Sunday, August 20, 2017

Making Wine Your #Life - And Making It Matter

We are now officially in the post-ferragosto dog days of summer. The kind of days where, if you walk outside to get the paper or the mail or jog around the block, when you come back inside you are soaked to the bone – and not cold soaked. A warm, mushy, oatmeal kind of smotheriness that doesn’t abate for several hours. There are reasons why grapes do not grow so well here in North Texas.

What does grow well, though, is the wine community. In the past week, 1,000 or so have braved the heat of North Texas to witness, during a long (ponte de ferragosto) weekend, a full-immersion of wine!wine!!wine!!! at Texsom 2017. Texsom has become a Big Thing, now entering the terrible teen years from its natural birth in 2005. There are many interpretations as to how it got here from there, but the reality is that there are hundreds of people who come to the event, and there are hundreds more waiting to get into the event. It is three days of critical mass, an introvert’s dread, an extrovert’s frat party, and for the rest of the folks, a time to soak up all they can about wine, reading about it, tasting and drinking it, rubbing shoulders with masters (and not just the ones with the letters after their name) and gazing into the light of aspiration. A dream, perchance to become someone who can make wine a Big Thing in their life.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Sunset Somm – Tinkering Forever with Chance

“Start as a dishwasher. Become a salesman. Exit as an accountant. Sunset as ambassador. QED” – Joseph Spellman, M.S.

I read the quote above, from a most distinguished Silverback in the wine/sommelier world, and experienced déjà vécu. No, it wasn’t an allergic reaction to some Grands Vins sans sulfite or the newest, petulant Pét-Nat. It was the mirror of time – sans Dorian Gray. And it was strikingly accurate. So many of us, who started out in the wine trade, took this path. The progression was very much like a well-executed double play, performed, once-upon-a-time, on a field of dreams. Loving wine, selling wine, mastering wine. Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Reflections on (almost) turning 50 – it’s the little things

Festina Lente
Steadfast upon this sweltering little orb in the universe, moving at 1,000 miles per hour, rotating around a sun at 67,000 miles per hour, in a solar system that is moving at 500,000 miles per hour, and in a galaxy that is barreling at 1.3 million miles per hour, one can't help but wonder what's the big dust-up over turning 50. 50 years is infinitely less in magnitude than a quark or an elementary boson. But it seems significant to humans here on an Earth propelled with an unthinkable velocity from the Big-Bang, billions and billions of years ago.

And so it was, one cool evening in the Pacific Northwest in July, surrounded by towering fir trees and observed by a family of Cooper’s Hawks, that we celebrated the almost 50-year-old’s life and death.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

An Encounter in the Bardo - The Mentor and the Longtimer

Ex ante

Walking along a hiking path, on the edge of the continent and from the neighboring country to the south, the longtimer came upon a narrow valley. The temperature was a cool 66° F. The breeze blowing from the straits that separated the two countries was refreshing but brisk. The glen offered a perfect lull from the rigors of hiking and the possibility of a little, stolen nap. After all, the old hand had worked many years and this was kind of a vacation. It would also be a point of reckoning.

Once ensconced upon a picnic blanket, and after a light meal and a sip of fresh rosé wine, he slumbered. And the dream came. And inside the dream the messenger appeared. And as with all messengers, there was a dispatch. It was meant to review the old timer’s working life, this life in wine, and deeper inside the world of Italian wine than all the other wines. And as it was a dream, there would be no escape, until all the material had been transmitted. It was more like a Grand Jury.

The courier took the form of a mentor, long gone, but one who had a similar trajectory, only the generation before. So, while it was meant to be unfiltered, it wasn’t unkind. But it was frank, this review of one’s life in work.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Insights into Life and Wine ~ While Hiking Among the Old Growths

There’s a bit of the old Zen when walking among the ancient living ones on our continent in the Pacific Northwest. One is that we humans, as old as we can get, aren’t always the oldest ones in the room. Something has lived longer, experienced more of life, and even though they might not be able to out-and-out talk to us, they speak. Oh, do they speak.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gone Fission...



Going off the grid for a week. Nothing's wrong, just need to step away from the world and dip my pole in cooler waters - the rods have heated up and we're approaching critical mass.

...on vacation - back soon



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Back to the Basics in Basilicata

Americans still want to go to Italy – in fact more of them are going than ever before. And so I have been getting more than my share of queries from fellow travelers about what to see when they go to Italy. In most cases they are making the grand circle – Rome, Venice, Florence, maybe with Pisa thrown in, and if they are really packing every moment of their week (yes, 7 days!) with non-stop tourism, even the Amalfi Coast. Try as I do to encourage the hopeful visitors to pare down their stop to two (or one) I am usually not so successful. So, please feel free to cram it all in, with 90°+ F weather, and with all of the thousands of other folks, walking the hot, humid, streets of Rome, traversing the steamy, crowded alleys of Venice and enduring the long lines of Florence. After all, when you are finished, you will be rewarded with a hair-raising bus ride along the Amalfi Coast and deposited in an overpriced hotel room next to a window overlooking a fetid dumpster. You think it doesn’t happen? You just haven’t made all the mistakes I’ve made in my 50+ trips to Italy. But go ahead, don’t believe me – find out for yourself. Or…

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Angry White Man’s Guide to Italian Wine

Un po' pasquinata, per piacere

God, Guns and BBQ - That's what makes America Great!
The lawn chairs are gathered, the Roman candles have been foraged from the local fireworks store (just outside the city limits). The AR-15 is all ammo’d up and the P938 is locked and loaded, safely holstered and at the ready. We’re coming up on the Big One – Yessir – Independence Day – and aside from Beer and Bourbon, you might need to get “liquored up” with a little bit of Vino. And that Italian immigrant family who just moved into your gated community - you want to show the refugees some of that good ‘ol American hospitality? Offer them up a nice bottle of Chianti or Prosecco or – STOP!

Forget what they want – let’s show them what they need – and what you need to be a better balanced man, when it comes to Italian wine. Here’s your Million Dollar Primer – your screaming eagle guide - to the most important, best Bang! for your Buck!! wines from Italy. That is, until they get religion and switch over to “America First!” wines.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Do old Italian-American restaurants hate new Italian wine?

For those whose families emigrated from Italy over 100 years ago, it is a secure bet that we still identify with our roots. In the U.S., we’re Italian-Americans, although many of us prefer to be seen first, as Americans, with Italian heritage. If anyone doubts that, all one would need to do is get on a plane, go back to one of their family towns and see what they call you. Here comes the “Americano,” they would call. And that’s if you were born there and had only been gone for five years, let alone 100.

When one delves into the complicated mesh of food, especially from Italy, there are snags. First of all, where you came from. If from Trento or Alba, you will have your specific traditions and foods. And if you came from south of Rome, you will have another. And, seeing as many of the Italians that came to America 100+ years ago came from the south, their influence on how we perceive Italian food, historically, has been overarching.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Puglia's Rosé Conundrum - Through a Glass Darker

How is it a trait that a place is known for, even famous, shuns the quality in favor of fashion? It happens all the time - take a walk through Times Square and feast your eyes upon all that which is desirable. In the case of Puglia, today, the place has an identity crisis. And it centers around the color of their rosé wines.

Rosé wine is all the fashion today. And this is cause for celebration from those of us who never thought we’d see this day. From every nook and cranny of the wine producing universe, someone is bringing out another rosé. Germany, Spain, California, France, Texas, Argentina, Australia, Lebanon, yes Lebanon! Rosé wine is no longer this impossible dream of wine lovers, that someday we might find ourselves in a world where the pale red isn’t shunned.

I couldn’t be happier. But I also am concerned. I like deeply colored rosé wines and some of my favorite wines are starting to look pale and anemic.

“You are trying to be Brigitte Bardot when you are Claudia Cardinale!”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

40 Years - On the Wine Trail in Puglia

What a difference 14,520 days makes

It seems to be unimaginable for someone young today to digest a span of time like 40 years. And when older people, for whom time has stretched farther than one might like to admit, relate a long-past thing, for those who did not live in that time, in today’s Instagram-gratification culture, it’s insufferable. “I didn’t live it, old, man. It doesn’t affect me.” Yeah, I get that. But it does - the wine we tasted then and the wine you are now enjoying - they are universes apart. And it is important to know what happened, and how we got here, so that you can better enjoy your Nero di Troia, or your Negroamaro Bianco or your Susumaniello rosato.

Saturday, June 03, 2017


...on vacation - back soon

from the archives: How Puglia saved my life


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Italian Wines – Multifaceted, Bright, Complex and Confounding

I see it all the time – like Groundhog’s Day – people are interested in Italy, the cultures, the food, the fashion, the design, the statues. But Italian wine is just too darn complicated!

We are entering into the time when more people will travel to Italy for vacations, for tourism, for cultural renewal. I heard it last night in a little café, people talking about Venice, Pompeii, Rome. I saw an older couple in a department store buying comfortable clothes for their “trip to Italy.” And when they get there, when they sit down to eat, they will, most likely, drink Italian wine. So why do they get so hung up about Italian wine here in America?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Who cares what wine bottle you post on Instagram?

PTI – ME!

"It’s all about your brand!"

"Why be a follower, when you can be an influencer?"

"Make your mark (BIG!) for enhanced career opportunities!"

As a visual junky, I have a confession to make – I love looking at pictures on Instagram. Call it an introvert’s tendency to stand in the corner and observe. Or the realization, that at a certain age, you (ALL OF YOU!) will become invisible to the ascending generation that is full of energy and spunk – they want the world and they want it NOW! Whatever. There are millions of images flooding the site and young professionals are now being told that being active on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, yes, even LinkedIn, is a strategy to strengthen your professional career! Funny, I was suggesting this to the executives (where I work) almost ten (10!) years ago. The teenagers (then) are now in the work force, and they are a force (ASK THEM! Ask their media coach!). And it is now de rigueur to lather up one’s bandwidth with a plethora of visual droppings to mark one’s fire hydrant in the race for influence and relevance. After all, you’re BUILDING YOUR BRAND!

Wow, all those exclamation points (AND UPPERCASE WORDS!) are so exhausting! But we live, now, in a world where so many people are clamoring for attention. And unless you climb over that HUGE wall and get your advanced certification (and maybe even become some kind of MASTER!) how can one differentiate who they are, and how influential they can be, in the short term? Hey, how about posting AWESOME pictures of unobtainable (to the rest of us) bottles of AWESOME wines? Sounds like a plan!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Fortunes of the Times - Great Italian Vintages from the “Noughties” - 2012-2016

Frequent readers already know this little secret – Italy is in a full-blown Golden Age for wine. Never have we seen more great wine coming out of this land once called Oenotria. After thousands of years, we have arrived to the Promised Land. And the last five vintages have bestowed a largess upon wine lovers almost to the point of excess. Before one thinks this a protestation, let’s examine our collective fortune.

While on this last trip to Italy, covering Tuscany and Piedmont with a dollop of Vinitaly in the middle, we tasted through many wines from these five vintages from 2012 to 2016.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Piedmont’s controversial 2014 vintage in the Langhe

How important is vintage? Does terroir prevail over the wind and the rain and the sun? Does a farmer, who works the land for 40 years, have special tools to overcome the vagaries of the land? Or is it all a cosmogonic crap-shoot?

Those are questions people, far better connected than me, have been grappling with for aeons. But nonetheless, those were the questions I too asked as I stood on the tower in Barbaresco, overlooking one of the dearest wine producing spots on earth. And 2014 was the vintage in question.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rare and precious – And other unlikely juxtapositions

It started last night while I was looking for a bottle of wine to go with the lasagne. I wanted something a bit rustic, not too heavy, maybe with some age on it, and red. Isn’t that how everyone does it? Go to your wine closet and pick out something fabulous?

Earlier in the day, at the nearby supermarket, I noticed a display of wine and saw the word Rosatello. Once upon a time, that meant a lightly dry rosé wine from Tuscany, long before “that” was famous. Now it means sweet, red or rosé, still or fizzy, depending on which bottle is presented. But someone shopping in this supermarket would probably get a bottle of either, to go with their lasagne.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Is the World Ready for New Italian Wine?

When Jon Bonné penned his groundbreaking book, The New California Wine, he caused a lot of us to look at wine in a different light. It wasn’t so much that all of a sudden winemakers in California were doing something different than they had done before, for in California, experimentation is always part of the gambit. No, it was that he caused us to perceive, from a different perspective, how some winemakers in California were going about the art and craft of winemaking in a totally unfettered way. In fact, these revolutionaries, some of them, have also become part of the mainstream for wine in the Golden State.

There will always be a large commercial aspect to wine in California and other places in the world where wine is part of the commerce of the country. France, Spain and Italy come to mind. Italy has had, for some time, a robust commercial side of wine. A recent visit to the 51st edition of Vinitaly showed just how vigorous that business still is.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An introvert’s guide to surviving Vinitaly

Amor litteras ad Vinitaly
My dear mom was an extrovert. Being around people recharged her batteries, not that she needed them to. She was a perpetual motion machine. But as a child of hers, who came into the world as an introvert, the opposite happens when I am around a crowd. Thus, when I visited Vinitaly after a year’s absence, I imagined all the other people who might have to brave the endless pavilions of Veronafiere and are also introverts, and thought to make a plan for all of us.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Perpetuating a Legacy in the Modern Day Business of Wine in Italy

In recent days, in Tuscany, there were some terrific thunderstorms. Along with the rain, hail fell from the heavens. Not exactly an “under the Tuscan Sun” moment. But just as I wrote these words, the sun poked its head out through the steel gray clouds.

Over the period of 30 hours, with full immersion (and submersion, as the case may be), I had the opportunity to sit and talk with three Tuscan families about their wine business. And the overriding (if not overtly intended) dilemma they all expressed to me was that of their family legacy in the business of wine.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Valpolicella at a Crossroads in the New Millennium

Outside a storm is passing over, the sky rumbling in a way that is at once ominous and reassuring. Texas in April is not for the faint of heart. Storms of Biblical proportions, hail, wind and torrential rains often put a damper on what only hours before might have been the most perfect of Spring days. But it is also a blunt reminder that none of us are really “in charge.” As someone much wiser than me once said, “We strut and point, pontificate and strike, but, rest reassured, there are always larger forces of destiny in play.”

As the world of wine turns from Bordeaux to Italy and Verona, there will be plenty of bottles opened in the coming days and weeks. None the less of them will be local bottles, in the various trattoria and bars around the city.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Who are the Future “Thought Leaders” for Italian Wine?

With harvest behind us and winemaking for the year finished, Italians in the wine trade are living out of their suitcases. Traveling to markets around the world, attending portfolio tastings and working with salespeople in the trenches. Last week there was Prowein. This week all eyes turn to Bordeaux for their annual UGC 2016 vintage tastings. But soon there will be Vinitaly. Emails are being sent to round up prospective new clients and export markets. Seminars are being scheduled. Dinners, which will go late into the night, are being planned, in and around Verona. And there are all the people planning travel to Italy to visit and taste, before and after Vinitaly. All this eating and drinking and tasting and talking, what will come of it?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Secret Life of a Gateway Wine - Coming of Age in a Life of Wine

Living in a country that is geographically isolated from much of the world by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, many in America tend to live inside their heads. It’s funny that for those of us who love wine, the head is the receptacle for the precious liquid. If only it could occasionally be utilized as a way to flush our system and give us a more outward perspective. For some, I am sure it does. But the monkey brain inside of us, it chatters away.

I was talking to a group of young wine professionals last week, just relating the differences between now and then - then being the time when I was their age. Maybe younger. I was talking about wine and what my gateway wine was, a path which eventually led me to tables where an obscene array of aged and (often) great Barolo and Barbaresco were there for pure enjoyment. By chance, my gateway wine was a bottle of Thunderbird.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Italian Wine in the Second Decade of the Third Millennium Gets Off to a Shaky Start – 2011 and 2014 - Analysis, Expectations and Opportunities

With absolutely little or no pragmatic devices, and relying on instinct, I have hit a wall in the second decade of this new century, with regards to Italian wine. Two vintages, 2011 and 2014, are beginning to feel like other vintages, 1972, 1973, 1981, 1983, 1991, 1992 and more recently, 2002. I say this, not as a collector, for I have tasted wines from Piedmont and Tuscany from some of these vintages and have been happily surprised and rewarded. But as one who looks at these wines on an inventory spread sheet, week after week, and year after year, I have noticed alarming trends over the perception of vintages. From whence do these views emanate?

Sunday, March 05, 2017

A Good Horse - And an Even Better Saddle

The other day I got a late-pay notice from a government agency. I fretted over it for a while, imagining all kinds of economic burden to my little world. And then a picture popped up on the screen, of some crazed leader laughing with his generals in front of a high powered missile, capable of potentially sending a nuclear payload into my back yard. And I forgot all about my little problem.

There are many ways to look at things, in this age of disruption. We can bemoan the loss of freedoms we once took for granted, we can activate socially and make our voices heard and we can celebrate for our side. And that is what is being done in various quarters around the country and indeed, in the world.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Trophy Life - Did you come this far to be somewhere else?

There’s this natty new watering hole with a wood burning oven on Washington Street in Yountville. I’m waiting there to meet a friend and colleague, to have a drink and go over some Italian business. As I am early, and the bar is overflowing with revelers (it is Napa Valley Premiere week), I stand outside and catch up with emails from back home. Two large multi-person vans are parked in front. Black and shiny, with quirky license plates, monikers of someone’s idea of wine country chi-chi. In reality, these vans are peripatetic conveyances for the moneyed set, with their black and shiny boots, and black pressed jeans, and their tall blonde wives with their tight faux leopard stretch jeans, long-legged, with long, shimmering hair. “Come get in this one with us,” one of the older single men yelps to someone else’s wife. As if she was going to get in and on their way to dinner at Press, something was going to happen inside that van? She just gives him a desultory sniff and climbs into a smaller, more intimate vehicle with her curator.
Oh, the trophy life, it ain't no good life,
But it's my life.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How do you solve a problem like Prosecco?

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp (L) and Sergio Mionetto (R)
It’s one thing to try and grow a wine category into a monster. It’s another thing to hold onto it once it has grown so big that it’s impossible to wrap one’s hands (or mind) around the giant it has become. Prosecco has become such a monster. And now Prosecco is at a critical crossroads.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Italian Wine and its Truth-Adjacent Death Spiral

I was making my rounds in the wine job circuit. Serving tables. Sommelier. And now (1981) I was managing a wine bar in Dallas. My son was nearing school age. I needed a day job, being a single parent. A wholesale wine manager, sitting at my bar, told me I’d do great in the distribution side and offered me a job. And so I took a leap.

Over the years, it has been a good ride. I took a few years in between, working for an importer. I loved that side of it as well. But it was always distribution that called to me.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Showcasing Italian Wine in the USA – 3 Events to Put Your Best Foot Forward

Slow Wine – Vino 2017 – Gambero Rosso


February has been a busy month for Italian wine in America. The Italian holiday vacations, for the most part, are done with. Vinitaly is a couple of months away. And Italians, as 21st century road warriors, have their engines revved. The race has begun. And not just for the wine business. This week I huddled in a snow-bound hotel in lower Manhattan, during Fashion Week, amidst a gaggle of Italian designers, photographers and models. The spirit of Marco Polo, Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo, is well and alive, in the hearts and constitutions of Italian artists, merchants and craftsmen and women. And Italian wine is right there with them - all new, shiny and pretty.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

What will happen to Italian wine if America enters into a trade war with Europe?

The Italians never thought it would happen. They, led by the French, were marching into a huge new market, China. In that moment, they turned their gaze from America, seeing a new, emerging market filled with hundreds of millions of potential customers for their wines. Every farmer’s daughter was going to Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Taipei, Chengdu and Hong Kong with their Barolo, Brunello, their Prosecco and their Moscato. All along, China was developing cheap solar panels, racing to find a way to fulfill their own country’s need for cheap, clean, sustainable energy. And with that came the temptation to import those solar panels to their trading partners in Europe. But trading with China in the solar sector could cost thousands of jobs in Europe, where the solar energy industry had a foothold and was growing at a rapid pace. The EU threatened a steep tariff on solar panels imported from China. And China threatened to retaliate on wine with a tariff of up to 47%. A trade war loomed. And while this threat was greater to France, and even Spain, Italy also felt the slap from the big hand of China.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Survivalism for the Shattered Tribe in the Fog of Winter

Could this be the week we will look back, someday, with the realization that our wine collecting days are over? For one, the span of my life, or anyone’s life for that matter, might not exceed the time it will take to open and drink all the wines we have amassed. For another, the idea of wine, in the age of disruption, just doesn't seem that high on the list of important things to concern oneself with. Or am I wrong? Perhaps this is the perfect time to open up anything, and everything that matters. We’re not getting any younger. And the asteroid is still light years away from impact, isn’t it?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Modern Italian Woman and Her Journey on the Wine Trail

Happy Birthday, Raffaella!

A picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, 3,500. My friend and colleague, Raffaella, posted a photo from her youth. I thought I recognized that person from my youthful wanderings in Rome. A narrative was begging to be released. But it would be better coming from the woman whose image was reflected in the photograph. It’s timely, as many Italians in the wine trade are putting away their skis and golf clubs from their holiday vacations and getting back on the road. It’s also pertinent for young wine professionals, women and men, to read these words. It covers a life in wine, and in those words, there might be some guideposts for those whose experience in the wine trade hasn’t yet led them. Not yet. Thank you Raffaella, for sharing your story. It’s the story of wine, of a woman in modern times and of Italy during one of the most exciting and turbulent times in its history.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is Italian Wine in Danger of Dying from Natural Causes?

I’ve just spent an afternoon looking at Nielsen wine sales reports for America. The exercise came as a response to a colleague who told me “Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is dead, nobody drinks it anymore.” Oh, yeah? Is that so?

Sunday, January 08, 2017

A Guide to Collecting Italian Wine for the 30-Year-Old – Part I

For those who read books, there are numerous treatises on collecting wine. I’ve read all that I have in my little library. Some of them strike a chord, while others sound vaguely disjointed from the times we live in now. My exposure to old Italian wines of recent has come from the new (and some not so new) wave of winemakers in California, who are buying up old Barolo and their ilk from the auction houses. And it has been a rewarding experience to revisit some of my bottled up old friends of late. Economic realities can present the average Joe from having exposure to these rare gems. But if one is predisposed and patient, you can have those peak moments of wine appreciation, with a little careful and well-planned action. This is a very personal, and specific, guide for the 30-year-old collector on a budget.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Is Italian Wine Ready for a Revamp in 2017?

Vision quests, spa treatments, identity crisis wines and start-up disruptors

My Italian friends are posting pictures on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, from Myanmar to Miami and from mountain ski resorts. They are starting the year off with a vacation. Every year it strikes me a bit funny when this happens. Maybe my 7% German DNA overrides the need to take off. In the wine industry we just climbed a high mountain, Mt. O-N-D, and although many of us fought all the way to the end, some of us didn’t quite make it to the very top. Camp 4 maybe, but not the summit. That’s kind of the way it is though, we really never reach the top and once we do, it usually isn’t in bright shiny, fashionable ski gear as we slither down the mountain towards a hip-tone chalet filled with Franciacorta and Prosecco awaiting us. No, the battle is done, for a few days. And then it starts all over again.

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