Texas heads to the Salone del Gusto

Tracie P and I had the GREAT fortune to be invited as dinner guests in the home of the delightful Dana and Bob Wesson (from left, above) yesterday evening. The occasion was our introduction to another lovely couple, Katie Kraemer and David Pitre (above), who will be traveling to Turin shortly to attend the Salone del Gusto (October 21-25) as the official Texas delegates.

Katie and David own and manage a 65-acre farm about 30 minutes east of Austin called Tecolote Farm and they are superstars of the Austin Farmers Market.

Between all the talent in the kitchen and the pure goodness of the materia prima, the dinner spread was downright delicious.

We opened some fun wines, too.

Katie and David are the nicest folks and I can’t think of anyone better to represent us in Turin. Hopefully, I can convince them to send photos and a dispatch or two to post here at Do Bianchi.

Bob is one of the world’s leading experts in artificial intelligence (I kid you not) and it was fascinating to hear his take on the Google translation project (one of my personal interests).

Great folks, great food and wine, great conversation… life is good (suck a lime!)…

PLEASE do not say BABY BRUNELLO! And hypertextual blog love

Above: Sangiovese 2010 at Le Presi.

Do Bianchi is by no means a “rant blog” so let me put this as gently as possible.

PLEASE DO NOT SAY “Baby Brunello” (or “Baby Barbaresco” or “Baby Barolo”)!

(And while we’re at it, please do not say “Super Tuscan” either!)

Baby Brunello: I recently heard this abominable lemma uttered by a colleague, whom I admire greatly for both his palate and his experience in the field, and I felt obligated to speak up against this oft repeated aberration.

Although fruit intended for Brunello di Montalcino often ends up in Rosso di Montalcino, the latter undergoes an entirely different vinification process (generally shorter maceration times) and is primarily made from younger vines and fruit grown in sites not suited for Brunello di Montalcino.

Rosso di Montalcino is intended for drinking its youth and is generally less tannic and more approachable early on. There are exceptions, like Poggio di Sotto’s 2002 Rosso di Montalcino, where Palmucci reclassified his entire harvest as Rosso. But why did he do that? Because the juice, however lip-smackingly delicious, was not worthy of the epithet “Brunello.” (Please note my use of the term in its etymological sense, Lat. epitheton.)

So, please folks, be Brunello and be proud or be Rosso and be proud but don’t use the [ugh] “baby” word!

Tracie P calls me “baby” but she don’t call no Brunello “baby”! ;-)

In other news…

Some wonderful hypertextual blog love has been happening this week. After our friend Giuseppe Vaira sent me and McDuff a stunning photo of sunrise over the Bricco delle Viole in Barolo, McDuff posted this fantastic topographical survey of the growing site and croosadabilia wrote a lovely ode to Piedmont over at ‘na cica de vino. (If you don’t know croosadabilia’s blog, check it out!)

I love (and am fascinated by) the way the blogging medium generates hypertext.

In my case, I quoted a Neil Young lyric, McDuff went the technical contemplative route, and croosadabilia waxed epigrammatic.

How groovy is that?

Drinking well with Peter Wasserman in Austin, thank you very much

Above: What a treat to get to taste with Peter Wasserman (center) yesterday! He led a superb tasting at Jeff Courington’s Vino Vino (that’s Jeff, right). And we were joined by our friend Julio Hernández (left), who made a name for himself in the wine world as Emeril’s wine director and now distributes fine wine here in Texas.

In case you were concerned that there weren’t any good wine for Tracie P and me to drink in Austin, Texas, I just thought I’d share yesterday’s flight.

Before heading to dinner in the home of friends, we got to taste some fantastic French wines with Peter Wasserman, who was in town to “work the market” as they say in wine parlance. I’d never met Peter in person and what a delightful, charming, and engaging fellow he is! There were some impressive wines in his flight (including the 2007 Domaine Mugnier Nuits–Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos de La Maréchale).

But the wine that blew me away was this 2007 Aligoté by Lafarge. Some late ripening and large, old cask aging give this wine a richness and gorgeous unctuous character I’d never experienced in Aligoté. Stunning wine (not cheap, unfortunately).

Regretfully, I had to leave Peter’s excellent tasting, as Tracie P and I had a long-standing invitation to dine in the home of our new friends Sonia and Steven (check out Sonia’s very exciting new gallery in Austin).

Steven hadn’t revealed what he was making for dinner and surprised us with one of my FAVORITE things in the world to eat…

Lasagne verdi, the way they make them in Emilia. Steven is a fascinating dude (from a Taiwanese-Veneto family) who’s lived in NYC and Italy, a top wine collector, and an AMAZING cook (I like his taste in music, too, with the playlist ranging from virtuoso country guitar to Nino Rota).

We paired with the Rivetto 2004 Barolo (Serralunga d’Alba) Riserva which had been sent to me by my friend Enrico Rivetto (Enrico is perhaps the most prolific Italian winemaker blogger I know).

The Barolo showed nicely (great acidity from this very classic vintage in Langa) but Steven also opened a 2004 Domane de Montille Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Le Cailleret because Tracie P was in the mood for some white and he just happened to have some in the fridge.

So, in case you were concerned that Tracie P and I weren’t eating and drinking well in Austin, you can sleep soundly tonight…

Thanks for reading! Buon weekend ya’ll!

Barolo, I’m still in love with you on this harvest moon

The world is such a grand, beautiful place, isn’t it? But it’s a small world after all…

Yesterday, trading emails about this and that, my friend Giuseppe Vaira of G.D. Vajra in Barolo sent me and McDuff this amazing photo of sunrise in Barolo (click image for full effect).

“Moon Nebbia Dawn on Bricco delle Viole. View of the western slope. October 5, 2010, 6:35 a.m., two days to the new moon.”

Barolo, I’m still in love with you… On this harvest moon…

Come a little bit closer
Hear what I have to say
Just like children sleepin’
We could dream this night away.

But there’s a full moon risin’
Let’s go dancin’ in the light
We know where the music’s playin’
Let’s go out and feel the night.

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

When we were strangers
I watched you from afar
When we were lovers
I loved you with all my heart.

But now it’s gettin’ late
And the moon is climbin’ high
I want to celebrate
See it shinin’ in your eye.

—”Harvest Moon,” Neil Young

Did I mention that Giuseppe’s Dolcetto d’Alba is mama Judy’s favorite wine?

To barrique or not to barrique (and red wine with seafood in Maremma)

The 2009 Morellino di Scansano by Poggio Argentiera paired stunningly well with this medley of seafood and noodles at the Oasi in Follonica. It’s not uncommon to pair red wine with seafood in the Maremma, where Sangiovese is expressed as a lighter and more gently tannic wine than it is in places like Montalcino and Chianti.

Picking up where we left off in September… Following my afternoon with Gaia Gaja at her family’s Ca’ Marcanda winery in Bolgheri, I traveled down to the seaside town of Follonica where I had one of the best meals of my trip at the Oasi with winemaker Gianpaolo Paglia of Poggio Argentiera.

Gianpaolo and I have a lot of friends (and colleagues) in common and it was great to finally meet him in person and share not just a meal but a truly amazing meal together. (It was Gianpaolo’s son who gave Muddy Boots his nickname “Strappo,” I learned that evening.)*

Above: Gianpaolo began “weaning” his wines off barrique aging following the 2007 vintage. That’s the 07 Morellino di Scansano Capatosta in the glass. Note the dark color of the Sangiovese.

Gianpaolo and I had been in touch earlier this year after Mr. Franco Ziliani posted a great story and interview about Gianpaolo’s bold decision to stop barrique-aging his Sangiovese (and I re-posted it here).

I asked Gianpaolo what precipitated his decision to abandon barrique aging and the answer was simple.

“One day, I realized,” he said, “that I wasn’t drinking my own wines anymore. And so, I called my business partner and vineyard manager and asked him, ‘do you drink our wines at home?’ When he told me, ‘honestly, no, I don’t,’ I realized that I was no longer enjoying my own wines, however successful they were commercially.”

Above: Gianpaolo’s 2009 Morellino, which we tasted from cask, as we say in wine parlance, was aged in traditional large casks. Note how bright the wine is in the glass.

In fact, to my knowledge, Gianpaolo’s never had trouble selling his wines. Quite the opposite. This new era of his wines, he explained over the course of our delightfully long dinner, was part of an evolution for Italian winemakers.

Back in the 90s, when scores became so important and winemakers were trying to reach the American market, he said, it was only natural that we looked to that style as a model. Barriques were part of larger movement that included a number of changes in Italian winemaking (stainless steel, temperature control, and a cleaner, more precise and more concentrated style). This new phase isn’t so much as a step back as much as a “natural evolution,” in his words. He wasn’t apologetic and he was most sincere. I really admired him for his candor and I really appreciated his effort not to put a spin on this (as so many do).

Above: Chef Mirko’s moray eel was unbelievably delicious that night. Like many of the great restaurateurs of the Maremma, Mirko is first and foremost a fisherman.

And the best news? The 2009 Morellino was SUPERB with the seafood pasta above (whereas I, personally, wouldn’t have paired the richer, more concentrated barriqued wine from 2008 or 07 with it). Chapeau bas, Gianpaolo!

As one of my heroes, Danny Meyer, likes to say, if it grows with it, it goes with it!

* Gianpaolo’s children are perfectly bilingual (his wife is British). When they met Muddy aka Terry, one of Gianpaolo’s sons began calling Terry “Strappo” after making the homonymic association Terry, to tear (as in to tear a sheet of paper), strappare (Ital. to tear), strappo (a tear).

My baby loves her some cake

Every marriage has “issues.” For some it’s money, for others it’s juggling careers… for Tracie P and me…

…it’s CAKE! Mainly, the fact that my baby loves her some cake. This year’s gorgeous birthday cake was created by the nice folks over at the Polkadots Cupcake Factory in Austin, Texas.

Tracie P’s birthday celebration came to a close last night with family and friends at one of our favorite habitats, Vino Vino. That’s Nat and Erin (from left), who just got married, and Uncle Terry.

Chef Esteban’s rocking the new fall menu items, like the delicious pot roast.

April and Aunt Holly also helped to assuage our cake issues last night.

Thanks to Polkadot Cupcake Factory, to our good friends at Vino Vino (who took such AWESOME care of us last night), and to everyone who came out to celebrate Tracie P’s birthday. And thanks to ya’ll for reading and sharing with me the joy and light that she brings into my life.

An unforgettable dinner at Robert del Grande’s RDG

Next stop in our celebration of Tracie P’s birthday weekend (which, according to reports from overseas, is now considered a national holiday in the blogosphere), was one of those truly magical rooms, where my true love’s eyes seemed to sparkle from the moment the hostess said, “right this way, your table’s waiting.”

Cousins Joanne and Marty, Tracie P, and I were joined by Tracie P’s childhood friend Talina at Robert del Grande’s newish restaurant RDG in Houston. And de rigueur, we had to start off with what we all agreed is one of the best Margaritas any of us have ever had: equal parts Herradura Silver Tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice (half Persian lime, half Key lime).

Next came Gulf crab…

and beef nachos…

The seared avocado salad was purely brilliant…

Tortilla soup lifted our bright spirits even higher…

The wine list at RDG can be intimidating (and is designed for the high roller) but it also has some wonderful gems and reasonable price points, like this 2004 Deutz Blanc de Blancs. The nose on this wine was so yummy we didn’t even want to drink it! (We also had a bottle of Bobby and Lachlan’s 2008 Scarpetta Friuliano at a great price, btw.)

And the reason why RDG is worth every penny: the attention to detail and the caliber of service (3 staff members on our table) take the ineffably delicious food to yet another level of sensorial reward.

Tracie P and I will be heading out shortly for the last event in her birthday celebration. Aren’t you as glad as I am that she was born? :-)

A gorgeous dry Muscat to start Tracie P’s birthday weekend

Tracie P and I started her birthday weekend off with cousins Joanne and Marty on the patio at the Backstreet Café in Houston, where our friend, sommelier Sean Beck, poured us this AWESOME 2008 dry Muscat from Weinbach (Alsace), a classic expression of the grape (which I was tasting for the first time).

So salty and such beautiful floral notes and so perfectly paired with the warm fall early evening on the patio…

Sean matched this excellent wine with a grilled portabello cap, topped with sautéed Gulf shrimp and cremini, from the restaurant’s current and very groovy “mushroom menu.”

Delicious…

Next up: right this way, your table’s waiting… dinner at the incredible RDG

Happy birthday Tracie P! I love you so much!

Time of Our Lives

for Tracie P on her birthday

time, my how the time flies by
when you’re living a life in love
and giving your love your life
in time

I’m certain I heard it once before
in an old song or movie score
lovers don’t feel the time
slip by

my dear, please know
as the years come and go
I’ll be here to show
how my love will only grow
’cause we’re in the time of our
lives, my love
our time, my love

rhymes, poets write words in time
rhythms play out in lines
for lovers to read supine
in time

my dear, please know
as the years come and go
I’ll be here to show
how my love will only grow
’cause we’re in the time of our
lives, my love
our time, my love

Anyone who says we can’t feed the world is talking b*&% s$#@!

Above: “Anyone who says we can’t feed the world is talking b… s…,” said Glen Boudreaux yesterday. What a great family and what interesting folks! I was fascinated by what he had to say and his take on humane, wholesome farming and “pasture-based” ranching.

There’s so much to tell since the last post… a couple of truly outstanding meals and more than one exceptional bottle of wine. But all that will have to wait.

Yesterday, I had a fascinating conversation with the gentleman above, Glen Boudreaux, who (together with his lovely wife Honi, pronounced honey) has owned and managed a ranch in beautiful Brenham, Texas for more than 20 years — the Jolie Vue Farms. Glen and Honi hosted a farm-to-table dinner last night and I covered the event for one of my clients (one of the underwriters). You can see my post (together with some of my git’ fiddle picking) here.

mustard greens

Above: Mustard greens and blue corn grits, sourced locally and prepared by chef Paul Lewis who came in from Houston for the event.

Glen advocates a no-nonsense approach to farming and is a proponent of humane and wholesome, “pasture-based” ranching. Over the last two decades, he has revived a ranch that had been devastated by cotton farming and left to the weeds. Merely by encouraging and enabling the revival of native grasses, he is literally able to raise twice as many cattle per acre as the Texas department of agriculture believes possible. And he is convinced that his philosophy — if embraced by the world — would allow the global farming community to stamp out hunger. And frankly, when you shake this man’s hand and he looks you in the eye with a warmth and humanity not uncommon in the Texas farmland, you believe him.

Above: More than 200 persons sat down for dinner together at one continuous table last night. The event was organized by artist Jim Denevan and his company Outstanding in the Field.

Among the more fascinating topics of conversation with Glen: the parallels he sees between Jewish dietary law and his approach to ranching and butchering (the butchering, he explains, is as important as the farming and he carefully and “mercilessly” screens his clients, he told me); he loathes anyone who uses the word “natural” or “organic” in their packaging or labeling (see this fantastic post on his blog, What’s it all mean? Natural terminology can be confusing…); his admiration for “sissy” (Joel’s word) and “rebel” (Glen’s word) farmer Joel Salatin (check out this video I found this morning).

Above: Tracie P and I really loved this couple, Clay and Julia Theeck, who help the Boudreaux family manage their ranch. You wouldn’t think that it’s fascinating to hear someone talk about native grass until you talk to Clay and Julia. Their knowledge of the local plant life is incredible. Clay and Glen haven’t done anything to treat the soil on the Jolie Vue ranch. All they do is help the native grasses flourish.

Glen and Honi sell most of their cattle and pigs to locally based individuals who want to feed their children wholesome food. They also sell to the occasional restaurant, like Cullen’s in Houston, who also underwrote the dinner.

Ultimately, they believe that their livestock should be happy, that happy pigs and cattle make for the healthiest nutrition. Although chef Lewis may have had something to do with the delicious factor yesterday, it was the materia prima that played the starring role.

Above: “Jews may not have believed in the afterlife the way that we do,” said Glen. “But when you read [the dietary laws in] the Old Testament, you can tell that they were doing what they were doing because they knew that it was the right thing to do on earth.”

My life in Texas continues to inspire me on many levels. This state — this Republic! — is home to a wide spectrum of folks, from the love-happy, guitar-strumming, pot-toking hippies of our beloved Austin to the generous-of-spirit, G-d-fearing, gun-toting ranchers of the immensely beautiful plains. Somehow, beyond the stereo- and archetypes, no matter the gulf of difference between them, there seem to be a humanity and a gentleness that pervade their willfully shared ethos.

In the words of Gary P. Nunn

I wanna go home with the armadillo
country music from Amarillo and Abilene
the friendliest people
and the prettiest women you ever seen