Fast food and fine wine pairing, my post today for Houston Press

After I read an article in this week’s The New York Times reporting that the fast food chain Sonic has begun offering its guests wine, I was inspired to contemplate the pairing of fast food and fine wine for the Houston Press today.

I had a lot of fun with it and you might be surprised by what I came up with and the folks that appear in the post. Here it is…

Thanks for reading!

DOCG RIP: Death by Bureaucracy

And so it would seem that the Italian government has finally stopped handing out DOCGs to any and all who wish to participate in the age-old game of political spoils. But the news that Italian National Wine Committee has ended its despicable practice comes after scores and scores of wines have received the accolade while legions of other more deserving wines have been ignored and omitted.

Over the weekend, my writing partner in VinoWire, top Italian wine writer and blogger Franco Ziliani, and I posted an English translation of his editorial on the final nail in the coffin of the Italian DOC/G system.

And not only did Alfonso post an updated list of current DOCGs but he also wrote a stirring, lyrical, and unforgettable post about the five Italian regions that will never attain a DOCG, despite the nobility of their wines (this is a must-read post, truly brilliant).

The rush to create a tide of new DOCGs stemmed from the final phase (and year) of the EU’s Common Market Organisation reform. (See also this post on “riforma 164.”)

The power to create new denominations has now passed from Rome to Brussels but the reform allowed a “grandfathering” of previously decreed DOCGs. The crush of new DOCGs was the result of hundreds of wineries lobbying to attain the classification before the application deadline passed in 2009.

The Italian agricultural minister essentially rubber stamped every application.

To commemorate this momentous legislative landmark, Fedagri-Confcooperative (the Italian confederation of farmers and farming cooperatives) issued the following statement: “with these deliberations, the National Wine Committee has fulfilled its two-year task of reviewing and approving nearly 300 applications to change existing DOs [Protected Designations of Origin] and the accreditation of new IGTs, DOCs, and DOCGs.”

Never mind the fact that the Italian agriculture minister, Saverio Romano, (who oversees the committee and signs their recommendations into law) was appointed to his seat in the cabinet by Berlusconi so that he could avoid prosecution for organized crime association and corruption. (Over the course of his tenure, Berlusconi has shrewdly authored a series of laws that grant immunity to Italian politicians.)

And so with the baby and the bathwater: bureaucracy has skillfully annihilated any significance or impact that the DOCG system could have retained in a post-CMO-reform world.

As I prepare to head back to Italy for the European Wine Bloggers Conference (where Franco and I will both be speaking), it strikes me as one of the saddest forms of wine writing that I can imagine.

2007 Nebbiolo and Rock ‘n’ Roll: notes from our record release party

As we head into the last trimester of our pregnancy, Tracie P and I decided to have one last house party before Baby P arrives in December. Doesn’t Tracie P look great?

Since I’m going to be in Europe on our new album’s release date (guiding celebrity mixologists to Friuli and speaking at the European Wine Bloggers Conference), the occasion was a listening party for my band Nous Non Plus’s CD Freudian Slip (October 11, Aeronaut Records).

You’ve already heard Bunga Bunga (the first single, released earlier this month). Here’s a preview of Tracie P’s favorite track, a song that Céline and I wrote in Italian for a dear friend of mine who’s going through a tough time in his life (that’s rock star David Garza playing the guitar solo, btw):

I made my guacamole, Tuscan bean salad, and penne tossed with domestic mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, and extra-virgin olive oil. For the main event, Tracie P made her famous potato latkes and in the light of the fact that our band is faux French, I made that supreme classic of French cuisine: le hot dog (Hebrew National weenies and buns grilled on our ridged steak pan and then slathered with Dijon).

We opened a lot of awesome wine with the friends who came out to listen yesterday. But the wine that really thrilled me was the 2007 Barbaresco by Silvio Giamello.

Gauging from the 2007 Nebbiolo I’ve tasted so far, this vintage, already showing extremely well, will only get better. Here’s what Antonio Galloni had to say about 2007 in Langa:

    The year started off with an unusually warm and dry winter, with virtually no precipitation. Flowers and plants went into bloom nearly a full month early. Growers had never seen conditions such as these. The summer was warm, but evenly so, without noticeable heat spikes. Towards the end of the growing season nighttime temperatures lowered, slowing down the maturation of the grapes, and allowing for the development of the perfume that is such an essential component of fine Nebbiolo. The harvest was earlier than normal, but the growing season started so early in the year that the actual length of the vegetative cycle was actually close to normal if not longer than normal by a few days. Overall yields were down an estimated 10-15%.

(Even though he posted this in the subscription-only EBob site, it’s easy to find: just Google “Galloni Piedmont 2007” and the complete text will come up.)

Produttori del Barbaresco still hasn’t shipped its 2007 classic Barbaresco but my bet is that it will be fantastic. And in the meantime, the Giamello is already gorgeous, with a promise for superb evolution. Giamello owns some of the best rows in Ovello, the same cru where Produttori del Barbaresco sources the majority of its fruit for their classic Barbaresco.

The 2008 Mongeard-Mugneret Fixin was also stunning. But the Barbaresco was the wine that really thrilled me yesterday as we listened to the new record.

Burgundy may be my mistress but Langa is my signora

Thanks for reading and listening!

@RandallGrahm I love your Vin Gris

Photo by Tracie P.

Paired some kolaches last night with Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris by Randall Grahm. Awesome wine… fresh, clean, nice fruit, bright acidity, low alcohol… I could drink it everyday…

What are kolaches, you ask? I hadn’t ever had a kolache until I moved to Texas.

I wrote about the wine and the pairing today over at the Houston Press.

Buon weekend yall!

Ratti old school Nebbiolo, worth the extra bucks in Texas

It’s the times we live in: connectivity and virtual media have leveled the playing field for wine pricing in our country.

Sommelier Rory and I see it all the time on the floor at Sotto in Los Angeles: a guest is seated, she/he looks at the wine list, and then immediately compares the prices of the wines with their retail price listings on

Like combing your hair on the floor of a restaurant, comparing wine prices while out for dinner is one of those things that is regrettably tolerated in society today.

I’ve been spending a lot of time browsing WineSearcher these days (at home and not in restaurants) because I’ve been writing about mostly under-$25 wines for the Houston Press food and wine blog.

A quick search this morning for one of my favorite expressions of young Nebbiolo — Renato Ratti Nebbiolo d’Alba Ochetti — reveals that here in Texas I pay up to $10 more per bottle than my friends in California (my friend Ceri Smith, super cool Italian wine lady, sells it for $21 at her shop Biondivino in San Francisco; $28 is the lowest I can find it in Texas).

Other than the fact that the virtual monopoly of the big distributors and the greed of the Texas wine brokerage system often adds to the cost of favorite wines, there’s really no reason why we should have to pay more here in the Lone Star state. But I love this wine so much it’s well worth the extra ten bucks.

The other night, Tracie P and I brought a bottle over to friends Misty and Nathan’s house (remember Nathan’s ribs paired with Nebbiolo, back when Tracie P was still Tracie B?).

Nathan had marinated some skirt steak, giving the beef a tangy note that played beautifully with the earthy, salty undertones of the Ratti Nebbiolo, which made from 30-year-old vines grown in the sandy subsoils of Roero and macerated for under a week (according to the winery’s website), giving the wine gentle tannic structure.

Where Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo d’Alba (a top under-$25 wine for me) tends toward bright fruit (especially for the 2009), Ratti’s always leans toward earth and mushroom. They’re both old school expressions of the variety but Produttori del Barbaresco’s can be more lean and show brighter red and berry fruit while Ratti’s digs in with a little more muscle and a lot more barnyard. I love them both…

These days, it’s hard to imagine the pre-WineSearcher world and it’s hard to resist the urge to compare prices around the country. But when it comes to Nebbiolo, I just can’t compromise for the sake of bargain hunting. Pork chops at half price still ain’t kosher…

Joe Dressner tributes…

Today, my Houston Press post features some of the many tributes to Joe Dressner that have appeared since the news of his passing hit the feed.

My roundup includes 6 different posts by some of my favorite wine writers as well as Eric the Red’s obituary of Dressner (Eric’s post on the Diner’s Journal blog, “Joe Dressner, an Importer With No Use for Pretense, Dies at 60,” is amazing).

Here’s the link to my round up.

But there were many, many more like those by Brooklyn Guy and Levi, among others.

Rocking the Kids Are Alright for a good cause

The Grapes (above), Jaynes Gastropub’s entry into last night’s San Diego Battle of the Chef Bands, took third place.

The competition was fierce but we were there to promote awareness for the San Diego Center for Community Solutions whose mission is “to end relationship and sexual violence by being a catalyst for caring communities and social justice.”

Everyone had a blast…

Giacosa 1999 Barbaresco (classic) and a gig tonight

From the department of “somehow, someway, I get to taste funky ass wines like every single day”…

Comrades Howard and Mary Beth came to visit me on Saturday night at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I was “pouring wine on the floor,” as we say in the wine trade.

Comrade Howard graciously and generously shared the above bottle of 1999 (classic) Barbaresco by Bruno Giacosa. (Howard was elected vice president of the Writers Guild of America last week, btw. Mazel tov, comrade!)

Great Barbaresco always inspires equine metaphors in me and this wine, powerful and muscular, asserted a masculine beauty tempered by feminine grace, a young mare whose strength was still countered by its youth.

Earth and stone dominated the fruit as the wine began to reveal its nature but dark and red fruit emerged as the wine spent some time in the glass.

Barbaresco by the hand of Giacosa never fails to invoke equine wonder in those of us lucky to experience the wines and his 1999 vintage continues to thrill me, often rivaling the perhaps more graceful 2001 with a combination of power and to kalon.

Thank you again, comrades! Avanti popolo!

In other news… All work and no play would make me an otherwise dull boy…

My friends at Jaynes Gastropub have asked me to sit in with them at tonight’s battle of the Chef Bands 2011 in San Diego. The charity event supports domestic violence awareness and takes place tonight. The Grapes (our band) go on around 9 p.m. Last night’s rehearsal featured some excellent 2007 Lafarge Bourgogne Passetoutgrain.