Houston Sommelier Competition, Taste of Italy, Simply Italian: upcoming wine tastings and events in the Bayou City. Taste virtually and in person.

There is SO much to be excited about in the Houston wine scene. But the event I’m most looking forward to is the return of the in-person Taste of Italy trade fair and festival and the Houston Sommelier Competition (that’s a photo of the winners from 2019, the last time the event was held in person).

And the even better news is that the Houston Sommelier Competition is now open to any and all wine professionals, from anywhere in the world. Only full-fledged members of the Court of Sommeliers are excluded from competing. You just need to be in Houston on the testing days to participate.

The competition is the brainchild of sommelier and wine buyer for Kroger Jaime De Leon (one of the coolest dudes in our business). Click here to read more and to apply.

Taste of Italy/Houston Sommelier Competition
March 13-14

The event will be co-presented by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce on the occasion of Taste of Italy, to be held on March 13-14 in Houston. This year’s event is going to include a “BBQ and Chianti” tasting and seminar, one of the panels that will be open to consumers. It’s going to be fun. Stay tuned for more info on the festival and please check out the website here.

Also on deck for coming weeks:

Simply Italian
Wednesday, February 9

I’ll be presenting three seminars on Wednesday, February 9 at the traveling Simply Italian Tour in Houston. See the link for details and registration info. I’ll be leading guided tastings of Abruzzo, Moscato d’Asti, and Franciacorta (together with Franciacorta’s Riccardo Ricci Curbastro who will be joining via Zoom).

And our virtual winemaker dinner series at Roma also continues.

Virtual Winemaker Dinner: Frecciarossa (Oltrepò Pavese)
Thursday, January 20 “at” Roma

Tonight we have Valeria Odero and her 2013 Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Nero Giorgio Odero (super geeked for that wine and Valeria is awesome). Just a few spots available at this point.

Virtual Winemaker Dinner: Cordero di Montezemolo (Barolo)
Thursday, January 27 “at” Roma

Next Thursday, January 27, we’ll be welcoming Alberto Cordero and his Cordero di Montezemolo 2017 Barolo Monfalletto (!!!). Of all the great, historic houses of Langa, Cordero is possibly the one that Americans know least. The wines are super. I’m so stoked that you can now buy them across the U.S. (they’re imported now by Ethica Wines where I’ve been doing media consulting for the last couple of years).

Virtual Winemaker Dinner: Mauro Molino (Barolo)
Thursday, February 3 “at” Roma

And this just in… I just spoke to Martina Molino of Mauro Molino in Barolo. She will be joining us for her 2017 Barolo Gallinotto on Thursday, February 3.

There’s other cool stuff happening but I can’t spill the beans yet. Stay tuned.

And btw, I’ll be attending the Slow Wine tasting in Austin next Thursday (I’ll be there on the early side). Please say hi if you’re planning to come.

The dreaded “ZTL” and the evolution of the Italian traffic ticket.

From the department of “oops, I did it again”…

It happens to the best of us.

As American wine professionals have begun to travel to Italy again, it was inevitable that they would inadvertently commit a traffic infraction or two.

The most common ticket is for speeding. And today, enforcement of speed limits comes via electronic cameras (like the one in the photo below).

Speed limits are generally well positioned and visible. But occasionally, while driving on a country road in the dark, you’ll happen upon a small village where the speed limit is suddenly decreased and the signs aren’t so easy to discern.

That’s what happened to me the last time I got a speedy ticket in Italy while driving back to Siena from Montalcino one foggy evening.

Because most Americans have to rent cars to get around Italian wine country, the ticket goes to the rental car agency. The car companies don’t share the ticket with you but they do send you a notice that you have received a ticket. They also charge you a ticket processing fee.

Then the waiting begins.

In my experience, it takes about six months, give or take, to receive the actual ticket. By that time, it’s already long past the prompt payment period and you’ve already accrued a second fine for late payment.

The instructions for payment, often written in macaronic English (excuse the unintended pun), indicate the bank info for payment. But after you pay, you receive no confirmation from the traffic authority (at least in my experience). You just have to hope that sum has been received and processed.

The problem with not paying — whether because of negligence or spite — is that you can be black-balled by the rental companies. In the early years of the electronic systems (which started to come online after 2009), people who didn’t pay were often refused service at rental car counters when they returned to Italy. I heard of numerous instances when that happened to my traffic pirate colleagues.

The other top infraction is the encroachment of the dreaded ZTL or zona [a] traffico limitato, the limited traffic zone (dreaded even by Italians).

These areas, where only authorized local residents can drive, are intended to reduce congestion and pollution in urban areas. And the fines can be stiff.

When I returned to Bra in Piedmont last summer to teach at Slow Food U., part of the piazza where my usual hotel is located had been changed to ZTL. Unaware of the upgrade, I drove right through the zone as I tried to reach the hotel’s parking. Because the hotel, which also includes a restaurant, had expanded its outdoor dining, the courtyard where I used to park my rental was now closed off.

A few months after returning to the U.S., the notice (and fee) from the rental car company arrived. When I went back to Bra to teach in the fall, I went to the local police station and they printed out the ticket for me. I then took the ticket to a post office where they processed my payment.

But then, on Saturday of last week, more than six months after the infraction occurred, I received a letter from a third party requesting payment (despite the fact that I had already paid).

The good news is that the third party, European Municipality Outsourcing, is relatively easy to navigate. It even gave me the option to inform them that I have already paid (which I did).

I still haven’t received confirmation that they have received my message. And I still haven’t received a response from the email I sent them with my documentation (the receipt from the post office).

But I’m hopeful, if not optimistic, that I’ll be able to resolve the issue. It’s great to see that EU authorities have created a more user-friendly platform. I’m disappointed that I have paid and am now being asked to pay again. But hopefully, this will all be resolved soon. I’ll follow up with a post once the outcome is clear.

Thanks for reading and hoping this is helpful for future Italian travelers!

Read more about Italian and European traffic laws here.

Happy Martin Luther King Day! Today, we celebrate his life and work through activism.

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

As a chilly dawn breaks over Southeast Texas, a billboard with an image of Dr. King and one of his most famous quotes can be seen rising over eastbound Interstate 10, just a few miles west of the Louisiana border.

The image stands on MLK Dr., one of the main arteries of Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up and where we often visit our family with our children, ages 8 and 10.

Our girls, Georgia and Lila Jane, know a lot about Dr. King, his life and legacy. They know that only a generation ago he fought for all Americans to enjoy the freedoms of living in a democracy. They know that he ultimately gave his life in his ceaseless efforts to make our country a true democracy, one where all people, regardless of their color, could live without fear of authoritarian violence and suppression.

They know little of the insidious efforts of neo-Confederates like the Sons of Confederates Veterans who unveiled a newly built monument along MLK Dr. in Orange in the shadow of I-10 in 2017.

They know little of the Sons’ main propagandists, the Kennedy brothers, who sell their books on the Sons’ website — books like Was Jefferson Davis Right?, Rekilling Lincoln, and The South Was Right (also available on Amazon).

They know little of how their neo-Confederate foot soldiers, like the ones who raised the monument in Orange, claim to be merely celebrating their “heritage” and “history,” as they like to put it.

They know little of the historic, collective suffering the Black community in Orange has endured for generations since slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow.

They know little of the pain that residents, Black and White, feel when they drive past the Sons’ neo-Confederate memorial when they drive to work each day.

Georgia and Lila Jane drove by those flags just a few months ago when they attended their great-grandmother’s funeral. She worshipped at a church just a few miles up the road from the monument. Between the church and graveside services and then the reception that followed, they passed by the site four times. But they hardly know what those flags mean and what they represent to the people who live here.

They do know that their parents, with the help of generous donors, have raised the billboard that today appears across the road. They know that each year their family visits Orange on MLK Day to march in the city’s historic MLK Day parade (now on hold because of health concerns). They remember that they themselves have marched in that parade in years past.

Happy MLK Day! Please check out Jelani Cobb’s excellent essay for the New Yorker this week, “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s History Lessons.”

Tracie and I share our heartfelt thanks with everyone who contributed to our Go Fund Me campaign to raise the billboard this year. It was first posted on Friday and will remain in place throughout Black History Month (February).

Read more about our ongoing efforts to repurpose the site on RepurposeMemorial.com.

The myth of the “Chianti recipe,” a Chianti post by Mike Madaio that you need to read, and Slow Wine news (tour confirmed).

Breaking news: the organizers of the Chianti tasting (held yesterday in Houston) told me that Slow Wine has confirmed the dates of its January-February 2022 U.S. tour. (I’ll see you in Austin on January 27.)

A great read: please check out wine educator Mike Madaio’s superb post on the history and legacy of the wines of Chiantigiana, “Chianti: Why Are There Two DOCG Regions?”

Today’s post expands on my “Debunking Chianti myths, speaking Chianti truths” post, published yesterday.

Above: Baron Bettino Ricasoli (center, on horseback) receives Victor Emmanuel II at Brolio Castle in Gaiole in Chianti (oil on canvas displayed in the Ricasoli museum at Brolio Castle; photo taken in January 2020).

My thesis that Baron Bettino Ricasoli didn’t intend his research on Sangiovese to be interpreted as a “recipe for Chianti” was (understandably) met with skepticism at the Chianti consortium tasting yesterday in Houston.

Luca Alves, the consortium’s longtime ambassador, gave an excellent talk on Chianti, its legacy, and its modern day hierarchies and designations. And he led a fantastic tasting of eight wines that showed Chianti’s wonderful diversity and depth.

But he didn’t buy my argument (in our pre-game, private chat). And it was no surprise: the myth and mythology that Ricasoli wrote a “recipe” or “formula” for Chianti is deeply engrained in the Chianti legend.

Many years ago, long before the texts in question had been republished (in 2019), I sought them out and with the help of the current generation baron, Francesco Ricasoli and his father Bettino, I was able to find them (see my translation of the most famous letter below).

Reflecting on the hypertext that the letters have spawned, I was reminded of what one of my undergrad professors at UCLA used to say: when you underline one line on a page, you might as well delete all the others.

In other words, if you don’t read the salient passage in context, you’re not getting the bigger picture. You’re only seeing the tree but not the forest.

The extensive epistolary correspondence between Ricasoli and professor Cesare Studiati at Pisa (1859-1876) documents in great detail a broad and variegated set of experiments that Ricasoli performed at Brolio Castle.

The primary focus and objective of his work was to create high-quality wines that could be shipped beyond Tuscany’s borders. As Luca rightly noted yesterday, Ricasoli would actually ship the bottles to different destinations and then have them shipped back to see how well they had fared.

(It’s important to keep in mind that in the era before our deeper understanding of yeast, bacteria, and the use of sulfur to stabilize wine, it was immensely challenging to ship wine. There is ample evidence of this in descriptions of wine stretching back to the Middle Ages. Today, we see a manifestation of this issue with unsulfured wines that are prone to spoil after shipping.)

The often cited letter (below) is without question a watershed moment for Chianti and Italian wine in general. But historically, its readers have focused solely on the last paragraph.

In my view, Ricasoli’s greatest achievement — and his greatest impact on Italian viticulture — was that he grubbed up the international grape varieties planted on his property and replanted his vast farm with indigenous grape varieties. Elsewhere he writes about his conclusion that Sangiovese marries best with Tuscan soil.

(Keep in mind that at the time, Gamay was the most widely planted variety in Tuscany. I know this will come as a surprise to many but over the course of my research, I’ve found more than one early 20th-century ampelographic survey that reports this. It makes perfect sense: growers at the time were concerned with quantity as opposed to quality. Similarly, sturdy hyper-productive Gamay was widely planted in Burgundy at the time.)

If there were a conative function to Ricasoli’s writings, it wasn’t that wines from Chianti should be blended as per his experiments. Rather, it was that growers should plant Sangiovese in the place of international and other grape varieties.

Would Clemente Biondi Santi have begun experimenting with Sangiovese had he not read Ricasoli’s studies? Remember that first Brunellos were produced toward the end of the 19th century, after Ricasoli had died.

The concept of the Chianti “recipe,” although inspired by Ricasoli only came into focus (as a cultural touchstone) long after Ricasoli’s passing (most likely during Fascism).

To my point, the so-called recipe is a deconstruction (in the critical sense) of the original. It’s what Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes might have called a hypertext, in other words, a text generated by the readers of the original text — a reading no longer shaped solely by the original text.

Put in simpler terms, Ricasoli didn’t intend his observations to be interpreted as a “recipe,” per se. It was subsequent readers of his text who interpreted it as such.

As professor Cole would have said, the recipe shouldn’t eclipse the greater meaning and legacy of Ricasoli’s work. Distilling it into a few lines diminishes its influence on Italian viticulture — yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

*****

Bettino Ricasoli “the Iron Baron” to Cesare Studiati
September 26, 1872

As early as 1840, I began experimenting with every grape variety. I cultivated each one in significant quantities on my Brolio estate. Our goal was to test the quality and taste of the wines produced from each grape.

Following this comparative study, I restricted the number of grapes at Brolio and began growing Sangioveto, Canaiolo, and Malvasia almost exclusively. In 1867, I decided once again to make wine using these three grapes. I made a relatively large vat of each one and then I blended the three in another vat using exact proportions.

In March of last year, the experiment was finished and I was satisfied with the results. The wines were subsequently shipped.

Later I verified the results of the early experiments: the Sangioveto gave the wine its primary aroma (something I aim for in particular) and a certain vigor in taste; the Canaiolo gave it a sweetness that balanced the harshness of the former but did not take away from the aroma, even though it has an aroma of its own; the Malvasia, a grape that can be excluded for wines intended for aging, tends to dilute the resulting wine created by the former two, it increases the flavor but also makes the wine lighter and thus more suitable for daily consumption.

Debunking Chianti myths, speaking Chianti truths.

There is no Italian wine more closely tied to the country’s culture and history than the wine we know today as Chianti.

Few remember that the great visionary of Chianti was also the second prime minister of United Italy, Baron Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880). He, like his parliamentarian predecessor Camillo Cavour (from Barolo), believed that Italian wine could become a major export for the newborn monarchy. It wouldn’t come to pass in his lifetime. But by the 1960s, Chianti had become one of the most recognizable wines in the world.

Over the course of my career in wine writing (and reading), I’ve come across countless canards about Chianti and its origins. As I prepare for a talk to be delivered at the Chianti consortium tasting and seminar today in Houston, I wanted to share these debunked myths about the appellations that form what we know simply as “Chianti.”

Myth: Tuscan ampelographer Giovan Vettorio Soderini was the first to sing the praises of Sangiovese in his 1590 treatise on grape farming in Europe.

Truth: he praises a grape he calls Sangiogheto for its ability to produce a lot of wine but warns how difficult it is to make it into fine wine. (Modern day ampelographers also question whether the grape he mentions is even related to what we know as Sangiovese today. Most believe that Sangiovese didn’t appear in Tuscany until the 18th century.)

Myth: the etymon (origin) of the ampelonym (grape name) Sangiovese is sangue di Giove or blood of Jove [Jupiter].

Truth: while this folkloric etymology is theoretically possible, it’s hardly plausible, scientifically speaking. To date, there is no evidence whatsoever that points to this as the origin of the grape name (and believe me, I have looked under every stone I could find). It sounds cool and romantic but it’s just not a philologically tenable etymon. It would be fair to say that some people think that the name comes from the blood of Jove. But their source is a mere folkloric etymology. In other words, they once heard someone say that.

Myth: Chianti was cited as Tuscany’s best wine in an edict published by Cosimo de’ Medici III in 1716.

Truth: “Vino del Chianti” (“Wine from Chianti”; not “Chianti, the Wine”) was mentioned among other Tuscan wines that were illegal to “counterfeit.” The document does not point to “Vino del Chianti” as being superior (many wine-focused historians believe that Carmignano, another wine mentioned in the edict, was considered the top wine from Tuscany at the time). The interesting thing about Cosimo’s bando was that it created a de facto and ante litteram appellation system in Tuscany more than 200 years before the DOC system was introduced.

Myth: Baron Bettino Ricasoli, the Sangiovese pioneer and visionary, wrote a recipe for Chianti in the 19th century.

Truth: Ricasoli famously wrote that he liked to blend some white wine in his Sangiovese to make the wine more approachable in its youth. He did not propose a set formula, nor did he write that white wine needed to be added to make the wine later known as “Chianti.” (We should remember Ricasoli for the fact that his research and experimentation with Sangiovese led him to grub up the other grape varieties planted on his large farm. He was arguably the first to recognize Sangiovese’s potential as a grape for fine wine.)

Fun fact: did you know that Machiavelli was a grower and producer of Chianti? After his exile from Florence, he retired to his farm in San Casciano where he produced and traded wine among other agricultural products.

Machiavelli portrait via Wiki Creative Commons.

Taste with me online and in person in Houston: Thursday 1/13 Chianti tasting/seminar; virtual dinners “at” Roma with favorite producers.

Many of us in the U.S. wine industry had hoped that January would see the return of Italian winemakers to the U.S.

Unfortunately, as all of us know too well, that’s not going to happen. Even though Europeans are allowed to travel to the U.S. right now, wine industry professionals are rightfully concerned that they might test positive while overseas and not be able to return until they test negative.

From what I’ve been hearing on the ground, all the big distributors are telling their producers not to come because so many clients have canceled in-person tasting with sales reps etc.

Even the venerable Italian Wine Guy, now retired and blogging from his Dallas home, is telling Italians, “don’t come to America now.” Yes, you heard it from the horse’s mouth.

The good news about Italians not coming to the U.S. is that we are revving up the virtual wine dinner program at Roma in Houston where I’ve been writing the wine list since last June. Even though the Italians aren’t locked down right now, many of them are happy to get up at 2:30 in the morning to connect with clients and consumers since they can’t be here in-person.

I’m presenting a virtual dinner this Thursday 1/13 (Tenuta San Guido’s Le Difese). Just me on this one but it’s going to be a fun one. We’ll be talking about wine, yes, but what I’m really excited about is telling the story of Italy’s most famous racehorse, who was bred at San Guido.

On 1/20, Valeria Odero, owner of Frecciarossa in Oltrepò Pavese (my favorite producer of Pinot Noir in Italy), will be joining us for a virtual dinner featuring her Pinot Noir Giorgio Odero. We have the 2013 vintage here in Houston. I’m super geeked about that.

On 1/27, Alberto Cordero, legacy grower at Cordero di Montezemolo, will be joining us online to taste his family’s 2017 Barolo Monfalletto (what an incredible wine; Tracie and I drank it over the holidays with friends). Alberto is a super cool dude and we finally have his wines in Houston, which is great.

DM me if you want to attend any of our virtual events.

It’s still not clear whether or not Slow Wine will be coming to Texas later this month. I spoke to one of the organizers last week and he told me they still hadn’t made a decision on whether or not to cancel. Just fyi.

But the Chianti consortium is moving ahead with its in-person seminar and tasting this Thursday, 1/13 in Houston. I’ll be masked up and presenting. (Please mask up if you plan to attend.) Some of the producers have dropped out. But the gregarious Chianti consortium ambassador Luca Alves will be there to do a technical presentation. The seminar is full, I’ve been told, but there is a waiting list. And there is still space for the walk-around tasting. Click here to reserve.

Whatever you’re up to this month, please stay safe and mask up. And please hit me up if you’d like to join one of our virtual events this month in Houston. They are super fun.

Thanks as always for the support.

Image via RomaHouston.com. Photo by Al Torres Photography.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the MLK billboard possible. It will look out over the neo-Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas.

To the uninitiated, the cultural resonance of a street or road name may not be immediately apparent. But to many people who live, work, and socialize on those streets, those designations often carry meaning and memory that stretch back to a time before they were born.

In 2017 Houston’s city council voted to rename Dowling St., the main artery of the city’s Third Ward, its historic Black Community (George Floyd grew up there).

The street had been named after Dick Dowling, the Confederate commander at the battle of the Sabine Pass.

It’s incredible to think that in 2017 the main street in the Third Ward was still named after a Confederate military leader, a man who received the Confederate congress “Southern Cross of Honor” and “Confederate Medal of Honor.”

The new name of the street, as of four years ago, is Emancipation Ave. The name was inspired by the fact that the street “serves as the front door to Emancipation Park,” the historic block of greenery where some of the earliest Juneteenth celebrations were held. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the urban planners who named the street Dowling did so because it was connected to Emancipation Park. For at least three generations of Third Ward residents, the street was a reminder of the legacy of racist violence that terrorized and subjugated their ancestors.

My wife Tracie grew up in Orange, Texas, not far from the Sabine Pass, where two of the Civil War’s major battles were fought.

Just a few blocks away from the street where she lived until going away to college and where her parents still live, there is still a street named Dowling.

Back in 2013, when an Orange resident named Granvel Block decided he would build a neo-Confederate monument, he purchased land along Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. The cultural resonance of the street name surely was not lost on him.

To understand just how insidious his intentions were, see this flier he distributed during his fundraising campaign.

In 2017, he and his fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans (a neo-Confederate group of re-enactors and cosplay enthusiasts), completed construction of the monument. That’s when Tracie and I began protesting and working to raise an MLK billboard that overlooks the site.

Thanks to the support and solidarity of donors, our recent GoFundMe campaign has raised enough money to post the billboard in time for MLK Day 2022. And it will remain in place throughout February, Black History Month.

There will be no organized protest this year. But Tracie and I will be out there on the morning of January 17 with our signs. DM me if you’d like to join us (socially distanced).

We can’t thank our donors enough. Even everyone who merely clicked and shared has helped to raise awareness of the Sons of Confederate Veterans efforts to remind residents of their presence through the conspicuous display of neo-Confederate (not historical) paraphernalia. Even everyone who merely clicked and shared has helped to remind people that Monday, January 17, 2022 is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and that February is Black History Month.

We realize that we may never get the Sons to repurpose the site. But sometimes the battles you know you will lose are the most important ones to wage.

Thank you for your generosity, support, and solidarity.

The best Pinot Noir from Italy?

Pinot Noir is grown across northern Italy and in a few notable spots in Tuscany.

Some of it reflects a long tradition of growing the variety, in places like Trentino-South Tyrol and some would argue Friuli, although most of the Pinot Noir in Friuli was planted in the years after the Second World War.

Pinot Noir didn’t come to Franciacorta until the 1960s when Franco Ziliani, the industrialist and later winemaker, famously decided to make classic method wines there (read Robert Camuto’s excellent obituary for Ziliani, who died late last year, here).

Piedmont growers have planted a lot of Pinot Noir in Alta Langa in recent years as they geared up for the launch of Alta Langa classic method wines. And there is the occasional Langa grower who has some rows of Pinot Noir.

One of the oldest and continuously productive plantings of Pinot Noir is found in none of the above regions.

Back in July of last year, while teaching at the Slow Food University in Piedmont, I took a drive down to Oltrepò Pavese to meet and taste with Valeria Odero, the owner of Frecciarossa, one of the appellation’s most revered wineries.

(For those who may be new to Italian wine, Oltrepò Pavese is a small appellation that lies just south of the Po River in Pavia province in the region of Lombardy. The topography and soil types share a kinship with Langa where Barolo and Barbaresco are grown.)

I had tasted a lot of her sparkling wine during my New York years but during the pandemic closures, I had finally had the chance to taste her still wines thanks to a small independent importer here in Houston. Here and then later in Oltrepò, I was utterly blown away by the depth of her flagship Pinot Noir, grown in vineyards that were planted in the early 20th century. It was no surprise to discover that Cristiano Garella, one of hipster Italy’s most in-demand winemakers, was overseeing the winemaking for her.

She opened the 2016 for me during my visit last summer. But on January 20, we will be pouring her 2013 — a stunning vintage — at our first virtual winemaker dinner of the year at Roma in Houston. Valeria and I spoke this morning and I’m super geeked that she’s joining us. It’s going to be one to remember.

We don’t have the menu yet but the price will be same as always, $119 per couple, including a 3-course dinner for two and a bottle of Valeria’s 2013 Pinot Noir Giorgio Odero.

Please send me an email if you like to attend by clicking here.

Thank you for your support and happy new year!

We need $700 to raise an MLK billboard over a neo-Confederate monument during Black History Month.

Please consider giving to our GoFundMe campaign to raise an MLK billboard overlooking a neo-Confederate memorial in Tracie’s hometown.

We need just $700 more to reach our goal of $2,000. The billboard will be posted on the weekend of MLK Day, January 17, 2022, and will remain in place throughout the month of February, Black History Month.

Please visit our GoFundMe here. Thank you for your support and solidarity.

The photo above is from one of our MLK Day protests at the site. There will be no organized protest this year because of health concerns.

We weren’t the only ones drinking Giuseppe Vaira’s excellent Barolo last night. One of his best vintages of Albe to date.

Please consider donating to our GoFundMe campaign to raise an MLK billboard overlooking the neo-Confederate memorial in the southeast Texas town where Tracie grew up. We plan to have the artwork up in time for MLK Day 2022. And if we can raise enough money, it will remain in place throughout Black History Month. Thank you.

There are certain nights when work doesn’t feel like, well… “work.”

Yesterday evening was one of those times. Last night, Giuseppe Vaira, legacy grower and winemaker at G.D. Vajra in Barolo, joined Roma restaurant guests and me for a tasting of his excellent 2017 Barolo Albe.

It’s a wine that his family has been making for roughly two decades and it’s always been a go-to wine for me, whether as a wine lover or a wine director looking for an approachable but still classic Barolo that even guests with little Nebbiolo experience will love.

But last night’s 2017 was a cut above. It had a depth of flavor that was only matched by its balance and grace. Maybe it was just our mood at our last virtual wine dinner of the year. Maybe it was just that the stars were perfectly aligned.

Or maybe it’s just that this wine, as Giuseppe so beautifully put it, has grown up like the vines that were planted many years ago to produce it. In his view, it was the age of the vines combined with the uniqueness of the vintage that brought the wine into crystal clear focus.

Or maybe, just maybe… it was because we weren’t the only ones drinking it. While we were chatting and tasting over a Zoom call (at 2:30 in the morning for Giuseppe!), one of America’s most famous sports figures was enjoying it at the restaurant. I dunno… there was just something in the air!

My heartfelt thanks goes out to Giuseppe for joining us so early in the morning. It was a truly magical event and a fantastic way to close out our year in wine. Thanks to all our guests at the restaurant who have supported the virtual events over the last two years. We have every intention of bringing you more and more virtual content. Stay tuned and happy new year!