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Mondo Di Vino
Mondo Di Vino

[04/08/2019, 14:05] How tall is your mountain? How important are you? How do you rank?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Life, after years of work and a "career," is an unknown until you get there. Just like life after school, or life after an eventful course of certification. For many of us, we just don?t know what lies ahead in our future heres and nows. What I do know, here and now, is that mountain climb we call a career is just that, ?a? mountain climb. Not all mountains. Just one. Maybe a tall one, maybe not the tallest. And not the only mountain on earth.

When I first went to Italy, I had this idealistic notion that all the people in Italy were kind, generous, loving people. How could it not be? Here I was in the land of my ancestors, walking the streets and alleys of Rome, everything so bestowed towards my Utopian vision of Italy and Italians. With a war waging in Vietnam, and a low lottery number (90) and being all of 20, I wanted a world in which there was peace and happiness. And time.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
And there I was, one day, walking in the hills above Rome on the Viale del Museo Borghese, when I saw a car screech to a halt, a man get out of the car, pull a woman out and start beating on her. She screamed bloody murder and I?d like to say people came out in droves to rescue her. But no one did. It all happened so fast. Like he was getting out of the car to pee. He threw her back into the car, tires squealing, and tore off. It took maybe 15 seconds.

I was petrified. I remember my parents having arguments almost like that, and as a young child, I would eventually run out of the house and head into the desert, far away from their yelling and anger.

But this was Italy, my precious vision of peace and harmony shattered, just like that. So, it wasn?t Utopia?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Years later I went to my first Vinitaly, the 17th (we are now in the 53rd year). I was full-on with a career in the wine business. Again, I was exhilarated with the notion that everyone who was anyone in the world of Italian wine was here. And so was I. I was part of this great thing, which in my head I had built up, as most of us do, with the full force of the illusions we splay about with our careers, over how important we are, the job is, it all is. And in the presence of Piero Antinori and Angelo Gaja, and Luigi Veronelli and, and, and.

Twenty or so years after that, I was dug in on base camp of that mountain. I had made it so far, but I had to take the summit. And I spent hour after hour chasing the sun and the moon. My identity was all tied up in being the Italian wine guy. And the company I worked for was powerful and bought a lot of Italian wine. I calculated that for every case of Italian wine that came into America, the company I worked for (and the category which I was accountable for growing and looking after) imported and sold one bottle in every of those cases, about 8%. It would eventually grow to somewhere around 12-15%. This was a very tall mountain.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Along the way, I spent three years caring for my wife who had a debilitating disease of the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis. It killed her. And it threw me into a valley. And the only way out of that valley was through a tiny little tunnel, which I had to crawl through on my hands and feet. Slowly, slowly, one day at a time. For years. The tall mountain was of little concern to me at that time.

As I wrote here in 2011, ?There is luck, good and bad, but there is resilience. Resilience is good luck combined with a spirit to overcome the disappointments life hands you.? Yeah, I had some bad breaks, not as bad as my wife, for sure. But I was going to climb that mountain, if it was the last thing I did.

And I did. And along with it, success, recognition, accolades, awards, even a trophy.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
But once I got there, I decided not to climb down the mountain. I jumped off of it. The words of Richard Alpert (now Ram Dass) emblazoned upon my windscreen as I fell to earth, "I was no longer needing to be special because I was no longer so caught in my puny separateness that had to keep proving I was something. I was part of the universe, like a tree is, or like grass is, or like water is." Ever the idealist, always searching for Utopia, be it an outer manifestation or an inner aspiration.

I?m really happy that the wine community in Italy is making wine better than they ever have. And I?m pleased that the world is responding, by obtaining, enjoying and promoting their vinous joy in ways that the rest of us can see and feel and hear, 24/7. It?s like watching millions of people climbing their very own mountain, all at the same time. It?s a moment in time which I?m sure the likes of Gaja and Antinori, and Veronelli, if he were still alive, revel in. It?s a victory. It?s a cause for celebration. It only took a couple of millennia. And the sweat and blood and dreams of scores of farmers, winemakers, and all the friends and families that supported that surge to their personal mountaintops.

If one could look at Italy from space and see the emotion of time as manifested in the hard work that all these souls have put into making Italian wine great, it would probably be ten times taller than Mt. Everest. I have no doubt. And we are all here to witness this great success.
On the Wine Trail in Italy

As far those of us who fell to earth? Well, it?s not so bad. I mean, look at all the wonderful wine we have to enjoy now? And if one is healthy, there is that great gift. If one misses a seminar here or there, a tasting here or there, or a not-to-be-missed event here or there, so be it. It?s somewhere on someone?s journey to their mountain top. I?ve been there, had those longings, those unstoppable goals that I thought were so very important at the time.

But I?m on another journey now, to another mountain. I?m not sure if there is a mountain top or even if there is, if I?ll get there. I?m fine with that, for when I fell to earth, something inside of me broke open. It was like being born again, except I didn?t have to learn how to walk or talk. The child inside me, and the childhood I left behind as an adult, broke open. And along with it, creativity, and fun and time, or what is left of that time. I?m really excited, I have to tell you all. I never imagined all the things I thought were so important could be supplanted with a deeper sense of direction, a journey that will take me to God knows where. What I do know is this: I don?t have that insatiable drive for success, for recognition, for some kind of elite ranking in the world of wine. Or even another mountain top. The folks at base camp can have at it now. I?m good, right where I am.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[03/31/2019, 15:00] Where is the epicenter of the wine world today?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
In these moments, social media sites are ablaze with folks making their yearly pilgrimages to wine fairs. A few weeks ago, it was to Germany and Prowein. Right now, the faithful are walking from shrine to shrine in Bordeaux for Primeurs 2018. I?ve done it a handful of times, it?s a great event. And in a week, over in Italy, the 53rd Vinitaly will commence. All three of these events in the Western World, could easily qualify as being in the epicenter of the wine world today. If you are fortunate enough to attend one or all of them, consider yourself one of the lucky few. And if you are not there but you are right here, staring at the screen, as I am, right now, that?s the new epicenter. And that is perfectly fine by me.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

I made the Vinitaly trek last year, after I had ?retired? from a career in commercial side of the wine business. It was a lovely experience to just walk the halls, visit old friends and taste some new wines. I?m sure I?ll go back again someday (not this year) and if I do, I?ll be happy to do so. For it truly is a gathering of most of the wine energy of Italy, which is considerable.

But I can also travel right here, right now. I am finding that my world, especially the center of it, is best viewed from a calm, quite place. Maybe that?s the introvert in me. Maybe it?s the years telling me that it?s been great and now this time is for reflection, for intention and for looking at the bigger picture from the perspective of my many experiences in the wine world.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Last week, in my home town, in Dallas Texas (the lower-midsection of flyover country) I tasted wine from Greece (along with an amazing 2 hour ?master class? from Ted Diamantis). I spent an hour with two young wine makers from Washington state. I ran into an importer and his new property from the Maremma and tasted through those new and exciting wines. I went to a medium sized distributor?s Spring showcase and tasted wines from Italy, France, Texas, California, South Africa, Australia and Oregon. And dropped in on a pop-up tasting of Luca Currado's lastest wines from his Vietti winery. Not to mention the many wines I opened, to taste for upcoming articles. And topped it off on Saturday night at an Italian spot with friends enjoying lovely bottles of Lugana and Nebbiolo. I may not be in anybody?s epicenter but my own, but from where I sit, I?m not complaining. And I like to think that many of us now have that rolling, flexible nucleus that the wine world has become in the last generation or two.

Chenin Blanc from Lodi with an arugula Caesar? Surf?s up! Cru Beaujolais with my chicken sausage lasagna? Tout ? fait. Sparkling Xinomavro ros? with fig and prosciutto pizza? ????????? ????. Barbera D?Asti with Guac-toast? Volentieri! We wanted the world and we wanted it now ? well, we got it. And anybody with their eyes open have got to see, that even with all the bad stuff happening all around us all the time, you?ve got to be grateful for the moment we live in to have the access and the opportunity to enjoy a life in wine ? because there are 6 ? billion souls on earth who are just trying to get through the day, and many without clean water, a dry place to sleep and a world in which they don?t fear getting raped, assaulted or exploited for the gain of others. While for many souls their life is a climb up their personal Scala Sancta, those fortunate to be in the right place and the right time are, as I?ve said a million times, living in a Golden Age.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

So, if you cannot be in Bordeaux this week, or Italy next week, or Germany last month, or Tianjin in the Fall, or anywhere else where you might think the center of things are, just take a moment and step away from the screen and look out your window. You are in the center of your universe. You are on the mountaintop of your world. As we all are. Please enjoy the moment, the wine and the people who are right in front of you. And it will make your wine even more delicious, make you a better taster and honor the farmers and winemakers who toiled to bring that glass of wine sitting in front of you all those thousands of miles and years to you for this moment ? right here, right now.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[03/25/2019, 04:59] Carema - ?Strong and Likeable as the Sun and the Stone?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Image courtesy of Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo Di Carema
Imagine families, perched precariously on the side of a mountain, working the land, generation after generation, tending their vines, to make a wine from their grapes. And imagine, on the other side of the planet, nary a person knows about the many souls who have poured out their life?s effort, their heart and soul, for a wine that is virtually unknown. This is one of the existential problems facing the winegrowers and winemakers in northern Italy who make the wine from Nebbiolo grapes called Carema.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Ian D'Agata and Roberto Ferrando
It isn?t unique to them either. When I was last in Italy for Ian D?Agata?s Gastronomix, we were days in full immersion over the wines of Grignolino, Erbaluce and Ruch?, among others. But as I scan my local wine shops, I?m not finding much of these wines. Why? Aren?t they quintessentially Instagrammable? Maybe they aren?t Unicorn wines? But they are at the very least, Pegasus wines? Or Griffins? Or maybe they are just garden variety goblins. Or gnomes. However, they have come to be overlooked in the vast badlands of Middle America, the truth is that those families clinging to their hillsides aren?t going to stop making Carema just because the heartland is unsuspecting of these gems. That just makes more for those of us with our high beams on.

Here are some basic numbers relating to Carema (with data from Italian Wine Central):
  • 1967 ? The year Carema became a DOC.
  • 35 ? Acres under vine (as of 2015).
  • 3.410 ? Cases produced (as of 2016).
  • 2 ? Main producers - Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema and Ferrando Vitivinicola.
  • 4 ? The amount of potential additional producers.
  • 0.5 ? The average landholder size in acres.
  • 55 ? The average age of the vineyard owner.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Image courtesy of Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo Di Carema
So little wine, so few producers, why should we care? I don?t know. Why should we care about Menetou-Salon in France or any other obscure vineyard area? The short answer is: You don?t have to. But someone needs to give a care about Carema. And I?m glad if you wish to join our coterie of Carema devotees.

What can you expect to find in Carema that you cannot already have in Barolo, in Barbaresco, in Gattinara? Ideally, one wouldn?t make the comparison, anymore than one would weigh a Gevrey-Chambertin against a Volnay. Oh, but we are only human, so comparisons are wired in our chattering little monkey brains. So, go ahead and submit to another exercise of compulsion.

Not to take away from anything my dear friends do in Barolo and Barbaresco, let?s just consider the region in which Carema is placed. More akin to the Valle d?Aosta (or perhaps even the Haute-Savoie), this are mountainous high elevation wines, up to 2,000 feet. The Nebbiolo bio-type is 308 Picotener, which is better suited to Carema than Barolo. In Carema it makes a light colored, highly perfumed wine.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Roberto Ferrando - Image courtesy of Ferrando Vini
If you can find the wines in America one first must give thanks to Neal Rosenthal, who early on, forged a deep relationship with Luigi Ferrando, and fiercely listed the wines next to his Burgundy finds. While every sommelier on the search for the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir has endlessly stuck their nose in every nook and cranny of the C?te de Nuits and C?te de Beaune, Carema was the forgotten child by that crowd. Not to Neal. And those of us for which Italy is not an also-ran. ?Strong and likeable as the sun and the stone,? Mario Soldati once wrote.

With only 35 acres of vineyard planted to the appellation, that?s less than half of the space that the Dallas Cowboy stadium takes up. And with only 3,410 cases produced, that?s just a little more than a 10-ounce beer for every game-goer in that often filled-to-capacity arena. It?s not a lot of wine. But with under 80 winegrowers, that?s a village of families that rely on this agricultural product, generation upon generation. And with the average age of the vineyard owner being 55 (with many well beyond that age) can you see these could be endangered goods.

When you are delving off into the world of esoterica, whether it be old-vine Carignane from Contra Costa County or Ramisco from Colares, think about Carema. Here today ? who knows where it?ll all be in 20 years?

Oh, and the inevitable tasting notes from the Gastronomix Mini-Master Class.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

2015 Carema Classico ? Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema ? this is the ?entry level? wine, in a black label (their Riserva comes in a white label) - Tar (which according to Ian, one does not find in young Nebbiolo) ? powerful ? lovely perfumed light color, beautiful balance (note to self: Get Some).

2014 Carema Ferrando Etichetta Bianca ? this is the ?entry level? wine of Ferrando, the white label (their Riserva comes in a black label) ? Richly perfumed, cherry, nice fruit, dry, no discernible tannins.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

These are not wines to search out because they are better values than their Barolo or Barbaresco counterparts. In fact, they are often priced higher. But the figures are what they are. You are either in or you aren?t.

As for myself, I think I can find a little more wiggle room in my wine closet for a few more bottles of wine. And why shouldn?t it be Carema?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Image courtesy of Cantina Produttori Nebbiolo Di Carema

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[03/17/2019, 18:54] Grignolino and its Indomitable Illuminance on Individuality
On the Wine Trail in Italy
?Do you want to know how good a winemaker in the Langhe or Monferrato is? Try their Grignolino. If it?s a good one, chances are their other wines will be as well.? Thus spoke The Maestro, at a recent gathering of chefs and writers at the food and wine workshop, Gastronomix, where we gathered in the Monferrato and Canavese areas of Piedmont.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
My first exposure to Grignolino was thousands of miles from northern Italy. In fact, it was in the Santa Clara valley of northern California where I went to college and tasted my first one, from a local winery there that had been established by Italian immigrants.

Years later, while working in the trade, I encounter upon and sold, Heitz wines. And their Grignolino (and Grignolino ros?), while different from their Italian counterparts, made me a fan. (There is some speculation concerning Heitz's Grignolino and if it is really Brachetto).

Gerald Asher wrote of Grignolino, that it can be ?drunk young with pleasure and old with delight.?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Veronelli felt the Grignolino from Alessandria was not suitable for ageing, whereas the one from the Asti area was a ?superior wine if properly aged.? He characterized Grignolino as ?anarchistic and individualistic.?

Patricia Guy wrote ?Grignolino is not an easy variety to work with, and the resulting wine usually has a tannin level that is at odds with its light color and body. The old-fashioned wine it yields was much appreciated back in the days when Piedmont was under the House of Savoy. Its acidity and structure were an ideal foil for the rich, buttery French-influenced foods of that period.?

In today?s climate, young palates are seeking out higher acidity and lighter color, having been weaned on the tannic monsters of Napa Valley. Grignolino is in a crossroads of time and mood, where a wine like it can be an attractive proposition. Like Aligot? is to the white grapes of Burgundy, Grignolino, for me, is a red wine that expresses a measure of Piemontese-ness that is different than Barolo or Barbaresco. And it can be drunk young and is within the reach of most people?s budgets. It is enormously flexible with regards to all the varied comestibles that grace our dining tables. It goes well with the classic Italian dishes from the era, as well as dovetailing easily into other food cultures: Mesoamerican, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, regional American. Grignolino with a hot steaming plate of Nashville hot chicken is alluring and practical. The cool, fruity light red with a backwash of acid and light tannins is more than enough to cleanse the palate for another wave of hot, greasy, delicious spicy chicken.
On the Wine Trail in Italy

Grignolino definitely has a place on my table. It?s just a matter of finding the well-made ones and drinking them in the right time.

My go-to Grignolino, here in flyover country, is from Cantine dei Marchesi di Incisa della Rocchetta. It?s available, for one. And it?s usually under $20. And it?s fresh, not cooked in some large warehouse where it is lost between the massive stacks of Yellow Tail and Jack Daniels. The wine is correct, with healthy (but not overpowering) tannic structure, and great color and fruit to go with it.

Gaudio Bricco Mondalino Grignolino del Monferrato is another reliable one, provided you can find a current vintage, which right now would be the 2017, with the 2018 coming later this year. I go back many years with this wine and it is one of those wines that proves if you make Grignolino well, anything else you make will be well-made also. Lovely wines, classic style, in which I mean they are timeless.

At Gastromonix we also we tasted several notable examples:

2017 Grignolino D?Asti from Garrone Evasio & Figli ? Nice bitterness, good fruit and was slightly tannic. It paired up fabulously with vitello tonnato and fried anchovies.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
2017 Grignolino D?Asti ?lanfora? from Montalbera ? we enjoyed this wine over several nights during dinner, and I got to spend time with this wine with many kinds of foods. This wine gestates for 8-10 months in terracotta amphorae. An important producer (12% of all Grignolino D?Asti is produced from their vines) and this example tests the waters in the realm of natural wine. It?s a lovely and successful embark upon that restive sea. Using terracotta as an incubation vessel has been most serendipitous for this wine. It is a classic example, yet it proudly reflects, in the best way, Veronelli's portrayal of Grignolino as ?anarchistic and individualistic.?

Other producers of Grignolino to look for:
? Braida
? Crivelli
? Pio Cesare

On the Wine Trail in Italy

These are wines of individuality with moments of brilliance and a fierce independent streak. In this age of disruption, it?s a good time for Grignolino. Give one a try, soon.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[03/10/2019, 16:30] So you think you want to import Italian wine?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
While I have, more than once, addressed the challenges of selling one?s Italian wine to America, it seems I haven?t touched enough upon the complexities of importing Italian wine into America. Since I am no longer ?ITB? (in the business), I have gotten a barrage of emails from people looking to ?get into the business,? from both Italy and America. It?s probably time to go over some things in relation to the realities, in 2019, of pursuing that path.

First let me offer an anecdote. In the fall of 2008, I decided to buy a condo in Dallas, Texas, as a rental property. I was debt free, had some cash to invest in something, and the property I bought was in a very good zip code, one of the wealthiest in my town, and one of the top 50 zip codes in America. I bought a little on the high side, at the time, which was probably not a good omen. But It was still an affordable investment, and within the confines of my comfort zone with regards to the risk, even though Wall Street was melting down.

What I didn?t take into account was that folks who rent might be affected by the downturn and my rental property might be vacant for a time.

Well, my first renter got hit hard and within a year she bailed and moved back home. The place stood empty, and after several months and lowering the rent, I found some college students to lease it to.

They were fine enough, but college students are not stationary. So again, the place stood empty.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I ended up selling the place, and factoring in the initial cost (and improvements and repairs) on the place, not to mention the months it sat empty not collecting rent, I lost some dough. Enough in fact, that if I hadn?t bought the place and just taken the amount of money I eventually lost, I could have bought a fancy sports car (like a Porsche Cayman) driven it into the ground for two years, wrecked it and left it on the side of the road, and I would have been ahead of the game. I wouldn?t have had to take those 2AM wake-up calls about a stopped-up toilet or a kitchen sink that overflowed because the garbage disposal just couldn?t grind up raw Brussels sprouts. But I didn?t. And I learned a valuable lesson:
"Something from the outside can appear to be more glamorous and not as risky as it can be inside reality."

On the Wine Trail in Italy
This is merely to say, when folks go to Italy on a vacation, let?s say Puglia, and they spend their vacation in a leisurely manner, eating, drinking, making love, swimming, etcetera, their defenses have been lowered. Then they go to their little trattoria by the seaside and drink that lovely, inexpensive Chardonnay or Negroamaro rosato from the area, and someone says, ?We should import this to America, they?d love this!? It sounds simple enough, it sounds innocent enough. My answer to them, now, would be: ?Buy the Porsche!?

I?ve gone enough into the logistics on other blog posts, and if interested, please read them. What I will never be able to do will be to convince someone that the investment in importing Italian wine into America, in these times, is time-consuming and highly risky. And if you have ?The Dream,? far be it from me to rain on your parade. I will try, anyway.

But the competition will do that much more effectively. And it will be an expensive lesson. But, hey, you made your money, and like me, you can throw it in any direction that you?d like to. But know this: You are a minnow in a sea filled with sharks. They jump higher, their pockets are deeper, they know more about how we got here and they don?t like to lose. This isn?t TBall, hey it isn?t even softball. It?s sliders and spitballs. It?s a fastball heading at 97mph right to your head and you don?t have a helmet on - you are the target. So, know that.

When I was working for a large distributor, who recruited me to look after their Italian wine business, for every case of Italian wine that was imported, we accounted for 1 bottle in every 12-pack case that came into America. And that included everything from the low to the high. The business grew amazingly in the 14 years I looked at the business. This is not a brag. As the business consolidated, what I saw was that fewer and fewer players at the top grew to dominate the Italian wine landscape in America.
On the Wine Trail in Italy

You think you have an organic Pinot Grigio that Whole Foods is sitting there, waiting for you to bring to them? Think again. You?ve found a Chianti that Total Wine cannot live without? Don?t bet your life on it. You have found a Sicilian Grillo and Nero d?Avola that Kroger cannot say no to? If they aren?t returning your emails, don?t assume their silence means maybe. The big import companies struggle with these issues all the time. Like I said, you are a minnow in shark-infested waters. Don?t jump in the deep water if you cannot swim faster, deeper and longer. And most likely you cannot. Don?t even go there.

You?ve found a region, let?s say the Marche, where their business in Missouri is severely underrepresented. With all respect to my friends and colleagues in Missouri, have you tried to understand the why of that? I remember going into a restaurant, in Kansas City, owned by a large and famous group, who also make their own wine. What was I thinking trying to sell them a Verdicchio, let alone a Pinot Grigio or Prosecco or Chianti? But what the wine buyer showed me, chilled me even more than the lack of a selling opportunity. ?Look at that wall, Alfonso. I have four vintages of our proprietary Pinot Grigio stacking up. I have Sangiovese coming out of my pores. And I have more Prosecco than I will sell in six years, and in six years I will have accumulated six more vintages of the stuff. I?m drowning in wine I have to take, and it isn?t selling fast enough.? And that was Missouri.

Which, while we?re talking national accounts, let?s talk about the on-premise channel. First things first: You don?t sell wine to them ? you buy real estate. That?s right, if you want a slot on that list, it ain?t a butterfly. It?s not free. It?s going to come with a slotting fee. And you better have the wine in all 30-40-50 states, at the same price, and you better not run out in Austin on a Friday night. Because you will get a call from an angry restaurant manager threatening to pull your wines off (he can?t, not so easily, but he can phone up to his company and complain, complain, complain until the wine buyer in Tampa, or Newport Beach or Dallas gets sick of hearing about it and ?sources? another wine). And your hard work, and all the money you paid to get there is a memory.

Why this screed? Because I know, with Vinitaly (and Prowein) coming up, and with the better weather, people start getting out and about, the new vintages start being released, and all of a sudden there are innocent folks out there who might be tired of their job or who think this could be a good sideline to their paying gig. And I get emails, and have gotten them for 15+ years, thinking they?ve discovered something someone ?ITB? just hasn?t gotten around to discovering. But sadly, in most cases, they have. And it has either worked. Or in many cases, it hasn?t. Hey, don?t let me stop you. But don?t expect a lot of people waiting around for you to make a call to their office with your dream. They will crush your dream, as I am doing right here, right now. Except I?m trying to help you before you waste the time and the money. Just go buy the Porsche.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

And when you tire of driving it around, give me a call. I?ll make you a deal you can?t refuse.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
[03/03/2019, 15:05] Erbaluce, where have you been all my life?
On the Wine Trail in Italy
There?s nothing more enjoyable and illuminating than to rediscover a wine, a grape or a region as if I?d never had an iota of exposure to them. Such was the case with Erbaluce di Caluso from Piedmont last week while there for the food and wine workshop Gastronomix. It?s a spin-off of Collisioni, with Ian D?Agata directing the education.

I?d had some exposure to Erbaluce in my past life in the wine trade, but never went much deeper than dipping my toes in the lake. This was full immersion, with a real master class, taught by one with mastery of the subject, and over several days.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Tasting wine. Large tastings, where one goes from table to table, usually public events, where you stand and sip and spit, can be informative, and give one a quick view into a particular wine or region. But ultimately, for me it is an uncomfortable exercise. Its hard to dive in deep and really uncover the little nooks and crannies of a wine or a region.

That wasn?t a problem last month with Erbaluce. We came back to the wines, again and again, tasting them in groups of different producers. Enjoying them at lunch or dinner with food. Sitting among peers, discussing the wines. Going over the wines. That is what immersion is about. And at this stage of my life, I want that deeper encounter, that time exposure, to get inside a wine and find out why and how it became a staple and even an icon for the region in which it was born.
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Still - Dry

A light went off. Here was a wine that I had a little experience with. But I really didn?t know the wine. I?m not sure I can say I really ?know? the wine now. But I have a deeper insight into the nature of the wine and the character and the why of the wine. Why it grew up, matured and became an important part of the region in which it lives. And something the people who live there enjoy, over and over.

I experienced that when we first arrived to the area for the event. It was a Sunday and we took a walk from our hotel down the hill into the town, Ivrea, where we were staying. About a half mile down, we stopped for lunch. There was no sign on the front, but we saw people inside eating. It was simply called Ostaria Vino Cucina & Birra. I ordered a half liter of the house white. It was on tap, and slightly fizzy, what we once called frizzante.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Vitello Tonnato a la moderne
The wine was fresh, with good fruit, but in no way a sweet wine. It was dry. Bone dry. And it was the perfect wine to go with the simple seafood dishes we had. And isn?t that really the purpose of wine, ultimately? It set us up for a few days of Erbaluce immersion with Ian D?Agata, arguably the most informed Italian wine (and grape) expert in the world. In his ground-breaking tome, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Dr. D?Agata had this to say about Erbaluce:
?Though nobody will ever mistake a wine made with Erbaluce for a blockbuster, when well made these wines are a marvel of balance, with minerally, crisp white flower and fruit aromas and flavors combining hints of chlorophyll and apricots. It?s true that poor examples can be marred by eye watering acidity, but this same high natural acidity has given us sparkling wines in increasing numbers. Made either by refermentation in the bottle in the manner of Champagne or by the Charmat method like Prosecco, these can be marvelous wines, and are underrated in my view.?
On the Wine Trail in Italy

Erbaluce has a flexibility that one would be hard pressed to find in other grapes around the world. Awarded the DOC in 1967 (!) and DOCG in 2010. The base wine is still and dry. The metodo classico sparlking version rivals the Trentino and Lombardia sparklers, and the charmat style is in a world apart from Prosecco. And the air-dried, passito version, laden with botrytis, can be a life-changing occurrence. One can find these three styles from a singular grape in the Loire Valley, with Chenin Blanc and in the Marche, with Verdicchio. I?ve racked my brain to try and find other examples from grapes that produce a white wine (Chardonnay? Sauvignon Blanc? Carricante? Riesling? Garganega? Tokay?), but I?m still scratching my head. And under the same DOP! Erbaluce, where have you been all my life? Or at least, for the last 35 years?

So, I went off to my local wine stores, here in Dallas, Texas, starting with the Italo-centric Jimmy?s, which usually has everything Italian under the sun. One Erbaluce, but an aged one. Perhaps at one of the small wine stores, or maybe even one of the large chains, like Spec?s, I will find a newer one. But Erbaluce isn?t posing any impending existential threat to Prosecco, Pinot Grigio or Moscato. And that?s a bit of a shame.

The 3-tier opponents will offer up this dearth of Erbaluce to the dismal state of wine procurement in America. And perhaps there is a kernel of truth to this. After all, when Big Wine is stepping all over themselves to bottle their 16th iteration of Cabernet or Chardonnay, usually from the same tank, slapping a sleek and Instagrammably sheik label up for the influencers-for-hire, what chance does this meek, little grape have for expanding their base outside of Monferrato and Canavese?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
These are wines that sommeliers, retailers and Italian wine directors should take a plunge at. They are very drinkable and enjoyable, again and again (that which I can attest to). They are versatile, and they are varied in their flavor profiles to enjoy over different courses and seasons. Why isn?t America jumping on this wine? Maybe they are, in New York, L.A. San Francisco (for sure), Portland and Seattle. As for Middle-America, they?re barely a blip on a screen. And that?s really a damn shame.

Producers to be on the lookout for:
  • Cantina Coop. Caluso
  • Cantina Della Serra
  • Cantine Briamara
  • Cantine Corsio
  • Carlo Gnavi
  • Cellagrande
  • Cieck
  • Ferrando
  • Giacometto Bruno
  • Ilaria Salvetti
  • La Campore
  • La Masera
  • Orosia
  • Orsolani
  • Pozzo Elisa
  • Santa Clelia

Other links:
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Still - Passito (sweet)

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[02/25/2019, 00:43] My long history with Ruch
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Sometime around the late 1990?s I was working with an Italian importer and one of the owners brought up the subject of alternative red wines from Piedmont. We?d ventured into Barbaresco with La Ca? N?va, in Barolo with Cascina Bruni and Cordero di Montezemolo, and in Gavi with a wine from Roberto Bergaglio. As well, we had a steady producer of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Arneis and Freisa from Cascina Cheirello. But this new red wine, this Ruch?, from Crivelli, was a different beast.

Look, selling Italian wine in Texas was like selling Italian wine in Paris. There were a lot of hurdles to jump over. The first one was that nobody was looking for such a wine, this being a time before Instagram and ?influencers? of the trendiest and most esoteric wines from grapes that nobody had ever heard of. What I most often heard was, ?I haven?t gotten any calls for Ruch?, or whatever you call it.? Which translated as ?I?m not that curious or interested. Besides, did it get 90 points from Parker??

Thankfully these days are more enlightened, even if we have to contend with the instant expertise of social media wine mavens. And Ruch? has become an enduring, as well as an endearing, red wine from Piedmont, for myself, as well as many more wine lovers.

This past week I was in Italy for Collisioni and their food and wine offshoot, Gastronomix. Held in the Canavese and Monferrato area, clustering around Ivrea, Vercelli and Asti, we were guests of Ian D?Agata and Filippo Mobrici and their Collisioni team as well as the Consorzio Barbera D?Asti e Vini del Monferrato and Consorzio per la Tutela e la Valorizzazione dei Vini DOCG di Caluso e DOC di Carema e Canavese. The Italians love long titles. Somewhere in there Ruch? was part of the deal.

And a great refresher course it was for a wine I haven?t seem much of in these parts, flyover country USA.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
My entry point into Ruch? in the last century and millennium was via a small producer called Crivelli. Proprietor Marco Crivelli was (and still is) an eccentrically wonderful chap. I really think the air that circulates around his person is of another ilk than the rest of us. It probably has to be if one specializes in wines from grapes like Ruch? and Grignolino, when nearby neighbors are farming Nebbiolo and making premium and much sought-after wines like Barolo and Barbaresco. But Italy, if it is one thing, it is a place dedicated to celebrating the antipodal in nature. Sure, one could farm in a place like Cuneo and make a nice life, living off the fame and garnering a fortune from Barolo. But money, and fame, isn?t everything. And resuscitating a once lost wine from a grape like Ruch? has been a calling to folks like Crivelli.

Mind you, he isn?t alone in this obsession.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
I sat with Luca Ferraris, winemaker and the president of the Produttori del Ruch? di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG at a dinner in Asti last week. Luca?s family was also very instrumental in bringing Ruch? back to life. Luca?s great grandfather went to the new world in the mid 1800?s and found his way to California just in time for the Gold Rush. And he was one of the fortunate ones to strike gold. Rather than build a life in America, he took his fortune and went back to Castagnole Monferrato where he bought an old estate and started growing grapes. Luca told me that after WWII, his grandfather Martino would take his wines, on horseback, to Turin and sell them to merchants. These are some of the pioneers of the Italian wine renaissance which ushered in the Golden Age of Wine we now bask in.

Ruch? is largely here because the local parish priest, Don Giacomo Cauda, made wine for the village (and for the Mass). When he vinified the Ruch? grapes apart from the more prevalent Barbera, not wanting to waste anything, for that was a sin, he discovered after a few years ageing, that the almost extinct grape, Ruch?, had developed into an interesting wine unlike any other on the Monferrato area. The Ferraris family makes, from the original parish priest's vineyard, Vigna del Parroco, a flagship wine honoring the priest, who passed away in 2008.

These days there are over 20 producers who offer a Ruch? in their portfolio.

I happened to pull out an older bottle of the Crivelli, a 2001, from the wine closet, which has been there for almost 20 years. Thinking its time was past, I asked Luca Ferraris what the possibility for ageing Ruch? was. And he answered that in a good year, Ruch? could go 10-15 years. 2001 was a good year. So, I will report back once it stands up and settles, at it appears to have thrown some sediment along the walls of the bottle.

Meanwhile, Ruch? is delicious when young, like a good cru Beaujolais. And it can serve in similar situations as the fabled French wine made from Gamay grapes. Not the same, but kindred. And both very enjoyable.

2017 and 2016 Ruch? wines are drinking quite well these days. Labels recommended are from Crivelli and Ferraris as well as Tommaso Bosco, Montalbera, Massimo Marengo, Bersano, all which were among some of the Ruch? wines we were exposed to and enjoyed over the five days we spent with chefs, sommeliers, journalists and winemakers at Gastronomix.

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Ian D'Agata with the Ruch? producers at Gastronomix

Produttori del Ruch? di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG
The story of La Vigna del Parroco in Italian
Consorzio Barbera D?Asti e Vini del Monferrato
Consorzio per la Tutela e la Valorizzazione dei Vini DOCG di Caluso e DOC di Carema e Canavese
Gastronomix photos: HERE and HERE

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[02/17/2019, 06:00]  From the Archives - Finding Your Wine
Originally posted Nov. 14, 2007

On the Wine Trail in Italy
Vallee d'Aoste ~ Vigne de Torrette
One day on the highway in Liguria, it hit me. We were driving up and down hills, into one valley and then on to another. All along the way I was meeting people, some who were winemakers and some who simply liked to drink wine. In Italy, it is easier to find a single wine that you can enjoy over a lifetime. A visit to a winery in your neighborhood, and there you go. It might be a crisp white wine or a mellow, rich red. But along the wine trail in Italy, I keep meeting people who have found their wine. So what is wrong with us in America? Or maybe the question should be, have you found your wine?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Merano ~ S?dtirol

Tonight, as I write this below the base of the Alps in Merano, I think about the day 10 years ago when I married my wife. We spent a lifetime finding each other, had a dozen or so years together and then she was gone, taken back by the Creator. We had found each other and drank from each other's heart of a wine as sweet as the latest harvest. Tonight in a small trattoria, I watched a young couple sitting beside each other drinking their wine. Have they found in each other a wine for the rest of their lives?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Vall?e de la Roya ~ Airole

Days before, I had been on steep hills plunging down to a rough river, ragged with the bones of ancient mountains. On the schist-laden slopes, vines struggle to break open the concrete soil, pushing towards the sun, holding their breath until the flowers bud and the fruit forms. A summer of heat and night takes over, like making love, then falling back on the pillow, only to disappear into a dream world. Day after day, for four, maybe five, months. Then the love children pop out and are ready to be picked. Anxious workers huddle under the canopies of the vines, picking this cluster and that one. All the offspring are sent to the winery to be nursed and made into precious liquid, so young couples can drink them and fall in love. A cycle that will be repeated until none of us are around to have these thoughts and urges.

Finding your wine. What can it be? How will you know? Does it need to be only one wine?

On the Wine Trail in ItalyI met this winemaker in Liguria, Fausto he was called. Fausto has a gray torrent of uncut hair, covering ears that have still black hairs around the openings. An Italian surf bum, but not a lazy guy. Behind the furrowed brow, two eyes peer out, full of life and not a little mischief. Fausto has found his wine. It is a Pigato, an unlikely wine he makes, but one that works very well in his life. As he jumps into his little 2-cycle utility truck (really a glorified scooter), he grabs a bottle of white and heads off to his sister's sports bar. At a table, a plate appears, tiny piquant sausages in a fiery broth that only a Pigato can quell. Fausto teases one of the cook's daughters, and one can see his life is carefree and happy. Almost every day Fausto goes there, to eat his lunch and drink the wine that makes his life lighter and brighter.

I am not sure I have found my wine. And while there are some wines that I prefer over others, what could be a better wine to have with Fausto's sausages than a Pigato?

On the Wine Trail in Italy

Valtellina ~ Sondrio

Some of us are outsiders, wandering the trails, in search of our tribe or even our moment. Some of us can never settle anywhere long enough to find our wine. We are poorer for that. For to enjoy a simple dish that our sister has made alongside a wine we have made with our own hands, well, that is such a special circumstance. Haven?t those souls won the big lottery of life? For along with finding their wine, they have also found their life and their place on this earth.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

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[02/10/2019, 18:09] The veil of un-knowingness over Southern Italian wine
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Tasting notes are a cinch. How does one tell the tale of Southern Italian wine with a single photograph?

You think there haven?t been changes in how the South presents to the West?

Compare these two PR pieces from Puglia, 40 years apart.

On the Wine Trail in ItalyOn the Wine Trail in Italy

The first one (1977) was very basic, but for those times, I?ll say this: they were one of the few regions I traveled through in the early days that had access to pamphlet and area information. They were out in front, and still are.

The older is steeped in tradition and un-retouched customs, some which might seem a sight strange to outsiders. It?s amazing to think that Italy still has that connection to the mystic.

But today, what does everybody want? Fresh air, fresh food, fresh water, a healthy, balanced lifestyle, in which everything is in motion and is good and forever? And Puglia sets up for the delivery.

On the Wine Trail in Italy

On the Wine Trail in Italy
In real terms, there is a plethora of white and red wines available. And ros? from Puglia is an institution, much in the same way Provence has become with the lighter version.

You want California style? You can find it. Old, rustic, funky? Oh yeah, there?s plenty of that in Puglia. Fresh, fruity, dry, wholesome beverages to go with an abundance of fresh and wonderful foodstuffs. Yeah, bucket list stuff.

So how about that tasting note?

On the Wine Trail in Italy
This wine is not from Puglia, it is an alluring Pigato from Liguria; please appease me.
I?ve had a checkered past with Pigato. God, how it was near on impossible to sell a white wine from Italy in 1983 in Texas. For sure, without a pretty label or a name someone could pronounce, or would want to pronounce, well, let?s just say it wasn?t easy sailing up that river.

Fortunately, in 30+ years the wine has sought and gathered wider acceptation. And that is a good thing. The first time I had this one from Durin, was in Liguria in 2007. That day with my friend Andrea Fassone at a little truck stop we had the most wonderful tiny piquant sausages in a fiery broth that only a Pigato can quell.

It resembles a steely, minerally, cold water out of a fountain in the school yard. The temperature that day is over 100?F and the first gasp of sweet fruit and then that steely, long, black dress that follows. Served (in 2019) with fresh trofie flown in from Italy, served with a pesto made from basilico that came from the garden.

written with images photographed (or reproduced) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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[02/07/2019, 14:09] Finding your guide to natural wine
On the Wine Trail in Italy
Assisi 1977
The wines of the natural world are something I do not take on lightly as a self-assigned subject of current interest.

As I see it, natural wine is not a meme, nor is it trending on Instagram in my life. It?s not a tweet or a Facebook rant, nor does it dominate every beat of my heart. It is part of my life, as it has been for 40+ years. It?s not a fad. It also isn?t a mania. It is interwoven as well as it can be, in this world of disruption that we find ourselves living in.

One of the reasons I was so interested in Birkenstock sandals, in 1976, was because I could go down to the local health food store and buy sole replacements for those sandals. I could repair my own shoes, not discard them when they wore out. It was a small step towards self-sustainability.

Near that store we had friends who raised chickens and we ate their eggs. A local dairy produced very nice raw milk and cheese products and we enjoyed them.

This article, which I wrote for the Dallas Morning News, is geared for folks, who live in my area, and are not in an inner cycle of knowledge or fashion. They might just be wanting some straight up info within their orb. It isn?t about ?the debate? about natural wine. It?s here. And it didn?t just arrive with the latest iPhone-carrying generation. And it isn't going away.

Article link HERE

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