Day 2 of 31 Days of Natural Wine: nothing natural about it

This post is the second installment of Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine. Click the link below for more…

“Natural wine” is something of a misnomer. Wine is, after all, an act of humankind.

It’s true that wine occurs naturally. Aleš Kristančič of Movia once explained to me how when a grape falls from the vine, it is a natural winemaking vessel: the hole at the top of the berry (where the stem has broken away) is a natural valve that allows yeast on the skin to enter the berry and begin turning the sugar into alcohol.

Wine was a gift from the gods (think Bacchus), or a gift of G-d (think Noah), or an accident (think mother Natura), depending on how you look at it: the magic of grape juice being turned into wine was probably discovered by someone who forgot some grapes in an amphora, only to open the vessel later and find that they had been turned into wine (the original carbonic maceration). But the moment that someone employed this stumbled-upon technology (tehnê, meaning art or craft) a second time, it became an act of humankind…

Click here to read more…

In other news…

Dany the Red is now Dany the Green. Remember this post from East Germany back in September 2008? That’s me stage left, above, rocking out with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who was in the news today and whose “Europe Écologie coalition of European Green parties came in third in French voting for the [European] Parliament, winning 16.28 percent of the vote. It was just behind the squabbling Socialists, who had only 16.48 percent, and ahead of a presumptive presidential candidate, François Bayrou of the centrist Democratic Movement, or Modem.” Check out this article in the Times. I love how the girl in the photo above is wearing a bright red outfit.

By now you should know the identity of the mystery girl to whom I threw the kiss!

Tasted: 2006 Giacosa Nebbiolo d’Alba

bruno giacosa

Above: Tracie B has a deft and steady hand with my little Sony Cyber-Shot camera. She snapped this pic last night as we tasted 06 Barbera and 06 Nebbiolo d’Alba by Bruno Giacosa with Mark Sayre — aka the Houston Coalminer, one of Austin’s top palates — at Trio in Austin.

“Giacosa’s 2006 Barbera d’Alba Superiore Falletto was the best he’s ever made,” friend and collector David Schachter told me when I called him yesterday, asking him to refresh my memory on the wine we had tasted together last year. He and I tasted a lot of Giacosa from his impressive collection last year and he knows the wines intimately.

giacosa

Above: Ex-winemaker and Giacosa protégé Dante Scaglione with daughter Bruna Giacosa and winemaker Bruno Giacosa in 2004. In March 2008, Dante left the winery.

Last night, Tracie B and I tasted the 2006 Barbera d’Alba (the blended Barbera, not the single-vineyard Falletto) and the 2006 Nebbiolo d’Alba by Giacosa with top Austin sommelier Mark Sayre: we agreed that, while the vintage may not have been the best for everyone, Giacosa’s 2006 was outstanding.

bruno giacosa

So, why did Giacosa decide not to bottle his 2006 Barolo and Barbaresco? The plot thickens: read Franco’s editorial at VinoWire.

On deck for tomorrow: the second of 31 Days of Natural Wine at Saignée.

Mourvèdre envy (and more on Giacosa)

Mourvèdre envy in Freudian psychoanalysis refers to the theorized reaction of a wine lover during her or his oenological development to the realization that she or he does not have access to old Bandol. Freud considered this realization a defining moment in the development of palate and oenological identity. According to Freud, the parallel reaction in those who have access to old Mourvèdre is the realization that others have access to old Nebbiolo, a condition known as Nebbiolo anxiety.

Above: Tracie B and I drank the current vintage of Tempier Bandol Rosé — made from Mourvèdre — by the glass with our excellent housemade sausage tacos at the Linkery in San Diego. Jay Porter’s farm-to-table menu and his homemade cruvinet are hugely popular. The food is always fun and tasty. Jay was one of the first San Diego restaurateurs to use a blog to market his restaurant.

Tracie B and I have had our share of great Mourvèdre lately: we were blown away by the flight of old Terrebrune Bandol — rosé and red — we got to taste last month in San Francisco at the Kermit Lynch portfolio tasting. As the Italians might say, we’re “Mourvèdre addicted.”

Above: Jayne and Jon serve Terrebrune Bandol Rosé in half-bottles at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego — a great summer aperitif wine and a fantastic pairing with Chef Daniel’s scallop ceviche. I was first hipped to Terrebrune by BrooklynGuy: it shows impressive character and structure and costs a lot less than Tempier.

So you can imagine how I began to salivate like Pavlov’s dog when I read BrooklynGuy’s recent post on a bottle of 1994 Tempier Rouge that he had been saving. Like Produttori del Barbaresco, Tempier represents a great value and the current release of the red is generally available at about $50 retail — the upper end of my price point ceiling. In other words, it’s a wine that even the modest wine collector can invest in with fantastic results. Despite the acute case of Mourvèdre envy that he gave me, I really liked BrooklynGuy’s profile of this “natural wine” producer and his tasting notes.

Nota bene: BrooklynGuy and I are both slated to appear in Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine series. My post is schedule for June 20 and you might be surprised at what I had to say. Thanks again, Cory! I’m thrilled to get to participate with so many fantastic bloggers and writers.

In other news…

Above: That’s my lunch yesterday at Bryce’s Cafeteria in Texarkana on the Texas-Arkansas border. Chicken fried chicken steak and tomato aspic stuffed with mayonnaise. Tracie B is gonna kill me if that gravy doesn’t… They sure are proud of their tomatoes in Arkansas and tomato season has nearly arrived.

So many blogs and so little time… I’m on my way back to Austin from Arkansas (where I’ve been hawking wine) and I wish I had time to translate Franco’s post on Bruno Giacosa’s decision not to bottle his 2006 Barolo and Barbaresco, the infelicitous manner in which the news was announced by the winery, and how the news was subsequently disseminated. Upon reading Decanter’s sloppy cut-and-paste job, one prominent wine blogger tweeted “note to self, don’t buy 2006 Barbaresco.” My plea to all: please know that 2006 is a good if not great vintage in Langa and please, please, please, read betweet the lines…

Holy guacamole, Batman! Ceviche porn (warning: extreme fish content)

Yo, Dr. V, impossible pairing? What does one pair with ceviche? Tracie B and I don’t usually drink wine at lunch (when we ate most of the fish during our San Diego trip) and we had sake with our sushi (see below). What would you pair with ceviche? Leave a comment and let me know!

Is that a face or IS THAT A FACE? I couldn’t help but post this snap Tracie B took of a ray in the aquarium at the new Zenbu in Cardiff (North County, San Diego).

Isn’t he cool? That is, assuming he’s a he! Owners Matt and Jacqueline Rimel and I all went to La Jolla High together and I’m thrilled to see their businesses thriving.

Like the La Jolla location, the cooking style is decidedly Southern Californian. I like to call it “heavy metal” sushi. Tracie B and I had the Mexicali Roll (above), which is basically a classic shrimp roll with a garnish of jalapeño and cilantro imparting some Baja California flavors. It was delicious.

The traditional-style ceviche at Bahia Don Bravo in La Jolla was awesome, as always. So were the grilled mahi mahi tacos and the camaronillas (shrimp deep-fried in a corn tortilla).

The ceviche at Bay Park Fish Company in Mission Bay, San Diego was slightly more contemporary but just as delicious. I’m loving living in Austin but one thing I really miss about Southern California is the availability of super fresh seafood.

Like Matt’s materia prima at Zenbu, most of the fish at my high school bud Marc Muller’s Bay Park Fish Co. is also sourced as locally — and as humanely — as possible. Tracie B said these were the best clams she has had outside of Italy.

I couldn’t resist this pic either, snapped at Siesel’s Old Fashioned Meats, right next door to Bay Park Fish Company.

In other news…

I’m about to get on a plane for Little Rock, Arkansas where I’ll be hawking wine for the next few days. It should be a fun trip, with wine dinners tonight and tomorrow.

But I miss her already…

La Jolla High Homecoming 2009: Billecart-Salmon Rosé

billecart salmon

It’s that time of year for graduations, commencements, and homecomings and Tracie B and I felt like homecoming queen and king Friday night at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego where our friends lined up a pretty spectacular flight of wines to welcome us back. It’s only been a few months since our last visit but it was just a thrill to see everyone and catch up. Jaynes has always been great and chef Daniel Manrique has really taken the menu up a notch. The food was excellent: I had my favorite, the Jaynes Burger, rare, topped with brined red onions, and Tracie B had the shepherd’s pie (it warmed our bodies on a mild evening during San Diego’s “June gloom,” which generally sees cooler-than-summertime temperatures).

jaynes gastropub

Above, from left: John and Megan Yelenosky, Jayne Battle and Jon Erickson, and Tracie B and me.

My highschool bud John Yelenosky (top San Diego wine professional) and his wife Megan (one of the city’s leading sommeliers) treated us to a stunning bottle of Billecart-Salmon rosé (on the list at Jaynes). The nose on this wine was so thrilling you almost didn’t want to drink it.

Cerbaiona 2002

Above: I was surprised at how well the 2002 Cerbaiona showed. Not a lot of Brunello producers bottled their wine as such in the rainy 2002 vintage but the “Pilot’s Brunello” tasted like Sangiovese through and through.

One of the surprising wines was a 2002 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino. I used to sell those wines back in the day in NYC. They’re one of my “guilty-pleasure” wines: they’re expensive, they lean toward the modern in style, but they can also be lip-smacking delicious. The wines showed nicely with my Jaynes Burger.

Selvapiana

Above: The Selvapiana Chianti Rufina 2007 by the glass at Jaynes is awesome.

But the wine that really impressed me that night was the Selvapiana 2007 Chianti Rufina: still a little green around the edges but so powerfully tannic and rich. Similarly to the 2007 bottling of Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, Selvapiana’s “entry-level” or “gateway” wine nearly transcends its designation. I haven’t tasted a lot of 2007 from Tuscan yet but anecdotal reports indicate it’s going to be a great vintage for the region, a harvest in which a lot of winemakers were able to make larger quantities of great Sangiovese. It will be interesting to see what this baby does in the bottle.

On deck for tomorrow: CEVICHE PORN!!! Stay tuned…

Giacosa’s 2006 vintage and Decanter’s slopping blogging

As much as I despise the editors of The New York Post, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when, over a straphanger’s shoulder, I read my favorite example of yellow journalism back in 1999: “The first shiksa wants to be a yenta!” (The article referred to Hillary Clinton’s mention of a Jewish relative.)

I wouldn’t go as far as to call it “yellow” journalism but I was so troubled by a recent post by Decanter.com that I felt compelled to post a few reflections of my own.

On Wednesday, one of Decanter’s writers, a certain Suzannah Ramsdale, wrote that “The renowned Piedmontese wine producer Bruno Giacosa has announced that he will not be bottling his 2006 Barolos and Barbarescos… Company oenologist Giorgio Lavagna says that the wine will be sold on as sfuso (unbottled wine) for use by another bottler.”

First of all, this is not exactly breaking news. Back in April, James Suckling reported in his Wine Spectator blog — with much more restrained and judicious tone — that Giacosa was making a “hard but right” decision:

    It’s a courageous thing to do, and I can’t think of many wine producers who would do the same. I was at the 80th birthday of Bruno Giacosa, the legendary winemaker of Piedmont, about a week ago and he told me that he wasn’t going to bottle his 2006 Barolos or Barbarescos.

    “I just don’t like the quality of the wines,” he said, as we ate lunch and drank some of his fabulous Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto including the 100-point 2000. “I just don’t like the way they are. They are not good enough for me. So I am not going to bottle them.”

Secondly, what really happened was that the British importer of Giacosa announced that it was going to be releasing Giacosa’s 2007 bottlings in February of next year (since the 2006 will not be available). Here’s the release, which was sent to me today by the importer Armit:

    2006 was a difficult year for Bruno Giacosa. He suffered a serious stroke which resulted in him being absent from both the vineyards and cellar for most of the year and into the beginning of 2007.

    Although 2006 was overall a fine vintage in Piedmont, now that Bruno is in a position to judge the quality of the wines personally, he is not satisfied that the Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s [sic] produced at Giacosa meet his exacting standards.

    He has taken the brave and we think highly honourable decision not to bottle these wines, which is clearly a considerable financial sacrifice.

    Bruno’s decision underlines the remarkable recovery he has made. He is now back fully involved, alongside new winemaker Giorgio Lavagna, and after a clearly difficult period, the focus on quality remains as strong as ever at Giacosa.

    As a result of the decision with the 2006s, we now plan to release the 2007 Barbaresco wines in February/March 2010.

I hope this helps to clarify Decanter’s sloppy journalism.

– 2006 was actually a “good” although not “excellent” year in Langa; not everyone made exceptional wine, but the wines will be generally good (Franco and James both agree on this: read this exchange between the two of them on this very issue);

– Giacosa is not going to sell his wine off in demijohns as vino sfuso; that’s just preposterous; he regularly bottles using the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC and I imagine he’ll sell some of the wine to other notable producers who will bottle it.

Above: Back in September 2007, Alice, Lawrence, and I shared a wine bottled by Giacosa in a vintage not considered one of the best.

It’s no secret that since Bruno suffered his stroke, his daughter Bruna has been looking for a buyer for the estate. It’s also no secret that last year, Bruna forced Bruno’s long-time protégé Dante Scaglione out of his position. Could it be that internal issues played a role here?

It was irrepsonsible for Ramsdale to make it sound as if Giacosa was patently dismissing the 2006 Langa vintage. When viewed in context, the not-so-breaking news reveals other forces at play.

Twister scare: you’re not in La Jolla anymore, Dorothy…

We interrupt this wine blog to inform you that a tornado warning is in effect for Travis County

Above: I grabbed these images from the Austin CBS affiliate site, KeyeTv.com. They were all taken not far from where Tracie B and I live.

It was as if the extreme weather was following me: yesterday, I awoke in Dallas at Italian Wine Guy’s to one of the worst storms I’ve ever experienced. On my way to a morning tasting at the Royal Oaks Country Club, I literally saw trees fall along the road, lightening strike not far from me and Dinamite, and a flash flood that had me in a foot of water. When the emergency alerts come on over the radio, one of the things they stress is to avoid deep water because that’s how a lot of folks drown, thinking that they can make across a flooded road. You can lose control of a “standard SUV,” they say, in just 2 feet of water.

Above: It’s not hard to understand why Texas is such a God-fearing country.

At least one of my accounts had to cancel our appointment yesterday because the store had flooded and one of my accounts — a leading Italian restaurant in Dallas, Nonna — had to close for the evening because they had lost power: when restaurants lose refrigeration, tens of thousands of dollars of food can go wasted.

Above: Talk about hail of “Biblical proportions”! My goodness!

As I drove back down to Austin in the afternoon, it seemed I was driving just ahead of the storm. I picked up some pizzas and Tracie B and I hunkered down at her apartment. At a certain point, the storm hovered about a mile away from us as we watched the storm reports on the local news. At that point, tornados had been reported and the storm was heading directly toward us from the north west. We stepped outside to watch it over Ramsey Park (across the street from Tracie B’s apartment complex). It was an amazing, truly awe-inspiring, and beautiful thing to see.

Above: I took this shot in Dallas yesterday from my car using my phone. The two cars had been washed away in a flash flood.

We’re headed to La Jolla today, which is a good thing since triple-digit temperatures are expected today and this weekend. Tracie B and I love our life here and we are so fortunate to enjoy a life so rich with good work, good wine and food, and wonderful loving people around us — literally and virtually, out there in the blogosphere. But, man, I sure understand now why Texas is such God-fearing country!

In other news…

I’m in the Marines Too got married! Congratulations to Philip and ImAMarinesGirl! Tracie B and I wish you all the best and hope you can get over to Japan soon!

In other other news…

Tracie B and I will be dining Chez Jayne tonight. Can’t wait to taste the Terrebrune Bandol Rosé that Jon put on his list… If you’re in San Diego tonight, please stop by…

My first tornado warning, the mystery of lemon peel and espresso, and air guitar nation

My yesterday evening took me from one extreme to another to another. I was traveling from an account visit in Grapevine near Dallas, Texas to downtown Dallas for dinner with colleagues when I experienced my first Texas tornado warning. The voice of an NPR announcer on the radio gave way to an ominous and long monotone followed by “we interrupt this broadcast…” No tornado has arrived but man, they don’t joke around when it comes to weather in northern Texas. The lightening I’ve seen elsewhere doesn’t even come close in spectacle to the fulminous displays you witness around these parts.

The next extreme came in the form of dinner with Italian Wine Guy (above, left) and his ride-with for the day, Andrea Lonardi (right), director of winemaking for one of the world’s largest wine conglomerates, Gruppo Italiano Vini. Veneto by birth, Andrea makes wine across peninsular and insular Italy and beyond our conversation on our shared love of the Veneto and its language and traditions, Andrea unraveled a mystery that has plagued me for many years: why is lemon zest served with espresso? When I lived Northern Italy, lemon zest or lemon juice was served with coffee to stimulate regurgitation: when you’re sick to your stomach, you drink coffee with lemon to help you “evacuate.” Evidently, Andrea’s travels have taken him to corners of rural Sicily where two “shots” of espresso — made from old-style manual espresso presses — are served in one demitasse and the passed from one patron to another: the first patron wipes the edge of the demitasse with the lemon zest for hygiene. In Italian, you say chi non beve in compagnia o è un ladro o una spia, literally, he who doesn’t drink in company is a thief or a spy. Sicilian omertà, noted Andrea, applies also to coffee.

The final extreme came in the form of an encounter with the reigning Air Guitar World Champion, Hot Lixx Hulahan (above, left). He, Stryker (center), and my Nous Non Plus bandmate Björn Türoque are on tour for the U.S. Air Guitar Championship and they happened to have a night off in Dallas. So, we caught up over beers at the end of the night before I drove back to Italian Wine Guy’s place (where he lets me crash when I work the market here) in the rain. It was great to see Björn (aka Dan Crane) and his lovely lady Kate.

Life is certainly never boring and I’m always amazed by its richness and extremities.

But I miss Tracie B and I can’t wait to get back to Austin…

Tracie B and Jeremy P au naturel

Above: Did I mention the girl can cook? Tracie B’s “Potato, tomato, mozzarella Napoleon.” We paired with Laurent Tribut Chablis 2007.

Tracie B and I have been on a bit of an au naturel bender this week after we attended a highly classified and thoroughly delicious dinner the other night in East Austin at an undisclosed location.

Above: Tracie B’s stuffed braised zucchine. She moved on to a glass of awesome Langhe Nebbiolo 2007 by Produttori del Barbaresco (that I had in my wine bag from a tasting I did earlier in the day in San Antonio) but I thought the Chablis — with its tongue-splitting acidity, as Tracie B likes to say — paired beautifully with this dish as well.

One of the guests at the “underground dinner” we attended over the weekend turned us on to Farm House Delivery, a locally based website that brings a small farmer’s market to your doorstep.

Above: Tracie B returned from work yesterday to find the this crate full of yummy stuff at her doorstep.

We had actually missed the cutoff for ordering this week but Tracie B managed to place an order anyway: seems the ladies who run Farmhouse Delivery are from Beaumont, a stone’s throw from Orange, Texas where Tracie B grew up. “We’re everywhere, aren’t we?” they joked with her.

Above: Miso Risotto, Rhubarb, Bok Choy, and Red Chard at the “anti-restaurant” the other night. I had brought a bottle of 2006 Touraine Cabernet Franc by Clos Roche Blanche to the BYOB event (always such a great value and such a great wine).

I first read about “underground dinners” or “anti-restaurants” last summer in the Times: the vegetarian menu last Saturday night featured locally and organically grown produce (including the excellent dish above). Thanks, again, JP and RdB, for including us! Your secret’s safe with me!

Read Tracie B’s reflections on bread crumbs and the secret to her excellent fried chicken here. Did I mention that the girl can cook?

Worth reading: Google Earth, terroir, Italian women in France, and an interesting take on the war of rosés

From the “I wish I would have thought of that” department…

My life in Italian wine began twenty years ago when I first visited Bagno Vignoni near Montalcino and began tasting some illustrious and not-so-illustrious bottlings of Sangiovese thanks to my friend Riccardo Marcucci.

While the single-vineyard system of Barolo and Barbaresco offer the Nebbiolophile a legend by which to navigate the terroir of those appellations, lovers of Brunello di Montalcino have little guidance in negotiating its various and highly diverse subzones.

My friend Alessandro Bindocci of Tenuta Il Poggione has unlocked some of the mystery behind one of the Brunello subzones, Sant’Angelo in Colle (the southernmost growing area in the appellation), in a series of posts entitled Understanding Brunello Terroir Using Google Earth. The most recent post is particularly fascinating: I’ve downloaded and installed Google Earth and it’s amazing to use it as a tool in understanding the unique macroclimate of Sant’Angelo, just as Alessandro suggests in his post. Damn, I wish I would have thought of that!

In other news…

However chauvinist and intrinsically bourgeois, the flier for yesterday’s Paris tasting of natural wines produced by Italian women winemakers is utterly irresistible. Did I hear someone say “movie rights”?

Click the image above to view in detail (hosted at Arianna Occhipinti’s blog).

Lastly…

While nearly everyone was relieved yesterday to see the EU drop plans to alter way rosé is made, Tuscan winemaker Gianpaolo Paglia offered some interesting insight in a comment over at VinoWire:

    I’m a wine producer. I’ve never made nor I do intend to make rosé wine in the future. I’m saying this because I wouldn’t want to be accused of having a vested interest in what I’m going to say now: can someone explain to me why a rosé wine made with the saignée method (salasso, in Italian) would be by default better than a blended rosé? Isn’t Champagne the only wine in EU always been allowed to be made that way and has that consequently resulted in the production of poor quality, but premium priced, Champagne wines? Are all the rosé wines made outside EU, largely produced by blending white and red wines, worse than the worst EU wine made with the saignée method?

    I confess my ignorance, but I don’t see the point in this “battle for quality agro-food heritage and wealth.” To be honest, and perhaps even a bit rude, all this nonsense looks to me [like] a lot of political rubbish.

Thanks for reading!