1982 Cabernet by Giorgio Grai, one of the best bottles I drank in 2014

If you happen to be in San Francisco this week, please come out and taste with me at Ceri Smith’s amazing shop Biondivino. I’ll be there on Wednesday, pouring one of my favorite expression’s of Prosecco Col Fondo by my client Bele Casel. Please click here for details.

giorgio grai winemakerLong before we looked to Tuscany for high-profile bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, German-speaking Alto Adige (South Tyrol) had established itself as one of the greatest producers of so-called “international grape varieties.”

In fact, they weren’t “international varieties” back then. In an era before the emergence of the “international vs. indigenous” and “modern vs. traditional” debates, they were just grapes.

Generations before the Marquis Incisa della Rocchetta replanted his San Guido estate in Bolgheri after the second world war, grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Riesling (among others) had been grown there and raised in South Tyrol to be shipped toward Vienna and points northward.

On my recent trip to Italy, thanks to the immense generosity of my good friend Francesco Bonfio, I had the great fortune to taste one of the best wines I had all year: the 1982 Kehlburg Cabernet by Giorgio Grai, one of Italy’s most renowned winemakers and blenders and mentor to scores of current-generation winemakers.

I’ve been thinking about that wine ever since.

It came to mind when I was in Boulder in November for the Boulder Burgundy Festival.

giorgio grai wineryIn the “old and rare” tasting sponsored by the Guild of Sommeliers, Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher made a controversial comment when he noted how many older wines may “still be alive,” i.e., with healthy acidity and tannin, but they often lack the vibrant fruit that we look for in the world’s great wines.

“If you’ve got a cellar full of 1982s,” he told the well-heeled crowd, “I got news for you: the wines probably haven’t aged as well as you may have thought.”

This wine was an clear-cut example of the opposite: here the fruit was vividly present, with notes of fresh red fruit and gentle, nuanced hints of citrus zest.

And one of the most remarkable things about tasting it was not the fact that it was still “alive.” There are no apologies necessary from Giorgio Grai’s wines. We expected it to be great and it delivered on every level.

The wine came to mind again last week when a small northern Californian wine importer wrote me and said that he’s just met with Giorgio and will probably be bringing his current wines into the states.

Thank you again, dear friend Francesco! We’re keeping our fingers crossed and are looking forward to seeing more of Giorgio’s wines here in the U.S.

Happy birthday Georgia P! I am the luckiest daddy in the world

happy birthday georgia pMy goodness, Georgia, today is your third birthday!

Happy birthday, sweet girl!

I picked the photo above for your happy birthday post because it really captures your personality.

You are always smiling and so playful and you love to be outside. And you love playing in the park.

You LOVE the color purple and you love picking out the clothes you wear.

You’re a healthy, bright little girl and now that you are talking all the time, it’s so much fun to talk about the world and read books and play games with you.

But the thing that fills me with more joy than any other is how much you love to sing!
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Robert Bohr on what it means to be a sommelier & the quiet before the storm

robert bohr charlie birdAs I was preparing to head up to Colorado last month for the Boulder Burgundy Festival, one of the persons I was most exciting about seeing was Robert Bohr (above, right).

Yes, he’s one of the most dynamic people working in the wine trade today. And he and Grant Reynolds (above, left) run one of the sexiest wine programs in New York at Charlie Bird.

But Robert and I shared a unique experience many years ago that I knew he would remember as fondly as I did.

Back in 1998, before Ruth Reichl reviewed it for the New York Times, before anyone could imagine the explosion in interest in Italian wines across the U.S., Babbo was just a small à-la-carte Italian restaurant opened off Washington Square by two ambitious New York restaurant professionals.

I’ll never forget the first time I dined there that year and met Robert, who was the restaurant’s very first wine director.

He and I were both starting out in the business, he as a sommelier, me as a wine writer, and neither of us could imagine the wine revolution that was going to take shape.

The first thing he said to me when we met up at the festival was: “I remember that night you came into Babbo. Isn’t amazing how much changed since then?”

It was the quiet before the storm.

Robert is a super cool dude and I loved chatting and tasting with him at the festival. And it was amazing to hear him speak at the D’Angerville seminar.

Click here to read a short interview with him that I posted over on the Boulder Burgundy Festival blog.

Do Bianchi Christmas Six-Pack 2014: happy holidays yall!

Taste Bele Casel Prosecco Colfòndo with me on Weds. Dec. 17 in San Francisco at Biondivino, one of my favorite wine shops in the U.S. Please click here for details.

best rosato italyAbove: sometimes we forget that one of the coolest things about wine is how beautiful it is. That gorgeous hue is just one of the reasons why I love to serve my friend Paolo Cantele’s Negroamaro rosé at Christmas.

Do Bianchi Christmas Six-Pack 2014

Belisario 2012 Verdicchio di Matelica Vigneti
Laimburg 2013 Riesling
Cantele 2013 Negroamaro Rosato
Il Falchetto 2011 Barbera d’Asti Scorrone
Produttori del Barbaresco 2012 Langhe Nebbiolo
Marenco 2013 Moscato d Asti Strev

$116 plus tax, shipping & handling
($19 average bottle price)

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO ORDER.

Wines will ship via FedEx on Monday of next week
in plenty of time for delivery before the holiday.

California residents only.

I regret that I no longer accept AMEX.
But you can pay by Visa, MC, check or Chase QuickPay.

One of the things that people don’t realize about my wine club is that I hope I don’t sell out the wines: I want to drink some, too!

Seriously, the wines that I include in my six-packs are wines that Tracie P and I drink at home. We prize wholesomeness and food-friendliness in our wines and especially with Tracie still nursing, it’s so important to us that the wines we drink at home are not just good but also good for us.

As with previous offers, the wines are ordered in the way I will serve them at Christmas (and believe me: this is what we will be drinking in Orange, Texas, on the Louisiana border, at my in-laws Rev. and Mrs. B’s house — unless of course the wine sells out!).

Belisario 2012 Verdicchio di Matelica Vigneti

Verdicchio is one of the sexiest categories of Italian wine right now. In the last six-pack, we did an older Verdicchio from Jesi, near the Adriatic coast. This one is from Matelica, a valley that lies inland in the mountains. With higher elevation and cooler summer evenings, Matelica delivers wines with more nuanced floral notes than Jesi, where fruit tends to dominate. Belisario is an organic grower and this wine is as wholesome as it is delicious.
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Just the right Ruché di Castagnole di Monferrato

crivelli ruche castagnole monferratoThe memory is so clear in my mind: a spring day in 2000 in New York when I woke to read Howard Goldberg’s note in the New York Times on “the obscure, rustic… Ruché di Castagnole di Monferrato.”

Babbo had just hit its full stride and September 11 was yet to bring dark days to the city.

I was living in Brooklyn and it felt like a revolution in Italian wine was happening: every day, it seemed, a new indigenous Italian grape variety was being introduced to Americans.

I was reminded of Goldberg’s “Wine Under $20″ column last night when Tracie P and I opened a stupendous bottle of 2012 Ruché by Crivelli, one of my favorite Piedmont producers.

It had been sent to me by the California importer, a client of mine.

Some people like to say a wine is “alive in the glass.”

This wine was electric in the glass, with zinging acidity and gorgeous, juicy, bright red fruit. It paired wonderfully with a inch-thick porterhouse pork chop that I served in its jus after deglazing the pan with white wine.

This is a really special wine, folks.

I tasted with Marco Crivelli (below) some years ago in Piedmont. He’s a nutty and brilliant guy. I love that he’s used a self-portrait as Bacchus on the label of his Ruché.

marco crivelli

One of the more remarkable things I saw in Italy: the Villa Collazzi

pietro porcinai architettoAbove: the pool at the Villa Collazzi designed by Pietro Porcinai, a pioneering landscape architect, active in Italy from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Enogastronomy has become my professional focus over the last fifteen years or so.

But every time I return to Italy, I am reminded by what first drew me there: the Italians’ rich cultural and artistic legacy and the country’s many extraordinary works of art and immense natural beauty.

During my November trip, I took a break from the wine and food trail to visit the remarkable Villa Collazzi just outside of Florence.

villa collazzi florentine rentalAbove: a shot of the pool with the villa in the background. Note how the villa façade is reflected with perfect symmetry in the body of water.

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Jon Stewart’s “race sommeliers” & America’s sommelier saturation

Csaba Chubby OvegesAbove: Little Nell sommelier Csaba “Chubby” Oveges, who has achieved “advanced” standing in the Court of Master Sommeliers, was one of the wine professionals who volunteered to pour at the Boulder Burgundy Festival last month.

About five minutes into his monologue on Monday night, Jon Stewart was riffing on claims by certain talking heads that the current unrest in Ferguson, Missouri had been incited by “racial arsonists.”

You have your “your race grifters, your race counterfeiters, your race financial advisors,” he told his audience, and then quipped: “your race sommeliers. What’s wrong with a nice white?”

(Here’s the clip. The joke comes about five minutes in.)

Tracie P and I couldn’t help but reflect on how the term sommelier and the notion of fine wine service have become interwoven in the fabric of pop culture today (we’re fans of the show).

jay fletcher master sommelierAbove: Volnay producer Guillaume d’Angerville (left) and Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher, who was recently profiled by Aspen Peak magazine. Many current and aspiring Master Sommeliers cite Jay as a mentor.

One of the things that impressed me the most at the Boulder Burgundy Festival last month was a comment by Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher, who spoke at the event’s “Old and Rare” tasting, which featured wines from the cellar of the Guild of Sommeliers.

“This year,” he said, “the Court of Master Sommeliers has more than 600 applicants” who want to join its ranks. “We simply can’t handle the number of applications.”

Five years ago, he told me, the number of applicants was around 150.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a reader of my blog wrote me to say that she was sorry that she’d be missing a tasting in San Francisco where I’m pouring in a few weeks.

“I’ll be at the Montage in Laguna,” she wrote, “for [my] Court Certification test.”

Her message, I’m sure, was intended as much to express her regret as it was to update me on her progress in obtaining a coveted post-nominal.

Six years ago, when I moved to Texas, few could have envisioned the pervasive nature of this new fine wine culture and the saturation — as Jay observed — of wine professionals in our country.

Yes, the 2012 film “Somm” played a significant role in disseminating the archetype in American pop culture. But the wine professional tsunami was already in motion when it inspired the movie.

The fact that Stewart could so readily use the term sommelier and elicit a hardy laugh is a gauge of just how familiar the term — and concept — has become among Americans.

Now, whether or not Stewart’s joke was in good taste is another question — a question of taste for the sommeliers to decide.

Yesterday, I posted notes from the extraordinary D’Angerville seminar on the Boulder Burgundy Festival blog.

Taste with me Dec. 17 in San Francisco at one of my favorite wine shops @Biondivino

jeremy parzen hotdogAbove: no, we won’t be tasting any Chicago chardogs on December 17 in San Francisco but Biondivino owner Ceri Smith has a wonderful surprise pairing to go with the Bele Casel Prosecco Colfòndo that I’ll be pouring.

I’m thrilled to share the news that on Wednesday, December 17, I will be pouring Bele Casel Prosecco Colfòndo at one of my favorite wineshops in America, Ceri Smith’s Biondivino in San Francisco’s Fillmore District (Green at Polk).

I’ve known and admired Ceri for many years now: she’s one of our country’s leading experts on Italian wine and I have loved and enjoyed her selection of mostly Italians since we first met back in 2008.

She’s been a fan of one our favorite wineries and my client, Bele Casel, since it first came to this country. Bele Casel’s Prosecco Colfòndo — an undisgorged, metodo ancestrale, old-school Prosecco — is a wine that we pour by the glass at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I co-author the wine list), a wine that I regularly offer to my wine club, and a wine that Tracie P and I drink gladly in our home.

It’s salty and crunchy, wholesome and refreshing, and I’m entirely stoked to be sharing it with San Fransiscans week after next. Details follow… Hope to see you there!

Bele Casel Prosecco Colfòndo Tasting
Wednesday, December 17, 6-8 p.m.
Biondivino
1415 Green St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 673-2320
Google map

best prosecco san francisco

Scenes from the Boulder Burgundy Festival Grand Tasting

rajat parr burgundy wineAbove: super cool Rajat Parr (right) and his sales manager Natalie Vaclavik (from Texas!) poured Rajat’s Burgundy négociant project Maison L’Orée.

The wines at the Boulder Burgundy Festival Grand Tasting a week ago Sunday were off-the-charts in terms of quality, price, and exclusivity.

But that’s not what impressed me the most about the event.

Check out my post for the festival’s blog here.

I’ll be posting throughout the week on my experience there. Thanks for following!