Questions with Carla Capalbo

A wine pro's journey into writing

 


Carla Capalbo is joining us today to answer questions about her experiences along the food lover's journey. In case you missed it, we published an intriguing article by Carla earlier this week entitled Tasty Italian Hospitality. Though she touches on the nature of Italian hospitably, Carla shifts gears halfway through the article to focus on the wines of the Collio region of Friuli and the culture of the Osteria.

Taken together, the article encapsulates the spirit of Italian hospitality, with specific pairings and recommendations allowing you to experience life as an Italian no matter where you are!

Carla has an intimate relationship with the Italian lifestyle. Having lived in Italy for two decades, she has written extensively about Italian food, wine and culture. You would be hard-pressed to find a better resource to help you explore Italy from the comfort of your own home!

Carla's work is regularly featured on ZesterDaily.com , and her new website highlighting her extensive work is live at CarlaCapalbo.com

Photo courtesy Zester Daily
Snooth: Which came first: a passion for writing or a passion for food and wine?

Carla Capalbo: First came the passion for reading about food: as a young girl I loved to read cookbooks. As a teenager I began using them to learn to cook (yes, Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the principal manual for me, too) and it was only much later that I started writing cookbooks of my own. My passion for high-end restaurants began when I was about eight, when my father would take me to eat at Quo Vadis when I was in New York. I loved the atmosphere there and being able to speak to the waiters in French, as I had been brought up in Paris. I’m sure that’s why I now love working with chefs.

Snooth: What was your epiphany moment with wine or food? Do you remember the dish that sparked your imagination and do you remember what first steps you took in pursuit of your newfound passion?

CC: There’s a difference between writing recipes (which you can do in the comfort of your own kitchen) and writing about food and winemakers (which requires you to be a reporter in the field). After moving to Italy and writing recipes there, I found I really wanted to explore the whole country and its producers, so going to visit and describe winemakers and their ideas came naturally out of that. In the first of my three Italian guide books, The Food and Wine Lover’s Companion to Tuscany, I visited and wrote about over 100 wineries, so that was my first big wine challenge and it taught me a lot!

Snooth: The current generation of aspiring wine writers faces a new paradigm with many wines now priced out of the reach of most people and fewer professional writers to act as role models. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to fill your shoes?

CC: I think there is a difference between a wine critic and a wine writer, though some people obviously are able to be both. The critic’s skill really depends on an ability to taste, describe and judge a wine. That requires having a great palate, some schooling (even unofficial, for instance, befriending a great taster and sitting in on some tasting sessions with them) and, most importantly, access to a lot of wines to taste and memorize.

A wine writer does not necessarily need to be a critic in that way, but is interested in exploring the issues that relate to wine and its makers. I’m more of a wine writer than a wine critic, as I’m curious about what goes on in the vineyards and in wine as a cultural expression of a particular landscape.

For those starting out today, there are many wonderful courses available that offer guidance and wines to taste, as do Slow Food’s events. Getting a job in a wine shop or restaurant is another way to gain experience, as is going to work in a winery. But for those just wanting to expand their knowledge, nothing can beat the experience of visiting a small winery and meeting the people responsible for making the wines there. Then, if you’ve got something to say about it, start writing! The internet is full of people who don’t write for ‘official’ magazines, but who exchange ideas about wine in a very creative way.


Snooth: You obviously have a love for Italian food. Is there a region that we have not fully discovered?

CC: I lived in northern Italy for years before moving south and I would recommend anyone really interested in Italian food to explore the south: in particular, Campania, Puglia and Sicily. The people are fantastically generous and open there, and the food’s flavors are incredible, due to the hot sun and volcanic soils. You’ll never accept bland supermarket vegetables after tasting them
.

Snooth: Do you think there is a significant difference in recipes prepared in situ versus those home cooks in say the U.S. hope to replicate? Are indigenous ingredients one of the keys to a recipe’s success?

CC: There is no doubt that the meal you can prepare using the ingredients you’ve bought at a little market in Italy will taste different from the same recipes cooked using mass-produced foods in the U.S. However, there are two things you can do to improve the flavor of a dish. The first is to use seasonal, local produce whenever possible, and the second is to buy those ingredients from farm stalls or farmer’s markets where you are dealing directly with the people who grew them. Cooks in the U.S., especially in the more sophisticated areas where farmers are growing a very wide range of produce, have many more varieties to choose from. Italians tend to be limited to the few traditional ingredients that are grown in that season, in that place.

Snooth: In addition to writing about Italian wines and food, you are well versed in those of France. What’s going on with French wines that we should know more about?

CC: Despite coming from an Italo-American family, I grew up partly in France, so I’ve always felt an affinity for French food and wines. I think the French are a bit envious of the way the Italians have managed to hold onto their hundreds of native grape varieties and are now making wine news by producing great wines from, say, Mount Etna in Sicily with Nerello Mascalese, or Ribolla Gialla in northeastern Collio. I see more French producers wanting to explore some of their ‘minor’ varieties too, and that’s a great contribution to wine’s diversity.

Snooth: What’s next on the horizon? What are going to be the great food discoveries of the coming years?

CC: Apart from the exploration of the many cuisines of China and the rest of Asia, which can only increase as our cultures get to know each other better, I am particularly interested in the current trend for foraged and other very natural wild ingredients that are being spearheaded in the Nordic countries. On a recent trip to northern Sweden, I ate many such foods, including a biscuit made with birch-bark flour and pre-dinner ‘crisps’ made of different types of lichen. That’s exciting food, yet you don’t have to go far to get it if you live near the woods.

Snooth: What wines are you drinking more of lately?

CC: I am drinking more so-called natural wines, made with a real awareness of how the soil’s energy and state of health can influence everything that grows in it. These wines are produced with a philosophy that looks to heal the earth instead of deplete it. One example would be from northern Italy: Josko Gravner’s wines are made in clay amphors from grapes grown without pesticides, using the cycles of the moon to dictate the work done on the vines and in the cellar. For years he and his wines were considered crackpot, but now he has been justly recognized as a pioneer.

Snooth: What wines are you drinking less of lately?

CC: I’ve never been a fan of the big, ‘chewy’ wines that are over-oaked and lack subtlety and elegance. So you could say I am drinking even less of them.

Snooth: What is your desert island wine and what would you want to pair with it?

CC: My desert island wine is a dessert wine from a volcanic island, Marco De Bartoli’s great Passito di Pantelleria, Bukkuram. This wine has several advantages for a situation like finding myself on a desert island. It is already oxidized, so wouldn’t suffer from lack of refrigeration after it was opened, and is so full of perfumes and flavors of dried fruits and sweet spice that each sip would seem like a beautiful meal. I’d probably pair it with some edible flowers and honey, assuming the desert island was tropical.

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