1979 Vino Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello @BrunelloMaker

Tracie P and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary on Friday night with one of the most stunning bottles we have ever shared together: 1979 Vino Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello by the Tenuta Il Poggione (our anniversary is actually today but we celebrated on Friday because Rev. and Mrs. B were in town and we had our first date night out since Georgia P was born!).

The bottle was given to me by my friends Fabrizio and Alessandro Bindocci at the winery back in October when I visited with them (I had it shipped from Siena, fearing that such a delicate bottle would not withstand travels in the trunk of my rental car and in the cargo of a commercial airliner). It had been cellared there since bottling and it had not been recorked or topped off. The shoulder was impressively high for a bottle this old.

Until 1982 when the DOC for Rosso di Montalcino was created (see Alessandro’s post here), the rosso was a vino da tavola labeled as Vino Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello (Red Wine from Brunello Vineyards). Note the alcohol content (13.5%) and note the bottle format (720ml).

Usually when you open a bottle of wine this old (and especially in the case of a wine originally intended to be drunk in its youth), you expect it to deliver one last gasp of life: you pull the cork and pour it into your glass and you enjoy it immediately, as its vibrancy quickly fades.

Not knowing what to expect (in part because Bindocci father and son had told me that it could be past its prime), Tracie P and I were BLOWN away by its bright acidity and fruit. And as we tasted it over the course of an hour and a half, it just continued to reveal layer upon layer of ripe red and berry fruit. It paired exquisitely with a black and blue New York sirloin. I had brought the bottle to the restaurant (Trio in Austin) three days prior and it had been stored upright. I asked our sommelier Coalminer Mark not to decant it and we opened it just a few moments before our main course arrived. I’m sure it could have kept its life for many more hours had we not slurped it down!

An truly unique and special bottle of wine for a magical moment in our lives: (not so) Little Georgia P was seven weeks old yesterday. We love her so much!

Thanks again, Fabrizio and Alessandro, for sharing this experience with us — from Montalcino to Austin… BRILLIANT!

Eat my puccia (in Austin, Texas) cc @PaoloCantele

Above: The art of the puccia lies in the creativity and freedom of ingredients that you use to dress it. At the puccia truck in Austin, they make a pastrami puccia! I love it!

The word puccia first became part of my gastronomic lexicon when my good friend (and client) Paolo Cantele took me to one of his favorite puccia shops in Lecce (Puglia, Italy).

The puccia is a savory flatbread indigenous to Puglia: it is griddle-fired and then stuffed with a wide variety of toppings — often clashing flavors. When I questioned Paolo’s wisdom off requesting a puccia stuffed with prosciutto and tuna, he didn’t miss a beat in responding “that’s the whole point of the puccia!”

You can imagine my delight when I discovered that Austin — the capital of trailer dining and food trucks in the U.S. — has its own puccia pimp, an Apulian dude named “Lucky” Luciano who runs a puccia truck downtown across from the Whole Foods Market on Lamar on 5th St.

But the coolest thing about Lucky’s puccia is that he embraces American foods in the toppings he uses, like the pastrami puccia above. And of course, all things being equal, in Austin you can pair Lucky’s puccia with Texas beer.

Here’s the Yelp and here’s the Facebook.


Buon weekend, yall! :)

The Natural wine disconnect (the ideology and spirituality of wine and the importance of a good shit)

Above: The best things in life are free but you can’t leave them to the birds and bees. My good friend Giampaolo Venica employs chemical-free farming and vinifies his wines using ambient yeast exclusively. But he would never call his wine “Natural.” He just calls it “wine.” I took this photo of “Wasp with Ribolla Grape” at his winery in September 2010.

Who will ever know why Eric the Red (as Eric Asimov is known here) decided to write today about the “vitriol” and “hissy fits” that “Natural wine advocacy” can evoke and provoke among English-language wine bloggers and writers? Was it because he overheard some wine hipsters at The Ten Bells — my favorite wine bar in New York City — dissing someone for liking a “yeasted” wine? (Dagueneau or Bruno Giacosa, anyone?)

Or was he writing in response to top American wine blogger and marketer Tom Wark’s satire of the “denigration marketing” embraced by Natural wine proponents in a post this week entitled “Drink Natural Wine Or Get a Bad Rash”?

I like to call Eric the “Solomon” of wine writers (and am a big fan). And if he wrote today about the discord that Natural wine foments in this country, there must be a good reason.

Of course, the greatest denigrator of them all and the instigator of the Natural wine dialectic in this country — Joe Dressner — recently left our world. Joe attacked nearly everyone (myself included; click here for Eric’s pre-obit of Dressner who died in September 2011). But there are a number of people in line for his mantle, each vying — for their own self-interest, whether commercial or purely personal — to take his place as denigrator-in-chief. (Again, please read Tom’s post if you’re interested in that rigamarole.)

Above: A wine shop in peninsular Venice (Favaro Veneto), where Incrocio Manzoni and Malbech [sic] are sold for less than a handful of Euro per liter.

In my view, the misguided and misplaced vitriol of Natural wine advocacy in this country is due to a fundamental disconnect.

In North America, wine is a luxury product only recently embraced by consumerist hegemony. Many in the U.S. may see wine as a means to return to Nature but they rarely embrace it as a means of natural sustenance. Wine is a commodity, often a trophy, a conversation piece and “first world” amenity.

In Europe, wine is a daily nutriment and it remains imbued with ideological and spiritual meaning, at times visceral, at others intellectual. Its origins and roots (literal and figurative) touch the very heart of European society and ethos.

And while many English-language wine bloggers and writers (is there a difference or distinction between the two anymore?) have traveled to Europe and picked and stomped the grapes themselves, few touch upon the deep ideological and spiritual meaning and cultural value that European grape-growers and winemakers cherish so dearly.

Veneto winemaker Angiolino Maule makes Natural wine and stands apart as one of the Natural wine movement’s leading advocates because he believes that Natural wine can save the earth and our humanity by warding off the absolute denaturalization of our species through the inevitable, looming reification of our bodies through consumerism.

This is not stuff of marketing. It is a living, breathing, and often gasping attempt to fight what Marx called alienation or estrangement (please see my post Sensuous world: Marx, Gramsci, Pasolini, food and wine).

Above: The bottom line is that Natural wine helps you to shit good. Camillo Donati’s Malvasia Frizzante not only will help you take a good dump. It tastes friggin’ delicious.

The fact that it’s come to this — “vitriol,” “hissy fits,” and “denigration marketing” — is the very proof in the pudding that the English-language dialectic on Natural wine is misguided. Ultimately, the maliciousness that emerges from the English-language discourse on Natural wine is generated by commercial interests that counter the very nature of Natural wine. It’s important to note that the vitriolic exchange, btw, is unique to Anglophone vinography.

Why do Tracie P and I drink (and advocate) Natural wine? She would tell you that it’s because it aligns with the vino paesano — the country wine — that she discovered on one of her early trips to Europe after college graduation. No need to call it “natural.” To the folks who make it and drink it every day — as a nutrient, not a luxury — it’s simply wine.

Me? I drink and advocate it because it’s delicious and it helps me to shit good. Why does it make me shit good? No one really knows but it’s probably because there is still active yeast in Natural wine — a defect to some in the wine world, a miracle of nature to others.

Who doesn’t feel better after a good shit? It’s the greatest return to Nature and the best way to get the vitriol out…

Gravner, photos and notes from my visit

As I begin planning for my spring trip to Italy, Friuli’s been on my mind. It occurred to me that I’d never posted these photos from my visit to Gravner in September 2010.

Josko Gravner is an intense, intellecutal man and he doesn’t receive everyone. The day I visited, he was being filmed for a piece to appear on one of Berlusconi’s television networks. One of the gals from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia tourism office managed to get me on the “guest list.” The amphora-aging cellar at the winery is a magical room — in part because of his powerful presence and in part because of its spartan beauty.

During the guided tasting he led for the group of writers and TV producers who were there that day, he talked about “some of the mistakes” he’s made in the past. He said he would never age his wines in wood again.

All of his wines, he said, are now aged in amphora.

He also talked about how he believes that “zero sulfur” winemakers are mistaken: “Natural wine,” he said, “is not an excuse for bad wine. Even the Romans knew how to use sulfur.” (While there is no documentation of the Romans or Greeks using sulfur in winemaking, we do know that they used it to clean winemaking vessels and it’s likely that unbeknownst to them, it helped to eliminate unwanted bacteria. I need to a post on my research to date…)

The big news was that he announced to the group that he has been growing Pignolo for many years now and is currently aging some of the resulting wine. It won’t be released, however, he said, for many years to come. What a thrill it will be to taste those wines!

When you spend time with Friulian winemakers, many of them will tell you — particularly in Collio — how it was Gravner the grower that inspired and influenced them with his Natural approach to viticulture and his meticulous growing practices.

I was a bigger fan of his wines from the early to mid-1990s than those I tasted from the late 90s and when he was barriquing the wines too heavily for my palate. The 2004s that I tasted at the winery had that classic Gravner focus and intensity, their elegance overshadowed by their power in their youth.

Whether you like the wines or not, there’s no doubt that they are always thought-provoking and stimulating — both sensorially and intellectually.

Best white from Puglia? Fatalone’s Gioia del Colle Greco Spinomarino

The first and only time I met young winemaker Pasquale Petrera at the Radici Wines festival in Puglia, June 2011, I was immediately impressed by his belief in Natural winemaking (chemical-free farming and native yeast) and by what a simpatico and easygoing guy he was. I knew the wines and I was thrilled to taste with him: as the leading historical estate (some say it was an atavic of his who first bottled 100% Primitivo) in the only hilly appellation of the otherwise flat Apulian peninsula, there are many who would argue that his Fatalone Primitivo is one of the best if not the best from the region.

In the meantime, we’ve featured the wines on my list at Sotto in Los Angeles and they are a favorite of both the staff and the patrons (especially the riserva).

On the occasion of this post dedicated to his Greco (below), I couldn’t resist translating the following passage from his website:

    We consider the vine to be on the same level as a human being. And we give the vine all the best things that we could desire ourselves. Attention and care by the constant, loving presence of the human hand and respect for true artisanal tradition; a cool and comfortable, sound-proofed space with climate control; tranquility and harmony through the playback of classical music enhanced with the sounds of nature, intended to encourage micro-oxygenation and the micro-flora activity present in our natural wine – a living being, sensitive to musical therapy. This is the key to our success.

It never ceases to amaze me how Natural winemakers rely on humankind technology to cull the precious liquid from our fruity counterparts. I hope that — at least — he’s playing vinyl as opposed to digital records for his wines… But, hey, it’s definitely working for him… and for me…

Tracie P and I recently opened a bottle of his Greco Spinomarino, named after the Spinomarino “village road” where (I’m assuming) it’s grown.

The wine was bright and fresh, although gently oxidative in style, a balance of intense salty minerality and white and stone fruit flavor with a kiss of citrus. We loved it… probably the best white wine I’ve ever tasted from Puglia… The last glass, consumed the next night, was even better, richer in body and augmented by a gentle nutty note. And it weighs in for less than $20. Our kinda wine…

In other news…

An acre of Prosecco worth more than Napa (equal time for the Prosecco consortium)

Above: I took this photo a few years ago on one of the highest peaks in Cartizze, the top growing zone for Prosecco.

According to Bloomberg.com (March 7, 2010), in California’s Napa Valley, “average prices are $150,000 to $200,000 an acre for a vineyard planted with red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and $115,000 an acre for white grapes such as Chardonnay… The most desirable sites in Rutherford and Oakville can fetch $250,000 an acre.”

And that was in 2010 at the peak of the financial crisis (the title of the article is “Vineyard Defaults Surge as Lost Land Values Undermine Napa Wine”).

When I visited Cartizze in April 2009 with the scion of one Prosecco’s leading and oldest families, who owns more acreage in Cartizze — the top growing zone for Prosecco — than any other, he told me that the average price of an acre in Cartizze is greater than in Napa. And frankly, he would know: his family’s holding in Cartizze is the cornerstone of its winery and the wines produced from fruit grown there are among the highest priced Prosecco bottlings on the market today.

Whether accurate or not, these factoids give you a sense of the “big business” interests that have come to dominate the cultural and topographic landscape of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene — one of the most beautiful swaths of wine country and one of my favorite places in the world because of my deep connection to the land, people, and wines of Prosecco.

In the wake of last week’s post “Prosecco, lies, and videotape: the real story behind the new wave Prosecco,” I was contacted by public relations firm representing the consortium of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco superiore DOCG growers and bottlers.

“We don’t agree with your position and we would like to explain to you why,” wrote the publcist. I wrote her back immediately and she set up a call between me and the consortium’s director, Giancarlo Vettorello (above, photo via Oggi a New York).

When we spoke the next morning, Giancarlo took issue with what I had written about the Prosecco DOCG:

    This DOCG was just one of many that were created before Common Market Organization reforms went into in 2009, shifting the power to create new designations from Rome to Brussels. It’s one of the many examples of political spoils that [then agriculture minister] Zaia lavished on his hometown…

“Does a humble wine like Prosecco — and by its very nature, Prosecco should be a humble wine — deserve to be elevated to the status of wines like Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino?” I asked paraphrasing a chorus of Italian wine writers who wrote disapprovingly of the new classification at the time (2009).

Giancarlo contended that while the origins of Prosecco may be humble, it has become one of the world’s most “recognizable wines” and is sold today in mind-boggling volume.

He also pointed out that the Centro di ricerca per la viticoltura (Center for Viticultural Research) was founded in Conegliano — Prosecco’s historic epicenter — in 1923, an innovative and ground-breaking institution and a leader in enology that predates the emergence of the sparkling wine industry in Franciacorta, Trentino, and Oltrepò Pavese. In particular, he noted, Professor Tullio De Rosa, who came to the center in 1966, developed techniques for the vinification of white and sparkling wines that reshaped Italian viticulture for the generation that followed (it’s also worth noting the pantheon of Italian wine luminaries who worked at the center, like Michele Giusti, Giovanni Dalmasso, and Luigi Manzoni).

In all fairness, he has a point. Prosecco is one of Italy’s leading brands and exports — like Campari, Perugina, Barilla, De Cecco. And in a relatively short arc of time, the architects of its success have created an interest and awareness of the brand that was unimaginable in the late 1990s when they began to market Prosecco aggressively to U.S. consumers. I think it’s safe to say that U.S. consumers are more likely to know the name of two Prosecco producers than they are to know the names of two wineries in Chianti (a brand that emerged three centuries ago).

Giancarlo was one of those architects. “I worked for fifteen years,” he said, “for the creation of the Prosecco superiore DOCG.”

Well, more power to him, I say. I was happy to share his point of view here and I appreciate that his office reached out to me.

Me? I’ll leave the Prosecco brand to the powers that be.

Just give me some grilled polenta, maybe some grilled sausage or bacalà, and do prosechi colfondo — two glasses of salty, crunchy, cloudy lees-aged Prosecco… one for me and one for Tracie P

Selvapiana, the gift of Sangiovese just keeps giving (and a photo of not so little Georgia)

It’s been incredible to see the heartfelt, poignant reaction to Quintarelli’s passing on Sunday. With the loss of Quintarelli and Gambelli, January has been a “cruel month” in Italian wine, as Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani put it. With uncertainty looming over Europe and an ever shifting wine industry, this passing of the old guard seems to mark the end of an era in the wines that we know and love. I have to admit that it leaves me in a state of aporia. But it’s time to begin wine blogging again…

When you first open the Selvapiana 2009 Chianti Rufina, you are greeted by a stiff whiff of volatile acidity and a wine so tannic, dense, and chewy on the palate that your first impulse is to recork it and put it down for another few years.

But with a little aeration, the funk quickly blows off and the wine starts to reveal its gorgeous ripe red and berry fruit, its ethereal mouthfeel aligning with its bright, translucent granite color (see the photo by Tracie P above).

Tracie P’s not drinking more than a glass of wine at dinner these days because she’s nursing Georgia P and so I’m always looking for under $25 wines that will last for several days in the fridge.

I opened the 2009 Selvapiana on a Monday and drank a glass every night with dinner over the course of four days. But the last day — and the last glass — the wine appeared to me as a Platonic ideal of beauty, the quintessence of what fine (food-friendly) wine should be in my view: bright, bright acidity, balanced alcohol (around 13%), a nose reminiscent of dewy pine, and ripe plum and black cherry. Pretty nifty for a wine that costs less than $20 in most markets (mine included). It just needs a little patience. I love it…

In other news…

Georgia P’s nearly 9 lbs.! She and mamma are doing great…