Wine and the Sumpreme Court Health Care Ruling

When I was a student in Italy in my early twenties, I ate twice a day in a university cafeteria, where 3,000 lire (roughly $2) got you a pasta or rice first course (usually topped with tomato sauce or tomato and meat sauce), a second course of fish or meat with a side of vegetables, a piece of bread, a small dessert, and one small glass of wine — white or red.

Like any red-blooded American college student, I had done my share of drinking. At that age, wine and (mostly) beer were a sine qua non component of adolescent socialization. And their sole purpose was inebriation: I can’t remember an instance when my companions or I stopped to say, wow, this beer is really hoppy! or this Chardonnay is really well balanced! (you get the picture and if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been there yourself).

And so when I first started eating at the university cafeteria, I was impressed by the fact that wine was served at lunch and dinner. Of course, the quantity wasn’t sufficient to “catch a buzz” or “get your drink on.” The serving size was just enough to allow the gentle alcohol in the wine to stimulate the acids in your stomach and the acidity to give you a jump start in digesting your food.

Click here to continue reading my post today for the Houston Press…

Georgia P reacts to health care ruling

For as long as I live, I’ll never forget the moment I heard that the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health care reform and I’ll never forget watching President Obama address the nation on CNN with our baby girl.

From the time I became an adult in the eyes of the law to the time I filed my dissertation at UCLA in 1997 at thirty years of age, I was a student and was covered thanks to my affiliation with the university. But when I moved to New York and ultimately became a freelance translator and writer, affordable health insurance became a challenging personal issue for me: even in the toughest of times (like the years that followed the tragedy of the World Trade Center and the more recent financial crisis), health insurance was a luxury that I simply could not do without, lest my family be burdened with the cost of my care in the case I fell ill.

I’m fortunate to enjoy good health. And thanks be to G-d, Tracie and Georgia P are both healthy as well.

But now that I am a father and a business owner who insures his whole family, including our dear Georgia P, the news of the Supreme Court decision bolsters my hope that our daughter will grow up in a more “human” United States of America.

I thought that I was going to cry when the president said that insurers will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions and that they will no longer be able to charge women more for coverage simply because they are women.

It’s still mind-boggling to me: we were the only rich country in the world that had yet to embrace a policy of universal coverage.

What a momentous day to hold our sweet baby in my arms and to change her diaper. What a glorious day for America.

I voted for Obama in 2008 and I’ll vote for him in November. I hope that you’ll do the same.

G-d bless the President and G-d bless America.

Quintarelli Valpolicella & Lucy’s fried chicken (Giovanni’s Easy Rider tour comes to an end)

There was one sine qua non pillar of Americana that Giovanni had not yet experienced on his “Easy Rider USA Tour 2012”: fried chicken, the way its done in the South.

And so on his last day in Texas, we decided to take a ride to the south side of Austin to Lucy’s Fried Chicken, where irony and hipsterdom collide in a deep frier (photo above by Giovanni). We picked up a bucket of chicken, which, according to Lucy’s serves four but could easily accommodate a party of six (unless folks squabble over who gets the breast).

When we visited Houston on Tuesday, Giovanni had spied a bottle of Quintarelli 2000 Valpolicella, which he generously bought for us to share. As deep as our friendship may run, Giovanni — a top Italian winemaker — and I often disagree about wine. The “rough edges” of many of the Natural and old-school wines that Tracie P and I cherish preclude his nod of approval. He even turned his nose up at a bottle of 2006 Romangia Bianco by Dettori that we opened — one of our all-time favorite wines, showing gorgeously right now! Blasphemy at the Parzen residence!

But one thing we can all agree on is Quintarelli. And the superb bottle inspired an interesting conversation on the use of oxidation and filtration, with Giovanni pointing to Quintarelli as a master in both regards (where many Natural winemakers use excessive oxidation and don’t filter at all).

The richness of the wine (served slightly chilled) was simply brilliant with the fatty, juicy (and delicious) fried chicken and its dark red fruit ideal with the flavors of Tracie P’s mouth-watering fried okra (above) and mashed potatoes.

This morning I took Giovanni to the airport and he’ll be back in Brescia by lunchtime tomorrow. It was great to have him here and share our lives with him. (Italian-speaking readers, please check out his posts on Texas truck culture and his impressions of a Texan wine.)

Thanks again, Giovanni, for the visit and the Quintarelli! Travel safe, friend. As we say in the South, come back and see us, ya hear?

Best summer wines, Anywhere, USA

Readers (and editors) love lists: today, the Houston Press posted my top five picks for under-$25 wines for the Texas summer.

It’s been really rewarding for me to share my palate with readers over there. I always keep it real, writing honestly and openly about wines we actually buy and drink and reviewing wines that I wouldn’t normally reach for.

The greatest reward comes when people either write me or stop me in a Houston restaurant to say, “now that I’m on to the low-alcohol and high acidity thing, I just can’t go back!”

Thanks, everyone, for reading and keeping up with it all.

Here’s the link to the post.

I can’t wait for Mrs. B. to taste the Darting Pfalz Scheurebe Spätlese Dürkheimer Spielberg!

Nothing like lunch at Tony’s, a Napa Cab I actually liked and Aldo Sohm and Levi Dalton

From the department of “Jar, you’re just bragging now” says Jon Erickson

Above: Tony’s foie gras au torchon is one of his signatures and one of the dishes where simplicity and purity of flavor is offset by detail in the presentation.

How could Giovanni’s visit to Texas be complete without a meal at Tony’s in Houston?

Tony is my client (I curate his website and his media relations) but he’s also become one of my best friends in Texas and he is the architect and author of some of the most stunning meals I’ve ever had. Yesterday, Giovanni and I drove to Houston to meet Cousin Marty for lunch and a confabulatio that centered around… yes, of course… food and wine

Above: Orecchiette with seared mortadella cubes and runny quail egg.

The secret to the rich yellow color of his pasta, said Tony, is locally sourced, organically farmed eggs. “But it’s also the fact that I use only flour and mineral water imported from Italy,” he added. Some would argue that sparkling mineral water is key to super pasta like this. But Tony insists that still water (acqua naturale) is a sine qua non.

Above: Halbut and seafood medley “al Mare Chiaro,” named after the neighborhood in Naples.

Tony’s is the only place in Texas where we eat fine seafood (a category we reserve otherwise for our trips to California). This dish was simply stunning in its simplicity and presentation (and my camera didn’t do it justice, frankly).

Above: Lamb chops.

Tony likes to tease me, calling me the chiodo (the nail) because I’m so careful about what and how much I eat. Lamb chops would have been a bit much for me for a Tuesday lunch but Giovanni dove in with gusto.

Above: General Manager and wine director Scott Sulma’s selection was right on.

And the wine? A tall order considering the fact that one of Italy’s top winemakers was seated at our table. And let’s face it, my general disdain for the Californian style is well known to my colleagues at Tony’s. But it also seemed right to have Giovanni taste something from my home state. GM Scott’s selection, Palmaz Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, delivered acidity, earth and gorgeous dark fruit, and balanced alcohol and wood. It was superb with the Bucatini all’Amatriciana that I had as my second course, playing beautifully against the savory guanciale in the dish. Chapeau bas, Scott!

Above: Nobody does it better than Tony.

I can’t conceal my pride in sharing the Tony’s experience with my good friend Giovanni, who made the trans-Atlantic crossing to see, hear, taste, and feel what life is like in Texas, California, and America.

Above: Two of my favorite fressers.

Thanks, again, Tony for yet another fantastic meal and an unforgettable experience. Ti ringrazio di cuore…

In other news…

Question: What could be better than a conversation with one of my favorite New York City sommeliers?

Answer: An interview with one of my favorite NYC sommeliers conducted by one of my favorite NYC sommeliers.

Click here to listen to Levi Dalton’s conversation with Aldo Sohm (pictured above).

An Italian honky tonks in Austin (Ginny’s and Junior Brown)

honky-tonk: A tawdry drinking-saloon, dance-hall, or gambling-house; a cheap night-club (Oxford English Dictionary).

No visit to Austin would be complete without a beer (or two) at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon.

To quote Giovanni (above), who’s making his first visit to the River City this week, “I love this cross-section of American culture.”

Well, I’m here to tell you folks: here in Austin, we don’t call it “culture.”

We don’t call it “country music” either. We just call it music. ;)

Next stop was the Continental Club to catch a set by Austin’s own Junior Brown, one of the most dynamic and thrilling guitar players I’ve ever seen. Remember Junior and wife Tanya Rae in this GAP commercial?

Happy Monday yall!

“You can’t get a bad meal in Napa” and my favorite Napa wine blog

Above: The burger and fries at Grace’s Table in downtown Napa. The thing that took it over the top was the superb quality of the bun.

“You can’t get a bad meal in Napa these days,” said the waiter at Grace’s Table downtown as she insisted that I taste the baguette that the restaurant sources from a bakery down the street.

I hadn’t been to Napa for three years or so: there’s been an explosion of restaurants in the town and while competition is high, I was told, there’s plenty of high-quality materia prima to go around. Say what you will about the Napa style of wine, but there’s nowhere in the U.S. that can beat the quality of the produce that the farms here deliver. And the culture that once corralled the best restaurants in the villages to the north has now graciously populated its namesake township. Gauging from a stroll in the town center, there are many affordable options for dining: my “Hand Formed Burger, Meyers Ranch Chuck, House Made Pickles, Chili d’Espellette-Parmesan Fries” was just $12.

Above: Artichoke fritters at Grace’s were delicious.

After Giovanni and I finished an early repast in town, we headed back up north to Yountville to meet the author of my favorite Napa wine blog, Vinsanity, Vinogirl.

She was pouring wine at an exclusive private event but she managed to sneak Giovanni and me through the back of the venue so that we could taste her wine and chat with her and husband Vinomaker.

Above: In Yountville, Giovanni and I were impressed by this “transgenic” sage plant, as he called it. Note the size of the plant’s leaves.

On her excellent blog, Vinogirl chronicles the vegetative cycle of Napa with wonderful photographs and occasional scouser humor (she Liverpudlian). Her posts are peppered with viticultural knowledge and insights into what’s happening “on the ground,” including the recent cooling trend that has vexed growers here.

Above: “Did you know,” writes Vinogirl on her blog today, “that there’s no Italian word for ‘bromance’?” She snapped this photo of Giovanni and me, four days into the California leg of his visit to the U.S.

Why were Giovanni and I in Napa? You’ll be surprised to know the reason and I’ll explain all next week… stay tuned…

In the meantime… Thanks again, Vinogirl, for the photo! It was so great to finally meet you!