What a groovy week in wine in Texas!

Paolo Cantele and I will be pouring his family’s wines tonight at Vinology in Houston from 6-8 p.m. Please come out and taste with us!

It felt like the world of groovy wine had descended on Texas this week.

That was the scene on Wednesday, above, at the Rootstock portfolio tasting preview at Light Years, Houston’s newest all-natural wine bar.

Rootstock, a mid-sized importer and champion of natural wine, had coordinated their events and the incoming winemakers with the Wild World Natural wine festival, which is happening this weekend in Austin. Alice Feiring is the featured speaker and I’ve even heard that natural wine maven and mensch Lou Amdur will be there (I’m so bummed I can’t be there but I have to be in Houston this weekend for a food festival I”m presenting and a blow-out music and wine party we’re hosting at our house tomorrow; message me if you want to come and need details).

That’s Hank Beckmeyer of Clarine Farm, left, with Rootstock rep Dustin Popken.

Hank is good friend but I’m also one his biggest fan boys — a lover of the wine and the man. Such a cool dude and such great wines. Dustin’s also a good friend from our Austin days.

After I hit the Light Years event, where my buddy and natural wine pro Steven Dilley was literally slinging his now legendary Bufalina pizzas (with a line that stretched literally around the block), I headed over to Nancy’s Hustle where owner and wine director Sean Jensen was pouring some equally groovy natural wine.

Nancy’s Hustle is such a great example of what’s happening here in Texas: soulful, thoughtful food paired with equally meaningful wines. I was blown away by the enthusiasm and table-side knowledge of the servers. Man, this place was killing it on Wednesday night and the vibe was just right.

Earlier in the day, I had presented a master class on Moscato d’Asti at the swank Pappas Bros. Steakhouse downtown.

That’s me in the photo with a whole lotta Moscato d’Asti right there. It was a super cool event.

Shit, even Eric Asimov wrote a story about the renaissance of Texas winemaking in this week’s Times.

It’s just felt like one of those weeks when the wine stars have aligned seamlessly over my adoptive state.

Come see me and Paolo tonight at Vinology, come to our house party tomorrow, or come out and see me at the Houston Pasta Festival on Sunday where I’m emceeing! Wherever you are this weekend, DRINK GOOD WINE AND EAT GOOD FOOD! And ROCK ON!

When is white wine too young? Deconstructing (in the true sense of the word) Massican…

Jacques Derrida’s 1967 book Of Grammatology is considered by many to be an early manifesto of deconstruction (in the literary, critical sense of the word).

By the 1980s, his notion of différance would become a battle cry for a generation of critical theorists.

For them deconstruction didn’t mean taking a work of literature apart and breaking it down into its essential components (a popular but erroneous definition of the term). Instead, it meant looking at the ever widening gap between the author’s intention and the reader’s perception.

The concept (described hastily and imcompletely here, it’s important to note) came to mind when I tasted my friend Dan Petroski’s Massican 2018 Hyde.

Where, what, and how is the différance between the winemaker’s intent and the drinker’s sensation? I wondered. How do time, place, and movement impact our enjoyment of a given wine?

Dan graciously and generously sent me a flight of his new releases to taste at home and Tracie and I opened two of them the other night.

The 2018 Hyde, a 100 percent single-vineyard Chardonnay sourced from vines that are more than a quarter of a century old, was laser-focused in its brilliant mouth-watering white and stone and tropical fruit flavors. But its racy acidity and intense minerality made me think that it still hasn’t come into full focus yet. Was this the winemaker’s intent? Or was it just my perception? There’s no doubt in my mind that this wine will age gorgeously (for the price, it’s an extreme bargain for collectors). I loved this complex and compelling bottling but it felt like it’s going to need some time in the cellar.

The 2018 Annia, the other wine we opened that night, is Dan’s flagship wine, a classic Friulian-style blend made from California fruit. Historically, it’s the label that put Massican on the map (I can still remember the first time I tasted it a decade ago). Here the balance was impeccable: white flowers and stone fruit (ripe peach and ) danced against the moreish texture. This wine is drinking so beautifully right now, another immense value for white wine lovers like me and Tracie.

Both wines were great. But we definitely enjoyed the Annia more than the Hyde the other night, even though the Hyde presumably lies higher in the Massican hierarchy.

Once Tra and I taste the other two wines, Dan and I will trade emails and share notes, I’m sure.

But in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the différance.

Dan, thanks again for sharing these wonderful wines with us!

Ronchi di Cialla 1998 Schioppettino and King Ranch Chicken (plus Houston music and tastings update)

On Saturday night, Tracie made a couple of my favorite dishes from her repertoire: King Ranch Chicken, a Tex-Mex classic, and fried okra fritters, a staple of her southeast Texas upbringing.

And Aunt Joanne and uncle Marty, who joined us for dinner, generously shared a bottle of 1998 Schioppettino, a library release from Ronchi di Cialla, Friuli’s legacy champion of native grape varieties and one of the region’s most soulful wineries.

The more-than-20-year-old wine was fresh and vibrant, with robust ripe berry flavors and a gentle touch of minerality and earth. Its sweet fruit made for a wonderful pairing with the casserole.

King Ranch Chicken is an ultimate Texas comfort food. For Tracie, it evokes memories of growing up on the Gulf Coast. For me, it conjures the aromas and flavors of the first meals she cooked for me when we were dating more than 10 years ago.

It’s not as spicy as you might think. And the surprisingly rich fruit of the wine and restrained alcohol sang beautifully against the creamy texture and richness of the food. We all loved it.

But before the casserole was served, Tracie also treated us to those okra fritters, which we paired with a Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from Cirelli (one of our house wines).

“Why do I like to fry stuff so much?” Tra asked our chihuahuas who huddled at her feet hoping for a morsel to be dropped.

The worst of last week’s rain had passed and it was a fine evening. All is well at the Parzens’.

In other tasting and music news…

I’ll be hosting, moderating, and leading a bunch of fun food and wine and music events this week and next.

Moscato d’Asti DOCG
Guided Tasting & Seminar
at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (downtown)
Wednesday, May 15

There’s just a few seats left for this Wednesday morning tasting where some of Moscato d’Asti best and brightest will be pouring. Click here to reserve.

Paolo Cantele
in-store tasting
at Vinology
Friday, May 17

Paolo and I will be literally taking over the bar at Vinology on Friday night. Paolo is one of my best friends and we have worked together for 10 years. It should be a super fun evening.

Blow-out Party
and Potluck
live music and wine
Chez Parzen
Saturday, May 18

On Saturday afternoon/evening, Parzen family is hosting one of its house parties and Paolo is providing the wines. Everyone is invited — and yes, I mean everyone. If you have my phone number or we are friends on social media, just hit me up and I will send you details.

Houston Pasta Festival
Bayou City Event Center
Sunday, May 19

Click here to register for this Sunday afternoon festival (1 p.m. – 4 p.m.). I’ll be emceeing. Come hungry! There will be wine and Peroni beer, too.

My new band Problem Child
at Mongoose Versus Cobra
Sunday, May 26

We’ll actually be debuting the new band at the party but our first real show will be at the Mongoose Versus Cobra anniversary/Memorial Day party. We’ll be the first band to take the stage, at 6 p.m. Come drink craft beer, munch out at the food trucks that will be there for the occasion, and rock out with me.

Parzen family safe after heavy rains and severe flooding in Houston

Just a quick post this morning to let everyone know that the Parzen family is safe and dry after heavy rains and severe flooding here in Houston.

Thunderstorms are predicted for today and possibly tomorrow. The ground is saturated, including rainfall from earlier this week. And the bayous are teeming.

But so far, we are still high and dry in our corner of the city. I wish I could say the same for all our neighbors.

The girls and I checked up on our flooding/hurricane preparedness supplies yesterday afternoon. We have plenty of water, food, batteries, and a full tank of gas in the truck (I’m so glad that I got my F150!).

The power went out very briefly, a few times last night, when the lightening struck close to our house. But thankfully we have power.

Rusty, whom we believe was abandoned or separated from his family during Hurricane Harvey, is completely freaked out. He clearly feels the safest place in the house is the girls’ room. He slept with Lila Jane all night (she was so happy about that!). Poor little Rusty! We can only wonder how he made it through Harvey.

School is cancelled today and we’ll be staying in and off the roads.

Stay safe, everyone! G-d bless…

The bastardization of Tuscan cuisine (test your Tuscan cookery knowledge)

Above: this dish is a classic of Tuscan cuisine. A bottle of juicy Sangiovese for anyone who can tell me what it is (see answer below; image via the Taverna dei Barbi Facebook).

Try the following experiment.

Ask any well-informed Italian or pseudo-Italian food and wine professional to name the classic standbys of Tuscan cuisine.

You’ll undoubtedly get an answer that sounds something like the following.

bruschetta (hopefully pronounced correctly), crostini, pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, pappardelle with wild boar sauce, fiorentina (butchered from a Chianina, no doubt), and of course, the ubiquitous tagliata — a grilled strip steak accompanied dutifully by arugula topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar.

You had me at Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar!

What about scottiglia, peposo, or cibreo?

You won’t find any of those dishes mentioned in the “Tuscan Cuisine” sub-section of the Wikipedia entry for Italian cuisine.

You will find, however, “Forentine steak” and “minestrone” (mentioned as the foundation of ribollita). Parrina and Sassicaia are also listed side-by-side as top wines from Tuscany. Who can tell me where the Parrina DOC lies without cheating?

Today, I wanted to draw attention to a wonderful post by my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini, owner and winemaker at the legacy Brunello estate Fattoria dei Barbi where the family also runs a restaurant — the Taverna dei Barbi. Many of the recipes on the menu there are culled from a cookery book scribed by his great-grandmother. I wager that few Italian-focused food and wine professionals would recognize some of the traditional dishes (I’d love to be proved wrong!).

“Is Tuscan cuisine just bruschetta and tagliata?” he asks as he points out that a bruschetta topped with diced tomatoes has nothing to do with Tuscan cookery. Nor does a tagliata served with arugula, Parmigiano Reggiano (from Emilia), and faux balsamic vinegar (I’ll reserve my harangue on the criminality of so-called balsamic vinegar for another day).

In his post, which I highly recommend to you, he offers a troubadourish plazer of genuinely Tuscan victuals.

The Tuscans are among the world’s masters of food and wine tourism. And they deftly offer my countryfellows what they want. Any American who has visited the region will boast of the unforgettable night when they paired Sangiovese and a blood-rare steak. But few will revel in the memory of a gosling’s neck stuffed with ground pork, bread crumbs, anchovies, and garlic (the dish above is actually a stuffed duck’s neck, currently served at the Taverna).

There’s so much more under the Tuscan sun for us to discover. It’s a crime that we don’t make the effort to see beyond the Olive Garden version of true Tuscan cuisine.

Vlog post: tasting some Super Tuscans at 8:15 a.m. at Ca’ Parzen (video)

Super Tuscans aren’t really my thing but I was happy to taste these wines for an old friend who works as a publicist in the New York wine trade.

The wines were very good. Not my style but very well made, balanced, and tasty. The flagship wine, Monteti, just needs some bottle aging to integrate its oak. Very nice wines. Probably well priced.

There’s been a lot of investment in “upper” (as I call it) or central Maremma. It’s a swath of land that lies inland from the coast between two mountain chains (as you can see in the Google map screenshot above).

We’re going to be seeing a lot more international-style wines coming from that part of Tuscany. The wines I tasted this morning are indicative of the style.

I hope you enjoy the video! Thanks for tasting with me.

Slow Wine 2020 needs you! Accepting applications for field contributors (to visit and profile Slow wineries)

From the department of “labor amoris”…

Above: Jared Brandt of Donkey and Goat at the winery’s tasting room and winemaking facility in Berkeley.

It’s a thankless job and pays just a pittance. But it’s one of the most fulfilling and fun gigs in the wine world (that is, if you’re into California and Oregon wine).

The editors of the Slow Wine guide 2020 are currently accepting applications for field contributors.

Please email me here if you would like us to consider you for the position (I’m the guide’s coordinating editor for California and Oregon).

Field contributors are tasked with the following:

– contact producers to set up winery visits;
– visit wineries to taste, interview, and photograph;
– write roughly 300-word profiles of roughly 10 estates (some contributors do more).

It’s now our third year of putting together the west coast guides and we’ve managed to streamline the process this time around. I’ll fill you in once I hear from you (including deadlines etc.).

The best part of the gig is the interaction with the producers and the opportunity to taste some of the best wines in the U.S.

And of course, there’s also In-N-Out burger (below). Not very slow but man, it sure hits the spot after a long day of tasting through California.

I look forward to hearing from you! Please help spread the word: we are expanding the guide again this year and need all the filed editors we can get.

Thanks in advance! Evviva Slow Wine!

Taste, party, rock out with me in Texas this month…

Don’t be shy! Come to our house party on Saturday, May 18. All are welcome and I’ll be debuting my new band. Here are some events where I’ll be pouring, speaking, emceeing, and jamming this month in Texas. Come party out with me…

Cantele Wine Dinner
at Il Brutto in Austin
Tuesday, May 14

Email the restaurant to reserve. I’m psyched to check out Il Brutto, one of the many new Italians to pop up in the Live Music Capital of the World (we’ll probably go to the Continental afterwards).

Moscato d’Asti DOCG
Guided Tasting & Seminar
at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
Wednesday, May 15

Open to trade only. Here’s the link to register. I’ll be presenting the tasting and moderating a panel that will include Andrea Costa from Marenco, Stefano Chiarlo from Chiarlo, and Luigi Coppo from Coppo. Three of my favorite producers from the appellation (and three super nice and brilliant dudes).

Paolo Cantele
in-store tasting
at Vinology
Friday, May 17

Paolo and I will be pouring and talking about his wines 6-8 p.m. at this fave Houston wine bar and shop. No need to register. Here’s the Google map. We’ll be hanging at the bar afterwards. Always a good time at Vinology.

Blow-out Party
and Potluck
live music and wine
Chez Parzen
Saturday, May 18

Parzen family is hosting one of its house parties and Paolo Cantele is providing the wines. Everyone is invited — and yes, I mean everyone. If you have my phone number or we are friends on social media, just hit me up for the address if you don’t already have it. Kids performances will begin at 2 p.m. Adult music will begin at 4. Bring your favorite potluck dish. We will party until the wine runs out (and there will be plenty of wine, believe me).

Houston Pasta Festival
Sunday, May 19
Bayou City Event Center

Click here to register for this Sunday afternoon festival (1 p.m. – 4 p.m.). I’ll be emceeing this event this Italy-America Chamber of Commerce event this year. And my friends and food writers Renia Butler, Chris Reid, and Eric Sandler will be joining me on a panel that Eric’s moderating. Some of the top Houston-area Italian restaurants will be sharing their favorite pastas. But I’m especially geeked to taste the entries from Pepper Twins (Chinese) and Harlem Road BBQ.

Beyond wine: Nadia Zenato’s photography show in Milan was a highlight of my latest trip to Italy

From the department of “why do art students always wear black?”…

When Nadia Zenato reached out to me a few months ago asking me to give her a hand with some translations, little did I know what I was getting myself into.

It’s only natural that leading Italian winemakers like her want to update their brochures in time for Vinitaly, the Italian wine trade’s annual fair in Verona. A slew of wine fact sheets were expected, received, and promptly and aptly rendered into English.

But then I got a call from her.

“Would you mind translating a catalog about an art exhibit I’m organizing in Milan?” she asked.

“Pane per i miei denti!” I told her, using the Italian expression, the [perfect] bread for my teeth, in other words, that’s right up my alley, I said.

The next thing I knew, I found myself awash in essays on contemporary photography and the accompanying and mandatory reflections on critical theory (literally right up my alley from my days as a graduate student between UCLA and Italy).

Nadia had asked the director of the master’s program in photography at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera — the Brera fine arts academy in Milan, one of the country’s most prestigious — to summon five top students for a series of wine-inspired works of photographic art.

The result was the show “Wine: Beyond Objects” hosted at the über-hip Bottega Immagine (not far from Milano’s enormous municipal cemetery, on the north side of the city).

Nadia graciously invited me to the opening of the show on the Friday after the fair had ended. The scene could have been taken straight out of a contemporary Fellini movie: young photographers, artists, and students — nearly all dressed in black — milled around the smartly mounted images, sipping on Nadia’s family’s wine and occasionally congregating outside the gallery’s entrance to chain-smoke.

Even the cloud of tobacco was a breath of fresh air to me.

The gathering brought me back to my days when poetry, art works, music, novels, and essays on critical theory (and too many cigarettes) were the oxygen we breathed. None of us had to make a living back then. We just lived…

I thought the show and the works were brilliant.

But the thing that impressed me the most about the project and the event was that Nadia and her lovely mother Carla hadn’t invited any famous wine or food writers. No celebrity bloggers were in attendance (and believe me, Milan, Italy’s cultural epicenter these days, is full of them).

No, just a handful of professors, a bevy of black-clad chain-smoking students, and a couple of the family’s closest friends huddled before each piece in the show, whispering and murmuring critical thoughts on aesthetics and poetics.

Nadia and her mom (the only ones wearing white) beamed with joy.

We in the wine world get so wrapped up with our work that we often fail to take time out to smell Italy’s roses, as it were, to run our toes through its leaves of grass.

I miss those days when going to an art opening had urgency. Those were times when you felt compelled to be among the first to hear a poem recited or view a painting because a work of art — new or old — was an occasion to reflect on your humanity.

And you always met the coolest people at art openings, too.

Thank you, Nadia, for reminding me why I first became fascinated with Italy and Italian art in the first place. Wine tastes good and it pays the bills. But this is the stuff we should live for.

Well done.

“Organic farming is under attack in Europe, especially in Italy.” Interview with Matilde Poggi, president of the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers

Happy International Workers’ Day, everyone!

At Vinitaly this year, I had the opportunity to sit down with Matilde Poggi (above), president of the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers (FIVI as it is known in Italy). I was eager to ask her about the EU’s newly implemented limits on the use of copper to combat downy mildew (peronospora). And I was also keen to hear her insights into the white-hot debate over organic agriculture in Italy. Matilde is one of the people I admire most in the Italian wine trade: FIVI advocates for wineries who grow their own grapes, make and bottle their own wine, and market and sell their own wines. You can identify FIVI-member wine by the FIVI logo on the bottle. The following is an excerpted translation of our conversation.

We believe that the four kilos per hectare [allowed], including the average [of 28 kilos per hectare allowed] over seven years, is fine.

For certain organic wineries in certain growing areas that are less suitable and more problematic, where there is a greater risk of peronospora, four kilos aren’t going to be enough in some instances.

In the light of this, we would have preferred that the European Community would have given us a little more time to prepare. A five-year grace period would have been great. Especially for organic wines. Because conventionally farmed wines have many other chemically based alternatives to copper that can compensate for peronospora.

The EC chose not to make a distinction between organic and conventional and so this is the result.

There was a study of organic wineries in France that found that nearly 20 percent will have to convert to conventional farming. We don’t believe this is a positive message.

There are 1,200 [FIVI-member] wineries in Italy. Roughly half of them are organic. Many have told me that it’s going to be a challenge [to maintain organic practices]. This is especially true in certain zones where there are different amounts of rainfall, where the vigor of the vines is different. There’s no question there will be problems.

One thing that I’d like to point out is that we producers only use copper when it’s necessary. None of us want to use 10, 15, or 20 kilos [per hectare] of copper the way it used to be done. It’s not in our best interest. First of all, because we need to contain our costs. And more than anyone else, we are the ones who want to keep our land as pristine as possible. This isn’t something we enjoy. If we could avoid using even one gram of copper, we’d be happy. But if we do use copper it’s because we want to obtain healthy grapes and that’s the first step in creating good wines.

Conventional farming also impacts the environment. The difference is that we use only copper. It’s a metal that can be found in nature. But conventional farmers use chemical products. Many of those are systemic and so they enter into the plants and they end up in the wine.

Our position is that we want change attitudes about organic monitoring and certification.

Organic certification requires a big commitment of time to complete the required bureaucratic procedures. It’s a lot of work between filing documents and reporting. For example, organic farmers have to file a production estimate. What’s the point for someone with a vineyard? You already know, more or less, how much you are going to produce. It becomes onerous for producers because if you make a mistake, even just an incorrect date, you get fined.

We believe that the resources should be shifted to monitoring of the wines on the shelves of wine shops; monitoring of the wines stored at the wineries where wines are labeled as organic; monitoring of leaf samples taken from our vineyards without us knowing about it. This is the type of monitoring that should be done instead of the [authorities’] visits to the wineries to make sure that all the forms have been filled out correctly.

Organic farming is under attack in Europe, especially in Italy. There are a lot of opinion leaders who claim that organic farming isn’t really organic.

I believe that more post-production monitoring would be really useful and it would help to eliminate any doubts regarding organic farming. When a vineyard is declared to be organic, the inspectors should go into the vineyards and take a handful of soil and leaf samples and determine whether or not it’s really organic. This is what we feel should be done instead of focusing on pre-production.

Organics isn’t a fraud. It’s a guarantee for the consumer that the product is [organic] certified. That’s why certification is so important. All of us can say that we do one thing or another but when a wine labeled as organic certified, the consumer can be confident that it’s really organic.