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Mondo Di Vino
Mondo Di Vino

[11/14/2022, 05:59] Stanley Tucci, I really, really hate you!

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Like many of us who follow such things, Stanley Tucci?s Searching for Italy has grabbed our attention. Those of us who haven?t gotten on a plane and traveled to all of Italy?s 20 regions in the last couple of years might have reason for just a tiny bit of jealousy directed towards Signore Tucci. Maybe even a small smattering of resentment. And being humans, that would be totally understandable. But that is not why I harbor any small amount of rancor towards him. After all, he is showing us parts of Italy we cannot reach, may never reach, couldn?t even find the places if we tried for a reach, right?

No, that?s all good. What caused me to twinge here and there while watching the series was a couple of other things.

First and foremost, the let?s take the little matter of wine. Oh, the Signore likes wine. It?s just not a main character in his play. Wine is an accompaniment to the larger picture ? food. Oh, and culture and his family history and his ability to make something so natural, in Italy, seem like something so unattainable.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Big Night/YouTube

Which leads me to my other gripe, if you will. I mean, in the contest of actually loving everything he has done, including ?That Movie? he did so long ago.

No, it?s that when he goes into a region, many of which I have deep experiences in (sans Sardegna) I know part of what he will find. And in some cases, he has found some of the same people and places (and foods) that I have come across in my 50+ years of traveling and living in Italy. So, I look for how he will perceive it and communicate it to his impatiently waiting audience in the greater world.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

How will this winemaker, cheesemaker or chef come across? Will folks see this place as some place they?d like to go to someday? And if so, will that be a problem, ala ?Under the Tuscan Sun,? when folks invaded Tuscany in search of their own personal sun? And the food ? what happens to that cheesemaker in Altamura now? Will his business grow? Will it be the same? Will it change, maybe not for the better? After all, blue cheese from Puglia might not be the next Calabrian chile, but what if it is, in places like New York, London, San Francisco, Houston?

Not that it would necessarily be a bad thing. As long as the follow-though to the end user is as close to the personal experience in Italy, yes? And we all know that, in America at least, that process has improved markedly in the past 40 years.

But still, there?s always someone who will take the idea and try and replicate it, often with disastrous and sardonic results. I mean Pane Carasau from Sardegna can be produced in other places of the world, but that blood sausage that was spread on it, how will that iteration be managed? Or mismanaged?

You see, I am not even talking about wine now. It is still way in the background. You didn?t see any of it in Calabria, or Puglia, and the Sardegnan episode, you did, but who knew? You saw a lot of cleavage though.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Ok, cleavage still draws larger crowds than wine, even in these post #MeToo times. I say post not because we?re over it, but because we have passed over the threshold. I should have said present times. There, that better?

I haven?t seen Piedmont yet, maybe that episode will go deeper into it. And Venice, although if they go any deeper than un ombra I?d be surprised. Happily surprised.

Thankfully some of my special (and secret places) were not discovered by Signore Tucci?s advance team. Like the once-upon-a-time truck stop in Ciro. Or the sports bar in in Cisano Sul Neva in Savona (Liguria). And my beloved Puerto Baloo in San Benedetto del Tronto, Marche remains uncast in this series. So far.

One great surprise ? the ?new? 21st region of Italy ? London. Now that intrigues me. I?ve not been deep in London since it has undergone its transformation as a global culinary centre. So, that is going on my bucket list. Thank you, Stanley. All is forgiven.

On the Wine Trail in Italy


wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[11/06/2022, 20:09] My Last Trip to Italy

On the Wine Trail in Italy
It had been a while since I was in Italy, so when the chance came to go, I grabbed the opportunity. This was not a junket, or even a free press trip. Which was fine. Everything I?d seen on social media with regards to those trips showed the same old people. It was as if they had their own cruise line, a semi-circle of acquaintanceship.

No, I was on my own, in a way. I wasn?t alone, but this wasn?t going to be a social event, the kind that junkets have become, especially now that covid resurrections are being lifted.

A word about travel. The world experienced a great disruption in the last three years. It really isn?t quite over. Nonetheless, I?ve witnessed that folks are antsy about getting back to their lives, prior to Covid. No matter how much any of us want it, there is no turning back the clock. And, as well, one really cannot ?make up the time? that one thinks was ?lost.? Now, some folks are traveling with a vengeance, trying to get every last thing in before their ice cream truly melts.

I don?t feel that way. To feel that way, for me, would be a delusion. I am here, right now, just as I have always been. The last three years was an irreplaceable experience, no matter how hard any of us would like imagine otherwise. But there were lessons to be learned.

But to return to the default world of 2019, 2015, or 2000, would be, for me, folly. Not judging others. Just stating my point of view.

That said, travel now is different. So, in many ways, my last trip to Italy was inimitable.

The voyage was effortless, even easy. In this new world we find ourselves in, I was able to travel without much effort. Where I was going there would be no large group, no hype. Just Italy. The Italy I had grown to love, and miss.

The days were sunny and bright, with just a slight crispness to the air. The roads were not crowded, for where I was in Italy wasn?t where the tourists or the influencers flocked to. Would I write about it? I am right now. But the caveat was always not to brag about a place or a particular wine or wines. Or even to let on where exactly I was. It was part of the unspoken code that I was compelled to observe in order to make this last trip to Italy.

So why would I do it? Why did I do it? Why not? Other than this brief recounting, there would be no prideful displays, no gloating over being there and not somewhere else.

The wines? They were red, white, ros?, sparkling, sweet and dry.

The food? It was fresh, locally prepared, healthy and plentiful.

Everything was in balance. Everything was perfect. It was Italy, after all.

But no pictures, no Instagramming or Facebooking. No videos, no tweeting. And no selfies. Just Italy, the Italy that was bestowed upon me for this journey.

It was wonderful. It was personal. It was powerful. And it was authentic.

It was simply, my last trip to Italy.

On the Wine Trail in Italy


wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[10/30/2022, 21:01] Blame It On The La C? N?va
from the archives On the Wine Trail in ItalyMy first time visiting Piedmont was over a generation ago. At the time a winemaking revolution was in its infancy. The Italians had discovered small barrique and higher prices. New wineries were going up. It was the beginning of a cycle that only now is starting to make full circle. It was an exciting era for Italian wines and Piedmont. And they were getting world respect for their wines, like their cousins in Burgundy.

That initial visit we toured Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba , Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba and Novello. I also met winemakers and tasted in Neive, Treiso and Barbaresco. Somewhere between Bricco Faset and Rabaj? I got religion. But it wasn?t until several years later that they let me in the church.

On the Wine Trail in ItalyIt happened when was traveling with a friend who I was buying wine from. He had talked to me about these three brothers and their dad who worked their vineyards between two areas, Montefico and Montestefano. We were on our way to visit them. Their land was called La C? N?va, the new house. It had only been there for several hundred years.

Barbaresco can be a sleepy little place. I get a calmness when there, like this is the perfect place in the world for one of those life-changing naps. I?ve had a few of them in Barbaresco. But the wine is what really has changed some of my ideas about Nebbiolo.

On the Wine Trail in ItalyI?m probably not the greatest devotee of Nebbiolo. Maybe it?s my California upbringing, possibly the wines from the South of Italy have influenced me. Perhaps the wines from Burgundy have also shaped my views about Barolo and Barbaresco. Somewhere between my tastes and my expectations is where I have compartmentalized my views about these wines. Nothing like having high expectations for the wines while allowing my palate preferences to limbo, easily, under the bar. It makes an interesting inner dichotomy. But then, we are in the land of Eco, so perhaps this is all part of the expectation of territoriality. I have come to peaceful terms with Nebbiolo.

What does that mean? An example. Recently I was in San Francisco having dinner with winemaker friends and some of their clients. One young lady was there and she was a lively Roman candle of energy. She told me in her Latin accent, ?I reeealllly loooove Nebbiolo.? Apparently, they loved her too, for she was initiated into the Order of the Knights of the Truffle and Wines of Alba. Some kind of big deal. They never asked me. Maybe my secret initiation into the Cavaliere Del Vini Siciliani, way back when, disqualified me. Hmmph.

On the Wine Trail in ItalyI asked her why she loved Nebbiolo so much. My understanding from her was that she had decided that it would be a good idea (for her career?) to find an important wine area and concentrate on all the wines from there, a fast-track way to expertise on a subject. Why hadn?t I ever thought of that? I could have saved all kinds of time. Who needed to trek to Salina and visit with Hauner, while he was still alive? What did it matter to carry our babies all across Puglia, visiting winemakers, now long gone? And Abruzzo and the Marche, minor outposts of wine, why would I spend so much time with such unimportant wines? I admit it, I am slow sometimes.

On the Wine Trail in ItalyBut lately, I have been spending more time in Piedmont, more than I really thought I would. And here is what I am learning.

There is something interesting between these two areas, Piedmont where Nebbiolo is made, and Burgundy where Pinot Noir thrives. Not to say I intend to draw parallels on the quality or style of the wines. Couldn?t care less. But there is something about the winemakers and the people who live in those lands that are curious to me. Biggest difference to me? The C?te de Beaune and the C?te de Nuits are relatively flat, compared to Alba and Barbaresco.For me, in Burgundy, it is all laid out for one to explore and absorb. In Piedmont, there is always a little Bricco around the corner with a secret.

On the Wine Trail in ItalyThat is what the three brothers and the old father at La C? N?va have been to me, these past thirty plus years. They have been this little covert delight that only a few people know about. Sure, they share land with more famous producers, Gaja and Giacosa. And yes, their star doesn?t shine as brightly in the sky. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. The brothers at La C? N?va make a most natural kind of wine, with little or no intervention in the fields. Forget small oak, those are for experimenting with. They prefer large Austrian botte. Their crus are Montestefano, Montefico and Bric Mentina, a gorgeous hilltop red. For Barbaresco production they farm 10 hectares, from which they make a paltry 30,000 bottles. They make joyfully delicious, headache-free, red wine.

I've long stopped collecting Gaja, Giacosa and Giacomo Conterno. I love their wines, but like overly large homes and fancy Italian cars, I don?t spend money on things like that. Maybe it?s because I realize I'll never be as wealthy as folks who can afford those uber-premium items for daily consumption. Perhaps it is because I have been to those mountain tops and don?t have an appetite for that kind of opulence anymore. Or maybe it is because I have found wines from simple and down-to-earth folks who understand what they are making from their land. And that is what I am wanting in my wine.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Or I could just blame it on the La C? N?va, with its magic spell.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[10/23/2022, 18:59] Friendship, Alcohol & Your Best Life

On the Wine Trail in Italy

uring the past three years, it seems as if time has slowed down. I know that?s not scientifically possible, but still something has changed. And as the world comes out of its self-imposed confinement, our values have shifted, at least for some of us. In the wine world, and most likely beyond, how we relate to one another, to material items, and our quality of life, they are all intertwined.

Three aspects are occupying my attention of late:

On the Wine Trail in Italy


What an eye opener that has been. For one, when you change professions or transition from the working world to the world after, one undergoes a transformation that, like parenthood, there are paltry clues provided. I?ve talked a lot about transactional relationships on this blog, and never has it been more acutely shown to me that I have fewer of those types of relationships than when in the working world. Not complaining, just observing. It?s not like when one is on social media and trying to amass a load of ?friends.? No, this is the analog version, slower, deeper and with less bullshit than the virtual ones. This is where you find out who is really in your corner, not just lobbing a ? for shits ?n giggles.

Recently reading a book by Nina Totenberg, called ?Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships.? Early on in the book she writes:

?Ruth didn?t teach me everything about friendship. I?ve had other wonderful teachers, expected and unexpected. All of them have taught me that friendship is precious, that it involves showing up, that it involves supporting and helping, that it is not always about the grand gesture, but rather about the small one. It is about extending the invitation, making space at the table, picking up the phone, and also remembering. Friendship is what cushions life?s worst blows and what rejoices in life?s hoped-for blessings. It can sometimes be as simple as a hug when the hug matters most.?

I?ve been lucky to have a couple of those friends, especially during the double whammy of Covid and retirement. I?ve also noticed that folks who I thought were my friends, well let?s just say their definition of friendship isn?t probably the same as mine or Nina?s. Unanswered emails and texts notwithstanding, many folks just haven?t shown up. What am I going to do, hound them? Maybe they?re busy. Maybe they can?t be bothered. Maybe their life is so full of other priorities. I?ve resolved to let ?em be, except in cases where my not ?showing up? could be interpreted that I no longer give a shit. I do, but I also know my ice cream is melting. I?m not chasing the impala across the savannah. It?s a fine line.

On the Wine Trail in Italy


I never realized just how destructive the wine world was, and continues to be. Recently I was reading about an up-and-coming wine writer and on their ?about? page they noted among their many interests in wine writing and wine tasting that they drank copious amounts of Champagne and Burgundy daily. I did a double take. Really? Not to be virtue signaling here, but it struck me oddly. Copious?

Alcohol is, after all, a toxic substance, and too much of a good thing isn?t always a good thing. I would hope an editor might take that person aside and suggest another word like ?adequate? or ?agreeable,? so as not to suggest that binging on wine daily is an activity we should aspire to.

Still, many of us yearn to feel better. And alcohol, like drugs, and sex, and power, and access, can impart exultance.

While wine has alcohol, it isn?t the reason for loving wine. But try and convince an alcoholic, especially an intelligent and well educated one, to buy into that proposition. To some, it?s simply irresistible.

I have a list in my head of all the people in my trade who died young. It?s a rather long list. Most of them were sudden, like a car accident or a suicide. But those who had an illness, the ones I talked to in their last days, not a one of them would?ve traded a day for a drink. The only copious amounts of anything they wanted were more days, more heartbeats, more life. Not more Barolo.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Your Best Life

These days it?s easy to see our ?friends? somewhere exotic, with a bevy of wine bottles, presenting us with the latest version of their best life. Right now, they?ve finished with their romantic glamping vacations in Phuket and Porto Cervo, and now we?re seeing other folks who are bloodletting their Italian/French/Portuguese/you name it wine country trips. Great food, always with the best friends, in glamorous and serene settings. It?s like everyone has turned into Ali MacGraw and Steve McQueen, and are tanning poolside at The Riviera in Palm Springs in 1969 - having the best sex, drinking the best wine and eating the best food - living their best life.

But even MacGraw and McQueen had to come down to earth from time to time.

Not so on Earth in 2022, where all we see is the bright side of the moon.

Look, we?ve all just been through an epoch that set the world on its side. And it isn?t done yet. Like I recently said, there is some major shit going down every day on earth.

So, I?m not buying into the ?my best life? bullshit. Is it a deflection from the real world, an avoidance? Or, are folks just getting back to their life, as it should be? I?m just not picking up the tab for that version of reality.

So, saying all that, what in hell crawled up my ass, you might ask?

Simply, that I am re-evaluating life, starting with friendships, alcohol and living one?s best life. I want to keep and grow my deep friendships. I want to love wine, but I don?t want it to be my sun and my moon. And I want to explore what life has to offer, but with a mind to the reality that there are those of us, some of them friends, some of them in the wine trade, who don?t have the freedom and the privilege that many of us have in the Free World. I want to be more mindful of their plight and responsive to it so that they too can find a way, someday, to return to their best life, their friendships and their families. And, yes, over a table with fresh and healthy food, and where delicious wine flows again.


On the Wine Trail in Italy


wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[10/16/2022, 22:05] Is Italy (and Italian wine) heading towards a catastrophic precipice?
Italy MMXXII ~ Quo Vadis?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Probably not the best headline for a blog in terms of SEO. Maybe better to use ?Italy 2022, and her impending economic, environmental, political, agricultural and social turmoil, following on the heels of the post-pandemic (or is it?) era.?  Yes, we have much to consider, starting with the wine grape harvest.

Regardless of the quality or quantity of the harvest, which on its own is worthy of deeper consideration, but taking into account a larger vista in which wine, as an agricultural bi-product, is made with the labor of humans and the energy of technology. Say what?

Fasten your seat belts, folks.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

This is complex. So, let us start in the fields. The cost of water, of energy to pump water, or to power the farm machinery, including the winemaking equipment. In other words, the energy demands that are needed to bring grapes into wine, in a bottle.

Word is that everything related to energy will see spikes in prices, thanks to Putin (and Saudi Arabia). Already, anecdotal information is coming out of Italy from folks saying the cost of energy is as much as tripling. That?s electricity to keep the winery machinery running, to keep the white (and other) wines fermenting cool, to keep the pumps pumping, the lights on, anything and everything that depends of electrical generation in order to keep things operating. That?s one aspect.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Along with that, across the supply line, the nurseries that provide the vine material, the barrel makers, the bottle makers, the label and cork makers, the box fabricators, the paper companies, the glue providers, the capsule manufacturers, all are seeing their world shrink and their expenses explode. Expect Italian wine prices, regardless of whether it is a vintage of century or not, to increase dramatically.

White, rose and sparkling wine will be the first we will notice. But those red wines that have to age for 3-4-5 or more years, what about them? Well, the price of borrowing money is going up and to hold onto Brunello or Barolo for years, in this era, will cause those wines, as, and when, they are released, to skyrocket. I?m already hearing from folks in the trade who are telling me that they are being prepared for major increases.

Along with that, stories have come across my desk relating to the price of shipping, which some sources have told me that those costs have stories as much as tripled in cost. So, if the formula (only an example) would be to add $1 per bottle for shipping, now expect $3. A $12 wine won?t become $15, because those costs are added in and then formulated to include those costs in the profit scheme. Think closer to $17-20. And that will be IF everyone in the tiers take a softer approach towards profitability and margins. Yeah, I kinda got wonky on you. Sorry.

Let?s go back to Italy.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Folks there are really worried because they have Russia breathing down their necks, the Ukrainian crisis still very much unresolved and unsettling, and the winds of war are blowing across the planet. Putin is threatening nuclear action. North Korea is popping off test rockets, Turkey is, well, Turkey, and China is also rattling sabers, especially in regards to Taiwan and ?US interference? in their backyard. Israel and Iran and Syria, another powder keg. We can?t even think about Afghanistan or Africa, because the Western world thinks they are of utmost importance, as if we were not the interconnected (and interdependent) world that we have become.

Oh, and Covid is rearing its ugly head with a variant wave (BQ.1 and BQ1.1.) in Italy, France and Germany, among other places, as we head into the colder (and holiday) months.

Meanwhile China and the US are Italy?s growing wine market. Or were, prior to 2020. And while that growth is starting up, with the world economies talking recession (and in the UK, economic depression), that makes it hard for a farmer or a small vineyard/winery to plan their future. Because the future is that uncertain.

I know this all sounds so very dire. That?s because it is.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

A winery is having to deal with labor costs, material increases, energy prices soaring, along with a social fabric, in Italy, that is disintegrating. Politically, there appears to be a wave of autocratic leadership that is washing over Italy, along with other European, Asian, Africa, and American countries. Wine doesn?t stand much in the way of amelioration, when there are bigger fish to fry. And the wine lover (dare we call them a wine consumer?) who has less to spend today than they did two years ago, and now it is more expensive, well, let?s just say they aren?t going to get much relief. Save for governments borrowing more money (at higher interest rates) or printing money, to spread the wealth around. And I?m not seeing very much wealth being spread around these days. You either got it or you didn?t, at this point. The bus is small and it is all full up.

So, yeah, 2022 is a great vintage. A big vintage. A wonderful vintage. A notable vintage. So what?

Or maybe the question is, ?So what now?? Back to that old Quo Vadis thingie. Except instead of asking Italy, maybe we should rephrase the question to: ?Earth 2022 ? where in Hell are we going??

On the Wine Trail in Italy
New York, April 2020 (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[10/09/2022, 20:01] Italy's "Miracle Harvest" for the 2022 Wine Crop
On the Wine Trail in Italy
"Un Miracolo!"

Get ready, for here it comes! The long-awaited (and inevitable) treatise tsunami over the 2022 Italian grape harvest. Just like the ubiquitous dissertations on the perfect Thanksgiving wine or the vaulted Springtime piece on the gaggle of new ros? wines. Why do we love these so? Too many scribes today are looking for the easy-layout, the slam dunk, the no-brainer, when it comes to content. The 21st century has broken everything, and the internet leads the way, always and in every way. So, let?s get ready for a plethora of boilerplate and an avalanche of clich?, with regards to the 2022 harvest. It will be epic!

Honestly, who even remembers the 1994 harvest? Or the 2011? And what makes the 2022 more special? Oh, right, it?s because we?re here and now and 2022 is the thing, dangling right in front of us, begging the experts (and they are all experts) to pass their judgment and burnish their (s)word upon the producer?s shoulders.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

They will talk about the weather and global warming. They will dwell on drought and floods. Of the wind storm that comes up on the peninsula and the maritime breezes. They will not forget to enlighten you about the hillside vines and their exposure to the sun and the wind and the moon and planets. They will blather on about Dante and Petrarch and Veronelli and Parker. They will deliver orations about production and abundance, or lack thereof. They will labor over the journey a sole winemaker takes to make their perfect wine. They will lecture about chemicals, or their revulsion to chemicals. Ditto for technology. And let?s not forget intervention. Every buzzword imaginable will be packed into their reports.

Some of them will charge for it. Some of them will lay it down in front of you for free. It doesn?t matter, they will use similar words and strive for self-importance. For they will identify with the harvest as a reflection of their self-worth. And what will we, the lowly wine drinkers, make of it? What is our takeaway?

Well, I reckon the writers will want us to laud them for their powers of observation and prognostication. For many of them will tell you that when they toured the vineyards in April that they saw, they felt, they knew that this would be the harvest to end all harvests.



On the Wine Trail in Italy

Meanwhile, winemakers toil. They pick. Sticky hands, sore backs, sunburn, long hours, sweaty, weak knees. And then they take to crush and press. And wait and watch, sleeping at the winery, because they need to punch down every few hours. Watching their babies incubate and become wine. Away from family, little or no sleep. The occasional shower. No exercise except for the work. Haphazardly eating. Little, or most likely, no sex. All in service of the grapes, the vines, the wine gods.

But yet, we are supposed to worship the writer of the harvest report because they elucidate all that is necessary for understanding.

Like I said, get ready, I can hear them typing away furiously right now, all over the world. You need them to tell you what you need to know about anything and everything that the harvest has wrought.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
For now, I?m going to go outside and take a walk in this nice, cool, crisp autumn weather. What will be will be, regardless of the self-appointed tastemakers and wine hustlers proclivity for gab.

I might even open up that last bottle of Lambrusco Sorbara and start up the wood smoker and smoke me some wild, line-caught salmon, indubitably.

I?ll give it to you in one short paragraph, this 2022 harvest:

?After a short, wet spring and a long hot summer, with a little help from the scirocco and the maritime breezes, the harvest of 2022 in Italy will go down as one of the surprisingly greatest in history. ?Definitely the harvest of the decade if not the century!? one independent winemaker in the Langhe exclaimed. In Tuscany, as well, the elderly Montalcino scions noted that they hadn?t seen a harvest like this ?since 1967.? And in the Veneto, Amarone producers were licking their lips over a protracted growth season with ?potentially gobs and gobs of great Amarone to come, nothing like we have seen since 1947.? Not to be outdone the Etna producers amplified the feeling from the peninsula and went one step further. ?We have not seen a wine harvest like this since 1828 ? this is definitely the harvest of the millennial.? So be it. the greatest harvest Italy has ever seen, mark their words.

And if you liked 2022, as they said in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, just wait till next year. It?ll be even greater. Just ask the experts! 

On the Wine Trail in Italy

[10/02/2022, 21:36] When an Italian Takes to Drink

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Normally, most of us find it inconceivable to come upon an Italian with a drinking problem. Wine, and to a lesser extent, beer and spirits, have been an integral part of the Italian table. Moderation was something my Sicilian grandfather instilled in me as a young boy. I rarely saw anyone, at our family gatherings, mildly drunk or otherwise. It just wasn?t a thing, alcoholism, in our family or our Italian culture.

And then, we moved to the desert when I was a kid, and we lived across from an Italian family. The husband was a screen writer, although his wife once told me he was a gofer for a famous television producer. He always seemed to be hanging around the house when he wasn?t out running errands, or as he liked to say, polishing up a script. Actually, what he was really good at was polishing off a bottle, night after night. He was harmless enough when he was sauced up, as long as he wasn?t behind the wheel. But I saw, first-hand, how an alcoholic functioned in his world. And it wasn?t pretty.

It is no small thing, when an Italian takes to drink. In my travels in Italy, over 50 years, I?ve witnessed little, if any, examples of an Italian for whom alcohol have gotten the better of them. Americans, well, that?s another story. Countless times I?ve dragged besotted colleagues to their room and dumped them in their bed, dead drunk. How, I asked myself, did they get that way? I was with them the whole evening. I'd had my share of wine, but it didn?t waste me.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I remember this one person. They were highly intelligent, with advanced degrees. Loved all things Italian. But once they landed at the airport, they couldn?t wait to get their drink on. Often, when they?d be further from the city and the urban gendarmes, they'd pull out a doobie, and enhance their intoxication with another level of bliss. Usually, the person would excuse themselves early and stumble back to their room. So much for enlightened conversation.

Alcohol abuse has destroyed families and friendships, yet the Italians, historically have dodged that bullet. Why, I ask. And is that really the case now? In this age of Covid, when so many people have been sequestered and sheltered, with access to anything just a delivery away, with any number of temptations, are the Italians still stalwart in their temperance?

Our neighbor was a casualty. And several of the Italians who came over in the 1970?s, on the cruise ships, who eventually married here and stayed and opened up restaurants, some of them didn?t escape the temptation of the easy flowing wine tap. They worked long hours, had little social (or family) life outside the restaurant, and at the end of a fast lunch or a long dinner rush, they just wanted to kick back and mellow out. I get it. But I?ve lost a couple of them along the way.

Just like my erstwhile colleague, who couldn?t wait to get their drink on, so too, my Italian friends, far from home, succumbed to enslavement by intoxicants ? beer, wine, whisky. Sad.

Recently at lunch, with one of my non-transactional friends (i.e., a genuine chum) we got to talking about what would happen if someday a doctor said either of us could no longer drink any alcohol due to a physical condition.

?It would depend on the severity of the malady, but I would be inclined to temper the doctor?s advice with regards to the situation I was finding myself in,? my friend said. ?If I was a goner, I probably wouldn?t stop drinking wine, as my condition would be terminal. But if my life would be better for it, and my condition would improve, if I stopped, I?d do it in a New York second.?

I thought about my response. Simply, if someone told me I had to stop drinking wine, I?d say, ?OK, but that ginger kombucha, you?re not taking that away from me.? I had an alternate and a plan, a contingency.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I probably won?t be needing to, but I contemplated a life free of alcohol. And it brought up the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism ? the root of all suffering is desire. I could give up wine, but could I give up wanting it?

Wanting it would still impart suffering from an affliction that could be worse than the diagnosis the doctor made, which put into motion the whole thing about quitting alcohol.

And then, something inside me said, ?Keep it simple.?

I was going down a rabbit hole.

I was missing something that I hadn?t given up. I like wine, sometimes I even love wine. But I can live without wine.

Is that cultural? Or is it behavioral?

However we parse it out, what is it about the Italian culture that has allowed it to create and enjoy these amazing gifts from the earth, yet, not become obsessed and hooked on them?

And what is it about so many Americans, young and old, highly intelligent ones too, that wine, this intriguing intoxicant, gets the better of them? 

On the Wine Trail in Italy


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[09/25/2022, 20:27] Eataly taken over by a global private equity conglomerate? Say it ain't so!

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Recent news from abroad has it that Eataly has had a change of ownership. Investindustrial, headed up by Andrea Bonomi, has acquired 52% (majority) share for about $200 million. Not a ridiculous amount for a concept that started almost 20 years ago.

Now, according to the website, Grocery Dive, Eataly is in ?more than 40 locations in 15 countries including eight flagship stores in North America and 16 franchise stores across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.? Quite a jump from their initial shop in Northern Italy.

$200 million seems like a small amount for 40 locations. I wonder how much debt the original company might have piled up. Was that debt erased? Who, if anyone, walked away with millions? What changes will come about? Expect  more expansion, and expect the Bastianich family will sell their shares, as part of the deal (as per The Financial Times).

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In 2007, I?d heard about Eataly from friends in Italy, where it was getting some good buzz. It was autumn, and I was planning a wine buying trip to northern Italy. A colleague, who was from Torino, where the very first Eataly opened, suggested we stop in his hometown to visit, see a Juventus game and see Eataly, before heading into wine country. And that was how my fascination with Eataly began.

Since then, I?ve visited numerous Eataly?s around America, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to eat, to shop, and occasionally, even sell some Italian wine. I have gotten to know Eataly well. And when I heard the owners were planning on putting an Eataly in Dallas in 2020, in my home town, I was astounded. Why Dallas, when Houston, down the road, was touted as being so much more cosmopolitan and diverse? Why not Seattle, where the Italian wine and food scene thrives? Or New Orleans, which has a mosaic of food cultures (plus the tourism factor) that Eataly would surely dovetail into quite nicely. But Dallas? I was over the moon.

And then Covid hit.

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The brass at Eataly went ahead and put it five miles from my home, in NorthPark Center, a beloved (and very upscale) shoppers paradise, even though we were looking at a very uncertain future. But Italy, and Italians, have faced uncertainty at every bend and turn of their history. Something in the Italian DNA sees adversity as a challenge, and banking on resilience to make it through the worst times. I learned that from my grandparents, and my mom and aunts and uncles.

With time to reflect during Covid, I began to envision this long-time connection between Dallas culture and their love for all things Italian.

When I moved to Dallas in 1978, I went to work down the street from the now-Eataly at a then-iconic Italian restaurant, Il Sorrento.

Il Sorrento was the lovechild of Mario and Irene Messina. Mario was creative force, and Irene made sure all the bills got paid, and the money grew. Mario was inspired to create a dining experience in Dallas that was missing. As Craig Claiborne wrote in the New York times about Dallas dining: ?Years ago I would have summed up the restaurant scene here in a phrase: ?Not worth a detour.? There were dozens of barbecue restaurants and places where you could eat Tex-Mex cooking, but these were prevalent throughout Texas.?

Yeah, Tex-Mex and barbecue. Still rocking Dallas. But Mario Messina was a visionary, and he had a dream.

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In the Swinging Sixties he started the first of what would be the beginning of the Italian wave of dining. He actually used the word cucina rather than the more popular French word cuisine. He brought espresso (and the machines) to these parts, made his own bread, had his own pasta making room, a wine cellar with female sommeliers (replete with ?uniforms? comprised of short shorts ala Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders). On and on, tableside service, Caesar Salad and Fettuccine Alfredo made to order, strolling musicians, fortune tellers, lounge singers in a sultry bar setting, bread boys rushing out hot fresh bread (as soon as you finished the one you just got) and much, much more. Il Sorrento was Mario Messina?s grand opus.

It?s long gone, except in the minds and hearts of the dinosaurs who remember how impossible it was to get a decent espresso or a ball of fresh mozzarella. Now, all of that is behind us. And here comes Eataly, gilding the lily of our Italian obsession.

In a way, it was a vindication of all the efforts people in Dallas have given, from Mario Messina at Il Sorrento (whose gravesite overlooks Eataly) to the Paul and Mike Di Carlo (of Jimmy?s, Dallas) and all the purveyors, vendors and lively hearts that got the attention of the folks in Torino for a big little town in the west called Dallas.

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7:00 AM - Mike DiCarlo of Jimmy's in Dallas

From my initial flirtation in 2007 in Torino to now, 2022, in Dallas, 15 years later we have one in the place I call home, Dallas, Texas. And while my loyalty is to my local retailer (Jimmy?s, first and foremost), I thought it was an exciting thing to see, especially the restaurant side. When I came to Dallas in 1978 from California, I was a stranger in a strange land. This place was starting to look like home, 42 years hence. Better late than never.

Now word comes that a global private equity firm has the reins. Oh, they sent out a press release assuring folks that these changes won?t subvert the mission of Eataly. I?ve worked for family companies and corporations that were ?taken over.? Nothing ever stays the same.

Look at Whole Foods. I?ve seen my local Whole Foods store become transformed from a New Age grocery, which I once recognized, into a company that now stacks White Claw, high and wide, in the aisles.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

What might we see in the future from Eataly? Primi Frutti flavored Italian Moscato? Wait, you can already find that stacked at local liquor chains here.

In reality, the local Eataly is looking more like an alter-universe of Italian wine. There is an orange wine section. Attention is paid to small producers. Two friends messaged me recently, with encouraging news of their products receiving great receptions at the Dallas Eataly. Let?s hope that small, independent streak is allowed to continue.

And looking at the shelves, so many faces of folks I worked with over the years. They aren?t just bottles, they are lives, with some of them now in their 3rd and 4th generations. History. Nostalgia? Perhaps. But also, the notion of passing the tradition from one generation to the next.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Eataly is now entering its 2nd generation. What should we expect? Look to Italy for answers about Eataly, I?d say. And right now, Italy is convulsing and undergoing some potentially extreme changes, politically, economically and socially.

Same ?ol same ?ol? I mean, we could say that about Italy, for it knows about disruption. It might even feed on it, grow from it. And likewise with Eataly. I am hopeful. But I don?t have a dog in the fight anymore. I?m sitting on the dock of the bay.

But I like the developments I?ve seen in the elaboration of Italian culture in little ?ol Big D. Finally, I can get a decent espresso, a wonderful gianduja gelato, great Prosciutto, and wonderful mozzarella, both local and from the motherland. Yeah, this is the land of milk and honey.  I just hope the good times keep rolling. We need the Italian ambassadors of food and wine. now more than ever.

We will see. As Zimmy said, ?The times they are a changin?.?

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[09/18/2022, 20:51] Wine, Watches & Cigars ? Is There No Ceiling?

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Recently, I popped into my local grocery store, Central Market, in Dallas. On the wall was a bottle of Ch?teau Pontet-Canet 2016 for $200.00.

On the Rolex website, one of their newest watches, a GMT-Master II ?Pepsi? lists for $10,750 retail, but try and find one new for that price. On the secondary market though, you might be able to find one for twice retail.

I?m reading an article in Cigar Aficionado, and they?re talking about Cohiba Cuban cigars now retailing for over $100.

Before the great disruption event of 2016, you could have easily found a bottle of Pontet-Canet for under $80, still a price most people wouldn?t consider, except for maybe a special occasion, and well above the price I remember seeing the 1982 stacked in my local Safeway (for $12.99!). A Rolex, five years ago you could have gone into a local AD (authorized dealer) and picked one up, at retail. Still a pricey proposition, but reachable for folks with the means. And that Cohiba Splendido? Well, in Canada or Italy I saw them for about $10, back in the day. Still, a pricey smoke, but not a C-note!

Something is out of whack. Are we living in a world exclusively comprised of billionaires? Is there no ceiling on these consumer items? Have we all gone mad? Where in hell have we landed? Is there a way off of this planet?

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I have my science fiction dystopian theory about this which I will share. Sometime in the summer of 2016, around July or August, Planet Earth, traveling through space, drifted through a cosmic cloud that caused half of the people to lose all sense of order in their daily lives. Politically, socially and economically. Around the time Covid arrived on the scene, we were so topsy-turvy as a people, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary anymore. And along with Covid came disruption of goods and services. People started walking away from jobs, relationships, you name it. We found ourselves in uncharted territory.

Meanwhile, the earth keeps turning, and people try and piece back their lives, put the puzzle back together. And then we look up find ourselves looking at wines costing $200, watches costing $20,000 and cigars costing $100. Something?s gotta give.

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The good news is, you can still find terrific wines for under $20, really nice watches for under $500 and eminently enjoyable cigars for $5. Maybe not the 1% of the 1%, but who among us belongs to that club? Or would even want to be?

The thing is, for many of us, wine and watches, and to a lesser extent, cigars, are everyday items. Common things. Something that we think are within our grasp. But when they start becoming unattainable, even for folks with a little money in their bank accounts, what is it saying about who we are as a people?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I know, for my part, I can just limit my cravings, or eliminate them altogether. But those expensive items won?t just go away. In fact, they are in short supply. Good luck obtaining a Submariner at your local Rolex store. Or a Cohiba cigar from Cuba. Or a Screaming Eagle from Napa. But someone out there has the money and the ?connections? to find and buy, and hopefully enjoy these stratospheric consumer goods.

Italy has some of that. But Italy hasn?t built their brand on the premise of rare and unavailable. Oh yeah, you can look for, and find, a bottle of Soldera. And you will pay dearly for it. But Italian wine doesn?t orbit around that sun. For lack of a better term, the Italians have ?diversified their portfolio.?

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I?m happy about that. Our French cousins, especially in Burgundy and Bordeaux, have arrived to a place where wines we once drank, even when we were young and broke, are no longer accessible to folks, who are now more mature and well-heeled. And they sell everything they make! But where?s the fun in seeing your wines become captive to a culture aroused by a fetishism of rarity. They?ve become a wingless bird, a rara avis. Prisoners in a wine cellar, seldom if ever to see the light of day, the warmth of the dinner table, the comradery of friendship and family. I couldn?t imagine an Italian wine like this, in my world. It would be barbarous.

I reckon much of this is built upon the sand castle of prestige and privilege. Folks want to be seen as being ?in,? and having the means to show it. All ?A? side, no ?B? side kinda thing. Italy has some of that status addiction, but when it is all said and done, Italians want to have a good time. They want to open the bottle, brandish the Cartier and smoke the robusto. Italians want to enjoy their life, not lock it up in some closet, safe or humidor. They find a way.

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America, on the other hand, will we find a way? Or our way back? It might entail going forward through an inferno. I feel it. I see it. We?re living in a time unlike anytime I?ve seen in my lifetime.

Will we make it? I really don?t know. But I do know it won?t be because Italy has made it impassible and futile to move forward, at least with their wines. And thank the good graces for that. Gratitude for the obtainable, the experience made available. The gate unlocked; the door open. The table set. The wine ready. For all. Thank you, Italy.

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? written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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[09/11/2022, 19:21] A World Without Italian Wine

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Who among us could imagine a world without wine from Italy? Well, I?m sure there are those teetotalers who have and do. And there are those for whom alcohol is an addiction, and they as well could, and should, imagine such. But for those of us who are not controlled by alcoholic urges and for whom wine is a safe and healthy accompaniment to our meals and our friendships, wine no longer from Italy is unthinkable.

But not impossible. With threats from global climate change, changes in animal migrations, land wars, and general convulsive nature of our world, could Italian wine be wiped off the face of Earth?

In fact, a world without Italian wine existed for much longer than a world with it. Millions of years, billions. And Italian wine, how long have we had it, maybe 5,000 years? So, it?s not like it has been a permanent thing on the planet. But most of us live in the here and now, where we live our lives, and trouble ourselves little with the before and after of things.

Nothing is forever.

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So, will there be Italian wine in 5,000 years? Will there be an Italy? Will Earth still foster human life? Will any of us ever know? Why should we care?

I look at the family tree of, say, the Antinori family, who have been around for 26 generations, 600 years, 8% of the time Italian wine has been around. They are invested in the past as well as the future. It?s part of their living legacy. But those of us without the history, the tree and the patrimony might struggle to see the why of it. Why should we care?

In short, Italian wine is a gift from the earth to her people. And her people have made it into something greater than how it came to be, originally. It is a thing humankind has done that is good and hearty, full of life. It is joyful and it is a cause for celebration. It is an everyday thing as well. It is mundane and it is extraordinary. So, if it were to be wiped off the face of Earth, many of us would see it as tragic and heartbreaking.

But life would go on, without wine, without humanity.

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Photo courtesy of the winery

I say this with a simple wine in mind that I had the other day. It was a white wine from Piedmont, a Gavi ?Cristina Ascheri,? from Cantine Giacomo Ascheri. Gavi, at one time, was considered one of the greatest white wines in Italy. But fashions change and trends emerge. And everything circles around, usually, over and over. And now Gavi is cycling back into favor among people who still appreciate well made wines. This wine is simply delicious. It beckons one. Delicate. Assertive. Savory. Dry. Rich, even. Lovely wine. A world without this wine would be a sadder place. I don?t want to live in a world without wines like this.

Everyday another wine tugs on me. ?We don?t have a lifetime for you to wait,? they call to me. The ones in the cellar are even more blunt, ?Open me, you bastard, I?ve been sitting in this cold, dark place for 20 years. I?m ready goddamnit!? A Nebbiolo, doubtless.

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The Sangiovese ones are outspoken in the only way something from Tuscany can be. One Chianti exclaims, ?I may not be a Brunello and some of you might think I cannot age, but don?t waste me any longer. I?m ready to go ? wake up, get in here and take me out of this place!? Yes, a world without Italian wines would be so much more boring than it is now.

Oh, they don?t talk to you? You think I might be a little batty? Perhaps. Or maybe this silverback has learned to listen to his cellar mates. They don?t talk to you? I?m sorry, what you are missing out on. Take it from me, they talk endlessly, chattering all through the night, knowing that they have one function to fulfill, and that is to escape the confines of the cork and bottle in which they are imprisoned.

Yes, what a world it would be, a world without Italian wine. But not any world I care to live in. How about you? 

On the Wine Trail in Italy


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