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Mondo Di Vino
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[06/16/2024, 16:15] Affogato and Averna with a Sicilian Surrealist

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Our time at the dinner table was over. Giorgio motioned to me and his wife that he was moving to the drawing room. His wife said she would prepare the affogato. Meanwhile Giorgio foraged in his liquor cabinet for a bottle of amaro. ?Seeing as we are all Siculi, shall we have some Averna with our dessert?? he suggested. As long as it wasn?t Cynar, I was fine with it. I?d been plied with the artichoke amaro in Palermo with every family visit. Averna was a relief.

?Isa was visiting a friend near Piazza Navona and brought back some gelato from Tre Scalini.? Isa had a sweet tooth, I gathered. Giorgio too. Fine with me. I was 20, skinny and ready for whatever came my way. I could handle amaro and gelato.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

As we enjoyed our dessert, Giorgio got up and went into another room. He brought back a small bound volume. ?Take this as a gift. It is a book of poetry I wrote.? I was never one for poems, but it was a kindness. ?Perhaps your Sicilian grandmother can read it and tell you about the lines. Or you can learn Italian better and read it yourself.? Yes, in fact I was going to take first year Italian when I returned to university in the fall. I would make it a goal. ?Thank you, sir. I look forward to reading and digesting it.? Giorgio laughed. ?You?re going to need some more Averna back home in order to digest what is in that book,? he guffawed. I wasn?t quite sure what that meant. But, again, I was 20.

We talked about art, or rather he talked about art and I listened. He had many paintings on his walls in his house. And in this room the walls were filled with works by him and other artists I slightly recognized from my modern art history class. I was a bit overwhelmed. And curious about what this elderly artist saw in hosting a newbie like me. What on earth could I add to his world of depth and breadth?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Then he began. ?What is it you are seeking within the confines of the space you look at though your camera viewfinder?? I was like, ?What?? in my mind. ?Are you looking into another world? Is the world you see here? Or might it be a construction from your mind and your camera is manifesting it?? I told him, slowly and carefully, that I thought artists like him had that power, as they were re-creating the world on a canvas. But that I was recording actual events. ?Are you sure?? he asked. It was a serious question, and one which I have asked myself for over 50 years now, as I look into my viewfinder. I told him, ?Even the word, viewfinder, is a bit of a conundrum. What am I viewing? And what am I finding??

?Exactly!? he responded enthusiastically. He was opening a door into a world that I would walk in for the rest of my life. What a gift.

Little did I know the darkness that awaited me.

I didn?t bring my camera that night, thinking to be respectful. But Giorgio brought out a Polaroid camera, an early model, with bellows and a viewfinder (of course!). It was the one where you had to coat the picture with a foul-smelling preservative that reeked of acidity and vinegar.

?Let?s take a picture together, to remember this evening, shall we? Isa, come in dear and take our picture please?? And so, we took a picture together and he put it on his bookshelf, next to an etching by Max Ernst.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

As the evening was coming to an end, Giorgio asked me where I would be going tomorrow. ?I have two days left in Rome. And then I return to California to go back to college.? He then gave me a list of places I should try and see, to photograph. ?I?m sure you will recognize them when you see them. I?d be interested in knowing what your viewfinder sees.? He really seemed interested. Maybe he was just humoring a young person. But I don?t think so. He didn?t want me to fail, I could feel that coming from him. Hope, it was. Hope.

And so, I took the walk back to my room, late at night. I looked at his list and saw that one of the places on it was on my way back to the pensione. I wished then that I had brought my camera along.


On the Wine Trail in Italy

Perhaps the end. Perhaps, not?.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

[06/09/2024, 15:35] Fettuccine and Forastera with a Sicilian Surrealist

Una favola continuava

On the Wine Trail in Italy

It was 7:00 PM and Giorgio?s residence was about 15 minutes away from the pensione I was staying in. But I wasn?t that familiar with Rome, and we didn?t have GPS in 1971. So, I gathered my myself, a little gift I had gotten In Sicily for his wife, and my camera, and headed out. I thought I should probably take a bottle of wine, and earlier in the day I had gone into a shop which sold wine, beer and liquor and looked for something appropriate. I knew little to nothing about wine, despite the fact that my dorm mates  at university had last names like Mondavi, Sebastiani, Heitz, Pellegrini and Filice. My uncle back in California was a wine merchant and he told me a little about Italian wines.

The store had what I would now call a selection of tourist recognizable wines from places like Umbria (Orvieto),  Lazio (Est! Est!! Est!!!) and Campania (Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio). The white wines all looked more amber-like, so I tried to find one that wasn?t as dark. On a display I found a white wine, simply called Ischia Bianco, from the eponymous island that was a popular day trip for vacationers.

The owner of the shop was born in Ischia and had a summer home there. Why he wasn?t there at this time of the year was beyond me, but maybe he had his reasons. ?Ah, I see you are a young man of discerning tastes,? he said with a slight English accent. ?I just brought this wine back from my island, and it is the freshest wine in the shop. Only ?900 (lira ? about $1.50 US at the time). It?s made from a local grape, Forastera. ? So, I took a chance and picked up a bottle, what the heck.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Arriving a few minutes early at my dinner engagement, the old man was downstairs waiting for me. He seemed excited. ?Oh, good to see you, I was wondering if you would show. Young people today can be so unpredictable. My wife has made casalinga  papalina, her very own fettuccine. I don?t know what got into her, maybe she is a little bored with me and needs some different energy in the house. In any case, welcome. And please, let?s go in.?

Once in, I gave Giorgio the bottle of wine. He shrieked! ?Isa, he brought us a bottle of wine from the island of monkeys! Do you think he?s trying to tell us something?? Isabella walked out into the drawing room, apron upon her, a bright smile lit up the room. ?Oh, good, we could use a little monkey business, what with all this heat and the tourists and the dust of this Eternally infernal city.? She was quite the wordsmith herself.

She glanced at the bottle and said ?It looks quite good. And it is fresh, 1970, not like those old hags you bring home from Piedmont and Tuscany.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I gave her my gift from Sicily, and Giorgio intervened, ?Remember, dearest one, beware of Greeks bearing gifts.? Isabella looked puzzled. ?He comes from Sicily, which we all know is a hotbed of Hellenic heinousness.? I assumed he was being alliteratively bittersweet, like a rhetorical negroni. The older Sicilians in my family also talked like that.

She took my gift, a very small piece of pottery from a Sicilian workshop. ?Oh look, Giorgio, the young man has brought us a Picasso!? Indeed, it wasn?t, although it did bear a resemblance to the Spaniard?s style. Giorgio took the piece in his hands and studied it. They both thanked me.

Meanwhile, the pasta.

In Italy, when the pasta is ready, everything else stops. So there we were, the wine had chilled, the pasta had boiled, everything was ready. Giorgio motioned for me to sit between him and Isabella. I was to be their trophy for the night. It was just like being in Sicily with my Aunt and Uncle, on the Via Roma in Palermo. I was only 20, but I was spending a lot of time with people 50 years older than me. What did they survive, what did they know from all those extra years that made them wiser and more complete as human beings? These were the questions I was asking myself. Little did I know how quickly 50 years would pass, and that some of the answers would come to me in ways I would never expect.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I knew not to take seconds of the pasta, which was excellent. But like my aunt had taught me, there would always be more. Isabella removed the plates to the kitchen and Giorgio went to another room to get some red wine. While they were gone, I stared at a most unusual painting, in that there was a figure who seemed to be looking at me and in a scene which was very, very recognizable. I knew that place and that face looked very, very familiar.

Giorgio came in with a couple of ancient bottles of red wine, his old hags. One, a 1958 Barolo from someone called Conterno, Giacomo, I think. The other from Tuscany, even older, a 1954 Nipozzano. ?I brought these out so you wouldn?t be the youngest thing at the table,? he joked. I think he enjoyed the Ischia Bianco, as he seemed to have a weight lifted from him. Or, it could have been Isabella?s marvelous fettuccine, her homemade papalina.

?I went to the butcher today, and we will have some Brasato al vino rosso to go with these wines. You don?t mind?? Here is an older man, an artist, welcoming me, a stranger, into his home, his wife cooking and him opening up bottles of wine to go with it? Why on earth would I mind? I told him that he and his wife were being most gracious and I really didn?t deserve this, but that I was most grateful. That seemed to suffice as a response.

Little civilities we used to do in 1971.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

To be continued?

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[06/02/2024, 14:56] Caff? and Cannoli with a Sicilian Surrealist
una favola...

On the Wine Trail in Italy
My first trip to Italy was in 1971. I was a student on summer break and spent days in Rome, wandering the streets at all hours with my camera. One night I happened to be near the Spanish steps when it was very late. In fact, it was almost dawn. And down the street from the steps on the Via Condotti, the familiar noises of a coffee machine, the grinding, the steaming and the drip, drip, dripping, sounded. With the aroma of fresh coffee, I was drawn like an insect to light.  It was there where I first encountered the Sicilian Surrealist.

My Italian was, and still is, rudimentary. But I knew how to order a coffee. ?Un caffe latte, per piacere,? I said in my best Italian accent. As they were preparing my order, an elderly man shuffled behind me and asked in English, ?Where did you learn to order coffee like that? Surely not in America?? I turned and ?buon giorno?d? to him. He was speaking in English, which, though also rudimentary, was better than my Italian. He also spoke French, German and Greek. I was way out of my league.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

But, morning was now upon us, and the coffee was ready. So, he invited me to sit down with him. It was a small table, against a wall, with a large red bench seat which he took. And a bistro chair, facing him. ?I like it here, it reminds me a little of Greece, and it is ancient, like me. How is it you ordered coffee like that?? I told him I learned about caffe latte from my Aunt Vittina when I was staying with her and her husband in Palermo. ?Oh, you are from Sicilian parentage?? he inquired. ?Yes, on my father?s side,? I replied.  ?So, we are common in that affliction,? he said.

?What are you doing in Italy?? he asked. I told him that I had just finished an artist workshop in California called the Jesuit Art Institute, and that the Jesuits, when they learned that I was coming to Italy, helped to sponsor part of my trip afterwards so that I could take an artwork to the Jesuit headquarters in the Vatican to the head of the order.

?Pedro Arrupe?? he inquired. ?Indeed, yes, the very same man,? I answered.

?So, are you an artist too?? he pressed. I answered that I was still in university and was attached to their art department as a fine arts major, but photography and film making was my main predilection.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

He told me also was an artist, a painter, and that he had been up all night, working on a painting and couldn?t sleep and he was ?being harassed by a demon.?

He had these dark, deep-set eyes, reminding me of the Sicilian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Indeed, he looked like he was being hunted more than harassed.

?So, what do you expect to do with your art degree?? he asked. I told him at this point I was just trying to stay in school and not get drafted and sent to Vietnam to get my ass shot off in a war I didn?t believe in. And I did love photography. ?So why not go to Vietnam as a photographer??  It was a valid question, but not a subject that interested me. Also, shooting a camera when everyone else around me were shooting guns didn?t feel like the odds would be in my favor.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

My answer was different though. ?What I am really interested in are these streets, Italy, my family and how they came to make a life here and then in America. I have been walking the streets here, in Naples, in Palermo, in Florence, with my camera, as you can see, and I can attest to the demons you claim are harassing you, for there are also tragic, and yes, some diabolical acts I have witnessed in my time here.?

He took a sip of his coffee and pondered. Then he called out, ?Maria, would you make us some cannoli?? in Italian. ?My treat,? he said.

I was so out of my depth, sitting here with a man the age of my grandfather, who said he was an artist. What did he want from me? He didn?t look like that kind of person, you know, who was roaming the streets looking for sweet meat. No, he was legit. But still, I wondered, why me?

Of course, I was in the wandering photographer mode and my senses were all open to the world in front of me. Perhaps he sensed that too. I was also young and na?ve. But I wasn?t foolish, even though I?d had little, or no, sleep.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

The cannoli arrived, one for each of us, accompanied by a small pot of coffee, American, to linger and enjoy the fresh dessert. ?So, what will you do today? Where will you go?? he inquired. I told him that I was going to roam around the gardens near Villa Borghese. ?Oh, do stop in at the modern art museum. There are some fine examples.? I told him I would.

?And later, for dinner what will you do?? I said there was a little tavola calda near the train station on my way back to my room, and that I?d probably stop there.

He took out a card from the inside of his jacket and handed it to me. ?Why don?t you join me and my family for a modest dinner this evening.? My wife loves company, and she is a good cook. I also love wine, and so we can open up something nice. Would you like to do that? I?d like to know what you saw during the day and we could discuss it tonight??

I looked at his card, he lived nearby the Spanish steps. I told him I?d love a home cooked meal. ?Perfect then!? He stood up as we were getting ready to leave. ?You probably want to get your day started and I don?t want to interrupt you any further for now. My name is Giorgio. We?ll expect you at 7:30?? I told him yes, thank you, and that he could count on it.

I had no idea who he was or where the evening would take us. But I was in ancient Rome, and I was looking forward to the food. And the wine.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

  End of Part I

 ? written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[05/26/2024, 16:58]  The Duty of Hospitality (is not just expected of the Host)

From the archives: Seeing as summertime is approaching and holiday visits to Italy will increase, along with requests to visit wineries, just a little revisit to this subject during our Memorial Day holiday

On the Wine Trail in Italy

My dad, Lou, in the 1950's - the consummate salesman

I received an email from Italy, via a concerned and upset supplier, whom I regard as a friend.

?The person you arranged to visit our property in Tuscany never showed up. They never even called! Do you know what happened? We were waiting. We are still waiting. This happens too many times! Please make sure the people you set up visits for really want to come to visit us!?

I cannot tell you how many times this has happened. And with the tourist season ramping up, I fear more incidents like this. In this case I made three calls, filled out visit forms, three properties I made arrangements for and the client was a no-show at all three. To quote my dad above,
The client, whom forever going forward will be persona non grata in my books, emailed me a month ago. ?I am going to Italy, to Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. Please set up some appointments for me and my colleague. We are planning a fall trip to take our customers on a tour and we?d like to find some nice spots to visit.?

So I drop everything, make some calls, fill out some forms, stop what I am doing. Because that is what we do. We are in the service business. I can go straight to the vineyard, these people are my friends. But even friends have limits.

On the Wine Trail in ItalyI don?t know how to say this but in the most direct of ways. Italians value hospitality above almost anything else. So when someone, a client or a friend, is presented to them by someone with credibility, such as myself, they treat a visit as if it were a family visit. Ospitalit?. Often cranking up the oven, cooking lunch. Bringing out the linen table cloths. Friends of my friends are my friends. That kind of thing.

When one crams appointments, trying to make two or three stops in Tuscany in a day, and the inevitable happens, and one doesn?t call, it makes it an embarrassing situation; the impression is that ugly self-centered Americans are at it again. And of course I get the inevitable call asking me why I didn?t know better than to set up an appointment for these deadbeats. The Italians don?t say it that way but that?s what they mean, when they ask me simply, ?Why?? And I cannot provide them with a suitable answer.

So, going forward, to anyone reading this, if you ask someone to set you up in Italy (or France or California), for God?s sake have the courtesy to show up and if for some reason you cannot make it, at the very least, call and express your regrets at not being able to make the appointment.

You are being welcomed into someone?s home. It is simple civility to act with a modicum of respect for everyone else?s time.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

[05/19/2024, 15:49] Engendering Madness - What Price for an Authentic Italian Meal?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Seafood with Cheese - Authentic or the Ultimate Culinary Transgression?
 Over the past few days, I?ve been chatting with a foodie friend who spares no expense when it comes to food and wine. This is a person who will fly to Japan to eat raw fish. He was asking me for my take on some Italian places here in Dallas. One of his comments, in response was, ?I?d rather fly to New York and go to Rezdora,? where the chef is a (local) friend of ours.

It got me to thinking about the costs of getting on a plane and going to Italy to eat authentic Italian.

What? Of all the profligate, indulgent, extravagant, privileged, entitled, senseless babble!

Well, as Batman said, ?The world only makes sense when you force it to.?

So, let?s run some numbers.

I?ll work it up for seven meals.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

In an urban setting in America, let?s include transportation (Uber, Lyft, etc.) so we can enjoy the wine. And let?s space out the meals in America once a week for seven weeks.

A ride sharing cost, to and fro, let?s factor in $35 times 2 = $70

My source tells me at his very upscale Italian restaurant that the average dinner cost is $130 at his place. Factor into that wine, tip and tax.

In the very high-end places, you aren?t going to find a wine under $70. So, that makes the meal $200. Tax is $11. Tip is $43. That makes it $254 total, per person. High, yes. But there are a handful of places in town at that price point and they are packed. $254 plus $70 = $324. Times seven = $2,268. Seven meals, seven nights, plus transportation. No babysitting fees here. A single person. (and yes a bottle of wine is indulgent, and no one has to finish the bottle, even though they will have a driver. They can take the unused wine home, as per recent law. Or they could have a $25 cocktail and two glasses of wine at @ $20+ each for a total of $65+)

$2,268 if we stay home. What will that amount do for us if we want to go to NY and dine out?

A flight to NY will cost you $300. Add to that, $150 at home base, to and fro ride share costs. In NYC also add a little more, $200, for to and from airport to hotel. We?re up to $650.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Ok, seven meals. Let?s do four lunches and three dinners. That would give us a three-night hotel stay. At $400 per night, that?s $1,200. We?re up to $1,850, and we haven?t started eating yet.

Lunch wise, we can probably get by at $125 per head, all in. Dinner is going to be a bit more, say $250. 4 x $125 and 3 x $250 = $1,250. We?re at $3,100 now. Add in taxis ($200) and tips to valets ($100), and we?re topping out at $3,400 for the New York experience. $1,132 more than staying home, which would make it 50% higher. But you get to go to New York and revel in Gotham City. Or as Batman said, ?Ladies. Gentlemen. You have eaten well.?

Let?s look at going to Italy. Same plan. Seven meals, four lunches and three dinners.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I chose Rome because it?s easy to get to and there are good choices for wining and dining.

Air flight from Dallas to Rome will be $1,315. Uber to and fro home/airport in Dallas, another $150. Driver from Rome airport to Rome and back, another $200. We?re up to $1,665.

Hotel in Rome? Let?s say $275, x 3 = $825. We?re up to $2,490.

Alright - dining in Rome. I?m going to use a couple of places I know, like Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto, Trattoria Pennestri, Armando al Pantheon or La Tavernaccia Da Bruno. These are just random examples and there is a plethora of places to choose from that are not touristic or only for the billionaire class. I?d suggest further research. But for the purposes of this piece, let?s leave it at this.

Four lunches ? If you cannot eat for $75 with wine, you?re not looking hard enough. So, that?s the lunch number, $75 x 4 = $300 + 2,490 = $2,790.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Dinner. A big splurge here - $150 for dinner and a marvelous bottle of wine, a dessert even and some limoncello or coffee. If you wish. $150 x 3 = $450. Plus $2,790 = $3,240. You can walk to most places, or use public transportation, which is easy to Cesare al Casaletto, for instance). But let?s factor in $200 for taxis, just to be safe. Making it $3,440

Ok, $3,440 is more than $2,268. $1,172 more, or 52% more. A tad more ($40) than NYC, but essentially the same. So, if I had to choose between dining at home, as described, going to NYC, or flying to Rome, I know what my choice would be - Rome.

Am I mad? Well, as the Joker liked to say, ?Madness, as you know, is a lot like gravity. All it takes is a little push.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Yes, we?re talking privilege. And throw in a dollop of entitlement. Keep in mind, this is only theoretical at this point. So, don?t cancel me again. Yet. It?s just an exercise.

But what you would get by going to Rome, in addition to some great food and wine, would be to bask in the light and ambience and share in the culture of a great city. Yes, it would take time and a little more money. And yes, it is a bit mad. But as the Joker reminds us, ?Madness is the emergency exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away?forever.?

Those dreadful things, like enduring crappy Fettucine Alfredos and ubiquitous Caesar Salads, and pitiful Bolognese and Amatriciana and Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara and Fritto Misto and on and on and on. Not to mention the ridiculously priced wine lists made by wine slingers who are more interested in their personal brand and their Instagram feed and their influencer status than actually working the floor and finding the right wines for their guests and at the right prices.

On the Wine Trail in Italy


Go to Rome. Visit a church. View a Michelangelo or a Caravaggio and get the hell out of town. And get a decent (and authentic) meal with an honest (and reasonably priced) Italian bottle of wine.

Take the emergency exit and step outside and away from all those dreadful things.

 On the Wine Trail in Italy



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[05/12/2024, 14:46] Why ?Italian? restaurants in America still don?t get Italian wine - Pt. II

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Forging ahead with my quixotic crusade, let?s turn to red wines. I?ll try and be a little more circumspect in my presentation.

While Italy now has a plethora of great wines, I?d like to start with the less patrician and more serviceable ones. I say this because we still have legions of folks who don?t understand the intricacies of Italian wine. They are looking for easy road marks and equivalents. Not always so easy, but doable.

North to south ? Barbera, Nebbiolo, Valpolicella, Merlot, Cabernet, Refosco, Sangiovese, Chianti, Lambrusco, Montepulciano, Rosso Piceno, Primitivo, NegroAmaro, Aglianico, Nero d?Avola, Frappato and Cannonau. I know I am leaving out some beloved one to Italian wine lovers, but these are basic building blocks of a rudimentary red wine core list. Not the fancy stuff, although one could find fancy wines from this list. But a beginner?s starting point.

From there, the more famous fine wines ? Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Ghemme, Valtellina Superiore, Amarone della Valpolicella, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a generic Super Tuscan category, Montefalco Sagrantino, Aglianico del Vulture, Taurasi, Etna Rosso and Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Again, someone will miss their favorite if it isn?t in this group. But these are, again, fundamental reds from a higher tier.

There are other wines, some more esoteric, some as good or (in the opinion of some experts) maybe even better. But you don?t start playing piano with Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I say this because, even after many years on the wine trail in Italy, there are surprises and revelations, from every corner of Italian wine. A breathtaking Chianti Classico is very possible as can be a Ruch? di Castagnole Monferrato. A wine list is like a building. It benefits from a solid foundation. The penthouse suite on the 88th floor is part of the building, but not the only part. Or even the most important part. Integration of design. Solid structure. The goal of timelessness? In a building, yes. Why not on a wine list? Why cave to the fashion corps?

There is a quote I heard time and time again in college from my cultural art professor. ?What is forever building is building forever.? by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. A wine list can also be something that is in that realm. Why not?

See, I?m not as enraged as I was last week. I?m philosophizing. Better?

Let?s talk about the spirit of the list. Is it meant to be a classic list? An innovative one? A bit playful? Or didactic? Something for everyone? All of the above? None of the aforementioned?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

My belief is that is has to start with the food. What is the chef attempting to do with the menu? From there, a wine list can develop. But it goes back to the chef and their intentions. Oh, and there is the disposition of the target clientele. A group of diners in New York City might have a different baseline for Italian wine (and food) than a crowd in Dallas. As a wine list creator, you might have lofty goals, but if your clientele doesn?t understand your dialect, it can be frustrating for all parties. Thankfully, a good wine steward working the floor can suss that out pretty easily, and over a fairly quick period of time, get an understanding for just how far one can push the envelope.

Personal preference in wine or following certain fashions and hoping you can take the clientele with you, sans difficult?, is probably not terribly realistic. Not impossible, but implementing some baby steps along the way might help with the journey. If you have a diner who was weaned on high-test Napa Cabernet and you want to give them a Barbaresco, that might be a challenge. But if you can stair-step it, maybe with a Super Tuscan, the path will be smoother for all. Likewise, if you want to baptize Chardonnay drinkers in a font of skin contact Ribolla Gialla, you might be disappointed when the clients just don?t get it at first blush. Think of it like you would foreplay. Slow and stabile.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Let?s sidebar for a moment about French and California wine.

Look, there are many great French wines that have been developed and that go extremely well with French cuisine. And some of them also go well with Italian food. As some Italian food goes equally well with some French cooking. And when you see a handful of Italian wines on a wine list in Paris, it goes to show that those folks get it. But not everyone does. And neither should French wine be an alternate default on the Italian wine list, so as to cover all the bases. You lose your uniqueness sometimes with this approach. I mean, if you do that, what?s to stop the diner from asking the chef to take that disc of raw minced meat, aka carne cruda all' Albese, and cook it and put it between a bun and cover it with melted cheese and serve it with some fried potato strips?

If high-octane Red Zinfandel is your current jam, and you want your Eggplant Parmesan and Bistecca Fiorentina diners to swig that down like you do, you might want to curb your enthusiasm. I get it, I love California and her wines. They?re my vinous mother?s milk. But not everyone wants to jam with your play list.

Look, there are established cuisines and their counterparts in the wine world. And there is always that magical combination waiting for someone to ?discover? it and share it with their guests. Nothing wrong with that. But let?s not think we?re going to be the first ones setting foot on the moon, when that happened over half a century ago. A dose of sobriety, mixed in with a teaspoon of humility will make any wine slinger a more balanced blend of human.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

A word about size and why it matters.

Yes, you can amass a bible, with chapters and verse. And you can buy, buy, buy, till your daddy takes the T-Bird away. And you can tell your vendors how much you want them to order X, Y and Z for that monument to your ego. But then you must sell the wines. That?s if you actually return your vendors calls and emails after they order the darn wines for you and you?ve moved on to esoteric verticals of Alta Langa or Passopisciaro wines. So, the best advice I can give is this: Brevity isn?t easy, but if you can make a smart, small wine list, you are on the road to mastery. And all of your commercial relationships will be brilliant, because you will sell everything you buy, if done right, and everyone wins. And everyone loves a winner!

The moral of the story? Small is beautiful.

Final thoughts

I?ve tinkered with many a wine list, but there is one Italian wine list that I?d love to see. In the Italian restaurant I?d also love to see. In fact I probably have.

It could be a simple menu, maybe not even a ?greatest hits? one. As an example, the dinner menu at Armando al Pantheon in Rome, which skews towards classic Roman dishes. Their wine list, which is organized by region, is an archetypal one, and though it is longer than what I?ve been proselytizing, the owner is an enthusiast. And the sommelier, a young female, in the selections, shows their passion for wine. But it?s brilliant. And there are scores of wine I?d love to order, over and over. That?s a wine list that makes sense to me.

But what I?d love to see is a small list, let?s say under 40 bottles. Price ranges from US $40 to $100. If you?d like, have a separate reserve list for a small collection of rarer and more expensive bottles, but keep it tight. The main list is the meat-and-potatoes driver of the wine program. It moves wine. It makes the guests happy. It makes the vendors happy. It makes the owner happy. No waste. Movement. Success. Why can?t Italian restaurants in America get it?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

[ Part III? No way, I?m done. I'm getting out of town...]


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[05/05/2024, 17:50] Why ?Italian? restaurants in America still don?t get Italian wine - Pt. I *

On the Wine Trail in Italy
A classic Vitello Tonnato in a Langhe restaurant

I know, I know. We?ve covered this already. But apparently some folks out there still haven?t gotten the memo. Are we standing still? Or are we falling behind?

But, falling behind, that?s not news to America. We seem to be sliding in many respects. Still, at my stage in life, most of the critical crises are beyond my reach. An Italian wine list? It might be something I can parse.

This was recently triggered by a new Italian restaurant that opened up in town. Lots of flash. The chef is a food media-superstar and recently went to Italy, and was inspired to come back home and, with the help of an enthusiastic investor, got after it in a big way. No indication, one way or another, that they might have skiplagged their way through the food research.

I don?t wish to pick on any one chef or restaurant in particular, but rather see this latest iteration as a pattern of digression. The food menu, along with the wine list, seems to ramble. Dare I use even a loaded comment such as this: It is my belief that Italian food has been culturally appropriated to the point that some of the items (and combinations) that I see on contemporary menus in America, veer so far outside of the deep-roooted, sui generis pantheon of la cucina Italiana so as to barely be recognizable to those of us who truly love all things Italian.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
 Pasta alla Norma from a restaurant on Mt. Etna

Now, if you think I?m not for experimentation and elaboration, I'll stop you right there. As has been mentioned here, many times, all things Italian rely upon a steady stream of improvisation and refinement, coupled with a healthy dose of disruption. If not, we wouldn?t have pasta, tomato-based sauces, ice cream, maybe even rice. Never mind potatoes, and peppers. Corn-based polenta? Fuhgeddaboudit. Heavens to mercy, we might not have the chef-beloved (and ubiquitous) Calabrian sauce that peppers dishes from pizza to pasta to meats to fritto misto, to you name it ? Caesar salad ala Calabrese anyone? And while we?re at it, let?s sprinkle the top with some gluten free panko breadcrumbs.

Indeed, Italy and Italian chefs have culturally appropriated so many things since the time of Jesus. Eggplant? Couscous? And on and on.

Thus, this rant, which might seem guileful, considering all the pilfering, plundering and pillaging the Italians, starting with the Romans, foisted upon the world, east and west, old and new.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Tajarin al ragu in Barbaresco

But, in the meantime, some wonderful recipes have been perfected, to the point that Italian food is a living museum of classic dishes. Why not start there? Why the urge to re-invent something that is already perfect? Oh, that?s right. In 2024, chefs are the new deities. Forget celebrities, they are picking out the patterns for their throne-seats on Olympus.

One suggestion I?d make would be to re-style one?s notion of Italian restaurants in America. There are many ?Italian inspired? places, and that is perfectly fine. But that ain?t Italian, for those of us who?ve spent quality time in Italy. Italian food in Italy doesn?t have the baggage with which American entrepreneurs weigh it down, by and large. Simplicity is the essence of Italian food. But in America, doing things simply just isn?t the dominant mantra. If five ingredients are great, six are greater. Hence, Calabrian chili, 'nduja, guanciale, truffle oil and wagyu polpette nuggets are sprinkled about liberally over classic dishes that have passed the test of time.

Ew! Just ew!

And we haven?t even touched upon wine yet. Where to start with the shit show of wine lists that I?ve seen lately.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
(not representative of the shit show, btw)

There?s no mandate to classify wines by region anymore. It kind of makes sense if there is a theme on the food menu that highlights or focuses on certain regional cuisines. But I haven?t run across a Piedmont trattoria like Trattoria Antica Torre in Barbaresco, or a true Calabrese eaterie, like L?Aquila d?Oro in Ciro, Calabria, here in Texas. A strictly regional dining experience eludes most of us here in the States. There are exceptions. But the new wave of Italian inspired places draw upon a mish-mash of best hits, embellished with the chef?s notions of what would make the dish stand out. In their minds, anyway. A neo-convoluted sensibility rules the day. Wines lists follow.

The over-riding theme I am seeing is that a wine list creator is looking to put their left footprint on it, in keeping with the right footprint of the chef?s menu. Thus, we enter the labyrinth.

You want to start with bubbles? You asked for it. Anything from mainstream to esoteric grower Champagne could show up. Be prepared to pay $$$. Oh, Italian? Well, Lambrusco is currently a darling, so you could find anything from a light, pale frizzante to a deep purple teeth stainer. A Franciacorta is most likely there, thankfully. And then your guess will be as good as anyone?s as to how they deal with the Prosecco slot. It could be anything from an insipid extra dry industrial version to a artisanal col fondo (not sur lie). Hey, someone ultimately wins the lottery.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
An oldie but a goodie

Ok, now my real beef. White wine from Italy. Why in hell, after all these years, have decision makers not learned what a good white wine is? Maybe because they didn?t have to spend years of their life trying to sell less than stellar examples of white wine from Italy? I was so relieved when Italy finally started making white wine that traveled well (and the corks didn?t pop and blow right through the eggshell thin boxes). Cold stabilization! Cold fermentation!! Temperature controlled steel tanks!!! Refrigerated shipping containers!!!! Air-conditioned warehouses!!!!! Only to have some knuckleheads decide that oxidized white wine is the bees knees and they?re gonna spread their manure-laced gospel to all their ?guests.? !!!!!!

As one who wore Birkenstocks a million years ago when you could buy extra bottoms (at the health food store) to re-sole them, and am also in my 45th year of recycling (try doing that in 1979 in Dallas!), I?m not against organic or natural wines. I just want them to taste delicious. That?s all. If not, they remind me of a covey of bottles I keep in my wine cellar cemetery as a souvenir from whence we came. And to where I never want to go again.

So, if a natty section is "per rigore," there are countless examples which are both unfeigned and delectable.

But what I really enjoy about Italian white wine now, is that they can be crisp and dry and refreshing and simple but have depth and layers. And they don?t cost an arm and a leg. Wine for the people. Like Verdicchio and Vermentino and Friulano and Lugana and Greco and Carricante and Trebbiano. For starters. No oak. No butter. No preponderance of alcohol or glycerin. No funk. Wine made to go with food. Like a proper fritto misto, you know, one that includes seagoing creatures.    (see below)


On the Wine Trail in Italy
Fritto Misto in Milan (above) and Rome (below)

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto in Rome


....to be continued

[*Next week ? Pt. II]

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[04/28/2024, 14:01] ?Italian wine is an ocean of storms!?
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[04/21/2024, 10:44] Vinitaly 2024 ? What went down (and what?s going up)

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Luca Zaia (L) President of the Veneto Region
It?s been a few days since Vinitaly 2024 ended. Here are some random thoughts about the Italian wine trade show that is held for four days in April in Verona.

First off, those with a stake in such things will declare ?The 2024 Vinitaly was the best ever!? and they will back it up with formulated statistics that claim ?attendance was up 4% from the previous year!? And that will be true. From 93,000 people in 2023 to 97,000 in 2024 were estimated to have attended. Now it doesn?t necessarily mean they break down the attendance if the same person attended all four days and was counted as one. Possibly, the persons who entered through the turnstiles daily were aggregated individually.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

However ? exhibitors ? folks who paid to show their products, went in 2023 from 4,500 to 4,300 in 2024, which would mean a slight decrease of 4% from the previous year.

As far as exhibitors (wineries, importers, people who had exhibition rooms/space), the high-point year was 2019, when 4,600 exhibitors attended. Not all that different from 2023.

Foreign attendance was up from 2023 in 2024 (30,070 vs. 29,600) but nowhere near the halcyon years of 2014-2016, when 55,000 foreign attendees were recorded.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
my random numbers over the years

Compare 1991 attendance numbers, 80,000, with more recent 2022, 88,000. Definitely an impact from the pandemic. There was no Vinitaly in 2020, and the special edition held in 2021 (October 17-19) was more of a (premature) celebration than a trade show. There was some limited B2B activity as well. But it couldn?t really be manifested as a traditional Vinitaly.

From the numbers I have tracked since 1991, the high-point of attendance was in 2014 and 2015, when 150,000 people were said to have attended.

But 150,000 versus 97,000 is a bit of a different story. That?s a 35% decrease. I?m sure Covid and the worldwide pandemic played into these figures, as well as global instability with regards to war and peace.

Inflation, higher prices and the change to a more virtual meeting environment also helped to erode those numbers. Also, spin off shows, from nearby Summa to VinNatur, helped to eat away at the Vinitaly numbers. That?s not necessarily a bad thing. But it does spread out the folks who have particular interests that these shows focus on and address more acutely.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

That said, folks who reported back to me said Vinitaly 2024, for them, was one of the best they had ever been to ? and this from seasoned Vinitaly-goers.

A word about trade shows: It isn?t just the wine world that is seeing a downturn in trade show participation. The watch world (which I also track) and other large industries are pivoting from the expense-bloated showcases in favor of more virtual gatherings. Economics plays into this, as well as logistics. But during Covid the world learned that they could get much of the information they needed from a screen. Now, it is impossible to taste wine virtually, but the world trend is people drinking less alcohol also plays into this decrease in actual physical involvement.

My first Vinitaly was 40 years ago, and it opened a world unto me that I didn?t know of. Imagine everyone who is involved in the Italian wine industry, which I adored then, under one roof (or in the case of Vinitaly, many roofs). It was a dream. It still is for many people, old and new. The energy of thousands of souls rowing together is a fantastic feeling. As well, to see people in one place without having to drive all over Italy is a boon to the time-deprived sommelier, wholesaler, p.r. person, retailer or importer. Read my lips: Vinitaly is good.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Well, most of it is. There is still some underlying corruption and mysterious allocating of European funds with regards to Vinitaly and Veronafiere that are winding their way around the courts in Italy

?        https://corrieredelveneto.corriere.it/notizie/verona/cronaca/24_febbraio_14/truffa-del-vino-coi-fondi-ue-veronafiere-vuole-patteggiare-per-la-frode-milionaria-a-bruxelles-9ee226e4-00ee-4e80-9214-4596bee16xlk.shtml

?        https://corrieredelveneto.corriere.it/notizie/verona/cronaca/23_aprile_19/verona-vino-e-fondi-dall-ue-truffa-milionaria-i-pm-europei-chiedono-6-rinvii-a-giudizio-d9c41fe2-de05-11ed-8e0e-82e8b32702b9.shtml

?       https://www.repubblica.it/il-gusto/2024/01/23/news/vino_fondi_ue_laccusa_di_frode_scuote_il_mondo_del_vino-421963782/   

But that?s for the judges and courts to deliberate upon. Eventually the corrupt elements that hover around Vinitaly will be exposed and prosecuted, hopefully. There?s a lot of money in and around Italian wine and it doesn?t just attract the wine lovers and enthusiasts. Unfortunately, it also draws the con men (and women) to their juicy nectars as well. But, as one Italy watcher noted, ?The powers that be hate scrutiny and embarrassment.? Indeed. 

On the Wine Trail in Italy

That said, ultimately what propels Italian wine is greater market share and increases in sales. And while we?ve all been through the Covid hiccup, that seems to be rebounding for Italian wine. It still is a value, and a quality wine. People feel comfort in Italian food and the wine accompanies those emotions. So, we?re in for a good run in the future for Italian wine, this I am certain of. Now, we all just need to do our part. And it starts with opening up some bottles and proceeding.


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[04/14/2024, 19:43] My Brilliant Italy

On the Wine Trail in Italy
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante was made into a TV series. We?ve been watching it here on the island. I have been struck by how many places and themes hit home for me. In fact, I had a bit of an epiphany in its 3rd year. I don?t know how to accurately say it, but it was as if a confluence of memory and observation coupled with an ancestral energy. Like recognizing something I am at first seeing. Anyway, it really moved me to thinking about what it really means to be Italian and have Italian feelings. Especially in the wine world, where we witness all manner of people who position themselves (and their ?branded selves?) as experts, capable of influential consequences beyond themselves.

It is a bit folly to watch it. Meanwhile, swimming in this genetic/memory/observational soup over that last 50 or so years, I realize I have a unique picture of the Italy that has been presented to me. 60 trips, most for a week, some for months, some for extended weeks. 21 trips to Verona and Vinitaly! Nothing longer than three months. In and out. No full immersion for a year or more. But still, the impression has been made. My brilliant Italy has left an indelible mark on my soul and on my chromosomes.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I say this right now, because when I observe people as they are visiting Italy, for work or for pleasure, they seem to relate to a version of Italy that becomes unique to their experience. And inexperienced travelers might tend to conclude that the Italy that they are encountering is the same Italy for all of us. And from what I can tell, talking to other travelers and residents (of Italy), it ain?t necessarily so. There are thousands of Italy?s. So, for someone to exclaim that they now know Italy, because they made the tour of Rome-Florence-Venice-Amalfi Coast, or they made it to the top of Mt. Etna, or any number of singular adventures that might seem to define for one what Italy is ? it just isn?t. Or at least, it isn?t enough. It?s reminiscent of the story about the blind men and the elephant. Italy is bigger and more brilliant than any one person and their visions and theories of what it is in their mind.

And while I?m standing on top of the soap box, Italy isn?t just about food or wine or antiquities or architecture or art or music or romance or history. Italy is longer and wider than time and place. It is so much more than my little view of it. And yours too.

So, let that sink in and hopefully this little rant will compel you to rethink what Italy is in the larger scope of the universe of things. Yes, it is wonderful. Yes, it is romantic. Yes, the food and wine and art and music are incomparable. But know that there is a deeper, richer, more timeless Italy than anyone of us can imagine.

As Hamlet uttered, ?There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.?

So, it is. 

On the Wine Trail in Italy


? written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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