Some best bubbles and life beyond Prosecco…

December 29, 2009

Above: I took this photo earlier this year atop Cartizze, the most prestigious growing site for Prosecco, where the cost of land per acre is higher than in Napa Valley. In 1998, Tom Stevenson wrote that Prosecco is “probably the most overrated sparkling wine grape in the world” (The Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, reprint 2003).

Xenophobe and racist Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia has infamously and nationalistically asked Italians to drink only Italian sparkling wine for their New Year’s celebration this year. His campanilistic call comes in part as the result of a backlash from last year’s nationalized television controversy when the announcers of RAI Uno opened Champagne during a televised New Year’s eve event.

Of course, Zaia is also infamous for the favoritism he’s shown for his beloved Prosecco this year. He even created the Prosecco DOCG, placing the humble Prosecco grape in the pantheon of the top classification, before Common Market Organisation reforms took effect this year.

Above: Italy produces such a wonderful variety of sparkling wines, from the humble yet beloved Prosecco to the often regal, zero-dosage Franciacorta. Franco and I tasted an amazing array of sparkling wines last year together at Ca’ del Bosco.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Prosecco. And I love the place where it produced and the people who produce it. Just ask Alfonso: he remembers well how I guided us to Valdobbiadene from Trento earlier this year, without ever looking at a map, my Trevisan cadence getting stronger and stronger as my beloved Piave river and its tributaries came into earshot. You see, many years ago, I made my living traveling along the Piave river, from Padua to Belluno, playing American music for pub crawlers.

Above: One of the best champagne-method wines I’ve tasted in recent memory was this Franciacorta rosé by Camossi. Structure, toasty notes and fresh fruit flavors, bright acidity and fine bubbles, an excellent pairing for all the lake fish, smoked, pickled, and roasted, that Franco, Giovanni, Ben, and I ate one fateful night in Erbusco.

But there are so many wonderful sparkling Italian wines beyond Prosecco (Sommariva and Coste Piane are my two favorite expressions of Prosecco available right now in this country). Franciacorta is the first obvious destination but there are so many other producers of fine sparkling white wines made from indigenous and international grape varieties: champagne-method Erbaluce from Carema in Piedmont (Orsolani), Charmat-method Favorita from Mango in Piedmont (Tintero), champagne-method Pinot Noir from Emilia (Lini), Charmat-method Moscato known as Moscadello di Montalcino from Tuscany (Il Poggione), a rosé blend of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir from Langa in Piedmont (Deltetto)… Those are the first that come to mind but there are many, many others. Sparkling wines are produced in nearly every region of Italy, from the sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Trentino and South Tyrol to sparkling Ribolla of Friuli and the sparkling Verdicchio of the Marches. Once, I even tasted a sparkling Nerello Mascalese from Sicily that had been vinified as a white wine (but I can’t recall the producer… please let me know if you know one).

Above: Hand-riddled magnums of Chardonnay for Ca’ del Bosco’s Franciacorta.

Why do we feel obliged to drink something sparkling on New Year’s eve, anyway? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between the royal court of Britain, the Czars, Napoleon’s vinous invasion of Russia, and some enterprising Germans who set up shop in Champagne in the 19th century.

Tracie B and I still haven’t decided what we’re going to open on New Year’s but I’m sure it’ll be something good.

On deck for tomorrow…

Best Champagne and other French sparkling values by guest blogger BrooklynGuy.

And in the meantime, please check out Tom’s post today on “classy sparkling wines.”


Do Bianchi live at Austin360.com today

October 6, 2009

Above: Sunday evening found me and Tracie B tattered by the rain and mud at the Austin City Limits musical festival but warm and happy at the dinner table of the inimitable Bill Head — Austinite bon vivant and all-around good fellow. Bill made a wonderful ragù alla bolognese and so I brought along a bottle of Lini Lambrusco (in this case, Lambrusco di Sorbara). As restaurateur Danny Meyer likes to say, “if it grows with it, it goes with it.”

If you happen to find yourself near a computer this afternoon at 3 p.m. (Texas time), please check out a live chat that I will be doing today with Austin American-Statesman social columnist Michael Barnes at Out and About (Austin360.com).

Above: We were also joined Sunday night by Austin natural treasure Mary Gordon Spence (to Bill’s left), writer, humorist, and radio personality, who had many wonderful tales to tell of her recent trip to Italy, and University of Texas professor of government David Edwards.

We’ll be chatting about the series of classes on Italian wine I’m teaching every Tuesday at The Austin Wine Merchant beginning this evening.

Tonight’s class is sold out and the others are filling up quickly but there is still some space available. My favorite session is Italian Wine and Civilization (Tuesday, November 10), where we read a passage from Italian literature or history, and then taste a wine in some way pertinent to the text. Did you know that Niccolò Machiavelli was a winemaker, for example?

In other news…

Tracie B and I braved the rain and mud at this year’s Austin City Limits festival on Sunday. We didn’t stay long but did get to catch the B52s’s set, which couldn’t be anything other than super fun, and we also enjoyed super-shiny sisters-and-brother bluegrass/country act Jypsi (below). Jypsi was a little slick for my taste but man can they play!

Just over a year ago, I came to Austin for the second time to visit with Tracie B. Do you remember? Here’s a little post from the archive. We recreated the Austin City Limits photo op this year, except for this time sans mustache! ;-)


A post dedicated to mama Judy

September 22, 2009

From the di mamma ce n’è una sola department…

judy parzen

Above: That’s mama Judy visiting Christo’s Gates in Central Park in 2005.

Today is my mom’s birthday and so this post is dedicated to her. Last year, we held a special party for her in the La Jolla Cove Park but now that I’m living in Texas I can’t be there on her actual birthday and so I wrote a special arrangement of Happy Birthday and recorded it on my Mac using GarageBand and made a little slide show movie, with all of her children and grandchildren, including the newest arrival, little Oscar.

Mama Judy likes to drink wine when she throws her famous dinner parties. Like BrooklynGuy does for his parents, I keep her cellar (well, her closet actually) well stocked with good wine. Most recently, she’s been liking the Lini Lambrusco (the rosé in particular), Borgogno Barbera 2007, and her all-time favorite is probably the Chablisienne village Chablis.

Happy birthday, mom!


Soldera Rosso 91 backstage at Diana Krall

August 13, 2009

From the “Good wine bloggers go to heaven, bad ones go back stage” department…

Franco is not the only one who gets to go see Diana Krall thanks to his connections in the wine world.

Most of the folks who visit my blog know that blogging has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me, professionally and personally, bringing me into contact with a wide range of people, from all walks of life, whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

I probably would have met Anthony Wilson — wine dude and jazz master (I’m not kidding) at one point or another: as it turns out he and I have a ton of friends in common (including my old friend John Mastro who manages our band Nous Non Plus). We met “virtually” after Anthony stumbled upon a post of mine on López de Heredia, one of our shared enophilic passions, and we made the connection of all the folks we knew in common.

Above: Pre-show dinner with the gang at Pt. Loma Seafood, around the corner from Humphrey’s by the Bay where Anthony played with Diana Krall. The name of the venue is SO 70s!

On Monday, Tracie B and I picked up Anthony (second from right) and took him to dinner at Pt. Loma Seafood, where we drank 2007 Soave Classico by Suavia and Lini Lambrusco Cerasa Rosé with our dinner (no corkage!). Pt. Loma Seafood is a San Diego classic and the freshness of the materia prima is second to none — highly recommended. That’s our friend Frank Sciuto, owner of Tio Leo’s, sitting next to Jon and Jayne, center. When I mentioned to Frank that we were going to see Diana Krall, his mouth dropped to the floor and his wife Violet said, “Diana Krall is Frank’s freebie.” So we just had to take him along.

Above: Soave Classico 07 by Suavia and crab louie paired like the warm tones of Anthony’s Clark amplifier and the tender notes of his custom Monteleone archtop guitar.

I have to confess that I hadn’t really done my due diligence. I knew that Anthony was a wildly talented musician but it wasn’t until I ordered some of his disks from Amazon and started listening to his music that I realized he is one of the jazz greats of our country (and the son of legendary band leader Gerald Wilson).

Above: Jon said it was the most “rock ‘n’ roll” label he had ever seen, hence the headbanger’s homage.

I really wanted to thank Anthony for being so generous with tickets and passes and so we smuggled in a bottle of 1991 Soldera Rosso Intistieti. I couldn’t figure out the origin of the name Intistieti and so I asked Franco to write to Gianfranco Soldera, who answered that Intistieti is a highly localized dialectal form that means terra tra i sassi or literally land among the stones. The soil is stony and poor and thus unsuited for growing crops other than grapes destined for fine wines. I had never tasted one of Soldera’s declassified wines, i.e., a wine that he felt didn’t rise to the quality of his Brunello di Montalcino, but a wine he felt should be released nonetheless. He is one of Italy’s most exacting winemakers and I knew this would be great. The Pegasus on the label was inspired by the notion that his wines rise above mediocrity — and indeed, they do. This wine showed gorgeously and was shining example of how Sangiovese can age gloriously when made in traditional manner (I’ll do a post on my mind-blowing visit to Soldera last year and his unique approach to winemaking.)

Above: I brought a bottle of Lini Lambrusco Labrusca Rosso for Anthony to take on the buss with him that night for a night cap. That’s him, left, with bassist Robert Hurst (also, a super nice guy). Lambrusco, so low in alcohol, light, and refreshing, is a great end-of-the-night wine.

Thanks again, Anthony, for a truly unforgettable night and a great way to celebrate the success of the San Diego Natural Wine Summit on Sunday. And thanks to Winnie, who was the first connection that Anthony and I made, and who suggested that I write a blog so many moons ago! I am amazed, over and over again, how wonderful surprises continue to emerge from the world of blogging. As the virtual world grows smaller, so the real one seems to be richer every day.


The best meal I had during Vinitaly: polenta e baccalà

April 10, 2009

As much as I love what I do and as fortunate as I feel to work in wine and get to travel to Europe for work, a career in the wine business is not as glamorous as it may seem. When I go to Verona for the annual trade fairs, I get up very early and taste wine all day, running from one “stand” to another, trying to keep with appointments, hoping to see all the people I need to see. It’s exhausting and and by no means as fun as “getting to taste wine all day” may sound.

Above: There wasn’t enough sausage to go around at the dinner I attended on Sunday night in Breganze, near Vicenza in the Veneto. When it was served, they piled the other meats on top of it and all of the juices mingled to make a rich “tocio” (TOH-choh) or jus, as they say in the Veneto dialect. The grilled polenta sopped in the tocio was as good as it gets.

And the worst part is that I was a stone’s throw (an hour or so drive) from so many of my very best friends, like Steve and Sita and Gabriele (aka Elvis) in Padua, Stefano and Anna in Milan, and Corradino and Puddu in Bologna. But when I attend the fairs, I am bound to use my time there to taste as much wine as possible (taking notes on new vintages and learning about new labels) and talking and schmoozing with as many “suppliers” as possible.

Above: Roast guinea hens.

Another thing that really sucks is the food. There I was in Italy, one of the world’s greatest food destinations, and imprisoned in the trade fair grounds in Verona where the only chance for something good to eat is stopping by Alicia Lini’s stand for a snack of erbazzone and mortadella.

Most of the dinners you attend are held in cafeteria-style restaurants where you sit at long tables with sales reps and suppliers. For the most part, the conversation is boring, everyone is tired of tasting and running around, and all you want to do is to go back to your hotel room and crash.

Above: I sat with Chris and Cynde Gangi, a delightful couple who own and run Josephine’s in Frisco (Dallas), Texas.

The one good meal I had during the fair was a dinner I attended with Italian Wine Guy in Breganze near Vicenza. The Veneto is the Italian region to which I feel the greatest bond since I went to university there (Padua) and I spent three summers playing music there (Belluno). The menu that night included some of my favorite dishes, Veneto comfort food: baccalà mantecato (creamed salt cod, a classic Venetian dish); radicchio di Castelfranco (a type of red-spotted white leafy chicory, dressed with olive oil, salt, and a drop of traditional balsamic vinegar; Castelfranco is a town not far from where we were); homemade tagliatelle tossed with radicchio trevigiano sautéed with bits of prosciutto (radicchio trevigiano is a type of long-leaf, red chicory from Treviso, also not far from where we were); Bassano white aspargus risotto (it was white asparagus season in Bassano, also not far); grilled sausages and chicken thighs (bone-in), and roast guinea hens; and the best Veneto comfort food of all, grilled polenta.

It reminded me of a song that I love and used to sing many moons ago:

Se il mare fosse de tocio
e i monti de polenta
oh mamma che tociade,
polenta e baccalà.
Perché non m’ami più?

If the sea were made of gravy
and the mountains of polenta
oh mama, what sops!
polenta and baccalà.
Why don’t you love me anymore?

— from “La Mula de Parenzo,” traditional folksong of the Veneto and Friuli

Thanks again, Alfonso, for hooking it up…

In other news…

It is SO GOOD to be back in Austin!


Synæsthesia and wine writing (and Valentini 2004 Trebbiano)

January 12, 2009

Synæsthesia is “the use of metaphors in which terms relating to one kind of sense-impression are used to describe sense-impressions of other kinds; the production of synæsthetic effect in writing or an instance of this” (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).

A famous example of synæsthesia is found in Dante, Inferno 33.9, where Count Ugolino says to Dante and Virgil:

parlare e lagrimar vedrai insieme (you will see me speak and weep together).

(This is also an example of zeugma, one of my favorite figures of rhetoric, if only for the term’s etymology.)

Synæsthesia is inherent to wine writing: when we describe wine, we use “one kind of sense-impression… to describe sense-impressions of other kinds.”

The wine descriptor velvety is a great example of this (Italian Wine Guy published this excellent post, The Allure of Velour, on its usage yesterday).

In our confabulationes, my comrade Howard and I often discuss synæsthesia in wine writing.

The other night he and I (he in the Hollywood Hills, I in Austin) exchanged messages on whether or not to decant a 2004 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. The next day, he sent me the following tasting notes, which he graciously has allowed me to share with you.

    We started with a Lambrusco rosé from Lini, which was subtler and more satisfying that I had expected. What I’d wanted was “amiable,” and it was that, to be sure, but there was also something come-hitherish which made all of us want to refill our glasses until it was gone.

    The Valentini was another story — one with a narrative arc. It was dull, cloudy in the glass, and at first seemed like a seaside breeze, seashells in the sun, but old, distant, as if we were trying to hear a conversation at the other end of a transAtlantic cable. Then it thickened, notes becoming chords, with sweet second-order harmonics, lush feedback. It could have stayed there and we would have been happy. But then, about an hour in, it went all psychedelic on us. Weird aromas, flavor notes, speaking to each of us in individual tongues. For me, it was witch hazel and Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, taking me all the way back to the Brooklyn days when my uncle would walk me to the barbershop — I’d get a haircut, he’d get a shave, as the Men Born Elsewhere chattered in their native languages. The memories came flooding back. Then the Valentini got even stranger, more ethereal — and was gone.

    To go with the cheese (a Manchego with membrillo, and a truly memorable Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery, a washed-rind triple cream, perfectly ripe, perhaps the best domestic cheese I’ve ever had) we opened another of the 1998 G. Conterno Barolos. The bottle we shared at Lou told a story (or many stories). This one never really lost its martial beat. It was stern, perhaps a bit disapproving. The cheese evolved before our eyes, but the wine simply looked on, aristocratic and unengaged. I look forward to seeing what it’s like this evening. It may not have been ready to yield up its pleasures, but time is on my side.

From this moment on, I hereby declare feedback to be a canonical wine descriptor!

Thanks for the tasting notes and photos, Howard.

Addendum:

The 2004 harvest was the penultimate vinified by Edoardo Valentini before his passing in April 2006.


How Sweet It Is: Lini finally lands in San Diego

July 14, 2008

Above: Lini Lambrusco “Labrusca” red paired well with the Jaynes Burger over the weekend at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego.

It’s actually not sweet… It’s dry and earthly with just a flourish of sweetness… It’s meaty in the mouth and bright on the palate… it cuts through the fat of my cheeseburger like a gorgeous housewife in the Emilian countryside cuts through her pasta dough with a serrated raviolo wheel. Yes, it’s voluptuous and sexy. It’s Lini Lambrusco — one of those “I could drink this every day wines” over here at Do Bianchi.

It’s my obligation to reveal that when it comes to Lini, I’m biased: I had a hand in bringing Lini into this country and Alicia (left) and I became good friends when I worked (pre-mid-life-crisis) with the company that brings her wines in.

Alicia and I shared a truly magical mystery experience when I accompanied her to a radio appearance on the Leonard Lopate show (WNYC) and we ran into “Wonderful Tonight” Patti Boyd in the hallway of the studio. (My post on our encounter is the all-time most-viewed at Do Bianchi.)

Lambrusco remains a greatly misunderstood wine in this country. The association with cheap, sweet quaffing wines, so popular in the late 70s and early 80s, continues to pervade even the informed wine enthusiast’s perception.

In Emilia — one of Italy’s food meccas, rivaled only by Piedmont — farmers like to drink Lambrusco, too. But Lambrusco is not just a wine for field hands. In Modena, Reggio Emilia, and Parma, Lambrusco is served with Emilia’s finest dishes and no other wine pairs better with the region’s famed foods: Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello, Zampone, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (di Modena and di Reggio Emilia), Lasagne and Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, and on and on… In Emilia — one of Italy’s most affluent regions — everyone drinks Lambrusco at dinner, from the village barber to the Ferrari corporate executive (they say there are more Ferraris and pigs pro capite in Emilia than anywhere else in the world).

When I lived — many moons ago — in Modena, I once brought some friends a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino. Their response? “Please pass the Lambrusco.”

Which brings me to an important point about wine, wine writing, and wine appreciation: subjectivity is essential to wine appreciation. And I don’t just mean subjectivity as “consciousness of one’s perceived states” but rather in the (Jacques) Lacnian sense, whereby language (the sign or signifier) precedes meaning (signfication). But I’ll reserve that rigmarolery for another post. Just consider this: in Reggio Emilia, I would open a $20 (retail) bottle of 2007 Lini with my bollito misto as my ideal pairing; in Alba (if I could afford it), I’d open a $450 (retail) bottle of Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva (Red Label) 1996 with my bollito misto — also an ideal pairing. It’s all in the words of the subject as relates to the object and the other.

On the subject of subjectivity in wine writing, check out this interesting post at Alder Yarrow’s excellent blog Vinography.

In other news…

Today is Bastille Day, an important day for my (pseudo-French) band Nous Non Plus and a personal anniversary of sorts (last year I was in Burgundy on this date, whence my personal revolution began).

In other other news…

Just for kicks, check out this vintage Riunite commercial (which Dr. Vino pointed out to me a few years ago):


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