Earthquake in central Italy, 6.2 magnitude. Our hearts and prayers go out to our Italian sisters and brothers…

italy earthqake mapAbove: a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck central Italy early this morning (image via the United States Geological Survey website).

Across social media this morning, I’ve been reading accounts of this morning’s devastating 6.2 magnitude earthquake in central Italy, which occurred at 3:36 a.m. local time.

The epicenter was 10 kilometers southeast of Norcia in Perugia province (Umbria).

But the most extensive damage seems to have occurred in small hill towns in Latium and the Marches. According to all reports I can find, Accumoli (Rieti province, Latium), Amatrice (Rieti), and Arquata del Tronto (Ascoli Piceno province, Marches) were among the hardest hit.

In a statement this morning, the mayor of Amatrice reported that the entire historic center was destroyed (New York Times).

Click here for La Repubblica coverage and images of the devastation. As of this posting, 63 lives have been claimed.

From Rome to the Marches and even as far north as Parma, social media users I follow have been checking in and posting dispatches on relatives and friends living in the affected areas.

One of the most moving was by my friend Fabio Ciarla who lives and works in the wine industry outside of Rome.

“You wake up in the middle of nightmare and head back down the Via Salaria,” he wrote this morning, “the same road you would take when you were little with your family on a drive to Ascoli Piceno where [brother] Valentino studied enology. Not just through Amatrice but also towns like Posta, Sigillo, and Accumoli… Those were happy trips. Today it’s a Calvary.”*

Our hearts and prayers go out to our Italian sisters and brothers this morning. G-d bless them, G-d bless us all.

*Calvary: “the proper name of the place where Christ was crucified” (Oxford English Dictionary) and by extension a site of doom.

Goodbye California (a poem)

toes in the sandGoodbye California, goodbye beach, goodbye pool. 
Goodbye fish tacos, goodbye nigiri and sashimi, too.
Goodbye ocean, goodbye seal, seagull, and pelican.
Goodbye to some of our favorite things American.

parzen poolThank you San Diego, La Jolla, and thank you sweet friends.
Thanks for a week of paradise we wished would never end.
Thank you dear mother and thank you big brother.
Sister-in-law, niece, better family there is no other.

jeremy parzen wine blogBless you daughters and bless you wife.
Thank you for sharing the place where I came to life.
Sun, water, sand, and good things to eat.
This vacation will be a tough one to beat.

Thank you Sherman-Parzens, Yelenoskys, Battle-Ericksons, Georges, and Krylows for making this such a special week for the Texas Parzens in California!

And thank you, mom, for making this trip possible and for the great week at your apartment… What a wonderful experience for us. We’ll never forget it.

Wine & Spirits features 3 Houstonians (and I’m one of them)

What a thrill for me to be included among the “50 masters of place” in the current issue of Wine & Spirits magazine!

But it was an even greater thrill for me to learn that I was just one of three Houstonians whose expertise was featured in the book (as they say in magazine publishing parlance).

Wine educator, writer, and buyer at one of the biggest retailers in the country (Spec’s), Bear Dalton wrote about Bordeaux.

And Evan Turner, owner and wine director at Helen (one of the best restaurants in Houston and one of the most original wine lists in the country), wrote on Xinomavro, the great red variety of Greece.

Present company excepted, the Houston-based media continues to slog away and along on its quixotic quest to portray our city as a bunch of air-conditioned hillbillies living on a land-filled swamp.

In fact, Houston is one of the most intellectually vibrant and culturally rich cities in the world and our groovy wine scene is a reflection of that. Three out of fifty, ain’t bad, Mimi!

It was also a thrill to see so many of my good friends among the contributors: Alice, Brett, Elaine, Shelley, Ceri, Pascaline…

What did I write about? Friulian white blends, of course. Check it out on newsstands now!

wine and spirits masters place

Natural wine group VinNatur releases controversial farming and production guidelines (English-language version)

angiolino mauleAbove: Angiolino Maule, right, founder of the VinNatur association for natural wine and one of the world’s leading advocates for pesticide-free wines (photo by Alfonso Cevola).

“I was beginning to feel like a sheriff,” said Angiolino Maule, founder of the Italian natural wine advocacy group VinNatur, when I met with him at his winery earlier this year.

He was referring to his group’s monitoring for the presence of chemical residue in the soils of its members’ vineyards.

When we met and tasted together this spring, he told me that the group is working on a new method for monitoring the health and biodiversity of the soils. The new system, he said, won’t be based on laboratory analyses of soil samples. Instead, it will focus on the presence of insects and other animal life among the vines.

“If there are insects in the vineyards,” he said, “it means that pesticides are not present.”

Maule and VinNatur have not yet revealed the criteria for the new monitoring system. But in a press release issued last month, they announced that they are in the process of developing the new protocol together with government-sanctioned certification groups and the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

In the meantime, the group has published its new guidelines for the production of natural wines.

As the wine world continues to wrestle with the definition of natural wine, VinNatur has presented its new checklist of permitted and forbidden practices as a new benchmark in defining the category.

“Those who choose to drink natural wine,” write the authors of the press released issued by the group (English), “have the right to receive tangible guarantees on what they will find in the bottle. Declaring oneself to be a ‘natural winemaker’ is not enough — one must be truly aware of the great responsibility that there is regarding the health of enthusiasts and clients, and act accordingly.”

The new guidelines haven’t been met by cheers in all corners of the natural wine movement. And more than one detractor has pointed to the fact that other similar “guidelines” have been published in the past.

“Whatever certificate, little medals, or badges… no, thanks. I’m beautiful the way I am,” wrote natural winemaker Corrado Dottori in a blog post. “Making natural wine is not a question of procedures. It’s a state of mind. VinNatur has got it wrong. Fuck the police. You have betrayed the revolution” (translation mine).

In a blog post entitled “Bla bla … natural wine … bla bla,” natural winemaker Alessandro Dettori contends that the focus should be on “agriculture… terroir, and the artisanal character” of winemaking (translation mine).

Click here for the English-language version of the guidelines.

Click here for the English-language version of the press release.

Riso (or Risotto) al Salto, a recipe

riso risotto al salto recipeOver the weekend on social media, a lot of people asked about the photo above.

It’s a risotto al salto or riso al salto. Literally, it means a flipped or sautéed risotto and basically, it’s what you do with leftover risotto.

On Friday, I had made a risotto alla parmigiana and then on Saturday I made the “flipped” version.

For the risotto alla parmigiana, sauté some finely chopped onion in a broad pan with unsalted butter.

When the onions begin to become translucent, add the desired amount of rice and toast for a few minutes (being sure to stir constantly so that the rice doesn’t burn or stick to the pan).

Then add a few ladlefuls of chicken (or desired) stock and a half glass of white wine. Depending on the saltiness of the stock, add Kosher salt to taste (or not at all; between the stock and the Parmigiano Reggiano, you should have plenty of saltiness already).

Continue adding stock, stirring diligently all the while, until the rice has cooked through, 25-30 minutes depending on the grain.

A few minutes before the dish is ready to serve, fold in generously amounts of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

For the riso al salto, melt butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and then add the leftover risotto. Gently pat and smooth it out until it’s uniformly round and flat in shape.

Brown the rice for 10 minutes or so and when ready to serve, turn it out of the pan by placing a large dish on top of the pan and flipping it over (I’ve seen professional chefs turn it out of the pan simply by flipping it, like an omelette; but it takes a deft hand for that).

Dust with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

On Saturday night, I also made a pesto (below).

It drew some criticism (and some praise) on social media.

“A me spiaza ma quer li i ni é pistü!” wrote StaticStrat on Instagram. “R’pistü ga le trenete der 7, patate e fazoin!”

“I’m sorry but that there ain’t pesto. Pesto is served over trenette” and “with potatoes and green beans” on the side.

A Texas-based chef also lamented that the pesto-to-pasta ratio was weak.

My pesto is by no means traditional. In fact, I make it with Parmigiano Reggiano and not pecorino. But it’s still delicious, I swear!

Seriously, isn’t that what’s so great about Italian gastronomy? It’s a canon and a blueprint that allows for infinite idiosyncratic variations.

Hoping everyone had a culinarily rewarding weekend and wishing everyone a tasty week ahead. Thanks for being here…

pesto recipe

Houston to Major Tom: a song for shipwrecked souls (new track by the Parzen Family Singers)

Above: the Parzen Family Singers covers David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (for better audio quality, check out the SoundCloud below).

Every since the Parzen family moved to Houston nearly two and a half years ago, our daughters and I have been obsessed with astronauts (the “real astronauts,” as the girls call them) and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which lies about 40 minutes away by car from the house where we live in southwest Houston.

The girls and I go there once or twice a month (Tracie P, not so much).

Somewhere along our journey into space, we came across this video-cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who recorded vocals and an acoustic guitar overdub for the track on the International Space Station.

That YouTube led us to our obsession (especially Georgia P’s) with this vintage David Bowie video version of the original song, shot on analog film.

Major Tom and our beloved “real astronauts” have become central to the Parzen family narrative.

Our daughters — ages 3 and 4.5 — don’t yet tap into the astronauts as metaphors for the unknown and unknowable. I’m not really sure where the appeal lies for them. I am certain however that like dinosaurs, astronauts are an interminable source of fascination for (our) children, perhaps because they innately intuit their significance in the unsignifiable.

For me, Major Tom and the real astronauts (like Ulysses) are allegories for our own shipwrecked souls and the human condition driven by our very real need and desire to face our aloneness (tell my wife, I love her very much, she knows…).

It’s so powerful to sit in the original gallery of the original Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center and hear the docent recount the 1969 moon landing.

“The first time words were heard from the moon,” she said on our most recent visit (with my bromance Giovanni), “they were heard in this room. That’s pretty cool.”

(Our dear friend Elaine also visited the real astronauts with us earlier this year.)

Like Columbus, like Magellan, like Ulysses, the real astronauts travel into the unknown so that we may know it, making the unknowable knowable. They haven’t unlocked the mystery of the universe and our existence. But with each step they take, they chip away at and assuage our aloneness.

And so on this sleepy Friday, the hottest day of summer so far, I offer you the Parzen Family Singers’ cover (SoundCloud follows below and the YouTube lies above).

One giant step for a middle-aged wine blogger… Thanks for listening.

girls in space

Natural wine grows (up) in Texas (and Franciacorta in Portland, Oregon Sept. 12)

SAVE THE DATE: Franciacorta Real Story tasting in Portland, Oregon at Nostrana, Monday, September 12. Click here for more details.

lewis dickson wine cruz texasAbove: I’ve followed Lewis Dickson’s wines for many years now. They’ve always been wholesome, food-friendly, and tasty. But they have really come into focus in recent vintages (photo taken in Austin, Texas in 2014).

It must have been four years ago when one of my best friends from Italy, a winemaker, came to visit us in Austin where we were still living on the corner of Alegria and Gro[o]ver in Brentwood.

It was his first visit to Texas and he had expressed an interest in tasting Texan wine. And so I brought home a bottle of Lewis Dickson’s Cruz de Comal 2011 Pétard Blanc, made from Blanc du Bois grapes grown in the Texas Hill Country.

We opened another wine that night: a macerated and oxidative white from one of Italy’s most celebrated natural winemakers. It was from one of said winemaker’s most widely praised and coveted vintages.

Ever the stickler for “technically correct” wines free from defect or blemish, our friend from Italy turned up his nose at the macerated white from Italy and its volatile acidity and gladly drank the Blanc du Bois instead.

“Texas wine is great!” he declared gleefully.

black spanishAbove: Dickson’s Troubadour is made from 100 percent Black Spanish grapes. No one really knows the variety’s origins. Some believe it was developed in the New World, others contend that it came from France. Most agree that it was widely planted in Texas before the founding of the Republic of Texas in 1836. Its legacy here gives it gravitas as a “Texan” variety. Look it up under “Jacquez” in Wine Grapes (Vouillamoz et alia, Ecco).

I was reminded of that evening when I met Lewis Dickson (above) last night in Houston to taste the latest vintages of his Pétard Blanc made from 100 percent Blanc du Bois grapes and his Troubadour from 100 percent Black Spanish grapes.

His wines have always been very good (albeit expensive) in my experience. But with his most recent releases, as his growing practices and his winemaking talents have evolved, he’s really begun to wade into the pool of greatness with his wines.

The Pétard Blanc was the most focused and elegant expressions of the Blanc du Bois that he grows on his estate in the Texas Hill Country. Its delicate floral and white fruit nose gave way to a wonderful balance of citrus and stone fruit.

But it was his 2014 Troubadour, from Black Spanish, that really blew me away with its chewy red and red berry fruit and the nuanced depth of its tannic character. This is a big wine at 14.8 percent (in alcohol content) but I was thrilled by how lithely it danced in the mouth. A truly original, lip-smakcing and delicious wine with serious aging potential.

Tracie P and I have always rooted for Lewis and his wines, which he makes with the help of California legacy winemaker Tony Coturri, one of the pioneers of organic grape growing and natural winemaking in the U.S.

As Lewis puts it, he doesn’t add anything to his wines beyond the grapes that he grows without the use of pesticides or herbicides. And he doesn’t sulfur them at all — not even at bottling.

But as I watched and listened to him interact with the staff at the wine bar where we tasted last night, he never presented the wines as “natural” or “zero sulfur.” His growing and winemaking practices came up, yes, by the way, as he fielded questions about the wine. But “natural” or “zero sulfur” were never badges that he wore on his sleeve.

No, he let the wine speak before the labels. And those wines revealed that great wine is made in Texas.

Click here for a profile of Lewis that I wrote for the Houston Press back in 2012. The arc of his narrative may surprise some readers.

Italy mourns the loss of sommelier Davide Oltolini, 48, beloved food and wine critic

davide oltoliniAbove: Italian sommelier and critic Davide Oltolini in a photo dated August 2012 (via his Facebook page). Many Italians knew him as a frequent guest on “Uno Mattina in Famiglia,” a news and entertainment program produced by RAI 1.

Today the world of Italian food and wine mourns the passing of Pavia-based sommelier Davide Oltolini, 48, beloved food and wine critic and television personality.

According to a report published this afternoon morning (CST) by the Italian national daily Corriere della Sera, he suffered a heart attack while playing tennis in Brallo di Pregola township (Pavia province) and died a few hours later after emergency responders were unable to revive him.

Oltolini was a frequent contributor to the Corriere della Sera and countless other mainstream mastheads like Gambero Rosso and La Cucina Italiana, Italy’s “National Geographic” of food and wine writing.

He also appeared regularly on national television, including the popular RAI 1 show “Uno Mattina in Famiglia,” a morning news and entertainment show that featured segments on Italian gastronomy.

Italy’s youthful food and wine scene was drawn to his magnetic presence on social media and he was known affectionately for his love of selfies. He would famously ask people from all walks of life to pose with him for the self-portraits.

“The first thing he would do when he saw you was take a selfie with you,” said an acquaintance, a young Italian wine professional who took time out today for a brief phone interview. “That was his thing.”

“We all followed him on social media and he was a great moderator [of wine tasting panels]. We’ll all miss him a lot,” she said, noting that he will be remembered for his upbeat presence.

“He was one of us.”

Vietti, final thoughts: “without a great civilization behind them, great wines cannot be made.”

montalcino photo creative commonsAbove: “Chasing the fog” in Montalcino, a digital reproduction of an analog photo by London-based filmmaker Oliver Cooper.

As I was preparing an aggregate of blog posts on the recent controversy stirred by the sale of legacy Barolo estate Vietti to the American owners of convenience store chain Kum & Go, I realized that the most compelling piece wasn’t about Vietti at all. It was about Montalcino and its transformation in the 1990s as “foreign” investors (some of the American, most of them Italian) invaded the sleepy Tuscan hilltop village and surroundings.

“Maybe Brunello is better off,” writes my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini on the Montalcino Blog (that I run for the estate). “Maybe it’s not. But regardless, it has remained the same. I don’t know of other cases of ‘grafts’ that were so successful. And I might even go as far as to say that even beyond the enologic horizon, this is a sign of a great civilization. And without a great civilization behind them, great wines cannot be made. ‘Terroir,’ money, marketing, and great winemakers are not enough. That’s been attempted in other places and it hasn’t worked. Ever.”

Watching the unfolding of Barolo’s historic arc from Montalcino, the future seems undimmed. I highly recommend Stefano’s mighty post (and my translation) to you.

In one of his most powerful posts, Antonio Galloni, the anglophone world’s leading Italian wine writer, sees a much less bright horizon in the distance.

“The recent sale of Vietti to American investor Kyle Krause,” he opines, “is one of the most shocking events I have seen in twenty years of visiting Piedmont and nearly thirty years of buying and drinking Vietti wines. For decades, Vietti has marketed itself as the standard bearer of artisan Piedmontese values – multi-generational family ownership, tradition and an attachment to the land. The question is: What does Vietti, and more broadly, Piedmont, stand for today?”

No English-language scribe has better captured the socio-cultural-historical significance of this transaction and transition.

The coda of his piece, which I highly recommend to you, brought me to tears.

In a comment to one of my posts on this changing-of-hands, Italian wine trade veteran Matthew Fioretti counters that “Vietti’s best days are still to come… In fact, the sale of Vietti was not at all surprising – at least not from the production side. Nor is it a sign of doom and gloom – unless you are idealizing the Langhe, viticulture, and life on wine estates. The fact that almost nobody is asking about the reality of production shows how wedded consumers and wine enthusiasts have become to an idyllic, Romantic picture of the Langhe.”

Matthew is a great if unsung writer. And he makes an informed, compelling and Realpolitik point in his note, which deserves our attention.

Lastly, while a few blogs have published interviews with Luca Currado wherein the Vietti winemaker addresses the sale and the controversy (you don’t need me to help you find them), the good folks over at the Italian hypertextual blog and commerical platform Vinix have published an English-language interview with Kum & Go scion Kyle Krause.

Unfortunately, Vinix hasn’t updated its site to align with the new standards of internet security. The link is not secure. So proceed at your own discretion and risk.

Krause doesn’t reveal anything new about the transaction but this is the only place on the interwebs (that I know of) where he has made his voice heard.

There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues. Thanks for being here. Buon weekend a tutti.