Natural wine with a capital N: 91 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant

Above: What is natural wine? The question of what it is (and what it isn’t) is one of the most hotly debated topics in the world of wine blogging and punditry today. No one would deny, however, that Nicolas Joly’s Coulée de Serrant is natural wine. The 1991 was fantastic the other night.

Things have been so crazy lately — between “keeping the world safe for Italian wine” (check out this recent post I translated for VinoWire) and hawking wine in California (hey, Alder, there are wine bloggers who start wine clubs and are proud to attach their names to them!). So crazy that I neglected to post about a very special bottle of wine — 1991 Coulée de Serrant — that Tracie B and I opened to celebrate our anniversary a few weeks ago.

Above: I had packed the bottle in a thermal bag (recycled from my mom’s annual mother’s day gift of gravlax from Barney Greengrass) with an ice pack and stashed it my suitcase and brought it back from La Jolla to Austin. The sturdy wine held up well — not surprisingly.

Where did we find this bottle? In this most unlikely of places: La Jolla’s oldest luxury hotel, located on Prospect, in the heart of downtown, La Valencia (often pronounced lah vah-LEHN-chah by locals), affectionately known as “The Pink Lady” or “La V.” A good friend and fellow wine dude had mentioned that he found the wine on the list, which is otherwise dominated by flights and flights of big, oaky California Cabernet. Tracie B and went in there a few months ago at the end of the night and convinced the current sommelier to sell it to me (I have to say it was a steal for a Joly that old).

Above: At Trio, chef Todd Duplechan prepares shishito peppers the same way that padrón peppers are served in Spain. The pepper is not spicy but tangy and moreish, as the British might say.*

As it turns out, I recently became friends on Facebook with the sommelier who put that wine on the list at La V, Dustin Jones, who now reps for Fourcade and Hecht. “It was definitely a hand sell,” he wrote me, “and a tough one at that, the fact that 6 bottles were put in inventory and they still have it suggests that this is not a wine that sells itself!” One man’s esoterica turned out to be our golden Chenin treasure: Tracie B and I were thrilled to get to taste an older Joly and it didn’t disappoint.

Above: We shared our 91 Coulée de Serrant with sommelier Mark Sayre and chef Todd, who surprised us with this special dessert for the occasion. Mark is without a doubt the top sommelier in Austin and so whenever I have something really special that we want to open away from home, I take it to him. Mark and I are good friends but whenever you BYOB, you should always remember to share a glass with your sommelier.

The wine had bright acidity and nuanced fruit on the nose and in the mouth and it showed a caramel note that Tracie B attributed to the winery’s practice of letting botrytis form on the grapes. (Remember her post on our visit there?) No one would question the “natural wine” street cred of Joly and Joly’s approach to winemaking proves over and over again how natural winemaking can deliver remarkably delicious wines with remarkable aging ability.

Above: We had so much fun that night at Trio and Mark and Todd made such a special dinner for us. Even I feel handsome when I’m standing next to the beautiful Tracie B. Who wouldn’t?

In the wake of the San Diego Natural Wine Summit, a few folks have written me pointing out that not every wine we poured at the event would be considered a “natural wine” by everyone. I’ve even heard from some of the most authoritative voices in the field. I’m beginning to believe that the notion of “Natural Wine” (with a capital N) is more of an ideology and an attitude about living, eating, and drinking than a set code of self-imposed regulations. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interact with Kermit Lynch, who, when I asked him about this, told me: “Before I find out how the wine is made, I taste it, and if I like it then I ask about the winemaking.”

Can a wine taste “natural” even if some elements of vinification go against natural winemaking dogma?

* Of food or drink: that makes one want to have more (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).

Bats! Bats! Bats! And awesome 2001 Inferno

From the “this blew my mind” department…

Last night Tracie B and I were the guests of the lovely LeVieux family, whose daughter-in-law Laura and I grew up together in La Jolla. They live in Austin in a high-rise on Lady Bird Lake (which until recently was called Town Lake and isn’t a lake at all but rather a bend in the Colorado River).

I had heard about the famous Austin bats that emerge every night at dusk but I had never seen them. Wow… bats! bats! bats! They put on quite a show last night — even for those at the dinner party who consider themselves veteran bat spectators.

Watch the videos and you’ll see.

Mrs. LeVieux made her excellent Julia Child osso buco and so I brought a bottle of 2001 Balgera Valtellina Superiore Inferno, which sang in the glass. We’re at the peak of summer temperatures here in Austin and so we served it at cellar temperature. Its tannins were masculine yet gentle, its fruit voluptuous, a fantastic more-mineral-than-earthy expression of Nebbiolo.

The osso buco was tender and fell off the bone and the gelatinous marrow paired superbly with the rich but light-in-the-mouth wine.

Thanks for reading and happy Sunday to everyone!

Soldera Rosso 91 backstage at Diana Krall

From the “Good wine bloggers go to heaven, bad ones go back stage” department…

Franco is not the only one who gets to go see Diana Krall thanks to his connections in the wine world.

Most of the folks who visit my blog know that blogging has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me, professionally and personally, bringing me into contact with a wide range of people, from all walks of life, whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

I probably would have met Anthony Wilson — wine dude and jazz master (I’m not kidding) at one point or another: as it turns out he and I have a ton of friends in common (including my old friend John Mastro who manages our band Nous Non Plus). We met “virtually” after Anthony stumbled upon a post of mine on López de Heredia, one of our shared enophilic passions, and we made the connection of all the folks we knew in common.

Above: Pre-show dinner with the gang at Pt. Loma Seafood, around the corner from Humphrey’s by the Bay where Anthony played with Diana Krall. The name of the venue is SO 70s!

On Monday, Tracie B and I picked up Anthony (second from right) and took him to dinner at Pt. Loma Seafood, where we drank 2007 Soave Classico by Suavia and Lini Lambrusco Cerasa Rosé with our dinner (no corkage!). Pt. Loma Seafood is a San Diego classic and the freshness of the materia prima is second to none — highly recommended. That’s our friend Frank Sciuto, owner of Tio Leo’s, sitting next to Jon and Jayne, center. When I mentioned to Frank that we were going to see Diana Krall, his mouth dropped to the floor and his wife Violet said, “Diana Krall is Frank’s freebie.” So we just had to take him along.

Above: Soave Classico 07 by Suavia and crab louie paired like the warm tones of Anthony’s Clark amplifier and the tender notes of his custom Monteleone archtop guitar.

I have to confess that I hadn’t really done my due diligence. I knew that Anthony was a wildly talented musician but it wasn’t until I ordered some of his disks from Amazon and started listening to his music that I realized he is one of the jazz greats of our country (and the son of legendary band leader Gerald Wilson).

Above: Jon said it was the most “rock ‘n’ roll” label he had ever seen, hence the headbanger’s homage.

I really wanted to thank Anthony for being so generous with tickets and passes and so we smuggled in a bottle of 1991 Soldera Rosso Intistieti. I couldn’t figure out the origin of the name Intistieti and so I asked Franco to write to Gianfranco Soldera, who answered that Intistieti is a highly localized dialectal form that means terra tra i sassi or literally land among the stones. The soil is stony and poor and thus unsuited for growing crops other than grapes destined for fine wines. I had never tasted one of Soldera’s declassified wines, i.e., a wine that he felt didn’t rise to the quality of his Brunello di Montalcino, but a wine he felt should be released nonetheless. He is one of Italy’s most exacting winemakers and I knew this would be great. The Pegasus on the label was inspired by the notion that his wines rise above mediocrity — and indeed, they do. This wine showed gorgeously and was shining example of how Sangiovese can age gloriously when made in traditional manner (I’ll do a post on my mind-blowing visit to Soldera last year and his unique approach to winemaking.)

Above: I brought a bottle of Lini Lambrusco Labrusca Rosso for Anthony to take on the buss with him that night for a night cap. That’s him, left, with bassist Robert Hurst (also, a super nice guy). Lambrusco, so low in alcohol, light, and refreshing, is a great end-of-the-night wine.

Thanks again, Anthony, for a truly unforgettable night and a great way to celebrate the success of the San Diego Natural Wine Summit on Sunday. And thanks to Winnie, who was the first connection that Anthony and I made, and who suggested that I write a blog so many moons ago! I am amazed, over and over again, how wonderful surprises continue to emerge from the world of blogging. As the virtual world grows smaller, so the real one seems to be richer every day.

Mexican porn: Bahia adds tortilla soup to its menu

Above: Bahia Don Bravo’s new Tortilla Soup was too sexy to resist. No trip home to La Jolla where I grew up is complete without a visit to Bahia.

Tracie B and I returned late last night to Austin from San Diego where we met a lot of great people, poured and tasted a lot of great wine at the SD Natural Wine Summit, and caught up with mama Judy, the German Professor, and the Cheese Hater’s mom over dinner at Jaynes Gastropub (yes, even on my night off, I ate there, that’s how much I love it).

Above: Owner Carlos Bravo aka Don Bravo was in the kitchen on Monday when we stopped in with mama Judy for lunch. The carnitas were particularly delicate and tasty, moist and rich on the tongue.

I’ve got a lot of really cool posts on deck, including more from the Natural Wine Summit, a wonderful toasty vintage grower’s champagne shared by a dear friend, and some old and very special traditional-style Sangiovese from one of the most famous producers of Brunello di Montalcino.

Above: Who ever thought beans could be so seductive?

It’s 8 a.m. and I’ve already been at my computer since 6:30, trying to catch up. So I’ll make this post a quickie.

On deck for tomorrow: “Good wine lovers go to heaven, bad wine lovers go back stage.”

In other news…

Excerpts of an interview with Franco — on recent developments in Montalcino — appeared in The New York Times today — cartaceous version. Read it while it’s hot! (And you can read the entire interview here.)

Nobody said it better: Jayne on natural wine

Above: Yesterday, my friends Alex Stuempfig (left) and John Rikkers (right) and I tasted Lunar together — some very orange wine — at the first-ever San Diego Natural Wine Summit at Jaynes Gastropub. Photos by Tracie B.

Tracie B and I had a blast yesterday at the San Diego Natural Wine Summit. A big heartfelt thank you from me to Jayne and Jon (owners of Jaynes) and the staff, to the suppliers who generously poured and spoke, and to all the folks who came out to taste, to trade notes, and to share in our passion for natural wine.

Above: It was super fun to float around the tasting, talking to people and tasting wine. At one point, I jumped behind the Kermit Lynch table. That’s me, riffing on some killer Guy Breton Beaujolais Morgon.

As I floated around the tasting, talking to people, tasting, and comparing notes, I couldn’t help but think about how natural wine is so much more than just a style or philosophy or ideology of winemaking. As I watched and enjoyed the many oohs and ahs of people tasting a vivace (gently sparkling) blend of Cortese, Favorita, and Arneis (the Arcese by Bera, which Tracie B noted was THE wine of the tasting) or the killer Mikulski Aligoté (which has got to be the best Aligoté I’ve ever tasted), it occurred to me that natural wine is also a lifestyle, an attitude about food and wine and what we put in our bodies, and a culture that brings like-minded folks together. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone drank natural wine?

Above: Even Aria loves natural wine. Her daddys are the nicest folks and just another reason why I love natural wine.

Nobody said it better than Jayne: “Whatever it is — food or wine — the things I like the best are the things that are manipulated the least.” Great words to live, eat, and drink by, no?

I’ll be posting more on the tasting here, at the Jaynes blog, and at the 2Bianchi blog as well, so please stay tuned… and thanks to everyone for your support!

Keeping the world safe for Italian wine

Above: Franco Ziliani and I tasted some fantastic Franciacorta together last September in Erbusco (before Tracie B convinced me to shave my mustache). Franco has been a great friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. I am proud to be his partner at VinoWire. Photo by Ben Shapiro.

Just keeping the world safe for Italian wine… that’s what we do around here.

It was one helluva way to wake up this morning in sleepy La Jolla — where Botox trumps micro ox — to find that the editors at Decanter.com had decided to publish our post on recent developments in Montalcino and subsequent reports by the Italian media.

I’m glad we got a chance to set the record straight and that I can drink my Vino Nobile tonight with Tracie B at Jaynes knowing that the world is safe for Sangiovese (or maybe we’ll drink the 2007 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, which is showing gorgeously right now).

In other news…

If you’re planning on attending the San Diego Natural Wine Summit this Sunday at Jaynes, please email the restaurant to reserve. We’re almost at capacity and we’ll have to turn people away if they don’t have tickets. Click here for details and to reserve.

Orange wine awaits at the beach

Above: Not everything we’re going to taste in San Diego on Sunday at Jaynes Natural Wine Summit will be as orange and cloudy as this Picrate (Chenin Blanc from the Loire) that Alice, Tracie B, and I shared last February in Paris.

Seems that everyone who is someone is talking about “orange wine” these days. Last week Eric and Alice attended an “orange wine” dinner in Tudor City (Manhattan) and posted these excellent dispatches respectively, here and here.

Just like the ongoing discussion of what can truly be called “natural wine,” I’m sure some will disagree as to what “orange wine” is exactly but the generally accepted defining element is skin-contact (maceration) during fermentation of otherwise white grapes. Not all the wines included in the “orange” genre undergo maceration but there is most definitely an orange revolution afoot.

Not all the wines Tracie B and I will be tasting on Sunday at the first-ever San Diego Natural Wine Summit at Jaynes Gastropub will be as orange as the Picrate (in the photo above) but there are 29 — yes, count ’em — 29 superbly stinky, natty wines* for your tasting pleasure, paired with Jayne’s “farm to table” menu and DJ Greyboy’s “rare grooves.”

Above: This weekend, Tracie B and I will most definitely be hitting our favorite San Diego taco shack, Bahia Don Bravo. Natural wine and fish tacos, anyone? Yummmmmmm…

If you happen to be in town, please come by to see me, Thursday through Saturday nights at Jaynes and don’t miss the Natural Wine Summit on Sunday!

All of the wines we’ll be tasting on Sunday will be available for purchase at my new snazzy site, 2bianchi.com. Check it out if you have a moment and thanks for reading and for your support! Hope to see you in SD!

And remember, Stay classy, San Diego…

* The expression natty wines was happily coined by my Nous Non Plus bandmate Bonnie Day on our 2009 California mini-tour. I’ve got to be the only wine blogger in the world that uses footnotes, right? ;-)

Deep Throat speaks from Montalcino

As in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the shadows cast upon the walls of a wine cellar outline not reality but the truths of those who live them. Little clarity has emerged from Montalcino, even in the light of Italian officials’s findings in their investigation of adulterated wine there. As outside observers, we see only shadows of reality cast upon the walls of Brunello’s caves.

The following interview was conducted last week via email with a young winemaker in Montalcino who works with and for a small family-run estate. S/he has asked me not to reveal her/his name and so I will simply call her/him Deep Throat. Her/his English-language ability allowed her/him to answer the questions in her/his second language. For the sake of immediacy, I have not made any edits whatsoever to the answers. Read them below as I received them at the end of last week. I doubt we’ll ever know the truth about what really happened in Montalcino but I hope this point-of-view (however factual or speculative it may or may not be) helps us to understand the disparity between what we have been told by the wine media and the perceptions and sentiments “on the ground,” as we used to say when I worked at the U.N. Read and digest it for what it’s worth…

*****

Why did the investigation happen in the first place?

The whole bomb came officially out about 16 months ago. Strategically… just few days prior to Vinitaly 2008. You can imagine what kind of backlash this gave to everybody in the appellation. The Brunello collective stand at the fair was like a war zone… Why did it come out? Likely because it was no longer possible to hide the lack of controls by the Consortium or, maybe better, the lack of actions by the Consortium after finding vineyards, cellars and/or wines not conforming to the Brunello production rules.

Was it because banks were checking on vineyards supposedly planted to Sangiovese and used as collateral in loan applications?

Let’s say that this could surely be a factor… many illegal vineyards were planted with big loans or (even worse) with EU funds. Just to give an example: a hectar of Brunello is worth about 500.000 Euros while an IGT one could be around 100-150.000. Do it yourself: this is very simple math! Only the producers were blaimed for the illegal vineyards and/or wines but those very same wines were tasted and passed at the Tasting Commission (official and external). The vineyards were supposedly checked and obviously passed by Officials form the Consortium, from the “Comune”, from the “Provincia” and I ask myself why nobody there was then involved in the investigation…

Now newcomers to Montalcino (Gaja, Frescobaldi, Folonari) are asking for “relaxed” rules and a more flexible set of rules. Screw you! Did you arrive to Montalcino for the idea of producing Brunello or for the value of the land? Be clear and make a choice. Or be nice and… get the hell out of here!

Or was it because “anonymous letters” were sent to the Siena prosecutor by disgruntled Brunello producers?

I have very good reasons to think that The Letter was clearly sent. This is going on a personal level: it is a very personal “faida” between some of the top managers of thee most visible estate in Montalcino (especially on the US market) and one of thee most radical and straight forward producers. Is David hitting Goliath. But I must say that little David was hitting the wrong enemy this time: is not Goliath’s fault if David’s wines are usually NOT conforming to the mandatory analysis due prior to the tasting at the Official Tasting Commission. The wines must conform to the parameters. Period. If they are out, they are out and you should adjust your winemaking method instead of complaining with the rules if they are not according your personal taste. Orelse… go your way without labelling your wine as a Brunello… but like this… the value of David’s bottles is going dramatically down. And David is already in deep shit with sales.

PS Last minute news: David’s estate is now for sale. But he’s asking way too much.

Has your winery been inspected by Treasury officials? What do they do when they inspect the estate? What technical tools do they use? How often do they visit? What are they looking for?

I cannot talk for other people but our tiny estate was checked several times by several different authorities especially in the last 2 years. I don’t know how much other people has been inspected. We ALWAYS conformed and they ALWAYS came back for more. We had: Tresury officials, Consortium inspectors, Ministry of Labour officials, etc. To make it short: you name it… they came! To check everything… I wonder what they have been checking at the other places. There was no way to get out of it with something out of the line. Of course it makes a big difference if you go and inspect a vineyard to check for the different varietals in July or in December… we got checked last week too for the countless time.

Was the issue yields or was the issue Merlot? Is it true that some were using grapes from Apulia?

The issues were several, being the non-Sangiovese grapes the most important one and the yeald per hectar another one. By the beginning of the investigation, I have personally seen a 4 hectars vineyard (supposedly Brunello) litterally destroyed with a Caterpillar by the owner from a day to another; and another one grafted with a new and different varietal (Sangiovese, this time?) in late June (???). I know a very influential Consulting Wine Wizard that, in order to come and make the wine for the estate of one of the past President of the Consortium, strongly demanded (as a condition to accept the job) to plant some ALICANTE grapes for the color. Come and drive around Montalcino in October and look at the leaves… You’ll have fun!

Wines in bulk were a point too. But we must say that: it is absolutely not illegal to buy wine in tanks from somewhere else. Illegal could be the use of it in some certain ways in the cellar. We must also say that: some of this wine could have been (and IT WAS) used illegally, out of the DOC and DOCG rules. You know… quality and quantity rarely match. Following the Brunello rules, you should not exceed 7 tons of grapes per hectar. Let me tell you that, to have a great juice (as Brunello should demand) it’s hard to go over 4-4,5 tons. Figure it out yourself!

As a small producer of traditional-style Brunello, how do you feel you have been treated in a sea of commercial producers?

As a small producer, we have been treated like we had nothing to say. We felt absolutely NOT represented by the Consortium, neither protected. DOCG means that our Appellation of Origin is Controlled and Guaranteed. This was the only supposed role of the Consortium. None of this things was provided by them: oviously NOT the controls, NOT the guarantee and, sometimes, NOT even the origin. So I am asking myself what is the reason of the Consortium to be. Right now, the Consortium is just a cost for a small producer, and it’s giving no advantages at all. Many people will soon leave, I am sure. We asked them how to act to protect ourselves from this situation, we were told to shut up! The big guys are messing around… and we suffer the real damage, being all commonly treated as cheaters. Our reputation is on the line and they could not care less. It’s hard to accept this, especially when they ask you to shut up, I feel I want to raise my voice from the top of the mountain. They have even payed (BIG MONEY) an very high-ended external press office from Milan to… shut up. With our money too… How pathetic!

You are a litterate person: write a few lines about the origin and the history of the word “Consortium” and you will find very little similarity with the recent image of the Consortium of Brunello.

PS. Is there any other kind of Brunello apart traditional? Don’t think so!

Would weather conditions in the dismal 2002 and 2003 vintages have had such an impact on wineries if growing sites were limited to the south and southwest subzones Sant’Angelo in Colle and Castelnuovo dell’Abate and the Montalcino township subzone?

The problem is that many people planted vineyards only for the sake of investement more than for the love of wine and the respect of a tradition. A lot of people arrived to harvest and bottle the wine with no idea on how and where actually sell that wine. This was the main reason for the price drop: fear and unprofessionalism!

Right after the 2002 harvest, everybody apparently agreed on the fact that the vintage was absolutely not good and not suitable for producing Brunello. You could go around and ask producers and they all would tell you that they were not going to release any 2002 Brunello. The fact is that very few people hold to that word: probably 98% of the producers actually released a 2002 and a single real genius (or a magician… previously President of the Consortium but not the one I was telling about before) even released a 2002 Riserva. Come on! Be serious and give me a break… We are talking about integrity here. Or, at least, we are trying… some of us is trying harder than others!

2003 was hard too and this was surely not helping in this moment as the beginning of the scandal hit Montalcino right after the official release of the vintage. so many importers and/or distributors took the chanche to invest -in moment of great financial crisis- in other (cheaper) appellations while waiting for the great 2004 vintage to come out. We must also thank the Consortium for the dangerous overrating of recent vintages that have been generously given too many stars…

About sub-zones, I am a fervent believer! But you, as owner of a vineyard in Torrenieri, would want this to be written on your label? And you, as a regular but somehow skilled customer, would prefer to buy a Brunello from the sub-zone of Castelnuovo dell’Abate or Sant’Angelo, or one from the lowest vineyards in Torrenieri? You already know the answer: that’s why sub-zones of Brunello are never gonna happen.

What is the future of Montalcino? Will other grapes be allowed?

The future of Montalcino is unwritten. I personally hope for the sudden death of the Consortium and the birth of a free association of producers with total dedication to PR and promotion and absolutely no role in the controls. I would like the controls to be completely made by State offices with less bureaucracy and very fast times of reaction to needs and/or infraction.

Allowing other grapes would mean to betray Mr. Biondi Santi original vision and dream. Dream that became reality and privilege for all of us. Allowing zelig grapes would kill the reality of a truly blessed terroir. We are always filling our mouth with the words “tradition” and “heritage”. It’s now time to stand tall behind our words. I have been doing this since forever. Like this they were doing at my estate before me. Like this they will do at my estate after me. The password is only one. Sangiovese! That’s the true reason why this land is so valuable. Why are they all so blinded by other less important things?

My new favorite cocktail, an aperitivo for a Manic Monday

Above: Lately, I’ve been drinking my Campari and Soda with a splash of orange juice. I’m sure this recipe has a name: does anyone know it? Photo by Tracie B.

It’s already been one helluva Monday morning and I’m still working on getting to the bottom of what happened over at Decanter.com on Friday.

I sure wish it were Sunday: yesterday Tracie B and I found ourselves in Houston where we had dined Saturday night at the newly opened winebar Block 7 (look for a post later this week) and we stayed overnight at the St. Regis (thanks to my nimble hand at Priceline).

Above: Tracie B and I love to photograph everything we eat and drink. The bartender at the St. Regis had fun with us and took this photo. She mixed our drinks perfectly to order.

It was fun to wake up to room service and swimming and we had great Mexican food for lunch with Tracie B’s childhood friend Talina at La Mexicana (highly recommended, super family friendly and just all around delicious).

Above: My eyes weren’t bigger than my stomach at La Mexicana. I couldn’t help but order à la carte: from 12 o’clock clockwise, 1 taco al pastor, 1 taco de carnitas (available only on weekends), 1 flauta (which I dipped liberally in creamy guacamole), and 1 cheese enchilada drowning in ranchero sauce.

Man, I wish it were Sunday. That was my fun day…

BBQ porn: the Salt Lick, Driftwood, Texas

I’ve been investigating the story behind the inexplicable Decanter post that appeared on Friday and I’ll hope to have some answers tomorrow. In the meantime, enough with this mishegas… it’s Sunday and time for something fun…

*****

BrooklynGuy may give me a bad case of Pinot Noir envy, but when it comes to bbq, I got his number…

The Salt Lick
18300 FM Rd 1826
Driftwood TX 78619
512-858-4959

My work situation has changed recently (and happily) and I’m back to my life as an amanuensis of wine. One of my new clients takes me down to Driftwood, in the Texas Hill Country (about 23 miles southwest of Austin), where there are number of locally owned wineries. After a meeting the other day, I FINALLY ate at the famed Salt Lick.

Folks are pretty serious about their barbecue out here in Texas and the Salt Lick is widely considered one of the best.

I ordered the mixed plate (in the photo above) and frankly, I was a little disappointed with the brisket, which, as the smoke ring reveals, was evenly smoked but was dry and not tender. But the ribs were — hands down — among the best I’ve ever had and so was the sausage. The former, done in the Memphis style, basted with tangy barbecue sauce as it was smoked, fell apart on the bone. The latter was juicy and tender and the casing cracked deliciously.

I loved the German-style potato salad and the coleslaw was truly homemade, fresh and crunchy and not too saucy. But the thing that takes the Salt Lick from A to A+ was the setting (above), in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Driftwood retains that western trail, cowboy feel, and the staff was informed friendly and gracious, making the Salt Lick a must-visit. They allow BYOB as well. Nebbiolo anyone? Or maybe some Lambrusco before the summer ends…

Happy Sunday, y’all!