Thank you Prince Alessandro for sharing your unicorns with us last night at Rossoblu

What an incredible flight of wines — true unicorns! — with Prince Alessandrojacopo and what a fantastic menu of classic Roman dishes by chef Steve last night at Rossoblu!

A few months ago, when I made my first call to Alessandro inviting him to join us in Los Angeles for the dinner we hosted last night, I was truly giddy — and not just because of the wines.

“Georgia,” I said to our soon-to-be-six-year-old, I just got off the phone with the prince!”

“Does the prince have a castle, daddy?” she asked me in earnest.

“Let’s take a look on the internets and see,” I told her.

Sure enough, he does.

The 1987 Fiorano Rosso was probably the winner in the flight of extraordinary wines we shared with the sold-out private dining room at the restaurant. It seemed only fitting: that was the fall that I met chef Steve on our junior year abroad in Italy (my first year in the country).

Thanks, chef Steve and Dina, for letting us create this unforgettable evening and dinner. And thank you, Alessandro, for believing in a crazy dude from Houston who called you a few months ago and invited you out to LA.

But thanks most of all to the simpatico group who joined us. It was a night to remember and a flight of wines that will never be again — true unicorns, thanks to the prince and his generosity.

I have many stories to tell about my conversation with Alessandro and our tasting. But they will have to wait: it’s time for me to get my butt back on a plane for Houston, where I belong.

Buon weekend a tutti…

Annus horribilis: posting from So. Cal. where wildfires continue to threaten life and property

Those aren’t clouds. That’s smoke from the wildfires in Ventura County, photographed yesterday from my Southwest flight from Oakland to LAX. You could smell the smoke in the cabin.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said the captain over the loudspeaker, “if you smell something that smells like a camp fire.”

In the photo below, you can see the smoke hanging over Los Angeles.

Here’s the LA Times wildfire live updates link.

The hotel where I always stay when I’m in town isn’t far from where the Skirball fire, still not contained. I used to go to shul up there when I was an undergrad and grad student. My alma mater U.C.L.A., also not far from there, has cancelled classes today.

In my hotel room this morning, you can smell and taste the smoke and my throat is scratchy, my eyes and nose irritated and itchy. I’m 100 percent safe where I am but the fires continue to rage not far from here.

Will this year of natural disasters — this annus horriblis — come to an end?

Hurricane arvey, the wine country wildfires, the Mexico City earthquake, Charlottesville, and now the LA fires… It seems like 2017 has been a revolving door of natural and human tragedy and catastrophe.

G-d bless Southern California. G-d bless us all… Please stay safe.

Do pot smokers drink less wine? I don’t. But am I your average cannabis consumer?

Above: cannabis grown on a private biodynamic farm in Sonoma, California. I spent the day yesterday in Sonoma county touring some of the damage from the wildfires.

Major-league wine blogger, marketer, and lobbyist Tom Wark is worried.

He’s concerned that legal recreational cannabis, which goes into effect in California in January 2018, will eclipse the sales of wine.

Earlier this week, he wrote that “cannabis is bad for wine.” He quotes a new and widely reported study whose authors claim that “alcoholic beverage sales fell by 15 percent following the introduction of medical marijuana laws in a number of states.”

And just today on his blog, he included “Cannabis and Wine” as one of the top 10 “wine stories” of 2017 (leave it to Tom, a blogger and writer I admire greatly, to nail it when it comes to listicles).

“Some [in the trade] like myself,” he wrote, “have been looking closely at the degree to which cannabis will cannibalize sales from the wine industry.” (Great parononmasia!)

Save for linguistics (a sine qua non tool in any self-respecting philologist’s gearbox), I’m not well versed in hard sciences like psephology. I can’t counter the results of studies like this one, which came to my attention via Tom’s blog (which I highly recommend to you btw, one of the best wine blogs out there).

But I can speak from personal experience. Like many in the industry (see this article by Eric Asimov for the New York Times), I don’t see cannabis as a threat to wine sales or consumption because pot smoking is already pervasive among grape growers, winemakers, and wine consumers. And it’s been that way for decades.

The fact that recreational cannabis will soon be available for retail purchase won’t change the robust cannabis culture that already exists across the United States — most vibrantly in California, where I grew up and where pot and wine are woven into the fabric of everyday consumption since the 1970s when I was a kid.

I’ve got news for white bread wine lovers: Americans love pot, they have for generations, and even though some Americans still associate it with sinfulness (like Tom, who calls it a “sin industry”), pot culture is an all-American tradition — from San Diego to Austin, from Portland to New York City, from Seattle to Boca Raton. The fact that it’s now becoming part of the mainstream business community doesn’t really change much in the way that I or hundreds of my colleagues and peers will consume cannabis (after all, you can’t write business without writing sin).

I’ll never forget when, in 2010, then Governor Rick Perry said: “if you don’t like medical marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.”

I’ve got news for you, Rick. It’s not just coming to a town near you soon. It’s already there…

Check out Tom’s blog. It’s a daily read for me and one of the best wine blogs out there.

Nothing Good Rhymes with Santa Claus: NEW XMAS SINGLE and NEW ALBUM from my band The Go Aways

BUY THE NEW ALBUM HERE. JUST $9.99!

In another time in my life, writing and recording songs and performing live with my band was a main focus. Since 2013, when my French indy rock band Nous Non Plus stopped touring, my music career has taken a backseat to other interests and pursuits.

But this year, after I met my now bandmate Gwendolyn Knapp in Houston and first heard her songs, we decided to perform and produce an album culled from her songbook in my home studio.

The result is Turn Away (see the liner notes below). It’s available for sale (just $9.99!) on CDBaby as of yesterday and in a few days you’ll be able to find it on all the mainstream music streaming platforms (including iTunes and Spotify).

The album includes our Christmas single “(Nothing Good Rhymes with) Santa Claus,” the one track on the album that we co-wrote. As you’ll see in the video above, it’s a lot of fun and really fits the mood for this year’s holiday in America.

We hope you enjoy the music as much as we did producing it. And we thank you in advance for your support (please buy our album!).

Merry Christmas!

Where did the songs on “Turn Away” come from? How did the lyrics come about, you ask? It’s hard to say. Each song I write just starts with the simple act of fingers on guitar string and then some raw emotion takes over. As Hank once asked of David Allen Coe in “The Ride”: “Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside?” Everyone with a guitar and half an ego hopes to answer that question.

Even so, these songs are not autobiographical, but they are drawn from the same stockpile of imagery, feelings, experiences, and general craziness that inspire all of my writing. The voices in these few songs run dark and rampant. Basically, they’re just female narratives put to music, kind of southern gothic, kind of sappy, kind of funny, kind of creepy.

Such is the case with “Drowned,” which actually just began with the chorus some day it’s gonna catch up with you (I’d recently been cheated on when I came up with that little gem) but the lyrics evolved over time into an Old Western-inspired payback tale: A young girl and her sister hiding from the man that’s killed their entire family (as well as two pigs and a deaf mute), and planning to seek revenge on him.

I have a predisposition for writing about bad things, I suppose, having grown up a sixth generation Floridian in Pasco County. My family had its share of dysfunction, mental illness, addiction, alcoholism, baggage, lock ups and let-downs. All that seeps into everything I create, but I also just like the idea of writing songs that turn the trope of country or Americana or rock or folk on its head. Songs that may come off sweet and universal, but always feel a little unhinged when you get a closer listen.

Gwendolyn Knapp
December 1, 2017
Houston, Texas

Turn Away
by The Go Aways
Houston, Texas

1. Drowned
2. Bad People
3. Sweet Talking Man
4. Will You Still Be On My Mind
5. Cold Women, Wine, Whiskey, And Weed
6. Turn Away
7. (Nothing Good Rhymes With) Santa Claus

All songs written by Gwendolyn Knapp except “(Nothing Good Rhymes With) Santa Claus” written by Gwendolyn Knapp and Jeremy Parzen.

It’s Only About Music (ASCAP)
Have We Got Music for You (BMI)

Produced by Jeremy Parzen.
Recorded at Baby P Studios (Houston, Texas).
Mastered by John Moran Mastering.

Vocals and guitars: Gwendolyn Knapp
Bass, additional guitars, keyboards, percussion, drum programming, and background vocals: Jeremy Parzen
Drums: Richard Cholakian

The Go Aways use the ToneCraft Bass Preamp.

Special thanks to Tracie, Georgia, and Lila Jane Parzen.

TheGoAways.com

© Terrible Kids Music 2017
Warning: all rights reserved
Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.
Made in U.S.A.

Slow Wine California guide coming online: first profiles now published

Last week, Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio and I began publishing the first winery profiles from the 2018 Slow Wine guide to the wines of California on the Slow Wine blog.

Click here for the blog.

Even though we will be publishing a hardcopy version of the guide (slated for release in early 2018), each one of the profiles of the 70 wineries featured in the book will be published online. In keeping with the spirit of Slow Wine, the guide and its editorial mission, the idea is to make the book an open source of information about the estates, the wines, and the evolving California wine trade. As with the Italian and Slovenian sections of the guide, the entire California guide will ultimately be available online.

We plan to publish nearly one a day, four-to-five every week.

In other news, the New York public relations firm who handles logistics for the Slow Wine U.S. tour, Colangelo, has launched a website devoted to the annual tasting itinerary. This year, the tour will be visiting Atlanta, New York, Houston, and San Francisco. I’m so glad that Giancarlo decided to include Houston for 2018: our city is a major hub for fine wine in general and a great destination for Italian wine in particular. I’m also glad that Colangelo has agreed to publish the site and update it regularly. It’s an important resource for info that’s bound to come in handy.

That’s a photo I shot earlier this year at Hirsch Vineyards in Sonoma (Sonoma Coast). You can see the sloped growing site; the proximity to the Pacific Ocean (and the resulting maritime influence); you can see the naturally occurring grass and plants growing between the rows. What you can’t see is the ancient-seabed subsoil, ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The presence of ancient seabed there is owed to the nearby San Andreas site.

I’ve written here before that I was wrong about California wine. At another time in my life, in the early years of my career as a wine writer, I wrote-off California wine as being too jammy, too oaky, overly concentrated, too hot (alcoholic), and lacking balance.

My experience this year as the coordinating editor of the guide and one of its contributors has really reshaped my thoughts and impressions of the California wine industry.

And California wine country needs us all — you and me — more than ever before. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to northern California to survey the damage and recovery in the aftermath of this year’s terrible wildfires.

Stay tuned: I’ll be posting about the trip here and on the Slow Wine blog as well.

Thanks for reading and thanks for drinking California wine.

Please see my post, from earlier this year, California wine, I was wrong about you. I’m sorry…

Italian culinary renaissance in LA (good things I ate this week in the City of Angels)

This week found me in LA where I checked in on the wine lists I author and co-author at Sotto and Rossoblu. I also spent some time this week eating out around town to catch up with what has shaped up to be a genuine Italian culinary renaissance here.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to eat at the new downtown location for Terroni (above). But man, what a gorgeous room! I’ll actually be eating there next week and am really looking forward to it. Owner and wine buyer Max Stefanelli is so rad. I had a chance to visit with him and was amazed by the restaurant and cellar tour he offered.

He doesn’t serve a Prosecco by the glass in any of his restaurants. How cool is that?

Bestia was completely packed on Monday night. The Monday after Thanksgiving! I had to pull a restaurant connection string to get a table but man, was it worth it.

I loved the mortadella tortellini (above). I also really loved the pâté and the presentation of the dish (below). Great wine list and great overall vibe and energy in this restaurant, which was one of the pioneers (roughly five years ago?) of the downtown culinary new wave here.

But as much as I loved Bestia and as much as I love the two restaurants I consult with here, the all-time king of Italian cuisine in Los Angeles will always and forever be Gino Angelini, owner and chef at the eponymous Angelini Osteria.

That’s his octopus below. Perfection…

The legendary tagliolini al limone (below).

There’s so much good housemade pasta in LA right now. But Gino was the first to really turn Angelinos on to how great it can be. I can’t think of an LA chef who doesn’t point to him as a pioneer and inspiration for her/his own pasta program.

The pappardelle with duck ragù (below) were also fantastic.

As simple as a dish like that may seem, it really takes a deft hand to achieve the balance that it needs.

Wow, Gino, as always, ubi major minor cessat. I really love and have always loved your cooking. It was great to be back. Thanks for taking such good care of us (and thanks Anthony for treating!).

Now time to get my butt on a plane to Houston where I belong…

Sexual harassment in the wine trade: when will the other bottle break?

If you’ve ever studied Italian as a second language, you know that you invariably encounter irregular nouns early on in your class.

In nearly every curriculum, the examples the pedagogues use are the same: amico (friend) is pluralized as amici (and not amichi as the velar-paroxytone model would suggest); greco (Greek) becomes greci; and porco (pig) becomes porci.

It’s only natural that amico would come up frequently in Italian 1 class. The word greco is not as common in rudimentary Italian but it also has a place in introductory Italian language instruction since Greek culture pervaded the fabric of ancient Italy.

But porco? Ask any Italian instructor and she or he will answer similarly and without skipping a beat: gli uomini sono porcimen are pigs (a sentence that incorporates not one but two irregular nouns!).

It’s an aphorism that evidently comes up frequently in Italian colloquialism.

I can only wonder how many times the expression has been uttered in Italy as the American and Italian media has devoted ample coverage to widespread allegations of sexual harassment among U.S. politicians and in the U.S. entertainment, news, and restaurant trades.

Any member of the U.S. wine trade would be hard-pressed to deny that sexual harassment is sadly all too common in the industry.

While I was in Italy teaching earlier this month, many Italians — consumed, like their America counterparts, by this watershed cultural moment — asked me about it. When I got home to my wife Tracie in Texas, we spent a lot of time talking about it over the holiday weekend (the allegations began to circulate before I left but they seemed to explode in their scope and reach while I was gone).

We both remembered myriad episodes of highly inappropriate behavior over the course of our careers in wine.

When I first met Tracie nine years ago, she was a sales rep for Glazer’s in Texas (now Southern Glazer’s, a major American wine distributor). I’ll never forget her telling me about having to sell wine at an adult entertainment venue (an account that was assigned to her by her superiors; she had no voice in the matter). The club’s owner regularly harassed her.

Over the course of our conversations this weekend, she also remembered a ride-with with a particularly aggressive supplier rep who was widely known in the Texas wine community to harass young women (a supplier rep[resentative] is a sales agent for a particular brand or portfolio of wines; a ride-with is typically a day of sales work, when a rep for a local distributor hosts a supplier rep and the supplier rep rides with her or him).

I remembered a 2010 trip to northern Italy with a group of leading sommeliers from across the country. There was one woman among us. During one of our daily bus rides, the conversation became so sexually charged that I insisted that it stop. We rode in silence for the rest of that day.

I also remembered a 2007 dinner in lower Manhattan with a Tuscan winemaker. It was clear to everyone at the table that he was harassing his importer’s publicist. I tried as graciously as I could to separate them. But looking back now, I am filled with regret: I should have told him, however discreetly but firmly, that he had to stop. I feel so bad about that now. I can remember the look of terror in her eyes and her inability to reach out for help.

By the time we went to bed on Saturday night, my mind was swirling with memories of similar episodes: a so-called American wine writer who asked a Neapolitan publicist to take a shower with him (sound familiar?); a celebrity wine writer who literally groped a publicist at a popular Manhattan restaurant in front of the whole table (we all hovered like flies waiting for a windshield on a freeway); a respected old-line wine writer who agreed to take a trip to Italy with a publicist and then expected her to have sexual relations with him (she broke away from the trip on the first day).

And who can forget the immensely popular wine blogger who regularly attacks women wine writers with sexually crude language? Sexual harassment also occurs in the virtual realm of the U.S. wine trade.

Following the revelations about rampant sexual harassment in the U.S. restaurant industry, many high-profile restaurant groups are taking steps to address the issue.

It’s time that wine industry leaders do the same. When is the other bottle going to break?

Image created using Wikipedia Creative Commons images here and here.

Taste with me and the magnetic Alicia Lini Tuesday in LA…

The magnetic Alicia Lini (above) and I will be pouring her wines at Rossoblu in downtown LA on Tuesday. Alicia’s one of my best friends in the wine business and her family’s wines are as contagious as she is.

Please join us. I’ll also be pouring in Houston and again in LA week after next.

Happy holidays everyone! I hope to see you and taste something great together before year’s end.

Alicia Lini and Lini Lambrusco at Rossoblu (Los Angeles)
Tuesday, November 28

6:30 p.m.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO AND REGISTRATION DETAILS.

*****

Native Italian Grapes at Mascalzone (Houston)
Monday, December 4

6:00 p.m.

I’ll be pouring 3 wines at Mascalzone where I’ve been writing the wine list since this summer. $35 per person, including (very generous portion) light bites. I’ll also be working the floor that night at the restaurant.

PLEASE CALL (832) 328-5151 TO REGISTER.

*****

Prince Ludovisi and the wines of Fiorano at Rossoblu (Los Angeles)
Thursday, December 7

7:00 p.m.
Featuring a flight of Tenuta Fiorano reds from the 1980s.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO AND REGISTRATION DETAILS.

This event will sell out for sure. Please register to ensure availability. These wines are EXTRAORDINARY, true unicorns!

Thanks for your support. Buona domenica…

Parzen family is thankful for… (Happy Thanksgiving)

The Parzen family has a lot to be thankful for this year.

We’re thankful that our house didn’t flood and we were all safe in Hurricane Harvey.

Thankful that Georgia got into the music magnet school and she is enjoying her violin lessons.

Thankful that Lila Jane is enjoying her last year of preschool as she grows into a “big girl” who loves writing songs, singing, playing “guitar” (ukulele), and dancing.

Thankful that Tracie’s business is expanding and mine continues to thrive.

Thankful that everyone in our extended family is healthy (knock on wood).

But most of all, we are thankful to have each other.

Even as we have faced personal and professional challenges this year, we always know that we can come home to each other and to the loving, wholesome home that we share together in southwest Houston.

Even in the face of our nation’s ongoing political turmoil, the seemingly unstoppable rise of ethnic and religious intolerance in our community, and the continuing decay of civil discourse in our nation, every one of us — Georgia, Lila Jane, Tracie, and daddy — has each other to count on and to love.

It’s been the worst of years, it’s been the best of years. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. G-d bless and G-d speed in fulfilling your dreams.

Walter Massa’s Italian Grape Ale (IGA)

There’s a first time for everything and one of my firsts this week in Italy was tasting the Birrificio Montegioco Italian Grape Ale, a new category of beer that has come into the spotlight this year.

Known as IGA, after its official designation (Italian Grape Ale), it’s beer that’s been brewed with the addition of grape must.

In the case of the Open Mind IGA, must from Croatina grapes farmed by Piedmont legend Walter Massa is added. Walter is one of a small group of top winemakers who have coalesced around brewmaster Riccardo Franzosi, founder of Montegioco. They also contribute barrels for his cask-aged beers.

I like the Open Mind a lot and you could really taste the grape flavor, which gave the ale a nicely fruity and slightly sweet character.

(Thanks again to the amazing Carlo Fiorani for turning me on to this!)

In other news…

Today, I’ll teach my last wine writing seminar in the 2017 Master’s in Wine Culture at the University of Gastronomic Sciences.

That’s my class above, a great group of bright students.

We covered the history of ampelography from Columella (ancient Rome) and Andrea Bacci (Renaissance Italy) to modern-day writers like Eric Asimov and Alice Feiring and beyond. Along the way, we encountered a lot of what Eric rightly calls “wine anxiety” and we discovered that wine writing may be more about the Greek notion of aletheia or disclosure than the Latin notion of veritas or reality.

The students even coined a neologism: wine haters.

We realized (borrowing from Joseph Conrad) that the only thing we know for certain is that we see through a glass darkly.

All in all, we had a great time together.

Getting back to teaching has been really rewarding for me and I love how the Master’s program gives the instructors ample liberty in covering both practice and theory (like my colleague Armando Castagno who incorporates art history and the history of aesthetics in his wine tasting seminars).

In case you’re interested in learning more about the program, click here for the overview. As of this year, all the courses are taught in English. Enrollment for next year’s session is currently open. Thanks for reading…