A “must read” for the true lover of Barolo

Above: Silvia and Nino Rocca preside over the kitchen and dining room of one of Piedmont’s most important wine destinations, Da Felicin in Monforte d’Alba. I took this photo in March when I dined there with the Barbera 7.

It was Charles Scicolone who, many years ago, first told me about Da Felicin, one of the great restaurants of Piedmont’s Langa hills and one of the world’s most important wine destinations — especially for those of us who worship in the temple of Nebbiolo.

Today, over at VinoWire, I’ve posted a translation of a post by my colleague and co-editor of the blog, Mr. Franco Ziliani (Italy’s A-number-1 wine blogger), about a very special bottle of wine that Felicin’s owner Nino Rocca shared with him. I hope that you’ll find Mr. Ziliani’s notes on this wine as moving as I did.

But, more importantly, this post — in part because of Mr. Ziliani’s interview of Armando Cordero, who made the wine in question — should be required reading for anyone trying to wrap their mind around what great Nebbiolo truly is and the modernist-vs.-traditionalist dialectic that is taking place on the ground in Langa. The information contained therein is subtle but fundamental. So please have a look

Buona lettura, as they say in Italian…

Ed McCarthy’s insights into Valentini, one of the absolutely best wines I’ve had in 2010

Above: One of the absolutely best wines I had this year was the 1999 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, which I drank at the Orange Wine dinner we held at Vino Vino in Austin in April.

Ever since my friend and ex-boss Nicola Marzovilla became an importer of Edoardo Valentini wines earlier this year, this legendary winery has entered into a renaissance in the consciousness of American lovers of fine wine.

Eric did this excellent post on a portfolio tasting of the wines that took place a few weeks ago in NYC and last week, another of the wine writers whom I admire greatly, the inimitable Ed McCarthy, wrote this fantastic profile and remembrance of Valentini, his wines, and the winery (his notes on the different clones of Trebbiano are a must read for anyone interested in Italian wine).

Also worth checking out: this round-up, by my blogging colleague and friend James Taylor, of past literature on Valentini.

When I had dinner with Nicola in NYC last month, I grilled him about his recent visit to the property in Abruzzo. He was reluctant to give up the goods but he ultimately revealed some of the winery’s secrets. But you’ll have to pour me a glass to get them out of me!

1982 Taurasi: monosyllabic tasting note “wow” (and notes on the origin of the name)

From the department of “it’s not always easy to be an Italian wine professional, is it?”…

Above: I’ve tasted 1982 Taurasi by Mastroberardino before, but this bottle was special.

Alfonso will tell you: Dallas is a tough BYOB town. It’s not like Austin, where an abundance of trailer-park dining destinations and barbecue joints make it an ideal city for the BYOB-lover.

But on any given night you’ll find nearly half of the Dallas wine scene at Urbano Cafe, a relatively anonymous eatery in an otherwise gritty part of this otherwise ostentatious city, sandwiched between Jimmy’s Food Store (a great Italian wine and food destination, btw) and Spiceman F[arm to] M[arket] 1410, an amazing source for farm-to-table produce and heirloom and otherwise unusual cultivars.

I found myself there not too long ago with the cats from Grailey’s, a private wine club for high-rolling Dallasites. (Don’t look at their blog because you might end up with an acute case of Pinot envy.)

The price of admission to Grailey’s is a little steep for me but whenever I’m in town, the generously natured lads there invite me over for a taste of something old and Italian. You see, this private wine club was founded on the site of ol’ Mr. Grailey Lee Jaynes’s abandoned cellar. And while they might be selling Bordeaux-this or California-cult-that on any given day, there are lots of “onesies” and “twosies” of old Italian bottlings lying around from the old man’s collection. In most cases, those wines have been sitting there since Grailey purchased them.

Such was the case of the amazingly vibrant bottle of 1982 Taurasi by Mastroberardino. I’d tasted this wine on a few occasions in NYC but this bottling was by far the best expression of the appellation and vintage I’ve ever had. The fruit was bright and the acidity brilliant. When vinified in a tradtional style (as this wine was), Aglianico achieves a nobility rivaled by few other grapes varieties (Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, I’d hazard to say). A bygone wine preserved in an anomaly in the space-time continuum.

Above: Michael Byington is one of the Dallas wine scene regulars who was there that night. Nearly every table in the restaurant was passing glasses to the next in a glorious and collegial exchange of vinosity.

I attribute the excellent condition of the wine to the fact that it had not been removed from old man Grailey’s cellar until the day we drank it.

The 1983 Hermitage La Chapelle by Jaboulet? Monosyllabic tasting note: “slurp.”

Thanks again, AJ, Dave, and Simon! You guys ROCK!

Btw, the toponym Taurasi is believed to be derived from the pre-Roman (probably Etruscan) taur[o] meaning mountain. One of the earliest documents mentioning the ancient village of Taurasi dates back to the 14th-century and there is also a mention inscribed in the sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus (died 280 B.C.E.). The village sits above the valley of the Calore river at 398 meters a.s.l., hence the name.

Sounds like a great place to raise wine, no? (The hydronym Calore is a bit more problematic so I’ll have to go into that on another occasion.)

Thanks for reading!

Posts from the Gulf coasts and dispatches on the spill

Above: Guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan is a master of the “Gulf Coast” guitar style. I snapped the above photo last year at Antone’s in Austin.

Just a quick end-of-the-day post to point your attention to a couple of Gulf Coast blogs where you can read about the local impact of the BP oil spill. The author is Ms. Ashley, who reps Kermit’s wines in the South Eastern U.S. (we met when I accompanied Kermit on his record party tour last year).

Check out her posts on the oil spill and how it’s affected gulf coast beaches and the local food and wine economy, here and here (with photos).

Thanks for reading: please don’t forget the victims of the BP oil spill!

Pairing Japanese with Italian, naturally, and June Rodil’s faboosh new list

uchi austin

Above: We paired 2008 Santa Chiara by Paolo Bea Saturday night with our sashimi et alia at the new Uchiko in Austin (friends and family soft opening). Not to be down with the dogma, but few would argue with the street cred of this natural wine. (Are you following the 32 Days of Natural Wine?)

Tracie P and me paired some Italian with Japanese on Saturday night during the soft opening (ongoing) at Austin’s new Uchiko, offshoot of the wildly successful and popular Uchi. The 2008 Santa Chiara by Paolo Bea — with its saltiness, crunchiness, and acidic nervousness (to borrow a phrase minted by Scott) — was brilliant with the myriad flavors that flowed like a red tide over our tongues.

Do you need me to tell you that the food at Uchiko was great? Nah… everyone knows why the Austinite Uchi brand has enjoyed such favor in this city on a river. In fact, the Uchi (now) family of restaurants stands apart as one of the few truly world-class dining destinations in Central Texas (beyond the apotheosis of barbecue in the form of a small Texas town known as Lockhart).


Above: Tracie P and me with the reigning “best sommelier in Texas” June Rodil (center).

What I am here to tell you is that the truly amazing June Rodil has put together a simply faboosh list there, with wines from the Jura, from the Loire, from Italy, and even some interesting Californians that might surprise the Cabernet-loving patron who thinks that Silver Oak goes with just about everything.

Chapeau bas and mazel tov and muchísimas gracias, June!

We had a fantastic time and awesome food and wine Saturday night, with great service (despite the kinks yet to be worked out in this newly christened kitchen).

But the best part of the evening was listening to 80s hits when we got home and Tracie P’s karaoke performance of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” complete with television remote control microphone and air guitar solo…

06 Barbaresco: a final (?) clarification from Aldo Vacca, Produttori del Barbaresco

Above: As my good friend and top sommelier David Rosoff will tell you, “I learned more about Barbaresco talking to Aldo Vacca for 10 minutes” than I have in my whole career.

I wanted to draw your attention to a comment made by winemaker Aldo Vacca, Produttori del Barbaresco, posted the other day here at Do Bianchi. He was commenting in response to Charles Scicolone, who had asked plaintively whether or not Produttori del Barbaresco typically executed different bottlings destined for its domestic and international markets (the thread appeared in a post on the winery’s decision not to bottle its single-vineyard wines for the 2006 vintage).

Here’s what Aldo had to say:

    Just a quick note: we at Produttori Barbaresco never bottle wines specifically for one market or another. We do not look for specific taste for specific market and all that, we just make the wine at the best of our knowledge in one very define style. If we do more than one bottling, we try to have a similar blend in all bottling.

    We do release our new vintage in the Fall in Italy and usually, because of the logistics of the market and because we like to give some more bottle aging when we can, the next January is most export market. So, it is usually the case that the first bottling is mainly sold in Italy while the second bottling (which is also larger in size) goes to export and Italy as well: it is just a matter of timing, not of deciding which market gets what.

    Normally this will not make any difference anyway because the two bottling would be very similar.

    The one thing that happened with the 2006 vintage was the late decision of not bottling the SV. If we had made the decision earlier, as we usually do, all bottlings would have been the same.

In a somewhat unrelated note, yesterday I poured the 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco in a tasting in Austin. Man, it’s light and bright and showing great right now, better than when it first came into the market. A tough vintage in Piedmont but great for entry-level wines like this, where some of the better fruit ended up in the front-line wines.

And in a totally unrelated note, in the light of Aldo’s love of Neil Young, we’re trying to get him out to San Diego on July 8 to sit in with The Grapes.

In other news…

I highly recommend my good friend Thor’s excellent post over at the 32 Days of Natural Wine on the natural wine scene in Paris. I really love his writing and I especially appreciated his hypercorrective neolgism oenopiphany. After all, there are men who know what the word epistemology means without having to look it up in a dictionary and there are others who have to go to Brooks Brothers to find out.

In other other news…

For the wine geeks out there and anyone else who wants to wrap her or his mind around what sulfur, sulfites, and SO2 have to do with wine, I highly recommend this post on the use of sulfur in wine by bonvivant Bruce Neyers, a man who needs no introduction to the oeno-initiated.

Buona lettura e buon weekend, ya’ll!

Out-of-state shipping restrictions in the U.S.: Texas, a case study

I’m not sure where she got her information but my blogging colleague Lindsay Ronga (scroll down) published a pungent post over at the latest Gary V foray into the world of eno-social media, cork’d. In it she wrote:

“Just this week, wine retailers around the country received cease and desist letters from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) saying they can no longer ship wine to Texas consumers. The letter specifically told FedEx not to accept any wine retail packages to Texas. Wineries can still ship direct-to-consumer in the state of Texas.”

Good for Texas wine retailers? You bet. Good for wineries? Yes sir. Good for competition? Not a chance. Definitely not good for the Texas consumer. What government decided has put Texas wine retailers ahead of the online competition who most likely offers wine at lower prices.

Her information seemed a little skewed and so I got on the phone with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission this morning to set the record straight (everyone I talked to there was extremely nice, btw, and responded to me very promptly).

Basically, here’s what I found out.

Back in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. wineries could ship directly to consumers. Here’s the reference in the Wiki. The idea was that the Congress has the right to regulate commerce between states, trumping the states’s regulation, and that states must allow other states to ship their products to them (this is one of those over-arching concepts at the heart of our country’s creation, evolution, and spirit: free commerce among states).

Back in 2006, a Florida retailer filed a complaint against the governor of Texas, arguing that if wineries had the right to ship their products to Texas, so did retailers.

In 2008, the judge in the case ruled in favor of the plaintiff but after a series of appeals and a decision issued in February 2010, it was decided that out-of-state retailers could ship to Texas if they applied for and obtained the appropriate permits BUT they had to purchase the wine from Texas-based distributors and have the wine shipped to them before they ship it to their customers. See the last ruling in the documentation provided (click to download a large PDF) to me by the TABC and check out this link as well.

Bottom line: IT IS LEGAL for out-of-state retailers to ship here but the logistic and legal hurdles they face makes it impossible to do so.

Having said that, the TABC public relations spokesperson told me that no one has applied for a permit since the 2008 ruling. She also told me that the TABC is aware that out-of-state retailers regularly ship to Texas regardless of the law.

Above: This morning, I grabbed this screen shot from Wine Searcher. It speaks for itself.

According to the spokesperson, the TABC has never sent cease and desist letters to retailers (as stated by Lindsay) but it has sent repeated letters to UPS and Fedex telling them not to ship wine from retailers. The last letter was sent May 14, she said.

She also told me that as long as a purchase was made outside of Texas, an individual may ship wine to Texas. The purchase may not be made by a phone call placed or an email sent from Texas (because the state of Texas considers that a purchase made in Texas).

She pointed out that it’s not the TABC that makes the law but rather the Texas legislature. It’s clear from the documentation provided to me that the big commercial distributors in Texas have lobbied heavily to stop out-of-state retailers from shipping here and they are named as cross-appellants in the documents.

She also told me that she’d never heard of Gary V.

Sorry, Gary.

(Photo of Gary via Peter Hodges)

An Oltrepò Pavese Riesling that commands our attention

Above: Lombardy and the Oltrepò Pavese are home to an active community of 17th-century carriage collectors and competitors. The Riesling “Landò” produced by Le Fracce is so-called after its owner Count Bussolera’s collection of landau carriages.

Have a look today at a post on an Oltrepò Pavese Rhine Riesling by Italy’s top wine blogger and leading enojournalist Mr. Franco Ziliani, translated by me over at the blog we edit together, VinoWire.

For those of you studying for your master sommelier and certified wine specialist and educator exams, it’s most definitely worth a look-see. We tend to think of the Oltrepò Pavese solely as a producer of great Pinot Nero, Croatina, and Bonarda (including the many excellent traditional-method expression of Pinot Nero made there). But the appellation is one of the few Italian growing zones that can produce a Riesling DOC and bottle it with the grape name on the label (unlike, say, Piedmont, where producers like Vajra can bottle 100% Riesling but have to call it “Langhe Bianco”).

Le Fracce’s “Landò” is so-called because the owner of the estate collects 17th-century landau carriages.

Check it out here…

Don’t read my wine blog (and great things I ate in San Diego)

Above: Fish tacos at Jaynes Gastropub (served only during happy hour). So good with the Grüner Veltliner by Domäne Wachau by-the-glass.

As my lovely and most definitely better half Tracie P will surely agree: it is a rare occasion that I am left speechless. Today is such an occasion.

I was left entirely FLOORED by Levi Dalton’s piece over at the 32 Days of Natural Wine.

Above: Camaronillas (corn tortillas stuffed with shrimp and then deep-fried) at Bahia Don Bravo in Bird Rock with the crew (SO MUCH fun last night). Bahia Don Bravo 5504 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla, CA, (858) 454-8940. (Thanks Salavdor, Roberto, and Dora! YOU’RE THE BEST!)

I highly recommend that you check out and follow the 32 Days and there are so many great posts to come.

Above: And only because Zio Alfonso is so concerned about my cholesterol level, I only ate half of the homemade pork sausage (generously studded with fennel seeds) at Pete’s Quality Meat in Little Italy on my way to the airport. Pete’s Quality Meat, 1742 India Street, San Diego, CA, (619) 234-1684.

I’m so stoked that I got to be part of this epic undertaking and entirely humbled by the caliber and talent of the contributors.

Here’s a useful link to see an overview of all the posts to date.

Buona lettura, as the Italians say!

Debut of my new band THE GRAPES (and New England giant bluefin tuna)

From the “man cannot live by wine alone” department…

Above: The Grapes, me on guitar and vox, Andrew Harvey drums, John Yelenosky guitar and vox, and Jon Erickson bass and vox. We’ll be playing our first gig in La Jolla on Thursday July 8.

We named our new country-rock band “The Grapes” after the legendary Liverpool pub where the Beatles used to hang out (Vinogirl can verify this).

We’ll be performing for the first time at one of my favorite sushi restaurants in the world, Zenbu in La Jolla on Thursday July 8.

Above: When I visited Zenbu the other night, owners Matt and Jackie Rimel (high school friends of mine) shared some lightly seared New England giant blue fin tuna belly with me. All of the fishes are fished individually by harpoon, Matt told me, so as not to harm dolphins. Matt is one of the most interesting dudes I know in the restaurant business and has hunted and fished and surfed all over the world. Zenbu is a unique sushi experience. Tracie P and me love it.

We’ll be bringing a little country music to the Pacific Coast with some tunes by Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm and the Tex Mex Trip, Gram Parsons (de rigueur), and some rockers like Tony Joe White’s Polk Salad Annie.

I hope you can join us. There might even be some interesting bottles of wine being opened that night!

In other news…

Did I mention that I’ve wanted to be a cowboy all my life? Found this photo while visiting mama Judy in La Jolla over the weekend (taken at Hebrew school in Chicago).