Like The Hub?
Join our community.

Conrad Black: Those who are blind to the brilliance of the United States on the world stage have lost their minds

A person holds the American flag before the 157th Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade, Monday, May. 27, 2024, in New York. (Yuki Iwamura/AP Photo)

I have been invited to reply to William Thorsell’s farrago of pathologically anti-American nonsense that appeared here in The Hub on May 29 under the title “We don’t have to go along with America’s catastrophic vision of the world forever.” I should write at the outset that I believe I have more reason than almost anyone in this country to have serious reservations about the United States. I do not especially like it as a society; its justice system is so corrupt that it does not, in my opinion, qualify as a society of laws and Canada should not have an extradition treaty with it. Along with its genius of showmanship, from the Declaration of Independence to the Super Bowl, there is almost always a gimcrack element of the country of which, in popular cultural terms, the capital is Hollywood. Its system throws up and often confers undeserved idolatry for a time upon unworthy people.

But we are discussing geopolitical matters and none of that is of the slightest account. The more important facts about the United States are that we owe chiefly to it the great spread of democracy and the market economy in the postwar world. It did the necessary to keep Britain and Canada in the Second World War and President Roosevelt was the chief architect of a strategy by which, as between the big three, the Soviet Union took more than 90 percent of the casualties in subduing Germany and between 1940 and 1945. France, Italy, Germany, and Japan transitioned from being hostile dictatorships, three of them at war with the West, to durable allies of the Anglo-Americans. Meanwhile, the USSR violated treaty obligations and plunged into the Cold War to take secondary strategic assets in Eastern Europe that it had to abandon. The United States strategy of containment led us to victory in the Cold War, without a shot being exchanged between the chief protagonists. The Soviet Union fell like a soufflé.

The United States is not a “hegemon” as Thorsell claims. If it was, it would have absorbed Canada long ago and many other places. All the United States has ever sought in foreign relations is not to be threatened. When it is threatened, it requires the removal of the threat. It has no rival in its own hemisphere, unlike the traditional European great powers where the correlation of forces was more or less equally divided between a number of countries and they had to tolerate each other.

Contrary to what Thorsell writes, the United States has no problem at all with other great powers in the world, as long as they do not threaten it. Like a vintage member of the nostalgic left, he imagines that America is unaware of the rising strength of China and that American capitalist influences are suborning the media and the academies to promote American unipolarity. It pains me to say this about an old and good friend, but a number of assertions in his piece are not entirely sane. He takes seriously Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s statement in Beijing last week that Russia and China will “work toward a more just and democratic…world order,” and promote “cultural and civilizational variety and the measured balance of interests of all members of the international community.”

Thorsell invites us to rely on Russia and China for the promotion of democracy and he imagines that the United States objects to cultural and civilizational variety. He crowns this astonishing triumph of self-brainwashing by requesting the Nobel prize for Vladimir Putin, head of the most overtly aggressive state in the world, who has invaded several of his neighbours and attempted to foment disorder through Russian-speaking minorities in several others.

Malcolm Jolley: Pantellaria continues to offer with launch of Gabrio Bini

Donnafugatta Estate, Pantelleria, Italy. Malcolm Jolley.

It started with an invitation at the Tre Bicchieri Italian wine show in Toronto. I met an importing agent at another’s table, and as we tried a racy San Gimignano Vernaccia from Tuscany, we spoke about our mutual appreciation of Italian wine. She mentioned that her agency had just secured Bini. They had a small number of samples coming in at the end of May. Would I like to attend their Bini launch?

The way the question was asked made me think I really did want to go to the Bini launch. The only trouble was I either didn’t know or couldn’t remember what Bini was. My new friend, Deena Altman from Bespoke Wine & Spirits must have sensed a compound look of confusion and panic on my face, as she volunteered more information that only confirmed my suspicion that I really did want to go to the Bini launch.

Gabrio Bini is an architect from Milan, who makes wine at his property on the island of Pantelleria, Azienda Agricola Serraghia. As long as it is honestly confessed, ignorance in the wine world is not a sin, since even the world’s most esteemed experts will concede that it is impossible to know everything about everything. Still, it was nice to explain to Deena that I had at least been to Pantelleria and would very much like to expand my knowledge of any wines that come from that magical island.

Pantelleria is a tiny volcanic island of just 85 square kilometres (or just over 50 square miles). It sits closer to the coast of Tunisia than to Sicily, from which it is administrated. It’s known for two main agricultural products: capers and grapes. Both these plants do well in the almost relentless winds that sweep across the Mediterranean and over the island, and which moderate its climate.

Pantellaria spent a bit more than 700 years as an Arab possession (600-1123 AD) before being reconquered by the Norman King Roger II of Sicily. The Arabs left two enduring legacies. The first is domed roof houses, called dammusi, that catch dew and rain water into cisterns. The second is the fat, round and green Zibibbo grape, which is what Sicilians call Muscat of Alexandria (most likely from the Arabic word for raisin, zabib).

If any of this seems familiar to long time Hub readers, it might be because I wrote about Pantelleria in a 2021 column about Ben Ryé, the dessert (and I suppose, desert) wine made by the Donnafugata winery there. My guide on Pantelleria was Antonio Rallo, whose parents Giacomo and Gabriella founded the well known Donnafugata label and wineries on the main island of Sicily.

The Rallo’s are an old Sicilian wine family, who established themselves by making Marsala. Giacomo Rallo would buy some grapes from Pantelleria, and when the young people of the island began to emigrate to find more lucrative work than working hard scrabble volcanic vineyards and constantly rebuilding the dry stone walls that protected the wines from the diving winds, the Rallo family would be asked to buy them. This had been the story for decades until recent signs of new wine life, which is where Gabrio Bini begins to come into the picture.

The story of Pantellerian wine does not end with the emigration of the sons and daughters of its small lot farmers. It begins again with the immigration of some rich and famous people and a discreet high end tourist trade. The island’s most famous homeowner is the designer Giorgio Armani. The island’s second most famous homeowner is the film actress and former Chanel model Carole Bouquet.

Madame Bouquet also makes wine on Pantelleria under her label Sangue d’Oro, the English translation of which, Golden Blood, sounds like a James Bond title and is fitting for the co-star of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. The Bouquet estate is, I think, more or less neighbours with the Bini winery at Serraghia. I think and don’t know because Bouquet, as a celebrity, does not disclose her address, but it was vaguely pointed out to me as we drove by it on our way from another winery, Coste Ghirlandia run by a wealthy Swiss woman.

Neither Gabrio Bini nor Serraghia have a website, but they do have a marking on Google Maps. There, pilgrims to the winery have posted photographs of the moustachioed man and the clay amphoras he makes wine out of. It turns out Signor Bini and his natural wines are something of a cult phenomenon.

By the time I had worked out the information, I knew I really wanted to go to the Bini launch. I did this week. The purpose of the tasting was to determine the size of an order to Ontario, and it was chiefly for the benefit of sommeliers and buyers from the upper echelon of Toronto’s fine dining scene. (Cult wines are never cheap.)

The first wine was the Serraghia Bianco Zibibbo Vino Secco 2022. Zibibbo is most often made sweet, shows flowery aromatics and tends on the blowsy side. Here was almost pure apricot expression deep and bone dry fruit that was stunning. The pours at the tasting were small; the wines had to stretch out. It didn’t matter because the intensity of flavour was so resonant, like a big and full sound coming out of a deceptively small speaker.

The second wine was the single vineyard Zibibbo, the Heritage 2022. I could smell the stone fruit and orange blossom as the wine was being poured. There is skin contact, which gives the wine some gentle tannic structure, and my impression was of a more precise and polished version of the Serraghia Bianco, with a slightly longer finish. At this point I had become a Bini convert, ready to join the cult.

The third wine was the Serraghia Fanino 2022, a rosé made from an equal blend of Sicilian grapes: white Cataratto and red Pignatello. Though it sounded familiar at the tasting, I had to look up Pignatello to find out it’s what’s called Perricone on the main island of Sicily. More oranges here and a light cherry note. Very easy to drink.

The fourth and final wine was the 2022 Onda, made with 100 percent Syrah. It was silky and showing dark red to black fruit Syrah spicy with white pepper and Mediterranean scrub herbs and held itself in a kind of lightness. Deep Googling reveals that this wine is named after Gabrio Bini’s dog, who must indeed be a very good boy.

I can confirm with some certainty that the Gabrio Bini wines come with some frequency to the provinces of B.C., Alberta, Quebec and later this year Ontario.