Don’t cry for me Nebbiolo. The truth is I never left you…

The California wine country fires affect everyone in our industry. Please read my post today for the Slow Wine California blog.

Burgundy may be my mistress.

But Langa will always be my signora.

Last weekend, I attended the Boulder Burgundy Festival, where I not only have I served as the gathering’s official blogger for last four years but I also get to taste and drink far above my pay grade. It was a remarkable experience. Possibly the best event yet.

But as much as I loved sitting across from Bobby Stuckey as we tasted through a spectacular six-wine flight of Chambolle-Musigny, with Raj Parr and Eric Asimov leading us on our journey from the red soils at the bottom of the côte to the white soils at the top (what a seminar!), my mind and my heart always find their way back to Nebbiolo.

Last night I led a tasting of seven of my favorite expressions of Nebbiolo for 24 guests at Rossoblu, the new downtown Los Angeles Italian where my college buddy Steve Samson is chef and owner and where my colleague Christine Veys and I have been writing the wine program since it opened this spring.

We were joined by Cesare Barbero, director of one of my favorite wineries, the Barbaresco cooperative Pertinace — one of the unsung heroes of the appellation.

The flight: 13 Barbaresco, 12 Barbaresco Marcarini, 12 Barbaresco Nervo, 98 Barbaresco, 98 Barbaresco Nervo, 96 Barbaresco, and 96 Barbaresco Nervo.

My top wine of the night was the 98 (classic) Barbaresco, which we paired with the first white truffles of the season to arrive in LA (they were literally flown in the day before). What a flight of wines, what a dinner, and what at night!

Thank you to everyone who came out to support this event: our first wine dinner in the restaurant’s newly christened wine room. And thank you to the spot-on staff at Rossoblu for the seamless service and the beautifully polished stemware.

On Thursday, December 7, the restaurant and I will be hosting Prince Ludovisi (Fiorano) for a dinner and tasting of red wines made by his uncle in the 1980s. The Prince is flying in especially for the occasion and the wines are coming from the family’s personal grotto (they don’t have a cellar; they keep their wines in an ancient Roman cave). I hope you can join us (registration isn’t open yet for this event but if you’d like to reserve one of the 18 seats available, please shoot me an email so I can hold your spots for you).

Thanks, everyone, for your support. It means the world to me.

Please don’t forget our sisters and brothers in California wine country.

Domenico Clerico and the year he never stopped changing: the new wave of the old school in Barolo

It was fascinating to sit down and chat yesterday with Oscar Arrivabene (above) in Los Angeles where he was pouring Domenico Clerico wines with the estate’s new California importer.

Like many Nebbiophiles, I had a $64,000 question on my mind: which vintage marked Clerico’s shift from standard bearer of the modernist movement in Barolo to champion of large-cask-aged traditional-style wines?

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that Domenico, a truly lovely man who was deeply cherished by his community and the many young people he mentored, left this world for a better one in July of this year (see this Wine Spectator obituary by Bruce Sanderson to put the arc of Clerico’s career and wines into context).

“The thing about Domenico,” said Oscar, who first visited the winery as Clerico’s student and then later joined the estate as enologist, “was that he was always changing his approach to winemaking. He never stopped changing.”

Tracie (my wife) and I had the immense pleasure of dining with Domenico in Piedmont almost a year to the day before he passed. And he spoke that evening of how he had decided to abandon barrique (new wood, small cask) aging for his wines.

But what year marked the sea change?

Oscar needed no nudging to reveal that it was in 2014, when they were blending the 2011 harvest, that Clerico decided to sell off some of his barrique-aged wines and bottle a blended Barolo sans vineyard designation — a first for him and the estate. From that point onward, said the young winemaker, Clerico and his wines set back down a traditionalist path, including some of the wine he was already aging in large cask.

When the great Barolo and Barbaresco traditionalist Bruno Giacosa suffered health problems in 2006 and ultimately decided not to bottle the vintage, Oscar told me, Clerico (who succumbed to a long and courageous battle with cancer this year) began to revisit Giacosa’s wines, “rediscovering” his own passion for wines aged in botti (large cask). That led him to begin re-tasting wines by other old school producers whose wines inspired him to change his own style, said Oscar.

I told Oscar about the wonderful dinner we shared with the always colorful Clerico in July 2016. In turn, he shared a story about the Barolo grower’s boundless generosity.

He and Clerico were touring the U.S. last year when a young wine professional asked him to explain the difference between modernist and traditionalist Barolo. Without uttering a word, Clerico left the table and returned with the restaurant’s sommelier and $600 worth of wine — two bottles, one by a classicist, one by an avant-garde producer. When there wasn’t quite enough wine for everyone to taste, Clerico quickly called for another bottle of each. $1,200 later, quod erat demonstrandum.

Wine country fires: “Buy Napa and Sonoma wines” to support their communities

Image via the Matthiasson Facebook. They posted the photo yesterday afternoon local time in Napa.

It seems like yesterday that Steve and Jill Matthiasson, grape growers and winemakers at Matthiasson in Napa, were sending out an e-blast informing subscribers that they were donating 100 percent of the sales of a library release to Texas hurricane relief. As a Houstonian, their solidarity and generosity meant a lot to me. That was August 30.

Last Friday, they sent out another blast letting readers know that so far their family has made it safely through the ongoing fires in Northern California. They included a link to the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund (their recommended donation resource). And they also offered this appeal to fans of California wine:

Beyond donations to the above,

“the other thing that would help all of us is to BUY NAPA AND SONOMA wines at restaurants, wines shops, and through your favorite winery websites, and finally we hope that you will VISIT Napa and Sonoma after the fires are put out. This is the height of our tourist season and the middle of harvest. The workers in our wineries, vineyards, and hospitality are not getting paid, small businesses and restaurants are either closed or have limited hours. Please consider a trip here during our ‘off-season’ so local businesses, wineries and all the employees can make up some of the lost income.”

Tracie and I are praying for all our friends in Northern California and for all of our fellow wine professionals impacted by the fires.

Click here for list of information and relief effort resources that I posted today over on the Slow Wine California blog.

Rock out with me and The Go Aways October 29 in Houston

Please keep praying for all our friends and colleagues in Northern California where wild fires continue to threaten life and property. So many of my friends still can’t get back to their homes. Click here for relief effort resources.

Please join me and my band The Go Aways for a set of Americana rock and country on Sunday, October 29 at 13 Celsius wine bar in Houston (Midtown). Show starts at 5 p.m. No cover.

My bandmate Gwendolyn Knapp and I have been working on a new album of her songs that we hope to release by Christmas of this year. She and I have been producing the music in my home studio and I’m pretty stoked about it.

Her tracks can be dark and they can be funny and they always rock with just the right amount of twang. She and I have also written a couple of Christmas songs — one political and one inspired by my daughter Georgia age 5 who wrote the title.

Two other Houston-based bands will be performing as well, Londale and Golden Cities. Please come rock out with us.

In other news…

I’m up in Colorado this weekend for the Boulder Burgundy Festival. I’ve been the gathering’s official blogger for the last three years now and it’s always a great experience. Stay tuned for posts from the gig (I’m about to walk into the kick-off event: Old and Rare Burgundy with Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher, one of the most engaging speakers and tasters I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste with).

I’ve also gotta send out a shout-out this morning to my bromance and client Paolo Cantele (below, center) who came to Houston this week to present a wine dinner featuring his wines at Mascalzone where I’ve been writing the wine list since August. It meant so much to all of us, Paolo, that you came to Houston when we need people like you most.

California Fire Relief Efforts: Where and what to donate (via @Biondivino)

Images via Vino Girl’s Instagram (Napa).

The stories of devastation and loss are as gut-wrenching as they are heartbreaking.

“The ferocious fires in the Wine Country and beyond,” wrote the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, “destroyed new territory on multiple fronts Wednesday, threatening communities untouched by the previous onslaught — including the cities of Sonoma, Napa, Calistoga and Fairfield — and prompting evacuations of thousands more people.”

“Fires raked across the state, but the primary battlefields were in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties where wind gusts topping 30 mph were giving out-of-control fires new life and sending firefighters from across California and Nevada scrambling to save lives and property.”

Below, I’ve copied and pasted an email blast by Ceri Smith, owner of the Biondivino wine shops in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Both locations are accepting donated items (the list of suggested items follows). Relief supplies can also be shipped to either location and Ceri has also included other resources for donations and recovery efforts.

Tracie and I are praying this morning for our sisters and brothers in California. G-d bless the Golden State.

Fire Relief
Donation Drop Location
Biondivino San Francisco & Biondivino Palo Alto

There are no words that can ever express the impact and devastating sorrow we feel
for the tragedies and insurmountable losses our Northern California neighbors,
friends and colleagues are going through daily.

Many basic items are needed as so many have lost so much.

From what I understand these are the most immediate needs:

  • Face Masks (3M 8511 N95 – needs to be able to filter out smoke/gasses, please, not the light weight basic model
  • Individual or Small Eye Drops – Eye Rinse
  • Pillows & Pillow Cases /Air mattresses/Blankets
  • Flashlights/Batteries/Chargers
  • Diapers – Children & Adult – Feminine products
  • OTC Medicines: Advil, Tylenol, Antihistamines, DripDrop etc…
  • Wetwipes, sanitizers, toothbrushes, hair combs etc
  • Baby food – Pet food/Supplies
  • New Undergarments: Men, Women, Children of all sizes
*Consider anything you would need if you had to leave at a moments notice (or any person young or elderly would need)

Many out of town people have asked how they can help/contribute – please feel free to ship anything to either of our locations.

**Please address the receiver as FIRE RELIEF c/o Biondivino

EASY LINKS:

Bay Area residents – Cole Hardware: Mask Link | Sanitizer Link | Batteries | Emergency Supplies
or Amazon (prime if you have it).

Biondivino SF:
1415 Green Street (between Polk/VanNess)
any time Tues – Sat 11am-8pm – Sun 12pm-7pm – closed Mon

South Bay Biondivino Palo Alto:
Town & Country Palo Alto
855 El Camino Real #160 (Next to Belcampo & The Sushi House)
any time Mon – Sat 10am-7pm – Sun 11am-5pm

*NO CASH DONATIONS ACCEPTED – THANK YOU

More Links to Help:
Petaluma Volunteer/Evacuee/Donation
NBC-Fire Relief Links

Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino: thoughts and prayers for our sisters and brothers affected by the fires…

The image above comes from the Instagram of my dear friend Vino Girl who lives on the east side of Napa, just west of the Napa River. She and her family were evacuated yesterday at 4 a.m. She took the photo from her house. They’re back in their home now (thank goodness) as authorities are trying to assess the extent of the damage.

In an article updated late last night, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “a swarm of fires supercharged by powerful winds ripped through Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties Monday, killing at least 10 people, injuring dozens of others, destroying more than 1,500 homes and businesses, and turning prominent wineries to ash.”

“Sonoma County officials received more than 100 reports of missing people as of Monday evening,” wrote the editors of the paper.

It’s been heartbreaking this morning to scroll through the #NapaFire thread on Instagram. Vino Girl’s post is just one of thousands of images that document the devastation.

Another dear friend and colleague, Elaine Brown, California contributor to JancisRobinson.com and senior editor for the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California, posted this dispatch yesterday morning on the Slow Wine blog (I’m the coordinating editor for the guide) and she posted this update on Jancis’ site late last night.

Elaine lives in Sonoma with her family and they evacuated voluntarily yesterday. They’re alright today (thank goodness).

One of the most stirring posts came from Carlo Mondavi’s Instagram.

“Wildlife and mankind are as one kind,” he wrote, “and we are all running for cover.”

As we follow the news reports today, our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to all of our sisters and brothers in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties.

Fires threaten iconic California wineries: A Dispatch from Sonoma by Slow Wine senior editor Elaine Brown

The North Coast of California was hit last night by a rash of wildfires. Most of the fires were sparked by gusting winds taking down trees hitting above-ground power lines. Fires spread quickly with one of the largest, the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, spreading to over 25,000 acres in a matter of hours. The Tubbs Fire has burned portions of the northern part of the city of Santa Rosa and forced the evacuation of two area hospitals and thousands of people…

Click here to continue reading a dispatch from Sonoma this morning by Slow Wine senior editor Elaine Brown.

Could this be Freisa’s moment in the sun?

Scrolling through the 499 winery’s Facebook this morning, I was reminded of Carlo Petrini’s August 2016 article in the Turin edition of La Repubblica (the Italian national daily): “The hegemony of Barolo is putting other Langhe wines at risk” (translation mine).

The piece echoed something that I’ve been hearing Langhe growers say for a long time.

Over the last two decades, the lucrative nature of the Barolo trade has prompted many producers to plant Nebbiolo in vineyards where grapes of a lesser god were once traditionally grown.

“Nebbiolo used to be planted only [in parcels] where the snow melted first,” Maria Teresa Mascarello said to me some years ago when I visited with her at her family’s historic cellar.

It’s always a revelatory experience to drive around Langhe during the winter and see how the sun melts away the flakes in the top crus before it shifts its efforts to the surrounding blocks. And this tradition is reflected in the Piedmontese dialectal term sorì, used to denote the best hilltops for raising Nebbiolo. It comes from (and is akin to) sol or sole in Italian. It means well-exposed [to the sun] or sun-bathed.

When I finally had the opportunity to taste 499’s Freisa a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but think to myself: is this Freisa’s moment in the sun?

This delicious wine, grown at 499 meters a.s.l. in the township of Camo, is the brainchild of two Barolo veterans: Mario Andrion (Castello di Verduno) and Gabriele Saffirio (Brovia), who have both had a hand in producing some of my favorite expressions of Langhe viticulture. It was fresh and bright, with nuanced floral notes that really impressed and surprised me. But it still had that tannic character that you expect from Fresia. A really original and utterly delicious wine.

With Barolo setting records in release prices these days (thank you, 2010!) and Moscato d’Asti (which they also grow) becoming more and more alluring thanks to the growing interest in sparkling wines, it’s hard not to think of Mario and Gabriele as Don Quixotes.

It’s great to see the interest in Langhe growing among wine collectors across the world. But it’s also wonderful to see these young Langhe growers not allowing their viticultural heritage to be eclipsed by Barolo’s bright star.

Slow Wine Snail winners announced today on California Guide blog

When he founded the movement in the late 1980s, one of Carlo Petrini’s most brilliant moves was to call it “Slow Food” — the natural antidote to fast-food.

The disyllabic moniker immediately became an international battle cry for those defending traditional foodways. And it still resonates just as powerfully with the movement’s current generation.

And what better emblem than the snail to represent the nascent group? Not only is the gastropod the emblem of slow pace and slowed change, but it’s also an indicator of healthy soils. Grape growers will often point to the vineyard presence of snails and other small creatures as a sign that the site is free of pesticide.

Of course, the snail is also something delicious to eat.

Today, Giancarlo Gariglio, editor-in-chief of the new Slow Wine guide to the Wines of California, has announced the winners of the guide’s Snail award, the top honor conferred by the guide.

Click here to view the winners and to read about the significance of the prize.

I’m the coordinating editor of the guide. Elaine Brown and David Lynch are our senior editors. We congratulate the winners!

Praying today for Las Vegas, America…

Any American who’s ever been to Las Vegas knows that it is the all-American city.

Americans from all walks of life travel there each year, for all kinds of reasons.

As one of our nation’s business and entertainment hubs, it embodies our industriousness, our entrepreneurship, our contradictions, our hopes, and our dreams. In so many ways, no city in America is more American than this glittering city in the desert.

It’s also one of the leading American destinations for the high-end wine trade. I know so many top wine professionals — some of the nicest people in our business — who work there.

Today, Tracie and I are praying for Las Vegas, America.

Like all of our fellow Americans, we are overwhelmed by the news from Nevada this morning. G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Las Vegas. G-d bless America.