Mussel porn, best tuna salad, and an old friend’s excellent wine

Just had to share this photo of a mussel from lunch today at one of our all-time favorite seafood joints, Bay Park Fish Co. in San Diego where we’ll be staying for the next days (Tracie P got in last night). I cannot recommend this place highly enough. And what can I say? One man’s mussel is another’s Rorschach test.

The tuna fish salad at Bay Park may not look as sexy as the mussels but you haven’t had a tuna fish salad sandwich until you’ve had one made with U.S. pole-fished tuna. My good high school buddy Marc Muller, co-owner and founder of Bay Park, only serves old-school pole-fished tuna in his restaurant. (In case you’re interested, here’s a video and some info on the history of pole-fished tuna in San Diego.) The Mexican torta bread takes this sandwich over the top. It’s generally served as a tuna melt but they’ll make it anyway you want. I had mine with mashed avocado, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Utterly delicious…

Yesterday afternoon, I got to taste another high school buddy’s wine: when not working as a cellarmaster for Craggy Range, Pieter Koopman makes wine on his family’s estate in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. I hadn’t seen Pieter 15 years and it was great to connect and talk and taste wine together. I dug his Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay from New Zealand!), blended with a little bit of Viognier. The wine was fresh and clean, bright but with a slightly unctuous mouthfeel that went brilliantly with some fried calamari at Jaynes Gastropub. Good fruit, good acidity, and balanced alcohol. Pieter and his lovely wife Paige (also from La Jolla where I grew up) are planning to bring their wines to the States and I know they’re going to knock it out of the park…

Texas is my new home and I love it. But man, it sure is nice to be somewhere where everyone knows your name.

Clarine Farm 2010 White Wine fanfreakin’ delicious (and an amazing white blend from Amalfi)

After my shift was done at Sotto last night, I sat down with my good buddy (man, we go WAY back) Nieves and shared a bottle of Hank Beckmeyer’s 2010 Clarine Farm White Wine (Rhône white blend) and a couple of margherite (mine spiked with salt-cured anchovies).

People, I’m here to tell you that this wine is fanfreakin’ delicious, with crazy white and citrus fruit notes, sexy acidity, and a delightfully crunchy mouthfeel. And the best part? Drink this indisputably Natural wine and you will poop well the next day (I am living proof).

In other news…

It’s not on my list at the restaurant but I was blown away by this classic white blend from Amalfi — Falanghina, Biancolella, and Pepella — poured for me by importer Caroline Debbane: Costa d’Amalfi Tramonti 2009 by Tenuta San Francesco. Great freshness, nervy acidity, and gorgeous fruit. Loved this wine…

That’s all I have time to recount today… running out the door to make a staff training with the inimitable Randall Grahm who’s visiting with the waitstaff this afternoon. He is such an unbelievably cool dude and I’m utterly psyched and honored to get to hang with him! (We’re featuring his Syrah by the glass, starting tonight at Sotto.)

Gragnano the wine for “all things warm and gooey”

Fish tacos probably weren’t what G-d had in mind when he created Gragnano (on the eight day?) — one of favorite wines of the summer of 2011. But, man, was the wine delicious last night at Bahia Don Bravo, our number-one taco shack when we’re in San Diego (where the owner allows me to bring in my own wines).

I’d had some decent however mediocre Gragnano before I met Tracie P but it was on a fateful day in New York City on our way to Europe a few years ago that I tasted a wine that put everything into focus. The wine we tasted was actually Lettere — Gragnano’s sister appellation — but I saw the world in a different light from that day onward.

I am happy to report that the excellent Gragnano by Cantine Federiciane has finally made its way to Southern California. (You can taste it by the glass starting tonight at Sotto in Los Angeles where I’ll be pouring wine tonight and tomorrow night; and the wine is also available through my wine club in this month’s Summer Six-Pack offering.)

There’s no one in my world who knows more about Gragnano than Tracie P, who lived in Gragnanoland (Naples and the Amalfi Coast) for nearly five years. Here’s what she had to say this morning about Gragnano:

    I dare you not to like Gragnano (and its sister Lettere). Born in the Sorrentine peninsula, this is an irresistibly spritzy wine made to go with pizza, panuozzi, and all things warm and gooey. Like the self-deprecating comedian, the humility and spontaneity of this wine are its most endearing traits. Just say Sciascinoso and try not to smile.

Btw, Sciasinoso, one of the grapes in Gragnano together with Piedirosso and Aglianico, is pronounced SHAH-shee-NOH-zoh. Are you smiling yet? And do you see why I love her madly?

The mixed seafood cocktail was also fantastic last night at Bahia and if I do say so myself, my pairing with the Ciù Ciù Offida Pecorino was brilliant (it’s also available in the six-pack, btw).

But the highlight at dinner last night was meeting Jayne and Jon’s newborn Romy!

Isn’t she a beauty???!!! We are so thrilled for Jayne and Jon.

That’s all I got today. Gotta get my butt up to LA! Thanks for reading!

Best Piedirosso I’ve tasted this year and the world’s craziest sandwich

It’s been more than a month since I returned from Apulia where I sat as a judge in the Radici Wines festival, celebrating the indigenous grapes of Southern Italy and I still haven’t caught up on all the great wines I tasted during the event. Here’s another one…

The wines of Paola Mustilli first came to my attention back in 1998 when I was writing about wine for La Cucina Italian in New York. I cannot conceal that I’ve been a devoted fan ever since and I was thrilled that I finally got to meet her in early June at the festival, where the first two days included “speed-dating” with producers (although some of those têtes-à-têtes proved to be a little awkward when the wines were less than satisfying or the enologist decided to lecture on “how wine is made”).

I guess I’m thinking about her Piedirosso because when I landed in sunny San Diego this morning and saw the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, I got a craving for this wonderful wine — grapey and slightly chewy, with clean berry and red fruit flavors, sturdy acidity and judicious alcohol. The day I tasted with her she served it slightly chilled and it was perfect. And when I wrote home about it, Tracie P responded with a note of enviable nostalgia, reminded of how she used to enjoy this relatively inexpensive wine during her years on the Amalfi coast. Piedirosso is such a fantastic, user-friendly grape, so versatile and flexible, and when it’s done right, its downright delicious.

The wine was definitely a highlight of the festival for me, as was Paola’s Falaghina, which really stood out for its faithfulness to the variety. Overall, the flights of Falanghina were disappointing (and I got into some hot water after Jancis suggested that I mention my impression in my address to the conference). There were a few solid entries for Falaghina but even those tasted yeasted and spoofed to me. Paola’s really stood apart and I cannot recommend it highly enough to you: it was bright and clean with the white fruit aromas and flavors that I look for in real Falaghina (not honeydew and bubblegum that you find in the tricked out bottlings).

One of the other highlights that day was what I have dubbed the world’s craziest sandwich.

The food at Alessia Perucci’s Masseria Le Fabriche was exceptional and the meals rigorously traditional yet equally and wonderfully creative. But, standing nearly 2 feet in height, no one could quite figure out how to consume this brioche stuffed with prosciutto and cheese. It was a sight, nonetheless, to behold!

In other news…

Vai Sotto! Taste with me “down under” tomorrow and Thursday nights at Sotto in Los Angeles where I’ll be pouring wine on the floor and chatting with guests both nights.

Risotto alla Parmigiana my recipe and other news

I just couldn’t resist jotting down this recipe, one of my favorites and one of the simplest things in the world to make. All it takes is the right ingredients and patience. The reward is one of the most delicious expressions of Italy you’ll ever taste. The photo appeared today in my Houston Press post on the Aligoté by Michel Lafarge. Buon appetito!

Risotto alla Parmigiana

Serves 4


3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. finely chopped white onion
1 cup Carnaroli
½ cup white wine
chicken stock, as needed (2½-3 cups)
kosher salt
Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a wide sauté pan. Add the onion and gently cook until translucent, making sure all the while not to brown the onion (add a dash of water or white wine if needed). When the onion has become translucent, add the rice and toast over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally (this step is fundamental and ensures that the individual grains don’t stick together or become lumpy). Deglaze with the white wine and when the wine has evaporated, begin adding the stock one ladleful at a time, stirring gently all the while (constant stirring is the secret to evenly cooked risotto). Season with salt to taste (not necessary if the stock is properly seasoned). As the stock is absorbed by the rice, continue adding more liquid as needed until the rice has cooked through (or to desired firmness), about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and gently fold in a generous amount of Parmigiano Reggiano. Sprinkle lightly with minced flat-leaf parsley and top with freshly cracked pepper. (For traditional Risotto alla Parmigiano, omit the flat-leaf parsley and pepper.)

Serve as a first course with extra Parmigiano Reggiano on the side and pair with Lambrusco di Sorbara.

In other news… Happy birthdays…

Today is Alfonso’s birthday. Anyone who’s been following along here at the blog knows the important role he’s played in our lives over the last years. He introduced me to Tracie P, was the best man at our wedding, and he’s our comrade in all things vinous and blogilicious. He has one of those great palates that you can only train and develop over years — decades — of tasting all kinds of wines, from every category. I admire him for how he lives his life, for his career, for his intellectual pursuits, for his natural gift in writing and the amazing stories he tells us about his life in Italy wine, and for the generous friendship that he’s shared with us. We talk almost every single day about everything under the sun and there are days when we seem to communicate telepathically through our blogs and social media (he and I are leading a panel on wine blogging at this year’s Texas Sommelier Conference in a few weeks, btw). And I probably don’t know anyone who can make laugh as hard as Alfonso can. We love him a lot and are thinking of him today on this special day.

Tomorrow is Cousin Marty’s birthday. Does anyone remember the scene in Mel Brooks’s The Producers when Gene Wilder gives the speech at the end in the courtroom before the judge? “This man… this man… this is a wonderful man.” That’s how I feel about Marty. He’s the Bialystock to my Bloom. I never knew Marty growing up: he’s my father Zane’s first cousin and because the families were estranged, I didn’t have much or any contact with him and his children. But when he found out that I moved to Texas to be with Tracie P, he reached out to us and made us part of his family’s life. And guess what? It turns out that I’m not the only fresser in the family! Like us, Marty loves food and wine (“I never met a Rhône I didn’t like,” goes one my favorite aphorisms of his) and he loves the theatrical experience of restaurant going. We’ve become so close over the last few years and the amount of fun we have together is criminal, really. There outta to be a law against it! Marty had a health scare this year and even in its darkest moments, I was blown away by the joy and hope and love and generosity of spirit that he mustered — not just for his own sake but for ours as well. Thank G-d that he’s fine. I just can’t imagine a world without him and Tracie P and I are sending lots of love and happy birthday wishes for his special day tomorrow.

In other other news…

Tomorrow I’m heading home to California where I’ll be pouring wine on the floor Wednesday and Thursday nights at Sotto in Los Angeles. If you’re in town, please come down and taste with me. We’re going to be debuting a new Gragnano (my favorite) and Randall Grahm’s excellent Syrah by the glass. Hope to see you!

Recioto, Maffei, and Cassiodorus: the Italian text

Above: Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei, 18th-century archeologist, historian, art historian, and philologist (image via Michael Finney Antique Books and Prints).

Over the last few days, a number of people have retweeted my translation of Cassiodorus on Recioto della Valpolicella (Acinaticum) via Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei (thank you Melissa, Raelinn, Randall, Meg, Lizzy, and Juel).

And yesterday, Italy’s A-number-1 wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani, graciously and generously included it in his weekly wine blogging roundup for the Italian Sommelier Association.

In my initial post, I included my translation of the Cassiodorus text into English along with the original Latin.

Today, for Italian readers, I’m posting the Italian text, transcribed from Maffei’s Verona Illustrata (Verona Illustrated, originally published in 1731-32 in Verona).

If only I had time (and the financial resources) to devote myself full-time to my philological pursuits! Magari! For the time being, my enophilological research has to take a backseat to earthly necessities. It means SO MUCH to me when people enjoy these posts. THANK YOU one and all!

Here’s the text. Buona lettura! (Click here for my English translation.)


“Non è da tralasciare la distinta memoria di due vini veronesi che ci ha conservata Cassiodoro, scrivendo a colui, che avea cura in queste parti delle contribuzioni fiscali a tempo di Teodorico. Dopo aver premesso, doversi per la Regia mensa far venire d’ogni parte le più rare cose, così proseguisce: ‘e perciò son da procurare i vini, che la feconda Italia singolarmente produce, accioché non paia aver noi trascurate le cose proprie, quando cercar dobbiamo anche le straniere… Spezie di vino veramente degna che se ne vanti l’Italia: imperciocché se bene l’ingegnosa Grecia, di varie e fine diligenze lodata, e condisce i vini suoi con gli odori, o con marine mischianze dà lor sapore, niente ha però di così squisito… il vino Acinatico, che da gli acini ha il nome… Questo è puro, per sapor singolare, Regio per colore; talché o ne’ suoi fonti possa tu creder tinta la porpora, o dalla porpora espresso il liquor suo. La dolcezza in esso si sente con soavità incredibile, si corrobora la densità per non so qual fermezza, e s’ingrossa al tatto in modo, che diresti esser un liquido carnoso, o una bevanda da mangiare… Vogliam riferire quanto particular sia il modo di farlo. Scelta nell’Autunno l’uva dalle viti delle domestiche pergole, sospendesi rivoltata, conservasi ne’ vasi suoi, e negli ordinari repositori si custodisce. S’indura dal tempo, non si liquida: trasudando allora gl’insulsi umori, soavemente addolciscesi. Tirasi fino al mese di Decembre [sic], finché l’inverno la faccia scorrere, e con maraviglia cominci il vino a esser nuovo, avendo in tutte le cantine si trova già vecchio. Mosto invernale, freddo sangue dell’uve, liquor sanguigno, porpora bevibile, violato nettare. Cessa di bollire nella sua prima origine, e quando può farsi adulto, comincia a parere per sempre nuovo. Non si percuote inguirosamente con calci l’uva, né con mischiarvi sordidezza alcuna s’infosca; ma vien’eccitata come alla nobiltà si conviene. Scorre, quando l’acqua indurisce, è feconda, quando ogni frutto de’ campi è svanito, stilla dagli occhi suoi liquor corrispondente, lagrima non so che di giocondo ed oltre al piacer del dolce, singolare è nella vista la sua bellezza'”.

Amy’s Ice Creams Sunday (best ice cream in Texas)

One of the coolest things about living in Austin, Texas is that there is still an abundance of locally owned and managed food stores. That number is sadly and rapidly dwindling across Texas and the U.S. but Austin is one of those hold-out cities where folks take the local battle cry — keep Austin weird — to heart.

And one of the coolest things about being pregnant is that most weekends will find us at the best ice cream parlor in Texas: Amy’s Ice Creams, where the creamery takes local pride in on-site churning and idiosyncratic combinations, like the Vulcan Mind Melt above.

For those who grew up in the Baskin-Robbins era, the limited number of ice cream flavors might come as a surprise. But the servers are ingenious at creating the flavor you desire by combining the ice creams with the myriad toppings they have at their disposal. In fact, the “crush’ns” outnumber the ice cream flavors. (This weekend Tracie P had Belgian Chocolate and crumbled Heath Bars.)

There are even ice creams that have alcohol in them — stout beer and vodka the last time I checked — although the alcoholic content is negligible.

We’ve been having a lot of fun with food cravings (thanks again, Noah, for the awesome pickle shipment from Zabar’s!) and who doesn’t love ice cream on a lazy summer Sunday in Austin, Texas? I know I do. :)

Happy Sunday, yall… Buona domenica…

Bacon cheeseburgers and Chambolle-Musigny for my birthday and Tracie P is showing!

In years past, my birthday has been marked with a bistecca alla fiorentina. (Last year’s Florentine-style porterhouse was particularly memorable because it coincided with James Suckling’s announcement that he was leaving Wine Spectator.)

But this year, with Baby P on the way and the implementation of new austerity measures, bacon cheeseburgers (another guilty pleasure of mine) seemed more idoneous.

I always use ground sirloin for my burgers, seasoned with salt, pepper, and Tabasco.

We sacrilegiously paired with a bottle of 2001 Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes by Leroy (!!!). I know what you’re thinking: austerity measures and a $300+ bottle of wine? It was given to me by a friend at a famous auction house after I helped her out by researching a lot of famous Tuscan wine for her.

I wrote about the wine this morning over at the Houston Press blog, where I’ve been having a lot of fun with the “Odd Pair” rubric that I author. It’s been great to get out of my comfort zone and write about a wider variety of wines (and even some wines I wouldn’t reach for normally).

I made the burgers and Tracie P made the mashed potatoes (as my birthday request) and the traditional blueberry pie (this year with lattice-top crust!). She’s really beginning to show!

Baby P and she are doing great and we’re looking forward to finding out Baby P’s sex in a few weeks. :)

Thanks, so much, for all the birthday wishes! They mean so much to me… What a special birthday this year and what an amazing year this has been and will be… We can’t tell you how much your support means to us…

European Wine Bloggers Conference: PSYCHED for October!

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Ryan Opaz and I were going to become fast friends when we meet last month for the first time at the Radici Wines festival in Apulia. Ryan is simply one of the coolest dudes in wine blogging today and I completely dig, his style, his energy, his mission, and his vibe… My kinda people…

I am entirely geeked and psyched to share the news that Ryan and his partner in marriage, life, and business Gabriella have asked me to speak at a couple of events at this year’s European Wine Bloggers Conference in October in Italy… YES ITALY! In Franciacorta to be exact… How friggin’ cool is that?

In coming months, I’ll be posting on the panels and seminars in which I’ll be participating and I am thrilled to get to meet so many bloggers and winemakers whom I only know virtually and through their wines. The super cool Evan Dawson is going to be the keynote speaker! That’s way rad and I’m stoked to finally get to connect and taste with him. Stay tuned!

In other news…

I’m taking the rest of the day off because a little bird just landed on my shoulder and told me that today is my birthday! Tracie P baked me a blueberry pie with lattice-top crust and we have a special secret menu planned for tonight… See you tomorrow! And thanks for all the birthday wishes! This birthday is a really special one for me. :)

Recioto della Valpolicella, an ancient pitch by Cassiodorus

Above: I snapped this photo of Tracie P when we visited the Valpolicella together with Alfonso in early 2011.

In every book about Italian wine and every promotional text you read about the Valpolicella and Soave, there is always an obligatory mention of the wine produced in antiquity there, Acinaticum. But none of them — to my knowledge — ever reproduces or reprints the primary texts where the wine is mentioned.

In the course of my research of the origins of the enonyms Vin Santo (Italian) and Vinsanto (Greek), I came across a wonderful tome entitled Verona Illustrata (Verona Illustrated, originally published in 1731-32 in Verona) by the Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei. Not only was Maffei an archeologist and chronicler of Verona’s history, he was also a philologist. And one of his most important contribution to classical studies was his translation and study of a manuscript containing the letters of late-Roman-era statesman Cassiodorus (some believe that Maffei was the first to discover the vellum-bound handwritten book).

Over the weekend, as I was working on a short piece on the Veneto that will be published later this year in Italy, I revisited the text and have rendered a translation of — what I consider — a salient passage below on Acinaticum.

The most remarkable thing I discovered was that Cassiodorus was writing to the Canonicarius Venetiarum — the treasurer of the Veneto region under Rome — imploring him to buy Acinaticum for the royal table. In essence, it was a sales pitch for the unusual wine of Valpolicella. I have translated it from the Latin using Maffei’s Italian translation as a guide. It is one of the most inspiring pieces of wine writing I have ever read… and a wonderful pitch!

I love when he writes, “On the palate, it swells up in such a way that you would say it was a meaty liquid, a beverage to be eaten rather than drunk” (“tactus eius densitate pinguescit, ut dicas esse aut carneum liquorem aut edibilem potionem”).

Buona lettura!

Italy rightly boasts of its truly worthy types of wines. And for however much we praise the ingenious Greeks for their wide variety of wines and their skill in dressing their wines with aromas and sea mixtures to give them flavor, they have nothing as exquisite as this…. The wine called Acinaticum, which takes its name from the acino or [grape] berry.

It is pure, singular in flavor and regal in color, so much so that you would say that it has been used to dye crimson [fabric] or that it is the liquid pressed from crimson. The sweetness in it is incredibly delicate and its density is formed by a firmness [in texture] unknown to me. On the palate, it swells up in such a way that you would say it was a meaty liquid, a beverage to be eaten rather than drunk.

The grapes are selected from vines [trained] on locally managed pergolas, they are hung upside down, and [then] they are stored in their amphoras, the regular vessels used [for their vinification]. With time the grapes become hard but do not turn into liquid. They sweat out their insipid fluid and become delicately sweet. This continues until December when the winter begins to make their juice run, and, wondrously, the wine becomes new [fresh] even as you find wine already mature in all the other cellars. The winter must — the cold blood of the grapes, the bloody fluid — [becomes] potable crimson, violet nectar. It stops boiling [fermenting] in its youth and when it is able to become an adult, it once again becomes new [fresh] wine.

The grapes are not tread with injurious shoes! Nor is any filth allowed to mix with them. They are stimulated [i.e., vinified] in accordance with their nobility. [During the time of the year when] the water hardens [freezes], the liquid flows. When all fruit has disappeared from the fields, this wine is fertile and its noble fluid oozes from its buds. I am unable to describe the goodness of its tears. And beyond the pleasure of its sweetness, its beauty is singular to behold.

Latin (unabridged):

Et ideo procuranda sunt vina, quae singulariter fecunda nutrit Italia, ne qui externa debemus appetere, videamur propria non quaesisse. comitis itaque patrimonii relatione declaratum est acinaticium, cui nomen ex acino est, enthecis aulicis fuisse tenuatum. [3] Et quia cunctae dignitates invicem sibi debent necessaria ministrare, quae probantur ad rerum dominos pertinere, ad possessores Veronenses, ubi eius rei cura praecipua est, vos iubemus accedere, quatenus accepto pretio competenti nullus tardet vendere quod principali gratiae deberet offerre. digna plane species, de qua se iactet Italia. nam licet ingeniosa Graecia multifaria se diligentiae subtilitate commendet et vina sua aut odoribus condiat aut marinis permixtionibus insaporet, sub tanta tamen exquisitione reperitur simile nil habere. Hoc est enim merum et colore regium et sapore praecipuum, ut blattam aut ipsius putes fontibus tingi aut liquores eius a purpura credantur expressi. dulcedo illic ineffabili suavitate sentitur: stipsis nescio qua firmitate roboratur: tactus eius densitate pinguescit, ut dicas esse aut carneum liquorem aut edibilem potionem. libet referre quam singularis eius videatur esse collectio. autumno lecta de vineis in pergulis domesticis uva resupina suspenditur, servatur in vasis suis, thecis naturalibus custoditur. rugescit, non liquescit ex senio: tunc fatuos humores exsudans magna suavitate dulcescit. Trahitur ad mensem Decembrem, donec fluxum eius hiemis tempus aperiat, miroque modo incipit esse novum, quando cellis omnibus reperitur antiquum. hiemale mustum, uvarum frigidus sanguis, in rigore vindemia, cruentus liquor, purpura potabilis, violeum nectar defervet primum in origine sua et cum potuerit adulescere, perpetuam incipit habere novitatem. non calcibus iniuriose tunditur nec aliqua sordium ammixtione fuscatur, sed, quemadmodum decet, nobilitas tanta provocatur. defluit, dum aqua durescit: fecunda est, cum omnis agrorum fructus abscedit. distillat gemmis comparem liquorem: iucundum nescio quid illacrimat et praeter quod eius delectat dulcedo, in aspectu singularis eius est pulchritudo.

If any of you Latinists want to help me refine the translation, please do so by leaving alternative translations or suggestions in the comments! Thanks in advance!