More Nebbiolo news (and a lil’ guitar porn)

October 31, 2009

One of the frequent questions that we wine folk get is “what’s your favorite wine?” It’s not an easy one to answer. I always tell people, it depends on where I am, whom I’m with, and what I’m eating. A favorite wine could be a humble bottle of grapey Lambrusco with some belt-busting gnocco fritto and rendered lard or it could be a 40-year-old Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino and a blood-rare porterhouse steak, the genteel noble tannin of the Nebbiolo waltzing with the marbled meat.

But if there ever were ONE wine, one winery that I could point to and say that’s my favorite, it would have to be Produttori del Barbaresco. I love the wines, I have deep respect for the people who grow it and make it, and the ideology and winemaking philosophy that stand behind it. I also love it because I can afford it and because I can afford to “follow” each vintage. And more than anything else, I love how the style of the winery has remained so consistent: whether tasting a ’67, an ’89, or the current release ’05, the style of the “house” steadfastly represents the terroir and the vintage.

And so it was a thrill yesterday to taste the 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, the cooperative’s entry-level wine, made from the member growers’s younger vines, and vinified with shorter maceration time and aging.

The 2007 was an anomalous vintage for this wine. The bumper crop of noble fruit resulted in a more tannic and richer expression of Nebbiolo than you usually see in this wine (I think this is what BrooklynGuy found to be off-putting when we exchanged notes about it). When I told winemaker Aldo Vacca that as much as I loath the expression “baby Barbaresco,” the ’07 was the one instance when I thought the Langhe Nebbiolo was “Barbaresco-esque.” “Baby Barberesco?” he said to me with a quizzical look. “Baby Barolo!”

With the ’08, the wine has returned to is more classic style: a Nebbiolo lighter in body, with very approachable berry fruit and sour cherry and already mellow tannin. Great for drinking now. Damn, I love this wine. It should retail for around $20, more or less. A great value.

In other news… boys will be boys…

John Roenigk and I played a little hooky yesterday after tasting and some lunch: we went to one of the most amazing guitar stores I have ever visited, Quincy’s here in Austin. (John’s an amazing musician and I’ve been helping him transfer some of his recordings from the 1980s to digital format, one of the other things that GarageBand is great for. That dude can play him some serious geetar.)

I sure wish I had the dough to afford one of these handmade beauties. It’s hard to convey what it’s like to play guitars of this caliber. Their sounds are warm and round, with the bass notes resonating like a train in the distance and the highs sparkling like stars in the sky. That’s a 1999 Gibson SJ200 Custom (Brazilian) in the foreground.

But when you actually play them, the sensation of feeling the sounds emanate from the warm wood pressed up against your belly is purely transcendental. That’s a ’52 Martin D28 above — one of the few vintage guitars owner Pat Skrovan had in the store yesterday.

Feast your eyes on that National Steel Reso-Phonic Delphi Deluxe, above.

Happy halloween ya’ll!


Umami blogging (and Nebbiolo gone wild)

October 29, 2009

Above: I poured an awesome flight of Nebbiolo on Tuesday night at The Austin Wine Merchant for my class “The De Facto Cru System in Piedmont.”

They say that parenting blogs, so-called “mommy blogging,” are the most lucrative: evidently, folks who write about parenting have no troubles finding advertisers. Among wine bloggers, however, the term “mommy blogging” denotes a sub-genre of posts in which bloggers “write home to mom,” telling her all the great bottles that they have opened. Italian Wine Guy often accuses me of this and I must confess that my mom does read my blog (hi mom!).

Since I am about to indulge in some flagrant, unapologetic mommy blogging, I’d like to propose a new sub-genre of enoblogging for your consideration: “Umami Blogging.”

Umami is one of the “the five generally recognized basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human tongue” and in wine writing, we often use it to denote a class of “savory” descriptors.

Umami, meaty, brothy, savory flavors were on everyone’s palates Tuesday night when I poured 7 bottlings of Nebbiolo from Langa at my weekly Italian wine seminar at The Austin Wine Merchant. Man, what a flight of wines! The de facto cru system of Piedmont was the topic and participants tasted bottlings from the east and west sides of the Barolo-Alba road as well as a Barbaresco and a Langhe Nebbiolo sourced in Barbaresco, where many believe the proximity of the Tanaro river adds another dimension to the appellation’s macro-climate.

Highlights were as follows…

Bruno Giacosa 2001 Barolo Falletto

This wine, from a classic Langa vintage, showed stunningly on Tuesday. Still very tannic in its development but as it opened up over the course of the evening, it performed a symphony of earthy, mushroomy flavors. The Austin Wine Merchant is selling this wine at release price (RUN DON’T WALK).

Brovia 2004 Barolo Rocche

My first encounter with this vintage from traditional producer, Brovia, one of my favorites. Here wild berry fruit ultimately gave way to a wonderful eucalyptus note. The wine is still very tannic, of course, but was suprisingly approachable after just an hour of aeration. I loved the way the fruit and savory flavors played together like a meal in a glass. Great value for the quality of wine.

Marcarini 2005 Barolo Brunate

This wine had a bretty, barnyardy note on the nose that was a turn off for a lot of folks but guest sommelier June Rodil (the current top Texas sommelier title holder) and I really dug this wine, which weighs in at less than $60. I love the rough edges of this rustic style of Barolo and only wish that I had some bollito misto and mostarda to pair with its vegetal, sweaty horse flavors.

Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Barbaresco

Tracie B, who joined at the end of the class, and I agreed that this wine is beginning to close up. It is entering a tannic phase of its development and its savoriness overpowers its fruit right now. That being said, it still represents the greatest value in Langa today, at under $40. If you read Do Bianchi, you know how much I love the wines of Produttori del Barbaresco: I would recommend opening this wine the morning of the dinner where you’d like to serve it. By the end of the night, the tannin had mellowed and the fruit began to emerge.

To reserve for my Wines of the Veneto class (Nov. 3, a seminar dear to my heart because of my personal connection to the Veneto) or my Italian Wine and Civilization Class (Nov. 10, my personal favorite), please call 512-499-0512‎. On Tuesday, Nov. 10, we’ll all head over to Trio after class for a glass of something great to celebrate. Thanks again, to everyone, for taking part and heartfelt thanks to The Austin Wine Merchant for giving me the opportunity to share my passion for Italian wines with Austin!

In other Nebbiolo news…

My buddy Mark Sayre is pouring Matteo Correggia 2006 Roero Nebbiolo by the glass at the Trio happy hour at the Four Seasons. European wine writers have been paying a lot of attention lately to the red wines of Roero (an appellation better known in this country for its aromatic white Arneis). There isn’t much red Roero available in the U.S. and I was thrilled to see this 100% Nebbiolo in the market. It’s showing beautifully right now and is my new favorite pairing for chef Todd’s fried pork belly — my compulsive obsession — a confit seasoned with the same ingredients used to make Coca Cola.

See, mom? You can sleep peacefully knowing that your son is drinking great Nebbiolo! ;-)

*****

Does anyone remember Tom Lehrer’s “So Long Mom, I’m Off To Drop a Bomb”?


Mr. Zaia goes to Washington (and lets Montalcino down)

October 28, 2009

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It’s seems like it was just yesterday that I was posting a sigh of relief that the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau (TTB) was lifting its requirement of Italian government certification for Brunello di Montalcino imported to this country. Nearly every Italian news agency and feed (ANSA, Yahoo.it, etc.) had reposted agricultural minister Luca Zaia’s press release in which he announced — with cocksure nonchalance, I may add — that the requirement had been lifted following his successful meeting in Washington with TTB bureau head John Manfreda. Even Brunello producers association director Patrizio Cencioni issued a release praising minister Zaia and thanking him for a job well done. (You can read all of the press releases here.)

But it seems that minister Zaia was a little too quick to sing his own praises.

Late yesterday afternoon, another post hit the feed as the Italians were already sleeping: the TTB issued a press release in which stated plainly and clearly that the agricultural minister had falsely represented the agreement negotiated in the minister’s meeting with Manfreda last week. Despite claims otherwise, states the document, Italian government certification is still required. And it will continue to be required, according to the document, until the Italian government presents the Siena prosecutor’s final report on the investigation (the so-called “Operation Mixed Wine” inquiry into the suspected adulteration of Brunello and other Tuscan wines).

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I spoke this morning to Brunello producer Fabrizio Bindocci of Il Poggione in Sant’Angelo in Colle and he told me that he and Il Poggione’s owner Leopoldo Franceschi were left dumbstruck when they read the news of the TTB’s clarification. “Maybe Zaia met with the doorman, not the TTB administrator,” Fabrizio wondered out loud with classic Tuscan wit. (Fabrizio’s son Alessandro has posted the entire series of press releases at his blog Montalcino Report.) “We feel that certification should be required and it should continue to be required,” said Fabrizio, whose wine has been certified by an independent Norwegian risk management firm since 2003, long before the controversy began.

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In his post this morning, Franco published an image of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio and asked: “Just for the sake of clarity, can somebody — in Montalcino, Rome, or Treviso — help us to understand what’s going on?” (Minister Zaia hails from Treviso.) And making reference to Zaia’s bid to become governor of the Veneto (his home region), Franco asks rhetorically, “is it so hard to understand that it’s not possible and it makes no sense to run an electoral campaign in the Veneto using the supposed great success obtained in the [minister's] campaign in Montalcino?”

@Mr. Zaia you are no James Stewart: if you need an interpreter the next time you head to Washington, feel free to give me a call!


My dinner with Étienne (in flyover country)

October 27, 2009

From the “life could be worse” department…

Above: Last week the gracious Étienne de Montille tasted and took time out to pose with members of the Texas “dream team” in Austin, Texas. From left, Master Sommelier candidate Devon Broglie, Étienne de Montille, Master Sommelier candidate Craig Collins, and Fabien Jacobs, sommelier at Andrew Weissman’s Le Rêve, considered by many the best restaurant in Texas.

Over the course of my life, I’ve been very fortunate to meet and get to interact with rock stars. And I don’t just mean music rock stars. (Even though the time my band opened for Ringo Starr at the Bottom Line in the West Village was probably the top pinch-me-because-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening moments: me, sharing a stage with a Beatle!!! A childhood dream come true. Unbelievable.)

Ever the lovable Sicilian cynic, Italian Wine Guy often laments that people consider Texas “flyover country.” He tends to exaggerate (a trait owed to his Mediterranean roots) but I have to concede that, more than once, the more snooty among my friends have asked me if life out here in Texas is boring. But, folks, I’m here to testify: it sure ain’t!

Above: A home-cooked meal at Italian Wine Guy’s place in Dallas was a welcomed respite from a week of dining in restaurants. What did we drink? Étienne’s Volnay and Barbaresco, of course!

In all seriousness, getting to “ride with” and interact with Étienne was a true thrill for me. (See the image in the left hand corner of my banner above? Tracie B took that in Paris: that’s Étienne’s father’s 1991 Volnay Les Champans in my glass, a wine I will never forget.) I’m working these days with a small Dallas-based distributor of fine wines and I had to good fortune to travel, taste, and dine with Étienne last week.

His father Hubert, now retired, is one of the greatest producers in Burgundy, and Étienne began making wines at the family estate in the late 1990s. As his American importer John Winthrop likes to say, he is “a French aristocrat whose family was ennobled so long ago that the Bourbons are relative arrivistes.” But Étienne is also a really cool, down-to-earth guy, very generous in spirit and a wine “fanatic,” as he likes to say.

Italian wine will always be my first love but Burgundy is my mistress: it was fascinating to taste with Étienne and hear him share his thoughts on biodynamic and organic farming practices. In many ways, his wines could be considered — dare I say? — “natural wines”: he employs biodynamic farming practices and uses only ambient yeast in fermentation. No one would deny, however, that his wines are a supreme example of terroir expression. He doesn’t believe in “sexual confusion” in the vineyard, for example (organic growers often deploy pheromones in vineyard that confuse the insects’s sexual drive and stops them from procreating). “Sexual confusion upsets the ecologic balance of the vineyard,” he told me, “and so it is not true to the terroir.”

The thing that impresses me the most about his wines is their balance of tannic structure and lightness in color and body. “Only nature can give color to the wine,” I heard him say over and over. “I don’t want to extract [i.e., concentrate] the wine too much because it can bring out undesired flavors,” he said, referring to the time he allows his wines to macerate with skin contact. The 2006 Beaune 1er cru Les Sizies and Volnay 1er cru Les Mitans were great examples of this: the vintage has delivered healthy but not overwhelming tannin and the wines were a pure delight, with savory, classically Burgundian aromas and flavors.

Raj ParrWhen I took Étienne to the airport on Thursday in Dallas, he left for California where he did a wine dinner — a vertical tasting of his family’s celebrated wines — at one of our country’s most famous wine destintations, RN74 in San Francisco, with one of our country’s leading sommeliers, Raj Parr. That’s Raj (one of the nicest guys in the biz, btw) to Étienne’s left and collector Wilf Jaeger to his right (Wilf is one of co-owners of the restaurant).

I’m so glad that took time out to come visit us here in “fly-over country.” Life sure could be worse out here in Central Texas! ;-)

In other news…

I’m no rock star but she sure makes me feel like one! Tracie B and I had a great time at Liz and Matt’s wedding in Richmond over the weekend. Who would have ever thought that a schlub like me would end up with a cover girl like her? Gotta say, this whole Texas thing is growing on me! ;-)

In other other news…

More rock stars are coming! Kermit Lynch and Ricky Fataar are coming to Austin on November 9 to spin tracks from their new record, eat some barbecue, and drink some good wine. And yours truly is the MC for the night (I’ll be traveling to Nasvhille with Kermit, too, for a similar event). Click here for details (the event is almost sold out so please make your reservations asap).


Looking back at Brunello

October 26, 2009

On Friday, Franco and I posted the news that the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau (TTB) has lifted the requirement of Italian government certification for Brunello di Montalcino imported to the U.S. The lift was agreed after Italian agricultural minister Luca Zaia met with bureau administrator John Manfreda last week.

I am happy to observe that despite the hail of the controversy (like the early-fall hail of 2008, that damaged but did not destroy the harvest; see above), Brunello and its producers — large and small — have emerged intact and healthy.

Looking back at the Brunello affair, in the glow of the Montalcino sunset, I am convinced of two things: that the controversy was a healthy wake-up call for producers (and that, ironically, it helped to raise positive awareness of the appellation abroad); and that, in many ways, it shed light on the importance and strength of the Italian appellation system.

At the same time, I believe the TTB’s response to the controversy was a trans-Atlantic misunderstanding: as the dearly departed Teobaldo Cappellano pointed out in the Brunello debate a year ago, the DOC/G system was created to protect the producers and the territory, not the consumer. And as much as I loath the thought of a Brunello producer “cutting” his Sangiovese with another grape variety, the transgression is a victimless crime as it relates to the consumer. If the consumer likes the wine and is satisfied with the perceived price-quality ratio, s/he is not molested by this misdeed.

The real victims were those producers who remained and continue to remain true to the territory and the territory itself. If unscrupulous enologists and calculating landowners did indeed adulterate their wines, and in doing so, co-opted and misappropriated an appellation tied to the land and the people who created it, therein lies the injury inflicted on their compatriots.

The saddest legacy of the Brunello controversy is the ill will it has created in the microcosm of Italian wine. On the same day that the Italian agricultural ministry issued a statement announcing the requirement for certification had been lifted, Franco (above, right; mentor, friend, and my partner in VinoWire) posted about a “cease and desist” letter he received from a lawyer representing a commercial winery. (For the record, Franco expunged any reference to the winery and wine in his post and I am merely speculating that the winery in question produces Brunello.) But the letter did not refer to something Franco had written: it referred to comments made by his readers! In one of the comments in question, a reader had made a remark about the unusual dark color of the wine by said winery. Has it really come to this? Do behemoth, commercial producers of Brunello really feel so threatened by a comment thread on a blog? Has it really come to this? Must a blogger feel threatened for merely allowing his readers to express their opinions in the comment thread of a blog?

Today, few who reside beyond Montalcino remember that Montalcino and its environs were one of the Germans’s last battlegrounds as they retreated in the face of the Allied advance in the last year of the Second World War. Even before the war, Montalcino and Tuscany were centers of the “red” resistance to fascist rule. Looking back on the whole Brunello affair, I was reminded of a little red book given to me by the mother of three brothers in Montalcino, whom I’ve known well since 1989. The locally published tome is by political activist, later partisan, and then local politician Carlo Sorbellini (above): Le mie memorie (My Memories). His descriptions of the years leading up to the war and the sacrifices made by him and his compatriot partisans during the German occupation are among the most humbly written and most moving narratives I have ever read. Many people shed their blood and gave their lives to protect this unique place: the same mountainous geography that made it a German stronghold also made it a great place to make fine wine after the war. And this Unesco-protected valley is among the most beautiful places in the world.

One thing I know to be true: I heart Brunello and I heart the people that lived, loved, and died to make it what it is today.


Virginia crabs and scrapple

October 24, 2009

Tracie B and I flew into Baltimore late last night from Austin and stayed at an airport hotel. The hotel was full of soldiers and sailors who had literally just arrived back in the States from their tours of duty in Iraq. We shared a beer with some of them in the hotel bar. Man, were they happy to be home. It was at once moving and joyful to share a drink with them. They were all very sweet to us and seemed eager to chat.

Here are some scenes from our drive down to Richmond, Virginia today, where my cousin Lizzie is getting married in a few hours.

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Charlies Crab House
633 White Oak Rd
Fredericksburg, VA
(540) 371-9988

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Take out only…

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Crab cakes at 2400 Diner in Fredericksburg. Made with sage. I don’t know if that’s the typical herb used to make crab cakes but they were good.

scrapple

Eggs over easy, grits, and scrapple (believed by some to be an American original) at the 2400 Diner. I’d never heard of scrapple before. From Wikipedia:

    Scrapple is typically made of hog offal, such as the head, heart, liver, and other scraps, which are boiled with any bones attached (often the entire head), to make a broth. Fans of scrapple sometimes boast that scrapple contains everything from a pig except the “oink.” Once cooked, bones and fat are discarded, the meat is reserved, and (dry) cornmeal is boiled in the broth to make a mush. The meat, finely minced, is returned, and seasonings, typically sage, thyme, savory, black pepper and others are added. The mush is formed into loaves and allowed to cool thoroughly until set. The proportions and seasoning are very much a matter of the region and the cook’s taste.

Tracie B warned me not to eat it (she knows all about my delicate “Jewish boy” stomach) but I just couldn’t resist. It was delicious…


K-tel presents “The Jar Sings Love Songs”

October 23, 2009

ktelRemember the K-tel records from when we were kids? My close friends Jayne and Jon from Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego just sent me this K-tel album cover (a lot of you probably don’t know that all my friends back home and everyone who knows me in the music business call me “Jar” or “the Jar,” a nickname given to me by high school friend Mike Andrews, one of the most talented and accomplished musicians I know).

I wanted to thank everyone for all the well wishes after yesterday’s post (on Facebook, too). It was such a good feeling to get back to Austin last night and get to hold Tracie B in my arms again. When the accident happened, I didn’t see my past life pass before me: I saw all the things I would miss if I were to leave this earth too soon.

So many folks have told me how much they liked the Tracie B song. So I’ve posted an MP3 here, in case you haven’t heard it yet or, for those of you who have, so you can have a “clean,” higher audio quality version (depending on your browser, you should be able to grab the file and import to your ITunes).

Thanks again for reading, listening, and all the thoughtful comments and well wishes.

Tracie B and I are headed out tonight to Virginia for a family wedding and so I’ll see one of my brothers, his family, and mama Judy together with the whole Judy side of the family. Man o man, do I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot of good things to live for.

Happy weekend ya’ll!


Lucky to be alive and a lot to live for

October 22, 2009

The rain just didn’t want to stop falling as Étienne, John, and I made our way from Austin to Dallas yesterday for business meetings and a tasting of Étienne’s family’s wines. My friends and family know that I am a very cautious, prudent driver, even to the point that some will tease me. It was one of those bad Texas rain storms, a “white-knuckle” tempest as some would say, and so I maintained a pretty steady 60 mph as we headed north on I-35. It wasn’t long after my habitual pit-stop at Italy, Texas, about 30 minutes outside of Dallas, that a gold Mercedes spun out of control about 150 yards ahead of us, bouncing off the median divider and sliding lengthwise across the highway directly in our path. I swear, and John, who was in the front passenger seat, told me that he had the same experience: everything seemed to appear in slow motion, despite the celerity with which events unfolded. I didn’t want to break too hard because the road was wet. We were in the middle of three lanes. My instinct told me to swerve right to avoid the oncoming car but I glanced in my right-side mirror and saw there was an 18-wheeler behind me in the far-right lane. It seemed that we were going to collide with the Mercedes head-on.

In that moment, I thought I was going to die.

But then a miracle happened: the Mercedes seemed to bounce off of the front bumper of my Hyundai, like a billiard ball, and it kept moving, colliding with the truck that had passed me on the right. It then flew back across the freeway in front of us and finally stopped moving when it hit the median divider. By this point, I had managed to stop my car.

We were lucky to be alive. The driver of the Mercedes was alive and conscious and the emergency team arrived swiftly and took him away.

The right side of my bumper had been dislodged but a tap put it back into place. There’s barely a scratch on my car. A miracle.

Beyond the adrenaline rush, Étienne, John, and I were 100% fine.

Later, that night, following long meetings and a tasting, Alfonso hosted us all for dinner at his house. We paired his chipotle-chili-marinated, grill-fired pork and baked potatoes with the Étienne’s Domaine de Montille 2006 Volnay 1er cru Les Mitans and a Produttori del Barbaresco 2001 Barbaresco Pora. Étienne told me with a big smile, “you can write on your blog that I love Barbaresco!”

We were lucky to be alive.

We got back to our hotel around 10 p.m. and retired and I was finally able to call Tracie B, who shared the wonderful news that her childhood friend Jennifer had posted our engagement photos on her blog. (Click the photo above to see them all, if you like.)

I don’t know that everything happens for a reason, and even though I believe in God, I’m not sure there is a divine plan. I do know that I love Tracie B with all my heart and all my soul and the joy that she has brought into my life is the greatest miracle anyone could wish for. To imagine my life without her is to imagine a life without meaning, direction, or purpose. I can’t say that “my life passed before my eyes” in the moment of the crash. All I could think about was how I’ve finally arrived at this moment after a life that has certainly been interesting but never entirely fulfilled: I have the love of the sweetest, most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, I have my health and my mind, both of our families are with us and healthy and soon will share the joy of our union. And there was even one of Tracie B’s savory oatmeal cookies left in my wine bag for breakfast this morning…


The whole worlds speaks (indigenous) Italian

October 21, 2009

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Above: Where does one take one of the greatest winemakers of Burgundy for lunch? City Meat Market in Giddings, Texas, of course! That’s Étienne de Montille (left) and John Winthrop owner of Veritas Imports enjoying some smoked sausage in Giddings yesterday. It’s been fascinating traveling with Étienne and hearing him talk about his wines, biodynamic farming, sexual confusion, and whole cluster fermentation. More on that later…

It seems the whole world speaks indigenous Italian these days: check out this article published yesterday by Bloomberg on the growing interest for indigenous Italian grape varieties in the U.S. (with a quote from you-know-who).

Seems a lot of folks have San Francisco and its love of European wines on their minds: check out Eric’s post here and SF native John Bonné’s post, where he asks “do our wine lists ignore California?”

I’ve got to hit the road again today with Étienne but stay tuned…


Quintarelli’s putative son

October 20, 2009

luca fedrigo

After a year in Texas, you’d think that I wouldn’t be surprised by the vinous talent that comes out to see us. On Saturday, I had the opportunity to chat with Luca Fedrigo, above, owner of L’Arco in Santa Maria di Negrar, whose wines I’d never tasted. “After I started making wines in the late 1990s,” he told me, “my first sale in the U.S. was here in Austin.” The Texas market’s loyalty to his wine has brought him back ever since.

Just as Texas holds a special place in Luca’s heart for the sweet memory of that first sale, so do the wines of Valpolicella in mine: I first tasted great wines from “the valley of alluvial deposits” when I went to study at Padua in the late 1980s.

Franco has written about the regrettable “Amaronization” of Valpolicella that has taken place over the last decade: the region is sadly over-cropped and too many producers are making Amaronized expressions of fruit that would be better destined for Valpolicella Classico.

Luca is part of a small but determined movement of winemakers who remain true to the origins of the appellation. I really dug his traditional-style Valpolicella and Amarone, classic expressions of the appellation, aged in large old casks. I even liked his Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, which showed great minerality and acidity (I think I’m going to use this wine for my Veneto class on November 3 as an example of the tradition of Bordeaux varieties long present on Veneto soil).

As it turns out, thirty-something Luca left school at the age of 14 and went to work for the “father of Valpolicella,” Giuseppe Quintarelli, who, in turn, became his putative father (I won’t go into the personal details, but let’s just say that Luca is practically a member of the family). For years, Luca studied winemaking with the great master of the appellation and ultimately became his vineyard manager. Quintarelli, he told me, helped him (and many others) to branch out on his own and create the Arco label. A gift that keeps on giving: thank goodness for Luca and the preservation of the traditions of this truly great appellation. “Valpolicella without Quintarelli,” Luca said, “is like a family without a father.”

The wines are available at The Austin Wine Merchant.

In other news… a savory oatmeal cookie…

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After three months of scraping by on writing and teaching gigs, I’m thankfully back to hawking wine. This early morning finds me in a hotel in Houston, where I “showed” wine all day on a “ride with,” as we say in the biz, with a famous French winemaker. It’s only my first day back out on the road and I already miss her terribly. But like manna from heaven, her savory oatmeal cookies somehow found their way into my wine bag and made for an excellent breakfast with my coffee.

Proust had his madeleine…


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