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…

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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.

Chianti deserves better

In other Sangiovese news, please have a look at the new video by Fattoria dei Barbi owner Stefano Cinelli Colombini on the (short) history of Montalcino. Italian wine trade observers will note a few lacunae and the self-promotion is front and center. But the historic and contextual insight will surely surprise even the most jaded among Italian wine insiders and the production value is excellent (the film was produced by Cricket Productions in the UK).

wine folly best blogWine Folly is one of my favorite wine blogs.

It’s well written and beautifully composed. Its posts are informed and informative. And its entertaining entries always seem to hit the right balance of neophyte accessibility and street cred.

It’s in my Feedly and I often recommend it to newly minted wine lovers who ask me which wine blogs they should follow as they dive into the world of fine wine.

When I saw “A Poster Shows What’s Inside Famous Wine Blends” in my Feedly, I was eager to check it out.

But you can imagine my disappointment and dismay when I read the entry for the primary grapes in Chianti: “Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, others.”

(For the record, the traditional grape varieties in Chianti are Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Colorino. A wide range of “authorized” international grape varieties are also allowed. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most commonly used, especially in American-geared, international-style expressions of the appellation.)

I remain a loyal fan of Wine Folly and will continue to recommend the site. And I don’t blame the editors for this (sadly egregious) oversight.

chianti black roosterIn my view, the blame lies with a bottlers consortium that creates marketing campaigns like the one above.

Translated, the Italian copy above reads: “let yourself be seduced by the black rooster.”

The recently launched campaign hinges on a new tasting room in Radda in Chianti, “The House of Chianti Classico.”

Awkward English aside, this new “Chianti Classico center” is to be host to events, tastings, and seminars. (The English- and Italian-language calendars don’t seem to align and the site loads in different ways depending on whether or not the host sees your browser as English-speaking or not. It’s all very confusing and clumsy.)

If the ludicrous nature of this campaign isn’t immediately apparent, here’s what a Tuscan wine trade veteran wrote about it on the Italian-language blog Accademia degli Alterati (translation mine).

“We have a sense of humor,” noted Raffaella Guidi Federzoni. “We’re still applying ourselves to that end and every once in a while we make a great leap forward, as in this case.”

“Let’s hope that it doesn’t happen again. Let’s hope that for a wine and appellation like Chianti Classico, future campaigns are modern, yes, but not laughable.”

The powers-that-be at the Chianti Classico consortium really need to step up their game and take their marketing seriously.

Otherwise, who can blame the editors of a well-intentioned and otherwise well-informed site for such a grave misrepresentation of one of the world’s greatest wines?

See also Alfonso’s post on the misogynist tone of the Chianti campaign, “Sex and the Cittadella.”

Through a glass but darkly: notes on the recent New Yorker post on how expectations shape impressions of wine

My July 18 for the Boulder Wine Merchant…

best wine photographyAbove: isn’t that a super groovy wine photo? It’s by one of my favorite Texas wine bloggers, OurSommLife.

Earlier this week, New Yorker magazine psychology and science blogger Maria Konnikova published a post devoted to “what we really taste when we taste wine.”

The post was inspired by a recent “live-action” experiment by Columbia University neuroscientist Daniel Salzman.

“His premise,” explains Konnikova, “is that no event or object is ever experienced in perfect, objective isolation. It is instead subject to our past experiences, our current mood, our expectations, and any number of incidental details—an annoying neighbor, a waiter who keeps banging your chair, a beautiful painting in your line of sight. With something like wine, all sorts of societal and personal complications come into play, as well. We worry, for example, about whether our taste is ‘good.’”

Early Christian philosopher Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.) wrote extensively (and some would say definitively) about this very issue when he described the role of memory in human sensation. He arrived at Salzman’s same conclusion. But that’s neither here nor there.

“Expectations,” writes Konnikova:

    can influence our experience in two interrelated ways. There is the conscious influence, or those things we are knowingly aware of: I’ve had this wine before and liked or hated it; I’ve been to this vineyard; I love this grape; the color reminds me of a wine I had earlier that was delicious. As our experience grows, so do our expectations. Every time we have a wine, we taste everything we know about it and other related wines. Then there are the unconscious factors: the weather is getting on our nerves, or our dining companion is; we’ve loved or hated this restaurant before; I’m mad at my boss over something he said this morning; the music is too loud, and the room is too cold. These can all affect taste, too, even though they are unrelated to the wine itself.

(Please do read Konnikova’s insightful account of participating in the experiment.)

The blog post was widely read last week in the U.S. fine wine community and the link found its way to my inbox via more than one e-list and RSS feed.

As I read it, I couldn’t help but think about something that American visitors to Italy often tell me: the wine just tasted so much better when I was in Italy. That observation is almost always followed by inquiry: why is that? and do the Italians simply keep the good wines for themselves?

The answer to the first question, especially in the light of Konnikova’s experience, is simple. When you’re on vacation in Italy, you’re probably (and hopefully) more relaxed; ideally, you are more well rested; you’re likely sharing the experience with someone you care about and feel close to; you’re surrounded by Italy’s natural and human-made beauty; you might even be getting laid.

But there’s an even more important element. In Italy (or France or Spain, for that matter), you’re probably eating more wholesome foods that have been prepared as part of a more balanced diet. You’re also pairing foods and wines that have been paired together — organically and thoughtfully — for generations. And ultimately, you’re not having a breakfast burrito in the morning, Mongolian beef for lunch, and “Italian” for dinner: if you’re dining well in Europe, you ought to be enjoying meals inspired by local agriculture and local culinary tradition.

Now, don’t get me wrong. By no means am I saying that the one or other approach to daily dining is better or worse. Personally, I like it both ways.

But the more “holistic” approach that you find at your favorite agritursimo (farm house restaurant/tavern) in Italy does make the wine taste better because the wine is consumed in a more organic (and perhaps more restful) context and environment.

The answer to the second question (do the Italians keep the good wine for themselves?) is more complicated.

It’s not that they keep the good stuff for themselves (although the Italian wine trade, like that of any nation, including our own, is inevitably driven more by profit than by altruism). The fact of the matter is that Italians prefer wines with lower alcohol, lighter body, and higher acidity. In enogastronomic context, those wines simply tend to taste better to most people — especially when they are tasted with no pretense or social pressure.

Aaaaaaaa… social pressure. Wine is, after all, a social experience (unless you drink alone).

“After the impressions and scores on our cards had been tallied and analyzed,” writes Konnikova, “it was time to reveal the ratings. I was nervous, since I knew I would have to report back on my accuracy.”

If there’s one thing I’d like to impart to readers through my blogging (and I am confident that Master Sommelier and Boulder Wine Merchant owner Brett Zimmerman would agree with me 100 percent), it’s that we should evaluate and appreciate wine within the personal and idiosyncratic context when/where it is tasted. If poolside under the hot Louisiana sun (as I hope to be next weekend), I’d probably give a light bright, 11 percent alcohol Moschofilero from Greece a 90+ score. If celebrating my birthday in the middle of summer (as I always do and recently did do), I’m going to drink a better-suited-for-autumnal-temperatures Barolo (which I did) because by golly, it’s my birthday.

Salzman and Konnikova are telling us the same thing that Augustine revealed some 1,600 years ago. And it’s as relevant now as it was then.

As you ponder the wine that you will drink with someone you love this weekend, the important thing to remember is that wine is good if it tastes good to you.

@VinoRoma: someone you should follow if you’re into Italian wine & food (via @CanteleWines)

vino roma hande leimerAbove, from left: Paolo Cantele, Hande Leimer, and Theodor Leimer, outside the Cantele winery in Guagnano, Lecce province (image via Hande’s Facebook).

I had a lot of fun this morning writing this profile of Hande Leimer and her husband Theo for the CanteleUSA blog.

If you’re into Italian wine and food, I know you’ll find her posts to be as compelling as I do.

Here’s the link. Buona lettura!

Song of mine on Guillermo del Toro’s new show “The Strain” this Sunday

les sans culottesWord from my agent in LA arrived yesterday afternoon: a song I co-wrote and co-produced, “Sa Sabine,” will appear this Sunday on the pilot for a new show, “The Strain,” written and directed by Guillermo del Toro for FX.

I wrote the music for the song (one of my favorites) back when I was living in Brooklyn and gigging with my then-band, Les Sans Culottes (above). It came out on our album, “Faux Realism,” in 2002 (Aeronaut).

At the time, our breakthrough song hadn’t happened yet. In 2003, we sold a song from an earlier recording to a major ad campaign by Hewlett Packard. The spot — played in primetime during the World Series that year and beyond — gave us the bandwidth and exposure that made us a nationally known act.

We were a Brooklyn favorite and we headlined regularly at venues like the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan.

It was a crazy and crazy-fun time in my life: I had been working in New York as a freelance writer and copywriter for a few years by then and I was writing, playing, and recording music by night (and not just with the French band).

I can’t share the song here because of copyright issues. But if you want to check out the original recording (which was made on two-inch tape — yes! — in a studio in pre-gentrification Bushwick), you’ll find it on all the usual platforms (iTunes, Amazon, etc.).

When we mixed it, we used a technique developed by engineer Eddie Kramer on Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis: Bold as Love.”

After we made an initial mix of the track, we played part of it back slightly out of sync with the original, thus creating a “phaser” effect that gives that section of the song an otherworldly sound (otherwise known as the “spaceship” or “doobie” effect).

I make a decent living by writing about Italian gastronomy and culture and have nothing to complain about. Life’s been good to me so far (je suis j’étais un rock star).

But selling one of my songs and knowing that my music is still out there is one of the greatest rewards of my professional life.

Thanks for listening.

The pilot for “The Strain” airs Sunday night at 10 p.m. EST on FX.