Stop the presses: one more sparkling recommendation from David McDuff

David McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail is a daily read over here at Do Bianchi: I’ve always admired David’s writing on Italian wine and I really love how he brings Italian wine into context, like this great post, “Eating Israeli, drinking Italian.”

I know he must have heard it a thousand times but indulge me: “Lay on, Macduff!”

A Do Bianchi Xmas

When Jeremy invited me to send along a note or two from the Xmas holiday season, I figured, “Sure thing!” I could just write up the Extra Brut Réserve Champagne from Bérèche et Fils, the one and only wine I savored with Christmas dinner. But nah, it’s the holidays and everyone else will write up Champagne. So how about some Italian sparklers? I could regale his readers with stories of how good the Prosecco Montello e Colli Asolani Extra Dry from Bele Casel was with my wife’s frittata (mushroom, sausage and sage) and homemade scones we served at our post-holiday brunch. Or of how well G.D. Vajra’s 2007 Moscato d’Asti worked with the cherry pie our friend baked and brought along. But nah, those are too obvious as well, too much in keeping with the Italianate leanings here at Do Bianchi.

Finally, I decided on bubbles of another kind entirely: beer. I picked up a case of Jolly Pumpkin’s “La Roja” around holiday time last year and it’s been a real pleasure to check in with a bottle periodically, to experience its evolution from sour, bright and funky early in the year to its current state—mellower, slightly less tangy and altogether refreshing. Perfect with a simple dinner of shrimp and chips after all the Christmas season feasting. Now if only I knew what I’ll be doing for New Year’s…

David McDuff

One last “best” Champagne recommendation by BrooklynGuy

With the arrival of BrooklynBabyGirl2, BrooklynGuy has a lot to celebrate this New Year’s. He took time out to share this last-minute Champagne recommendation for your 2009 celebration. When it comes to value and quality in Champagne, no one beats BrooklynGuy.

1999 Henri Billiot Brut, $56, Terry Theise Selections / Michael Skurnik Imports.

Billiot’s wines are really a treat. Laetitia Billiot (Henri’s granddaughter, I believe) is in charge now, and there are still fewer than 4,000 cases per year of the 5 wines Billiot makes. Located in the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay in the Montagne de Reims, Billiot’s wines are comprised mostly of Pinot Noir, and the fruit is rich and joyous. The basic non-vintage Brut is typically excellent, although not cheap at almost $50. The rosé is one of the better ones I know of that is not made in the saignée method. Billiot adds still Pinot Noir from a 15 + year old solera to the blend to create the rosé, and it’s deeply complex and absolutely delicious. Cuvée Laetitia is the house’s top wine, along with the newer and in my opinion, less successful Cuvée Julie. Laetitia is also a solera wine and is, interestingly, mostly Chardonnay.

I think that when buying Billiot’s wines, it’s worth it to spend a couple more bucks to buy the vintage wines as opposed to the basic NV Brut. This one, the 1999, is the wine we opened as an aperitif with friends before Christmas dinner, the night before our daughter was born. It exceeded expectations—so graceful and controlled, such exuberant fruit, so rich and broad, yet with refined elegance. The texture is lush and fine, there is good acidity, and the finish really lingers with chalk-infused fruit fragrance. This wine has a great inner core of energetic fruit, and it’s just delicious. It will probably continue to improve with a few more years in a cold cellar. You might not be able to find the 99 on shelves now, but the 2002 is the new release and it may well surpass the 99 once it is ready to drink, in about 5-8 years.


Congratulations, BrooklynGuy, and thanks for sharing!

On the seventh night of Chanukah, my true love gave to me…

I know I promised that I wouldn’t post until after the New Year, but last night’s dinner was just too good not to share…

Above: Damn, that girl can cook! Tracie B fries up some latkes in her grandmother’s cast-iron skillet.

On the seventh night of Chanukah (click for HebCal link), Nous Non Plus’ film and television licensing agent and my good friend Michael came over last night with his girlfriend Jessica for Tracie B’s latkes, brisket, kasha, and roast broccoli.

Tracie B fried the latkes in her grandmother’s cast-iron skillet. Click here for the recipe she used.

My only contribution was a sour cream and horseradish sauce. We paired with a bottle of Taittinger La Française, courtesy Jessica and Michael.

Her brisket was oh-so good, melt-in-your-mouth-tender, with sides of kasha and roast broccoli. Who knew I’d find the cure for Jewish boy stomach in Austin Texas? We paired with Bruno Colin 2005 Maranges La Fussière 1er Cru Rouge, good although the wood was far from integrated. Tracie B suggested decanting with good results.

Stove-top roasted chestnuts for dessert. An Italian touch on a chilly eve.

Next year I doubt I’ll be spending Chanukah in Santa Monica but I do love the song:

Christmas will be different this year

Above: Playing guitar the other night at our good friend’s place in Austin. Photo by Tracie B.

My friend F., a winemaker who lives and works with her husband and family in southern Italy and who makes one of her appellation’s most famous wines, often writes me and describes what life is like in her depressed region where work is hard to come by and where the current crisis is affecting families dramatically.

    Our “beloved” president Berlusconi made another one of his typical bull*&% statements: “Italians, spend! And we’ll get out of this crisis!” It’s an insult to people who don’t know how to tell their children that this year Christmas will be different — maybe without presents, because they’ve lost their job… I didn’t want to make you depressed and I don’t think things are much better in the U.S.

Christmas will certainly be different this year: there are a lot of people going through really tough times — like my friend F. and her family. These are bleak times of uncertainty when our country is at war (world war III, in case no one noticed) and the financial crisis is causing a whole heap of stress for a whole mess of hard-working, good folks.

At the same time, these are days filled with hope and joy for me. As I start my new life in Austin with Tracie B, a very special lady who’s brought light into my life, I know that I’ve got a lot to be thankful for — and let me just say it again, a lot to be thankful for. So, my Christmas will be different, too. And I sure am thankful for that…

I will be taking a break from blogging for the next week or so and will see y’all after the New Year.

Let’s hope it’s a good one… without any fear!


When I ran to the store with a penny
and when youth was abundant and plenty
Classify these as good times good times
When I rolled rubber tires in the driveway
Pulled a purse on a string across the highway
Classify these as good times good times
Good times are coming humming hmm good times are coming humming hmm

Go to school fight a war working steady
meet a girl fall in love for I’m ready
Classify these as good times good times

Here I sit with a drink and a mem’ry
But I’m not cold I’m not wet and I’m not hungry
So classify these as good times good times
Good times are coming humming hmm good times
Good times are coming humming hmm good times

— Willie Nelson

Champers: best Champagne bets for New Year’s and other sparklers

Above: Jean-Luc Retard (aka Dan Crane) and I cracked a bottle of Bollinger in Bryan Cook’s studio earlier this year. Bollinger is the “official” Champagne of our band Nous Non Plus. We love it so much that we wrote a song about it on our new CD “Ménagerie” (in stores Feb. 3, Aeronaut Records). Bollinger Special Cuvée (the house’s entry level wine) is relatively easy to find and should cost about $55, although it can fetch up to $75 depending on the market).

When it comes to sparkling wine, there’s no better resource in the blogosphere than Brooklynguy’s Friday Night Bubbles. (And for Champagne freaks, Peter Liem’s excellent blog is a must read.) Brooklynguy is a lover of natural wine, Loire Valley (the epicenter of the natural wine movement today), and “grower” Champagne (i.e., Champagne producers that grow their own grapes instead of buying it from other estates). He has an uncanny ability to find great values for great sparkling wine. (Like this 96 Fleury he turned me, Jayne, and Jon on to when we hung this year at Bahia.)

Above: Tracie B and I disgorged a bottle of one of our favorite sparkling wines, Puro Rosé by Movia (Slovenia), the other night at our friend’s place in Austin. Anyone who follows Do Bianchi knows that this is one of my I-would-drink-it-everyday-if-I-could-afford-to wines. It’s pretty hard to find (outside of major markets) but should cost about $50.

The only problem is that, because he lives in NYC, Brooklynguy has access to wine sellers that many of us do not. That doesn’t mean that we can’t drink great bubbles at a reasonable price for New Year’s Eve. The price point for good (and not-too-hard-to-find) Champagne is between $50-80 — that’s steep for me but when it comes to Champagne, you’ve got to pay to play…

Above: Selosse is way too expensive for my pocketbook and next-to-impossible to find. But as they say in French, “impossible n’est pas français”: Alfonso treated me, Tracie, and Kim to a bottle of the high coveted wine a few weekends ago in Dallas. (He found it at Austin Wine Merchant. It’s easier to find in smaller markets.)

When it’s bad, Champagne sucks: please DO NOT ever drink Veuve Clicquot — one of the worst marketing scams in the history of wine (sawwy, but it needs to be said).

When it’s good, reasonably priced Champagne (in Do Bianchi’s world, think Bollinger, Billecart-Salmon, Taittinger) can be delicious, nuanced, and sexy.

Above: Tracie B and I love Billecart-Salmon. It’s not too hard to find non-vintage entry-level at around $55. The non-vintage rosé (soooooo good) costs around $90.

Partly because of the way it has been marketed (brilliantly) and partly because of the ineffable complexity it attains when made well, Champagne is indelibly etched in our psyche as the apotheosis of decadence and celebration. It is perhaps the only wine that transcends place and nationality — everyone loves Champagne and employs it in celebration. So powerful is the image evoked by Champagne that even the word itself thrives outside the world of wine: it just wouldn’t make sense to call someone a “Brunello socialist,” would it?

Above: My good friend and VinoWire collaborator Franco and I tasted in the cellars of Ca’ del Bosco in Franciacorta in September. Franciacorta produces superb terroir-driven sparkling wines.

Beyond the world of Champagne, I’ve been drinking a lot of sparkling wine from the Loire Valley (think Saumur and Vouvray) and Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy) this year. These wines are not alternatives to Champagne: when they’re well made, they are terroir-driven wines that express the places where they are produced in their aromas and flavors. Because they don’t evoke the prestige of Champagne, they often represent excellent value and in many cases, I find them to be more food-friendly than Champagne (because of its complexity, good Champagne often requires very pure flavors in the foods with which it is served).

What will Tracie B and I be drinking on New Year’s Eve? Stick around and you just might find out!

Ex libris: books that have come across my desk

Truth be told, I don’t really have a desk (although, happily, that will be changing soon!). For the last year and a half, my office has been the Butler (Columbia U) and New York Public Libraries, the La Jolla and Marina del Rey Libraries, and a mixed bag of airport lounges and Starbucks. Here are some books that have come across my virtual desk this holiday season. (Click on the images for Amazon links.)

Puglia: a Culinary Memoir is the most recent entry in a wonderful series of regional Italian cookbooks published by my friend Polly Franchini in New York (I’m currently translating Venice). I really liked the narrative feel of this cookery book and the excellent translation by Natalie Danford is fluid and natural. The regional Italian cookery fad has been around for some time now (since the late 1990s) and while so many celebrity chefs have tried to hang their hat on the Italian regional mantle, few can deliver the way that Italian authors can: look to Maria Pignatelli’s recipes for truly authentic Apulian fare.

It’s never too late to save the world from Parkerization: my close friend Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Love and Wine or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, has appeared at Do Bianchi a number of times since it was released earlier this year. I can’t recommend this polemical book highly enough: this is required reading for anyone and everyone ready to cast off the yoke of Parkerized and reified consumerist hegemony (the rhetoric is Gramscian here).

Check out this post on Alice and her book by Craig Camp at Wine Camp: a Points-Free Zone.

You wouldn’t think there would be anything polemical about the industrious Tyler Colman aka Dr. Vino’s most recent book, A Year of Wine, but there is: Tyler has anointed himself as the caped crusader devoted to exposing the often obscene carbon footprint of marketing-driven wines. Even in this primer for the neophyte wine enthusiast, he devotes ample space to the environmental impact of wine and wine consumption. I really liked the innovative format of this book: Tyler leads the reader through the year’s seasons of wine, with useful tips for how to decipher the choreography of wine service and how to pair and drink in an informed and intelligent manner.

I must confess that I am a little conflicted about including this last book, A16 Food + Wine, in my round-up. A16 is a great San Francisco restaurant and Jayne and Jon and I had a wonderful time when we ate there in October. It’s really two books: the first part is an excellent introduction to the wines, grapes, and winemaking traditions of southern Italy, by SF sommelier Shelley Lindgren, who blew the minds of the wine world when she launched an all-southern-Italian list in 2004 (the two exceptions are two of my favorite sparklers, Puro by Movia and Lambrusco by Lini). Her contribution to Italocentric vinography is perhaps the first comprehensive English-language survey of southern and insular Italy. It will reside proudly in the reference section of my new desk.

The second part of the book is Nate Appleman’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along, I-hung-out-in-Italy-for-a-while guide to air-quoted regional Italian cookery. He lost me at “chicken meatballs” (Italians make meatballs with veal, pork, and beef, and chicken is never ground in Italian cookery). I like Nate’s cooking and immensely enjoyed the restaurant (including his superb Monday-night meatballs) but there’s nothing genuine in his claims of authenticity.

I wish this book were just “A16: Wine” but I do recommend it as great guide to the wonderful wines of southern Italy, which represent some of the greatest values for the quality in the market today.

One thing I’ve learned over this last year and a half: it’s not easy to put your feet up on a virtual desk. But as I wait for my real desk to arrive (in Jan. 09), I’m looking forward to catching up on my own reading over the holiday break.

Buona lettura!

Next week: Do Bianchi’s top NYE champers pics!

Word is out: Nous Non Plus in NYC Feb. 9

Above: Nous Non Plus in June 2008. There’s no excuse for shameless self-promotion, is there? After all, it’s shameless! That’s me, far left.

New Yorkers and américains, mark you’re calendars: Nous Non Plus will be headlining at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side, Monday, February 9, 10 p.m.

We’ll be hot on the heels of our France 09 Tour, including our Paris appearance at Point Ephémère, Wednesday, February 4. (Believe it or not, our tour is also taking us to do a date in Bordeaux! What in the world is Do Bianchi gonna drink there? Bored-oh?)

Click here for tickets for the Feb. 9 show.

Our new album, Ménagerie (Aeronaut Records), will be on shelves (virtual and real) on Feb. 3.

You can download an mp3 of our cover of The Unicorns’ Tuff Ghost here.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Jaynes bids Jar adieu

Above: Erik (Benoit), Nicholas, and Jon Erickson (co-owner with his lovely wife Jayne), at the bar at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego — my “habitat” for the last 12 months. Benoit wrote me this beautiful “farewell” post at his excellent blog, AntiYelp.

Following my 3-day Dantean solo drive halfway across the country (think Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, George Jones, a little Paul Simon, a lot of Willie, and the obligatory Gram — all set to a desert landscape), I am posting today from Austin, Texas, my new home.

On Friday night, I completed my last shift at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego (although I’ll surely make a cameo appearance or two in 2009).

When I clocked out, a few friends joined and they threw me a lil’ going away party (fyi, all of my friends in music and in San Diego call me “Jar” or “the Jar,” my nickname since junior high days)…

In her quest to get me to love Bordeaux, Robin Stark brought this excellent 95 Angelus. We decanted and tasted about an hour later. I was impressed by the wine’s bright acidity (not what you see in modern-style bored-oh). Thanks, Robin!

My high school friend John Yelenosky brought this 99 Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino, which showed beautifully. (Click here and scroll down to see our high school senior pics.) John and I had a great 2008 playing music, drinking Produttori del Barbaresco, and just hanging out — like in the old days… Gonna miss you, bro!

That’s me with Jayne’s dad, the inimitable Frank Battle. In September, I officiated at his daughter’s wedding to my good friend Jon Erickson. Mr. Battle, you’ve got a lovely daughter.

Jayne and Jon and everyone at Jaynes Gastropub: I’m gonna miss you! Thanks for helping me get my pour and my groove back on in 2008!

Tuscan city celebrates 98 points in Wine Spectator

Above: “Decameron” by Waterhouse (1916). The countryside outside the city of Fiesole served as diegetic backdrop in Boccaccio’s Decameron. Fiesole lies in the hills above Florence.

In the wake of last week’s post (“Why Italians Are Offended by our Ratings and Rankings”), the title of the present may seem ironic. But it’s not.

On Friday, Franco posted about a municipally funded event held last month in Fiesole (Tuscany) to celebrate 98/100 points awarded by the Wine Spectator to Bibi Graetz’ 2006 Testamatta.

According to a press release issued by the township of Fiesole:

    The event was organized in collaboration with the Township of Fiesole to celebrate the wine that received 98/100 from Wine Spectator, the highest score awarded to any Tuscan wine. This score has made Fiesole a full-fledged member on the map of the great wines of Italy and the world.

My post last week generated an unexpected and welcomed thread of comments and I am thankful to everyone for taking the time to weigh in.

In the light of Fiesole’s celebration (sponsored by the city government), it would seem that not all Italians are offended by our ratings and rankings (at least the ones that receive top scores).

For the record, Testamatta is made using indigenous Tuscan grapes: Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Colorino.