Wednesday, 20 October 2010

In praise of Parma

What a place! The site of the first theatre in the world where scenery could be flown (Teatro Farnese).

City of Verdi and Toscanini. Parma ham,


There are even Musei del Cibo:

a Museo del Parmigiano and even more improbably a Museo del Pomodoro.

Countless Gastronomie grace the shopping streets.

Verdi is everywhere. We were there for the Verdi Festival at the Teatro Regio where, for Italy the performance was a rarity: really rather good.

It was booed by the infamous loggionisti who think they are experts and sing along with the performance to show it but are just chauvinists who like to boo any foreign artists when in fact the only glaringly awful performance was home grown.

The festival is a model of what such events should be. It was impossible not to be aware of it with banners hanging from every lampost

How many times have we arrived at a Festival city to be greeted with not a scintilla of evidence that anything at all was going on? There have even been times when the festival brochure was nowhere to be seen and taxi drivers had no idea where the venue was. Not so Parma.

And it is here that we found what appeared to be one of the best wine merchants in all of Italy, Enoteca Maurizio Cavalli

We stumbled on this in the Via Verdi (where else?) on our way from the railway station to the Theatre. Cavalli is a diffident man with what we thought was a French accent but this turned out to be the Parmitano accent with the 'r' produced at the back of the throat a la francaise (perhaps a relic from the French republic of Parma).

By asking Sr. Cavalli and members of his knowledgeable staff we left the shop with no les than 4 bottles:

1. A Rossese which we had been trying to find all over the place - even in New York (subsequently we saw quite a few examples on our travels)

2. A Ruche (pronounced 'Roo-Kay') (ditto)

3. A bottle of Benanti's Nerello Capuccio in purezza (rarissimo!).

4. A bottle of something we had never heard of - Pantera (by Luretta) which we were assured was a grape but turned out to be a blend of Bonarda, Barbera and Cabernet S.

We forgave them for the sake of the Nerello Capuccio which in Slotovino's estimation is the mark of an exceptional wine merchant. There is also a large selection of French and other wines.

Further along we stopped for a glass of Gutturnio which we had heard about together with Ortruga as being a Parma speciality. This turns out like the Pantera not to be a grape but another blend including Bonarda, here going under its synonym Croatina. We are great fans of Bonarda/Croatina so it iwas gratifying to find that both Gutturnio and Luretta's Pantera were excellent as well as inexpensive.

Ortruga on the other hand really is a separate grape variety and we later found a wine bar happy to open a bottle for us and sell us a glass. This version was sparkling and although very idiosyncratic a little reminiscent of a medium-dry Verduzzo. We wish we had bought a bottle there and then but the performance was about to begin so duty called. Back at the ranch we looked almost in vain for Ortruga on Winesearcher. This really was an instance where you had to go to the place of origin to find a wine. Italy is so rich in these local specialities: one is rarely disappointed.

A footnote: at the really wonderful banquet after the performance, all the wines were Spanish.

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