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Mondo Di Vino
Mondo Di Vino

[08/18/2019, 14:19] Knowing Your Place
from the archives...The social hierarchy of vines

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Among the many hundreds of Italian vines there is a pecking order. Some are more important than others. Often, the ones in power don?t shy away from letting the subjacent ones know who is on top.

In Italy, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are the Chairman and the CEO. But not just any Nebbiolo or Sangiovese. The Nebbiolo must come from the Langhe, preferably Barolo or Barbaresco. And Sangiovese, while prolific, must be from the right neighborhood, Montalcino. Everywhere else is the other side of the tracks.

If you are Montepulciano or Nero d?Avola, what are the chances you?ll make it to the ruling class? You might have breeding and pedigree, but location is paramount. You have to come from the right place. And knowing one?s place in Italy?s viticultural society is vital to one?s status.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Let?s look at the ladder of dominance, from the perspective of a common grape, Trebbiano. Known for its ubiquity over its rarity, this grape was written off years ago for being light and thin and acidic, possessing little character. Yes, there are a few producers in Abruzzo who have been able to coerce nobility out of their plantings, like Pepe and Valentini. They?ll make it to Baron or Count, but never to King or Queen.

?It?s the way of the world,? a cellar master in Abruzzo once told me. ?You are born where you are born and you live the life you were meant to live. Kings and millionaires don?t always have the greatest life.? The cellar master was a humble man, a peasant, who rose up in his village to commandeer the cellar of a small estate. But he never forgot who was in charge of the land. ?We don?t own these vines, those belong to the wealthy land owners,? he once remarked as we were walking the vineyards. ?They are down at the beach, eating fresh seafood and playing bocce ball in their swim shorts. They take long naps; they put on three or four kilos in the month of August. And when they come back for harvest they are sluggish from their leisure. Just like their crus, the important wines we make for them in their small French barrels.? It took me years to understand what he was driving at. Now it is very clear.

Even if you have the blood of royalty in your grape line, like Sangiovese or Nebbiolo, this isn?t an automatic shoo in to the board of directors. That is the realm of executive platinum class, the Barolos, the Brunellos. And all the rest fall in place after, like a seating or an org-chart.

What about a wine like Vino Nobile (di Montepulciano)? Isn?t it almost as great as a Brunello? To some yes, but to those who set (the rules of) the table, they don?t get a place at it.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

So even if you come to the areas regarded as the highest level of status in regards to producing wines from grapes, one still might not have access to the executive dining room. Piero Antinori said in an interview with Charlie Arturaola at Vinitaly, ?My family in the 14th century started to produce wine.? In 26 generations one can get a leg up on the latecomers, not only in their embrace of the land and the vines, but also in the upper stratum of the society. A cowherd from Ragusa has many generations of uphill struggle to arrive at a point even remotely near a family with that track record.

And so it goes with the hundreds of lesser players, from Barbera to Canaiolo, Vermentino to Grillo and Cococciola to Nero d?Avola.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

My last trip to Sicily was a revelation in the class structure of grapes, wine and men. Even in the contradas around Etna there was a pecking order that I didn't know existed. A winegrower I was with, as we passed a winery would say, ?He?s from Tuscany, he?s not from here.? If a winemaker was from 90 minutes away in Central Sicily, he was also considered an ?outsider.? If the class structure has drilled down to the contrada level, one can only imagine the dramas being played out in Barolo and Montalcino.

Back in Abruzzo, with the cellar master, after we had picked and eaten some fresh figs on the property, he remarked to me, ?They think they?re going to live forever. If they own 200 hectares in Abruzzo or the top vineyard in Piedmont, they all will have the same fate as you and me. This they cannot buy their way out of.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

As he led me to a table outside, near his beloved vines, the breeze from the sea cooled as it rolled up the hill. His wife had set a table with fresh vegetables, and a bottle of fresh white, a Trebbiano from Abruzzo, was opened.

?What they have obtained in this world is great, but what they can never buy is health, humility, simplicity, happiness. Yes, their beds are softer and their pillows have more feathers in them, but that won?t assure them of restful dreams, or that they will even wake up in the morning.?

What I have learned over the years from the cellar master, my guru from Abruzzo, is to know your place, in the vineyard, at the table and in the universe.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

My old pal the cellar master, he knows his place. And I will gladly sit at his table and take my place. Anytime.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[08/11/2019, 20:27] The Emotional Roller-Coaster Life of a Wine
...from the archives

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I?ve been sitting in his wine closet for close to 20 years now. In the dark. Freezing. Once in a while he comes in, turns the light on and picks another one. The other, always the other. What must I do to get out of here?

I have spent the best years of my life in this small, dark room, with the others. Sometimes for weeks, he doesn?t come in; we don?t know if he has abandoned us totally. And then all of a sudden, he opens the door, turns on the light and squeezes in a few more of the others. This is sheer torment. When will I get out of here?

For a wine they say I am middle-aged. My youthful hue is gone, and I must come to grips with the fact that I?ll never be any younger. When I was younger I was so full of alcohol and hope. Now my tannins are drying out, my fruit is getting vapid and my color is dropping. Am I really better off now than I was 20 years ago? I sometimes think it would have been better to have gone out early, like so many of the ones in this room who came from California. But here I am, an Italian from a famous region, a great grape and from a wonderful home, the estate I was born on. But I wonder, when will he take me? Have I peaked? How much longer do I have to live?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

When I left where I was born, when I was a mere baby, and made the trip over the water on the big ship, I came straight to this place. Within weeks, I found myself in his care. He put me on my side, kept me in the dark, did all the right things, according to the book. But all these years I have had to sit here in the dark and think about what my life is all about, sometimes I get on this emotional rollercoaster. It is then that I can feel the tannins rise and shuffle and my head feels dizzy. And then the fruit swirls around them and tries to calm them down. Then the oak influence rises up and it seems like I am in the middle of an enological cyclone, it is so confusing, and I am so far from where I was born. It causes me to have anxiety and apprehension.

Am I having an existential crisis? Why won?t he invite over some friends and open me up and get it over with? When will I be ready? When will I be released? What on earth is happening to me?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
[08/04/2019, 18:56] The top 10 destinations for Italian wine exports? China isn't on the list
On the Wine Trail in Italy

From the looks of young Italian wine professionals Instagram and Facebook feeds, one would think China is their top market. Add to that the obligatory posts from Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Bangkok and Phnom Penh, one would think there?s a lot of business for Italian wine in Asia. Let?s look at the numbers.

According to Istat data, 2019 (From Italian Wine Central) of the 20 top destinations for Italian wine exports, 2018, China isn?t even in the top 10. Yes, it?s a country with good growth potential and 1.2 billion inhabitants. But is the investment in time and travel worth it?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Data from Istat - graph from Italian Wine Central

Look at the metrics: Germany, the United States and England look like firmer, if more conservative, places to keep building.

However, growing one?s Italian wine business in these countries won?t be a walk in the park.

Starting with Germany, which has been a strong market for Italy, if not without challenges in the last 20 or so years. These include the economy, which has see-sawed. The Great Crisis of 2008-2009 was a flashpoint, to be sure, along with smaller reverberations in the economy before that. But Germany has a resilience that is attractive to Italian wine producers. One is that the demand for red wine is strong, and Italy offers good value, often better than France. The other is the popularity of Italian cuisine in Germany, which provides a base (and ambassadors) for Italian wine. With all the uncertainty in global economic conditions and forecasting for the future, economies like Germany?s still beckon the Italian wine producer. Transportation is simple, Germany is relatively close, and producers can travel there easily to work the markets. The economy is one of the strongest and most robust in the global community.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The United States, as well, has been weathering the economic tsunamis of the last last 20 or so years. Look, we?re in an age of disruption, and predictions are difficult to make when the terrain in front of us, the future, is unknown. But as long as the world stays relatively peaceful and going forward, the United States (and the dollar) will continue to be an economic force. As well, there is tremendous interest in Italian wine for so many reasons. The Italian immigrants who have been coming here for the last 150 years laid down a foundation for Italian wine, with the many restaurants and general permeation into the emerging culture of America. It?s not a perfect scenario, and presently with a political struggle and the 2020 elections looming and all that implies (more disruption for sure) when one goes into the heartland of America one finds a diverse people. Not perfect, God knows, the US is experiencing more growing pains. But this is what it is, and what it has been for as long as I can remember. So, unless the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Russians, China and the United States start lobbing nukes at one another, this is the canvas we have to paint on.

England is in serious disruption mode. Or a ticking time bomb. Seeing as getting to England from Italy is still uncompicated, I?d advise to continue to work one?s relationship with the many Italian restaurants and whatever retail channels are still open to producers of quality product. It appears, to me, to be a bit unstable, in terms of growing products that originate on estates, e.g., not just commercially produced plonk. Prosecco is one instance in which the Italian wine market in the UK has been seriously undermined by the quick-profit merchants looking to make a buck on an easy sell in a category that is currently hot. But that bubble will someday burst, just as it did with Cava. I reiterate, one must keep their deep relationships steady. And hope England will someday come out of their Brexit fog.

Sidebar - Canada. Things may appear to be flat there, and the route to market is plagued by governmental hurdles. But it is a good country for wine and Italian wine at that. I?d say, if one is working in Canada and the US, to make sure to keep Canadian visits (and relationships) in the rotation, while one is going from New York to Miami to Houston to Los Angeles to San Francisco, to Portland to Seattle and Chicago. Canada may be slowing, even slumping, but the country isn?t experiencing the massive disruption that places like the US, England and China are, from a societal point of view. Sure, you talk to Canadians and they?ll tell their country is going to hell in a hand basket. But everything is relative.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The real challenge is the Untied States. And going into an election year cycle, which historically has seen slow-to-no growth because of the uncertainty of possible new leadership (which affects economic predictions, at least on the surface of things). If people are dissatisfied with current leadership (and it appears that might be the case, but in America, who really knows what the hell is going on?) then that will clamp down pocketbooks and American will just wait it out. This is a time for Italian wine producers to invest in being on the ground. Give up a vacation to Cuba or Fiji and spend a week on the beach in August, not a month. I know, habits die hard. I?ve seen Facebook and Instagram, posts of all the pretty beaches in Italy lately, I know what many of you all are really doing. Well, it?s your time and your investment and your family business. But if you asked me, I?d say, get back on the trail.

Look, the American society is in crisis as I haven?t seen in 50 years. 40,000 people die a year from gun related incidents, and more mass shootings, three in the last week! This cannot continue ad infinitum. Something has to give. And Italian wine isn?t on the top of everyone?s list. So, if you want to keep your business and grow it, get over here and into the trenches and fight for what generations before you have sacrificed to get Italian wine where it is in the world. And America is still a big deal for Italian wine. The numbers don?t lie.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Data from I numeri del vino
Which leaves me to wine categories. What?s hot. What?s not.

It looks like Pinot Grigio might be saved a little by the ros? movement. I see a lot more ramato on bottles of Pinot Grigio. That?s a short-term fix, but hey take advantage of it. But Pinot Grigio won?t be around forever.

Prosecco- This is a horse that has been almost beaten to death but is propped up with drugs to keep him in the race. And he?s running. But it?s a sad affair. One of the most beautiful places in Italy for winegrowing and it?s been a race to the bottom. I was in a store last week and Prosecco was selling for US $5.99, clearly at a loss, but the huge wine importer had to make fiscal year end numbers. That?s what Prosecco has been subverted to. If you have a small, artisanally produced Prosecco, whether it is a standard issue or a fashionable col fondo, I?d say look elsewhere. Sell it in Denmark or Japan. Bypass the US. Jeff Siegel?s ?big wine? is in control here and they aren?t giving up any territory to the small guys.

Natural wine ? We love it, we drink it, we compose sonnets to it. It still accounts for a minuscule percentage of wine sold. If that?s all you make, so be it. But there aren?t going to be any cultural shifting currents that make astronomical growth possible. That?s not even the way natural winemakers work or think. But if the trend goes ?big? you know who will take that one over? Look at the AR trend. Jeff Siegel?s ?big wine? marketers will have ?got it on lock.?

Barolo, Brunello, Super Tuscan and other 1%er premiums- I guess there?s still some room in the wine cellars of the trophy hunters. But someday these folks are going to have to drink the wine, unless they?re just keeping it like they would be keeping art or gold ingots. Relatively small production, by world standards, but part of which makes the reputation for Italian wine great and can compare to the best wines of California, even France. I just don?t see any room for anymore $100+ wines in this country, when farmers in the Midwest are declaring bankruptcy in alarming numbers, far outpacing those we experienced in the Great Crisis of 2008-2009. The wealthy 1% of the 1% can have 90% of the money in America, but they can only drink so much. This is not a good pond to dip your pole into right now. Better to drop your prices and sell some of the wine. Another harvest is looming.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Etna wines ? the darling of the somm-crowd. Well, these wines are piling up too, and Siegel?s ?big wine? is on this too. I just don?t see the trend exploding. It?s queuing up, standing in line, waiting for its turn. But not a lot of wine is burning through. Thankfully, production is small, but unlike Burgundy the status for the wines has ebbed. And retailers are telling me they?re having to discount the stuff to get it off the racks and into consumer?s hands.

So, what does that leave us with? Verdicchio? Ros? wines? Chianti? Montepulciano d?Abruzzo? Fiano? Lambrusco? There?s plenty more. The channels are crammed right now. And going into the holiday selling season, I predict lots of ?deals? are going to be struck because wine keeps getting made. Warehouses are full, retailers are full, consumers are wary, wine drinking as a cultural attachment is diminishing. People are drinking less or drinking other, for now, and the upcoming generations are economically and culturally challenged to follow in the footsteps of the generation that came before them. And they aren?t even predisposed to go in that direction on any case. So, it looks like Italian wine is in the crisis with the rest of us and will need to roll up sleeves and get into the streets and move this wine through.

The good news? America is a big market that still has growth potential, even with all the doom and gloom. But now is more of a time to have realistic expectations laced with a hearty work ethic. Forget about working on your tan ? It?s now time to build up your brand.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[07/28/2019, 13:45] The 2nd Most Important Book About Italian Wine ? Ever
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Ian D'Agata's latest book, "Italy's Native Wine Grape Terroirs"
If you are a lover of Italian wine, it is inevitable that you will become enmeshed in the arms of grape-laden vines. And it helps to have a good memory, preferably an encyclopedic one. Most of us aren?t possessed of such attributes, but thankfully there is a doctor in the house.

Ian D?Agata?s latest tome, ?Italy?s Native Wine Grape Terroirs,? serves as a worthy companion to his groundbreaking work, ?Native Wine Grapes of Italy.? Similarly named, with an additional word, terroir. Which is important to wine aficionados, as terroir is the vital link to understanding the wines from the grapes (a full explanation emanates from the book).

And so ?Italy?s Native Wine Grape Terroirs? acts as a virtual Rosetta Stone for those who are confounded by the sheer volume of grapes that pour out from the Italian peninsula, let alone the various (and seemingly) endless and often similarly named wines that can discourage the novice.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
With scores of people studying and testing for the various certification programs these days, in order to earn a pin and, hopefully, a decent paying job in the wine trade, D?Agata has made understanding the Italian wine and grape universe that much easier. Not to say it is a simple task. What these two books contribute to the greater understanding in the world of Italian wine are the vinous equivalent of Hercules cleaning the Augean stables. Thankfully, D?Agata didn?t have to do the work in just a day. But he made it a heck of a lot tidier for all of us.

A jocund fellow, D?Agata maintains a whirlwind schedule, circumnavigating the globe several times a year, in service to the greater understanding of Italian wines for the hordes of devotees, who linger on his every utterance. I count myself among those throngs of acolytes, in awe of his extensive knowledge and his ability to clearly elucidate the mysteries and abstruseness of Italian grapes in wine.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
D?Agata starts out with an insight into how he got hooked on Italian wine. Enjoying his first career as a doctor, which prepared him for the endless data (real and imagined) surrounding the Italian wine miasma, it was on a hill overlooking Rome where he found his thrill. Joy followed shortly afterwards, and then the scientist and academician proceeded to fall lock, stock, and barrel in love with wine. He is multi-lingual; it can be brain splitting to be (a mere mortal) in his company while he articulates, gesticulates and pivots like a whirling dervish, now in English, then in Italian, wait(!) now in French, wait, was that a German phrase he just uttered? He?s a guru, he?s running faster than anyone else in the room. And he?s burning brighter too. We are all the more fortunate that these two books are now in print, as they represent, to me, two of the greatest and most seminal (and indispensable) books one can have in their wine library. Excerpt HERE

But wait, it?s 2019, people don?t accumulate libraries anymore. Fear not, On August 2, it?s available in Kindle form. And for the Luddites, hardcover is available later in the  month, which will fit beautifully on a book shelf.

Is this a book to read, cover to cover? I once asked myself that question about another great book, ?Dionysus,? by Edward Hyams. Yes, is the answer. Read it. All of it. And then spend the rest of your life referring to the book, as it is your master class on Italy?s native wine grape terroirs.

From the University of California Press and IanDagata.com  - about the book:

"Italy?s Native Wine Grape Terroirs is the definitive reference book on the myriad crus and the grand cru wine production areas of Italy?s native wine grapes. Ian D?Agata?s approach to discussing wine, both scientific and discursive, provides an easy-to-read, enjoyable guide to Italy?s best terroirs. Descriptions are enriched with geologic data, biotype and clonal information, producer anecdotes and interviews, and facts and figures compiled over fifteen years of research devoted to wine terroirs. In-depth analysis is provided for the terroirs that produce both the well-known wines (Barolo, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino) and those not as well-known (Grignolino d?Asti, Friuli Colli Orientali Picolit, Ischia). Everyday wine lovers, beginners, and professionals alike will find this new book to be the perfect complement to D?Agata?s previous award-winning Native Wine Grapes of Italy."

(Authors note: "As the subject of Italy?s wine terroirs and its many native grapes is immense, Ian will follow up with another book on Italy?s wine terroirs in 2020, essentially a part 2 to this first opus, one that will discuss more grapes and terroirs)."

The Kindle version will be released on August 2 of 2019 (I received an advance copy from the publisher). Do yourself a huge favor, order it now ? do not wait. There are tests coming, seminars to be attending, you might even see Dr. D?Agata at one near you. The man, aside from being a genuinely wonderful person, is a font of knowledge. Tap it, uncork it, decant it and enjoy it as soon as possible. Don?t just collect it ? drink it up. There?s more where that came from (with a promised part 2 in 2020). 

Highly Recommended

And if you don?t have the 1st Most Important Book About Italian Wine ? Ever, ?Native Wine Grapes of Italy,? get it too. Now.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[07/24/2019, 15:01] "Leave poetry to poets? I want to know whether I'll like a wine or not"

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, c. 1602

"Wine writing is horrendous. I am a relatively young (in my mid 30s) and a neophyte to the world of enjoying wine, and the vocabulary of wine criticism is all but useless to me. Only about 5 of these terms convey anything remotely concrete about the way a wine tastes, smells and feels. The rest are hazy evocations of the emotional state of the author and so subjective that they completely fail to communicate anything. Leave poetry to poets, and write clearly and simply about wine. I want to know whether I'll like a wine or not, and the layers of abstraction and mystery pushed in guides like this make it impossible for me to know what to actually ask for and identify why I liked another bottle. I appreciate that we must rely on metaphor and simile to communicate some of the nuances of flavor and odor. However, unless it's being shot out of a spray gun into my mouth, it's hard to see how wine would feel propulsive. Wine is not a mystery, and rhapsodizing about it as a transcendental mystical experience and not a (humble, delicious) drink just leads to people like me thinking we lack the capacity to understand and enjoy it. Telling me a wine is tense, precise, energetic and alive tells me everything about you, and almost nothing about the wine" - Max ? NYC - July 15

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Eric Asimov penned, ?15 Helpful Words for Talking About Wine - Here is a practical lexicon that helps to describe the elusive characteristics of wine, without eliciting eye rolls and forehead slaps.? Inevitably, there were eye rolls, head slaps and comments. Max?s comment (above) was one of the top comments in terms of the readers choice for ?likes, recommends and replies.?

In the same comment section Nandini Sankar from Mumbai asked, ?How about an article on 15 words to use when you are asking about wine? I stumble a lot here, despite having some pretty specific likes and dislikes, and am always lost at a wine shop!?

Nandini is asking for practical advice in the form of words. Eric is offering a thought piece, as he sees it, and Max, well, Max is being Max. None of these folks are wrong. All are seeking a simple solution to understanding and, hopefully, loving wine.

I?m sure Max is earnest, as well as direct and confident (as someone ?relatively young in my mid-30?s? can be) in his opinion. There is a lot about what he says which is plain common sense.

What Nandini and, I believe also, Max are asking, are for a few practical words of advice on how to get to the point where they can enjoy the poetry. But we must give them something to sink their teeth into. First the bread, then the poetry?

When I worked the floor as a server and then a sommelier, and as well in retail shops, I would encounter people looking for a solution. There was a time limit, and there were other things more important happening. Either it was a dinner, a celebration, a date, a proposal, or a feast was going to be prepared, a holiday was coming. In other words, life events. Wine was not the centerpiece, but in the last 30 or so years of observing here in these United States, wine has moved closer to the spotlight. So, it has become more important. Nonetheless, an economy of words to describe the needed solution was one I found best suited to these occasions.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The Cardsharps by Caravaggio c.1594
Questions I?ve heard on the floor:
1) I?m having a dinner for four people tonight. We are having lasagna. What wine should I serve?

2) I need a wine tonight for friends who are coming over and we?re having light snacks.

3) I like Cabernet. Do you have Italian Cabernet?

4) I like Pinot Noir. Do you have Italian Pinot Noir?

5) I love Super Tuscans but hate Merlot. What do you have under $20?

6) (at a table in a restaurant) What wine would you recommend with what we are having? One of us is having a steak, one of us is having Fettuccine Alfredo, one is having the Dover Sole and one of us is having the Eggplant Parmigiana. What do you suggest?

7) He?s having the salmon and I?m having a chopped salad. He likes big buttery Chardonnay and I like crisp, high acid wines. What do you suggest?

8) I like dry wine, something like a Riesling. What do you suggest?

9) Do you have anything like Puligny Montrachet that doesn?t cost over $100?

10) I?m on a diet and cannot drink high calorie wine. Is there anything I can drink?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio c.1598?1599
Holy crap, it?s like I am dying and my life (on the floor) is flashing right before me! This is terrifying!

In reality, those who serve on the floors have to deal with this all the time. Not a lot of time. Some distraction. A made-up space, insofar as a retail shop and a restaurant is a contrived zone. We pass by here, but we do the bulk of our living elsewhere. It?s a way-station. That said, people need solutions. And fast!

First off, I attempt to put the person(s) at ease, making sure there are no wrong questions and no wrong answers, hospitalitas being the guiding principle.

Secondly, I try and find a baseline for what they routinely enjoy. There?s no ?mystery or abstraction? here, but there is a little bit of magic, in seeing a pattern and taking it out past the 2-dimensional checker board and onto the 3D chess table.

Next, I try and find a range of affordability. A good wine list or wine shop should have good (or even great) selections at all price points. Why buy crap? Find something for the young couple who can only afford $30 at the table. Or for the pensioner on a tight budget. That might not be the sweet spot for the beverage director?s profit model, but it is a gateway for folks who will get to feel more comfortable with discretionary spending on wine. And there are plenty of us out there willing to spend $60-150 on wine, especially the top cats with their expense accounts. So, have it all for all of them, all of us. Remember, hospitalitas.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio c.1601
In the case of the table of four (or anything more than one), when they eat different foods it can be a challenge. At a retail shop, usually the person who has a need is making something for (more than one) that will be eaten by all of them ? all the same food. Usually. It is easier to come up with a quick solution. But the four people/four entr?es dilemma isn?t insurmountable. It?s about being creative. And also knowing those people probably are not going to put a microscope over your advice. They are there for other reasons, wine being not the most important one.

With all of these 10 questions it was fairly easy to find a creative solution with a wine or wines. The only one that gave me a moment was the last one. And then I thought, ?How about a kombucha?? Wine isn?t always the right answer ? or the only answer.

The wine trade and by extension, wine writers, are the ones bringing out the microscopes. Or these days, more likely the colonoscopes. We?re the ones going down the rabbit hole. People like Max and Nandini are asking for help, simple, clear, communication. Bread first, then the poetry.

If we are going to help shepherd the newer generations into a wine culture, we indeed need the poetry of an Eric Asimov or a Thierry Theise. They are the knife that carves the bread. And likewise, the younger generation needs to be communicated to in a way in which it will be transmitted and imparted. Trust must be earned, even if those of us who are elders know what an arduous path it was to have arrived at this point. Not everybody is there, at the mountaintop, some of them are just beginning the climb. Let?s hand them a guide-line, one which they can see and feel and handle and get a grip, for the big climb.
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Madonna with the Serpent by Caravaggio c.1606

P.S. the answers to the other 9 questions, to come...

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[07/21/2019, 16:36] "There are no interlopers in my vineyard - they all are indigenous living things"

All we knew was that they were grown above in the vineyards in their native state. And they were made in a natural way. Not in the prepossessed way of the present in which every wine maker, merchant and marketer who wants to be seen as ?in? make statements with regards to their sustainability, their non-interventionism, their indigenous yeasting, their no sulfur regimen, all the trigger words to mark that one has ?arrived? in the world of real wine. None of this was stirring in these dark, cool, quiet rooms.
On the Wine Trail in Italy

I arrived Monday morning and Daria met me at the door. ?Signore, Diana is still asleep. She had a rough couple of nights. Maybe a stomach flu. She?ll eventually be up. Come in and have some coffee and we will wait a few minutes.?

Diana had sidestepped a brief encounter with cancer some years ago. She was clear of it, but as it happens with things that age, something always comes up. The goal isn?t to live forever, no one can do that. It?s just to steer clear of as many infirmities as one?s constitution (and resilience) will allow. Diana was tough. But even the strong stumble. We would wait.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Darla was about 20 years younger than Diana and her parents had escaped from Romania in the 1950?s, narrowly missing a round-up in their town which would have taken them to a labor camp, where thousands perished. ?My father Luca was Roma and Yakut, whose family had been relocated after the Russian revolution from Siberia to Romania. My mother was Romanian, whose mother had been Ashkenazi. They had different national and cultural traditions from the main population, in a time when people like them were being hunted down. By a twist a fate, an Albanian orthodox priest found a way to smuggle my parents onto a ship for Italy. They landed in Brindisi, and were relocated to Calabria by Albanians who had come there hundreds of years ago. And after the war they resettled to Tuscany, where Diana?s father needed help in the vineyards. They were very lucky. I was born after the war and even though I am not Italian, my parents told me when I was young to never tell anyone about my racial identity, to just assimilate into Italian culture. They rarely spoke of the atricities they had witnessed. They just kept their heads down and worked hard, and prayed those days would never return. It has been a blessing, and I often think about where my parents and their parents came from and wonder what heritage brought me to this point. Fortunately, my father worked in the vineyards, so for now I am a child of the vine, like Diana.?

Where I came from, America, there were all kinds of people, all colors, all nationalities, although we have always struggled with race in America. In Italy, the smallest difference would be magnified. If you were from Poggibonsi and were talking to someone from Montespertoli, there was be a noticeable variation in the accents, the dialect. Everyone in Italy was proud of where they came from. And naturally they were curious as to where you were from. But if where you came from was something not to be talked about, yet, you had to be careful. You had to adapt, until (or if) the time came that being the daughter of a Romanian Jew and a Roma-Yakut wasn?t something that needed to be hidden.

Daria brought me a cup of coffee. ?What my parents taught me, when I was young were these four things: We can succeed if we can complete tasks as a group. We must work together. To do well, we cannot be stiff or unyielding, we must be able to improvise. In order to face the next day and any uncertainties that come with it, we must be able to trust one another and feel safe. Diana is up and said she would meet you in the cave.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I had been instructed to go into the third chamber in the cave, which was large but low. Inside were all manner of bottles and sizes from the 1950?s. It looked a little like a cemetery and a nursing home combined. ?Good morning,? Diana said, showing no signs of infirmity. ?We are going to tackle this Aegean stable today.?

After a few minutes of Diana telling me where to start and how we would progress around the room, I went about my business on the side I was assigned. Diana worked the other room. Daria was straightening up and would join us in a bit.

?Diana, tell me a little bit about the wines in this room, if you will, please.? It was simple work, and one which we could have a conversation, if she chose to.

?This is a room filled with ampelographic off-shoots. There are many grapes here that have no name. Our vineyards are like a big family ? all types, coming from everywhere, some big, some tiny, some robust, some quiet. It?s a little like your American Dream, where everyone was welcomed, everyone had a sanctuary. This vineyard, though is now dream. Here, there are no interlopers in my vineyard - they all are indigenous living things.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
?It was something my father and Daria?s father Luca, worked out. After the war, everything was torn up. The government was coming into the villages and trying to get them to standardize, to make their vineyards and grape selections uniform, so we as a country could present a common face to the outside world. Chianti was critical; therefore, Sangiovese was very important. But there were scores of different kinds of grapes in those days they called Sangiovese, not to mention all the other grapes with names like Granoir, Calabrese, Bastardo, colorful names, but not really telling anyone what they were, where they came from, and to what purpose they could be best utilized. We had to experiment every year, try to make the wines separately when possible, or field blend whenever nothing else could be done. I was very interested, kept a notebook, with drawing of the grapes. I wasn?t a scientist, but I love nature, and the subtle variations among the plants and the animals. Everything is connected. Thus, we didn?t throw anything away, we didn?t pull any grapevines out. This was their home, they had nowhere to go back to. So, we made it work.?

Indeed, she was sitting on an Alexandrian library of undiscovered grapes. This was a national treasure that no one had any idea what it was. It was in a time when oak and Cabernet were invading the Tuscan landscape. Her wines were terribly out of fashion. And not made in any way that the wine schools in Turin and Conegliano would ever sanction.

?Fortunately,? Diana continued, ?we were self-sustaining and didn?t need too much money. I had a few friends from school who had a restaurant here and there in Florence, and my friend with the enoteca near the Duomo was always kind and willing to help support these ventures. He saw the old traditional wines disappearing and would do what he could to support our cause in the countryside.?

?Diana, tell me a little about the different kinds of wine and how they came to be?? I wanted to know more about the long-lived whites, the seemingly immortal reds and those dessert wines, which could outlive us all.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
?Really, there are only three types we make. The white wines, which vary depending on the vine, and how much we had to make. For some reason the soil here gives a strength to all the grapes which translates to long life. The old folks tell me it is the water, most of them here live to be 90 and over. Maybe it is.

?The dessert wines are always a divine accident. Some vine or vineyard gets too much sun and sugar and then we have to make Vin Santo, or something similar. These are very powerful wines with their own destiny and they decide what they will be, when they will be. They are the most dominant wines in my experience.

?The reds, even though they share a similar color, are like a table filled with siblings. They are different but similar. Some have red hair, some blond. Some are tall, some are squatty. Some are smarter than the other, some are kinder. But they all share the love of their parents, their grandparents and have a common history. They just have their own personalities. And it is not my job to make a wine with ?my? personality. It is to be watchful, patient and faithful to the individual expression of those grapes, those vines, those unique children. It makes a mess of the business of taking these wines to the marker. But Florence has many characters, who like things that run counter to the norm. I have friends, have made friends with these wines. They will not be orphans, as long as these friends work and live. And that is all I need. When I am gone, then will be the time to try and find a place for these children, and that is why we are here in this room. Hand me one of those towels, please and also another candle.?

It was cool and deathly silent in this little chamber. All the souls who helped to harvest the grapes and make the wine, some who had passed away, their efforts were still alive in these vessels filled with the miraculous liquid we call wine. Wine is so much more than a tasting note, or a high-scoring review, a tech sheet or a PH note. It is the liquification of many souls, from plant, to animal, to even the humans. It was a centerpiece of the Roman Catholic religion which took root in this place thousands of years ago. It was the blood of the prophet. And it was the heart and soul of the many different people who passed through this place.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[07/18/2019, 12:41] From the "News" Desk - and a Little Personal Business
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Quick post here before I sign off from the miasma we call the internet these days. And do a little celebrating.

Two new pieces about wine, which coincidentally have Italian wine in them. In the Dallas Morning News.

Dallas entrepreneur launches Crazy Beautiful Wines brand in big 1-liter bottles

The University of Dallas makes wine? Try this new red from vineyards on the school's Italian campus

In case anyone is interested, this link HERE shows my writing activity apart from this ?ol dinosaur blog. Since officially retiring I?ve done a piece a month ? so, that would be like a monthly column. I?m getting closer to my goal of wanting to be Gerald Asher when I grow up, although his writing is still head-and-shoulders above most of us. But a goal is a goal.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

And my great accomplishment of retirement this month ? finally, after 20+ years, organizing the walk-in wine closet and freestanding wine cave. I now know what is in there, and most of the wines are still in tip-top shape. Some notes about what I?ve collected:

? Red wine is about 86% of what?s in there ? no surprise, because we go through the white ( and rose') a little faster and it is usually kept in a back fridge for prompt utilization.

? Dessert wines follow red wine in quantity, by a wide margin. OK, gotta get cracking some of those old ports soon, but not when it is 100?F outside.

? Italian wine accounts for the majority of the wine in there, followed by California, France and (surprise!) Texas (which is one short of the France total ? gotta stay loyal to the local).

? There are some dead soldiers in there, and I have made an area, a ?Paradiso? (or a bardo) to display them. Some great old memories there, many of which have been noted on this blog in the last 14 years.

? The oldest wine? 1936, and it is an Est!Est!!Est!!! from Lampani G. B. & Figli, bottled in 1939. It came to me in the early 1980?s from an auction in Ft. Worth, Texas. It is amabile. So, part of the ?sticky? brigade.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

More on this later. But for now, there are other activities planned for this day. Thanks to all who reached out with well wishes. While it ain?t exactly a moon landing, I?m glad to be alive and celebrating another rotation around the sun.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[07/14/2019, 18:40] Cracking Open the Corycian Cave (and the Key to Peace)
Pt. VI

"This was my revolution. Italian wine, in 1957, was not so delicious. It had alcohol, lots of dried earth flavor, but it was lacking life. I wanted the wine to be young and vibrant, youthful. Not tired. Not vinegar. Not brown. Red, like my blood. White, not brown. Like the clouds. And golden yellow, like a sun setting. I was totally immersed in this dreamworld, and there was nobody telling me to stop. And so, I ventured forth, and began my symphony of wine in 100 movements."

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Daria let me in, it was barely sunrise and Diana was in her little study. As I approached her, I noticed the dog-eared book she loved so much was open to this passage:

?When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.? ? Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

I was not a philosophy buff in college, tending more towards the arts, with a sprinkling of theology and mythology in my courses. I took a non-western course of studies, and words were not the emphasis I was being directed towards. It was a visual path: painting photography, filmmaking, ancient cultures. And to my introverted being, that was just fine. But here we were, in this little room, with these words. Perhaps words could be an artform too? In the hands of someone like Masanobu Fukuoka, this was a certainty. I?m not even sure my last sentence is defensible within philosophical discourse. I went into the kitchen; I needed some coffee.

The work of the day was to crack open the cavern where forty years of wine slept. Sure, some of it had escaped and one could find it in places in Florence, like I?ve said in earlier dispatches. But friends in my circles didn?t have 90,000 lire for wine. Those wines were for the collectors, the unicorn hunters. We were working our way up through adulthood, trying to get a job, get some clothes that weren?t moth-worn and eat decently. Wine was part of lunch and dinner, not some Holy Sacrament to be worshiped. But here I was in a Corycian Cave of sorts, with long winding passages, and room after room, filled with wine. And not just wine, but ALIVE wine! Where do we start?

Fortunately, Diana had a plan of sorts. Start with the white wines, as their lifespan would normally be shorter than the reds and the stickies.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
The room reminded me of a section in the catacombs in Palermo that held the little children. With one exception. Everything in here was alive. Ann Rice wrote of an underground room in her novel, Interview With The Vampire. It was in the Th??tre des Vampires. And while these vampires were somewhat alive, they had none of the life these wines had. But like all three, the children in Palermo, the vampires in Paris and the wine in Tuscany, all were trapped. These could be saved, salvaged, even redeemed. But who in the outside world, outside of the trophy hunters, would care?

It was the time of big, heady wine with loads of wood and alcohol. The wines of the times shouted. These whispered. The highly regarded wines, rewarded with high points, 90 and above, were extroverts, screaming. These wines were introverts, barely audible. These were not the wines in fashion.

And too make matters more complicated, many of them were just wines in bottles, no denomination, sometimes not even a vintage. All we knew was that they were grown above in the vineyards in their native state. And they were made in a natural way. Not in the prepossessed way of the present in which every wine maker, merchant and marketer who wants to be seen as ?in? make statements with regards to their sustainability, their non-interventionism, their indigenous yeasting, their no sulfur regimen, all the trigger words to mark that one has ?arrived? in the world of real wine. None of this was stirring in these dark, cool, quiet rooms. Only wine, made naturally in the 1950?s, 1960?s, 1970?s and 1980?s. They had no one above on the outside world, proselytizing for them ? they were invisible. But God, were they alive!

Tasting notes:
On the Wine Trail in Italy

1955 - White labeled ?SL-P? ? 200 720ml bottles stacked
My notes: Deep rich amber color. Notes of peach and linoleum. Very extracted, but alcohol, while healthy, is in check. Acidity is alive but not out of control. The finish is long. The flavor is plump but not fat. This could be a red wine if we were blindfolded. There is the flavor of toasted wheat, with notes of wildflowers, grass, even slight oregano, but not at all overpowering. This wine, at the time almost 30 years old, is very much alive.

1966 - hand labeled ?L'imperatore Pazzo ? Stravecchio? ? 52 demijohns.
Diana told me that this was a difficult year. It was a late harvest, compounded with torrential rains, a wheat harvest that was left partially on the ground, as the rains did not permit the workers to harvest. The grapes stayed on the vine, while Diana and her town worked in Florence to save precious artworks from the Arno floodwaters. When she came back there were ?10 glorious days of sun, warm and reinvigorating to the vines, saving the grapes, shriveling them a little to reduce the water they had been plumped up with. And we laid these grapes out on the mats to dry a little more, watching for rot. The vines had always been healthy, so this turn of events, while precarious, for grapes grown in harmony with nature, was not a fatal blow. But the wine took on a different life, and the color was deeper. That was why I put them in the demijohns, sealed them and left them to live out their youth in the dark here.?

My notes: Almost a vermouth sharpness to the wine as we raised the cork out of the demijohn. Like a genie escaping from the bottle. The color is chartreuse-like. It ?shimmers.? A slight petulance, with a healthy dose of acidity. But the fruit is subtle, mellow, in the shadows. I could drink this whole bottle, but a Tuscan restaurant has reserved several of these demijohns when they will be released and for a pretty penny.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

1977 - White labeled ?Santa Lucia ? Procanica? ? 300 720ml bottles stacked.
Diana noted that a famous wine consultant had been on the cellar recently, as he was working on a white wine project for one of the big families of Tuscany and he?d been friends with her father. This man noted that this wine was an archetype and said he wanted to make this kind of wine ?famous for the world.? She doesn?t know what happened with that project as he never came back.

Diana said 1977 was an interesting vintage for her vines, in that there was a long, protracted season well into October. I remember because I was in Tuscany and Umbria in the fall of 1977 with my family and it was pleasant, little if any rain, constant sun, but regulated, not the beat down it has become in vineyards in August lately in this current era.

My notes: not as deeply colored as the 1955, but going towards a bright yellow into a dusky area of color. Clear, although showing sediment (tartrates, lees?) when the bottle was set upright, but which fell to the bottom of the bottle within 15 minutes. The flavor is umami-meaty and savory, with the plumpness this grape seems to exhibit in these vineyards. The fruit is ripe but not sickly sweet, again more savory than sweet. A very long finish with notes of persimmon, ginger and dried fig. Really a mouth filling wine without being a show-boat.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

1980 - labeled simply ?Soli Ardenti? -still in a 550-liter concrete holding tank.
There was a long growing season, with plenty of sun, some needed heat, but then cooling off in September and ripening into early November. These were a field blend of predominantly white wine grapes, about 6 of them, with two thinner skinned red varieties normally used for bouquet or rosato wines. But Diana decided to harvest and ferment together with all the native yeasts from four different parcels on the property, essentially the four corners of the property as it was then. The wine went through a 6-month fermentation in concrete and was racked only once to clean out any detritions and then put back into the concrete tank in which it began its life. ?It?s incubator,? Diana likes to call it. ?This is one of my different children, with many personalities and very complex. But it could rival my red wines in terms of majesty and particularity. It has a little fizziness right now; it is still young and will probably lose the baby fuzz. But it has a wealth of fruit and is fat and how did you call it ? roly-poly??

My notes: indeed, this wine is fat and roly-poly. It?s like a giant peach with an underlying edge of nervosity. I remember a wine like this from the Haute-Savoie, very similar. The aromas, along with the peach, is like a giant fruit salad, in fact Diana calls this ?my big little Macedonia.? The wine is dry, but the fruit is rich with all that baby fat still on it. Wow ? I could drink this in the morning instead of coffee to a totally different destination. But it is one of the greatest white wines I have ever had. And it?s not even ready to be bottled, yet.

After a long week digging through just the white wines, I left on Friday afternoon for the weekend, where a friend of mine was having a photography exhibition. On parting, Diana gave me a hug and shared one of her favorite Fukuoka quotes,
?I contadini dappertutto nel mondo sono fondamentalmente gli stessi. Lasciateci dire che la chiave per la pace si trova vicino alla terra.?
On the Wine Trail in Italy

? to be continued

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[07/07/2019, 15:49] A Symphony of Wine in 100 Movements
Pt. V

Who could we get here to help us, help this amazing woman who was unknown, outside of Tuscany and Florence, but, in my mind, was one of the greatest winemakers the world has ever known?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
As it turned out, my career back home took a turn. In fact, everything changed, and in some ways, for everyone. The stock market crash, the fall of the Berlin wall, the end of the old order and the dawn of an age that humans weren?t quite prepared for ? the internet age. But that was a good 10-15 years away from reaching its out-of-control momentum that we are now (in 2019) only realizing. Facts, reality, the cliff ahead, careening in a driverless vehicle, pedal to the floor, with no bridge and no parachute.

Meanwhile the consolidation of the wine trade in America saw me jobless for the first time in my adult life. I was adrift, floating and in Italy. And there was this treasure trove of wine, made over the decades by this amazing winemaker, Diana. Even though she was an elder, she showed no signs of stopping in the foreseeable future. It appeared that fate had bound me to the mast of this ship, for now.

[At this point, switching into Diana?s voice, her words, translated into English]

On the Wine Trail in Italy
"When I was a young woman, I dressed as a man, that much is known. Partly because my father didn?t know how to raise a girl, but also because we were poor and the clothes left by a brother who died, were in good shape, and Papa wasn?t one to waste anything. My life would be set by the circumstances of men, both living and dead. But there was a little candle burning inside me, someday hoping to be a fire that would warm more than just my imagination.

"The vines, as I said before, were in poor shape. Imagine souls whose village had been bombed. All that was left was what survived. But it was as if the force of the destruction served to wake up any vine that was nearby, to cause it to become more vigorous, stretching deeper into the earth, and climbing to the sky. In a year or two, we were overrun with wild vines and cultivated ones alike. They were intermingling, making new connections, new families springing up. It was something to see. The world was going into peace, but the vines were preparing for the next onslaught.

"We had, not too long ago, a young doctor here, from Cincinnati. I remember him telling me his family lived in Rome. And he was on holiday, visiting some friends. His interest in grapes was very doctorly, and he knew quite a lot about grapes. But he said to me, ?What you have I have never seen anywhere, with the exception of Calabria. You have grapes for which there are no names. This is a breeding ground for the best Tuscany, and by extension, Italy, will have in the future, to give to the world of wine.? It was a curious thing to say, this young man talking about my family, these grapes, running around like children, shouting screaming, stretching, growing. And then when the vines grew up, the grapes that came out were so different.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

"And being young, and not being a man, that is to say, I didn?t accept things as they were (at least to myself, in the beginning) I started experimenting with small batches, making wine from them. Maybe just a small demijohn, here and there. And absolutely made with no interference on my part. All I did was watch the fermentation, making sure we didn?t make vinegar. But all the fancy things my neighbors use now, with their high-paid consultants from Milan and Turin, with all the letters after their names and medals on their lapels, this did not come into my land, my world. I was invisible, and I?m grateful for that now. Because I made many mistakes, but I also made many discoveries. About wine, about myself, about nature and the world. And to a lesser degree, about Italy, Tuscany and Florence.

"We were poor, yes, but we were also self-contained. Money wasn?t so important. For in those early years, there was no money. Everyone just pulled themselves up and tried to make it through a day. And then another day. It was hard, back-breaking work, and it was a solitary life. So, yes, like Papa said, it was a monastic sort of life.

"When I turned 30, Italy was starting to come back to life to the rest of the world. The few times I ventured into Florence to sell some of my wine to my few customers, I would see tourists. One of my clients was between the Arno and Piazza Santa Maria Novella. I had a distant cousin, Beatrice, who worked at the Uffizi gallery, and we would have a coffee, try and keep our relationship alive, event though she was a polished urban woman and I was a country girl-boy. But she was open-minded about things, she had a view of life that wasn?t so traditional. Beatrice would tell me about the American men (and English women) who came into the galleries. It was a different world, to me, but it was also a different world from the one my father and his father grew up in. I sensed something was changing, something big. Not that my whole life hadn?t been a big change, all of it! Still, my wild-child sensed a transformation was about in the world at large.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
"But then, when I came home, to the hills and the earth I called my home, tranquility would return. The grapes, the vines, the birds, the foxes, the worms, it was like they were talking to me, all the time. The grapes, especially were the noisy ones in my neighborhood. And so, I listened. And I listened so more, until I felt like I had learned their language. And then they began to instruct me.

"This was my revolution. Italian wine, in 1957, was not so delicious. It had alcohol, lots of dried earth flavor, but it was lacking life. I wanted the wine to be young and vibrant, youthful. Not tired. Not vinegar. Not brown. Red, like my blood. White, not brown. Like the clouds. And golden yellow, like a sun setting. I was totally immersed in this dreamworld, and there was nobody telling me to stop. And so, I ventured forth, and began my symphony of wine in 100 movements."
On the Wine Trail in Italy

wine rablog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[06/30/2019, 15:46] Creating Your Own Current in the Sea of Life
Pt. IV

?Diana pulled out a small bottle, a dessert wine. It was amber and smelled of cloves and honey and celery. Odd creature, but quite pleasant with the wedge of aged pecorino we were polishing off. ?I don?t recall a time when I didn?t think about freedom? All I could think of was freedom. Freedom from these chains.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Several years later, when I was in Florence, I was having a glass of wine with my friend. ?Have you heard about Diana?? Thinking he was about to tell me something terrible, I shuddered. ?No, it isn?t that. Perhaps we should go out and visit her this week??

I went about my business that week, with appointments with my importers and brokers and set aside Friday to go out to the country and visit Diana. She was getting older, as we all were, and I felt there was another chapter in her book of life that she wanted to emancipate from her memory. This was a book, read slowly, chapter, by chapter, one year at a time. Like a life, it was not something to rush through, no speed reading or scanning like we all do now in the overly distracted state we find ourselves in.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I was in the midst of a career in the wine business. I felt important. I was doing something that was good for the world. Or so I told myself, over and over. It?s like that when you are in the thick of the stew of life ? you must find it compelling, at least to yourself ? or where is the meaning in a life like this, where we run all over the world, selling wine, drinking wine, making notes, making deals? Oh, yeah, I was as full of myself as anyone who is in it up to their neck. But Diana would sink a hook and pull me out of the stream, dry me out on the riverbank and ?cure? me of this delusion. Or, so a little voice in the back of my head whispered. Angel or devil? It was Italy, so it could have been a chorus of those winged creatures, both fallen and virtuous. Or, it could have been the monkey brain chattering away as usual. Regardless of the source, it prompted me to go see my old friend in the countryside of Tuscany, again.

When we arrived, around 1:30 in the afternoon, and made our way in through the labyrinth of growth leading to the small home and winery, our host met us at the door. ?Thank you for coming. It?s been too long, and I have to ask you to help me go through all these different wines. I?ve finally decided to let go of 40 years of wines. A neighbor, and elderly gentleman, a Barone, wants to preserve my legacy, isn?t that amusing?? Diana seemed alert and pert, as if she?d been invigorated, recharged. ?I imagine if they cannot keep me going for much longer, at least my children will live to see another sunrise or two.?
On the Wine Trail in Italy

And so, we sat down to a light lunch of cold cuts, salad and Tuscan stone hard bread before we set about the work she needed. There would be no short sonnellino, no siesta this afternoon.

What we had, once we got all the wines sorted out (just the wines from the house cellar), one day later, was this rough inventory:

? 5 - 1.8L red labeled ?P.F. Bosc.?
? 30 - 200ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?

? 33 - 1.8L red
? 15 - 200 ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?
? 3 - 720ml white Santa Lucia
? 3 - 1.8 white ?Maria G?

? 66 - 1.8L red ?Bosco Riserva?
? 5 - 200 ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?
? 9 - 720ml white Santa Lucia
? 1 - 1.8 white ?Maria G?
? 1 ? demijohn (partially full) labeled ?Acqua d. Vita?

? 21 ? 700ml red ?Riserva d. Pater?
? 6 - 720ml white Santa Lucia ?Pro.?
? 1 - 1.8 brown wine (dessert) labeled ?3 vite?

? 1 ? demijohn ?Granoir? red
? 21 ? 700ml straw wrapped (fiaschi) red labeled ?Prov.S -B?
? 75 ? 200ml straw wrapped white/amber labeled ?La Buca?
? 10 ? 1.8 L red labeled ?Mont. A ? Carmen?

? 15 ? 700 ml red labeled ?CdC Empoles?
? 1 - 1.8L red ?Bosco Riserva?
? 3 ? 700ml red ?Riserva d. Pater?
? 10 ? 720 ml white labeled ?SL-P?
? 5 ? 2.0 L brownish wine (in odd crooked brown bottles) simply labeled ?Stravecchio?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
? 19 ? 700 ml red labeled ?CdC Empoles?
? 12 - 1.33L red ?Bosco Riserva?
? 5 ? 720ml ?Granoir? red
? 1 - 1.8L dark brown labeled ?Millefiori Vermut?
? 17 ? 620ml (small squatty amber bottles, wrapped in straw) labeled ?Pag?Vecch.?

? 4 ? 1.8 L red labeled ?Mont. A ? Carmen?

? 12 - 1.33L red ?Bosco Riserva? Pater Familias?

? 17 ? 1.8 L red ?Granoir - Quintus Sextius?

? 4 ? 1.8 L red ?Mont. A ? Carmen? (scribbled on label ?tenda finale?)

? 11 - 1.33L red ?Bosco Riserva? Pater Familias?
? 6 ? 1.8 L sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?

? 7 ? 720ml red labeled ?Granoir Quintus Horatius?
? 10 - 200ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?

? 10 ? 720ml red labeled ?Granoir Quintus Sertorius?
? 21 ? 750ml red labeled ?Prov.S.B. Montesol?

? 18 ? 750ml red ?Bosco Riserva? Pater Familias?
? 12 ? 720ml white labeled ?Santa Lucia ? Procanica?

? 7 ? 720ml red labeled ?Granoir 13 Lune?
? 3 ? demijohn hand labeled ?L'imperatore Pazzo ? Stravecchio?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
? 21 ? 750ml red ?Bosco Riserva? Pater Familias?
? 31 ? 750ml red labeled ?Prov.S.B. Montesol?
? 65 ? 750ml white labeled ?Santa Lucia ? Procanica?

? 5 ? 750ml white labeled ?Santa Lucia ? Procanica?
? 10 ? 620ml straw wrapped bottles labeled simply ?Soli Ardenti?

? 77 - 500ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?
? 14 ? 1.5 L hand labeled ?L'imperatore Pazzo ? Stravecchio?

? 24 ? 750ml red labeled ?Prov.S.B. Montesol?
? 5 - 500ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?

? 31 ? 750ml red ?Bosco Riserva? Pater Familias?
? 45 ? 750ml red labeled ?Prov.S.B. Montesol?
? 10 - 500ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?

? 43 ? 750ml red ?Bosco Riserva? Pater Familias?
? 12 ? 1.5L white labeled ?Santa Lucia?
? 40 - 500ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?

? 65 ? 750ml red ?Bosco Riserva? Pater Familias?
? 22 ? 1.5L white labeled ?Santa Lucia?
? 20 - 500ml sweet brown dessert ?Aleacrimone?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Diana now had a day companion, Daria, who started to help around the place, light cleaning and preparing of some meals. She lives down the road, is about 20 years younger, widowed, and has known Diana since she was a child. Daria told us, ?This is just the wine in the house. In the caves, behind the winery, there are 100 times this wine!? I was flabbergasted. This is the life's work of a soul who is deep thinking and hard working. And cataloguing and organizing the output of this person, Diana, is the life?s work of another person. I was virtually overwhelmed and went outside to catch a little of the dusk light of the evening, looking for a few stars in the sky that I could tether myself to, to get my bearings.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Later that evening, over a meal of grilled meats and preserved vegetables, put up from the year before, along with a bottle or two of wine, we sat and ate in silence, waiting for Diana to voice her thoughts.

?I don?t expect you to stop your life and get tangled in this sea of wine. As you can see by now, I have created my own currents, have not let myself be swept away by the tides of time. I?ve followed my own stars in the sky, charted my own course. And I was not interested in money, rather in making someone, anyone, happy. Now there is a lot of wine and not a lot of time. But I made wine for the ages, as I learned from my invisible guides, my angels and my devils. I didn?t know life would course so rapidly through my veins, that I would be here, already, looking forward, but with more of the wind of time at my back, than before me.?

Something all of us must reckon with, if we live to that point. I was still young, but I?d seen enough of death and decay to allow the folly of immortality to invade my skull. But I had my career, I needed to press on, move forward, to catch the wind of destiny in my sails as I steered my ship over the edge of my world.

This was going to take some thought. And some work. Who could we get here to help us, help this amazing woman who was unknown, outside of Tuscany and Florence, but, in my mind, was one of the greatest winemakers the world has ever known?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

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