Looking for the ethos of southern Italian wine…

Above: A scene from last year’s Radici (Roots) Wine Festival in Apulia (photo by Brunellos Have More Fun).

My year in southern Italian wine continues as I prepare to head back to Apulia in a few weeks for the Radici (Roots) Wine Festival in the province of Bari, where I’ll be tasting literally hundreds of wines made from native southern Italian grape varieties.

I’m going to be seeing some old friends and making some new ones. And as tired as I am from too much travel and too much time away from the love of my life Tracie P, I accepted a spot on this trip because I believe in the festival’s mission of promoting awareness of native Italian grape varieties.

Above: I’d rather be here, holding Tracie P tight and smelling Texas springtime bluebonnets!

Believe me: as glamorous as these trips sound, they are a complete drag (ask Alfonso, a 30-year veteran of what we call “death marches” in the trade, and he will tell you the same thing). You begin tasting scores of wines at 9 in the morning and you taste all day with just a short break for lunch. You have to listen to every local fat cat bureaucrat give the same speech (and the subsequent poorly and slavishly translated version in English, “We wish to valorize the territory” etc.). The wifi never works (the Atlantic Monthly reports that “Internet penetration is only around 50 percent” in Italy, thank you very much Mr. Berlusconi). And ultimately, you are a prisoner of the festival organizers: you eat when and what they tell you to eat (although I have become a master of politely moving my food around my plate so that it looks like I have consumed some of it).

But when Italy’s top and most politically charged wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani asked me to join him and an international group of colleagues in Apulia later this month, I gladly accepted out of solidarity and camaraderie with those who share my belief that Italy’s greatest wines are made from native grape varieties by people who believe that wine is a cultural and ideological expression.

There will be foreign buyers there: they’re looking for new wines to import and distribute. There will be some of the usual suspects who continue to live on the gravy train of Italian wine press junkets: some of our older and hard-on-their-luck colleagues will be there looking for a meal ticket. But there will also be some of us — observers (writers/bloggers) and actors (winemakers/grape growers) — who are looking for the ethos of these wines: their characteristic spirit, prevalent tone of sentiment, of a people or community (definition from the OED online edition).

Stay tuned and I’ll let you know what I find (the trip begins in early June)… Thanks for reading…

In all fairness to Gallo rosé…

You may remember my post from the other day, Rosé and just how far America has come.

In all fairness to Gallo rosé, I found the above Gallo spot from the 1950s. Pretty sexy, huh? I love it when the lady bites into the chicken as the dude is pouring the pink wine… (This video was posted the other day and I wonder how long it will take before Gallo yanks it.)

I’ll be tasting more than 40 pink wines tomorrow at the best little wine bar in Austin, Vino Vino, where they’ll be pouring more than 40 rosés at the 5th annual Pink Fest 2011.

Shepherd’s pie, a wonderful Chinon, and a baby on the way in San Diego!

Doesn’t Jayne look great? (Jon doesn’t look bad either!) Their baby will be arriving sometime next month and Tracie P and I are sending them lots of love and good wishes! We are so excited! :-)

We caught up with them last Saturday at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego where everybody knows your name.

The weather was actually kinda cold last week in not-so-sunny Southern California and so Tracie P ordered the shepherd’s pie. Delicious…

Jon turned us on to the 2008 Pensées du Pallus Chinon, very focused, classic expression of Cabernet Franc. Great pairing on a chilly eve… (Paired well, too, with can’t-live-without-him Yele, whom you can see between the bottle and the glass.) Although I’d love to revisit this excellent wine, slightly chilled, this summer with the legendary Jaynes burger (voted top San Diego burger by a panel of judges on one of my favorite SD food blogs, Food Is My Favorite).

Jayne is a gorgeous mother-to-be and, man, this baby fever sure is contagious, ain’t it? ;-)

Good things we ate and drank at Sotto in LA

The Neapolitan pizza at Sotto is imho one of the best in the U.S. today. Just had to share this photo of chef and pizzaiolo Zach Pollack and his bubby.

Panelle (Sicilian chickpea fritters).

Griddle-fired sardines with Sicilian winter citrus salad, shaved fennel, crushed olive-pistachio vinaigrette.

Grilled mackerel in scapece with cauliflower, cured lemons, pesto pantesco (Pantelleria’s tomato and basil relish for fish).

Grilled pork meatballs. I believe that chef Steve Samson’s extraordinary talent in all things pork-related is owed to his Bolognese origins (he and I have been friends for more than 20 years, stretching back to our college days in Italy).

This was one Tracie P’s favorites and mine, too. Ciceri e Tria, chick peas and long noodles, a classic dish of Apulia. Chef Zach strays from tradition here by deliciously folding in baccalà, adding another layer of flavor and texture.

Squid ink (long-noodle) fusilli with pistachios, bottarga, and mint. This dish is a true show stopper. Extremely difficult to photograph well and utterly delectable.

One of my privileges as wine director is that I get to put some of my favorite wines on the list! The 2006 skin-contact, wild fermented, unfiltered, and impeccably Natural 100% Vermentino by Dettori continues to “astound” me (to borrow Saignée’s tasting note). Alessandro Dettori wrote me earlier this year explaining that one of the things that makes this vintage stand out is the fact that he chose not to destem and he macerated for two days with the stems as well as the skins. The wine is gorgeously fresh and bright and its balance of fruit and minerality is stunning. And… It makes you poop good the next day… No joke… I LOVE LOVE LOVE this wine.

Devil’s Gulch fennel-crusted pork porterhouse with green tomato mostarda.

Are those some good-looking cannoli or what???!!!

In case you haven’t heard, I curate the list at Sotto and work the floor there a few nights each month. The list is devoted exclusively to southern Italian wine, with a short appendix of rigorously Natural California producers (chemical-free farming, wild fermentation). My next visit is scheduled for June 21 and 22. Hope to see you there!

Rosé and just how far America has come (watch it while you can)


Just had to share the above video (circa 1978?). I stumbled across it as I was doing some research for a piece on rosé I wrote for the Houston Press (watch it before Gallo yanks it!).

Isn’t it incredible to see how wine was marketed in this country a generation ago?

You’ve come a long way baby! (Who can name the ad campaign for this slogan?)

Intro to the wines of Friuli: taste with me Thurs. in Austin

Above: I photographed this wasp sucking on some freshly picked Ribolla at my friend Giampaolo Venica’s winery in Collio (Friuli) last September.

Last fall, Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey asked me to accompany him on a fantastic food and wine trip to Friuli and then in February of this year, I led a group of wine bloggers to the Colli Orientali del Friuli (Eastern Hills of Friuli) for a week of tasting, eating, and winery visits.

On Thursday of this week, I’ll be leading a seminar on the wines of Friuli at The Red Room in downtown Austin.

Here’s the details. Hope to see you there!

Sagrantino: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


Today’s episode of the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project is devoted to Sagrantino, a grape grown in Umbria where it is used to make the eponymous Sagrantino di Montefalco. I asked one of the appellation’s leading producers, Giampiero Bea, to contribute a video to the series and he did so with his signature showmanship.

giampiero bea

It seemed appropriate to feature Sagrantino this week in the wake of my post on Giampiero’s 1998 Sagrantino, 98 Paolo Bea Sagrantino: Holy Shit!, which received a lot of comments here and over on the Facebook. The playful title was partly a play on the name of this grape, Sagrantino, most likely from the Latin sacrum, something holy or sacred (the ampelonym is probably owed to the fact that Sagrantino was used in Umbria as sacramental wine).

Yesterday, I called Giampiero who told me that he believes the 1998 to be one of his greatest vintages. “It was part of a string of excellent vintages,” the remarkable and now legendary harvests that ran consecutively from 1995 to 2001 in Italy. “Many thought 97 was going to be the greatest vintage of these,” said Giampiero, “but ultimately 98 turned out to be the better vintage: it wasn’t too hot or too cold, there was ample rainfall but it wasn’t too humid nor too dry.” In other words, it was the classically balanced vintage that renders unto Italy wines that resonate with the people who make them, id est, Italians. (As many of you know all too well, a handful of American wine writers championed the warmer 97 vintage as one of the best of the century, a harvest that has been come to be called, with no lack of irony, the great “American vintage” in Italy.)

The inimitable Ken V noted in the comment thread that “The 98 is an unusual vintage for this wine. It has drunk well since release.”

When I asked Giampiero about this observation, he told me, “you’ll see a lot of variation from vintage to vintage in our wines because we let Nature — not our work in the cellar — determine what the wine will be. If we get it wrong, it’s because we didn’t do a good job of interpreting Nature.”

I’m here to tell you that the 1998 Sagrantino by Paolo Bea is one of those grand occasions when humankind and Nature sang and continue to sing in perfect harmony.

Di mamme ce n’è una sola…

You only have one mother… One of my favorite expressions in Italian…

Grandson Oscar poured milk into mama Judy’s coffee for an early family breakfast.

There were eleven of us for eggs in all kinds of styles and lox and Bloody Marys at Nine Ten, the restaurant in the hotel where Tracie P and I got married in La Jolla, the Grand Colonial, home of the Parzen family’s official Sunday brunch.

Next came some clothes shopping with mama Judy and Tracie P and a visit to our favorite Chinese restaurant in San Diego, Spicy City in Kearny Mesa (and yes, California Chinese is also better than anywhere else in the U.S. imho). The rice noodles were DELICIOUS!

Happy mother’s day, yall! Buona festa della mamma!

The sushi in California is just better…

I’m sorry but the sushi in California (and the west coast in general) is just better than everywhere else in the U.S.

New York has its Masa (ho hum) and Austin has its Uchi (yes, sushi in Texas), but there’s just nothing and nowhere that comes close to the wide range of styles and price points and ubiquity of Southern California sushi and Japanese cuisine.

Popped into K-ZO Japanese and French restaurant in Culver City for quick working lunch with a friend and colleague today and man, that shit rocks… The live sweet shrimp — tails served raw and heads dredged in flour and deep-fried (lower left hand corner) — were friggin’ amazing…