Sunday, January 30, 2011


2 players please

 4 suits, Coppe, Bastoni, Spade & Denari


w Ones (Ace’s)  of each suit are the most valued and are worth 11 points.
w Threes (3) of each suit are the second highest card.  They are worth 10 points.
w Kings are next, worth 4 points
w Then the horse, worth 3
w And finally the girl, worth 2 points

Deal out 3 cards to each player then pull the top card and place it face up that suit is the Briscola card.
Who ever did not deal throws down a card first.  The opponent then throws a card.  If their card is of greater value or a Briscola card than they win and collect the cards.  A Briscola card defeats a card of any other suit including face cards.  Thus, the ace of the Briscola suit is undefeatable.

Who ever collected the cards gets to draw first, and throw down first.

The goal is to have 60 points or more once the deck has run out.

Though this is a simple game to learn there is a lot of strategy involved, if you go through the game trying to beat your opponent in every match chances are you will fail to reach sixty points.  There are many places on line where you can obtain a Briscola deck.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Lombardia is the heart of northern Italy.  It is positioned directly
below Switzerland sharing a border with Piedmont to the west.   Emilia
Romagna lays to the south while Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige border
it to the east.  The capital is Milano, known to the rest of the world
as Milan a world leader in high fashion and the first Italian city to
enter the stock market.

Like many Italian regions Lombardia has had a tumultuous past full of
leaders.  Between the fifth and fourth centuries the Celtics inhabited
B.C. Lombardia.  Immediately after this the Gauls won the area and
populated the region until the Roman Conquest in the third century
B.C.  Throughout the third century B.C. the area was known as Gallia
Cisalpina and was a major base for the Romans.  After the fall of the
Roman Empire the Goths took over but were quickly succeeded by the
Langbärte (long beards) Lombard’s who gave their name to the region,
as we know it today.  Afterward the French seized control and ruled
over the region for many years.  In the mid eighteenth century the
Austrian’s claimed power over the northeast of Italy: Veneto, Friuli,
Trentino Alto Adige, and Lombardia all fell under there control.
Thus, it wasn’t until the Second World War that Italy finally ruled
over Lombardia occupying it in 1859.

Of course besides high fashion and wine Lombardia is known for its
regional cuisine. The claim to fame in Lombardia is rice, rice and
more rice.  You will find rice cooked in many different fashions
including the traditional rissoto Milanese served with Osso Bucco.  Of
course you will also find plenty of pasta in Lombardy.  The region can
claim major fame for being the birthplace of ravioli.  Also frogs,
snails, tiny fish called alborelle, and crayfish are quite common as
is minestrone, casoeula, and fritto misto.    Bresaola (air dried
beef) and violin (smoked goat prosciutto) are found widely in
Valtellina.  And, never one to leave out dessert Panettone, a
fruitcake that is traditionally served around Christmas, is said to be
quite delicious.

On to the wine!
Franciacorta DOCG creates the most popular wine Lombardia has to offer
and it has certainly earned this distinction.  With healthy mineral
rich soils that are made up of ancient glacier deposits sand and limestone, and perfect temperatures to ripen hard to grow grapes
Franciocorta is an ideal area for wine making.  Franciacorta started
out in the 1960’s when it was attempting to make a wine in the same
Methodo Classico as Champagne.

The grapes:
Pinot Bianco
Pinot Nero
Some aging requirements to Franciacorta, non-vintage spend 25 months aging and 18 of those months in bottle with yeasts.  For a vintage Fracniacorta a total of 37 months aging, 30 months in bottle with yeast.

Valtellina Superiore:  This DOCG is a strip of vineyards located on
the North bank of the Adda River right near the Swiss boarder.  What
grows here is predominantly Nebbiolo (also known as Chiavennasca).
This area consists of 4 subzones, which are, in order from west to
east: Sassella, Grumello, Inferno, Valegella.  Unlike it's big brother to the west, the Nebbiolo gown in Valetllina takes on a much softer character, lighter bodied, and have less tannin.  This is due to the more gentile maceration process that takes place.

Sassella:  With a name that translates to “studded with stones”, this
vineyard is considered to be the rockiest.   Rocks collect heat and so
Sassella is the first to be harvested as the grapes are in constant
danger of the grapes over ripening due to the intense heat.  Sassella
is the second largest of the four vineyards.

Grumello:  Just east of Sassella and Sondrio.  The terraces of
Grumello are the least steep of all the other vineyards with larger
patches of land.  The soils here have less rock and are softer and
easier to grow in creating richer, more fruit driven wines.

Inferno:  The smallest and steepest of all the vineyards.  As it’s
name implies it is hot as hell in Inferno.   Inferno is located east
of Grumello and is south facing with great and long exposure to the
sun, making this a prime location for the fussy Nebbiolo grape to
ripen properly.  This gives the wines created here the most structure
and color.

Valgella:  This vineyard is largest, located the most east in
comparison to the other vineyards, and has the highest altitude out of
all the other sub zones.  Because of these factors Valgella is the
last vineyard to be harvest by as much as two weeks.  The high
altitude creates a cooler climate resulting in a lighter more delicate
wine with more perfume, and red fruit notes.

Maroggia:  This area has just gained it's recognition two years ago.

Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG:  This style of wine is made all over the
Valtellina area with the use of dried grapes similar to that of an
Amarone.  They harvest the grapes of Nebbiolo then dry them on straw
mats for three to four months.  The grapes (or more precisely raisins)
are then pressed and aged in barrel.  Sforzato must maintain an
alcohol percentage of 14.5.

Stagafassli:  You might see this on some labels, what this means is that the grapes are bought from Valtellina vineyards brought over to Switzerland and made into wine.  This can be a blend of all the vineyards or single vineyards.

Oltrepò Pavese DOC:  Oltrepo Pavese is most known for the abundance of
Pinot noir grapes grown there.  This designation in particular is most
commonly known for the significant amount of bulk wine that is made
here and sold in Milan.

Monday, January 24, 2011


An easy to grow grape, so easy it can be planted just about anywhere.   The only thing that might worry vintners is Chardonnay’s thin skin, if there is to be rain during harvest the skins will not be able to fight off rot.  It is a vigorous vine that produces the most popular white wine in the world.  Studies have been done on the components of Chardonnay and test results came back that it shares similar characteristic to raspberries, passion fruits, vanilla, tomatoes and, tobacco.  Which means that this varietal is subconsciously familiar to our taste buds.

Uva Rara

Whose name literally means rare.  This grape is typically confused with Bonarda, and you will see it blended with Spanna to give the Nebbbiolo more finesse.


A very vigorous vine, Lambrusco produces a robust wine.  There are over 60 different sub varietals of Lambrusco, Lambusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro and, Lambrusco Reggiano to name a few.


It seems to be that this varietal does not exist that it is called Bonarda but instead is Croatina or Charbono.


 (Chiavennasca): Taken from the word Nebbia (fog) this wine is named after the thick fogs that happen in Piedmont in October during harvest.  Nebbiolo has a long history and has always been a noble grape with a lot of importance.  So much so that if you were to destroy a Nebbiolo vine you would have to face severe penalties, like loosing a hand or something like that.
Nebbiolo is a very fussy grape it is the first one to bud and the last one to ripen and is a varietal that has very thin delicate skins.  For best results Nebbiolo likes calcareous marl for soil.
Nebbiolo depending on the clone (Lampia, Michet, or Rosé) is very sensitive to viruses.


Pinot Bianco: one of the many mutations from Pinot Noir.  This varietals was introduced to northern Italy as Weissburgunder (you will still see this translation on a lot of Pinot Bianco in Alto Adige) in the mid 19th century when Austria had power.  This grape is kind of all over the place in terms of how it is going to taste, honestly it kind of has a mind of it’s own and you can open up one bottle and get rich minerality, citrus fruits, something super clean.  Then you can go to another bottle and get something fat, rich, tropical, and maybe think there might be some residual sugar but there is not.  It is a wine that you can age for 3 to 5 years and it will be really beautiful and interesting.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Named after it’s blue stalk.  This varietal needs soft winds in the spring and it’s male partner (Budai Zold) to help cross-pollinate.  Making this varietal extremely unstable. This white wine produces low irregular yields that have caused some to believe that it is related to the Italian varietal Picolit.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2008 2009

Morgon is single handedly the most important cru and also the largest encompassing 1,100 hectares in Beaujolais.  The soil structure in Beaujolais is the most expressive and interesting for the Gamay grape.  Schist and crumbling granite make up the weathered soils here.  The vines thrive very close to the ground and pruning is very aggressive to help these fragile grapes ripen properly.

Marcel Lapierre, a fantastic wine maker, helped to put Beaujolais on the map for many wine drinkers.  It is no exaggeration to say he changed the way we look at gamay today.  He was born in the 1950’s in a time when pesticides and fertilizers were being used broadly to ease vineyard management.  In the 1970's Marcel took over the maintenance and production of his family vineyards and by the 1980's he had gone completely biodynamic.  This made Marcel the first Beaujolais winemaker who used no pesticides or added sulfur in the winemaking process.  The result was a much cleaner and true representation of the terrior.

I had the opportunity to taste the last two vintages Marcel produced before he died from melanoma in 2010. The 2008 and 2009 vintages were extremely different and interesting in their own right.

2008: The growing season started off great with warm and dry weather, yet in August it began to hail creating a panic for winemakers.  When September rolled around the weather went back to clear skies and dry warm days making it a great harvest.
Results: this wine was funky, alfalfa, dandelions, blue berries, and manure

2009: Word on the street was that this had been the best vintage in nearly 50 years!
Results: fun and flirty, this wine has notes of strawberries, and violets.  The terrior is very present and the wine, being so young, is way too drinkable to believe

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sunday Lunch Arts & Culture: Willem de Kooning

Figure and Light
L&M Gallery Los Angeles.

Last week I had the chance to visit L&M Gallery on Venice Blvd. in Venice California.  This space is fantastic and if you haven’t been to a show there you should try to make it.  It is set up as two separate buildings and they are beautiful with exposed brick and amazingly high ceilings.  The Willem de Kooning show that I saw was called figure and light and fit perfectly into these two buildings.  The first building housed a collection of his most famous works, the Women drawings, which comprised the figure part of the show.  The second building held the minimalist abstract paintings he was making right before his death, the light section.  It was an amazing opportunity to see his early and late work in the same place and I was in awe of the show as a whole.

Willem De Kooning was born in Rotterdam in 1904, studied fine arts in Brussels at the Academie Royale des Beau-arts.  He then moved to New York and worked alongside Arshille Gorky and other influential artists at the Federal Arts Project.  Many of these artists would come to be known as The New York School and worked in the style of abstract expressionism or action painting.  Though De Kooning was influential among his peers it wasn’t until the 1960’s that he created his seminal work Women.  I really loved the drawings they had at L&M that were part of this work.  They combined intense colors with aggressive marks and erasures.  I believe the intense mostly primary colors really allow the viewer to focus on the motion of the piece.  You can almost feel him carving out the form of the figures and the space around them.  Though aggressive the markings are acute and intentional, done with a finesse that makes each piece dance in front of your eyes.  Though these drawings were very controversial De Kooning continued with this style for much of his life working with figures, landscapes, and bronze sculpture.

Towards the end of his life Willem De Kooning became very ill and was unable to continue in the physical and aggressive style that he had used to define himself.  However, he never stopped painting, and there is something astounding and meditative about the work at L&M created at the end of his life.  A quote on the wall by Willem said something akin to “getting old doesn’t necessarily mean you get better, but I think I can do it better now.”  These large canvases consisted of several strokes of bright oil paint.  The thing I found astounding was that they reminded me so much the Women work.  Though the erasure, the aggressive marks, the labored rendering of form and space were gone what remained seemed the essence of those works.  A simple line that tells the whole story of what all that work had been for.  As if at the end of his life he knew how to say it with clarity, to wipe away all the fuss and just get to the heart.  If you get a chance to see this show I highly recommend it.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Biodynamics: The spiritual science

When trying to understand biodynamic winemakers we must first realize that it is more of a religion, a spiritual lifestyle, than an actual science.  Biodynamics is based on the theories Rudolf Steiner developed in the 1920’s.  His basic philosophy was that vineyards were self-sustaining living organisms.  Furthermore, he felt that the earth and, in fact, the entire solar system was a living organism all connected, all working on the same seasonal rhythm.  I find it fascinating that these theories pre-dated James Lovelock’s Gaia theory by forty years or so. 

On the basis of the theory that the solar system is an organism working on a specific clock all agricultural work done by winemakers following biodynamics is to be timed with the seasons and moon phases.  There are nine compost preparations that are applied when the moon is positioned in Capricorn, Taurus, or Virgo.  Sometimes the fertilizer is sprayed directly onto the plants, other times applied to the ground.  The fertilizer is obviously all natural and is generally composed of either manure or quartz (silica).  By applying biodynamic compost in tune with the rhythms of the earth it is believed that the soil, a living breathing entity itself, is more in tune with the lunar cycles.  Among the benefits are that it is less susceptible to fungus and rot and encourages better growing and deeper roots.

The organic fertilizer used in this method is made up of waste from the vineyards. Winemakers add a starter ingredient to get things activated.  Some starters are yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak, or dandelion.  Dealing with vine pests is done in the least invasive way possible and without any chemical addition to the earth.  Generally they are collected and burnt in order to warn off other pests of their kind.

   Preparation 500 - Cow manure is fermented and then buried in cow horns in the soil over winter. The horn is then dug up, its contents are then stirred in water and sprayed on the soil.  This promotes activity in the soil and stimulates microbiotic life.
   Preparation 501 - Ground quartz is buried in cow horns in the soil over summer. The horn is then dug up, its contents are then stirred in water and sprayed over the vines at daybreak. This enhances light metabolism and the photosynthesis in the plant.
   Preparation 502 - Flower heads of Yarrow are fermented and buried in a stag's bladder. This is applied to compost 500 to help breakdown the manure.
   Preparation 503 - Flower heads of Chamomile are fermented in a cow intestine. This is applied to compost 500 to help breakdown the elements of the manure.
   Preparation 504 - Stinging Nettles tea that can be applied to weak or low vigor vines.  This also would be applied to compost 500.
   Preparation 505 - Oak bark is fermented in the skull of a farm animal.  The skull's contents are removed and inserted in the compost 5000.
   Preparation 506 - Dandelion flowers are fermented in a cow mesentery (peritoneum). The mesentery's contents are removed and inserted in the compost 500.
   Preparation 507 - Valerian flower juice is inserted into the compost 500.
    Preparation 508 - Common Horsetail made either as a fresh tea or as a fermented liquid used as a vineyard spray to discourage fungal disease.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bertani in 2010

1967 Berani
Reciotto della Valpolicella

Founded in 1857 when the brothers Gaetano and Giovan Battista Bertani
purchased several vineyards in Valpolicella with the goal of creating
their own high quality wines.  To this day they maintain the highest standards of production.  All their grapes are hand picked and the
vineyards carefully tended to.  Among their best vineyards are Fumane, Marano, and Novare Valley.  Novare was the first estate they
purchased.  It is over 220 hectares of premiere southern facing vineyards, and is composed of two different types of soil(marly-calcareous and basaltic).

Bertani is considered the god-father of the magical wine Amarone.  In 1957, so the story goes, the Bertani brothers were making Reciotto and the fermentation process did not stop.  Like many happy accidents in wine making they found when they tapped the barrels they had a
completely new, and delicious, style of wine.  They called this wine “Amarone” for bitter.

Nose: high-grade earl grey tea, tar, dried rose petals, and chocolate.

Palate: smoke, tar, dried plums and figs, chocolate, black berries, earl grey tea, a hint of black truffle, and dried leaves.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

An Interview with Red!

The thing about wine for me that is very important is that each wine has a story and behind every wine label an interesting person.  Wine has the power to talk in ways that no words can speak, being the winery, or the conversation the bottle might stir up.  This interview with my grandfather tells a long lost story about my ancestors, and confirms that a connection with your roots is never to far away.

How did you start making wine?

-As a child I would watch my father make wine for the family and I was always very curious.
As soon as I could I would help him crush the grapes by hand but it wasn’t until the age of 14 I got to make my own batch of wine.

What would be your favorite winemaking childhood memory?

-I really liked picking the Concord grapes my father Carmine Russo grew in the yard.  The amount of grapes we grew could fill up two barrels of wine a year.
We would also go down to the grape yard where they would train in containers of grapes from California, and my parents would shop around tasting every bucket of Zinfandel they passed to find the ones with the right amount of sweetness.  Sometimes they would instead of tasting just squeeze the grape in between their fingers and let the juice dry.  Once it dried if their fingers stuck together they knew it was the perfect sweetness for the wine. 
Back in those days you could get a 32 pound bucket of grapes for $1.50

What are some obstacles you have encountered in your 75 years of winemaking?

-I used to use old whisky barrels to age my wine in.  When I would get them there was always 2 or 3 quarts of whisky left at the bottom so we would drink that, our tough luck, then we would take dried peach leaves and fill the barrels and light the leaves on fire toasting the inside of the barrel.  This would prep the barrel and get rid of the whisky taste.

What is some advice you would give to a winemaker starting out?

-Sterilize everything.

Do you feel your winemaking skills have evolved over the years?  Has your wine gotten better?

-It all depends on the grapes.