A new & revolutionary Franciacorta: Solo Uva, made exclusively with grape sugar

best natural franciacortaThey’re not the only ones in the world to be working with frozen grape must as a means to make sparkling wine. But they are the first to do it in Franciacorta.

Andrea Rudelli, Domenico “Nico” Danesi, and Giovanni Arcari (my bromance) call it Solo Uva (just grapes): they freeze and reserve some of the grape must after pressing and then they use it as the sugar in both the tirage (i.e., the addition of sugar and yeast to the base wine in order to provoke the second fermentation) and the dosage (i.e., the addition of sugar before bottling to achieve the desired balance of acidity and sweetness).

The resulting wines have no cane sugar added to them (the traditional practice for classic method and Champagne method wines).

But the thing that really sets the wine apart as a new category of classic method Franciacorta is the fact that they allow the grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness before harvesting. Where some sparkling winemakers pick early in order to obtain higher acidity (notably in Champagne and also in Franciacorta), this trio of winemakers lets the grapes ripen fully. As a result, the wines have a markedly rich (and arguably richer) fruit profile and a more vinous quality.

It’s a new and perhaps revolutionary approach to Franciacorta and sparkling wine.

And one of the coolest things about what they’re doing is that they have shared their technique openly with their peers and colleagues at home. They believe that this new method represents the future for their appellation and they liberally reveal the process to anyone who’s interested to find out more.

At Vinitaly in April, I tasted another Franciacorta made using this method (by Vezzoli) and a Barbera rosé (by Barolo producer Principiano). Both were wonderful.

Because they don’t adjust for sweetness using an extraneous sweetener, the wines have unusual depth and character. Not better, but different from conventional classic and Champagne method wines.

I’ve found the wines to be truly compelling.

italians in houstonTracie P and I thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of Solo Uva on Saturday night in anticipation of the trio’s arrival in Texas (that’s them above, from left, Andrea, Nico, and Giovanni).

They landed last night at Bush and I took them directly for margaritas and Tex Mex at one of our favorite Houston restaurants, La Mexicana.

Today, I’m taking them to see some Texas sights and hear some Texas music before we head to California for a short business trip in wine country and a stop in LA at Sotto on Thursday night.

I’ll be posting on our adventures as time permits. Stay tuned!

tex mex houston best

When will Texas bottlers come clean? Deceptive marketing practices should be stopped

lewis dickson wine texasAbove: grape grower and winemaker Lewis Dickson is one of just a handful of Texas winemakers who produce wines using Texas-grown fruit exclusively.

Last week, the Texas Department of Agriculture released proposed changes in how its “Go Texan” licensing will be regulated.

Currently, Texas bottlers can print the “Go Texan” logo on their labels even if the wine in the bottle is not made from Texas-grown grapes. Yes, even a bottle that contains no Texan grapes whatsoever can sport the logo.

If approved, the proposed changes would require that at least 75 percent of the fruit must be from Texas.

But the proposal doesn’t address the fact that up to 80-90 percent of wine sold as “Texan” is actually sourced from out-of-state growers. Much of it is vinified beyond the Texas border and is simply bottled here.

Today, the Houston Press published my editorial on deceptive marketing practices in the Texas wine industry.

Here’s the link. Thanks for reading.

And here’s a link to Alfonso’s post on the Duchman Vermentino, a Texan-grown wine that caused a ruckus at the California State Fair wine competition last week.

happy father’s day

It’s my first father’s day as the dad to two happy, healthy, beautiful little girls. And it feels great.

Tracie P and I have so much to be thankful for…

Our girls have the best mommy ever. She takes such good care of them and works so hard to make sure that they have everything they need to grow up in a wholesome environment.

And we are so blessed to have the support of our loving family here in southeast Texas.

I love our girls and their mommy so much. Thanks for sharing our joy and happy father’s day!

Coravin controversy: don’t malign this revolutionary device

My post today for the Boulder Wine Merchant follows.

Thanks for reading and buon weekend!

dave fass wineAbove: a sommelier using the Coravin. The device is wildly popular among wine professionals today in the U.S.

In case you’re not familiar with the Coravin, it’s a tool that allows wine professionals to extract wine from a bottle without breaking its seal or removing the cork. The device itself is a high-tech syringe that’s inserted into the bottle through the cork. Because it doesn’t allow any air to enter the bottle, the fitness of the remaining wine is not compromised.

The Coravin was launched in July 2013 (click here for the company’s press release announcing the launch) and since that time, it’s become immensely popular among wine professionals across the U.S.

On June 3, subscribers to the Coravin email newsletter received the following message:

“Dear Coravin Customers… it has come to our attention that, in certain circumstances, wine bottles can burst when used with the Coravin System, presenting a risk of lacerations. We believe the likelihood of this occurrence is very rare since wine bottles are designed to withstand significantly greater pressure than the low pressure the Coravin System places into the bottle. Nevertheless, Coravin has now received seven reports of bottles bursting including one report of a laceration.”

The story was immediately reported by myriad English-language and foreign blogs, notably by the popular wine search engine, WineSearcher.

In the title of the post, “Safety Warning Over Coravin’s ‘Killer Device’,” the editors of WineSearcher quote the noted wine writer, Robert Parker, Jr., out of context.

In his July, 2013 review, he wrote in praise of the new device: “Coravin is the most transformational and exciting new product for wine lovers that has been developed/invented in the last 30+ years, this is a killer device.”

The Coravin June 3 announcement has polarized the trade.

“Always hated these stupid things,” wrote a prominent sommelier in a message e-list subscribers.

Please click here to continue reading my post today for the Boulder Wine Merchant.

My favorite interview & my top 10 wine destinations in Houston

jeremy parzen wine blog bloggerAbove: friend and colleague Alfonso took this photo of me.

I feel so fortunate to be part of the national dialog on wine.

One of the fun things about belonging to the U.S. wine community is that wine writing colleagues will occasionally reach out and ask me to share my insights into Italian wine and trends in fine wine.

But I rarely get to talk about my other interests, like Italian cinema and indy music.

Until today…

Jameson Fink, author of one of my favorite wine blogs, Wine Without Worry, and contributor to Grape Collective, just posted an interview that we did via email.

In it, he gave me the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite Italian filmmakers, my music, and about the city that I have come to love and where I live with Tracie P and our girls, Houston. It includes my top 10 spots for wine in the Bayou City, where the scene is bustling like never before.

Jameson, thank you so much for this. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it really means the world to me… thank you, friend!

Palmento, latest entry in Italian Winery Designations Explained glossary TY @GiacomoBrunelli

ancient winemaking italyAbove: outside a mid-twentieth-century palmento in Alliste, Lecce province (image via Wiki Commons).

“The closer you look at a word,” wrote the twentieth-century Austrian essayist Karl Kraus, “the more distantly it looks back” (see this note on a word’s “aura”).

That’s what happened when I started to examine the word palmento this morning. It was suggested to me by Italian artist and photographer Giacomo Brunelli for inclusion in my Italian Winery Designations Explained glossary.

palmento, literally a place where grapes are pressed or where wheat is milled, an ancient term that appears as early as the thirteenth century in Italian, possibly from paumentum, spoken Latin for floor (akin to the Italian pavimento), possibly from the late Latin (?) palamentum meaning [mill] paddle, akin to the Italian pala meaning paddle or blade (N.B. neither etymology is certain).

In antiquity, the palmento was a de facto cooperative, the so-called torcular (Latin, press) where grapes were pressed before being transferred to other vessels for fermentation. Today, there are still working palmenti in Campania and Sicily, while in other parts of Italy, you can find palmenti that have been transformed for other uses.

palmento siciliaAbove: a palmento in Buscemi, Siracusa province (image via Wiki Commons).

The Italian expression mangiare a quattro palmenti (literally, to eat like four millstones, akin to the expression macinare a quattro palmenti, i.e., to grind like four millstones) means to eat voraciously or to eat like a horse. See this note on the expression by leading English- and Italian-language food blogger Briciole.

Thanks again to Giacomo for suggesting this fascinating term!

In other news…

A tweet this morning from the nice folks at Hearth and Terroir in New York reminded me that I had neglected to update the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project with the most recent entries (Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, and Verduzzo).

It’s now up-to-date and you can view it here.

In other other news…

Yesterday, I posted on a superb meal that I shared with my friends and clients Silvia Loschi and Alessandro Fenino in the Marches in April. It was one of the highlights of my trip and I’ll never forget the excellent vincisgrassi that I ate that magical night.

Thanks for reading and for speaking Italian wines!

amaro varnelli best marche

Wine culture stymied by Pennsylvania monopoly, a sommelier speaks out

steven wildy wine list vetriAbove: Steve Wildy (left), wine director for the Vetri restaurant group in Philadelphia. The group’s flagship restaurant, Vetri, is considered one of the best Italian restaurants in the U.S. Steve has to pay retail prices (not wholesale) to maintain its superb wine list (image via McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail).

The following Facebook note, by my friend and colleague Steve Wildy, one of our country’s leading wine professionals, appeared week before last. I’m reposting it here in its entirety.

Others (notably Joe Roberts, author of 1WineDude) have written about the dismal situation in Pennsylvania, where the state monopoly on wine and spirits requires restaurant wine buyers to pay retail prices for their wines.

After reading Steve’s note, I felt it was important to share it here. (See also “The PA State Monopoly on Wine & Spirits: A Systemic Failure” by Joseph M. Norton, professor of history, SUNY Dutchess, Poughkeepsie.)

If we are to grow as a nation of fine wine lovers, we need to fight arcane, anachronistic, fascist-era regulation of wine sales in states like Pennsylvania, where young wine professionals are stymied by egregiously restrictive and counterproductive oversight (Texas is another major offender).


I recently received wind of online comments made by Jason Malumed, a wine distributor, in response to Philly Mag food writer Trey Popp’s review of Petruce et al. These comments elicited a response from the critic called “A Second Look At Petruce et al: The State of the Markup.” (You should read it – http://www.phillymag.com/foobooz/2014/05/27/second-look-petruce-et-al-state-markup/#comment-1410210035) Malumed’s comments sought to point out many factual inaccuracies and outright untruths. Unfortunately, Popp’s second look doesn’t apologize to Petruce co-owner and wine director Tim Kweeder for misquoting his average markups as 3x instead of 2.6x as much as it takes the opportunity to further rail against restaurant wine pricing in general.

Popp may not be alone in his opinions on the matter, but as a journalist whose readers regard him as an authority on the subject, I’d like him to take another look. There are several serious issues with his critique that show a fundamental lack of understanding of the wine business, and in fact how restaurants operate in general.

It’s this lack of knowledge—given Popp’s wide platform and long reach—that has the potential to irrevocably harm a slew of honest and hardworking small businesses. Why? Because his misinformation, even if it’s un-willful, potentially discourages a large swath of people from dining at a restaurant for fear they’re being ripped off.
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Will Valpolicella Classico cease to exist? Popularity of Ripasso threatens tradition

valpolicella map vineyards crusAbove: the wrinkled topography of Valpolicella, the “valley of alluvial deposits,” was formed by five ancient river beds. Please click here for my post on the origins of the toponym Valpolicella.

An old friend and colleague from my years in New York, Lars Leicht (now of Cru Artisan Wines), asked me to present a vertical tasting of Amarone this week here in Houston with Andrea Sartori of Sartori and Christian Scrinzi of Bolla.

The flight, stretching back to the mid-90s, was compelling (the 1999 Corte Bra by Sartori was the highlight for me). But the frank dialog with the participants — both of whom sit on the Valpolicella consortium advisory board — was what really sticks in my mind this morning.

“It’s possible that Valpolicella Classico could cease to exist,” said Sartori when I asked him about where the majority of Valpolicella wines are sold in the world (Canada and the nordic countries, he noted, are the biggest markets for the appellation, one of Italy’s most successful wine “brands”).

The problem, he explained, is that the number of bottles of Ripasso — the most lucrative category — are limited by the number of bottles of Amarone and Recioto produced.

Article 5 of the Ripasso DOC regulations (as amended in 2010) states:

    In volume, the quantity of “Valpolicella ripasso” designation of controlled origin wines can not exceed twice the volume of wine obtained from the lees from the categories “Recioto della Valpolicella” and/or “Amarone della Valpolicella” employed in the operations of refermentation/ripasso [ripasso, which can be rendered in English as second passage or second fermentation, refers to the traditional Valpolicella vinification technique whereby wines are aged on the lees from previously vinified Amarone or Recioto; translation mine].

In other words, a given producer may only produce two bottles of Ripasso for every bottle of Amarone and/or Recioto she/he makes.

Ripasso has become such a successful category that more and more growers and bottlers are using their fruit to produce Amarone instead of Valpolicella Classico. Greater volume in Amarone production allows them to bottle more Ripasso.

The issue, said Sartori, will be one of the discussion points at a Valpolicella consortium advisory board meeting to be held next Tuesday in Verona (both he and Scrinzi will be in attendance, he noted).

As a bona fide Venetophile and Italian wine lover, it’s my sincere hope that the board and the appellation in general will work together to protect Valpolicella Classico. It’s a proletariat wine that aligns in tradition and in ethos with Veneto enogastronomy. When vinified in a traditional manner, it’s fresh, food-friendly, and delicious. In terms of price-quality ratio, it can represent one of Italy’s greatest wine values and it’s a sine qua non of Veneto culture.

In other news…steve samsonMy good friend chef Steve Samson (above), whom I’ve known since our junior year abroad in Italy together, appeared yesterday on the morning talk show “The Talk.”

Here’s the link to the clip.

Steve is such a great guy — dad to two beautiful children and a super talented chef — and he is the owner/chef at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I co-author the (nearly) all-southern Italian wine list.

In other other news…

This week, my Italian wine writing colleague Jacopo Cossater launched a crowd-funding project for a new English-language magazine devoted exclusively to Italian wines.

It’s an ambitious project and if successful, it would give the world a much-needed English-language resource — authored by Italians.

You can watch an English-language video describing the initiative here.

Jacopo is a good guy and I have a lot of respect for him and his work.

And lastly for your consideration…

I was profiled this week in the San José Mercury News. Wine blogging has been so rewarding for me, both personally and professionally. But above all, it’s given me a means to express my passion for Italy, Italian literature and culture, and Italian enogastronomy.

As the author of the piece notes, when I realized I couldn’t make a living by writing about Italian poetry, I turned to viticulture…

Here’s the link.

Buon weekend, yall!

Hail wipes out 2014 Maule/Biancara vintage, tragedy for Garganega lovers

angiolino mauleAbove: a few years ago, Tracie P, Alfonso, and I visited Angiolino Maule (right) on his Biancara estate in Gambellara. He is the founder of the natural wine association VinNatur and his extraordinary wines are dear to my heart.

In Italy they call it a “leopard-spot hailstorm,” in other words, a hail storm that capriciously hits small, delimited areas while sparing adjacent vineyards.

On Friday of last week, such a storm violently ripped through parts of northern Italy, striking some of the Veneto’s most prized Garganega vineyards in Gambellara (Vicenza province).

The story was reported yesterday by the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

“Four hectares were hit hard,” Alessandro and Francesco Maule (Angiolino’s sons) are quoted as saying in the report.

The damaged sites represent roughly a third of the winery’s vineyards.

“There are no grapes left here and in the other two parcels [Monte di Mezzo and Taibane], we lost 80% of the bunches,” said the brothers. “We’re talking about our best growing sites. We are the masters of nothing! There will be no [vineyard-designated] Pico from the 2014 vintage although there will probably be some Recioto. It’s a disaster.”

“We lost at least half of the harvest,” said Claudio Zambon the local delegate for Coldiretti (the Italian agricultural union) in an interview published this week by VicenzaReport. “The damage was so bad that many plants will have to be moved.” Next year’s harvest, he noted, will probably be affected as well.

The storms will cost the appellation “hundreds of thousands of Euros,” he said.

Faenza province (Emilia-Romagna) was also hard hit by the storm. The image below was posted this week by Agronominvigna on its Facebook.

“Even the grass is gone,” wrote an Intravino reader who shared the Facebook link.

faenza hail storm

America’s favorite busboy & a great illustration by @Hawk_Wakawaka

bobby stuckey busboy“I’m just the head busboy at Frasca,” says Bobby Stuckey whenever he pours wine for trade or consumers. He’s referring to one of our favorite restaurants in the country, Frasca in Boulder, inspired by the enogastronomy of Friuli.

He and his business partner Chef Lachlan Patterson, founders and owners of Frasca, were in Houston last night pouring their Scarpetta wines and serving up a classic Friulian dinner.

Tracie P and I love Lachlan’s cooking so much and I was geeked to take her out for the evening (we have a great baby sitter and we’re finally settled into nursing and bedtime rhythms with the girls and we can occasionally treat ourselves to a night out these days).

We love the wines, too, and you’ll often find their sparkling rosé from Franconia in our fridge.

But the thing I love the most about Bobby is his easy-going nature and his snobbery-free approach to wine connoisseurship. There he was (above) bussing tables and serving food to guests, interacting with everyone.

I wrote about the marvelous dinner, held at the trendy seafood outfit Reef, for the Houston Press today.

An added treat was revisiting the fantastic illustration (below) by my good friend Hawk Wakawaka, wine blogger extraordinaire.

scarpetta wine stuckeyShe had done the drawing and tasting notes for Bobby and Lachlan a few years ago and now they use it as a placemat for their events. It’s simply brilliant. And the descriptors are spot-on.

Click here for a high-res scan of the original drawing.

One of the trade reps at the dinner got up and talked about how Hawk Wakawaka is “the voice of our generation,” as he put it.

It’s wonderful to see how her work has affected people’s lives and perceptions of wines. Invariably, when someone sees her illustrations for the first time, there are exclamations of “this is wonderful!” and “I’ve never seen anything like this before!”

She’s been such a good friend to me and I am a huge fan of her work (she wrote my all-time favorite wine blog post, btw).

Yesterday ended well with a lovely dinner date with my beautiful wife.

But otherwise, it had been a really dark day here at Do Bianchi. I really appreciate the many notes of solidarity that I received from wine writing colleagues from Italy and here in the U.S. They meant the world to me.

The one good thing that the awful morning delivered was a new motto: in vertitate vinum. In other words, you’ll find the wine in the truth and not the other way around.

Thanks for being here. It means the world to me. See you tomorrow. Now it’s time to hit the streets and keep the world safe for Italian wine…