He’s Back…

I snapped this picture of the infamous “No Barrique, No Berlusconi” bottle during a visit with Maria Teresa Mascarello at Bartolo Mascarello’s winery in Barolo two weeks ago.* It was out on the table in the homey room at the front of the winery where Maria Teresa receives visitors, a quiet yet poignant political statement in advance of the Italian elections. Well, those elections happened over the weekend and, I’m sorry to say, Berlusconi has been returned to power. As this article in today’s New York Times points out, he was able to do so in part because of the support of the Lega Nord, or Northern League.

I don’t really want to get into the Lega Nord’s rather xenophobic politics*, but I will share this photo of two of the party’s recent campaign posters–several of which I saw plastered around Verona wile visiting the city for VinItaly:

(Photo credit: via Willy or Won’t He?)

The one on the left is fairly obvious (“Enough with taxes, enough with Rome”). It’s the poster on the right that has me the most disturbed, with the image of an American Indian and the phrase “Loro non hanno potuto mettere regole all’immigrazione, ora vivono nelle riserve!” Loosely translated it reads “They didn’t have immigration laws and now they live on reservations!”.

Wouch.

The contrast between this poster and Mascarello’s bottle couldn’t be more clear (and, perhaps, this might give American readers a hint of the context in which Mascarello created this label in the first place). Note to Maria Teresa: it might be time to release another round of “No Barrique No Berlusconi” bottles…

*See my earlier post about the collapse of Prodi’s government (which brought about this early election in the first place), and a mention of Mascarello’s famous label.

*By way of background, Wikipedia has a succinct article on the Lega Nord here.

“Che Bella, Italia”

…, he said sarcastically. Then he raised the tumbler of Santa Maria al Monte to his lips–a savage, pungent amaro–and knocked it back, the black, bitter shot an inoculation against the budding romanticism he had begun to feel for this place, his wayward spiritual home.

Trashy, I know, but in the course of developing a fascination with Italian amari–potent bitter digestivi like Fernet-Branca, Averna, and the aforementioned Santa Maria al Monte–I’ve often begun to associate the drink with how I think of Italy. Or I should say that I associate amari with why I think the way I do about Italy. Not sure if that makes sense or not. But recently it’s been one disappointment after another, making life difficult for the hapless italophile. Maybe diving headfirst into that dark amaro pool is the only way to get over it?

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Above: Checking fresh mozzarella for contamination (via La Repubblica)

Reports of recent scandals involving two beloved Italian products, Brunello di Montalcino and mozzarella di bufala, have left me feeling rather deflated.

I’m staying away from the Brunello affair. But you can read plenty about it in the wine blogosphere. Franco Ziliani blew the lid off of everything here, and you’ll find follow up reports at VinoWire (go here, here and here), Mondosapore (go here) and Do Bianchi (go here).

As for the mozzarella scandal, according to an article in the New York Times (thanks, Lloyd!), high levels of dioxin have recently been found in samples of the famous cheese. Some believe the source of the contamination comes from Naples’ trash–a lot of which ends up illegally dumped in the wild rural areas surrounding the city. While trash dumps have not been found in the mozzarella production areas themselves, it’s not very hard to imagine an illegal dump (filled with god knows what) polluting, say, the ground water. Others attribute the contamination to unscrupulous mozzarella producers.

Italian authorities have begun investigating the contamination but the damage to mozzarella’s reputation has already been done: South Korea recently banned all imports of the cheese. And, according to this article from La Repubblica (where that splendid photo came from, by the way), the EU has warned Italy that current steps to rectify the situation are not enough.

Mamma mia!

Olfactory Delights

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…Or maybe not if you fear a little funque in your wine.

I believe that the perfume and wine worlds occupy similar rings in the sensory universe (anybody read Patrick Suskind’s Perfume?).

In a move that reflects the sensory aspirations of both worlds–and which could make even the most flowery wine writer choke on his or her next descriptive screed–Paris-based parfumeur Etat Libre D’Orange has released a new fragrance called Sécrétions Magnifiques. The perfume, according to this post on Divine Caroline, features “the four S’s of raw sexuality: Sperm, Sweat, Saliva, and Sang (French for blood).”

Mercy.

Following up on a post over at Fermentation about niche-marketing (in this case, a sweet pink wine aimed at the gay community), I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this trickle over into the wine world. And maybe it already has. Could this prosecco be flavored with the tears of Paris Hilton?

What’s next? If you know of other wine examples here, please leave a comment!

*Divine Caroline titled their post “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. So, no surprise where this is going…

City Biking is Dangerous

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Remember kids: Always wear your helmet.

Public safety message here, partly inspired by some comments to my earlier post that mentioned the dangers of fixed-gear bikes. Now, I love riding my bicycle in San Francisco, and I wouldn’t hesitate to describe this city as a bicycle paradise. And I’ve been known to fill my water bottle with a refreshing rosé like the Gris de Gris from Domaine de Fontsainte for adventure rides around town. But damn kids, those are some dangerous streets out there! Between the rising number of bicycle fatalities in San Francisco and the unfortunate accident over the weekend where a deputy sheriff struck and killed two cyclists south of San Francisco, I’m tempted not to ride for a while. Or join in Critical Mass as a protest. Either way, I’m wearing my helmet. And probably not bringing along the rosé.

* Update: Erwin Dink at Winefoolery posted this appropriate video about bicycle awareness in London in the comments section.

One Less Car vs. One Less Bike

Bicycle hipsters in cities like San Francisco often sport “One Less Car” stickers on their rides (and I fully agree with that sentiment). More recently–and perhaps as a response to Critical Mass from disgruntled drivers–there’s been a wave of cars displaying “One Less Bike” stickers. Clever.

But my new favorite has to be the one pictured below, sent to me by my friend Rob (via SFist).

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Fixed gear, or track-racing bikes, first became hot among bike messengers in major cities. They are notable for their lack of breaks, single gear and lack of a free spinning rear wheel; ie, pedal forward you go forward, pedal in reverse and the bike goes backwards. They’ve since spread to the wider hipster set, although common variations include single-speed non-fixed gear bicycles. Wannabee fixies, to put it bluntly. These often feature breaks and quite possibly a rider wearing tight jeans and a studded belt, or worse, a huge chain used to lock up the bike (popular in New York, although just plain stupid: fall on this and you risk shattering your hip).

I can understand the appeal of both bikes on one level, but in many places (like hilly San Francisco!) they don’t make much sense. Skid stops can be dangerous for obvious reasons, and those knees will only last so long, kids!

(Here’s a good article from the New York Times about fixed gear bikes and the culture that’s formed around them)

I’ll stick to my Bianchi Imola, thanks.

(NB: Post is sort of updated here)

Politics, Italian Style

Between writing buckets of tasting notes and planning various trips this spring, my mind has been lost in Italy a lot recently. Like when is it not? But rarely do I think about Italian politics anymore (you really need to be living there to follow it, and even then nothing makes sense). Until of course, something like the collapse of the government happens, and then I just sort of sigh and mutter to myself, “Italia”.

And as people have been saying since Prodi won the elections not even two years ago, Silvio Berlusconi is lurking in the wings ready to pounce. In fact, he seems to be claiming that elections could happen as soon as April–just after VinItaly, which, interestingly enough, often happens. So on yet another trip to Italy I will perhaps witness another election (although it will be hard to beat the death of the Pope in 2005 for Italian style drama during VinItaly).

Oh Berlusconi. If he returns, I wonder if someone will take up the legendary Bartolo Mascarello’s crusade?

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(Above: At a time when Berlusconi directly or indirectly controlled much of the media in Italy, therefore limiting any real critical look at him or his policies by mainstream sources, Bartolo Mascarello released his Barolo with a graffiti spattered label that read “No Barrique, No Berlusconi.” Can you imagine a venerable Napa Valley cabernet producer doing the same with the words “Impeach Bush” on the label?)

Shake it Up

Ray Isle linked today to a rather odd little video produced by the people behind Mollydooker, a newish and apparently popular winery from Australia. I’ve not had the wines myself, so I can’t really comment on how they taste. The video, however, speaks well enough for itself:

Fascinating! Weird!

Okay, so maybe they’ve got a problem with nitrogen during bottling (and why they’re broadcasting this to the world as a funky dance is beyond me), but after watching this video I can’t help but think of one of the biggest problems faced by wineries who use screwcaps: reduction. I’m no chemist and am oversimplifying here (please correct me if I’m wrong!), but to be reduced in the wine world means, essentially, to be a wine starved of oxygen. A wine in a reduced state smells funky, almost like vulcanized rubber or plastic, and one way to get it out of this state is to aerate it–to ‘shake it up’, as it were. I taste a lot of wine and one thing I’ve noticed is that reduction seems to occur most often in the relatively sweet, juicy and alcoholic style so favored by New World/international winemakers; and frequently these wines are sealed with a screwcap which seems to exacerbate the problem (screwcaps are very good at keeping oxygen out). That said, wine bottled with corks can also be reduced, and, in fact as a few winemakers in California have told me, the syrah grape itself might be inherently reductive. So, nitrogen?

For some reason I’ve got the Cars in my head now, so below for your viewing and listening pleasure is the classic, ‘Shake it Up’: