G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Buffalo. When are we going to stop teaching our children hate?

G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Buffalo.

When are we going to stop teaching our children to hate?

When are we going to realize that racism is so deeply engrained in our society that it leads a young person to shoot people who look different than them?

When are we going to come to terms with the fact that barely veiled racism is all around us, no matter where we live?

Only when we do are we going to break the expanding cycle of racist terror in our country.

G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Buffalo. G-d bless our sisters and brothers in El Paso. G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Pittsburgh.

*****

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela
Long Walk to Freedom (1994)

Did you see Stanley Tucci at Slow Food U where I teach in Italy? I’m heading back there next week.

Stanley Tucci is one of the few issues that brings division to the Parzen family household.

Tracie loves — LOVES — his show.

I still haven’t forgiven him for mispronouncing timpano in his 1999 breakout hit “Big Night” (ouch).

Scherzi a parte… Joking aside…

Tracie did eventually convince me to watch a few episodes of his “Searching for Italy” show and I genuinely thought it was great.

We still haven’t seen the episode where he goes to Piedmont. But we’ve been told that he makes a stop at Slow Food University where I have been teaching in the grad program for the last seven years (above).

I’m so proud of the work I do there (I teach food and wine communications). It meant the world to me that so many people called to say they had seen Pollenzo, the village and campus, on Tucci’s show.

I’ll be there on Monday and will be teaching for the better part of the week. Because Tracie is working full-time now, we need to limit the time I’m away from home. So this is going to be a very short trip. But if you happen to be in the Roero-Langhe area, ping me for sure and we’ll taste something great together (there’s a wonderful natural wine bar and a mostly great old-school Piedmontese in the town where I stay).

In other news…

My editor gave my pitch the green light and if all things go as planned, my Pietro Crescenzi translation and critical apparatus are going to be published by a University of Toronto imprint later this year.

I’m so stoked about this. My heartfelt thanks to all the folks who shared good vibes, encouragement, and wishes. We did it! THANK YOU.

I fly out tomorrow night. Wish me luck, wish me speed. Hit me up if you’re around. See you on the other side…

The Italian wine list has evolved in America. But is Italian wine in danger?

Above: the list and food at Felix Trattoria in Venice, California blew one Italian wine blogger completely away. Wine director Matthew Rogel has created what is possibly the best Italian list in the country right now. Its depth and thoughtfulness are going to be hard to match.

Today it seems hard to believe. But it’s been more than 20 years since Joe Bastianich launched his game-changing all-Italian, high end-heavy wine list at Babbo in the West Village, opened in 1998.

New York-focused Italian wine insiders from that era will also remember that it was right around that same time that Nicola Marzovilla debuted his similarly ambitious list at I Trulli on E. 27th with a southern-centric program.

Of course, the ultimate cognoscenti will also recall the extraordinary cellar put together by Vincenzo Cerbone, and later by his son Anthony (one of the loveliest people in our industry), at Manducatis in Long Island City — “opened on Christmas Day in 1977.” But that was ante litteram and antediluvial.

All three of these lists were a foreshadowing of what was to become a bona fide renaissance of Italian wine throughout the world.

I’m not quite old enough to remember the good old days of the holy tretalogy — Bolla (Soave and Valpolicella), Ricasoli, and Fazi-Battaglia — that once populated the italophile wine lists of America.

But memories of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, with its artsy-fartsy label and clear-glass bottle, are yet unhazed in my mind.

It’s incredible to think how refreshingly unsurprising it is today to find a sub-section for “Alto Piemonte-Valle d’Aosta” in the superb program conceived by Matthew Rogel at Felix Trattoria in Venice, California (above). It’s followed by “Roero-Langhe” and not by “Barolo-Barbaresco-Brunello-Super Tuscans” et alia, as one would have unwittingly expected even just a decade ago.

But is Italian wine in America “in danger” as one colleague (a leading player no less) put it to me earlier this month?

Above: a friend treated me to a super bottle last night at the wonderful Ferraro’s Kitchen Restaurant and Wine Bar in North Miami. In terms of its drinking window, that wine was as perfect as it could possibly be. What a bottle! And great menu by chef/owner Igor Ferraro. Even a decade ago, you wouldn’t have expected to find such a gem and such excellent wine service in the U.S. outside of New York.

The presence and marketshare of Italian wine in the U.S. has expanded over the last 20 years, they said, thanks to Italian restaurants here.

But now that the once supremely unencroachable Italian restaurant scene here is now being gently however consistently elbowed by the growing tide of internationally focused concepts, Italian wine is not growing in tandem.

The plain-sight evidence of this? Italian restaurants, for the most part, have Italian-focused programs, they pointed out. But as soon as you stray to something like, say, a high-end and high-concept Korean steakhouse, you’ll be hard pressed to find much beyond France and California. Similarly, casual and formal-dining French concepts hardly even consider Italian wine. Progressive American cuisine? Only the initiated will ever know how much Italian wine appears on the list at the French Laundry.

For Italian wine to meet the challenges of the future, they noted, it needs to find a way to connect with an increasingly fusion-focused international dining crowd. And it needs to reconnect with francophiles who now seem more open to getting oustide their box (perhaps because of prohibitive pricing of the French stuff).

Is natural wine the key? Is sustainable? Is organic? Will it be through programs subsidized by the EU? Will it be thanks to a new generation of new wave of Italian wine lovers? Will it be launched by a new generation of Italian wine professionals? Do we need to mount an intervention with the WSET to inform them that Italian wine isn’t just an afterthought?

My colleague doesn’t have the answer yet. But they’re working on it.

After more than two decades of unparalleled growth for Italian wine, it seems we are at a crossroads. Who’s with me?

Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page.

Sex in the vineyard: polyculture is the key to the future, says Aleš Kristančič of Movia.

Anyone who’s ever spent a significant time around the legendary grape grower and winemaker Aleš Cristančič (above) knows that he loves to talk about sex and sexuality. (I’ll never forget the time my band played a crazy wild gig at his winery, Movia, below. But that’s another story for another time.)

To some who know him only peripherally, it may seem like a cliché, not uncommon among European and American men of a certain age. But over the years of our interactions, it’s become clear to me that his obsession with sexuality is not just an expression of attenuated or hyperactive masculinity. No, Aleš has plenty of manliness and sexual confidence to go around, even beyond his sensual discourse.

When we spoke a few weeks ago, we discussed his reflections on polyculture vs. monoculture and how he is working to bolster and foster polyculture on his family’s estate in innovative and immensely thoughtful ways.

On my last trip to Italy before the lockdowns in January 2020, my visit and tasting at Movia prompted a powerfully compelling discussion of how the rise in monoculture has begun to homogenize winemaking, even at the highest levels of production.

It’s a conversation that was presaged not so many years ago in an article by Slow Food founder and essayist Carlo Petrini where he bemoaned Piedmontese growers who are grubbing up less lucrative, lesser known grape varieties and replanting their vineyards entirely to more bankable Nebbiolo.

Although they haven’t yet published on the topic, Melissa Muller, a chef turned winemaker, and her husband Fabio Sireci, a legacy grower at Feudo Montoni in Sicily, shared with me a study on their successful experimentations with polyculture, conducted over many years. It’s a work in fieri they explained. But gauging from their preliminary survey, it’s not hard to imagine that many winemakers will read it eagerly.

I recently caught up with Aleš by phone and asked him to expand on some of the observations he shared with me in 2020. That call resulted in a wonderful, if somewhat chaotic, interview published last week by my client Ethica Wines, his U.S. importer.

In our chat, he makes a really profound point about clonal selections. Nurseries may provide you with a genetically perfect clone. But where, he asks, did that clone come from originally? It’s not the result of massal selection in his vineyards, he explains. And so it’s lacking some of the local genetic information that vines acquire through massal selection and decades of growing in the same place. This means that grape farmers around the world are increasingly using the same clones and as a result they are promoting homogeneity and monoculture with adverse effects on the wines’ quality.

He also talks at length about what he calls “passion” in the vineyards. He’s referring to pollination and how the vines and other plants compete for sexual fulfillment. That tension, he believes, especially when well managed through polyculture, is key to creating wines that speak of place, of terroir to borrow a cliché. When stronger clones are introduced to a vineyard with old vines, they tend to hoard the pollen and as a result pollination isn’t equally distributed, as it were. That results in uneven ripening and diminished quality, he contends.

There are some real gems in this wild and crazy piece and I highly recommend it to you. Thanks for checking it out.

Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page.

Natural wine in Palm Springs? Yes, it’s true and it’s wonderful.

Just had to give a shout-out this week to John Libonati (above) and his awesome natural-focused wine shop Hyphen- in Palm Springs. Yes, Palm Springs!

For a lot of folks who grew up in southern California like me, Palm Springs was often a destination for visiting relatives, family get-togethers, and long weekends just a few hours away from home.

But in my adult years, those get-aways always meant bring your own wine because you’re not going to find much there. Let’s face it: beyond Sherman’s Deli, Palm Springs is not exactly known as a fomo food destination.

That’s all changed now that John, a lovely man from a storied New York restaurant family, has launched his shop. Organic is the baseline, he told me when we visited earlier this week. He wants to get his clients to get out of their “Rombauer” mind set. And it’s working.

Yesterday, during a visit with a hipster colleague in San Diego, news of natural wine in the desert was met with glee.

“I’m going there this weekend!” he exclaimed. “Where is this place?”

He was pleased to know that you’ll find it right on California State Route 111 as you drive into town.

John ran restaurants and night clubs in the city roughly around my same years in New York. It was so much fun to reminisce about some of the characters and players from that now lost era when cool bands still played at CBGB. Natural wine began to become a thing around that time as well.

It’s great to see John spreading the good word to the Golf Capital of the World. Be sure to check his shop out when you visit. You’ll thank me.

Humankind’s best friend? Saccharomyces cerevisiae. A guest post by Davide Camoni.

Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page.

Guest post by Davide Camoni.

Do you know who humankind’s best friend is?

Think about it for a minute before answering.

It’s a living being.

That’s right, it’s saccharomyces cerevisiae.

It’s a hundred times as small as a strand of hair. Humankind has been using it for 5,000 years. It helps us to make beer, wine, bread, cakes, and sake. It’s used in bioethanol production. It works in symbiosis with lactic bacteria as a sourdough starter for pizza, Pugliese bread, pan de San Francisco, and a thousand other uses. When it’s activated in a fruit solution, like prunes or peaches, it’s a key ingredient in kefir. And when it’s ingested on its own, it could solve world hunger because it’s so high in nutrients. It contains all of the known vitamins. When it’s dehydrated, it helps to flavor soup as a substitute for monosodium glutamate (and bouillon cubes).

It puts billions of people to work, including the undersigned.

Here it is in a photo (above) that I managed to take this morning, enlarged roughly 10,000 times.

Davide Camoni

Davide is the laboratory director at Enoconsulting in Villa Pedergnano (Franciacorta) where some of the world’s most famous wines are tested. Translation mine.

Forget Steiner! Read Crescenzi from the 13th century. Biodynamics’ ancient origins.

Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page.

Above: an agricultural calendar from a “painted book” (circa 1309) of Pietro de Crescenzi’s treatise on farming, possibly executed in his lifetime. There numerous extant 13th and 14th century manuscripts of his book Ruralia Commoda and translations of his work became instant best sellers in the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe. Note the October panel where the figure is crushing grapes. Image via Wikipedia.

As Nietzsche famously wrote in the Twilight of the Idols (1889), the philologist must look beyond the “sacred texts.”

In today’s world of wine, the spiritually focused writings of early-20th century critical theorist Rudolf Steiner have become one of those pillars — a sacred text — of our shared “constitution of knowledge.”

But if we look beyond his writings on agriculture (which represent a small part of his critical output; just think of his many titles devoted to Christ), it doesn’t take long to realize that he was merely repackaging knowledge and know-how that had been around for a long, long time.

In my recent close reading of the 13th century Bolognese jurist and agronomist Pietro de Crescenzi, whose Ruralia Commoda was an ante litteram best seller from the time of its first circulation in the late 1200s to the height of the Italian Renaissance and beyond, I’ve discovered some important antecedents for our current understanding of biodynamics.

The most striking of these is Crescenzi’s detailed instructions on how to follow the lunar calendar for planting, sowing, and winemaking.

Above: a folio from a 1784 Italian translation of the Ruralia. The work’s popularity only began to wane in the modern era.

Among the descriptions of lunar cycles and the best moments to carry out work in the fields, some of the most compelling recommendations are in reference to winemaking and more specifically in reference to obtaining the highest quality in wine.

In the passage highlighted in the image immediately above, he explains the exact, ideal moment in the lunar cycle to pick. Wines made from grapes picked at the right time will be less “watery,” more “powerful” (alcoholic), and better for aging.

Wow, sound vaguely familiar? The language is different. But the concept, based on observations made during Crescenzi’s constant and extensive travels throughout Italy, is the same.

Crescenzi’s work would ultimately be neglected as farmers in the modern age began to abandon what had come to be considered outdated observational agricultural science. By the 1930s, an effort by Italian agricultural historians to revive interest in his opus would ultimately fail.

But isn’t it incredible to think that today thoughtful and highly informed people are growing grapes and making wine according to the same practices that Crescenzi prescribed in the 13th century?

Forget Steiner, let’s read Crescenzi! And when we’re done reading the Bolognese jurist, let’s reach back even further and browse the Γεωπονικά.

Week after next, I’ll be pitching a translation and critical apparatus of Crescenzi’s book on viticulture to an academic publisher. So whatever you do — poo, poo, poo! — don’t wish me luck! Seriously, thanks for being here and thanks for reading. See the Unicef link at the beginning of this post.

On Italian Liberation Day, thinking of our sisters and brothers in Ukraine…

Above: an image captured in Milan in 1943. Note the Duomo in the background. Image via Wikipedia.

By April 19, 1945, the occupying Nazi forces had begun to leave Milan. A few days later, the city was liberated by Italian partisans and by April 27, the U.S. 1st Armored Division had entered the city.

My dissertation advisor Luigi, who was born in Milan in 1940, used to love to tell the story of one of his earliest memories. It was an icy cold day in 1945, as he remembers it, when he watched a bare-chested German solider sitting atop his tank as it left the city. Luigi, who was five years old at the time, had survived both the Allied bombing of Milan and the Nazi occupation. In his mind, the soldier’s machoism was an expression of his unfettered defiance and pride as German forces retreated in the face of the American advance.

On this April 25, Italian Liberation Day, a national holiday that commemorates the Italian partisans’ victory over the Nazi occupation and the Fascist regime, it’s hard not to think of our sisters and brothers in Ukraine.

From 1945 when Milan was liberated, another two decades would pass before Italy rebuilt its economy. Luigi’s father had been killed in 1943 by the Nazis in Greece in what is known today as the Cephalonia Massacre. Think of what young Luigi and his single-mother faced in terms of rebuilding their lives. He would ultimately become a migrant after winning a scholarship to study in the U.S. in the 1950s.

In 1945, when the first wave of Neorealist films began to be released, viewers saw for the first time the severe personal and emotional toll of war victims and refugees. The most iconic of those is arguably “Rome, Open City,” where director Roberto Rossellini blended quasi-realtime war footage and person-on-the-street actors who had no professional experience (Fellini was one of the screenwriters).

While Americans were accustomed to seeing state-sanctioned war footage, this new media form reshaped the way movie goers understood the local human toll in a war that hadn’t been fought on their continent.

As we watch the nonstop coverage from Ukraine via mainstream and social media, many commentators have noted that there has never been a European war where news consumers have such unmitigated access to what is happening on the ground. Thanks to media’s immediacy today, the human toll and the resulting desperation are streamed daily into our homes and on to our phones. In many ways, our perceptions of the war find a parallel in what movie goers must have experienced when they saw films like “Rome, open city” (1945) and “Bicycle Thieves” (1948) for the first time.

Today, on this Italian Liberation Day 2022, more than 75 years after WWII ended in Europe, we must never allow ourselves to become immune to the suffering of the Ukrainian people at the hand of Putin — our generation’s Hitler. If Italy’s path to recovery gives us any indication of what the Ukrainians will face even after the conflict draws to an end, we must remember that it will take decades for life there to return to normal.

G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. Please consider giving to Unicef’s Ukraine child refugee fund. This link takes you straight to the donation page. Thank you and happy Liberation Day.

Buona festa della liberazione. Let’s pray that one day we will all be free.

Thank you Gambero Rosso for the “best contemporary wine list” award.

It meant a lot to me when my longtime friend and colleague Lorenzo Ruggeri, international editor for Gambero Rosso, wrote earlier this week to let me know that my wine list at Roma in Houston was awarded the Villa Sandi Best Contemporary Wine List.

It’s an award that they give to the best Italian-focused wine lists in the cities where the Gambero Rosso tour takes place (their tasting was held yesterday in Houston at Minute Maid Park).

Over the course of more than two years, I ran virtual wine dinners for the restaurant and ultimately became its wine director. I had previously been its media manager. But when the pandemic began, I started hosting its virtual events. That led to me taking over the wine program last year.

But despite nearly five years that I had put in at the restaurant, it all ended abruptly after the owner hired a new chef. So the award, while greatly cherished, is bittersweet.

In any case, it’s great to know that the work I did there was recognized by my peers and colleagues.

Thank you Lorenzo for the shout-out and the kind words!