Taste with me Tuesday 11/30 in Miami, Friday 12/10 in Houston, and virtually with me and actor Edoardo Ballerini on Friday 12/17.

My client, Prosecco grower and producer Villa Sandi, called me at the last minute during Thanksgiving week asking me to cover for their export director at the Gambero Rosso tasting in Miami tomorrow, Tuesday 11/30.

If you happen to be in town, here’s the link. Stop by my stand and taste some bubbles with me!

I’m looking forward to seeing a ton of people I haven’t seen since the last time I was in New York for the Gambero and in Miami for the James Suckling tasting in February and March of 2020.

*****

On Friday, December 10, I’ll be pouring and talking about Italian wine with my good friend and Italian specialist James Oliver at his wine shop and tasting room in northwest Houston.

James wanted to incorporate a musical element from my career as a guitar player and songwriter with the French band Nous Non Plus. And so we will be spinning Yé-Yé pop tracks all night.

Don’t know what Yé-Yé is? Come find out!

Roma is catering the event. $45 per person not including tax. 3 wines, 3 courses. Good deal, right?

Will be a super fun evening. Click here to reserve. Only 10 spots available.

*****

And then on Friday, December 17, I will be joined online by acclaimed New York actor Edoardo Ballerini for a conversation that will benefit Animal Zone International, a “non-profit organization dedicated to saving animals, improving the environment and helping the local community on the Greek island of Amorgos.”

Even if you don’t know Edo’s name, you’ve seen him countless times on television and in major motion pictures. But some of you will also know him from the myriad audio books he’s narrated. In a future post, I’ll write more about Edo, how we met and became friends, and what we’ll be discussing week after next.

In the meantime, here’s the PayPal link to sign up for the event. It’s not a cheap date but it’s tax deductible and for a good cause. I hope you’ll join us.

******

And Houston people, don’t forget that Tracie, the girls, and I are hosting our blow-out open mic and Hanukkah party on the last night of the festival, Sunday, December 5. If you’re reading this, then you are invited! Ping me for details but we will start around 1, open the open mic around 2, light candles around 5:30, and then party and sing until there’s no partying and singing left to do! I hope you can join us. There are always some pretty amazing musicians who play.

Why are Americans so obsessed with the “perfect pairing”? The perfect Thanksgiving pairing is you!

“Why is it,” a leading wine writer asked me rhetorically late last month, “that our genre is the only one where we treat our audience like they know nothing about the subject matter?”

He was referring to the myriad “best wines for Thanksgiving” posts that flood the eno-internets, from the Pioneer Woman to the Reverse Wine Snob. (The Pioneer Woman’s post currently ranks higher than the New York Times in Google search results. What does that say about the power of wine and food blogging?)

As my friend pointed out, “every year, the same thing happens as if it’s never happened before. Why does [a given writer] publish the same article each year before Thanksgiving? It’s not like much has changed since the last time!”

Despite every respectable wine writer’s claim of a “division of church [advertising] and state [editorial content],” the bottom line — and let’s just go ahead and say it out loud, people — is that Thanksgiving wine recommendations are driven by advertising.

Yes, it’s true that the top wine writers of our generation are not directly influenced by the advertisers’ agendas. But there is no denying that especially in the internets era, the topics covered by mainstream wine writers are driven by clicks. Anyone even vaguely familiar with Search Engine Optimization will recognize that even the most editorially lofty wine writer is called on to deliver a Thanksgiving wines piece to align with the timing of Thanksgiving.

Name me a mainline masthead that doesn’t publish Thanksgiving wine recommendations these days. For that matter, name me a mainline masthead that doesn’t publish a Passover wine recommendations piece every year. It’s always been driven, however indirectly, by advertising dollars.

But in my view, there’s an even more powerful cultural trend that inspires these posts: the wholly and unique American concept that there is one PERFECT wine to go with the Thanksgiving feast. It’s a phenomenon that arises from Americans’ notion of exceptionalism and — I would go as far to say — historical progressionism.

Not progressivism, the socio-political philosophy that vexes today’s conservatives. I’m talking about progressionism, the very 19th-century and some would say Darwinian concept that evolution always makes things better. The ultimate expression of that philosophy, very much shaped by quasi-religious positivism, is that there exists a Platonic or otherwise divine ideal to which we are all striving.

This mode of thinking is also inspired by the erroneous belief that no one who came before us could be smarter than us. The Times has been publishing its Thanksgiving wine column since 2004. I read and enjoy it every year. But has the Thanksgiving menu changed since 2004? Have the world’s wines and their potential pairings changed? Nope, I didn’t think so.

Taking a page from our fellow European wine lovers, what if we threw “the perfect Thanksgiving pairing” to the wind this year and just enjoyed the wine and food? One family likes to serve “unfriendly to wine” artichokes. Another, asparagus. Does that mean that in the former case they can serve no wine at all and in the latter they are forced to serve Gewürztraminer, the only TexSom-sanctioned wine to go with that vegetable?

To my point, let me draw upon an ancient Latin saying: if the Romans were forced to forsake wine when artichokes are served, there would be no Rome. I’m joking about the ancient Latin saying part but can you imagine a Roman serving you delicious carciofi alla giudia or carciofi alla romana without a glass of fresh Frascati or crisp Castelli Romani?

At our family Thanksgiving this year, we’ll be serving Moscato d’Asti (a favorite of nearly half of the roughly 30 people who will be part of our gathering), Lambrusco (another easy winner for our people), some aged Nebbiolo from our cellar (for the red wine lovers), a buttload of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio (because so many of the celebrants, including me and Tracie, know and love these grapes on any occasion), and a still-to-be-determined but probably sweet wine from Quarts de Chaume (to pair, against every and all rules condoned at TexSom, with the pies).

There won’t be one perfect wine. There will be plenty of wines to choose from. And there will be something for everyone. And that’s because the perfect pairing at Thanksgiving isn’t the wine. It’s the people who love and discover the wines and the way they make the food all the more enjoyable.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’ll be pouring wine tonight from 6 p.m. onward at Roma in Houston. It’s a free tasting and the wines will be available to purchase for your Thanksgiving meal. (See? It’s ALL about advertising!)

Memaw, Tracie’s grandmother, 100 years old, passed away earlier this month. On Friday, we celebrated her remarkable life.

Many of our friends will remember the story of the first time Tracie brought me home to Orange, Texas to meet her extended family. It was Thanksgiving 2008.

Everyone was a little nervous, including Tracie and me.

“Jeremy, we’re a hugging family,” said memaw, who was already in her mid-80s. “Come here and let me give you a hug.”

If ever there were an icebreaker, that was it.

Violet Lola Branch, née LeBlanc, passed away earlier this month. She was 100 years old. On Friday, we gathered in Orange to celebrate her life.

The photo above was taken in late January 2020. She was 98 years old. That’s our Chihuahua, Paco, whom she adored, in her lap. At the time, she was still putting on her makeup every day. She still drove herself around town and to all our family’s get-togethers. She was a truly remarkable woman who always ate well, stayed in shape, and stayed connected to friends through her love of bridge and her devotion to her church.

And the arc of her life was remarkable as well.

Think how different life was when she was born in 1921! To put it into perspective, Mussolini hadn’t yet seized power in Italy (his “March on Rome” took place the following year). Hitler and Nazism had yet to rise in Europe. Ford had yet to develop the first commercial airliner in the U.S. Telephones and automobiles were still amenities enjoyed by only the privileged.

Her husband Jim “Slats” Branch and she were part of the “Greatest Generation,” as we now call it. They married in 1942 in New Orleans before he deployed to Europe. After his tour of duty was over, they moved to Port Arthur, Texas on the Gulf Coast and would later settle in Orange, Texas where they would raise their two sons, Jim and Randy (Tracie’s father).

Memaw also had a wonderful sense of humor.

Here’s an anecdote that Tracie’s father Randy insisted she retell at her memorial service.

It must have been a few years ago when memaw mentioned that she had received a compliment from a friend.

“Violet,” said the friend, “you don’t look a day over 70!”

To that, memaw responded (in her classic southeast Texan twang): “Well, who the hell wants to look 70?”

Rest in peace, memaw. I’ll never forget how you welcomed me into your family. I enjoyed sharing our dogs and our wine with you over the years. I’ll cherish our conversations, your wonderful deviled eggs, and the joy you took in watching your great grandchildren grow. It was our blessing to have you in our lives.

If you can read this blog post, you’re invited to our Hanukkah party (and Open Mic).

I’m super stoked to invite you to the Parzen family Hanukkah party 2021!

If you can read this blog post, you’re invited.

Ping me for details but it’s happening…

Parzen Family Hanukkah Party
and Open Mic

Sunday
December 5
the last night of Hanukkah
@ our house
1-8 p.m.
2 p.m. kids open mic begins
4 p.m. adults open mic begins

Also happening in coming weeks, please join me…

Thanksgiving Wine Tasting
and Italian Wine Sale

@ Roma (where I’m the wine director)

Tuesday
November 23
6 p.m.

FREE TO ALL

No need to register, just show up!

We will be tasting 10+ wines and guests can purchase them if desired.

Yéyé Pop Wine Party
with Vesper Wine
catered by Roma

@ Vesper Wine

Friday
December 10
7:30 p.m.

$45 per person

James Oliver and I will be pouring some of our favorite Italians paired with a menu from Roma. And we’ll be spinning some of my favorite Yéyé Pop songs (French 60s), inspired by my music with Nous Non Plus (my band).

An Italian wine great returns to the U.S.

Aglianico del Vulture’s “top producer,” wrote Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman in their landmark folio Italy’s Noble Red Wines (Macmillan 1985), was Fratelli d’Angelo.

The were referring to the family winery that brothers Donato and Lucio d’Angelo took over in 1973 after their father Rocco passed away.

“Enologist Donato d’Angelo makes the wine…,” wrote the Wassermans after they tasted with him.

    Donato told us that although the wine wasn’t labeled Aglianico del Vulture until 1964, the name was used locally for the wines in the 1940s… In 1971, Aglianico del Vulture was granted official DOC status under Italian wine law. D’Angelo was among the first wineries, if not the first, to export wine from Basilicata to the United States. From 1926 to 1929, they shipped the wines abroad in 55-galloon (2-hectoliter) barrels. Today, Fratelli d’Angelo is to our knowledge the finest producer in Basilicata.

The brothers (fratelli) would eventually split up.

But Donato, the one with the secret sauce, would continue making his extraordinary wines under his new “Donato d’Angelo” label from 2001 onward.

From Salento coast to the foothills of Irpinia, ask any grower and they will tell you the same thing: not only is Donato the greatest producer of Aglianico del Vulture, but he is also the dude who single-handedly put the appellation on the map.

Although the wines aren’t as well known on this side of the great misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Oceans, leading writerslike Edward Behr (the founder of The Art of Eating) have written glowingly of Donato’s wines (“the finest traditional Aglianico del Vulure as well as one of the few Riservas still made”).

In 2007, Ed McCarthy, whom many would call one of the greatest Italian-focused tasters of his generation, wrote of the winemaker: “Donato d’Angelo has been carrying the Aglianico del Vulture banner practically single-handedly throughout the world’s markets since the 1970s.”

In 2008, top Italian wine writer and educator David Lynch included Donato among his favorite Vulture producers noting that the winemaker “delivers the earthy, ashy flavors that Aglianico purists crave.”

I recently had the opportunity to taste the 2017 vintage of Donato d’Angelo Aglianico del Vulture thanks to my dear friend Filena Ruppi, Donato’s wife, and the couple’s new American importer Marcello Miali.

This wine was classic Aglianico del Vulture, dark and brooding with rich umami character and nuanced layers of slightly underripe black fruit. The flavors were buoyed by the wine’s extraordinary freshness, balance, and “lift,” as the current generation of sommeliers like to say (the wine’s vibrancy).

Tracie and I opened it with her carbonara, a favorite pairing of mine for Aglianico, the wine the Romans drink when they go big (they keep the Super Tuscans around for us Americans, btw).

It’s so wonderful to see these iconic wines back in the U.S. and with an importer who recognizes their Italian wine world legacy (Marcello, whom I’ve met here in Houston when he visited for our Taste of Italy trade fair, is a great guy, a Salento winemaker who’s building an ambitious portfolio and sales team here).

As the interest Aglianico from Irpinia has grown over the last decade, I imagine we’ll see a future wave of Aglianico lovers who shift their gaze east to the wild lands of Vulture. Just as Nebbiolophiles have discovered “alto Piemonte” in recent years, they will be delighted to discover wines like those made by Donato — a true Italian great.

The Italians are back! Photos from Roma’s sold-out dinner with Alicia Lini.

Man, it’s been an insanely busy couple of weeks between work and our girls’ music and school.

But a lot of hard work and many moving parts culminated last night in a sold-out wine dinner with my wonderful friend and longtime client Alicia Lini at Roma in Houston where I serve as wine director.

As far as I know, Alicia is the first Italian winemaker to come back to Houston. Her wines have done extremely well in Texas and the fact that she chose our city as her first wine dinner stop wasn’t lost on me or the crowd yesterday evening.

But more than anything else, it was amazing to feel that energy again. The packed patio of guests was literally abuzz between getting to meet Alicia in person (she had done two virtual wine dinners with us from Italy during the lockdowns at 2:30 a.m. Italy time) and tasting her wines paired with an all seafood menu (which was super fun and delicious, thanks to Chef Sandro).

It reminded me of one of the elements that’s been lacking since trans-Atlantic travel has been attenuated: that precious human contact with the people who make the wines that we love.

So far I haven’t seen a lot of Italians making plans for events in the U.S. between now and the end of the year. But I know a lot of people will start to come back in early 2022.

In the meantime, I’m just glad to be feeling a renewed joy in what I do for a living. What an amazing feeling to watch Alicia working the room as people enjoyed her wines and the food!

Tracie, the girls, and I are all looking forward to some much needed downtime next week for the holiday. But right now I’m just feeling pumped and high from the thrill of sharing my passion with our guests last night.

Thanks to everyone who made it possible through their support and heartfelt thanks to Alicia who made Houston her first stop!

Italian wine world mourns loss of Lorenzo Corino, natural wine pioneer and esteemed scientist.

De humanis illustribus…

The following obituary by Filippo Larganà has been excerpted and translated from the popular Piedmont-focused wine, food, and agropolitics blog Sapori del Piemonte. The photo comes from the Maliosa winery website. Lorenzo Corino’s Maliosa estate in Maremma, Tuscany, was where he put his theories on natural wine and organic viticulture to work. Corino — a towering figure of Italian viticulture, writer, researcher, and a “fierce advocate” for natural wine — died this week at age 74.

    Lorenzo Corino was born in the hills of Costiglie d’Asti. Immediately after receiving his degree in agriculture, he was hired by [Italy’s prestigious] National Research Council, became a scientist, and then was appointed as director of the Asti campus of the Institute for Viticultural Research at Conegliano Veneto. He was later named director of the Enological Research Center in Asti where he would oversee countless research and viticultural projects. He died after a long illness on November 4, 2021.
    He was one of the leading figures of Piedmontese and Italian wine. Those who knew him often spoke of him a rigorous scientist who loved his work, who loved science and his land… Some called him a dreamer, an indefatigable utopian.
    Corino was a fierce advocate for natural wine. He created a website especially to share his definition of natural wine and he developed a vinification method today known as the “Corino method.”

Leading wine writer and vineyard consultant Maurizio Gily remembered him on his blog as “my maestro.”

Corino, wrote Gily, was “a gentle, passionate, and meticulous man who was generous with his time. He was a Piedmontese through and through and he never wavered from his sense of right and wrong — no matter what the cost… For his entire life, he was guided by his vision for ethical viticulture and farming practices that would have the least impact on the land.”

Never one to shy from controversy, Corino was also an active writer and blogger and he regularly translated his work into English. Visit his English-language blog here.

See also this profile of Corino on the Raw Wine website.

The best place to drink natural wine in Italy? Enoteca Naturale has my vote (for reasons you may not expect).

One of the things that will delight first-time visitors to Enoteca Naturale in Milan is its jaw-droppingly gorgeous setting in the Parco delle Basiliche (Park of the Basilicas). It’s one of the most beautiful plazas in the city, especially at night thanks to the dramatic lighting.

Another element that will surprise them is that it shares its physical space with Emergency, a humanitarian aid foundation that has worked to fulfill its motto nessuno escluso (no one left out) since 1994. Some may remember that its founder Gino Strada died this summer (see his Times obit here).

The sense of moral purpose and civic cause hasn’t been lost on the founders and owners of Enoteca Naturale who set their business up as an “SRL Benefit” when they opened its doors in late 2018. SRL is the Italian equivalent of limited liability company. The term benefit here denotes a for-profit company that receives tax incentives for fostering and supporting community. In the case of Enoteca Naturale, the owners have committed to making their workforce diverse, including numerous hires of immigrants. It’s a program known as integrazione sociale or social integration. Pretty cool, right?

I visited Enoteca Naturale on the very last day of my latest trip to my spiritual homeland in early October.

I was blown away by the depth of the by-the-glass selection. And the level of wine education chops was as thrilling as it was informed and informative.

But the thing that really impressed me about this wonderful natural wine destination was how nice that everyone was there.

That may seem like something banal. But in my experience visiting natural wine bars in the U.S. and Italy, it’s not always the case.

The occasional attitudes of some staff at natural wine venues have often reminded me of my graduate school days when academic one-uppersonship was often what guided human interaction among my peers. Every time I hear someone say something like, well, you must have never tasted Overnoy or Textier, I can’t help be reminded of the time one student mercilessly shamed another into admitting that they had never read Ulysses — in front of the whole class. Yes, that really happened.

Everyone at Enoteca Naturale was so warm and welcoming. They didn’t care where any of the guests were from or where they were going. All they cared about was pouring and sharing good wine with people who were there for that very purpose.

That’s my dissertation advisor and good friend, Luigi Ballerini, in the photo above btw. We had such a lovely visit there.

I’ll never forget the first time that I visited Milan’s other go-to natural wine bar, Champagne Socialist, which I also loved. They recoiled when they learned I was from Texas. Unfortunately, that’s something that happens a lot when I frequent natural wine circles. It took an entire of evening of drinking and bantering (and a couple of jazz cigarettes) to convince them that non tutti i texani vengono per nuocere (just like Fo’s thief).

No, none of that prejudice or presupposition was present at Enoteca Naturale. All I found was great wine and great people ready to share it with me. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Identify yourself as a wine professional and they will give you a trade discount.

Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Pasolini quote. Protests of Italian senate’s controversial “no” vote on LGBTQ civil rights bill.

In a closed-door vote last week, the Italian senate blocked a bill that would have expanded existing Italian anti-discrimination laws to include the LGBTQ community.

The controversial vote over DDL Zan (named after its author, Alessandro Zan, an Italian LGBTQ rights activist) has sparked protests across the country.

“Thousands of people gathered in Milan and Rome on Thursday,” writes Sandra Salibian for Women’s Wear Daily, “to protest against the decision of Italy’s Senate to block the ‘DDL Zan,’ a bill against homotransphobia, which would have extended passages of the penal code that already punishes discrimination and violence based on racial, ethical and religious beliefs to also include sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as disability.”

In the image from Instagram above, fashion designer Pierpaolo Piccioli poses with “DDL Zan” written on the palm of his hand as a neon sign hovers above him.

The line in neon is from Italian critical theorist and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini (it comes from one of the three sonnets he composed as a post-script to his landmark collection of essays, Lettere luterane, or Lutheran Letters, first published in 1976).

Non vogliamo essere subito già così senza sogni.

Translated slavishly, it reads:

We don’t want to be suddenly, so abruptly, without dreams.

I’ve translated the entire sonnet below. In my “performative” rendering, where I’m trying to maintain the rhythmic and prosodic spirit of the poem, I have translated the line as follows:

We don’t want our dreams so suddenly taken away.

Note the use of Agape (unconditional love for G-d) and Ananke (the personification of destiny) in the first stanza. See the Wiki links I’ve included.

I was honestly stumped by Pasolini’s “Devil of the Angel black” like “Luciano ‘o Sarracino.”

‘o Sarracino is Neapolitan. It means the Saracen. Perhaps a playful allusion to the Renato Carasone song?

Luciano: maybe Luciano Serra, his schoolmate and close friend from his years at the University of Bologna?

In the image below, you’ll see piazzas filled with citizens gathered in protest in the city of Brescia. Photo by my friend Laura Castelletti, an activist and politician there. As far as I can find on the internets, all of Italy’s major cities were backdrops for similar protests.

Here’s the sonnet, translation mine:

Signor Teacher, we have seen the Devil of the Angel
so black like Luciano the Saracen. “Yell long live
Benjamin Spock
” he told us. He’s going to need a cane.
Enough of the Agape. We want the Ananke.

We are tired of becoming serious young adults.
tired of being forced to be happy, criminal or neurotic:
we want to laugh, we want to be innocent, we want to expect
something from life. We want to ask, we want to ignore.

We don’t want so suddenly to feel safe.
We don’t want our dreams so suddenly taken away.
Strike, strike, comrades! For our rights.

Signor Teacher, stop treating us like idiots
for one must never offend, wound,
or touch. Do not fawn over us, for we are men, Signor Teacher!

What is appassimento and how do you pronounce it? VIDEO

Above: grapes being “raisined” for the production of Valpolicella wines.

After a Twitter user tagged me in the tweet below, I immediately sprang to action. There was no time to lose!

As Alexandra, a Florence-focused art historian, noted, grape growers in Italy are drying their grapes — raisining them — right now.

The process is known in Italian as appassimento: the drying or raisining of the grapes.

Drying the grapes concentrates their sugar, their lifeblood. It’s an ancient process that was widely used in Italy from Roman times until the early 20th century. It’s still used in countless appellations, most famously to produce sweet Vin Santo in Tuscany and Amarone (a dry wine) and Recioto (a sweet wine) in Valpolicella, among many others.

The related Italian term passito means raisined– or dried-grape wine. Passito di Pantelleria is arguably the most well known among the passiti or dried-grape wines (plural).

The great 19th-century Italian poet, philologist, and critical theorist Giacomo Leopardi would have loved the terms appassimento and its verb form appassire. Like so many words in Italian, it can have multiple meanings. It’s used with poetic license to mean wilting or even waning (as in, their passion for [something] has waned).

Knowing that time was of the essence, I immediately called my buddy, grape grower and winemaker Angelo Nicolis, in Valpolicella. (His wines are imported to the U.S. by my client Ethica Wines and I visited with him in January 2020 on my last trip to Italy before the lockdowns.)

He swiftly dispatched the above photo and the below video. And as you can see from the crates of grapes being dried behind him, the timing was perfect!

As per Alexandra’s commission, I’ve also updated the Italian-English Wine Glossary to include the term.

Thank you for the nudge, Alexandra! And special thanks to Angelo who turned this around so quickly.

This is what I love the most about wine blogging and social media. How it brings us all together, from different corners of the world, around a passion that will never wane!