PRODUTTORI TIME

July 31, 2010

Both Tracie P and I had a tough week this week. Let me just put it this way, people: sometimes work is a bitch.

And so last night, when work was done, we decided to treat ourselves to an evening of dueling DJs (Tracie P took it over the top with MJ’s “Wanna Be Starting Something”), kitchen-dance-floor grooving, Polaroid self-portraits, and a bottle of 2005 Barbaresco by what is probably our favorite winery of all time in history: Produttori del Barbaresco.

The wine was bright, tannic but generously nimble in sharing its lip-smacking wild berry fruit and succulently muddy flavors. We paired with gruyère and crackers, we dedicated songs to each other, we danced around the dining room table, and we forgot all of the worries of our world. It was PRODUTTORI TIME.

Tracie P and I aren’t the only ones obsessed with Produttori del Barbaresco: one of the wine bloggers we enjoy and respect the most, Cory (and one of the funnest and nicest people to hang and taste with, above), wrote about Produttori del Barbaresco in his wrap-up to the 32 Days of Natural Wine, in a piece I highly recommend to you.

Like last year, Cory had to deal with plenty of משוגעת from folks who didn’t agree with this or that and other bullshit.* But, man, this dude deserves a medal. He’s the nicest sweetest and brightest guy and his hypertextual project, 31 32 Days of Natural Wine, represents a truly fascinating study in semiotics, not to mention an encyclopedia in fieri of natural wine around the world. Wine writing is by its very nature an affliction otherwise known as synaethesia — humankind’s overwhelming and at times unbearable urge to capture in words the literally ineffable, ephemeral, and ethereal experience of tasting wine. With his unique project, Cory has warped the boundaries of wine blogging in an exhilarantly meaningful way.

So, people, whether Puzelat or Produttori, pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine on this hottest weekend of the year, squeeze your loved ones tight and remind them how much they mean to you, remember that first kiss and the way you felt when those lips touched yours, and remember that very first moment you tasted a wine that made your heart flutter…

* Yiddish meshugas, Esp. in Jewish usage: madness, craziness; nonsense, foolishness; (as a count noun) a foolish idea; a foible, an idiosyncracy (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).


Jimmie Vaughan’s 1967 Fender Coronado (how friggin’ cool is that?)

July 30, 2010

From the “does this town rock or what?” department…

1967 Fender Coronado

Above: Guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan’s 1967 Fender Coronado and Ronnie James’s 1967 Fender Coronado bass. Photo via Hair by Felice.

My friends often hear me say that moving to Austin to be with Tracie P was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. The second smartest thing? Moving to Austin to be with Tracie P.

One of the coolest things about living in this central Texas town is how you can run into a guitar hero at the super market and then see him take the stage that night at Antone’s.

When the super cool lady who cuts my hair showed me the above photo of Jimmie Vaughan’s 1967 Fender Coronado and the matching 1967 Coronado bass that he got his bass player to take on tour with them to support Jimmie’s new album, I BEGGED her to let me put it on my blog (you see, lady in question, Felice, goes steady with Jimmie’s bass player Ronnie James).

And I gotta say, Jimmie’s new album is some pretty, bad-assed smoking music that puts some seriously deep-fried boogie in your butt. So far Tracie P’s favorite track is “Wheel of Fortune,” which features Lou Ann Barton on vox.

We’re going to miss Jimmie’s show next weekend at Antone’s ’cause we’ll be out of town but that’s okay. I know I’ll run into Jimmie at Whole Foods market when we’re back…

If you still had any doubt that Austin is America’s most rockin’ city, check out this photo I snapped yesterday by our favorite hippy-dippy convenience store/gas station.

Buon weekend, ya’ll…


Wine blogs you should and can’t read react to Brunello “rivellation”

July 29, 2010

Regretfully, I don’t have a subscription to Jancis Robinson’s subscription-only blog but a friend cut, pasted, and sent me a post on Jancis’s blog by British wine writer Monty Waldin (above), who commented on the Rivellation that “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

    By saying that most pre-2008 Brunello was fraudulently blended, Dott. Rivella implicitly accepts that journalists such as Franco Ziliani, myself and a number of others who have consistently and publicly claimed that all Brunellos were not 100% Brunello, as they should have been, deserve at least some credit – and that we don’t ‘deserve to have our tyres slashed’, as one irate ‘Brunello’ producer told me to my face.

    We didn’t say what we said because we are anti-Brunello. Far from it. We said it because it was obvious to any wine drinker with half a brain that certain wines labelled Brunello did not always look, smell or taste as though they were 100% Brunello (Sangiovese). This was not fair to consumers, but just as importantly it was not fair to those Brunello producers – both big and small – who played by the rules, the vast majority of whom actually succeeded in making red wines with the inherent quality to reinforce the fully justified claim of real Brunello to sit in Italy’s vinous pantheon.

Another interesting pingback came from a truly dynamic wine blogger in Finland, Arto Koskelo (above), who was gracious enough to translate a post in which he reflects on Rivella’s statements (since I, for one, cannot read Finnish!).

    Don’t get me wrong, the wines may very well be excellent. But in the end the most crucial point isn’t the style of the wines nor even their quality but integrity and lack of it. If one exploits the very historical legacy the regions reputation is based on and at the same time sells it short, wine lover finds that if he gives this kind of fashion the thumbs up he ends up with one stinky finger.

Arto’s a 30-something freelance writer and wine blogger and videographer. “As you might know,” he wrote me in an email, “Finland as a Nordic country has traditionally been a beer drinking country, so we are super happy about the small impact we are making on the cultural landscape.”


Ezio Rivella: “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

July 28, 2010

Above: I hope that Tuscan wine writer and internet-based interviewer Carlo Macchi doesn’t quit his day job. I certainly wouldn’t call him the next Antonioni. Although he might give Dario Argento a run for his money. Last week, the newly elected president of the Brunello producers association, Ezio Rivella, told Macchi that “80% of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese.”

You can imagine my utter and profound astonishment when I watched a recently taped interview with the new president of the Brunello producers association in which he stated the following: at least up until the time of the Brunello controversy that broke in March 2008, “80 of Brunello was not pure Sangiovese” and that the practice of adding “3-5% of grapes other than Sangiovese” was “widespread” and “commonly accepted” among the 250 or so bottlers of Brunello di Montalcino. (The interview was filmed in two parts: the above statements were made in the second segment, and here’s a link to the first.)

The interviews were conducted last week by Italian (Tuscan) wine writer Carlo Macchi, editor of the online wine magazine WineSurf. The videos came to my attention via the weekly web news roundup published on the Italian Sommelier Association website by Mr. Franco Ziliani (who, btw, is not currently blogging right now).

I’m only partly astonished by the figure. In fact, most people whom I’ve spoken to on the ground would arrive at the same figure more or less through guesstimation. As Gian Franco Soldera told me when I visited with him in September 2008 (at the height of the crisis), “the tanker trucks come in weighted down, their load riding low to the ground, and they leave riding high.”

No, what amazed me was the nonchalance with which Rivella brandished this astounding figure. But at the same rate, considering the fact that he spent four decades (the majority of those at the helm) at the largest producer in the appellation (you don’t need me to tell you who that is), I’m not surprised that he would so unabashedly utter these words. And in all fairness and in honesty, I must applaud Rivella for sharing this insight (so often spoken sotto voce, under one’s breath in Montalcino) in a public forum.

What alarmed me was the fact that Rivella also told his interviewer that “for the moment were not going to be talking about changing the appellation to allow for grapes other than Sangiovese.” The law states that the producers get to decide the rules, he explains, and the producers have voted for 100% Sangiovese. But — ugh and here it comes — “we will discuss changing it in future because it needs to be changed.”

When asked the wine figure that impressed him the most, he replied Robert Mondavi. Are you surprised?

I translated and paraphrased some other highlights (?) here at VinoWire.


I Am Love (I Am Cinema) and good things we eat and drink

July 27, 2010

Above: Over the weekend, Tracie P made cabbage leaves stuffed with shredded pork and rice and then braised in puréed tomato. Delicious…

The same way some of my favorite wine bloggers share my passion for music, like McDuff and Eric the Red, many of my blogging colleagues share my passion for cinema, like Lyle and Tom. (They tell me I know a little about cinema and Italian cinema in particular.)

Over the weekend, Tracie P and I finally went to see I am Love, the (relatively) new (to American audiences) movie by director Luca Guadagnino. We both loved it and I highly recommend it (and I thank Comrades A and H for nudging us to see it!).

Above: Summertime means PANZANELLA chez Parzenella… so yummy…

There are plenty of insightful reviews of the movie but I wanted to make one (I feel) important point about it. So many reviewers have made reference to Guadagnino’s homage to Visconti in this work (and there is a Viscontian influence here, no doubt). But there are many other cinéaste and cinephilic references here.

I’m not the first to note that Pasolini’s Teorema is a patent model for this work, where chef Antonio is a parallel to Terrence Stamp’s character in the former.

But I may be the first to point out that Antonioni’s influence is also immensely felt here: the shots of Milan and in particular industrial Milan are clear references to Antonioni’s tetraology, L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse, and The Red Desert. And even more significantly, the characters’s sense of alienation and the “substitution” of one relationship for another in the search for elusive happiness owe much to Antonioni’s thoughtfully two-dimensional world.

Above: Some southern girls knew how to make fried green tomatoes even before they went Hollywood! Gelatinous on the inside, crispy on the outside.

Most significantly, I Am Love is a film that is aware of being a film and being part of a great cinematic tradition: I am Cinema. The shots of industrial Milan and the textile factories, for example, evoked a genre of Italian nationalist documentary filmmaking that first emerged during fascism and reached its peak during the “economic miracle” of the 1960s. The use of Giacomo Giulio da Milano’s font Neon in the credits and captions was a sort of epicinematic allusion that paid homage to the grand tradition of Italian design at its peak in the 1930s (Neon was forged in 1935 at the Fonderia Nebiolo in Turin). Those same “happy years” of fascism saw the Recchi family expand their influence, power, and wealth (remember the conversation between Edoardo and his colleague?).

Above: The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc by Clos Roche Blanche is probably going to be my white wine of the summer. At under $20 (available at The Austin Wine Merchant, where we got it), this delicious wine paired stunningly (and affordably) well with the pork medallions that Tracie P served with shredded cabbage and homemade pear chutney. Really and truly one of those sublime pairings.

The overarching theme of Gaudagnino’s film and story is one that belongs steadfastly to Italian cinema, especially when viewed in its inherently Marxisant paradigm: the alienation of a sense of humanity through the reification of the body.

And, here, I am confident that Gaudagnino would agree with me: Antonio the proletarian chef, whose craft brings him into contact with an otherwise elitist and esoteric group (after he “beats” Edoardo in the race), becomes a conduit that allows the characters to “return to nature” using a Leopardian and ultimately Rousseauan lexicon.

The food porn sequence (where Emma eats a shrimp, how phallic is that?) and the farm-to-table sex sequence (a symphony of cross pollination) represent the triumph of nature over materialism.

After all, when the chef at some chichi lower Manhattan restaurant regales her/his patrons with tales of the farmhouse where she/he has sourced her/his heirloom cultivars of elderflowers used to infuse her/his coulis, is it not an extravagant (in the etymological sense of the word) attempt to cheat materialism for the sake of a false Mother nature?

I hope that Emma will find what she’s looking for in Antonio, but somehow I don’t think she will…

I am love, I am cinema, and I am a fried green tomato. Thanks for reading…

And buona visione, as they say…


Best wine in Chicago and what Comrade H had for dinner

July 23, 2010

Comrade T recently wrote me asking for advice on where party members find good wine in Chicago. I reached out to Comrades N and L for their advice and here’s what they said (paired with Comrade H’s excellent dinner, including Comrade B’s Dolcetto).

Start with the first good cherry tomatoes of the summer.

FROM COMRADE N

Comrade J, we’re always happy to aid the cause.

Webster’s and Rootstock are the most simpatico establishments in my view. Avec is also a good choice.

Good garlic.

If you really want top Italian wines (including properly aged), head to Spiaggia but be prepared to pay dearly for the privilege.

Comrade T, if you need recs for restaurants, shops or anything else in town, feel free to drop me a line.

Wild arugula.

FROM COMRADE L

The two Comrade N mentioned are really it in terms of well thought out, conscientious lists. Again, Comrade N is right in that Spiaggia, while quite expensive, has a very well thought out list. And Alinea, too. This is just more of a beer town (and BYO which helps). That said some places do have nice lists. I just went to the Purple Pig the other week and was able to find a few things (they have some López de Heredia there).

Life is good.

Anyway, below is a list that I put together for someone a couple months ago. The only thing I’d add is the new Girl and the Goat that just opened by Stephanie who won Top Chef a couple seasons ago.

RESTAURANTS
http://www.longmanandeagle.com/
http://www.kumascorner.com/
http://thepurplepigchicago.com/
http://thepublicanrestaurant.com/
http://www.avecrestaurant.com/
http://www.thebristolchicago.com/
http://www.nightwoodrestaurant.com/
http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/xoco.html
http://bigstarchicago.com/
http://www.girlandthegoat.com/

COCKTAILS/BEER
http://www.whistlerchicago.com/
http://www.theviolethour.com/
http://www.maproom.com/
http://hopleaf.com/

And of course, good oil (sourced from Rare Wine Company), good wine (Comrade B’s Dolcetto), good vinegar…

WINE STORES/BARS
http://www.permanwine.com/
http://www.redandwhitechicago.com/
http://www.websterwinebar.com/
http://rootstockbar.com/

AVANTI POPOLO!

(and buon weekend, ya’ll!)


Chianti and Brunello, the brand names

July 22, 2010

Inspired by that Prince of Paronamasia, Thor, I was tempted to entitle this post, “Brand on the Run”… But have you ever known me to mince words?

Above: The Castello di Brolio, site of the Ricasoli winery. The “Iron Baron” Ricasoli, winemaker and Italy’s second prime minister, re-branded Chianti in the late 19th century when he replanted his vineyards with Sangiovese. Would he recognize the wine his family makes today?

Reading Eric the Red’s brutally honest column on Chianti Classico yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder out loud: would the “Iron Baron” Ricasoli, father of pre-industrial Chianti Classico, recognize the wines that his family makes today?

Even more chilling was the thought: in the light of Montalcino’s “vote for modernism,” as Ms. Robinson put it, is Brunello heading down the same path as Chianti Classico?

In other words, will we not recognize the wines that are going to be made there 20 or 30 years from now, leaving us as befuddled as Eric and his colleagues? “Of the 20 glasses before us,” wrote Eric, “many did not look like Chianti Classicos, the designation for Chiantis made in the Chianti region’s heartland in the hills of Tuscany. Or at least they did not look the way I expect a Chianti Classico to look.”

By the time Ricasoli was purchased by behemoth Seagram’s in the 1970s, Chianti had already achieved antonomastic status in the collective consciousness of the American consumer. In other words, it had become synonymous with “Italian wine.”

I cannot tell you how many times I come across the common misconception that Italians pair pizza with Chianti. The other day, a young Sicilian woman here in Austin told me that the traditional pairing for Parmigiano Reggiano was Chianti.

As the apologetic title of the column reveals (“Tasting Report: Chianti Classicos, So Dark and Oaky, but Still Recognizable”), the wines that Eric and colleagues tasted did not resemble the wines that they expected to uncork. In fact, “Many were densely colored and dark, almost impenetrable in their blackness.”

As rumors of corporate take-overs in Montalcino abound (reminiscent of the heady Seagram’s years), I fear I see a (literally) dark cloud in my wine horizon. To borrow a phrase, from Mel Brooks, “Let’s hope for the best…” You already know the next line…


Mazel tov, Ayako and Levi!

July 21, 2010

Photos by BrooklynGuy.

This just in from one of the few people I know in this business who matches an extraordinary palate and professionalism with an unrivaled gentleness of spirit and mind.

“I thought I would pass along the news that, as it happens, Ayako and I were married yesterday down at the City Clerk’s office. She has decided to take the last name of Dalton.

It’s already been a day and she hasn’t mentioned anything about divorce yet, so I think we are off to a good start.”

Mazel tov, Ayako and Levi! Know that our thoughts and our well wishes are with you!


Veronelli’s handwriting, Bartolo Mascarello’s backward thinking, and the “triumph” of barrique

July 21, 2010

You may remember a post I did not long after I launched my blog on Luigi Veronelli as Poseidon and a Trident of New Oak (and Eric the Red’s subsequent post). In that post, I translated a passage from Luigi Veronelli’s landmark 1983 Catalog of the Wines of Italy.

In my never-ending quest to apply the tools of textual bibliography* to wine writing, I chomped at the bit when I came across two subsequent editions of Veronelli’s almanac of Italian wine. After breaking away from the pack on a tour of the Tangley Oaks manor, where Terlato Wines International has its corporate offices, I found myself alone in the library: to my joyous surprise, when I opened the tomes to the title pages, I found Veronelli’s personal dedications to Tony Terlato.

I am very proud that Thony [sic] will use this book. Gino (LUIGI VERONELLI), May 12, 1989.

To Tony, in Bordeaux (but with my heart “in” Italian wine), with friendship, Luigi Veronelli, June, 22, 1989.

What a find! And what a wonderful document and example of handwriting! The “autograph” (or even better, the “idiograph”) as we call it in the study of textual bibliography reveals so much about the intentions of the author. In June of 1989, the renaissance of Italian wine in the U.S. had yet to take shape and both men played fundamental roles in the emergence of Italian wine as a fine wine category. The dedication in the second instance leads me to believe that the two men met in Bordeaux but their “hearts were in Italy.”

In Veronelli’s 1983 preface, he called the introduction of barrique aging a “provision” that “must not be delayed” in Italy. By 1986, only three short years later, he wrote of his dissatisfaction at the limited number of Italian wines he was able to include in the catalog due to space and time constraints. At the same rate, the increased number of wines “raised in barriques” marked his “triumph.”

He also writes of how he has lobbied for a single-vineyard (cru) system in Italy. He didn’t give his top rating (the Sun) to the “sublime” bottlers Bruno Giacosa or Beppe Colla in this catalog, he observes apologetically. But he did give it to Bartolo Mascarello, however reluctantly.

“Bartolo Mascarello,” he writes, [is an] “advocate of a theory that I’m forced, in his case, to accept: the best Barolo is composed by using different vineyard supplies.”

He also bemoans Violante Sobrero’s sale of his rows in Monprivato and Villero (to Mauro Mascarello?).

There’s so much more wonderful information to be culled from this bundle of sheets but that’s all I have time for today. In another lifetime, I hope to be employed by a royal court as a textual bibliographer of wine. In the meantime, I gotta make a living… thanks for reading!

* From the Bibliographical Society of America website: “Textual bibliography, the relationship between the printed text as we have it before us, and that text as conceived by its author. Handwriting is often difficult to decipher; compositors make occasional mistakes, and proofreaders sometimes fail to catch them; but (especially in the period before about 1800) we often have only the printed book itself to tell us what the author intended. Textual bibliography (sometimes called textual criticism) tries to provide us with the most accurate text of a writer’s work. The equipment of the textual bibliographer is both a profound knowledge of the work of the writer being edited (and of his or her period) and an equally profound knowledge of contemporary printing and publishing practices.”


The story behind Vajra’s Barolo Albe

July 20, 2010

Above: The good news is that it looks like Vajra’s wines will be coming to Texas soon.

So many questions, so little time…

When Mr. Franco Ziliani took Tracie P and me to taste with Aldo Vajra back in February at the winery, I neglected to ask Aldo what the “Albe” in his “Barolo Albe” denoted.

Luckily, we got a chance last week to sit down with Aldo’s son Giuseppe here in Austin. (I’d never met Giuseppe before but I felt like I knew him already: his face and his family were familiar to me, however virtually, through the excellent blog of David McDuff, whose palate and writing I admire immensely and whose taste in music and Nebbiolo are unsurpassed.)

The designation “Albe,” he explained, is simple: it’s the plural of the Italian alba, which in this context, means dawn.

“You see, our Barolo Albe is a traditional-style Barolo made from fruit sourced from three different vineyards,” Giuseppe told us, “Fossati, Le Coste, and La Volta. When the sun rises in the morning, it takes about 20 minutes for the sunlight [dawn] to reach each vineyard. So, there are three different albe [dawns].”

I’ve tasted the 2005 Barolo Albe by Vajra on three different occasions this year, and, man, it just keeps getting better and better. As much as I love their flagship Barolo — the single-vineyard Bricco delle Viole — it’s always the blended Barolo that keeps calling me back. At each occasion, I’ve found that signature freshness and drinkability that Vajra magically seems to capture in the bottle (a quality due, no doubt, to meticulous, gentle vineyard management and an honesty in the cellar).

@David, btw, would love to hear your recent notes on this wine.

Above: The Vajra family begin bottling the historic Baudana wines in 2009 with the 2005 vintage.

We also re-tasted the 2005 Barolo by Baudana, which the Vajra family began bottling for the iconic Langa family in 2009. I can’t say that I am a big fan of the 2005: its woody notes are a turn-off for me. Giuseppe did tell me that for the 2006 vintage, the barrique is toned down. And he added that we’ll see great things from these historic vineyards in vintages to follow (where he plays a greater role in the aging regimen).

As an indication of the greatness and potential of these historic vineyards in Serralunga (Baudana and Cerretta), Giuseppe also pointed to Mr. Franco Ziliani’s recent post on the 1982 Franco Fiorina Barolo, which was sourced in part from Baudana (I translated Mr. Ziliani’s post for VinoWire).

In all honesty, I’m not such a fan of the wine as it is right now. But I do believe that its future in the hands of Giuseppe and his father Aldo has immense potential to become one of the great icons of Langa. Stay tuned…

And let’s keep our fingers crossed that Vajra wines make it to Texas this fall! I don’t know how much longer Tracie P and I can survive without super-old-school Vajra Moscato d’Asti!

Thanks for reading!


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