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Mondo Di Vino
Mondo Di Vino





[09/09/2021, 12:00] By the Bottle: Carmen Castorina

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life

On the Wine Trail in Italy
 

I?ve known Carmen for awhile now. He?s one of the best storytellers in the wine biz. He knows everybody. He?s been around for ages, so he has ?all the dirt? on almost anyone who's anyone. Not that he?d ever go down that road. No, Carmen is a guy who loves life, family and wine. In 2014, he retired as the chief storyteller for the Gallo family. And before you put your high-hat on, don?t. We all started out somewhere, and in the early days the paths were fewer and far between. But he navigated through a large family company during one of the most historic epochs for wine, and especially wine in California. That said, Carmen isn?t the man in the grey flannel suit. No, he?s more of a stretchy polo and linen shorts guy now, especially in North Texas, where we are still enduring high 90+?F days, blistering sun and heat, heat, heat. And you wonder why we drink so much white (and ros?) wine down here? Anyway, I am a huge fan of Carmen, and now you can be too, if you so desire.

 

What wines do you have standing up right now?

As I continue to purposefully ?drink down my cellar??.

Peter Lehmann The ?Mudflat? Shiraz 2000, Fontanafredda Barolo 1974, Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 1988, A. Rafanelli Zinfandel 1997, Clarendon Hills Romas Grenache 2006, Summus 1997, Benanti Serra Della Contessa 2001.

What?s the last great wine you drank?

Penfold?s Cellar Reserve Grenache 2002. Big surprise in that it looked, smelled and tasted as vibrant as it did back in 2004.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
 

Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how).

Traveling in various wine regions and having a meal consisting of a locally sourced regional specialty paired with a wine produced nearby. Some examples?.the seafood of Galicia paired with Albarino,?..clearly a local pairing that has evolved down through the ages. I also recall a memorable dinner of roast lamb along with a Morellino di Scansano while visiting the original home of my wife?s family, Pitigliano, in 2014.

 

What?s your favorite wine no one else has heard of?

For most of my career the wines of Sicily were overlooked and ignored. When I first tasted the wines of Mt. Etna 18 years ago, I became enamored of them?in particular Nerello Mascalese and Carricante.  They were little known then and continue to fly under the radar, 

 

What wine should everybody drink before the age of 21?

The old family tradition of giving the younger folks some wine mixed with ginger ale surely cannot be considered detrimental in this age of enlightenment!

 

What wine should nobody drink until the age of 40?

I honestly can?t think of any.

 

Who in wine ? winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors ? active today do you admire most?

Without sounding patronizing, the Gallo Family and their winemakers strive to produce excellent, well-made wines at all levels and coupled with their distribution prowess result in wider spread availability to consumers on a global basis.  I have great admiration for the winemaking team at Catena in Argentina?their wines, across the range, never seem to disappoint. As for the wine press?.three stand out not only for their ability to widely ?spread the gospel? and have a broad-based impact.?.but also for the genuine nature of their personalities?. Robert Parker, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson.

 

Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

Tokaji Azu 6 Puttonyos Aszu and Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume come to mind.

 

Has Covid19 changed the way your approach wine?

Obviously more at home consumption as opposed to dining out on-premise.  A silver lining here in that Covid has accelerated my long-term plan for the older wines collected down through the years that have been looking for a reason to be opened.  Many surprises along with disappointments.

 

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Has a wine ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

While not involving a particular person a wine that had a dramatic effect on my career would have to be the 1978 Gallo Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, noteworthy as the first vintage dated bottling released by the Winery. Some background?-in August 1979 as part of the job interviewing process I was invited to Modesto and given a tour of the newly completed underground cellars. Little did I know that among the wines aging in large 2000-gallon Slavonian oak casks was the aforementioned Cab. I was also made aware that the winery was in the process of ramping up its commitment to acquiring properties in the prime North Coast growing regions of Sonoma and Napa. Once on the job and having spent three years involved with E&J Brandy it became time to go to market with a lineup of vintage dated varietals. The ?78 Cab, having aged for 48 months in those large casks, was Gallo?s initial entry into the so-called world of ?fine wine? and I was fortunate enough to participate in this project. That led to other assignments in the ongoing expansion of the fine wine portfolio which continued until my 2014 retirement. 

 

What?s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

Expect the unexpected and be prepared to be surprised. 

 

What moves you most in a wine?

When a wine meets or exceeds the expectations you have for it.

 

What do you really wish you understood about wine?

The ability of winemakers to assess a wine?s changing characteristics as it develops from crush to final bottling is something that I have always admired. The really skilled vintners seem to really be able successfully vinify, blend and age to achieve a desired result.

 

Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking?  And which do you avoid?

Clean, well-balanced wines that show their provenance as opposed to over-oaked, manipulated wines. As I ramble on through life, I find the lower alcohol wines to be much more ?tolerable.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

How do you organize your wines?

Haphazardly?..but with a nod towards vintage and country/area of origin.

 

What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?

Ports?.courtesy of an industry friend I have a number of them on hand.  Over 20 years ago I was able to acquire a bottle of Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port ?94 which was rated 100 pts. by Wine Spectator.

 

What?s the best wine you?ve ever received as a gift?

Considering ?best? a relative term I was fortunate to have been given a bottle of 1990 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva.   

 

How have your drinking tastes changed over time?

Low tolerance for higher alcohol wines began years ago and continues till today. I likewise moved away from many California Chardonnays as the oaky, smokey, buttery trend took over.

 

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What wine did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn?t? Do you remember the last wine you set aside without finishing?

For a long time, I struggled to appreciate Barolo and while I?ve come to a much better understanding of wines made from Nebbiolo given a choice I still would go in a different direction. As for not finishing a wine if there are no flaws it seems foolish to me to leave a bottle unfinished. 

 

What wine do you think everyone should try?

Picpoul from Washington State.

 

On the Wine Trail in Italy

You?re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite?

Ernest Gallo, Nicolas Catena, and Piero Antinori. These innovators made significant, impactful lasting contributions in their respective countries that continue to spread throughout the wine world. 

 

What wines are you embarrassed not to have drunk yet?

Sad, rather than embarrassed, to not have tasted all of the First Growths and most of the Grand Cru Burgundies. Having said that I find no embarrassment in enjoying wines that are more accessible and affordable.

 

What do you plan to drink next?

I?ll know at dinnertime.

 

On the Wine Trail in Italy

 

More here from the archives - My Dinner(s) with Carmen

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[09/05/2021, 13:27] 50 years ago ~ notes from Florence ~ September, 1971

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Saying goodbye to my Sicilian family at the dock, I got on the boat and returned to Naples. From there I took a train to Florence. I was an art student (mainly photography, but a well-rounded course of classes), and Florence seemed like a good place to visit. The Italian holiday was tapering off, people were returning to their towns and villages, so I did as well. I had two more weeks in Italy before I had to be back at class in Santa Clara.

Looking back now, probably the best thing would have been to stay in Sicily, and dive in deeper. But I didn?t want to take too much advantage of my relatives? hospitality. And I knew I?d be back. Florence called.

Oddly, seven years later I went back to Florence and spent three weeks there. So, I really did a deeper dive into Florentine life too. But not this time.

This time, 1971, I was alone and walked the town. It was still a bit warm, but the city was coming back to life. Tourism was a big thing there, not like it is now, by any stretch of the imagination. But you could tell it held a draw for people from all around the world.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I remember seeing avocados for sale at a produce stand for an unimaginable price. They were from Israel. Odd, I thought, because avocados, where I came from, grew on trees, and all one had to do was find one and pick them. But $3 for an avocado in Italy in 1971? That was a whole meal. Or a room in a pensione, in those days.

Five years earlier Florence had suffered thought a devastating flood, and the markers from the flood were still in evidence. Lines were noted on buildings where the flood had risen to. Some of the storefronts were still shuttered. It was 1971, we weren?t in the greatest economical period then. Florence was trying to come back, to rebuild.

Wine? Well, even in the little trattorias or mensas that I could afford, there was always a quarter of a liter of wine to go with the meal. But I didn?t think much about it. It accompanied the meal. In fact, it was probably a good habit to develop, not to put wine up on some pedestal and worship it. but to include it in the communal repast. I remember getting into a workers mensa and sitting with stone workers, carpenters and plumbers, eating the same food, drinking the same wine. I was a bit of an odd man out, but no one thought much about it. we ate, some made small conversation, and they got back to work. My work? Walking the streets with my camera.

I don?t know what happened to those photos, some of them have gone misplaced. But I do remember some of them. I have a few, one of a courtyard outside my room. I remember going to the Pitti and the Uffizi, along with the Accademia and the Duomo. The pictures will show up someday, I hope.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

In reality I was starting to get a little lonely and restless. I fantasized about going to Zermatt, Switzerland, where I imagined it must be cooler than Florence, this time of the year. But Switzerland, I was told, was more expensive, and I was a student on a budget. So, I stayed a little longer in Florence.

I do remember buying some clothes there, namely three sweaters, a pair of leather bellbottoms and a pair of sandals. I still have the sweater, bought at the San Lorenzo market. They cost 1800 lire each ($3 then) and they are still in good shape. Wool. I also bought a pair of suede bell bottoms. I still have them, though the 30? waist size they came in no longer fit me. I was skinny then.

The sweaters, I can occasionally fit into, but only for nostalgic reasons.

And the sandals? Why always sandals? I bought a pair in Pozzuoli, the cork ones. This time, in Florence, they were of leather, bought at an artisanal shop near the Ponte Vecchio. They were lovely, I still have a pair just like them, that I bought, another time, in Florence. Classic Roman style. Yeah, coming from a family of leather workers, shoes especially, these tapped into my Italian DNA.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

What else do I remember? The ice cream. And yes, a fleeting glance from a beautiful young Italian woman. It was just a second or less, as we passed in the street, me with my camera, she with her girlfriends. Better as a memory than whatever fantasy I conjured up about her.

Next week, Positano in 1971. Wow, what a place it was then.

 
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[09/02/2021, 10:34] By the Bottle: Emily Huang

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I met Emily in Barolo a few years ago, where we were both attending Collisioni at the invitation of Ian D?Agata. Emily lives in Taiwan, and on social media her nom de plume is @unpoalticcia. She radiates a quiet serenity, or as we used to say in Rome a couple of millennia ago, ?Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi.? She is essential to the future of wine and Italian wine. I learned some new things from our exchange below. So glad she contributed and participated in this series, please give Emily a warm welcome.

What wines do you have standing up right now?

I am having a Freisa from G.D. Vajra. I found it most interesting is the spark between the wildness in Freisa and the elegance from Vajra. Theirs is a bigger wine with darker fruit accents than usual, but that like all Freisa wines ages extremely well and expressing aromas and flavours with age that are remarkably similar to Nebbiolo?s.

To be honest, I am so obsessed with Italian native grapes and Freisa is really one of the greatest, but the simple truth is that the country has just so many great wine grapes, many of which most wine lovers have never even heard of, it is nothing short of amazing.

Are there any classic wines that you only recently had for the first time?

I have just had a Baricci Rosso di Montalcino 2011. The aroma and body is simply fabulous. Perfect timing to taste, but it can still be aging for a few more years. Baricci is one of only four estates to own vineyards in what is the true Montosoli hill (and not the enlarged Montosoli area of today) and his wines speak of what is arguably Montalcino?s best terroir. But Montalcino has a bunch of terroirs that are first rate amidst what is far too large a denomination: for example, the Canalicchio di Sopra area right next to Montosoli is very close in quality to it.

Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how).

The best would be sitting in the glass room in the vineyard in Italy, especially in the harvest season, watching the busy people working on the wines for next vintage that I am drinking. 

What?s your favorite wine no one else has heard of?

There is one particular variety from Emilia-Romagna called Centesimino. It?s an aromatic red variety that boasts a charming floral aroma, and has gentle acidity. It?s perfect for aperitivo, but can actually be made as a full-bodied red wine that will stand up to hearty meat dishes such as stews, and delivers a fantastic sweet Passito too.

Who in wine ? winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors ? active today do you admire most?

I admire Ian D?Agata for sure, who is also my mentor. He is a living (walking?) encyclopedia, not just in wine, also in food, in culture, in history and sometimes, even a life coach. He uses simple expression to explain complex subjects, for example: Italian wines. In this way, I feel more encouraged and I have more motivation and passion to dig into the Italian wine field, and to organize and walk my own path.

Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

Wines can never connect with guilty. It?s only pleasure.

What?s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

Sting bought a Tuscan winery since he tasted a Barolo?! How funny is that?!

I need to make sure that I am able to distinguish from Barolo and Super Tuscan or Chianti wines.

What moves you most in a wine?

The philosophy of wine maker or winery owner.

Wine is connection between nature and human being and wine maker tell its own story by the expression of wines. Wine maker is like magician, every move, every step he/she does, it?s glorious and full of surprise.

Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking?  And which do you avoid?

I like delicacy and elegance in wines. Powerful and way too intense can be enjoying as well, but it really depends on the occasion.

What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?

French wines. ?

What?s the best wine you?ve ever received as a gift?

Still waiting for the best to come. Never too late for a surprise ?

You?re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite?

Steven Spurrier, Kerin O'Keefe, Aldo Vajra and more?

What wines are you embarrassed not to have drunk yet?

Let?s say ?a lot?? still have super long list to catch up with?

What do you plan to drink next?

As an Italian wine geek, I?d say any Italian would do.

 
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[08/29/2021, 18:36] 50 years ago ~ notes from Palermo ~ August, 1971

On the Wine Trail in Italy
After booking passage on the ship from Naples, I spotted the bay of Palermo, the Conca d?Oro. My family was supposed to be meeting me at the dock. I felt like Vasco da Gama, or Amerigo Vespucci, in reverse.

My grand aunt and uncle were there with their family, welcoming this young, gawky Americano in jeans, carrying a back pack. I must have been a sight.

They spoke very little English, the younger ones more conversant than the elders. I spoke a smattering of Italian. But we were family! We can do this!

In fact, learning Italian by immersion works. I?m not saying it worked on me then, but I was thrust into a culture and a language and I had to find oxygen. I had to speak Italian.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

These days when someone asks me if I speak Italian, I tell them that I am conversant, but not fluent in the language. But there are other languages, unspoken ones. I am more adept in those silent tongues.

I?m sure there?s an Italian professor out there who, if he is reading this, will shake his head and feel like all that effort was for naught. But it wasn?t. I see in the dark. I hear the crackle of the sun on the rain-spit piazza. I?ll be OK.

My aunt was sure I hadn?t eaten for days, so she rushed me back to the family compound to fatten me up.

What do I remember? Early mornings on the roof of the building overlooking the Centro Storico of Palermo, watching the ships come in and go out. Drinking caffe latte, so smooth, creamy, sweet and restorative. The seagulls chanting their staccato symphonies. The ships calling out from afar. The bells, the many bells of the churches of this ancient city. I love Palermo so very much. It is like going back into the family tree and visiting my ancient forbearers.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

On the street, though, modernity is in bloom. Everything is hustle and bustle. It?s a big city atmosphere. Nothing like where I grew up in the little village on the desert. It was a bit intimidating. Survival in Palermo was, and still is, so basic to the daily comings and goings. The shopping at the open markets, preparing lunch and dinner from a menu of fresh items found in the stalls. The daily specials. And the wine.

Sicily is like Italy in some ways vinous. And in other ways, it is like going back in time, the time when wine began. Basic stuff, now so swank. Red wines from Perricone. White from Insolia and Catarratto. We didn?t know about Nero d?Avola and Nerello Mascalese. Etna was, for all intents, on the other side of the planet. This was Palermo, the center of the universe. We were fine with what we had.

The wines I remember were often a bit rough. I remember my uncle was always putting something in the glass with the red wine, be it sparkling water or a peach.

And then there was the habit of taking a glass of water and putting a milky liquid in it, making the water cloudy and mysterious. And when cold, quite refreshing, tasting of licorice. I loved how the water would cloud up. I still love that stuff, 50 years later.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I slept in my great grandfather?s room. He would haunt me during my afternoon naps. Just like my dad does sometimes. We have these conversations, me with the dead guys. They are always asking me ?Why am I here?? and telling me ?No, I am not dead!? Truly. I try and be courteous, but if they aren?t alive and they are talking to me, what does that make me? Eventually I wake up, with the sounds of the street below, Via Roma, the clapping of the horse hooves on the ancient avenue.

Everything about that trip 50 years ago, prepared me for an Italy which to this day, still excites me. It is a wondrous place. My relatives, all gone now, only come to visit in dream-space now. I?m so grateful I made my way to them, finding my roots, but really discovering another world. One which I loved then, and love to this day. 

On the Wine Trail in Italy

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[08/26/2021, 11:25] By the Bottle: Darrell Corti

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

In my mind, Darrell Corti embodies that often-quoted motto from Joseph Campbell, ?The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.? He is one of my heroes. We share California as our native state and Italy as our place of ancestral descent. He knows almost more about anything, food, wine and otherwise, than I or many of us will ever be able to comprehend. Underlying all of that is a kindness and an openness that imprint Darrell as incomparable. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me to have him on our series, and in our world.

What wines do you have standing up right now?

Most of the samples that I have received. During the summer, wines with deposit are really not interesting.

What?s the last great wine you drank?

What do you mean by great? Expensive? There are not many really great wines around, but a lot of expensive ones!

Are there any classic wines that you only recently had for the first time?

Again, what do you mean by ?classic?? I can imagine what you mean, but perhaps there are not so many ?classic? wines around. Classic to me, may not be ?classic? to someone else.

Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how).

It is most of the time when enjoying a wine. Situations can change, but the wine remains.

What?s your favorite wine no one else has heard of?

With the amount of curiosity around today, there is probably not many wines unheard of. In fact, I would be surprised since most wines that are around now, would never have been considered 10-20 years ago. Just look at Georgia, Armenia, Israel and all of the forgotten varieties that are now being resurrected. Also, the antique vinifications that are now becoming the hot, new thing.

What wine should everybody drink before the age of 21?

According to the law, no one under 21 should drink wine. But then there is always the possibility of tasting some at home, or sneaking a taste of some elsewhere. Stupid law!

What wine should nobody drink until the age of 40?

Stupid question! The earlier one starts drinking wine, the better the memory bank is for the 40s!

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Darrell Corti (L), Andre Tchelistcheff (C)and Lucio Gomiero (R) in earlier days

Who in wine ? winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors ? active today do you admire most?

Too many and a lot of them have now gone to their reward.

Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

What is guilty about it? It is a pleasure. And what is wrong with pleasure. The only guilt is that sometimes there is too little wine in the glass and the bottle should have been a magnum.

Has Covid19 changed the way your approach wine?

No! It may have made life a bit more difficult and tedious, but hasn?t changed my approach at all.

Has a wine ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

I don?t remember. Too much wine.

What?s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

That some of what is called wine today is smoke and not a lot of roast. Troppo fumo e poco arrosto.

What moves you most in a wine?

The way it smells and tastes. Most of the time, wine doesn?t respond to this anymore. It is more smoke (see above.) Sometimes, its history and fame precedes it, and one?s expectation is destroyed by the reality.

What do you really wish you understood about wine?

How some wines can be so well thought of and other not. It seems the more pleasure it gives, the less fame it has. And for the most part, this is for all wines, all over. Sometimes the blah, blah, blah about a wine is just that.

Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking? And which do you avoid?

I try not to drink wines over 14.5% alcohol. I don?t sell them if table wine. It is amazing to see how many at this level are still being made. Wine should be made out of ripe fruit, not over-ripe fruit unless there is a reason for doing so. With climate change, we may all be drinking the equivalent of port, sherry and Madeira under the guise of table wine. When table wine at a high degree of alcohol used to be made, it was an exception. Now it is the rule. Something has to give! Either grapes should be picked a little under-ripe for freshness or we have to add water to the wine in a glass. Sometimes, not a bad thing to do. Most wine at one time or another was watered, now we think that high alcohol wine is the way wine should taste. Utter nonsense.

How do you organize your wines?

A question I don?t understand.

What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?

I have no idea.

What?s the best wine you?ve ever received as a gift?

A bottle of 1982 Petrus.

How have your drinking tastes changed over time?

Of course. I used to like very different wines in the 60s-80s. By the 90s, I like fresher, less tannin, more elegant wines, and continue to do so. Possibly, I appreciate fine white wines more now than perhaps previously. But definitely less tannic, structured wine. A cabernet with the first descriptors being ?chocolate? is a real turn off. We have lost the scent of Cabernet, something very difficult to do.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What wine did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn?t? Do you remember the last wine you set aside without finishing?

Honestly, most of the wines I taste nowadays. Perhaps it is just being bored with what should be very good and usually isn?t. Big names and small, wine has forgotten what it is: a beverage, not a piece of art. Although, some wines are a work of art. But as Prof. Webb at Davis used to say: ?Winemaking is a craft, raised to the level of an art.? Sometimes, it feels as though the craftsman is missing and the busker is more important.

What wine do you think everyone should try?

Try everything! You never know where you might find a jewel.

You?re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite?

You really want to get me into trouble!

What wines are you embarrassed not to have drunk yet?

None. But especially the ones that begin life at three figures and then go to five or six. Wine is a beverage, not an art object. Once you?ve opened the bottle, what is left?

What do you plan to drink next?

Hopefully, a good wine that might be new and show what its crafter wanted to show and I like it.

  
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[08/22/2021, 12:00] 50 years ago ~ Postcard from Naples ~ August 22, 1971
From the archives
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, I'm in Italy. I finally made it to Rome. The last week has been warm. Hotter than where I came from. Rome was miserable. And empty, save for a few Americans who actually had lire. Wartime in America. Nixon devalued the dollar the day I arrived in Rome to get more European countries to buy things from us. We need the money to pay for the war in Vietnam. And it looks like we are going into a recession that could last for years.

I got to Naples from Rome on a train. I have a day before the ferry takes me to Palermo. I have a day to kill.
Now, I'm walking.


I am wearing an army surplus khaki short sleeve shirt. I like it because the pockets are big enough for me to put a light meter in it. I am traveling with two rangefinder cameras, Canon VIT models. One has a normal lens and the other has a wide angle. I bulk rolled FP4, FP5 and Tri- X. I had 20 rolls of film.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Heading towards the water on Viale Antonio Gramsci. It runs into Via Mergellina runs into the Via Antonio Gramsci and turns into the Galleria Laziale. I get my first up close view of Vesuvius.

Walking on the Galleria, it turns into Via Diocleziano and then Via Bagnoli, where it turns and runs into Via Pozzuoli. Heading towards the town of Pozzuoli it name changes again to Via Napoli and then to Lungomare Pertini. I am walking. It is a long walk, blistering hot. By then it is lunch. I find a little osteria/pizzeria and sit down. The soles on my desert boots are hot. My jeans, worn such that they need patches, are steady. I?ve been marching through Italy and I am hungry. I order a simple pizza with tomato, garlic and oregano. It was 600 lire. A few minutes later the lady brings out the pizza and asks me what I want to drink with it. ?Vino rosso,? I answer. She looks at me like I?ve gone mad, and instead brings me ?una foglietta? of white wine and a glass. It was 80 lire.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
It is August, it is hot and I am having pizza for the first time in my life. And the white wine, chilled, is a divine dance with the tomato, garlic and oregano . A bottle of mineral water, frizzante, waits its time on the table.

After lunch, an obscene version, for who would eat pizza in the afternoon? Young tourists with flat bellies. I then order an espresso. 40 lire. A small cup barely filling the bottom comes to me. It is rich, frothy and potent.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I leave 800 lire and the lady comes out to me to give me the 80 lire I left. I tell no, it?s OK, keep it. She looks at me, puzzled, shakes her head and goes back into the restaurant.

Twenty feet down the street I stop to look at sandals made with cork soles. Everywhere there is cork. We are in Pozzuoli. I buy a pair for 1800 lire and put them in my back pack. Kids of all ages are coming up to me, touching me, following me, running by my side as I walk up the street. Everywhere there is noise and music, yelling and crying, playing and shouting. Everyone in Pozzuoli is outside.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The kids are talking to me in their Neapolitan dialect. I vaguely understand them; Mom, they sound a lot like Nonna Lucrezia. They talk to me as if I should understand them. I look like them. But I am about 6 inches taller than the tallest person in the town. I am wearing jeans, an army shirt and desert boots. I have a camera and a backpack. And the kids, they want to touch everything.

I finally make the long circle back to the Terminal Traghetti Napoli to go to Palermo. Before I get on the ship a young boy comes up to me. He wants to sell me a watch. I had read about that, never thought I?d see it. But there I was in Naples, being sized up for a watch purchase by a ten year old. Where is that boy now?
On the Wine Trail in Italy


I'll write more when I get to Palermo.


Love,

Alfonso




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[08/19/2021, 11:29] By the Bottle: Eric Asimov

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

  I first met Eric in Napa Valley, California. Since then, we?ve traveled, supped and opened a bottle or two in New York City, Austin, Texas and Sicily. Eric has the distinction of being one of the most influential wine criticstoday, a position he doesn?t take lightly (nor would he probably admit to it). Nonetheless, it is what it is. He?s riding that tiger. Let?s jump on board with him and take a spin, shall we?

What wines do you have standing up right now?

Most of the time, what I?m planning to drink is a function of what I?m planning to write about. I will keep that private other than to say I?ve just enjoyed some excellent bottles for my Wine School unit on dark ros?s.

What?s the last great wine you drank?

I prefer to think of ?greatness? in terms of context, expectations and fulfillment rather than on some universal scale in which the great wines are profound examples of historic terroirs or estates. With that in mind I would say a Ch?teau de B?ru Chablis Montserre 2018 was a great wine. I love Chablis, though I?m not a particularly a fan of the 2018 vintage. Nonetheless, this wine was beautiful, intense in the way of the vintage yet full of characteristic Chablis minerality rather than fruitiness, pure and unmediated. I loved it.

Are there any classic wines that you only recently had for the first time?

I can?t think of any sorts of wine, though I can think of plenty of legendary bottles that I?ve never had, and probably never will. Cheval Blanc 1947, for one.  


Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how).

With great friends and family, outdoors, with wonderful food. The particulars don?t matter.

What?s your favorite wine no one else has heard of?

I don?t keep secrets. If I like a wine I?ve posted or written about it.

What wine should everybody drink before the age of 21?

I don?t advocate withholding any wine until 21 but everybody should experience the joy of bubbles at a relatively early age.

What wine should nobody drink until the age of 40?

I also don?t advocate withholding any wines ever from adults. But I would advise after age 40 revisiting whatever biases you might have.

Who in wine ? winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors ? active today do you admire most?

I most admire the many winemakers who are constant to their personal vision, even in the face of opposition ? critics or community who tell them they are wrong or market metrics indicating other styles or grapes are more popular. These people see themselves working within cultural or stylistic traditions that they value more than the year-to-year swings in fashion. They tend to work humbly, in harmony with the land rather than asserting control. They are the ones producing wines that transcend the notion of a beverage, who are anchored in history and culture. Beyond production, this applies as well to retailers, sommeliers, writers and others who stick to their points of view, who are willing to debate and to make their cases but ultimately understand that enjoying wine is not a competition nor a means for asserting the size of one?s ego.

Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

Guilt has nothing to do with it, nor does shame.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
 

Has a wine ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

I don?t think wine alone has brought me closer to another person, but wine absolutely has a role to play in fostering friendship, community and intimacy.

What?s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

This goes back a couple of years, but I was surprised to learn that Heitz routinely blocks malolactic fermentation in its red wines.

What moves you most in a wine?

Wines that are cultural expressions, regardless of how modest or profound they might be. In fact, sometimes the more modest wines are more moving because it?s clear the producer has sacrificed financially in order to adhere to tradition. That said, I find great older bottles particularly moving, particularly when the wine is from a vintage of historical or personal significance. 


On the Wine Trail in Italy

Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking?

I love wines that combine delicacy with intensity and that go well with food. I?m not impressed by power or impact. I probably drink more whites than reds simply because of what I tend to cook, but that?s no indication of preference.

How do you organize your wines?

Haphazardly, wherever I can find room.

What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?

Retsina? I have a few good bottles. I do have a lot of Chianti Classico, reds from the Northern Rh?ne, riesling, Burgundy, Barolo, sherry and Champagne. Also, chenin blanc. My tastes are diverse, and I regularly drink a wide variety of wines, but the bottles I keep to age tend to be more classic. I don?t know if that?s surprising or not.  

What?s the best wine you?ve ever received as a gift?

Once while I was on a book tour in Birmingham, Ala., a local wine club chipped in with a case of wines from their collections to thank me for coming. I?ve never received a gift like that, before or since, just for showing up. I was beyond touched.

How have your drinking tastes changed over time?

My tastes changed a lot in my 20s and 30s, not a whole lot since then, at least, I don?t think they have. I try to be open minded, but I?m pretty confident in what I like and don?t like.

You?re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite?

Robert Mondavi, Aubert de Villaine, Lulu Peyraud. I have a lot of questions for these people!

What wines are you embarrassed not to have drunk yet?

I am lucky enough to occupy a privileged position in wine with remarkable access. Wines that I would like to try but have not had a chance to drink tend to be ultra-rare or expensive. No embarrassment there. If there are more readily available wines that I ought to have tried and have not simply because I don?t know about them, I guess that would be embarrassing.

What do you plan to drink next?

Dinner tonight will be Sicilian-style pesto. I will finish a wonderful Luis Seabra Granito Vinho Verde that I opened last night, which will go well with the pesto. Then, I guess, I better find something else.

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[08/15/2021, 14:14] My 50 year anniversary, or Nozze d'Oro, with Italy

On the Wine Trail in Italy
It was on this day, August 15th, in 1971, that I first landed in Italy. It was a 20th birthday gift, with a little help from my friends. The plane flight from Los Angeles International airport to Aeroporto Internazionale di Roma?Fiumicino "Leonardo da Vinci" cost $900.00 (about $6,0000.00 today). No small sum for a college student then. But I wanted to visit the birthplace of my grandparents, and see the country where it all started for this young student, budding photographer and eventually, an Italian wine lover.

Once I landed, I decided to walk to Rome. Not thinking it that far away, and trying to conserve my money, in addition to the fact that I didn?t have many lire on me, I headed outside.


On the Wine Trail in Italy

This is one of the great things about being young and clueless. I had no idea the walk was 20 miles, and for a walker, almost impossible to traverse. That, and it was the middle of August (and Ferragosto at that!) and the temperature was hovering about 95?F. After I paid a visit to the Leonardo Da Vinci statue at the airport, I turned around and caught a bus to the Rome train station.

August 15, 1971 was also a Sunday. And a national holiday. And back in the USA, then President Nixon had just devalued the dollar. So, I was pretty much S.O.L. And I was jetlagged, having been so excited, I didn?t bother to sleep much on the plane. So, I wandered out of the train station with my backpack on and my trusty little Europe on $5 a Day and my Michelin Guide to Italy, and sought out a room.

I walked around the neighborhood of the train station, found a little pensione on the Via Palestro near the university and somehow managed to talk the landlady into letting me have a room.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I was still excited (and quite jet lagged), so I set my gear down and decided on a little nap. Some hours later I awoke to the sounds of an Italian television program in the kitchen. I thought I had slept for days, but it was probably 4 or 5 hours, just enough to keep me from getting on Italian time.

The kind landlady made me a plate of pasta and some vegetables, and offered a glass of red wine. How wonderful it all tasted. Here I was in a strange boarding house in a big city with people I didn?t know, who were treating me like family. It was a moment that really made me see Italy and Italians through a lens that I still sometimes use. We were only 25 years away from the liberation of Italy during World War II; perhaps the landlady took pity on the young American. It wasn?t that much money, I think with half pension it was about 1,500 lire, or $2.50 a day. My room I would have to share if someone else came in. But it never happened that anyone else came.

Walking around Rome during the day would be my introduction to Italy. And I walked everywhere, with my cameras, photographing everything in black and white, Tri-X film, with my Canon rangefinder cameras. I was living the dream of a young man to be a street photographer, and Rome was my canvas.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Little did I know I would come back to Italy more than equivalent of once a year for the next 50 years. Nor did I realize then that I?d be back here on business. Wine business. For I was far from being on my career path of becoming a wine lover, and some would say, an expert in Italian wine. I wasn?t that interested in wine, then. For me, it was my first love, photography, that brought me here. And to meet my family, trace my roots, try and make sense of the what and the why of my grandparents leaving Italy and coming to America.

From the Villa Borghese to the Fontana di Trevi, the Sistine Chapel to the Baths of Caracalla, there was no backdrop that I wouldn?t shoot in the blistering heat and humidity of Rome in August.

In that time the city was quiet, many people out of town in cooler places. Just a few tourists and the workforce of Rome, who stayed behind to keep the city running. Many shops were closed for the month, but there was enough life in the Eternal City to get a feel for a place that humans have inhabited for thousands and thousands of years.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
But it was like the city was mine. It welcomed me into this marriage with Italy, which has lasted now for 50 years. It has been a constant in my life, always there, always greeting me with its warm caress and lovely people, food, and landscapes.

I must admit when I first landed in Italy one of my initial thoughts was, ?Gee, all the people in Italy are great. They all love everybody. There are no criminals here. This place is perfect!? Yeah, I had one of those moments. And for a 20-year-old who was na?ve and idealistic, that thought propelled me into many places in Italy that weren?t quite as I had envisioned them. But I survived. They almost got the best of me once. But they didn?t. And while I am 50 years older than that 20-year-old moonbeam chaser, that person is also still here, watching over my shoulder as I write these words.

?Hey, I got you to this point,? he whispers in my ear. ?You didn?t do so badly. We met our family, we had great times, had a lot of good things to eat. And those wines. And those pictures. Not too shabby, amico!?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Yep, no too shabby is right. We made it this far. I still am deeply in love with Italy. In fact, I really have little desire to go elsewhere when we can get on a long-haul plane and go somewhere safely. Until then, I have years and years of images, and hundreds of bottles of Italian wine to share with my friends and loved ones here at home on my little island, my Isola da Cevola.

That will do me for now. And later, when the sparkling wine is opened and we toast our Nozze d'Oro, I?ll probably start working on the next 10 or so years. 50 more years isn?t going to work for this Silverback.

But the past 50 have just been great, when it comes to Italy. 

On the Wine Trail in Italy

 So, yes, onward, through the fog?

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[08/12/2021, 06:00] By the bottle: Anthony D'Anna

Wine lovers on wine and the vinous life.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Anthony and I met in Italy and fast became pals. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, he and his family have made wine, and especially Italian wine, a priority in their corner of the world. Endowed with a youthful vigor and a curious mind, I?ve really enjoyed getting to know Anthony, and I hope the rest of you will also take pleasure in his insights, his impeccable taste and his exuberant joy about wine and life.

 

What wines do you have standing up right now?

One of the few benefits of lock-down in Oz has been a lot more time at home. That has meant I have had the opportunity to drink wines that have been cellared for 10-15 years and are now ready to be drunk. Over the last few weeks I have had a good look at 2006 Barolo with the highlights being Borgogno Barolo Classico 2006 and Piero Benevelli Ravera di Monforte Barolo 2006. These 2006 are in a great spot right now.

What?s the last great wine you drank?

The last great wine was the 2008 Soldera Case Basse a few weeks ago. Gianfranco was definitely a unique individual and the wines he made stand out like a beacon. They talk more about Gianfranco than Montalcino or Sangiovese and show his relentless drive to perfection.

Are there any classic wines that you only recently had for the first time?

Like the rest of the wine world, with prices of Barolo and Barbaresco going through the roof it has opened up opportunity for many wine regions that were simply forgotten or passed over. One of these being Alto Piemonte and specifically Bramaterra. Recently I drank the Antoniotti Bramaterra 2016 which is a brilliant wine.

Describe your ideal drinking experience (when, where, what, how).

My ideal drinking experience would be somewhere in Italy (maybe Rome, Puglia or Piemonte) with my wife at a family run trattoria (think Armando al Pantheon) eating food specific from the region with wine picked by that family to match with their regional food.

No one does hospitality better than the Italians. They get it and that is for me one of the biggest things I miss about not travelling. Life is all about experiences and there is no better experience than sharing a meal with some of the people you cherish the most, with food that is prepared with love and drinking wine that compliments the food and environment.

What?s your favorite wine no one else has heard of?

Up until recently in Oz it was the Nebbiolo made by Renato Vezza in Priocca! I spotted a bottle in Chiara Pepe personal cellar in Abruzzo and we drank it over dinner with the family. Renato was an unknown to me and all of Oz. That wine really showed me that great Nebbiolo doesn?t have to be Barolo or Barbaresco.

What wine should everybody drink before the age of 21?

Gee, that is a hard one. I don?t think many people under 21 would understand the great wines of the world. For me, that is a process that takes years and it is really a journey. So, the wine everybody should drink before 21 needs to be wine that can open your eyes to just how special wine can be. Depending on where you live in the world, it will differ. In Oz, I would choose something like Pewsey Vale Riesling from the Eden Valley. Think of a scorching hot summers day, oysters or prawns on the bbq, washed down with old vine, refreshing Eden Valley Riesling.

Who in wine ? winemakers, winery owners, writers, retailers, collectors ? active today do you admire most?

As an importer, Kermit Lynch. The vision he had is mind blowing and I think the template on importing for me is definitely strongly aligned with how he started importing.

As a wine writer, I really enjoy reading Monica Larner?s reports on Italian wine. Not only is Monica a fantastic person, but her writing really transports me to a sense of place and gives even someone who travels to Italy three times a year (well before Covid) a better understanding of the producer, vintage and wine.

As a producer there are many. The Benevelli family, the Pepe family, the Bianchi family (Monsanto), the Gaia family to name a few. The list could go one. Going back to Italy is like seeing family. We work with producers that are our friends and more like family.

Do you count any wine as guilty pleasures?

Definitely not. It is a career. Early on in my university days, I had to choose if I wanted to become a banker or accountant and have wine as a pleasure, or work in wine. I am fortunate in that my family has always worked in wine, however it wasn?t until the end of my days at University that I knew that I wanted wine to play a major role in my life.

Has a wine ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

Drinking great bottles over a meal with friends or loved wines definitely forges a stronger bond with friendships and family. I am a lover not a fighter and enjoy wine with company with those that I like. 

What?s the most interesting thing you learned from a wine recently?

That sometimes all of us in the wine industry can get it wrong! I have a sneaking feeling that 2010 Barolo is not going to turn out exactly how we thought.

What moves you most in a wine?

The stories. Great wine is all about the story. The story of who made it. The vineyard. The Vintage. Understanding and hearing these stories moves me the most in wine.

What do you really wish you understood about wine?

Wine is all about learning. I don?t think we fully understand everything about wine. We can analyze and test wine to find out pH, alcohol, etc but wine is so much more than that and I think that is why it is so alluring. Great bottles can come from bad vintages and unheard of producers. Similarly, we can be disappointed with wine from great vintages and great producers. Like a  golf swing, every bottle is slightly different. It is those differences that make wine so great.

Which styles do you especially enjoy drinking?  And which do you avoid?

I love feminine, perfumed wines that have layers of fruit and complexity. Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Burgundy are probably my four favourite things in wine.

How do you organize your wines?

Our life is so organized and regimented that it is good to have some chaos. With my own personal cellar, nothing is organized. It is made up of bottles that I have cellared many years ago and the greatest joys is finding a bottle that you had forgotten you put in your cellar.

In the next few months, I am splitting my cellar in two locations so that should even throw even more surprises.

What wine might people be surprised to find in your racks?

My cellar is probably 90% Italian, 5% French and 5% Australian. However, I have been collecting vintage port for twenty years. I hardly ever drink it and I don?t know why I collect it. Maybe deep down, I know my kid?s grandchildren may one day open a bottle of port that was made 100 years ago. Other than that, I really don?t know why I collect a wine I rarely drink.

What?s the best wine you?ve ever received as a gift?

I think the best wine I have received as a gift really hasn?t been about the wine. Some bottles given to me from friends who have treasured these bottles and then passed away make you remember and reminisce about all the great times you have had with them. It might not be the best wine I have received to drink, but it is one of the best wine gifts you can receive.

How have your drinking tastes changed over time?

That is a hard one. I have spent most of my life around wine. The wine I love today is still the wine I loved when I was 25. Maybe it is the connection we have to Italy through family that has meant why my tastes haven?t changed a lot over time. What I can?t drink today (and could rarely drink when I was young) was big, alcoholic wines that taste of sugar rather than a sense of place.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What wine did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn?t? Do you remember the last wine you set aside without finishing?

Gamay! In theory I like it, but more often than not the palate profile and structure doesn?t do it for me. Wine is so personal. Some of my friends who I respect absolutely love Gamay. Just not for me.

What wine do you think everyone should try?

Old bottles that take you back to a different era. I love history. Drinking wines made during the war years with no refrigeration, temperature control and under circumstances we can?t even imagine make you realize just how lucky we are today.

You?re organizing a dinner party. Which three people from the wine world, dead or alive, do you invite?

It would be a female affair. I have two daughters who are free thinkers.  I know if they decided to go into the wine industry, they would make sure that equality in the wine industry should be a given. The three people at the dinner party would be three females who have led the way in my time.

  • Gaia Gaja
  • Chiara Pepe
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[08/08/2021, 16:53] On photography, personal passion and a significant occurrence

On the Wine Trail in Italy

T
his past week I?ve been out of pocket at a photography workshop retreat in northern Wisconsin bordering Lake Superior. The weather was cooler than it was in Texas, but warmer than normal (for Wisconsin). But I wasn?t there for the climate.

What brought me there was the teacher, Keith Carter, who I?ve followed for years. Keith is an educator and a damn good one. He definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone/rabbit hole. I am re-energized and ready for more photographic forays.

What really impacted me in the past week was to be around a core of people who were pursuing their passion. Whether for work or for pleasure, everyone was there to strike a match and burn their bushes. It was my Burning Man. I loved it. 

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Personally, I?ve been passionate about photography and a whole lot of other things in my seven decades. I?m healthy and very lucky. And I?m grateful to be able to continue to dig into the creative process.

It was that way when I was in the wine trade. It was that way because I did not want to compromise. It sometimes got me into hot water in the corporate world, but I didn?t drown. Sometimes it got a little warm, but I could jump or pivot or just wait the bastards out until they got bored and moved on to other prey. I am not a good meal for a predator ? too many bones.

I?m getting further and further from the wine world, which makes writing a wine blog a precarious pastime. Wine has receded from my immediate foreground, much like I have from the wine world. It seems very symmetrical in that way. Photography is coming closer into focus again. There is work to be done.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Work. An odd word for someone who left the work force. You know, when I was in grade school, the nuns (and the priests) really banged into our skulls the idea of vocation and avocation. They were probably trying to enlist young souls into their orders (no doubt), with regards to the vocation thing. I thought long and hard about it. I was also intrigued over the years about the whole avocation thing. Far from its definition (some synonyms include: diversion, a kick, an amusement, a sideline, and my favorite ? schtick!). Now avocation seems more like the next stage in one?s livelihood (when I say that word, I intend it to mean how one supports one?s existence, but not in a commercial or monetary way).

Funny, because I was never really interested in the whole commercial livelihood thing anyway. I found something I liked to do and I did it. Along with being a dad, a photographer, and all the other things I am and do (and was and did). I?m still pretty closely aligned to the person I?ve always been. Only in the present stage I have more (and less) time to focus on particular things. For me, photography is one of those things at the top of the list.

All this to say when one taps into their personal passion, it can be an amazing ride of a lifetime. I see it in others, in myself and in the last week, I was doused liberally with it. Like I said earlier, I am enlivened.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Which might be a good time to be so. I recently passed a milestone recurrence in regards to my nascency. It seemed like a big one to me. I don?t feel much different in some ways. But there it came and went. And it gave me pause to think a little, to reflect a little more and then as Professore Carter said to us, to ?do the work.?

So, there you have it. I?m sure I?ll still post subsequent missives about wine, but like I said in December of last year, this blog isn?t justabout wine anymore.

And as we all found out at the workshop last week, I guess we?ll just have to see.

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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