Rolling with MZ at Jaynes

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

Above: we paired Ca’ del Bosco 2001 Annamaria Clemente — one of the greatest vintages for this wine, said Maurizio Zanella — with steamed Baja mussels at Jaynes last night. It’s a tough life, but someone’s gotta do it, right?

Flew in from Austin yesterday and rolled right into dinner with rock star winemaker Maurizio Zanella at Jaynes Gastropub last night. Friend and fellow wine rocker Robin was also in attendance.

I’ve met and tasted with Maurizio a number of times (and I recently tasted a 1979 Ca’ del Bosco disgorged à la volée at his winery). He is a true rock star among winemakers and his appetites and lust for life are stuff of legend. He’s also just a really cool guy who likes to talk about his experience as a student in Europe in 1968, about music, and about what it means to make real wine in a time when the marketing so often overshadows quality among sparkling wine producers.

I was geeked to ask Maurizio about the now legendary trip he made with Luigi Veronelli to California in 1981 (check out my post on Veronelli and new oak aging from October 2007): Veronelli wrote 1982, but Maurizio told me 1981 last night).

    “The real reason behind the trip,” Maurizio said, “was that [the great Friulian winemaker] Mario Schiopetto was suffering from back problems and had to go to Minneapolis to visit a specialist doctor. So, we decided to go with him and help him and from there we decided to California. We got off the plane in Los Angeles and headed right to Spago on Sunset Blvd. When the waiter took our order, I told him that we wanted ‘every thing on the menu.’ There were only four of us. So, Wolf[gang Puck] came out and said who are these guys? We ended up eating everything on the menu and Wolf and have been friends ever since. We asked him which was the best restaurant in Los Angeles and he sent us to Piero [Selvaggio] of Valentino. And it was Piero who organized our trip to visit all the great Napa valley wineries. I was completely amazed by the fact that the Californians were using the same winemaking practices that I studied in France [in Burgundy and then in Bordeaux]. I went back to Ca’ del Bosco and changed everything.”

Giacomo Bologna was with them, too. Bologna returned and created Bricco dell’Uccellone — probably the first and definitely the most famous barrique-aged Barbera. Maurizio made the first Italian barrique-aged Chardonnay. And Veronelli exhorted Italian winemakers to use new oak in his Catalogo dei vini d’Italia and he invited André Tchelistcheff to lecture at Palazzo Antinori in Florence.

Modernity had arrived. All because Mario Schiopetto had a bad back…

Yo, MZ, I like the way you roll…

Some how, some way, you just keep coming up with funky ass shit like every single day…


Alessandro just posted the results of the voting here. Brunello will continue to be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. Long live Brunello! Long live Sangiovese! (And nicely done, Alessandro!).

Brunello vote results expected shortly but looking good

I wish I could say I broke this story at VinoWire but I must give credit where credit is due: my buddy Alessandro Bindocci is posting on the Brunello vote results at his blog Montalcino Report. I’m glued to my seat and am keeping my fingers crossed for Brunello to remain Brunello (100% Sangiovese). Long live Sangiovese!

Sue me, Summus… Banfi proposes 3-5% “tolerance” of international varieties

That’s Cristina Mariani to the left, owner of Banfi Vintners, one of the world’s largest and most powerful winemakers. Her family’s winery is one of the largest producers of Brunello di Montalcino.

Yesterday, on the eve of the Brunello Consortium’s historic vote on whether or not to allow blending of grapes other than Sangiovese, she and her company issued a statement in which they declare their support for a 3-5% “tolerance” of other grapes and for a new “Super Tuscan” Rosso di Montalcino designation:

    “It is our strong belief that the heritage of Brunello rests solidly on the ennobled Sangiovese grape, and therein rests its future as well. This is why we dedicated our resources over the past thirty years in our ‘Pursuit of Excellence,’ collaborating with leading scholars to research, register and plant optimal clones of Sangiovese in their ideal soils on our estate. And this is why we will support the move to maintain the definition of Brunello di Montalcino as being made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape, with only a minimal (3%-5%) tolerance to be included in Brunello Appellation Rule to provide for human error in the vineyards or winery, as befitting a truly artisan production.

    At the same time, we will work with our supportive neighbors to develop Rosso di Montalcino into a broader appellation that will allow Sangiovese to contribute its special character to a blend of other varietals, and continue to pursue the expression of the region’s unique terroir in ‘Montalcino Super Tuscan’ wines.”

There’s a saying in Italian, avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca, to have your cask full and your wife drunk. In other words, Ms. Mariani and her company want to have their cake and eat it too.

I’m sorry, Cristina, but sue me, Summus. You write: this is why we will support the move to maintain the definition of Brunello di Montalcino as being made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape, with only a minimal (3%-5%) tolerance to be included in Brunello. There seems to be some faulty logic here. Or do I not understand the meaning of the word exclusive?

The critical theorist in me can’t decide if I should apply a Marxist or Freudian reading to your conflict. But the Lacanian me reminds me that the signifier always precedes the signified.

In the words of the great Big Joe Turner, either you is, or either you ain’t (Lipstick, Powder, and Paint).

And in the words of James Suckling, LET BRUNELLO BE BRUNELLO!

On the eve of a historic vote, a 1975 Brunello by Lisini

Above: the 1975 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino was one of the most beautiful expressions of Sangiovese I’ve ever tasted. The wine was so bright and alive, with gorgeous acidity, red fruit flavors, and the elegant tannin that defines truly great Brunello. Look at the clear color of the wine: 100% Sangiovese. THANK YOU ALFONSO!

Austin, Texas—Last night Tracie B. and I opened a bottle of 1975 Brunello di Montalcino by Lisini, given to us by Italian Wine Guy. The wine was simply divine. Here are Tracie B.’s tasting notes:

menthol, cedar and sottobosco (woodsy), pecan pie and cherries with cinnamon, tar and liquorice, cherry vanilla oatmeal with cinnamon, chocolate (only for a second)… two constants: cinnamon and vanilla caramel…

The fact that on Monday, members of the Brunello Consortium will vote on whether or not to change appellation regulations was not lost on us. Currently, regulations require that the wine be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, grown in Montalcino. Many believe — as do I — that over the last decades, unscrupulous Brunello producers have blended international grapes, and most notoriously Merlot, in their wines.

Above: it was tough to pull that cork but Mr. Bianchi knew what to do!

To put it all into perspective, I sat down and took a look at a book that’s been sitting on my virtual shelves for some time: I vitigni stranieri da vino coltivati in Italia or Foreign Grape Varieties Cultivated in Italy, by Salvatore Mondini, Firenze (Florence), Barbèra Editore, 1903 (reprint Zazzera, Lodi, 1998). Keep in mind the date of the original publication of this tome, 1903:

    “Tuscany has the greatest number of foreign wine grape varieties in Italy… These plantings, however, rarely reach important quantities, save for Gamay, which is widely planted, particularly in the province of Pisa. … When he saw the scarce productivity of planting foreign varieties, the inferiority of the wines they produced, and the difficulties caused by their early ripening (which consequently affected the progress of the harvest), Baron Ricasoli decided to transform his vineyards by grafting Tuscan varieties onto the foreign varieties previously introduced there” (p. 45, translations mine).

Mondini is referring to the famous letter sent by Baron Ricasoli (1809-1880, producer of Chianti Classico and the second prime minister of unified Italy) to Professor Cesare Studiati in 1872, in which the Baron writes:

    “As early as 1840, I began experimenting with every grape variety. I cultivated each one in significant quantities on my Brolio estate. Our goal was to test the quality and taste of the wines produced from each grape.”

    “Following this comparative study, I restricted the number of grapes at Brolio and began growing Sangioveto, Canaiolo, and Malvasia almost exclusively. In 1867, I decided once again to make wine using these three grapes. I made a relatively large vat of each one and then I blended the three in another vat using exact proportions” (translation mine).

There are “plantings of Merlot in Italy,” wrote Mondini, only in ten provinces belonging to the regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia, Tuscany, Latium, and the Mediterranean [coastal areas] of the South” (p. 294).

“In Tuscany, there are some very limited plantings of Merlot in the provinces of Lucca and Pisa” (p. 296).

As the documents above reveal, historically, Tuscan growers have not favored Merlot. It’s a pity that so much Merlot has been planted in Montalcino over the last two decades.

Yesterday, I read another document that gave me hope that Brunello will come out of this mess unscathed. I rarely agree with James Suckling’s take on Italian wine but I was thrilled to see that he spoke out against a change that would allow the blending of grapes other than Sangiovese.

You need to subscribe to the Wine Spectator site to be able to read his blog (yes, I admit it, I subscribe!). But I’ve copied and pasted the following passages below.

    “I think that Montalcino is the greatest place on earth to grow Sangiovese, and allowing Brunello to be something other than 100 percent Sangiovese would be scandalous. … No thank you!” …

    “Something as unique and as delicious as a great Sangiovese from Montalcino needs to be protected, even cherished. Its great quality can’t be replicated any place in the world, except for a few other parts of Tuscany. There are other DOCs in the Montalcino area and the rest of Tuscany for blended wines. Let Brunello be Brunello.”

I couldn’t agree more: Let Brunello be Brunello. Chapeau, James. I hope Brunello producers are listening.

Live guest blogging: Salone del Gusto 2008 Turin

This just in from my friend and colleague Carla Ranicki who’s working at the Salone del Gusto in Turin today.

Thursday at Salone del Gusto is always fairly calm, with everyone gearing up for the huge crowds that will pack into Turin’s Lingotto exhibition center over the weekend.

The buzzwords this year are sustainability and education, with separate trash cans for paper, compost, plastic, etc. prominently placed next to displays about the importance of reusing leftover food, and lots of posterboards promoting the new eco-friendly Salone and exhorting consumers not to buy strawberries in December.

But ultimately it was still all about an excess of every possible kind of food and drink from all over the world, with everything on offer from raw fish at the Japanese stand to raw reindeer at the Norwegian restaurant next door.

The unusual cheeses of Marayn de Bartassac from Gascony were proving very popular, while the extravagant display from the Prosciutto di San Daniele consortium looked like some kind of conceptual art installation.

Photos by Carla Ranicki. Thanks Carla!

Do the math: Siena prosecutor speaks out on Brunello investigation

Earlier this week, Banfi issued a press release announcing that its 2003 Brunello di Montalcino had been released by Siena authorities (it was impounded in April 2008). Evidently in response to Banfi’s press release and the newspaper articles and blog posts that followed, the Siena prosecutor sent a statement to members of the press today.

Click here to read the post published by Franco and me at VinoWire.

Our sources on the ground in Montalcino tell us that nearly half of Banfi’s 2003 release — Rosso and Brunello — had to be declassified.

Read our post and do the math…

Dear Ezio Rivella and Thomas Matthews, please give me a call…

In his post on Friday, Eric referenced my post at Do Bianchi (please see also the post published by me and Franco Ziliani at VinoWire).

In my post on the October 3 Brunello debate, I wrote:

As I watched the live streaming of the Brunello debate on Friday, I couldn’t help but think of Marinetti’s calls to abolish pasta and to “murder the moonshine” (uccidiamo il chiaro di luna! or let’s kill the claire de lune, 1909) when I heard one of Italy’s leading enologists, Ezio Rivella, say that “Sangiovese is a ‘lean’ grape with little color” and that the Italian wine industry would be better served by “using international grape varieties” and “making wines more international in style.”

“You don’t win a 100 points from the Wine Spectator,” said Rivella, “using just Sangiovese.”

Yesterday, Thomas Matthews, executive editor of Wine Spectator, made the following comment on Eric’s post:

After reading this blog entry, I called Ezio Rivella, who is currently in Rome, and spoke with him and James Suckling, Wine Spectator’s lead taster for the wines of Italy. Rivella told us the quotation referenced above was taken out of context, that his point was only to say that Sangiovese can benefit from blending in many cases. He wishes that Mr. Asimov had called him directly to discuss this issue.

Dear Ezio and Thomas, it’s a matter of fact: the statement was made in the context of a debate on whether or not the Brunello appellation regulations should be changed to allow the blending of international grape varieties. And it’s the fact of the matter: Rivella made that statement, voice raised, pointing his finger at Franco and admonishing him, during a debate on whether or not international grapes should be allowed in the Brunello appellation. I watched the debate live over the internet and Franco was there!

Thomas, me thinks thou dost protest too much.

Ezio, feel free to give me a call. Franco knows how to get in touch with me and I know that you and he are in cordial if not friendly contact.

Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D.


In other news…

Over at Montalcino Report, my friend Alessandro Bindocci reports that 153 Brunello producers have now signed an open letter to agriculture minister Luca Zaia and the Brunello Consortium asking them to keep Brunello 100% Sangiovese. 149 had signed the original letter last week and that number already represented a majority of producers.

A great SF wine store, Georgian wine, and some interesting posts

Above: the inimitable Ceri Smith, owner and creator of Biondivino, named San Francisco’s “best wine shop” by the San Francisco Gate the very day I visited her, and Chris Terrell, importer of intriguing Georgian wines.

When I was in San Francisco last week, I had the great pleasure to meet Ceri Smith, owner and creator of Biondivino and one of the top Italian wine experts in our country. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Italian wine simply blew me away and her store — however small — is one of the most delightful places on earth. She specializes in Italian wine but carries a few French, Slovenian, and Georgian labels. Her collection of Italian sparkling wine is probably the best in the country and she sells a few Champagnes as well. She was gracious enough to share a coveted bottle of Valentini 2001 Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo with me, one of her favorites, she said. A fantastic wine…

Above: I really liked Vinoterra’s Kisi, which should cost around $20 retail. Look at the beautiful color on that wine. Really great, oxidized, tasty, stinky stuff — the way I like it. It’s high time to take Georgian wine seriously.

We were also joined by importer Chris Terrell who specializes in Georgian wines. He had contacted me after he read my post on the war in Georgia. Chris first fell in love with Georgian wine when he biked through the Caucusus and tasted these amazing bottlings. We tasted through eight Georgian wines by two producers, each unique, surprising, and intriguing. I particularly liked the Kisi (an indigenous Georgian grape) by Vinoterra, aged in amphora. Vinoterra served as inspiration and model for the extreme wines of Gravner, which he began to age in amphora some years ago after he visited Vinoterra.

In other news…

Here are some top bloggers in my Google reader and some interesting posts I’ve read by them recently. As the saying goes, ubi major, minor cessat…

My good friend Alice Feiring just launched this New York Times blog about her experience making wine for the first time. I’m one of her biggest fans.

Dr. Vino by Tyler Colman is one of the most popular wine blogs in the U.S. and a leading resource for tasting notes, wine news and trivia. Tyler’s pièce de résistance is his research on the carbon footprint of wine. I was particularly impressed by this post in which he debunks the myth of Beaujolais Nouveau, “Boycott Beaujolais Nouveau”. It’s hard-hitting stuff and a must read.

Italian Wine Guy aka Alfonso Cevola, another good friend of mine, is hands-down the top Italian wine blogger in the U.S. This guy knows his stuff and his blog is a daily read for me. I love the way that Alfonso bends our genre, always pushing the envelope in ways that surprise and entertain me. His recent post on Luca Zaia’s “mommy blog” is one of his most daring and politically charged. Chapeau, Alfonso!

Un sabato da leoni (Big Saturday)

Does anyone remember the film Big Wednesday? Arguably, one of the greatest surf movies ever made. In Italian the title was translated as Un mercoledì da leoni, literally, a Wednesday for lions.

This weekend I had a Saturday for lions of sorts: I was invited to take part in a birthday celebration for a friend, an Angeleno wine collector.

Here’s a little photo essay and some notes and highlights: a window into a rarefied world of raw hamachi flown in from Tokyo, served as sashimi and tartare, dressed with colatura di alici (the juice of white anchovy), and paired with R.D. 1975 Dom Perignon and 1982 Krug; Nova Scotia lobster soufflé paired with Grand Cru white Burgundy; and creamy risotto and semolina gnocchi topped with shaved white truffles from Piedmont and old Nebbiolo — 13 dishes in all and a flight of 20 wines.

The celebrant’s mother, who lives in New York, hand-polished the family silver and had it sent it to him for the occasion.

In Los Angeles, it’s even harder than in NYC to get great truffles. These were among the best I’ve ever had, with aromatics comparable to those I’ve eaten in situ. Look at the size of that sucka!

Not every course was as photogenic as the garganelli but each dish (and only one serving was allowed per Bacchanalian) inspired orgasmic oohs and aahs among the all-male crowd. Chef Angelo Auriana’s ragù was ethereal and the pasta sublimely light yet firm and rich (my camera didn’t do justice to its egg-yolk color). But the risotto mantecato alla fonduta di cipolla bianca (onion fondue risotto) topped with shaved white truffles was my personal favorite.

My top wines (but, then again, I’m pretty predictable) were: Krug 1982, Lafon 1989 Mersault-Charmes, Giovannini Moresco 1979 Barbaresco, Robert Arnoux 1993 Romanée-Saint Vivant, Giacosa 1989 Santo Stefano Riserva, Giuseppe Rinaldi 1989 Barolo Riserva (magnum).

Some found this 1979 Barbaresco by Giovannini Moresco tired but I thought it was drinking great. The vineyard where the fruit for this wine was grown now belongs to another winemaker who blends Nebbiolo from this famed growing site with Merlot and Cabernet. Quel dommage! (If you don’t get the joke, click here.) This was the wine that intrigued me the most.

I was blown away by the youth and power of this 1989 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva. Barbaresco at its best — and this was one of the greatest expressions I’ve ever tasted — combines grace and strength. Diana never pleased her lover more…*

At the end of the night, I felt like Rubens’ Bacchus. It’s kinda like the old joke about the Rabbi, the Priest, and the ham sandwich: the 1992 Krug was one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted but I don’t need to drink it — well, at least not every day!

Click the image to read a label on the painting, which resides at the Hermitage. Note the color of the wine — white not red.

* Petrarch, RVF, madrigal 52 (translation by Mark Musa)

Diana never pleased her lover more,
when just by chance all of her naked body
he saw bathing within the chilly waters,

than did the simple mountain shepherdess
please me, the while she bathed the pretty veil
that holds her lovely blonde hair in the breeze.

So that even now in the hot sunlight she makes me
tremble all over with the chill of love.