Time in a bottle of wine (congedo)

January 29, 2010

Thank you to everyone for all the kind wishes and thoughts, comments and messages. They mean so much to both of us. That’s us, above, right before we got our marriage license yesterday. I wish I could capture the way I feel right now in a bottle… like wine… the greatest vintage of my lifetime… It’s an amazing, wonderful feeling… Thank you to everyone who’s been following our adventure through the blog and beyond…

The weather in La Jolla has been great. Tracie B took this photo of the sunset with her Blackberry (standing in front of the building where mama Judy lives) as I went to pick up pizza for the 24 Texans who arrived yesterday for the festivities (and more are on their way)! We paired with Lini Lambrusco Rosé (Sorbara), btw, for the record.

In Italian prosody, the last stanza of canzone is called the congedo, the envoy, the goodbye…

I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a while. So, we’ll see you in a week or so. But I just wanted to thank everyone, one more time, for sharing in this adventure and all the kind thoughts and wishes. They mean so much to both of us.

*****

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
Till Eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I’d save every day like a treasure and then
Again, I would spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go
Through time with

If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty
Except for the memory
Of how they were answered by you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go
Through time with


Si parla l’italiano a San Diego

January 28, 2010

This morning, Tracie B and I arrived early for our appointment to get our marriage license in downtown San Diego and so we popped over to the newly revitalized Little Italy neighborhood of America’s Finest City for some breakfast. There was a group of men sitting — kibbitzing, you would say in Yiddish — outside Pete’s Quality Meats (above) and so we stopped and chatted with them in Italian. Their Sicilian faces were tan and furrowed from their years working on the San Diego tuna boats.

“Auguroni! figli maschi!” they called out as we said goodbye (“Best of wishes! May you have many male children!”).

It was wonderful to hear the sun-baked rhythms of their Sicilian cadence, a relic and a trace of the era in which they immigrated to the U.S. bringing theirs skills in tuna fishery (probably in the 1960s, gauging from their language).

Si parla l’italiano a San Diego…

In other news…

I think the Rueben has officially usurped the special place in my heart once reserved solely for the Jaynes Burger at Jaynes Gastropub, where a bunch of folks gathered last night to celebrate our upcoming wedding. It paired exceedingly well with the 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba by Cavallotto by the glass (one of me and Tracie B’s favorites).

My high-school friend and bff John Yelenosky and his wife Megan (both wine professionals) treated us to a bottle of 2000 Gaston Chiquet Champagne. Wow, I love that wine.

“I know how much you like Gaston Chiquet,” Megan teased me. “‘Cause I read your blog!” ;-) Sooooo gooood… and so sweet to drink in celebration! Thanks, Megan and John!

John is going to “stand up with me” at the wedding this weekend.

O, and, btw, the marriage license? CHECK! :-)


The stars came out for Haiti last night at Vino Vino

January 27, 2010

jeremy parzen

Above: Let me tell you, Ray Benson is tall. As in TEXAS TALL! Photo by Tracie B.

Wow, what a night last night at Vino Vino in Austin, where some of the town’s top musicians donated their time to help raise money and awareness for Partners in Health and the Stand for Haiti project. Check out the highlights as photographed by Tracie B.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who came out and put up with my Catskills jokes between sets and listened to me talk about why I think Partners in Health is such a great cause. The concept is simple: health care should be free for everyone. Sounds good, no?

Thanks to everyone who donated their time and to everyone who made a contribution. And thanks to all the folks who sent excellent wine my way! We raised a good chunk of money and most importantly we helped to raise awareness of how we can help.

In other news…

There was a lot of love last night in Austin but love has been reaching us from other parts of the world, too. Thanks to everyone for all the thoughts and wishes, emails, comments, and cards. They mean the world to us.

Do Bianchi also got a little blog love from a wonderful wine blog in the Netherlands, Ombre Rosse. The author, like me, is a Venetophile, hence the name ombre rosse. In Venice a glass of wine is called an ombra. In the not-so-distant olden days, you would meet some in the shadow (ombra) of the bell tower in Piazza San Marco in Venice, where the wine vendor would seek refuge from the sun. By metonym, the term came to mean a small glass of wine. Thanks for the shoutout, Pascal! How can do bianchi (two glasses of white) resist a blog named ombre rosse (two glasses of red)??!!

And in New Jersey, blogging colleague Sue Guerra, who’s also become a friend through our bloggy blog connection, wrote this wonderful tribute to the greatest pairing I’ve ever had to pleasure to know: me and Tracie B. ;-)

What an incredible week this has been! And we’re not even married yet!


Ray Benson and me “Stand for Haiti” tonight at Vino Vino

January 26, 2010

From the “shameless self-promotion” (and “after all, it’s for a good cause”) department…

I wasn’t allowed to announce this until now since it was “top secret” until this morning: Austin music legend Ray Benson (and one of my personal musical heroes) will be appearing tonight at the “Stand for Haiti” benefit at Vino Vino in Austin where I will be emceeing.

I cannot conceal that I am completely and utterly geeked and psyched to be sharing the stage with him and all the other great Austin musicians who are donating their time tonight to help out the folks in Haiti.

If you happen to be in town, Tracie B and I will be there from 6 p.m. onward ’til the end of the night.

The photo, left, is by Austin music photographer Ed Verosky, who generously donated rights to the photo to help us promote the event. Thanks, Ed!


Do Bianchi Wedding Six-Pack is LIVE!

January 25, 2010

If you’d like to read about the wines we’ll be drinking at our wedding this weekend, the Do Bianchi Wedding Six-Pack is LIVE at 2bianchi.com (my wine club blog).

Tracie B and I will be leaving soon for San Diego where we’ll be celebrating our union with our friends and families.

And then next week we head out for honeymoon.

It’s been a really special time for us and it’s wonderful to feel the energy within and without us and to receive all the well wishes from everyone around the world.

Thanks, so much, for all the notes and emails. We can’t tell you how much they mean to us! :-)


An Italian, a Mexican, and two Jews walk into a bar…

January 25, 2010

My lunch with Tony, Manny, and Marty…

Above: At lunch on Friday, I had the great pleasure to break bread with one of the top Italian restaurateurs in this country, Tony Vallone (left). That’s his good friend, and colleague and good friend of my cousin Marty, Manny Leal, right.

Let’s face it: there’s not a lot of great Italian food in Texas. Since moving here a year ago, I’ve found some great authentic-style Italian and Italian-American pizza, notably in San Antonio and Dallas. Otherwise, I cannot honestly say that I have found Italian cuisine that Tracie B and I truly and unreservedly enjoy.

But that all changed when cousin Marty first treated me to dinner at Tony’s in Houston (where, honestly, I cannot afford to dine but have had the great privilege to enjoy many meals now, thanks to the generosity of Marty and wife Joanne).

Above: Following a little cheese-crisp nosh, the medley of regional Italian first courses opened with some wonderful gnudi, “nude dumplings,” ravioli without the casing, a classic dish from the Maremma in Tuscany, traditionally made with nettles.

Tony and his passion for regional Italian cuisine first came to my attention way back in 1998 when I was working as an editor for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana and the regional and rustico Italian cuisine craze was just about to explode. The magazine ran a 750-word piece on Tony in the front of the book. What I didn’t know then (and only would find out later) was that Tony wasn’t doing regional Italian cuisine because it had become hip or trendy. He was doing it because it’s what he had and has always done.

Above: The ravioli d’astice (langoustine ravioli) were sinfully good. The sauce for this dish, which could have been prepared in Naples or Venice, was made using the corallo (literally, the coral) of the crustacean: when harvested during mating season, the females carry delicious coral-colored roe that gives the sauce its unique color. True mastery of pastamaking is revealed in the consistency and lightness of filled pasta. Tony’s approached divinity.

“I had to go down to the docks and buy the calamari myself from the fishermen,” said Tony, reminiscing about the opening of Tony’s second location in 1972. “They didn’t sell them: they only used them as bait!” Tony was born in Houston, to a Sicilian mother and Neapolitan father, and has worked in the restaurant industry in one capacity or another since he was 11 years old. While Sicilian and Neapolitan dialects was spoken at home, a visiting uncle — the first in their family to achieve a university degree, in anesthesiology — instructed Tony as a child in “standard” Italian.

Above: The delicious amatriciana at Tony’s is made rigorously with guanciale (the cured pork jowl of central Italy, not prosciutto or pancetta) and dressed with pecorino (not Parmigiano Reggiano). From Tuscany to the Veneto, from Naples to Latium, Italian “regional” cuisine sings like Pavarotti (a frequent visitor to Tony’s) at the restaurant.

Since he first opened the doors of his kitchen in 1965 (originally in one of his father’s gaming rooms), Tony’s top sources for regional Italian recipes, he told me, were Carnacina (the father of “regional Italian cuisine,” whose works were first published in Italian in 1961 and first translated in 1969) and the many itinerant Italian cooks and chefs who would come to Houston, where the oil business lured many easterners and Europeans (and their cosmopolitan palates) early on.

Above: One of Tony’s early supporters was his early landlord, the legendary Houston developer Gerald Hines, who encouraged Tony to develop his skills in French cuisine. This Provence-inspired tuna paillard, dressed with a fresh fava beans, heirloom tomatoes, basil, and a classic vinaigrette, perhaps bespeaks an era when French, not Italian, cuisine dominated fine dining in this country.

A turning point came when Houston developer Gerald Hines told Tony that he was not going to renew the restaurant’s lease because the building was to be razed to make way for construction of the Houston Galleria. Hines was willing to give Tony a new and larger space, the developer told him, on the condition that he cultivate his French dishes. The new menu, unveiled in 1972, included fish bonne femme and beef filet au poivre. “We used trout instead of sole because it wasn’t available then for the bonne femme,” recalled Tony. “We used gulf oysters instead of mussels!”

Above: The litmus test for any great Italian restaurant, espresso. The schiuma (the foam) was sublime.

A subsequent visit from Houston social columnist Maxine Messinger resulted in a nearly 30-year culinary love affair. “You’re in trouble,” Maxine told Tony, “I like your restaurant!” By the mid-1970s, Tony’s had become — and continues to be — Houston’s top see-and-be-seen destination. “I’ve cooked for eight U.S. presidents,” said Tony, “six of them sitting presidents.” (I wondered: did the others eat standing up? I guess it doesn’t hurt that two of the last three presidents were from Texas!)

Above: This man… this man… no, he’s not a rebi. He’s my cousin Marty (my dad’s first cousin) and getting to know him and getting to spend time with him has been one of the most delightful however unexpected surprises since I moved to Texas to be with Tracie B more than a year ago. And the best part? He LOVES good food and fine wine. Marty, I’m so very glad that you, Joanne, Dana, and Neil are part of our lives.

But despite the glamor and limelight he enjoyed by adding Francophile cuisine to his offerings, Tony continued to travel to Italy and to New York, cultivating his knowledge of Italian cuisine and authentic regional ingredients. And most importantly, he remained true to his Italian roots. I believe wholeheartedly that his “linguistic” connection to Italy (the fact that he spoke Italian as a child) is a big part of the his genuine connection to truly authentic and truly delicious Italian cuisine. (Have you ever heard Mario Batali speak Italian?) More on this later.

I’d like to think that Tony enjoyed chatting with me the other day: he promised me another meeting and more tales from the wild west of Italian cuisine in a time long before Whole Foods Market carried Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone Nano. I’ll look forward to it.

Thanks again, Tony, for an unforgettable meal, and thanks cousin Marty, for turning me on to great Italian cuisine in Texas! Who knew?


The undisputed queen of truffle porn

January 24, 2010

Anyone who writes a line like “nobody knows the truffles I’ve seen” should be given a Pulitzer prize for poetry!

Tracie B and I did a spit-take this morning during our Sunday-morning-coffee-and-tandem-blogging-and-Facebooking ritual when the author of Truffle Hunter Italy commented on my blog.

I don’t know who s/he is or what inspired the seemingly Italocentric blog but I love it… nothing like a little truffle porn on a Sunday morning to make the mimetic desire kick in! ahem…


Bloody Mary Morning (a lil’ Tex Mex porn)

January 24, 2010

tex mex

Last weekend’s 3-day bachelor party… well, let’s just say it left me and brothers Tad and Micah a little hazy. By the time it was over, it was most definitely time for a “Blood Mary morning” and so, to make their culinary Trifecta complete (they’d already had some great Texas steak some great Texas bbq), it was time for Tex Mex at one of Austin’s classics, Chuys. My morning started with a Michelada — essentially a bloody Mary made with beer. Chuy’s features $3 margaritas and bloody Marys on Sunday, btw, I wonder why?)

tex mex

The Wild Burrito, above, is a “wet” burrito made with slowly braised tender stringy beef and Hatch chiles. Some might argue that the inclusion of Hatch chiles and the Sonora-style “wet” presentation would betray New Mexico and Arizona roots of this dish. But who needs dogmatism on a bloody Mary morning? Needless to say, I did my best “James Brown” imitation, as Tracie B likes to tease me, consuming this dish.

tex mex

Deluxe chicken enchiladas, above, are essentially, enchiladas verdes, with sour cream added to the salsa verde. An Austin original, Chuys has become a Texas franchise chain restaurant. But it’s everything Tex Mex should be: cheap, colorful, delicious, fun, and a perfect cure for a hangover!

tex mex

Fajitas are an undisputed signature of Tex Mex cuisine. Some will argue that they originated in Austin while others will claim Houston. No one will deny that they have become a calling card of Tex Mex cuisine from sea to shining sea.

Thanks, again, to brothers Micah and Tad (below), for coming out and giving me a great “lost bachelor weekend” here in Austin. I can’t think of better way to end it than with a blood Mary morning!

tex mex

Check out this amazing video of Willie doing “Blood Mary Morning” way back when before he was even playing his signature guitar. If that ain’t Texan, I don’t know what is!


Black truffle porn and a great wine from Montenegro

January 23, 2010

truffle porn

Above: Scorched earth, lunar landscape, extraterrestrial poop? No, black truffles from Umbria. The surface reminds me of the cratered earth you see in Tuscany and Umbria when they till the land.

Yesterday, found me “working the market” with colleagues in Houston, pouring and talking about wines, meeting with sommeliers and wine buyers, and being extremely well fed by some of Houstons top restaurateurs. One of the city’s top gourmets let me take this snap of his black truffle booty. I’ll post on the fantastic lunch he prepared for me and cousin Marty on Monday.

montenegro

One of the cool things about what I do for a living is what I like to call the “collegiality” of the wine biz. When I met with one of the top Italian wine buyers in this country, Joseph “Grappa Joe” Kemble, who buys Italian wines for behemoth retailer Specs, he invited me to taste a fantastic wine from Montenegro, made froma grape I’d never tasted nor heard of before, Vranac or Vranec by a winery called Plantaže.

I really dug this juice: it was earthy, with a light goudron note on the nose, balanced alcohol at 12%, and gentle red fruit in the mouth. I’ve never been to Montenegro and I really don’t know much about how the wine is grown or produced, but it had that “original” quality to it, that uniqueness that makes me believe it speaks of the land where it’s made and the people who make it.

Thanks, Grappa Joe! Keep on selling that Italian juice the way you do! (You should hear the guys on his team quote all 12 Calabrian appellations like baseball stats! I only would have got about 6 off the top of my head!)


The smell of money guides the evolution of taste, part 2

January 22, 2010

barolo

Above: A collection of old large-format bottles at the Bartolo Mascarello winery. I took the photo when I visited and tasted with Maria Teresa Mascarello, Bartolo’s daughter, in April 2008. Those are aging casks in the winery’s cellar, below left.

I received a lot of positive feedback in the wake of my post the other day Bruno Giacosa and Bartolo Mascarello meet for the first time. Thank you to everyone who commented and wrote in for the encouragement and the kind words. And special thanks, again, to Franco, for bringing this wonderful piece of writing to our attention.

One of the most fascinating elements — among many — about the first installment was the note about the weather: 95° at the end of July. How did that heat spike affect the 1964 vintage?

Here’s the second and final installment of the translation of Francarlo Negro’s newsletter, “The Smell of Money Guides the Evolution of Taste.”

Buona lettura!

*****

barolo… The same was true of the Barbaresco [I've never heard of a B. Mascarello Barbaresco but evidently he was making Barbaresco at that time; thoughts?]

In the glass, the wine was clear, not dark red, but rather light red with gradations of garnet and an orange-rose rim.

In the mouth, the light flower gave way to the tannic freshness that enveloped the elegance of the wine, an austere but inviting sensation, cleansing the mouth and prompting you to take another sip. The elegance of the nose opened with a velvety impression, dry but never bitter in taste.

The 1961 Barbaresco that Bruno Giacosa had brought for the tasting was more evolved. But it showed characteristics similar to those of the Barolo, although with slightly different tonalities. Light impressions of field flowers, rounder on the palate, definitely more velvety and approachable.

Bruno and Bartolo discussed the fundamental roll of the land, of the surì [i.e., the best rows in top growing sites], the vines, and approaches to growing grapes — without abusing the vine, with asking too much of it.

Quality depended on the harvest. During those years, clear-cut differences were evident between one vintage and another. In more than 40 years since the birth of the Barolo and Barbaresco appellations, the wines have been declassified only once to rosso da tavola [red table wine], and that was no haphazard decision. The year was 1972, when excessive rain and incessant fog caused the grapes to rot.

Thirty years later, the 2002 harvest should have met the same fate. But technology and the interests of the large exporters weren’t about to let that happen. Millions of bottles containing low-quality wines were released on to the market bearing the name Barbaresco and Barolo DOCG.

barolo

Above: Historic aging casks for Nebbiolo, no longer in use, at the Fontanfredda winery, one of the original high-volume producers of Barolo, founded in the 19th-century by the first king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.

Subordination to “international” tastes clouds the identity of our wine.

The advent of international demand, which began in the early 1980s, has offered a historic opportunity to the great wines of Langa: to reach the tables of the greater western world, from Europe, to America, to Japan.

This demand is guided by American buyers who want Barolo and Barbaresco to change in order to adapt to the tastes and style of the market in that great country — that gluttonous, powerful, ignorant country.

The greater part of winemakers have adapted their cellars, as sales increase and profits soar. For the most part, the historic enologic culture of our land has been snubbed to make way for new technology in grape-growing, vinification, and aging. The score awarded by U.S. magazines determines the success or failure of sales.

A complex network of relationships has been created between large international merchants, consenting journalists, and willing enologists. A new genre of wine has been born. There are a few exceptions but most wineries have chosen to reshape the identity of the great wines of Langa. These changes have not come about through an exchange of ideas between the old and the new but rather between traditional and modern enology: the wines are the result of an irrational adaptation of enological standards, dominated by the major buying groups and by the multi-national network of the wine industry.

Vanilla, fruity Barolo and Barbaresco.

The “ideal” wine destined for export has changed completely. The color must be darker, as darkly colored as blood, the symbol of power, modeled after Cabernet Sauvignon, the benchmark grape variety for the international market.

Vanilla is desirable in the nose, as are extraneous spicy notes, the fruit of aging in small toasted casks, French barriques, used only if rigorously new, so that they will impart their own aromas and tannins as they corrupt the classic, original traits of our wines.

The taste should be marked by “fruitiness,” notes of ripe red fruit, with intense flavors, enticing and coating, sometimes jammy. When the harvest isn’t the best and the natural alcohol content is only 13%, winemakers resort to the Salasso method: when fermentation begins and the skins form the cap, a certain quantity of must is racked off from the bottom of the cask in order to achieve the desired intensity in color and flavor. The technology behind temperature-controlled concentrators allows the winemaker to avoid cooked-fruit flavors as they reduce the water content and increase the sugar content of the wine.

Fermentation and vinification techniques have undergone a transformation under the aegis of enologic innovation. It’s no secret that the consultation of a certain enologist with ties to the new network of international media and commercial interests is a prerequisite for a good score in the wine guides and the subsequently increased facility to sell the wine at a higher price. The end result is an atypical wine, in cahoots with grape varieties considered “international” because they are the preference of Americans and others unfamiliar with the culture of wine. The uniqueness of the monovarietal wine, made from Nebbiolo, has lost its distinct personality.

Certain media have embraced and supported this production-and-marketing operation: for many years the Gambero Rosso/Slow Food Guide to the Wines of Italy has punished traditional producers by denying them recognition among the Tre Bicchieri winners. Giacosa and Bartolo Mascarello are among those who have penalized. Their wines were considered to “rustic.”

—Francarlo Negro

Postscript

In recent years, regional authorities have allowed growers to plan new vines in growing sites where grape growing [for fine wine production] has never been suitable. Many of these sites have never been deforested nor used for cultivation of any kind since they face northward. These are sites where our elders wouldn’t have even thought of planting hazelnut trees: in 2008, production of Barolo and Barbaresco increased 50% with respect to production levels in 1999.

(translation by Do Bianchi, January, 2010)


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