De urbe angelorum primum scriptum: Osteria Angelini

Do Bianchi adds a new category: de urbe angelorum. Here beginneth a cycle of posts on the City of Angeles. And what better way to begin than a post on Osteria Angelini and Chef Gino Angelini, who couldn’t have found a better city to call his home…

Above: like me, this old Rolls has seen better days but still retains its dignity in the City of Angels.

Alduous Huxley, Thomas Mann, Raymond Bradbury — they’ve lived in Los Angeles. But perhaps no great writer is more closely associated with Lotusland than Raymond Chandler and his alter ego Philip Marlowe:

    “I used to like this town,” I said, just to be saying something and not to be thinking too hard. “A long time ago. There were trees along Wilshire Boulevard. Beverly Hills was a country town. Westwood was bare hills and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars and no takers. Hollywood was a bunch of frame houses on the interurban line. Los Angeles was just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but goodhearted and peaceful. It had the climate they just yap about now. People used to sleep ou on porches. Little groups who thought they were intellectual used to call it the Athens of America. It wasn’t that, but it wasn’t a neon-lighted slum either.”

    We crossed La Cienega and went into the curve of the Strip. The Dancers was a blaze of light. The terrace was packed. The parking lot was like ants on a piece of overripe fruit.

    “Now we get characters like this Steelgrave owning restaurants. We get guys like that fat boy that bawled me out back there. We’ve got the big money, the sharp shooters, the percentage workers, the fast-dollar boys, the hoodlums out of New York and Chicago and Detroit — and Cleveland. We’ve got the flash restaurants and night clubs they run, and the hotels and apartment houses they own, and the grifters and con men and female bandits that live in them. The luxury trades, the pansy decorators, the Lesbian dress designers, the riffraff of a big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup. …

    —Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister

Above: contributors to the Squires bulletin board would cringe. Open a 96 Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva at a puerile 12 years of age? Pshah, I say. This wine was fantastic, powerful, meaty, with earthy Langa flavors. It paired exquisitely with our seared wild boar loin (rare in the middle, see below).

Not so long ago, I was chastised by my lawyer, a Brit and wine lover, a friend who demands the truth and only the truth and pulls no punches (and a great litigator, I might add): “Stop complaining, you twit,” he said, “you’re poor and you still get to drink amazing wines!”

Case in point: the other night, I was treated to a bottle of 1996 Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva — one of Italy’s most coveted wines, in one of its greatest vintages — by Italian wine collector extraordinaire and fellow Nebbiolophile David Schachter (pictured above, with Chef Gino Angelini of Osteria Angelini on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood). David knows me through mutual friends and through Do Bianchi and we met a few months ago at Lou on Vine on the occasion Alice Feiring’s book reading.

David is a huge fan of the octopus and baby arugula antipasto at Angelini. It paired beautifully with a 2006 Venica & Venica Malvasia.

While Gino’s menu is primarily traditional Italian, he selected gnocchi with lobster — a very untraditional combination — as one of our primi: these were the best gnocchi I’ve had in a long time, delicate and light but consistent in mouthfeel. The tomato lobster sauce (more typically served over long noodles) was ethereal… We also enjoyed very traditional spaghetti alla chitarra topped with shaved black truffles and a gorgeous and decadent nido (pasta “nest”) with béchamel. David paired with a 2004 Giacosa Barbera Superiore (also splendid).

The seared wild boar loin and 1996 Barolo made for one of those sublime pairings: a seemingly divine confluence of aromas, flavors, and textures.

All the waitstaff at Angelini is Italian. Although the restaurant’s decor is humble Angelino trattoria chic and the prices are more than reasonable, Captain Gino Rindone performs four-star service nightly at Angelini: to see him debone a branzino tableside, you’d think you were at Da Vittorio in Bergamo.

Reader Christopher writes that “everyone calls Gino Rindone ‘Ginetto’ to distinguish him from Gino” Angelini.

All in all, I must say, my Angelino experience is off to an auspicious start… Not bad for a big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup. Stay tuned…

*****

“People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.”
Less than Zero
—Bret Easton Ellis

Who? The Imp of the Perverse

No, that’s not me (although it kinda looks like me + 25 years or so). That’s Pete Townshend in a preview from “VH1 Honors – The Who” (tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m., VH1) wearing an Imp of the Perverse jacket by my good friend Giovanni Contrada.

Our band, Nous Non Plus, has been wearing Imp for years now and it seems that Pete (together with Sheryl Crow and Elton John, among others) have finally jumped on the bandwagon.

Giovanni’s mother was a Neapolitan shirtmaker and he has worked in the fashion industry for some twenty odd years. When he and his wife Libby moved to Los Angeles a few years back he launched Imp, with its signature skull buttons and motif and dyed Italian fabric jackets (Giovanni created a special line of Imp just for me, “The Jar,” with a marijuana leaf in place of the skull theme — go figure…).

Above: a recent photo of me and one of my dearest Italian friends, Sita Saviolo. I’m wearing my favorite Imp jacket. That night we dined with a large tavolata of old friends at Trattoria Savio, outside Padua, where we ate cured horse meat, horse meat ragù, and pony steaks (look for an upcoming post on Savio later this summer).

Above: fashionista Giovanni Contrada in one of his Los Angeles workshops.

You can purchase Imp of the Perverse at Maxfield in West Hollywood (but it ain’t cheap).

Maxfield
8825 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(310) 274-8800

Words to live by…

If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.
—Sheryl Crow

In case you were worried that I didn’t drink somthing good for my birthday…

As the years go by birthdays are less and less of a reason to celebrate and after last year’s (for July 14 marked the beginning of the revolution), I was more than a little apprehensive.

But hey, how does the song go?

I’ll get by with a little help from my friends…

My buddies (from left, Charlie George, Jon Erickson, and John Yelenosky) took me out for steak dinner last night in University City and some damage was done on this “old school” eve…

René et Vincent Dauvissat 2004 Chablis

One of my fav producers in Chablis, always shows great minerality.

López de Heredia 1997 Viña Tondonia Rosado

LdH is right up there with Produttori del Barbaresco as all-time favorite winery for me. This wine was fantastic in all of its oxidized glory.

Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema 1991 Carema

Jon found this amazing bottle in a collector’s cellar and snagged it for the dinner. We didn’t know what to expect but it was smokin’ good, with beautiful fruit and life in it. A great example of old Nebbiolo and excellent with my charred steak.

Château La Lagune (third growth) 1985

We ordered this from the list and had it decanted just before the steaks arrived (in my book of etiquette, you should always order something significant from the list when you bring your own wines). 1985 was not great but not a bad year for this wine and it showed powerfully for how old it was. It was beautiful to taste it as it died in the glass… (Yelenosky and I graduated from La Jolla High in 1985!)

Produttori del Barbaresco 1999 Barbaresco Ovello

In a recent thread on the subject of subjectivity in wine writing at Alder Yarrow’s Vinography, someone wrote that he refers to wines he likes as “George Clooney” wines. For me, Produttori is always The Fonz… heeey…

With a Little Help from My Friends
—Lennon & McCartney

What would think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song,
And I’ll try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
He gets high with a little help from his friends,
Oh I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.

What do I do when my love is away.
(Does it worry you to be alone)
How do I feel by the end of the day
(Are you sad because you’re on your own)
No, I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm I’m gonna to try with a little help from my friends

Do you need anybody?
I need somebody to love.
Could it be anybody?
I want somebody to love.

Would you believe in a love at first sight?
Yes I’m certain that it happens all the time.
What do you see when you turn out the light?
I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm I get high with a little help from my friends,
Oh I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends

Do you need anybody?
I need someone to love.
Could it be anybody?
I want somebody to love
Oh…
I get by with a little help from my friends,
I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends
I get high with a little help from my friends
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends,
with a little help from my friends

Post scriptum: my college-days friend Kim “Co” Roberson recently came down to visit me in San Diego and she noted, ruefully, that the “Beatles ruined us when we were kids,” making us believe that “love was the answer.” As freshpeople at UCLA, we used to love to sit and smoke cigarettes and sing Beatles songs all night. She’s right but I also know that “I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends…” The song never meant more to me.

How Sweet It Is: Lini finally lands in San Diego

Above: Lini Lambrusco “Labrusca” red paired well with the Jaynes Burger over the weekend at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego.

It’s actually not sweet… It’s dry and earthly with just a flourish of sweetness… It’s meaty in the mouth and bright on the palate… it cuts through the fat of my cheeseburger like a gorgeous housewife in the Emilian countryside cuts through her pasta dough with a serrated raviolo wheel. Yes, it’s voluptuous and sexy. It’s Lini Lambrusco — one of those “I could drink this every day wines” over here at Do Bianchi.

It’s my obligation to reveal that when it comes to Lini, I’m biased: I had a hand in bringing Lini into this country and Alicia (left) and I became good friends when I worked (pre-mid-life-crisis) with the company that brings her wines in.

Alicia and I shared a truly magical mystery experience when I accompanied her to a radio appearance on the Leonard Lopate show (WNYC) and we ran into “Wonderful Tonight” Patti Boyd in the hallway of the studio. (My post on our encounter is the all-time most-viewed at Do Bianchi.)

Lambrusco remains a greatly misunderstood wine in this country. The association with cheap, sweet quaffing wines, so popular in the late 70s and early 80s, continues to pervade even the informed wine enthusiast’s perception.

In Emilia — one of Italy’s food meccas, rivaled only by Piedmont — farmers like to drink Lambrusco, too. But Lambrusco is not just a wine for field hands. In Modena, Reggio Emilia, and Parma, Lambrusco is served with Emilia’s finest dishes and no other wine pairs better with the region’s famed foods: Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello, Zampone, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (di Modena and di Reggio Emilia), Lasagne and Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, and on and on… In Emilia — one of Italy’s most affluent regions — everyone drinks Lambrusco at dinner, from the village barber to the Ferrari corporate executive (they say there are more Ferraris and pigs pro capite in Emilia than anywhere else in the world).

When I lived — many moons ago — in Modena, I once brought some friends a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino. Their response? “Please pass the Lambrusco.”

Which brings me to an important point about wine, wine writing, and wine appreciation: subjectivity is essential to wine appreciation. And I don’t just mean subjectivity as “consciousness of one’s perceived states” but rather in the (Jacques) Lacnian sense, whereby language (the sign or signifier) precedes meaning (signfication). But I’ll reserve that rigmarolery for another post. Just consider this: in Reggio Emilia, I would open a $20 (retail) bottle of 2007 Lini with my bollito misto as my ideal pairing; in Alba (if I could afford it), I’d open a $450 (retail) bottle of Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva (Red Label) 1996 with my bollito misto — also an ideal pairing. It’s all in the words of the subject as relates to the object and the other.

On the subject of subjectivity in wine writing, check out this interesting post at Alder Yarrow’s excellent blog Vinography.

In other news…

Today is Bastille Day, an important day for my (pseudo-French) band Nous Non Plus and a personal anniversary of sorts (last year I was in Burgundy on this date, whence my personal revolution began).

In other other news…

Just for kicks, check out this vintage Riunite commercial (which Dr. Vino pointed out to me a few years ago):

Recently tasted: Timorasso and Barbera from Vigneti Massa

Above: Barbera Terra by Walter Massa and the cheese board at Third Corner in Encinitas, CA.

The ever-pungent Terry Hughes, one of my favorite daily reads over at Mondosapore, often teases me that out here in far-flung San Diego, I’m living among the antipodes and that I should come to my senses and move back to the City (yes, there is only one city in Terry’s mind). Despite his antipodean chiding, I’ve been enjoying the ocean and the sun and the laid-back feel of “America’s finest city.” And to Terry’s surprise (and often to mine as well), I occasionally come across some interesting Italian wine here: case in point, wine director Brian Donegan at Market (in Del Mar) recently poured me a glass of Timorasso, a rare white grape from the Tortonese hills of Piedmont, nearly forgotten and extinct until Walter Massa of Vigneti Massa revived it some years ago.

Above: Brian Donegan, wine director at Market, is one of San Diego’s leading wine professionals. He always surprises me with his by-the-glass program: last time with a Vin de Savoie by the glass. My experiences at Market have been good, although I’ve heard that mileage may vary. To a New Yorker (which I remain in my heart, despite my California roots), it’s a strange confluence of high-end market-fare dining and So Cal “heavy metal” attitude (including sports programs on the constantly glowing flat-screens in the bar and a row of luxury SUVs in the valet parking lot). Brian divides his list into “New” and “Old World” selections, an editorial decision that I believe educates his patrons and informs their palates. But, unfortunately, he includes Californian-grown Italian varieties among the Italian lots — a blow to us terroirists.

According to Calò, Scienza, and Costacurta’s Vitigni d’Italia (Grape Varieties of Italy), Timorasso Bianco (also known as Timoraccio, Timorosso, Timorazza, or Morasso) was a popular grape variety in northwestern Italy until the advent of phyloxera, when it virtually disappeared. It was brought back to the fold by Massa, who makes wines in the province of Alessandria (Piedmont). The straw-colored wine was fresh on the nose and had more body than Cortese, the top white grape in a region where red grapes prevail. It also had a pronounced minerality that you don’t find in other Piedmont whites.

Above: in classic So Cal fashion, the bar at The Third Corner in Encinitas is also dominated by flat-screens and sports programs. I’ve always been a fan of the Ocean Beach location and although you won’t find me at the bar (wine and TV don’t pair well in my view), the main dining room in Encinitas is one of the warmest, most comfortable in San Diego.

Massa’s been on my mind: another one of San Diego’s sommelier stars, Alex Lindsay of The Third Corner in Encinitas recently turned me on to Massa’s entry-level Barbera, “Terra.” This stainless-steel, very reasonably priced wine impressed me with its earthiness and it certainly deserves its name (terra or earth). It showed natural fruit and vibrant acidity, pairing perfectly with the cheese board. I’ve not tasted Massa’s higher end wines (I believe he makes a Croatina and a single-vineyard Barbera, both aged in barrique — probably not for me). But I found this $15 bottle to be a great example of an affordable terroir-driven wine. Californian Barbera just doesn’t cut it for me.

Terry, I’m pouring Massa’s Timorasso tonight at Jaynes Gastropub if you’d like to stop by!

L’Affaire Brunello: J’accuse…!

The editors of Do Bianchi have received countless letters in the wake of the recent Brunello controversy. Space constrictions do not allow us to publish all of them but we deemed the following missive, sent from Paris, worthy of our readers’ attention.

Dear Editor,

I am but a humble clerk in a wine shop in Paris (on the Place du Panthéon) and a man of limited means. But for decades now I have been an Italian-wine enthusiast and amateur collector. I have followed the l’Affaire Brunello in Italian and American newspapers and magazines. And I’ve also read about it in the blogosphere, where the debate and commentary are no less lively and inspired.

I tasted Brunello for the first time in 1989, when I traveled to Montalcino on a family holiday. Over the years, I have returned on numerous occasions, to visit my old friends in Bagno Vignoni, to dine at the Trattoria Il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo in Colle, to soothe my soul with the intonations of Gregorian chants at Sant’Antimo, and to wander through the rolling hills of the Val d’Orcia and breathe in the dolce aere tosco, the sweet Tuscan air, to borrow a phrase from Francis Petrarch.

Since word of an investigation of Brunello producers first hit the blogosphere in late March, myriad accusations and allegations have been thrown about, videlicet, that producers had used other grapes besides Sangiovese (the only permitted by law) in their Brunello. On Wednesday of last week the Italian agricultural minister announced that the controversy had ended (but has it?).

I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark. And so I would like to share with you the following reflections regarding the so-called “Brunello scandal.”

When I first visited the wine country there in the shadow of benevolent Mt. Amiata, my friends poured me Brunello di Montalcino side-by-side with the wines of Bolgheri (about a 2-hour drive to the west, on the coast). The former, made from Sangiovese grapes, was bright in color and clear, austere and tannic but balanced by acidity, and natural fruit flavor. The latter were dark and opaque, made from Cabernet and Merlot, with remarkable fruit and tobacco flavors, the tannins mellowed by aging in new French and Slavonian oak barrels. Over the last two decades, some of the wines made in Montalcino — by certain producers — began, more and more, to resemble those made on the coast.

This phenomenon was no secret. Many local residents told me that they had noticed a change in the wines and wine writers in the U.S. took note, rewarding the wines that had seemingly been transformed with higher and higher scores. At least one such wine even received a “perfect” score of 100 points out of 100 from one of America’s leading wine magazines.

This is the truth, the plain truth. But this letter is long, Sir, and it is time to conclude it.

J’accuse…! the Siena prosecutor for launching a criminal investigation in the first place: the issue of adulterated Brunello should have been handled by the Italian agricultural ministry (and not as a criminal allegation).

J’accuse…! the ex-president of the Consortium of Brunello producers for making matters worse by not responding to inquiries by the press and subsequently by the U.S. government for information about rumored investigations.

J’accuse…! the investigated winemakers for not coming forward and revealing their identity while others’ reputations were at stake and were subsequently damaged by virtue of association.

J’accuse…! the editors of L’Espresso who coined the term “Velenitaly” (PoisonItaly) in reference to supposed health risks in other food and wine products and wrongly associated it with the Brunello scandal — the very week of the Italian wine trade fair! This was a case of sloppy, “yellow” journalism and served only to sell magazines.

J’accuse…! the Italian ministry of Agriculture who handled the affaire with marked partisan (Separatist) attitude. His hubris is only matched by his unnecessary and inexplicable delay in dealing with the issue.

Perhaps we’ll remember l’Affaire Brunello not as the Brunello scandal but rather as the “‘Brunello scandal’ scandal.”

With deepest respect, Sir.

Edoardo Bianchi
Paris
7 July 2008

Mel Brooks: “It’s all good [at Mozza].”

mel_brooks

Leave it to Mel Brooks to give a new spin to the Hollywood cliché “It’s all good.” General manager and wine director David Rosoff was kind enough to let me snap a pic of this check presenter comments card the other night at Mozza in Los Angeles, signed by no other than the man himself, Adolf “Elizabeth” Hitler, otherwise known as Mel Brooks (Some of you will undoubtedly know the “Elizabeth” punchline: “he came from a long line of queens.”) Evidently, after dining with his longtime collaborator Carl Reiner in the osteria one night, Mel couldn’t help himself from making yet another Hitler joke. There are so many good ones by Mel but my favorite remains “Heil myself” (right up there with “Say Heil – Heil – siegety Heil”).

Who’d have ever thought I’d actually be able to use “Adolf Hitler” as a tag?

Just in from Montalcino…

My friend Alessandro Bindocci, whose family makes traditional-style Brunello (at Il Poggione in Sant’Angelo in Colle, one of my favorite producers of Brunello), sent me a copy of the Italian agriculture minister’s decree establishing an official government body (the ICQ) to provide Brunello producers with “declarations” that their wines are 100% Sangiovese. I’ve translated the salient passages of the decree and posted at VinoWire.

Q&A: Disgorging Movia Puro

This morning, one of my favorite wine bloggers, Brooklynguy, stopped by Do Bianchi and inquired about Movia’s Puro (yesterday, I posted a photo of Jon Erickson of Jaynes Gastropub disgorging a bottle of the traditional method sparkling wine).

The unusual thing about this wine is that Aleš Kristančič of Movia does not disgorge the wine before release. If handled properly, the wine is stored upside down so that the sediment settles in the neck of the bottle. In order to disgorge it, you place the bottle upside down in a vessel filled with water (ideally a clear punch bowl or similar), you hold the cork in one hand as you gently twist the bottle with the other, and when the sediment is released into the water, you turn the bottle right side up. As long as the sediment has settled entirely in the neck before disgorging, the wine will be clear (not cloudy).

Earlier this year, I found this YouTube video of an Italian sommelier disgorging a bottle (note that he has another bottle positioned upside down in a black cardboard tube that Movia now ships with the wine):

It looks like it’s hard to do and the first time you do it, your instinct is that the bottle is going to “backfire” toward you. But it’s actually really easy and while Nous Non Plus was staying at Movia in April, Aleš had each of us disgorge a bottle (even the girls and the drummer). I know that at least one NYC retailer of Italian wines sends out erroneous instructions about disgorging the wine: despite what the so-called “Italian wine experts” claim, you DO NOT NEED TO FREEZE THE SEDIMENT IN THE NECK of the bottle. You simply need to store the bottle upside down at your preferred serving temperature (I like my Puro at “cellar” temperature, not overly chilled).

He makes it look easy (and it is): Jean-Luc Retard (vox, bass) aka Dan Crane aka Björn Türoque disgorges a bottle of Movia Puro Rosé during a break from our recording session in May. We didn’t have a punch bowl so we used the sink in the studio’s kitchen. Björn is a veteran Air Guitar champ: check out his website.

Resolution of the Brunello controversy? Let’s hope so…

The Italian minister of agriculture will hold a press conference tomorrow to announce the resolution of the Brunello controversy. Click here to read my translation of his press release.

Stay tuned… and let’s hope that this mess will finally be resolved… Speriamo bene…