The Grapes at Zenbu (La Jolla) Thurs. Sept. 2

August 20, 2010

Just a quick post this busy Friday morning to let ya’ll know that my band The Grapes will be playing in La Jolla at one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Zenbu.

We’ll be rocking some old-school Americana, roots, and blues, with a touch of British invasion — featuring my BFF John Yelenosky on his fav Kinks tunes and me on my fav Beatles. Justin Richert, another high school buddy, will be sitting in on lap steel (!!!).

The show is free and the sushi can’t be beat…

Hope to see you there!

Buon weekend, ya’ll!

Earthquake (!), pre-Prohibition cocktails and the Grapes perform tonight

July 8, 2010

Above: The pre-Prohibition cocktails at the newly opened Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, San Diego calmed my nerves after a 5.4 magnitude quake!

The San Diego Kid (that’s me) arrived in San Diego from Austin, Texas yesterday only to be greeted by a magnitude 5.4 earthquake. Having grown up here, I’m relatively accustomed to such natural occurrences but the young man helping me at the rental car desk nearly pooped in his pants. Luckily, pre-Prohibition cocktails awaited me at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town, San Diego (where my friend and colleague @ChezSheila had just launched her newest project).

Above: The San Diego Kid fit right in with the Old Town 19th-century reenactors (no joke!). Note the first appearance of my Nudie boots.

If you happen to find yourself north of the border tonight, come check out the debut performance of The Grapes at one my favorite sushi destinations, Zenbu, tonight at 9. It should be quite a scene…

In other news…

The Do Bianchi Wine Selections Hard-to-Find Friuli Six-Pack is now available, featuring the wines of Scarpetta (Bobby Stuckey’s winery in northeastern Italy). Click here to read about why Tracie P and I like these wines, made by an American in Italy, so much…

Debut of my new band THE GRAPES (and New England giant bluefin tuna)

June 22, 2010

From the “man cannot live by wine alone” department…

Above: The Grapes, me on guitar and vox, Andrew Harvey drums, John Yelenosky guitar and vox, and Jon Erickson bass and vox. We’ll be playing our first gig in La Jolla on Thursday July 8.

We named our new country-rock band “The Grapes” after the legendary Liverpool pub where the Beatles used to hang out (Vinogirl can verify this).

We’ll be performing for the first time at one of my favorite sushi restaurants in the world, Zenbu in La Jolla on Thursday July 8.

Above: When I visited Zenbu the other night, owners Matt and Jackie Rimel (high school friends of mine) shared some lightly seared New England giant blue fin tuna belly with me. All of the fishes are fished individually by harpoon, Matt told me, so as not to harm dolphins. Matt is one of the most interesting dudes I know in the restaurant business and has hunted and fished and surfed all over the world. Zenbu is a unique sushi experience. Tracie P and me love it.

We’ll be bringing a little country music to the Pacific Coast with some tunes by Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm and the Tex Mex Trip, Gram Parsons (de rigueur), and some rockers like Tony Joe White’s Polk Salad Annie.

I hope you can join us. There might even be some interesting bottles of wine being opened that night!

In other news…

Did I mention that I’ve wanted to be a cowboy all my life? Found this photo while visiting mama Judy in La Jolla over the weekend (taken at Hebrew school in Chicago).

Nature’s violent beauty in Tuscany & a Chianti to remember

April 5, 2014

wine documentary tuscany

Yesterday found me in Sant’Angelo in Colle at the Tenuta il Poggione, producer of one of my favorite expressions of Brunello di Montalcino.

My good friend and mentor Francesco Bonfio (left) had asked me to appear with him in a short film that will be part of a new installation at his wine shop’s new location in Siena (as part of the historic Nannini pastry shop in the city’s center).

green tuscany

It was incredible to drive through the preternaturally green Tuscan countryside on our way from Siena to Montalcino.

Unusually warm temperatures, a lack of colder temperatures, and high amounts of rainfall have brought spring early here.

That’s the view from the dining room at Il Poggione where we shot yesterday.

As beautiful as it is, the vibrant color doesn’t bode well for the vintage: if the growing cycle isn’t decelerated, the grapes won’t have sufficient time to ripen as slowly as winemakers would like.

But as one winemaker noted this week in Chianti Classico, the story has yet to be written and things could change from one day to the next.

what difference between prawn scampi

Francesco and his lovely wine Marina treated me to dinner at the excellent Ristorante Casalta in Monteriggioni, where Chef Lazzaro Cimadoro and his wife Barbara also run a great little hotel.

Many Americans think that Tuscan cuisine is centered solely around pork and beef, but the seafood here is always abundant: Cecina, on the Tuscan coast, lies just an hour and a half away by car.

best chianti siena

The biggest treat of the evening, beyond the food and lively conversation, was Francesco’s last bottle of Federico Bonfio Chianti from the 1983 vintage.

Man, this wine was light and bright and right on, with gorgeously balanced alcohol and acidity. Francesco and I paired with delicious roast squab. The fruit in this baby sang.

Today, I’m headed to Brescia where I’ll be staying during Vinitaly (and commuting to the fair).

More enogastronomic adventure to come. But not before I stop off for a brief visit near Bologna to perform a mitzvah.

Stay tuned…

“The biggest human effect on terroir is ego”: tasting outside my tribe @PasternakWine

March 13, 2014

beauvenir nerthe

Above: all of the wines in the Pasternak Prestige Portfolio tasting yesterday in Chicago were spectacular. But La Nerthe’s 2009 Clos de Beauvenir is the one I can’t stop thinking about today. A rich blend of Roussanne and Clairette, the wine showed nuanced but intensely focused layers of dried and fresh stone fruit. What a wine!

At last week’s Design Bloggers Conference in Atlanta, my friend Adam Japko delivered a brilliant talk on “moving outside of your tribe.”

When interacting solely within your own tribe, Adam explained, you don’t push yourself toward a new awareness of your potential.

And so, when the marketing team at Pasternak Wines asked me to come up to Chicago to do some live social media from their Prestige Portfolio tasting, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to gaze beyond my comfort zone.

Read the rest of this entry »

Antonio Mastroberardino, father of Campania fine wine movement, has died at age 86

January 29, 2014

1968 Mastroberardino Taurasi

Above: a bottle of Mastroberardino 1968 Taurasi, considered by many one of the appellation’s greatest vintages, tasted in May 2013.

Today, the world of wine mourns the loss of Antonio Mastroberardino, who died yesterday in Campania at age 86.

He was widely considered the father of fine winemaking in Campania and his decision to replant indigenous grapes after the second world war redefined the fine wine movement in his own region and beyond.

“In 1945,” wrote Neapolitan journalist and wine writer Luciano Pignataro on his blog today, “Irpinia’s great viticultural district, which quenched Italy’s thirst in the 1920s, was practically non-existent [destroyed by the arrival of phylloxera in the 1930s]. Together with his brothers Angelo and Walter, he began again to make wine. But it was he who decided the contents: Fiano, Greco, and Aglianico.

“His decision to remain faithful to the grapes of his forbearers was a stubborn one, rooted in his Irpinian mountain origins. It seemed out of fashion in the 1960s, when agricultural inspectors were pushing growers to plant more prolific Italian grapes: Trebbiano, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and even Barbera.”

In the 1990s, Mastroberardino launched the Villa dei Misteri project, a viticultural and archeological quest to grow grapes in Pompeii using DNA culled from ancient artifacts and techniques described by the ancient agronomist Columella.

It was just one of the many initiatives that helped to reshape and revitalize Campania winemaking as we know it today.

The many fine wines now produced there — and in particular, the myriad expressions of Aglianico — are inexorably linked to his legacy and passion as a grape grower and winemaker.

Antoni sit tibi terra levis.

Op-ed: “It’s time for Chianti Classico subzones,” says Roberto Stucchi

January 10, 2014

chianti subzones

Above: a geological survey of the Chianti Classico DOCG was presented by a group of leading grape growers and winemakers in Florence in December, 2013.

Yesterday, Italian wine writer and wine professional Andrea Gori published his notes from a Chianti Classico subzone held in Florence in early December 2013.

(Even if you don’t speak Italian, I highly recommend watching this video, included in Andrea’s post, in which enologist Maurizio Castelli — “heir to the Giulio Gambelli legacy,” as Andrea calls him — presents his overview of Chianti and its subzones.)

The conference, organized by Sangiovese activist Davide Bonucci, was as controversial as it was significant.

Many in the Chianti DOC oppose subzoning and even though the list of presenters included some of the appellation’s top names (Maurizio Castelli, Niccolò Montecchi, Roberto Stucchi, Sebastiano Capponi, Tommaso Marrochesi Marzi), the Chianti Classico consortium was loudly absent from the proceedings.

Yesterday, winemaker Roberto Stucchi sent me the following essay.


The Evolution of Chianti Classico
by Roberto Stucchi

The time has arrived for Chianti Classico to evolve towards its natural future, by recognizing, describing, and communicating (and possibly regulating) the local communal and village appellations that compose this beautiful territory.

This zone is too large and diverse to remain locked in the current DOCG regulations, which make no distinction between the extremely diverse expressions of Sangiovese in its original territory.

The first natural level of evolution above the simple “Chianti Classico” appellation would be naming the Comune [township] of origin of the grapes for wines that truly represent their territory.

Read the rest of this entry »

Taking proactive role, Valpolicella Consortium announces grape seizure by authorities

November 24, 2013

valpolicella consortium

Above: Yesterday, the Valpolicella Consortium took the unusual step of posting a Facebook note that addressed an unfolding wine adulteration scandal in the appellation (image via the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella Facebook).

The following statement was posted yesterday by the Valpolicella Consortium on its Facebook (in Italian and English). It addresses the recent seizure of 80 metric tonnes of unauthorized grapes in the appellation by the NAS (the Nuclei Antisofisticazione e Sanità, the Anti-Adulteration and Health Protection Services of the Carabinieri, the Italian government national police force).

In an unusual step for an Italian grape grower and winemaker association, the consortium is evidently attempting to “get ahead of the story.”


Following the seizure of red grapes by the Food department of the Padua police service, Christian Marchesini, President of the Consorzio Valpolicella, declares the move as “supporting the Consortium’s policy of quality.”

San Pietro in Cariano, November 23, 2013 — Following the news that the Food department of the Padua police service [editor's note: NAS] seized 80 tonnes of red grapes purchased from wineries outside the Valpolicella today, the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella clarifies that the winery accused of such fraud is not a member of the consortium nor is it part of the training and information on quality control in that the consortium carries out for its members. The grapes seized in Tregnago (part of the Valpolicella DOC area) were scheduled to be used in the production of Valpolicella appellation wines without fulfilling the prerequisites stated under the production regulations (i.e., to be grown in the Valpolicella DOC area). The consortium was aware that the winery involved was under surveillance by the controlling body Siquria SPA.

“Interventions like today’s carried out by the NAS (Food department of the Police service) based on information provided by our control agency Siquria SPA,” said President of the Consorzio Valpolicella Christian Marchesini, “are necessary and in line with the Consortium’s policy of consumer protection and control of members. Paradoxically, many of the problems linked to falsification in the Valpolicella appellation are created by the quality and the excellence that can be found in this area that pushes those who don’t have the right, to create wines illegally. Never has it been so apparent that the activity of controls in the vineyards and the fruit drying lofts carried out by the controlling body is indispensable and supports the Consortium’s role and efforts to promote and protect the appellations.”

Special thanks to Alfonso Cevola who brought the Facebook post to my attention. Check out Alfonso’s excellent post and reporting of the JFK commemoration Friday in Dallas, Texas.

Vitizens of the Universe unite: @RandallGrahm interview

October 31, 2013

Randall Grahm

Randall Grahm (above) needs no introduction from me. He’s one of the greatest authors, grape growers, and winemakers of our generation and he’s also one of the most lovely and fascinating personages I’ve ever had the opportunity to know. His erudition, humanity, and love of paronomasia are models for my own writing and I was thrilled that he agreed to do the following interview with me.

Randall will be pouring and talking about his wines at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I co-author the wine list) on Thursday, November 7 (6:30-7:30 p.m. and then talking tableside during the first dinner seating).

Registration is not yet online but you can snag a seat by emailing

I’ll be speaking at the Cantele tasting at the restaurant tomorrow night with my good friend winemaker Paolo Cantele. There are just a few spots left for our event. Please click here for registration and info.

Buona lettura! Happy reading!

DB: Last week, you tweeted the following: “The reality is Biodynamics cannot be explained scientifically.Yet empirically it works, ergo a practical solution.”

Can you talk about the blurred line between science and the “mystery” of biodynamics? Will we ever have an explanation of why it works? And what is spirituality’s role in biodynamics in America? What prompted the tweet?

RG: The tweet was prompted by Corby Kummer’s post on biodynamics, as he attempted to demystify the practice. As you know, there are still a lot of people who are utterly freaked out by the idea of drinking biodynamic wines, putatively made by superstitious, voodoo-practicing grape growers. I am not a psychologist, but there is something about biodynamic practice – maybe it’s the fact that these people are ingesting the final product in their bodies – that creates a sort of fear of contamination for them, or maybe they fear that they themselves might begin acting irrationally. It’s seemingly crazy – why should people be threatened by the fact that a grower is not applying synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to his plants? – but there you go. I’m fairly certain that we will not have an explanation of why biodynamics works in our lifetime. Western science has not yet really gotten a handle on the notion of subtle energetic forces – I think this may have to wait till the 22nd century. Of course there have been and are a number of theoretical physicists who speak to the correlation of spirituality and science, but they are still pretty marginalized. There is certainly a major taboo among scientists to broach the idea of spirituality; it would appear to fly in the face of the scientific method. But spirituality is really at the core of biodynamics; many practitioners will deny this, hoping not to scare away potential customers. But to really practice biodynamics properly, there is the need to do quite a bit of internal work. (I’m not a very rigorous practitioner in that regard, but aspire to some day be.)

You were among the first U.S. winemakers to list all the ingredients of your wines on the label. What feedback have you seen? Are other winemakers following your lead? Do you envision a day when all wines will be labeled like this?

Read the rest of this entry »

Harvest at the end of the earth: Vulture dispatch

October 23, 2013

Please click here for info/details on my upcoming tasting events in the west, Nov. 1, 2, and 5.


“The grapes are very healthy and we’re looking forward to an excellent harvest,” writes my good friend Filena Ruppi, the better half of the Donato d’Angelo winery in Vulture (Basilicata), producer of one of my favorite expressions of Aglianico.

“As you can see, we are returning to the classic harvest times for Aglianico at the end of October.”

Like many grape growers, Donato and Filena are harvesting nearly two weeks later than they have in recent years. Across Italy, growers have reported that this harvest reminds them of the pre-climate change era.

They began harvesting this week (see image above).

donato dangelo

When I recently visited the Tenuta Il Poggione in Montalcino, one of the writers on the trip asked winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci what Italian appellation showed the most promise in terms of fine wine production.

Without missing a beat, he responded Aglianico del Vulture.

At Sotto in Los Angeles, where I co-author the wine list, we do great work with Aglianico del Vulture, including Filena and Donato’s but also a number of fantastic producers (Musto Carmelitano, Carbone, Fucci among them) and I love the wines.

Filena has just been elected the president of the Basilicata chapter of the Movimento Tursimo del Vino (Italy’s Wine Tourism Council) and I’m thrilled to see her breathe some life into this often forgotten wine tourism destination.

When Tracie P and I drove across Vulture last September, with little Georgia P in the back seat, we felt like we were at the end of the earth: the black and gold striations of the stark but beautiful landscape make it feel otherworldly. It’s no surprise that Pasolini filmed certain sequences of his life of Christ there (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964).

mt vulture

That’s a photo of Mount Vulture I took last year.

And below is a wonderful photo that Tracie P snapped.

And with this dispatch from Filena, sent from the end of the earth, it would seem that the 2013 harvest in Italy has come to an end…

scorched earth rare earth


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