Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lambrusco likes you and thinks you are awesome!

If you didn't already see Eric Asimov's wonderful writeup on Lambrusco Secco in The New York Times, be sure to check it out.

Some of my favorite Lambruscos are mentioned in the piece, and I may even be in there somewhere as well.

Want something inexpensive that can be both an aperitivo or pair well with hearty dishes?  Don't want to have to age something forever before its charms can be appreciated?  Then Lambrusco is for you.  Raise a glass and be happy.

Peter Liem on I'll Drink to That!

photo of Peter Liem courtesy of Michael Boudot

The amazing Peter Liem shares from his deep knowledge of the Champagne and Jerez regions today on I'll Drink to That!  Find the interview on the dedicated website or on iTunes.

Peter is someone who approaches wine (and tea!) in a way that is both thoughtful and full of curiosity.  It is rare to find someone who is so adept in his field while also being so humble.  Do take a moment and listen to what Peter had to say.

You can also find Peter on twitter @peterliem

Today's picture from Italy

Pisanti China-China.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012

Today's picture from Italy

an outdoor sculptural decoration at the Bocchino winery.

Purposeful decorations

This Tang Dynasty, late seventh century ewer is from China. Interestingly, the three color glaze identifies its purpose. That is to say, the color of the vessel tells you what it was used for. In terms of shape, it is thought to have been influenced by Iranian metalwork of the time. The shape isn't traditional. It is the colorful glaze that is traditional and indicative of the use.

I wonder sometimes if they ever let you repaint the ewers, when say your dinner plans changed.

Beyond the human scale

This is the Duomo in Milano. It took six hundred years to complete, as additions were slowly added. It has outlasted everyone who helped create it.

Not every worthy project can be measured on a human scale. Not every creation is made by one person. In fact, few are. There are soleras everywhere.


Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, who we are apt to call Raphael and to think of as one of the greatest artists in the history of Western Art, had a workshop of 50 people. That's right, 50 people. There were artisans and craftsmen, Giorgio Vasari tells us, who came and went and were more or less skilled.

We think of a single man, Raphael, toiling away all alone, but that is not the history. Raphael worked in a workshop with several people, just as he had worked as a child in his father's workshop. But Raphael's workshop was quite big. Unusally big, actually, and full of other practitioners.

I think about this when someone tells me that a winery is "too big" to produce "artisan" wine. Big is one thing, and low quality junk is another thing. But they aren't the same thing.

Rita Jammet on I'll Drink to That!

Rita Jammet talks on today's I'll Drink to That! about the rise of Nouvelle Cuisine, the increased options on the wine list, and what words she chose to leave off the menu at La Caravelle, the restaurant she was so much involved with. She also tells us about her La Caravelle Champagne project, which she is finding success with today.

This is an oral history of the New York dining scene in the 80s and 90s that honestly you don't get to hear every day, and certainly not from someone as completely charming at Rita.

Listen in on iTunes or on the dedicated website.

You can also follow Rita on twitter @CaravelleChamp


A friend held this glass under the bulb and it lit up. I was reminded of how metal inside a microwave bursts into flame. And of how pairings can be spectacular, right or wrong.

Today's picture from Italy

Duomo, Milano.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Sans Soleil

I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering,
which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining.
We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten.
How can one remember thirst?
-the narrator of Chris Marker's 1983 film Sans Soleil

For now, and I can't imagine forever, the entirety of - I won't say the best, because I don't know what that means - the most thought provoking film I know of is available on YouTube.

Chris Marker's Sans Soleil is not non-narrative filmmaking so much as it is several narrative filmmaking, and I would suggest that you follow as many of the threads as beckon to you. It is a film that is akin to the bar described within it, "the kind of place that allows people to stare at each other with equality: the threshold below which every man is as good as any other, and knows it." Each time someone avoids looking at someone else on a sidewalk of New York, I think about recommending that they watch this film. Each year it seems like less people do watch it.

Mannie Berk on I'll Drink to That!

these men enjoy a glass of Champagne and a glass of Madeira, beverage choices Mannie Berk would certainly approve of

Mannie Berk, the man who singlehandedly rebuilt the Madeira market in the United States, is on I'll Drink to That! for a long form conversation about his career sourcing the unique and hard to find at Rare Wine Co.

Mannie is somebody who has a lot of insight into some of the classic wine growing areas of Europe, such as the Piemonte, the Rhone Valley, and Champagne. Listening to him is not only a chance to better understand what has happened in the history of those wines, but also to glimpse where they are headed in future vintages. Don't miss what Mannie has to say about traditional Barolo (or about Rioja!).

You can find the podcast interview on iTunes or on the dedicated website. You can also follow the Rare Wine Co. on twitter @RareWineCo

Today's picture from Italy

on the road to Ghemme

Translated moon

I came across this verse from the Tang poet Li Bo (also known as Li Po or Li Bai), and I thought I would share it with you. It is a small part of a larger poem that might be translated as “Drinking Alone Under the Moon.”

A bottle of wine under the blossoms,
drinking all alone.
Raising the cup to the bright moon,
with the shadow we become three.

Sometimes I think we don't speak about the transformative power of wine, the way it can change a mood or create a feeling of connection. Sometimes I like to remember that feeling, instead of the trophies.

I didn't know this before, but it turns out Li Bo was something of a poet of wine. Wine was a regular theme in his work. If you happen to come across a Li Bo verse that you like, perhaps you'll share it with me?

The verse above was rendered in translation by David Landis Barnhill.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A tour of the Levi Serafino distillery today

Of course followers of the Italian scene know that Romano Levi, the "Angelic" grappa maker, died back in 2008 at the age of 79. What is perhaps less well known is that grappa is still made at his old distillery today. Recently two videos were put up on YouTube showing the process and the people currently working at the still. If you are as fond of the Levi grappas as I am then you won't wait to check these out.

In Italian, with electronic flute and keyboard.

Part one, collecting the pumice and working the still.

Part two, bottling, labelling, and an oral history.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Today's picture from Italy

in the town of Barolo


Van Gogh's Roses was completed in 1890, the last year of his life. As you can tell from the picture above, the painting features rich swirls of paint that stand in for thick petal ridges.

But a closer look reveals that the original texture of the canvas has also been left raw and on display, contrasting with the thickly layered pigment and adding relief. Raw canvas is a rare sight in a museum hall, but here I can't help but think that it has been used very well. An unpainted canvas by itself perhaps doesn't seem organic, but in the contrast here with the rich pigment it seems exactly that, and helps convey the sense of looking at something from nature.

I was reminded of the importance of texture recently while drinking these two wines from Overnoy-Houillon, both Ploussards.

While it was true that both wines displayed rich aromas of pink roses, I greatly preferred the 2010, here the glass on the left, because of the unvarnished texture of the wine. Here, I thought, was Ploussard without addition, and without distraction. Certainly it held my attention. However the ripeness and roundness of the 2009, the glass on the right, were too much for me, and the alcohol even stung my eyes. What was lost under the weight of the fruit in the 2009 was the sense of the organic wine.

I preferred the Ploussard that hadn't been covered over.

One interesting wine: Overnoy Vin Jaune

Joe Salamone was nice enough to open up this bottle of 1999 Overnoy Vin Jaune while I was around recently, and it got me to thinking. Everything about wine is getting younger, except our conception of Vin Jaune. With Vin Jaune we still conjure up an idea like Wallace Stevens: sure there might be flashes of inspiration early on, but the full genius waits to be half a century old. Today though there are plenty of counterexamples to the old idea of old Vin Jaune, and maybe too many exceptions to prove a rule. Tournelle, Tissot, Ganevat, and Overnoy: they all produce a Vin Jaune that doesn't require or even necessarily expect old age. Each can be a child prince.

Presumed definitions are the hardest things to change in the categorization of wines. The wines themselves are much more malleable.

Today's picture from Italy

a tank of Nebbiolo at Bruno Pasquero in the Roero

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Today's picture from Italy

the lady of the mural at Burlotto, before the sun and time gave her the ochre color she has today

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It isn't a renaissance unless it happens

Until recently, this Madonna and Child from Duccio was on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. And nearby the painting was a placard that said, in part,

Perhaps painted about 1300, this exquisite painting inaugurates the grand tradition in Italian painting of envisioning the sacred figures of the Madonna and Child in terms appropriated from real life. The parapet—among the earliest of its kind—connects the fictive world of the painting with that of the viewer. As with his younger Florentine contemporary, Giotto, Duccio has redefined the way in which we relate to the picture: not as an ideogram or abstract idea, but as an analogue to human experience.

So what does this mean, that the way we relate to the picture has been changed? And what is the difference between this painting and "an ideogram or abstract idea"? It might be helpful to look at some contrasting examples.

This icon, which is housed in Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, is perhaps the oldest surviving example of a painted Virgin and Child theme, dating as it does to the end of the 6th century. What is the difference between this piece and the Duccio above? Well, the faces in the older painting seem flat and generic. These are not people so much as representations of people. Broad abstractions. You would never look at that man on the left and think, "hey, he looks just like my uncle Barry," or any such thing. These are stand ins for people in the same way that stick figures are stand ins for people. Their bodies are simplified, and they are not really resting on their feet. The space they inhabit isn't any kind of space that you or I could walk through. There is little sense of depth, and you get the feeling that the inhabitants might be bothered by the neighbors standing on top of them if those neighbors had any weight in their shoes.

But what I also notice about the earlier painting is the icy relationship between the mother and child. The Madonna stares outwards, and not at the child, with blank eyes and a flat expression. The child evokes little personality and even less of a relationship with his mother. The tenderness that is evoked in the piece by Duccio is lost here.

Closer to Duccio's own time, and to his idea of a tender relationship between mother and child, is this painting by Bonaventura Berlinghieri, the Madonna and Child with Saints and Crucifixion, dated to 1260-1270. This painting, now housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, shows an affectionate mother holding her child. But otherwise it is rather astounding to think that only 30 years separates this picture from the Duccio painting above. Berlinghieri has depicted simplified forms that can be understood as human but not mistaken for one, and in a setting that is everything but seemingly real.

What Duccio did was break from a world of abstraction and paint people that he hinted could be in our own world. So what does it mean that he left behind abstraction? An abstraction is saying to someone "cherries." This implies the basic idea of every cherry everywhere. Instead, you could present some cherries. Particular cherries, cherries that you are holding, are no longer generic. They are not every cherry. Duccio started to hint at particulars.

And what Duccio did was help put us along the path to this sort of painting, also a Madonna and Child, from the mid-fifteenth century. And here we have figures that look like people from our world, however idealized, and a child that stands on the parapet that might instead separate us from his place.

We have also been told that Duccio presented a painting that was not an ideogram. An ideogram is a graphic symbol that represents an idea. Here is an ideogram that you might see every day:

The symbol on the left is an ideogram. An ideogram isn't a word, it is a graphic or symbol that is specifically not a word. That is what makes ideograms helpful when trying to communicate with people who may speak many different languages. Ideograms aim for the universal instead of the particular.

Here is another example of an ideogram: 91 as in 91 points. And now we have gotten to wine. It is common to see abstractions and ideograms in the world of the Wine Tasting Note. But that world, it seems to me, shares little space with our own world, our world where wine is consumed and becomes part of us. Where wine tasting notes aren't human stories I think they miss the point(s). This is something that we do, that we make, and then that we drink. Why did we start looking at wine like it was something else, something different than our own experience? I know because I have seen it happen that a wine can be described as an icon. But why can't we describe a wine as a particular moment, and maybe one more full of emotion? Why do we decline to do this?

I've made an attempt to describe wine this way before and other people do as well. But I wonder if we couldn't try a bit harder. Why is it that we think human stories can illuminate for us the nature of love, but not the nature of our love for wine? And why do we expect people to yearn for notes of generic cherry?

Today's picture from Italy

near the castle of Barolo

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

Burying the bell

Dotaku are bronze bells cast during the Yayoi period of ancient Japan, which lasted from about 300 BC to 300 AD.  Around 470 dotaku have so far been discovered by archaeologists, and what is interesting is where most of them were found.  Because these bells were buried in the earth.  And it wasn't for funerary purposes, as you might expect.  The bells weren't buried near bodies.  Dotaku were often placed in the earth on remote mountain slopes, away from villages.  They were buried sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, and sometimes in larger groups.  And no one today is really sure why.  Because they are bells, and they were produced to be functional.  You might expect a bell to be hanging somewhere for use, rather than buried in the ground.  So why?

One theory is that dotaku were associated with agricultural rites, and were returned to the earth (dotaku were usually cast from clay molds) as some sort of offering to the spirits.  Or maybe they were hidden out of fear they would be stolen.  My own idea is that there was a belief in the maturation of a bell's sound.  I think that dotaku may have been buried in the earth, sort of recast in a way, so that through their ageing they might develop the capacity for a more subtle and nuanced ring. 

Sounds improbable, right?  Except that that is what we do with wine, and most people agree that with wine it rings true.

Today's picture from Italy

the breakfast room at Tenuta Montenello

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A visit to The Red Hook Winery

Sometimes it is nice to leave this behind for a bit.

And head for something more like this.

Which turns out to be not so far away.

During my trip there was a look around.

There was some local color.

A bit of time to meet the employees.

Who in general are some interesting cats.

Even on their days off.

And there was a chance to try some wine.

To hear more about how they are made.

And how they are shipped.

My notes didn't always capture the unique tone of the place.

But I did get a closeup.

Old pairings found

Dancing Celestial, India, early 12th century, sandstone
I don't often consider that a stone statue will change its pose, but in the story I heard this Celestial took a long leave from dancing. There are actually two halves to what you see in the picture. If you travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and get close up to the piece, you can see a white glue line along the stomach and under the breasts of this lady. For a long time only her top half hung in the Met. And she hung very much straight up and down, suspended vertically from the ceiling. The way she looks down today, and maybe a bit at herself, didn't exist then. She used to turn her head to the left and glance out and ahead, parallel to the floor. There wasn't much hint of further movement.

Much later a curator was half way around the world and thought he recognized something in a warehouse. There was a familiarity to the decorative clothing pattern of a bending torso with a raised leg. In fact I was told that there were a few thousand other pieces in that warehouse on that particular day, but there had been this one that stood out. Transportation was arranged, and a reintroduction. The statue that had been straight and straightforward is now contoured over her own body in a complex motion. You can go see her do her dance daily, where before she just hung out.

I imagine that there are old pairings, now forgotten, that if recalled would bend flavors to dance for us in a similar manner. I am sure that if I found one I would try to pause as it was happening, and reflect on it, just as this dancer perhaps admires her own form.

Today's picture from Italy

stained glass windows in the Duomo of Milano

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Today's picture from Italy

Some vineyard rows belonging to Gaja on the hill across the way. You can tell the Gaja parcels because he plants the rows vertically, instead of horizontally against the slope. These are in Serralunga.