Long way home: one man’s Yquem is another’s strawberry milkshake

From the “just for fun” department…

columbus texas

Above: Yesterday, I walked out onto the railroad bridge in Columbus, Texas and took this photo of the Colorado River. Man, what a beautiful day and what beautiful drive home to Austin from Houston. But, then again, any drive home is beautiful when Tracie P and her ragù alla bolognese await you at the end of the trip. :-)

Yesterday in Houston, after spending nearly 6 hours in a Starbucks, sitting in front of my Mac, going back and forth over the details of a big proposal with a client, I decided to take the “long way home.” About halfway through my journey, I stopped in Columbus, Texas, where a bend in the Colorado River and a junction between the old highways 90 and 71 come together.

sauternesWhen I stopped at an old-school carhop drive-in, the “Dairy Cone,” I couldn’t help but think of an evening I’ll never forget, when as the guest of wine maven Charles, I experienced one of the all-time aristocratically classic pairings of Western civilization, Sauternes and foie gras. In this case, 1976 Yquem and fattened goose liver at Gramercy Tavern in New York a few years ago.

I’m sure that Frank, who was also there that evening, would agree that a chili cheeseburger and strawberry milkshake on a warm spring day in a Texas small town on the banks of the muddy Colorado river are about as good as it gets. If Frank knew what a shitty week I’d had (will people just friggin’ chill out and realize it’s not all about them???!!!), I’m sure the doctor would agree that a drive through the country and some comfort food would do this body some good.

strawberry milkshake

Above: Sweetened milk with a few strawberries thrown in, chili con carne, American cheese, and bread made with hydrogenated oil. Probably about as fatty as foie gras and Sauternes. And, man, I don’t know why, but it just tastes so good.

Columbus is one of those wonderful “little pink houses” American towns and it has an impressive “historic sites” program. The railroad bridge in the photo above is one of two 1920s truss bridges, a handsome artifact of America’s industrialization and growth between the two world wars.

columbus texas

Above: I couldn’t find any historical information about the locally owned Dairy Cone but it looks to me like it was once a classic 1950s carhop.

Maybe it was just my mood, maybe it was the beautiful, warm spring day. Maybe it was the sound of the Union Pacific passing through behind the Dairy Cone… The pairing of chili cheeseburger and strawberry shake was divine. One man’s Yquem, as Howard would say, is another’s strawberry milkshake.

My advice? When life gives you lemons, take the long way home. My journey was rewarded by a ragù alla bolognese and a KILLER bottle of 2005 Spanna by Dessilani and a sweet kiss on the lips…

Drinking American with my Rockport crispy softshell crab in Houston

We drank two American wines between the four of us last night, when cousins Marty and Joanne, family friend Taylor and I shared a truly superb seafood dinner last night at one of Houston’s more glamorous dining destinations Mark’s (pricey, I gotta say, but worth every penny… thanks again, ya’ll for a great dinner, btw!).

The pièce de résistance was the crispy softshell crabs from Rockport, Texas (above), which wine director Saree Mulhern deftly and keenly paired with a wine I’d never tasted before, 2007 Retour Pinot Noir. I told Saree that I was hoping for a lighter-bodied Pinot Noir, not old world per se, but with good acidity and balanced use of wood. She delivered a beauty of a wine, I must say. The pairing with the fresh-tasting softshell, gently battered and fried (a Houstonian delicacy), was brilliant.

It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white: the 2008 Pinot Blanc by Robert Foley — “no barrel, no malo” as his site reports — was fresh and bright and wonderful with my “trio” of seafood appetizers (actually a tetralogy). I was blown away by the Louisiana crawfish tails, which the chef seemed to have treated as he would steamed langoustines — an aristocratic demise for these “mudbugs,” as they are called around these parts. Man, if I came across a live crawfish as big as that, I’d probably run for the hills!

You see? I’m trying to break my old habits and drink domestically… I can’t think of a better place than Saree’s list to do it.

In other news…

This is how I feel right now:

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured,
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won’t you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.

Man, I’m looking forward to some downtime with that super fine lady of mine this weekend! I miss her so much after a week too hectic with work and other mishegas… On Monday, I might just ask her to call my job and tell my boss I won’t be in, to borrow one of Guy Stout’s favorite lyrics…

Alice in the news, but not for wine (you’re not going to believe this)

Above: Alice, Tracie P, and I had dinner together last year in Paris and did some natural winebar hopping together.

One of the things I admire the most about our good friend Alice Feiring is that she’s a great writer — a great American writer, a great New York writer — and she writes about wine the way Philip Roth would write about wine if he wrote about wine. Her subject is non-fiction but she approaches it the way a novelist approaches narrative: like a fiction writer, she tells a story about wine — often personal, often drawing from her own life experience — to reveal truths about her subject otherwise lost upon the naked eye.

Alice was in the news this morning, but not for wine. She was one of the scores of women “persuaded to pose” for the “Dating Game Killer,” Rodney Alcala in the late 1960s. Here’s a link to the story that appeared today in the Daily News.

I’m just so glad that she’s okay… I just can’t imagine a world without her.

Together again, naturally


Above: Nothing to Breg about, to borrow Alfonso’s pun. Last night, he, Tracie P, and I shared a bowl of her slow-cooker cannellini beans and escarole in our home in Austin. Decanted and with a few hours of aeration, the 2000 Breg by Gravner bowled me over, in every sense of the word. Thanks, Alfonso!

Natural wine has been on my mind (again) lately. In part because of a recent appeal posted on the Slowine website (and brought to my attention by Italy’s top wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani) calling for Italy’s “natural wine” fairs (namely, Vini Veri and VinNatur) to be incorporated into the annual Italian wine industry mega-fair Vinitaly. I stayed home this year and didn’t attend but when I posted event details for Vini Veri, a number of folks — including some high-profile industry types — weighed in on the side of consolidation.


Above: There’s just no other way to put this. Tracie P’s legumes were divine last night. Every bean was perfectly whole but then melted in the mouth. Did I mention that the beautiful lady behind the lens also has a natural gift for photography? She snapped the above.

Natural wine has also been on my mind because I’ve been following Alice’s truly excellent posts on the nature — semantic, metaphysical, and sensorial — of natural wine, the winemakers and movement(s) that support and profess it, and the new space it occupies in the language and the perceptions of the mainstream. The latest post, entitled “What is Natural Wine?”, may be the best, but I highly recommend the previous two posts (here and here) and the Washington Post article that prompted the series, “Natural Isn’t Perfect” by Dave McIntyre.


Above: Not only did Alfonso bring the Gravner last night, he also brought some awesome bacon from Robertson’s in Salado, Texas. @BrooklynGuy, you would love this stuff.

In other natural wine news, the excellent Italian wine blog Intravino posted a profile of natural wine trailblazer Joe Dressner and the blog devoted to his truly heroic battle with brain cancer (also brought to my attention by Mr. Ziliani and btw here’s a link to Joe’s blog).

In an email I received yesterday from Étienne de Montille, the famous winemaker wrote that “I should have left for Tokyo Sunday but… Nature has decided otherwise.”

Volcano or no volcano, the transatlantic dialogue moves forward as “natural wine,” however it is conceived or perceived, indelibly enters into the collective vinous consciousness. Only good can come of it.

A bygone wine: 1991 Chianti Montalbano by Capezzana


Tuesday morning finds me on the road and on a secret mission, ferrying precious cargo, and so I cannot reveal my location. But I can share my impressions of one of the most amazing wines I’ve tasted in a long time, a truly bygone bottle (to borrow Eric’s phrase from his bygone blog The Pour, requiescat in pace): 1991 Chianti Montalbano by Capezzana.

The Montalbano subzone of Chianti is one of the growing areas that enjoyed great celebrity in a bygone era, eclipsing the fame of appellations that enjoy household brand status today (like Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino). On another day, when I have more time and access to my library at home, I’ll have to look up what Edmondo de Amicis said famously of this appellation, which, according to legend, he enjoyed immensely despite his abstinence.

Today, only a handful of wineries produce Chianti Montalbano and I don’t have time to figure out when the regal Capezzana estate, famed producer of Carmignano, bottled its last Montalbano.

The 1991 harvest was a good although not great vintage in Tuscany but this wine was very, very much alive, with bright fruit and acidity. Old-school Sangiovese, probably with a kiss of Canaiolo to lend some color and mouthfeel.


My companions and I expected it to “fall away,” shortly after being opened but over the roughly 45 minutes it took us to consume the bottle, it remained vibrant and beautiful — one of the greatest wines I’ve tasted in some time (and I must say that I have the good fortune to taste a lot of good ones!).

To anyone who can share info about this bottle, please do so!

In other news…

I’m writing in hurry today because on the road but I’m happy to report that one of the upshots of the current volcanic crisis in Europe is that American wine professionals and European winemakers alike are stuck in Europe. As a result, I’m hearing reports that lots of folks are getting together to taste and to visit wineries. When life gives you lemons, the saying goes…

More later… and thanks for reading…

Kitchen-sink paella and pleonastic etymologic Sunday morning musings

Photos by the angelic Tracie P.

In Austin, Texas, one really needs no particularly apparent reason to throw a party, other than the patent excuse that the weather’s nice and it’s Saturday. Such was the case when a group of folks gathered in the home of Austinite food and wine personality (and all-around nice guy) John Bullington yesterday for a paella party, a series of paelladas, including some very traditional expressions and highly unconventional interpretations, like the one above, including orange slices, purple carrots, Brussels sprouts, and roast chicken, among other ingredients (and omitting saffron for at least one safranophobe). John cooked the paella over an open, pecan-wood fired pit, and at least one observer could not help but admire his collection of paelleras.

Upon noting praise for his paella prowess, John pointed out that paellapans.com is the perfect place to purchase such implements.

A philologist and lover of words at heart, I couldn’t help but note the pleonastic nature of the binomial paella pan, the pan pan, so to speak, a linguistic conundrum akin to that encountered in the La Brea Tar Pits, in other words, the the tar tar pits. Indeed, the lemma paella has become so deeply entrenched in our everyday parlance that it has lost its connection to the etymon patina (patena) and later patella, meaning [open] pan, from the Latin pateo, meaning to open (which also gives us Anglophones patent, meaning open, widespread, unobstructed, clear, evident, obvious).

Okay, so now you know what I sit around and think about on an early, lazy, sleepy Sunday morning as the genteel Tracie P slumbers angelically.

Monday morning promises to deliver some significantly less whimsical wine blogging (stay tuned)… In the meantime, let’s all hope that everyone’s favorite natural wine blogger Saignée can be delivered swiftly and safely back to his lovely better half… He’s stuck somewhere between a volcano and San Francisco. Let’s all wish him buon viaggio

And buona domenica to the rest of ya’ll…

Italian old-school rope barometer

Sent to me by Italian-university-days roomate and super good friend, Steve Muench (scroll down for his self-portrait), who lives not far from the dorm where we first met in Padua, with his wife Sita and their beautiful daughters. He snapped this on their recent vacation in Umbria.

@Steve how long have we known each other? twenty-some odd years now? :-)


Rope Barometer

Dry Rope
Good Weather

Wet Rope

Rigid Rope

Invisible Rope

Flapping Rope

My favorite is “invisible rope [=] fog.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

I hope everyone is having a relaxing Saturday like me and my Tracie P! :-)

Whadda night! Anthony Wilson Trio at the Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla

Above: What a mindblowingly great show last night by The Anthony Wilson Trio, with Larry Goldings on Hammond B-3, Jeff Hamilton on drums, and guest Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet! The old auditorium at the hyberbolically postmodern Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla continues to be a great “room” to hear jazz.

Wow, last night, whadda night… At the last minute, our good friend Robin Stark hooked me up with a ticket via her frequent flier miles and got me into La Jolla for Anthony Wilson Trio’s show at the Neurosciences Institute.

These guys — each of them a jazz master in his own right — performed two spell-binding sets, with original composition “Mezcal” flooring me in the first, and the theme to the movie Chinatown transporting me (and a lot of other folks) to a new plane of consciousness (I’m not kidding) in the second. Both tracks appear on Anthony’s latest disk, Jack of Hearts. They also did a hauntingly gorgeous cover by Judee Sill (can someone remind me of the title?) and a a couple of Ellington covers.

Above: Stopped in briefly for a Campari and soda at Jaynes, now serving cocktails nightly.

Brother Tad and nephew Cole (both of them jazz aficionados) were there, as were Yelenosky and Jon and a whole mess of nice La Jolla folks I know. Jayne and Jon hosted the after-party for the band and Robin’s posse at their home. Robin, who underwrote the performance, was talking up her ProKids charity: “The mission of Pro Kids is to positively impact the lives of inner-city youth by providing programs that promote education, character development, life-skills, and values through the game of golf.”

Above: 2006 Meursault Les Chevalières by Boisson-Vadot and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon by Chateau Montelena with pizza for dinner. That’s how one rolls in La Jolla. The Montelena, which I was tasting for the first time, impressed me with its restraint. The Boisson-Vadot? Killer. To borrow Lyle’s phrase, rocks and fruit.

I’m already on a plane back to Texas (posting from the plane!) and I’m looking forward to a weekend at home with that super fine lady of mine.

With the arrival of spring and the wine industry and its media back at full throttle these days, I have to confess that the lame-assed negativity of certain bloggers (and haters) has been bringing me down lately. I don’t know why certain folks can’t realize this blog — my blog — is about my life and nothing more… It’s a journal, its entries filled with my experiences, the wines I taste, the foods I eat, the pairings I stumble upon, the music I like to listen to, and my impressions of the places where I travel and the people I meet.

Anthony Wilson is definitely one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met and we all had a blast drinking some killer wines, listening to vinyl, munching out, and hanging at Jayne and Jon’s after the show. A truly “epic” night, as we say in Southern California.

I was reminded just how lucky I am to be surrounded by such wonderful folks who truly care about and for me, warm family that cherishes my happiness and my achievements, and a gorgeous and loving lady, whose affection and carbonara truly rock my world…

Yesterday, I was treated to a heaping serving of awesome music, thanks in part to friends who know how much I like that type of thing and who just generally like having me around.

This post is for me to look back on and remember this moment and how it made me feel. This post is dedicated to those friends…

Thanks for reading…

Air guitar notion, chicken fried steak, and Valpolicella

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition), the earliest documented occurrence of the term air guitar in print dates back to 1980:

    1980 Hartford (Connecticut) Courant 24 Apr. 2/5 (caption) Roy Charette displays his prize-winning form at playing the ‘air’ guitar. 1980 Mountain Democrat (Placerville, Calif.) 19 Dec. A6/1 The fans whip out their air guitars to catch all of Mick Taylor’s licks. 1982 N.Y. Times 21 Feb. XXIII. 15/4 (heading) Her performance almost convinces the audience that she holds a real guitar and not a tennis racquet… ‘Air guitar’, the art of miming musical performances, has caught on around the country. A New Haven nightclub..held the Connecticut air-guitar championships. 1995 Guardian 30 June (Friday Review section) 18/1 Whole venues full of people..playing air guitar and moving their heads in an exaggerated side-to-side motion. 2002 D. AITKENHEAD Promised Land xiii. 139 We did our best to look impressed, but really it was just Armien, standing outside a shed, playing air-guitar on an imaginary AK-47.

That sounds about right to me: I started playing air guitar when I was around 13 years old. Doesn’t everyone?

I indulged in some very public air guitar last night, as well.

Last night we joined Björn Türoque (aka Jean-Luc Retard, my bandmate in Nous Non Plus, aka Dan Crane) and his lovely wife Kate for one of the regional editions of the US Air Guitar Championship at the High Ball in Austin. Björn and Kate travel around the country, emceeing these super-fun events.

Tracie P didn’t join me on stage last night (she’s more of air drum person and man, don’t let this woman loose in the Abba and/or Xanadu karaoke room!).

I couldn’t resist the Chicken Fried Hanger Steak at Lambert’s before the event (probably not the best idea, unfortunately, in the wind-up to an air guitar competition). Lambert’s allows corkage and so we paired with an awesome bottle of 2006 Le Ragose Valpolicella, one of my favorite expressions of the appellation, earthy and grapey, a superb barbecue and southern cooking pairing.

That’s all I have time for this morning as I’m headed out the door. You’re not going to believe where I’ll be tonight… Stay tuned… and thanks for reading!

Do Bianchi blue Monday, Air Guitar Tuesday (and bonus carbonara porn)

I just had to share this image, snapped last night at Vino Vino in Austin, where Hammond B-3 player Mike Flanigin and Gary Clark Jr. have been performing on Mondays. To my palate, Gary is one of the greatest blues players in the world today and to get to hear him play in small room like Vino Vino, where you hear his amp and Mike’s Leslie speaker unmitigated (i.e., not pumped through a PA), is simply one of those life-changing musical experiences. Add to the mix that the show is FREE and that you can order a killer bottle of wine (we drank the Bea Santa Chiara to the warm tones of Gary’s Gibson). If you know of any other place in the world beyond Austin, Texas where such an incredible confluence of sensuality occurs, please let me know…

In other sensual news…

Our good friends the Housewrights and I were treated to Tracie P’s amazing carbonara last night before we headed over to the show…

Did I mention the girl can cook?

In other other news…

Tracie P and I will be joining my erstwhile bandmate Björn Türoque tonight at the Highball in Austin for the Air Guitar Championship competition (regional edition).

See you there?