. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: 2006

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Eye for an Eye...

Lex Talionis is a Principle of the Hammurabi code of law, it's the rule under which the offender will be punished mirroring the damages inflicted, also known as law of retaliation.
The code was carved in stone between 1592 and 1550 BC when King Hammurabi ruled over Babylon. It was also a law in the Old Testament, in the Mosaic laws and as well in the Itties code of law.
In the New Testament the Christian interpretation of the biblical passage has been heavily influenced by the quotation from Leviticus (19:18, see above) in Jesus of Nazareth's Sermon on the Mount. In the Expounding of the Law (part of the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus urges his followers to turn the other cheek when confronted by violence:

"You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39, NRSV)

Now if already at that time there was a urge to end such practice it was because of the endless ring of violence those rules creates.

So why today we don't feel that way?

As most of you already know Saddam Hussein was killed by hanging Saturday morning in Iraq, I don't want to discuss on whatever he deserved it or not, what I would like to analyse are the consequences that act will bring.
I don't think that today the world is a safer place nor do the Iraqis (just today over 70 people died in several riots and car bombs attacks).
Diplomatically the execution created lots of embarrassments within the western coalition between the States praising for achieved justice and the EU calling it "barbarian act". On the other hand for once Israel, Iran and the USA are stating the same comments and it sound like we made a favor to our next worst enemy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while Russia is concerned about the possibility of an escalation of violence.
Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said:

"The situation in Iraq is heading into a worst-case scenario. The country is slipping into violence and is on the verge of a large-scale civil conflict. Saddam Hussein's death can further aggravate the military-political situation and increase ethnic and religious tensions."

Reading the news from around the world it looks like every leader in the world agree on the fact that the Hussein punishment will not stop the violence in Iraq, a country that holds the biggest oil reserve in the world, sited in the most unstable region of the world, and actually will increase the conflict possibilities.
So why he has been killed?
Was him more powerful behind bars or now as martyr?
These questions don't really have anything to do with justice and the way was carried in Saddam's trial; my point is that now there is even a deeper line between the ones that believe in his innocence and the ones that doesn't, which in the Western World translate in hours of television debates and dinner table discussions but in the Middle East usually translate in violence.
I know once again I didn't stick with the grapes that so much do for our mental and physical health...and once again I must apologize because I diverted from the subject of my blog, even though a conflict in that region will also effect some great wineries like Chateau Musar and Massaya from Lebanon and Domaine du Castel in Israel and many other more that would have born and never will.
I wish you a "ripe" and peaceful 2007
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day in NYC

It's Christmas and for a weird reason it seems like the clock went back in time.
I'm watching the Thomas Crown Affair on cable (the original one with Steve McQueen) and sitting on the table next an empty bottle of Bollinger Grande Annee Rose 1999 that served us last night, outside is warm and loudly silent.
I still have in mind the fresh berries flavors of the Champagne that melted greatly with the Skate fish we ate last night. I enjoyed it very much, the perlage was fine and elegant, on the palate the notes of cherries blended in with wild strawberries and minerality.
Joh Jos Prum Riesling Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese 2004 was the wine of choice for our lunch, which was based on Wild Smoked Salmon and Spaghetti with Bottarga. The wine was light in alcohol, that made it more suitable to begin the long day, the sugar residues were balanced by the acidity and the bouquet of fruit was completed by petroleum notes typical of the Mosel Saar Ruwer region. It went really well with the Salmon; the wine enhanced the delicate smoky flavors of the fish leaving the palate cleaned for the next bite and worked also well with the Bottarga, the contrast between the sweetness of the wine and the strong fish and salty flavors was interesting and worth to be tried.
As my lazy day progresses, timed by old movies and occasional naps, I found my self ready for dinner with a nice 3 liters of Sant'Helena Tato, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Friuli Venezia Giulia waiting to be poured. Full and fruity at the beginning was showing a little to marked vanilla notes lacking in complexity, after some time the herbaceous notes of the Merlot and the peppery flavors of the Cabernet had develop making the wine more elegant and complex.
That was my Christmas day quiet and relaxing with great food and wine like an holiday should be; how was yours?
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Seven Fish Dinner Urban Myth?

In the past but especially in the recent years I've been asked about the Seven Fish dinner that supposedly is part of my homeland traditional Christmas eve dinner.
I had spent 24 Christmas eves in Italy and never heard of such a thing. It is part of the Christians rules to eat "magro"; so yes we do have dinner based on fish but I never heard of a fixed amount of it that needs to be prepared. Now I thought that the fish feast was maybe a tradition from who knows what small town so I went on the Italian Google to look what will came up.
The only Festa dei Sette Pesci held in Italy was in Florence for a Chinese festivity in April!!!
Just to make sure, I activated my special research unit in Italy (composed by my father and his friends, they work much better than CIA and M16 together) to find out more about at this point the mysterious fish orgy.
The first call was for my father, he didn't know anything about it and came up with the same Tuscan restaurant that likes Chinese food, than he called Annamaria which is an expert in Italian traditions, and I'm sure the phone call chain went on for a while. After all that I'm pretty confident in saying that the seven fishes is not part of the Italian culinary nor any religious traditions.
Now my question is from were Rachel Ray and Mario Batali and other hundreds of quasi Italian chefs took the 7 fishes dinner tradition from?
Are they sponsored by the fishing commerce board if such a thing exist?
Has the fishing association hired some famous lobbyist?
I hope to get an answer to the fish affair and I hope to have some help in solving the mystery from you guys.
I wish you a fishy Christmas eve and a great holiday season.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Saturday, December 16, 2006

007 Less Finesse More Power

If you want to go see this movie please don't read this blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A little while ago I went to see the new Bond movie after several people bragged about the quality of picture.
At first I hadn't paid attention to the fact the most of the positive comments were given by women.
After I saw the movie the connection become clear.
I will actually start saying that the movie was indeed very good, the story was intriguing and the action was not taken to the extremes reached in the past few 007 films.
The advertisement content was kept to a minimum, which is a positive change in my opinion. So you might be asking yourself why I'm writing about a movie instead of the great bottle of Sori Paitin Barbaresco 1989 we drank and the wonderful food that Chris Cannon and Jane Epstein had offered and shared with us at L'Impero if I liked the movie?
The reason why is the following;
That wasn't 007, maybe 008 or 006 but that was not James Bond. The real James knows how to dress, how to use violence as last resort and, more importantly, he knew how to order a bottle of champagne and how not to get fooled by a woman.
It look like somebody had fun in letting Mr. Bond drive a Nissan and even worst a Ford Mondeo, had a blast in taking the class out of him, adding a good dose of bullying and transforming the most "Soave" man into a violent and bleeding thug. I had the chills once I heard him order a bottle of Bollinger La Grande Annee without mention of the year what so ever, the bitter answer given to the bartender declaring the death of the "shaken not stirred" (yes the real 007 did gave a damn about how his drink was prepared).
I still can't believe that he broke into M's apartment going against the most common rules of decency and respect toward his boss. Unheard of!!!!!!!! And what about the classy comment after Eva Green had drown into the Venetians dirty waters, the use of that kind of language is not like James Bond style at all, I can't really see an English gentleman saying the B word refered to a death woman.
This Bond is too "human", too sweet (he actually says I love you to the woman that will eventually betray him), he makes too many mistakes - and one of them almost cost him his nuts.
Now I have one question on my mind - why did all of that happen?
Why make a 007 that appeals to the gentle sex (all my female friends were pretty impressed by the water scenes)?
Perhaps because the female audience became big enough to not to be left out?
Or maybe it was just about time for Mr. Bond to lose his aura and become more like us.
I will eagerly be waiting for your takes on that.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Healthy Grapes for Good Wines

Last time I wrote about integrity in wine production, I concentrated on what happens during the winemaking process. But integrity doesn't begin with the decision not to add chemicals to the final product,
A healthy wine begins in the vineyard.

Wines is a natural, agricultural product and when it’s treated lovingly start to finish in a healthy, natural, nurturing environment it repays us with an emotional experience, each glass is a journey across time and space, a communion between mother nature and human nature.

However, some wine these days are produced in an industrial, antiseptic, profit driven environment that strips the nature from the product and, as often as not, leaves us unsatisfied, disappointed, and with a headache! A well tended, healthy grapevine at a high quality vineyard typically yields about from half a Kilo to one kilogram of fruit. In lower quality vineyards, one plant may yield more, perhaps two or three kilograms per plant. There is a new era of mass production industrial farms that are producing as much as 9 kg of fruit per plant! Now, you might think that more fruit would mean healthier vines, but it's the opposite. When a plant produces 10 Kilos of grape the organoleptic content in the grape itself will be high water and very poor in tannins, phenols, sugars and other substances that are good for your health and create the flavor spectrum of the wine.
Now, let's follow these grapes from the industrial vineyard. After they're harvested, they're transformed into must. Then, the must, is either fermented and than manipulated to achieved some sort of flavor and then bottled, or, in case the must have to be shipped, is concentrated with a machine that separates the water from the rest creating some sort of grape marmalade, packed into steel containers and shipped to other parts of the world. When the must gets to destination is turned into wine in much the same way that a packet of powdered flavors is turned into soup by adding water. Then, tannic acid, tartaric acid, sulfites, essential oils, and other additives are mixed in. The result is a product that is sold to large distributors for about $0.75-$1.50 per bottle and about 5 to 7 dollars to the final costumer. Now, the consumer, upon tasting the wine, typically finds it “not too bad” and concludes that his purchase was a good value. But science has tricked the taste buds, much the same way that chemicals can be added to low quality fast food to make it taste satisfying when in fact it is extremely unhealthy. Ultimately, this product will never give the consumer the kind of wine experience that I love (and have come to expect) in wine a taste of the earth and air of where it was produced, the personality of the producer, and all the character (and yes, sometimes flaws) that come with natural beauty.

So, how can you tell whether your "not too bad" tasting wine is the product of a natural product lovingly crafted, or reconstituted wine-marmalade with artificial flavors? Well, the mass produced wine usually gives you a headache the next morning if not the night you drink it.
Another hint is after you finish the bottle. If two people split a bottle of good wine produced with integrity, usually they feel like opening another one of the same right after. Then that was definitely a good bottle of wine!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Israeli, Kosher and Really Good

The gem is called Domaine du Castel Gran Vin 2003. The owner and self taught winemaker, Eli G Ben-Zaken, planted a small vineyard in 1988 on a hill top near his house in the Judean Hills. The first vintage of the Gran Vin, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was in 1992. The first "experiment" brought very good critics and one in particular by Serena Sutcliffe (Master of Wine and head of the International wine department of Sotheby's). That review backed Eli's belief in the possibility to make a great wine. He decided to turn the old hen house and the stable in a state of the art underground cellar facility and plant more grapes in what he called the Haute de Judee. Now they have 13 Hectares of vineyards at an altitude of 700 meters above the sea level (more or less 2100 feet). They manually pick the grapes and ferment them in temperature controlled Stainless steel vats, maceration on the skin for as long as 30 days depending on the vintage. The wine than is refined for 24 months in new French oak barrels made exclusively for him by Seguin Moreau in Cognac. All Castel wines are unfiltered and meticulously made respecting the highest quality standards in wine making.
I had the wine on three different occasions so far. The first I had it with Tsvika, which actually introduced me to the estate. I remember being so surprised by it that I felt like a little kid after having discovered a hidden treasure. The nose was filled with raspberries, black liquorice and herbal hints of something in between of Rosemary and sage; in the mouth was explosive, warm, but still balanced and elegant. Firm notes of dark berries, sweet hints of vanilla, black licorice and unique notes of Rosemary and time (typical from that area are the balsamic flavors of mint and licorice and the notes of aromatic herbs, other great examples of that are the wines of Chateau Musar and Massaya both from Lebanon).
I was so surprised by the wine that I've decided to invite few wine friends over the shop few days later and blind taste them on it and because I was sure that nobody will have an idea of the origin of it, I asked them to just guess the country were the wine was made. Most of them laughed at me saying that that would be too easy. Now my guest were all acculturated winos, but I was ready to bet on the fact that nobody would be able to tell me the origin of the wine. Sure enough after few saying Perth in Australia some other looking at the eastern Italian border and the north part of California they finally gave up and remained speechless for few minutes after learnig that it was from Israel. Same thing happened on the third occasion, this time the victims are people that work in the wine business here in New York. Again nobody could tell and then believed that the wine was Israeli.
I must say Bravo Eli for the great job he is doing showing the world that also Israel should get some attention.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A nice end of the fall day on Clinton Street

I love this street because it has a unique feel different than every were else in this island. I like the fact that sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to walk up to Piada, half a block away from me,when I'm in need of some coffee or a nice sandwich, because on the way I stop many times to say hi to somebody I know. It reminds me of my neighborhood in Roma were leaving the house was almost a ritual; saying hi to the barista and talk about soccer while waiting for the espresso, than go little deeper on the discussion with the newsstand guy with the valid help of the grocery guy and so on (no kidding in Italy it takes for ever to do any thing :)
I love the diversity that Clinton Street carries, we have everything from the greasy cheap "Cucifrito" places to WD 50 were the food is science and talks to your brain; still in the food department I cannot forget Saschiko's, traditional Japanese restaurant with an impressive sake list, Cube 63, creative sushi BYOB, Falai and Falai Bakery owned by Jacopo Falai renowned Florentine chef, AKA and Frankie Spuntino. There are also eclectic boutiques like P-13, a t-shirt/herbal tonic teas/candle burning/bags and other amenities kind of shop and 20 Peacock filled with nice Italian shirts and ties. Clinton street is were the local doctor walks around with a real human skull; Dr Dave has been providing medical services since 1987, in what used to be not such an easy spot to be practicing the medical art, sometimes without charge for who ever didn't have the money to pay.
He drives an Electra glide and have tattoos all over his arms, one of them shows a sexy nurse riding a syringe, and ironically enough he also provide laser tattoo removal applications.
(Here he is in the picture with the mentioned skull!!!!)
Definitely eccentric, like the guy that in the afternoon runs up and down the street listening to his Walkman and shouting out all his frustrations to world and then, at night, seeing him working in a very respectable restaurant giving impeccable service.
I know I haven't talked about wine today but it was such a nice day over here and walking around looking at the people, looking at the half naked trees with the last few tenacious leafs holding on and just breathing the crispy air had inspire me to prize the street that so generously is being hosting me and my little wine shop.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sighart Donabaum Riesling 2004

Last night I was enjoying my day off and decided to open the magnum I had in the fridge since Thanks Giving.
Austria is still paying from the 1985 scandal of Di ethylene Glycol . During that period some Austrian vintners used that chemical to higher the sugar level in order to create sweet wines from dry ones. It is definitely more costly, and accordingly more expensive to buy, to produce a dessert wine than a dry one and simply adding sugars is too easy to detect and therefore to be caught by the authority. The scandal create some sort of "vintners cleaning", were just the wineries that carried a good reputation survived the conjuncture supplying the domestic market. The good part is that now you can go in Austria and still have available vintages dating back to 80's; I had the fortune to drink several bottles in different occasion of Peter Schandl Pinot BlancRuster 1989. The wine has travelled just once from the winery to here and I think that's the reason why every time I had it was in spectacular condition with no bottle variation what so ever. For the 17 years those bottles sat under the barrels of Schandl's cellar in humid conditions, as you can see from the label (sorry for the quality of the picture, I took it with my phone), covered with mildew at constant temperature without being moved. In my "wish trip" list Austria is in fact at the top, hopefully I can make it by next year and bring back some good bottles.
Now going back to the Donabaum, we start to enjoy the wine as aperitif without food. Just opened the Riesling was already showing citrus flavors of Grapefruit, typical in Austrian whites, marked acidity and bouquet of honeydew melon.
It was still a bit closed and probably a bit too cold as well, but still the scent went directly into my brain triggering the calming vision of green cold valleys were the grapes absorb every second of light before going to sleep during the cold nights. After an hour or so we had some nice aged steak that Wolfgang's kindly delivered to us. We still had enough wine in the bottle for the dinner so I just decided to try Riesling with rare steak, the result was quite nice. At that point it had developed; notes of fresh apricots and crispy minerality cleaned my palate getting my mouth ready for the next bite of meat, it also worked really well with the creamed spinach and, believe it or not, even with the onion rings!!! I think this is the first time that I had a white wine with a porterhouse, now I still think that a nice red with strong tannins would have worked better with it but the outcome was surprising. The bottle was big and the 3 of us were still tested by the holiday weekend so we had some left in the bottle. Going to the next task I've tried to see if it would work also with some dessert.
I had in the fridge some left over Pastiera Napoletana, a ricotta with candied orange and cider based cake, a Neapolitan specialty, and had some; the flavors of the candied fruit was amplified by the wine creating a perfect match with the citrus notes of the Riesling leaving a nice and clean after taste. Overall the only defects I could perceive from the wine were mostly connected to the young age of it (2004 is the current vintage and when just opened it was lacking of depth and complexity which had developed some time after that), the biggest plus was the versatility of it the way it have connected with several different kind of food, we also had some crab meat, and without food.
I'll be curious to know if anybody else had some similar experiences.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Friday, November 24, 2006

Another Stuffed Holiday

And another holiday is gone, leaving behind full bellies and sound sleeps. My belly was filled with pasta al gratin, a baked rigatoni pasta with besciamella and prosciutto, obviously the turkey, a wild one, with my sister's special stuffing, an addictive blend of homemade cornbread, sausage and some other ingredients which I swear secrecy on...and the cranberry sauce was just perfect on both the turkey and the stuffing. As side dish she prepared some green peas with prosciutto cut in small dices and to finish the traditional apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Just talking about it I feel full again but I must say my sister nailed another perfect dinner, like an artist, she can give food that extra touch that makes the experience every time unique. As per wine we begun with the bubbles; the Villa Rinaldi showed different layers of sour berries and fresh violet, some sweet undertones of wild strawberries, the bubbles were small and very elegant. We didn't open the Donabaum Riesling, which is still sitting in my fridge ready for the next one, and we sat for dinner with the Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 1998; elegant and still vibrant with the typical cherry flavor and notes of leather, the tannins were balanced and still firm considering the age. One my guest, Fulvia, was at first not impressed with the selection, in fact the Villa Rinaldi estate is definitely in the obscure category and Chianti is still perceived as a every day wine; she commented, in typical roman slang of course, once she had tasted them, "ammazza quant'e` bono sto` vino" (more or less translate in this wine is killer) for both of them. That made me think about what my grandma' used to say about judging from the appearance and how sometimes you can get fooled by that. With the dessert we opened up the Colheita Port 1974 from the Barros estate; it is amazing what time can do to wine, this port was elegant and complex, the oxidation balanced the sugars giving a dry and clean finish. Lingering flavors of coffee, chocolate powder and notes of toasted almond were showing in the palate and in the finish.
Everything we ate and drank was natural and of good quality so, I was definitely buzzed and stuffed, but when I woke up this morning around 9 am i didn't have any headaches nor being hang over.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanks Giving Aka Turkey Day...

I love the holidays because the TV channels do the marathons.
I have a TV in the store that most of the time is tuned on some soccer channels without audio, but when Thanks Giving Day come around 007 marathon arise I will be watching it; like I'm doing right now sitting in the store helping the few that haven't took care of the wine for tonight (on her Majesty's secret service is on now).

Now you might wonder why I'm talking about James Bond instead of wine, well first of all 007 is fine connoisseur wine and more in general of self indulgence, he do like the finest vintages of Bordeaux and the refined Champagnes (BTW James champagne of choice wasn't the Dom Perignon but, in the Ian Fleming books it was the Bollinger...the producers felt that Dom Perignon was more known to the American audience than the Bollinger).
I'm also deciding what to drink for dinner, so far I choose a Magnum of SighartdDonabaum Riesling 2004 2 bottles of Villa Rinaldi Brut Rose` and a Magnum of Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 1998 and a bottle of Port Barros Colheita 1974. We are going to be 6 to 7 people eating my sister's Turkey and I think that should be enough wine to keep us happy. I think the we will be starting with the Villa Rinaldi to put us in the mood, this Brut Rose` is made of 100% Pinot Noir grapes grown in Trentino Alto Adige. Villa Rinaldi is a "negociant" his winery is situated in Veneto in the Soave area, they are one of the first winery that used the Traditional Method and one of the few that use the "degorgement a la volee" to preserve all the freshness and the elegance of the Pinot Noir. The Donabaum Riesling is going to be next one probably paired with some cheeses and some finger food.

Then we will approach the guest of honor the Turkey which is going to be ate with the Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 98. I'm actually very curious to see how the wine developed since last time I drank it in 2004. I will keep you posted on that.

Dulcis in fundo (sweet at the end) the Colheita Barros 1974, the winery is Portuguese owned and sited in the Douro region. I met the son of the owner, Felipe, not long ago and tasted with him several older vintages of his port and discovered that not only the wines were elegant and still vibrant but that they were also priced very fairly considered the quality; therefore I started carry their ports :)

It is almost time to go now the day was good, there were more last minute "thanks giver" than I had expected, but before I leave you I would like to extend all my "grazie" to all of you and your families.

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Monday, November 20, 2006


Liguria is one the smallest but also one of the most beautiful region of Italy.
The coast is internationally known for the crystal clear waters the little towns on the Tigullio gulf like Portofino or Santa Margherita (no this is not the home of the big winery which is in Trentino). Also known for the spectacular food and their rare wines.
Ligurian viticulture is characterized by terraces carved from the cliffs that descended vertiginous toward the sea. The production is low and labor costly and most of the Ligurian wines are still very obscure and not known buy the majority.
Pigato is a bio type of the Vermentino and it's mostly found in the Ligurian provinces of Savona, Imperia and Genova.
The grapes have red reflection on the skin when ripe and the wine usually have almond flavors and often marked acidity.
I've always liked the Ligurian whites they are never obvious and with a very distinctive character. Lately I've tried the Bruna Pigato 2005
remarkable fresh and firm, the bouquet was intense with flavors of white peach, almond and some salty notes. I had it by it self but I think it would be great with shell fish (linguine with clams) most of the white meats (turkey included) and with some creamy cheeses like a lighter goat cheese or some brie.
The Ligurian wines are not widely present on the US market but I can suggest you to try also the Colle dei Bardellini Vermentino.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Right Temperature

Nothing better than a cold glass of white wine on a hot summer day. The question is how cold the wine should be in order to be enjoyed to the fullest.

I believe the answer will vary depending on the kind of wine you are about to drink.

Generally speaking, simpler whites need to be colder; more complex ones might be better slightly warmer.

The temperature will affect the acidity, the alcohol and the bouquet; higher temperature will enchant the bouquet but also make the alcohol more present; so a lower quality wine will benefit of a colder temperature because the acidity will give a refreshing sensation distracting your palate from possible faults the wine might have; on the other hand a better wine will be underappreciated if the bouquet is limited by the acidity.

In order, then, to decide the right temperature that the wine has to be served you need to know the characteristic of it.

For example I would never freeze a wine unless I’m in Jamaica and I’m drinking the wine under the hot sun overlooking crystal clear waters and the outside temperature is 100 degrees.

The crystal clear water will already give me a strong emotion and the wine will then have to just act as a refreshing beverage that will put me in a good mood.


…I actually did do this.

The wine that I was drinking was a dirt cheap Pinot Grigio that would be awful to drink at a normal temperature.

In order to really understand how temperature truly affects a wine, here is a great way to understand in a short time – I suggest you try this: 1. Get a bottle of white wine,

inexpensive or to your taste 2. Over chill the wine and then 3. Drinking it a little bit at time, let the bottle go from overchilled to a little too warm.

This allows the wine to speak for itself.

Buona bevuta a tutti


Integrity: the quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty and sincerity.

The integrity of a wine starts from the vineyard, the winemaker and her reputation. But what if one doesn't know the estate owners, how does the integrity show from the wine itself? What does integrity in wine mean?

By tasting a wine just once, it's difficult to discern whether a wine has integrity or whether it is a manipulated product. Most of the time you’ll feel the effects of a manipulated wine the next day as a hangover. The palate can sometimes be deceived (in the short run, anyway). Think about food: a fast food treat might not taste bad, but it's not sincere. Over millions of years, the human palate has evolved a keen ability to determine good food from bad, but twenty first century chemistry can create artificial flavors that betray the palate and make unhealthy nonfood products taste good.

The same is true for wine. It can taste good but be harmful. I remember during the early 80’s, in Italy, there was a big scandal involving the Barberas. Some producers decided to fortify their wines with Ethanol and the outcome was deadly. Tens of people died, many producers got arrested, and the reputation of Barbera went down the drain. I don't know of producers today making deadly wine, but some "clever" producers are still using dubious practices. They add wood chips, they add sugar (these two practices are illegal in Europe but not in all wine growing regions), they add tannic acid, tartaric acid, and excessive sulfites. With chemistry, you can build a wine to taste like anything, probably even a MacDonald’s burger.

And like a MacDonald's burger, a manipulated wine may taste good. However, usually the wines are fabricated to appeal to the market tastes that promise the greatest short term profits. As a result, you have a Merlot from Chile that tastes the same as Cabernet from Australia, both, incidentally, will give you the same cheap headache the next day, too. I don’t agree with the forces that are producing “taste globalization.” We are beginning to find the same flavors everywhere. I suppose that now masses of people can consume food and wine without being afraid of getting something they don’t like, but with such standardization, one misses out on the richness and mixture of stimulating experiences that make life such a wonderful pleasure!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti


First of all, what does a wine score mean? It's clearly impossible to summarize in a simple laboratory number something as complex, subtle, and organic as the emotional experience of consuming wine.

Also, a numerical score wrongly suggests a level of precision that doesn't exist, and a single scale can't ever accommodate a range of styles. If anything, it has meaning to the judge or, as is often the case with magazine ratings, the team that assigned the score. Every wine critic has his own palate and all industry magazines have their editorial policies. I have nothing against wine critics they serve important functions, not the least of which is to hold producers with excellent reputations to the highest standards. It's the wine score that I take issue with.

Many wine critics have great breadth and some have an incredible mental database of flavor memories. Although these expert qualities help make ratings consistent, they do not make the ratings objective. I acknowledge if you know the score and you know the judge's tastes, you can infer something: 3 bicchieri from the Gambero Rosso means a bold, oak refined wine, a big score from Robert Parker means a big new world style wine. Of course, to understand a judge's taste very well, one need to drink a lot of wine rated by that judge and then study the scores those wines were awarded. In the case of magazines, it's hard to learn their tastes because the scores are awarded by teams, and when the teams have changing members, it's just about impossible.

So why are wine scores so popular? Magazines, books, and guides try to boil the rich experience of wine into a single consumer friendly number and they promote the fallacy that your enjoyment will be commensurate with their scale. Unfortunately, this fallacy sells, and magazines and books depend on sales to survive. The prevalence, especially this time of year, of top ten lists, best wine of the year awards, and so on, are derivations of the same reductionist marketing strategy.

The serious problem, however, is that when scores are related to sales, they can be compromised by commercial interests. Magazines are dependent on wine producers for advertising revenues and there's a lot of temptation for magazines to give insincere ratings. For example, a recent edition of Gambero Rosso (I Tre Bicchieri) gave the "best producer of the year" award to Barone Riccasoli. Two years ago that winery was convicted of fraud when the police found 900 hectoliters of Montepulciano wine labeled as Chianti Classico in their tanks. I could go on for pages with examples from other magazines and guides, but you get the picture.

Personally, I love to drink a wine and not to rate it. And I don’t have a favorite wine or ten favorite wines---there are so many delicious wines and I love all the options ("There are more things on heaven and earth, dear Horatio...") Also, there are many people that I recommend wine to (and buy wine for) that don’t share my tastes.

It wouldn't do any good for me to score wines and then recommend them according to my scores. Instead, I pay attention to who will drink the wine, what their tastes are, and I try to find a way to communicate the emotional experience I had on the occasions that I drank that particular wine.

In the end, I tend to stay away from magazines and guide books. And anyway, I enjoy drinking wine far more than reading wine scores!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Nectar of the Gods

Throughout history, divine properties have been attributed to wine. Jesus miraculously transformed water into wine. Catholics represent the blood of Christ by wine. The Popes made their own wine, the Chateauneuf du Pope, which was used for their own holy consumption (and also served to dignitaries).

In historic texts predating Christianity, miracles involving wine abound. The Greeks had one god devoted entirely to wine. The habit for winemakers in ancient Greece to chant the name of this deity while crushing the grapes persisted well into the Roman Empire. It was common to hear a Roman say "in vino veritas" meaning "there is truth in wine." Perhaps not exactly a religious statement, but the idea that people were more likely to be honest while drinking wine was considered something magical. Certainly, the choice of wine in Roman culture was a telling measure of the prominence of a guest and the status of the buyer. But, the importance of wine went far beyond a status symbol. It was believed to have youth-preserving properties, be good for the skin, and was given to pregnant women (at that time, alcohol content was lower but wine was naturally bacteria-free and usually cleaner than water).

If one believes that science is a kind of modern religion, providing its own magic and miracles, then it should come as no surprise that the priests of science continue to report on the divine properties of wine. We know that wine contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other substances with remarkable biological properties. Medical studies indicate that moderate consumption of wine improves cardiovascular health, inhibits cancers, protects against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, lowers risk of diabetes, boosts the immune system, lowers stress, lengthens life, and help you fight the flu virus as Italian researchers recently discover. And there is far more for science to discover about wine.

In addition to that, when I consider that wine also tastes delicious and makes you happy, I have to conclude that our ancestors were right to believe that wine was a gift from the gods!

Buona bevuta a Tutti

Wine is alive!!!

One of the few true things spoken in the movie Sideways was when

Virginia Madsen said "the wine is alive."

While wine might not meet all the criteria required by science to be a life form of its own (it doesn't reproduce, but it would be nice if it could) it certainly exhibits some of the phenomena of life. Properly interpreted, wine grows, adapts, and responds to stimuli. It seems to me that wine even has memory. Those memories have roots in wine's early life as a plant: weather conditions, adversities, soil content, aging of the plant, invisible qualities in the air, and everything, everything that happened to the vines in the vintage year leaves indelible organic imprints on the fruit.

Wine grows, too, once the fruit leaves the plant. Like a child that needs to be watched (and given guidance and correction) during his or her formative years, during the vinification process the juice should be carefully followed by the winemaker. The expert hands give a little guidance and the very best winemakers have the goal of retaining the absolutely greatest amount of organic information from the picking to the bottling. Every human action too, leaves its imprint on the wine (think of the growing child, who is learning all the time, whether the parents think they are teaching or not).
Wine responds to stimulus after it’s in the bottle, and like living organisms, it can be hurt, too. The analogies with humans work when thinking of injuries. Young vivacious healthy wines are more resistant to injuries, like exposure to high temperatures. I was in Tuscany a few years ago and had the chance to share some great wines that were in the display window for more than a year. These were high end wines and their condition was quite good considering how poorly they had been stored. One of them was showing some oxidation perfumes at the beginning, but came back strong in half an hour.
This wine was like a teenager, injured but healing quickly after resting. Some of the older wines proved less resilient and didn't recover as well. But thought of as a living thing, we shouldn’t expect antiseptic perfection and robotic durability. A minor injury leaves a small mark and reminds us that wine is precious, delicate, and mortal like us. And a small scar like a cork leak, a small change to a flavor or a damaged label can sometimes, like a small imperfection on a wonderful face, add to the beauty.

Buona Bevuta a Tutti


One of the most common questions I’ve been asked so far is; “what is your favorite?”

Whatever the subject is wine, food, movies, color, or clothing my answer is always the same: I really don’t have favorites, but I do have options. On a personal level I don't like limiting my self to just a few choices. I love to choose considering as much information as I can. In the case of wine, the info can came from weather (you might not want to drink a cold Pinot Grigio at the North Pole in December), food, occasion, number of people and so on. Also, I usually never think about my taste because I tend to like or at least to appreciate a wide range of styles. Sometimes the style that I prefer less is the right one with the food that I’m about to eat. For example, I don’t really care for oaked Chardonnays, but with shell fish White Burgundy works great. Now, I do understand that asking for a favorite is a way to be guided, in my case, throughout a wall of wine, much of which is obscure and unheard of. But, when I get the question, I try to respond with questions and determine what kind of wine might suit the person shopping.

Also living not seeking for favorites helped me to explore more, tuning and developing my taste. And exploring helped me to understand better the essence of wine, and things in general, stimulating me to grow. When I was a kid I strongly grasped onto a black and white vision of life, and later, growing up, I discovered a million different shades of gray. I must say that the transition from one vision to the other wasn’t that smooth, but now I do appreciate things that before I used to strongly dislike. Then life brought me to select wines for a wine bar called Il Posto Accanto and the gray range became even wider. I was “forced” to experience wine that I never understood before; really, the entire new world was new to me. But now I can understand a big Zinfandel or a jammy Shyraz; they aren't necessarily going to be the wines I will drink the most but they are options in case the conditions require those flavors. Having options in your hand also allows you to appreciate differences, and that putting two different wines in competition, out of any context, can be pointless. What is better a Barolo or a Brunello, a California Cabernet or a Bordeaux? Who is better Petrus or Lafitte, Biondi Santi or Soldera, Ridge or Stag Leap? I’m sure most people will have a quick answer to each of hose questions, taking a stand for one or the other. But in my opinion, one doesn’t exclude the other, Barolo, Brunello, Petrus and Ridge are all good for different reasons and if one day you choose one it doesn’t mean that another day the other option won't be more appropriate.

In order to create options one must sometimes leave the "comfortable ground of the known," but I do believe that to live without choices is to risk living an inanimate life.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Endangered Species

Recent developments of globalization have made possible the unthinkable.
The EU has authorized the use of wood chips and water as part of the vinification process.
Not long ago the US signed a treaty with the EU that allows wood-chip wines, considered a fraud up to a week ago, to be sold in Europe. In exchange it will be easier to import European wines to the US (what a fair trade).
Now every Country of the Union, starting with France, is updating their laws so that the European wine producers can be competitive in the market.
I’ve been reading funny stories in specialized magazines about how these practices are necessary to bring “quality’ to the everyday consumer, about how the wood-chips are meant to give the characteristics of a barriqued wine without paying the high cost of the barrels. So how dumb were all these producers that had invested in all these years a lot of money, time and wood to let the wine age in barrels, when all they needed to do is to run to the lumberjack and pick up some wood-chips.
I can’t stand this short cut philosophy, especially when applied the process of making eatable and drinkable products.
Why do we globalize the negative?
Why can’t we globalize good taste, artisan products, seasonal produce that is available only when it’s supposed to and not all year long? Why can’t we “globalize” the respect of Mother Nature that needs to be in good shape in order to meet our needs?
Growing up in Italy I loved to look forward to spring time to eat great and tasty fava beans or some fresh and crunchy “puntarelle” (a roman salad with the typical anchovies, oil, garlic and vinegar dressing), as well as the summer for strawberries and fall for chestnuts.
Today we do have available all sorts of produce, meats and fish all year long in unlimited supply the only down side is that most of the time it doesn’t taste like much and at times even dangerous for our health. Remember the mad cow disease?
The same dynamic applies to the wine world; the grapes for industrial wines are grown were the labor cost little to nothing, the yields are so high that the grapes has no substances, and because of that in need of correction and manipulation.
Globalization has brought standardization and the standards are not, unfortunately, so high and I doubt that wood chips and watered wines help to raise the benchmark.
I also fear that in the next couple of decades good wines and wine lovers will need the protection of the WWF as endangered species.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It Takes Time to Experiment

A lot of people have been talking about alternative closures for a bottle of wine. The reason, of course, is that the traditional closure the cork isn't perfect. Cork, like wine itself, is an agricultural product, and like wine, cork can have flaws. When cork fails, the results can be disastrous and costly. Elio Altare, for example, had to pour away the entire production of his 1997 Barolos because of failed corkage. That cost Mr. Altare and the cork producer hundreds of thousands of dollars, and trust me, the loss of a year's worth of loving effort cost more than a few tears too.

For a while we heard a lot about plastic corks. In a strange echo across the decades, we were told "there is a great future in plastics." And like the hesitant Ben in 1967 classic film "The
Graduate," we weren't sure about it. Right now, the screw top is in the spotlight. It's gotten praise from several winemakers in both the new and the old world, and from what seems like the entire country of Australia, where the screw top is being exalted as the cure that solves all the problems. Like the cover girl du jour, the screw top has been on the front of several wine magazines recently, and a blitz of marketing has even lead to a debate about the proper way to open a screw top bottle in fine restaurants.

Whether the screw top really is a panacea is not an issue to be decided soon. The traditional cork has been used for centuries and we know there are pros and cons of using it. We know it can be good for wine, controlling that subtle refinement that wine undergoes in the bottle, and we know it can be destructive. Experimentation with other forms of sealers has just begun and with only a decade or so of experience, we don't know much about how wine will change and develop over time with anything but a cork.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the screw top. I do have some wine with plastic corks, mostly whites and reds that don't need any cellaring. I don't want to jump into the argument here (although I do find the amount of press, and the amount of positive press in particular, a bit suspicious) but I would like people to keep in mind is that; no one can make any conclusive judgment, against or in favor, of any new wine closures at this time. If it turns out that the screw top is, in fact, like The Wolf from the 1994 classic "Pulp Fiction" and "solves the problems," I will be happy to admit it. But, of course, by the time we know for sure, I might not be alive!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti!