To barrique or not to barrique (and red wine with seafood in Maremma)

October 14, 2010

The 2009 Morellino di Scansano by Poggio Argentiera paired stunningly well with this medley of seafood and noodles at the Oasi in Follonica. It’s not uncommon to pair red wine with seafood in the Maremma, where Sangiovese is expressed as a lighter and more gently tannic wine than it is in places like Montalcino and Chianti.

Picking up where we left off in September… Following my afternoon with Gaia Gaja at her family’s Ca’ Marcanda winery in Bolgheri, I traveled down to the seaside town of Follonica where I had one of the best meals of my trip at the Oasi with winemaker Gianpaolo Paglia of Poggio Argentiera.

Gianpaolo and I have a lot of friends (and colleagues) in common and it was great to finally meet him in person and share not just a meal but a truly amazing meal together. (It was Gianpaolo’s son who gave Muddy Boots his nickname “Strappo,” I learned that evening.)*

Above: Gianpaolo began “weaning” his wines off barrique aging following the 2007 vintage. That’s the 07 Morellino di Scansano Capatosta in the glass. Note the dark color of the Sangiovese.

Gianpaolo and I had been in touch earlier this year after Mr. Franco Ziliani posted a great story and interview about Gianpaolo’s bold decision to stop barrique-aging his Sangiovese (and I re-posted it here).

I asked Gianpaolo what precipitated his decision to abandon barrique aging and the answer was simple.

“One day, I realized,” he said, “that I wasn’t drinking my own wines anymore. And so, I called my business partner and vineyard manager and asked him, ‘do you drink our wines at home?’ When he told me, ‘honestly, no, I don’t,’ I realized that I was no longer enjoying my own wines, however successful they were commercially.”

Above: Gianpaolo’s 2009 Morellino, which we tasted from cask, as we say in wine parlance, was aged in traditional large casks. Note how bright the wine is in the glass.

In fact, to my knowledge, Gianpaolo’s never had trouble selling his wines. Quite the opposite. This new era of his wines, he explained over the course of our delightfully long dinner, was part of an evolution for Italian winemakers.

Back in the 90s, when scores became so important and winemakers were trying to reach the American market, he said, it was only natural that we looked to that style as a model. Barriques were part of larger movement that included a number of changes in Italian winemaking (stainless steel, temperature control, and a cleaner, more precise and more concentrated style). This new phase isn’t so much as a step back as much as a “natural evolution,” in his words. He wasn’t apologetic and he was most sincere. I really admired him for his candor and I really appreciated his effort not to put a spin on this (as so many do).

Above: Chef Mirko’s moray eel was unbelievably delicious that night. Like many of the great restaurateurs of the Maremma, Mirko is first and foremost a fisherman.

And the best news? The 2009 Morellino was SUPERB with the seafood pasta above (whereas I, personally, wouldn’t have paired the richer, more concentrated barriqued wine from 2008 or 07 with it). Chapeau bas, Gianpaolo!

As one of my heroes, Danny Meyer, likes to say, if it grows with it, it goes with it!

* Gianpaolo’s children are perfectly bilingual (his wife is British). When they met Muddy aka Terry, one of Gianpaolo’s sons began calling Terry “Strappo” after making the homonymic association Terry, to tear (as in to tear a sheet of paper), strappare (Ital. to tear), strappo (a tear).


$1 oysters and zero sulfur Garganega? Hell YEAH!

May 26, 2010

According to its website, La Biancara’s 100% Garganega “Pico” is 100% sulfur free. And I’m here to tell you that it’s 100% friggin’ delicious. Pair that with $1 oysters during happy hour at The Ten Bells on the Lower East Side and you get the following tasting note: HELL YEAH!

I am so unbelievably slammed this morning that I don’t have time to post my thoughts on why The Ten Bells is the hippest wine bar in the U.S. (and definitely in the top 5 for me).

Hey, wait a minute! Is that Muddy Boots horsing around with Dolcetto producer Anna Bracco at The Ten Bells?

In other news…

I also regret not having time to post about the off-the-charts meal I shared with BrooklynGuy and BrooklynLady at Aliseo in Brooklyn (where else?) last night.

But lest Alfonso think he corners the market on great food photography, here’s a taste of what’s to come…

Eat your heart out, Alfonso!


Best Thanksgiving wines (or at least, what me and Tracie B will be drinking)

November 16, 2009

Above: Tracie B and I held an informal wine tasting last night with our friends CJ and Jen, who made some excellent pulled pork for dinner (photos by CJ).

It’s that time of year again and everyone’s doing their “Best Thanksgiving Wines” posts. So I figured I’d do mine. Seems like there’s more humor and a greater twang of irony this year in the otherwise traditionally Hallmark consumerist spirit. Maybe ’cause everyone is so broke (or at least I am), it feels like you’re reaching beyond the perfunctory when you compile these lists. It does occur to me that we in the U.S. of A are probably the only folks who believe in these “best” and “top” lists. I just can’t imagine Franco writing a “Top Ten Christmas” wine list. Can you?

My favorite top Thanksgiving wine post so far was authored by Saignée, “I Feel Obligated to Do a ‘Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Post’” (it’s worth checking out but it also sports a NC-17 rating).

Above: The only wine that exceeded my $20-or-under-rule for this year’s holiday was the 2007 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Iesi, which you should be able to find for under $30. Man, I love that wine.

The Solomon of wine writing and blogging, Eric, poked some fun (or at least, I read it that way) at the Grey Lady’s perennial Thanksgiving suggestions (marked this year by the absence of Frank Bruni) in his post “Six Years of Thanksgiving Wisdom.” I love the wine that Eric brought to the paper’s Thanksgiving tasting, a Frappato by Valle dell’Acate (Sicily). I also love the new wine descriptor, coined and used by Eric to describe it, and I love that it made it past the paper’s grammarians: “earthy chuggability.”

And lest he think that I’ve forgotten him, I got a genuine chuckle and chortle out of Strappo’s “THANKSGIVING WINE STUNNER: EXPERTS CLAIM RED OR WHITE OK!”

This year, Tracie B and I will be heading to Orange, Texas, just like last year, but this year, we’ll also be bringing Mamma Judy with us — her first visit to Texas since I moved here last year. Mrs. B and Rev. B are expecting 24 people at this year’s festivities. Since finances are tight for this fiancé (especially in view of our upcoming nuptials), I tried to keep my wines under $20 (and, for the most part, I succeeded on that part, as they say in the south).

Bucci 2007 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
($22.99 at Jimmy’s in Dallas)

CJ and I really dug the crunchy mouthfeel of this wine and its elegant, lingering finish. The acidity was “tongue splitting,” as Tracie B likes to say.

Domaine Fontsainte 2008 Corbières Gris di Gris
(rosé, $17.50 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

We all agreed that the fruit in this wine was approachable and fun, juicy and tangy. This could go with just about anything at the Thanksgiving table.

Marchesi di Gresy 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba Monte Aribaldo
($18.75 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

I just can’t believe what a value this wine is at under-$20. It’s rich and chewy, surprisingly tannic, and has that noble rusticity that you find in the Marchesi di Gresy.

Mas Lavail 2007 Terre d’Ardoise Carignan
($11.25 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

Tracie B called this “salty” wine “the stand alone” wine of the flight we tasted with Jen and CJ. The price-quality ratio here is stellar (at $11.25? HELL YEAH!) and the wine is chewy, rich, with dark fruit and lots of savory flavors. I can’t wait to pair it with Tracie B’s Meemaw’s deviled eggs and Mrs. B’s sweet potato pie.

AND HERE IT IS, THE MOMENT YA’LL HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR… MY NUMBER 1 THANKSGIVING WINE FOR 2009!!!

Selvapiana 2007 Chianti Rufina
($16.25 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

Selvapiana is one of my all-time favorite producers (one of Franco’s favs, too) and Rufina is one of the greatest expressions of Sangiovese. This wine is tannic and will benefit from a little aeration before serving but once it opens up it’s all about bright acidity and plum fruit flavors. The price range will vary for this wine across the country but it’s always a tremendous value.

Thanks for reading ya’ll! I’m wishing you a great (and safe) holiday with your loved ones.

In other news…

I had a blast pouring and talking about wine and pairing European and domestic wines with Asian food at the Saheli “Discover Asia through Wine” event on Saturday night. The Tandoori chicken (above) was one of the hits of the evening, as was the Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, which I paired with the Chinese roast duck. Donations support battered Asian women and immigrants in the greater Austin area.

In other other news…

I’ll be pouring wines from Piedmont and Tuscany this Thursday at the Galleria Tennis and Athletic Club in Houston. Click here for details.


Apulia in New York and a visit with Obi-Wan

November 12, 2008

Above: the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Italian wine world, Charles Scicolone (left), with Tom Maresca, another one of New York’s great wine experts and writers and an authority on Italian wine.

As the newest member of the New York Wine Media Guild, I was asked to help organize and co-chair last week’s tasting of Apulian wines in New York together with my good friend and mentor, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Italian wine world, Charles Scicolone. What an honor for me to get to present Charles! He has been working in and writing about Italian wine since the 1970s, when few connoisseurs were collecting or drinking fine Italian wine. Together with two other now-legendary names in our field, writer Sheldon Wasserman and retailer Lou Iacucci, Charles played a starring role in what can now be called the Italian wine renaissance in this country. Whether selling, consulting, lecturing, or simply tasting, “it’s always a pleasure” Charles is one of the most recognized and respected faces in Italian wine in the U.S.

Above: top wine blogger Tyler Colman and agent provocateur Terry Hughes share a moment for my camera. Also in attendance, a who’s who of New York wine writers: John Foy, Paul Zimmerman, and Peter Hellman, among others.

Charles and I have known each other for more than 10 years: I first met him when I wrote about him and his wife, cookbook author and Italian food authority Michele Scicolone, for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana. Later, I had the great fortune to work with Charles when he was the wine director at famed Italian wine destination I Trulli in New York. (Although he never won, Charles was nominated eight consecutive times for the James Beard Wine Professional award.)

Charles is known for his passionate defense of traditional winemaking and his distaste for new oak aging, especially when it comes to Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico. “They’ve gone to the dark side,” you’ll hear Charles say, referring to once-traditional Italian winemakers who switch over to California-style vinfication and high-alcohol, overly extracted, oaky, jammy wines. Hence, my cognomen for Charles.

Above: we were also joined by Francesca Mancarella, export director for Apulian winery Candido, and Gary Grunner, another Italian wine industry veteran.

One of the things that impresses me the most about Charles’ palate and his knowledge of Italian wines is that he tasted many of the twentieth-century’s great vintages on release and he has witnessed the evolution of the Italian wine sector during its most vibrant periods of renewal and expansion.

Charles, may the force be with you!

See also Off the Presses’ tasting notes from last Wednesday’s tasting.

Above: more than 30 wines were tasted that day, including this show-stopping dried-grape Aleatico by Candido — the only DOC Aleatico passito produced, an “idiovinification” (how’s that for a neologism?). Francesca explained that the wine’s freshness is owed to Apulia’s excellent Mediterranean ventilation.


It’s a bloggy blog world (and more on Mascarello).

March 25, 2008

Before my gig on Saturday night in Alphabet City, I stopped by Terroir on East 12th St. to connect with friend and polemical wine blogger Lyle Fass, author of Rockss and Fruit, for a glass of — yes, you guessed it — Riesling (Eugen Müller Rheinhessen 2005).

The post the other day on Mascarello the new Che generated a lot of feedback and so I snapped the above and below pics of the Terroir Mascarello T.

Terroir’s website is now online. I applaud the owners’ militant spirit but I feel that their “No barrique, no Berlusconi” motto/mantra is misguided. Mascarello’s famous Berlusconi label was released in a particular moment in Italian history and had a historical meaning within the context of contemporary Italian politics (remember: when the wine was released, Berlusconi was prime minister and Italian troops had been deployed in the Bush-legacy war). There’s a lot more to Mascarello’s wines and to the concept of terroir than just “no barrique.” I hope to see Maria Teresa Mascarello when I taste at Vini Veri next week and get her take on it.

Check out these images of the labels on collector Ken Vastola’s site.

Terroir sells the shirts for $25.

That’s Lyle and me in the above pic. Lyle’s one of many friends I’ve made through the blogosphere.

Terry Hughes, author of the controversial blog Mondosapore, is another friend I’ve made through the blogosphere. He and I grabbed a glass of 1989 Clos Baudin Vouvray yesterday evening at the bar at Gramercy Tavern.

One of the most rewarding things about my experience blogging is the interesting and caring people I’ve met along the way (look for more in upcoming posts about blogger/friends). If Snoop Dog had a blog, he would say that it’s a bloggy blog world.

That’s me and Céline Dijon at our show on Saturday night. We debuted our new song “Catastrophe,” about a relationship gone bad but a chance to start anew and make a better life — a reversal of a reversal, to put it in the context of peripeteia.

Our April 10 date in Ljubljana has been confirmed: I can’t reveal the name of the private club where we’ll be playing but if you’d like to attend, email me (jparzen at gmail) with the word “fidelio” in the subject line and I’ll send you the secret password together with the name of the club a few days before the show. As soon as our April 9 date in Gorizia is confirmed, I’ll post the info.


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