Anyone who’s ever had sweet potato pie…

Don’t want pumpkin again.

Kinda predictable: I brought a bottle of 2004 Produttori Barbaresco to the B Family Thanksgiving. We also drank a NV Langlois rosé (Cabernet Franc) that showed really well.

I’d never tasted a fresh pecan before. Mrs. B made a sweet potato pie topped with fresh pecans and marshmallows. Anyone who’s ever had a really good sweet potato pie won’t want pumpkin again!

Tracie B made an awesome pecan pie.

Homemade green bean casserole was topped with garlic bread crumbs and carrots braised with cilantro and jalapeños.

Thank you Mrs. and Mr. B for letting me share your Thanksgiving with you!

*****

Sweet Potato Pie
— Al Jarreau

Now it was a hot sticky morning
‘Round the Fourth of July
The breeze was standing still
I’m hanging out by myself
And I’m having a good time
With the folk inside my head
And you know, Lord,
how you did a lovely thing
See, times my head is lighter
than it’s ever been
And anyone who’s ever had
sweet potato pie
Don’t want pumpkin again,
no, they don’t want

‘Cause it don’t taste right, no
Look-a-here city boy with your
silks and braided hair
Don’t you let nobody fool you
with no imitation nothing
Tell ‘em, say, unh, unh, buddy,
I been there
Listen mama, when you
finally walk on in
Don’t forget to bring along
your sweet potato tin
‘Cause when you serve him
a slice of your sweet potato sin

girl, he won’t want pumpkin again
no, he won’t want
Now I took a trip down to Sissy’s
She’s a friend of mine
She smiled and asked me in
Well, she drew a box and a big,
fancy question mark
Said, “Brother, which one is you in?”
I told her, “Sister, don’t worry
’bout the mule going blind
You just sit in the wagon and
hold on to the line
‘Cause anyone who’s ever had
sweet potato pie
Don’t want pumpkin again,
really don’t want”

Now I saw the gates
gold and pearl
And I sat right down
in a dream of you, old friend
I’m thinking some milk and
honey and a pot of stew
Might fill that gap again
You know, I’m a thankful
witness to the things I’ve seen

And times my head is lighter
than it’s ever been
And anyone who’s ever had
sweet potato pie
Really don’t want pumpkin again,
no they won’t want

Would you give me some
sweet potato y’all

Sofa King Tasty: a urban foodie’s tour of Dallas

Italian Wine Guy and the Queen of Dallas Eats took me and Tracie B on a tour of urban Dallas last Saturday. It happened to be the 45th anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination and there were a lot of folks gathered at the Grassy Knoll in a bizarre, carnivalesque commemoration (see Alfonso’s post here).

Above: one of the official slogans at the Twisted Root Burger Co. in Deep Ellum (Dallas). If the paronomasia isn’t immediately apparent, read it slowly and you will discover the pen is mightier than the sword.

Above: one of the “chef’s favorites” at the Twisted Root, the “Western Burger.” Top that with spicy bbq sauce and you’re in serious business, although, I must confess, I was still paying for my eating binge the next day! See the dog below…

Above: “Bleu cheese and Tangy Buffalo sauce” is one of the recommended dressings for the all-beef hot dog at the Twisted Root. Sofa king tasty…

Above: owner Quincy Hart on the mic, calling out orders on a busy Saturday. I can’t recommend this burger joint highly enough: the vibe of a restaurant is so important and Quincy’s schtick delivers belly-ache laughs along with great belly-bustin’ food. Lunch there was one of those “I’m officially having fun” moments.

Above: the Mozzarella Company is an old-school cheese monger that reminded me of my Brookalino days (minus the accent). In the pasta she made that night, Tracie B used some salt-less cow’s-milk mozzarella (as good as any I ever tasted in the old neighborhood in Brooklyn) and the next night we sampled its killer goat cheese aged in hoja santa leaves (leaves provided by Alfonso form his garden).

Above: no foodie’s tour of Dallas would be complete without a visit to the amazing and aptly named Tom Spicer, purveyor of some mighty fine farm-to-table produce and musician extraordinaire. I cannot begin to explain how his “Kalimbass” works… Click on the YouTube link to see the impromptu concert he gave us in his excellent and unique shop.

Da Alfonso: 1978 Gaja Barbera or the mother of all mommy posts

Above: the star of the evening last Saturday was a 1978 Barbera I Fagiani d’Oro (Golden Pheasants) by Angelo Gaja.

My good friend Alfonso Cevola, one of the wine bloggers I admire most and the top English-language Italian wine blogger in my book, often teases me about my “mommy posts.” We’re all guilty of authoring mommy posts: show me the wine blogger and I’ll show you the “mommy, I drank this, I drank that” post.

Above: the text in the arc above the appellation name advises, “da bersi a temperature di cantina” or drink at cellar temperature.

Well, here goes nothin’… On the occasion of our recent and first visit to his home last Saturday, Alfonso opened the doors of his cellar and plucked a few gems from his trésor. These included, among others, a Jacques Selosse NV Champagne (I’d never tasted before; simply brilliant), a Barbera d’Alba I Fagiani d’Oro 1978 Angelo Gaja (the star of the evening for me), and a Château Mouton-Rothschild 1982 (with label by John Huston).

Above: Alfonso grilled fiorentine (Tuscan-style porterhouses) for our main course.

The 1978 Barbera was one of the most thrilling wines I’ve tasted in some time: it was so alive, with great acidity and fruit, a stunning example of traditional-style Barbera. Few think of Barbera as an age-worthy grape variety. But when vinified in a traditional style, this grape achieves a sublime lightness in body. I’d never seen a Gaja Barbera from any vintage and any info and/or thoughts would be appreciated. Alfonso and I kept expecting the wine to die as it aerated, but it just kept giving us delicious sensation until the very last drop.

Above: I kicked back and sipped Puro (my contribution) and Selosse as Tracie B (right) made pasta with pomodorini and mozzarella, Kim sautéed some biodynamic Swiss chard, and Alfonso grilled the steaks. Ah, life is good…

Earlier this year, Eric le Rouge and I tasted a 1978 Gaja Barbaresco at Manducatis in Long Island City, Queens. The 1978 harvest in Piedmont was a great one and Angelo Gaja was still making traditional wines aged in botti (as opposed to the new French oak he uses today). Both wines sapevano di langa… they both tasted of the Langa hills where they were made.

Above: the cork in the Barolo 1971 Pira fell apart and so I used an ah-so cork screw to remove it. Unfortunately, the wine had died, but such is life. Does anybody know the etymology of the word “ah-so”? Dr. J must confess that he’s stumped. Maybe this is a quaesitio for Dr. Vino.

Above: Alfonso seasoned the beef with “profumo del Chianti” by Panzanese butcher Dario Cecchini.

The Selosse, so hard-to-find and beyond my price point, was simply brilliant. Even at the entry-level, this non-vintage Champagne “Initial,” a Grand Cru blanc de blancs blended from three different vineyards and vintages, was impressively nuanced yet powerful in the mouth, with many great years ahead of it. A great example of Chardonnay in one of its finest expressions. The 1982 Mouton was a treat for me inasmuch as I rarely get to taste old Bordeaux and while I can’t say that it floored me (and it struck me as more modern-leaning in style than other first growth I’ve tasted), I thoroughly appreciated its historic significance as a benchmark wine from a watershed vintage.

Alfonso, what can I say? Thanks for an unforgettable evening. Can you blame me for mommy blogging? ;-)

On deck: thoughts on the Grassy Knoll on the 45th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination and foodie notes from Dallas.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Amazing Amelia and the Tortillas del Rancho (Dallas)

Above: tacos al pastor at Del Rancho in Garland (Dallas), Texas. Dora at Bahia Don Bravo in La Jolla will always hold a special place in my culinary heart but Amelia’s tortillas can’t be beat.

Tortillas del Rancho Restaurant
220 W. Kingsley Rd. #426
Ridgewood Shopping Center
Garland (Dallas), TX 75041
972-926-1550

Tracie B and I spent the weekend in Dallas hanging out with Italian Wine Guy and the Queen of Dallas Eats. Many great wines were opened (coming soon), fiorentine were grilled, many tall tales told, a Grassy Knoll was contemplated on the 45th anniversary of the somber and sobering day (was irony born that day or did it die?), and a grand time had by all.

Above: the kitchen at Tortillas del Rancho delivered deliciously lime-soaked and lightly fried cornmeal dough topped with gently piquant roast pork.

I am rushed today by a few deadlines but couldn’t resist posting about the amazing Amelia (one of my editors admonishes me for my love of alliteration but the allure of Amelia’s food is truly ambrosial).

Tortillas del Rancho has recently expanded with a new location and a new tortilleria.

*****

A famous example of alliteration (and anaphora when read in context):

    Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona
    (Love, which absolves no one beloved from loving)

    Inferno, 5, 103

That same canto gave Italian (and amorous) literature another one of its most memorable lines:

    Galeotto fu ‘l libro e chi lo scrisse
    (A Galeotto was the book and he that wrote it)

    ibid., 137

Maremma, part 3: drinking from the holy grails

Ante scriptum: In keeping with a tradition established by Brooklynguy, a wine blogger whom I admire greatly, I feel obliged to make note of the fact that this is my 300th post. I can only echo his typically deadpan understatement, “It has been such a pleasure to write this blog, mostly because of the community of wine people it has given me access to.” Earlier this year, Vino al Vino and Do Bianchi launched a blog born through a virtual transatlantic conversation. Today, My Life Italian and Do Bianchi are driving up to Dallas from Austin to dine with Italian Wine Guy. There are truly remarkable people behind all of these URLs: Neil, Franco, Tracie B, and Alfonso are four people whose lives wouldn’t have intersected with mine if not for blogging, and there are so many others… I am truly thankful for all of them in my life…

*****

Above: Sebastiano Rosa (left) gave me a tour of the storied vineyards where the grapes of his family’s Sassicaia are produced.

My September pilgrimage to the Mecca of Super Tuscia (how’s that for a neologism?) would not have been complete without a visit to the holy grails of Super Tuscandom, Ornellaia and Sassicaia. These wines need no introduction and a click-through to their websites and a Google search will give you plenty of information on their illustrious history and their presence in the market today.

Above: I visited the famed Masseto vineyard, where Ornellaia grows its top Merlot grapes, just days before picking began. While others in the area had already begun to harvest their Merlot, Ornellaia extended hang time to achieve riper fruit and higher sugar levels.

I’ve tasted these wines a number of times over the years and although I am not a fan (nor can I afford to be), they are among the greatest — if not the greatest and most original — expressions of the genre: elegant terroir-driven wines, made with French varieties grown on Tuscan soil, structured and nuanced, long-lived and highly coveted in the market.

My visit to Sassicaia was impressive for how unassuming the facility is. Sebastiano Rosa, whose family owns the legendary estate, is a dude about my age who studied enology at UC Davis. He speaks English like a Californian (like me) and his family’s winery has remained virtually unchanged since the 19th century. There is no vaulted-ceiling entrance or grand tasting room. And aside from the introduction of stainless-steel, the winemaking facility and vinificiation practices are pretty much the same as they have been since the wine was first produced in the 1940s (and first released in 1968). I tasted with Sebastiano and then we drove up to see one of the growing sites. He is one of Italy’s top winemakers and produces one of its most sought-after wines. But he struck me as a mellow guy with whom I’d rather drink a beer and roll a taco…

Above: as Ornellaia’s vineyard manager, Leonardo Raspini oversees some of the most coveted growing sites in the world, producing wines that command top prices on the world wine market.

Ornellaia is the polar opposite: as you drive through manicured estate and arrive at the corporate offices and winery, you are keenly aware that every detail has been scripted to evoke the same opulence and prestige contained in each precious bottle.

Above: the aging room at Ornellaia is a temple of barrique.

If you’re traveling to Bolgheri, I cannot recommend a visit to Ornellaia highly enough. From the winery and vineyard tour to the elegant tasting cottage, this was simply one of the most enjoyable, user-friendly, and informative winery visits you can make. And unlike Sassicaia, the winery is open to the public: you must reserve in advance and they will customize the tasting according to your palate and your price point (Ornellaia possesses an extensive library of older vintages). He’s not always available but if possible, request vineyard manager Leonardo Raspini as your guide. I was blown away by his ability to convey the artistry of state-of-the-art winemaking technology and philosophy and I was thrilled to shake the hand of the guy who grows the grapes for the first Italian wine to be sold in the Place de Bordeaux.

This just in…

Sue me, Summus. The Italian news weekly L’Espresso reports that nearly 50% of Banfi’s 2003 Brunello has been declassified.

Maremma, part 2: bistecca panzanese at Osteria Magona in Bolgheri

Above: Omar Barsacchi and Gionata d’Alessi, chefs at Osteria Magona, the coolest joint in Bolgheri.

Osteria Magona
57022 Bolgheri (LI)
Piazza Ugo, 2/3
tel. 0565 762173

Whey they hear the toponym Bolgheri (pronounced BOHL-geh-ree), many think immediately of the Maremma coastline where Italy’s famed Super Tuscans are produced. But the appellation gets its name from Bolgheri the beautiful borgo medievale (medieval township), a village with delightful summertime nightlife, music, wine bars, and a handful of family-run osterie.

I had the good fortune to visit Bolgheri at the tail end of the summer this year to have dinner with Cinzia during my stay in the Maremma.

She, my buddy Ben Shapiro, and I met up at the Osteria Magona, run by Omar and Gionata, above, two young chefs who show great verve in their traditional Tuscan cooking (Gionata’s name is pronounced JOH-nah-tah and is a calque of the English Jonathan). Both young men consider themselves quasi-disciples of celebrity Tuscan butcher and poet Dario Cecchini of Panzano in Chianti Classico (I liked this profile of Cecchini.) Cecchini gained notoriety a few years back when he composed an ode to the bistecca alla fiorentina, bemoaning its ban by the European Union during the mad cow scare.

During that period, he developed a cut of beef, which he called the bistecca alla panzanese, named after his natio loco, Panzano, carved from the thigh (pictured above at Osteria Magona). It resembles the fiorentina but has no contact with bone and, thus, was acceptable under EU rules.

That night, we paired a gorgeous panzanese with Cinzia’s 2001 Messorio, a bottling with great emotional significance for her. I was honored that she shared it with me. Her Messorio is her most famous wine and has received high marks from U.S. wine writers in recent years. But sometimes a great wine isn’t about its fame, rarity, or even the physical pleasure derived from it. Sometimes it’s more about the people who made it and the people with whom you share it. Thanks, Cinzia. It’s a bottle I’ll never forget.

On deck: tasting at Ornellaia and Sassicaia… stay tuned…

Maremma, part 1: an unforgettable evening at La Pineta

Above: enologist Luca d’Attoma, restaurateur and chef Luciano Zazzeri, and winemaker Cinzia Merli at La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona (Maremma, Tuscany).

La Pineta
57020 Marina Di Bibbona (LI)
Via Cavalleggeri Nord, 13
tel. 0586 600371

The celebrated Trattoria La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona (Maremma) needs no plug from Do Bianchi. No visit to this stretch of the Tuscan coastline is complete without a meal there. I had the good fortune to dine there in September with my friend Cinzia Merli and her enologist Luca d’Attoma, one of the industry’s hottest and most colorful characters and a former rugby player.

The crudo — so fresh — rivaled the best sushi I’ve had in California and included “extreme” entries, like whole, melt-in-your-mouth raw shrimp.

The baby moscardini were perfectly tender and their savoriness was wonderfully balanced, as if chef Zazzeri had used sea water to season them.

Cinzia graciously treated us (my buddy Ben Shapiro was with us, too) to a bottle of Leflaive 2005 Bâtard-Montrachet, opulent and decadent (especially considering its youth).

You can also rent cabanas and beach chairs etc. during the day at La Pineta (and they have a classic 1960s-era snackbar). Ben and I had a walk around before sunset and I did some thinking about la dolce vita.

Up next: bistecca alla panzanese in Bolgheri… stay tuned…

A favorite Chianti at Bahia

Above: Dora was in the kitchen the other night at Bahia and the food was just smoking good! The best chile relleno I’ve ever had there.

Last Sunday, Tracie B and Jayne and Jon and I headed over to Bahia Don Bravo in Bird Rock (La Jolla) for some corkage a la acapulqueña. (Tracie B was in town for a lil’ Southern California weekend.)

Jon brought an obligatory bottle of López de Heridia 1989 Tondonia white, always so good at Bahia, and I brought a bottle of one of my favorite wines to pair with Mexican food, with any food really, Selvapiana 2006 Chianti Rufina. Franco is a big fan of Selvapiana as well: the wine is traditional in style, 100% Sangiovese, very fresh and bright in the mouth. I love the way its acidity and natural fruit flavor marry with the intense flavors of Dora’s cooking. And it costs around $22 at the La Jolla BevMo.

Dora’s camaronillas were excellent that night, a classic in her acapulqueño repertoire.

The vineyards of Chianti Rufina (pronounced ROO-fee-nah, btw, with the ictus on the first syllable) lie above 400 meters (perfect for growing Sangiovese) and the wines have a distinctive freshness thanks to the temperature variation (warm summer days but cool nights). Check it out…

Che due marroni! and more thoughts on the Berlusconi gaffe

Above: this morning, my college friend Steve Muench sent this pic of chestnuts roasting in Piazza della frutta in Padua, where he and I attended university in 1987-88 (my first year in Italy). I played my first Italian gig in that square, at Bar Margherita.

There’s a saying in Italian, che due marroni!, literally, what two chestnuts! I’ll spare you the figurative meaning and its reference to the male anatomy: it can be translated as what a pain in the butt!

I spent the better part of the morning getting my gmail back online. I know a lot of people had email bounce back but it seems to be working properly now. Sorry for the hassle.

In other news…

Today, Cristiano left this insightful and thoughtful comment on my Berlusconi gaffe post:

    The fact is that Berlusconi, and a lot of people in Italy for that matter, don’t seem to be able to see the fact that the pun is indeed a racist one and feel offended if this is pointed out to them.

    I really wonder how Berlusconi really is viewed by people out of Italy.
    Cristiano

It reminded me of a passage in a book that I read over and over again as a teenager, The Big Sea by Langston Hughes (btw, I referenced a Langston Hughes poem in my post-election Harlem post from last Wednesday). In the 1920s, the young Hughes traveled to Italy and visited his friend Romeo in Desenzano in Lombardy. Note that in Italian, vino rosso can be referred to as vino nero or black wine:

    The night we arrived was Sunday and the whole village had gone to the movies. There was no one home at Romeo’s house and he had no key, so we left our baggage piled in the doorway and went to the movies, too. It was one of those theaters where the screen is at the front of the house beside the front door, so you come in facing the audience Just as we came in, the house lights went on between reels, as they were changing the film. The place was crowded, but as we entered and the people saw us, the whole crowd arose and began to make for the doorway. Soon they became a shouting, pushing mass. I didn’t know what they were saying, for they were speaking Italian, of course, and I didn’t understand Italian. But Romeo and I were swept into the street and surrounded by curious but amiable men, women, and children. Finally, Romeo’s mother got him through the crowd and threw her arms about his neck. I gather that almost all of the people of the village were Romeo’s friends, but I didn’t know why so many of them clung to me and shook my hands, while a crowd of young boys and men pulled and pushed until they had me in the midst of them in a wine shop, with a dozen big glasses of wine in front of me.

    Later that night Romeo explained to me that never in Desenzano, so far as he knew, had there been a Negro before, so naturally everybody wanted to look at me at close hand, and touch me, and treat me to a glass of vino nero. Romeo said they were all his friends, but hardly would the whole theater have rushed into the street between reels had it not been for me, a Negro, being with him.

I’ll leave the exegesis of this passage up to you…

Apulia in New York and a visit with Obi-Wan

Above: the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Italian wine world, Charles Scicolone (left), with Tom Maresca, another one of New York’s great wine experts and writers and an authority on Italian wine.

As the newest member of the New York Wine Media Guild, I was asked to help organize and co-chair last week’s tasting of Apulian wines in New York together with my good friend and mentor, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Italian wine world, Charles Scicolone. What an honor for me to get to present Charles! He has been working in and writing about Italian wine since the 1970s, when few connoisseurs were collecting or drinking fine Italian wine. Together with two other now-legendary names in our field, writer Sheldon Wasserman and retailer Lou Iacucci, Charles played a starring role in what can now be called the Italian wine renaissance in this country. Whether selling, consulting, lecturing, or simply tasting, “it’s always a pleasure” Charles is one of the most recognized and respected faces in Italian wine in the U.S.

Above: top wine blogger Tyler Colman and agent provocateur Terry Hughes share a moment for my camera. Also in attendance, a who’s who of New York wine writers: John Foy, Paul Zimmerman, and Peter Hellman, among others.

Charles and I have known each other for more than 10 years: I first met him when I wrote about him and his wife, cookbook author and Italian food authority Michele Scicolone, for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana. Later, I had the great fortune to work with Charles when he was the wine director at famed Italian wine destination I Trulli in New York. (Although he never won, Charles was nominated eight consecutive times for the James Beard Wine Professional award.)

Charles is known for his passionate defense of traditional winemaking and his distaste for new oak aging, especially when it comes to Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico. “They’ve gone to the dark side,” you’ll hear Charles say, referring to once-traditional Italian winemakers who switch over to California-style vinfication and high-alcohol, overly extracted, oaky, jammy wines. Hence, my cognomen for Charles.

Above: we were also joined by Francesca Mancarella, export director for Apulian winery Candido, and Gary Grunner, another Italian wine industry veteran.

One of the things that impresses me the most about Charles’ palate and his knowledge of Italian wines is that he tasted many of the twentieth-century’s great vintages on release and he has witnessed the evolution of the Italian wine sector during its most vibrant periods of renewal and expansion.

Charles, may the force be with you!

See also Off the Presses’ tasting notes from last Wednesday’s tasting.

Above: more than 30 wines were tasted that day, including this show-stopping dried-grape Aleatico by Candido — the only DOC Aleatico passito produced, an “idiovinification” (how’s that for a neologism?). Francesca explained that the wine’s freshness is owed to Apulia’s excellent Mediterranean ventilation.