Fragor coeli: prayers for the Carolinas and for everyone in the storm’s path #hurricane #Florence

Memories of Hurricane Harvey are still raw here in Houston. Watching the images of Florence as it approaches the Carolina coast, we can’t help but be reminded of what happened here just over a year ago.

Today, our hearts and prayers are going out to the Carolinas and everyone in the storm’s path.

May G-d bless them and keep them safe.

There was no word in Latin for cyclone or hurricane when the Italian humanist Petrarch was alive in the 14th century. In his Latin writings, he describes a storm that accompanied the 1343 tsunami in Naples as fragor coeli, a shattering of the heavens.

Watching those images, the expression came to mind. Hurricane Florence looks just awful.

We are praying for all our sisters and brothers in the southeast.

Image via the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Flickr (Creative Commons).

A California Chardonnay that widened my horizons, a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo that knocked my socks off, and a not-to-miss tasting in Houston

More than once, a mea culpa has been published on this blog: I was wrong about California wine.

My experience writing and editing for the Slow Wine Guide to the Wine of California has really reshaped my perceptions of the wines from my home state.

Like many people in my generation coming up in wine, I toed the party lines: California Chardonnay is overly oaky and lacks acidity; California Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are overly oaky, excessively extracted and fruit-forward, etc.

But over the course of my tastings and winery visits for Slow Food publishing, it became abundantly clear to me how abundantly wrong my thinking was.

One of the wines that really turned me around was the 2015 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Trout Gulch Vineyards by Ceritas, one of the wineries included in the 2018 and forthcoming 2019 editions.

Our family budget doesn’t allow us to drink it liberally. But a generous friend recently gave us a bottle that Tracie and I shared on Monday night for Rosh Hashanah dinner.

Man, what a wine! A nearly Platonic expression of laser-focused stone and tropical fruit dancing atop a seascape of saliva-inducing minerality and electric acidity.

There are a handful of wines from the ancient seabed soils of Skyline Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains that have truly thrilled me. And this one is a stand-out among them. (I just wish we could afford it! Thanks again to our generous friend who shared it with us!)

Now that all of our editors tastings and winery visits have been completed. I’m working diligently on putting the guide together. It will include Oregon this year as well. Stay tuned…

In other news…

SO MUCH great wine was poured this week in Houston at the Abruzzo wine growers association tasting.

One of my stand-outs was this pergola-trained Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Baldovino by Valentina Di Camillo at I Fauri. Like Valentina, this wine is authentic as they come, with the brilliant fruit but also the classic notes of earth that I consider a sine qua non of great Abruzzo wines.

I loved it and I also love that her father is an enlightened Marxist like me (we also tasted her family’s “Red October” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo).

Tracie and I probably drink more wine from Abruzzo than any other Italian region (no joke). The price-quality ratio in Abruzzo wines is hard to beat. And the pristine, undeveloped countryside there, combined with its mountain-meets-sea topography, makes it easier to grow grapes using wholesome farming practices.

Hopefully, her wines will make it back to our market soon!

In other other news…

When was the last time that Maurizio Zanella (above), Chiara Lungarotti, Alois Lageder, Piero Mastroberardino, Alberto Chiarlo, Giovanni Gaja, and Francesco Marone Cinzano were in Houston? When was the last time they were all here at the same time, at the same tasting pouring their wines?

They and a bunch of other marquee producers will be here on Monday, October 15 for the Grandi Marchi (Top Estates) trade tasting.

I’ll be presenting them and leading a guided tasting of their wines. (I’m actually kinda nervous about it!)

Click here for more info and registration. I hope to see you there! It’s going to be an amazing tasting.

L’shanah tovah, yall! Happy new year and may your year be filled with good health and sweetness!

Happy new year, everyone!

Today is the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

Like every year, Parzen family ate apples and honey before dinner last night, a new year tradition meant to deliver sweetness in the year ahead.

Here in Houston, we’ve already settled into our fall rhythms and routines.

Lila Jane is now in kindergarten and is taking cello (my instrument as a kid!) at their music magnet school.

And first-grader Georgia is playing her violin with growing confidence and ability.

They both love their school and their teachers.

With both girls now in school full-time, Tracie is working hard to expand her business and we’re finally moving toward being a two-income family, which is great.

Our lives are filled with too many blessings to count. But the year ahead also holds many challenges.

Rosh Hashanah is a time to look back on the year past and reflect on those times that we didn’t live up to our ideals — spiritual or secular.

I keep thinking about something that Susan Sontag wrote about the French philosopher and activist Simone Weil. Sontag described her as someone “identical with her ideas.”

My new year’s resolution, for the year 5779, is to work harder to make our lives and our life’s work identical with our ideas. In these times, I believe, we mustn’t fail in standing up for what is right and speaking out against what is wrong. Otherwise, we will be failing our children in making this world a better one for them to live in when we’re gone.

Happy new year, everyone. May your year be filled with good health and sweetness. L’shanah tovah, yall!

Scenes from a week of Slow Wine California…

Images from a week of tastings and winery visits for the Slow Wine guide to the wines of California 2019. Thanks to everyone for taking time out to meet with me!

Sam Coturri of Sixteen600. Love that guy and love the wines. Favorite “new old school” Zinfandel. His family has grown organically since the 1970s. Great wines, all around.

Meeting and tasting with Hank Beckmeyer at his house in Fair Play was a genuine dream come true. I love everything he releases at La Clarine Farm.

“Winemaking is all about timing,” said Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron. Tasting and chatting with him was one of the most inspiring winery visits of my whole career. “It’s actually very simple,” he told me. “The grapes tell you when to pick them. The wine tells you when it’s done fermenting. The wine tells you when to bottle it.” His wines are simply astounding.

The vineyards at Volker Eisele, producer of my favorite Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, have been organically farmed since the 1970s. It’s one of the most beautiful growing sites I’ve visited in California and I love Alex and Catherine, the owners and winemakers. Such cool people, such gorgeous wines.

The delicious burger at Compline, the super cool newish wine bar in downtown Napa.

The “hard press” Pinot Gris from Donkey & Goat, tasted yesterday at their wine club release party in Berkeley where they make their wines. Jared Brandt’s wines have always been great and we’ve always enjoyed drinking and sharing them. But man, he is on fire right now. His new Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay was one of my favorite wines from this trip.

It’s hard to describe how cool Ordinaire natural wine bar in Oakland is. By the end of my night, I had made all kinds of new friends and tasted a ton of compelling wines. Isabelle Legeron just happened to stop by! I was completely starstruck. She is super cool. I loved this place. I hugged all of the sommeliers before I left. It was such an awesome experience.

Just had to drink Gideon’s 2011 Texas Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir. What a wine and what a great coda to my trip.

No trip to California is complete without a Double-Double. I am a native Californian, after all!

Thank you, California, for an unforgettable experience. And thanks yall for tagging along. I’m on a plane back to Texas where I belong. Can’t wait to get back to Tra and the girls. L’shanah tovah, yall!

A white supremacist sent Tracie’s 97-year-old grandmother this letter. Warning (serious): graphic sexual content.

Above: Granvel Block recently began working again on construction of the new confederate memorial he is building in Orange, Texas where my wife grew up and where her extended family still lives. We have been actively protesting the monument since late last year.

Earlier this year, Tracie’s 97-year-old grandmother (“memaw”) received the below letter.

We believe it was sent to her by Granvel Block, the Sons of Confederate Veterans member behind the new confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie, her parents, and her grandparents grew up.

The memorial stands within view of motorists on westbound Interstate 10 (see this flyer circulated by Block). The property and memorial lie on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., a main thoroughfare and one the city’s main arteries.

Nearly half the residents of Orange are black.

The city, religious leaders, and business leaders have all asked Block to reconsider. The city has even offered to buy the property. Because the memorial stands on private property owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the city’s hands are tied (although it has taken significant steps in limiting the site’s visibility).

Tracie and I are among the organizers of the Repurpose protest movement: we are asking Block and the Sons to convert the site into a memorial that reflect community values. He refuses to engage in dialog.

He has threatened me with violence, telling me: “I’m a Texas boy and I’m going to kick your ass.”

He regularly uses the “n” word.
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Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron, a mensch among growers and winemakers (Slow Wine Guide 2019)

Posting on the fly this morning as I head out to Napa and Sonoma to taste tomorrow and Friday for the Slow Wine guide 2019.

But I just had to share the above photo, snapped yesterday.

That’s grape grower and winemaker Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron in the North Yuba AVA, a sub-AVA of the Sierra Foothills AVA.

In the image, he’s walking me through his “Home Vineyard,” a parcel planted to Pinot Noir and the source for some of his best wines.

Many have written about his astoundingly good, utterly compelling wines. I was left nearly speechless by our tasting (this year, for example, he’s releasing a 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon that he farmed and vinified there; the 2013 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard Lower Block was also a standout among many truly superb wines).

Others have written about how he arrived in North Yuba and his years there since.

It was a thrill for me to get to taste and interact with this sweet, thoughtful, and inspiring man. But the thing that really touched my heartstrings was talking with some of the young people he’s mentored. They speak of him in such glowing tones and with such affectionate reverence. And the reason is simple: he so generously shares his knowledge and experience with them.

Where I grew up, they call that a mitzvah.

Gideon, thank you for your time yesterday. Tasting your wines with you was a truly moving experience. You are a mensch among grape growers and winemakers.

Wish me luck and wish me speed! A lot of ground to cover between now and Saturday! Thanks for being here.

Slow Wine California 2019 dispatch: an unforgettable day in the Sierra Foothills AVA

For oenophile couples like us, there are certain wines that feel like family members.

La Clarine Farm first came into our lives back in 2009 in New York when Tracie was traveling with me and the French band. An open bottle of Hank Beckmeyer’s Syrah had been sitting in a good friend’s lower Manhattan apartment for nearly two weeks. When we all tasted it together, it blew our minds and our palates with its freshness and its vibrant, electric fruit.

Ever since that day, La Clarine Farm has been one of our favorites (and we played a packed show at the Mercury Lounge that night, the one time Tracie saw us play in the city).

It was a thrill for me to finally meet and taste yesterday with Hank (in the top photo) at his winery in California’s Fair Play AVA, a stone’s throw from the El Dorado Trail.

His wines and winery will be one of those profiled in the 2019 edition of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California (I’m the guide’s coordinating editor for North America).

Great wines and the lovely guy you’d imagine is behind them.

My itinerary yesterday also took me up to the North Yuba AVA where growers pointed me to one of the most remarkable vineyards I’ve ever seen: 300 acres planted to now abandoned vine in the heart of weed country.

Cannabis is the main industry here, I’ve been told. Dinner at a smokehouse bar in Auburn last night led to a conversation with a dude who told me he works “up the hill,” a euphemism, he said, used by employees of the massive cannabis crop here.

But the strange, otherworldly vines I toured seem to have an endless supply of delicious fruit for a handful of thoughtful winemakers. They, a bear, and a cadre of deer are the only ones left in this forgotten wine country.

The story of this now derelict but still bountiful estate has yet to be properly told.

Those are Pinot Noir grapes in the photo above, btw, ready to be foot-crushed.

Writing in a hurry this early morning as another day of touring and tastings unfolds.

But I also have to give a shout-out to Grass Valley, one of the many tourist spots here in Gold Country.

The village was bustling with locals and tourists and nearly every store front was occupied by a shop, café, or restaurant. At least two vinyl records were also spotted.

Yesterday was the first day of my trip. Following another day here in the Sierra Foothils, I’ll be heading to Napa and Sonoma for more tastings and discovery.

Thanks for following along… more good stuff to come.

Beppe Rinaldi, iconic Barolo grower and natural wine advocate, has died.

Beppe Rinaldi, iconic Barolo grower and outspoken natural wine advocate, has died.

According to mainstream media reports, he was 69 years old and was battling an unspecified illness. He would have been 70 in just a few days.

Known to his myriad admirers as “il citrico” (literally, the “citric [one],” a nickname attributed to his unmistakable white locks as well as his acerbic wit), he was widely revered as one of the world’s greatest winemakers and an unrivaled interpreter of Nebbiolo’s greatness.

An iconoclast proudcer who often spoke out stridently against the unstoppable commercialization of his appellation, he was also a founding member of the Vini Veri consortium of natural wine producers.

“An artisanal winemaker,” he said in an interview published by Vini Veri in 2010, “shouldn’t just watch over his little garden. He needs to have a collective vision of his appellation because the appellation belongs to everyone. Wine and land are cultural resources that we need to treat with care. First and foremost, we must prevent violence against the hills and the vines. Wine needs to be a manifestation and an expression of the appellation, a voice in the world that carries an overarching cultural message from the place that produced it… A wine needs to reflect the distinctive, unique characteristics of the appellation. This is why we need to take care of our appellation and never overwhelm it.”

In recent years, he had railed against the unbridled growth of the tourist industry in the Langhe Hills of Piedmont where Barolo is grown and vinified. It was the latest cause embraced in a lifetime spent advocating for organic farming practices, traditional winemaking, and more measured development of the Barolo appellation.

His single-vineyard bottlings of Barolo are among the most collected wines in the world today, benchmarks not just for the appellation and Italy but for fine wine across the globe.

He is survived by his wife Annalista and daughters, Marta and Carlotta.

Taste with me this fall in Houston (Abruzzo, Piedmont, Oltrepò Pavese, Italian marquee estates, and Alice Feiring)

Please come out and taste with me this fall in Houston!

Here are the events where I’ll either be leading a seminar or presenting the speaker and wines, including Abruzzo, Piedmont, Oltrepò Pavese, Italian marquee estates, and Alice Feiring (!!!).

And hey, did you hear that GQ called Houston “the New Capital Of Southern Cool”?

Thanks for being here and thanks for your support.

Buon weekend, yall!

Taste Abruzzo
celebrating 30 years
of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC
Monday, September 10
11:30 a.m. seminar
12:30 p.m. walk-around tasting

2021 Binz St.
Houston TX 77004
(713) 626-9303 (organizer)
Google map

Register here.


Piedmont Classic Grape Varieties
with Paolo Lovisolo of Bersano
Thursday, September 20
6:30 p.m.

2314 Bissonnet St.
Houston TX 77005
(917) 405-3426 (organizer)
Google map

Register here.


Oltrepò Pavese
with Cristina Cerri
and Achille Bergami
of Travaglino
Monday, October 8
6:30 p.m.

Location TBD.

Register here.


Grandi Marchi
Gaja, Masi, Ca’ del Bosco,
Tenuta San Guido, Jermann,
and many other marquee estates
Monday, October 15
11 a.m. seminar
2 p.m. walk-around tasting

Crystal Ballroom
909 Texas Ave.
Houston TX 77002
(305) 937-2488 (organizer)
Google map

Register here.


Alice Feiring
acclaimed author and
leading natural wine advocate
Monday, November 12
6:30 p.m.

1834 Westheimer Rd.
Houston TX 77098
(917) 405-3426 (organizer)
Google map

Register here.

Image via TX Wine Lover.

In controversial move, Slow Food endorses copper fungicide limits

This week, Slow Food published a statement declaring that the association favors newly proposed limits on copper fungicide use.

“Slow Food says ‘yes’ to limits on copper,” read the title of a post on the advocacy group’s website.

Earlier this summer, the European Union signaled that it might reduce the allowable amount of copper fungicide from 6 kg per hectare per year to 4 kg. The announcement has concerned organic grape growers who rely on copper treatments to combat fungal diseases. Leading organic growers have spoken out against the move and many claim it will gravely affect their ability to farm organically, thus threatening their livelihood.

“We are in favor of a reduction of the quantity of copper allowable per hectare that the EU is currently discussing. We hope it will lead to broader efforts in research on alternative and supplemental products,” said in the statement agronomist Francesco Sottile, a member of Slow Food’s technical advisory committee and a professor at the Slow Food University in Bra, Piedmont (UniSG).

“We are faced with a delicate question and our association has to keep a balanced outlook,” he added.

“Copper is a heavy metal and as such it can damage the soil and the microorganisms that live in the soil as it accumulates in the ground and the water table. For this reason, limits on its use are advisable… Copper doesn’t leave a residue on fruit or vegetables because it gets washed away. But it remains in the environment and is therefore potentially harmful. As an association, we are concerned with what consumers eat. But we also need to watch out for potentially critical situations in the fields and for people who work on farms.”

The heavy metal has been used in vineyards for more than 150 years to prevent peronospora (downy mildew). First developed in France in the second half of the 19th century, the “Bordeaux Mixture” has become an essential tool for grape growers who do not employ synthetic fungicides.

“We are very concerned,” wrote Matilde Poggi, president of Italy’s Federation of Independent Grape Growers in May.

“For organic producers, there are no suitable alternatives to copper,” she noted in a press release issued by the group. The majority of its members are organic growers.

After a very rainy season in Northern Italy this year, at least one grape growers association requested and received authorization to increase the maximum amount of copper allowable, from 6 kg per hectare to 9 kg. Many are concerned that organic grape growing will become unsustainable if greater restrictions are implemented.

Image via the Slow Food blog. Disclosure: I am an adjunct professor at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences (UniSG) and I am also a senior editor of Slow Food’s forthcoming Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of Italy, Slovenia, California, and Oregon.