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To be sure, as WBGO.org travel partner, I’ve had the pleasure of organizing trips around the world to attend some of the best jazz festivals, truly a privilege and a whole lot of fun, but having at one’s doorstep world-class musicians performing at the Winter Jazz Fest in the heart of New York City’s West Village, is simply unparalleled!20160115_182441_resized

So much to see, so much to enjoy, but my choice as a start for the evening was Roberta Gambarini, whom, in addition to being an amazing vocalist, is also a compatriot as we were both born in Torino! Her renditions of some of the classics from the American Songbook were beautifully executed but displaying her own unique style-brava Roberta!



Comfortably sitting in the same venue, Roy Hargrove was simply magical not only for his virtuoso performance on the trumpet but also for his incredibly sweet and rich voice as he sang Never Let Me Go!



Then on the Judson Memorial Church where the Dr. Lonnie Smith was in the house, energizing and stupefying everyone in the audience whether sitting on the church’s floor or standing and swaying to the beat!

20160115_225802_resizedI ended the evening at the Zinc Bar where for the 2nd. time, I managed to get a seat from which to enjoy the incomparable Rene Marie. Her expressive interpretation of songs that she authored had an obvious impact on the audience and virtually brought me to tears-never do I recall having been affected as such by a performer-what an amazing way to end the evening!

Alas, regrettably I will be unable to attend tonight’s performances but if I could, I would be sure not to miss Ibrahim Maalouf playing at the New School Auditorium at 7:40 and GoGo Penguin appearing at Le Poisson Rouge at 9PM.

I had seen them both while attending the Jazz a Juan on the French Cote d’Azur last summer and they were both incredible-pity!


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Since its founding on January 1, 2002, Shop Wine and Dine has been known for offering the most exclusive and exceptional food and wine focused travel experiences.

However, equally important, Shop Wine and Dine, has also garnered a reputation for similarly exceptional tours focusing on world-renowned jazz festivals which over the years have taken us to Italy, Brazil, France and upcoming in July, to Spain’s Basque Region to attend the San Sebastian Jazzaldia Festival.

20151231_101631_resizedShop Wine and Dine is grateful for its many loyal, repeat clients be it wine or jazz focused and in fact, at their behest on December 14, we embarked on our latest adventure and headed to La Habana to attend the 31st. Havana Jazz Festival!  As posted on Shop Wine and Dine’s Facebook page,  Cuba is a land of contrasts and contradictions… this was my first impression on the very first day which held true throughout our entire, glorious stay. La Habana is characterized by strikingly diverse


architecture as displayed by the many buildings in obvious disrepair and yet, like old, dispossessed and worn-out royalty, maintain a sense of elegance, dignity and grace. Crumbling walls adorned with exquisite modern art, seemingly casting an hopeful eye toward the future, yearning to be brought back to their original splendor and coexist side by side with the new occupants.   As evidenced by the many construction sites visible


throughout the city, there is indeed a spirit of renewal and vibrancy which will surely bring back to life the extraordinarily beautiful architectural jewels, reflective of Spanish colonial times as well as art nouveau and art deco.   The same vibrancy and sense of renewal permeates Cuban life at all levels, from the incredibly well-informed and impeccably trained local guides, to shopkeepers, budding entrepreneurs and street-vendors alike.

Also working toward a better future, the local baseball leagues as written about in the New York Times on December 15 article-indeed we were on the same flight to Havana with many of the journalists dispatched there, some of which we ran into during our daily excursions and exchanged high-fives! Like the locals, they too, not to mention the Cuban players, were filled with excitement and eagerness about what the future might hold.  


My purpose with this posting is not to comment on the politics of the country as that is not my area of purview nor my place to do so, but rather to share my observations and amazement at the resiliency of the Cuban people, full of admiration for the way in which they have, against huge odds and deprivation, managed nonetheless to conduct their daily lives with pride and dignity.  I know that there are people that hold the view that travel to Cuba should not be encouraged until the political situation is more reflective of our own interpretation of democracy, however in my view, doing so would further delay Cuba’s progress and deprive their citizens of much needed support.


Indeed what I can attest to, is that the Cuban people are extremely grateful for the many US visitors that have traveled in droves to Cuba particularly this year and in doing so, have in fact by way of tips, gifts and in the case of musicians by purchasing their CDs, helped them financially.




Of course the major focus of our trip was the jazz festival for which everyone in the group was in possession of the much prized “full jazz festival credentials” which “theoretically” guaranteed access to all concerts as well as seating at the main venue, the Mella Theatre.    

However, as we had been previously warned “this is Cuba” thus we needed to be flexible and expect the unexpected, a prophecy which indeed came to pass, when on the first day of the festival I was advised that the festival organizers had heavily oversold the concerts thus, no guarantee of seating at the Mella!  As a very experience travel professional, with Lowell’s help and that of our Cuban partners, we made the necessary adjustments to our daily schedules and nonetheless managed to secure seats for all our participants! 20151217_221534This feat was certainly worth the effort as all performers featured lived up to Cuba’s reputation as the young and talented pianist Roberto Fonseca declared “Cuba is a music factory” with an output of the highest caliber. Indeed we were enthralled by the opening performances by the amazing Ernan Lopez-Nussa Trio and for the first time ever in Cuba, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band who joined together in an amazing and rousing finale. Other notables on subsequent evenings included, Cesar Lopez & Habana Ensemble; Pancho & Danial Amat;


The incomparable Orlando Valle Maraca joined by the remarkable Steve Turre with his prized conch shells; the trumpeter Bobby Carcasses joined on stage by the indefatigable Omara Portuondo, the Diva from the Buena Vista Social Club!, not to mention Arturo O’Farrill and so many others at the other twelve venues.   With an eye toward future “rising stars”, we enjoyed a private performance during one of our 20151219_195627dinners, by the very talented Jorge Luis Pacheco whose credits include performances with Winton Marsalis and JLC Orchestra as well as appearing at JLC Dizzy’s and the Blue Note Jazz Festival in NY-to be sure a name to be remembered! Lucky for us, Jorge was accompanied by the gifted drummer Ruy Lopez-Nussa, member of the Lopez-Nussa musical dynasty which includes Ernan as well as Harold! Needless to say, Cuba lived up to and exceeded all our expectations, affording our group an unforgettable experience which I am certain, Shop Wine and Dine will repeat in 2016.         


Best wishes for a Healthy, Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful 2016!



More amazing Cuba photos on Shop Wine and Dine’s Facebook page and while there, become our esteemed Friend!

For details about Shop Wine and Dine’s future travel options, please email annamaria@shopwineanddine.com or call 973-467-4418




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Having survived hurricane Sandy, the madness of the holiday season and simply and gratefully, just a lot of work, I am finally able to post my second piece about my  experiences and thoughts following my attendance at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre last October.

As mentioned in my previous blog-post, my main focus during Terra Madre was on the issue of GMOs which I will comment on again later, but one other conference caught my attention particularly given the proximity of the elections in the USA at the time and its sad aftermath-the defeat Prop. 37 in California.


The conference topic was “Le Etichette Narranti” loosely translated: “The Labels that Tell a Story” and what a story they tell!

According to Slow Food, the “story” of food products begins at their very origin-all of which encompass their provenance, their natural habitat, diversification of a species, cultivation by sustainable farming methods as well as energy consumption and more.

Preparing the beds for planting Piattella Canavesana di Cortereggio

Within those parameters and taking this concept many steps further, the Etichette Narranti initiative launched by Slow Food, supports small, family-run farms that cultivate products as diverse as the regions that spawned them, often recuperating indigenous varietals/breeds that were on the brink of extinction, and whose farmers have committed themselves to preserving and maintaining their natural habitats natural and evolution.

Piattella Canavesana di Cortereggio beds

Progressing along this concept then, when bringing their products to market, the farmers that adhere to this concept, indicate on the label or visibly post at their farms or estates, how their product came to being, specifying how it was produced, the energy consumed to produce it, and of course the true nutritional value.

Fontanafredda Bio-natural Project

Thus, just as a Slow Food is the opposite of fast food, Etichette Narranti is the total opposite of what the multinationals are fiercely fighting against-posting truthful labels on products-be they vegetables, breads, pastas or other prepared foods-that clearly indicate whether GMOs were used to produce them or as feed for the animals/fish that we purchase.


Indigenous grains from Puglia

Keep in mind for instance that indigenous varietals of beans contain far less carbohydrates and much more protein than the GMO produced counterparts; furthermore as also in the case of flour/breads, they are a better nutritional option for those who suffer from diabetes and other ailments that are currently reaching epidemic proportions throughout the world.

Piattella Canavesana di Cortereggio

In addition much more energy is required to produce the GMOs whereas the only thing that the indigenous seeds require is that the farmer save them from one harvest to the next-thus not having to depend on purchasing them from and be beholden to the multinationals and in doing so, simply employing his/her skills as well as knowledge about/and/respect for the environment while working with nature to bring his products to harvest and to the marketplace.

Alas, given the millions that the multinationals devoted to their cause, Prop. 37 was defeated but not all is lost in the battle for the right to know what we as consumers serve on our table. The future looks bright if schools, many with the support of their local Slow Food chapters throughout the world, run programs to encourage healthy eating by cultivating school gardens as championed amongst many others by Alice Waters-a very good friend and supporter of Slow Food and its founder Carlo Petrini.


In addition, programs such as University of New Hampshire’s Dual Major in EcoGastronomy ,whose Director, Dan Winans, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting during Terra Madre, train students to integrate sustainable  agriculture in whatever fields their future careers will take them. Dan was accompanying a delegation of such young and enthusiastic UNH students who while in Italy taking part in UNH study-abroad program in the Marches, attended Terra Madre as shown above, proudly posing with Carlo Petrini whom I too had thehonor of hearing speak and meet at a press conference.

Anna Maria & Carlo Petrini

Surely these students and others like them, will have an impact in the fight to protect sustainable farming methods and for the right to know what we ingest.

But in addition to these wonderful young people, there is light that is starting to shine at the end of the dark GMO and land grabbing tunnel. Main-stream journalists have been writing more about this subject such as NY Times Mark Bittman’s articles A Simple Fix for Farming of Oct. 21, 2012 and Fixing our Food Problem-Jan. 1, 2013; NY Times Michael Kugelman the Global Farmland Rush Feb. 5, 2013.

And in February 22 Wall Street Journal’s What’s Lurking in Your Pantry/Applied Food Chemistry by Michael Shermer’s, illustrates just how daunting of a task it is to make informed decisions about the food we eat. But I take issue with a comment made by author of Salt Sugar Fat, Michael Moss’s who states “”we, ultimately, have the power to make choices. After all, we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat.” because the tragedy is that most consumers have no idea about what they are eating thanks to the intentionally confusing or incorrect labeling on many food products being sold in supermarkets in this country-not to mention the sale of fish that proclaims to be what it is not or horse meat in their hamburger patties and meat balls!

There may also be an ally in the fight against GMOs in Montana’s Senator Jon Tester, who, as a guest on the John Maher show on January 25, 2013, spoke about also being a farmer but stating that he and his wife choose to reject mass-market farming methods refusing to plant and harvest crops utilizing GMO seeds, thus operating their farm following strict sustainable farming methods.

But what about the US Government agencies and officials that are meant to protect our health and food supply? Having a White House garden is wonderfully symbolic but perhaps our First Lady Michelle Obama might want to consider furthering the cause of ensuring a nutritionally sound food supply which would certainly make “Obamacare” a lot more cost-effective in the long-run or perhaps our current Surgeon General, who, not unlike her predecessors, keeps a very conspicuous low profile on the subject as reported by  Mark Bittman in his Feb. 20 NYTimes  column: Our M.I.A. Surgeon General.

I realize that organic, GMO-free products, grass-fed meats, free-range-heritage poultry  or wild-caught fish may not be readily available or affordable for many consumers, but everyone should have the right to know what is contained in the food they ingest and be able to make informed decisions about how they choose to feed themselves and their families.

Alla salute e buon appetito!

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Eccomi finalmente*, begging forgiveness for this long hiatus between postings.

Over the last spring and summer I had planned to travel to Piemonte in April and May but thanks to the volcano eruption in Iceland last April that prevented 10 out of a group of 14 from reaching Piemonte, I actually had to travel there again last June and immediately following off to amazing Friuli Venezia Giulia with another group.

Each trip was absolutely perfect and accompanied by my terrific travel companions, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit top estates such as  Angelo Gaja, Bartolo Mascarello, Bruno Giacosa, Aldo Conterno, Paolo Scavino, Giacomo Conterno, La Spinetta, Luciano Sandrone and Oddero in Piemonte; Radikon, Gravner, Jermann, and Fantinel in Friuli and finally Movia in Slovenia. In the coming weeks I will share stories and photos from these trips that I hope will be of interest but for now, I must continue with our Amazing Women of Piemonte series.

Our next featured woman winemaker is Maria Teresa Mascarello, who since her father’s demise has had to fill some pretty  big shoes in becoming the winemaker at Bartolo Mascarello.

But regardless of her shoe size, Maria Teresa is becoming a giant in her own right!

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