D’Orta-De Conciliis 2011 Falanghina SUPER! @ColtivareHTX

orta conciliisWhen I first spied a bottle of 2011 Falanaghina [sic] by “Conciliis” on the wine list at the hipster Italianate concept Coltivare in Houston’s Heights neighborhood last night, I was nonplussed.

Did Bruno de Conciliis make a Falanghina? I had never seen one.

Was this an old, tired vintage of Falanghina that had been forgotten or pawned off on an unwittingly wine buyer by an unscrupulous distributor?

I ordered it, of course.

With just enough skin contact to give it a deeper color and a gentle dose of oxidation, this wine sang in the glass, with notes of ripe stone fruit and fantastic minerality.

Our party loved it so much and the price was so good that we ordered a second bottle for our table of six. Fantastic wine, one of my favorites of 2014.

It turns out that the label is a joint biodynamic project shared by Bruno, his siblings, and his German-speaking cousin “Vinny.” So glad to see a lot like this in Houston.

I handicapped the wine list at Coltivare today for the Houston Press.

Franciacorta and the “C-word”

arcari danesi saten franciacortaOne of the great travesties of the Italian wine world is the way that Franciacorta has been incessantly compared to… no, I’m not going to use the C-word here.

Just Google “Italy’s answer to …” in quotes and you’ll find that a great number of the most revered English-language mastheads have published articles with this abhorrent title.

But I don’t blame their editors or contributors for this.

If there is blame to assign, it lies with those historically responsible for marketing Franciacorta in the U.S. and U.K.

Sadly, the powers-that-be have always positioned Franciacorta as a “luxury” brand akin to its more famous counterpart on the other side of the Alps.

The fact of the matter is that Franciacorta is radically different from its transalpine Doppelgänger.

And the main difference is the fact that Franciacorta growers can allow their grapes to ripen fully before harvest (in France, classic-method sparkling wines are made from underripe fruit that has been picked with overly high acidity and relatively low sugar).

Did you know, for example, that Franciacorta producers rarely need to provoke the first fermentation with the addition of cane sugar?

This is because the berries already have enough sugar to enable fermentation.

On the other side of the Alps, the practice is de rigueur.

The richer ripeness of the fruit expresses itself in even the most commercial Franciacorta bottlings, giving the wines greater depth of flavor.

But the thing that strikes me the most about Franciacorta (and we drink a lot of Franciacorta in our home) is its wonderful vinous character. The greatest expressions of Franciacorta, in my experience, share a kinship with my favorite still wines inasmuch as they have a wonderful food-friendly quality about them.

We drink a lot of French sparkling wine as well (made mostly from Pinot Noir). Bollinger Rosé — our all-time favorite — and rare steak, for example, has made for an unforgettable pairing at our dinner table. But the French astringency and more tannic nature often limits the breadth of dishes we’ll pair with the wines.

Great Franciacorta, made mostly from Chardonnay, tends to have a rounder and richer fruit component that makes it pair exceedingly well with a wider variety of savory dishes.

On the night of my birthday, when the B. Mascarello 2008 Barolo turned out to be too tight for pairing with the main dish, the Arcari-Danesi 2009 Satén, 100 percent Chardonnay, with its profound white fruit and gently nutty flavors, was ideal with Tracie P’s fried chicken.

It’s one of the wines that my close friend Giovanni Arcari and his partner have created without the use of any sugar whatsoever: they use frozen grape must, reserved at harvest, for the tirage and dosage of this wine (I wrote about their revolutionary method here).

I count many Frenchpeople as good friends. I play in a French rock band and have performed many times in France. I love Bollinger so much that my writing partners and I wrote a song about it.

But when it comes to talking about and enjoying my favorite expressions of Franciacorta, you’ll never hear me use the C-word.

Is 2008 Nebbiolo “closing down”?

bartolo mascarello barolo 2008Another one of the wines that we drank for my birthday week (week before last) was the 2008 Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello (above).

I’ve tasted the wine on a number of occasions since it was released and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a fantastic vintage for Maria Teresa Mascarello and for Langa Nebbiolo in general.

In my experience, the wine has shown that classic balance of acidity, fruit, earth, and tannin that you find in “balanced” growing cycles with “four seasons.”

On my birthday eve, Tracie P made me a “by-request” dinner of her breaded and fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and wilted spinach sautéed with garlic and a light dusting of chili flakes.

I opened the wine early, around 5 p.m. And when we first tasted it around 7 p.m., its fruit was dominated by its earth and tannin. It began to open up as the evening progressed and we ended up enjoying it as a meditative wine, listening to Chopin performed by Rubenstein and 70s and 80s Paul McCartney (music also by request).

By mid-evening it was gorgeous, but I believe that we’ve entered into a new phase in the development of traditional-style Langa Nebbiolo. These wines, in my experience, go through an initial stage of brightness and generous fruit but then “shut down” a few years after their release.

I’m so glad to see that this wine is now widely available throughout the U.S. (Italian wine insiders know, all to well, the vicissitudes of this wine’s legacy in our country). It’s a classic and a benchmark and Bartolo’s daughter Maria Teresa is making some of the estate’s greatest wines ever (I really believe that and I know, anecdotally, that some of her top collectors share this impression).

By no means am I saying that you shouldn’t drink it now. But do give it time to open up (gently, by simply aerating the wine; but don’t expedite it is my advice).

mashed potatoes recipeAnother highlight from my birthday eve, was the Arcari-Danesi 2009 Franciacorta Satén by my one of my best friends, Giovanni Arcari, winemaker extraordinaire and enocultural entrepreneur.

That’s on deck for tomorrow… thanks for sharing my birthday wines with me!

First kiss: Produttori del Barbaresco 2010 Barbaresco (classic)

mortadella pizzaAbove: the food at Alfonso’s wine dinner at Dolce Vita in Houston was excellent. But the dish I couldn’t stop thinking about was the flatbread topped with perfectly sliced mortadella.

One of the highlights of my birthday week was my first kiss with Produttori del Barbaresco 2010 Barbaresco (classic).

(Please note that I would never call this wine “normale” as many erroneously do. It’s not “normal.” It’s exceptional. That’s why I always use “classic” when referring to the Produttori del Barbaresco bottlings that are not designated by cru.)

The occasion was a wine dinner led by Italian wine maven and good friend Alfonso Cevola at Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca in Houston.

The food and service were superb (the halibut crudo was a stand-out, as were the spaghetti with Roman broccoli).

But my “first date” with one of my all-time favorite wineries still trumps the rest in my memory.

Produttori del Barbaresco sales director “Aldo Vacca told me that the winery didn’t bottle its crus [single-vineyard-designated wines],” said Alfonso to the small group of wine lovers who shared the meal in the restaurant’s swank private dining room.

“Instead,” he explained, “they used all of their top fruit to make their blended Barbaresco.”

The last time Produttori del Barbaresco opted not to release its crus was in 2006. At the time of its release (2010), Aldo revealed to me that the decision was driven, in part, by concerns about the financial crisis. (See my post here.)

produttori barbaresco 2010 tasting noteAbove: it’s always a thrill for me to taste these wines for the first time. It’s like falling in love all over again.

I imagine that the winery’s decision to create a single cuvée for 2010 was guided partly by potential commercial issues. I say this because by nearly all accounts, 2010 was a good to great vintage in Langa where the wines are grown and made.

As in 2006, there were late September rains that disappointed the expectations of many growers and there were issues with mildew and vine disease (in particular, pesky and sometimes deadly grapevine yellows).

But Nebbiolo was the least affected by these and top growing sites were mostly immune.

To my palate, the 2010 Barbaresco was fantastic. It had all the hallmarks of the great wines from this cooperative winery (which I collect religiously): acidity, clarity of fruit, minerality, and distinctive Langa traits (mushroom, earth, and rose petal). Not quite as great as the 2008 but a wine that will be well represented in my cellar.

We may never now why the consortium of growers at Produttori del Barbaresco decided to bottle only a cuvée for the 2010 vintage. But in my view, it’s a blessing.

As much as I love (and collect) the single-vineyard bottlings (Asili, Rabajà, and Montestefano are my favorites), the cuvée is nearly always the wine I find the most compelling. Where the cru enjoy privilege of site and can often excel anomalously thanks to its isolation in a challenging vintage, the cuvée is an expression of the appellation as a whole.

I loved the 2010 and am entirely geeked that I will be able to afford to “put down” more than one case in my cellar.

nathan smith wine houstonAbove: Nathan Smith is not only the wine director at Dolce Vita. He’s also a musoid.

Thinking about that excellent dinner at Dolce Vita, I have to give a shout out to my buddy Nathan, who’s become one of my good friends since Tracie P, the girls, and I moved to Houston in February of this year.

He’s an Italophile wine lover like me. But he’s also a musoid, a musician’s musican. I finally convinced him to bring his axe over to my house and play on one of my songs.

He took the track to an entirely new level and we had a blast recording together. He’s super cool and he’s one of the top wine pros in our town.

An East Texas high school reunion

in the poolJust had to share some pics and notes from our Saturday night: for the first time since Georgia P was born, we spent a night away from the girls and attended Tracie P’s twentieth high school reunion.

That’s Tracie in the photo above, far left.

She grew up in Orange, Texas, attending West Orange-Stark High School. But the event was held at L’Auberge Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana, about forty minutes east of Orange by car from her hometown.

It was super fun…

Continue reading

Counterfeit wine scandal: who are the real victims?

italian wine scandalAbove: we see through a glass bottle but darkly.

More than seven months have passed since Rudy Kurniawan became the first person to be convicted of wine fraud in the U.S.

The story first broke in December 2009, when my friends and colleagues Peter Hellman and Mitch Frank began reporting it for Wine Spectator.

(Here’s the Rudy Kurniawan entry on Wikipedia.)

It’s not entirely clear to me why the story has begun popping up again on a wide variety of media platforms. A few weeks ago, I inadvertently stumbled upon an evening “news” show, on a major broadcast network, that devoted an entire segment to it. And just yesterday, I heard yet another story about it on one of my favorite public radio programs.

My suspicion is that this new “news cycle” on a stale story was borne out of a short Associated Press article on a wine counterfeiting ring in Italy that appeared at the end of May of this year. It was followed by two sensationalist reports, both by major mastheads, that erroneously linked the Italian story to Kurniawan.

Until all hell broke loose this month in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, there were no new major stories for the major mastheads to cover. It’s that time of year when the “summertime blues” takes over — the so-called “silly season” — and editors and producers search desperately for stories to report. Ultimately, less-than-newsworthy coverage rises to the surface (the Kurniawan reports are typical of this; the story hasn’t been “news” for more than a half of a year).

I’m deeply saddened by this.

Not because I feel bad for Kurniawan. Everyone I know who’s ever met the guy says he’s a real jerk.

Nor do I feel bad for Bill Koch, the billionaire who crusaded to put Kurniawan behind bars. Koch was featured, btw, in both of the stories (TV and radio) that I mention above.

Please click here to continue reading my post today for the Boulder wine Merchant.

Buon weekend, yall!

What Mayor De Blasio ate & drank yesterday in Sant’Agata de’ Goti

blasio italy menuYou may remember my post from January of this year on the label that winemaker Paola Mustilli created especially for NYC Mayor De Blasio.

In Paola’s words, “my dreams came true” when Hizzoner visited Sant’Agata de’ Goti yesterday and enjoyed a meal in the home of the town’s mayor, Carmine Valentino. The menu was created by chef Federico Petti, a native of Sant’Agata de’ Goti who currently works in Pavia.

That’s the Bill de Blasio label, above.

The Times covered the mayor’s spectacular “homecoming” here.

Mayor De Blasio’s grandfather was born there and “Sant’Agata remains at the core of Mr. de Blasio’s self-identity,” the paper of record reports. “It was a visit to the town as a teenager that prompted him to embrace his mother’s Italian heritage, at a time when his father’s alcoholism was tearing the family apart.”

Luciano Pignataro posted notes and more photos from the meal on his blog today.

And I just had to share this image and the menu (which Paola sent to me this morning).

mayor menu sant agata goti

Colfondo trademark owner Drusian says he will give the designation to Prosecco consortia

“Colfondo” trademark owner Francesco Drusian appears poised to give the designation to the Prosecco DOCG consortia, according to a report published today by the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

“After twelve years,” writes Intravino contributor Giovanni Corazzol, “Drusian has expressed his willingness to give the trademark to the two consortia [Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Montello-Colli Asolani]. The consortia will safeguard the trademark and they will incorporate the production method into their appellation regulations. By doing so, they will bring clarity to a field threatened by low-quality products that have been created using illicit means, often outside the DOCG area and often with different grapes.”

At present, the Prosecco DOCG (which applies to both consortia) recognizes and allows for Prosecco re-fermented in bottle as a sanctioned category. But the appellation regulations do not mention nor regulate the designation colfondo.

News of Drusian’s willingness to share the trademark arrived during a Prosecco producers conference organized in Valdobbiadene township last week by Turin university wine law professor Michele Antonio Fino.

Today, the editors of Intravino also shared Fino’s slides, including the following, which addresses the issue of how the term colfondo is used liberally by winemakers and even beer and wine-cooler producers outside of the Prosecco DOCG where it originated.

The Franciacorta designation Satén, created by the Bellavista winery and then given to the appellation’s consortium, offers a precedent, writes Fino.

Click here to continue reading my post today for the Bele Casel blog.