Why isn’t our national wine media paying attention to Samantha Dugan’s spectacular sparkling wine selection at the Wine Country, Long Beach?

Above: the seemingly endless selection of sparkling wine at the Wine Country in Long Beach, California, where Samantha “Sans Dosage” Dugan has created one of the best programs in the country.

Why our nation’s mainline wine mastheads haven’t paid more attention to Samantha Dugan’s extraordinary sparkling wine selection at the Wine Country in Long Beach, CA has left me nonplussed.

In case you’ve never visited her and her team, that’s just part of the seemingly endless offering of bubbles, above at her shop, a legacy wine merchant in a community where there is a deep appreciation for fine wine, from the everyday to the collectible.

Some of you may remember her from the days of the wine blogging renaissance when she was one of the movement’s highest-profile and respected voices — under the handle “Samantha Sans Dosage.” Times wine writer Eric Asimov was among her biggest fans and she would ultimately be summoned to the Napa Valley wine writers symposium (which is happening this week btw) as a featured speaker, an exemplar among wine blogging paladins.

These days her aphoristic, observational, aesthetic, and philosophical ruminations circulate exclusively on the Facebook but they continue to wield powerfully compelling content, equally humoristic and poignant (and often both).

“We’re somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego,” said her son Jeremy Dugan, who also works at the store as the outpost’s Natural wine slinger. “So no one pays attention to what my mom is doing here.”

Above: the beer selection at the Wine Country is equally impressive. These people CARE about what they do. They want to send you home happy.

Besides being a wonderful and generous friend, Samantha is one of the best tasters in the U.S. right now imho. And her sparkling wine chops, honed over more than a decade at the bubbly wine helm, are the definition of par excellence (look it up in your Webster’s).

I am thrilled to share the news that Samantha, Alicia Lini, and I will be leading a virtual Lambrusco tasting on Friday, May 28, at 5 p.m. PST. You’ll have to visit the store that day to pick up the food and wine. But I’ll also be sharing the link with non-So. Cal. sparkling geeks like me who want to get in on this one.

Just ping me here or wherever if you want me to hook you up with the bubbly good stuff.

Happy Mother’s Day Tracie! You are amazing. I love you.

At the Grand Canyon in 2018.

After Tracie gave birth to our first daughter Georgia in 2011, we agreed that she wouldn’t go back to work. We felt strongly that it was important for the girls to have a stay-at-home parent. My business was growing and we were confident that we could maintain our style of living.

Over the next nine years, work had its ups and downs, as can be expected for a freelance copywriter and translator. But one way or another, we always managed to make it work. And about five years ago, when the girls started to attend a K-12 school, Tracie started a custom cookie business and later began selling skincare products. Her work really helped to make the proverbial ends meet.

In 2019, my business had its best year ever. We were starting to reach some of our financial goals and as fried as I was from a frenetic work pace, we ended the year on a high note, with a little money in the bank and all the bills paid.

Then the pandemic came. Although a handful of my longtime clients stood by me, most simply stopped answering the phone. It was understandable, of course. We were all completely freaking out and no one knew what was going to happen. By the end of the summer, all of our financial progress had been wiped out. Groceries were going on credit cards and I was scrambling to get any work I could.

Tracie and me in the green room at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side where my band last headlined in February 2009. I cherish that picture. Who knew where our lives and marriage would lead? We had Bollinger in our cups and the room was packed that night.

It was then that Tracie quietly but steadily began studying for her realtor license. We paid the fee for the mandatory classes and I took up more of the parenting duties so that she had time to prepare for her exam.

The first week of March, Tracie took the exam and passed. And after countless interviews, she had a position with an old line realty firm here in Houston.

And then something incredible happened. Even though it takes months for most new realtors to start getting listings and making sales, Tracie landed a seven-figure contract as a buyer’s agent by the fourth week in her new job. That was soon followed by her first “listing,” a milestone for anyone starting a new career in realty.

Honestly, none of us — Tracie included — even dreamed that this would happen so fast. We were expecting six months or so to pass before she was fully up and running.

But here we are. From zero to 60 in just a few short weeks, Tracie now makes herself up every morning and heads to the office. And the contracts just keep coming in. And I no longer lose sleep over next month’s rent or electric bill.

Tracie P, you are an amazing woman, mother, wife, best friend, partner, and lover. You are a role model for our daughters and an inspiration to me in my own new career in sales.

People thought I was crazy when I left California for Texas in 2008 (now look at how many Californians are moving to Houston!). None of us could have known the will power and the determination that you would bring to bear as our family’s ship needed to be righted.

I love you and you are an extraordinary human being. And I am the soul who had the extraordinarily good fortune to meet you (through our blogs!), marry you, and be father to your children.

Happy Mother’s Day, Tracie P. Yours is a story of strength, courage, and grit. And our family is only better for it. I love you, gorgeous woman!

Tracie Parzen realtor:

It’s time to change a racially insensitive Italian grape name.

negroamaroAbove: Neramaro grapes ready for harvest in Salento, Puglia. Would anyone really be hurt if the name were changed? There’s no doubt that fewer people would be offended if it were modified or a suitable alternative were available.

The more closely you look at a word, wrote the early 20th-century aphorist Karl Kraus, the more distantly it looks back at you.

This nugget of wisdom couldn’t be more true when it comes to the name of one of Puglia’s most important grape varieties, Negroamaro.

While no one knows its origins for certain, some ampelographers believe that the name is what linguists call a hybrid tautology. In antiquity, it wasn’t uncommon for cities, for example, to be named twice, with part of the name in Latin and part in Greek. The most famous instance of this is the Sicilian town of Linguaglossa, from the Latin lingua (tongue or language) and the Greek γλῶσσα (transliterated glossa, tongue or language). There are a number of cities in Sicily that still have toponyms like this. Scholars suppose that this helped to mitigate confusion among anicent travelers who may have been familiar with one language but not the other.

In the case of the grape name, it’s possible that it comes from the Latin niger (black) and the Greek μαῦρος (transliterated mavros, meaning black). Even today, red grape varieties and red wines are sometimes referred to as “black” in romance languages. Pinot Noir, Nero d’Avola, and Nerello are examples of this. The Latin name in this case, according to the theory, is followed by a corruption of the Greek.

Others take the meaning of the ampelonym at face value. They believe the name means bitter black, from the Italian negro (an archaic form of the modern-day Italian nero) and the Italian amaro, meaning bitter or sour. As evidence of this theory, they point to the popular Greek grape variety Ξινόμαυρο (transliterated Xinomavro) from the Greek ξινό (transliterated xinó) meaning bitter or sour and μαῦρος (mavros) meaning black (as above).

In antiquity grapes were mostly vinified as sweet wines, with high residual sugar. It’s plausible that as tastes began to shift to drier wines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a grape name like bitter black may have been an indication of the variety’s flavor when vinified in an unsweet style.

Whether “bitter black” or “black black” the ampelonym’s semantic evolution took an unexpected turn when Negroamaro began to become popular among Italian wine lovers in the U.S.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, American wine influencers, including media and wine trade members, began to shift their focus from international grape varieties to highly localized varieties. It was only natural that interest in grapes like Negroamaro, which is grown nearly exclusively in Puglia’s Salento peninsula, would expand. And that’s exactly what happened. This once little-known variety, which produces value-driven high-quality wine, is now a favorite of sommeliers. They love it because the grape’s classic meaty character and its vibrant acidity make it a favorite of California Cabernet Sauvignon lovers.

With this heightened interest, an unfortunate linguistic impropriety also emerged. And it’s had a substantively undesirable impact on the way the grape variety and the people who grow it are perceived.

Understandably, the name of the grape is highly offensive to Black wine enthusiasts.

It’s important to note that negro in this case is what linguists call a “false friend”: To someone not familiar with romance languages, it sounds like a racist slur.

But there’s absolutely no way to mitigate the grape name’s injuriousness.

It was October 2017 when my close friend and longtime client Paolo Cantele presented his family’s wines at a wine dinner in Houston where I live. Roughly half the guests were Black. I’ll never forget the look I got when I presented the wine to two Black couples sitting together at the same table. When I mentioned the grape name, one of the women looked up at me in disbelief. What was that I heard you just say? she noted incredulously. I apologized and gently told her that the grape name came from the Latin word for black. She seemed satisfied with my response and I believe it was abundantly clear to everyone at the table that I wasn’t using a racial slur. But there was no avoiding the unspoken, however unintended, offense that had taken place. To this day, I feel terrible about that episode.

“When I present our wines in the U.S.,” Paolo told me later, I use Neramaro” instead of the historic ampelonym. His neologism, he said, was his own invention. It’s not an officially recognized designation, nor is it in common use among Pugliese producers. To my knowledge, he’s the only person who uses it — besides me.

Some of my fellow wine professionals will counter that the grape name is part of a viticultural tradition that would be diminished by a “politically correct” name change. Why, they might ask, should Salento growers be forced to “give in” to a cultural trend that has nothing to do with Salento winemaking? My answer to them is that we’ve reached a tipping point where it has become socially irresponsible and morally reprehensible to ignore the impact that the name has on an entire demographic — not just in the U.S. but in Europe as well.

There have been numerous cases in Italian wine where appellations have changed the names of grapes, although not for socially sensitive reasons.

Prosecco was changed to Glera in the hope that it would elevate the wine’s brand recognition (the jury’s still out on whether it has or not). Tocai Friulano was changed to Friulano after the EU ruled in favor of Tokay producers who claimed trademark infringement (sales grew in the wake of the change). Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was changed to Nobile in the hope that it would help Americans with pronunciation (it didn’t).

If Europeans can be compelled to change a grape name for commercial and juridical reasons, how can we ignore the negative fallout that our now-in-vogue Salento variety has had consumers, trade members, and influencers who are deeply and rightly aggrieved by its name?

It’s not a “fault” that the West’s viticultural tradition has produced a grape name that encroaches on the dignity of countless wine lovers. But it is our shortcoming that we have failed to take action to remedy this aberration.

The farther back we look at a word, the more closely it looks back at us. As we look forward toward the future of Italian wine in the U.S., we need to muster the moral strength and civic courage to make these excellent wines palatable to all gradations of humanity — and not just our own.

Taste with the über-hip Cristiano Garella and me this Thursday in Houston at Roma.

Above: vineyards on the Frecciarossa estate in Oltrepò Pavese (image via the winery’s website).

Not a lot of Italian wine people in the U.S. know the Frecciarossa winery in Oltrepò Pavese. But in Italy it’s considered one of the country’s top growers of Pinot Noir and producer of one of its benchmark classic method wines (even the Franciacortini agree, however begrudgingly).

Even fewer know that Cristiano Garella has been quietly making wine for Frecciarossa for some time now. He’s the young breakout winemaker who put Alto Piemonte on everyone’s lips in our country. As far as I know, Frecciarossa is the only winery that he consults with beyond his now legendary, although only a decade old, Colombera e Garella estate.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Cristiano (a lovely guy, btw) to our weekly virtual wine dinner at Roma in Thursday this Thursday. He is one of Italy’s most exciting winemakers and one of the driving forces behind the New Wave of Nebbiolo that’s coming from northern Piedmont.

We will be tasting three wines from Frecciarossa with him: a classic still Pinot Noir and a still Uva Rara. The third, you ask? If the Uva Rara weren’t enough to get the true wine geeks out for this one, the third wine will surely pique their interest: a still white — yes, a white! — Pinot Noir vinified “off its skins.” If that doesn’t excite the wine nerds, I don’t know what will!

We still don’t have the menu in place for this week’s event. But the cost will be $119 plus tax and gratuity for a three-course meal and the three bottles of wine (the same price as every week since we began doing these dinners in late April 2020).

Please just send me an email if you’d like to join. Can you tell I’m pumped for this one? I’m SUPER geeked to taste these wines with the dude who made them. And I’m hoping to get to taste these stunning wines with you. Thanks for all your support with these dinners over the last 12 months.

Coat of many colors: myriad shades of natural wine in southern California.

Above: the excellent selection at Vino Carta in San Diego isn’t exclusively natural. It mingles the classic and iconic of European wine with the more crunchy stuff.

A trip to southern California has been a real stroll down memory lane.

It has made for remembrances not of a time before the time we live in now. But stretching back to the time when a native California and lapsed New Yorker headed back to their home state in search of a new beginning. The year was 2007 and Alice Feiring had yet to publish her watershed tome The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.

Back then, “natural wine” was a locution bandied about jealously by just a handful of wine importers and distributors. It was still a club to which you were admitted or excluded. With no official or widely accepted definition, it was an ideal, a Platonic one at that, a world view, a loosely circumscript attitude object toward winemaking and wine consumption.

Above: the Wine Country in Long Beach recently added a “Natural Wine Center” and now has a natural wine-focused buyer.

Today, nearly a decade and a half later, natural wine is indelibly woven into the fabric of the southern California viticultural landscape. And it’s blessedly no longer ghettoized within the wine industry’s sometimes heartless hegemony.

Back in 2007 as the financial crisis loomed and the forever warriors soldiered onward, it would have been inconceivable to think that a place like Vino Carta could exist in the wine dessert once known as San Diego.

When a wine trade observer commented on the shop and wine bar’s novelty in a city where jammy oaky Zinfandel once drove the vinous discourse, owner Patrick Ballow nodded in agreement. It was a still bold move to open a natural-focused retail and by-the-glass program in San Diego in 2016. But today, as the city begins to open up again, Patrick’s business is vibrant and engaged with its community.

Above: Lou Amdur opened his groundbreaking Lou wine bar in Hollywood in 2005, long before the expression “natural wine” graced the lips of the proletariat. Today, his wine shop in Los Feliz is a hallowed outpost for the natural wine traveler.

Where Vino Carta bemingles its natural and classic wine selections, the Wine Country in Long Beach (an amazing store and deserving of our attention in so many important ways) now has its own “Natural Wine Center” and natural wine-focused buyer. Would we have been able to imagine such a conjugation in the now fuzzy and distant 2007?

Of course, no natural wine tour of southern California would be complete without at least a one-night stand (or better a three-dog night) at Lou, the southland’s earliest outpost of natural wine. Where else in the world can you walk up to a wine shop’s pandemic-era kiosk and be handsomely rewarded by a cornucopia of wines after asking for something white, oxidative, and perhaps macerated?

In the mind of said traveler, the exclusively natural Lou seemed to close the circle: an entirely natural selection, a co-mingled natural selection, and a sui generis natural selection.

A coat of many colors to warm a weary but newly heartened wine journeyperson on a cool and overcast day in otherwise sunny southern California.

Pete Wells gets the Tex but not the Mex. What the American intelligentsia gets wrong about Texans, our culture, and how and what we eat.

Even some of the most informed food writers don’t realize that what they call “fajitas,” the cornerstone of Tex-Mex cuisine, has its origins in Mexico’s discada cooking culture. That’s the carne asada plate, yesterday, at my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, Taqueria El Sole de Mexico #2.

“Tex-Mex is probably the least respected of America’s regional cuisines,” wrote venerated Times food and restaurant critic Pete Wells in the paper this week. “In part this is because, like some Texas politicians, it doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny once it leaves the state.”

His uninformed, puerile mockery reminded me of something one of my close California family members said to me contemptuously after I had moved to Texas to be with Tracie.

“How can you live there,” they asked, “with all those awful people?”

I wonder how many Texan politicians Mr. Wells or my relative can name beyond Ted C. Maybe Ken P.? Beto, of course. But without resorting to a Google search, can they name one Black politician from Texas? Beyond Ted C. and maybe Julian C., do they know the name of any other Brown Texas politician?

And that’s what Wells and my relative all get wrong about Texans and our culture.

(In all fairness to Mr. Wells, he has famously, although perhaps disingenuously, written that he “likes” Texans.)

No English is spoke at my favorite Tex-Mex place, where “fajitas” are the number-one menu entry. You can also order a burrito smothered in queso. It’s as Tex-Mex as you can get.

I would have never said this to my relative (and luckily neither they nor their spouse read my blog!) but I would have liked to ask them: beyond all the “awful” White people you think you know from Texas, what about the Brown and Black people? Are they awful, too?

And that’s where the American intelligentsia gets it dead wrong.

Yes, there are a lot of “awful” White people in Texas who have disenfranchised Black and Brown people for generations. And those same awful White people continue to suppress the voice of Black and Brown people at the voting box and they continue — less successfully in recent years — to segregate Texans. But that’s because those awful White people are still in power, as anyone who reads the Times surely knows.

And here’s where the Tex-Mex analogy comes into play. The only Tex-Mex that Wells knows is the “White Tex-Mex” of big box players like Chuy’s and Pappasitos and the faux Tex-Mex that New Yorkers eat. He gets the Tex but he doesn’t get the Mex.

Tex-Mex didn’t originate in European cookery. It’s actually Brown-people cuisine that has been contaminated by White gastronomic traditions.

Case in point: fajitas.

Even Wells will agree that the griddle-fired, intensely seasoned meats are the cornerstone of Tex-Mex cuisine. And he shouldn’t be surprised to learn that their origin lies in the discada cooking of the Mexican — not Texan — countryside.

Earlier this month, I interviewed Chef Luis Jiménez de S. whose cloud kitchen brand Bell Pepper Fajitas is debuting in Houston in a few weeks (I was writing a press release for his PR firm). His group is based in Del Rio on the Tex-Mex border. But Chef Luis had joined our call from Mexico where he lives and cooks — you guessed it — Tex-Mex!

We spoke at length about the origins of Tex-Mex and how it is a reflection of classic Mexican cuisine. He was keen to talk about its farming-community and family-friendly character, two elements that inform his menus for Bell Pepper Fajitas and his other immensely popular concept, Amacate.

I remembered our conversation as I dug into my carne asada yesterday at Taqueria El Sol de Mexico #2, which is located in a Tex-Mex row in a Spanish-speaking Houston neighborhood not far from our house. There are roughly 20 similar restaurants along a mile-long stretch of road. I haven’t visited them all but based on my past experiences, fajitas and queso — another pillar of the Tex-Mex canon — are on the menu at most of them.

I took a look around. There were no Texas politicians there (I know where Ted C. eats in Houston btw but that’s another story for another time). There were no awful White people there either. There were no White people there at all.

Just a bunch of Texans enjoying lunch on a beautiful spring day in Houston, the ranchera music blasting away.

Do Bianchi Natural Italian wholesale and retail launches in California.

Above: Fabrizio Iuli’s wines are the centerpiece of the new book I’m repping in California.

Tracie and I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce our newest venture: Do Bianchi Natural Italian wholesale and retail wine sales in my home state of California.

The idea for the new business was actually born many moons ago.

After I became an adjunct instructor at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Roero, Piedmont in 2016, I began making a yearly pilgrimage to the Iuli farm in nearby Monferrato. Years earlier in New York, our mutual friend (and one of my best friends) Franciacorta winemaker Giovanni Arcari had introduced me to Summer Wolff, Fabrizio Iuli’s life and business partner. And so it was only natural that I would occasionally find myself at their dinner table.

To call it a mere “dinner table” is a misnomer: their home is more like a between-the-wars salon where Italian winemakers and intellectuals gather for passionate confabulationes and tastings.

Above: I received my first pallet of wine from Hootananny a few weeks ago at my warehouse in California.

Last year, while we were all locked down on both sides of the Atlantic, Summer reached out to me and asked me if I’d like to represent her new Connecticut-based importing company Hootananny in California.

Not only did I grow up and go to school there. I also ran a wine program in Los Angeles for eight years. And before 2020, I spent three years working as a senior editor for the Slow Wine guide to California. We agreed it was an organic (excuse the pun) fit.

But more than anything else, it just felt “right.” I have always loved Fabrizio’s wines and the whole spirit and ethos that surround their farm and their way of life.

Above: La Jolla, California where I grew up. It’s been great to spend more time there with my family and friends.

Of course, Iuli is just one of the farms in Summer’s superb book. You can browse her entire portfolio here.

Other personal highlights include Arcari + Danesi (my friend Giovanni and Nico’s winery in Franciacorta), Le Due Terre in Friuli (an icon), Aurora in the Marches (a favorite of mine), Vignale di Cecilia (by my friend Paolo Brunello, an Euganean estate you need to know), and many other family-run farms that align with the natural wine movement. And there’s more to come.

Currently, I don’t have a ton of wine available in California but I am doing tasting appointments and dropping off samples next week in San Diego and Los Angeles. In May, I’ll be visiting the Bay Area and northern California wine country.

Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to taste with me or receive samples. And in a few months, I’ll begin doing retail offerings as well (similar to my wine club from many years ago).

Above: my new logo! “Do Bianchi” (pronounced DOH BEE’AHN-kee) means “two white wines” in Venetian dialect. I used it as a pseudonym many years ago, inspired by the legend that Mark Twain’s name meant “two whiskeys.” If you walk into a tavern in Venice (or nearly anywhere in Veneto) and ask for “do bianchi,” the barkeep will pour you two glasses of white wine.

Thanks for your support and solidarity. The new project is not the only big news from the Parzen family this season and it’s not the only way we are supporting our family. After nearly 10 years as a stay-at-home mom who ran a custom cookie business from our home and sold skincare products, Tracie (left, in her official photo!) is now back to work full-time as a realtor. She’s working for one of Houston’s old line firms, Greenwood King (see her page on their site here). She’s already made a big sale and has her first listing after just a month. It’s fantastic and she is amazing. Moving to Houston? Tracie’s the realtor you need to know! And I have some more super big news that I won’t be able to share until early June. It’s Houston-centric and I know it’s going to be really exciting. Stay tuned and thanks for being here.

The once and future king of Brunello: Gianni Maccari.

Look at the color of Gianni Maccari’s Brunello. That’s the hue of classic Sangiovese.

When my client Ethica Wines sent me to Italy a year ago in January, their Brunello producer Ridolfi wasn’t even on my radar.

Montalcino is where I first became interested in wine (while I was a grad student in Italy in the late 80s) thanks to one of the town’s leading sommeliers at the time. It’s the appellation I know possibly better than any other because of my extended time on the ground there and my work for some of the DOCG’s top players. But I had never even heard of newcomer Ridolfi when I saw the estate on my itinerary.

After the mandatory tour of the estate’s onsite vineyards and the winemaking facility, I finally got to sit down with winemaker Gianni Maccari and taste through his first vintages for the winery (which is owned by Giuseppe Peretti, an Italian entrepreneur who bought the estate in 2011).

Honestly — and this was a lacuna — I didn’t know that Gianni had quietly made some of Brunello’s most coveted wines from the 1990s. I don’t want to name the winery here (because it’s not my place to name names) but if you worked in the New York/Italian wine industry in the early 2000s like I did, there was one Brunello, and a very famous 1994 Brunello that was reclassified as a Rosso di Montalcino, that everyone was talking about. And I mean everyone. That winery’s 2001 Brunello would go on to be one of the appellation’s most collected wines of all time.

Little did I know that Gianni had been responsible for the day-to-day winemaking for those bottlings.

I was also unaware that Gianni had also been one of the last disciples of Giulio Gambelli, the humble but widely celebrated blender of Sangiovese who had a hand in some of Tuscany’s greatest wines of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

“Giulio tastes what others do not,” said one of Brunello’s most famous growers when Gambelli passed in 2012. “There’s no one like him.”

(Google “Giulio Gambelli” and you’ll see what an impact he had on Italian wine over the years.)

As I tasted the wines with him, I had no idea of Gianni’s connection to Gambelli and his own legacy as one of Montalcino’s most deft hands. I just knew that I was sitting with the winemaker for one of my client’s estates.

But Gianni didn’t have to say much: his wines spoke for themselves.

I was completely floored with how good these wines were. Across the board, they delivered classic Sangiovese color (always first and telling indication of the Brunello producer’s approach); great acidity and freshness that countered the wine’s powerful tannin; a lithe and nimble character that gave the wines lift in harmony with the rich body; and brilliant clarity of fruit, perhaps reluctant at this early moment in the wines’ evolution but surely destined for greatness.

But the most important element — the thing that makes these truly great expressions of Montalcino Sangiovese in my view — was the notes of sottobosco or underbrush/vegetation. Those flavors, which evoke the Montalcino countryside with its mix of woods and vine, are the hallmark of Brunello greatness. They shouldn’t eclipse the wine’s fruit, savory flavors, or minerality. But if ever there were an example of terroir in wine, this is one: in my experience, it’s what makes Brunello Sangiovese so unique and compelling.

If it’s not already abundantly apparent, I’ve been obsessed with the wines since I first tasted them over a year ago in Montalcino (on my last trip to Italy). So you can imagine my joy when I received a bottle in an Ethica Wines care package.

After letting the wine rest for a week, we opened the bottle with some collector friends on Sunday. It was wonderful to watch our friend Bill marvel at the color of this wine — the true color of Sangiovese! He was also surprised by its buoyant character. It was so different from what he was expecting, he said.

This is one of the true Brunello greats, I told him, by the once and future king of Montalcino: Gianni Maccari.

Italian wine world mourns loss of Barolo pioneer Pio Boffa.

Image via the Pio Cesare Instagram.

This week, the world of Italian wine mourns the loss of Pio Boffa (above), the fourth generation to lead the historic Pio Cesare winery in Langa, producer of top Barolo and Chardonnay.

See Robert Camuto excellent obituary for Wine Spectator, “Pio Boffa, Piedmont Wine Patriarch, Dies of COVID-19.”

See also this wonderful tribute by wine writer Monica Larner.

“It takes a great man to show support for a next generation of enthusiasts,” she wrote. “He was one of those men. He will be missed.”

“For roughly four decades, he was a central figure of Italian wine,” wrote the editors of Gambero Rosso. “He wrote some of the most important pages of its history.”

Together with a small group of determined Langa winemakers, Pio was among the first to travel extensively in the U.S. as he sold his labels and educated trade members and consumers about Nebbiolo and the wines of Piedmont. Today, Barolo is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest wines. Back in the 1980s and 90s when he started coming to the U.S., it was a total unknown in most fine wine circles. He helped to change that by visiting not just New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. A visionary for what Barolo could become in this country, he also made a point of visiting then secondary markets like Texas, for example.

His uncanny sense of the U.S. fine wine scene also led him to offer some of his wines at prices that made then even more appealing to restaurateurs — the exact opposite of what some of his peers did. If Barolo is widely known and consumed in the U.S. today, it is in great part thanks to his Herculean efforts combined with his larger-than-life personality.

I had the great fortune to interact with Pio on a number of occasions when I was writing for his then U.S. importer. Even though our conversations were supposed to be “all business” (he was a very busy man, after all), his flair and verve in speaking about his wines were as thrilling as the wines themselves. I always came away from our talks and tastings feeling like my Barolo knowledge had been exponentially expanded. I most recently tasted his wines when I presented the winery together with his daughter Federica at the Grandi Marchi tasting in Houston in 2018. A great family of great wine professionals.

Barolo has lost one of its guiding lights. He will be sorely missed.

Sit tibi terra levis Pie.