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!

Help us raise an MLK billboard over the neo-Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up.

In 1969, the Houston-based art collectors and civil rights activists Dominique and John de Menil purchased the third “multiple” of “Broken Obelisk” (above), a sculpture by 20th-century American artist Barnett Newman. They planned to donate it to the city of Houston where it was to be displayed at City Hall. But when the city of Houston learned that the couple planned to dedicate the work to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been assassinated by a White Supremacist the previous year, the city refused the gift. Rebuffed by the city government, they decided to install the sculpture on the grounds of the Rothko Chapel, designed by artist Mark Rothko and completed in what is now Houston’s museum district in 1971.

(Read about the legacy of this work in Houston here. Warning: the link contains graphic images of vandalism by White Supremacists.)

Our daughters, ages 8 and 10, have visited the site many times over the years. It’s always a magical visit for our family, although our girls are still too young to understand the sculpture’s historical and present-day significance.

Given the history of racist violence in southeast Texas, where Tracie was born and where we have lived for the last nine years, it was devastating to learn that White Supremacists planned to build a neo-Confederate memorial along Interstate 10 in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up and where we spend a lot of time with our children.

In 2017, despite Herculean efforts by the Orange city government to stop them, the Sons of Confederate Veterans completed the “Memorial of the Wind,” featuring Lost Cause battle flags, including the Confederate flag — now a neo-Confederate flag.

The following year, Tracie and I began protesting the site regularly. And we also began raising money to display an MLK billboard across the road.

(Our efforts are documented on our site, RepurposeMemorial.com.)

Because of health concerns, we won’t be organizing a protest on MLK Day 2022, Monday, January 17. But we will be raising a billboard. And if we can raise enough funds, it will stay in place throughout Black History Month (February).

Please give to our GoFundMe here.

The City of Orange tried unsuccessfully to block the construction of the memorial, which lies on private property owned by the Sons. But they did manage to limit the height of the flagpoles so they can’t be seen from the freeway. It sits on MLK Dr., one of the town’s major arteries. For the people who have to drive by it every day, it is a reminder of the racist violence that has plagued the city since Reconstruction and beyond.

Our hopes that the site will be repurposed are dim. But we are committed to reminding the community, half of which is black, that the conspicuous public display of racist paraphernalia is unacceptable today. As a famous winemaker once said, sometimes the battles you know you will lose are the most important ones to wage. We will never abandon our efforts.

In recent weeks, I have been inspired by the words of critical theorist and activist bell hooks, who passed away this month.

In her 1994 essay “Love as the Practice of Freedom,” she wrote that “the moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.”

Tracie and I continue to love Orange, Texas and the people who live there. They are our people and we know that love will ultimately triumph there.

In the meantime, we hope you will consider giving to our campaign. And if you cannot give, please share the link with your community.

Click here to donate.

May G-d bless Orange, Texas. May G-d bless the neo-Confederates. May G-d bless us all. Thank you for your support and solidarity.

“Weather and Wine,” last night’s show by 60 Minutes, raises awareness of wine’s (often whispered but rarely spoken) existential threat.

It was impressive to watch last night as 60 Minutes journalist Lesley Stahl dived into one of wine’s thorniest issues: the impact of climate change on grape growing.

Doubly impressive when you consider that the overwhelming majority of commercial winemakers are deeply reluctant to raise awareness of the climatic issues they face now with every vintage. To talk about the severe weather events of the current or a past vintage, the thought process goes, would be to threaten the harvest’s commercial viability. And it’s not an off-the-mark attitude: by the time vintage notes make it to the layperson consumer, who knows and probably cares little about the nuance of vintage or terroir, a stigmatized vintage can radically diminish the retail value of a given wine in the mind of the uninformed buyer.

I highly recommend checking out the broadcast, which — it’s important to note in my view — had the following subtitle: “Drawing truth to power.” (Wow!)

I was eager to watch the show last night because I had been contacted by the producers during the Christmas break: they wanted to use a photo of frost damage that they had found here on the blog.

Dario Vezzoli, the author of the photo and son of Franciacorta grower Giuseppe Vezzoli, swiftly agree to let them use it (thank you again, Dario!).

But I also told them that the person they needed to speak to was Alberto Cordero, legacy grower at the Cordero di Montezemolo winery in La Morra, Barolo.

Where so many producers have been extremely tip-lipped about the effect of climate change in Langa, Alberto has spoken openly about the challenges his estate faced with the April frost in 2017. He also graciously agreed to let the show use his photos. (Alberto’s wines are imported to the U.S. by Ethica Wines, one of my clients; see their post on the show here.)

As it so happens, we opened Alberto’s 2017 Barolo Monfalletto during our (ongoing) Christmas break. Besides the 1998 Giacosa white label Barolo Rocche Falletto that a friend brought to our holiday party this year, the Monfalletto was one of the best wines we tasted this year. It was surprisingly approachable, with great freshness and drinkability, elegant and nuanced with wonderful balance between the acidity, alcohol, and tannin. We — Tracie, me, and another couple — loved it.

The fact that Alberto and his family decided to release their top wine from the now infamous 2017 vintage reflects their confidence that they were able to make great wine from the 2017 harvest — maybe not as much wine but great nonetheless, as the bottle in question showed.

It brings to mind an adage often attributed to the great Montalcino winemaker Piero Talenti (I’ve never been able to verify if and/or where he said or wrote it): there are no “bad” vintages; there are simply vintages when we make less wine.

As Alberto pointed out in his newsletter in February of this year, the frost caused the most damage in lower-lying spots where the freeze really took hold. Top vineyards, like his family’s Monfalletto, were high enough to be spared.

For Christmas Eve, Tracie and I opened a bottle of the 2017 Produttori del Barbaresco, a classic “blended” Barbaresco, sourced from multiple vineyards in the historic cooperative’s family of parcels.

This wine, one of my all-time favorites, also showed beautifully. My only lament would be that the fruit was very restrained when we first opened it. We drank it over three nights (one of awesome things about top Nebbiolo) and by last night, it had come into glorious focus (paired with pork loin tacos, black beans, and 60 Minutes!).

It was another example of how 2017 will be remembered for both its challenges and its great wines.

I know the 60 Minutes show will be endlessly parsed in coming days. Although I found it to be well balanced, it could have also addressed issues like copper, the wine industry’s true “dirty little secret.” It also could have taken a closer look at the many excellent wines that are being released from 2017 and will be released from 2021.

There were other issues — mostly lacunae — as well. But I think it’s fantastic that the mainstream media is beginning to make “climate change and wine” part of the cultural conversation. Maybe some of the oil barons here in Houston will start paying attention when they realize that their precious wines are under threat.