A Montecucco I LOVED and a Peruvian wine that made me gag

Anyone who has traveled the road that leads from Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino) to Bolgheri (at the top of the Maremma) has passed through the little-known yet increasingly popular appellation of Montecucco, where wines are raised in the townships of Cinigiano (where the village of Monte Cucco is located; n.b. the town is written as Monte Cucco while the appellation is Montecucco), Civitella Paganico, Campagnatico, Castel del Piano, Roccalbegna, Arcidosso, and Seggiano.

Because of its proximity to Montalcino, a lot of marketers and sales people have been touting its kinship to Brunello di Montalcino, where elevation is key in producing long-lived Sangiovese. In fact, Montecucco is mostly low-lying plains where often delicious however plump and sometimes flabby Sangiovese is grown. I’ve tasted a lot of Montecucco (including a pan-appellation tasting a few years ago in the offices of the Montecucco appellation) and frankly, not many of the wines have wowed me. But that changed when I tasted the Montecucco La Querciolina 2007 by the famous Brunello producer Livio Sassetti, whose flagship wines can be excellent despite their slightly slutty, tarted-up character.

The winery’s Montecucco is 100% Sangiovese (the appellation requires a minimum of 60%) and according to the back label the clone Sangiovese Grosso della Maremma. I’ve never heard of this clone and I imagine its one of the myriad clones of Sangiovese found in Tuscany (numbering in the thousands, some developed through massal selection, some developed in nurseries).

Although its called Sangiovese Grosso or large Sangiovese, the berries of Sangiovese Grosso are actually smaller than for most clones and the resulting ratio of pulp to skin makes for darker and more tannic wines. And that was the thing that struck me about this wine: while it had the awesome zinging acidity of Sangiovese, it also had some tannin and a richness of color and mouthfeel that I’d never found in Montecucco.

This wine is friggin’ delicious on the Do Bianchi scale of deliciousness and at less than $20 a bottle, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s one of those wines that reminded me of the Sangiovese that old man Augusto Marcucci used to grow and vinify at his house in nearby Bagno Vignoni where I used to spend summers in my university days. Just pure, honest, lip-smackingly delicious Sangiovese… Where’s the deep-fried wild boar liver, people???!!!

In other news…

From the department of “critical thinking” here at Do Bianchi…

As I continue to contribute to the Houston Press food and wine blog Eating Our Words, I have been expanding my tasting habits to include New World wines that cost less than $25 (for the record, I buy nearly all the wine that I review for the “Wine of the Week” and nearly all of the wine I review in general; I rarely accept samples but I do taste all of the unsolicited samples that somehow make it to our doorstep).

And as much as I respect the friend and top wine professional who sold me the above Peruvian Petit Verdot he sold me, a wine called Quantum by the Tacama winery, I continue to be nonplussed by wineries who make concentrated, oaky, highly alcohol wines especially for the American market.

According to the winery’s website, “Tacama uses both [sic] French technology and receives advice from French experts.” My question to them is: have the French tasted your wine?

This wine was so overwhelmed with spicy (American?) oak that it literally stung my tongue. And in the mouth, not only did it taste like jam that had been left out on the counter top exposed to air for a week, but it was so viscous that it felt like jamn in my mouth.

My recommended pairing? Well-done porterhouse drizzled with stale truffled-oil (my second-most-dreaded food product after jammy, oaky, spoofed wine).

Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Thanks for reading and buon weekend yall!

Harvest on Santorini!

Posting in a hurry today but just had to share the above photo of Aidani grapes sent to me by winemaker Ioanna Vamvakouri of the Boutari winery on Santorini.

A gun blogger for hire, I continue to curate the Boutari blog (a project dear to my heart) and I am thrilled to post the first images of harvest on the island. (And I posted another one over on the Boutari blog.)

In September, I’ll be expanding the Greek Grape and Appellation Name Pronunciation Project and I’ll also be posting more images and stories from my June trip to Greece.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Wine blogging: a balance of negative and positive reviews

There’s been a lot of lively conversation in the thread that followed yesterday’s post asking whether or not bloggers should write about wines they don’t like.

From an Italian winemaker to a wine buyer in a high-end Southern California store, from a Polish and an Italian wine blogger, to a wine blogger in Tennessee, there isn’t a whole lot of consensus but there are some interesting view points gathered in one place.

I agree with my blogging colleagues that we need to embrace critical thinking and while I won’t start posting negative reviews, I will continue to write about trends and styles of winemaking that counter what I believe good wine to be.

It’s worth noting that some of the greatest wine critics avoid negative reviews. Just look at Eric the Red’s tasting and review of a handful of bottlings of Barbera yesterday in The New York Times. He only includes the wines that he and the other panelists liked.

Or take for example, Antonio Galloni: he only publishes reviews for wines that achieve at minimum a threshold on the Parker point scale (I believe it is 80 but am not sure).

Antonio and Eric are both super nice guys, btw.

I also wanted to share a comment that I received via email from my friend Leslie Brenner who is the incognita restaurant reviewer for the Dallas Morning News.

She took (friendly) issue with my proposition that blogging is proudly subjective while journalism is ostensibly objective (by which I intended that blogging is written from the first person while journalism is third person).

“There is, in fact,” wrote Leslie, “a whole category of journalism called opinion journalism, and criticism — which is by definition subjective.” And she’s right: institutional food and wine writing tends to be told using the first person. It’s one of the reasons that food and wine lend themselves so readily to blogging. After all, the magic of a great wine blog or a great newspaper (institutional) wine review happens when we feel like we’re tasting what the reviewer is tasting.

Man, I can almost taste that 2008 Barbera d’Alba San Lorenzo now! At $45 a bottle, I just can’t afford it…

Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone.

Since when is Texas a Muslim country? Sans pain, sans vin, l’amour n’est rien #TexSom

I filed my report on the Texas Sommelier Conference today over at the Houston Press.

Click through to the post and see why Master of Wine and Master Sommelier Doug Frost was asking: since when is Texas a Muslim country?

Everyone was looking sharp at the opening session of the conference yesterday, including D’Lynn Proctor (left) and Devon Broglie, one of the two new Master Sommeliers in Texas.

The other new Texas Master Sommelier Craig Collins (right) posed with winemaker legend Serge Hochar at the panelists dinner party the night before.

Should wine bloggers write about wines they don’t like? (And Tracie P is looking great!)

Above: Tracie P and I couldn’t resist taking a dip in the salt water pool at the Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort in Irving, Texas, where I spoke at the seventh annual Texas Sommelier Conference on Saturday. Baby P is doing great and so is Mamma P!

During our Saturday seminar on wine blogging at the Texas Sommelier Conference, San Antonio participant Mark Fusco (author of 1337 Wine), asked Alfonso and me whether we felt there was a place in the enoblogosphere to write about wines we don’t like. Mark was referring to what we called “the golden rules of wine blogging,” including avoid negativity and write about things that you do like.

Print media wine writer Rebecca Murphy responded fervently, noting that “there are so many good wines out there, we can always find wines we like to write about” and avoid negative reviews.

After I posted the golden rules here yesterday, two of my European wine blogging colleagues — top print and virtual media writers Franco Ziliani from Italy and Wojciech Bońkowski from Poland — commented that “we must write also about things we don’t like [because] a critical approach to wine world of today is essential” (Franco) and that “it’s important to review bad wines, too, [because] from a reader’s point of view it adds balance to your praise, and makes you more trustworthy.”

Above: Alfonso snapped this photo of me with Mamma P on Saturday night at the conference speakers dinner party. I think anyone who saw her would agree. Tracie P is simply aglow right now. Me? I’m just happy to be sitting next to such a beautiful lady!

Others, including Alfonso, have weighed in: here’s the comment thread.

As Kim Pierce syllogistically pointed out during Saturday’s print media panel, many [print media food and wine] journalists are bloggers but not all bloggers are journalists.

As the lines of print and virtual media continue to be blurred and as many professional writers are increasingly prompted to contribute to commercial and institutional blogs, the question of where journalism ends and blogging begins becomes more and more fuzzy.

In my view, the main difference between traditional media and blogging is that the former is ostensibly objective while the latter is proudly subjective. By these terms, I do not mean one is better than the other. I am applying these terms as a semiotician would: they reflect the authors’s points of view. Personal pronouns — the lice of literature, as Gadda once said — are omitted in print media. They are embraced in social media.

As a child of historical Deconstruction and post-Modern critical theory, I am a firm believer that these terms are essentially irrelevant. (Not enough time and space to address this now and here.)

But I do believe that professional writers like Franco and Wojciech (and myself for that matter) are able to address thorny issues (like bad wines) in a judicious manner: they have institutional experience (and often training) that guides them. And as a result, they can be critical without agression or violence.

In social media, because so many of the writers lack these qualifications, unfounded controversy and imbalanced critical evaluation often takes the place of sound writing.

This is why I believe we wine bloggers should avoid negativity but not critical thinking. This is especially applicable for those of us coming to the table for the first time (like many of the participants in Saturday’s seminar).

I do think that Franco and Wojciech are 100% correct (and I am thrilled that they have weighed in here because I admire both of them immensely): we mustn’t abandon critical thinking. But can we maintain honesty without aggression and violence?

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in a comment!

Golden rules of wine blogging

Alfonso and I had a blast at yesterday’s wine blog seminar at TexSom 2001.

In prepping for our talks, it was a great experience to reflect on the nature of wine blogging and how and why we do it. You’ll find a lot of our notes and posts by seminar participants at the ad hoc blog we created for the session: Wine Bloggers Unite.

One of the posts that seemed to resonate with participants was the golden rules to blog by:

1) remember that all blogs — wine and otherwise — are vanity blogs.
2) tell the truth and write “what you feel.”
3) avoid negativity and write about things that you do like.
4) engage in collegiality, solidarity, and camaraderie.
5) follow your palate and listen to your heart.

As one participant Tweeted during the talk, “it’s all about love, community, and finding our humanity.”

No hat[e]orade here! :)

Another series of posts that seemed to resonate with participants was our classification of wine blog types:

1) institutional wine blogs
2) commercial wine blogs
3) professional wine blogs
4) pure wine blogs

Heartfelt thanks to Master Sommeliers Drew Hendricks, James Tidwell, Craig Collins, and Devon Broglie for making us part of the wonderful and amazing experience of TexSom!

Doritos and Joly, inspiration for a post

I have to confess that I’ve been enjoying my contribution to the Houston Press food blog, Eating Our Words.

And although I’ve been trying to focus on under-$25 wines from all over the world (not just Italy), my wonderful editor Cathy Matusow has been very generous in giving me license to reflect on wine and how we apply it in our everyday lives.

Today’s post was inspired by a whimsical pairing of Doritos and 2000 Coulée de Serrant by Joly. Blasphemous but surprisingly meaningful in ways I wouldn’t have expected.

    What is the moral of this story? However much we need to respect the wines we drink and the winemakers who make them, I believe that wine should be folded into the rhythms of our lives without prejudice or pretension. Did I commit an act of blasphemy with my pairing? In the eyes of many, I most certainly did. But I am convinced that wine is a living and breathing being, just like us. In my view, its application should be based on an honesty of desire and not an affected and complacent reliance on bourgeois convention. Yes, there are the great pairings of Western Civilization: Muscadet from the Loire and raw oysters; Sancerre and veined cheese; Tuscan Sangiovese and porterhouse alla fiorentina; red Burgundy and duck civet; Sauternes and foie gras Fritos.

    When it comes to pairing, follow your palate and be true to your heart.

Check out the post here and thanks for reading!

In other news…

Tracie P and I are on our way to Dallas where Alfonso and I will be leading a seminar on Wine Blogging at the Texas Sommelier Conference tomorrow.

I created a blog to document the seminar and to allow participants to network. Check it out here if you would like to follow along.

It’s an epic cast this year at the conference and I’ll looking forward to catching up with friends and colleagues from New York and California.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned and buon weekend yall!

The lost art of the aperitivo

When my good friend and one of the top wine professionals in the state Fabien Jacob poured me a sweet white vermouth as an aperitivo the other night at Dough Pizzeria (one of my favs) in San Antonio, I was transported back to my university days in Italy in the 90s when no meal started without an aperitivo…

Today, I wrote and posted a fun piece about vermouth and its role in Americana cocktails over at the Houston Press.

Buona lettura e buon appetito!