Barbera is the grape I’m most excited about. The reason may surprise you.

In December of last year, the wine route took me back to Piedmont where I visited vineyards in the heart of the Nizza DOCG.

Italian wine professionals are (or should be) well aware that Nizza — the commune of Nizza Monferrato and the surrounding villages — officially became its own designation in 2014.

But what they might not know or realize is that historically, this small area in Piedmont wine country has been home to some of Italy’s most iconic wines and wineries for generations.

Over the last few decades, italophile focus in the international wine community has shifted to the Langhe where Barolo and Barbaresco are raised.

But if you dig back through the guides and Italian wine books from the 1980s, you’ll find that a handful of pioneering growers and winemakers had recognized the immense potential of Nizza Monferrato where Barbera — not Nebbiolo — has its spiritual home.

One of the things that set this subzone of Barbera d’Asti apart is the fact that the soils there are identical to the soils found in La Morra, the largest commune for the production of Barolo. The little known Bricco di Nizza, a ridge that runs from the town of Nizza Monferrato to the west toward the village of Moasca, has the same ancient marl (limestone and clay) and clay subsoils that have helped to make Barolo so famous.

And I was there to take pictures of dirt.

Luckily for me, I arrived not long after the vineyards had been tilled. And the subsoils were easy to spot.

Those are clay-rich soils above. And below, you’ll see limestone-rich soils in a newly planted vineyard there.

Note the deep brick color in the first photo and the grey-whitish hue of the second.

People familiar with the vineyards of La Morra and other parts of Barolo could easily mistake them for land in Langa.

I was also there to speak to Barbera-whisperer Massimiliano Vivalda, the man showing me the Masnaghetti/Enogea map of the Nizza DOCG above.

He metaphorically walked me through all the historic wineries there and their vineyards as we studied the map together.

He talked to me about the gold rush of investment that is sweeping over this appellation as some of the top winemakers in Italy are buying property and building winemaking facilities in around Nizza Monferrato along the Bricco di Nizza.

And we tasted wines that come in part from a farm he and his family have managed for decades.

I had first heard of a new Nizza DOCG estate called Amistà through a client of mine. And when I met the son of the owner, a student at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Science where I teach every year, he extended an invitation to visit.

The thing that intrigued me the most about this new but storied property, where some of the vines are 60+ years old (see the gnarled plant above), was that the owner, a lovely gentleman from Turin named Michele Marsiaj, had decided to break with a tradition established by a handful of his famous neighbors.

Instead of aging the wine in French barriques, he had decided to make a Nizza DOCG raised entirely in large cask. When I had tasted the wine on campus (thanks to the student) back in the fall of 2022, I was blown away by its elegance and purity.

Connoisseurs of Piedmont wines will immediately recognize the significance of this stylistic choice. The use of barriques (as opposed to large-format botti) transformed Barolo and Barbaresco in the 1990s as winemakers reached for a “modern” expression of their grapes. Similarly, Nizza growers began “barriquing” their wines as early as the 1980s.

Amistà really impressed me with its clarity and varietal expression. And I’m ever more convinced that you’re going to be hearing a lot about it this year. That’s in part because Michele, a man I admire greatly, has asked me to be Amistà’s U.S. ambassador for 2023. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working on such a compelling project and I love and am proud to be part of the super team that Michele has assembled.

A new chapter begins! And there’s so much more to tell. Thanks for being here and stay tuned…

Taste Chianti with me this week in Houston. Abruzzo next week in Dallas. And back to Houston for Taste of Italy in early March.

Man, it was so great to be back in NYC last week talking about groovy wines at the UN (no joke) and at a chic downtown Italian dining spot!

I was in town for a couple of new clients of mine (more on that later this week) and it was a blast to be tasting and sharing notes with super wine people.

With Vinitaly around the corner, it feels like everything is falling back into place.

On Thursday of this week, I’ll be pouring and talking about some of my favorite expressions of Chianti at Vinology. It’s always a simpatico group and the staff there put together a phenomenal flight of wines. Thursday evening, February 2. Click here to reserve.

On Wednesday of next week, I’ll be leading three seminars at Eataly Dallas, including Moscato d’Asti (one of my favorite talks I do), Pinot Grigio (I think a lot of folks are going too be surprised by the wines), and Abruzzo (one of the regions I’m the most excited about right now). Wednesday morning, February 8. Click here to reserve.

And dulcis in fundo, Taste of Italy, now in its 9th year, is scheduled for Monday, March 6 at the Omni in Houston. Click here to reserve for the walk-around tasting (see the list of exhibitors here). Click here to reserve your spot at the Italian Wine and Texas BBQ seminar, featuring smoked meats by celebrity pit master Ara Malekian (Harlem Rd. BBQ). That’s just one of the events I’ll be emceeing that day.

I’m so proud of the work we do at Taste of Italy, a project I’ve been involved with since its second year. So many of our exhibitors have made meaningful connections and placements over the years. It’s a great event.

Thanks for your support and solidarity! It’s so great to be back. Hope to see you soon!

Photo above by filmmaker Russell Peborde. Thank you again, man!

Tracie named “rising star” realtor!

In less than two years, Tracie went from stay-at-home mom with a couple of side gigs to a million-dollar-listing realtor in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

In spring of 2021, she got her license. And this week, she was named “rising star” and a top earner by her firm Greenwood King.

That’s the screen (above) at her agency’s annual award ceremony as they announced the accolade on Tuesday.

Our daughters and I are so proud of her. She’s an amazing model for the girls (ages 9 and 11) in terms of what a person can accomplish when they put their mind to it and heart in it.

And as her mother-in-law loves to say, “You know she makes more money than her husband, don’t you?”

It’s been an incredible time in our lives as her income has helped us dig out of the financial lows of the health crisis. On Thanksgiving weekend last year, we moved into our new house. Even with the rising rates at the time, she got us a great deal and a great mortgage. And we are just in love with our home.

Tracie, the girls and I love you so much and are so proud of you. You are such a fantastic role model for our children and you are most wonderful partner I could have ever hoped for or dreamed of. It has been such a joy and inspiration to watch you become a leader in your field. And I just have to say it one more time, I love sleeping with my realtor! You have made our lives and future so bright. You are the love of my life.

1969 Taurasi and great Italian cooking? Falling in love again with Anthony Cerbone’s Manducatis in Queens.

Posting on the fly today from New York where I’ve been working all week for a couple of my clients. But just had to share these photos from an extraordinary lunch yesterday at one of my favorite restaurants in the world — Manducatis in Long Island City, Queens.

Yes, that’s right: that’s a 1969 Mastroberardino Taurasi in the photo. It came from my friend Anthony Cerbone’s legendary cellar, one of the greatest collections of old Italian wines I know of in the U.S.

It had a little funk on it when first opened. But that quickly blew away. The wine was fresh and vibrant and had all the earthy, mineral, and dark fruit hallmarks of great Taurasi.

What a wine!

Man, 2023 has just begun but this meal is going to be hard to beat.

That’s Anthony in the photo above. He’s one of the warmest and funniest human beings I’ve ever met, with a heart of gold and a symphony conductor’s palate. I adore the guy.

When I lived in New York, I spent many nights there with best friends and colleagues. And along the way, Anthony and I became friends. I really mean it when I say that I feel blessed to call him amico. We have so much in common between Italian food and wine. But he’s also an avid reader of Italian literature and a great guitar player to boot.

On the restaurant’s website, the Cerbone family describes their menu as “old country Italian.”

I’ve actually never looked at the menu because whenever I have dined there, I always just let Anthony start bringing out food. And that’s what we did yesterday to the delight of everyone at the table.

There’s one really important thing about the restaurant that I’m not saying here. New Yorker wine insiders know what I’m talking about.

Just go and you’ll find out as soon as you sit down. And you’ll be happy you did.

Manducatis is actually just one subway stop from Manhattan. It’s really easy to get to and well worth the trip. Tell Anthony I sent you.

Grande Anthony! Grazie ancora per un’esperienza indimenticabile. Non vedo l’ora di tornare da te.

Chianti, the epic game changer. Taste history with me in Houston Feb. 2.

It seems that everyone in the Italian wine business loves to tell the story about how Chianti growers used to blend (white) Trebbiano into the (otherwise red) wines. Back then, they’ll tell you, before the “modernization” of Italian viticulture, Chianti was just another “rustic” wine. With a lot of character, yes. But not much refinement. Great for food but not worth the collector’s attention until the district’s post-modern era.

They all point to the famous blending “recipe” penned by Bettino Ricasoli, the Iron Baron and 19th-century Chianti patrician. It included Trebbiano Malvasia, yes, for wines to be consumed in their youth. And later, Chianti producers would use Trebbiano for blending their wines (thank you wine pro Jarkko Peränen for catching my oversight!)

But here’s what they are missing… and man, are they missing out big.

If you actually go back and read Baron Ricasoli’s letters to his friend and research partner, Cesare Studiati, a professor of agricultural sciences at the University of Pisa, you will find that Ricasoli came to two highly important realizations that would forever reshape Italian viticulture far beyond Chiantigiana’s borders.

The first was that acidity was the key to making wines with aging potential and more importantly shipping potential. That was the first big “wow” moment in Ricasoli’s writings. Acidity, he realized, kept the wine from oxidizing and it helped to prevent unwanted bacteria or other microorganisms from forming in the wine.

The second was his realization that Sangiovese grown in Tuscany’s limestone and clay-rich soils delivered the greatest results in terms of acidity levels, aromas, and flavors.

Think of that! At roughly the same time that Pasteur was studying yeast and fermentation (one of the major scientific breakthroughs of the era), Ricasoli was studying the role of acidity in wine.

Especially as young wine professionals prize acidity today, Ricasoli’s findings are literally epic in their scope.

Ricasoli famously grubbed up all other grape varieties at his Brolio farm in Gaiole in Chianti. He was convinced that native grape varieties represented the future for Italian wine. It’s another way that his and Chianti’s shared legacy continues to shape Italian wine today.

This is just one of the themes we will be covering when I lead a small seminar on Chianti at Vinology in Houston on Thursday, February 2.

Click here to register.

We’ll be tasting six wines, including a Vinsanto from Chianti. Those are Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes (above) being dried for the production of Vinsanto del Chianti Classico at Castello di Volpaia (from my September trip to Italy).

I hope you can join us.

Is (Oltrepò) Pavese the next big thing?

One of the things that impressed me most during a visit to Pavia wine country a few years ago was the abundance of hazels.

When asked about it, one producer told me that Piedmontese hazelnut processors had been disappointed in foreign-farmed trees. In search of land suitable for growing the fruit, they had expanded their orchards to Pavia province.

The reason? The soils and growing conditions are similar to those found in Langa where Barolo and Barbaresco are raised.

Pavia wine country lies just south of the Po River in Lombardy, just a stone’s throw from southeastern Piedmont. Its limestone and marl-rich soils are nearly identical to those found in Nebbiolo’s spiritual homeland.

Oltrepò Pavese (rendered in English, the toponym means beyond the Po River) is considered by many to be the top Italian growing region for Pinot Noir. And while many know it for the appellation’s classic method wines, some would argue that still Pinot Noir is what really puts it in world class.

According to at least one soil study I found (commissioned by the Regione Lombardia), Pavia province has a higher concentration of surface area planted to vine than any other place in Lombardy (Franciacorta, I’m looking at you!).

Oltrepò Pavese and the Pavese IGP have been on my mind this week because my friends at Vinarius, the Italian association of wine retailers, just named Pavese as their biennial wine region to watch (here I’ve slavishly translated it as the “Vinarius Territory Prize,” the ninth time the body has recognized an Italian wine-growing district).

According to their press release, more than 13,000 hectares are planted to vine between Oltrepò Pavese and the Provincia di Pavia IGT (Pavia Province). Of those, more than 11,000 are used to make appellation-designated wines.

Oltrepò Pavese has also been on my mind over the last year thanks to the excellent educational campaign run by my friend, colleague, and fellow italophone Susannah Gold.

I’ve also heard chatter that a handful of prominent winemakers from other regions are looking at buying vineyard land there.

Are Oltrepò Pavese and Provincia di Pavese going to be the next big thing? No one can say for certain. But it sure is going to be fun to follow along as we find out.

Images snapped in 2021 at the Frecciarossa farm in Casteggio.

Explore, discover, and taste Abruzzo (and much more) with me in Dallas at Eataly February 8.

Above: the Nicodemi farm and winery in Abruzzo was one of my most compelling visits of 2022. The region is so much more than so many in our industry imagine.

There’s a good reason that wine appeals to the intellectually insatiable: no matter how many wines you’ve tasted, no matter how many appellations you’ve visited, and no matter how many winemakers you’ve interacted with, there is always something new to explore and discover.

That adage was foremost in my mind during my harvest tour of Abruzzo in early September 2022, one of my most compelling central Italian swings of the year.

A deep dive into the dynamics of pergola vs. tendone training and solar radiation in a time of climate change. A discovery of a new but ancient aging vessel for age-worthy wines. Discussing the highly cadenced world of Cerasuolo. Tasting a skin-contact lees-aged Pecorino (that blew my mind).

Perhaps more than any other Italian wine region, Abruzzo is often brushed off as a land of sprawling cooperatives and cheap plonk. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be presenting an Abruzzo seminar at one of the first major walk-around tastings of 2023 in Texas.

On Wednesday, February 8, I will be leading three seminars at Eataly Dallas: Moscato d’Asti, Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

What a way to start the year off!

Click here to register.

There are also travel funds available for importers, both Texas-based and out-of-state, to help out with gas, airfare, and hotels. Please DM me if you want me to put you in touch with the organizers.

Thank you for the support and hoping to see you next month in Dallas!

Necessary trouble: protest Neo-Confederates with us on MLK Day.

“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.”

These are the words of the great civil rights activist John Lewis, who died in July 2020 after a lifelong and historic effort to power change in this country.

People often ask me and Tracie why we continue to protest the Neo-Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where she grew up. It was erected in 2017 along Martin Luther King Dr., one of the city’s main arteries, where it intersects with Interstate 10 not far from the Louisiana border. (Click the link to see it.)

After all, they say, the Sons of Confederate Veterans built on private land and there’s nothing that can be done to remove it.

I don’t want to point you to the Sons’ website (every click helps them). But I would like you to take a look at the bibliography by the Kennedy brothers, the pseudo-intellectuals who run these scumbags’ “media and public relations.”

They include titles like Myths of American Slavery, Was Jefferson Davis Right?, and The South Was Right!. Don’t believe me? Check out the Amazon thread. I can only imagine who Lincoln’s Marxists were.

Some people claim that the Sons are just a bunch of loser re-enactors who get a thrill out of racist cosplay. But it only takes a little bit of digging to discover that the driving force of their organization is white supremacy.

On Monday, January 16, Martin Luther King Day, 2023, Tracie and I will be protesting their “Memorial of the Wind” in Orange from 1-3 p.m. Please join us if you can. We’ll have plenty of signs and water to share.

We’ve been protesting the site since it first was erected. We’ve chronicled our efforts on our site RepurposeMemorial.com.

And every year, we raise a MLK billboard across the road from this racist, white supremacist eyesore (see below). Thank you to everyone who donated to this year’s GoFundMe. We raised enough money to keep the billboard up throughout Black History Month. Surplus funds will be applied to next year’s campaign.

As a celebrated Italian winemaker once said, sometimes the battles you know you are going to lose are the most important ones to fight.

The Sons once sent a menacing anonymous letter to a family member of ours. One of them, their local asshole in chief, Granvel Block, even showed up at the church where my father-in-law served as pastor. People yell nasty things at us and throw cigarette butts when we protest. They burn rubber and “roll coal” to intimidate us. One asshole famously told us to “get the f*ck across the border… Jesus f*cking hates you.”

These women and men are cowards who hide behind their cosplay and Neo-Confederate pageantry.

Please join us if you can. Please share this post if you can’t. And please take the day off on Monday, January 16, the day we celebrate the life and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and get into the good kind of trouble — necessary trouble.

Email me at jparzen@gmail.com for more info on the protest.

The Sporty Wine Guy podcast with sports writing legend Dale Robertson keeps on keepin on.

One of the coolest things about working in wine is the awesome people you get to meet. After all, famous and otherwise super groovy people love wine just like the rest of us.

One of the biggest rewards of my career in wine has been getting to spend time with Dale Robertson, Houston’s legendary sports writer.

Legendary, you ask? Just ask him about the time that Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini punched him out. Don’t believe me? Dale has the goods and the bruises to prove it.

The funny thing about our friendship is that I’m not into sports at all. I know, that’s weird. But beyond the Olympics and the occasional soccer game, it’s just not my thing.

The thing we do have in common is great food and wine.

Dale always says that he first got into haute dining when he covered the Tour de France. Back then, when print media was still queen, sports writers had fat cat expense accounts that allowed them to hobnob with the rich and famous. For a kid from El Paso with a degree in journalism from the University of Houston, it was like Dorothy stumbling upon the Golden Brick Road.

Somewhere along the way, he also became the wine writer for Houston’s paper of record.

And the tales he tells from those years, both gastronomic and Pindaric (how’s that for a 75-cent word?), are ripe with some damn good eating and drinking and some bigger-than-life colorful characters. I’ll never forget a crestfallen Dale eulogizing Bum Phillips over a bottle of 2006 Quintarelli Amarone after the football great passed away in 2013.

It must have been in late 2019 that he and I first started talking about launching a podcast. But it wasn’t until January of last year that we finally took the plunge.

We’re now in the second “season” of our show, with more than 20 episodes in the can.

It’s always a thrill when someone comes up to us a trade tasting and mentions that they’ve been listening. But I think that Dale would agree when I say that we really just keep doing it because we like hanging out and chewing the proverbial fat. It could also be that he loves our little Chihuahua, Paco. That’s Paco in his lap during a recent session.

Check out our podcast, “The Sport Wine Guy,” here. Thanks for listening!

A natural wine list grows in my hometown. Great Italian wine and food at Marisi in La Jolla.

Among the La Jolla High School graduating class of 1985, many of my fellow alumni have had brilliant careers in the restaurant and wine business.

Most notable among them are the fisherpeople who stopped selling their catch to the big San Diego canneries and launched fresh fish-focused restaurants.

But I think it’s fair to say that none of us would have ever expected a great Italian restaurant to rise in our hometown. And if you added a great natural wine list to that mix, they would have told you to go cash in your marbles.

There has never been anything like that in La Jolla, a sleepy beachfront town known for its preppy look and its insular culture (I’ll just leave it at that). Until now…

Not only is Marisi, the newish Italian concept that’s located right in the heart of downtown La Jolla, one of the most beautiful restaurants you’ll find in southern California. It’s also one of the best Italian menus I’ve tasted over the last 12 months — hands down.

That’s the rigatoni with spicy tomato above. The richly flavored homemade pasta was cooked perfectly al dente and I loved how the kitchen went for bold heat in this dish.

When’s the last time you had a pesto trapanese outside of Sicily?

In Trapani township in the western part of the island, pesto is made with fresh basil and almonds (instead of the classic Ligurian pesto with pine nuts).

The word trottola means spinning top. It’s a shape similar to what we know today as fusilli (or as my daughters would say, curlicue pasta). I loved the way the pesto dripped from the twisty noodles. And the gently pickled cherry tomatoes gave this wine a creative pop that we all swooned over.

My friend Tony Vallone, the great Italian-American restaurateur who took Italian cooking to new heights in Houston, used to say that for Italian cuisine to be truly authentic, it has to be creative.

The above interpretation of carpaccio really blew both Tracie and me away. Italian purists would have scoffed at this dish. The concept is to feature the quality of the thinly sliced beef, they would say, with minimal adornment. But we were practically licking the plate as we fought for who would get the last bite. Here heat was robust but it didn’t eclipse the flavor of the well-marbled beef. Not traditional by any means. But 1,000 percent delicious.

Or should I say radical, to borrow a phrase from my youth.

The most radical thing about Marisi is its natural-focused wine list by Chris Plaia of Bay Area fame.

I can’t imagine that any of my foodie high school friends would disagree: La Jolla is still an unabashed “Cab” and “Chardonnay” town where “oakiness,” unbridled alcohol levels, fruit-driven, acidity-poor wines still shape the viticultural hegemony. “Natural wine” is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you mention dining in La Jolla (which was once famous for the bar where Raymond Chandler drank himself to death, no joke).

Chris has done an extraordinary job in putting together a list that you would be more likely to find in San Francisco or Silverlake.

Tracie and I went for Giovanna Maccario’s Rossese, a longtime favorite of mine (and Giovanna is one of the coolest winemakers I have met, bold in her support for the emarginated). But there were so many other lots we could have picked.

Before 2009 you could have been hard-pressed (excuse the pun) to find a list like this beyond SF or LA. But Chris has broken the glass ceiling in the most unlikely of places.

We were there on a chilly Wednesday night in January (not exactly the “on” season) and the restaurant was packed. It was a great time and it’s great to know that my hometown, once dissed by Tom Wolfe, has grown into a true fine dining destination.

I highly recommend it. Dulcis in fundo, that’s the tiramisu below.