Emergency post: Tignanello, there’s nothing wrong with liking it

November 30, 2009

Above: As if by some sort of cosmic connection, Tignanello was on my mind this weekend after I learned about a hand bag line called Tignanello while shopping with Tracie B at a local mall in Austin. (I guess the hand bag line has been around for a while but I just learned about it this weekend.)

It’s been a crazy Monday (after the holiday weekend) and I really don’t have time to post today but extreme situations call for drastic measures!

In his post yesterday, one of my all-time favorite wine bloggers and palates and all-around good guy, BrooklynGuy, asked his readers: “Does my Favorite Thanksgiving Wine make me a Bad Person?” The wine in question was a bottle of 1990 Tignanello, one of Italy’s (and Tuscany’s) most famous labels and vineyards and one of the original Super Tuscans — in fact, a Super Tuscan ante litteram. Evidently, his friend brought the bottle to BrooklynFamily’s Thanksgiving celebration and in the words of BrooklynGuy, “Yes, I drank a Super-Tuscan, and I loved it. And I love the fact that I loved it.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with liking that wine or wines like it (do you like my chiasmus?): especially when the new wood has integrated with the other components of the wine, as I imagine was the case in this nearly twenty-year-old bottling, these wines can be the source of immense pleasure. In another lifetime, when I lived in New York and worked at the top of the Italian wine circuit, I had the opportunity to taste a number of older vintages of the historic Super Tuscans, like Sassicaia (notably, 1985) and Tignanello (notably, 1990, 1995, and 1997). The wines can be very, very good.

I can’t say that I like the wines but I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking them. In fact, I showed 2005 Tignanello in my recent seminar on Tuscan wines (participants loved it, btw).

Why don’t I like them? And more importantly, why don’t I like the categorically? In the case of Tignanello, it’s not that I don’t like it but rather that there are so many other wines I’d rather drink — wines that, in my view, are more indicative of the place and the people who make wine there.

Having said that, I bet that the 1990 Tignanello — first produced in 1971 as Tignanello and the first Sangiovese to be aged in new French oak, according to the producer — showed gorgeously that night (and my deep respect for BrooklynGuy’s palate leads me to believe that it did, indeed, show well).

Above: To barrique or not to barrique? The answer is almost categorically “no” on my palate, especially when it comes to noble expressions of Sangiovese.

Frankly, I feel like I owe BrooklynGuy an apology and I feel terrible that he felt obligated to apologize — however jokingly — for liking a wine that is not a “hipster wine,” as he put it. After all, I have been known to patently dismiss barriqued Italian wines and Super Tuscans in general. The truth is I would have loved to try that wine myself!

It’s important to note that the designation Super Tuscan is generally not used by Italians. I’ve read that James Suckling claims he coined the term but I believe that Nicolas Belfrage actually created it in the 1980s. (Coincidentally, I’m reading Belfrage’s new book, The Finest Wines of Tuscany, and will review it soon. He doesn’t discuss his relation to the term although he does hyphenate it.) It’s also important to note that, whatever its origins, the designation is used purely in an marketing capacity and has no official weight or significance.

And while Tignanello is often called “one of the original Super Tuscans” (together with Sassicaia and Ornellaia), it’s important to note that its creators did not call it a Super Tuscan. In 1971, they declassified the wine from Chianti Classico with the vineyard designation to simply Tignanello, the vineyard designation. Why did they do this? Probably because they’re marketing sense led them to believe — rightly — that by shedding the then-tarnished Chianti label, they could command higher prices for the wine.

Lastly, it’s important to note that the declassification wasn’t the only element that Antinori and the “father of Tignanello,” Renzo Cotarella, introduced in its effort to conquer a greater piece of the foreign market: they introduced new-French-oak-small-cask aging, lower-than-required yields, and — I would imagine — Californian practices in the cellar (I don’t know but am guessing they began using cultured yeasts and other forms of manipulation through technology).

The most interesting tidbit of BrooklynGuy’s post, in my view, is the fact that he points out (and in many ways he’s right on): “Antinori’s Tignanello was a big part of the beginning of the Super-Tuscan craze that ultimately ended with the huge Brunello scandal.” Tignanello has always been made mostly from Sangiovese with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (to give color, weight, and tannin). The oaky, beefy (as it were) style of wine ultimately conquered the American market in what is surely to be remembered as one of the greatest coups in the history of wine marketing.

BrooklynGuy asks:

Is this wine partly to blame for the bastardization of Tuscan wine?

No, it’s not the wine. The blame lies with winemakers who have abandoned the flavors and aromas of their land for the sake of avarice.

Is Tignanello bad? And if it is bad, can it still taste good?

Tignanello isn’t bad. But there are so many other, greater expressions of Sangiovese that achieve much, much more at a much lower price point.

The 1990 tasted great, that much I can tell you.

I would have loved to taste it with you, BrooklynGuy! But then again, I know that it’s always a great experience to taste any wine with you!

Chapeau bas, for keeping it real in Brooklyn.


Thanksgiving vine

November 29, 2009

It’s that time of year again and the holiday season is upon us…

A recent post by Vinogirl on the ubiquitous Vitis californica of my home state got me thinking about the miracle of the vine and its fruit.

Not so long ago, in a comment to my post on grapes under an earlier Tuscan Sun, Vinogirl noted sagaciously that the vine provided “food, drink and firewood for man, leaves for oxen and seeds for pigeons…”

This morning, as Tracie B and I sit around as we do on most Sundays, sipping coffee, surfing the internet, and listening to This American Life, my Sunday New York Times tells me that today the U.S. food stamp program helps feed “one in eight Americans and one in four children.”

It made me think about what winemaker Dora Forsoni (below right, with her partner Patrizia) told me last year when I visited her and she brought out table grapes for us to munch on as we tasted her wine. “My father was so poor,” said the Tuscan native Dora, “that he couldn’t afford fruit for us kids to eat. So he planted a vine so that we’d always have fruit.” Even without tending, the vine will naturally render fruit. The grapes tasted sweet and juicy.

vino nobile

For Tracie B and me, finances are tight (as we try to put away some money for our upcoming wedding) and the business of wine sales continues to be an uphill battle. But the miracle of the vine continues to give us a livelihood, even in the tough economic climate.

The Thanksgiving weekend is almost over and tomorrow we’ll pick it up again after taking the weekend off (a rarity for us these days). In these tough times, when a lot of folks in our country and across the world are struggling, we sure have a lot to be thankful for: love, health, and the miracle of the vine.


An East Texas Thanksgiving (a marriage of Sangiovese and down-home fixings)

November 27, 2009

jeremy parzen

Way back when, in the late 19th century, did the “Iron Baron” Bettino Ricasoli know that Sangiovese would make for such a great Thanksgiving wine?

thanksgiving

Uncle Tim’s brined and roasted turkey. Brining is the secret to keeping the breast and dark meat moist and flavorful when roasted. Aunt Ida Jean and Uncle Tim hosted all 31 of us!

jeremy parzen

Uncle Tim’s cornbread dressing, including chopped hard-boiled eggs.

thanksgiving

Aunt Gladys’s homemade biscuits.

thanksgiving

Aunt Ida Jean’s sweet potato pie (I was surprised at how well the Chianti Rufina paired with this dish).

thanksgiving

Mrs. B’s eight layer salad. (For those of ya’ll who don’t know what an eight layer salad is, have a look at this Wikipedia entry.)

thanksgiving

Tracie B’s green beans sautéed with onion and garlic and seasoned with nutmeg.

Thank you, Family B, for making me and Mama Judy part of your Thanksgiving celebration! :-)


Happy Thanksgiving (and some culinary anamorphism)

November 25, 2009

ginger bread

Details from the Ginger Bread Charity Diorama at the Four Seasons Hotel, Austin, Texas. Photos by Tracie B.

Maybe it’s the little boy in me… I’ve always been fascinated with culinary anamorphism — a cultural phenomenon whereby food is refashioned to resemble something else, edible or otherwise.

ginger bread

The tradition of fashioning food to look like buildings stretches back to the Renaissance. One of the most famous examples is torrone nougat: on the occasion of the wedding of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza, October 25, 1441, the bride and groom were presented with a nougat replica of the city’s church bell tower, the so-called Torrione (today known as the Torrazzo) from which the sweet derived its name.

ginger bread

Another such example from recent memory is Abe Lebewohl’s depiction of Manhattan’s Twin Towers, fashioned out of chopped liver from the Second Avenue Deli.

ginger bread

The Art of Cooking by fifteenth-century Italian chef Maestro Martino (which I translated for UC Press, 2005) offers many examples of culinary anamorphism, mostly for the sake of recreating milk and eggs on days when they were forbidden by the Catholic church.

ginger bread

Last night Tracie B had to drag me away from the ginger bread diorama in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin. Our good friend chef Todd Duplechan oversees the creation and construction of this wondrous little city. Each edifice is auctioned off for charity (last year, a celebrity loved it so much, she paid for it to be recreated and reassembled in Las Vegas, “just so she could show how cool Austin is,” said chef Todd).

Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll!


Our date with the City, part 2: the best natural wine bar in the U.S.?

November 24, 2009

beaujolais

Above: I may be going out on a limb here when I say that Ten Bells seems to have captured the title of the “best natural wine bar in NYC” but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway. The selection of stinky cru Beaujolais was pretty impressive, even after affable owner Fifi Essome had sold out of many of the labels for his Beaujolais festival the Thursday before our Sunday visit. Photos by Tracie B.

Whether it’s Saignée, Wine Digger, Eric, Alice, or McDuff, it seems like all of my fav bloggers are either writing about or hanging out at The Ten Bells on the Lower East Side of New York City (which takes its name from the homonymous and notorious London pub).

So after Tracie B and I finished lunch with Michele at Kesté, we took a stroll over to the east side and picked up Alice in SoHo and walked down the Bowery to Broome and Orchard on the Lower East Side and tasted a few of the by-the-glass Beaujolais selections that were leftover from the wine bar’s Beaujolais festival the previous Thursday — and what an impressive, if picked-over, list it was!

alice feiring

Above: Alice Feiring is one of my dearest friends and one of the persons I have known the longest in New York. Her book The Battle for Wine and Love was recently released in paperback.

Beyond Lou on Vine in Los Angeles, which remains my favorite American winebar, I can’t think of anywhere else you will find a greater selection of natural, stinky wines. And while Lou can trump nearly any joint for the hipster celebrity sitings on any given night, The Ten Bells seems to have become the official backdrop for the natural wine dialectic of our fine nation and seems to be the official satellite office for visiting natural winemakers.

I liked the way McDuff put it best: “The Ten Bells is mysterious… The Ten Bells is dark… The Ten Bells is Dangerous…” Just quickly scanning Fifi’s hand-written chalkboard wine list as Tracie B, Alice, and I caught up after our last meeting in Paris at Racine’s, I eyed at least a score of labels that I wanted to try. The oysters looked fantastic, too.

We had lots to catch up on but the main topic of conversation during our all-too-short visit was Alice’s recent and heated exchange with The Wine Spectator’s James Suckling, who was finally hipped to natural wine by our mutual friend (and jazz guitar great) Anthony Wilson. I’ll be connecting with Anthony early next month and I’ll be sure to get the juice behind the juice he turned Suckling on to!

Our date with the City was too short and there were so many folks and places that we would have loved to have seen. I can’t say that I miss living in New York but you gotta love the buzz of that city, the energy, and the wine. With London, Paris, and Rome, New York is right up there as one of the great wine destinations of the world — whether you’re drinking old Nebbiolo at Manducatis in Queens or stinky, natural Beaujolais on the Lower East Side at The Ten Bells. I sure don’t need it everyday… but a beautiful, crisp, clear fall day in November, with some yummy Beaujolais in our tummies, catching up with some dear friends, felt just right…


Our date with the City, part 1: pizza at Kesté

November 23, 2009

faicco

Above: It was such a beautiful fall day in Manhattan yesterday, perfect for some noshing, tasting, and strolling. Before we hit Kesté Pizza e Vino, I took Tracie B for some rice balls, prosciutto balls, and potato croquettes at Faicco’s Pork Store on Bleeker (old school, no website). There aren’t many things I miss about living in the City, but Faicco is one of them. (Photos by Tracie B, except for this one, obviously.)

Ever since reading Eric’s post in April, Tracie B and I have been dying to get to Kesté in Manhattan. We both needed to be at work on Monday morning so we only had a few precious hours yesterday to visit the City before we jumped on a plane to head back to Austin. (That would be The City, the apotheosis of cities!)

Above: The Regina Margherita at Kesté. Tracie B also ordered another Neapolitan classic, Broccoli Raab and Sausage (white) Pizza, and pizzaiolo Roberto also sent over his signature Battilocchio, yesterday with figs and gorgonzola.

Who better to eat authentic Neapolitan pizza with than our good friend Michele Scicolone? Charles was otherwise occupied on his way back from Montefalco and the “Experimental Classification of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG tasting” and conference so it was up to me to accompany these two beautiful ladies to lunch.

Above: Michele is the author of countless tomes on Italian cookery. She and Charles are another thing I miss about living in New York.

I wish I could share with you the joy of dining alla napoletana with Tracie B, who lived for nearly five years in Ischia off the coast of Naples: at Kesté, she was like a kid in a Neapolitan candy store and with her eagle eyes, she swiftly selected a wine that wasn’t on the list and that I had never tasted before, Lettere.

Above: I had never had a wine from Lettere (Penisola Sorrentina) before. It was delicious.

But you’ll have to tune into her blog My Life Italian for a report on that part. As they say in Latin, ubi major minor cessat: I don’t know anyone else in the world who knows more about Campania wines than her and she’s promised us a blog post about this wonderful bottle.

I guess there are a few things (bagels, pastrami, pork stores, friends like Charles and Michele, not necessarily in that order) that I miss about living in Manhattan. But without Tracie B at my side, they just wouldn’t be any fun, would they?

We had a great time on the East Coast but we were both so happy to get back to Austin where we belong. There’s no place like my new home, Dorothy…

Tomorrow, part II: tasting natural Beaujolais with you-know-who (who else?). Stay tuned…


Congratulations Eileen and Greg!

November 22, 2009

What a great wedding…

Eileen and Greg are a gorgeous couple and their wedding was an immensely joyous occasion. I have never seen so many people cry tears of happiness at a wedding ceremony (myself included!). Not a dry eye in the house!

The Vajra showed beautifully, too. The bartender told me she’d “never poured so much red wine at a wedding. Everyone loves it. What is it?” Great choice, Greg!

Greg’s been such a good friend to me and I love him a lot. It was SO MUCH FUN to join him on stage and do my toast. That’s Dan (aka Jean-Luc Retard, bass, Nous Non Plus) stage left.

jeremy parzen

We’re a little rough around the edges this morning but it was worth every moment… such a great feeling to celebrate a couple so in love…

CONGRATULATIONS EILEEN AND GREG! A great wedding, a great couple. We love you…

Happy Sunday ya’ll.


Bolly and NJ pizza: who could want for more?

November 21, 2009

Tracie B and I are going to have a hard time topping the wedding guest welcome gifts left for us by betrothed Eileen and Greg. When we arrived last night at 2 a.m. to our hotel in West Orange, NJ, we found a chilled bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvée (the official wine of the band that both Greg and I play in, Nous Non Plus) waiting in our room. Today, as we are primping for the wedding and I am practicing the Beatles songs I am to perform during the ceremony, Tracie B ordered peperoni pizza and broccoli raab from Enzo’s in West Orange and we popped the cork on that bottle. Who could want for more? (A funny thing: Tracie B grew up in West Orange, Texas. No genuine Italian-American pizza there!)

We’re really looking forward to the wedding tonight and celebrating with Eileen and Greg!


Antonio knows that pleasure is the child of pain

November 20, 2009

From the “run don’t walk department”…

Last night, after leading an Italian wine tasting in Houston, I finally got the chance to sit down with cousins Marty and Joanne for a proper dinner at Catalan, where — and I’ll just cut to the chase since I need to get my butt on a plane in a few hours — wine director Antonio Gianola’s list just blew me away. Joly by the glass? Erbaluce, Vin Jaune from the Jura, Edi Simčič Pinot Grigio, López de Heredia, Nikolaihof, 1989 Domaine des Baumard????!!! There were just so many great wines that I wanted to taste… and that was just in the chapters devoted to white wine! Antonio’s list is precise and informed, informative and fun, easy to navigate for the neophyte and thrilling to leaf through for the connoisseur. There is a threshold where a wine list becomes a thrill of its own and a form of profound dilectio for wine lovers (remember this piece by Eric?). Antonio’s list passes through that threshold with ethereal and seamless celerity. And the best part? His prices are among the most if not the most aggressive I’ve seen anywhere in the U.S. Click through to the restaurant’s website to read his list (which Antonio seems to update like clockwork). And check out this profile of importer Neal Rosenthal by Houston Chronicle wine writer Dale Roberston where Antonio is featured (and where I lifted the photo).

De vinographia: Perhaps the greatest wine writers of all are the authors of great wine lists.

Antonio loves the desert, Antonio prays for rain…

Tracie B and I are on our way to New Jersey for the wedding of one of my best and dearest friends in the world (and the drummer in Nous Non Plus). Stay tuned… I heard something about some Vajra being poured tomorrow night and some Beatles songs… mmmmmm…

*****

“Antonio’s Song”

—Michael Franks

Antonio lives life’s frevo
Antonio prays for truth
Antonio says our friendship
Is a hundred-proof
The vulture that circles Rio
Hangs in this L.A. sky
The blankets they give the Indians
Only make them die
But sing the Song
Forgotten for so long
And let the Music flow
Like Light into the Rainbow
We know the Dance, we have
We still have the chance
To break these chains and flow
Like Light into the Rainbow
Antonio loves the desert
Antonio prays for rain
Antonio knows that Pleasure
Is the child of Pain
And lost in La Califusa
When most of my hope was gone
Antonio’s samba led me
To the Amazon
We sing the Song
Forgotten for so long
And let the music flow
Like Light into the Rainbow
We know the Dance, we have
We still have the chance
To break these chains and flow
Like Light into the Rainbow.


An Italian wine walks into a bar…

November 19, 2009

austin wine merchant

Above: Yesterday, I tasted through the current releases of Fèlsina with my friends, from left, Craig Collins (who works for the winery’s distributor in Texas), John Roenigk (owner and manager of The Austin Wine Merchant), and Chiara Leonini, Fèlsina’s export manager. For the record, Fèlsina is pronounced FEHL-see-nah.

It’s a labor of love and it’s my self-appointed duty: I just spent the first hour of my day translating Franco’s editorial on the list of The Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines and the Italian showing in the list. You’ve heard me say it before: Franco (the “Giuseppe Baretti” of Italian wine) is a friend, a colleague, a mentor, a partner, and one of the wine writers whom I admire most. I encourage you to read what he has to say: here in America, where few read the Italian wine media, we are often unaware of how the Italians view us and our wine media and how our wine media generally ignores the wines and the styles of wine that Italians hold to be the best representation of their enology.

In another editorial published today, by a young wine blogger and marketing consultant based in Apulia, the author writes: “Just think that the first wine in the list is an American wine that costs $27 and the second is a Spanish wine that also costs $27. In order to pay the tidy sum of $110, you have to get to the eighth place in the list for a Tuscan wine that costs a hefty $110!”

Today, I’ll leave the editorializing and pontificating to others, but I do encourage you to put it in your pipe and smoke it, so to speak.

As it just so happens, yesterday I tasted with the export manager for a winery that landed the thirteenth position in the magazine’s list: Fèlsina, whose Fontalloro, a barriqued 100% Sangiovese that has long been a popular wine in the U.S.

“Some would call it a Super Tuscan,” said Chiara (above), “even though I don’t like that term.” And, in fact, the wine actually qualifies as a Chianti, even though the winery has chosen historically to declassify it, initially to vino da tavola status and now IGT (it was first released in 1983, she said, the same year as the first release of the winery’s “cru” Chianti Classico, Rancia).

I’m a bona fide fan of Fèlsina but my favorites are always their entry-level wines, made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, vinified in the traditional style, and aged in large old-oak casks that have been used over and over again. The wines generally cost under $25 and I highly recommend them. The 2006 harvest was a good vintage for these wines, 2007 a great vintage. (I also had fun trading notes with Chiara about our university days in Italy. She studied Chomsky and generative linguistics at Florence, around the same time I studied the history of the Italian language and prosody at Padua and the Scuola Normale in Pisa. We knew a lot of the same professors!)

I’ve spent enough time in front of the computer this morning and it’s time for me to head to Houston, where I’ll be speaking about and pouring Italian wine tonight. So I’ll leave the punch line up to you Italo Calvinos out there…

An Italian wine walks into a bar…


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,134 other followers

%d bloggers like this: