Best lil’ honky tonk in Texas: Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon

Erik Hokkanen

Above: The “Texas Tornado,” Erik Hokkanen, last night at the best lil’ honky tonk in Texas, Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon.

You’ve heard me say it before but I’ll say it again: Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon is — without a doubt — the best lil’ honky tonk in Texas (if not our country, but then again I can’t imagine that this quintessentially Americana slice of life could exist anywhere beyond our borders).

Armadillo Bar was in town from Milan on his yearly pilgrimage to Texas and so Tracie B and me met up with him at Ginny’s last night. We don’t even really bother checking who’s playing: every time we go there, I am completely floored by the caliber of musicianship.

Check out this clip I shot last night of Erik Hokkanen the “Texas Tornado” doing “Ole Slew Foot.” I’m a wreck today but it sure was worth it to close Ginny’s last night! Enjoy…

High on a mountain, tell me what do you see
Bear tracks bear tracks looking back at me
Better get your rifles before its too late
The bear’s got a little pig and he’s headed for the gate

He’s big around the middle and broad across the rump
Running ninety miles an hour, taking thirty feet a jump
Ain’t never been caught, he ain’t never been treed
And some folks say he looks a lot like me

Saved up my money and bought me some bees
Started making honey way up in the trees
Cut down the trees but the honey’s all gone
Old slew foot has done made himself at home

Winter’s coming on and it’s forty below
River’s froze over, so where can he go
I’ll chase him up the gully and run him in the well
Shoot him in the bottom just to listen to him yell

I love this town and I sure love that girl for bringing me here. :-)

Happy Sunday ya’ll!

The final word on Tex-Mex? An interview with Guillermo Bubba Rodriguez

Above: Pozoles at Rosario’s in San Antonio.

From the Oxford English Dictionary, online edition:

    Tex-Mex adj. Designating the Texan variety of something Mexican; also occas., of or pertaining to both Texas and Mexico.

    1949 Time 14 Feb. 38/1 Fluent in Texmex Spanish, he had been one of the most promising rodeo riders around Tucson, Ariz… The half English, half Spanish patois of the U.S.-Mexican border region. 1973 News (Mexico City) (Vistas Suppl.) 22 July 7 It is a mistake to come to Mexico and not try the local cuisine. It is not the Tex-Mex cooking that one is used to getting in the United States. 1976 M. MACHLIN Pipeline xx. 246 The voice of Miss Martinez, one of Wilbur’s gestures toward Tex-Mex integration, came softly over the intercom. 1977 Time Out 28 Jan.-3 Feb. 8/2 Cooder’s current concern is the music of Southern Texas, the ‘Tex-Mex’ style.

Above: Griselda’s Tacos Callejeros (stuffed with chicken) at Rosario’s.

Ask anyone who follows the food and wine blogosphere: there’s just no avoiding the habanero-fired debate over the definition of “Tex-Mex” cuisine. Being a Southern Californian myself and with only a year in Texas under my belt, I felt obliged to consult with one of the field’s greatest experts and authorities, Guillermo “Bubba” Rodriquez. Here’s what he wrote me.

    If you don’t have fajitas, YOU’RE OUT.

    If you don’t have queso, YOU’RE OUT.

    If you have to ask what queso is, YOU’RE OUT.

Above: A “wet” carne asada burrito at Chuys in Austin.

    If you don’t white AND yellow cheese grated on the enchiladas, YOU’RE OUT.

    If you don’t have charro beans option, YOU’RE OUT.

    If your top-shelf Margarita is not served with Cuervo Gold, YOU’RE OUT.

    If the beef in your chili con carne is not ground, YOU’RE OUT.

Above: Huevos motuleños at Curra’s Grill in Austin.

    If your picante sauce was made in New York City, YOU’RE OUT.

    If you have ceviche on your menu, YOU’RE OUT.

    Actually, if you have any fish on your menu, YOU’RE OUT.

    If you don’t know how to make a Mexican Martini, YOU’RE OUT.

In other news…

Hook ’em Horns! Texas squares off with Oklahoma today. As our good friend Melvin Croaker likes to say, what do Oklahoma and marijuana have in common? They both get smoked in a bowl.

Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend ya’ll!

On the Wine Trail in Italy named “best local Italian wine blog”

From the “we tease him a lot ’cause we got him on the spot” department…

alfonso

Above: Alfonso Cevola aka Italian Wine Guy grows hoja santa in his backyard. The Mozzarella Company in Dallas uses the leaves for its excellent goat cheese.

Tracie B and I were thrilled to hear that one of our favorite blogs, authored by our very own Alfonso, was named “best local Italian wine blog” by the Dallas Observer. Alfonso is a generous and loving friend and a mentor to both of us and he’s the reason we met… well, his blog is the reason: we both discovered each other’s blog in the comment section of Alfonso’s blog. He’s going to be the best man at our wedding next year. :-)

Here’s what the Dallas Observer had to say:

    On the Wine Trail is local in the sense that blog-master, Alfonso Cevola, lives in Dallas and mentions local themes and places once in a while. But Cevola is also something of an international authority. A lifelong wine seller whose mom’s mom came from Calabria at the toe of the Italian boot, just across from Sicily, Cevola can tell you all about things like the tension within the Calabrian wine world over strictly regional tastes versus a more international mix of grapes. If you were real lucky, you could get this kind of stuff from him in person any Saturday morning when he might happen to drop into Jimmy’s Market in East Dallas for some wine schmoozing. But the blog is the more reliable place. A salesman for Glazer’s Wholesale Distribution in Dallas, Cevola has watched Dallas’ wine palate develop over 30 years. Asked what the big new thing is in these times, he said, “Wine under $15.” He’s got the skinny.

Congratulations, Alfonso! We love you, man…

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Buon weekend!

Una faccia, una razza: Sicilian-Neapolitan-Jewish

In Italy they say, una faccia, una razza, meaning literally one face, one race. It refers to the shared genetic heritage of the peoples of the Mediterranean — including us Hebrews.

This just in, via cousin Marty, from Tony, owner of Tony’s in Houston (in response to my post from earlier today):

    white nero d’avolas are rare but do exist! and tell your cousin i am only half sicilian (mother) the other half napoletano! sorry i missed you! (the heart is jewish)

Una faccia, una razza! :-)

White Nero d’Avola? Come again?

From the “life could be worse” department…

Last night found me off duty after an afternoon of appointments in Houston. So I met up with cousins Marty and Joanne and Aunt Lillian at Marty’s favorite restaurant Tony’s. Marty and Joanne are regulars there and are close with owner Tony Vallone, who always sends something special over to their table. Last night’s special treat was sautéed sea urchin tossed with mushrooms, tomatoes, and long noodles.

Sommelier Jonathan Hoenefenger paired the dish with Tony’s house white: a Nero d’Avola vinified as a white wine (Tony is Siculo-American). Frankly, I had never heard of such a thing (and neither had Italian Wine Guy when I asked him about this morning on my way back from Houston). In my experience, vanity bottlings like this rarely deliver more than novelty, but this wine was fresh, with bright acidity and minerality, and a surprising tannic note that found a worthy dance partner in the tender, meaty bits of urchin.

With our main course, we opened Quintarelli’s 1999 Rosso Ca’ del Merlo (an IGT for you DOC/DOCG/PDO/PGI buffs and a great example of how some of Italy’s greatest wines are not DOCGs). Man, this wine was killer: still a baby in the bottle, tannic and rich, with a seductive chewy mouthfeel, excellent with my Brooklyn-style thick cut pork chop. And the price was unexpectedly reasonable.

We took Aunt Lillian home (she’s 94) and retired to Marty and Joanne’s place, where we discussed Parzens and Levys, bubbies and zaidis, and even indulged in a little talmudic banter (Marty’s a law professor, after all).

Thanks, again, Joanne and Marty, for a wonderful evening!

Life could be worse, couldn’t it?

Getting tiggy with it in the ATX

From the “just for fun” department…

On Friday night, Tracie B’s birthday celebration weekend began with a glass of 1987 López de Heredia Tondonia — one of the best wines I’ve tasted in a long while. Our good friend Mark Sayre at Trio at the Four Seasons always has something crazy and stinky for us to drink when we hang out at Austin’s best-kept-secret happy hour (half-priced wines by the glass, happy hour snacks menu, and free valet parking).

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with chef Todd Duplechan’s fried pork belly. He makes a confit of pork belly and then fries it: when he serves it, the fat in the middle is warm and gelatinous and the outside is crispy and savory. You know the story I always tell about the Rabbi and the ham sandwich he “can live without”? Well, I can’t live without Todd’s fried pork belly. He garnishes with a relish made from seasonal vegetables, in this case pickled watermelon radish and okra.

Later that evening, we met up with some friends at the High Ball (no website but does have a Facebook fan page), Austin’s newest (and only) bowling alley cum Karaoke bar cum mixology and designer beer menu. Tracie B had the “Heirloom”: roseberry fizz, citrus infused vodka, elderflower, rosemary, muddled blackberries. The High Ball hasn’t even had its official, hard opening and it is already packed nightly, Austin’s newest hipster hangout and a lot of fun with its art deco, Bettie Page ambiance and clientele.

Thanks to everyone for coming out to my Italian wine seminars at the Austin Wine Merchant. Last night was Tuscany (that’s our new friend Mary Gordon, front row center). Highlights were 2006 Chianti Classico by Fèlsina (such a great value), 2001 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione (this vintage is just getting better and better, always a fav), 2004 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano by Villa Sant’Anna (old-school Vino Nobile that I thoroughly dig), and 2005 Tignanello (not exactly my speed but always a go-to trophy wine). Coincidentally, Laura Rangoni posted an interview with the “father of Tignanello” Renzo Cotarella on her blog yesterday. “Barrique is like a mini-skirt,” he told her, “not every woman can wear one.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Yo, Renzo, get tiggy with it! Thanks for reading.

Nah nah nah nah nah… Get tiggy with it…

CMO reforms and how they relate to Italy

Tracie B and I recently opened a bottle of 2004 Sagrantino by Paolo Bea (a DOCG) that we had picked up at The Austin Wine Merchant. The wine was super tannic yet also had a wonderful “lightness of being.” We could not stop talking about it. So good… Photos by Tracie B.

In the wake of yesterday’s post on why the Italian DOC/G does and does not matter, I received a lot of positive and inquisitive feedback. So minister Luca Zaia and the Prosecco wars will have to wait until tomorrow.

First of all, some Googling this morning (prepping for my Tuscany seminar tonight at The Austin Wine Merchant) led me to this site, Agraria.org, which does seem to have a nearly complete list of DOCGs (although the new Matelica DOCG is not listed, it does include some of the most recently added DOCGs like the Moscato di Scanzo and Prosecco Asolo and Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene).

Secondly, in case you haven’t been following the European Commission’s efforts to “streamline” and “simplify” European Union markets, here’s a link to some background info.

The bottom line: in 2006 the European Commission “proposed to the Council and the European Parliament to adopt one single Common Market Organisation for all agricultural products. This project, ‘the Single CMO’ is another important step in the process of simplification, which is priority of the Commission.”

As part of this process, beginning with the current vintage, EU member states’s wines will be required to be labeled with the one of the following classifications: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In Italian, the acronyms are as follows: DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) and IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta).

The following links will take you to some back ground info: here and here.

Here’s a link to E-Bacchus, a searchable database of all the currently registered PDOs and PGIs. There are currently 412 records in the PDO database (Italian DOCs and DOCGs) and 120 records in the PGI database (Italian IGTs).

And here’s a English Wiki entry on Protected Geographical Status.

In case you missed it, Franco wrote (and I translated) this editorial on the mad rush that preceded August 1, 2009 deadline for the creation of new DOCs and DOCGs.

On Saturday night, we ordered 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco (a DOC) at Il Sogno in San Antonio (no website). It’s one of our favorite wines and Il Sogno offers it at a fantastic on-premise price, a great value. We’re planning to serve this wine at our wedding! :-)

In my view, the CMO reforms are a good thing (for a number of reasons) and were “agreed by Italy” (as you say in diplomatic-speak): existing DOCs and DOCGs will be allowed on labeling (despite some alarmist reactions unfortunately based on sloppy blogging and reporting).

There are a number of reforms that have been implemented in Italy and Franco and I have reported on some of them at VinoWire. These include grubbing up, distillation, and use of grape must reforms, all aimed at streamlining the system and rewarding producers in member states for eliminating waste and observing environmentally friendly farming and vinification practices.

The new labeling, in my view, will help to simplify the appellation system, thus aiding those of us who buy and sell Italian wines.

From what I have read, there are other reforms as well (some of them unfortunately allowing undesirable commercial practices, like the use of oak chips).

But the most significant reform, in regard to Italy, in my view, is that at some point — and it’s not clear when — Italian winemakers will be able to use varietal labeling when producing international varieties. In other words, a wine like Planeta Merlot putatively could be labeled “Sicilian Merlot” or a Merlot from Tuscany hypothetically could be labeled “Montalcino Merlot.” Varietal labeling will not be allowed for indigenous varieties like Sangiovese or Aglianico.

Essentially, from what I understand, it will allow Italian producers to label their wines the way Californians and Australians do and consequently it will allow them to compete more aggressively in international markets.

While I’m not sure I want to drink Sicilian or Montalcino Merlot (and again, I need to stress, it’s not entirely clear how the labeling reforms will be implemented), it will free Italian producers from the yoke of currently strict labeling regulations. If someone wanted to produce a Montalcino Merlot and label it as such, that would be her or his business — literally.

Like the story of the Rabbi and the Ham Sandwich, I don’t need to drink Merlot from Montalcino. But if someone else wants to, that’s fine with me.

The Italian DOC/G system does (and doesn’t) matter

Photos by Tracie B.

A number of folks have posted recently about the Italian appellation system, bemoaning the fact that there is no “official” comprehensive list of DOCs and DOCGs. Back in NYC, my friend and colleague James Taylor posted at the VinoNYC blog: “as is the case with most things governmental in Italy, the system for classifying its wines can be apparently simple but deceptively complex, and can oftentimes cause a headache.” (In case you are not familiar with the Italian appellation system, see the note following this post below.)

Out here in Texas, Italian Wine Guy recently updated his list of DOCGs. His is the most comprehensive list that I know of. (Considering how much Italian wine he “touches,” as he likes to put it, as the Italian wine director for behemoth distributor Glazer’s, you’d think the Italian government would give this dude a medal. He certainly deserves one.)

It’s remarkable to think that neither the Italian government nor its Trade Commission, nor the Agriculture Ministry, nor the Italian Wine Union publish an online, comprehensive, definitive, exhaustive, up-to-date list.

But does a list really matter? Especially now?

IWG notes that while some might wonder why such a list is really necessary, it is important “because sommeliers studying for their tests want and need this information [and] anyway, it is kind of fun trying to figure a way through the labyrinth of Italian wines on that (or any) level.”

The point about sommeliers studying for their exams is a valid one: as Franco and I reported the other day at VinoWire, none of the three finalists in the recent AIS sommelier competition recognized a Langhe Bianco DOC (and one of its producers is no less than the Bishop of Barbaresco, Angelo Gaja!). Needless to say, the award was conferred to one of the contestants despite this glaring lacuna. The fact of the matter is that in the U.S. we perceive these regulations in an entirely different perspective — one that reveals our pseudo-Protestant and quasi-Progressivist tendencies and predilections for precision and accuracy.

One of our (American) misconceptions about the Italian appellation system is that it was designed to protect the consumer. In fact, as Teobaldo Cappellano pointed out in last year’s Brunello Debate, the DOC/DOCG system was created to protect “the territory,” i.e., the production zone and the people who live there and make wine.

On August 1, 2009, the DOC and DOCG system was essentially put to rest by newly implemented EU Common Market Organization reforms. August 1 was the deadline for the creation of wine appellations by EU member states and from that day forward, the power to create appellations passed from member states to the EU. The deadline created a mad rush to create new DOCs and DOCGs in Italy. Beginning with the current vintage, all wines produced in the EU will be labeled as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). The new designations will recognize and allow labeling using the members states’s current appellation classifications. But from now on, no new DOCs or DOCGs will be permitted.

It’s important to note that the DOCG does denote a higher standard of production practices: generally, lower yields, longer aging, and a second tasting of the wine by local chambers of commerce (after bottling but before release), thus conferring the “G” for garantita (guaranteed). But even though the DOCG classification has been used historically as a more-or-less deceptive marketing tool (like this pay-to-play press release on the just-under-the-wire new Matelica DOCG), it does not necessarily denote higher quality. Think, for example, of Quintarelli’s 1999 Rosso del Bepi Veneto IGT, his declassified Amarone. A few years ago, when I called him to ask him about this wine, Giuseppe Quntarelli told me that he thought it was a great wine and wanted to release it but he felt it wasn’t a “true Amarone” and so he declassified it. (Yes, I hate to break the news to you, Bob Chadderdon, you’re not the only person in the U.S. allowed to speak to Quintarelli. He complimented me, btw, for my Paduan cadence!)

The rush to create new appellations (and in particular, new DOCGs), has created a great deal of confusion and in some cases commotion. I’ll post more on the subject later this week: self-proclaimed xenophobe, racist, and separatist agriculture minister Luca Zaia truly stirred the pot with the creation of a Prosecco DOCG. Stay tuned…

*****

Currently, the Italian appellation system has three basic classifications for fine wine: DOCG, DOC, and IGT.

Acronymic articulations and translations:

DOCG: Denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita (Designation of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin)

DOC: Denominazione d’origine controllata (Designation of Controlled Origin)

IGT: Indicazione Geografica Tipica (Typical Geographical Indication)

There are wines still labeled VdT, i.e., Vino da Tavola or table wines but few of them make the Atlantic passage. In other words, few cross that body of water otherwise known as the “great misunderstanding.”

On the day that she was born…

Tomorrow marks the day that the love of my life was born. :-)

We’re in San Antonio tonight to start celebrating, with a Saturday night getaway and dinner at Andrew Weissman’s Il Sogno. Tomorrow we’ll have a little birthday cake and champers back in Austin with the gang.

If ever a song lyric rang true in my life, it would be the line from “Close to You”: on the day that you were born/the angels got together/and decided they would make a dream come true.

Tracie B, you’re my dream come true…

As part of her birthday celebration, I made sweet Tracie B a mixed CD, including this track that I wrote and recorded just for her…

Happy birthday sweet Tracie B!

happy_bday

“Wine and mortality” and the last bottle of 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco

Above: One of the first times I tasted the 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco was in February of 2008 with my good friend John Yelenosky at a pizzeria in San Diego. Tracie B and I drank our last bottle of 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco last night… and so did a Good Friend…

“Wine and mortality” was the subject line of an email I received today from a Good Friend. As I write this, One of the Good Friend’s loved ones is leaving this world for the nec plus ultra of the beyond. The One’s transfiguration is being observed in their home, with friends gathering to tell the One how much they love the One and to hold the One’s hands and massage the One’s feet.

The Good Friend wrote that two bottles of wine were opened last night to toast the One. Of those, one was “my last bottle of 2004 Produttori.”

As it so happens, Tracie B and I decided unknowingly to open our last bottle of 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco last night — not for any particular reason other than the fact that it seemed to have found its way to the front of the refrigerator that we use as a wine cellar.

Unwittingly, we discovered, we shared the same wine as the Good Friend and the One.

Wine and our perceptions of wine are a visceral experience by which we share our humanity and our humanness — and ultimately, our mortality. The miracle of wine (and until modern times, wine was considered a divine miracle) is a mystery of life that some of us (the ones and the others) often contemplate more or less profoundly on a nearly daily basis, a riddle of the Sphinx that more often than not leaves us speechless, unable to describe it.

I’ve often thought of the winemaker as a medical doctor who captures the “life” of the grape in its liquid form and preserves it for years and even decades longer with a cork. When the liquid is released again, the grapes’s life begins to transpire, and we often experience a sense of awe and ecstasy as this takes place (consider, here, the word ecstasy in its etymologic sense).

Last night, the Good Friend and the One and Tracie B and I all tasted the same Nebbiolo grapes from the same vintage, bottled at the hand of the same Other.

“Do not know what we will drink tonight,” the Good Friend concluded the email, “but do know to whom our glasses will be raised.”

This post is devoted to the Good Friend and the One. Tracie B and I will raise a glass to you both tonight.

You are in our hearts and our thoughts.