Dany le rouge

Nous Non Plus had a rocking time last night at the Bridging the Gaps Green Party party in Frankfurt an der Oder. But the real star of the evening was Daniel Cohn-Bendit (above, dancing), Dany le rouge (Danny “the Red”), one of the leaders of the student protests in May 1968 in France and the co-president of the European Greens–European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. He had just delivered the key-note talk, where he spoke about the crisis in Georgia and the Greens’ role in moving forward.

The party was fantastic, we did three encores, and then we danced away into the night with lots of new Green friends. Nous Non Plus has played a lot of crazy shows in our time but never had we seen a conga line in the audience. What a great crowd and what a great time. That air kiss above? The recipient knows who she is ;-).

Lunch in Poland

Above: Nous Non Plus was reunited yesterday afternoon at the train station in Berlin and headed down to Frankfurt an der Oder to check into our hotel and sound check for our show tonight.

After sound check in Frankfurt an der Oder and a good night sleep (much needed), we walked across the bridge to Słubice, Poland. What a thrill for me to return to the country where most of my great-grandparents and a lot of great aunts and uncles were born (of course, that was another time and they all left because their lives were pretty hard, pretty much all of them before the Russian Revolution). My last name, Parzen (which comes to me through my grandmother’s second marriage, not through kinship), was the name of a shtetl outside Warsaw.

We found an awesome little smoke-filled place in the heart of the local market (the bazar) called Smakosz. Kielbasa, schnitzel, and skewers of roast pork cubes alternated with lard and onions, and a variety of pickled cabbage salads. Seems we found the best place in the market because it was packed. If you ever make it to Słubice, definitely check it out. The food was fantastic and the beer cold.

Above: the facade at Smakosz. The girl behind the counter told me they have another location in town.

Above: chanterelle mushrooms are in season and many vendors had them for sale.

Above: the ladies in the butcher shop had a laugh when I asked if I could photograph the sausage.

Above: a view from the Oder river that divides Słubice and Frankfurt.

Above: Jean-Luc Retard aka Dan Crane aka Bjorn Turoque really enjoyed his lunch in Poland. Dan’s nickname in the band is “Snackboy Junior” or just “Snack” because of his propensity to snack. He arrived in Germany from Finland where he had MC’d the International Air Guitar Championships (I’m not kidding).

Holy tomato

My flight for Berlin leaves shortly but I couldn’t take off without posting on my dinner last night with my buddy David Schachter at Il Grano in West Los Angeles. During the summer, Chef Salvatore Marino (from Naples) does an all heirloom tomato menu using fruit he grows in his yard in Hancock Park (Los Angeles). David and I did six small-plate dishes featuring the sweet solanaceae. Highlights were chef Salvatore’s tomato risotto with candied lemon peel and his “PBT”, a prosciutto, burrata, and tomato sandwich served on toasted white bread. The crudo was also excellent and the sepia-ink grissini were pretty darn sexy.

Chef Salvatore rightly calls his menu the “sagra del pomodoro” or tomato festival.

Salvatore’s playful take on the BLT, his PBT.

David brought 2004 Silex and I brought La Chablisienne 2004 Chablis Premier Cru. Both wines paired well with the acidity and sweetness in the many different types of tomatoes we tasted.

The sagra del pomodoro continues for a few more weeks at Il Grano. Definitely worth checking out.

Il Grano
11359 Santa Monica Blvd
between Purdue and Corinth
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 477-7886

Montalcino: the next step? Angelo Gaja weighs in.

Above: that’s my good friend Robin Stark (center right) tasting with legendary Piedmontese winemaker Angelo Gaja on one of her wine-themed bike trips in Piedmont. Our mutual friend Terry Hughes over at Mondosapore likes to call me Zelig but Robin makes me look like Forrest Gump!

Legendary winemaker Angelo Gaja made news today when he published an open letter calling for changes in Brunello appellation regulations that would allow for the use of grapes other than Sangiovese. I have translated an excerpt at VinoWire.

As I get ready for my trip to Germany and Montalcino, I wish I had time to translate the entire letter, which is already creating waves in the blogosphere. But I’ve been busy working on the production of our record, getting ready for my trip (see below), and taking some time out to stop and smell the roses (yellow roses, in this case).

Angelo Gaja is one of the most charismatic and interesting figures in the world of Italian wine — and the world of wine period. I’ve met and tasted with him on a few occasions, including once at the winery. The Gaja winery is a unique experience, an objet d’art in and unto itself, where modern sculpture and architecture live side-by-side with the wine. Years ago, Gaja caused a controversy when he proposed that the Barolo and Barbaresco appellations be changed to allow for the use of international grape varieties. And after he was unsuccessful in his bid to revise the appellations, he declassified his site-designated wines. No one knows exactly what he puts in them but they are among Italy’s most collected — if not the most collected. A long-time proponent of barriqued Nebbiolo, Gaja makes wines that even the most fervent detractors of new oak aging will gladly drink. I’ve tasted Gaja back to 1971 and have to say that his wines are simply exquisite. He also produces high-end wines in Montalcino and Bolgheri.

Here’s a interesting passage that I translated but didn’t include in the post at VinoWire.

    In the 1960s, there were less than 60 hectares of vineyards planted to Sangiovese earmarked for the production of Brunello di Montalcino. There were roughly twenty producers, and no more than 150,000 bottles were produced [every year]. In the same period, there were 500 hecatres planted to Nebbiolo in Barolo, 115 producers/bottlers, and 3,000,000 bottles of Barolo produced annually. While Barolo did not have a leading figure, Brunello di Montalcino already had Biondi Santi: its founding father, an artisan who over time had raised the flag of quality high and he had also raised the price of his aristocratic, rare, and precious Brunello, available only to the few who could afford it.

    And then came Banfi…

He doesn’t take issue with Banfi but he reveals how the expansion of Sangiovese vineyards, spearheaded by Banfi, led to many “large” producers (as he puts it) planting Sangiovese in growing site that don’t have the right soil and climate conditions to grow superior Sangiovese. This phenomenon, he says, is what led to the current controversy there. It’s important to note that Banfi’s expansion and extremely successful marketing of Brunello made the appellation a house-hold name in the U.S. I remember the first time I saw a bottle of Brunello at the supermarket in La Jolla in the early 1990s: it was Banfi.

I wish I had time to translate the entire letter but you can read it in Italian here.

Germany, get ready for Nous Non Plus

Above: Nous Non Plus’ new release “Ménagerie” will be available on Aeronaut Records sometime in November. Stay tuned…

I haven’t even finished posting about my April trip to Europe and here I am about to depart for Germany, where I’ll be performing with NNP (that’s short for Nous Non Plus) at Viadrina University (near Berlin) on Saturday night. We’re doing a show as part of the Green Party’s “Green European Summer 2008 Bridging the Gaps” festival (scroll down to Saturday August 30 for show info). If you happen to be in or around Berlin on Saturday, please come on down (the show is free and you can always email me to let me know you’re coming since I’ll have my blackberry with me).

On Monday, September 1, I head down to Montalcino where I’ll be tasting and talking to winemakers, trying to find out what’s happening “on the ground,” so to speak.

So please stay tuned!

Reports of August 15 hail in Montalcino confirmed

At least one grower has confirmed reports of an August 15 hail storm in Montalcino. I’m sad to report that the 2008 harvest was damaged (up to 35%, according to the post) but I am glad to see that someone in Montalcino is bringing much-needed transparency to the appellation. Franco was the first to post about the storm, which occurred last Friday, and until now, no one had stepped forward to confirm or deny the report.

Brooklyn Guy in da house at Bahia

Jon and Jayne brought 2006 Sinskey Vin Gris for our dinner with Brooklyn Guy and Brooklyn Lady in La Jolla.

When Brooklyn Guy and Brooklyn Lady sat down with me over ceviche tostadas, camaronillas (deep-fried corn tortillas stuffed with shrimp), grilled mahi mahi and battered and fried pollock tacos the other night at Bahia Don Bravo the other night in Bird Rock (La Jolla), we mused about the fact that even though we’d never met, we feel like we know each other well from reading each other’s blogs and getting to know each other’s palates. As it turns out, Brooklyn Lady is from San Diego and went to high school in La Jolla like me (she at Bishops, me at La Jolla High). I was geeked to meet Brooklyn Guy (the masked man of our bloggy blog world), as were Jon and Jayne, Robin, and my wino buddy John Yelenosky. We’re all fans of his blog and we had gathered a pretty cool collection of wines for the occasion.

The Rully was showing exceedingly well and its lightness was great with the fish tacos.

Highlights were the 2006 Sinskey Vin Gris (brought by Jon and Jayne), a killer 2005 Rully Premier Cru Les Cloux by Jacqueson (Yelenosky), a smoking 2000 Dessilani Ghemme Riserva (my contribution, drank so friggin’ well, if I do say so myself), and not to be outdone, Brooklyn Guy showed up with a bottle of 1996 Fleury, one of his favorite grower champagnes — simply off-the-charts good.

I ventured back into the kitchen and poured Dora a glass of the 96 Fleury.

Brooklyn Guy, Brooklyn Lady, and I actually had a pretty heavy talk about life, relationships, and marriage. He and I had never met in person but he’s been a very generous friend, often sending me notes of encouragement and moral support when he could sense unease in my life through reading my blog. It’s one of the most amazing things about blogging: by sharing our thoughts and palates, we somehow form meaningful bonds, woven (thanks to the dynamic medium) into the human fabric of experience in an entirely new way. You might think that friendships born of blogging would be superficial, but as it turns out those ties often reveal themselves to be more significant than those forged in other spheres of our lives.

It’s a small world after all…

Lifeguards and tattoos, classic beachtown culture at Bahia Don Bravo in sleepy La Jolla. Roberto and Salvador have been really cool about me bringing my own wine to Bahia but we really outdid ourselves this time: I mean, come on, 1996 Fleury at Bahia???!!! Awesome… They both tasted with us, as did Dora.

I may not be a rock star part II and a killer Rosso di Montepulciano

From the “I may not be a rock star but sometimes I get to hang out with rock stars” department…

Above: Michael Andrews has become one of Hollywood’s hippest producers and film composers. He recently produced Inara George’s An Invitation, a collaboration with legendary arranger, songwriter, and producer Van Dyke Parks. That’s boogaloo and jazz master Robert Walter behind Mike.

Living in Los Angeles has been really fun. I’ve been catching up with so many of my old places, checking out new ones, digging the city where I lived for so many years, and reconnecting with old friends.

Last week Dan Crane (aka Jean-Luc Retard, vox and bass, Nous Non Plus) threw a little party for our friend Inara George, whose An Invitation was just released by Everloving Records. The album is fascinating and the tracks, arranged by the legendary Van Dyke Parks, were produced at the historic Sunset Sound studios by my childhood friend Mike Andrews. Check out the liner notes at Inara’s myspace. I have to say, I’m a fan: it’s thrilling to hear contemporary music with orchestral arrangements and Inara’s writing has never been better. My favorite track is “Don’t Let It Get You” but the album is really a cohesive arc of characters, moods, and musical colors draped in a gorgeous orchestral score. Listen to it in one sitting.

Dan (above, center) prepared a great menu:

  • Pierre Robert and Petit Basque cheeses
  • Arugula salad with grilled figs, goat cheese, toasted almonds and fresh mint lemon vinaigrette
  • Five-spice rubbed pork chops with orange marmalade glaze
  • Couscous with pine nuts, cinnamon, raisins and parsley
  • Grilled fennel, zucchini and italian yellow squash with fresh thyme
  • Fresh berries with limoncello mascarpone cream
  • And he had asked me to do the wines. Standouts were a 2007 Tocai Friulano by Venica and Venica,* with great acidity and fresh fruit flavors to pair with arugula salad, and a 2006 Rosso di Montepulciano by Sanguineto, which went great with Dan’s killer pork chops. My buddy Lance at Wine House recently turned me on to Sanguineto and it has catapulted to the top of the list of my current favorite red wines. It’s made from Prugnolo Gentile (the name of the Sangiovese clone used in Montepulciano) with smaller amounts of Canaiolo and Mammolo grapes (the Rosso di Montepulciano appellation was created in 1989 and appellation regulations for both Rosso and Vino Nobile allow for the blending of Cannaiolo and other varieties in the wine). The wine is brilliantly traditional in style (aged in large, old oak barrels), with great acidity, beautiful red fruit flavors, and just the right amount of tannin to give it some backbone. Both the Tocai and the Rosso di Montepulciano retail for about $20. ($20 is the new $10, btw.)

    In our high-school days, Mike and I used to enjoy playing Beatles songs. I had to pinch myself: there I was singing and strumming, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” and “Here, There, and Everywhere,” accompanied by Inara, Mike, Dan, and Robert Walter (probably best known for his work with Greyboy Allstars but also an amazing avant-garde jazz cat).

    Life could be worse…

    Hauling all the stuff you have from one place to the other side
    Humming all the notes you heard in no particular order

    You’re coming out, you bought the ticket

    Don’t let it get you…

    * Producers of Tocai Friulano are no longer allowed to label their Tocai Friulano as such and so they write “Friulano” these days. Some years ago, the Hungarian government petitioned the EC (European Commission), asking it to disallow the use of “Tocai Friulano”: the homonymous Tocai created confusion in the marketplace with regard to their Tokaj (a toponym and appellation name), claimed the Hungarians, who ultimately prevailed. I continue to say “Tocai Friulano” and the Hungarians can kiss my ass.

    Click here to read the EU press release on the court’s ruling and then click on the second release, “Opinion of the Advocate General in the case C-347/03” for a PDF.

    Georgian wine on my mind (or Back in the USSR)

    Above: a Russian tank in Prague in 1968 (photo by Josef Koudelka). Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy managed to convince the Russians to withdraw their tanks from Georgia. This morning, the title of the top story is “Russia, Pledging to Leave Georgia, Tightens Its Grip.”

    This week’s images of Russian tanks rolling toward Tbilisi brought to mind the photograph above. I was just a toddler during the Prague Spring of 1968. The thought of a Russia-occupied Georgia is a chilling one that evokes another ominous moment in Czechoslovakia and Europe’s history, 1938.

    On a day like today, it seems a feckless act to write about wine but as I’ve been thinking about Georgia, it occurred to me that I have tasted Georgian wines on a number of occasions and that Georgia is largely considered one of the cradles of western viticulture. When I lived in New York, I knew a lot of Russian folks. When I was their guest or they mine, a bottle of generally sweet Georgian wine often made an appearance the table. The wines were never very good but they were always served with memorable pride and pleasure. Jamie Goode wrote this short but informative post about Georgian wine a few years ago and the Wikipedia entry is useful as well.

    Georgia and Georgian wine are on my mind.

    George W. is also on my mind. He’s been mountain-biking in Crawford, Texas over the weekend. There’s a paradoxical saying in Italian: non ho parole, in other words, I have no words.

    No peace, no peace I find
    Just an old sweet song

    From one French extreme to another in Hollywood

    Above: oxidized Brin de Chèvre (Menu Pineau) by Puzelat at Lou on Vine.

    There is more interesting wine in Los Angeles than the skeptic in me expected to find here. This week found me at Lou on Vine, a fantastic natural wine bar located next to a Thai Massage parlor in a strip mall on the corner of Melrose and Vine. Lou is my new favorite Southland hangout and I’ll be devoting a post to it soon. Sommelier David poured me a glass of super stinky, excellent 2006 Menu Pineau — a rare Loire variety — by natural winemaker Puzelat. Its initial nose of nail polish remover (noted my friend and Nous Non Plus’ manager John Mastro) gave way to nutty and fruit flavors. I really dug this wine, as did John.

    Above: halibut with bacon, sorrel and gribiche paired nicely with the Corton-Charlemagne generously opened by David Schachter.

    Yesterday delivered the other extreme in the spectrum of French viticulture with a 2005 Corton-Charlemagne by Jadot, corked by my friend and collector David Schachter at AOC, one of Tinseltown’s wine-centric mainstays. This was one of the most gorgeous expressions of Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted and whatever minerality it may have lost in the warm vintage was made up for by a wide range of fruit flavors that revealed themselves over the course of the evening (I reserved a glass to drink at the end of the night). The restaurant seemed a little off (a “B+ evening” for the venue, said David) but the wine service was excellent and I definitely want to check it out again. He also opened a 1999 Cascina Francia by Conterno. It was very tight but opened up nicely.

    Life in the City of Angels seems to be defined by extremes like these. So far, so good…