Taste with me at Rossoblu in Los Angeles! Wine dinner April 18.

One of the best chapters of my career spanned the seven years that I worked with Chef Steve Samson (above) in Los Angeles.

Chef and I met on our junior year abroad in Italy and we’ve been close friends ever since that time. In the meantime, he’s gone on to become one of California’s most followed and beloved culinary professionals.

Steve, his partner (and better half) Dina, and their group are about to add another destination to the roster. Their Superfine on the west side of the city will open any day now.

When he opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles, Sotto (another favorite of the Pulitzer-winning author), I wrote the list and we did countless wine dinners together.

I could not be more thrilled to be working with Chef Steve next month when I’ll be presenting a wine dinner at his Rossoblu in downtown.

Jonathan Gold had nothing but praise for Chef Steve’s ode to his hometown of Bologna, Rossoblu (“Jonathan Gold says Rossoblu may make you wish you knew a Bolognese grandmother,” Los Angeles Times, June 2017).

It’s really that good, folks.

We still don’t have the menu lined up, but you can already reserve your spot here.

I’ll post an update with the menu and wines soonest.

Please join me on Tuesday, April 18, as I pour some of my favorite wines paired with the Rossoblu menu. I am so looking forward to this! I hope you can be there.

Image via Chef Steve’s website.

Gastronomic philology gets its day in the sun as an Italian food historian looks “behind the holy books.”

Above: one of the best executions of carbonara I’ve ever had was prepared by a Roman using guanciale and Pecorino Romano. The cook in question is one of the most brilliant and informed writers in Italy I know. But does he know the origins of his city’s synecdoche dish?

“A philologist looks behind the ‘holy books,’” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in The Twilight of the Idols (1889), “a physician behind the physiological depravity of the [believer]. The physician says, ‘incurable,’ the philologist says, ‘fraud’…”

This line came to mind over the weekend after a number of gourmand friends and gourmet colleagues sent me a wonderful Financial Times profile of Italian food historian Alberto Grandi entitled “Everything I, an Italian, thought I knew about Italian food is wrong.”

Grandi “has dedicated his career to debunking the myths around Italian food,” writes Marianna Giusti for the paper.

In his 2021 book Denominazione di origine inventata (Invented Designation of Origin), Grandi points out:

    that most Italians hadn’t heard of pizza until the 1950s, for example, or that carbonara is an American recipe. Many Italian “classics,” from panettone to tiramisù, are relatively recent inventions… Some of DOI’s claims might be familiar to industry insiders, but most are based on Grandi’s own findings, partly developed from existing academic literature. His skill is in taking academic research and making it digestible. And his mission is to disrupt the foundations on which we Italians have built our famous, and famously inflexible, culinary culture — a food scene where cappuccini must not be had after midday and tagliatelle must have a width of exactly 7mm.

Sounds like my cup of caffè corretto!

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I have written extensively about the origins of dishes like carbonara and puttanesca. And one of the major red threads of my research has been the debunking of myths, like the one about puttanesca being invented by sex workers and carbonara being named after purveyors of charcoal.

In case you missed the piece, check it out here (paywall).

I’m leaving tonight for Italy and plan to pick up a copy of his book while on the ground there. I can’t wait to read his book! Report forthcoming!

In the meantime, wish me luck and wish me speed. Lufthansa is on strike but I still hope to get to Italy by dinner tomorrow…

See you in Verona! Let’s taste together at Vinitaly.

Above: I’m hoping to get an invitation to the blogger and social media party that my friends and colleagues have hosted over the years at the Abruzzo consortium stand. It’s always a great time.

After missing Vinitaly last year, I am super stoked to be heading back for this year’s main event.

If you’re planning on attending, let’s connect and taste!

I’ll be at the fair on Sunday and Monday (heading back to Texas on Tuesday because Passover starts on Wednesday night, April 5).

And if you’re free on Monday, come and see me at the Ethica Wines stand (hall 10, stand A3). I’ll be hanging there for a few hours with enologist Luca D’Attoma. We’ll be tasting his latest project, Amistà, producer of Nizza DOCG (my client). Luca is a towering figure in the world of Italian wine and I’m super psyched to be tasting with him.

Of course, I’ll also be making the rounds to see as many of my friends and taste as many wines as possible.

If you’re heading to Verona next week, let’s taste. I’m also going to be at Opera Wine this year.

DM to connect. And travel safe! Looking forward to seeing everyone!

The tale of a social media influencer: Imp of the Perverse.

Above: Alicia Lini, right, with my longtime friend and social media influencer, Giovanni Contrada, aka Imp of the Perverse.

When Italy first went into lockdown mode in March 2020, my longtime friend and fashion designer Giovanni Contrada (above, left) was living in Milan where he was building his Imp of the Perverse label and brand.

The boredom of the closures led him to start documenting his (at first modest) culinary adventures in Italy’s fashion and culture capital. What started with handful of simpatico videos on TikTok, where Giovanni would interact with owners of neighborhood cafés and restaurants, soon blossomed into an increasing number of likes and shares. And before long, that number started to grow — exponentially.

When he called me at the end of the year, he told me, “dude, I’m huge on TikTok.” And he wasn’t kidding.

He already had close to one million followers at the time. Today, he has 1.5 million followers — yes, one and a half million.

He also has an agent and scores of requests for product placements and endorsements. And his fashion line has exploded as well.

When Giovanni’s unique line of jackets and suits first took off, he was a favorite among the glitterati crowd. Ellen Degeneres and Melissa Etheridge were among the first celebrities to wear his clothes. Remember when Melissa Etheridge performed at the Grammys during her battle with cancer in 2005? She was wearing a Giovanni jacket.

As Giovanni was rising in the fashion world, he would often dress our band Nous Non Plus for our shows. Over the years, he’s even designed a few special pieces that he’s gifted to me (including “The Jar” hoodie). When I was up for a prize in Milan some years ago, he dressed me for the awards ceremony.

Last week, I traveled to Los Angeles to meet another dear friend and longtime client of mine, Alicia Lini. On Thursday morning, we sat down with Giovanni for breakfast at this fantastic Italian bakery and café on Sunset Blvd. called Ceci’s (everything was great, the erbazzone exceptional).

Click here to see the TikTok they made together. Click here for the Instagram. Giovanni also posted a wonderful clip of him enjoying Alicia’s traditional balsamic vinegar.

It was one of the ages. But that’s no surprise. Giovanni has always been such a loving and generous friend to me, a big brother who has comforted me in my worst times and shared my joy in my best.

Giovanni, I love you. Thanks for carving out an hour of your morning for us. I’ll never forget that chilly overcast day in LA as long as I live.

If you’re wondering where the handle “Imp of the Perverse” came from, look no further than Edgar Allen Poe.

“This wine doesn’t taste organic.”

Earlier this week, a lively conversation with a group of west coast wine buyers proffered an anecdote for the viticultural ages.

A guest, recounted a young and gifted sommelier, had asked them to pour an organic wine for the table. Being the consummate wine professional that they were, they presented said guest with an organic wine. With wine in glass, said guest then offered the following consideration.

“This wine doesn’t taste organic,” they said to the sommelier with an unconcealed note of disappointment and distaste.

What was the sommelier to say? The customer is always right, as the Hippocratic oath of hospitality goes.

Is “organic” a character, a nature that can be described through sensorial observation? Even the most ardent organic enthusiasts would be hard-pressed to make the argument that it can.

No one disputes that organic farming can deliver wines of high quality. It’s equally true that conventionally farmed wines can achieve the same level of quality. It’s also worth noting that the broader organic movement has prompted many wine growers to incorporate organic practices in their approach to viticulture, sometimes with spectacular results.

But a divide as wide as the Atlantic Ocean spans the perceptions of well-intentioned consumers, the winemakers who grow and transform the grapes, and the service professionals who serve to bridge the gap between producer and consumer.

The seductive power of the “organic” brand has also led countless unscrupulous bottlers to claim wines are organically farmed when in fact they are not.

I’ve heard many prominent grape growers say that truly organic wines are a myth. It’s impossible to avoid the residue of chemically based farming, they point out. Some have even argued that without the larger scale conventional farming by big wine (which restrains the spread of vine disease), small-scale organic farming wouldn’t be possible.

There are so many arguments to be made for and against the way we perceive organic wines. Ultimately, the sommelier found a wine that the guest approved of. But the great rift between the sacred (organic) and the profane (conventional) does no other service than to prop up our vanity.

What’s not to love about the Benazzoli sisters?

The Benazzoli sisters’ website doesn’t have an “about” page.

In its stead, enonauts will find a “Made by Women” page that tells their story and their unique approach to viticulture in all its expressions. (For those conversant in the patois of internetspeak, n.b. the slug “womens dreams.”)

On a chilly, drizzly, overcast day last October, a visit to the Benazzoli estate delivered me and my buddy Giovanni a stone’s throw from Lake Garda in the Bardolino DOC.

There, we tasted through a buoyant, energetic flight of wines that Claudia and Gilia grow, raise, and bottle themselves.

The premature loss of their father led them to take over this family-owned estate, which also includes rows in the Monte hamlet of Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella.

A stroll through the vineyards that lie adjacent to the tasting room and winery revealed the classic morainic soils (above) that give these wines their signature lift and liveliness.

Claudia, who received us that day, recounted how challenging it was to manage the winery after the loss of their father, emotionally but also professionally since the girls had hardly completed their studies.

But it was challenge they felt compelled to accept, in part to honor their father’s legacy as a renowned Bardolino and Valpolicella farmer.

As traditional and classically delicious the wines are (bright, vibrant, transparent fruit and restrained alcohol were the common denominators), the women’s approach to marketing their products couldn’t be more creative — and brilliant.

Those are two of the labels they’ve created for their wines, above and below, the Chiaretto and Bardolino, respectively, both blends of Corvina (roughly 80 percent) and Rondinella.

I highly encourage you to check out their super cool website where you immediately get a sense of the intellectual depth behind their winemaking.

What’s not to love about everything they do?

I currently have a small allocation of Benazzoli wines available through my California distribution and retail business. DM if you need some.

The joy of collecting when the gamble pays off: 2007 Produttori del Barbaresco classic.

Every bottle of wine is a gamble.

Even when a bottle has been shipped and stored correctly, there are so many variables that can affect the fitness and quality of the wine.

There is always the issue of corks, corkiness, and premature oxidation. But there are even other factors that come into play. Even in the case of Produttori del Barbaresco, what some would call a highly reliable producer of collectible wines, what grower in the cooperative raised the grapes that went into a given blended bottle? Was it from their best rows high on the slope or from fruit at the bottom? There are infinite elements that can shape a wine’s future, even when it is stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled conditions.

But man, when it all comes together, the disappointments of the patient collector are all offset by a stunning wine that everyone at the dinner table will remember.

That’s what happened last night when we opened a bottle of 2007 Produttori del Barbaresco classic (blended) Barbaresco with friends who came over for dinner.

The wine was from an allocation of Produttori del Barbaresco I bought when Tracie and I got married in 2010. It had remained in my wine locker in San Diego since that time.

Honestly, I was afraid that my investment wasn’t going to pay off: last year, I opened a few 2007s and they were in good shape and good to drink. But the fruit was “closed,” “shut down,” as we say in the trade. I was worried that the ideal moment to drink these had passed.

But the above bottle fired on all cylinders and more yesterday. On the nose, the wine was extremely fresh, with hints of the berry fruit that would arrive on the palate. In the mouth, the vibrant acidity conveyed brilliant, glorious fruit flavors with just enough earth to balance the juicy, ripe flavor.

It was utterly delicious and worth every second that we have waited for it.

Looking back, 2007 was a vintage that gave us a preview of 2022: a mild winter with relatively little snow and little rainfall and a hot summer that accelerated harvest and cooked some of the fruit on the vine. The overarching quality was excellent but the yields were attenuated.

Last night’s bottle was a wager worth waiting for.

Don’t just say Barbera. Say NIZZA! Why don’t Americans know about this exciting new Italian appellation?

In the Bricco di Nizza, the central subzone of the Nizza DOCG, the soils are identical to those found in La Morra, the largest commune for the production of Barolo. That’s clay-rich soil, above, and limestone, below. Other areas in the DOCG, to the south and north, have sandstone soils, also ideal for Barbera.

It’s only been a few months since I began working with a new client in Nizza Monferrato, Piedmont. But one thing has already become abundantly and glaringly clear.

Wine professionals across the U.S. are still in the dark when it comes to Monferrato’s pyramid appellation system, which was announced in 2010 and launched in 2014.

Ever since Italian and French ampelographers began to proselytize about the virtues of the Barbera grape in the second half of the 19th century, Monferrato and Asti province have been considered the variety’s spiritual homeland.

It was back in 2010, when a group of American bloggers and I attended the “Barbera Meeting” convention in the village of Nizza Monferrato, that the Barbera d’Asti consortium announced the creation of the highest tier in their appellation hierarchy — the Nizza DOCG.

Previously, Barbera was vinified in Asti province as Barbera del Monferrato DOC or Barbera d’Asti DOCG, an appellation that included a “superiore” designation (originally in reference to superior alcohol content) and single-vineyard “cru” designations.

With the launch of the Nizza DOCG four years later, Monferrato now had a super star category.

For generations, Italian wine insiders have recognized the greater depth of Barbera farmed in Monferrato as opposed to Alba, the land of Nebbiolo. And true Barbera connoisseurs knew that within the Barbera d’Asti DOCG, the wines raised in and around the village of Nizza Monferrato were considered the top expressions of Barbera d’Asti.

The soils in Nizza del Monferrato, and in particular, along the central crest known as the Bricco del Nizza, are identical to those found in La Morra, the largest commune for the production of Barolo. And for more than a generation now, growers there have made Nizza-designated wines, which many, myself included, have found to be the most compelling exemplars of Barbera.

With the new DOCG, this de facto category had now been codified.

So why is it, nearly a decade after the launch in 2014, that American wine professionals still don’t know about the new Nizza DOCG?

It’s time for all of us, on both sides of the Atlantic, to stop just saying Barbera and shout out NIZZA!

Say it with me: NEETZ-zah.

Thanks for reading my post today for Amistà, producer of Nizza DOCG.

Stop telling me I’m a bad person because I live in Texas.

Last week while in Los Angeles for work, I attended the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting. For those who have never been to one of those events, it’s a huge Italian wine industry schmooze fest. For the most part, it’s all about hugs and high fives and catching up with people who work in our trade.

Among so many other colleagues and friends, I ran into a prominent importer of Italian wine whom I’ve known for years. We’ve eaten dinner together, we’ve been on panels together, and we even share friends beyond the world of wine.

For whatever reason that day, when conviviality should have been the byword, he decided to give me an earful about our lives in Texas. No matter what I told about how we live here, he was determined to instruct me on the evil character of our geography. He even went as far as to insinuate that we live our lives in Texas because we enjoy our segregation.

When I pointed out that my native state, California, is the most segregated place I’ve ever lived, he dismissed my claims as MAGA propaganda.

When I told him that my politics and activism land on the hard left of the spectrum, he countered that he was so far left that I wouldn’t even come close to his political rectitude.

When I asked him to consider all the Black and Brown people who live in Texas — by choice, just like us — he wrote me off as a denialist and revisionist.

Ever since I moved to Texas to be with the woman I love and raise a family with her, people from California and New York have continuously and tirelessly given me shit about being a Texan.

Even my own immediate California family derides me for it. One sister-in-law told me she was “scared” for her sister who moved here. Another asked me “how can you live there with all those awful people?”

This country is never going to find its way out of its moralistic morass until we begin to understand — to comprehend truly — that Texans and all southerners are human beings, too. State boundaries do not represent monolithic ethical, moral, and aesthetic divides. There are all kinds of people in Texas, just as there are all kinds of people in California (including plenty of ultraconservative racists, among others, in my home state).

Stop judging me by my geography. Stop telling me I’m a bad or morally failed person because I live here. The false moral superiority of my ex-friend is a mirror and equally insidious reflection of the ultra-right conservatives he pigeon-holes us with.

That’s a photo of my wife Tracie and our two daughters, Georgia and Lila Jane, above. Tracie was born in Texas. Our girls were born in Texas. I am an adoptive Texan. Yes, we are concerned about our family’s reproductive rights. We are concerned about our voting rights (we were gerrymandered this year, no joke). We are concerned about our right to free speech and gun safety.

But we are also living, breathing human beings who hope, dream, and work for a better world. And we share in those aspirations with our community, including Black, Brown, Asian, and White, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people among many others.

As the saying goes, I know you like to think your shit don’t stink, but lean a little bit closer…

When’s the last time you tasted wines from Uruguay? Taste Uruguayan wines, Calabrian foods, Italian wines and Texas BBQ with me at Taste of Italy Houston 3/6.

Above: producers of Sicilian pistachio cream at last year’s Taste of Italy in Houston.

One of the super cool things about this year’s Taste of Italy trade fair and festival in Houston is that it’s the first time the gathering will include international producers.

I’m super geeked, for example, to taste a flight of Uruguayan wines that will be presented on Monday at the Omni hotel in my adoptive hometown.

I’m also looking forward to the Calabrian gastronomy panel I’ll be moderating with a Calabrian food expert and a Calabrian chef on the morning of the festival.

And of course, who can resist the Italian wines and Texas BBQ seminar that I’ll be leading together with Dale Robertson, wine writer for the Houston Chronicle, and Tom Dobson, the Italian buyer for Spec’s, the behemoth Texan chain of wine retail outlets. Pit master Ara Malekian will be doing the smoking. Every year, he’s one of the most compelling speakers at our gig. And the wines Tom selected are über cool.

Lastly, don’t forget the grand tasting where more than 50 producers, including the Uruguayans, will be presenting their foods and wines.

Click here for all the details and registration links. I hope to see you on Monday in Houston! Thanks for supporting the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, the organizer, and thanks for loving and drinking Italian wines.