First Kiss: 07 Produttori del Barbaresco and Gianni Brunelli olive oil

Maybe it’s because she knew I was depressed by the flurry of bad news from Europe.

But it’s definitely because I’m the luckiest guy in the world: when Tracie P came home from work yesterday, she brought me a bottle of 2007 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco, which — believe it or not — I still hadn’t tasted.

However bizarre the 2007 vintage in Langa, everything I’ve tasted so far from Barbaresco and Barolo has been simply sensational. Here’s what one of my favorite wine writers, Antonio Galloni, had to say about this strange but glorious (imho) vintage:

    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.

At first kiss, the 2007 classic (as opposed to vineyard-designated) Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco was very generous with its fruit. Arguably the most elegant bottling I’ve ever tasted from the winery that forms the centerpiece of our wine collection, the wine showed stunning balance before quickly closing up, with the muscular tannin dominating the wine in my glass for the rest of the evening (I’ve saved the great part of the wine in the bottle and will revisit it tonight and tomorrow night). If ever there were an expression of Barbaresco “Barolo-esque” in its power, this would be it: there was a delicate menthol note in the mouth that reminded us of some of our favorite “east-side,” “Helvetian” growers.

It’s too early for final judgment on this wine, but wow, my impression is that we have a lot to look forward to…

In other news…

I also opened a bottle of Gianni Brunelli olive oil that Laura Brunelli gave me when I visited the family’s amazing farm in Montalcino in October.

A drizzle over some still warm toasted bread was unbelievably good, one of the mineral olive oils I’ve ever tasted. (When tasting olive oil, please be sure the olive oil is room temperature and always taste with warm bread; the gentle heat of the bread will prompt the oil to release its full flavor.)

I used the oil to dress some fresh red leaf lettuce and some cannellini beans. Utterly and absolutely delicious.

Whereas Ligurian olive oil tends toward the fruity and Sicilian toward the spicy, great Tuscan olive oil leans toward salty: I added just a dash of kosher salt to both the salad and the beans and Laura’s oil imparted all the savoriness I needed to both dishes. Fantastic stuff… Enough to cheer a wine blogger up after a day of gloomy news from his adoptive country…

Stay tuned for a post on my visit with Laura, a tour of her amazing “biodynamic” house, and a tasting of some current and older vintages of her family’s incredible wines… one of the best tastings from my last trip to Italy… Thanks for reading!

A sad day in Siena…

Above: Ricciarelli from Nannini in Siena. I took these photos in October while visiting a good friend there.

From Frank Bruni’s editorial today on Berlusconi’s “post-script” to the report in the Wall Street Journal that the Monte dei Paschi Foundation might lose control of the historic bank — the “world’s oldest bank” — the news from Italy is depressing these days.


It’s hard for me to write about Italian wine these days when people I know and care about are being affected directly by the economic crisis in Europe.

A good friend from Siena writes:

    [Monte dei Paschi] is the oldest bank in the world (founded in 1472). It is the third largest bank in Italy and it has represented everything for Siena since the beginning. It is the financial lung of the city and of the province. It used to distribute Euro 250 million ($400 million) every year to everybody who asked for restoration of the bathrooms of the contradas in Siena, or for a new soccer field, or for a book illustrating the old gates of Siena, or to make a show, or to go to a wine fair. Directly or indirectly MPS [Monte dei Paschi di Siena] has been the Babbo Monte [“Daddy Monte”] exactly like a generous dad [see this WSJ profile and report on the crisis]. Now MPS is in big crisis like anyone else in Italy but with a bigger aftermath than any other. On the stock exchange, MPS lost from the beginning of the this year 88% of the value dropping from 3,00 euros to 0,29 euros for share. So this is a problem. A big problem. A huge problem for Siena.


“Maybe it is finally the time to consider tourism the first industry of Siena,” writes my friend, “and start again from this point.”

If you’ve ever been to Siena, you know that it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s also a cultural hub of Western Civilization, a city whose contribution to Italy’s national history is rivaled only by its intellectual and aesthetic treasure.

The Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank is just up the street from the Nannini pastry shop.

I’m no fan of bankers but it’s sad to think of what Siena would be like without Monte dei Paschi, an institution that has helped to protect and cultivate the city’s works of art for more than 500 years.

Some of Italy’s greatest wines are raised within a forty-minute radius of Siena — Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano…

Our Italian friends are in our thoughts these days…

Italy’s greatest rosé? Biondi Santi’s Rosato di Toscana

I couldn’t resist translating this post by Italy’s top wine blogger Mr. Franco Ziliani for VinoWire today. And the mimetic desire was so overwhelming that I was compelled to post my translation here as well. I haven’t yet tasted the 2008 Rosato by Biondi Santi but the 2006 was fantastic. Until I get back to Italy, I’ll just to live vicariously through Franco’s post… Buona lettura!

When my fifty-fifth birthday arrived this year, I didn’t reach for a powerful red, nor an elegant Champagne, nor a juicy Franciacorta. No, I drank a stunning rosé on my birthday, perhaps the most important and most celebrated of all the Italian rosés (and probably the most expensive, since more than one online wine store offer it at Euro 33). I’m talking about the Rosato di Toscano, 100% Sangiovese, created by the Gentleman of Brunello, Franco Biondi Santi on his Tenuta del Greppo estate in Montalcino.

On another occasion, I wrote the following about this wine: It is the youngest child of the Greppo estate, a wine obtain by vinifying estate-grown Sangiovese at 16-18° C. without skin contact, aged for 18 months in stainless steel. We could call it a youthful Sangiovese, a quasi Brunello… in pink, obtained from young vines roughly 5 to 10 years in age. The vineyards are located in zones rich with stony subsoil and galestro [schist], with exposition to the North-East, South, and North, and elevation ranging from 250-500 meters.

I drank the 2008 Rosato di Toscana by the great Franco Biondi Santi with a simple however delicious, everyday dish: exquisite beef meatballs braised in tomato sauce and paired with green beans that had been sautéed with bread crumbs. We’re talking about enthusiasm cubed here: a truly extraordinary rosé in every sense.

Light cherry in color, jus of squab with an orange hue. Dry and direct on the nose, very salty and focusedd, dominated by red cherry followed by a gradual evolution of citrus ranging from pink grapefruit to mandarin oranges and citron. Then came notes of multi-colored Mediterranean maquis, tomato leaf, flint, and hints of rose. Together, they created a weave of color and mosaic of aroma.

Ample in the mouth, juicy, overflowing with personality and refined, ample layers of texture. Well structured on the palate, with vertical depth, endowed with focus, an absolute release of magnificent vitality and complexity.

A stony, salty wine, with perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin (the magnificent tannin of Sangiovese from Montalcino). Great harmony, extreme polish, aristocratic elegance, and absolute drinkability despite the 13.5% alcohol and richness of this highly enjoyable Rosato di Toscana.

It would be suited to a wide variety of dishes, from Caciucco alla Livornese to fish soup, to baby octopus cooked in red wine to braised calamari with peas. But it also could be paired with a roast beef, braised beef, or even veal… and even a well-stocked pizza. Why not?

The greatest of Italian rosés and one of the greatest rosés in the world, including France. Chapeau bas!

Franco Ziliani

The dream of every Jew…

The dream of every Jew (at least this one)? To write Christmas music, of course!

Every since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of writing Christmas music… just like one of my idols, Irving Berlin, who wrote “White Christmas” and “Happy Holiday,” among others…

And so when we “went into the studio” this year to make Nous Non Plus’s new album, Freudian Slip (Aeronaut 2011), we also recorded some holiday music.

The A-side of our new self-released single, “Holiday,” was inspired by and written for Tracie P (every day with you is a holiday…)…

The B-side is a song inspired by our troops, “(General, Please) Keep My Baby Safe This Christmas Eve”: it’s an anti-war song, sung from the point-of-view of a soldier’s wife or mother… Céline did an awesome job with the video… And the song features an heart-wrenching guitar solo by our friend David Garza, one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever had the chance to work with…

The single is only available on CD (no digital release) and costs $5 (including shipping).

For every CD shipped, Nous Non Plus will donate $1 to Operation Homefront, providing “emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members.”

Even if you don’t want a CD, please consider Operation Homefront (based in San Diego, California, and San Antonio, Texas) for your charitable giving this year…

To order a copy of the disk, please send me an email by clicking here (or leave a comment in the comment section below).

Tracie P and I LOVE Christmas music (Karen Carpenter, anyone?) and we have a strict rule at our house: NO Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving… and then LET THOSE BELLS RING! :)

Happy Holidays, yall! And thanks for listening…

Letter to Baby P (Thanksgiving 2011)

Baby P, the image above is your first “close up” from an early ultrasound. Someday we’ll tell you about what it felt like to “see” you for the first time.

Dear Baby P,

Mom is going to have a laugh when she reads this and discovers that I am at a loss for words… since I’m generally the one who talks too much!

She and I talk to you all the time and sometimes — especially in the morning when we say goodbye before the workday — I put my lips to her belly and I tell you I love you.

I’ve finally sat down to write you the letter I’ve been meaning to write you. But today I don’t know what to say.

I thought I’d have some nuggets of wisdom to share or some insights about becoming a parent. But I don’t.

When folks find out that you’re pregnant, they always ask the same three questions: is it a boy or a girl? do you have a name? are you excited? Sometimes I think they ask you those questions because they want to say something but, like me, they don’t know what to say.

There are plenty of people who offer advice about being a parent and much of it is sound and some of it has been useful. But most of it is their way of sharing the experience with you. As one Italian friend of our wrote, having a child is the most normal thing in life and it is also the most extraordinary.

But then there are the grandparents. They don’t offer advice. But nearly all of them say the same thing: having a child will change your life in ways that you can’t imagine.

Baby P, that’s a photo of your beautiful mom! And it’s also a photo of you. Some folks say she’s the most beautiful mother-to-be they’ve ever seen. I have to say that I agree! She’s been such a good mother to you and I love her so much.

Becoming a parent sure does change your life: your rhythms and daily routines change; your lifestyle changes; your body changes. Every time mom and I go to the doctor for your checkup, we marvel at the miracle of life. Even with all the science of the twenty first century, the great brains of the world still can’t figure out how it all works. (And it’s probably better that way.)

But it also changes how you see the world: from the milk that I buy for mom at the store to the way a line from the poet Virgil scans; from the car seats that I installed last week to the financial challenges that we and our friends in Europe are facing every day; from your baby clothes neatly folded in your nursery to the sadness in a best friend’s voice when he talks about missing his child. Everything looks, tastes, smells, feels, and appears differently to me. But it’s not because everything is different. It’s because I’m different.

Baby P, that’s my silver milk cup from when I was born. Your grandmother, Mamma Judy, had your name engraved on the other side of the cup.

Baby P, there’s so much I want to tell you. About the world and its great cities, about music and poetry, about philosophy and art…

But today, the words just won’t come.

And so I think I’ll just put my lips to mom’s belly and tell you I love you…



Thanksgiving Day, 2011

A funky-assed Moscato Rosa from Friuli by Bressan gets me thinking…

Just had to write a quick note on the Moscato Rosa that Jeff over at Vino Vino “tasted me on” (as we say in the biz) over the weekend…

It’s a new bottling by an old grower from Friuli, Bressan.

The winemaker calls it Rosantico (pronounced ROHZ-ahn-TEE-koh), a composite of rosa (pink) antico (ancient).

I’d tasted a lot of Moscato Rosa, canonically classified as a rosa or pink, as opposed to nero (black or red) or bianco (white), grape by Italian ampelography. But the wines were always dried-grape expressions of the variety. Historically, Moscato Rosa has been vinified as sweet wine, intended for long-term aging, in the Veneto and in Trentino-Alto Adige.

This wine is vinified instead as a dry wine.

However light in color, the wine was tannic and rich in body. Moscato Rosa is an aromatic grape and the nose on this wine was wild (literally): it ranged from the unctuously floral to technicolor red and stone fruit.

In the mouth the wine was more savory than I expected and it had some wonderful earth tones that worked with its fruit like roast vegetables and chutney.

I’ll have to go back to Vino Vino and revisit it (Jeff offered me a tasting pour during a recent event). But it does pose an epistemological question: when a “traditional” producer like Bressan takes an experimental approach to a native grape, is the resulting wine a “modern” expression of the variety?

Without a doubt an original and fascinating wine (although not cheap) and a great pretext for some epistemological reflection…

Chicken & Dumplings, Cornbread, and News of Baby P

As of today, we’re exactly four weeks away from our due date (did you know that pregnancy is now measured in ten months? So we are technically “nine months” pregnant).

But that didn’t stop Tracie P from making her famous Chicken and Dumplings (from scratch, including the stock) for Sunday supper with the Johnson Family. That’s Donkey & Goat Untended Chardonnay in my glass, btw.

We are all healthy and our obstetrician is very happy with Baby P’s development. Her weight is just below the 50th percentile, “right where we want baby to be” said our doctor. But we are feeling a lot of fatigue and discomfort these days with the final “growth spurts.” Tracie P’s belly is getting BIG!

Aunt Holly brought delicious cornbread and brownies…

We are so lucky to be surrounded by people who love us and want to help and support us as we head into the last month of our pregnancy…

Stay tuned! :)

Jayhawks show and a great Spanish wine

My super good friend Michael Nieves was in town last night for the epic Jayhawks show and he generously let me be a plus one (he’s Mark Olson’s manager, not to mention my band Nous Non Plus’s licensing agent).

Before we hit the Paramount theater for the show, we shared an awesome bottle of Marqués de Murrieta 2001 Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial at Trio, still very young in its evolution but generous with its ripe red fruit and beautiful acidity “supporting” all the elements in the wine, as they Italians say… Great stuff…

Over dinner, Michael and I fondly remembered the night before I left Los Angeles to come visit Tracie P (then still B!)…

And amazing show… one of those shows that reminds you how powerful great songwriting can be, especially when paired with one of the greatest duet singers on the Alt Country scene (up there with Gram and Emmylou imho).

Thank you, Michael! You are one of my oldest and most cherished friends…

It’s just two hearts that make us pay…

California Huevos Rancheros and Wine for Breakfast

I had fun this morning with my Houston Press post, writing about my favorite breakfast — my take on California-style huevos rancheros — and wine for breakfast (in this case, Moscato d’Asti). Here’s the link…

And, hey, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it… Here are a few recent posts I did for my friend Tony (above with screenwriter and winemaker Robert Kamen): an interview with Maximilian Riedel (where he discusses the art of decanting Champagne) and notes from the Kamen dinner at Tony’s this weekend.

Who’d have ever thought that you could make a living as a wine blogger?

Buona lettura e buon weekend, yall!