Not a Nebbiolo by a lesser god. Extraordinary tasting at Hilberg Pasquero in Roero.

The mantra that I share with my students at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont where I’m teaching this week:

taste, taste, taste
read, read, read
write, write, write

Whenever I’m in Italy, I try to taste as much as possible. After yesterday’s afternoon seminar on digital wine communications with the students in the wine-focused grad program, it took me about 25 minutes to get the Hilberg Pasquero winery in Priocca village on the edge of the Roero DOCG. Man, it’s been literally 20 years since I first visited this lovely family! Now their son Nicola has returned from a successful career in corporate marketing to take over the family farm.

That’s their still blend of Brachetto and Barbera, above. The fruit in this wine is so vibrant, but delicate and nuanced at the same time. When’s the last time you tasted a Brachetto that wasn’t sparkling? I have always loved this wine and was so happy to revisit it with them in situ.

Whenever we talk about Roero in generalities, we tend to emphasize that Roero’s subsoils are mostly sandy. That’s why, the conventional wisdom goes, Roero’s Nebbiolo doesn’t have the depth of its neighbor in Barolo with its mix of limestone, clay, and marl soils.

But what many don’t realize is that Roero is actually just a stone’s throw from Barbaresco to the east. They are divided by the Tanaro river. Villages in the eastern part of the Roero DOCG share soil types with their neighbors.

Nicola was keen to show me a vineyard they had recently re-planted (below). Do you notice the color and texture of the soil? That’s the classic limestone terreno bianco (the “white soil”) that you also find in Barbaresco and Barolo!

It was fantastic to stand atop that hill and have Nicola point out some of his neighbors who also farm on the same white soils.

And man, let me tell you, those two expression of Nebbiolo d’Alba (above) that we tasted are no Nebbiolo by a lesser god!

Hilberg Pasquero is currently imported in the U.S. by wonderful friend Dino Tantawi in New York. But they are looking for representation in other states now, too. If I were an importer, I’d jump on it.

Thank you again Annette, Michele, and Nicola for an awesome tasting! Looking forward to seeing you guys again soon so we can break out those guitars!

Why are Italians so fascinated with American-style food?

If memory serves correctly, it all began with hamburgers in the 2010s.

That was followed by bacon and (scrambled) eggs.

It didn’t take long before club sandwiches started to appear everywhere as well.

Today, it seems like there’s no end to the continuously growing list of classic American dishes that Italians are making and consuming.

Over on the Facebook, there was a lot of chatter after I posted a picture of chips and guacamole that I was served earlier this week in Brescia. The restaurant actually calls the dish “nachos” (although that’s not what we would call it).

Honestly, I had never even seen guacamole in Italy until this week. On Saturday, I was served guacamole at lunch and then later that evening, when I was invited to a swank spot in the heart of downtown Turin, chips and guacamole appeared again at our table!

And let’s not forget the preponderance and ubiquity of “sushi” in Italy today! That cuisine is from Japan, of course, but nearly everywhere I see it here, it’s served in the American style that we grew up with.

I’ve seen more than my share of “Caesar salad” as well in recent years. Texas-style BBQ has also become extremely popular here.

When it came to the initial wave of hamburgers, the Italians swiftly surpassed us in terms of the quality of ingredients. Where I grew up, the cheapest beef was used for burgers. Italians use top heirloom beef for theirs and they are also expert at mixing pork and beef for their patties. The quality of the bread is also an important factor.

I’m not exaggerating or kidding in any way when I say wholeheartedly that some of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had have been in Italy.

The burger above is from a wonderful, homey spot called 18B in Brescia. It was fantastic! Check out their Instagram here.

The joint is run by a lovely young couple. And even though the focus is burgers and their now famous “pulled rabbit” sandwich (a riff on pulled pork), they also have an extensive sushi menu. Incredible!

I’ve loved the burgers there. I still haven’t tried the sushi (that’s Giovanni’s sashimi above). The avocado was perfectly ripe and delicious but it was more like an avocado purée (like Americans have been spreading on toast).

I’m not really sure why Italians love American food so much. In many cases, they do it WAY better than we do (again, because of the ingredients).

But “Tex Mex” Doritos is where I draw the line! Spotted in an Autogrill the other day.

All the photos are from Italy. The burger, sushi, and chips from 18B. The bacon and eggs are from a lunch many years ago in Milan. The club sandwich is from a place on Lake Iseo from a few years ago. Today’s my first day back teaching at Slow Food U. Looking forward to meeting the students this afternoon!

Italy’s been amazing (but crowded) so far. And UPCOMING JUNE TASTINGS where I’ll be presenting in the U.S.

Italy’s seemingly unending chamber of wonders never ceases to amaze me.

From running along the farmland banks of the Tiber river outside Rome to devouring castraure artichokes of Venice paired with some natty macerated white wine… Italy always gives of herself effortlessly and tirelessly.

It’s no wonder that there are so many tourists here this summer — from all over. In Rome they were saying that they are expecting three times the number of people who actually live there. Out of the way hotels have been key to keeping cost down. But man, don’t ask about the rental car!

That’s a chunk of quartz, above, that I found in a vineyard high atop the Valpolicella valley. The soil types in Valpolicella are so variegated and distinctive. I had the most amazing day there yesterday.

Today is Festa della Repubblica, a national holiday that celebrates the founding of the Republic of Italy in 1946. But I still managed to get a winery visit in. Tasted some amazing Cabernet Franc in Piave this morning.

After I finish my week of teaching at Slow Food U next week, I’ll be sharing tales of my trips to Italian wine country at three events in the U.S. later this month.

Long Beach
Friday, June 16

On Friday, June 16, I’ll be in Long Beach, California with the Dugans, America’s grooviest wine family (I’m so not exaggerating about that either!). Jeremy and I will be pouring some favorite Italian naturals as we try not to one up each other with Mel Brooks quotes. Seriously, we’ll be pouring some super compelling wines and the crowd and community at their shop is super lovely.

Wedsnesday, June 21

On Wednesday, June 21, in Miami I’ll be pouring and speaking about Barbera and Nizza, including two wines by my client and friends at Amistà. I’ll be hosted by the amazing and inimitable Allegra Angelo at her super fun store Vinya in Key Biscayne. The vibe of her store is so cool and we’re going to be opening some truly benchmark wines that night.

Monday, June 26
DM me

I’m super psyched about a dinner I’m hosting at Davanti in Houston where chef Roberto Crescini is creating an Abruzzo menu especially for us. It’s part of a new gig I’m doing with super sweet folks at the Abruzzo consortium. It’s only open to trade and media. But I might be able to snag a spot or two for you if we have space. Please email me if you’d like to attend.

Thank you for the support and solidarity! Hope to see you later this month!

Gambero Rosso goes Natural? A new editor-in-chief and a controversial new cover story.

Vanity Fair Italia, Corriere della Sera (one of the country’s leading national dailies), and some of Italy’s leading food and wine blogs like Dissapore are all talking about it: the first issue of the Gambero Rosso magazine under its new leadership and the masthead’s June 2023 cover story on natural wine.

Natural wine in the Gambero Rosso, you ask?

Longtime reporter for La Repubblica (another one of Italy’s leading dailies), Marco Mensurati, shocked the media community earlier this year when he left his new position as the editor of the paper’s Rome desk and became the editor-in-chief of the Gambero Rosso monthly magazine, now in its 32nd year.

For its first issue with Mensurati at the helm, he asked editor and writer Lorenzo Ruggeri, who’s been with the outfit for more than a decade, to write a cover story (June 2023) on natural wine and to interview the popular singer-songwriter Vincio Caposella about his new album where he makes some highly controversial declarations on the world of natural wine in Italy today.

“I have seen the best minds of my generation,” says Caposella (quoting the American Beat poet), “lose themselves in natural wine while the extreme right has taken over the electorate and [our] country.”

On his new album, “Il Bene Rifugio” (“Safe Haven”; the title is a riff on the finance term “safe haven investment”), Caposella sings, you natural wines… are on the wrong side…” (from the track, “Il Lato del torto,” “The Wrong Side”).

In his long interview with Ruggeri, the artist makes his case that natural wine is a “cliché” of the “radical chic.” It’s the same hypocrisy, he says, as that embraced by the “populist right.”


Caposella, whose style is heavily influenced by Tom Waits, is a well known lover of natural wine. He cites Gravner as one of his favorite producers, to give you an idea.

“Vinicio Capossela exploits the pretext of natural wine in an effort to criticize a Left that has lost touch with the people — just like him,” wrote one commentator.

The interview is accompanied by a truly fantastic piece by Ruggeri (a good friend, for the record) where he writes about “The Lesson of Natural Wine” (not yet available online for non-subscribers). Not only does he profile some of the leading producers in the natural wine movement. But he also speaks to top Italian enologists like Luca D’Attoma, who talks about the highly positive influence the radical natural wine movement has had on conventional winemaking.

Historically, the Gambero Rosso has been known for its generalized disdain for the natural wine scene. Ruggeri even quotes a scathing editorial on the expression “natural wine” written for the masthead in 2013 (“If there’s anything that’s really natural,” wrote the editor, “it can’t be wine.”)

If this month’s issue is a taste of what’s to come under Mensurati’s leadership, then I’ll take a double please!

Super congrats to my friend Lorenzo on his wonderful cover story.

In Italy, it’s not just the sommeliers who get all the love. The winners of the “best wine shop professional” competition 2023.

Above: Silvia Angelozzi, winner of the “best wine shop professional” for the category “wine shop with restaurant service.”

On Monday night, the winners of the “best wine shop professional” competition were announced at a reception and dinner held at the beautiful Borgo Pallavicino Mori estate just north of Rome.

Now in its second year, the event was organized by the Associazione Enotecari Professionisti Italiani (Association of Italian Wine Shop Professionals). It’s the first competition for Italian wine retail workers to be officially recognized by the country’s agriculture ministry. Sponsors of the gathering included the Chianti Classico, Collio, and Trentino grower and winemaker consortia, among others.

The three winners were Silvia Angelozzi (above, far left, for “wine shop with restaurant service”), Loredana Santagati (center, for “bottle shop”), and Matteo Bertelà (right, for “best wine shop professional under 30”).

Daniele Leopardi, who resides in Paris and was not in attendance, took home the prize for “best Italian wine shop professional in a foreign country,” a title he won last year as well.

Ever since the first screening of the 2012 movie “Somm” and even beyond, the role of the “sommelier” has been a source of fascination and admiration in the eye of the American wine loving public. But we rarely take time out to recognize the wine professionals who work in retail. There are countless “best somm” and “iron somm” competitions held across the country these days. But we too seldom make the effort to honor the folks that fill those shelves with the wines we love.

Isn’t it time that we mirror our Italian counterparts as they celebrate the “essential workers” of the wine retail trade? I can think of more than one wine shop worker who has sourced a coveted bottle or turned us on to something new and exciting. I’m sure you can, too.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be a guest of the competition. Everyone at the party had a great time tasting through the stellar wines that had been used earlier in the day as part of the testing process (Istine, I’m looking at you!).

Congratulations to the winners and to my good friend Francesco Bonfio, the president of the Associazione Enotecari Professionisti Italiani, and his team for a job well done!

As another Italian journey begins, a shout out to a couple of Italian wine blokes who found their way to Houston.

Today was my first full day on the ground in Italy.

Tonight I’ll be at an event in the outskirts of Rome and later this week I’ll be heading back north for winery visits and then on to teach at Slow Food U.

But today I can’t stop thinking about two young Italian blokes who poured their family’s wines for a gathering of Houston wine professionals last Thursday (at one of my favorite wine bars and shops, Vinology).

That’s Davide Bubola from the Borga winery in Veneto, above. And Niccolò Rossetti from the Colle Adimari estate in Chianti, below.

Both were visiting Houston for the first time and both are on what will surely be an epic journey to “build” their families’ brands in the U.S.

Every once in a while, when you talk to some of the old timers in the wine trade, they’ll remember fondly how Angelo Gaja and Michele Chiarlo were just like those two. Like intrepid navigators, they packed their bags full of wine and left for the wild unknown. Back then, practically no one in the U.S. had ever heard of those now über-famous wineries, let alone Barbaresco or Barbera d’Asti.

Man, they have a long road ahead of them! But it was also exciting to absorb some of their electricity and feel their explorer’s spirit.

So, today I’m sending them a shout out to them and another winemaker I’ve known for many years, Gian Luigi Orsolani, legacy producer of Erbaluce. His brand has been in the U.S. quite a while now but there he was working the market, shaking hands, pouring wine, and talking with any and all who wanted to learn more.

Thanks to all three of these cats for coming to my adoptive hometown. I loved the wines and can’t wait to see where they find their homes!

Wish me luck and wish me speed! Hopefully, I’ll have time tomorrow to post about the super cool dinner I’m attending tonight. Stay tuned!

Taste with me in Long Beach (6/16), Miami (6/21) & Houston (6/26).

Labor ipse voluptas.

As I get ready to leave for my teaching gig at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, I feel truly blessed to get to do what I do for a living.

Please join me for any or all of the following tastings and events in the U.S. and if you happen to be in the Langhe or Roero week after next, let’s grab a glass at Enoteca Zero in Bra, the home of Slow Food (where I stay during my seminars)!

Friday, June 16
The Wine Country
Long Beach

register here

I’m so geeked to be joining my bestie Jeremy Dugan and his family at the Wine Country in Long Beach for an evening where we’ll be pouring, tasting, and talking about a number of Italian wines. The Wine Country is one of the best wine shops in the U.S. imho, even though it’s still not on many people’s radar beyond southern California. The sparkling wine selection there is amazing, too.

Wednesday, June 21
Miami (Key Biscayne)

Man, if only we could clone the amazing Allegra Angelo, founder and owner of Vinya in Key Biscayne and Coral Gables. She’s got the energy, the vibe, and the business acumen that make for a great wine shop, wine bar, and wine program. I’m so excited that she has asked me to present a flight of Barbera, including wines from my client Amistà. I don’t have a link yet for this one but it’s going to be awesome. Space be will limited and it will be a night to remember!

Monday, June 26

I’m doing my first official gig as an ambassador for the Abruzzo consortium in my adoptive hometown. So psyched about this! It’s just the first event in a series of dinners, seminars (in the U.S. and in Abruzzo), and tastings that I’ll be leading. I’ve been so impressed with the compelling wines I’ve tasted and amazing winery visits I’ve made over the last six months. I’m stoked to finally get this program going. This event is open only to trade and media but I know it’s going to be a great show. Please save the date. Details forthcoming.

Thank you to everyone for the support and solidarity. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I love the community and the wines that we share. Happy Memorial Day! I’ll see you on the other side of the Atlantic next week.

Ye olde “controspalliera” and a better translation of Nizza DOCG appellation regulations.

After searching in vain for a decent translation of the Nizza DOCG appellation regulations, I finally rolled up my sleeves and rendered the text into English myself.

You’ll find the Italian version on the Nizza DOCG consortium website, which includes a — let’s just say — loose English translation.

My new translation appears on my client Amistà’s site here.

One of the things that kept popping up in the less than adequate translations was the archaic and increasingly anachronistic term controspalliera. No one seems to know how to translate it (until now).

By the early 20th century, it was already used to denote vines that were trained using a vertical trellis system as opposed to a wall or a pergola. And the terms controspalliera and spalliera were used and are still used today interchangeably.

This morning I rang up my good friend, Maurizio Gily, one of Italy’s most in-demand vineyard managers, and widely read author and editor, publisher of Mille Vigne.

He told me that today the term is used to distinguish the systems Guyot and cordon (mainly although not exclusively) from pergola or tendone training.

The terms controspalliera and spalliera have (false) cognate in espalier, a term borrowed from French. But as Maurizio pointed out, the Italian terms denote a vine trained using a vertical trellis. Not a “free” trellis where the shoots can point down. That’s the key point.

As always, I’m open to suggestions that can improve my work so far. So please feel free to reach out if you have thoughts, questions, or comments.

Check out my translation here.

Thanks for being here and thanks for speaking and loving Italian wine!

A sommelier who is “identical to their ideas” at Chambers in NYC.

As my buddy Doug and I enjoyed one of the best meals of my 2023 at Chambers in lower Manhattan earlier this month, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what Susan Sontag once wrote of the 20th-century critical theorist and activist Simone Weil.

In an essay that Sontag devoted to the philosopher, she wrote that Weil was “excruciatingly identical with her ideas.”

As at least one critic has written, Sontag “yearned to be identical to her ideas, to display the punishing consistency of Weil, but her ideas jostled and sparked, exploding her sense of what she was, or wanted to be.”

So much of what we do in life is compromised by the jostling, sparking, and exploding of our ideas. Personally, being identical to my ideas is something that I have always aspired to, even though, inevitably and invariably, that train is often derailed and rerouted by the vicissitudes of life.

If there were one person in the wine trade who has made a career of being identical to her ideas, it must be Pascaline Lepeltier.

In my view of the world, the art of hospitality has evolved and transcended to a new zenith through her work.

Over the course of a career where she has created an entirely new and profoundly impactful role in the world of wine, she is at once a sommelier and activist, a restaurateur and a philosopher. But she hasn’t achieved this through high-browed essays, articles, books, or speeches. No, she has accomplished this feat through her sheer indomitable will to be identical to her ideas.

As strange as it may sound, I could sense this ethos in the menu and wine list of her excellent restaurant on Chambers St. (a stone’s throw from city hall).

I could feel it in the way that the servers interacted with our party.

I could feel it in the way that my dining partner and our fellow diners reacted to the dishes and wines.

The whole experience was infused with an acute aspiration for human dignity. I know that sounds extreme or excessive. But I genuinely believe and I honestly sensed that the entire operation ultimately revolves around the ideas and ideals that Pascaline holds dear.

I could even taste it in the food and wine…

Don’t miss Chambers on your next trip to the city. It was one of the most rewarding meals of my year so far.

“Unprecedented” flooding in northern Italy leaves 9 dead and thousands without power.

Catastrophic, “unprecedented” rains and flooding in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna have forced tens of thousands to abandon their homes. Major roadways and train lines have been closed and, as of this posting, nine have been killed.

Click here for the Times coverage (last updated yesterday).

Click here for a Wikipedia entry on catastrophic torrential rain and flooding in Italy from 2000 to 2023, including recent events.

A translation of the headline, above, from today’s online edition of La Repubblica, one of Italy’s major national dailies: “Flooding and evacuations, 27, 000 without power. Traffic jams stretching miles on the A1,” Italy’s main freeway, which serves travelers between Rome and Milan, including Bologna, Emilia-Romagna’s capital.

Flooding and landslides caused by torrential rain are not uncommon in Italy. But the events of this week are being called “unprecedented” by meteorologists and commentators. It’s rare that extreme weather events like this affect major urban areas.

“The bill for climate change,” wrote the author of one headline this morning, “has come due.”

Grape growers in Italy have been deeply concerned over the lack of rainfall in this year’s vegetative cycle. Last year’s harvest was nearly decimated by drought and there has been scarce precipitation in 2023 — until now. As many winemakers will point out, the increasing number of extreme weather events like this can damage the vines, whether through their often violent impact or by virtue of the fact that the rainfall is concentrated in a brief period of time. Ideally, there is a balance of precipitation throughout the winter, spring, and summer. The winter and spring have been relatively dry and many are expecting another summer drought.

As residents of southeast Texas, our family has experienced catastrophic flooding a number of times over the years. But we’ve never seen anything like this in Emilia-Romagna. We know exactly what it feels like to be cut off from the world because of extreme weather. Our hearts and prayers go out to our Italian sisters and brothers.