Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Mirage of the Maremma ~ Ghost Stories from Grosseto

~ True Story ~

This time last year, I was traveling with a group in Italy. We were one day away from being finished and were in Grosseto to meet up with Morellino producers. At the end of the day we headed back into town, checked into our hotel and agreed to meet later for one last dinner.

Settling into my room, I opened my window, only to be greeted by the onerous barking of a hound below. I went down to see what the poor little creature was crying about, but was unable to find his owner. About then it was time to go to dinner.

We’d had a long day and most of us were tired. One in our group, a young buyer (let’s call her Carrie), wanted to stay up, so I hung out with her. She was cool, had good energy, and although she probably would have rather been there with her boyfriend, humored me. She was kind of an old soul, and that was how we interacted.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"In Texas you still live in a happy country."

Two-stepping across Texas with Marco Bacci

Marco Bacci with Damian Mandola near Austin, Texas

How does one top a week of Italian wine in New York? How about piling in a car with an Italian and his wine and traveling across the state from Dallas to Austin, and then to Houston and back to Dallas, in four days? That was my mission this week, back home in Texas with the Tuscan Marco Bacci and wines from two of his properties in Montalcino and the Maremma.

I have just about resigned myself that as long as I deal with Italian wines I will be dealing with Tuscany. And I say that not with a sense of resignation, although it sounds that way, but as an inevitable acceptance of the realities of the wine business in Italy. Tuscany has a lot to say about the way wine from Italy is perceived and they represent a huge portion of the wine made in Italy that comes to America and the rest of the world – correction – Fine wine made in Italy – because Tuscany is a leader and they have a pole position in the high stakes race to make Italian wine seen and thought of as the finest wines in the world.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An America Without Italian Wine

From the "nothing to kill or die for" dept.

Let’s take a imaginary scenario – trade between Italy and the USA is halted for economic and security reasons. No more Italian wine comes to America, ever again. What would this mean to Italians in the vineyards? To Americans in Kankakee?

Assuming we had no choice, let’s say the distribution of wealth had been arranged so that the bottom 80% of the population held 15% of the wealth and the top 20% of the population held 85% of the wealth. And about that time someone got the idea that to trade with Italy would cause further economic imbalance and would jeopardize the peace in the world.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New York snapshot – Barbetta's timeless appeal

This week has been absolutely beautiful in New York City. Autumn is in full swing, with cooler weather, gusts of cooler wind with a scattering of rain and wine makers from Italy (and everywhere else) crawling all over the city. And though I am headed back to Texas and ready for some blue skies and dramatic sunsets, this time New York was really a joy.

Last night, in a moment of spontaneity, a friend who grew up here and spends a lot of time in New York, invited me to dinner. As we walked from the NY Wine Experience (a total mosh pit, but filled with many friends in the wine world – my tribe) we headed towards a dark little spot. “I promise you this isn’t a dive. Although I like dives,” he pleaded. I was game. We headed into a darkened bar and he greeted the man at the bar. They reminisced like old friends.

We were led to a dining room that looked like it came straight out of Il Gattopardo (or the Savoy era). I started getting goose bumps. I am after all a bumpkin from out west, remember? As we were seated and handed the menu’s I instantly recognized Piemontese influence. The restaurant was Barbetta, one of the oldest continuously owned Italian restaurants in New York, perhaps the USA.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

DOCG Comeuppance, Classified Dregs from the 90's and Other NY Tales

From the “life’s too short to drink bad wine or eat bad cheese” dept.

Anyone who follows this blog for that last few years probably have read about my friend Andrea Fassone. Andrea moved to NY from Torino in August of 2001. Great timing. And in Oct of 2008 he started his own wine importing business. Again, his timing was impeccable. Andrea lost both his parents when he was young and essentially has a sister and aunt and uncle left in Italy. Let’s say when Andrea came to America he burned the boats (but not the bridges). Now he is happily married to Lorraine Hinds and has been welcomed into her wonderful family. Andrea and Lorraine recently had twins, Max and Matteo. Those boys are a post for a whole ‘nother time, but suffice to say, Andrea and Lorraine have their hands full. In the very best sense of the word.

Yesterday while in NY on a panel for Social Media for the Vinitaly USA tour, I stopped by and tasted wines with various friends and producers. I don’t do business with Andrea – we’re friends – but I do enjoy seeing what he has found in Italy – he is not an industry insider – but he is a natural – and he has good business sense and an even better work ethic – he is a model importer/wholesaler on the small scale – and he is growing – remember he started up in a downturn.

Anyway, a long way to say he really gigged me the other day with a DOCG question. He knows I am the unofficial watchdog of the ongoing DOCG cavalcade of wines to be nominated and awarded the vaunted ribbon of excellence.

“Did you know, Alfonso, that the only wine that has a DOCG that is both red and white is Roero?” As a matter of fact I did not. So to elucidate and share with the rest of the room, I snapped his picture with one of his wines, from a producer he knows simply as “PACE”. So there you have it – news you can use – from NY.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Full Immersion

One has to know that the Italian influence has gone deep when the official wine of the 125th Texas State Fair is a Sangiovese. I never thought I’d see that day, but last week while giving an informal talk about the history of Texas wine (bet you didn’t know I knew something about that) I not only came across the wine but also uncovered a treasure trove of information about wine and grapes in the early days of Texas wine lore.

To say that I love the Texas state fair is an understatement. Who could not when it is in one’s own home town? For as long as I have lived here I have been drawn to the timeless aspect of our yearly festival. Three weeks long, with food, beer, wine, and any number of imponderables.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Full Moon Under the Spell of the Spanish Sun

There are those days when the wine business can be a real treat. Yesterday was one of those. In fact all week has been a textbook “perfect beginning” to the October onslaught. Earlier I was driving home at the 11th hour and thinking about all the wines from the many countries I had tasted. New Mexico, Italy, Texas, Germany, California, Spain, Washington, Australia, Chile, Argentina and Germany. What, no France?

And while it has been a parade of riches from the vineyards of the world, what has really grabbed me? This week, I’d have to say, hands down, that I have been under the spell of Spain.

Starting earlier in the week, when I popped into a room to grab a glass and saw an array of wines from Montilla. Sherry-like, but with their own identity. I blogged about it a little on the business site. That really primed the pump.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Burden of Beauty

Italy’s charm is her innate beauty. Art, architecture, music, food and the multi-act opera we’ve come to know as family. Youth, strength, prowess; throw them into the pasta bowl and careful observers look at Italy as a paean to perfection. Beauty is the crown, the reason why the eyes look towards her, why they lust for her art, her food and her wines.

And then there is Brunello. The first wine to be exalted with a DOCG, back in the days before personal computers. Brunello, a simply lovely wine, content to amble about the countryside in search of adventure and love, only wanting to make people happy.

Brunello was so beautiful when young. Stylish, but strong. Complex, but not confusing. Rich, but accessible to the other 99%. And then somewhere Brunello tumbled on a slippery path in the forest. And she has been spending more than a few years trying to get back up.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sore Losers

Where O-N-D meets O-M-G

I figured it must be the holiday season when I woke up from a dream that had me arguing for Italian wines on a wine list. During the sacred O-N-D season (October-November-December) where a lot of wine and spirits are moving through the system, the emotions and the expectations run high, so much that they invade the subconscious. My hope is to go into that cavern and try to effect changes on those who dwell more in the unconscious than in the reality I would prefer to see them in. But, alas, after 30 years of battling in the trenches, I have come to realize there are some folks who just will never get it. Do you want to know a secret? I’m Ok with that. Because I have moved on. I am limiting my exposure to the slow pacers and those who don’t run to win. I have found other fields that will accept the seeds I have brought to them from Italy.

It really all gets down to intellectual engagement, for me. I mean, after pounding on a chap for 20 years and he really doesn’t get it, isn’t it time to abandon that plot if there are richer lands to harvest? Yes. And man are they out there.

So rather than lamenting about the many suns that are setting, let me tell you about a sunrise over a rich field.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

My Last Meal

I came across a magazine article the other day that posed the question “What would you order for your last supper?” and it got me to thinking.

For one, I wouldn’t order out. I figure I won’t be in a position to order anything or anyone. If indeed it were to be my last meal, I would hope I would be beyond trying to orchestrate those around me to do my will. But in the spirit of the question…

….what I would really like, if I could, would be to make the dish I have been making for as long as I can remember. That would be something loosely known in our family as Eggplant Parmigiana. And while it bears little resemblance to any eggplant dish I have ever seen outside my family, it is my ultimate comfort food and would be the dish I would want to have in my belly as I crossed over into my very own Valhalla.
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