My first wine list: taste with me on Tues. and Weds. in LA at Sotto

Above: My friend Giampaolo Venica’s Balbium — 100% Magliocco from Calabria — is one of my favorite wines on the list at Sotto in Los Angeles.

When one of my best friends from my college days, Steve Samson, wrote me a few months ago and asked me to author the wine list for his new restaurant in Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance. I’ve always been a fan of Steve’s cooking — his mother is from Bologna and so it runs in his veins — and I’ve followed his career since the beginning, dining at the restaurants where he’s worked (Valentino in LA is one of them).

There was just one catch (two actually): the list had to be ALL southern Italian wine with a handlist of California. I immediately set out sourcing some of the best and best-priced southern Italian wines available in the Golden State and the resulting list is a flight of roughly 50 wines from Campania, Apulia, Calabria, Sicily, Abruzzo, Molise, and Sardinia (including some of my favs like Dettori, Gulfi, Cos, and Venica’s Balbium). And for the California wines, I told Steve and his partners that I was only willing to write the list if we only allowed Natural and chemical-free wines on the list: Donkey & Goat, Coturri, Clarine Farms, etc. — the only Californian wines I’ll drink.

I’m very proud of the list — partly because of our aggressively patron-friendly pricing — and the extreme value that you find in these wines. But mainly I’m excited because southern Italian wine is super sexy and delicious.

Above: The staff at Sotto and I have been tasting and training together during my recent visits to Los Angeles. A fantastic group of restaurant professionals. Right now their favorite wine is the Cerasuolo di Vittoria by Gulfi.

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights next week, I’ll be working the floor and pouring wines by-the-glass for a special wine pairing tasting menu that we’re working on right now.

Here’s the info and reservation link for Sotto (which just opened this week). I’d love to see you there! (And I’ll do a post on the food and the space once I have chance to dine there next week.)

Do Bianchi Hippie Wine Six-Pack LIVE at 2Bianchi Selections!

Above: Savio, Ottavio, Alessandro, and Alessandra (first names only, please) of the Valli Unite cooperative and agriturismo in Piedmont.

There are so many great wines from Italy available today in the U.S. Nearly every week I taste with this or that importer or distributor and discover a wine that I didn’t know about. Such was the case when I tasted a few weeks ago with my friend Amy Atwood in Los Angeles, who always has killer wines in her bag. She turned me on to a biodynamic cooperative — a hippie commune, really — called Valli Unite. Here’s how the Valli Unite (united valleys) describe themselves:

    Nestled high up in the hills surrounded by green and fruit bearing trees, fields of vines and fruits, a center village consists of a cluster of stone and brick buildings covered with green — this is home base for 25 people who live and work together. Food, wine and labor is divided equally. Each has his/her own role, working the land, tending to the animals or cooking in the kitchen to sustain an alternative lifestyle that was originally designed by Ottavio as a way for himself a few other local farmers to survive in an industrializing world. After 30 years of commitment to the land, nature, and one another — Valli Unite is going strong…

And when you taste their wines, you taste the freshness and purity of fruit that only chemical-free winemaking (freed of the yoke of industrial winemaking) can deliver.


SP68, pizza, and cousin Marty is doing good…

You can only imagine my thrill at seeing Cousins Joanne and Marty — front and center — last night at my wine seminar at Caffè Bello in Houston. That’s Marty in the foreground at dinner, together with friends Mary Ellen and Dr. Don, FoodPrincess, Delia and VintageTexas, and Tamara and Houston Foodie (Houston Foodie has just relaunched his excellent food blog with a superb post on Neapolitan pizza, btw).

The pizza at Caffè Bello was delicious and I am always geeked to drink Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68 — “Strada Proviniciale 68,” an impeccably Natural, reclassified Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Nero d’Avola and Frappato), named after provincial road 68 where it is raised in the province of Ragusa, Sicily.

Marty’s still got a ways to go before he turns the corner on this mean ol’ cancer… but it’s looking good and, man, this dude still runs circles around me… Me and Tracie P love him a lot…

Aglianico does not come from “Hellenic” and tasting tomorrow in Houston

Above: the frontespiece of Giambattista della Porta’s “Villae” or “On Country Houses” (Frankfurt, 1592) in the rare books collection at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Library.

As an appendix to the Aglianico: Italian Grape Name Pronunciation Project post, I thought I’d repost one of my favorite (and earliest) posts here, on the origins of the grape name Aglianico and the fact that it does not come from Hellenic.

Does the grape name Aglianico come from ellenico or Hellenic as so many claim? A look at the earliest references leads me to believe that it probably doesn’t. May the philologically curious please read on… Click here…

In other news…

I’ll be pouring some Aglianico tomorrow among other wines in Houston for the first of my Italian wine seminars at Caffè Bello.

Click here for details.

I’d love to see you at the tasting and its should be fun (Cousin Marty will be there, btw).

Aglianico: Grape Name Pronunciation Project


Since I launched the Italian Grape Name Pronunciation Project one month ago today, the most requested ampelonym has been Aglianico.

The grape name poses a challenge for non-Italophones because of the phoneme gli (in Aglianico).

In Italian, the sound that corresponds to gli is what is called a palatal lateral approximant (click the link for the Wiki page) and is represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet by the following symbol:


For the video, I have rendered the grape name as follows:


Italian speakers will note that Bruno — the nicest dude, one of my favorite growers of Aglianico, and a native of Campania where Aglianico is used to make some of the region’s and Italy’s most noble wines — pronounces gli with a softer inflection than his counterparts in the North of Italy, where a five- as opposed to seven-vowel system makes the i in gli more closed (more nasal).

Thanks for reading and speaking (and drinking) Italian grapes!

Sam’s bbq, Champagne, and band practice (video taste)

Texas is home to some of the greatest (some would say the greatest) barbecue in the country (world). Unfortunately, as with any great world cuisine, commercialization to often rears its scurfy head and colonizes what was once honest and pure.

That’s one of the reasons that you need to move outside the major urban centers to find the truly great expressions of barbecue in the Lone Star State.

On a tight schedule with writing, rehearsing, and recording, I didn’t have time to take the band to Llano or Lockhart, Texas, and so I took the “lads and lass” to the only bbq joint where I spend my money in the town of Austin, Sam’s. That’s simpatico owner Willie Mays and his son in the photo with Morris, Céline, and Jean-Luc (from left).

What to pair with smoked brisket, pork ribs, chicken, and Sam’s specialty, smoked mutton?

Champagne, the breakfast of champions and the ideal food-friendly wine. In this case, some NV 100% Chardonnay by Henriot.

It’s so exciting to be writing and recording again with my band and it’s such a joy to hear music played in our home.

Here’s a little taste of a song that won’t appear on the album but is part of a special and dear-to-my-heart project that you’ll hear about later this year. Video by Tracie P, who wins the award for the greatest, most patient, most loving, and most beautiful wife that any man could wish for (and the girl can cook!). Thank you, Picci Wicci, I love you so much and you make me the best man I could ever be…

Barbaresco, fried chicken, and keyboards

Morris “Mars” Chevrolet flew in last night with his Nord and Moog and so Tracie P fried up some chicken, mashed some potatoes, and sautéed some broccoli raab and I popped a bottle of 2006 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco.

You’ve heard me say it before: I am truly blessed to have such a loving and beautiful wife, so generous in spirit, and so supportive of my music. She’s been cooking up a storm, feeding the band, and enjoying the music as we have transformed our little slice of heaven on the corner of Alegria [happiness] and Gro[o]ver into a recording studio. The fried chicken was delicious.

The 06 Produttori del Barbaresco — a wine and vintage much discussed here on the blog — was a little tight last night, even after a few hours of aeration. Seems like it’s closing up a little bit and so maybe it’s time to cellar (following its initial brightness and generosity of fruit).

But the “music is flowing… amazing… and blowing my way”… who knows the song? It’s one of my favs.

Tomrrow’s the big day with the whole outfit in the studio… and so now it’s time to get back to tracking!

The new DOCG list and a killer Offida Pecorino

Above: The 2008 Offida Pecorino Le Merlettaie by Ciù Ciù is the best Pecorino I’ve ever tasted in the U.S. Really, really dug this wine.

“Official” is a relative qualifier in Italy. And I make that statement with all due respect and sans ironie. In the linear, Protestant thought processes of the Anglo-Saxon mindset, actors tend to see things in “black or white,” “day or night,” “yes or no”… In the non-linear, Catholic all-embracing Romance understanding of the world and the way it works, lines are blurred and absolutes are malleable. (Does anyone remember Bertolucci’s treatment of absolutes and Plato’s cave in Il conformista, 1970?)

Above: Le Merlettaie is named after the famous lacemakers of Offida. The merletto a tombolo (tombolo is the pillow used to make the lace) is one of the great national treasures of Italy. I found this video showing how the lace is made.

In the wake of the publication of Alfonso Cevola’s update DOCG list, contentious emails have been hurled across the internets this morning debating the currency of the “official” number of DOCGs. I guess it depends what your definition of “is” is.

The only thing I know for certain is that Alfonso has done the wine world a service by compiling and diligently updating the list. Whether you’re a Master Sommelier candidate studying for your exam or your a server in a fine-dining establishment who wants to be able to discuss the Italian appellation system intelligently with your patrons, his list is an indispensable tool in deciphering the canon law of Italian wine.

Above: To DOC or DOCG… I say “schlemiel, schlimazel!” Pecorino, when vinified in a traditional manner, is delicious (BTW, the schlemiel spills his soup on the schlimazel.)

I can also confirm that Offida Pecorino will be equally delicious when it attains its new “Terre di Offida” DOCG status. The one that we drank last night showed sturdy acidity and a wonderfully viscous mouthfeel, with nutty and stone fruit notes.

In other news…

Last night, Tracie P made ragù alla bolognese for Nous Non Plus and the utterly inimitable and magical David Garza who came over to listen to our tracks and sprinkle some of his amazing gold dust on us. He brought a beautiful 1964 handmade nylon string guitar and it was amazing to hear him play and noodle on the patio before dinner. He’s performing the last concert of his residency at the Continental Club (gallery) in Austin on Monday night.

Oh yeah, THAT’s what Fiano d’Avellino tastes like!

If only you could have been a fly on the wall in our dining room at the moment that Tracie P drew that first drop of Fratelli Urciuolo 2008 Fiano d’Avellino to her lips last night. “Oh yeah,” she said with a joyous reverence, “THAT’s what Fiano d’Avellino tastes like.”

For all the blessings of our lives, there’s (almost) nothing that makes me happier than bringing home a wine that my super fine lady will enjoy. “This is the Fiano d’Avellino that I remember drinking in Naples and Ischia,” she said, speaking of the nearly five years she lived, worked, and cooked in Campania before returning to Texas.

With bright acidity, great minerality, and a characteristic “toasty” note that you often find in real Fiano d’Avellino (as Tracie P noted), the wine paired beautifully with another flavor system that she brought back with her from Campania: cannellini beans cooked with escarole and chicken stock and ditalini (tube-shaped pasta) — a southern Italian pasta e fagioli. Fanfriggin’ DELICIOUS people!

After being properly nourished, the band retreated once again into the Parzen studio, where we continue to write, record, and hash out the songs for the new album that we will begin “tracking” on Sunday here in Austin.

I’ll spare you the details of my digestive cycle, but the morning after a fantastic meal of real Fiano and Tracie P’s “greens and beans,” as she likes to call the dish, I AM READY TO MAKE MUSIC! :-)

Cooking for the band: Tracie P’ulled pork with chocolate and chiles

Yes, hell has frozen over and the band is getting back together.

Céline Dijon and Jean-Luc Retard and I (Cal d’Hommage) have begun recording our new album in the Groovers Paradise (otherwise known as Austin).

And Tracie P has been cooking up a storm.

Yesterday, she cooked a pork shoulder for seven hours in our Crock-Pot with chiles and chocolate. They were served topped with homemade slaw, avocados, and fresh salsa and wrapped in corn tortillas from a local tortilleria. The 06 Montbourgeau made for a fantastic pairing.

Chip and dip, anyone? Please pass the grooves…