New Year’s foods and Alfonso’s Rape of Prosecco

January 2, 2013

black eyed peasGeorgia P (left) had her first black-eyed peas on New Year’s day, a classic southern tradition observed here in the Parzen home.

Each year, Tracie P makes the peas, simmered with bacon, and serves them with sautée cabbage and cornbread, which she bakes in her grandmother Georgia’s cast-iron skillet (Georgia P’s namesake).

Georgia was more interested in a beautiful pear that we had ripened for her dessert. But it was a thrill for us to watch her taste black-eyed peas for the first time.

Our New Year’s Eve celebration was tame but cozy, with a wine selection that was as predictable as it was delicious (Billecart-Salmon to toast the new year and 2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco for the meal).

cast iron steak pan

I was supremely geeked to grill steaks on the new cast-iron ridged, pre-seasoned griddle that Tracie P got me for Christmas (it’s a flat griddle on the other side). Just look at those scores!

garlic spinach sauteed

Of course, no steak is complete at our house without a side of wilted spinach that has been sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil with garlic and chili flakes.

classic american baked potato

I actually make bacon bits for our baked potatoes, one of our favorite culinary rituals.

mashed baked potato

Tracie P employs the “Bourne protocol” to her baked tuber.

Happy new year, everyone!

In other news…

prosecco col fondo colfondo

Above: Prosecco, “col fondo,” lees-aged and undisgorged, the way it used to be (and the way it is produced by a handful of young producers who have revived the classic style, once in vogue but now eclipsed by “big” Prosecco).

I highly recommend Alfonso’s recent post, the “Rape of Prosecco,” his dissertation on the “perversion” of the Prosecco appellation.

“Many of us were struck by the harshness of the act that one man perpetrated early one morning in December in Montalcino,” he writes, referring to the act of vandalism that destroyed six vintages of one of Italy’s most coveted wines.

“It was horrid, indeed. But the systematic dismantling of tradition in the Veneto, from Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, on the gentle slopes that humankind has lovingly nurtured — that is tragedy of legendary proportions. Culture, tradition, quality, values — all receding like the arctic ice in the Polar zones.”

I’m not sure what prompted him to post this on the eve of the New Year’s celebration.

But I wholeheartedly agree with him and the Gramscian spirit with which he writes: “Enormous growth year after year has people chasing after more and more profit, pushing the land, changing laws, reducing the Veneto to a mere factory for the whims of folks who no longer want to spend money on Champagne and sparkling wine of character.”

Chapeau bas, Alfonso. (Read his post here.)


Mazel tov, Alfonso! Best Single Subject Wine Blog, 2012 Wine Blogger Awards

August 20, 2012

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A big hug and a lotta loving going out today to one of our closest friends and best man at our wedding, Alfonso Cevola, winner of the Wine Blog Award’s 2012 “Best Single Subject on a Wine Blog” award for his excellent blog, On the Wine Trail in Italy.

Alfonso’s blog is one of the world’s leading resources for insight into the world of Italian wine and it’s simply one of the best reads in the blogosphere today.

The Wine Blog awards finalists were announced yesterday.

Mazel tov, Alfonso! And congrats to all the winners (including my good friend Evan Dawson, who won in the “best blog post” category for his post “Why do I write about wine”).

We tease love him a lot ’cause we got him on the spot…


Brunello, for better or worse (or how I learned to love the fruit bomb)

May 31, 2012

Above: I recently asked legendary Tuscan enologist Carlo Ferrini (and historic consultant at Casanova di Neri) what he considered his great contribution to Italian wine. “I took the traditional role of the Tuscan enologist from the cellar to the vineyard,” he told me.

My brother-in-arms and close friend flying winemaker Giovanni Arcari often asks rhetorically: “How many of the winemakers in Franciacorta actually make their living — their main source of income — from growing grapes and making wine?”

I’ve been thinking about Giovanni and his bleeding heart this morning after reading Alfonso’s superb post on Brunello di Montalcino wherein the latter applies his more than three decades of experience, observation, and wisdom to the situation on the ground in the ilcinese.

Even spanning back to Brunello’s ante litteram era, we discover that even for its founding father Biondi Santi, winemaking was not the primary source of income. In fact, Ferruccio Biondi Santi — Brunello’s nineteenth-century “inventor” — was the scion of a noble family with vast land holdings and immense financial resources. His ground-breaking experimentation in massal selection redefined the appellation. But, in turn, that appellation was defined by a handful of landowners who began to produce a “fine” as opposed to “table” wine following in his footsteps.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that wealthy northern Italians began to buy property there (and they probably wouldn’t have seen Montalcino as such a choice spot had the British not planted roots there and “manicured” the Tuscan countryside, giving it its idyllic patina that we know today; just ask anyone old enough to remember the second world war what it was like in Montalcino from 1945 through the 1960s when the British began to arrive).

Above: Ask any ilcinese over 50 and they will tell you that it was the British who planted the cypress trees in Tuscany in the 1960s.

Today, just scan the names that define the arc of contemporary Montalcino winemaking: Soldera, an insurance magnate originally from the Veneto via Milan; Illy (Mastrojanni), a coffee mogul from Friuli; Parsons (Il Palazzone), U.S. CEO extraordinaire… and of course, Mariani (Banfi), one of the leading importers of fine wine in the U.S. who went to Montalcino in the hope of creating a sparkling wine legacy and ultimately turned Brunello di Montalcino into a super market brand.

Where there were less than 20 bottlers of Brunello in the 1960s, today there are more than 250 members of the Brunello bottlers association.

To Giacomo Neri’s credit — whether you like the style of wine or not — his family started out with humble farm that Giacomo took over when he returned from his mandatory military service. I know this because I met Giacomo for the first time in 1989 on my second visit to Montalcino, when his wines tasted a lot different from the way they do today. Since his collaboration with enologist Carlo Ferrini began in 1993, his Casanova di Neri label has become one of the most sought-after wines in the world, winning impossibly perfect scores from some of our country’s greatest wine writers (what do Nadia Comăneci, Bo Derek, Ann Colgin, and Giacomo Neri have in common? Hint: it’s not their good looks).

I recently met Carlo Ferrini for the first time in Los Angeles, where he and I spoke on a panel together. I asked him what he felt, over the arc of his career, was his greatest contribution to winemaking in Tuscany.

“Before I began working as a consulting enologist,” he said, “enologists were traditionally tasters.”

“Like Gambelli?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “I was among the first to convince growers to replant their vineyards and to adopt more contemporary farming practices.”

And on the subject of Brunellogate?

“I’ve never believed that Merlot or any other grape should be added to Brunello,” he told me. “In Chianti, I’ve followed a Bordeaux model, using different grapes, grown in different sites, to create blends in line with modern tastes. In Montalcino, the wines have always been 100% Sangiovese. It’s my work in the vineyard that has made the difference. Not in the cellar.”

Whatever Ferrini claims and whatever we believe (and for the record, looking Ferrini in the eye, I believed him), the predominate and guiding style of Brunello has changed in Alfonso’s lifetime and my lifetime.

In the beginning, was the style of Brunello guided by a handful of wealthy families who saw big business opportunities in producing wines that could rival their French counterparts? Is it guided today by a small group of wealthy families who see financial opportunity (and tax-shelter vacation homes) in America’s thirst for wines in the global style?

The answer to these questions lies somewhere in between an alpha, an omega, and a brief window (1975-1993?) when Italy’s cultural prosperity delivered an optimism and fostered a belief that even luxury products should be the expression of the land where they were grown and the people who made them. It just so happens that that’s when Alfonso and I had our first contact with the wines.

If you following along here at Do Bianchi, you already know the Brunello that I like to drink (Il Poggione, Brunelli, Soldera are my top three, whether I can afford them or not). And there will be plenty of time to write and discuss the wines that we love at our house…

Instead, please read Alfonso’s post: The Battle for Brunello. I’m just adding my two cents here…

In other news…

Today, Italian wine blogger Andrea Petrini, author of Percorsi di Vino, reposted this offer from Albana di Romagna producer Gabriele Succi (left): if you make a donation to one of the officially sanctioned channels for donations for Emilia-Romagna earthquake victims, you can send him a scan of the receipt via email and he will ship you the same value’s worth of his wine. He sweetens the deal by discounting each of his labels by Euro 1 ex cantina. He’s not giving a portion of proceeds to earthquake victims; he’s giving you the wine for donating.

Click here for the offer (in Italian) and links to official donation sites.


Angelo Gaja’s State of the Union Address: “the winery next door isn’t an enemy”

March 22, 2012

Above: The last time I tasted with Angelo Gaja was in March 2010 at his winery in Barbaresco.

Earlier this week Angelo Gaja sent out one of what I call his “papal bulls.” As an elder statesman of Italian wine, he often issues these statements via email — on the state of the Italian wine industry, on the Brunello controversy, on the distillation crisis in Piedmont etc. And a number of Italian bloggers repost them.

As I prepare to leave for Italy to attend the Italian wine trade fair Vinitaly (and to lead a group of bloggers to Friuli the following week), I decided to translate his most recent “state of the union” address.

Whether you agree with him or not, I think that you’ll find his insights and observations as interesting as I did.

For the record, I am the author of the translation below and while you can find the piece on many Italian-language sites, I read it on I Numeri del Vino (an Italian wine industry blog that I highly recommend).

I also highly recommend checking out this post by Alfonso on the DOC(G) to DOP migration (part of the same EEC Common Market Organization Reforms that Gaja references in his statement).

Europe’s Winds of Change

by Angelo Gaja

The Italian wine market is going through a phase of profound change that offers contrasting clues for interpretation.

Domestic consumption is dropping while exports are growing. There are producers who are finding it hard to sell their wines and their cellars are still full of wine. Others take advantage of market opportunities and they empty their cellars with ease.

The current trend of pessimism contrasts with the rhetoric of optimism. Where does the truth lie? The numbers don’t tell the whole story but they help us to understand the current situation.

Nearly twenty-five million hectoliters of Italian wine are exported annually and domestic consumption is just over twenty million hectoliters. Together, these numbers constitute a demand of forty-five million hectoliters, to which we need to add the demand for wine by vinegar producers and users of industrial alcohol. The annual average production of wine in Italy in recent years has strained to meet demand. Will Italian wine fail to rise to the occasion?

Causes that Contribute to a Balancing of the Market

Global warming has contributed to this stress, as has the advanced state of obsolescence of 50 percent of the vineyards in Italy today. But it has also been accelerated by the effects of the European market reforms that were called for, imposed, and implemented by Brussels on August 1, 2009.

These reforms were inspired by common sense — a rare commodity these days. And they were intended to put an end to the waste perpetuated by more than thirty years of public subsidies devoted to the elimination of surplus. And they were implemented by the introduction of measures aimed at re-balancing the wine market.

Once squandered, [European Economic] Community contributions are now devoted to the co-financing of promotion of European wineries beyond Europe’s borders and they have helped exports take off despite the current crisis.

In a short period of time, the number of wineries exporting their products has grown more than 30 percent. A significant number of artisanal producers has begun to ship wines abroad and their success has encouraged to them to combine their resources and to travel beyond Italy’s borders to tell their stories and share their passion, traditions, and innovations. And in doing so, they have helped to contribute to the greater respect that Italian wine now commands throughout the world. As a result, there are many who now believe that the Italian wine market is undergoing a profound and unprecedented structural change that requires them to adopt a new and different cultural approach.

Think Differently

More must be done to monitor and prevent the production of counterfeit wine.

We must stop thinking that we need to compete with one another and that the winery next door is an enemy.

It’s inconceivable that the windfall of European Economic Community contributions for the co-financing of exports beyond Europe’s borders continue uninterrupted: why should European citizens be taxes to achieve this goal?

We must learn how to build business networks using only our own funds.

The domestic market continues to be the most challenging. But its value is undiminished because it’s what shapes and builds business: it’s a mistake to dismiss and neglect it.

The producers whose wines enjoy a healthy presence in the Italian market are often the same producers who reap the rewards of foreign markets.

The balance between supply and demand puts the greatest responsibility on all of our shoulders. And it should impel producers to grow and to become more capable businessmen who are better prepared to rise up to meet the challenges of the market.

Angelo Gaja, March 19, 2012


Gaglioppo, so many great wines making it to the U.S.

March 12, 2012

As thrilling as Etna is right now on the U.S. wine scene, the Southern Italian wine and grape that I am the most excited about are Cirò and Gaglioppo.

When I was in Los Angeles week before last to spend some time at Sotto, a New York-based importer tasted me on (as we say in the biz) the wines of Scala in Cirò (Calabria) — a winery I’d never heard of.

Both the Cirò Classico (above) and the Cirò Riserva (below) wowed me with their freshness, focus, and balance of earth, fruit, and acidity. Gorgeous, thrilling wines, imho…

Currently, Gaglioppo is relatively unknown in the U.S., despite the ever growing interest in indigenous grape varieties (I tasted a Piave Raboso the other night in San Antonio, btw!).

But tasting these wines, I begin to understand the high praise that writers of another era like Mario Soldati and Norman Douglas reserved for the caliber of winemaking there.

“The wine of Cirò,” wrote Douglas, “is purest nectar.”

I’m with Alfonso when he sings Mama, don’t let your (Gaglioppo) babies grow up to be Cabernets


Lou Iacucci: Many mourn a friend who was a friend of Italian wine…

March 2, 2012

In the wake of yesterday’s post and remembrances of the great Italian wine maven Lou Iacucci, a number of people who knew him wrote to me or commented here on the blog.

Of all the remembrances, I was perhaps most deeply moved by what my friend Francesco Bonfio, president of the Italian associations of wine shops, wrote, paraphrasing a quote uttered by Lou: “I do not want to drink italian wines that taste like French wines and I do not want to pay for Italian wines at French prices.” (Francesco attributes the quote to an interview in Wine Spectator, which I’ll have to track down.)

Amen, I say…

Alfonso sent a scan of an obituary published shortly after Lou’s passing in Civiltà del Bere (vol. 12, ,2 April-June 1988), “Lou Iacucci succeeded in introducing thousands of people to Italian wines.” I’ve uploaded them (2 pages) as PDFs and you can download using the links below.

One of the profile’s subtitles reads: “Many mourn a friend who was a friend of Italian wine.” Italian wine insiders will recognize many of the names of Lou’s peers and colleagues quoted in the article.

Page 1
Page 2


Poggio di Sotto 2006 Rosso di Montalcino

January 2, 2012

Since the arrival of Georgia P three weeks ago today, we’ve been cooking at home every night (no takeout a casa Parzen except for Christmas day, when we just had to have Chinese and Woody Allen) and drinking “everyday” wines that we love — entry-tier Santorini by Sigalas, Verdicchio by Bucci, Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo, all ideal because they’ll last for a few days once opened).

Meals have been simple and wine hasn’t been a focus at our house lately but I did open a special bottle of wine for Alfonso when he and his SO Kim came to meet their putative granddaughter for the first time.

Together with Brunelli, Poggio di Sotto is one of the “younger” estates that has really carved out a name for itself as an indisputable icon of the appellation. And the bottle that we shared that night — from a good to great vintage, depending on the producer — was a true benchmark for Sangiovese: brilliant nervy acidity, technicolor fruit balanced by layered minerality, and a focus and precision that is uncommon among the sea of Brunello bottlers who came late to the game.

The wine isn’t cheap but it’s one of those wines that I wish every young wine professional in our country could taste: it is the apotheosis of what Sangiovese can and should be (as Alfonso pointed out in his excellent post yesterday). And perhaps more significantly, it’s an expression of what the variety can attain when it’s grown in the best sites and with the proper care.

The Poggio di Sotto farm lies in the southern subzone of the appellation, in the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. In the photo above, I’m looking south-southeast toward Mt. Amiata from the village. The Poggio di Sotto farm is about a three-minute drive east, with some of the highest south-and southeast-facing vineyards in the appellation (I’ve actually never visited the farm but I’ve driven by it a thousand times).

Poggio di Sotto was recently sold to pharmaceutical giant, northerner Claudio Tipa, whose Tuscan empire continues to grow. But from what I’ve seen with his other acquisitions of legacy wineries (like Grattamacco), Tipa seems to be committed to maintaining continuity. Let’s hope it’s the case: to lose these wines would be to lose an icon, a benchmark, and a piece of that “cultural patrimony” that some of us continue to hold dear…


Why We Love to Hate the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

December 20, 2011

In the wake of a recent post on the absurdity of wine shipping regulation in Texas, a cordial, however tense, dialogue (online and a voce) ensued between me and my friend and colleague Alfonso Cevola, a 30-year veteran of the Texas wine industry, a high-level manager for one of the state’s leading wine and spirits distributors, and a top wine blogger in the U.S.

As we debated the value and implications of the ban on out-of-state retailers in our state, I expressed my visceral observation that the fact that I cannot buy wine and have it shipped from a wine store in New York City just feels “un-American.”

Alfonso responded by pointing out that, “in fact, it is very American.” He was right.

To understand our state’s (and nation’s) peculiar relationship with alcohol, we need to look back to the early post-Prohibition era, when the Twenty-First amendment made alcohol legal again in our country (national Repeal was passed in 1933; Repeal in Texas was not passed until 1935).

“The Twenty-first Amendment is a deeply contradictory instrument,” writes Thomas Pinney in A History of Wine in America: from Prohibition to the Present (vol. 2, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2005). “In its first part it enables the return of alcoholic drink, while in its second part it allows for the growth of an unprecedented tangle of restrictive and obstructive regulation. As one winemaker has put it, ‘Prohibition was never repealed, it was just amended.’”

Click here to read the rest of my post today over at the Houston Press.


DOCG RIP: Death by Bureaucracy

September 27, 2011

And so it would seem that the Italian government has finally stopped handing out DOCGs to any and all who wish to participate in the age-old game of political spoils. But the news that Italian National Wine Committee has ended its despicable practice comes after scores and scores of wines have received the accolade while legions of other more deserving wines have been ignored and omitted.

Over the weekend, my writing partner in VinoWire, top Italian wine writer and blogger Franco Ziliani, and I posted an English translation of his editorial on the final nail in the coffin of the Italian DOC/G system.

And not only did Alfonso post an updated list of current DOCGs but he also wrote a stirring, lyrical, and unforgettable post about the five Italian regions that will never attain a DOCG, despite the nobility of their wines (this is a must-read post, truly brilliant).

The rush to create a tide of new DOCGs stemmed from the final phase (and year) of the EU’s Common Market Organisation reform. (See also this post on “riforma 164.”)

The power to create new denominations has now passed from Rome to Brussels but the reform allowed a “grandfathering” of previously decreed DOCGs. The crush of new DOCGs was the result of hundreds of wineries lobbying to attain the classification before the application deadline passed in 2009.

The Italian agricultural minister essentially rubber stamped every application.

To commemorate this momentous legislative landmark, Fedagri-Confcooperative (the Italian confederation of farmers and farming cooperatives) issued the following statement: “with these deliberations, the National Wine Committee has fulfilled its two-year task of reviewing and approving nearly 300 applications to change existing DOs [Protected Designations of Origin] and the accreditation of new IGTs, DOCs, and DOCGs.”

Never mind the fact that the Italian agriculture minister, Saverio Romano, (who oversees the committee and signs their recommendations into law) was appointed to his seat in the cabinet by Berlusconi so that he could avoid prosecution for organized crime association and corruption. (Over the course of his tenure, Berlusconi has shrewdly authored a series of laws that grant immunity to Italian politicians.)

And so with the baby and the bathwater: bureaucracy has skillfully annihilated any significance or impact that the DOCG system could have retained in a post-CMO-reform world.

As I prepare to head back to Italy for the European Wine Bloggers Conference (where Franco and I will both be speaking), it strikes me as one of the saddest forms of wine writing that I can imagine.


Risotto alla Parmigiana my recipe and other news

July 18, 2011

I just couldn’t resist jotting down this recipe, one of my favorites and one of the simplest things in the world to make. All it takes is the right ingredients and patience. The reward is one of the most delicious expressions of Italy you’ll ever taste. The photo appeared today in my Houston Press post on the Aligoté by Michel Lafarge. Buon appetito!

Risotto alla Parmigiana

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. finely chopped white onion
1 cup Carnaroli
½ cup white wine
chicken stock, as needed (2½-3 cups)
kosher salt
Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a wide sauté pan. Add the onion and gently cook until translucent, making sure all the while not to brown the onion (add a dash of water or white wine if needed). When the onion has become translucent, add the rice and toast over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally (this step is fundamental and ensures that the individual grains don’t stick together or become lumpy). Deglaze with the white wine and when the wine has evaporated, begin adding the stock one ladleful at a time, stirring gently all the while (constant stirring is the secret to evenly cooked risotto). Season with salt to taste (not necessary if the stock is properly seasoned). As the stock is absorbed by the rice, continue adding more liquid as needed until the rice has cooked through (or to desired firmness), about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and gently fold in a generous amount of Parmigiano Reggiano. Sprinkle lightly with minced flat-leaf parsley and top with freshly cracked pepper. (For traditional Risotto alla Parmigiano, omit the flat-leaf parsley and pepper.)

Serve as a first course with extra Parmigiano Reggiano on the side and pair with Lambrusco di Sorbara.

In other news… Happy birthdays…

Today is Alfonso’s birthday. Anyone who’s been following along here at the blog knows the important role he’s played in our lives over the last years. He introduced me to Tracie P, was the best man at our wedding, and he’s our comrade in all things vinous and blogilicious. He has one of those great palates that you can only train and develop over years — decades — of tasting all kinds of wines, from every category. I admire him for how he lives his life, for his career, for his intellectual pursuits, for his natural gift in writing and the amazing stories he tells us about his life in Italy wine, and for the generous friendship that he’s shared with us. We talk almost every single day about everything under the sun and there are days when we seem to communicate telepathically through our blogs and social media (he and I are leading a panel on wine blogging at this year’s Texas Sommelier Conference in a few weeks, btw). And I probably don’t know anyone who can make laugh as hard as Alfonso can. We love him a lot and are thinking of him today on this special day.

Tomorrow is Cousin Marty’s birthday. Does anyone remember the scene in Mel Brooks’s The Producers when Gene Wilder gives the speech at the end in the courtroom before the judge? “This man… this man… this is a wonderful man.” That’s how I feel about Marty. He’s the Bialystock to my Bloom. I never knew Marty growing up: he’s my father Zane’s first cousin and because the families were estranged, I didn’t have much or any contact with him and his children. But when he found out that I moved to Texas to be with Tracie P, he reached out to us and made us part of his family’s life. And guess what? It turns out that I’m not the only fresser in the family! Like us, Marty loves food and wine (“I never met a Rhône I didn’t like,” goes one my favorite aphorisms of his) and he loves the theatrical experience of restaurant going. We’ve become so close over the last few years and the amount of fun we have together is criminal, really. There outta to be a law against it! Marty had a health scare this year and even in its darkest moments, I was blown away by the joy and hope and love and generosity of spirit that he mustered — not just for his own sake but for ours as well. Thank G-d that he’s fine. I just can’t imagine a world without him and Tracie P and I are sending lots of love and happy birthday wishes for his special day tomorrow.

In other other news…

Tomorrow I’m heading home to California where I’ll be pouring wine on the floor Wednesday and Thursday nights at Sotto in Los Angeles. If you’re in town, please come down and taste with me. We’re going to be debuting a new Gragnano (my favorite) and Randall Grahm’s excellent Syrah by the glass. Hope to see you!


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