1971 Monsecco (Gattinara) and Rock ‘n’ Roll Baby G

A couple of my favorite rock stars were over on Friday night, to meet Georgia P and to share a special bottle of a wine.

The 1971 Gattinara Monsecco by Conte Ravizza was vinified the same year that David Garza was born: David (above, center) is one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever had the fortune to work with and he played on our last album “Freudian Slip.” And he’s also just a super cool dude to hang with.

Céline Dijon (right, holding Georgia) currently calls New York (not Paris anymore) her home and she was in town because we’re working on material for our new album. (BTW, our band Nous Non Plus playing in San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles this week, Thurs.-Sat.; click here for the show details.)

I had saved the 1971 Monsecco for David. It had been given to me by Brooklyn Guy’s good friend Dan when we visited in Brooklyn in January 2011 (when we tasted a bottle of it together; here are my complete notes together with the research I did on the bottling).

After a Texas summer in my home cellar (the hottest on record), I wasn’t sure how the wine was going to stand up but we were all impressed with how bright the wine was, with healthy acidity and gorgeous fruit — thoroughly delicious paired with Tracie P’s risotto al radicchio veronese served all’onda. It just goes to show that even in tough vintages, great producers can make great wine (I reported Wasserman’s notes on the harvest here).

David was so sweet: he taught me how to play a new lullaby he wrote and he sang it for Georgia… too cute for words…

If you’re in California this week, come see me and Céline at one of the shows!

Here’s another shot from Georgia P’s recent photo shoot (by the amazing Nichols family):

The ugly beauty of Italy

Happily and thankfully, I made it back to Austin last night (on my last two trips back from Europe, I was marooned in Newark). On the plane ride home, I collected some of the more beautiful images I captured with my camera on the trip. Thanks for reading!

Rain clouds spotted from the home of my friends Laura and Marco, Montalcino.

In the nearly 25 years that I’ve lived, studied, traveled, and worked in Italy, I’m always amazed by its awe-inspiring beauty and its often revolting ugliness.

Cypress trees, between the villages of Torrenieri and San Quirico d’Orcia (Montalcino).

During my trip over the last two weeks, Berlusconi tried — as usual — to distract media attention from his political and legal problems by joking that he planned to rename his party Forza Gnocca, literally Go Pussy or Pussy Party (gnocca means knuckle in Italian and is used euphemistically to refer to the female anatomy). Politician Alessandra Mussolini said she thought it was a good idea, adding that it would bring people together.

Bistecca fiorentina with my friends, father and son Fabrizio and Alessandro, Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino).

After he failed to pass his budget (in what should have been a routine parliamentary vote), Berlusconi and his cabinet dodged a bullet when they survived a confidence vote. My friends in Italy say that he will continue to govern until 2012.

Gently botrytized Picolit grapes in Percoto.

Berlusconi didn’t need any help, however, finding media distractions: the so-called Black Blocs thrashed Rome in an otherwise peaceful demonstration by the Indignados. (Here’s the NY Times coverage.)

Frico served in the garden of Elisabetta’s home, Percoto.

But the thing that seemed so unreal — so unnatural, so far-fetched and unbelievable that I wondered if I was having a nightmare — was a television advertisement introducing a new sandwich at McDonald’s created by one of the greatest Italian chefs of all time and one of the architects of the 20th-century renaissance of Italian food, Gualtiero Marchesi.

Vintage bicycles in a show commemorating 50 years of the Brescia design firm Borsoni.

Blogger Massimo Bernardi called the move Marchesi’s “betrayal.” (See Massimo’s post for images of this tragedy.)

Distant Church Bells at the Monastery of Santa Giulia, Brescia.

But on the last day of the bloggers conference in Brescia, after I had ducked out of the last session to prepare my notes on the grand tasting for a talk I was supposed to give, I was stopped in my tracks by the Monastery of Santa Giulia set against a clear blue sky and the distant sound of church bells ringing.

And I remembered why the ceaseless beauty of this country has never lost its hold over me…

Thanks for reading!

Soave and summer farro salad make a bleak world seem brighter

Tracie P really outdid herself yesterday night for our dinner, making a gorgeous summer farro salad with fresh and lightly blanched vegetables and fruits and hard-boiled egg. It’s a good thing she did because by the time dinner rolled around at our house, I was depressed.

After reading the dismal news about Italy, the economy, the fall of Western Civilization, and the riots and looting in London (one of my favorite cities on earth), I couldn’t help but think about the last market crash in 2008 and the days that followed the tragedy of the Twin Towers in 2001. Those were tough times for the wine (and restaurant) industry and I hope they are not returning in the wake of the current crisis.

But as Tracie P reminded me, no matter what happens, we’ll have each other and we’ll have Baby P when she arrives later this year. And for the first time in my life, as bleak as the world seems right now, my anxiety about the future is assuaged by Tracie P’s wonderful smile and her warm embrace — and a little girl growing inside her.

And as bad as things may look, we all found joy and solace in some of the simplest pleasure in life: a bright summer dish and a bright, fresh bottling of Garganega by Suavia.

We were also joined last night by Alfonso, who was in Austin on business. And it was great to be together, just the three four of us…

After dinner, we settled into the living room and watched Pasolini’s Decameron on Netflix streaming. And I think all of us thanked our lucky stars for the small pleasures that life delivers…

Here’s one of the most beautiful sequences from the film… Buona visione

Natura morta and Pinot Grigio

In Italian, still life is called natura morta, literally, dead nature, in other words, inanimate nature.

Yesterday, Tracie P and I visited the San Diego home of friends and wine club clients Chrissa and Dan, where we took these photos.

After winning her battle with cancer, the couple decided to devote their lives to homesteading: they grow nearly all the produce that they consume and they slaughter and butcher all the meats that they consume (check out their site and educational program here).

All of the fruits in these photos were grown by them in their garden.

At a time when most of us urbanites place blind faith in the so-called “organic” choices at the specialized super markets, these folks — he a software designer, she an interior designer — have embraced the homesteading approach to self reliance (o that wonderful American ideal!) with a gusto and vibrancy that inspire me.

I brought over a bottle of 2009 Pinot Grigio Jesera by my friend Giampaolo Venica. Look at the wonderful ramato (copper) color of this true Pinot Grigio (a red grape, btw). We raised a glass of this delicious salty wine and remembered the grape growers in Collio (Friuli) whose vineyards were devastated over the weekend by a terrible hailstorm.

I also took a few shots in the garden — natura viva. I loved the red veined sorrel.

Sage.

Thanks for reading!

Pairing wine with Fellini

You can imagine how excited I am about tomorrow night’s screening of Fellini’s 1957 Notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria) and wine pairing tomorrow night at the Alamo Drafthouse (Ritz) in Austin — perhaps the only city in the world where someone would be crazy enough to pair wine and film on the big screen! I’ll be speaking before the screening about the wines and why I selected them. (Here are the details for tomorrow night’s event.)

Here are my pairings and what inspired them. Hope to see you there! Buona visione!

Château Moncontour Sparkling Vouvray

The one wine the characters of Cabiria drink in frame is Champagne. In the late 1950s in Rome, Champagne denoted a wide variety of sparkling wines with a wide range of provenance (although true Champagne can only be made in the region of Champagne in France). This dry sparkling wine is made from Chenin Blanc grown in the Loire Valley and is made using the méthode champenoise, where the wine is fermented a second time in bottle.

Domaine des Terres Dorées FRV100

The overarching theme of Fellini’s films is characters who find joy and revel in the beauty of life (la dolce vita) even in the worst imaginable situations. Cabiria is a classic Fellinian creation and she inspired the selection of this sparkling Gamay from the low-rent district of Beaujolais because it is as joyful as she. The winemaker is a fan of Fellini and mentions him as inspiration on the label of this bottle. The wine is named FRV100, rebus (in French) for effervescent.

Regillo Frascati

Frascati is the classic white wine of the Roman castle district, where popes and princes still make their homes and vacation villas to this day. In a time when table wine was nearly always produced locally, bright fresh and food-friendly Frascati often graced the tables of Rome’s colorful trattorie, where the rich and famous dined side-by-side with the proletariat. While we remember our parents’ cheaply produced commercial Frascati, this wine is farmed biodynamically (chemical free) and represents a true expression of this wonderful however humble appellation.

Ca’ del Monte Valpolicella Classico

Long before Barolo or Barbaresco, Brunello or Chianti, or the now ubiquitous and falsely crowned Super Tuscans were adored by the privileged class, Valpolicella was considered one of the great red wines of Italy. In the 1950s, you were apt to be poured Valpolicella in one of the swank restaurants of the Via Veneto, the elite thoroughfare that appears in many Roman films from that era. Indeed, Fellini’s characters are served a Valpolicella in his most famous (however misunderstood) film, La Dolce Vita — set against a swinging Via Veneto cast of players. Look for the minerality and the savory flavors in this excellent expression of Valpolicella.

My baby loves her some Venice!

Can you think of anything more enjoyable in the world than wondering aimlessly in Venice on a sun-filled morning with the woman you love?

Tracie P and I are both amateur photographers and one of our favorite pastimes is tandem snapping. Tracie P captured the above image of the Doge’s palace. The light yesterday morning was (literally) spectacular.

If only I could be an Antonioni to her Monica Vitti! I could spend a lifetime just photographing her!

Vogliatevi bene… Love one another…

My friend Marisa from Friuli, who recently celebrated her 70th birthday, wrote me the sweetest holiday message the other day.

“Auguro a te e alla tua Signora,” she wrote, “tanta felicità per ogni giorno della vostra vita! Vogliatevi bene!!!! Buone Feste!!!”

I wish you and your wife every happiness for every day of your lives! Love one another! Happy holidays!

I asked Marisa if I could borrow the above photos from her Facebook: on the left, her parents on their honeymoon at the Colosseum in 1937; on the right, her mother, with their family’s vineyards behind her.

Her parents returned to Rome for their 25th wedding anniversary, she wrote me. Just think of all that happened in Europe between 1937 and 1962!

Marisa’s words reminded me of our great fortune to live in a time of relative peace and prosperity. Even with the financial struggles so many of us are facing, we still have a lot to be thankful for.

During the holiday season, I can’t think of better way to honor the generations that have come before us than by loving one another… vogliatevi benelove one another… That’s what the holidays are for, aren’t they?

Mario Monicelli, Italian cinema giant, free at last

One of the greatest artists of the last and current centuries, Italian film director Mario Monicelli, father of the commedia all’italiana, took his own life last night. He was 95 and terminally ill.

Please read this obituary in The New York Times, where Michael Roston quotes the director:

    “All Italian comedy is dramatic,” he said in a 2004 interview with Cineaste magazine “The situation is always dramatic, often tragic, but it’s treated in a humorous way. But people die in it, there’s no happy ending. That’s just what people like about it. The Italian comedy, the kind I make, always has this component.”

Please also see this obituary in the ANSA feed, where actor Stefania Sandrelli interprets his suicide.

I studied and loved his films in graduate school and have quoted them often here on the blog. The scene below (with Totò, Marcello Mastroianni, and Vittorio Gassman) is my favorite from I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958).

My favorite gag is when Mastroianni asks Totò if the famous safe-cracker Fu Cimin was Chinese. No, says, Totò, he was from Venice. “Cimin” was his last name. “Fu” means he died, he says.

Indisputably Natural in San Diego: Cornelissen, Dettori, López de Heredia

N.B.: Jaynes Gastropub does allow corkage, for a reasonable fee, for wines not offered on their wine list.

Chrissa, her husband Dan, Rikkers, and I opened a memorable flight of indisputably Natural wines last night at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego. I write “indisputably Natural” with a capital N because any mention of Natural wine these days seems to spark the ire of some of the more cranky among us here in the enoblogsphere. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the community of wine bloggers who have laid claim to this precious and widely coveted epithet would agree that the three wines in question fulfill the criteria prescribed by even the most rigorous enforcers of Natural wine doctrine and dogma.

Perhaps nowhere has more been written about the wines of Frank Cornelissen than at Saignee and, ubi major minor cessat, I will defer to Cory’s excellent blog for a treatment of Cornelissen and the cult that has taken shape around him.

The wines, raised on the slopes of Mt. Etna, are not easy to come by in this country and I was thrilled to finally get my hands on some. Together, we tasted the 2007 Munjebel Bianco (native yeast, skin contact, no SO2, no filtration). Munjebel is dialectal toponym for Mt. Etna, btw (akin the Sicilian Muncibeddu or the Italian Mongibello, meaning monte bello or beautiful mountain).

The synthetic cork bulged out slightly from the lip of the bottle’s neck and the shoulder was very high. I believe this was due to a second fermentation in the bottle and the wine had a slight spritz to it.

I don’t have time today to go into the epistemological implications of this wine, which I find fascinating (the wine and the implications). But I can report that I thoroughly enjoyed it (bright acidity, bright citrus fruit, balanced alcohol). I believe the wine has not yet stabilized (it had rested for about a week in my wine locker in San Diego before we opened it last night). I’m looking forward to opening the other bottles in my allocation: this wine is alive, IT’S ALIVE, as Dr. Frankenstein might say.

The 2006 Bianco by Dettori? This was simply one of the best wines I’ve ever had in my life. Not a great vintage for Dettori but sure to be a 20+ in its cellar life. Tannic and rich, bright bright acidity and a crunchy mouthfeel. It took some time for this wine to open up but it was purely sublime.

We also ordered the 1998 López de Heridia Tondonia Rosado from Jayne’s list. The oxidative wine was a perfect closer after the thought-provoking, intense whites (orange wines, really), and was a fantastic pairing for my schnitzel and spaetzle (recommended by Jayne). Anyone who visits Do Bianchi regularly knows just how much Tracie P and I love LdH — anytime, anywhere.

After dinner we went to a new club on El Cajon Blvd. to see Jon’s band the Fairmounts play their blend of 60s soul.

That’s A.J. Croce (yes, Jim Croce’s son!) on keyboards… how cool is that? They completely rocked the house…

Wrapping up this quick San Diego trip (to ship and deliver wine for my wine club 2Bianchi.com), I just had to share this photo of my awesome nephews Abner and Oscar (brother Micah and sister-in-law Marguerite’s children).

Abner is holding a photo of his great-great-grandparents, mama Judy’s grandparents. It’s so remarkable to think about how far we’ve come from Russia, Poland, and Austria. And how radically the world has changed since then.

Would they have ever imagined that their progeny would be drinking unyeasted wines from the slopes of Mt. Etna on the far-flung shores of California?