Oaky and buttery Chardonnay at The Ten Bells? WTF? And in good news, a groovy new Italian beer importer

the ten bells wine barAbove: the once awesome Ten Bells on the Lower Eastside, once a favorite wine bar, is now a graveyard for forgotten bottles of soulful natural wine.

When the mustachioed, tatted, pierced, and semi-Mohawked bartender at the Ten Bells wine bar on the Lower Eastside approached me yesterday as I sat at the bar during happy hour yesterday, I asked him about a by-the-carafe wine from a Provence estate called Domaine de la Patience.

“Do you mean the white or the rosé?” he asked me sullenly.

“I was wondering about the rosé but what’s the white like?” I said. “Is it by-the-carafe as well?”

“Do you like oaky, buttery Chardonnay?” he queried.

Nonplussed by his deadpan line of questioning, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

“You’re kidding, right?” I said as I began to realize that it wasn’t a joke. “Is it really ‘oaky and buttery’?”

“It is,” he answered, tersely by this point.

“May I please just have a glass of the Prosecco?” I solicited, hoping solely to appease him.

Domaine de la Patience, it turns out, is an estate imported to the U.S. by Jenny and François Selections, one of my favorite purveyors of organic and biodynamic wines from Europe.

I still haven’t tasted the wine but knowing the importer, I can’t imagine that it’s “oaky and buttery” or even remotely “Napa Chard” in style.

Has it come to this? The Manhattan restaurant and wine landscape continues to evolve rapidly. But did everyone’s favorite natural wine bar on the Lower Eastside have to sink to this level?

Maybe, as my friend Ed McCarthy (a favorite wine writer and one of the greatest tasters I’ve ever known), wrote on the Twitter: “He thought you were an oaky, buttery kind of guy, you know, the average clueless American.”

And in much better news…

natural italian beer importsYesterday, before I headed to the Ten Bells for a business meeting, I popped into the East Broadway Mall in Chinatown to taste the above flight of super groovy Italian beers with Chris Leo and his partner Laura Marchetti.

They’ve recently launched a new importing business called the Maritime Republic.

Super cool folks, super cool beers. Check it out…

Christie Brinkley, you ain’t got nothing on this Nebbiolo! An extraordinary flight of Langa wines…

Thank you to everyone who attended my Franciacorta Real Story tasting yesterday at I Trulli in Manhattan and thanks to owner Nicola Marzovilla and the restaurant staff for making it such a seamless event. Click here for information on my Franciacorta tastings to be held in SF (July 15), LA (July 17), and SD (July 18) next week…

67 good year italy vintage wineAbove: note how different the Giacosa label was in 1967.

In many ways, Robert Parker Jr.’s Wine Advocate “bulletin board” — originally launched in 2001! — gave us an early glimpse into how social media would reshape the wine connoisseur landscape and dialectic in the U.S. in this decade and the last.

One of the virtual communities that emerged from the board, which was closed in 2010, was a small band of Nebbiolophiles led informally by one of the most wonderful and generous persons I’ve ever met through wine social media, Ken Vastola, a computer and electric engineering professor by day and author of Fine Wine Geek, a blog devoted to chronicling his passion for the wines of Piedmont.

Yesterday, Ken and a handful of collector friends — Iggy, Ben, Mark, and Carl — treated me to an extraordinary flight of Nebbiolo over lunch at I Trulli (following my seminar and tasting).

That’s the Giacosa Barbaresco from 1967 (above), my birth year. It had passed its prime, all agreed, but it still had some life in it. I enjoyed it a lot and it’s always fun to have a birth year wine.

christie brinkleyAbove: the 1979 Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche di Castiglione Falletto (not to be confused with Giacosa’s Le Rocche di Falletto, a vineyard in Serralunga) was the top wine of the lunch. Man, what an incredibly pure and gorgeous expression of Langa viticulture! I was blown away by its clarity and vibrancy.

And it also inspired Ken to utter one of the most beautiful observations on the fine wine tasting experience that I’ve ever heard.

90 pora barbarescoAbove: the 1990 Barbaresco Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco. Dayenu! It would have been enough to taste just one of the wines in the flight. The 1990 Pora, at least in this instance, is probably at the peak of its evolution and expression. What a gorgeous wine!

As we tasted through the wines, Ken recalled a remarkable evening of tasting and scoring rare and old bottlings of Nebbiolo with a top Piedmont expert and other similarly minded collectors.

His fellows were surprised when he didn’t give his top ranking to a bottle of Giacomo Conterno’s Monfortino. Evidently, everyone else in the group felt it was the best wine of the night.

borgo del tiglioAbove: “Nebbiolo heads,” as Ken refers to his loosely knit band of tasters, can’t live by red alone. What a thrill for me to taste the 2010 Collio Studio Bianco by Borgo del Tiglio, one of my favorite producers! As it opened up in the glass, it revealed layers and layers of stone fruit and minerality. This will be such a great wine to revisit in 5-10 years imho.

“Think of a top model,” mused Ken yesterday as our meal came to a close, “like Christie Brinkley, for example.”

“Yes, it’s true,” he noted, objectively “Christie Brinkley may be more beautiful than my wife by some abstract standard. But I love my wife and she is the most beautiful woman in the world to me.”

The Monfortino, he remembered from that evening, “may have been a Christie Brinkley. But it wasn’t my favorite wine of the night.”

Ken’s brilliant and tender observation aphoristically unraveled one of fine wine’s most deep-seated conundra. Let me frame it using language borrowed from the field of symbolic logic: in a finite universe, is there a wine that is superior to all others?

lasagneThe housemade pastas at I Trulli were superb as always.

The answer is yes, of course, at least if you believe that the universe is finite.

But we mustn’t allow that quasi-mythical wine to elide the wines that we like best.

Ken and his cohorts have been so generous in sharing their wines with me. When I thanked the group yesterday, they all told me that they are always looking for an excuse to dig into their cellars and open some of their favorite wines.

I feel extremely fortunate that I’ve met such generous and gentle souls through wine social media. They taste wines of this caliber every month. I get to do it — mostly thanks to people like them — a couple of times of year.

Yesterday, Ken reminded me that the point isn’t to discover the “best” wine in any given flight.

The point, as he so eloquently put it, is to taste the wines together and to remember that our favorite wine — like the persons we love — may not be the best wine but rather the wine that we love best.

Maybe Robert Parker, Jr. was on to something with that bulletin board after all…

Thanks to Ken, Iggy, Ben, Mark, and Carl, for an unforgettable tasting. What a wonderful experience for me!

Taste Franciacorta with me TODAY in Manhattan (11 a.m at I Trulli on 27th)

jeremy goodThere is still room available at today’s 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. walk-around tasting at I Trulli on 27th St. (between Park and Lexington) in Manhattan.

Please join me if so inclined and taste 16 expressions of Franciacorta.

Information for today’s event and next week’s three tastings in California follows.

To RSVP for any and all of them, please shoot me an email by clicking here.

The tastings are open to all but I do need to get a rough headcount. So please do send me a message if you’d like to attend.

Looking forward to tasting Franciacorta with you!

New York
I Trulli
Monday, July 6
11 a.m.

San Francisco
St. Vincent
Wednesday, July 15
11 a.m.

Los Angeles
Friday, July 17
11 a.m.

San Diego
Jaynes Gastropub
Saturday, July 18
2 p.m.

UPDATED: Franciacorta tastings begin next week! FREE to all…

panorama franciacorta medium sizeAbove: Franciacorta as seen from Mount Orfano in the southernmost tip of the appellation. Click the image for a high-res version (spectacular). In the image, you can see Lake Iseo slight to the left of center.

The response to my Franciacorta tastings in NYC, SF, LA, and San Diego has been fantastic. THANK YOU to everyone who will be coming out to taste and talk Franciacorta with me.

We’re expecting a healthy crowd at each of the events (below) but there is always room for more. So please feel free to share the invite and information with anyone you like (trade especially).

FYI: we have changed the time of the San Diego tasting from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.


And I will give a short talk on the appellation, its history, and the people and places that make the wine before opening the walk-around event.

To RSVP for any and all of them, please shoot me an email by clicking here.

The tastings are open to all but I do need to get a rough headcount. So please do send me a message if you’d like to attend.

Looking forward to tasting Franciacorta with you!

New York
I Trulli
Monday, July 6
11 a.m.

San Francisco
St. Vincent
Wednesday, July 15
11 a.m.

Los Angeles
Friday, July 17
11 a.m.

San Diego
Jaynes Gastropub
Saturday, July 18
11 a.m.
2 p.m.

(Big bold red) wine and the BBQ renaissance

best barbecue houstonAbove: beef and pork ribs were superb at Roegels Barbecue Co., one in the new wave of independent bbq joints in Houston.

A few weeks ago, Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist J.C. Reid (a good friend of ours) published a story, “Barbecue and wine: The final frontier,” about a recent visit to Napa where he was pleasantly surprised to find a solid and intelligent barbecue restaurant with a 400+ lot wine list.

The restaurant is called “Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ.” Almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

“The Bounty Hunter menu,” he wrote, “offers no less than five wine ‘flights’ or pairing combinations to go with the ‘Smokin’ BBQ Platter’ which features heaping portions of pulled pork, sliced brisket and pork ribs.”

(You can read his complete review here. And he regularly posts subscription-free links to his column on his personal blog. For my money, Chris — as he is known to friends — is the leading bbq writer in the country today and he often travels beyond Houston and Texas for his column.)

His story about Bounty Hunter, the growing interest in bbq across the U.S., and how it’s opened up a new dimension in wine pairing echoes something he wrote a few weeks earlier.

In “Have we reached peak barbecue?” he noted that “more than any other time in American history, barbecue — and specifically Texas barbecue — is truly a cultural phenomenon. And it’s not limited to the U.S. — as I’ve reported, Texas barbecue joints are opening in cities such as Paris, Berlin and Rome.”

“I’ve come to call this cultural and media frenzy over smoked meat ‘peak barbecue.'”

Over the last five years, I’m sure he would agree, Houston, a city previously not known for its bbq, has become one of the epicenters of the bbq renaissance. Today, smokers like Killen’s and Cork Screw in Houston regularly appear in “best bbq” listicles published throughout America.

denner dirt worshiperAbove: the smoky, bacon fat character of the Syrah in this wine by Denner worked well with the Roegels spread. This cult Paso Robles wine had nice acidity and restrained, elegant wood. I liked it. But at 15.6 percent alcohol (holy cow!), you couldn’t really call the wine balanced.

On Saturday, he invited us to an informal wine tasting at Roegels in Houston, one of the city’s latest entries in the new wave of bbq here. There were roughly 15 people in attendance and a handful (including me) brought wines to share.

When I saw the bottles lined up, it struck me: aside from a bottle of Champagne (that worked brilliantly with the meal), I was the only person who brought wines other than red (I brought a southern France rosé made from Mourvèdre, a macerated white from Campania, and a Negroamaro).

As Texas bbq culture continues to seep gush into gastronomic hegemony, it was only natural that wine-loving Americans would want to pair their favorite bottles with a new favorite cuisine.

And Americans still love big, bold red wine like the Denner, above.

denner wineryAbove: reading the back label for the Denner, it’s clear that the people who make it put a lot heart into delivering an outstanding expression of Syrah. At roughly $50 a pop, it’s indicative — in my view — of where American wine tastes continue to focus.

For many people, big and bold is the only way to go with bbq, a cuisine based on intense aromas and flavors (my clothes and hair smelled so strongly of smoke after we visited Roegels that I took a shower after we came home from our meal; not unusual when you visit a genuine bbq joint like Roegels, which I enjoyed immensely).

I always prefer leaner, lower-alcohol, and higher-acidity wines with bbq. I like the way they work as a counterpoint to the fattiness and heavy and often overwhelming flavor of the smoked meats. When I pair with bbq, I look for freshness and present but balanced fruit. Sparkling wine is ideal, I find, especially because of the generally judicious alcohol (the heavy saltiness of the Texas rub makes you thirsty and so you tend to drink more wine when eating bbq).

But as Saturday’s gathering reveled, my taste in this case falls outside today’s canon for pairing with Texas-style smoked meats.

The Bounty Hunter’s wine director likes to pair “Pinot” [Noir] from Napa and Zinfandel, wrote Chris in his review. When Tracie P and I packed up the kids on Saturday, there was still a half bottle left of the rosé I had brought.

Few bbq joints serve alcohol and many of them encourage byob. I remember a surprised manager at Cooper’s in the Texas Hill Country who said he’d never heard of anyone bringing a bottle of wine (as opposed to beer) to the restaurant.

“As long as it’s not whiskey,” he said, “I guess it’s okay.”

That was seven years ago, when I first moved to Texas.

On Sunday, the owners at Roegels didn’t even raise an eyebrow when patrons arrived with ice chests filled with expensive, big and bold California wine.

We sure have come a long way, baby. But we still have a long way to go…

Nicolas Joly and Angelo Gaja to face-off in “natural vs. unnatural wine” debate

angelo gaja barbarescoAbove: Piedmontese grape grower and winemaker Angeleo Gaja in New York in 2012.

Biodynamic pioneer Nicolas Joly and trailblazing winemaker Angelo Gaja are to face-off in a roundtable discussion entitled “Around the table with Natural Wine… and Unnatural Wine,” to be held on July 12 at the Italy pavilion of EXPO in Milan.

The event has been organized by gastronomic entrepreneur and Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti and it will also include spirits and natural wine importer and distributor Luca Gargano, Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers co-founder Walter Massa, Merano Wine Festival founder Helmut Koecher, and enology professor Vincenzo Gerbi from the University of Turin.

A preview of the gathering was posted yesterday on the Italian food blog Cronache del Gusto.

More than two years after the editors of Gambero Rosso published a controversial op-ed by French wine writer Michel Bettane in which he railed against “an invasion of so-called ‘natural’ wines,” the debate over the merits of natural winemaking continues to command the attention of the Italian wine world.

But many Italian wine trade observers also seem to have grown tired of the discussion.

“I’d rather attend an evening gathering devoted to household cleaners,” wrote enologist and publisher Maurizio Gily on his Facebook today.

“Not only is this an idiotic debate,” opined Montalcino winemaker Stefano Cinelli Colombini in the comment thread to Gily’s post, “it’s outdated and stale. Wouldn’t it be better if there were a discussion of the real issues instead of terms and definitions?” he asked.

How do you say “fruit set” in Italian? Italian wine glossary updated

best italian wine bookAbove: Alberto Bertuzzi’s 1942 “Wine in our Lives,” a fascist-era “how to” book on wine’s application in a healthy lifestyle.

With every trip to Italy and the many posts, fact sheets, and technical descriptions I translate for my clients, I always come across Italian wine terms to add to my growing Italian wine term glossary (below).

This week’s update includes allegagione, spollonatura, and scacchiatura, among others.

If you have terms that you’d like to suggest, please leave a comment below. I’ll be happy to add them.

Thanks for speaking Italian wine!

a giropoggio east-west row orientation
a ritocchino north-south row orientation
acciaio [inossidabile] stainless-steel [vat/tank]
affinamento aging
alberello head-trained [vines]
allegagione fruit set
allevamento training
argilla clay
arresto di fermentazione stuck fermentation
assemblaggio blend
azoto nitrogen
barbatella grafted cutting
barrique barrique [small French oak cask]
bâtonnage stirring on the lees
biodinamica biodynamics/biodynamic
biologico organic
botte traditional large cask
bucce skins
Cabernet [Sauvignon] Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Franc
calcare/calcareo limestone/calcareous [limestone-rich]
cappello sommerso submerged cap maceration
chioma canopy
cordone speronato cordon-trained spur-pruned [vines]
cru vineyard designation/single vineyard
cuvée blend
délestage rack and return
deraspare/deraspatrice de-stemm/de-stemmer
diradamento pruning/thinning grapes/dropping fruit
DOC DOC [designation of controlled origin]
DOCG DOCG [designation of controlled and guaranteed origin]
DOP PDO [Protected Designation of Origin]
doppio capovolto double-arched cane [training]
esca esca [alt.: black dead arm or black measles]
escursione termica [diurnal] temperature variation
fementazione arrestata stuck fermentation
femminella lateral shoot
follatura punching down
galestro galestro [a marl- and limestone-rich subsoil unique to Tuscany]
giropoggio east-west row orientation
grappa grappa
grappolo cluster/bunch
Guyot Guyot
IGP PGI [Protected Geographical Indication]
IGT IGT [typical geographical indication]
leccio holm oak
lievito naturale native/ambient/indigenous/wild yeast
lievito selezionato cultured yeast
limo silt
macchia mediterranea Mediterranean maquis [shrubland]
maestrale (vento di maestrale) north-westerly wind
malolattica malolactic fermentation
marna/marne marl
millerandage millerandage [alt.: shot berrieshens and chicks, or pumpkins and peas]
monovitigno single-grape variety [wine]
mosto must
oidio oidium [powdery mildew]
peronospora peronospora [downy mildew]
pied de cuve pied de cuve [native yeast starter]
pigiatura pressing
portinnesto rootstock
quercia oak
rimontaggio pumping over
ritocchino north-south row orientation
sabbia/sabbioso sand/sandy [sandy soil]
Sauvignon [Blanc] Sauvignon Blanc
scacchiatura disbudding
siccità/stress idrico hydric stress
sistema di allevamento training
sottosuolo subsoil
sovescio cover crop/green manure
spollonatura disbudding
stralciatura deshooting
stress idrico/siccità hydric stress
sulle bucce skin contact [macerated on the skins]
sulle fecce nobili lees aged [aged on its lees]
sur lie lees aged [aged on its lees]
terreno/terreni soil
tignola della vite vine moth [Eupoecilia ambiguella]
tralcio shoot/cane
tramoggia hopper/feeder
tufo tufaceous subsoil [porous limestone]
vasca vat/tank
vento di maestrale north-westerly wind
vigna/vigne vine/vineyards
vigneto vineyard
vinaccia/vinacce pomace
vite vine
vitigno grape variety

Aspen Food & Wine: our celebrity-splashed weekend

rick bayless cooking showWhat a thrill for me to be invited to participate in a panel on Italian wines at the swank Aspen Food & Wine festival this year!

Tracie P and I decided to make it a romantic vacation (our first time away from Georgia P and Lila Jane for more than one night!).

But after Tracie P spotted Rick Bayless (above) at my first panel on Friday morning, she swooned and said, “ok, we can go now… I just saw Rick Bayless!”

That’s Rick taking a shot of the flight of wines poured at our seminars.

jacques pepinAfter the first seminar Friday morning, we headed up to the main tasting tent for some A-list celeb watching.

Tracie P had her heart set on seeing Jacques Pépin and the paparazzi gods delivered right out of the box.

As soon as we entered the tent, there they were (from left, above): Marcus Samuelsson, Eric Ripert, Claudine Pépin, Jacques, and Tom Colicchio.

gaja 1988 san lorenzoOf course, it wouldn’t be a true Aspen experience if we didn’t get invited to some insane party where ridiculous wines were being poured.

My highlight wine, liberally poured in a suite in the Residences at the Little Knell, was the 1988 Gaja Barbaresco San Lorenzo.

So many look to 82 and 85 as great vintages from the decade in Italy. And of course, 1989 was one of the best in Piedmont in the last 30 years.

The 1988 was no 89, but, as Angelo once told me, it was a “good quality” vintage. And man, it showed gorgeously on Friday. A beautiful expression of Nebbiolo…

franciacorta toastBut the biggest thrill for me was pouring and speaking about a Franciacorta wine in the company of bona fide marquee-name Italians like Tignanello and Vajra’s Barolo Bricco delle Viole, among other “big and bold” labels as the seminar’s title promised.

At our first tasting on Friday, I asked the roughly 120 guests if any of them had ever tasted a Franciacorta. Only one person in the audience raised a hand.

We poured a Satèn by one of the appellation’s historic and most respected estates. And by all accounts, it was enjoyed by all present.

My heartfelt thanks go to seminar organizer Shayn Bjornholm, master sommelier and brilliant speaker and educator, for inviting a rock ‘n’ roller me and allowing me to present an “outside-the-box” wine.

Thanks also to fellow panelists Joe Campanale, NYC celeb restaurateur and Food Network star, and master sommelier and Aspen veteran Rob Bigelow. I felt like a nanus gigantum humeris insidens.

Thanks also go to our lovely friend and super wine pro Melanie Kaman who got us on the guest list for the fancy party.

And thanks, most of all, to my beautiful wife Tracie P, for believing in me and my crazy career as an Italian wine scribe. That was one of the most fun weekends of my life, thanks to you, beautiful lady! It was tough to be away from the girls for so long but I’m so glad we did that.

You’ll always be my number-one food celeb…

jeremy parzenw wife

Franciacorta tastings with me in July: NYC, SF, LA & SD (ALL FREE)

I’m now nearly six months into my campaign as an English-language blogger and U.S. trade ambassador for the Franciacorta Consortium. It’s been a fantastic and immensely rewarding experience to dive so deep into an appellation that I love so much. Please support our campaign by coming out to taste with me in July. There is no charge to attend and these will be — by far — the biggest gatherings of Franciacorta wines to ever have been poured in one event in the U.S. Looking forward to tasting with you!

jeremy parzen italian wineI am thrilled to announce that St. Vincent restaurant in San Francisco (one of my favorite restaurants on the West Coast) has just agreed to host our July 15 Franciacorta tasting (see link below).

At each of our California and New York tastings, we will be pouring no fewer than 24 different labels, all of which are available (via one channel or another) in the U.S.

And I’ll be giving a short talk on the appellation, its history, its future, and why it stands apart in the world of sparkling wine.

To RSVP for any and all of them, please shoot me an email by clicking here.

The tastings are open to all but I do need to get a rough headcount. So please do send me a message if you’d like to attend.

Looking forward to tasting Franciacorta with you!

New York
I Trulli
Monday, July 6
11 a.m.

San Francisco
St. Vincent
Wednesday, July 15
11 a.m.

Los Angeles
Friday, July 17
11 a.m.

San Diego
Jaynes Gastropub
Saturday, July 18
11 a.m.