Italy vs. Google

Above: The night we stayed in Bologna on our recent trip to Italy, my friends (some of whom I’ve known for more than 20 years), shared this Youtube video of Italian politician Francesco Rutelli butchering the English language. The video has been the subject of much ridicule and parody in Italy, a country with a rich history of biting satire that stretches back to the Renaissance and beyond. My friends said it was an example of their culturally and morally bankrupt government.

Between our re-entry into civilian life, our move into our new home, a ride-with with a rockstar winemaker in northern and eastern Texas, and the mountain of thank you cards that Tracie P and I have just begun to chip away at, an interesting news story slipped through my cracks this week: according to a story published on Wednesday by The New York Times, an Italian court convicted three Google executives for “violating Italian privacy laws.” (For more detailed background on the case, see also this Reuters post.) Many see the ruling as part of the Berlusconi government’s attempt to curb freedom on the internet and part of an over-arching plan to maintain control of public opinion through the cultural hegemony of television (as head of state and thus chief executive of public television and owner of the major privately-owned television channels, Berlusconi has a virtual monopoly on what is televised in Italy).

Above: To appreciate this parody of the Rutelli clip, you need hear the “interpreter’s” markedly Roman accent. The short film is indicative of Italians’s embrace of the internet as a viral medium for satire. And again, I can’t underline enough the centrality of satire in Italian culture. Just think of the pasquinades of 16th-century Rome — same idea, different medium.

If you’ve visited Italy in recent years, you know that connecting to the internet can be a daunting challenge there. At least one restaurateur explained I spoke to in 2008 said that this is because the Italian government holds the internet providers responsible for what their users and customers post on the internet. It’s simply not worth the hassle for restaurateurs, for example, to provide internet access to their customers (and this guy was an entirely hip and successful winemaker in German-speaking Italy, who has a sleek, contemporary restaurant in the Alps). When you can get online in Italy, some businesses (like hotels) ask you to sign a written document stating that you are fully liable for what you publish on the internet.

Above: A quick search on YouTube quickly rendered an example of the type of virally circulated clip that might bother Berlusconi.

Does any of this have any bearing on the world of wine? Yes, in my opinion, it does. Now, more than ever, Italian wineries need to use the internet as a medium for viral marketing of their products to English-speaking consumers. This is especially true right now when the enosphere is shifting radically to the internet as its preferred medium of communication.

Okay, time to get down off my soap box… If you made it this far into the post, thanks for reading!

Buona domenica a tutti…

This is not marijuana: it’s za’atar (and great pizza in Austin, yes, in Austin!)

Above: This is not marijuana. It’s za’atar, a traditional Arabic spice mixture, not only delicious but with magical — miraculous, I might say — properties.

Tracie P likes to tease me: “I can’t take you anywhere,” she laments with a grin on her face, without me striking up conversation with the sommelier, chef, or in this case, the pizzaiolo.

To celebrate our wedding, my friend and client Julio Hernández and his lovely wife Lauren took me and Tracie P out to try a new Italian restaurant and pizzeria on Congress Ave., Quattro Gatti. After taking a bite of my pizza (which was delicious, see below), I couldn’t help compliment the pizzaiolo, whose wood-burning oven was an earshot from our table.

In what was a true una faccia, una razza (one face, one race) moment, he beckoned me over and offered me a taste of his za’atar. The traditional Arabic spice mixture, he said, should be sprinkled over toasted bread that has been drizzled with olive oil. Not only is it delicious, he noted, but it also helps to stimulate the digestion. How can I say this? Let’s just say it helps with your daily “miracle.”

Above: Arabs sprinkle za’atar over a pizza crust or over toasted bread. Being an Ashkenazi Jew, I sprinkled mine this morning over cream cheese spread on my toasted bagel.

Pizzaiolo Melad, an Iraqi raised in Syria, was too kind: he sent me home with a baggie (I can’t resist the term) of za’atar for me and Tracie P to enjoy with breakfast. And I’m here to tell you folks, it works! ;-)

The other good news is that the pizza at Quattro Gatti is fantastic.

Above: We’ll definitely be returning to the newly opened Quattro Gatti for the pizza (that’s the Quattro Stagioni, above). Located smack-dad in the middle of downtown Austin, this place is sure to be one of the hottest tables during the upcoming SXSW music festival. The wine list was more-than fairly priced.

Owner Gianfranco Mastrangelo hails from Campania via Manhattan and he knows his pizza. We loved it: the crust was savory, firm to the bite on the outside, and slightly moist and chewy toward the center of the pie (and his house-baked bread was excellent, as well).

A Neapolitan, an Arab, and a Jew walk into a pizzeria… and the Jew leaves with the za’atar…

Thanks for reading and buon weekend, ya’ll!

Tuscan Rooms with Views

One of the highlights of our honeymoon was the Tenuta Il Poggione farm house where we stayed on our first two nights of our trip. The old farm house, located in the middle of the estate, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, has seven guest rooms, all with air conditioning, heating, and kitchen. We stayed in the room called “Pero,” the pear tree.

farm house

This amazing olive tree is about 50 yards from the farm house. Il Poggione is one of my favorite wineries and I’ve been friends with the Bindocci family, who runs the estate, for many years now. Winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci told me that some of the trees in this grove are nearly 200 years old.

farm house

Can you see why I love her so much? :-)

farm house

This is the view from the farm house, looking northward. That’s Sant’Angelo in Colle (where we ate at Trattoria Il Pozzo).

farm house

That’s the view from the farm house looking south. There are few signs of modernity here. Just looking at this photo, the mimetic desire kicks in and I can still smell the dolce aere tosco, the sweet Tuscan air that Petrarch reminisced about and longed for in his Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, his Fragments of Vernacular Things (194.6).

farm house

The farm house seen from the south. The property also includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool (that was covered, of course, when we were there). The rooms are cozy and each one has a kitchen. I’m hoping that one of these days we can make a family trip there.

farm house

Even an amateur photographer like me feels like a Rembrandt in this immensely photogenic land. To get to the farmhouse, you have to drive about 10 minutes from the town of Sant’Angelo on a dirt road through woods, vineyards, and olive groves. And when you get there, you feel like you’re in a 19-century grand tour landscape… that’s some room with a view… I highly recommend it!

For more information and booking, email the estate at

tracie parzen

Happy Friday, ya’ll!

Terroir in Brunello (Castelnuovo dell’Abate, the Ramones, and James Brown)

I have a lot of posts lined up from our trip to Italy: this is the next in chronological order… A lot of folks have written me about our visits to Rinaldi and G. Mascarello (organized thanks to our extraordinary guide Franco) and as soon as I “move” through Tuscany and Emilia, I’ll post those tasting notes as well… but first some Montalcino terroir… thanks, everyone, for reading!

brunello di montalcino

Above: On our last night in Italy, in Rome, where we ate at an excellent if cantankerous Roman trattoria, we treated ourselves to a 2000 Brunello di Montalcino by one of my favorite producers, Poggio di Sotto, which lies in the southeastern sub-zone of the appellation, where the wines have an earthier and more pronounced mineral character in my opinion.

Our second day in Italy, we spent the morning in the farmhouse where we were staying (more on that later), sipping stove-top coffee and munching on cookies. After a quick visit to Montalcino proper, we headed south to Castelnuovo dell’Abate to visit one of my favorite people in Montalcino, Federico Marconi. As Fabrizio Bindocci said to me later that evening, when Federico walks into a room, you just can’t help but smile and be in a good mood. It’s really true.

brunello di montalcino

Above: Federico is one of the coolest dudes I know in Montalcino. We have a dream of creating a rock band called the Ramontalcinos (for our shared love of the Ramones; I think that we might also need to recruit McDuff for the project).

Le Presi, where Federico works, is a tiny winery and estate, founded in Castlenuovo dell’Abate by Bruno Fabbri in 1970. Bruno learned about winemaking and developed a passion for Brunello because he worked as an electrician in the legendary Biondi-Santi winery in the “Croce” subzone of Montalcino (just south of Montalcino proper).

brunello di montalcino

Above: One of the things that makes the Castelnuovo subzone unique is the presence alternating layers of sandstone and volcanic subsoils, as illustrated by this cross-section. Le Presi lies on the edge of Castelnuovo (literally newcastle) and one of its walls coincides with the ancient wall of the hilltop town. The volcanic deposits come from the nearby Mt. Amiata, to the south, once an active volcano.

I love the wines of Le Presi, which I first tasted at Vinitaly in 2009: they’re old-school Brunello, sourced from two small growing sites, just south of the town, vinified in a traditional style and aged in large cask. Like Federico, Bruno Fabbri (below) and his son Gianni (who now runs the winery and makes the wine) will tell you that the high concentration of volcanic subsoil (as you can see in the image above) gives their wines their distinctive minerality (and earthiness in my opinion). They call their top growing site “Muro Forte” (literally, strong wall, named after the wall in their cellar that coincides with the ancient town wall).

brunello di montalcino

Above: Tracie P and I really enjoyed talking to Bruno, who seemed happy to share tales of his earlier years, working at Biondi Santi, and making wine in Castelnuovo.

When I mentioned to Bruno that we were staying at the Il Poggione estate in Sant’Angelo in Colle (one of the southwest growing zones), he pointed out that Castelnuovo doesn’t have the same “maritime” influence (i.e., ventilation arriving via sea breeze) that Sant’Angelo has. Some would argue that the one or the other is better (can you guess which subzone Bruno favors?) but one this is for certain: the wines from Castelnuovo (at least those made in a traditional style) have different flavors from those produced in other subzones.

In the words of James Brown:

    Some like’em fat, some like’em tall
    Some like’em short, skinny legs and all
    I like’em all, huh, I like’em proud
    And when they walk
    You know they draw a crowd
    See, you got to have a mother for me

Let me just put it this way, the wines of Le Presi have a mother for me.

Next on deck, the terroir of the southwestern subzone and the fantastic farmhouse where we stayed.

Thanks for reading!

Vini Veri Tasting details, April 8-10, 2010 in Cerea

giampiero bea

Above: Giampiero Bea, owner of the Paolo Bea winery and one of the founders of Vini Veri. I took this picture when tasted with him last April at the Vini Veri fair.

A lot of folks have been writing me asking me what other events they should attend during the week of Vinitaly, the Italian wine industry’s annual trade fair.

Every year, one of my top destinations is the Vini Veri tasting. I finally got my hands on event details for the tasting, which will be held in Cerea (and not in Isola della Scala) this year.

My good friend (and fellow San Diegan and UCLA alumna) Marisa Huff, who’s working on event organization and media relations, told me that convention-center space at Cerea will help to accommodate the fair’s growth and that the entire tasting will take place in the same hall, making it easier to navigate and negotiate. Some of the charm of Villa Boschis (where the event was held in the past) will be lost, she said, but the new venue will make it a lot easier for attendees to make the rounds. Thanks, Marisa, for sending me the info (below)! :-)

Hope to see you there!

    Vini Veri 2010

    The Dates: Thursday, April 8th to Saturday, April 10th

    The Time: 10 AM to 6 PM

    The Place: AreaExp Events Center, in Cerea (Province of Verona), about a half-hour drive/train ride from Vinitaly.

    The Producers: over 130 natural wine producers, from Italy and beyond.

    The Organizers: Vini Veri Consortium and Renaissance Des Appellations.

    A complete list of the participating winemakers will soon be available on our website,

Brunello manga (yes, manga)

Yesterday was the last day of Benvenuto Brunello in Montalcino and my friends over at Montalcino Report and Il Palazzone both posted on the annual unveiling of the artist’s plaque commemorating the release of a new vintage. This year it was crafted by sister and brother Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, creators of the immensely successful manga, Drops of God.

In other news…

I tasted some pretty incredible, unusual, and remarkable wines yesterday and met and talked to some pretty interesting folks… It’s only been two days that I’ve been on the road but all I can think about is what it will feel like when I can plant these lips on those belonging to my lovely lady tonight… Two days on the road feels like SIX!

I heart Barbera (and some vintage Thelonious Monk)

Barbera Asti

Today finds me “in the market” in Dallas… in other words, meeting with buyers, sommeliers, and a winemaker (you will not believe who! but I’ll reveal that later… let’s just say that I’ll be tasting a 100-point Parker wine today…).

Posting hastily but wanted to share the good news that I’ve been asked to be the official blogger for Barbera Meeting 2010 in Asti (Piedmont): four days of tasting and meeting with Barbera producers, March 8-11.

But the really super cool thing is that the PR firm who’s organized the tastings has asked me to bring some of my best blogging buddies and friends along for a veritable Barbera blogfest!

Not that I needed ANOTHER blog but here’s the blog I’ve created just for the event. The whole affair is pretty darn blogicious, if I do say so myself! And I am completely geeked to taste through scores and scores of wines with some of my favorite bloggers in the English-speaking world…

In other news…

I can’t reveal the super-secret identities of the folks who had me over for dinner last night but suffice to say she’s a nationally renowned food writer and he’s a famous music writer.

Steamed giant asparagus and vinaigrette (with home-baked white and brown bread) and roast herbed chicken and potatoes were fantastic but the coolest thing was that he let all of the guests call out requests from his music library.

Mine was: “Thelonious Monk, 1957, New York City.” Famous French music writer then turned me on to a super cool recording I’d never heard before, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall in 1957. I know the Monk canon well and to hear different (new-to-me) versions of some of his classic was a real treat… and it paired nicely with the 1999 Tertre Roteboeuf.

I think Right Bank always goes better with Monk, don’t you? Miles? Definitely, Left Bank… ;-)

Thanks for reading!

A chair is still a chair…

A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sittin’ there
But a chair is not a house and a house is not a home
When there’s no one there to hold you tight
And no one there you can kiss goodnight…

A flute is still a chair, even when there’s no Champange in there…

I’m not sure why I woke up with a sad song in my head this morning: today is one of the happiest days in a long, long time… even in a month and a new year that has been filled with moments of joy that I would have never imagined in my lifetime.

Last night, Tracie P and I opened a bottle of Champagne to celebrate our first dinner and evening at home… our very first night in our first home together… our very first sip from our Waterford crystal flutes, a first bite from our Charlotte flatware and Portmeirion “Sophie Conran White” plates…

A desk is still a desk…

The joy of this moment doesn’t erase the challenges we face: a dear and beloved family friend who is dealing with serious health issues, a misunderstanding and a useless quarrel with another good friend, and the financial and professional mountains Tracie P and I have yet to climb…

As I sit at my desk for the first time and sip my morning coffee (out of our new coffee cups), as Tracie P slumbers on an early Sunday here in Austin, I’m taking a moment to breath in the magic of this moment, this first sip of coffee, and this first blog post at my “new” desk… in our new home…

I love you so very much Tracie P and I love our new (and first!) home together… With you by my side, this little, humble house is so much more than just a house…

Thanks for reading and letting me share this moment with ya’ll… Buona domenica…

The honeymoon ain’t over… Champers, anyone?


My parents-in-law, Reverend and Mrs. B, came to Austin this week to help us with our move and last night, we took them to one of our favorite dining spots to celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary — yes, 39 years!

It was really only our second night out since we returned from our honeymoon and our good friend and top Austin sommelier Mark Sayre at Trio surprised us with the very same wine that we drank on the second day of our viaggio di nozze, a bottle of Charles Heidsieck, which he just added to his list. The wine has a wonderful balance of toasty and white fruit flavors and its bright acidity makes it super food-friendly.

Thanks, Mark! Who knew you read my blog??!! ;-) It felt like our honeymoon all over again.

And thanks Rev. and Mrs. B for giving us such a beautiful wedding, helping us move, and most of all for having such a lovely daughter!

Happy anniversary, ya’ll! We love you a lot…

And, chef Todd, the chicken wasn’t half bad either (my father-in-law can’t stop talking about the fried, breaded avocado topped with poached quail egg. Delicious!).

Brunello, you were always on my mind

It’s hard to believe that we were in Montalcino just a few short weeks ago! That’s Tracie P, above, atop the Fortezza in the historical center of the town, where Benvenuto Brunello begins today — the appellation’s annual grand tasting, where producers present their new vintages, this year, the 2004 2005 Brunello di Montalcino, the 2003 Brunello di Montalcino riserva, the 2008 Rosso di Montalcino, and the Moscadello di Montalcino (which I’ve never seen in the U.S.).

Tracie P and I tasted some great 2004 Brunello (not an easy vintage and certainly not a spectacular vintage for those not blessed with superior growing sites) and one phenomenal 2003 riserva.

I don’t have time to pen a decent post today: we’re busy moving into a little house we rented, our first home together! But I will post on the wines we tasted and the different terroirs of Montalcino next week.

Even though I love wines from many different regions of Italy, Brunello will always be my first romance: my enophilia grew out of my first visit to Bagno Vignoni, just south of Montalcino, when a friend and student of mine lent me the keys to his apartment there in 1989.

Brunello, you were always on my mind…

My writing partner Franco Ziliani is attending Benvenuto Brunello (where, unfortunately, it’s next-to-impossible to get online!) and we’ll be posting his impressions next week over at VinoWire.