Sunday, March 18, 2018

Six days in an Italian jail

A story inspired by real-life events...

What would you do if, all of a sudden, you couldn’t drink wine? If the forces of destiny didn’t allow you the freedom you had become accustomed to? To go where you want to go. To see who you want to see and to eat and drink what you want to?

For those of you who have experienced Italy, whether by living there or by visiting, one of the great things about the place is the access to beauty in its many forms. And isn’t beauty a piece of the truth? To sit on a table next to a vineyard, with light spring weather, cool but not cold, and a breeze which is bringing in pollen and butterflies and sand from the Sahara. To tear apart a fresh loaf of crusty bread, to have a platter of salumi and cheese, and a bottle of fresh wine from the nearby vineyard. Things many of us take for granted. To be able to walk out into the field, to be able to sing, to dance, to hug someone you love.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

My (Oh, So Superior) Wine vs. Your (So-So) Wine

from the archives...

Three weeks on the road, driving across Texas - Dallas to Houston to San Antonio to Austin to Dallas - there has been time to talk in the car with my travel mates. We go into a city and see clients, and then get in the car and head to another city. In and out. Over time patterns emerge. Here is what I have seen in these days.

Whether the person you are going to see is a seasoned veteran or a new-on-the-scene wine buyer, they all have opinions. If they are older, they often have a punch list of preferences by which they evaluate the Italian wines we are setting in front of them. If they are the new crop, they too have their list. How the two different types fill out their list is quite different.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

In Search of the Untamed - Is it Too Late for Italy?

In a lifetime quest to uncover every inch of Italy, what I have been looking for lately has been a return to something I found very early and didn’t know just how important it was. And that is the secret life of the wild, the feral, the untamed. Sure, fifty years ago, it was easy to walk down a street in Pozzuoli and see an Italy that was pretty much characteristic at the time – chaotic, noisy, bustling with life, kids running after the tall, lanky Americano in patched jeans and a funky t-shirt, back packing across his ancestor’s lands with a camera. It was everywhere. But is it still there, somewhere?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Wine for the Rest of Your Life

“As wine ages, sometimes it goes into this period, let’s call it a hiccup, in which it is not this robust, vibrant, hunk of a wine.” - I wrote in my notes, years ago, about a California wine, (It was a 1976 Jordan Cabernet). The ’76 was Jordan’s debut wine, and at the time, it caused a stir in the marketplace, for it was juicy and bold and sexy and drinkable. In those days, a premium Cabernet from California was rough and tannic, a built-for-the-road kind of wine. Not necessarily an early-drinker, which is now all the rage (and a PR’s person’s catnip). Jordan went on to make many vintages (still does) and their style evolved, morphed, changed with the times. But that ’76, when I had tasted it and written it up in my log, was in a valley, trapped in the fog of its winter.

The wine came out of that fog and further evolved. In fact, the last bottle I had, must have been 20 years ago, was mature, velvety, and still delicious. The crocus bloomed.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Snapshot of a Twenty-Something – the Somm in the Sky

…my very own walk in the clouds

This week, many of the great palates (tongue and minds) of wine descended from their perches to land in Dallas, to judge at the Texsom International Wine Awards (TIWA). There are not enough reasons to make Dallas a destination, in the wine world, save for the commerce. But twice a year, master sommeliers and masters of wine, along with some of us mere mortals, convene together to plow through an amazing array of wines from around the world.

I’ve been judging at this event for more than 20 years, having first been invited by Rebecca Murphy, when she ran it as the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition. As the world of wine has expanded, so has TIWA evolved into a larger, more international event. And with the plethora of talent that has been attracted to Texas, twice a year, because of events like Texsom, it feels like myriads of Muhammads come to the mountain (or mound) of Dallas.

Actually, to Grapevine, Texas. Yes, Grapevine.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Is Calabria the New Etna?

Bucita, Calabria - 1977 - A Member of the Family
When, in the course of talking about Italy and Italian wine with those around me, in the wine trade, in shops, at wine dinners and among the Italians, we often come around to the latest "hot spot" in Italian wine. Right now, Etna is the darling. And for good reason, many of which I and those better than myself have already elucidated upon. But once you put your boat on that river, where else can it take you, what can you discover, what is waiting for you to conquer? Because after all, isn’t this whole wine thing about what Joseph Conrad whispers in Heart of Darkness? “Come and find out.”

Many of the Italians I have talked to have not visited Calabria. There are all kinds of rationales presented. “It is so dangerous down there.” “It is not an easy place to get to.” “The 'Ndràngheta makes it impossible to travel safely.” “They don’t speak an Italian I can understand.” “Saudi Calabria? No way!”

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Prosecco’s Epic Fail in the New Italian Hotspots in America

What has happened to Prosecco in America? Has it become but a mere commodity, aimed for a populist demographic, with the lowest price now being the main goal? How is it some of the most expensive real estate in the world (Cartizze), with generations of dedicated farmers and landholders, and in a time of the highest degree of popularity a wine has had (Prosecco), that some of the finest producers and winemakers cannot get their wines listed on the up-and-coming Italian wine lists in America? How is it that sparkling wines from Franciacorta, or Trentino, or Emilia Romagna can get those spots, but Prosecco has been relegated to the lower shelves of chain grocery stores? Has success spoiled Prosecco?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Italy’s Unsung Heroes Series – Giuliano Noé

An influencer behind the influencers

The story I am about to tell you doesn’t have anything to do with words or language. Which is odd, because here I am, using words and language. Well, let’s just say this story cannot be limited by words or language, that they are a jumping off ground. An attempt to explain the unexplainable.

I was sitting at a table last fall, in Piedmont, for a symposium on Barbera d’Asti, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Vinchio - Vaglio Serra’s flagship wine, Vigne Vecchie, a Barbera d’Asti DOCG. This last sentence might not mean much to you, dear reader, but to the thousands of souls who have put their life’s work into their soil, and to have it produce, with the help of God, grapes that have been destined to go into such a wine, a Barbera, it is the apotheosis of what almost every winemaker in Italy has been striving for since the end of World War II. I don’t say that lightly.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I Left My Heart in Barbaresco

High on a hill, it calls to me

What is it about a place that marks one’s soul? When a place seems more than recognizable the first time one walks in that place, although one had never been there? And that the spirit of the place infuses upon that soul and being, a sense of belonging, of an intimacy that transcends mere time and place? Such is the effect Barbaresco has had upon me for the greater part of my adult life. And it surprised no one more than myself, this attachment, this passion, for a place and its wine.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Everything I know about Italian wine I learned from the French

Well, almost…

"My favorite" - Jacopo Bacci @ Four Seasons Hotel - Hong Kong."
Bordeaux − I’m [virtually] in the modern center of the business of wine – for the world. Not New York. Not Hong Kong. Not Rome. Bordeaux. Right now, wine experts, critics and influencers, are migrating to this epicenter for wine, to taste wines that are, at this time, undrinkable, and will only be released three years later to the public, before which they will have already been bought and paid for. These wines, the 2017’s, will follow two highly hyped and sought after vintages (the 2015 and 2016), and which was a vintage (2017) that was challenging, at best. Frost, hail, drought, extreme heat, another potential dystopian vintage of the decade. They will sell. And they will be unaffordable to 98% of us. Yeah, the Italians have something else to learn from their French cousins.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

So, You Want to be an Italian Wine Expert?

from the "notes to myself" dept.

We Americans spend a lot of time alone. In the car, in front of a computer, and if one is lucky, taking long walks (or runs or bike rides) in the neighborhoods, in the country or deeper in nature. The monkey mind that is constantly chattering is set aside, and peace, and eventually clarity, arises.

Over the years, my inner Carl Jung has been giving this chat to me, in order to focus my purpose in this livelihood I have been given in the wine trade. It has been an epiphany, of sorts, for me. It is raw and unexpurgated. Proceed with caution – it is not for poseurs.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

On the Wine Trail in Italy - The Terrible Teens

Or, 12 going on 17...

In a world that pulses on a 24-hour news cycle, where we don’t remember on Thursday what happened on Monday, here we are at the birth day. For better or worse, on the wine trail in Italy turns 12 today, and heads into its thirteenth year, not officially a teen yet, but feeling like 12 going on 17.

I should have seen it coming. When O.T.W.T.I.I. was a baby she was cute and cuddly. Her toddler years, her all-about-diaper-training, her first steps, her two year-old rebellion years, and as a proud papa, I (or rather, we) weathered it all. As she grew up and became a little gangly (e.g. wordy), my friends and family remarked on what a precocious one she was. But I persevered. And now she is a teenager, and I am prepared for her to hate me in a few years.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Italian Wine List from a Cinematic Perspective: “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.”

There’s something about a wine list that seems a lot like the “hand in the box challenge.” You never know what you’re going to find inside. It could be warm and fuzzy. Or it can be slimy and menacing. It can be a relief. Or it can be disgusting. Working in the wine trade, it now seems from this perspective of 30+ years that wine lists are pretty much a reflection of the sensibilities of the person (or companies) who puts the thing together. Which can be a relief. Or it can be disgusting.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Long Life, As Expected?

From the archives

I was passed a message. “He’s gone.” Just like that. Too young. Too much life left in him. But that was it. The End. Life over for Morro.

Another note, in a text. “She’s here!” Brand new. Just born. Ready for the world. Novella. A fresh beginning.

Non c'è due senza tre. A letter arrives. Old school. “ One year before she turns 100, if she’d only made it a little longer.” And a long life, as expected, still missed, because she was so loved. My Gaglioppa.

You really never know. It could be one long life for a wine, it could be the beginning of a life not yet unfolding, or it could be an abrupt end to a life lost too soon. How many times has it happened, corkscrew at hand, early evening, anticipation, but never really knowing until the moment of truth?

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Province of Fine Wine in Today’s Disrupted World

Writing about wine is at a turning point. If the writing is well done, it can serve to lift us out of the constant sea of disruption, of all we see that has become the new normal, and give us a moment for fresh air and hope that the cosmic fireball truly isn’t hurtling towards us at breakneck speed. “No guarantees on that one,” said the seer in the desert, who tracks the midnight sky with her trained eye.

This past week, some fine wine writing has appeared to give me hope. Even if our celestial rendezvous with kinetic bombardment is inevitable, until then, we can cherish and celebrate that which is good about being human, even if it merely seems like building a cathedral with toothpicks.

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