Maremma dispatch: the 1954 Ribolla coal mine tragedy

ribolla mine accidentA number of people commented yesterday on this photo, posted from the village of Ribolla (Roccastrada township) in the heart of Maremma (Tuscany) yesterday.

It’s a memorial to the victims of the 1954 coal mine tragedy there, which claimed the lives of 43 miners and shook Italy and its citizens just as the nation was rebuilding in the wake of the Second World War.

An explosion was caused by firedamp (a flammable gas) just as the miners had begun their morning’s work.

More than 50,000 persons attended the miners’ funerals, according to the Italian Wiki entry for Ribolla.

Here’s the only English-language account I could find.

The episode inspired the 1962 novel La vita agra by Luciano Bianciardi (published in English as It’s a Hard Life), which was adapted for the screen in 1964 by Carlo Lizzani.

The hills of the Maremma Toscana, which lie roughly 15 km from the sea, were a historical center for mineral and coal mining, with a legacy that stretches back to the iron age and the time of the Etruscans.

Viticulturally, Maremma is more widely known for its coastal vineyards. But today there is a growing presence of fine wine production in the hills that lie inland from the sea.

More on that later. Heading out now for my first appointment of the day in Montalcino…

Eugenio Boer’s extraordinary cooking

The adventure begins…

pasta primavera recipeLast night found me at dinner in Radda in Chianti at the Zonin family’s Castello d’Albola estate.

As I head out today for winery visits, I don’t have time this morning to explain why or how I got here. But I will reveal all in good time.

In the meantime, I just had to share a few photos of Chef Eugenio Boer’s extraordinary food. The Zonins had brought him down to Tuscany from his restaurant, L’Essenza in Milan, especially for the occasion.

That’s his spring vegetables, above.

venison recipeEugenio insisted that we eat this venison crudo with our hands. Delicious… Note how they served the dish on alberese, a stone that plays an important role in Chianti’s soils.

eugenio boer chefEugenio (above) is Italian-Dutch and his work reflects both culinary traditions. I was totally blown away by the creativity and wholesomeness his food.

monty waldin wine biodyanmicsA preview of a post to come: that’s Monty Waldin (left), who literally grilled professor Denis Dubourdieu during our tasting.

Stay tuned…

A whirlwind trip to Italy

jeremy parzen wine blog bloggerAbove: as much as I love what I do for a living and the fact that my work takes me to Italy on a regular basis, this is where I’d rather be (image snapped yesterday in Houston at Fire Truck Park, one of our favorite weekend destinations).

Man, my itinerary for the next few weeks is insane!

Chianti, Maremma, Montalcino, Siena, Asolo, Franciacorta, Barolo, Montefalco, Ascoli Piceno, Pisa…

Of the course of the next fourteen days, I will be sleeping nearly every night in a different bed.

Traveling to Italy for work — even when you work in the wine trade — is not as glamorous as it may sound.

Above: a recent performance of our ABCs that I furtively captured using my iPhone. Georgia P’s intonation and understanding of rhythm are really starting to come along and Lila Jane is getting more and more interested in the keyboard (she’s the one playing the clams!).

Days begin early for me on the road because I have to create and manage all of the day’s content (for all of my clients in Italy and stateside), before I leave my hotel each day. And the rest of the each day is filled with travel – taste – spit – photograph – repeat…

Not that I’m complaining: as I gear up to leave today from Houston, I know that there are many wonderful experiences, wines, and meals in my near future.

And I’m especially looking forward to the Asolo Prosecco and Verdicchio tastings, as well as my time in Langa (where I’ll have some downtime with friends).

In other Italian travel news…

New York-based Italian wine blogger Susannah Gold has been posting some great info on Milan on her blog Avvinare.

You may remember a post from a few weeks ago when I reminded Italian wine tradepeople that “Italy is so much more than just wine.”

Susannah lived and worked for many years in Milan and I’ve been loving her posts devoted to the city and the World’s Fair — EXPO Milano — which opened last week.

Check it out here and see you on the other side! Thanks for being here…

All wine and no jams make me a dull boy: Tonecraft rocks my home recording world

Happy May Day!

tonecraft bass preEven though my band Nous Non Plus hasn’t been performing or recording lately, I still keep my chops up by writing and tracking my own songs. It’s something that I enjoy immensely and it’s also a way — you’ve seen as much if you visit here regularly — to get our daughters into music.

The professional music and audio world often overlaps with the wine and food world. Off the top of my head, I could name many more than a handful of winemakers and restaurateurs who all played (and continue to play) music professionally or semi-professionally.

My good friend Jon Erickson isn’t just one of the best bass players I’ve ever met and the co-owner of one of my favorite San Diego restaurants, Jaynes Gastropub.

He’s also — and I’m not exaggerating by any means here — a legendary audio designer. In other words, he designs audio devices that are used in the recording arts. The Pacifica microphone pre-amp, an industry benchmark, is arguably his most famous patent.

His newest entry is the Tonecraft All-Tube Direct Input Preamplifier. And I have the great fortune to own one (above) thanks to a wine barter he and I did a few months ago!
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The sad truth about Italian wine (and a few wines I loved in Mexico City)

best chianti classico sangioveseAbove: I really loved the Bibbiano entry-tier Chianti Classico, which I tasted for the first time at the Gambero Rosso Road Show tasting in Mexico City. This is my kind of Chianti… superbly grown Sangiovese with a touch of Colorino, vinified in cement. Utterly delicious.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote famously in verse and in essays about Italy’s disenfranchised youth.

As the much of the country basked in the “economic miracle” that emerged nearly two decades after the Second World War, many southerners were left behind by the country’s newfound prosperity.

In his unforgettable poem “Il PCI ai giovani” (“The Italian Communist Party [belongs] to youth”), published in the wake of the 1968 Battle of Valle Giulia, he wrote of the “police, children of the poor.” These were the economically challenged young people of southern Italy who escaped their depressed regions by joining Italy’s paramilitary police force, the Carabinieri.

I was reminded of this poem and Pasolini’s myriad essays on the widening economic inequality in 1960s and 1970s Italy by something that a young Italian wine professional said to me in Mexico City last week.

Originally from Abruzzo, he has an import company there and works primarily with Italian estates.

When I asked him if he liked living in Mexico, he looked at me squarely.

L’Italia non fa impresa, he said flatly, Italy doesn’t do business. In other words, there isn’t a business-friendly culture in Italy that allows motivated young people like him (he was in his early thirties, I gauged) to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit.

Mexico — not a country that many would count among the world’s most prosperous — is a better place for him to do business, it seems.

best nero avola baglio pianettoAbove: another wine I really loved was the Baglio di Pianetto entry-tier Nero d’Avola. The winemaker told me that the consulting enologist is Marco Bernabei, the son of the legendary Franco Bernabei. It’s made from organically farmed fruit and is vinified in temperature controlled stainless steel. “It’s actually a very simply made wine,” he said. And its transparency and focus were delicious and refreshing on the palate. A great by-the-glass.

After he left my stand, I turned to the Tuscan winemaker pouring next to me and we talked about the bleak job horizon for young people today in Italy, where there is a nearly 50 percent unemployment rate for people under 25.

Grape growing and agriculture in general are one of Italy’s greatest resources and exports. Yet the country’s current economic stagnation and its burdensome and behemoth bureaucracy leave little room for economic mobility for the new generation of wine professionals there — like my new friend from Abruzzo.

Everywhere you turn in Italy, wine appreciation is less and less popular among young people and the wine trade is increasingly sustained and supported not by domestic consumption but by exports.

It struck me that day in Mexico City that the wines are the children of the poor. They must abandon their birthright and travel far from their villages to sustain themselves — just like the young man from Abruzzo.

Sadly — tragically, really — this is the reality faced by a legion of young wine professionals in Italy today.

Thanks for reading…

Public service announcement: two May tastings in Italy I’m really excited about

As I prepare to leave next week for my May trip to Italy, I wanted to share details on a couple of tastings and events that I’m really looking forward to attending.

asolo wine tasting may 10 proseccoThe first is the Asolo and Montello consortium tasting on Sunday May 10 in the historic center of Asolo.

Unfortunately, the Consortium hasn’t published any more details than the image above. But as far as I know, you can just show up and taste without registering.

Even today, many U.S. wine professionals are aware that Asolo — one of my favorite places in Italy — is part of the Prosecco DOCG. They don’t make as much wine there as they do in Valdobbiadene, Conegliano, and the valley floor of Treviso province. But they make some of the best expressions of Glera imho. The wines tend to be saltier than their cousins to the east and that’s the way I like it.

I’ll post more details as they become available.

verdicchio festival marche may 2015The first ever TerroirMarche event on May 16-17 in Ascoli Piceno is going to be a game-changer.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica are among the most promising appellations in Italy right now.

Italian wine writers have been raving about Verdicchio and its much deserved place among the great whites of the world.

The only thing that’s been lacking has been proper visibility of the wines and the people who make them.

And the newly formed TerroirMarche group is working to change that.

I’ll be in Ascoli Piceno as an observer and taster and I’m looking forward to the five seminars, one of which will be lead by Walter Speller among other Italian wine luminaries.

Hope to see you there!

WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT: BBQ porn from yesterday’s Houston BBQ Festival

pork belly corkscrewYesterday I managed to snag a press pass and sneak into the Third Annual Houston Barbecue Festival. The event was co-founded by Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist Chris Reid, my good friend here.

This year’s gathering featured 23 Houston-area smokers according to its website.

While Lockhart in Central Texas is considered the “barbecue capital” of Texas and Austin continues to grow as a hipster barbecue mecca, Houston is emerging as another mandatory stop on the Texas barbecue trail.

In the last five year or so, many new artisanal smokers have appeared and “cult bbq” — with its early-morning waits and long lines — is now an established phenomenon here.

That’s smoked pork belly by CorkScrew, above.

boudin stuffed pork chops corkscrew bbqI didn’t visit every stand but CorkScrew’s was my number one for taste and presentation. I loved the Boudin-Stuffed Pork Loin, above, the best thing I tasted at the festival.

brooks place bbqBigger is often considered better in Texas barbecue. That’s the Brooks’ Place beef rib, above (the cut is often called a “brontosaurus rib,” even though it is now believed that the brontosaurus never actually existed).

pulled porkI overheard one of Houston’s highest-profile food writers say that Patrick Feges’ pulled pork, above, was the best thing he tasted yesterday.
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La serenata de Garibaldi (Plaza de Garibaldi, Mexico City)

plaza garibaldi mexico mariachisOne of the most vivid memories of the summer I turned 16 living in Mexico City resides in Plaza de Garibaldi, where the Mariachis gather nightly to connect with people in need of their services.

It’s an incredible sight: scores of groups performing and milling around waiting for would-be clients.

I visited last night on the early side before things really picked up. But it was a blast for me to revisit this magical place and shoot the video below.

Thanks for tagging along. See you next week.

Mexico, a new frontier for Italian wine?

¡Viva el México! Thank you to all the Mexico City wine professionals who came out to taste with me yesterday!

cathedral mexico cityA note to wine professionals: If you ever want to be the most popular table at a wine tasting, make sure you’re pouring Franciacorta!

Yesterday found me in Mexico City, pouring wine at the Gambero Rosso Top Italian Wines Road Show tasting for a Franciacorta Consortium member winery.

I was really impressed by the positive reception for the wines and the high caliber of wine professionals who tasted with me.

oscar st regis sommelier four seasonsBut the thing that really surprised me was how many of the attendees knew Franciacorta and its place in the panorama of sparkling wines from around the world.

Repeatedly, I had people come to my table and tell me that they loved Franciacorta and the overwhelming majority of wine professionals who tasted with me knew where and how the wines are made.

Oscar, the gentleman in the photo above, works as the wine director at the St. Regis Hotel on the Paseo de la Reforma — one of the city’s swankest neighborhoods.

He told me that as a rule, the St. Regis wine list features only Champagne and Franciacorta in its sparkling section. No Prosecco, for example, he told me.

Click here to continue reading my post today for Franciacorta, the Real Story.

¡Qué nostalgia! Tacos al pastor at Borrego Viudo in Mexico City

tacos al pastor¡Vamos a los tacos! was what my Mexican friends used to say back when we were in high school together in San Diego. Just like the midnight spaghettata in Italy, a late-night taquería after an evening of drinking was and is a cherished ritual.

It’s hard to imagine — at least in my life — a dish that inspires greater nostalgia than tacos al pastor.

On our friend Mai Pham’s recommendation, I visited the classic Borrego Viudo last night on the earlier side of the evening (after all, I’m not 17 anymore!).

There’s really no other way to say it: this place was simply awesome. From the way the parking attendants cheerfully greet you to the polite, dutiful service of the tidy waiters who carry literally ten plates at a time, this joint is one that continues to stand the test of all time.

Those are the tacos al pastor above (see the carver in the video below).

taco de cabeza mexico city ciudadThis was a taco de cabeza, two tortilas de maíz filled with head.

It’s not hard to understand why Mai insisted that I visit this place. It was joyful and brimming with all kinds of people, young and old, families and friends.

I was there on the early side, around 7:45. But by the time I left, there were so many people that the parking lot was full of people eating in their cars (the servers will wait on you in the parking lot as well).

I adored this place. Go there…