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Displaying items by tag: Italy

Monday, 29 November -0001 16:07

Wine Pick of the Week

ferrari brut Picmonkey

Ferrari Brut N/V



Alcohol: 12.5%

Suggested Retail: $25

Friday, 12 August 2016 16:50

August 12. 2016 Wine Pick of the Week

Vandori Pinot Noir bottle Picmonkey


2014 Pinot Noir



Delle Venezie, IGT (Italy)

Alcohol: 12%

Price: $7 (?)

Friday, 19 July 2013 09:16

Il Supermercato

By Jackie Townsend

My imaginations of Italy and food are of this: a stolid, determined woman toiling away in her kitchen, pinching out pasta shells with her thumb, gathering tomatoes from scraggly vines hanging off her balcony railing, basil from the spice pots cluttering her window sill. I see her trudging up a cobbled slope to argue with the macellaio about the best cut of meat, over to the salumeria to admonish the owner for yesterday’s salty parma. I see her waddling over to the panettiere to get the first batch of bread. And yes, my imaginations are real. I have eaten meals with these beginnings, and have never once been disappointed.Italian shopping cart Picmonkey

But let your imaginations run wild into the gutter, for there is this thing now in Italy. It’s called the supermarket.

I discovered this phenomenon only recently, on a visit to Rome, when one night I was served the most fabulous pesto I’ve ever eaten. My cousin’s wife is an excellent cook, not to mention a young beauty and working mother of three. “It’s from Genova,” she said proudly (where she is from), and then she ran and got the package to show me.

Package? No mortal and pestle?

She was not ashamed. Which left me ashamed for thinking she might be ashamed. Like I might be ashamed if I cooked with a microwave. But no, this is simply how the modern Italian woman cooks. Plus, I don’t think Italians are ever ashamed. The pesto didn’t taste like it could be from a package, and it was this, above all, that confused me.

The next day I accompanied her to my first Roman supermarket. Other than the ancient external façade, once inside it looked like any old supermarket, unmemorable, disorganized, fluorescent. Let’s put it this way. It was no EATALY. I followed her around while she threw items into her basket, our three course meals for the next few nights. Everything was pre-packaged, including the meat, including the fish. Nothing said organic or free range. The bacon was pre-cut into cubes for the pasta carbonara, the ricotta from a carton, the vongole frozen, the agnolotti vacuum packed.

I’ve eaten handmade agnolotti in Italy, and yet when I ate hers that night I could tell no difference. The chicken was succulent, though it didn’t hurt that it was rolled up with slices of prosciutto into little fingers. Nothing tasted preserved. Nothing tasted tainted. The quiet ease and grace that exudes so naturally from any Italian kitchen remained in tact. No fuss. No noises. No sighs or banging. One might think there was no effort put into it at all.

One night, in between feeding three kids, to accompany our meal she set out a loaf of warm, homemade bread, quickly telling me not to worry, she didn’t have to do anything. It was made with the Bimbi.

“Ah Bimbi,” I responded, an anticipatory gleam in my eye, for while I’d heard of this Bimbi, I’d never actually seen one. Many Italian women have them but few talk about them. Like the supermarket—that crass American invention—the Bimbi is hush hush. All I knew was that it was some big contraption that could make almost any dish. From pudding to pasta, from cake to pizza, the Bimbi did it all.

It’s hard to imagine an Italian woman throwing a bunch of ingredients into a machine and pressing start. Scooping pesto from a package. But what I’ve come to learn is that it doesn’t matter. Unlike processed food in the U.S., processed food in Italy tastes how it should taste, like food, real food, the kind of food that makes me, ironically, avoid supermarkets back home because our processed food doesn’t taste like there was ever any earth involved.

So while modern Italians are going by way of the microwave, Americans like me are moving back to untainted earth. Organic, farm raised, wild caught, unprocessed. All fine and good, but after Italy it occurred to me that I might be missing the point. Forget about the salumeria, panettiere, and macellaio; forget if it’s organic or farm raised, Italians don’t really care about any of that stuff—hence, il supermercato. They care that their food tastes good. Make your food taste good. And the more simple Italian touches you bring to your table the more it will taste good. Here’s one example, my favorite taste of Italy meal to eat at home in the U.S.:

Buy a bunch of basil, cut the stem ends and put in a glass of water. Keep at the ready on your kitchen counter or sill (because it looks and smells nice). When you need a leaf just pull it off, ideally, to sprinkle on some locally grown tomatoes you’ve just sliced, adding some chopped garlic, dribbles of oil and balsamic, a touch of salt.

On a small cutting board lay out thinly sliced prosciutto and salami. (The U.S. has just relaxed a decades-old ban on cured pork from Italy!) Add a pile of crumbles from a broken up hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (what Italians call “junk food”).

Place a whole, wet mozzarella ball in a small plate, dribble on olive oil and crushed pepper.

Caesar’s olives!

Serve red wine from a ceramic pitcher. (When I’m in Italy, if a labeled bottle is put on the table I feel as if it’s because I’m there, the Americana. If I were not there, there’d be a simple carafe or pitcher filled with wine from a box stored in cooler somewhere.

Place chunks of bread or grissini directly on the table by each plate.

Drink wine from water glasses

For la dolce, mix strawberries with red wine and sugar

Buon appetito.

jackie townsend photo Picmonkey

Jackie Townsend received her MBA from U.C. Berkeley and spent eight years on the fast track to becoming a partner with a financial services consulting company before burning out. After coming to terms with what is important in life (being married to an Italian didn't hurt), she began writing and hasn’t stopped since. She just released her second novel, Imperfect Pairings, an exploration of these themes which we be reviewed in Taste California Travel's Book Section in August of 2013. For additional information please visit Townsend’s website at:


Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:16

The Mystique of Barolo

The Mystique of Baroloby Maurizio Rosso photography by Chris Meier


Omega Arte, June 2002

ISBN 978-8872414026Hardcover. 288 pages, 400 photos $75.

Available through


This is quite an accomplishment as a book. It sets out to deal with the ancient, recent and modern history of one of Italy's iconic wines. It succeeds fairly well. If the reader is interested in knowing about Barolo, this is a terrific overview and compendium. There are the labels of most of all the producers: the famous, the infamous, the not so famous and the up-to-now, unheard of producers.

One very useful part to this book is the map of the subzones of Barolo, the so-called "cru." It is this notion of sub zones of production that has led a lot of small grape growers to now start selling their own production in bottle rather than selling grapes as was done as recently as the late 1980s.

There are historical facts in abundance and bits of historical minutia that warm the cockles of any wine geek's heart. It is a substantial and substantive book.

However, there are some shortcomings. Some are of historical interest: The Marchesa Giulia Vittorina Colbert of the Marchesi di Barolo, was from Normandy, not Paris. I don't think that Thomas Jefferson was a native of South Carolina. Some of the etymological discourses seem to go off in unrelated fashion to the topic at hand. Nebbiolo in north-eastern Piemonte is nicknamed "Spanna," not for the reason given in this work. The term refers to the length of the cluster, the "span" of a man's hand, not the growing length of the vine.

The use of dialectical words is nonexistent. Piemontese is a written dialect of Italian, having a good sized body of literature. The word "Chiaretto in Italian is the "vin ciaret" in Piemontese, clover to "clairet" of the English claret. Wines in the 18th Century were like much lighter in color than now, hence the popularity of the word. Sometimes it is still used by small producers to distinguish their production.

Technology is not this book's strong point. I doubt very much that a nebbiolo wine that had not undergone malolactic fermentation would go sour over time. It may referment, break bottles, if bottled, but sour? Possibly volatile, but sour? It is stated the General Pier Francesco Staglieno, working for Camillo Benso, count Cavour, in 1836, was the first to use closed vat fermentation (I wonder how he did it?), sulpher, and different sized casks. However, the history is interesting and shows that we are not too far away from wine making prehistory if all of the history of making Barolo begins early in the 19th Century. Even the founder of Italian Swiss Colony winery in California, Pietro Carlo Rossi, gets mentioned.

Better knowledge of both viticultural and enological technology and terminology would stand this work in good stead. An example: The term "mildew" is quite specific in viticulture. There is both powdery and downy mildew. In English, devatting is commonly called "racking." It probably is a question which has more to do with which English speaking country is being addressed.

I also doubt whether or not that the early attempts in 1908 at protecting the name Barolo really did lead to the creation of the DOC system of appellation control which was instituted in 1963.

Translations into English leave something to be desired, as do proof readings. A Cantina Sociale is not a "Social Cellar." It is a cooperative cellar. Grenache is translated as "grenage." The family name of Mirafiore is generally misspelled Mirafiori. This is a shame, since it appears to be a hyper correction. It is also one of the most famous names in Barolo, since it belonged to the last private owner of Fontanafredda.

The vicissitudes of nebbiolo and Barolo are well documented: its poor color, excessive tannin, late ripening and general difficulties of production. The "tricks" of the trade are described by some producers, merely hinted at by others. Photographs of the soil and vineyard exposures show the labor intensive viticulture necessary for the production of Barolo, both today and yesterday.

The interviews with the 35 producers who represent the flower of Barolo production are the highlight of this work and its greatest achievement. The interviews really show how some want to continue in a traditional mode; others to become more "international." However, one thing that is really pervasive is the fact that Barolo is a special wine with special characteristics and possibly not for everyone. Fair enough, all wines do not have to be the same, with the same characteristics and taste. Some can be different. It is the drinker who has to come to the wine, not the wine to the drinker. Otherwise, what would be the use for appellations, notions of "terroir," and the reason for having wine growing areas? Everything could come out of the same pot, so to speak.

Some of the verities spoken in the interviews are wonderful. Angelo Gaja, probably the most dynamic of the producers, comes out with a zinger. "Never forget what Enzo Biagi said of the Italian people. 'They forgive everything but success.' "

From the promotional, technical and historical work done in the late 1970s by my old friend Renato Ratti, sadly missed these days, to the traditional methodology explained by Bartolo Mascarello, and the newest Bordeaux styling used by Elio Altare, The Mystique of Barolo shows a wonderful wine in all of its lights: good, bad, indifferent, warts and all, humanizing it and showing that wine is more than a grape, soil technology. It is a culture; a way of life; a philosophical ideal and can be a delicious tasting experience.


--reviewed by Darrell Corti

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