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Mondo Di Vino
Mondo Di Vino





[10/18/2020, 17:59] 25,294 days
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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[10/11/2020, 18:13] Dino Illuminati: A Remarkable 90 Years in the History of Italian Wine

On the Wine Trail in Italy
(photo, courtesy of the Illuminati winery)
This whole cycle of life thing here on earth, it?s a peculiar one. It goes slow, then it speeds up, then it slows down, and then it seems there just isn?t enough time to finish anything. I cringe when a memorable character in Italian wine dies ? and with it an outpouring of obituaries. Sometimes they read like a resume, and sometimes they take their cues from the perspective (and biases) of the scribe.

But why wait for someone to die to celebrate their life? Why not beat the drum while their heart is still beating some of that fine red Italian blood?

Which brings us to a figure whose life in Abruzzo has most definitely left its mark for the better. That person is celebrating his 90thbirthday, Dino Illuminati.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

My first recollection of Dino was when he and his importer and friend Eugenio Spinozzi, landed in Dallas, Texas in 1980, looking for a distributor. Dallas, 40 years ago, was smaller than it is now. They headed downtown and settled in a hotel there. Dino, who for as long as I have known him, loves to eat, was looking for an American steak. And so, off they went to the Cattleman?s restaurant in downtown Dallas. 

It was perfect for this rambunctious pair of adventurous entrepreneurs. All around them, leather booths, trays of martinis streaming across the room, bourbon flowing freely. Big hair, and those larger than life Texas steaks. ?I love Texas!? Dino proclaimed to his friend. ?I want someday to be a Texan too!? And sure enough, well, let?s not spoil the story this soon.

Dino was born in 1930, which now seems like a time more associated with ancient Egypt or the era of the dinosaurs. His family lived in the area in Italy that comingled two regions, Abruzzo and Marche. In 1930, like much of Italy in the Mezzogiorno (not physically, but sympathetically) people were just beginning to get caught up with the massive changes of the industrialized 20th century. But the agrarian life was dominant. After surviving a war fought in their backyard, and then going to work to rebuild a decimated country and society, a young Dino Illuminati went into farming, following his family. His grandfather, Nico, had been a grape grower since 1890. But Italian wine wasn?t a fast money earner. So, he kept his vineyards intact but branched out into other crops.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Known as the ?King of Broccoli,? Dino was relentless in pursuing success. He?d known hunger, and personal loss. Not a melancholy person by nature, Dino was one of the lucky ones - he was, and is, resilient. But to a young man at the beginning of his life, the mountain he and his countrymen (and women) were setting out to climb seemed to ascend to the moon. He put his foot down on the pedal and climbed.

This was really the beginning of an Italian wine renaissance, in which after so many hundreds (and possibly thousands?) of years, Italian wine was heading into a Golden Age. But not without a lot of leg work first.

Dino never wanted to be without two things: food and money. And his business acumen was pointed, focused and relentless. A dog with a bone is hard to argue with, let alone make a deal with. Dino was not going to release that bone. And that initial bone was broccoli. He made a small fortune.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
(photo, courtesy of the Illuminati winery)   

And then came the second bone ? kiwi fruit. Kiwi, you say? Yes. Think about the time you were in an Italian hotel and it?s breakfast time and the (pre-Covid19) buffet is arrayed with all manner of foodstuffs. Usually one will find kiwi, when the season calls for it. It?s an ubiquitous fruit in Italian life now. But 50 years ago, not so much. Dino planted kiwi and fattened up his bank account even more.

By then Dino was married to the love of his life, Marina, and three children, two boys and a girl, had arrived. But in the back of his mind, the vineyard in Abruzzo was calling, calling. It was relentless. It was his Rosebud.

Something about the time he spent there, in Controguerra (aptly named) must have been sweet. He was close to his grandfather. Dino lost his dad when he was very young. Maybe he was just a little melancholy at times, but Dino got the wine bug. And Abruzzo would never be the same.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
(photo, courtesy of the Illuminati winery)

Just to say, right here and right now, Dino didn?t singlehandedly rejuvenate the Abruzzo wine industry. In reality, this was something that was done on a massive scale of single farmers and vineyard owners. It was a patchwork of busy bees, many of them, too many to recount here. But Dino is emblematic of those many folks who pulled together in this large boat called Abruzzo wine. And he had capital and vision.

He signed up wine consultant Giorgio Marone, who studied under Tachis, to come to Abruzzo and advise him. Dino saw Abruzzo wine not necessarily as a regional curiosity. His produce business had him dealing with many countries outside of Italy, and so it was only natural that he considered grapes, as well as broccoli or kiwi, to have a larger appeal to the world. And that colored his perception of what his wine should be. It flirted with an international appeal long before Robert Parker made it popular. And it propelled his winery at a faster pace. And if any of you know Dino, you know he never, ever, stands still. Ever.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Illuminati wine end-cap at Simon David in Dallas in 1985





I was there to see it, from 1982 and on. I brought it in, I believed in it, and I spent much of my early career being part of a team, making sure the people of Texas fell for Dino?s wine.

The main wine was the Montepulciano d?Abruzzo. The base wine was fruity and dry and not overly oaked (not oaked at all). The alcohol was in check, as were the tannins. It was a perfect gateway wine from Blue Nun to Napa Cab. And it was affordable to young people starting out, and the elderly on a fixed budget. It was lively and fun, and felt like you were in Italy when you popped a bottle or two.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
There was also a white, Trebbiano d?Abruzzo. It was dry and crisp and light, and just wonderful for those Texas summers that last six months, when temperatures hover from 85-105? F. I fell in love with Trebbiano, long before the cultists and amphoristi glommed onto the grape. It just went so well with our life style here in the Southwest.

There was a ros?, Cerasuolo d?Abruzzo, and it was long before ros?was the phenomenon it is now. Back then, maybe there was some Tavel from France and maybe some odd ros? (usually a little sweeter) from California, Paul Masson or Almaden, you know. But the Cerasuolo was an epiphany for me. It gave me the ability to enjoy a red wine, comfortably, in the dead heat of summer. It was cool, it was dry, it was spicy, and it was almost red. Still one of my favorite wines on the planet.

And the riserva, the Invecchiato, that was a whole ?nother story. It kicked butt. It was deep and rich and hearty and long lived (I still have bottles of the ?74,?77,?85, ?90,?91,?93, ?06 and ?07 in my wine closet). It was a constant project of Dino?s, to refine and improve the wine. Marone was instrumental in making the wine ?a staple in the stable and for the table.? We simply called it Zanna.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Guy Stout and Dino at the winery, 1984

Dino and his family and colleagues went on to make many more wines and win most major awards in Italian wine competitions. But one of his most prized attainments was when then Governor Bush made Dino an honorary Texan. ?Now I?m a Texan, just like you and Guy Stout,? he?d brag. For a poor, hungry little boy from a war-torn region, he has lived ?larger than life,? just like the Texans he first saw in Dallas.

The gift Dino gave to me was that he helped me to love a part of Italy that I cannot live without. I can forgo the cities if need be, I can avoid many places in Italy if I am forced to do so, because of Covid, or just the remaining time I have on earth. But if I can never see his intermingled regions, Abruzzo and Marche, especially San Benedetto del Tronto, well, I can think of one less reason for why I want to linger on this earth. It was there I learned how blindingly well Cerasuolo goes with a well-made plate of Arrabbiata. How perfect a bottle of Trebbiano matches with olive ascolane, with mezze maniche allo scoglio, with wonderful grilled langosto, anything from the sea, let?s just go with that. And the Montepulciano, whether the entry level (Riparosso) or the Riserva (Zanna), anything meat, grilled, lamb, pork, you name it, if it had four legs and Dino and his buddies could get their hands on it, it would eventually land on the grill and go with those wines. 

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Dino, myself and his winemaker Spinelli - 1988

How many nights we spent in Abruzzo, in the open space outside the older dining room on the second floor, in the summer, or inside in the later winter, or in the rebuilt Luperiafamily dining room, which hosted us so many days and nights, and what grand memories! And all with Dino and his family and friends, with plates of pasta and salad and meat and fish and wine and hours and hours of pleasure on earth, the likes I will not see for some time.

And when I do, I hope it will be to have another meal with Dino and his family and his memorable wines, to stay close to the flame from that candle that has warmed us all for so many years.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Auguri, Dino, Buon Compleanno and Bravo! Happy 90thbirthday! Cent'anni e uno.

 

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On the Wine Trail in Italy


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[10/04/2020, 22:06] Palate Pressure: Which Wine Will Suffice?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Lately, I?ve been creating spreadsheets. Lists of things I?ve done or collected. Like food in the freezer. Trips to Italy. Master photo-files. And, of course, wine I?ve gathered over many years. I do not lack for anything in the wine department, although I?d not turn down anything from Burgundy. But I have some to enjoy. Piedmont has a strong lobby in my cellar, as does Tuscany. But it?s not about what I?ve amassed. Rather, I am more concerned about what I?m going to do with this stuff. Look, this is not Marvin Overton?s cellar we?re talking about. Or Ian D?Agata?s. But I find I?m just not putting a dent into the red wines in the cooler and the cave.


Some of my older friends have told me they are trying to figure out how to get rid of all the stuff they?ve acquired over a long lifetime. Art, cars, real estate, books, even wine. And they tell me, it has become a bit of a part-time job for many of them in their retirement.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I definitely see less sand at the top than at the bottom my hourglass. And so, I?m preparing to deal with that stuff too.

But the wine? what has happened to my consumption lately?

I have a fridge in the garage to store extra food and beverages. And that is where I put most of the current drinking wines, the whites and the ros?s. I appear to have maxed out that area now. I must either stop buying wine or I must start drinking more.

Reports abound, during this coronavirus era, of people who are drinking more in their isolated states. I thought perhaps that might be the case here too, and I did buy some nice wines for the ?stay.? But I?m just not drinking much wine right now.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Which isn?t a problem. But if I do drink wine, I?d like it to be worthwhile. That sounds awful, as if the bottles in my possession need to pass a litmus test before it passes my lips. I don?t really mean it that way. Most of what I buy is made by small farmers, real people, nothing too commercial or industrial. Not that I am going out on a rant about that.

I think what I am really dancing around in this essay, is that with what time I have left here drifting on this funny little orb, I?d like those moments when I drink wine to be, occasionally, more than an obligation to be sufficient.

I recently sat around a table with several older guys (yes, older than me!) for a late afternoon, outdoor, socially distanced happy hour. There were four of us. We all brought a wine. I was giddy, because I could find something in my spread sheet to take and share with my elderly gent friends. I found a bottle of 2005 Guerrieri Gonzaga Tenuta San Leonardo 'San Leonardo'. A blend mainly of Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc, Carmen?re and Merlot. Fifteen years of age, so some nice time in the locker to develop secondary and maybe even tertiary aromas and flavors.

When I got to the appointed meeting place, everyone had their bottles on the table, except for one white, a Pinot Grigio from Trentino from a pretty large producer. Well, I thought, at least Trentino will be well represented at the table in several iterations. Another friend brought a young Chianti Classico from Fontodi, a lovely wine. This multifarious group of Italians was attenuated by a zip code Pinot Noir from France.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I tried the Chianti, thinking the other fellows might be interested in sipping some of the San Leonardo. But the Pinot Grigio chap was hugging his white, and the zip loving Pinot guy was nestling his Noir. My Chianti friend doesn?t really drink anymore, due to a medical condition, but he likes being there for the camaraderie. There I was, with my special selection, the elderly San Leonardo. And so, I delved into the wine.

What struck me about the wine was how much it had changed from its youth. Now it was a little sunnier, a little more tanned around the extremities. The aromas had not one theme, but were arrayed as a polyarchy. No one scent dominated. And similarly, in the flavor, it was as if in those fifteen years, they had commingled to the point of being another taste from all the descriptors one might read about this wine in a review. The wine had surrendered to its fate, of lying in the dark, dreadful cool of my closet, awaiting its turn to walk the long green mile. I, who was happy to have finally liberated one of my objets d'art, would know nothing (if any) of the inner turmoil of that particular bottle.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
With none of my cronies partaking in this execution, I had to step up and make sure that wine had, indeed, had a life lived well. And a fitting end.

And at the end, it was more than sufficient. It was transformative. And it was a lesson to me, that the wines we ?collect? are something more than a curated notion. There are ?lives? inside these bottles, many made by people who are no longer here on earth. And we are privileged to be the recipients of these handiworks. And for that, I am grateful.

And while not every wine we put to our lips will be a pi?ce de resistance, there is something about every wine we uncork that, for this passenger, invokes a sentiment that to simply suffice is vital, but to transform offers one an ascent and an opportunity to elude, if just for an evening, the gravity that binds us to this place and to these times.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

One down, 491 to go.









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[09/27/2020, 23:05] A Passage from the Dead Tree Scrolls
On the Wine Trail in Italy
There?s a wine article sitting on my desktop that is going on four months overdue. It?s almost finished, just needs a little editing. It will generate revenue if I go the last step. It is destined for a newspaper; you know the kind a little boy used to get up early in the morning to deliver on his bicycle? But, for the life of me, I cannot find my way to finish it.

I have run up against a wall. Call it relevance. Or maybe timeliness. During this period which we find ourselves collectively in, I just find it hard to justify writing about something like a particular wine when there are so many more things swirling above us, this amplitude.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I really didn?t want to do this, not now, not when we are standing on a precipice. But it is exactly for that reason. I dig into my old world, and while wine is getting better, wine blogging (or writing, if in long form) seems to have regressed.

Oh, it isn?t for lack of trying. I still run down the pieces, daily. But I am reading less and enjoying it more. In short, even though many of us observe (and state) that we are in a golden age of wine, writing about it doesn?t shine as bright. This whole adulation thing is a pinata that needs a well-swung bat. Coronavirus pulverized it for me.

This is not a bad thing, personally. It was like an addiction. I kept looking for inspiration externally. Think about it, inspira from externa, it?s a dichotomy, and contrary to the laws of nature.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I say this with no intention whatsoever of throwing shade on folks out there who are trying to make a living by writing (or blogging, Heaven forbid) about wine. It?s just these past six months have pulled us all back, away from the breakneck speed of societal interaction to the extent that things once thought of as in need of immediate attention have been shelved and now just sit on a list somewhere behind other things which have reprioritized our daily existence.

And that is really the reason that wine article sits still on my desktop.

Two years ago, on this site, I wrote, ?We pursue mastery and expertise but we often pass over simple pleasures which balances it out.?

Which brings me back to that word ? amplitude. Rather than the world ad partem, which, with all its waving and shouting and immediacy and importance consequent to our social fabric (and health), I?ve been inward bound. Part of it comes with the age, with the inevitable invisibilit? that accompanies this singular adventure of being hominum in terra. Amplitude has filled my little island with more inbound duties, and they have become more immediate and more meaningful than writing a 400-word piece on the latest DOCG candidate from Italy. Again, with not a scintilla of denigration for those, ab insula, who are still necessarily or willingly engaged in the game, swinging their bats.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I know this might sound like someone waving the white flag. It isn?t. It?s the way the wind blows - the trees, the birds, the creatures, all the little things needing to be harvested right now. I cannot think about another ros? wine when the clamant multitude on the island calls for my hand.

If there is any solace in the isolation that many of us seem to be having right now, whether we shun it or thrive in it, it is in knowing you are out there too. I know you are in the Tuscan countryside grappling with these issues. And in New York City as well. I know you?re wrestling with it in the Pacific Northwest, among all the fires and smoke and societal upheaval. And I know you are wondering what turn your young (and old) life is going to take. You might be asking yourself about now, ?When can I go back to law school?? Or you might be wondering what you are going to have for dinner tonight, somewhere in Verona, or Rome or Torino, or some fabulous coastal town on the Tuscan Maremma. I feel you preparing for the shorter days in Vedb?k. You might be in Sonoma, hoping that you can reignite your retirement life (or your career). Or you might be in Troy, New York, with what?s left of your summer peppers and tomatoes.

Wherever you are, on your own little island for now, I feel you and your amplitude. But for now, I must feel it in the passing of the breeze, or the passage of the sun as it travels across my enclave.

On the Wine Trail in Italy


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[09/20/2020, 17:37] I waited for you at the train station, but you never showed up. So, I guess I?ll go to Tuscany without you.
On the Wine Trail in Italy
It was a long shot, for sure. We had casually talked about meeting in Rome and taking the train to Tuscany. It was over a couple of bottles of wine. And then we stayed up late. And then? Do you remember? I think I do, but it could have just been a dream besotted by too much Frascati. If it was a dream, it was lovely. If it wasn?t, why aren?t you here?

The folly of youth. Of hope. Of expectation. And the letdown. It was a pattern for much of my 20?s. Probably much longer. But all those years now melt into one passage of juvenescence. And when it comes to Italy, it?s tinged with a romanticism that either wasn?t there in the first place, or if it was, it was only in my imagination. Now, in 2020, those fanciful anticipations have been rendered inappurtenant by larger forces of destiny. We?re in a social hurricane and firestorm the likes of which we have no idea when it will die down. So, we barrel down and go in, deeper inside. Where it is cool and dark, yet still filled with light and hope. The hope of innocent youth as re-imagined in this timeworn biped vessel.


On the Wine Trail in Italy

Eventually, I took the train, alone, from Rome to Cecina and then the bus to Volterra, where an artist friend of the family lived. He had a guest room above the garage, and it was mine, if I wanted it, for a week. I would have loved to have spent it with my amber-haired Frascati-loving friend. But then, as now, there?s no looking back. And in fact (if there can anymore be such things as facts) within this quixotic meandering I reckoned there would be other lovers, of wine.

I love the slow train from Rome to Cecina. And in mid-September it was not too densely packed, as it can be in the height of the summer vacation period. Now, it was pensioners and country folk who were heading home, back to their quiet life in the country.

Why did they go to Rome? Perhaps it was to visit an adult child who lives and works in the city. Maybe to visit a sibling. Or maybe to shop for things one can rarely find in the little towns that dot the coastline. Rome has a particular meaning for as many people as go there. Aside from the touristic and gross commercial depictions of the city, there are things one can only find in Rome. Like my sirenic amber-haired Frascati-loving night owl.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

One can as easily roam the streets of Volterra as in any other place. And in the late summer, it?s almost empty. The work in the field, bringing in the grapes and other agricultural commodities. The aroma of roasted corn in the open-air kiosk near the town square. The slight perfume of fermenting grapes, wafting all across Italy this time of the year. It?s almost like being in love.

It?s a funny thing, autumn. It is the season of gathering, of harvesting, of storing and preparing for the leaner winter months. But for one in the autumn of their years, it?s like a second spring. It?s gathering of freshness, of vigor, of spirit. It?s a time to reclaim a corner of one?s youthfulness, to store it for the oncoming squall of senectitude. Thankfully, and with a little luck, with a full quiver of robust Tuscan red, some roasted chestnuts, a good loaf of crusty bread and some semi-stagionato Pecorino Toscano.

If it was a dream, I intend to bring it to fruition. I haven?t waited all these years, only to jump off the train before my final destination. I?m not dead yet, even though those forces of destiny seem to have it out for us lately. I'll doubtlessly see you there.

On the Wine Trail in Italy


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[09/13/2020, 23:15] A letter, found in an abandoned home, next to a stream of unconscious and constant agitation
[Editor's note: this letter was unsigned inside an envelope on the desk of the empty home. It could be the letter was written by the owner of the home. But we have no idea who lived there as all records disappeared after the Great American Passage in 2021.]

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Dear Italy,

What I am about to write to you might not be welcome. After all, I am merely an imperfect American. And we all know now that Americans are finally being leveled by their own foolish acts after all these years. Finally, the chickens have come home to roost.

And that is what I am writing about to you today ? home. Yours. And ours. Let?s start with yours.


On the Wine Trail in Italy

You all spent three months in isolation, through the late winter and all through the spring. I know how hard it must have been to isolate in your room, your apartment, your chalet, your villa or your castello. You live to be with the others. And this confinement must have made you anxious for the outside world.

And so, as summer approached and as your country started lifting the restraints upon your personal freedom, seeing as the collective good was deemed to be no longer in jeopardy, you went out in the world.

Well, you couldn?t go to Thailand or New York, Singapore or Copenhagen, not so easily. But you still had Italy. And you went about country, making up for lost time.

And we all saw it in glorious color. The elaborate foods, the wonderful restaurants. Posing with the chef, sans masks. You were all so very daring. But not really. You believed you had conquered the coronavirus. Italy won in record time and had vanquished the interloper.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

You took to the beaches and became as bronze as Zeus. You took to the sea and commanded the waves like Poseidon. You hiked in your mountains and became as Artemis. Because you are young and have been young all your life. As are the gods. And both immortal, as you like to believe.

But now summer is over. Coronavirus did not take the summer off. It took to the air and came to America. Here, in the realm of magical thinking, where no virus can ever conquer one?s thoughts or hopes or fears or ignorance. And here it had a field day. ?Like shooting fish in a barrel,? one overheard one of the coronae saying to another at a crowded bar. ?Another round for the house,? the other one said, and they laughed like the god Hades. And they moved down the street to another bar, and another bar, until the bars closed for the night.

And so it went. And so it still goes. America can look back to that first spring as the ?golden days? of the coronavirus. And as the days get shorter, and the weather gets colder, and the leaves begin to fall from the trees, the work here is just getting started. There are plenty more fish in the bucket.

Meanwhile, back in Italy, you are looking to your vines, and picking the grapes. Now the pictures on your social media feed will curate clusters of ripe grapes, and bladder presses and cute little videos of fresh grape juice waiting to metamorphose into wine. And in 9 months you will put pictures of glasses and bottles of the fresh ros? on your Instagram feed, along with your perfectly arranged plates of grilled calamari. And those of us watching from our 7th circle in Hell will wish we had found the cure, like you showed us you had. And we will once again be a little jealous of your freedom and your innocence and your youth and your resilience, #LivingYourBestLife, right in front of all of us ? suckers and losers ? Americanos. At least, those of you who survived the winter and the resurgence and the virus that knows nothing of miraculous ratiocination and social media and posts and stories and reels and likes and more likes.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

And one of you will write to me, asking me why I am so angry, why cannot I just let you enjoy your life and your country and your home (or homes). And I will not say anything more, because, I will still be home, waiting for the storm to pass. This home, which is on this giant ship of fools, flinging itself across space at speeds unimaginable.

But if you have found this letter, chances are I have not made it through the winter and am now ambling about in some bardo looking for the door out. And you will have been right, for you are still alive and reading this, and I am no longer.

And who now, will drink your wine?

On the Wine Trail in Italy



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[09/06/2020, 17:44] Dismantling the First Mountain
On the Wine Trail in Italy
The life of a career. It?s a curious ascent. One spends so much energy in getting to the top of the mountain. To be the best. Number one. To master your craft. And to represent all that you stand (and climb) for the best that you can. To spend years climbing to the peak. To sacrifice any number of things, material and personal, in order to behold the sunrise at the summit. And then?


Then is now. How does the song go, ?First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is?? Well, I?m in the wind up of ?then there is no mountain? stage. That first mountain has become an obstacle, and it must go.

And along with it, a lot of the habiliments that accompany it.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I?ve said many goodbyes to people and things during this moment of exile and self-examination. Just like in the garden, when a summer plant cannot live in the colder months, so it must be cleared out. Mind you, it isn?t just me doing it. It?s also being done to me. I?m no longer producing fruit, so I must not take up space in the garden. I?ve had my day; I?ve delivered my harvest. Now, it is on to the next mountain.

Does it mean I?m no longer a knight of the vine, or whatever it is they will now call it? Frankly, I don?t care. I spent 40 years doing what I did on those slopes. 40 harvests. Millions and millions of bottles of Italian wine. But the cycle doesn?t stop because someone gets off the merry-go-round. It needs to keep on spinning. But with younger energy. So it goes.

Years ago, I took apart a small building the owner of the property wanted to develop it into something else, and he gave me a couple of months to salvage the materials. You can learn a lot about building something by taking it apart. And I did. I took those materials and built a workshop and started a business.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
So, I?m not thinking, necessarily, about blowing the mountain up. There are a lot of good bits in that first mountain. Maybe not for making a second one. Maybe just for the mindfulness one was given on that mountain, to know that even when it has been leveled, the climb isn?t over, not quite yet. But the shroud of unknowingness around the second one is lingering, like the fog one sees in Piedmont, around this time of the year, in those hills where the Nebbiolo and Barbera are coming into ripeness.

It?s funny, I wander around the screen before me and watch all the drama of those still climbing their first mountain. I did it too, so I cannot fault them or criticize them. They feel the urge to ascend and achieve. I understand. I?m just not there, anymore. I?m occupied with unveiling the shroud from before me, here on my new base camp, in this dawn of a new ascent.

On the Wine Trail in Italy





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[08/30/2020, 14:34] Everyone?s gone to the moon (or ?We?re here and they?re not?)

On the Wine Trail in Italy
As we beat the month of August, once more, to death, September howls like a newborn that was cast away into a dumpster. No one hears her little cries to a universe unprepared and unattended. For Italy, as for much of the world, has been abandoned.

How many times can one walk the beach between Alcamo Marina and Castellammare del Golfo in the shortened summer days of September and feel any of the hope one felt in May or June, when the Linden trees were in bloom on the Adriatic? Now, in New York City, at Fifth Avenue and 54th Street, at noon, an eerie and similar scene mirrors Sicily. An unattended world. Where has everyone gone?


To the solitary traveler, it isn?t anything new. All the years I?ve wandered the earth, whether in Italy or in America, I never felt isolated as much as liberated. To crawl up the grimy streets of Pozzuoli, with the raw balm of anchovies and lemon, the baked focaccia streaming the aroma out into the streets, mingling with the smoke of a Nazionale offering up base notes. Where is everyone? (nearby, a Greek Chorus refrains, ?We?re here and they?re not.?)

On the Wine Trail in Italy

From a window above the little shop, where the merchant in rolling down the door for his afternoon nap, above him a woman calls, ?Ma cche staje faccen'? O ppane?? Ah, so, once again the furast?re is sleepless, roaming the streets like a scugnizzo. Once again, "nun sacc? niente."

And once again, many of us now are wandering, roaming the streets at all hours of the day and night. But everyone on a street in their own little world. We?ve masked up and in doing so, it seems like we?ve found a secret door into another universe. And like Rome on August 15th at 1 PM, where is everyone?

It?s an odd thing, to be strolling around an abandoned Italy in September, when just a few weeks before, typically, it would be teeming with bodies. Children running where the sand meets the sea. Pensioners, sitting under an umbrella sipping on a gassosa or a cedrata. Music playing from a number of things, phones, Bluetooth speakers, cars, overhead PA systems. Songs, cries, pleas, whispers. Humanity buzzing about. But not now, not in September. Not in 2020. Now, everyone?s gone to the moon.

On the Wine Trail in Italy





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[08/23/2020, 17:39]  Italy, a beacon for continuity in the realm of magical thinking
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Yesterday a young friend called me from Italy. Not just anywhere in Italy, but one of my favorite places in Italy ? San Benedetto del Tronto ? on the Adriatic coastline. And not just anywhere in San Benedetto del Tronto, but from the bar at the Excelsior Hotel. And there he was with a dear old, friend, Piero, the bar manager. He was alive. He was well. And he was reflecting the sunny life of summer in Italy. It made my day.


On the Wine Trail in Italy
Actually, it shook me to my core. I was elated to see and talk to Piero. I didn?t know if he would still be working, he?s almost the same age as Anthony Fauci. But he was like a constant beacon, a lighthouse, just like I?ve always known him. It was a thread of continuity that reinforced my faith in enduring things.

It was as if all the changes we have seen recently were vanquished to a bubble of memory and sent to a room, to hover all by itself, alone. It would be fitting, seeing as that is much of what many of us have been doing. But the moment in which I saw something familiar, and dear, brought me back to a life of hope.

I haven?t been to Italy in a year and a half. All those plans to go were put on hold, while this storm crashes and keeps crashing upon our shores. I see Italy, if not in reality, at least pretending that things were getting back to normal. The bar at the Excelsior, where one could get a good coffee. Where one could have a chat with a friend, who has seen it all, behind his bar, as the world came to him.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I played along. I pretended. After the call, I ?went? back up to my hotel room and put on my walking shoes. And headed out the door, straight to the Lungomare and turned left. I walked to the center of town, to the square, where the Hotel Calabrese sits. Where children were playing. Where youths were engaged in a tennis match. Where a pair of aged men were playing checkers, while the breeze off the sea lilted through the palms, and the full tufts of white hair of the elders. It was a beautiful afternoon, and it was aperitivo time.

So, I strolled to our favorite bar nearby the Florian, and had a glass of water, with a dash of Anisette, made nearby, and a slice of orange. And sat outside and watched the passage of time. Nearby young women were staring at the newly arrived shoes in the window of the boutique. And across the street, the bookstore, long gone, but still there in my memory, announced the latest novel by Elena Ferrante.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
One of my local friends stopped by and said hello. He was on his way to the Caff? Sciarra, his favorite. ?Yes, yes, we?ll stop by after dinner and have a gelato or a cognachino with you all, by all means.? I knew that would be hours from now, so I bided my time sitting here, enjoying the continuity of a life I only get to touch occasionally.

But it all seems so much more real to me than this world we are living in now. Oh, not to worry, I?m not going to fool myself into some kind of magical thinking. I?m just taking a break from the harsh reality, an aperitivo della fantasia.

Meanwhile dinner time is approaching. Let?s see, what to eat and drink? It?s warm here on the coast in August, and this is a pasta and seafaring dominant food destination.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Let?s start with the traditional appetizer, Olive Ascolane, with a nice Pecorino wine from the region, the Ciprea from Simone Capecci. Ciprea is a full-bodied white, almost with the weight of a red. The wine sees no oak, only stainless steel and long ageing on the lees. What was once an obscure wine is now a DOCG (Offida).

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Let?s also have some olive ascolane and squash wrapped shrimp. Maybe a plate of calamari, some grilled gambero and langosto, and some baby clams. As well, a bottle of Trebbiano d?Abruzzo, for Gambero old times sake. Maybe something fancy. Why not? The asteroid is heading our way, supposed to be here November 3rd, what are we saving it for?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

On the Wine Trail in Italy

On the Wine Trail in Italy
On the Wine Trail in Italy
I know we?re in the Marche region, and most people never even get to Marche, or their neighbor, Abruzzo. Their loss. Our gain, for those of us who pilgrimage there more than the occasional wine junket. Great weather, fabulous food, reasonably priced, great beaches (which means great seafood) and therein provides the attraction for a crisp clean white like Trebbiano. And Abruzzo is the omphalos for this wine. Trebbiano soothed many a sunburn, assuaged many a plate of mezze manche with tiny clams and helped expedite the finishing off a plate of grilled langosto.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Speaking of pasta, I?m in the mood for something spicy. Abruzzo has long had a tradition of deeper colored ros?s. The spicy arrabbiata pasta I?m thinking of having infused in me a love for Cerasuolo d? Abruzzo. Made from the Montepulciano grape, this is a good fix for folks who love fruit-driven red wines that are spicy but who want to power down from the big red when the weather is warm. Again, not so fashionable in the world of marketing, where the anemically pale Provence style of ros? is currently de rigueur. But one would never know that on the Adriatic coastal towns, where Cerasuolo flies off the tables, and where we like our ros? wines, like our summer bodies, well-tanned.

Is there anything more we can eat? Well, we have one more wine to drink, another white, so something must show up, if only a nice clean, simple plate of grilled fish with olive oil and lemon.
On the Wine Trail in Italy

On the Wine Trail in Italy
How about a bottle of Verdicchio from Matelica, from La Monacesca? Maybe something with a little age on it, when it gets a (secondary) toasted coffee bean aroma and nutty flavor? I?m all in.

Look, I cannot travel like friends Ian or Roger, or decamp to my Tuscan hideaway like my Texas friend (who will not be named). I?m completely at the mercy of my magical thinking at this point. What, I should follow the upcoming political party convention instead? I ?d rather weekend in Guantanamo.

Before this fantasy ends, though, we must find my way to Caff? Sciarra, for a nightcap of an aromatic grappa and a cone of pistachio gelato, to gird us for the walk back to the hotel. It?s almost midnight, the dance music is bleating in the little piazza in front of the caff?. The revelers would be going at it until 2021, if they could. I have about 45 minutes left in my tank.

Continuity. The compost of memory. It keeps the good vibrations fertilized and ready for the next season. Maybe like Piero, always there, always a comforting constant, maybe we can just pretend some things will never end, while we wait for this scourge we currently find ourselves held hostage in, to finally cease.

On the Wine Trail in Italy




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[08/16/2020, 18:31] A most unusual Ferragosto
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Ever since I have been decamping to Italy, almost 50 years now, the middle of August (Ferragosto) signaled a time to recharge, rest, play, sun, eat, drink and love. I cannot remember a time in my life when that cycle has been interrupted for so many Italians, and really, anyone who is in Italy in this moment. 2020 - It has been a most unusual Ferragosto.


On the Wine Trail in Italy
From what I am reading and seeing from my Italian friends, it?s a mixed bag. The young ones seemingly are unphased over the virus, and if they are economically advantaged, they are enjoying a moment of rare privilege. The older adults in my feed tell a different story. They are exhibiting a more sedate moment in time. After all, 35,000 of their countrymen and women died this year from the virus. It certainly is not anything to celebrate over a bottle of growers Champagne and beluga caviar.

It is as if Italy, and by extension, the western world is split. Many have hunkered down, and are still laying low. It isn?t as if anyone has found a cure. And it isn?t like the virus has magically disappeared.

There are, however, a surplus of folks employing magical thinking about the world they live in. But is that really anything new? Haven?t there always been scores of humans who live in a world of their own facts and fantasies, often with rarely a distinction between the two?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Meanwhile, the grapes are growing. Harvest is coming. And the summer of 2020 will soon fade into the past.

I am not someone who lives in fear of the future. I am hopeful it will be better, but I cannot simply will it to be so by wishing it so. My Italian friends who have vineyards, though, must prepare for harvest, even if the virus is resurgent. Even if there are fewer workers to pick the grapes. And even if the demand for wine in the near future might not be so great. That?s a farmer?s fate.

What will the wines of 2020 be thought of, say, in 2040, or 2060? I won?t be around to find out. And even if I make it to 2040, I will still have wine enough from the 1990?s and the early 2000?s to supply any need for wine. So, once again, I am an observer. As we all are right about now.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
What would I like the wines of 2020 to be remembered as? Well, for one, as having been made, first and foremost. Look, 2002 and 2003 were very challenging years. But we made it through them, and the wines that were made, managed to give pleasure to some. Not great, in general, but the show went on.

And in 2020, the show must go on, too. I look forward to Verdicchio, Trebbiano, Soave, Vernaccia. And Pelaverga, Arneis, Barbera, Montepulciano. These, and others, we will be able to dip in and try relatively soon. Maybe even before we find a total solution to this worldwide scourge.

If not, we might have to crash the Ferragosto 2021 party of the young and the privileged, and help them drink all their fancy wine and food that they have so carefully curated, as they are #LivingTheirBestLife somewhere, on a secluded, and, most likely, exquisite island.

On the Wine Trail in Italy


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