Goodbye Franciacorta, goodbye Mr. Chips…

lake-iseo-lago-hotelsAbove: a view of Lake Iseo from its eastern coast. The lake is one of the Franciacorta appellation’s defining geographic features.

It’s a bittersweet goodbye as I head out of Brescia province this morning — the last time I will visit Franciacorta in 2016.

The “Franciacorta Real Story” social media and media outreach campaign I’ve been running for the Franciacorta consortium for the last two years has been one of the most rewarding and one of the most challenging experiences of my professional life.

Last week’s trip to Franciacorta with a group of American wine writers and buyers was truly exhilarating. It was wonderful to share my passion for the appellation with them and watch them discover the wines for themselves.

And it’s been amazing to interact with so many of my wine writing colleagues and American restaurant professionals who have taken time out to wrap their minds around Franciacorta’s place in the panorama of classic-method wines in the world today.

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done for the consortium and I am confident that we have significantly raised awareness of the appellation, its growers, and its wines among U.S. wine professionals, wine critics, and consumers today.

To put it euphemistically, not everyone in the consortium has appreciated the work I’ve done. As with any project of this scope and nature, it was to be expected.

But I am a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all boats on Lake Iseo…

Whether or not our campaign will continue in 2017, I can’t say. But I am eternally grateful to all the producers and growers who have supported and participated in the work we’ve done together.

No matter where you stand, there’s no doubt that only good can come from it.

I hope it’s only an arrivederci: but for now, goodbye Franciacorta… goodbye Mr. Chips…

Parzen and Levy families doing well in Houston. Thanks for all the notes after yesterday’s shooting in Texas.

It was actually an Italian friend and colleague of mine who alerted me via Facebook that there had been a shooting yesterday in Houston where Tracie P and I have been living with our girls for more than two years now.

When I received her message on Facebook, my heart sank before I immediately called Tracie to learn that everyone was okay.

The shooting occurred at a shopping mall that our family regularly frequents. Tracie shops often at a craft/hobby store there for her cookie-making supplies and we’ve attended kids birthday parties there as well.

And some of our Levy cousins also live close by.

Thank G-d, everyone is okay.

Yesterday and this morning, I found myself writing to my Italian friends wondering out loud: who could have imagined that our children (ages 4 and 3) would be growing up during “years of lead” (or “years of terrorism”) as our Italian sisters and brothers did during the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s? Bombings, shootings, and kidnapping were common in Italy during those years.

Between the news of the shooting and reports from last night’s presidential debate, I can only think to myself: o tempora, o mores.

Thanks again to everyone who checked in. We really appreciate it.

rothko houston

Donkey steaks, a great new wine from Berlucchi, and the best group I’ve ever led, period…

donkey-steakPosting on the fly this morning as we head out for our last day of tasting in Franciacorta with a group of writers and buyers I’ve been leading as part of my Franciacorta Real Story campaign for the Franciacorta consortium.

That’s the donkey chop and horse steak we were served last night at the super fun and aptly named Ristorante Romantica in Passirano village in the eastern part of the Franciacorta appellation.

Our group had a blast, thanks again, Elena and Ale! Really loved your place. I’m looking forward to the next time.

berlucchi-franciacortaWe had made our way to the restaurant after being hosted by Cristina and Arturo Ziliani at Guido Berlucchi.

My team was blown away by this new Brut Nature from the estate. It’s just being released in Italy this year and hopefully it will make its way to the U.S. Really worth checking out.

The Zilianis were SO much fun to taste and chat with. And their brio followed us through the night. Cristina and Arturo, that was such a great visit and the wines showed beautifully. Thank you and looking forward to the next time we get to connect (in Texas please!).

wine-press-tripOur day had started with a lovely morning tasting with winemaker Giulio Barzanò (at the head of the table) at Mosnel. This trip has been all about wrapping our minds around sugar and its role in the sparkling winemaking process. Giulio, the dialog and interaction were as fascinating as they were illuminating. Yesterday’s tasting was a highlight among a week of spectacular visits.

From the left, clockwise, that’s Jeremy D., Nico, Jessica, Giulio, Marta (from the consortium), and Becca.

Guys, this has truly been the best trip I’ve ever led (and I’ve led some pretty cool ones). I get so lonely on the road being away from my family but the friendship, camaraderie, solidarity, and professionalism this time around have been an inspiration.

Jeremy D., it’s just too crazy (and uncanny) that you and I know all the words to the Producers and every other song in the Mel Brooks’ canon (apologies to the other guests at our agriturismo for our midnight concert!).

Time to head out for our last day of tasting… please stay tuned for more dispatches from the FC!

Franciacorta quickie highlights day 2…

ronco-calinoJust some quickie photo highlights from my day in Franciacorta leading a group of American writers and buyers for my Franciacorta consortium gig.

Whenever I’m here, it always feels like I’m surrounded by sensual images ready to be gobbled up by my camera’s lens.

That’s the superb rosé we tasted this afternoon with Lara Radici at Ronco Calino. Wow, what a wine and what a gem of an estate… super cool people…

how-do-i-get-invited-on-wine-tripsThat’s our group at Ronco Calino. It’s such a fun group and we’ve been really enjoying the time together. It’s nice when that happens!

bella-vista-wineryI was so stoked to finally get to Bellavista. Really interesting visit on many levels… But especially cool to get to taste and chat with winemaker Mattia Vezzola. Mucho groovy to get his insights into how to approach, taste, and understand Franciacorta. I can’t wait to get a post up about that.

We also had a lovely tasting with my friend Marta Piovani at Barone Pizzini, where I used to blog before the consortium thingy. Marta, that was so wonderful to see you! Thanks again… The wines were awesome!

As Gene Wilder would say, so much time and so little to say… stay tuned…

Whole lotta Franciacorta right there, folks! Our sparkling journey begins…

vittorio-moretti-ricci-curbastro-riccardoThat’s legacy Franciacorta winemaker Riccardo Ricci-Curbastro (Ricci-Curbastro, far left) and Franciacorta consortium president and legacy winemaker Vittorio Moretti (Bellavista/Contadi Castaldi, far right) at the first tasting and cellar visit for team #ClassicMethod2016, a group I’m leading as part of my Franciacorta Real Story campaign for the Franciacorta consortium.

Two heavyweights in the world of fine sparkling wine today.

Jeremy D. (middle left) and Nico (right), together with Jessica, Becca, and me, will be traveling around the appellation all week, meeting with producers and tasting their wines as we wrap our minds around what Franciacorta was, is, and will be.

It was super cool to chat with Riccardo today at his winery. His knowledge of Franciacorta history and perspective are boundless. His son Gualberto led us through a fantastic flight of their wines.

And president Moretti was super cool to stop by to meet the group and interact with us on the first day of our sojourn.

I gotta say that I love this photo and what it means to me.

Writing in a hurry as I’m still catching my breath after hitting the ground running here in Brescia province. Stay tuned… and thanks for being here!

Oristano dreaming and missing my girls dearly as I head back to Franciacorta for the last time this year

malvasia-di-bosaCan’t stop thinking about this Oristano wine that we drank Saturday night with a U.S. importer of Italian wine in Houston.

It’s from a PDO that I’d never heard of: Malvasia di Bosa, from the west coast of Sardinia in Oristano province, a DOC with three producers according to the excellent Italian appellation wiki Quattro Calici.

Gorgeous gold and amber in color, the 2010 Columbu Malvasia di Bosa was lithe and salty with just the right touch of dried stone and dried white fruit to make it pair beautifully against aged white domestic cheddar and dark chocolate tabs.

Enjoying it immensely at the end of the evening, it occurred to me how wines like this and its sister appellation Vernaccia di Oristano were overlooked in the wave of oxidative-style wines (Sherry, Jura, etc.) that swept the überhip sommelier crowd some years ago.

What a great, truly original, and utterly delicious wine…

And how cool that Florence-based Ernest Ifkovitz, owner of Portovino, was in Texas working the market with his distributor for a week between Houston and Austin?

More and more, we see independent importers like the affable Ernest coming to our markets in Texas as smaller distributors continue to flourish, even where big wine once eclipsed the little guys. I loved that wine and I also really liked the Zero di Babo white by Marco Merli (Umbria) that Ernest poured for us that night. Super groovy stuff and cool packaging, too…

zero-di-babo-merli-grape-varieties-umbriaToday, I’m on my way to Franciacorta where I’ll be leading a group of wine writers and bloggers for the next few days.

It’s one of the last events in my Franciacorta Real Story campaign for 2016. Everyone in the group is super nice, fun, and talented and it should be a fun visit (one of them is the son of a one of my favorite wine bloggers and one that you probably love and follow like I do if you’re here).

I’m looking forward to it and some other fun eating and drinking I’ve got lined up for this Italian sojourn — my seventh for the year? I’ve lost count!

But today I’m just feeling super blue about saying goodbye to the girls (below) and Tracie P. It’s been such a lovely summer, with just a little bit of light travel for work. Now begins the season of some heavy lifting. And it just never gets easy to say arrivederci

Wish me luck, wish me speed. See you on the other side…

best-childcare-southwest-houston

I loved Nostrana in Portland… thanks to everyone in Oregon who made my trip there so special.

cathy-whims-chef-cook-bookWhat a thrill for me to discover the amazing Nostrana, chef and owner Cathy Whims’ Portland restaurant and expression of her passion for Italian cookery!

Those are Cathy’s Hawaiian blue prawn-filled ravioli, just one of the dishes she served as part of a Franciacorta-inspired tasting menu on Monday night after I led a Franciacorta Real Story tasting there.

Her pesce in carpione (sole) and herbed raschera sformato — two of the other choices on the menu — came close but nothing topped the stuffed pasta paired with the selection of five Franciacorta wines poured by-the-glass that night.

nostrana-best-italian-restaurant-portlandMy heartfelt thanks go out to the lovely Cathy and her managers and wine buyers, Nicholas Suhor and Michael Doherty, who put together such a great evening and event for me. I had a blast and it was — by far — the best tasting of my campaign (and there have been some good ones). Warm thanks as well to the suppliers who helped make the walk-around tasting an A+ experience and to wine writer Michael Alberty who also came out and tasted with us.

Another thing that impressed me about Portland was how nice everyone is there. Not one — NOT ONE — person greeted me with a “you’re from Houston? I’m so sorry.”

Well, one person did. But she was from Houston. Joking aside, Portland has such a great and friendly vibe to it. What an enchanting city!

I also need to send out a big hug and thanks to my cousins who live in Eugene. They hosted me on Tuesday night for a dinner of vegetables grown on their ambitious urban farm (below) and beef raised by another nearby farm.

Between my time in Portland and Eugene, I got a taste of what it’s like to live in a place where it seems everyone wants to make the world a better and more sustainable place. We spent a lot of time talking about that on Tuesday evening. And I’ve come back to Texas inspired — on so many levels — by what I saw, tasted, and learned.

Thanks to everyone who made it such a memorable trip for me…

best-wine-shops-eugene-oregon

Nebbiolo war: “inclusion of Nebbiolo in the Piemonte DOC has been definitively shelved” says Barolo-Barbaresco-Alba consortium president

nebbiolo-war“Inclusion of Nebbiolo in the Piemonte DOC has been definitively shelved” said Barolo-Barbaresco-Alba consortium president Orlando Pecchenino in a statement published late yesterday by Corriere della Sera wine writer Luciano Ferraro.

This latest volley in the “Nebbiolo war,” as Ferraro has called it, arrives in the wake of a meeting yesterday where Filippo Mobrici, president of the Asti-Monferrato consortium, and Pecchenino presented their respective positions — for and against the creation of a Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC — to the Piedmont Regional Viticultural Commission and its superintendent Giorgio Ferrero.

After the Asti-Monferrato consortium circulated a proposal for a new Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC in August, representatives of the Barolo-Barbaresco-Alba consortium have lobbied aggressively against the move.

While Asti-Monferrato growers would like to have the right to use the grape name Nebbiolo in labeling of wines made from Nebbiolo in their appellations, Barolo-Barbaresco-Alba consortium members counter that the creation of a Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC would lead to the planting of Nebbiolo in appellations not suited for its production; diminished quality of Piedmont’s production of Nebbiolo in general; and confusion among consumers.

“The Langhe have won the Nebbiolo war,” Ferraro wrote yesterday referring to the Barolo-Barbaresco-Alba consortium in his post for the Corriere. But it’s not clear whether or not efforts to move forward with the Asti-Monferrato proposal have been “definitively” blocked.

In a statement included in Ferraro’s coverage, Mobrici told the Corriere writer: “we are pleased that the conversation took place in peaceful and constructive tones. Based on these discussions, we plan to present a new proposal that can be received with wide-reaching consensus by the commission and by producers.”

See this op-ed by my friend and client Giovanni Minetti, former president of the Barolo-Barbaresco-Alba consortium, who argues against the creation of a Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC. “Before asking for permission to create such an important new category like a DOC,” he writes, “why not begin by experimenting and planting a few vineyards in places outside the traditional areas for production?”

Stanko Radikon: mourning the loss of one of the world’s greatest winemakers

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Radikon family…

stanko-radikonAbove: Stanko Radikon at the Radikon winery in Oslavia, Friuli. He is pointing to “hill 188.”

His work and wines did so much to shape and inform a generation of grape growers, winemakers, and wine lovers — in Italy and beyond.

He was one of the founders of the Vini Veri movement and he was one of the visionaries who knew that it was only a matter of time before “natural” wine and chemical-free grape growing practices would ultimately be embraced by the mainstream.

He was one of the pioneers of macerated white wines (“orange wines”) and one of the first to recognize and realize the immense potential of Ribolla Gialla.

He was born in a land virtually destroyed by world conflict, a borderland where east and west meet. And he helped to revitalize its economy by creating a sustainable model for viticulture and a sui generis wine category.

I had the great fortune to meet and interact with Stanko on a number of occasions and I shared the joy of walking through his family’s vineyards and tasting at their winery.

I’ll never forget the 1997 Radikon Merlot that I tasted in 2010 in Oslavia. It was and still is one of the greatest wines I’ve ever drawn to my lips.

I’ll never forget him showing me the unexploded bomb still lodged in one of the winery’s walls. To this day, the estate lies in the shadow of one of World War I’s most deadly and senseless battles (the Italian army’s 24th division’s attack on Austrian positions on “hill 188” in Oslavia).

That he could build what he did from (literally) scorched earth is testament to the moral fiber and true grit of one of the world’s greatest winemakers. If ever there were a grape grower who showed how viticulture could make the world a better place, it was Stanko.

Sit tibi terra levis, Stanko. Thanks for everything you gave us.

*****

Excerpts from a couple of remembrances I’d like to share here…

Hank Beckmeyer: [his legacy shaped] “not just Italian wines. The whole wine world. One of the true greats.”

Paola Aieri: “Before organic, biodynamic, and ‘orange’ wines were buzz words, he was among the early pioneers of the natural wine world. Known for his white (orange) wines, his Merlot is probably the most powerfully, elegant meditation red I’ve ever tasted.”

Matthew Fioretti: “To an extraordinary degree, he recognized that same, innate absence of control in viticulture and winemaking. The extent to which Stanko challenged conventional methods and endured adversity, required an enormous courage and imagination. His acceptance of these risks was dumbfounding. In climbing terms (Lionel Terray), I often saw Stanko as a ‘conquistador of the useless.’ With his passing, we have lost a legend and hero of the highest degree.”

radikon-wine-vineyard-oslavje