Al pomodoro please: red, white & Nebbiolo for the 4th

pasta al pomodoro

Mommy and daddy had hotdogs and burgers with all the trimmings for a quiet Fourth of July celebration at home as we continued to wait for the big day to arrive.

We’re now nine days away from Baby P 2013’s expected due date.

Georgia P came nine days early. So mutatis mutandis… Our bags are packed and ready to go.

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The Piedmontese are coming! Cavour’s “enological crusade”

If we want everything to stay the same, everything must change…


Above: To watch Visconti’s battle scenes is to see the hand of a Renaissance master in motion. I highly recommend this epic classic.

Last night, as Tracie B and I watched the first 90 minutes of Visconti’s 1963 technicolor classic Il gattopardo (The Leopard), I couldn’t help but think of the passages we read from Count Camillo Cavour’s epistolary in my “Italian Wine and Civilization” seminar last week at the Austin Wine Merchant. In the opening sequences of the movie, the Prince of Salina reads aloud from a letter sent to him by courier from his brother-in-law: “My dear Fabrizio, I am writing to you in a state of utter collapse. Such dreadful news in the paper. The Piedmontese have landed. We are all lost.” The backdrop for the movie is Garibalidi’s Expedition of the Thousand: in 1860, General Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in Sicily with an army of “a thousand” and defeated the forces of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. In doing so, he implemented the final (and historically symbolic) stage of the Unification of Italy, orchestrated, in large part, by Count Cavour in Piedmont.


Above: The banquet and ball sequences of Visconti’s film are among the most celebrated in international cinema history. Scorsese is a fan…

A very short 15 years before, and three years before the first Italian War of Independence in 1848, Count Cavour — the architect of Italian unity — was planning another crusade of sorts, an “enological crusade”:

    To Giacomo Giovanetti, Novara

    I openly confess that the excellent wine of Sizzano has almost convinced me that luxury wines can be produced in Piedmont. To a great degree, this wine possesses that which bestow prestige on the wines of France and which our wines generally lack, bouquet. The bouquet of the Sizzano does not resemble that of Bordeaux but rather the bouquet of Burgundy where wines like Clos Vougeot and Romanet [Romanée] enjoy supremacy over all the wines of France for their delicate qualities.

    Therefore, it has been proven that the hills of Novara can compete with the hills of Burgundy. In order to triumph in this struggle, [estate] owners must diligently oversee the production of their wines so that the wines will be rich, elegant, and indulgent. I hope to take part in this enological crusade [italics mine] and I will do what I can in the circles within which I move. In order to act expeditiously, it is crucial that you inform as to whether or not these wines of this caliber are available for sale and what is their price. If Count Solaro ever gives up his post — something I doubt he’d ever be willing to do — I will send the wines of Sizzano as a gift to all the diplomats. In the meantime, I will drink them with my friends and toast to your health.

    Turin, July, 1845. (Translation mine.)*

viscontiAs the letter reveals (in my unpublished translation), it was a wine from the township of Sizzano (in the province of Novara, Piedmont, not far from Gattinara) that first inspired Cavour’s “enological crusade,” to make wine in Piedmont that could rival the wines of Burgundy.

With this in mind, I couldn’t help but find uncanny Franco’s post today, announcing a wonderful tasting of Langa Nebbiolo and Burgundies this weekend in the town of La Morra (in the heart of Langa). The tasting, entitled Their Majesties (aka, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir), is intended to create dialog and discussion of the affinities and differences between these two noble grapes and terroirs.

Today, as Italy’s tenuous unity teeters more precariously than ever on the divide between north and south, it might seem to some that Cavour’s enolgoical crusade has been the more successful. “If we want everything to stay the same,” says the Prince of Salina, “everything must change.” (That’s the cover of the editio princeps of the English translation of Lampedusa’s 1958 novel Il gattopardo, published in 1960, and given to us by Tracie B’s dear friend Lena.)


Above: Tracie B’s ragù was so good last night with a bottle of the 2007 Dolcetto by Marchesi di Gresy. We love that wine…

I wish I could spend the whole day reflecting and writing about Cavour and Nebbiolo, Lampedusa and Visconti, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir… but, alas, it’s already 9 a.m. and time to get to work and hit the market and “move some boxes,” as they say in the business. I’m headed to San Antonio… Stay tuned… We’ll be watching the second half of the movie tomorrow night…

In other Nebbiolo news…

I love it when McDuff writes about one of his favorite producers of Nebbiolo, Vajra, as he did today… Check it out…

* Translation copyright Jeremy Parzen 2007.

Showdown in Tuscany? Franco and James to face-off this summer

From the “after all, we write about wine not politics” department…

Above: Franco (pictured last September when we tasted together at Ca’ del Bosco) and James haven’t always been on the best of terms but collegiality has happily prevailed in their most recent exchange.

Addendum: if you missed the first part of the exchange, click here for the initial dialog between these two giants of wine writing…

In case you don’t subscribe to the Wine Spectator Online (as I do), I’ve cut and pasted the most recent exchange between Franco Ziliani and James Suckling below. It seems that collegiality has prevailed in an otherwise rocky relationship. (And here’s the link to the original post.)

Their shared insight and opinions regarding the 2006 Langa vintage are definitely worth checking out…

    User Name: James Suckling, Posted: 05:33 PM ET, May 29, 2009

    Your English is perfect Franco! I have always found Mascarello’s Barberas and Doclettos a little unclean. But the Barolos are generally fine, although lighter in style.

    User Name: Franco Ziliani, Italy Posted: 06:56 AM ET, May 30, 2009

    James, I agree (and I’m very surprise for this) with your perplexities about Barbaresco (and Barolo?) 2006. And I said this after a tasting, at Alba Wines Exhibition (why don’t you attend to this tasting with many Italian and international wine writers?) of 60-70 Barbaresco 2006, many among the most important wines of this Docg. The choice of Bruno Giacosa who decided not to bottle his Barolo and Barbaresco 2006 is very significant about the difficulties and the problems of this vintage, but in my tasting I have find at least 15-20 Barbaresco 2006 well made with great personality, richness, elegance and complexity. A question: why we debate about Giuseppe (Mauro) Mascarello wines and an hypothetical “volatile acidity” in his wines in a post you dedicate to Barbaresco 2006? I hope to have sometimes the possibility to meet you and taste with you so to confront our different point of view about Piedmont (Nebbiolo) wines. What do you think? Franco

    User Name: James Suckling, Posted: 09:43 AM ET, May 30, 2009

    Franco. That would be nice one day. May be this summer? As for trade tastings like the Alba Wines Exhibition, I prefer to taste the wines blind in my office in Tuscany. I too found numerous 2006 Barbarescos with elegance and complexity — ie 90 points or so — but I was just a little underwhelmed because I thought there would be more top wines.

    User Name: Franco Ziliani, Italy Posted: 11:29 AM ET, May 30, 2009

    OK for this summer James, in your office or, better, in Langhe region. When you decide that we can meet for discute about Barolo & Barbaresco and taste together, you can contact me at but don’t forget your promise…

In other news…

There’s another — and in this case, very real — showdown brewing in San Antonio.

1968 Monfortino I need say no more

From the “life could be worse” department…

The other night found me and Tracie B in the home of our dear friend Alfonso, who treated us to one of the best bottles of wine I’ve ever drunk in my life: 1968 Barolo Monfortino by Giacomo Conterno (steaks by Alfonso, photo by Tracie B). It was one of those truly life-changing wines, a miracle in a bottle and a wonder in the glass, at once light and lithe, powerful and awesome. I’ve tasted — tasted, mind you, not drunk — 55, 58, 61, and 71 (some of the greatest years for Langa in the 20th century). Martinelli calls the 1968 harvest “good” (not great) and the wine did have some vegetal notes that I believe were product of the vintage. But quality of the materia prima (there is superb fruit in nearly every vintage, sometimes less of it than more) and the winemaking approach (aged 10 years in botti before bottling according to the back label!) made for a wine that I will never forget.

Need I say more? Check out Tracie B’s tasting notes.

Carissimo Alfonso, grazie per una serata indimenticabile!

In other news…

The other day at Bistro Vatel in San Antonio, I enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve had since I moved to Texas (save for daily dining chez Tracie B!). Owner Damien Vatel is a descendant of legendary 17th-century French chef François Vatel.

The resulting photography is pretty darn sexy, if I do say so myself.

In other other news…

I’d like to mention two series of ampelographic posts that I’ve been following: the one by Alessandro Bindocci at Montalcino Report, who asks “Is Sangiovese Grosso really Grosso?” and the other by Susannah Gold at Avvinare, who is writing an English-language dictionary of Italian grape varieties.

O tempora, o Nebbiolo

O tempora, o mores, to borrow a phrase from Cicero. Times are tough all around and these days I’m slinging a wine bag on my back and hitting the streets, hawking wine. I’m a traveling salesman like my maternal grandfather Maurice (poppa, we used to call him; my paternal grandfather was a rabbi, our zaidi — Yiddish for grand-père — but that’s another story). But as fate would have it, I consider myself lucky inasmuch I get to sell a lot of wines that I genuinely love (my new gig is with the Austin-based Mosaic Wine Group; check out the new blog we launched here). The other day I got to pour multiple vintages of one of my favorite wines (as anybody who follows my blog knows so well), Produttori del Barbaresco: I led a guided tasting of the 2004 and 2005 Barbaresco and 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo the other night at The Austin Wine Merchant in downtown Austin, Texas.

I didn’t get to participate in the Piedmont edition of Wine Blogger Wednesday, orchestrated smashingly by David McDuff at his excellent blog McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail, and so he graciously honored me with a guest blogger spot writing about Produttori del Barbaresco and my recent tasting notes at his kick-ass web log (one of my daily reads).

To read my tasting notes (including my translation of the winery’s 2006 vintage notes), click here.

In other news…

As my friend and dissertation adviser Luigi Ballerini used to say whenever we ate Japanese: oh tempura, oh soy sauce!

Produttori del Barbaresco tomorrow in Austin

From the “this is my favorite wine ever” department…

Above: There won’t be any pizza (sorry, Franco) at tomorrow’s tasting but there will be 2004 and 2005 classic Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco and 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo. These are some of favorite wines and favorite vintages. (I snapped the above photo last summer at Mamma Mia Pizzeria in Pacific Beach, San Diego.)

If you happen to be in Austin tomorrow, please come see me at Austin Wine Merchant where I’ll be pouring my beloved Produttori del Barbaresco. Click here for details. A vertical of Produttori del Barbaresco? Life could be worse…