Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sardegna and wine - a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

By chance, I’m sitting in a restaurant and nearby me is a table of four. Urban dwellers, well-traveled, by the looks of their garb and little snippets of conversation that float into the dining room for all to hear. One in the group starts talking about wine and Italy. The usual suspects are cited – Rome, Florence, Venice, The Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre. And then someone mentions Costa Smeralda in Sardegna. By this time the wine has been flowing, social lubrication amplifies the voices and one in the group states, for all to hear, “I love the Costa Smeralda, the beaches are great, the seafood holds a candle to no one and the people are friendly. But honestly, I don’t get Sardinian wine.”

It was one of those moments. In a busy dining room it was as if time had stood still. A conversational lull in the room had occurred at that time, and the last statement, “I don’t get Sardinian wine” bellowed throughout the room and careened off the walls. Had the wine gods issued a dispatch?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hidden Calabria and the dawn of a new day

Feral, untouched, wild, unknown – Calabria is a wine frontier. Long passed over by wine connoisseurs in favor of Piedmont and Tuscany, Calabria is part of the grand excuse people make for not getting into Italian wine more because “they are just too complicated and unpredictable.” And those folks have a point – wines from Calabria are not for the conventional set - they require an open and adventurous spirit. But for those who delve into the dark heart of southern Italy, there are some amazing wines awaiting you.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The California Drought Report: Déjà vu and other ramblings while driving on the Silverado Trail at midnight.

It was déjà vu. The tinderbox conditions we were sitting in must have made it seem like it. It was an early summer night, just like before. And there was the same warm breeze that cooled as the sun disappeared behind the mountain range. We were sitting outside at the restaurant attached to the Solage resort in Calistoga. And the subject of the drought came up. I made the comment that it seemed a lot like 1976, which was the first of two drought years that produced some good wines. “I remember being here; the conditions seem the same.” A guest at our table asked me what Solage was like 40 years ago. “I wouldn't know. I was parked nearby in a lot near the fairgrounds; my wife was 6 months pregnant and she and I and her daughter were sleeping in the ‘62 Falcon wagon, hoping not to be awakened in the middle of the night by the local police.” A stretch from the luxe setting of Solage.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

A little bit of Americana for our friends in Italy

A pictorial journey through West Texas on July 4th weekend

Three weeks ago, I was sitting in a basement in Bari judging Italian wine made from any number of indigenous grapes. Today, I’m in West Texas, eating chicken fried steak and drinking Prosecco. Life is strange, ain’t it? But for my Italian friends, these past few days are the kind of experience I know many of them would give their I-teeth for. Imagine a 4th of July weekend in West Texas. For some it might seem foreboding. But it all depends on who you’re hanging with.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lucania ~ As I See It

From the Radici del Sud notebook

Forget anything you know about Basilicata and Southern Italy. Disregard anyone telling you this is the poorest region in all of Italy. What I’m about to tell you, I hope, will change what and how you think about this region and the South.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Radici del Sud ~ An Emotional Pilgrimage to One’s Origins

One soul's radical search for the ideal on an imbalanced planet 

Bucita, Calabria ~ 1977
Do you have a lifelong quest? What about life in this world lights up your spirit? Is there some thing, whether it be objective or subjective, that keeps your heart pumping blood through your veins? I hope so, for your sake. We’ve seen too much in this world, lately, of souls who have no greater purpose. And when those dark things happen, our world stumbles.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Master Class in Indigenous Wines ~ As Taught by a Donkey, a Rooster and the Spirit of Place

There are aspects to life that don’t travel so well on the road. One of them is the lack of interaction with creatures other than humans. Maybe it is a pet, or the birds in one’s back yard, any number of life forms that constitute the daily connections one has, sometimes not even thinking about it. The other, if one is so inclined, is the interplay one has with nature, the grounded lifeforms that don’t move. Maybe it is a tree, or a bush, a plant with fruit or vegetables. And while traveling, those elements that form part of the identity of one’s life, be it only an inner one, they aren’t able to be packed into the suitcase.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

What the World Needs Now is Passerina, Sweet #Passerina

Rome, if anything, is a mirror of all that is good and bad in the world. From my first trip here, in 1971, and with all the times I have come into this city, it has eternally stayed the same. Rome is simply a reflection of the humanity that inhabits present time and space.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Death of a Loved One

From the "not quite back on the wine trail, yet" dept.

In a world where there are so many tragic events  ̶  from the father who lost his wife and daughter when he was 30 and raised his two sons as a single parent, only to lose a son when he became a grown up, to a young boy who, at 5, lost his father to tribal warfare in Ruanda ̶  what does the loss of one tree matter?

Earlier this month, crisscrossing Texas by car, time and again, I recall the morning I was driving from Dallas to Houston and saw a large, mature oak tree in a field that had toppled over from the rain. I was going 65-70 and as I saw the newly fallen giant, I felt a sharp pain inside. Still green, still hopeful from a Spring filled with energy, this tree wouldn’t see another autumn.

A few weeks later, driving by the same spot, the tree was brown and lifeless now. There was none of that “It‘s still green, it might just be sleeping on its side” pretend one does to internally forestall the inevitable reality of death.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

On turning 100 +1: How many times do you get to say this and it really happens?

You hear it all the time at the Italian table. Someone has a birthday and everyone picks up a glass of wine to toast them. Someone else shouts out “Cent’anni!” and it is followed by the volley “e uno!”

One hundred years. And one.

And this time it really happened. To my dear mom.

In all likelihood, we would be celebrating her 100th today. For years she thought she had been born in 1915. But when she went to get her passport, mom had to dig up a birth certificate. She was born in Tobasco, Colorado, which is now a ghost town. What a surprise it was to mom when she found out she was one year older than she thought she was. Oh well, it wasn’t like she was cheated out of that year.

“It seems like I just turned 100. Where did that last year go?” Where do they all go, mom? We’re in the boat with you, even the young ones. Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin', into the future.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

“All Italian White Wines Taste Alike”

I’m sitting at a table, in a restaurant, with a seminal figure in white wine. The beverage director comes up to us to say hello. A few pleasantries are exchanged. After all, we are guests, even if we are part of the “trade.” Our money spends as well.

We’re talking to the beverage director about which wines do and do not work in his place, which is seafood centric. We come to find out that in this place of his, he says his best-selling category is Cabernet Sauvignon. We are close to a huge body of water; the city is cosmopolitan and diverse. The clientele is well-healed. The menu is seafood. And Cabernet is the big hit here.

We then approach the subject of Italian wine. I’m beginning to think this fellow isn’t a white wine drinker. But he confirms it when he declares “all Italian white wines taste alike.” He then went on to remark that he had never had a memorable one.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Counter-Lust in Austin: A Seductive New Dining Spot in Texas

No Tables. No Servers. No Tipping.

Let’s see, where have I been? Monday, it was in San Francisco. Tuesday, back in Dallas. Wednesday? Houston. And Thursday found me in Austin, Texas. Hopping around from city to city via plane, car and Uber, I’m playing road warrior again this month. My travel schedule is insane, but right now being on the road feels like the right thing. And occasionally (actually, often) I find myself poised in front of brilliance. Whether it is listening to Darrell Corti, Tim Gaiser and Shelley Lindgren wax eloquently about Chianti Classico, or Alois Lageder explain with a deeply back-lit gleam in his eye about his transformation from grower to bio-dynamic guru, right now I feel like one lucky fellow. But those are vanity posts for another day. I’m currently smitten with a little new place in Austin, and one you should get yourselves to, A.S.A.P., before it becomes the hardest seat to get in Texas. And I’m betting it won’t be long before that happens.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Chianti for the Commoner

“When will you talk about it?” My friend was pouring me a Sangiovese, in purezza, leaning in. “You and I discussed it over a year ago. Isn’t it time yet?” Raffaella, my Tuscan confidant in purezza, was pressing me to come in out of the rain and spill it.

“Ok, I promise to get into it at the next possible opportunity.” But I wasn’t looking for a fight or controversy. I’d had enough of that from the Vinitaly debacle. It really should be something more intimate, like a letter. After all it is a communication among friends. But it is a conversation that needs to be opened up to more than me and my Tuscan confidant. A letter form, that feels right. It’s more personal.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Italian Wine Appellations that are Downright Confounding

After having spent most of April crisscrossing Texas in my covered wagon to teach hundreds of people about Italian wine, there were a few moments when I was scratching my head, wondering why I was teaching some of this stuff. The scores of DOCG wines, hundreds of IGT (P) wines and even more DOC (P).

It was a simple comment in passing that started this. I was talking to an Italian and he said, “This Toscana IGT is a disaster. How can anyone make sense of it when you can have one for $4 and one for $400?” I noted the comment and moved back to my class presentation. But it stuck with me.

Let’s take a look at a few of the denominations that cause me their fair share of agita.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sacrificing the Basics for Babel

This weekend I listened to a panel of chefs from Texas who brought national attention to Southwest cuisine. They were Robert Del Grande, Dean Fearing and Stephan Pyles, and we were at the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit at Perini Ranch in West Texas.

Robert Del Grande, who hails from Houston, said something that caught my ear. He said, “In the beginning, we were looking for ingredients that you couldn’t find in the supermarket.” Things like red bell peppers, chayote squash, heck, even cilantro, they couldn’t be found in the large stores. Here we were, a chef talking about a time 30+ years ago, telling us he was looking for something no one else had.

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