An Italian wine cellar grows in Austin at Italic

best pizza austin texasAbove: the soppressata and taleggio pizza at Italic, Austin’s latest Italian entry.

Tuesday found me in Austin where I finally got to eat at Italic, the latest Italian-concept to open there and just one of the seemingly countless new Italians to open or to launch before year’s end.

The wine director Master Sommelier Craig Collins is a good friend from our years in the River City. He started my party off with a bottle of Lambrusco di Sorbara and expertly sliced prosciutto, a thoughtful pairing and a lovely gesture (especially because, and I just have to say this one more time, the prosciutto was sliced perfectly).

His list there is fantastic, with a focus on indigenous grape varieties and a balanced selection of northern, central, and southern. That alone was enough to make me a fan: It’s great to see southern wines well represented at restaurants like this, where the marketing target is generation Z. I love to think about how current UT students might wash down their pizza with Aglianico instead of the predictable and unavoidable stainless-steel Merlot from Tuscany that you see so often by-the-glass in pseudo-Italians today.

But thing that really blew me away about his program wasn’t the current offering but the wines that weren’t on the list.

Before we sat down, Craig gave our party a tour of his 1,000+ reserve cellar, chock full with Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico that he’s aging. He has laid down a serious allocation of 2010 wines and he plans to start opening them a few years from now.

“I’m going to do 2010 Produttori del Barbaresco [classic] Barbaresco by-the-glass,” he told us, “just because I want people to experienced what aged Nebbiolo tastes like.”

Beyond New York, it’s rare that you find programs where directors are cellaring wines like these.

So for me, the thought that someone like Craig is holding back these wines in a youth-oriented market like Austin gives me confidence that a new generation of Italian wine lovers will emerge there.

And that’s good news for all of us, across the board, from Italian winemakers and purveyors of Italian wines to Italian wine consumers.

Italic is a big restaurant located in the heart of downtown Austin on 6th street not far from music row. When I moved there in 2008, no one could imagine such an ambitious Italian restaurant and wine list in one of our nation’s party-hardy epicenters. Today, this sleek joint packs ’em in and plies them with pasta, pizza pies, and Frappato.

Bring it on, Craig! I love your program. Chapeau bas, my friend! It’s great to know that an Italian cellar grows in Austin.

italians austin texasAbove: a little Texas hospitality outside Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, where they still deliver the righteous country jams.

After dinner, I just had to take my clients, Giovanni (above, left) and Francesco Minetti (right) to Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, one of me and Tracie P’s favorites honky tonks from our years in Austin.

That’s Tracie Lynn (above, center), one of the Live Music Capital of the World’s standbys. She and a super smoking band delivered a bitchin’ set of country standards.

Super fun night and after her last set (yes, we stayed to close the place), she meet-and-greeted fans outside the club in classic country fashion.

When she learned that it was Giovanni and Francesco’s first time in Texas, she insisted on gifting them CDs!

The guys had a blast (as did I) and afterward, I couldn’t help but say to them, adding a double-shot of irony for the road: “visting Texas? I’m so sorry…”

All wine and no jams make me a dull boy: Tonecraft rocks my home recording world

Happy May Day!

tonecraft bass preEven though my band Nous Non Plus hasn’t been performing or recording lately, I still keep my chops up by writing and tracking my own songs. It’s something that I enjoy immensely and it’s also a way — you’ve seen as much if you visit here regularly — to get our daughters into music.

The professional music and audio world often overlaps with the wine and food world. Off the top of my head, I could name many more than a handful of winemakers and restaurateurs who all played (and continue to play) music professionally or semi-professionally.

My good friend Jon Erickson isn’t just one of the best bass players I’ve ever met and the co-owner of one of my favorite San Diego restaurants, Jaynes Gastropub.

He’s also — and I’m not exaggerating by any means here — a legendary audio designer. In other words, he designs audio devices that are used in the recording arts. The Pacifica microphone pre-amp, an industry benchmark, is arguably his most famous patent.

His newest entry is the Tonecraft All-Tube Direct Input Preamplifier. And I have the great fortune to own one (above) thanks to a wine barter he and I did a few months ago!
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Wine glasses that sing and sexual chemistry in wine pairing coupling for V-Day

pizza champagne pornAbove: a little soft gooey porn to get your Valentine’s Day weekend started off on the right slurp.

First of all: happy Valentine’s Day weekend, everyone!

I had a lot of fun with my post today for the Boulder Wine Merchant: “Sexual chemistry matters: Valentine’s Day wine couplings.”

This year, put some sexual chemistry into your V-Day wine pairing.

glass harp michael andrews composer musicianAbove: while in LA this week, I got to play a glass harp.

Secondly, check out the video below of my friend Mike Andrews’ glass harp (you know Mike’s music from his career as a film composer and music producer; his break-out score was the sound track to the 2001 film Donnie Darko).

Mike is a collector of vintage instruments and it’s always a wonderful experience to visit his studio in Glendale.

But listening to him play and then getting to play his glass harp, the latest addition to his collection, was truly magical. We paired it with a bottle of Cirelli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Anfora that I swiped from Sotto (wine directors get to do that, btw).

Happy Valentine’s Day weekend, everyone! Squeeze and hold your loved one tight tomorrow. And remember what a blessing it is to live in this world, to love, and to be loved.

Serge Hochar of Musar will be sorely missed

best photo of serge hocharThere’s not a lot that I can add to the many wonderful tributes that have been published since Lebanese winemaker Serge Hochar (above) died last week in Mexico.

See Eric Asimov’s obituary for the New York Times.

See also Jancis Robinson’s post, where she describes a visit to Musar in September of 1980 at the height of the Lebanese civil war.

I had the good fortune to meet Serge on a number of occasions, including our first encounter at Aspen Food & Wine back in 2008, where I was writing a story for a trade publication.

The photo above was taken at a party in a suite at the Ritz Carlton Aspen reserved by importer Domaine Select who represented the wines in the U.S. [Broadbent is the U.S. importer, I’ve been told since I posted this.]

It’s not the greatest photo but it does capture his ability to command a room’s attention to the convivial delight of all those present.

You can read about his unrivaled charisma, his indefatigable presence on the international wine scene, and his (inmho) superb wines in the myriad profiles published since news of his passing broke (just Google him).

But the one thing that many have overlooked is the fact that Serge didn’t just travel to top markets to sell his wines.

As early as 2011, before Texas and the Texsom conference had established themselves as mandatory stops on the wine sales routes, he was here, working the marketing and the crowds with the ease and grace that only he could muster so readily. (See this post by Alfonso Cevola on his Texsom tasting.)

I’ll never forget when, in 2012, Master Sommlier Drew Hendricks, then wine director for the swank petroleum-crowd Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, added a vertical of Musar to his list. Stretching back to 1967, it was an unlikely addition to the otherwise big-hitter, mostly Napa Cab and Bordeaux selection there.

I wrote about it for the Houston Press here.

And that’s the thing about Serge that I’d like to add here.

When he visited places like Texas, he didn’t come solely to sell his wines (and in fact, his wines didn’t really sell that well at Pappas, at least according to one young sommelier I spoke to at the time).

He came to make young wine professionals feel special and to help them understand that they were members of a greater, broader, and wonderfully dynamic international wine community.

He taught young people that wine was a gateway to a deeper awareness of the world and that it can bring them into contact with people, like Serge, who will enrich their lives not just through wine but by means of culture and knowledge. After all, that’s the greatest thing, to my mind, about working in and with wine.

Sit tibi terra levis Sergie.

In other sad news…

Today, the sensuous world also mourns the loss of another larger-than-life figure, Pino Daniele, the great Neapolitan guitar player and songwriter, who fused Campanian music with jazz, blues, and Latin rhythms.

He shaped a generation of Italian rock, jazz, and pop musicians. And he was one of the most influential Italian artists to crossover into the international music scene in the latter half of the twentieth century.

I really love his music and know he will be missed by so many of my friends in Italy, in Campania and beyond.

My good friend Anna Cortese, who was born and raised on the island of Ischia (Naples province), posted the below photo on her Facebook this morning.

pino daniele concert

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.

Scenes from the “Pasolini in Rome” show at the Cinémathèque Française

Comrade Howard graciously sent me these images from the current “Pasolini in Rome” exhibition at the Cinémathèque Française where he toured the show last week with the museum’s director.

It runs through January 26.

La poésie, la politique, le sexe, l’amitié, le cinéma… The stuff that life is made of.

The track “Pasolini” in the slideshow comes from my band Nous Non Plus’ release Le sexe et la politique (Terrible Kids Music 2012).


Fascinated by Neapolitan music

pulcinella orchestra

Above: A Pulcinella orchestra. Image via ho visto nina volare.

Gearing up for my friend and client Tony Vallone’s sold-out Neapolitan event this week, I’ve been studying Neapolitan music and writing my own compositions.

It’s become a bit of a rabbit hole: once I started listening carefully to traditional songs from Naples, I became fascinated with the melodies and rhythms. But the thing that really grabbed me was how the arrangements always surprise the listener.

Just when you’ve settled into one phrase, the song leaps to another, unexpected place.

Here are some songs I’ve been working on at Baby P studios… Tracie P, who lived between Ischia and Naples for nearly five years, has been teasing me that my Neapolitan songs “still sound Jewish.” But I’ve been having fun with it.

One could spend a lifetime studying Italian culture, art, and history and never satiate her/his curiosity…

Un Dimanche: new & different music of mine

All the great songwriters and musicians I’ve ever met say the same thing: make the music because you love to, because you have to.

The main focus of my musical life over the last fifteen years has been our band Nous Non Plus and I’ve been overjoyed by the success we’ve had in performing live and in selling our songs to film and television.

But there’s so much more music that I love and make.

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