Category Archives: Wine for all & all for wine

Because wine deserves its own category, don’t you think?

Brunello visits Venice

Free Brunello wine tasting, Wednesday, May 27th.


I just heard from Giulia, a sommelier friend who works at the Brunello producer Il Paradiso di Frassina just outside Montalcino. She’ll be hosting a wine tasting here in Venice at the end of the month featuring five small producers of Brunello wines. The tasting is free, and will be held at the Fontego dei Pescatori restaurant just off Campo San Felice on the Strada Nova.

I don’t know any of these producers, and rarely get a chance to enjoy Brunello, so I’m really looking forward to it. I also know that Frassina grapes are a bit special in that, undergoing an experiment in association with the Florence University Agriculture Department, they are serenaded as they grow with Music among the Vines. Read about it on their website, then come and see if you can taste the melodies the vines have absorbed. That, and Giulia speaks English very well…

Brunello Visits Venice:

  • May 27th
  • 3 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • Al Fontego dei Pescatori
  • Calle Priuli, Cannaregio 3726
  • vaporetto, Ca d’Oro
  • 041 520 0538
  • Tasting is free

I intend to give our visitor a hearty welcome.

Tchin, tchin!

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Debunking the House Wine Myth

giulia compleanno laguna burano - 70OK. Who hasn’t received similar advice from both guidebooks, and friends just returning from their first trip from Italy: “Drink the house wine! It’s great, and cheap!” So of course, on your first trip you take this sage advice to heart and enjoy the house wine with everything from panini to a gourmet meal. Anything wrong with that? No. However…

That was then, this is now. House wine no longer has a mandate. So what’s changed?

Wines. Wines have changed. There is a broader variety of better wines that cost much less, especially when you can drink them in the country where they are produced, particularly when they’re from producers you’ll never find back home. It’s un grave errore to travel hundreds or thousands of miles and not explore the non-house wine options, at least on occasion.

What is the difference between house and bottled wine, anyway? House wines are young, fresh, usually fruity (not sweet) and low in alcohol. They are the ideal accompaniment to panini, a quick primo between sightseeing, or anytime you are deciding between wine or an iced tea (which will cost more).

Sitting down to enjoy a four-course meal, though, merits drinking a wine chosen specifically to accompany it. These wines may not be big, aged, or necessarily even famous (best not to choose a wine based on its marketing budget). Indulging in a classic Italian meal that celebrates local cuisine is the ideal time to venture a better wine. And if you’re in a group of four, six, or eight, it’s even easier to choose two or more different wines, as each person will consume a smaller amount of each wine.

tasting.JPGBut how to choose? Most of us are intimidated by our lack of knowledge of wine, for a number of reasons. First, it’s not an original part of our culture. Although the U.S. (for example) produces some wonderful wines, unless you produce them yourself or are within a stone’s throw of Sonoma valley, you probably don’t identify much with wine or winemaking.

Then, there are more wines being produced all the time, all over the world, and unless it’s your business, the sheer number makes them that much more difficult to keep up with, let alone understand how to differentiate among them. It can seem like another job!

Add to that, that almost everything about the wine culture is confusing: the jargon, the labels, to the yet-to-be-completely-dismantled opinion that you have to have some special gift to “really” understand wine. The result? We depend on number rating to choose a wine. What does a number tell you about a wine? Nothing. (Sure, it speaks to our qualifying nature, but I mean, if a wine isn’t good, why is the store where you’re shopping carrying it anyway?)

It’s only attention and experience that brings a greater wine understanding. Experience is a lot easier to come by (and costs less) when you live in a country whose wine sales not only comprise a significant percentage of the GDP, but that has been producing wine for hundreds of years.

The good news is, you don’t have to know very much to order an excellent, reasonably-priced bottiglia or two with your meal. Choose a place that has an ample selection of wine, then ask your server (or proprietor, or sommelier) for their recommendation. Give them an idea of your budget, whether you have any preference (white, red, fruity or dry, aged, or younger, higher or lower alcohol content, spumante or still (fermo), local, regional, etc.). However, if this is a recommended locale known for their wines, never be afraid to let them choose.

Does this mean opting the house wine is now a bad idea? Dipende…it depends. Try an appealing alternative ogni tanto, when the meal merits is. You won’t regret it.

Then…spread the word!

Prosecco passito? Che sorpreso!

By now, the popularity of Prosecco has propelled this unpretentious potation to international fame, to the delight of producers and enthusiasts alike. But Prosecco passito? Who knew!

At dinner with friends, it’s not unusual to have a specific wine chosen to accompany dessert (a Barolo, for it’s glorious reputation, would va molto male, for example.) A nice vin santo, a pleasing Picolit, or even Barolo Chinato (perfect for pairing with chocolate, for example), would be a welcome accompaniments to any dolce. But Prosecco? Fermo? Passito?

Well I never. And it’s just grand. Who knew? Can’t wait to try it on friends alla cieca at the next dinner and see if they can guess what it is!

Here’s the one we had (they produce a passito of Marzemino and Verdiso too, along with a series of Prosecco spumantizzato):

Vicenzo Toffoli, Refrontolo Conegliano

Veni, vidi…vini (and more vini).

VinItaly entranceVinItaly shouldn’t last a long weekend, it should last a month. Even if you had five whole days to spend tasting wine, it would be impossible to sample even half of those that are represented there, and likely to bring on raucous case of gout to boot. Besides, it’s not just about tasting an individual wine, it’s about learning first-hand from the producer their background, philosophy, and approach; the vinification process and challenges of their particular area, region, and terrior, and, in general, just facendo due chiacchiere, which usually bubbles as effortlessly as a Scolca spumante about halfway into the second bicchiere. If VinItaly went on for at least two weeks, for example, you could stop by four or five times, for perhaps for a few hours, tasting, say, Franciacorta one day, hopping over to Puglia or Sicily another, Friuli or even Alsace another, and…well, you get my point.

VinItaly Prosecco billboardAs it is, è enorme. Overwhelming. Impossibile. Nonetheless, those of us who just can’t resist hop the train in the early morning, managing to squeeze onto the navetta and throng through the entrance in time to arrive for the mouth’s most favorable tasting-hour of the day (between 10:30 and 11:00, they say, before it’s had a chance to get all gunked-up by irrelevant flavors). We’ve made a list of the producers with whom we have appointments, another of those we hope to squeeze in. We start with the sparkling wines, move on to whites, save the reds for afternoon after a lunch in the sun, a hefty panino of salsiccia di mora, che ci voleva. And still, we haven’t made a dent.

VinItaly tasting stationIt’s not so much that you become too, too tipsy; there are ways to keep that under control (I do like keeping a clear enough head to understand the passionate pitches of the producers and their reps, as I’m fairly cognizant of what they’ll be going through for these five intense days). The bottom line is that there is only so much you can absorb…literally…especially since I haven’t yet got comfortable with lo sputo (even if I managed a clean spit, it would still seem like vinus interruptus). At the end of the day, we were invited to an after-closing dinner. I’m sure there are those among you who could’ve managed it, and well. I am not one of them.

Villa Favorita exteriorContrast the excess of VinItaly with the understated-ness of VinNatur, the annual event the occurs during the same period featuring all-natural wines, just in case all the trade reps and distributors begin to yearn for some fresh, country air). Held outside the tiny burg of Monticello at Villa Favorita, there are no towering graphics, multimedia displays, or opulent booths that require days to construct, just tables with white linen, glasses, wines, some literature about them, and the requisite spittoon.

It’s easier to find the treasures like Elisabetta Foradori at these smaller tastings. She produces wine from one of my favorite grapes, the indigenous Teroldego. It’s a variety that although it has an long history, was almost abandoned, but that is now enjoying a relatively robust production mostly in a small valley in the Alto Adige, Campo Rotaliano.

I can’t say that all the wines at Villa Favorita were necessarily to my liking, but my wine palate is nothing if not a work-in-progress. The great thing about wine opinions is their subjectivity: who knows if what you taste is what I taste (I could never resist a moving target). We found wines that seemed destined to be drunk alone, and others that became a whole other wine when perfectly paired with selected cheeses we sampled. A wonderful adventure, and a great way to get up-close-and-personal with these smaller producers (some as few as 2,000 bottles a year), who are just as likely to have personally pruned the vines as vinified the wine they are offering to you to sample.

There’ll be more of these coming up; ’tis the season. As long as I pace myself (she said, determinedly), I’m looking forward to some great discoveries as I continue my quest to push the big-wine comfort envelope. As good an excuse as any, I suppose.


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