An unexpected, uninvited, and very unwelcome ‘guest’

I was miserable coming off of the plane from JFK – that last glass, a 20 yr old tawny port was completely unecessary; it did go really well with the after-dinner cheese selections though. Wines with sugar: most reds from Napa?Calif., young Sauternes, young Ports, etc., just really mess with sleep these days so I avoid. And so, I wished I’d done it on 12 February during my Emirates non-stop flight from JFK to Milan Malpensa, too. I also wished I’d consumed about 2 more liters of water – long flights really do dehydrate a body.

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The arrival gate is a good distance from Customs and Baggage claim – I could manage it in my sleep I’ve done it so many times. But on this morning, 13 Feb., there was something new, a group of 5-6 people, donning those (now) ubiquitous medical face masks, with something in their hands. As part of my entry, and before I even made it to the Customs area, I had to let one of these personnel press something against my forehead – ostensibly to measure my temperature. I didn’t give it any thought that day, but in the 27 days I’ve been here, it’s pretty much all I’ve heard about (99% from friends and family in USA, a few of whom are already bracing for news of my virus-related death), and, to some extent, seen (e.g. an ’empty’ Florence center, etc.).

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Florence, pretty much empty

Since my arrival in Italy just before noon (local) on 13 February, here’s a run-down of what I’ve done, where I’ve traveled to in order to better understand growers, local grapes, regional and growing-related challenges (e.g. peronospora, etc.). It’s also a way to taste, as this year two of the most important wine fairs —  ProWein in Dusseldorf (cancelled), and VinItaly in Verona (postponed until June (which is as good as a cancellation where my attendance is concerned) – are no more.

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Florence, pretty much empty

13 & 14 February – a few visits with winemakers/friends, in Langhe, including some really beautiful moments with my good friend Fabio Alessandria, winemaker at Comm. G.B. Burlotto (something that is possible pretty much only in the dead of winter, when tourism/cellar duties are a bit more relaxed).

14- 18 February – Florence: this time I decided on an AirBnB close to Leopalda Station/Porta al Prato, where the Chianti Classico Collection tasting was held; worked out very well. A great pizzeria was very close to my apartment, even better.

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Pizzeria Piccolo Cesare, highly recommended

The tasting, two very full days, of the Chianti Classico new-release wines (e.g. 2018 Chianti Classico, 2016 Gran Selezione, etc.) was largely conducted from the comfort of my seat in the press section of the event. We would select the wines we wanted to taste, in groups of 6, and we’d raise our hands with our selections written on our tasting forms; professional Sommeliers would take each of the bottles from the large, center table, bring them to us, and pour a  ~ 1,5 – 2,5 ounce sample.

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the Press side of the tasting
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the trade and public side of the event

19 & 20 February – I used these days in order to visit each of my favorites from the above-mentioned tasting, and buy for my cellar here in Italy. I put a few miles on the rental car. I think I bought about 6 cases from several different producers. I’ll mention those by name in a future post.

21 – 23 February – Benvenuto Brunello, Montalcino. A multi-day event showcasing the new-release wines of the Montalcino region, with the 2015 Brunello di Montalcino  vintage as the centerpiece.

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On Monday, 24 February, I moved to Marche (Jesi Classico) region, with a producer visit (Col di Corte) in the early afternoon, followed by two more appointments in the afternoon (Clara Marcelli, and Walter Mattoni), and a dinner with those producers that night at a great, great new (to me) restaurant in Curpa Maratimma, Osteria Pepe Nero).

The next day was an extended visit with Ciavolich, in Abruzzo, and the next morning, a visit to Paolo Bea and Annesanti in Umbria, Le Macchie in Lazio, and an epic dinner at the home of Giuseppe, the mind behind the brilliant wines of La Gimonda, in Terriciola/Chianti.

Since that time, I’ve recently visited Puglia (4 days), Calabria (3 days), and today is my second day in Avellino/Taurasi/Campania. I’ll move back to Chianti Classico/Greve in Chianti tomorrow morning, for a a week-long stay packed with producer visits. After, I’ll move back to Langhe/Barolo/Barbaresco/Roero for 9 days, again, packed with producer visits.

I’m supposed to return to USA on 23 April, but the virus thingy may mess with those plans. So far the disruption I’ve encountered here on the ground has been noticeable, with many producers dealing with the fallout of the closure of ALL schools under a mandatory closure for 2 weeks; last minute childcare (at home, of course) is beyond disruptive.

Some random pictures from the past weeks:

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Jesi Classico, in Marche region
trellised Montepulciano vines in Abruzzo
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organic growing, including 79-yr old Sangiovese vines at La Gimonda
Natalino del Prete, a natural grower in Brindisi/Puglia; a legend in my book

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