But the sales are dead.

I ran some reports today. The 2004 Brunellos are trickling in painfully slow. The problem is the 2003’s have stopped and, though inventory levels are about half of what they were this time last year, people have shied away from the category of Brunello. This could take years to rehabilitate the reputation and status of Brunello.

A major part of the problem is the perception of exactly what Brunello is. It isn’t a Napa Valley Cult wine blockbuster of a wine, anymore than the Castello Amorosa is a real medieval Tuscan Castle. Years of misleading reviews that people trusted and came to expect moved the style of wine away from the reality of what it started out to be, what gave it its fame. New wineries and ancient ones, somehow people got caught up in the lie. The reports are out there, I don’t have to make anything up. But now perception, once again, is reality. The popular view was that Brunello was a big, inky, massive, unctuous wine. Now Brunello's legacy is clouded by doubt and its future has been hijacked for a time. And though just a handful of producers have been caught, Italians on the ground speculate that there were others who got away with it. The image of Brunello and Sangiovese is tainted every bit as much as the wines that were exposed in scandals in the 1980’s, diethyl glycol and methyl alcohol. How ironic that Brunello got the DOCG the same year as one of the scandals in 1986.

I was in the trade then. It was devastating for a young industry person to spend their first years (and specializing in Italian wines) to have the carpet pulled out from under them. To start over, to pull oneself up, dust oneself off and go back into the trenches. I really thought the Italians had learned the lesson. But another generation longed for recognition and affluence. How many Porsche Cayenne’s clog the tiny roads around Montalcino? I’ve been there, seen it, saw the gold jewelry and the designer clothes and tanned bodies. All these things cost money. But the currency was the soul. The temptation was too great for a few and now all will suffer. This is happening in a time when the world economy is drawing down, so recovery will be years in the making.

In Buñuel’s Movie, Simon of the Desert, Simon was a stylite, an ascetic who lived on a pillar in the desert and preached, fasted and mortified his body to get closer to God. And while Buñuel works on many levels of interpretation and symbolism in his short film, I see a parallel between the movie and the current state of the Montalcino wine trade. A little less glam and a little more dirt under their nails (or all of ours in any case) in this moment might be a real grounding moment. Keep the SUV for 6 years, not three. Take care of your shirts and keep them around for more than a season. Save money on French barrels; buy fewer and use them longer. Or better, use the larger botti and let the purity and beauty of the true Sangiovese represent all that is good about Brunello. Come back to earth and the vines and tend them and respect them and the wonderful life that awaits those fortunate enough to call Montalcino home.










Sunday, July 19, 2009

California Dreamin' ~ Full Immersion Italian

There’s something about the influence Italy has had on California. In fact the influence continues. It goes both ways. The New World has loosened up the way Europe looks at wine, sometimes to the dismay of the purists. But California has a young, often irreverent, sexy aspect to it. Italians have been attracted to California for some time now.

Driving through Sonoma, Bob Pellegrini told me of early campaigns in Lucca, Italy to draw the locals to work in the wine country. In fact, Bob says, Sonoma is populated with many Italians from Lucca, while up the road in Asti people were recruited from Piemonte to work in those vineyards. But that was many years ago. Nowadays, not many of Italian extraction retain their Italian-ness. The American Melting Pot has indeed melted many of them into the big blender.

But for those who have been seduced by the guile of the Italian mistress, the idea of making wine inspired by Italy in America persists.

“Have you seen the castle?” I must have heard that a half dozen times in the few days I was in Napa and Sonoma, telling folks I was in the area researching a project. Finally as we drove up the hill I thought maybe I had translocated to Tuscany. Castello Banfi it wasn’t. Castello Amorosa is the California dream of Daryl Sattui and is a Neverland homage to his vision of Italy. Hey, some folks insist on Parmiggiano on the linguine con vongole.

Bob Pellegrini and Dave Rafanelli

Heading over to Sonoma, we had an appointment at A.Rafanelli winery. Amerigo Rafanelli was a wonderful guy and his son Dave and his family are continuing Am’s work. No pretenses here at being an Italian influenced winery, no Sangiovese or Dolcetto offered here. Zinfandel and Cabernet. The essential confluence is in the unstated philosophy on a molecular level, passed down from generation to generation. All is well at Rafanelli; no castles, no Pinot Grigio. Only the essentials, along with the irreplaceable winery dogs, the ones who really call the shots.


At the nearby Seghesio winery, there is a different vibe. Here, Fiano and Arneis seek sanctuary from Chardonnay and Merlot. And on a day when the temperatures hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, cool white wine, with a revealing fragrance and come hither flavors, was as energizing as sitting in a pool in Positano watching the sunset.

Leaving the bees to their work, we took a run up to Asti, where an ancient winery now sits in waiting rotation for its renewal to begin. Italian Swiss Colony, anybody remember the catch phrase, “You can’t miss with Italian Swiss”? And for a while it was hit, but now it is missing in action. The growers have blended into the countryside, they are indigenously American now. The chapel and the cemetery still hold memory and shelter for the spirit of those Italians now conjoined to history.

Rolling down the road to Santa Rosa and a quick stop at the library, a goldmine of oral history, photographs and documents. How did the Italians make it through Prohibition? Through the grace of God and the purchase orders of the archdiocese of San Francisco. Long time merchants like the Traverso family span the decades and carry the torch forward. Michael Traverso is the latest generation of ambassadors of Italian culture – food and wine – in Sonoma.

Sangiovese, Fiano, Zinfandel, Sagrantino. Sattui, Seghesio, Rafanelli, Pellegrini. Open-top. Full immersion. With pleasure. More to come.






Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Anniversary

Call me nostalgic, but every so often I get a hankering to go down some of the old wine trails of my early days. California, that is. And on this hot July month in Texas, where temperatures of 108 have been common of late, I thought to take an escape, a break of sorts, and visit some of my old haunts.

I’ve written elsewhere about the summer of ’76 and driving the old ’62 Ford Falcon wagon, family in tow, up and down Highway 29, from Yountville to Calistoga. Those early days, where things were so simple and uncluttered. De-blinged. Recently, driving up the same highway, it was a pretty somber sight. Sure there was the occasional stretch-limo drone seeking out its target, one mini-cult winery or another. But the economic meltdown is showing signs of strain, especially in one of the high spots of American winemaking. It probably isn’t fatal, after all, there are the cycles, ask any bio-dynamic winemaker. The waxing and the waning moon, the need for certain preventative measure and the necessity for the “fix”. E la nave va.

Calistoga is one of those places that I love to love, but probably couldn’t reconcile living there. The All Seasons Café, same as it ever was, a little of the patina faded from years of the heat and the sun bearing down on the little resort known for its curative baths. Nance’s Hot Springs, one of the landing spots for ventures into the wine country, now absorbed into another spit and polished resort. Lazy days watching the planes take the people up in tours to see Napa Valley at 2000 feet, sipping a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. On this trip a half bottle of a dry rose of Sangiovese did the trick.

Not wishing to go all mommy blogging on you, but it is summer and everyone must take a break. On the eve of an anniversary, indulge me, please.

The Silverado Trail was empty, just me and the vines as the sun was setting around 9:00PM. The vines, everywhere the vines are pushing out grapes. The grapes know not of any economic slowdown. They are innocent, doing what they are destined to do. How would they know some irrational exuberant money managers on the other coast harnessed our collective greed and desire for more, bringing the American economy to a near standstill? By the time the grapes on the vine are wine in a bottle may we be so lucky to be looking back at the vintage of ’09 with less apprehension.

None the less, the vines, flanked by olive tree sentinels, flutter and push, following their nature.

It’s kind of nice to see the Valley like this; it’s like traveling back in time. Simpler, less conspicuous, quieter, the perfect place to go for a wine lover.

Earlier in the day I stopped by the Ehlers Estate. I don’t think they are considered a cult winery, although with barely 5000 cases made a year, they could probably apply for the status. But cult just aint what it used to be, so it looks like the Ehlers Estate will plow ahead with steady intent on making wine from organic grapes. There is also talk of bio-dynamic principles being utilized. I think having vineyard foreman Francisco Vega for the past 10 years is one of the best bets the estate has made. Francisco radiates the soul of California wine; dirt, sun, sweat, patience.

Let’s hope all the pampered valley vines get to live their wine-life as a premium bottle of Napa wine, not some bulked-out industrial $3.00 bottle of mixed-up wine. God knows, there are a bunch of folks up here who are giving their life for these vines and wines, on the wine trail in California.






Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Informed and the Elite: And the Road In

I was looking inside my fridge at all the bottles of opened wine inside. They have been there for a couple of weeks now. I had a tasting for a wine journalist and we had 45 or so wines to go through in a half a day. Afterwards, I took some of the opened reds to work and left the rest of the wines, reds, whites and rosés in the cooler. And over time I have gotten around to tasting them again, and for many of them, enjoying them even more with food and friends at a slower pace.

The wine business, in its present course, is a jumble of priorities, emergencies and opportunities. Often it is hard to tell which is which. But alongside all of the daily duties of the job, there really is a lot of pleasure.

Pleasure, the joy of wine and life and being alive and healthy. Does it have anything to do with one who aims to be better informed about wine and life? And for the elite members of the business, the master and supersensitive palates, how does that fit in with where they are?

There is so much chatter lately about where one goes to get information about which wine to drink, buy and cellar. The established journals, The Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate and Decanter, along with the specialized reports from Burghound, Stephen Tanzer, WineLibrary TV also adding to the mix. Blogs, folks like Alder Yarrow, Tom Wark, Fredric Koeppel, Alice Feiring, and many more, Wolfgang Weber, Ray Isle, Tom Hyland. The three docs, Dr. Vino, Dr. Debs, Dr. Parzen. The list grows daily. All this to say that to be a better informed lover of wine, the way to get there isn’t always the same for everyone. And to rise beyond to the status of an influential member of the wine community, there doesn’t have one and only one way to get there. It is really an exciting time, because we are witnessing the beginning of a Golden Era for wine lovers. And then there are folks who are just looking to get their drink on. Even for them, there are better choices, more wines from more places, better prices and lots of choice.

So is it choice that makes one better informed? Or is it selection? Is it hard work? Or is it dumb luck? When does one get to a point when one opens a bottle and seamlessly knows that wine to be the real deal? And is that because of better information? Or is it the pathway of the elite accomplices, on their way to being the best and the brightest?

There is nothing wrong with being elite or wanting to be elite. The word bears no resemblance to the popular Fox News aberration, elitist or elitism. Those are words that have been miscued for the purpose of propaganda and forwarding a particular cause. I am not thinking in that direction with this post. No I am really interested along with the pleasure principal, of the steps along the way. And I think after pleasure one reaches for more data, to become more informed as to what this enjoyment is all about. And then, if one stays on the road for a time, then one begins to see the mountain peaks or at least bask in the shadow of them for a moment or two before the inevitable sunset.

Let’s take an area on Italy, say Liguria. Some good wines, some better wines, maybe a great one or two in the mix as well. But for the purpose of this exercise, I’m just going to go through the stages to illustrate how I look at them.

You’re new to wine; you might be young or young at heart. So you have a month in Liguria, hiking. Along the way you sample a fresh Vermentino or Pigato. Not exactly your entry level wine, but we are in Italy and going with the flow. Somehow the wine made a mark, the way it went so well with the food, the time and the state of mind you were in.

Several years later, you have gotten into wine and food and are really interested in it. You are beginning to be better informed. You still like to hike, so back to the rugged hills of Liguria for a two week hike. Sounds fun already. Along the way you run into a winegrower like Dino Masala in Airole and taste his Rossese di Dolceacqua. The wine informs you of the land which the grapes are grown, a wildness in higher elevations where bees roam freely and the wild things are safe. There is more to wine this time, not just as a casual partner for the lunch meal or an extended evening of well being induced by wine. No, this time one is looking to go deeper.

Some years beyond, maybe two maybe twenty, that same traveler is wanting to return to those hills. This time they head to Arcagna above Dolceacqua, a little locality that hangs on the steep hills. In the quiet of these hills a winery, Terre Bianche, makes wine from those same grapes, Vermentino, Pigato and Rossese di Dolceacqua. But something happens on that hill. Maybe it is the quite of the place; maybe the wines have touched a spot inside the traveler’s soul. Something points to the life in the wine that is a higher expression, an elite moment of reckoning. No review sends that person there, no points, no accolades, no awards. But somehow this person on the path has found an expressive wine that rose above pleasure, above an informed experience. It was transcendental and it changed that person for life. More than any letters after one’s name.

That’s one way in. It can be solitary. Difficult to take your tasting group with you. But in all the years that I have been on the wine trail, the lessons I have learned in the field, among the vines, the dank cellars and the splintered bench outside the barrel room, they have been my teachers as well. It won’t get anyone a better paying job or a higher position, it won’t even equip one for the dining room on a Sunday night. It will take you on the ride of a lifetime, though; one which anyone has ever been on will hesitate to end.






Thursday, July 09, 2009

DOCG Misfits

The recent awarding of a DOCG (or was it 2 DOCG’s?) for Prosecco started it all off. I got thinking that there are several wines that have received the DOCG status, that, to me, seem ill fitting. Seeing as I started with Prosecco, let’s start there, shall we?

Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani. Is it one DOCG or is it two? Here we have a classic case of al’Italiana, confusion right from the onset. Most likely it was a political decision, and seeing as we are in Luca Zaia’s backyard, all the more reason for a politician to decide what’s best for the farmers. Good old Dr. Zaia.

I could understand Conegliano Valdobbiadene a little better than Colli Asolani, but really, is there any Prosecco worthy of a DOCG? If there was, perhaps we might want to consider reserving it for wines that come from the Cartizze, a small and revered spot which is the heart and soul of Prosecco. Maybe a Cartizze would be a laudable rival to one of the great Italian sparkling wines, Franciacorta. But, no, that wasn’t the solution. Why recognize a lion when there are so many asses braying for attention. Let’s give it to them all. But just one problem, say some of the producers. The new law will restrict production, forcing higher prices. Perfect timing for a world where the popularity of Champagne plummets daily.

The reality is, there will be less Prosecco DOCG (or Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani as the politicians have deigned to call it, making it even more confusing) and there will also be a Prosecco DOC. Great. That’s probably what they should have done to Chianti and Chianti Classico, but that’s another paragraph. I wouldn’t want to be a Prosecco producer right now. The folks in Trentino must be having a gay old time with this one.

A couple of whites (not the only ones, by the way) that I find hard to imagine being DOCG-worthy: Albana di Romagna. What in heaven’s name allowed that to happen? It’s a fine wine to have when one is in the area, but really, is it on the same par as a Fiano or a Gavi? I think not. I tried to grok the wine, and as early as the mid 1980’s I was on to it, looking for every example I could find to determine the mystique of this wine. But, like Galestro, it fell short of fabulous and I couldn’t figure out why the Italian authorities thought this wine worthy of a DOCG. So I chalked it up to a brilliant political maneuver by the communists of the region. I am surprised they haven’t gotten a DOCG for Lambrusco yet.

The other white, I am sorry to say, is Vernaccia di San Gimignano. I know, I know, Michelangelo, is said to have described the wine he loved and wrote poetry as one that "kisses, licks, bites, pinches and stings". In all the many times I have drunk Vernaccia from San Gimignano I can attest to four out of the five qualities. But kissing? Rarely. Sting, yes. Bites, yes. Pinches, yes. Even licks. But no smooch fest is Vernaccia. So it was given the DOCG for the respect that one gives to an early white DOC? That’s like saying let’s give the part in a new movie to the old star even though the role calls for a younger person. Vernaccia is a minor player in an operetta. Not Puccini and La Boheme or Madam Butterfly or Tosca. No. Not. Ever. Quel dommage.

While we are rampaging through the Tuscan countryside, let’s tackle Chianti. First, let me be clear. Chianti Classico has a right to the claim of DOCG. Absolutely. But plain vanilla, made in an industrial manner straight Chianti? In Fiasco? What’s up with that? Other than appearing to be totally wrong and sending a very off beam message, it isn’t likely that the powers that be in Italy will ever rescind the DOCG for plain vanilla Chianti. But the whole legitimacy of the Chianti Classico, and even the sub regions, Rufina et al, is compromised precariously. Guilt by association. Hard to keep staying alive. I reckon the lesson that the folks in Bordeaux are learning once again ( the hard way) are not comprehended by their Italian cousins in Tuscany. Might as well be another planet. It too is a shame, because as the world fine wine market is melting down, and we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, the Italians are more interested in their August vacations than the 4th quarter of 2009. Bordeaux is failing and with more revelations to come. Tuscany, well they are waiting in line to get a towel and an umbrella and a beach chair. Bless their hearts.

Last one- Bardolino Superiore. Now I like Bardolino and I love the Chiaretto. But the wine is a romp, a fun time, a fast ride with the windows down. Bardolino is a hot date with a cute blond in a mini. But there is no gravitas attached to it. Bardolino is a summer affair, while the faithful spouse, let’s call her Amarone, sits at home and waits. And feeds the kids. And is full of character. Yes, Bardolino is fine as a DOC, but no “G’, no “G”. Ah gee.

It is July and I’m entering that period where the sun beats down on my head and funny ideas emerge. But the Italians have me beat with their misfit decisions about which wines should and shouldn’t be the standard bearers for the country. Greed, politics, back room haggling, deals made in smoky chambers, in a word, politics.

Like I said, quel dommage.





Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Country Run and the Best Fried Pie in America

A million years ago when I was a young buck, I had a large territory in North Texas to cover for the wine company I worked for. We were a fine wine company, with classified growths, exceptional Italian wines, great Mosel wines, ports and Champagnes. And cult California wines. About once a month I’d go on my country run which would take me to the Oklahoma border to a little town in North Texas.

I was also into winemaking and this was the area where T.V. Munson set up his vines and lab to help save the European vineyards. See my book review on Munson and his life over at Alder Yarrow’s Vinography blog (where he has me do the occasional book review for the site).

Anyway, today I was in the mood for catfish and fried pie and there was a little shack out there that Saveur magazine had just written up, so I figured a country run was once more in order.

I can almost drive the road in my sleep; so many times I remember doing it. Once when I was up there, on Dec 31, 1981, when I got home my apartment had been broken in and my precious Canon VIT rangefinder was stolen. A month later I bought a house, @ 16.5% interest. It was the heady Reagan era, and times were tough for middle class folks just starting up in the wine biz. But hey, I made it through that and worse.

Today, though, I headed first to lunch. I had spent the better part of the morning power washing the apartment building that I have a condo in and today was “duty day” for me. Soaking wet and hungry, I quickly showered and headed up the road, 66 miles away.

The sign was pretty funny, and there was a waiting line for lunch. But it was cool inside and the smell of fried hushpuppies and catfish was too much. Within minutes, after stepping into an east Texas dialect we ordered up, catfish, shrimp and sides.

But the icing on the cake was the fried pie. I had an aunt, her name was Amelia, but we all called her Aunt Mil, who was one of the greatest cooks in my life. And Aunt Mil could cook just about anything. She knew how to fry a pie and this one did her memory well. As the apricot oozed out of the flaky shell I could almost hear my aunt calling me to the table. It’s been ten years since she passed on. Boy, do I miss her cooking almost more than anything.

After lunch we headed on over to the T.V. Munson homestead and looked over his Italianate home and vineyards. The neighborhood has grown up around the old regal home, some of the neighbors probably don’t know (or care) what this man’s work represents to the people of France and Europe. He was a giant.

After our pilgrimage we headed back home but not before stopping by one of my old accounts, Driggs #3. The owner, Robert Driggs, was there and we barely noticed each other. But after a few minutes of reminiscing, we hit our stride and got back up to speed. Robert is a really great guy, so friendly and really one of the people who put fine wine on the map in North Texas. He lives in a pretty quiet way and place, but some of the wines I have sold (and bought) with Robert have been pretty amazing. I saw a 1975 Il Poggione Brunello in the display case along with a 1988 Ridge Montebello. And the prices are so reasonable. I picked up a 1979 Château Ducru Beaucaillou and a 1980 Foppiano Petite Sirah for a song. I know in his cellar there are stashed some great Mosel wines from the mid 1970’s along with almost every Opus One every made. And that’s just for starters. The man has an incredible sense of what great wine is and I have never been disappointed in the wines I took home from his shop. The 1968 San Martin Petite Sirah (bought the day of the Dec.31 break-in) was one of the greatest wines I have ever had. I hate to tell you how little I paid for it.

Not bad for what I thought would be a day off; great fried pie, a pilgrimage to the Munson home and a couple of great bottles to take home for the July 4th celebration.

Our 4th of July wines, served to friends who just moved here from L.A. Now those were some mighty fine bottles, including one I sold(and just retrieved) 25 years ago!



Thursday, July 02, 2009

Lament for an Old Giant

It seems like everyday we get another headline announcing the passing of someone who was part of the larger American family. I have been thinking about this iconic Tuscan wine, one that grew up with America. And as America developed, so this wine also expanded in the marketplace and on tables across America. For many people this wine came to symbolize Italian wine. In restaurants, surely, in its day, the top tier had more swagger than Brunello.

My earliest memory is in the cellar of an old Italian restaurant, helping the leggy female sommelier open all the wood boxes. It would take 20 or more minutes, from the 750ml to the 1.5 Liter, the regular "Tan" and "Gold Standard" Riservas. We could have sold those boxes now, but in 1979 they were broken down and thrown out. A shame, because they used a kind of pine that dried to an almost hardwood density.

There was this little red wine, referred to as if it had become an amorphous reanimation of a magnificent Italian from the Renaissance. Today it would a simple Toscana IGT, but in those days, it was a find. Sangiovese, probably with a little Montepulciano or Primitivo ( legal for that time) that would come to the table for under $20 in a white tablecloth high-class place. The goal was to replace ice tea and Liebfraumilch on those white tablecloths with something Italian. Something that went with the food.

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