On a chilly weekend when all I want is a fireplace, a pair of warm slippers and and a glass of big bold red – I sampled a lovely white – usually reserved for summer months. It was fresh, aromatic and made me think of spring and a great buy at under $17. It’s called Secret de Famille , 100% Viognier from Paul Jaboulet Aine. It was introduced to me at The Vintage Conservatory and is available by consignment from Halpern Wine.
What really lead me to think of a chilled glass of white on a snowy day is an amazing woman named Marge.Marge was rarely without a glass of white in her hand. Now that could have had something to do with the fact that I usually saw her during the holidays or other family gatherings. It may have also have been because Marge always gave the impression that there was something to celebrate.Marge was always full of life. Ever welcoming, ever hilarious, ever generous with her friends, her children, grandchildren and any stragglers they brought with them.Our family joined their family vacation a couple of times. 20 people spanning several generations eating together, hanging out together, joining Marge for water aerobics class.
She was a star.
The last time I saw her, she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She didn’t remember me right away, but after I told her I was Steve’s wife – I got a free pass because he had been welcomed in her home from the time he was a teenager.
Even in her new place where she could get the care she needed, Marge made sure her dinner mates had enough to eat and always wanted to tip the attendant for being helpful. Sheasked me to come see her room, a slow winding journey because she stopped to chat with everyone she met along the way. It was a cosy place filled with pictures of family members, family vacations, those moments embedded in time and memory – however fleeting.
To me, Marge meant family. She never missed an occasion to get together. And she always made me, my husband Steve and our children Ingela and Mia feel like family too.
On Friday, Marge passed away at the age of 89.
So tonight I will toast her with a glass of white, a glass of Secret de Famille. Because her family secret was love.
What makes a wine experience truly remarkable? A recommendation from someone you trust goes a long way, but at least half the fun is in the adventure. And then there are the surprises, the experiences that leave you breathless. Because I am celebrating a milestone birthday and because I love top 10 lists, here are some of my favourite experiences of my wine journey that started about 15 years ago with a Ripasso and a dear friend named Patrick.
The Chance Encounter: It all started when studying for wine class while receiving acupuncture from my friend Adrianna who introduced me to Garrett Herman, a Toronto wine collector who served me my first Super Tuscan, and who had a dinner reservation at the Badia a Passignano Estate in the Chianti region when his friends made a mistake with the date – oh and my husband and I just happened to be in the area…
The tour of the stunning vineyards owned by the Antinori family was a treat in itself. Afterwards, we were invited to have dinner with the Marchese Piero Antinori, the legendary patriarch of the family which has been producing wine for 26 generations. We chatted about family businesses, the future of the industry, and the impact of climate change over a “humble country meal” of Bistecca alla Fiorentina and a glass of Solaia. It was a dream. The food and wine were remarkable, the conversation even better. It gave me insight into a world that is dependent on nature but fuelled by passion. The only thing that could possibly have topped it was if Bruce Spingsteen himself ambled up to the table and joined us for a glass. I have sipped many Antinori wines since that night, and every time, I think about that unforgettable evening under my lucky stars.
The Promise: Early on in my wine education, I visited Jackson-Triggs in Niagara-On-The-Lake. Del Rollo, who was director of hospitality at that time, gave me my first tour of a production facility. Talking about the history of the company, Del told me about co-founder, Don Triggs, who was a mentor to him. Don sold his share and moved west in search of the perfect spot to create the finest Canadian wine. Ten years later, I drove up to the front gates of Culmina in Oliver, B.C. A standard visit turned remarkable when Don Triggs strolled by and said “I’ll take you.” Over the next three hours, we visited each vineyard, learned the evolution of Don’s vision, the trials and errors, how they worked round the clock to save the vineyard from devastating wildfires that raged next door, and how he uses technology to keep his promise to put quality above all else. The tour culminated in the tasting of some outstanding wines that challenged convention. Culmina’s Riesling and Chardonnay were nothing I expected. The wines were exceptional and so was Don Triggs, whose love for his family, the land, and quality shone through. I asked him if he loves what he does. He smiled and said simply “I am here at 6am every morning.”
The Delivery: I found this highly-rated winery online and I sampled too many bottles to count at E Lucevan le Stelle (Translation: And the stars were shining) in Montepulciano, my favourite wine bar in the world. There I learned Valdipiatta was the family vineyard of Cinzia Caporali, one of the bar owners.
Cinzia booked us a tour with her father Giulio, the most delightful storyteller and insightful tour guide. In a mix of Italian and English, we got a lesson in Etruscan history. We learned about the highest standards of production, how the terroir or soil is everything, and about what it means to follow your dream.
Giulio bought the vineyard in 1990 and turned it into a successful winery with a stellar reputation. Today he and his daughter Miriam, the co-owner, produce award-winning wines that should not be missed. I have been back three times, and plan to visit again. I have a bottle of their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva that will be shared to celebrate my 60th year.
Ten years ago, we rented a villa with 10 friends to mark another milestone. The group didn’t really know each other. It could have been a disaster. It turned out to be one of the best vacations of my life. The friends, the food, the music, oh yes, and the wine. Lots and lots of wine. Everything was simply perfect. The villa owner took us on a tour of surrounding vineyards, some industrial producers, some, like Salcheto, small and intimate. The winery is nestled in the hills outside Montepulciano. Ettore, our host, gave us a quick tour, telling stories in Italian with a smattering of English words thrown in.
The Surprise: Social media can be overwhelming, addictive, and can be considered the demise of our civilization, but it can also find you a damn good winery. Before a trip to Sicily, I tweeted #SicilyWines any recommendations? I received a smattering of suggestions, one of them from a winery very close to the village where we were staying. The day before we left Mt Etna, I tweeted back, “any chance for a tasting tomorrow?”. The lucky stars over the volcano were shining in my direction. Ciro Biondi, architect-turned-winemaker gave us a tour of his fields, stopping to pull out a few herbs for that evening’s dinner. He talked of his father’s reaction to giving up architecture for winemaking “You better do a good job, I paid a lot of money for your education.” .
In the Hood: Our friends Ian and Maria are responsible for some of our best tastings close to home. I love that they scope out the new wineries and wait until we visit so we can experience them together. Domaine Queylus is literally a four-minute drive from their home. It was our last stop on the way back to their place, less than half a hour before closing time. The tasting room is a log cabin, full of light. Our host Laurie was a former Montrealer who went to the same high school as my husband Steve. Her husband, John Nadeau, the hospitality and marketing director, joined us at the last minute and shared the history of the young vineyard named after a Jesuit priest who brought wine to the region centuries ago.We stayed long past closing. John revealed his goal is to remove the asterisk – create excellent wines, period. Not “great for a Canadian wine.” He and winemaker Thomas Bachelder have succeeded. Their Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and blends are superb. No asterisk.
The Eye-Opener: I moved to Toronto in 2004 but it wasn’t until three years later that I discovered the gems that are growing in my backyard. Del Rollo of Jackson-Triggs introduced me to quality wines being produced in the region. He talked about the challenges and the victories. He made me realize that winemakers are a generous lot. Success is all about sharing knowledge and helping your neighbours. When one succeeds, they all win.
Del and coworker Stacey Mulholland also introduced Steve and I to one of the greatest wine experiences of my life, a concert under the stars, sipping wine and listening to a performance by Jim Cuddy. His music is now one of my favourite pairings on a Friday night with a good glass of red and that eye-opening visit to J-T, started my journey of discovery of local wines.
The Genius Winemaker: Stratus is where simplicity meets quality. With care and patience, the grapes tell the story. And what a story. Technology is used to let the grapes and the soil speak for themselves. The winery itself is beautiful. Peaceful. Welcoming. The wine is extraordinary.
J-L Groux is the grape whisperer, coaxing rich textures and flavours from the soil. His Cabernet Franc is nothing like you would imagine. This grape has often been described as better in a blend. The Stratus Cabernet Franc stands alone. When I asked him how, he said “It’s just about doing it right.” Other producers in the region have decoded the mystery as well. It’s turned Cabernet Franc from one of my least favourite single varietal wines, to one of my favourites. J-L’s red blend rivals some of the best Bordeaux blends I have ever sampled. His Syrah and Sangiovese, which I approached with skepticism, also over-delivered. I have never tasted a bad Stratus wine – even the Wild Ass is playful and fun.
Paradise Found: I am half Italian. My father was from Torino, the place he described as a centre of the universe. I have visited relatives there many times. How is it that it took more than 50 years for me to learn that a mere 30-minute drive south of his birthplace lies the Langhe, one of the greatest wine-producing regions in the world? The discovery came by accident. A wine sampling at my local LCBO, led to an email to the winery, to some research, to WOW! Our tour guide was Sonya Franca, assistant to the legendary Angelo Gaja, who is credited for helping turn Barolo and Barbaresco into Italian wine royalty. She spent two hours with us telling us about the rich history of the Langhe while tasting their wines, I had never tasted anything like this before. There was Gaia and Rey Chardonnay, a white so full-bodied, had I been blindfolded, I might have mistaken it for a red. Sonya also recommended a visit to the wine museum in nearby Barolo. My husband took a nap, something I tease him about endlessly. The museum tour ended in a tasting room where the new vintage of Barolos had just been released. “How much for a tasting?” I asked. “15 Euros,” they answered. “For how many?” I asked, the polite Canadian looking thirstily over 140 bottles on display for self-tasting. “All of them.” Sweeter words were never heard. I made it to 35.
Going Blind In Tuscany
My Lucky Day: Whenever I have the privilege of visiting Tuscany, if the world is behaving as it should, there is time for a glass of wine or two at E Lucevan le Stelle, the wine bar at Locanda San Francesco in Montepulciano. I put away the smart phone, disconnect and watch the world go by. We were on our way south to Sicily but wanted to take a couple of days in our favourite part of Italy. This visit was extra special – my husband had been recovering from a brain injury and this would be his first glass of wine in 18 months.
We were well-received by Christian. It turned out the day we were supposed to leave, the wine bar was hosting a blind-tasting with 10 producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Some itineraries are meant to be adjusted.
The evening was a blend of stories, new people, new wines. And I learned some important lessons:
Wine people look at least 10 years younger than they really are.
Wine producers are living their dream – despite the challenges
My favourite wine quote from Brazilian newlyweds – “You don’t make friends drinking milk.”
Aristotle was right. The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. I will never know enough about wine. I think I got two out of 10 wines right in the blind-tasting that night. But what I did get, was an experience of a life time.
There are so many experiences deserving of honourable mentions. Too many to mention. They all speak of family and friendship, of generosity, of following your dreams and sharing the spoils. So in this milestone year, I will make some new wine memories, savour the ones from the past, and mostly I will be thanking my lucky stars… again.
Growing up among the vines of Italy’sVeneto region, Ermenegildo Giusti always knew Canada would be his destiny. “From the time I was 8 or 9, I knew where Canada was. My parents told me it was at the end of the vineyard and a bit further, ” he said. Just shy of 18, Ermenegildo explored “a bit further”.He landed in Canada where he took his dream and turned it into a multi-million dollar business.
But he never forgot the vines.
When he left home, his family stopped producing wine. In 1998, Ermenegildo took the family’s two hectares and began rebuilding, “I grew up in the vineyard. My memories growing up are surrounded by grapes and the harvest.”
Today the Giusti vineyard is 100 hectares in the heart of Prosecco country. The sparkling wine is part of Ermenegildo’s history. “It was like having water growing up. My brother and I would drink it after school.” To him, Prosecco also meant celebration. “It was celebrating friendship, life, birth, people coming together.”
It’s that history he honours. ”Once a farmer always a farmer,” he explains. The fields are impeccably tended because that’s what he remembers. “My vineyards are like a garden because I remember how my father kept them. Everything was so tidy. They were so proud. There was so much love. It was like giving something of themselves,” he explains.
The Giusti produces 320,000 bottles a year, including a range of Prosecco, whites and reds. The wine he is most proud of? Umberto Primo – a blendof Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot he named after his grandfather.
This fall Giusti launched a sparkling Rosé. Ermenegildo laughs when I ask him about it. “I never wanted to do a rosé because in summer when my mother would give me wine with water, that was not wine. So I refused to make rosé because every time I looked at it, I thought it was a wine I didn’t want to drink.” When he finally conceded, he took grapes from his best vineyards using Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a little Recantina – a heritage grape that’s regaining popularity. The results are remarkable. Even my non-sparkling-wine-loving family wanted more.
Giusti’s Prosecco is by far its biggest seller with sales of 200,000 bottles a year. It was their award-winning Rosalia that won my affection at a wine tasting at Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory. It was fresh, fruity and not overly sweet. The second time was in a small wine store in Canmore, AB where I found the Giusti Merlot.
Today, Emenegildo divides his time between his vineyards in Italy and his Calgary where his three sons and seven grandchildren live. At the heart of the vineyard is a tribute to the sense of belonging in both lands. A tower overlooking the fields is surrounded by water. “It is a symbol of somebody going away and leaving their home.” he says. And though his history called him back to Italy, Canada is his future. “I am more Canadian than Italian. I spent 45 years in Canada. Canada is definitely home.”
A quiet spot in a city of water, a city most commonly associated with tourists fighting pigeons for space in front of the Piazza San Marco, gondolas gliding down the canals and Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the Bellini. There is so much to see in this city that has the look of a movie set. For the wine lover, Venice is so much more.
There is a tradition in Venice called the Ombra. The literal translation is shade. To Venetians, it means a glass of red wine. Some say the origin of the term comes from the wine sellers who sold their wares in the shadow of the tower in Piazza San Marco. Another story claims it came from the fishermen who worked each morning in the baking sun. Once they unloaded their small boats, heavy with their catch of the day, they retreated into small bars which lined the dock for a glass of red wine or Ombra. My favourite story, echoed by the concierge at the Hotel ai Mori D’Oriente, is that Ombra became a noun that refers to strolling from one small bar to another for a glass of wine, a pub crawl of sorts for the oenophile as in “We are going for an Ombra.”
Paradiso Perduto (Translation: Paradise Lost) topped the recommended list and it turned out to be the perfect place to start our Ombra. We each had a glass of the house Prosecco, gentle bubbles of the lightest kind. Outside, tables laden with cichetti or Venice’s answer to Tapas, lined the canal. From roasted vegetables to fried shrimp, octopus, Baccala and zucchini flowers. Simple, fresh and affordable.
The Real Wine Thing
Our best find of the day, just a few steps away, has clearly been found before. Vino Vero is a small wine barwith a dozen seats inside and a few tables outside. You know when you walk into a bookstore and can tell instantlyit is run by someone who truly loves books? That’s the feeling at Vino Vero.
There are about 200-300 wines here. So much choice but somehow Esmerelda, who handles the bar, makes it approachable.“Give me something I have never tried before,” I asked. Esmerelda pulled out two wines to try before committing which goes a long way to building my loyalty.
First up: Esmerelda suggested a sparkling wine called MUNI made from Durella, a white grape native to Northern Italy. It was fruity, classic and elegant – with plenty of spritz. However, sparkling wine is the only spritz you’ll find at Vino Vero. There’s a sign on the counter that warns – No Spritz – just in case someone was considering ordering the popular Aperol cocktail. In case you doubted their policy – “Nospritz” is even the WIFI password .
Esmerelda then pulled out a bottle of Slavcek 2012 – a Merlot from Slovenia – for me to sample. Deep ruby red, dry and delicious. She is extremely knowledgable, with a lovely blog of her own called Yeasteria.it, focusing on Italian bio-dynamic wine and beer.
We shared a drink with Chris and Vivian from Queensland, who were at the bar for the third time – proof that while the wines make Vino Vero worth visiting, the atmosphere and service make it worth the trip back.
Cannaregio District: Both bars are located in the Cannaregio district. It’s the historical Jewish quarter and far from the cruise travellers and tourists armed with selfie sticks. A 10-minute walk from the train station and 20 – 30 minutes walk from most of Venice’s most popular sights.
Vino Vero, Fondamenta Misericordia 2497, 30100 Venezia
Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta Misericordia 2540, 30100 Venezia
I love it in the morning with a dash of OJ (for colour), as an afternoon palette cleanser, or a toast before dinner.
Prosecco turns any event into a celebration.
I am in great company. More than 355 million bottles were sold worldwide in 2015 and the demand is still growing.
About 90% of prosecco comes from a region just north of Venice. There you’ll find the Strada of Prosecco, a 47-km trail lined with sparkling wine cantinas.
We got the chance to tour one of the prettiest wineries in the region in late September. And the prosecco was the lure.
Pitars is a fourth generation producer in San Martino al Tagliamento, about 90 minutes north of Venice.
The staff was setting up for a wedding the day we visited. This place is so gorgeous, such a perfectly romantic setting, it almost made me want to convince my husband to renew our vows. Almost. We opted instead for a few toasts – mostly counting our lucky stars to be there.
After the tour, hospitality director Valentino Florian led us through a tasting of half a dozen wines. Plan to spend some time. They have 20 wines, each worth sampling. White grapes rule the region. Most of fields in the area are planted with Glera grapes and used for prosecco. I loved its aromatic flavour and bubbles that tingled on the way down. I especially loved their sparkling Ribolla Giallo – a white grape gaining popularity in Canada.
Pitars produces eight whites and four reds. Their portfolio includes a Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Naos, a knockout red blend. My cousin Lindo claims the only good wines in the world are produced in this region.
I never knew much about Grappa, other than my father telling me when I was a child, “Don’t touch, it can kill you.” Grappa was what was passed around the plastic-covered table when my father visited friends in our Italian neighbourhood in Montreal.
Grappa is made from the skins, seeds and stems leftover when every drop of goodness is pressed out of grapes for wine. The aroma of the pomace or vinaccia is rich and heady, like the inside of a whiskey barrel.
It is steam distilled into a clear liquid of between 35 and 60 per cent alcohol. Yes Dad, it can kill you.
Grappa is a digestive typically paired with coffee. You can serve Caffe Corretto or corrected coffee, pouring it right in the cup, or my favourite, ammazzacaffe – coffee killer – where you throw back an ounce of espresso followed by a healthy shot of grappa.
Many years later, at my cousin’s table in Italy, it was served to me after dinner with espresso and a story.
In Italy, there is always a story.
Lindo Pagura’s family has been producing Grappa for four generations. His grandfather and namesake worked as an apprentice for Domenico Campagna who founded the Pagura Distillery in 1879. Every morning farmers would drop by at 5am for a quick hit to get them started for the day. When Campagna died, he left the distillery to his young apprentice.
Young Lindo grew the operation, winning international awards for his Grappa. But his success was short lived. He died at 35 leaving a wife and two children. Young widow Giovanna Mistruzzi kept the distillery running between two wars even though soldiers of all stripes freely came in to seize the Grappa.
“It is really all because of my grandmother that we are here,” says Lindo today.
The distillery looks much like it did one hundred years ago. Lindo and his three sisters still use equipment given to the family in 1923 by Germany, part of reparations from the first World War.
The distillery is in the small town of Castions di Zoppola, about 90 minutes north of Venice. It is a centrepiece of the village. Everyone knows Lindo and his family. Several times a year he opens his courtyard to musicians and events.
The night I was there five jazz musicians and a choir of 40 performed the music of George Gershwin under the stars.
Today the distillery produces a variety of grappas, from tawny coloured barrel aged varieties to bottles infused with local produce. The bottles are personalized and each year, the family contracts an artist to create a unique bottle which is in itself a work of art.
Now the next generation of Pagura’s is preparing to take over the family business, moving forward with innovation, but very much respecting the rich traditions of the past.
My journey of wine discovery has involvedmany tastings. From massive producers to boutique variety to wine bars, I have been graced to meetmany remarkable and generous people.Sicilian winemaker Ciro Biondi gave us a tour and tasting with a heaping side of Italian history and the struggles between the north and south.
Irene Lesti of Montemercurio fed our love of Tuscan wine with stories of the valley, the people all, of course, over generous pours of their wines. I’ve toured the spectacular Culmina vineyard in Oliver, BC with Don Triggs. Thanks to Canadian wine collector Garrett Herman and crossed schedules with his close friends, we had the good fortune to be stand-ins at adinner with Marchese Piero Antinori, the head of one of the eldest winemaking families in Italy over a glass of Solaia.
My journey has been a very lucky one. I came to the conclusion that wine people love to share stories, a glass, a meal.They all look at least 10 years younger. They are the kind of people who despite the many challenges of the wine business, they are living their dream.
Cinzia Caporali was one of those people. We met herat E Lucian Le Stelle, my favourite wine bar inside Locanda San Francesco – a stunning B & B in Montepulciano. The first time we shared a joke.The second time, I brought 8 friends and we drank them out of Valdipiatta, her family’s wines.
The third time she invited Steve and I to join a blind tasting of the new release of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with a dozen winemakers. My dream come true. That night I heard one of my favourite lines that I have used many times since.“You don’t make friends drinking milk.”
When friends Matt and Crystalwere going on a honeymoon, I contacted Cinzia to ask her to have a bottle of Valdipiatta waiting for them in their room along with a gift and a card. Cinzia made it an extra special vintage to mark theirvery special day.
And when my husband Steve had a terrible accident, she sent her best wishes. When he had his first glass of wine in 19 months at her wine bar, she said she was honoured and would not let us pay.
Cinzia also organized what was undoubtedly our best wine tasting experience at Tenuta Valdipiatta with Guilio, her father. He talked about his love of opera, his love of wine and how proud he was of his daughters.
Over these visits, I learned Cinziawas a mechanical engineer, she had a great sense of humour and she certainly knew how to bring people together and make them feel welcome.
We talked about getting together in Rome. Steve and I thought how incredibleit would be to explore the city with her.
Just two days ago I sent a tweet with a photo of Steve and I sharing our last bottle of Valdipiatta, very excited to see her again in three weeks when we will be in Montepulciano.I received a letter today telling me that Cinzia passed away last month. I have no idea how old she was because wine people always look so much younger. All I know is she was far too young.
E Lucevan le Stelle meansthe stars are shining brightly, a line from Tosca, one of Puccini’s most famous operas.Indeed, Cinzia made the lives of all she met a little brighter. I count myself so very lucky that she became part of mine,
The design was inspired by the layers of soil that create some of the finest wines from the Niagara region. The bottle is elegant, easy to hold, and the design acts like a decanter when pouring the wine.
“The best designs come from functionality,” says Rashid, who Time magazine called ” the most famous industrial designer in all of the Americas.” His website is a cornucopia of the greatest design hits. Guess which shoes are his?
The unique style is matched only by the substance of the wine. The Cabernet Franc grape grows well in the region. The problem is there have been too many wines with a nose and flavour of ripe green pepper.
“People have been making it wrong,” says Groux. “This is what Cabernet Franc tastes like, when you get it right.” This wine is full-bodied and complex and has changed my impression of the much-maligned varietal.
At $95, this is a collector’s item so act quickly. The production is small – only 110 cases – and it is only available online or at the winery.
One of the many advantages of living where I do, is the proximity to Niagara wine country. Not that I was an Old World snob,…ok, I was an Old World snob…blame my Italian heritage – but moving to Toronto, one hour from some incredible wines, re-opened my eyes to wine horizons close to home.
Lucky for us, our friends (and scouts) keep an eye out for new wineries that will intrigue and delight.
Enter Domaine Queylus They had me at the log cabin – reminiscent of the Quebec sugar shacks of my youth. But it was the wine, and the hospitality that will keep my coming back (and buying the wine).
The name honours Gabriel de Queylus, a wealthy Sulpician priest from France who was on the losing end of a Sopranos-like power struggle in early days of Montreal. The up side – it must have driven him to drink because on an expedition to the Great Lakes, he oversaw the first vineyards on the shores of Lake Ontario.
We sidled up to the bar in the bright tasting room attached to the log cabin. Laurie started our flight with Chardonnay, not my favourite varietal. This one was full-bodied and elegant with just enough oak. It is one of the best Chardonnays I have tasted recently and I highly recommend it.
Their signature Pinot Noir was absolutely delicious, but the wine that we really took a shine to was the 2013 Cabernet Franc – also generally not one of my favourites. This one was medium-bodied, complex with a long finish. I loved it. I bought some for home sipping and I am sure it will be outstanding with a juicy burger.
Domaine Queylus challenged my tastebuds and the pre-conceived notions about certain wines. It is a great addition to the region and I predict it is going to be a busy summer at the cabin.
Whenever I visit a city, I always check to see if there are any interesting wine bars that have garnered some great reviews. I have found it is a great way to discover some new wines – whether local or imported and meet people who share a passion for the grape.
I did a 30-hour pop in to NYC, well-known for having some stellar wine bars. Casellula on West 52nd street is a gem in Hell’s Kitchen. The wine selection is creative. I loved the Matchbook Tempranillo – one of their staples from California. Or Frank’s on 2nd Avenue in the Lower East Side where I found a Tuscan favourite called Salcheto.
But New York also makes me think of my dad, Alberto Travers, who introduced me to the city many decades ago.
He was a fighter in the Italian resistance and to him, New York was the dream. As a teenager during the Second World War, Alberto fought alongside American soldiers, smoked their cigarettes, read their copies of Life magazine with a dictionary in hand and heard stories of the greatest city in the world.
Years later, my father would drive from Montreal in a van typically full of his children, our friends and visiting European relatives. We all jammed into the same hotel room, though hotel is a bit generous for this downtown place.
The Times Square Motor Inn was a favourite of my dad’s mainly because it included parking. We found out the “hotel” had a second vocation as a temporary shelter for the homeless and home to some really big bugs and the odd rodent. But you couldn’t beat its location, next door to the New York Times on 43rd where the delivery trucks rumbled down the street after midnight. It was an impressive sight for a wannabe journalist of 14.
Coincidentally on my latest visit, I ended up staying at a hotel right across the street. The New York Times moved around the corner, and the Inn was no longer open for business.
Those NYC trips were magic. From Broadway musicals like Chicago and A Chorus Line, to the late night improv clubs, to his own self-created Mafia landmark tour including Umberto’s Clam Bar where mobster Joe “Crazy” Gallo met his maker, My father shared his stories and gave us experiences we will never forget. The only rule: order the cheapest thing on the menu.
My father passed away 25 years ago in May but all four of his children inherited his love of New York. One daughter and three grand daughters live there now. The rest of us visit when we can. Relatives still talk about those adventures, many of them over a glass of wine.
It is one of the many gifts he left us.
A sign painter by trade and a fan of fonts – my father lived life in capital letters and taught us to do the same.