Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Flying My Frico Flag

“Oh holy hell….what is that?!”

“Not a flipping clue but I hope to be eating it in the next few days”

A coworker and I drooling over a photo that Jeremy Parzen had posted over at Do Bianchi, a dish that he and his wife Tracie were sharing while staying in Friuli just days before the group was to be meeting him there. I put the photo out of my head, likely replacing it with my usual pre-trip freak out and last minute shopping for underpants….not what you think. I go undie shopping before every trip where I am going to be living out of a suitcase for longer than a week. Oh not for those “just in case” moments, I mean c’mon who am I fooling? No the new undies stay home and all the panties that I no longer care for come along for the ride, this way I can wear them and toss them and not have to stuff used undies in with my clean clothes. A fantastic tip given to me by my mother in-law and a brilliant excuse to buy a bunch of new underpants! So what if my husband says I am behaving like a male cat and marking my territory, it works for me.

At some point once we were all gathered from the Venice airport and bumping along in the minivan that would be our transport for the duration of our time in Friuli Jeremy began telling us what to expect. Laying down the schedule, explaining how the morning tastings were to work and that was when I first heard it, “And get ready to eat a lot of Frico”. Jeremy went on to tell us exactly what that was, or what they were really as there are two primary kinds of this particular Friulian dish, crunchy and soft. I was fuzzy with sleep deprivation and slugging my way out of a Bloody Mary haze but I heard what I needed to, there was to be cheese…..crunchy fried cheese, and sometimes there would be slightly softer cheese with potatoes, and seeing as the people of Friuli were very proud of this regional dish the chances of us being served quite a bit of it were high. All I needed. I sat there fuzzy, hazy and in my less than comfy unders and I knew I was going to be very happy.

We climbed out of the minivan at Il Roncal, the winery/hotel that we were to call home for the next 7 days, everyone a bit sluggish from travel and a little awkward with the not quite knowing each other business. Everyone milled about in front of the doors that enclosed the kitchen/dining/bar room at the estate; I spied an ashtray and slipped away from the pack for a much needed smoke and just a second away to gather my bearings. I took two deep puffs and as I exhaled I felt the weight of travel being lifted from my chest. I was struck by the beauty of the spot where I stood, the terrace above me, the rolling hills across from me and the distant voices of the people that would be my family for as long as I was there….a solitary moment before I was to be flooded with information, places, faces and flavors that were completely new. I noticed before long that I was breathing in far deeper than I was breathing out, I was ready… “Now how about that Frico stuff?”

We were eventually greeted by Martina, the proprietor of Il Roncal who appeared genuinely happy to see us and after slipping a bowl of little cream colored “crackers” before us went bouncing off to get a bottle of Prosecco to kick off the first of our many elaborate lunches. “See, I told you….Frico” Jeremy said while pointing to the bowl of crackers. I tried to be cool, nothing worse than a fat girl throwing elbows and knocking people over to get to the bowl of crispy cheese bits. I took my glass of much needed and damn refreshing Prosecco and pretended that I wasn’t dying to plunge my pudgy digits into the bowl from which my fellow travelers were noshing, was killing me. I let coy win for a bit, waited until someone shoved the bowl in front of me and I could pretend that I hadn’t noticed the crunchy bits of savory want, took only one and popped it in my mouth as if I were just being kind, yeah my bug eyes and unsightly groan blew that cover all to shit.

The second that salty but not too salty chunk of crunch hit my tongue I was a goner. My mouth began watering and my teeth….without my permission; I was still trying to savor the damn thing… came crashing down upon it sending tiny shards of fried cheese around my whole mouth. I let my tongue press the pieces to the roof of my mouth and the most delicious, savory, almost creamy flavor enveloped my palate, that would be when the eye bugging happened and that was when we were asked to come inside and take our seats at the table….but, but…I want more of that!

One piece, I had that one piece of Frico to sustain me to the next place, likely at dinner from the way Jeremy told it, before I would once again…and fuck the shy business, I was gonna be all up in it…have the delight of Frico between my teeth and wrapping itself around my palate. Um yeah, not so much. Days! Days went by and not one Frico sighting, what gives? Sure every morning I drug my sleepy ass down to the Il Roncal dining room to find slabs and slabs of creamy and delicious Montasio, the regional cheese from which the crunchtastic delights were made, it was wonderful and I sure as shit partook but….whimper, Donde the Frico?

At just about every lunch and dinner we were served Montasio in varying stages of age; from the youngest or fresh which is aged between 60 and 120 days, the semi-aged which is 5 to 10 months old, up to the oldest which is 10 months or older, was there, Friuli is very proud of their Montasio of this I can assure you. All absolutely wonderful, mild with a beautiful fruitiness and this luscious creaminess, less sharp and sweet than Parmesan with a clear milky freshness that was sublime with the high acid wines we washed them down with. I adored tasting and learning about yet another cheese but dammit, I was aching to get my Frico on. Guess I wasn’t the only one, at some point Jeremy had to ask about the lack of Frico and I turned out that everyone had assumed that we had been stuffed to the gills with the regional dish so they thought they were doing us a favor by not forcing yet another Frico on us….sigh.

On our final full day our handlers at the Consorzio took pity upon us and made arrangements for us to have lunch at a spot that was known for its Frico and not just any Frico, the soft Frico which much to my elation is basically a semi-crunchy cheese shell with…soft potatoes inside of it. Well friends that right there is better than porn to this Irish girl. Our little mix matched family sat around a picnic style table and cut into slabs of potatoes encased in chewy Montasio, drank crisp and refreshing Pinot Bianco and had a conversation wondering why this dish is not on every restaurant list in the states. Traditionally served with grilled polenta which is great and all I think on a list here in the states, this dish served with a bright salad of tender greens dressed with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, maybe a glug of good olive oil, well what the hell is there not to love?! An absolutely brilliant dish that is astonishingly wine friendly, wicked cheap to make and judging from the groaning and reaching that went on at that table, quite the crowd pleaser. One of the best things I put in my mouth on that trip and a dish that I will be making this weekend to share with friends and family….just so happens my cheese supplier has my newly beloved Montasio, so guess who else now has some…oh yeah, The Wine Country. Gonna be waving my Frico flag for sure….

Recipes Here:



One of my other favorite dishes with this marvelous cheese was served to us at the home of Daniela and Pigi Comelli. A simple but perfect salad of tender greens, (looked liked Mache) topped with grated pears, grated Montasio and topped with a piece of fried San Daniele ham and drizzled with good olive oil. That’s it. No vinegar, no fluff…just the thin shards of pear matched with the creamy luscious cheese. What the Italians do best, let the ingredients speak for themselves…perfection.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


So you know when your car is making some horrid sound? A crunching or squeaking so alarming that you are sure that if you don’t get it to the mechanic, like soon, the freaking engine is going to either fall out, freeze up or blow up? So sure in fact that you beg, plead, cry and offer sexual favors to get your mechanic to agree to squeeze you in only to have your fucking car sail into his bay quiet as a church mouse?


Your child has been coughing, wheezing and running a fever for three days and after you procure the much coveted appointment with the pediatrician, get the time off from work, toss a wad of cash at the sitter and the receptionist at the doctor’s office….the one that informs you that your new co-pay is now double what it was before….and the second you are in the waiting room your poor, sweet, sick wee one acts as if merely walking through the medicinally stanky doorway was akin to the laying of hands and is now not only the correct temperature, but is down-right perky and playful…little bastard.


The same bizarre Whoever’s Law happens when you attempt to show your husband how stuffed up your nose and unmovable your mucus is by pressing your thumb across your one working nostril and with all your might blow….as you have been doing all goddamn day, only to have a snot bubble the size of a basketball form…your eyes wide and blinking with shock as the human equivalent of Super Elastic Bubble Plastic shoots from your face. Fun for the whole family brought to you by SAM-O….

So yeah, the crud that tends to happen when locked in a metal tube of recycled air and beer farts has fallen upon me….have the dreaded traveler’s cold. Stinks…well not that I can smell it, so maybe blows…oh never mind. I would write you all a tasting note about NyQuil but there are only so many ways to say, “Tastes like ass” and while this Gin & Tonic I am using to fortify the sleep inducing properties of The Quil is very refreshing I just can't find the steam to pick apart which botanicals are singing just now.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ring My Bells


Church bells, I’m sitting here back on my little couch perch feeling the jet lag finally settle in and I hear the church bells ringing from the Catholic Church down the street. I’ve lived in this spot for close to thirteen years and cannot remember even once hearing them before. I just got back from a place where the bells rung often, being there experiencing, seeing, tasting….feeling things for the first time….aware of each tiny nuance and now here I sit, in a place I know so well that I can damn near navigate it with my eyes closed, with the bells of my own place awaking me to what I’ve been missing….well by navigating through my daily life with my eyes closed.

These trips are always like this for me, always this kind of awakening of sorts, a breathing of new life into a soul that yearns to experience new things but sadly too often lets that get tucked aside or buried beneath the stacks of return emails, magazines to read, blogging…planning and making dinner. All the little tasks that make up my daily life, the one I shamefully, all too often navigate with my eyes closed. Even when it comes to picking wine for the night, I have this remarkable world of wine at my fingertips, wines from Piedmont, Marlborough, Dry Creek, Savigny-les-Beaune, Alsace, Muscadet and yet more often than not I wrap my fingers around the neck of a bottle of Francois Chidaine Touraine as I am running out the door. Sure it’s a fantastic wine, be willing to go so far as call it an astounding value, familiar, delicious, food friendly….but, I missed those bells. Eyes closed.

I like to fancy myself a fairly wine savvy chick, been lucky enough to have some of the most sought after wines in the world fall upon my palate, kicked up dust in the cellars of wineries whose wines many people never even see a bottle of. Not sure how it all happened but happen it did and when I think back upon those moments I feel lit up, tingly and profoundly lucky but let’s be real, not about to pop Lafon Montrachet for a tingle. The thing I can do is recall those moments at will; picture the winemaker, the cellar walls, the kind of glasses we drank from, the way the wine rolled across my palate. Those memories are part of me and my wine education and I have them with me always, with me on my drive to and from work, in my heart when I blog, part of my sensory system when I taste anything but, well there is only so far a memory can take you and the one place beyond its reach, is forward.


When Jeremy Parzen first asked if I would be willing to join he and a handful of other American wine bloggers on a trip to Friuli the first thing that raced through my mind was, “Me?! I don’t know anything about Italian wines beyond Pinot Grigio and Langhe Nebbiolo.” The next thing to come was, “Of course I want to go, I don’t know anything about Italian wines beyond Pinot Grigio and Langhe Nebbiolio” and knowing that The Wine Country could spare me this time of year I shot back the, “I’d love to!’ email. I instantly began walking the Italian section at the shop, eyeing the bottles, trying to pronounce the winery names and testing myself on regions and what grapes grow there….just as I thought, I knew almost nothing. Sure I knew a bit about Tuscany but truth be told, don’t care much for most of the wines from there. Piedmont I could wrap my head around a bit better, Nebbiolio being an aromatic variety much like my beloved Pinot Noir and Dolcetto often being grapey and a tad softer in tannin like Beaujolais on steroids but, for the most part Italy and Italian wines were a complete mystery to me.

The first few hours of my Friuli immersion course were spent speaking English, sipping Prosecco and trying to shake that, “What the fuck am I doing here?” feeling. Just trying to gear up and take in as much as my tiny melon could process. Once we were released to check into our rooms and take a look at our itinerary I found myself awash in utter panic and desperate excitement, on the sheet detailing what we were to taste and the estates we were going to visit there was maybe three things I had heard of before. Friulano, heard of that but never without Tocai in front of it, (and as I would learn the Italians too had to remove the word Tocai, just as the French had to with Tokay for their Pinot Gris. The Hungarians had a hissy and won and now Tokay is a protected name and only they can use it) Pinot Grigio of course and Sauvignon but what the hell are Pignolo, Picolit and Schioppettino?! Wasn’t sure I could even say them let alone taste them. No frame of reference, no memories to look back on, just me in this strange place for the first time tasting things that I had never even heard of….are those bells ringing?


So you know when you step foot in a new restaurant or even fondle the menu of the one that makes like your favorite pot pie or whatever and you are thinking of trying something different? The way you hover a bit, that little pang of “what if I don’t like it?” the fear of the unknown keeping your feet just above the pond, afraid to plunge….yeah well I told that fear to blow me and jumped in with both feet. Splashed around in the sound of a language that made no sense to me, felt my teeth tug at the flesh of San Daniele prosciutto, (giving Parma a run for its money) got my Frico on, (this I will explain in my next post) found that I have a slightly dangerous love for Grappa and discovered that Schioppettino, a grape literally saved from extinction by the people of Friuli, can be as diverse and sexy as my much adored Cabernet Franc.


I came home exhausted, thrilled, spun, craving, full of adoration and passion and now….I hear those bells ringing and can feel mine vibrating as well....

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Squishy "Balen-times" Puddle...Two Years Ago A Love Story Began

So I have noticed that the older I get the more I find that those short people that toddle around, spin until they get dizzy and get excited by the sprinklers, not only tolerable, they can be down-right adorable. I was one of those, “Not really a kid person…you know except for my own” but it seems that something is changing. Not sure if it started when my son became a young man, no longer finding it hilarious when I puffed my cheeks up and bugged my eyes at him. Could be that my “clock” is creating a shift in my space time continuum or it just may be that 2 years ago the cutest kid, (again aside from my own) moved in across the way from my apartment.

When they first moved in he was just a baby, so I gave him little or no attention other than the typical “Oh great…a baby” comment, complete with eye rolling and a snotty teeth sucking sound. I envisioned late nights having to endure that squealing, new baby cry, or worse, being face to face with the family on the way to my car, having to say, “Oh isn’t he cute” hoping to God that they wouldn’t respond, “Oh thank you. Do you want to hold him?”….because ya know…I didn’t. Wasn’t him, just not into babies, I find them texturally unsound, too soft. Don’t’ want to hold them too lightly and risk dropping them when they make those random jerky movements and don’t want to have a Lenny, (Of Mice and Men) moment…too much pressure for something I didn’t want to do in the first place.

I was never rude, I would wave when I saw his parents, they are a very sweet couple…so sweet in fact I almost forgot the kid was there. Never heard him cry, or the once or twice I thought I heard something their front door would quietly shut and the flicker of baby sound was hushed. It was almost 9 months after they moved in that I really noticed him, noticed more bang-bang-banging, giggling and every once in a while I would peer out my window watching this tiny toe headed kid, hands gripped to his mother’s fingers for dear life while he was learning to walk. This was when I first noticed those little pangs of, “Awe”.

Another couple months and he was teetering around pretty good on his own, although he still needed assistance getting up on the stoop….not much you can do with 4 inch legs and all, and he began to discover his voice. He would stand at the screen belting out these sounds from way down in his tiny little tummy, he would do it for like 40 minutes at a time. Deep grunting almost guttural sounds could be heard floating across into my apartment, but all I could see was the very top of his not so tiny head, and the outline of his bitty self standing there with his palms pressed against his chest, letting the vibration tickle his little digits. This began the chuckling on my part.

Well it has been all down-hill from there, he has learned my name, he yells across the courtyard at me, he re-named my husband, (Carl) Call-o….something we all call him now, and when I’m not home he yells to Call-o, “Hi-lo Call-o, where Sham iz?” and when he is told I am still at work he responds, “Okay, I tell her later den”….dude. Long time readers have heard me gush about him before, I’m a goner, he won me over; big blue eyes, white blonde hair atop his generous melon and a disposition that makes him irresistible….oh and he even has a little shirt that says, “ladies man” on it….seriously, this “one tough nut” has been cracked wide open and I am infinitely happy watching him putter around the courtyard and find that I am totally bummed when he is gone all day…..can you say, sucker? (Shaking my head)

So today….today he one upped himself in the book of cutest things ever department. I saw the screen open, I saw his mom with a paper plate in her hand and I saw him come bounding across the patch of grass that separates our apartments. He placed his lighty-up shoes on our stoop, to show us again….you know that they light up and his mom handed us the plate saying, “Tyler made these for you. Tell them what it is Tyler”. “I made Balen-times cuck-cakes” (Melting) he responded. “This one is your Sam” his mother told me while pointing to the cupcake that had a little heart candy that said, “Cup Cake” on it….I stopped myself from snatching him up and giving him big ol’ hugs right then and there. “I use da mixer, put fwas-ting and sprinkles on dem” he beamed….it’s over, my hard as nails act is finished….big tough looking girl reduced to a pile of goo by a 2 ½ year old and pink cuck-cakes…..sigh

How To Get You Some... (The Wine Country Newsletter Article)

Do you love your partner? Do you really want to make this Valentine’s Day something to remember? Do you ache to make your beloved feel like the most treasured and sexy beast on the planet? Then step away from the stuffed animals, pre-fixed (read crappy) dinner out and for the love of all that is holy drop that dusty heart shaped box of waxy chocolates and creepy tube of red roses! First of all, anyone that is of legal drinking age does not need another stuffed animal, have you seen Hoarders?! I for one am convinced that’s where it starts, with some attachment to those plastic eyed, plushy expressions of “love”…don’t do it. Secondly those romantic Valentine’s dinners are a total hosing, the food is marginal at best, the service is sketchy and the truth is they know you feel as if this is what you have to do so they charge far more than the meal is worth. Nothing says I love you like a craptastic meal out, Yay. As for the crappy chocolates and plastic wrapped roses, first of all it is a little trite and absolutely unimaginative and secondly if you can find it at CVS…you know, near the Q-Tips and booger remedies, well it aint all that romantic, trust me.

I don’t claim to be an expert on love, on what a woman or man wants but I have been a study of human behavior for years and a observer of customer interaction for almost as long and I can tell you, from firsthand experience there has never been more snuggling, smooching and out and out sensual behavior than there is at one of my Champagne events. Not even close. I know people get all gushy about Burgundy and the Loire but noting elicits more overtly playful and downright flirtatious behavior than Champagne. Something about those tiny bubbles just renders many of us incapable of controlling ourselves and isn’t that what as the gift giver we are really aiming for?! This is the one day of the year that getting “lucky” is pretty much a given but would you rather be snuggling up to someone with a belly full of fantastically loosening bubbles or someone that just ate a heart shaped pile of pasta served on a wet plate by someone that gives a rats ass and costs three times what it’s worth? Bubble belly, go for the bubble belly…trust me.

Make a simple dinner, something like omelets with a simple salad or go all out, (and save yourself some time) and pick up some fried chicken or swing my The Wine Country and let us pick you out some cheeses, olives and salamis for your own little carpet picnic. Grab a couple, (trust me you will need two) bottles of Champagne and show the one you love just how special they really are. You can thank me later…..

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Turn...

I’ve played it your way
Let you force yourself inside me
Opened up to take you
Felt your fingers in my mouth
Heat against my flesh
Your icy hands around my throat making my breath shoot deep within my chest searching for warmth and quivering in fear….

I’ve played it your way
Unsure what you are telling me but following you aching to know what you mean
My body weak from indulging you
Me, mouth open, crawling back for more
Your unique flavor racing through my head
The craving for just one more taste akin to fingers tugging at my flesh….

I played it your way but today, today it was my turn
Pounding my feet against your heart
Taking your flesh between my teeth
Feeling your milky sweetness melt in my mouth
Fearlessly swallowing big, deep mouthfuls of you
My back straight
My heart open
My want, little fingers against my spine…..

I’ve two more days to feel you slipping beneath my skin
A lifetime to crave more
It’s our game now Friuli
I'm yours as long as you want me

You are mine as long as I have dreams to remind me.....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Hug After Rough Secs

A woke yesterday morning with an extra lift in my somewhat overwhelmed step. A faintly cocky bounce on the tips of my toes in the knowing that I was going to be tasting Sauvignon Blanc all morning. I’ve been dipped into a vat of wines that I have very little experience with, trying to wrap my head and palate around a whole new bunch of grapes and while I find that gratifying and adore the opportunity to learn I was ready to wrap my lips around something that I knew.

I drink Sauvignon Blanc, I love Sauvignon Blanc. No more challenging my palate….well other than testing its fortitude, this was to be a cake walk and I could chime in with all my fancy Sauvignon Blanc descriptors, reach deep down in my bag of tricks and find the round peg for the round hole. Thrilling feeling that. For the first time on the trip I was kind of an expert on something we were to be tasting…, yeah.

Once huddled down at the Consorzio we began tasting. This is no slacker, sit around and shoot the shit kind of deal. We are being given a total immersion into the wines of Colli Orientali del Friuli, this means we are tasting six wines at a time, jotting a few notes, dumping and moving on. No lengthy discussions and no romantic gushing, sniff, taste, swish, scribble, spit and move on to the next flight of six. So I somewhat smugly pick up the first wine in the first flight and scanned the faces of my Italian wine aficionado travel buddies, feeling the, “Oh yeah bitches, watch me now” wriggle up my spine and just as I brought the wine to my nose I felt that “bitches” thing drop all the way back down to my ass. Dammit.

I quickly spun and sniffed each wine in the first flight, searching for something….anything that was familiar in this grouping of wines made from the grape that I so adore. Nothing. Practically nothing in the glass compared to what I knew of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, Bordeaux, California, Chile or New Zealand, what the hell?! I sucked it up and told myself that it was just a weird flight of wines, don’t get me wrong, the wines were not weird, just not what I expected from Sauvignon. Shoulders back as the next flight was poured, my little spunk trying to regain its footing and after spinning glass number one from flight number two, burying my nose it….I realized that I don’t know shit about Sauvignon Blanc, least not the ones from Colli Orientali del Friuli. Kinda thinking that is why they wanted us to come here, to learn all the shit we thought we knew…..

Thirty something Sauvignons later and I walked out of the tasting less cocky than I had hoped for but knowing a shitload more than I did when I walked in. We discussed the tasting over lunch and the one resounding impression I was left with about Colli Orientali del Friuli Sauvignon, I mean other than it is its own thing and ought not be judged by any other Sauvignon grown anywhere else…they are profoundly sec. Ha! Take that, I got to use one of my French terms….ahhh, I feel better now. Truthfully the wines are quite a bit drier than many and not only was it educational as far as tasting Sauvignon Blanc from this place, it was a reminder, a gentle nudge or flick on the back of the head not to encapsulate any wine by variety….just like people they are the products of their environment, each one unique and deserving of fresh eyes and palates.


After lunch we stopped in to taste the wines at Ronco del Gnemiz and were greeted first by the sweetest little floozy of a dog. The second anyone’s hand came near her she would drop to the ground and roll over on her back, hey the girl knows what she wants, who the hell am I to judge? After petting the tummy of Floozy McFun Puppy I looked up and was met by the hand of Christian Patat and while I knew we had never met there was something in his face that was terribly familiar, not so much any features as a feeling I had when my eyes fell upon him. Shrugged off the, “God I feel like I’ve seen you before” feeling we made our salutations and all headed into the tasting/music room at Ronco del Gnemiz.

Seated around the table while Christian and wife Serena discussed their methods of viticulture, the style of the wines they are looking to create, explaining that while they may not make wines that are typical of the region, they believed they were making wines that were true to their vision. Sitting in that room listening to them, watching my fellow travelers ogle their extensive collection of jazz I started to feel that little “itch” once again, there was just something about these people that was clicking with me in a big way……..then I tasted their 2009 Ronco del Gnemiz Sauvignon Peri.

“Dagueneau” it popped in my head once I smelled the intensity of that wine; the wickedly ripe guava, the middle core of minerals, that saliva inducing zing of citrus rind, Dagueneau. Once I had the wine in my mouth I knew that while I had never tasted that wine….there was a very familiar “spirit” in it. The 2008 Sauvignon Sol was yet another comforting hug of sorts, the super tropical fruit, seasoning of creamy oak, the girth on the palate. Here was the commonality I had been searching for all afternoon, the expression I was aching to find, my mistake was looking for it in the flavor of a grape rather than in the spirit of the person or people behind it.

Scusi….and won’t happen again.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I May Never Leave.....

Um, why have I never heard of this and where the hell is the joint back home where I can get me a crispy crust pizza with my beloved french fries strewn about the top?! This is the stuff my dreams are made of...well that AND having four brilliant and damn attractive men on my terrace drinking Nonino Grappa, smoking, laughing and sharing a passion for indulgance at 2:00 AM after a long day of Sauvignon tasting.....

Ah Orientali de Friuli, you're wrecking me and I might never wanna leave.....

Soaking In The Land of Sumptuous Flesh & Palate Encasing White Wines


Even at dusk here in Friuli there is this slight smoky softness that seems to envelope the gently sloping hills, tall trees with their winter branches bare and reaching for the sun. The little farmhouses and narrow village streets all blanketed in the same almost billowy shroud of faint haze. Quiet beautiful really and even more so as I sit here soaking in the wealth of information that has been thrown at my head and palate over the past two days, reliving the foods, faces, wines and passion of a people that have opened their homes to us, their barrel rooms, their kitchens for no other reason than to share with us the taste of their place. The place they work, farm, raise their families…really live. Been a remarkable education for me….

I make no secret of the fact that I am a French wine lover, I drink them far and above any others and they are at the core of my wine loving life but that other part of me….that one that likes to wander, discover and splash my tongue around in something new, well I am getting quite a thrill out of these remarkably complex, somewhat mineral driven white wines. The diversity, the complexity, the richness and depth on the palate, the rather stunning age ability. They have been rocking my French wine drinking world over the past two days and I can quite literally slipping beneath my skin.


Yesterday morning we met for breakfast and I was giddy as hell to find the regions beloved prosciutto; fat glistening as it came to room temperature, along with slabs of regional cheeses like Montasio, waiting for me at the breakfast spread. One of my favorite things about visiting Alsace is the fact that they serve ham and cheese for breakfast and much like Alsace Friuli being so far north they too serve this more Germanic of breakfast options. Screw the cereal and sweet breakfast crap, bring on the savory cheeses and bits of ham! Thrilled, I was simply thrilled and munched away on my ham and cheese while sipping on the other new love of my life….Italian coffee. Fuck. How do they get it so dense, extracted and rich without getting any of that bitter thing that can and does turn me off? Dunno but I am taking in as much of this brilliant stuff as I can possibly get my hands on.

We made our way to the Consorzio in Cividale where we tasted through forty two Friulano (free-U-lano)…yeah, forty two. I’ve had so little actual experience with this particular variety, a bottle here and there and a handful at a trade tasting, so this was quite the palate crash course for me. We are doing mono variety tastings so as to get a real feel for what the region has to offer and for me there could be no better way to learn about a grape but….a better way to really learn about a wine? Well no place can do that better than in the homes face to face with the people that make it while eating the foods that have been prepared there for centuries.


We travelled from the Consorzio to the Butussi winery where father Angelo and sons Filippo and Tobia served us bowls of steaming and ultra savory barley risotto along with older vintage of their Friulano…mind bending how delicious both were. We were then served another regional dish that I am sure I would offer sexual favors for it was so good; white polenta with warm slabs of salami and vinegar dressed onions…seriously one of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth. Father and sons went on to tell us about the history of their beloved region, how at one time it was the epicenter for all things aircraft and discussed, while pouring more mind you, the evolution of the wines both in Friuli and there at the Butussi estate. My head was spinning with pleasures. Pleasure of palate through the food and wines, pleasures of learning something new in a field I so adore…I had no idea that Friulano could age so beautifully and am now rather intoxicated by this sexy bitter thing that seems to run through many of the older offerings, and the very real pleasure of watching the history and pride swell up in a family as they explained their lives and this place….what it all means to them, to us. Okay and there may have been just an ounce of pleasure watching the Butussi men talk, damn….quite the genetic jackpot.


Floating and
Loving every minute of it

And that was just lunch.

Monday, February 7, 2011

First Impressions

Greetings from Friuli everyone! I arrived safely and aside from one “zipper situation” in the security line at LAX, (Really? I just had to wear the Tootsie Pop unders on a day that I decide to flash all that cared to look, at Los Angeles International Airport? Perfect) I made it here to the North Eastern hills of Italy unscathed and in good spirits. Those of you that pay attention to such things you might have noticed that I posted my last entry about three hours before I was to supposed to leave for the airport…yeah, I suck at travel. Was only about fifteen minutes late for our, “Let’s leave by” time and sailed my exhibitionist ass through security with lots of time to spare.

Empty row all to myself from Los Angeles to New York, this was a godsend. Stretched my chunky, sleep needing ass out and slept almost the entire way there which I am sure is part of the reason I can find the energy to write and the desire to pop the bottle of Il Roncal Chardonnay that was just like sitting here, waiting for me and junk. Yummy un-mucked with Chardonnay is charging my batteries while I screw around before dinner. Off to a fantastic start.

Kinda weird meeting, like face to face meeting, people you have been reading and chatting with for as long as I have been with a couple of the guys along on this amazing journey. Alfonso of On the Wine Trail in Italy is exactly as I thought he would be; smart, dashing, funny, inclusive, wicked interesting and I adore that he and I share a similar “emotional” way of writing, not just writing, but feeling about wine. I was a fan before we actually met and now, well now I’m just trying my best to not be like that boogery kid that we all hid from in grade school, “Hey! Wait for me!” with him…

Jeremy of Do Bianchi on the other hand is not at all what I expected. I had in my mind that he would be kind of quiet and shy but nothing could be further from the truth. Matter of fact I’ve found myself speechless a couple of times by just how charismatic and commanding he is. The guy not only knows his shit, he knows it in multiple languages and is an ever willing teacher. Cannot believe my good fortune to be here in Friuli with these guys that are so very passionate about this place and just so happen to be wicked cool.

David of McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail falls somewhere in between. Kind of what I expected as far as the wine stuff goes but he caught me a little off guard with a kind of quiet sweetness. The first to grab my bag, following me out while I had my dreaded cigarettes, I’m guessing in an effort to watch out for me which is just adorable as hell and comforting when being in a place so far from the people, smells and even the wines I know. I felt at home with him the second he hugged me….

I’ll have to report on Nicolas and Wayne after spending just a touch more time with them. Poor Nicholas of ‘na cica de vino, had one hell of a trek to get here and has been struck with sleep deprivation retardation, a syndrome I’ve come to know all too well. Poor baby, I’m sure he will up and running after a good night’s sleep. Wayne of both Bastianich and Old White Wine, joined us for our welcome snack, he lives here in Friuli….but I didn’t get quite enough face time with him to discover anything more than he seems like a genuinely kind man, appears to get my particular brand of humor and is absolutely in love with this place that he now calls home. I am sincerely excited to learn more about all of these tremendously articulate and remarkably knowledgeable dudes. I’ve got lots to learn and this group is saturated with guys that can teach me. Just gotta keep to my chant, “Don’t go all boogery kid. Don’t go all boogery kid”….wish me luck.

As for Friuli, well we have just met but I am immediately struck by the beauty, soft rolling hills, the way everything looks like it has been sprinkled with a soft dusting of powder….just enough to keep things from looking too stark or severe…kind of reminds me of Burgundy in that way. I’ve discovered that this place and I have something in common, a profound love for white wine and a fierce passion for the tender, glistening, groan inspiring meat of the gods…pork. Pork is huge here and seeing that prosciutto is as prevalent catsup back home round these parts….well, I’m happy as a pig in, well maybe the pigs aren’t so happy here but dammit they taste fucking amazing.

Just checking in all. Not too much to share as of yet but be sure to check out the COF2011 blog, (I put it on my blogroll) where my fellow travelers will be posting their impressions and photos, (sigh….dreaded pictures) as well….
Sweet dreams everyone

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Cup Runeth Way Over

I should be in bed.
Should be tucked away in my little half moon position, Snuggle Buddy, (the deflated pillow that I wrap my body around at night….the one my husband loathes and threatens to “cut” because it gets far more Sam time than he. I keep telling him that if he didn’t have all those pesky bones and shit, if I could bend him in half and make him fit just so, between my thighs or crammed against my chest….well then he could be my Snuggle Buddy. But he can’t be de-boned and so…) squished between my arms while I dream of lust inducing white wines, melt in your mouth prosciutto, rolling hills and learning something new about the tingle inducing liquid that….quite literally changed my life.

But here I am, still awake about 5 hours from when the alarm clock is set to scream at me to ensure that I am washed, made up and at the airport on time to sit and wait for my very long flight to New York and the even longer flight to Venice. Can’t sleep. Can’t even really think about sleeping. My mind is racing, thoughts bubbling up to the surface only to be bubbled over by the next. Feels like I’m caught in the undertow, my mind floating and gasping for air just before another wave, frothy and full of dreams, fear, excitement, whispered devotion and complete disbelief, comes roaring down forcing me just a bit deeper, the, “How did this happen?” slipping from my lips and racing to the glassy surface miles above me. My body tumbling and unsure which way is up, the muffled roar just soothing enough to make me unsure if I even wish to fight it…the elation I feel telling me to just shut up and enjoy it.

Sitting here in my gentle tumble I find myself almost embarrassed of the riches that have been bestowed upon me. The little twists of fate, the “hard choices”, the things I was never even sure I had a say in but just went with. These things all brought me here. Had me sitting at my perch, fingers flaying, heart racing, big mouth wide open for the first time and in that, well I think I found the me that I’m not sure I even believed was….in me. Now I’m being taken on yet another trip, another dive into the depths of a culture that aches to teach and I can feel myself releasing all my bubbles and wriggling my body up to the surface to take a breath of new air. Wide open. My heart, my mind, my want, my flaying fingers, they are wide open and this trip is just one more reminder that as fucked up as we might be/may have been…second chances and faith, well they are resting right on that bottom lip. Exhale. Let it go and as much as our past might weigh us down it is not an ankle bracelet.

I’m steppin’ out…

Releasing my bubbles and following them to the surface
Flying off to Italy
Being wooed
Letting the very idea of that make me swoon….

Not one thing in the life I was handed or the treacherous life I chose could have ever prepared me for this. I board that plane…fuck in a couple hours, my clearly sleep deprived face, my desire to be appreciated, my yearning to be understood with me with each and every step. The three years of comments and absolute devotion my Snuggle Buddy, soft and perfectly molded to squish around my bits. When I tell you all that you are with me it’s an understatement. If it were not for you, this would never be happening.

There are no words big enough
No phrase profound enough….
Without you all, well I would still be selling wine but…..
I could never feel as loved
Full of life
As I do now….

Thank you. From the very bottom of my wave rolling heart

A million tiny kisses..

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Poll: Vote for your favorite class photo!

Anyone care to place your votes for the COF2011 Bloggers Class Photo?

Picture #1


Picture #2

For those of you that are going to be following along as we eat, drink, hopefully laugh, learn and post all about Friuli cast your votes....

Poll: Vote for your favorite class photo!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pushing Back (Newsletter Article)

“I just can’t drink these anymore” a conversation Randy and I were having about a regions wines we both once adored but were sadly getting too overblown and blousy not to mention oaky and almost syrupy. “What would you serve this with?” I asked Randy to which he said, “I can’t think of anything outside of really strong cheeses that this would taste good with”

Broke my heart. Alsace was breaking my heart. It began as it often does in these regions that’s wines were never meant to be blockbusters, never meant to be more than perfect with the foods served there. It started with a winery producing massive, rich, gooey, explosive wines that were noticed and celebrated by the international wine press. Wines designed to impress in a tasting setting and appeal to an American palate, it worked…I guess. One wineries press began a movement of sorts, a push towards pushing if you will. A push to crank out bigger, richer, fuller more flashy wines that would do the exact opposite of what they had been doing all along, providing light, crisp and food friendly partners at the table. Really sad when you think about the fact that Alsace has more starred restaurants than any other wine region in France. What were they thinking?

Well they were thinking of becoming players in the international market and with those fat wines pulling down fat scores, well they could start charging fat prices. Worked, I guess but with each vintage getting bigger and richer, the acids folding under clunky syrupy fruit and a wine loving populace popping corks on wines that were simply falling apart, well let’s just say finding red tags and closeouts on the wines from Alsace started becoming a regular occurrence. Sadly the more we tasted the more we too turned away and in fact we reduced our selection of wines from Alsace to just a small handful. I couldn’t bear to taste them, that oak, uber ripe fruit that was often just this side of tasting like a peach that has been sitting in the fruit bowl too long, and ripeness pushed so far that the wines were insanely out of balance. More importantly is I had no idea how to sell them. Our customers are not lead around by the wine press, they trust us to taste and find wine that are going to sing with their meals and outside of a super spiced pastrami sandwich I just couldn’t find a dinner table most of the wines I was tasting were going to, well fit on.

When you think of the dishes Alsace is known for, the classic dishes now found in almost every bistro in France; the Flammekueche (Bacon and onion tart), goose liver pates, Choucrote (Various pork bits and sausages slowly cooked with wine and sauerkraut) Quiches, all delightfully hearty, almost Germanic dishes with a very clear French refinement, all of them needing that lift and brightness that had long been provided by the wines of the region but now, at least the wines we had been tasting, would be akin to washing down your porky goodness with peach syrup. Might be tolerable or even naughtily enjoyable for a bite and sip here and there but every day? No way. For there to be success in food and wine pairing there needs to be balance and this region that had historically had an identity crisis, (France, German and back again) was once again unclear on what it wanted to be, at least in the wine world and we had to simply sit back and wait for another generation to come along to pull things once again but this time, they were pulling them back to center.

So for the past year or two we have been taking another look at the wine from our beloved Alsace, finding producers that are making wines true to what they should be, true to where they are from and wines that offer tremendous food friendliness at really fair prices. The pendulum has swung back and we could not be more pleased to add these wines to our newly growing Alsatian selections. We welcome those new to the wines to come in, talk to us about how best to serve these lovely wines and encourage those of you that like us, found the wines just too much to rediscover the wines of Alsace.

2008 Domaine Bott Geyl Les Elements Riesling $18.99

Classic Alsatian Riesling on the nose, that bright blast of fresh fruit, a middle of river stones and just a touch of honey. This wine has that wonderful weight that Alsace Riesling gets, almost supple on the palate but the racy acidity and smattering of lime rind give this wine a beautiful and very fresh lift.

2009 Roland Schmitt Pinot Blanc $15.99

Roland Schmitt has been our go-to Alsace estate for a couple of years now and for all the reasons we talk about above, the wines are always true, pure, fresh, vibrating and utterly perfect for so many foods. I’ve served this pretty little Pinot Blanc with everything from grilled and roasted chicken to crab cakes and not once has there a drop left at the end of the meal. Spring rolls, cheeses, egg dishes, fish or chicken, this wine holds up to it all.

2007 Domaine Ostertag Gewurztraminer $20.99

Andre Ostertag is a wonderfully passionate winemaker that has been farming both organically and biodynamic for years, committed to getting the absolute best from his vines and focusing purity over power. He makes amazingly complex wines that are as true to their region as any we have on the shelf. Gewurztraminer is not only a mouthful to pronounce, well it’s a mouthful of wine too. Big, spicy and long which makes it perfect for heavily spiced meats, strong cheeses and just plain fun to drink on its own. This offering from Ostertag is simply lovely, plenty of spice and weight but with a very crisp and bright lift on the finish.

2009 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir $26.99

This is one of those wines that smell so amazing that you almost forget that you are supposed to be drinking it. Very light in the glass and on the palate this is a Pinot Noir that you could serve with even delicate fish dishes and not have it overwhelm your plate. Loaded with rose petals, black cherries and minerals this has that sexy little mouth pucker finish that keeps you reaching for another sip.

2008 Domaine Ostertag Fronholz Muscat $32.99

Yet another wine with absolutely intoxicating aromatics. I love the smell of Muscat but sometimes find the sweetness too much or limiting with what I can serve it with but this dry Muscat from Ostertag is a absolute dream of a wine. Flowers, peaches, pears and citrus rind explode in the glass, each sniff offering something a little different and more complex. In the mouth the wine has a medium weight, silky texture, more restrained fruit and the finish is both long and dry. Serve with a platter of cheeses and mixed nuts and enjoy how splendid Muscat can be.