A difficult vintage in Tuscany (and tasting notes for Poggione Brunello Paganelli 04)

August 28, 2012

Above: Our friends at Il Poggione in Montalcino began picking their Merlot today. I really admire their openness and earnestness in posting about weather and harvest conditions.

The “split-screen optics” at casa Parzen tend toward the dramatic these days.

On the one hand, we’re monitoring the path of hurricane Isaac, hoping it doesn’t veer west and make landfall in Orange, Texas where our family lives. And of course, we’re keeping our Louisiana sisters and brothers in our hearts and our thoughts, as well as Gulf Coast residents to the east.

On the other hand, we’re watching the weather in Italy carefully: a challenging harvest is already in full swing and weather patterns over the next few days will greatly influence the quality of the grapes that have yet to be picked.

On their blog Montalcino Report, our friends at Il Poggione in Montalcino write that much needed rain arrived Sunday. They’ve been very open about the difficulties posed by high temperatures and prolonged drought this year. And in today’s post they concede that, although the grapes are healthy, they’re seeing elevated sugar levels in the Merlot that they started picking today.

Above: It rained across Italy on Sunday, including Friuli, bringing some relief to grape growers, but probably too little too late to compensate for the prolonged drought.

Our friend Giampaolo Venica in Collio (Friuli) also tweeted about the rainfall, posting the photo above.

He’s been very frank about the less-than-ideal ripening conditions this summer on his Twitter feed.

Emergency irrigation is not allowed in Montalcino and, as Giampaolo wrote me the other day, it’s nearly impossible in Collio.

More than once, Alessandro Bindocci, son of winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci, has written on his blog that 2012 reminds them of the tragic 2003 vintage.

In other news…

Above: We opened a bottle of 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Paganelli by Il Poggione on Friday night.

Our friend Mark Sayre let us open a bottle of 04 Brunello Paganelli from our cellar at Trio in Austin the other night.

Man, what a gorgeous bottle of wine! Still very youthful and muscular, like a young bronco, rich in its mouthfeel and judicious, if not generous, with its fruit. Its “nervy” acidity served as a trapeze for the wine’s berry and red stone fruit flavors as they danced with the wonderful savory horse-sweat notes that — in my view — define true Sangiovese as expressed by Montalcino.

There’s so much Brunello di Montalcino out there these days and a lot of it is good (some of it middle-of-the-road).

Il Poggione’s — especially a top-tier bottle like this — always stands out as a pure, superlative expression of the appellation. Truly superb wine…

I’ve got a few more tasting notes to post before Tracie P, Georgia P, and I head to Italy on Saturday… stay tuned…


Smells like horse shit and I’m glad I stepped in it: 01 Taurasi by Struzziero

June 18, 2011

“Smells like horse shit,” said Tracie P last night with no small amount of satisfaction when she and I opened a bottle of 2001 Taurasi Riserva Campoceraso (field of the cherry tree) with our friends, sommelier Mark Sayre and chef Todd Duplechan at Trio in Austin. I bought the bottle, a current release for Taurasi, back in February from my friend and fellow champion of the wine proletariat Roberto when I was out in Los Angeles.

Whenever I teach a class or lead a tasting, the attendees are often surprised when I tell them that “I want my red wine to smell like horse shit and fruit and taste like fruit and rocks.” Smell like shit? Yes, and be glad you stepped in it!

Of course, the canonical descriptor for aromas like these is barnyard and you’ll often find it used for certain categories of Pinot Noir, most famously for example, from Burgundy.

The 01 Struzziero — probably my favorite producer of Taurasi — was meaty and salty, with bright acidity, and showed rich black fruit and savory flavors in the mouth. And as the barnyard and a little bit of Bret Michaels wore off, delicate notes of red berry fruit began to emerge on the nose.

When chef Todd tasted the wine, he ingeniously created a pizza inspired by the flavors of the wines: speck, eggplant, shallots, blue cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, and dried fig… I loved the pairing and I thought about how wonderful it is to break the chains that bind so many of the world’s noble wines, like this Taurasi. Too often, in my experience, people insist on pairing a wine like this with braised meats. Yes, traditionally, that’s what you would pair this with. But the whimsical — capricciosa — pizza culled unexpected bright notes from this rich and intense wine.

In other Texas news…

I’m super stoked to see that Mark and Todd are tweeting these days. I’m following and you should, too. These guys perform magic nightly at the restaurant and they’re now sharing some of their enogastronomic insights with the world (Tracie P and I are hoping that Todd will write about some of the baby food he and his wife Jessica, an awesome pastry chef, are cooking up for their newborn).

In other other Texas news…

Did you see that Alfonso and I are leading a panel on wine blogging at this year’s TexSom conference? You think “horse shit” is outrageous? Wait ’til you hear what Alfonso and I are going to talk about! NC-17, for sure. Now, if we could only get young Texan wine professionals to stop saying “som”!


Signor Tannino vi sono obbligato (two deceptively tannic wines)

January 18, 2011

Saturday night found Tracie P and me on a double-date at one of our favorite dinner spots in Austin, Trio at the Four Seasons, where Austin’s very own celeb sommelier Mark Sayre generously allows MOT (that’s members of the trade not members of the tribe for the Hebraically inclined among you) to bring their own wines.

I always point to Lettie’s article, “Corkage for Dummies,” as a great rule-of-thumb guide to the etiquette of corkage. I’d only add to it, that beyond bringing a bottle that’s not on the sommelier’s wine list, I always try to bring something that I think the sommelier will enjoy tasting — a bottle or label that might just surprise her/him.

On this occasion, we brought along two deceptively tannic wines: the 2006 Romangia Bianco by Dettori (Sardinia) and the 2009 Grignolino del Monferrato (above) by La Casaccia (Piedmont), two of our favorite wines from two of our favorite producers.

Thanks to what must be significant maceration time for the Vermentino (I’m still trying to get Dettori to send me some tech notes on this wine and will post as soon as they arrive), this wine is TANNIC with a capital T. In fact, it was MORE tannic than it was on at least two other occasions when we tasted it between the fall of 2010 and last Saturday. Crunchy and salty, with layers and layers of white and pitted fruit (dried, cooked, and gloriously ripe), it’s time IMHO to put the rest of my allocation down in the cellar to be revisited in a year or so. It’s such a great value for people like us who like to age white wine.

The Vermentino was FANTASTIC with the caramelized and dolce amaro flavors of chef Todd Duplechan’s pork belly, which he seasons with the same ingredients used to make Coke. (I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it gladly again: in Texas, where pork belly is de rigueur at nearly any venue that caters to carnivores, I’ve found no one so far who does it as well as Todd does, with seasonal pickled vegetables and a flair that takes it from A to A+. Be sure to eat it when it’s still hot and the unctuous character of the fat sings like Tammi Terrell to the crispy crust of Marvin Gaye.)

Even chef Todd was surprised by how tannic the Grignolino was: “It’s so light in color,” he said when he came out from the kitchen to chat with our table, “I wasn’t expecting so much tannin.”

Very little Grignolino makes it to this country and honestly, I didn’t fully grasp what an amazing and powerfully tannic wine this grape could deliver until I visited the folks at La Casaccia. The first time Tracie P tasted it late last year, she looked up at me from the dinner table and asked plaintively, as if she were a Texan Oliver Twist, “can there be more Grignolino in our future?” The wine was sumptuous (not something you would expect from a wine so light in color) and delicious, with that characteristic rhubarb note that you find in classically vinified Grignolino. The wine was stunning with my Brooklyn-cut pork chop.

O Signor Tannino, vi sono obbligato!


Mark does Madeira

December 8, 2010

It just doesn’t sound as good as “Debbie Does Dallas,” does it?

One of the sexiest new old wines of 2010 is Madeira. Ever since December of 2009, when Eric the Red reminded us that Madeira was historically served as a pairing for savory foods, to be consumed throughout the course of the meal, people have been paying attention (again) to this high-acidity, groovy, funky, nutty stuff.

Down at Trio in the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, where Austin’s sexiest sommelier Mark Sayre serves up “‘a voyage in a glass,’ poured nightly along the banks of Lady Bird Lake,” you can do a flight of the Rare Wine Company’s “historic Madeira series.”

Reasonably priced and utterly delicious. So perfect IMHO for Chef Todd Duplechan’s Texas smoked rib-eye there. How cool is that?


Congrats Mark Sayre, Erin and Nat!

September 27, 2010

You head outta town for a few weeks and all KINDS of stuff is bound to happen while you’re gone!

Congrats are due to our friend Mark Sayre (above), sommelier at one of Austin’s top dining desintations, Trio. He was recently named one of the top 7 sommeliers in the country by Wine & Spirits magazine. Nice going, bro!

And a heartfelt mazel tov to beloved Austin wine professionals Erin McReynolds and Nat Davis who were married yesterday. Tracie P and I wish you a lifetime of bliss and happiness!


The honeymoon ain’t over… Champers, anyone?

February 20, 2010

champers

My parents-in-law, Reverend and Mrs. B, came to Austin this week to help us with our move and last night, we took them to one of our favorite dining spots to celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary — yes, 39 years!

It was really only our second night out since we returned from our honeymoon and our good friend and top Austin sommelier Mark Sayre at Trio surprised us with the very same wine that we drank on the second day of our viaggio di nozze, a bottle of Charles Heidsieck, which he just added to his list. The wine has a wonderful balance of toasty and white fruit flavors and its bright acidity makes it super food-friendly.

Thanks, Mark! Who knew you read my blog??!! ;-) It felt like our honeymoon all over again.

And thanks Rev. and Mrs. B for giving us such a beautiful wedding, helping us move, and most of all for having such a lovely daughter!

Happy anniversary, ya’ll! We love you a lot…

And, chef Todd, the chicken wasn’t half bad either (my father-in-law can’t stop talking about the fried, breaded avocado topped with poached quail egg. Delicious!).


Mikey likes it: Brunello 2004 by Il Poggione

January 13, 2010

From the “on any given Sunday” department…

poggione

Above: Just to be on the safeside, we opened 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione last night at Trio in Austin. Photos by Tracie B.

Tracie B and I were both concerned when, the other day, we read that the 2004 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione had been eliminated from the top-ten wines in The New York Times recent blind tasting panel of 04 Brunello.

Blind tasting can be such a tricky business and in many ways, it removes wine from the terrestrial context in which we consume it (and the way it was intended to be consumed). In blind tasting, our experience becomes metaphysical, in other words, beyond the physical inasmuch as it treats wine as an abstraction. The intention is noble: blind tasting is intended to remove as many “extraneous” variables as possible and force the taster(s) to evaluate the wine purely on its sensorial attributes as an empirical expression of its intrinsic value. But wine, by its very (human) nature, cannot be reduced to pure science.

Even Eric, whose palate I admire greatly, was surprised that Il Poggione didn’t make the top-ten cut. “Some very well-known brunellos,” he wrote, “missed the cut in our blind tasting, including one of my perennial favorites, Il Poggione… A cautionary note about blind tastings: they are snapshots of a wine at a particular moment. I would never say no to a bottle of Il Poggione, even if I did reject it here.”

Never ones to say no to a bottle of Il Poggione, Tracie B and I went to Trio in Austin last night and asked our friend sommelier Mark Sayre to open a bottle of the 2004. Above and beyond our friendship, I turn to Mark when I want the proverbial “second opinion” (and his wine program offers the ideal setting for tasting fine wine in Austin).

Tracie B, Mark, and I all agreed that the wine is going through a very tannic moment in its evolution. We opened the bottle, decanted it immediately, and then tasted it immediately. Then, we put it aside and let it aerate for about 45 minutes.

tocai

Above: We also tasted Scarpetta 2007 Tocai Friuliano (bottled by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey) with the shrimp croquettes. This old-school wine is one of those “not-for-everyone” wines but just right for me and Tracie B!

At first sip, the wine was overwhelmed by its tannin, but when we returned to it, it had begun to open up beautifully, showing that magical balance of tannin, fruit, and acidity that makes Montalcino (in my view) one of the greatest appellations in the world.

Not everyone made great wine in 2004. As much as the Tuscan wine industry would like us to believe that 2004 was a 5-star vintage, it simply was not: summer heat spikes plagued growers whose vineyards lie at lower elevations.

But, as father-and-son winemaking team Fabrizio and Alessandro Bindocci will tell you, Il Poggione’s vineyards lie at some of the highest elevations in the entire appellation, reaching 400 meters a.s.l. and thus keeping summer temperatures cooler during warm summer months.

I don’t think 2004 will be remembered as a great vintage in Montalcino but I do think a handful of producers made superb wines and Il Poggione was one of them. The wine has many, many years ahead of it in the bottle and will only get better with age. It’s a young buck right now and just needs some patience and aeration to temper the power of its youth.

The je-ne-sais-quoi moment came when Mark insisted that we pair the fried pork belly with the wine: the classic plum notes of the wine and its tannin attained an ethereal nobility when blended with gelatinous fat and caramelized flavors of the dish.

What happened with the bottle that Eric and the panel tasted in New York? We’ll never know: on any given Sunday, even in a laboratory environment, a bottle of wine can be affected by innumerable variables (including how it was handled by the many actors who “touch” it before it reaches the end user).

Our evaluation? In the words of Tracie B, “Mikey likes it!”


Che bigolo! A sexy pairing with Pierre Péters

December 16, 2009

Above: Not exactly traditional but delicious. Buckwheat bigoli with guinea hen last night at Trio in Austin.

My Italian friends will get the joke from last night. When Tracie B and I saw that Trio chef Todd Duplechan was offering buckwheat bigoli on his menu at Trio, I couldn’t resist the pun: I turned and asked sommelier Mark Sayre, “do you think that Todd will let me taste his bigolo?”

Here’s what “Trevisan humanist” Bepo Maffioli had to say about bigoli in his landmark Cucina Veneziana (1982):

    “Brown” bigoli — the buckwheat long noodles of Bassano and Treviso — went through a dark period because Italian law requires that only durum wheat flour be used to make pasta. As a result, bigoli were considered an adulterated product. But then, sentence was passed, and they were found to be a traditional product and thus were permissible for consumption. Since the time of the “vigils,” bigoli a puro oio, in other words, dressed with just extra-virgin olive oil, has been one of the most common dishes for abstinence and fast days. Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday have always been holidays for bigoli in salsa (literally, bigoli in sauce) in nearly every city of the Veneto. This dish was almost always made by pairing bigoli and salt-cured sardines but the ingredients could change depending on the city and province and sometimes even the township.

[His thoughts on "adulteration" and culinary law (playful in this case) might seem ironic in the light of the pasta price fixing scandal that surfaced this week in Italy and the Chianti adulteration controversy that first raised its ugly head last week. Ne nuntium necare!]

Like the Tuscan pinci or pici, the Veneto word bigoli is a generic term that denotes long, round artisanal noodles. Most believe it comes from baco or worm. Many Veneto cookery authors use it interchangeably with spaghetti, which simply means little strings (from spago or string). In English, the term spaghetti evokes a particular shape of long noodle. But in Italian, it is a generic term that can be used in certain contexts to denote a wide variety of long, round noodles. The expression bigoli in salsa, literally bigoli in sauce, is used elastically to denote the traditional Venetian dish bigoli with sardines or anchovies as well as other preparations.

For obvious reasons, bigolo, when singular, is a euphemism for the male sex.

Todd served his buckwheat bigoli with guinea hen. They were shorter than traditional bigoli but delicious nonetheless.

Above: Pierre Péters rosé at Trio. I had never tasted this superb wine before. What a fantastic, exquisite expression of Champagne! There is so much great wine in the world. Anyone who’s really into wine will tell you, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

Our friends April and Craig Collins graciously and generously treated us to a bottle of Pierre Péters rosé to celebrate the holiday season. What an amazing wine! Ubi major minor cessat: for notes on the producer and the wines, I’ll point you to the experts here and here.

As we sipped this delicious and gorgeous pink wine (full of luscious fruit balanced by stern minerality), I couldn’t help but think to myself about how some of my wine blogging colleagues warned me (fruitlessly) that I wouldn’t find good wine to drink in Texas. Well, I’m here to tell ya, they got them some pretty darn good wine down here in this fine state!

Above: Master sommelier candidate Craig Collins and his lovely wife April are the leading man and lady of the Austin wine scene.

Thanks again, April and Craig, for turning us on to (and treating us to) such an amazing wine!


Umami blogging (and Nebbiolo gone wild)

October 29, 2009

Above: I poured an awesome flight of Nebbiolo on Tuesday night at The Austin Wine Merchant for my class “The De Facto Cru System in Piedmont.”

They say that parenting blogs, so-called “mommy blogging,” are the most lucrative: evidently, folks who write about parenting have no troubles finding advertisers. Among wine bloggers, however, the term “mommy blogging” denotes a sub-genre of posts in which bloggers “write home to mom,” telling her all the great bottles that they have opened. Italian Wine Guy often accuses me of this and I must confess that my mom does read my blog (hi mom!).

Since I am about to indulge in some flagrant, unapologetic mommy blogging, I’d like to propose a new sub-genre of enoblogging for your consideration: “Umami Blogging.”

Umami is one of the “the five generally recognized basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human tongue” and in wine writing, we often use it to denote a class of “savory” descriptors.

Umami, meaty, brothy, savory flavors were on everyone’s palates Tuesday night when I poured 7 bottlings of Nebbiolo from Langa at my weekly Italian wine seminar at The Austin Wine Merchant. Man, what a flight of wines! The de facto cru system of Piedmont was the topic and participants tasted bottlings from the east and west sides of the Barolo-Alba road as well as a Barbaresco and a Langhe Nebbiolo sourced in Barbaresco, where many believe the proximity of the Tanaro river adds another dimension to the appellation’s macro-climate.

Highlights were as follows…

Bruno Giacosa 2001 Barolo Falletto

This wine, from a classic Langa vintage, showed stunningly on Tuesday. Still very tannic in its development but as it opened up over the course of the evening, it performed a symphony of earthy, mushroomy flavors. The Austin Wine Merchant is selling this wine at release price (RUN DON’T WALK).

Brovia 2004 Barolo Rocche

My first encounter with this vintage from traditional producer, Brovia, one of my favorites. Here wild berry fruit ultimately gave way to a wonderful eucalyptus note. The wine is still very tannic, of course, but was suprisingly approachable after just an hour of aeration. I loved the way the fruit and savory flavors played together like a meal in a glass. Great value for the quality of wine.

Marcarini 2005 Barolo Brunate

This wine had a bretty, barnyardy note on the nose that was a turn off for a lot of folks but guest sommelier June Rodil (the current top Texas sommelier title holder) and I really dug this wine, which weighs in at less than $60. I love the rough edges of this rustic style of Barolo and only wish that I had some bollito misto and mostarda to pair with its vegetal, sweaty horse flavors.

Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Barbaresco

Tracie B, who joined at the end of the class, and I agreed that this wine is beginning to close up. It is entering a tannic phase of its development and its savoriness overpowers its fruit right now. That being said, it still represents the greatest value in Langa today, at under $40. If you read Do Bianchi, you know how much I love the wines of Produttori del Barbaresco: I would recommend opening this wine the morning of the dinner where you’d like to serve it. By the end of the night, the tannin had mellowed and the fruit began to emerge.

To reserve for my Wines of the Veneto class (Nov. 3, a seminar dear to my heart because of my personal connection to the Veneto) or my Italian Wine and Civilization Class (Nov. 10, my personal favorite), please call 512-499-0512‎. On Tuesday, Nov. 10, we’ll all head over to Trio after class for a glass of something great to celebrate. Thanks again, to everyone, for taking part and heartfelt thanks to The Austin Wine Merchant for giving me the opportunity to share my passion for Italian wines with Austin!

In other Nebbiolo news…

My buddy Mark Sayre is pouring Matteo Correggia 2006 Roero Nebbiolo by the glass at the Trio happy hour at the Four Seasons. European wine writers have been paying a lot of attention lately to the red wines of Roero (an appellation better known in this country for its aromatic white Arneis). There isn’t much red Roero available in the U.S. and I was thrilled to see this 100% Nebbiolo in the market. It’s showing beautifully right now and is my new favorite pairing for chef Todd’s fried pork belly — my compulsive obsession — a confit seasoned with the same ingredients used to make Coca Cola.

See, mom? You can sleep peacefully knowing that your son is drinking great Nebbiolo! ;-)

*****

Does anyone remember Tom Lehrer’s “So Long Mom, I’m Off To Drop a Bomb”?


Getting tiggy with it in the ATX

October 14, 2009

From the “just for fun” department…

On Friday night, Tracie B’s birthday celebration weekend began with a glass of 1987 López de Heredia Tondonia — one of the best wines I’ve tasted in a long while. Our good friend Mark Sayre at Trio at the Four Seasons always has something crazy and stinky for us to drink when we hang out at Austin’s best-kept-secret happy hour (half-priced wines by the glass, happy hour snacks menu, and free valet parking).

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with chef Todd Duplechan’s fried pork belly. He makes a confit of pork belly and then fries it: when he serves it, the fat in the middle is warm and gelatinous and the outside is crispy and savory. You know the story I always tell about the Rabbi and the ham sandwich he “can live without”? Well, I can’t live without Todd’s fried pork belly. He garnishes with a relish made from seasonal vegetables, in this case pickled watermelon radish and okra.

Later that evening, we met up with some friends at the High Ball (no website but does have a Facebook fan page), Austin’s newest (and only) bowling alley cum Karaoke bar cum mixology and designer beer menu. Tracie B had the “Heirloom”: roseberry fizz, citrus infused vodka, elderflower, rosemary, muddled blackberries. The High Ball hasn’t even had its official, hard opening and it is already packed nightly, Austin’s newest hipster hangout and a lot of fun with its art deco, Bettie Page ambiance and clientele.

Thanks to everyone for coming out to my Italian wine seminars at the Austin Wine Merchant. Last night was Tuscany (that’s our new friend Mary Gordon, front row center). Highlights were 2006 Chianti Classico by Fèlsina (such a great value), 2001 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione (this vintage is just getting better and better, always a fav), 2004 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano by Villa Sant’Anna (old-school Vino Nobile that I thoroughly dig), and 2005 Tignanello (not exactly my speed but always a go-to trophy wine). Coincidentally, Laura Rangoni posted an interview with the “father of Tignanello” Renzo Cotarella on her blog yesterday. “Barrique is like a mini-skirt,” he told her, “not every woman can wear one.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Yo, Renzo, get tiggy with it! Thanks for reading.

Nah nah nah nah nah… Get tiggy with it…


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