Pomodoro crisis

August 31, 2010

Above: Tracie P and I have been thoroughly enjoying Chef Esteban’s housemade Tagliatelle with tomato sauce and housemade ricotta at Vino Vino in Austin. I think that Esteban could go a little lighter on the heat in the sauce (my only lament) but this is Texas after all.

Although Italy’s recently installed agricultural minister Giancarlo Galan (from Padua) claims there’s no crisis in the Italian wine industry (see his comments in our post today at VinoWire via Mr. Franco Ziliani’s blog), he is planning to convene a “task force” to address Italy’s tomato crisis — yes, tomato crisis.

The issue is not the sale of tomatoes in Italy (go figure) but rather fraud and counterfeit of Italian-grown tomatoes. The so-called “agropiracy” vehemently battled by Galan’s predecessor Luca Zaia.

Contemplating the Italian tomato crisis as I drank my tea early this morning, Aldo Cazzullo’s 2009 L’Italia di noantri. Come siamo diventati tutti meridionali (The Italy We [Southerners] Remember: How We All Became Southerners, Mondadori) came to mind.*

In it, he writes: Today, “Italians all eat the same things. Two generations ago in Piedmont, they used meat or butter to dress their food. Today, tomato is found in every sauce… The tomato has become a national symbol. If an Italian has a spot on his shirt, it’s a tomato spot.” (p. 43)

Leaving the racist and separatist (and even futurist) implications aside, I do think it’s interesting to note (probably to the surprise of many) that tomatoes were not widely consumed in Italy until the 1960s. I found hard proof of this when I researched my post on the origins of the name puttanesca.

There’s much to be said on this topic but, alas, my work duties call… I’ll leave you today with one of my all-time favorite scenes by one of my all-time favorite Italian actors, Alberto Sordi, in Un americano a Roma (An American in Rome, 1954). In the scene, he plays an Italian-American who claims that the food in America is better and better for you, drinking milk instead of wine. But in the end, you can imagine what happens. Note that the “macaroni” are NOT dressed with tomato. The year is 1954.

* The title of the book plays on the fact that the Roman inflection noantri for the first person plural has been commonly absorbed by the northern dialects (in the Piedmontese of the author’s grandparents, he writes, the first person plural was nuiautri).


One last note on Produttori del Barbaresco current release (and Tracie P’s fried green tomatoes)

August 30, 2010

On Friday, Tracie P brought home an open bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo that she had been showing to her accounts that day. The wine had been open for the better part of the afternoon in her wine bag.

As much I have enjoyed drinking this vintage (2008, not nearly as great as 07 for this wine) since its release, I think the wine has entered a period of particular grace.

When we drank it at our wedding in January, it was light and bright, with happy black and red berry fruit.

But I got a taste of what was to come when I drank a glass at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego last month (where they serve it by the glass): on Friday, the gentle savory notes I enjoyed in July had evolved into rich, earthy, muddy flavors, balancing the bright fruit in a lover’s embrace. I think that in the arc of its evolution, this wine has reached its moment of plenary expression (read: complete and utter yummyness).

In other news…

I just had to share this photo of Tracie P’s fried green tomatoes (from Sunday night), which she makes in her grandmother’s cast iron skillet. They were like savory candy: salty on the outside and sweet, tart and gelatinous on the inside. Paired resplendently with a bottle of Laurent Tribut 2008 Chablis (12.5% alcohol! yes!) and the 2010 vintage of True Blood.

Ain’t you glad we ain’t all California girls
Ain’t you glad there’s still a few of us left,
who know how to rock your world
Ain’t afraid to eat fried chicken and dirty dance to Merle
Ain’t you glad we ain’t all California girls

In other other news…

Seems I’m not the only one with Langhe Nebbiolo and summer tomatoes on the brain: Gary, watch out for that cucuzz’!


Life after barrique: “I started to love my wines again”

August 30, 2010

Here’s what winemaker Gianpaolo Paglia (below) had to say about my post on his decision not to age his wines in barriques anymore.

Thank you very much Jeremy for translating part of Ziliani’s post on my decision. I’m very glad to see that this has stirred an interesting conversation on Italian blogs about the current state of the art of Italian wines and their future. I think that we are now in the position to devote our efforts to a better knowledge of our land, our vineyards, our techniques of production, or in other words, our terroir. For the last decade I’ve been on a learning curve, of which barriques and a certain style of wine were part, now I feel I have to move further to find the true expression of my land in my wines.

It’s going to take time, because nothing is fast when it comes to agriculture, but I’m sure I’m on the right path. How do I know it? Simply because I started to love my wines again.


Barolo confessions

August 27, 2010

It was delicious…

Above: I was cold, I was hungry, I was tired… and, yes, damn it, I sat in my lonely hotel room on a damp, cold evening in Asti and watched TV, ate takeout pizza, and drank a bottle of 2005 Barolo Ravera by Elvio Cogno.

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. I can already hear the E-Bobs and WineBerserkers wailing, “infanticide!” It was a very lonely evening for me in the heart of winter in Piedmont: the Barbera 7 had abandoned me in my hotel, just as Jeremiah’s lovers had “forgotten him.”

My only companion was a bottle of 2005 Barolo Ravera given to me by Valter Fissore of Elvio Cogno. I was cold, I was hungry, I was tired. So I ordered takeout pizza, popped the cork, and watched TV.

I don’t know where food maven Arthur Schwartz said this, but Italian cookery queen Michele Scicolone often repeats his chiasmatic adage regarding pizza: if you can’t be with the pizza you love, love the pizza you’re with. Well, honey, I loved me some pizza and Barolo that night and I lived to tell about it!

Thanks for letting me get this off my chest… Buon weekend, ya’ll!


The basil of Salerno and Lisabetta’s tears

August 26, 2010

Above: Basil was prized for its healing properties for external wounds in the Middle Ages. The image of basil (note the presence of a woman and man) on the verso (left) is taken from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, in this case Codex Latinus 9333 from the Bibliothèque de France in Paris (click here to view a larger version). It was also a symbol of hate (read on).

I never imagined that my post the other day on Fake Pesto would lead to such a long comment thread here at the blog and over in the Facebook feed.

Here at the blog, Hande pointed out rightly that pesto, literally pestle, denotes the dressing for pasta made of ground basil, cheese, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. I was surprised to learn that the Genoese Pesto Consortium’s officially sanctioned recipe allows for walnuts (as a substitute for pine nuts) and Parmigiano Reggiano along with (the more traditional, in my view) Pecorino. As per Hande’s comment, when I wrote that pesto is traditionally served with boiled potatoes and green beans, I should have noted that the dish is properly called pesto avvantaggiato, literally, enriched pesto, whereby trenette or trofie (noodles) are tossed with the pesto, the boiled potatoes and green beans, and some of the cooking water from the vegetables. Thanks again, Hande, for keeping me on my toes!

Image via SchoolGardenWeekly.

But when friend Leslie noted (over in the Facebook thread of the post) that basil is an anti-depressant, I began to think about one of my favorite novelle from Boccaccio’s Decameron, the Tale of Lisabetta da Messina.

    Lisabetta’s brothers slay her lover: he appears to her in a dream, and shews her where he is buried: she privily disinters the head, and sets it in a pot of basil, whereon she daily weeps a great while. The pot being taken from her by her brothers, she dies not long after.

    And so, saddest of women, knowing that she might not bewail him there, she would gladly, if she could, have carried away the body and given it more honourable sepulture elsewhere; but as she might not so do, she took a knife, and, as best she could, severed the head from the trunk, and wrapped it in a napkin and laid it in the lap of her maid; and having covered the rest of the corpse with earth, she left the spot, having been seen by none, and went home. There she shut herself up in her room with the head, and kissed it a thousand times in every part, and wept long and bitterly over it, till she had bathed it in her tears. She then wrapped it in a piece of fine cloth, and set it in a large and beautiful pot of the sort in which marjoram or basil is planted, and covered it with earth, and therein planted some roots of the goodliest basil of Salerno, and drenched them only with her tears, or water perfumed with roses or orange-blossoms. And ’twas her wont ever to sit beside this pot, and, all her soul one yearning, to pore upon it, as that which enshrined her Lorenzo, and when long time she had so done, she would bend over it, and weep a great while, until the basil was quite bathed in her tears.

    Fostered with such constant, unremitting care, and nourished by the richness given to the soil by the decaying head that lay therein, the basil burgeoned out in exceeding great beauty and fragrance.

There is so much I’d love to share about this truly fascinating (at least to me) story and the role that basil plays in it. Boccaccio’s Decameron has so many wonderful references to food and wine in it. (Read the entire tale in English here.) But, ahimè, professional duties call… I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

In the meantime, here’s a scene from Pasolini’s version of the tale:


Notes on the 05 Produttori del Barbaresco crus

August 25, 2010

California residents: please check out my Produttori del Barbaresco offering at Do Bianchi Wine Selections. :-)

Above: Dreams do come true… all of the Produttori del Barbaresco single-vineyard designated bottlings of 2005 Barbaresco, tasted in March at the winery with Aldo Vacca.

Over the years, I have had the great fortune to taste with winemaker Aldo Vacca of Produttori del Barbaresco on a number of different occasions and in a wide variety of contexts. Anyone who’s ever met Aldo knows that he’s a precise, meticulous man, who seems to transmit the wise and judicious frugality of his origins into the 21st-century with grace and elegance. After all, 38 growers and their families and employees depend on him each year to deliver the wines of this cooperative to market. Whenever you meet Aldo in the U.S. or Vinitaly, he always has four or five of the crus open to taste with is guests. But because I dropped in with the balance of the Barbera 7 on that wonderful late-winter day in March, he opened all nine of the single-vineyard designated bottlings of the 2005 Barbaresco. What follows are my notes, as brief as possible (I tasted them in the order of body, as recommended by Aldo).

Pora

In many ways, Pora could be considered the winery’s flagship wine (after the classic blended Barbaresco, of course). The vineyard was owned at one time by the winery’s founder, Domizio Cavazza, and it was among the first wines released as a single-vineyard designated wine in 1967 (the same year that Gaja and Vietti bottled their first single-vineyard wines). It lies in a central swath of famed vineyards of Barbaresco that include Faset, Asili, Martinenga, and Rabajà.

Rich tannin, balanced black and berry fruit, gorgeous nose.

Rio Sordo

The name Rio Sordo means literally the deaf river, in other words, the silent or underground river (remember my post Cry Me a Silent River about tasting with Giovanni Rizzolio?). The solitary Rio Sordo vineyard lies on the other side of a small valley from the Rabajà, Asili, Martinenga, and Pora swath.

Very mineral nose, savory, earthy notes, darker fruit, balanced tannin.

Asili

Many feel that Asili is the quintessence of Barbaresco and in many ways, would agree: perhaps more than another vineyard, it embodies that unique balance of power and grace, structure and elegance that defines Barbaresco. Some, like Bruno Giacosa, consider the greatest vineyard in the appellation.

Powerful tannin, more so than other expressions of the 05 Asili I’ve tasted, stunning wine, fruit has yet to emerge, but this will surely be one of the greatest expressions of the growing site for this vintage.

Pajè

This vineyard lies sandwiched in between the Pora, Faset, Asili, Martinenga, Rabajà (and Moccagatta) family to the south and the Secondine and Bricco crus to the north. Like the more famous expression of this vineyard bottled by the Roagna winery (whose estate overlooks the growing site), this vineyard can deliver tannic and powerful expressions of Nebbiolo (tending toward Secondine and Bricco, perhaps more than the southern neighbors).

At the time of tasting, this wine was surprisingly very bright and approachable. Of all the wines, it was the one I would have drunk most gladly that day. But I imagine it will be shutting down, based on my knowledge of the growing site. Need to revisit later.

Moccagatta

Lyle and I share a love for this vineyard, which sits at one of the highest points in Barbaresco, in the eastern section of the appellation. To the south it borders Rabajà and shares some of its savory, earthy power. It renders a very distinctive expression of Nebbiolo, thanks to its unique exposure.

Even, balanced tannin, chewy and juicy wine, earthy and rich in mouthfeel. One of my favs of the tasting, black and red berry fruit and mud.

Rabajà

The Rabajà vineyard has been the subject of much debate over the last few years because some of the rows have been reclassified as Asili, which lies to its western border. Historically, I’ve always found this vineyard to be slightly more powerful and with more tannic structure than Asili. The name Rabajà is believed to be a dialectal inflection of the surname Rabagliato (but its etymology is uncertain).

Bright, lip-smacking acidity, and gorgeous fruit despite the Herculean tannin in this wine, savory on the nose and in the mouth. Stunning wine.

Ovello

Ask Cory and he’ll tell you that Ovello is his favorite. It lies in the northern section of the appellation, on the west side, not far from the Tanaro. My personal experience with this vineyard is that it renders more balanced tannin and extremely delicious earthiness. The winery’s classic Barbaresco (which, for the record, is generally my favorite bottling for any given vintage), is sourced primarily from Ovello.

Very fresh, especially compared to the other crus, with judicious tannin, and great minerality and savory flavors. Drinking beautifully right now.

Montefico

Montefico is another vineyard, like Pora, that has played a historic role in the evolution of Produttori del Barbaresco and was once owned in part by the winery’s founder Domizio Cavazza. Like Montestefano, it renders one of them most powerful expressions of Nebbiolo bottled by the cooperative. In the series, ordered by weight and body, Aldo positioned it second-to-last for our tasting.

The tannin still prevails in this wine, definitely needs time for the fruit to emerge. The slightly warmer vintage may penalize this otherwise truly great wine in the very long term but it’s sure to get better with every passing year. I can’t wait to revisit it in another 5 years.

Montestefano

Located in the northeastern section of the appellation, Montestefano is the vineyard often described as the most “Baroloesque” of the Barbaresco crus. I take issue with such observations: while we were brought up to believe that Barolo is the more “important” of the two appellations, I find that ultimately Barbaresco is the appellation that inspires, intrigues, and bewitches more. It’s not a younger sibling to Barolo: if anything, it’s a cousin, related by blood, but raised by different parents. Together with Asili, Rabajà, and Pora, Montestefano is one of my favorites. It certainly produces one of the most long-lived expressions of the appellation and it is here that earthy, savory notes and black fruit combine in a sublime marriage. To me, tasting wine from this vineyard is like negotiating the tension created somewhere between grammatical and metrical rhythm in verse by Virgil or Petrarch. For the record, Beppe Colla bottled fruit from this vineyard as a single-vineyard wine in 1961, making it perhaps the first cru-designated wine in Barbaresco (although many point to the 1967 vintage as the birth of the cru system in Barbaresco).

Simply stunning wine, a humbling experience, too young to see where the fruit is going to go, but one of the greatest wines I’ve tasted from the 2005 vintage anywhere in Piedmont.

I hope you’ll enjoy these wines as much I intend to in the years to come! Thanks for reading…


Basta barriques: a conversion of Constantine?

August 25, 2010

Earlier this month, Maremma producer of Morellino di Scansano and Syrah Gianpaolo Paglia (above, winemaker and owner of Poggio Argentiera, with his family) authored a short post on his blog entitled simply Basta barrqiues, enough with barriques.

In the post he informs his readers that he no longer intends to age his Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo in barriques, small new oak French barrels.

He explains: “In the last 10-15 years, the world of wine has changed. And, above all, my (and our) tastes have changed. This is no disavowal of the past, no repudiation. It’s very simple: one evolves, as a person and as a company.” (translation mine)

Yesterday, Italian wine blogger extraordinaire Mr. Franco Ziliani, who has long exhorted a more moderate use of barrique aging among Italian winemakers, posted an interview with Giampaolo.

Here are a few passages I found interesting and have translated from Gianpaolo’s answers:

    In certain wines produced with barriques, there is an excessive sweetness. However much this can be viewed in positive light, I find that it tires the palates. Complexity and nuance tend to be lost, trumped by a certain creaminess in the taste of the wine. Generally, I believe that it is more difficult draw out the character of grapes like Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo, where a certain angularity and backbone form the basis of their identity. And then there’s also the drinkability factor: I’m tired of drinking overly invasive wines.

    I can tell you that making wines that will be enjoyed by people who make wine makes much more commercial sense than trying to interpret the tastes of the market. My impression is that we tend not to fully appreciate people who buy wines and drink them. This is probably due partly to a lack of awareness and partly — and perhaps mostly — due to our lack of courage.

    There are wines that seem excellent to us but we consider them “difficult” for the market. But, then again, we discover that the market is very open to good wines, real wines, expressive wines. I see this every day, especially since I began to sell wines beyond the wines I produce.

I’m excited to taste the new vintages of Poggio Argentiera and I really admire Gianpaolo for the honesty and forthrightness of his blog and his words (he is, btw, probably the top Italian winemaker/blogger and his use of social media as a tool to promote his wines is world-class).

One of the most vocal opponents of barrique aging of Sangiovese I know is my friend Charles Scicolone, who began drinking Nebbiolo and Sangiovese in the 1970s. “They’ll crucify me on a cross made of barrique,” he likes to say humorously.

It’s too early to tell but could Gianpaolo’s declaration be an early sign of a conversion of Constantine? Let’s hope so… Chapeau bas, Gianpaolo!

In other good news…

It seems that Mr. Ziliani has returned from his blogging hiatus.


This man can COOK! Dinner with Bill and Patricia

August 24, 2010

Photos by Tracie P.

Just had to share some images from last night’s dinner in the home of our good friends Patricia and Bill.

Tracie P and I met Bill last year at a Valpolicella tasting and we’ve been friends ever since. Dinner began last night with jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon and grilled (below). Only after I recited Artusi’s open letter to meatloaf did Bill acquiesce and agree to let us try his meatloaf from the night before.

“Signor polpettone venite avanti, non vi peritate,” wrote Pellegrino Artusi in La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, first published in 1881). “…lo so bene che siete modesto e umile…”

“Please step forward Signor Meatloaf and please don’t be shy… I know that you are modest and humble.”

He cubed it for us and we ate it cold. It was delicious.

It’s hard to describe how much sheer, pure fun we have when visiting with Patricia and Bill. Patricia is an interior designer by trade and their lovely Mediterranean-style home above Pease Park in Austin is a happy labyrinth of wonderful artifacts, paintings, and beautiful objects.

From his tales of working with the Israeli army to his anecdotes of Charlie Wilson and his time working in Washington, D.C., there’s never a dull moment in Bill’s presence. And the man can COOK. Bill made an unusual pasta shape, lanterne, dressed with a vodka-tomato sauce inspired by the Trattoria alla Vecchia Bettola in Florence. We paired with a bottle of 2008 SP68 by Occhipinti (which just came into the market here in Austin, available at the Austin Wine Merchant).

Next came involtini di vitello, veal rolls stuffed with mozzarella and accompanied by roast potatoes. We paired with a superb bottle of 2007 Bourgueil Cuvée Alouettes by Domaine de la Chanteleuserie (not sure where Bill picked that up, but I would imagine the Austin Wine Merchant). A supremely delicious pairing however you sliced it.

Customarily, one dines in the dining room when attending a dinner party chez Patricia and Bill. But on this special night it was just the four of us and so we ate in Tracie P’s favorite room in their house, the cappella. My lady loves her a turret!

Thanks again Patricia and Bill, for an excellent meal and a fantastic evening. We mustn’t let so much time pass between our visits again!


The story behind Nascetta (and Anascetta)

August 24, 2010

Romeo, doff thy name!

Above: Valter Fissore of Elvio Cogno (Novello) single-handedly delivered the Nascetta grape from oblivion after he tasted a wine made using this once highly praised grape in 1991. The wine had been bottled in 1986.

It’s regrettable that when I tasted the Nascetta grape for the first time last year, it was served to me ice cold and was described as a “light-bodied white wine.”

While in Piedmont in March of this year, I happily learned that Nascetta is actually a noble white grape variety that can produce long-lived, structured wines. And I had the great fortune to taste Valter Fissore’s excellent 2001 bottling — a nearly decade-old expression of this grape. In my notes, I wrote “rosemary, sage, petrol,” and was blown away by the structure of the wine, its lively acidity, and most of all its gorgeous, unctuous mouthfeel.

Yesterday, in a wonderful post on drinking the last extant bottling of a vintage, Cory nudged me to fulfill a promise to explore the origins of the name. And so here it is.

First of all, a little history.

The name Nascetta was coined by 19th-century Piedmontese enologist Giovanni Gagna (left, 1833-1881), who believed erroneously that the grape was related to the Sardinian grape Nasco (from the Sardinian nuscu, from the Latin muscus, meaning moss). Remember: for the better part of the 18th and 19th centuries, Sardinia, Nice, Savoy, and Piedmont were ruled by the House of Savoy (the Kingdom of Sardinia), with its court in Turin and so commerce between Sardinia and Piedmont was fluid during that period.

In 1877, Count Giovanni di Rovasenda listed the grape using its dialectal name, Anascetta, in his landmark Saggio di una ampelografia universale (Essay on Universal Ampelography). The fact that he uses the dialectal inflection of Gagna’s name for the grape is an indication of how popular the grape was in Piedmont at that time, when it was commonly blended with Favorita (Vermentino) and Moscato. (In Piedmontese dialect, an initial a is added to certain words to compensate for syncopated, i.e., lost vowels; in this case, the acquisition of the initial a would appear hypercorrective, a phenomenon not uncommon in the morphology of Piedmontese.)

Here’s where it gets a little complicated.

Above: The confusion regarding the name of this grape was created in part by Valter’s frustration with labeling requirements. In 2001, he bottled the wine as a non-vintage vino da tavola (table wine) because the grape was not yet authorized for the Langhe Bianco DOC appellation.

Let’s start with some chronology:

1991 – Valter tastes a bottling of 1986 by farmer Francesco Marengo (Novello).
1994 – Valter produces 800 bottles from his own planting of the grape, labeled as Nas-cetta; following this vintage, Valter is forced to stop labeling the wine as Nas-cetta after he is fined for listing an unauthorized grape variety name on the label.
2000 – Nascetta (the grape) is added to the catalog of authorized grape varieties for Langhe.
2004 – Valter bottles the wine as Langhe Bianco DOC but cannot list the grape variety on the label; he labels the wine “Anas-cëtta” using a “fantasy” name because the grape is not authorized for the Langhe Bianco DOC labeling (it’s authorized for the blend but not the label).
2010 – After Valter’s successful lobbying, the 2010 vintage will be first labeled as Langhe Nascetta [sic] DOC.

Above: Valter’s Nascetta is an excellent value for a structured, age-worthy white. Be sure to serve it at cellar or room temperature.

When I asked Valter directly about his use of diacritics (in this case the umlaut and the hyphen), he told me flatly that he introduced them in the labeling for purely proprietary reasons. The mutation of the grape names Nascetta and Anascetta was inspired by his frustration with labeling requirements. The good news is that the confusion has been resolved and this noble white grape will be labeled as “Langhe Nascetta DOC” beginning with the 2010 vintage.

While in Piedmont in March, I also tasted another excellent bottling of Nascetta by Rivetto.

Be sure to read Cory’s post on the last bottle of 2001 and Whitney’s post, too.

… O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.


Txakolina, Txakolina, Txakolina!

August 23, 2010

Above, from left: Importer of Basque, Spanish, and French wines André Tamers, Vino Vino owner Jeff Courington, and Tracie P at a Txakolina tasting in Austin on Saturday.

When I moved back to California from New York, a lot of concerned friends asked me, “what will you blog about? what will drink in California?” When I decided to move to Texas nearly two years ago, people admonished: “there won’t be anything interesting for you to drink there!”

Above: My favorite in the flight was the Ameztoi Txakolina, so bright and fresh in the glass, with white fruit and spice on the nose and in the mouth. Low alcohol and gentle spritz. At under $20, the wine quickly shot up the charts to reach a top-five slot in my favorite wines of summer.

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you: I’m alive and well in Texas and drinking good juice!

Over the weekend, Tracie P and I attended a fantastic Txakolina tasting, hosted by André Tamers (the wine’s main proponent and Svengali in this country) and Jeff Courington, my client and friend, owner of the best little wine bar in Austin, Vino Vino.

Like manna from heaven, my sheer enjoyment of reading Eric the Red’s recent article on Txakolina was redoubled with a flight of the wines, poured personally for us by the dude who is making the synonymous Txakoli and Txakolina (pronounced CHAHK-oh-lee, CHAHK-oh-LEE-nah) household words here in the U.S.

Above: I also really loved this rosé by Gurrutxaga. It had a crazy spicy note on the nose and was wholly sexy in the mouth. A truly and utterly “original” wine on my palate.

The world of wine is encyclopedic in breadth and I am constantly reminded that, beyond my love affair with Italian wine, there are so many fantastic wines to learn about, to taste, to pair with… now, more than ever, thanks to small importers like André, who launched his company more than 10 years ago when he was living with his wife and painting (oil on canvas) in Spain.

Txakolina is a truly “original” wine, to borrow a phrase I once heard Angelo Gaja use in a speech. Like Nebbiolo from Langa or Chardonnay from Chablis, it could be made in no other place in the world. It tastes of the place where it is raised and the people who make it. (Again, please see Eric the Red’s recent article on Txakolina for a great profile of the region, the people, and the wines.)

Being the self-appointed philologist of the enoblogosphere, I couldn’t help but nose around the interwebs in a search for the meaning and origins of the name Txakoli (Chacoli in Spanish, also spelled Sakoli). The lemma txak seems to denote small or little from what I can find in Basque language dictionaries available online. The editors of the Diccionario vasco-español-francés (Alfred Mame et Fils, Tour, 2 vol., 1905-1906) often translate the term (which appears in numerous instances in the two tomes) as vinaza (Spanish) or petit vin (French), literally, little wine, akin to the Italian vinello, an easy-drinking, light-bodied wine. According to the dictionary, the term also is used to denote wine must used to obtain distillate.

Above: Tracie P and I munched down an entire plate of Chef Esteban’s excellent fresh Manchego, dressed with basil, roast peppers, and olive oil. A sublime pairing with the Txakolina.

Beyond the great music and people here, the Texan lifestyle and the fact that the love of my life loves this town, Austin is such a great city because it attracts some of the brightest and best people I’ve ever met. Txakolina is sold in 26 states. Texas is one of them. When I asked André why he flies here especially to attend the tasting (now in its second year), he told me “because Jeff [owner of the venue] is a friend.”

The whole world may be talking about the wines of the Basque country these days. But here in Austin, we’re drinking it!


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