A history of Montalcino that I’m translating into English, a new and cherished project

stefano cinelli colombini barbi montalcinoAbove: I’ve always admired Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s writing and the “voice” that he has given to Montalcino and its wines.

Ever since I realized that I was never going to make a decent living by translating and writing about Italian poetry (one of the great passions of my intellectual life), I’ve tried to find ways to incorporate my academic interests into my work as a wine blogger for hire.

From Roman times to the current day, Italy’s cultural patrimony has continued to fascinate and inform the western world and its ars poetica, as it were, its aesthetic sensibilities. Nearly every art and literary movement today, from naturalism to the avant-garde, can trace its origins back to Italian intellectual life. Where would be today without Michelangelo… or Marinetti, for that matter?

Over the arc of my adult life and career, wine and food history has taken the place of prosody as a window that offers a humanist perspective into Italy and its many wonders, natural and crafted. Whether the etymology of a term like sovescio (cover crop) or my reflections on a Pasolini poem inspired by an Italian wine merchant in Mexico City, viticulture — the culture of wine and the vine – has become a pretext and conceit for writing about a cultural legacy that continues to bewilder me.

Legacy winemaker Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s writing first came to my attention via his posts for the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

On more than one occasion, I found myself translating his work for posts on my blog or blogs where I have contributed as a reporter/journalist.

He is a superb writer and his posts made a deep impression on me because he is virtually the only member of the Montalcino community who speaks out regularly (and eloquently) on cultural and political issues that affect the wines, wineries, and people there.

We met and tasted at Vinitaly this year. And then we met again in May at his winery in Montalcino. When I proposed that we work together to produce a blog devoted to Montalcino, its history, its people, and its wines, he was enthusiastic. He had already launched a similar project, in Italian, years ago.

The result of our delightful conversations is MontalcinoBlog.com, a new online journal devoted to the history, life, and times of Montalcino — the appellation where I first discovered an interest and passion for viticulture as a student in Italy.

Currently, I’m translating Stefano’s excellent History of Montalcino from the Italian and I’m loving every minute of it.

Yesterday’s post — Montalcino History: Montalcino fends off the Medici’s troops and becomes Italy’s last free city — was a study of numismatics. Stefano’s notes on coins forged by Montalcino during the 1550s became a rabbit hole that had me researching Latin inscriptions during the Renaissance.

There’s an expression in Italian: pane per i miei denti, literally bread for my teeth or something I can really sink my teeth into.

Call me a kid in a candy store. It’s a dream job for me and I’ve been having a blast reading and corresponding with Stefano, whose erudition and knowledge of Italian history (not to mention his classic Tuscan wit) are as entertaining as they are thrilling.

Once I complete my translation of his history of Montalcino, we’ll move on to myriad subjects he’s covered in his writings and work. There’s much more groovy stuff to come.

Please check it out here and thanks for reading…

Franciacorta, you’ve come a long way, baby! Notes from my Franciacorta summer tour…

best champagne wine tasting san diegoAbove: my Franciacorta Real Story tasting in San Diego at Jaynes Gastropub was a blast.

Franciacorta has two things in common with Champagne: the classic method and two grape varieties.

But that’s where the analogy ends. With its Alpine climate, maritime influence, and morainic subsoils, Franciacorta stands alone as one of the world’s most compelling wines and one of its most extraordinary expressions of Chardonnay (imho).

Its greater ripeness, its lower dosage, its lower pressure, its incredible freshness, its pairing versatility, and its enormous aging potential make it one of the world’s most captivating appellations.

And add to that its relative dimension: there are currently fewer than 110 grower/bottlers in the Franciacorta consortium while there are roughly 20,000 growers in Champagne. And of those growers, 30 percent farm organically. Some believe that this little northern Italian oasis might become the first Italian appellation to be 100 percent organic. This is possible because it’s relatively easy to farm organically there. It’s a place that special

Thank you to everyone who hosted and tasted with me over the last two weeks in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. I greatly appreciate and deeply cherish your support. And it was a blast to taste so many fantastic wines together!

Click here to read my complete notes from the Franciacorta Real Story summer tour (including the hefty flights of wines I poured on both coasts; all of the wines I poured are available in the U.S.).

At Osteria Francescana “Our cellar is not a museum where you kneel before this producer or that label.” Contrast over harmony…

giuseppe palmieriI really enjoyed translating this post today for my clients and friends at Bele Casel.

In it, Osteria Francescana wine director Giuseppe Palmieri (above) discusses his approach to wine pairing and his list at the Michelin three star, a restaurant considered by many to be the best in Italy right now.

“With all due respect to those who believe that a great food and wine pairing can be created using a list made up of famous names and appellations,” he writes, “we love those names and appellations as well but they aren’t part of our personal and professional histories.”

“In their kitchens,” he explains, chefs Massimo “Bottura, [Davide] Scabin, [Paolo] Lopriore, and [René] Redzepi had launched a revolution that opened the doors for contemporary cuisine. We were spurred by their work and it ‘forced’ us to follow and feed off this energy and their unusual approach. Clearly, their food had moved past the stereotypes of the 1990s like rack of lamb and seared foie gras with fruit confit. And so we wanted to find new pathways for new ideas and a new narrative.”

Click here for the post. Really interesting read…

Image via Giuseppe’s Facebook.

A cult California I really liked and the best restaurant in Tijuana

THANK YOU to everyone who came out to taste Franciacorta last week in California. I’ll be posting a report on all three tastings over on the Franciacorta Real Story blog later this week. But in the meantime, a couple of notes from the trip…

williams and heim wineAbove: a new and more acidity-driven style of wine is emerging among producers of “cult” wines from Napa.

San Diego-based winemaker Duncan Williams and I first met in 2007 when I was researching Italian grape varieties grown on Californian soil. I visited him at a winery in Fallbrook in southern California where he was growing and vinifying Sangiovese at the time. Impressed with the freshness and overall drinkability of his wines, I’ve stayed in touch with him over the years and we occasionally taste together when I’m in San Diego.

On Saturday, following the Franciacorta Real Story tasting at Jaynes Gastropub, he tasted me on one of his new wines, the 2012 Williams and Heim Triple Entendre (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc).

This wine had healthy acidity and good balance. Although the wine is very young and has at least a few years ahead of it before it fully comes into focus, its wood (55% new barriques) is already well integrated and its alcohol didn’t jump out ahead of the wine.

I liked it a lot. If you’re looking for a new cult Napa wine to collect, this is the ground floor. Check it out here.

In other Californian news…

The following post comes from Lawrence Cohen, a friend and wine rep who sells wine to Sotto in Los Angeles where I author the wine list. He possesses encyclopedic knowledge of European food and southern California restaurants. A recent conversation about the “best restaurants in Tijuana” prompted him to compose the following dispatch on La Querencia, which I gladly share here. Note that there is another La Querencia on the American side of the border in Chula Vista. Although I believe the two restaurants are related, the menus are far from identical.

abalone recipeAbove: abalone at La Querencia in Tijuana. Los Angeles-based gourmet Lawrence Cohen recommends the restaurant’s abalone and chorizo sopes (image via La Querencia website).

La Querencia is the best restaurant in Tijuana. And it is excellent for a crowd, or for romantic dinner for two. The mixture of the best food and casual family ambiance where you can bring the kids or the fine wine party of serious diners, with easy going service make La Querencia the go to restaurant of Tijuana. There is no other restaurant in Tijuana we returned to as often or as happily as La Querencia.
Continue reading

California cooking, California dreaming: great meals @SottoLA and @StVincentSF

isabella pedroli chef los angelesAided by Sotto owner/executive chef Steve Samson and his team, chef Isabella Pedroli Giordano (above, left, with her mother) prepared an ASTOUNDING authentic Ligurian menu for a sold-out crowd on Monday. Los Angeles-born-and-bred, Isabella is slated to be the sous chef at Steve’s new Emilia-concept to be called Rosso Blu. I had a blast drinking Pigato and talking food with her at the end of the evening.

Unfortunately (fortunately?), I was too busy pouring and talking about Ligurian wines to properly photograph her excellent food. But I was blown away by the materia prima and the way she handled it. The California basil — used for her pesto — was enough to make you swoon.

california basilI was speaking to the waitstaff about the wines during lineup when the seductive aroma of freshly crushed basil leaves began filling the dining room as chef Isabella’s équipe put their pestles and mortars into action.

It happens every spring and summer when I visit my home state of California: once again I was floored by the bounty of high quality produce from in the El Dorado state.

best california tomatoesWhen I sat down for dinner on Tuesday night at St. Vincent, one of my favorite wine spots in San Francisco, owner and Italian wine sage David Lynch insisted (rightly) that I have the tomato and melon salad (above).

My beloved Golden State aside, few farming communities in the U.S. can deliver nightshades like this outside of Italy.

It was rivaled only the artichoke, butter lettuce, white peach, and almond salad (below).

microlettuces californiaPurely delicious, focused, and wholesome.

In other news…

It’s been tough to be away from the girls this week but I was cheered by the turn-out at my Franciacorta Real Story tasting yesterday in the Golden Gate City (below).

Thanks to everyone who came out to taste and chat Franciacorta.

Tomorrow we’ll be doing the same tasting — 14 wines — in LA and Saturday in San Diego.

Click here for details and RSVP info.

Only a few more days on the road before I get back to my ladies and some needed downtime. Wish me speed!

franciacorta tasting san francisco

A letter to my daughters on my 48th birthday

new binocularsGeorgia P and Lila Jane, my sweet girls.

Today is my forty-eighth birthday.

I wish I were at home with you today to celebrate. But I’m traveling for work this week in California, where I grew up and went to school. We’ll celebrate together when I get back.

It’s so incredible to think about how much the world has changed from the time I was your age until now.

When I was your ages, we had rotary-dial telephones, vinyl record players, and televisions.

Today, we watch music videos of astronauts on the International Space Station and listen to our favorite songs on high-resolution smart phones that are thinner than a chocolate bar.

The first astronauts to reach the moon landed there when I was about Lila Jane’s age and 8-track tapes hadn’t even been invented yet!

The world has changed a lot in the nearly half a century since I was born.

And today, even in the short time since mommy gave birth to you, the world continues to change at breakneck speed.

Over the last few weeks alone, our family has witnessed some remarkable cultural and social milestones in our country that neither mommy nor I could have even imagined when we first met each other in 2008.

Affordable health care for the less fortunate among us; marriage equality that will help bolster family life and remove a stigma from many of our sisters and brothers; and a new dialogue on racism in our country that — mommy and I hope — will make our country a much better place to live for all people.

I’m more proud of being an American than I ever have been. You are Americans, too. And I’m glad that you two are growing up in a world more tolerant than the one that mommy and I grew up in.

Our family and our life together make me think a lot about how the world has changed and how it is changing every day.

You are changing and growing, too: every day you surprise mommy and me with new vocabulary, new games you like to play, and puzzles you solve. And every weekend, when we play music and sing in my office, you amaze me with how quickly you learn new melodies.

But more than anything else, you both amaze mommy and me with your sweetness and your empathy. We’ve seen both of you take care of one another when you’re hurt or sad. And we love the sweet kisses, caresses, and pats on the back that you give us to show us that you love us.

Today, I’m forty-eight years old and I couldn’t be more proud to be your father. You fill our lives with light and joy and I can truly say that these years, since you were born, have been the very best of my life. I never could have imagined the change that you would have brought into our lives. And every day, I know I am blessed to be here with you and mommy.

Thank you for the best birthday I’ve ever had, sweet girls. Thank you. I love you.


binoculars for kids

Taste Liguria and Franciacorta with me next week in California

best ligurian winesMy series of Franciacorta Real Story tastings continues next week in California with events in San Francisco (Weds.), Los Angeles (Fri.), and San Diego (Sat.), including a consumer Franciacorta tasting at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego (see details below).

And on Monday night, I will also be pouring and speaking about Ligurian wines at Sotto, where I curate the wine list (see flier above).

Looking forward to tasting Franciacorta and Liguria with you next week!


The Sotto dinner is part of the restaurants ongoing “Sopra” series, where Chef Steve and guest chefs venture beyond Southern Italian cuisine. It should be a fantastic dinner. Check out the menu here.



To RSVP for any of the Franciacorta trade events,
please shoot me an email by clicking here.

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. TRADE

jaynes gastropub san diego

A story about the old The Ten Bells and the best thing I ate in NYC

best organic prosecco“The problem [at The Ten Bells] is not the list,” wrote one natural wine advocate on my Facebook yesterday. While my bartender was not very helpful when I visited this week, I did drink this groovy, crunchy, organic, and undisgorged Prosecco. I liked it a lot.

Over on my Facebook, a lot of people commented on my post about a disappointing experience that I had this week at The Ten Bells.

Most agreed that The Ten Bells isn’t what it used to be. And many natural wine advocates encouraged me to revisit it. One guy told me to kill myself (for real; I blocked him).

In the wake of all the comments and the many wine professionals who bemoaned the service but praised the list there, I wanted to share a story from my own experiences there over the years.

The Ten Bells opened the last year I lived in New York, 2007. And I immediately became a fan. And even after I left New York (after living there for ten years), The Ten Bells became my number-one go-to when visiting. I loved the place. I loved the ex-owner Fifi. I loved the anti-Beaujolais nouveau festival. I loved the pâté (which was superb with the Beaujolais). I went there for business, I went there for pleasure.

One time when I visited, I sat down at the bar and asked the bartender if he had any Maule Garganega, which I had drunk there before.

He said that no, he didn’t have any at the moment.

“I’m so bummed!” I told him. “I was so looking forward to pairing some oysters with that wine. I love it so much.”

He looked me in the eye.

“Anyone who loves Maule and oysters so much needs to have some,” he said smiling broadly.

“I actually have one bottle of Maule. Let me get it for you.”

And he didn’t charge me for the oysters or the wine.

Not long after that, back in California (where I was trying to figure out what the next chapter of my life would be; this was before I met Tracie P), a good friend and natural wine lover asked me for New York City recommendations.

I told him to go to The Ten Bells and order Maule and oysters.

When he returned to California, he told me that not only had he sat down at the bar and ordered Maule and oysters, but the bartender had refused to charge him.

My friend recounted that “the guy at the bar said, ‘Anyone who loves Maule and oysters so much needs to have some. It’s on me.'”

It’s unbelievable. But it’s 100 percent true. I swear.

I don’t know that bartender’s name but I can see him in my mind’s eye.

And I will revisit The Ten Bells when I come back to the city this fall.

In other news…

clams black bean sauce recipeThose are cherrystone clams with black beans at Fuleen Seafood in Chinatown, where I had dinner with some of my best friends in the wine trade last night.

What a great dinner! That’s the duck below.

As much as I loved the pasta at I Trulli and the burger at the bar at Keens Steakhouse, last night’s was the best meal of the trip.

Now it’s time to get my butt back to Texas where there are three ladies that I need to squeeze tightly, tightly, tightly…

peking duck recipe

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…