Timorasso, Melon from California & other cool wines & things this week

Here’s the link for the Facebook event page for my Bele Casel Prosecco and Prosecco Colfòndo tasting in Los Angeles week after next. Angelinos, please come out and taste with me…

bubba stark zidarichMan, it’s been an insane week. It’s only October 3 and OND (October-November-December, the busiest time of year for restaurants and people who sell wine) is already in full swing.

One of the highlights of my wine week (although I actually tasted it last week) was the 2011 Zidarich Vitovska, which I shared with my friend Bubba Stark at Bufalina in Austin (yes, his name is really Bubba but I call him Moses for obvious reasons).

I’ve loved and followed Beniamino Zidarich’s wines for many years now and they consistently deliver vibrancy and wholesome, nuanced fruit flavors with just the right amount of oxidative character so as not to trump their balance. And these wines make you feel great the next day (if you know what I mean).

walter massa timorassoI was very stoked to taste the 2011 Timorasso by Walter Massa at my good buddy Nathan Smith at Dolce Vita in Houston where he runs a fantastic Italian wine program.

If you follow along here, you probably already know and love this profound expression of Timorasso, the white Piedmontese grape variety that Massa singlehandedly and brilliantly revived. The wine showed great this week but it has many years ahead of it imho.

But the most exciting thing is that it’s yet another benchmark wine that’s finally found its way to Texas, where Italian wine lovers continue to thirst for thoughtful and meaningful expressions of Italian viticulture.

lieu dit melonHouston’s own celebrity sommelier Vanessa Treviño-Boyd turned me on to the Lieu Dit 2013 Melon from Santa Maria, California when I tasted with her and Jasmine Hirsch at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, also here in Houston.

I would have never expected to taste such minerality from Santa Maria let alone see a bottling of Melon. A truly original wine that knocked me out with its freshness and varietal expression. Vanessa’s serving it by the glass at the swank restaurant where she manages a great list.

monteverro super tuscanAnother highlight of the week was taking part in my first Google hangout tasting with young French winemaker Matthieu Taunay who works with Michel Rolland to make the newest arrival in the crowded scene of French-grape wines in Tuscany, Monteverro.

I can’t say that the wines are “my speed.” But it’s always fascinating to interact with a top-flight winemaker like Matthieu and it was compelling to hear him speak about sophisticated temperature-control technology that allows him to provoke spontaneous fermentation during vinification.

About 40 minutes south of Bolgheri, Suvereto, where these wines are raised, is as-of-yet uncharted territory in the expansion of this category. It will be interesting to see where these high-priced wines land among the Super Tuscan set.

And the Google hangout was a great way to taste with Matthieu. The PR firm sent out the wines and then set up the hangout. I was one of six wine writers on the call and it proved to be a fantastic medium for tasting and interacting in realtime. I really enjoyed it.

peperoni pizza recipe homemadeTracie P made us wholewheat pepperoni pizza this week. It was delicious.

lila janeAnd dulcis in fundo, it seems that Lila Jane could start walking any day now.

L’shanah tovah, yall! Erev Yom Kippur is tonight. I’ll see you on Monday. Thanks for being here…

Chianti Classico’s gallo nero (black rooster), a brief history

SONY DSCHave you ever wondered where the gallo nero or black rooster, the symbol of Chianti Classico, came from?

Today I posted a brief history of its origins for one of my new clients and a winery that I adore, La Porta di Vertine in Chianti Classico.

The post was inspired by recent changes in labeling requirements in the appellation.

But as soon as I started digging into the origins of the iconic rooster, I just couldn’t help myself (and I realized that the origin story is not readily available in English).

Please here for the post.

And check out the wines: they are super.

Thanks for reading…

Image via Jens Gyldenkærne Clausen’s Flickr.

Hirsch & Parr to bring In Pursuit of Balance to Houston in early 2015

jasmine hirsch best pinot noirIt was really fun to sit down with Sonoma Coast producer Jasmine Hirsch yesterday at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted in Houston where she led a guided tasting of her wines for collectors.

In my view, hers is one of the most dynamic voices in American wine today.

She revealed to me that she and Raj Parr are bringing the controversial In Pursuit of Balance festival to Houston next year. It’s another sign that Houston is becoming one of the leading wine destinations in the U.S.

The festival and the new stop on its tour are the topics for my post today for the Houston Press.

The difference between how Italians & Americans view wine: poop

From the department of “reductive reasoning” (winemakers will get the joke)…

dario cecchini tuscan butcherAbove: pork salumi, rendered lard, and beef steaks in the meat case at Dario Cecchini’s famous butcher shop in Panzano in the heart of Chianti Classico. No Italian in their right mind would eat rendered lard without a glass of wine.

A lacuna in Eric Asimov’s brilliant article last week in the Times, “A Guide to Drinking Wine at Home,” reminded me of a hilarious anecdote from my time as a grad student in Italian at U.C.L.A.

Every year, when professors from Italy would visit for this or that conference, we would ferry them to dinner in LA’s downtown Asian-American neighborhood (often at ABC Seafood).

On the occasion of an Italian Futurism conference, I remember well, my dissertation advisor and I shuttled a small group of top scholars to one our favorite restaurants there. None of them had ever been to California and they were all excited about the feast that awaited them.

Please order for us, they implored, and we were happy to oblige.

And then, one of them, a professor from Bologna, asked, what wine will be drinking?

When we explained that the traditional accompaniment to most Asian cuisine was hot tea and that the only alcoholic option was beer, said professor (who shall remain nameless) stood up and proclaimed, I cannot eat dinner without wine!

As the Italian department’s de facto factotum (excuse the pun), I was enlisted to source a bottle of vino (and you can imagine the swill I delivered from a downtown LA liquor store).

Said professor was satisfied with the quality of the plonk and the dinner proceeded without further international incident.

Many years later, as I became a self-aware gourmet, it occurred to me that the episode illustrates a fundamental difference in how Americans and Italians perceive wine’s role at the dinner table.

Italians, like many current-generation Americans, view wine “as an ordinary part of their meals, like salt or bread,” as Eric wrote of the new American wine lover.

But they also see it as an elemental digestive aid, a mealtime component that will help them metabolize their food (in other words, ahem, as a tonic that will help them take a good shit the next day).

Some say that the Puritanical origins of proto-American culture continue to this day to make us squeamish about poop.

Italians generally espouse an antipodal attitude about defecation. Just the other day, for example, an Italian friend and colleague — a male in his forties like me — described his upcoming colonoscopy in great detail. And the conversation was part of a longer discourse on colitis and other gastroenteritis caused by eating heavy foods while selling wine to restaurateurs here in the U.S.

The bottom line (I can’t help myself, sorry) is that Italians enjoy an enlightened disposition in regard to digestion. After all, the earliest mention of the bidet in print is ascribed to an Italian. Although the French were the ones to popularize it with the rise of modern plumbing, the bidet is one of the Italians’ great gifts to humankind, on par with Marconi’s radio (at least in my view).

So please read Eric’s excellent article. His offers great advice for American wine lovers today on how to buy, collect, and drink wine. I highly recommend it to you.

But the next time you drink wine at dinner, please think about how the wine makes you feel the next day and how it helps you to digest your food.

The ultimate tasting note, nearly any Italian will tell you, is how you evacuate…

Taste a favorite Prosecco (Colfòndo) with me in So. Cal. in October

jeremy parzenAbove: no, thankfully, I won’t be performing any Air Guitar at the tastings. There will be groovy musique however! Hope to see you at one or the other or both…

I’m geeked to share the news that I’ll be pouring wines by my client Bele Casel in Los Angeles and San Diego in October, including their Prosecco Colfòndo, one of me and Tracie P’s all-time favorite wines.

If you happen to be out that way, please come and taste with me.

Details follow.

Tuesday, Oct. 14
6-8 p.m.
6801 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 932-0280
Google map

Jaynes Gastropub
Saturday, Oct. 18
3:30-5:30 p.m.
$20 (includes passed bites by Jayne and team)
4677 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 563-1011
Google map

terraviva degustazione

Date night Houston with Tracie P, fantastic conch ceviche & groovy Bourgogne blanc

best ceviche recipe houstonIt’s not easy finding “alone” time for parents with small children like us.

But now that we’re settled into our new lives in Houston, the stars occasionally align for a baby sitter and a date night.

On Saturday, I took Tracie P to Caracol, a chic and smart Mexican seafood restaurant here in Houston and one of my favorite restaurants in the U.S. right now.

Chef Hugo Ortega’s cooking is always fantastic but the thing that takes it over the top is wine director Sean Beck’s excellent, value-driven wine list.

We drank a delightful Oregon Pinot Gris by the glass with the tender conch ceviche above.

camerones en escabeche recetta houstonThe camarones en escabeche were also great.

The escabeche was delicately seasoned and not overly sour, the shrimp perfect salted and grilled.

One of the things I love about Caracol is how cosmopolitan the crowd is there. You always see lots of sharply dressed young south American professionals at the bar (where we love to eat).

But that night, I only had eyes for Tracie P.

correct way to slice prosciuttoNext we headed over the Camerata, the city’s hippest wine bar these days (and the place where all the visiting international wine celebs hang).

We love chef Felipe Riccio’s affettati and cheese selection.

Not just one but two orders were placed for his expertly sliced prosciutto, which accompanied a super tasty bottle of Bourgogne Blanc Le Petit Têtu 2012 by négociant Jean-Marie Berrux.

petit tetu burgundy chardonnayWhen the wine opened with some apple cider notes, I was worried that it might go south.

But it quickly snapped into focus and white and white stone fruit aromas and flavors emerged along with good balance in alcohol and acidity.

I didn’t know the wine but Monday morning googling revealed that it’s pretty hard to come by. The fact that you can drink it here is another example of how Houston, in my view, is swiftly becoming one of America’s top wine cities (more on that later).

By the time we left to turn back into pumpkins (around 9:30), we were surrounded by young blue bloods, finance and energy managers who swirled and sniffed their glasses with an earnestness that would rival that of their counterparts in lower Manhattan.

Tracie P and I have been married now for nearly five years. With two little girls now and a move to Houston earlier this year, our lives have changed a lot since we first drank beer and danced at the Continental Club in Austin back in 2008.

But “eating at the bar” is still our favorite thing to do together. And we’re happy to live in a city that always seems to have a spot and a bottle to accommodate us.

I love sipping with you, beautiful Tracie P… What a fun night! I love you.

Children of a lesser Brett: in defense of Negroamaro @GianniCantele @WineSurf @CanteleWines

best negroamaro harvest 2014Please check out my post today for my client Cantele.

In response to a plaintive op-ed about overly wooded and dense Negroamaro by Tuscan wine writer Carlo Macchi, Cantele winemaker Gianni Cantele delivers a heart-felt and brutally honest, soul-bearing letter.

Click here to read my excerpted translation of Carlo’s post and complete translation of Gianni’s response.

Groovy wines tasted in LA last week & an AMAZING Sardinian

bonci verdicchio best jesi 1999Purple teeth and numb gums.

That’s what happens when you taste as many wines as we did last week in Los Angeles.

All in all, my colleagues and I (see below) “tasted through” roughly 120 wines over the course of three days at Sotto, where we are rebooting a wine list that had lost its sense of direction and purpose.

These days, there are so many fantastic wines available in California, where the financial recovery and what are perhaps the most liberal wine regulations in the country combine to deliver a tide of interesting labels.

I’m not sure that any of these will make it on to the list at Sotto, where I’ve been co-curating the program for nearly three years now. But here are my personal highlights from last week’s tastings.

Supreme among them was the 1999 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Riserva Le Case (above). What a wine! I tasted the 1998 last year in Philadelphia at Vetri and found this vintage to be even more mineral-driven and nuanced with layers and layers of dried and fresh stone fruit. Simply stunning…

gostolai galania best sardinian wineThe Verdicchio was my top wine from the tastings but, man, the Gostolai 2012 Galanìa — a blend of Arvesiniadu and Alvarega (a Malvasia clone) — was a close second and a wine that just blew me away with its originality. Fantastic freshness and vibrancy, wonderful tropical and stone fruit tempered by a strong note of orange zest. If you’re into Italian wine, you need to taste this. It’s just one of those nothing-else-like-it wines.

struzziero fiano 2012I’ve always been a Struzziero fan ever since I first tasted the wines (in Cleveland in 2006, while on tour with my band Nous Non Plus). But the 2012 single-vineyard Fiano, as the Italians say, had una marcia in più, an extra gear under the hood. The floral notes on the nose were practically aphrodisiacal.
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A slice of Emilia in LA…

Traveling today and am slammed with work.

But just had to share at least one image from last night’s Emilia dinner at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I’ve spent the week tasting and rebooting our wine list.

More to come. But in the meantime, a slice of Emilia…

best slicer prosciutto parma

Ray Isle features my friend & client Paolo Cantele in Food & Wine

paolo cantele wine pugliaEver since we met in 2009, Paolo Cantele (above, right) and I have been close friends.

We bonded over our shared interest in Italian literature, our left-leaning politics, and our appreciation of life’s sensorial pleasures. All it took was a mention of Pasolini for our friendship to click (if you every meet Paolo, ask him to tell you his fantastic Ninetto Davoli story).

A few years ago, I began working with Paolo’s family’s winery in Guagnano (Lecce province, Puglia) as a content creator for their English-language online media presence.

It’s been a lot of fun working with Paolo, his brother and cousins. And so you can imagine my joy when I learned that Ray Isle, one of the leading wine writers working in the U.S. today, featured them in the current issue of Food & Wine.

But the coolest thing is that Ray’s piece, “Does Italian Food Really Pair Best with Italian Wine?,” isn’t just a mere winemaker/winery profile.

In the story, he takes a close and thoughtful look at the nature of food and wine pairing in globalized culture.

“In the U.S.,” he writes, “we can drink everything, from anywhere. In supermarkets, bottles from Germany bump up against bottles from New Zealand, and so on around the globe. We’re overwhelmed with choice. By contrast, there on the terrace at Cantele, everything I had cooked and everything we were drinking (with the exception of my transcontinental additions) had come from just down the road. Maybe believing in an affinity between the wine and food of a region is just romantic foolishness. On the other hand, elusive as those connections may be, I’d rather think they’re the whole point.”

Damn, I wish I would have written that!

It’s a really great piece of writing and you may be surprised by Ray’s experiment and his findings.

Click here to read Ray’s piece on the CanteleUSA blog.