Northern Italian frost update: mainstream media reports of severe damage trickle in

Above: vineyards affected by this week’s sudden frost in Franciacorta. Note the down-turned, wilted leaves (image by Dario Vezzoli).

Mainstream media reports of frost-affected vineyards across northern Italy are beginning to trickle in as grape growers assess the damage in the wake of this week’s anomalous freezing temperatures.

One Prosecco grower told me that even the “old folks” don’t remember a late spring frost like the one that occurred mid-week.

Making matters worse, the vegetative cycle had been accelerated this year by unusually warm temperatures in March and the young shoots were even more susceptible to the freezing temperatures.

In some northern Italian regions, there are calls for the government to declare a state of emergency.

According to a report published by Oggi Treviso, 30-50 percent of this year’s Prosecco harvest has been affected.

In a post by La Stampa Asti (the Asti edition of the national daily), at least one grower said that he had lost 25 percent of his crop (although anecdotal reports on social media seem to indicate that the damage may be much greater).

ANSA (Italy’s counterpart to the Associated Press) reported that in some areas in Emilia-Romagna, where temperatures reached -4° C., “60-70 percent of vineyards in an advanced phase of budding” have been impacted.

According to Il Giorno di Brescia, up to 40 percent of farmland in Franciacorta could be affected.

The editors of the Il Gazzettino Pordenone wrote that “Friulian agriculture is on its knees.”

Growers across northern Italy are bracing for more freezing temperatures expected tonight.

Breaking news: spring freeze in northern Italy could severely compromise 2017 vintage

The photo above is just one of a series posted today on Facebook by Asti grower Gianluca Morino.

“Such a widespread event has never happened,” he wrote in the post.

Freezing cold temperatures have been reported throughout Italy today and northern Italy seems to be the hardest hit by this unusual spring frost.

I’ve spoken to at least one northern Italian winemaker who told me that his harvest is going to be severely affected.

The only mainstream report I’ve been able to find so far appeared on PadovaOggi (Padua Today): “not everything is compromised but there will definitely be a drop in production,” said Federico Miotto, president of Coldiretti Padova, the Padua chapter of the Italian federation of wine and food growers.

He called the situation a “climatic anomaly,” noting that the freezing temperatures had “boiled” the shoots and leaves in vineyards in the Colli Euganei.

Spring freezes can interrupt the vines’ growing cycle when the young shoots (like the ones in the photo above) are extremely vulnerable to cold temperatures.

It’s too early to assess the extent of the damage but I will be following the story closely as it develops.

Bruno Giacosa 2000 Barbaresco Asili Riserva was stunning last night in Manhattan. Thanks again, Ken and crew…

From the department of “somehow, some way, I just keep drinkin’ funky ass wines like every single day (we gonna drink a Balthazar to this)”…

“Arriving or departing?” wrote my friend Ken Vastola, author of the excellent Fine Wine Geek, yesterday on my Facebook. He was commenting on a photo of Manhattan island that I had snapped as my plane touched down at LaGuardia.

In the PM that followed, he generously and graciously suggested that I stop by his table where he and a group of like-minded Nebbiolo collectors were opening some of their favorite bottles.

Not wanting to push my good luck, I only tasted five of the roughly 12 wines they were pouring before I headed off to dinner with an old and cherished friend. But, man o man, what wines!

Of those, the 1989 Gaja (classic) Barbaresco and the Bruno Giacosa 2000 Barbaresco Asili Riserva (above) were highlights.

The 2000 vintage is remembered for its warm summer and the ripe wines it delivered. Many Nebbiolophiles lament that it was overrated by the American wine media with inflated scores.

But this wine was a great example of how top growers and winemakers made extraordinary wines that year. I was blown away by how expressive this wine was, with rich fruit and remarkable freshness on the nose and in the mouth.

Thank you again, Ken and crew, for including me. That was such a treat!

Posting on the fly from the city this week… stay tuned. And if you happen to be in town, please come and taste my favorite Franciacorta, Arcari + Danesi, with me at Chamber Street Wines from 5-7 p.m. on Friday.

“I used to be a racist but racism’s just got to go.” A ray of hope in southeast Texas in Trump America

“I love you, man” were the first words I heard Tim utter when he finally reached me at the Shell I-10 Travel Plaza in Cove, Texas, a few miles west of Old River Lake, roughly an hour east of Houston where we live.

Tracie P, our girls, and I were in two cars caravanning back from our Easter with her family in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border, when a faulty piston in our Honda minivan unexpectedly forced Tra to pull off the road at the first opportunity.

Luckily, it happened not far from the truck stop. We switched the girls’ car seats to my Hyundai sedan and their mother and they were delayed just a half hour before getting back on the road for home.

But I had to wait for Tim, the tow-truck man, for more than 3 hours at the Travel Plaza: an unexpectedly busy Easter Sunday had found him working his stretch of the interstate on his own and he had two jobs ahead of mine.

“Thanks for working with me on this,” he said with the unmistakable mellifluous drawl that you only hear in southeast Texas, where people eat and speak more like Louisianans than Texans.

“I had two tows that were emergencies and I knew you were already safe. I appreciate it, man!”

He held out his hand, blackened by the soot of the highway, and shook mine warmly.

After he secured the van on his truck’s bed, I climbed in the cabin with him. I was his last tow of the day and he was in a talkative mood. We had a nearly hour-long drive ahead of us back to southwest Houston.

“Where were you coming from?” he asked.

“Orange,” I said. “We had Easter with my wife’s family. She’s from there.”

“Orange, huh?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “That’s not far from Vidor,” the notorious southeast Texas town that lies a stone’s throw from where my wife grew up in Orange, one of the strident holdouts of Jim Crow-era attitudes and a historic happy place for the Klan.

“Some of my guys won’t let me send them out there,” said Tim, taking a puff off of one of his Marlboro reds. “And I’m not just talking about black guys. Not even my Mexican guys will go out there for a tow.”

And then he said something that really blew my mind, something I never expected he would say.

“I used to be a racist,” he said almost proudly but earnestly and honestly, with an emphasis on used, so as to prompt my inference that he no longer was one.

Wow, I thought.

“But racism’s got to go!” he declared looking over at me from behind the wheel as we headed toward the Sidney Sherman Bridge where we would span the Houston Ship Channel.

His wife is originally from southern California and she’s an ex-service member, he explained. Her experience in the diverse workforce of the U.S. military had shaped her own attitudes about race and racism. And she wouldn’t stand for his racist beliefs and values in their marriage. And so he changed his ways.

“I used to be a racist. But racism has just got to go,” he kept on saying.

Though I gauged he may not meet an ACLU acid test for what racism is or isn’t, I believed him.

We talked for the entire trip, 47 miles to be exact. Historic racism in southeast Texas, contemporary politics (he’s an avid Trump supporter), and his love of the movie “Hidden Figures” were among the myriad topics. He highly encouraged me to see the film.

At one point, he told me that he often stops and helps stranded motorists even when he’s not on the clock.

“My wife says I’ve got to stop doing that,” he lamented. “She’s says ‘you get paid for this now.'”

“I just like to help people, that’s all,” he said. “The world would sure be a better place if we all helped each other.”

As we crossed over the ship channel, he pointed out the yard where he drops off his scrap cars. I was his last tow of the night and he was my last chance to escape the forgotten bayous of Old River Lake and make it home to my girls.

I think that he enjoying seeing Georgia and Lila Jane as much as they marveled at watching him unload our Honda Odyssey in front of our house.

“They are so damn cute,” he said. “Are they spoiled rotten?”

The sun was also setting over southeast Texas as Tim headed back to the Sidney Sherman Bridge and Tracie and I put them to bed.

Thanks for reading…

Happy birthday Cristian! Happy Easter to everyone…

My friend Cristian Specogna (below), one of the Italian winemakers I admire most, turned 30 yesterday.

To mark the occasion, his fiancée Violetta asked friends from around the world to share video wishes. And so I made him this musication, as we call it in the Parzen family (above).

Happy birthday, Cristian! Now more than ever, the world needs honest, earnest, and genuine growers like you. In your three decades on earth, you’ve accomplished so much, often in the face of adversity. I’m looking forward to the next chapters and the many delicious wines I know you will share with us.

And I wish you and Violetta a lifetime of joy and prosperity.

Happy Easter, everyone… Have a great holiday and see you next week.

My Easter brunch wine recommendations @HoustonPress

Wishing everyone a happy Easter and Passover! I’ll see you next week. Thanks for being here and have a great holiday…

G-d bless America, home of the brave, with its high-alcohol, oaky fruit-bombs bursting in air.

For more than a generation, we Americans have embraced a “big” and “bold” wine style and tasting profile that lean toward intense and concentrated fruit flavors, oakiness, high alcohol levels, and low acidity. That’s because we Americans are bigger and bolder and better than anyone else on the planet. And it only makes sense that we build our walls bigger and bolder than any other country’s and we make our wines with higher alcohol than any other country’s.

But when it comes to Easter and Easter Sunday brunch, we can make America (drink) great again by serving wines that make more sense: wines with lower alcohol, higher acidity, and more balanced fruit flavors that are calibrated by savory tones and a more judicious use of oak aging.

Click here to continue reading my Easter brunch wine recommendations for the Houston Press…

When G-d decided to become a food writer: life without yeast and the Passover narrative

I wrote the following post last week for the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy where I’ll be teaching a seminar for its Master’s in Food Culture later this year.

When G-d instructed us to live without one of His miracles— yeast — for a week each year as we remember and retell the Exodus the story, He was and is reminding us of what He did for us when He redeemed us from bondage.

Christians and Jews, G-d did what He did for us so that we would follow His example and not turn our backs and cast our shadows on those who are suffering and those who are in need. The Hebrews of ancient Egypt were immigrants who suffered at the hands of a powerful tyrant. And G-d delivered them (and us) to safety and freedom. Please remember that this Passover and Easter season.

Chag sameach, yall! Happy Passover! The Passover begins tonight.

Above: Some of the classic foods that American Jews eat for the Passover. Matzah (unleavened bread) is described explicitly in the Bible. Gefilte fish, a type of ground fish loaf, actually has nothing to do with the holiday but it is a tradition for Jews of Central European descent to serve it with the Passover meal. Horse radish is meant to symbolize the bitterness and suffering and is also descried in Exodus.

For those of you not familiar with the Passover, it’s a holiday when Jews across the world tell the story of the Exodus through a symbolic meal (the Seder) where each of the foods and each of the courses, including wine service, represent an element in the narrative. It’s such a popular and powerful festival in the Jewish liturgic calendar that even secular and non-observant Jews take time out from their lives to partake in the ritual. And even though it tells a story full of pain and suffering, the outcome of the narrative arc is a happy one: G-d delivers the Hebrews from the Pharaoh and bondage. And the meal itself and the storytelling make Passover one of the most fun and most beloved holidays for Jews everywhere in the world.

You can read more about the Passover and the Seder plate and foods in this excellent Wikipedia entry. Be sure to click through to the Passover Seder plate entry as well.

The central food of the meal is the matzah (pane azzimo in Italian), unleavened bread.

Before the week of the Passover begins, observant Jews carefully remove any leavened foods from their homes and eat only unleavened foods, including matzah, because it reminds of the Jews’ haste in fleeing Egypt: They were in such a hurry to leave that they didn’t have time to let their bread rise. That’s true. But it’s only part of the story.

In the passage from the Book of Exodus where G-d instructs the Jews to observe the Passover ritual, He actually tells the Jews to eat matzah before they leave. In his instructions, He simultaneously gives them culinary direction; gives them a preview of what is about to happen (i.e., the Exodus); and he tells that them that they must commemorate the Passover and the story of the Exodus once every year for perpetuity.

It’s really fascinating (imho) to read the original text where the Passover is described. I’ve copied and pasted it below. And I encourage to read the entire story. It’s one of the most moving and compelling stories from the Bible and it continues to inspire literary and figurative art works: The Jews’ deliverance from bondage resonates not only as an analogy for subjugated peoples of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries but it’s also an allegory for personal redemption and resurgence. What a powerful archetype!

Here’s the passage where matzah is described and where G-d instructs the Jews how the holiday will be observed. Personally, I find it to be an amazing piece of writing. The conative component alone is brilliant: G-d is at once speaking to the Jews in the story and the Jews reading the story. Here it is… enjoy and chag sameach, happy festival!

“‘This will be a day for you to remember and celebrate as a festival to Adonai [G-d]; from generation to generation you are to celebrate it by a perpetual regulation.

“‘For seven days you are to eat matzah — on the first day remove the leaven from your houses. For whoever eats [c]hametz [leavened bread] from the first to the seventh day is to be cut off from Isra’el. On the first and seventh days, you are to have an assembly set aside for God. On these days no work is to be done, except what each must do to prepare his food; you may do only that. You are to observe the festival of matzah, for on this very day I brought your divisions out of the land of Egypt. Therefore, you are to observe this day from generation to generation by a perpetual regulation. From the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month until the evening of the twenty-first day, you are to eat matzah. During those seven days, no leaven is to be found in your houses. Whoever eats food with hametz in it is to be cut off from the community of Isra’el — it doesn’t matter whether he is a foreigner or a citizen of the land. Eat nothing with hametz in it. Wherever you live, eat matzah.'”

Learn more about the UniSG Master’s in Food Culture here.

Scenes from the Houston BBQ Festival 2017

Congrats to the organizers of the Houston BBQ Festival on another sold-out show.

A money shot for the Pit Room.

As a pit master once told, there are no smiles in bbq. That’s one of Ray’s BBQ Shack’s smokers.

The Houston bbq A-lister, Killen’s. I’ve never been. The line for this was insane as soon as the fair opened.

Didn’t get to taste but they let me photograph it at Killen’s stand.

Louie Mueller was my own personal money shot. That’s some Texas brisket beef rib right there, folks, let me tell you.

BBQ on a croissant, it’s what’s for breakfast in Houston.

Great show!

Texas Wine Freedom: how Texans and all Americans can help end anti-competitive, un-American shipping policies

Above: the statue of Stephen Austin, founder and “father” of Texas, in the Texas state capitol. Below: the cupola as seen from below. I took both photos in February when I visited the state capital to interview representative Matt Rinaldi in February.

For years, here on my blog and in the Houston Press, I have written about the Texas government’s anti-competitive and un-American retail wine shipping policies. Despite our nation’s Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, Texas still prohibits the shipment of wines to consumers from out of state.

It took a redder-than-red Texas state representative, Matt Rinaldi, Republican from the Dallas area, to have the courage to stand up to the Texas wholesalers lobby and propose a bill in the current legislative session that would right this wrong.

In an interview I did with him for the Houston Press, he called the current policies “ridiculously anti-competitive.”

“We value our freedom first and foremost,” he said. “Government shouldn’t be interfering with that. [Texans] should be given the freedom to do what makes them happy as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of anyone else.”

The following message was penned by wine retailer Daniel Posner of New York and shared with me by my good friend and Manhattan wine retailer Jamie Wolff. Wine industry consultant and advocate Tom Wark is the creator of Wine Freedom, a grass-roots initiative devoted to raising awareness of anti-competitive shipping policies currently in place across the U.S.

Thanks for reading. G-d bless Texas and G-d bless America!


Dear Texas Wine Lover,

We need your help to bring Wine Freedom to Texas. 

A bill, HB 2291, would formally allow Texans to receive shipments from out-of-state wine stores and Internet wine retailers.

To help this bill succeed, we MUST get a hearing on the bill scheduled. You can help by emailing or calling:

• Representative John Kuempel – Chairman of the House Licensing and
Administrative Procedures Committee

Ask him to schedule a hearing on HB 2291

The best way to do this is by visiting the TEXAS WINE FREEDOM page:

Information is on this site allowing you to easily:

• Email or call Representative Kuempel
• Sign up for Alerts and news on the bill
• Sign a petition supporting the bill.

You only need to tell Representative Kuempel the following:

“I live in (name of city) and I support HB 2291, the Wine Shipping Bill in your committee. I urge you to schedule a committee hearing on the bill.”

Taking action now is critical since the Texas legislature will not meet for another two years and this is your only chance to change the laws on wine shipping in Texas.

Passover 5th Question: why on this night do we drink Manischewitz wine coolers?

When it comes to the Passover’s “Four Questions,” I’d like to propose a new and fifth one:

On all nights we drink organically farmed, spontaneously fermented, additive- and enzyme-free wines made from grapes harvested under a full moon in a vineyard along the Slovenian-Italian border, and on this night Manischewitz?

After all, and with all due respect, Manischewitz is really a wine cooler, a wine to which sugar — a lot of sugar — has been added.

And btw, that sugar has the potential to make the wine more palatable to children. Sadly, I speak from personal experience when I write this: someone whom I know and love dearly told me that his path toward severe alcoholism started with those thimble-sized cups of wine that he used to throw back when we were kids at shul.

Click here for my post today for the Houston Press on “What Makes Wines Kosher for Passover and Where to Find Them.”