Obsessed with K-ZO in LA

Since I began commuting monthly to Los Angeles to work with Sotto where I curate the wine list, I’ve become obsessed with K-Zo, a wonderful Japanese restaurant on Culver Blvd.

I took Giovanni there yesterday for lunch before we headed to the restaurant. It was fantastic.

Chef/owner Keizo Ishiba (above) is so cool and I’ve waited on him at Sotto. Super nice guy and a master in his kitchen. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

In other news…

Sweet potatoes!

Tracie P has been blogging about Georgia P’s baby led weaning here

Giovanni and I are heading to Napa today… Stay tuned!

Jared Brandt, reluctant Natural winemaker at Donkey & Goat @SottoLA

Above: Polymath and reluctant Natural winemaker Jared Brandt sat down for dinner together last night at Sotto.

It’s hard to explain the role that Donkey & Goat wines play in our lives.

We serve them by the glass and by the bottle at Sotto in Los Angeles, where I curate the wine list.

Tracie P and I drink them regularly at home (the last vintage of Sluicebox is currently our house white).

And Rev. B, my father-in-law, just can’t get enough of the Berkeley winery’s red wines, which, like most of Jared’s wines are sourced from a new frontier of grape growing in contemporary California winemaking, El Dorado, where wine grapes have been grown since the time of the Gold Rush.

“It’s really interesting to see where they planted their vines” during the Gold Rush, said Jared, who doesn’t own any land there but works closely with growers.

“You’ve got to consider that they had no means to acidify their wines and so they needed to plant on sites where they had diurnal temperature variations.”

The thought of gold miners growing wine grapes in an era before Pasteur’s discoveries had taken root would have been enough to occupy the conversation for the entire evening.

But there were so many questions I had for Jared, a polymath who came to wine and winemaker later in life after a career in high tech but who has now emerged as one of our country’s leading Natural winemakers — however reluctantly.

“I don’t like labels and I don’t consider myself a Natural winemaker” per se, he said. “I think of it more as ‘unmanipulative’ winemaking. But that’s not as fun to say.”

“Basically,” he explained, “I don’t put anything in my wine that could hurt my daughter if she ate it,” referring to the many chemical treatments that even Natural and biodynamic producers use regularly. Of course, his rule of thumb resonated with me, father of a six-month-old baby girl (Tracie P has been posting about Georgia P’s Baby Led Weaning on her Sugar Pie blog, btw).

I don’t have time to recount our entire confabulatio this morning but I was impressed by his take on Native yeast.

“It seems that the one thing that everyone [of the Natural winemakers] agrees on is native yeast,” he said. “I’ve experimented with commercial yeast but every time, I’ve ended up with a stuck fermentation. You’d be surprised by how many famous Californian winemakers use native yeast.”

His approach to winemaking has been enjoying popularity among young U.C. Davis enology students, he told me. “Davis is changing: there is a generation of professors there and we have a quite a following of students who come to visit us at the winery.”

The spark that ignited his career in winemaking?

“I was collecting the wines of [Rhône producer] Eric Textier and had tasted a white wine he made and loved it. I then read in the Wine Advocate that Robert Parker found the wine undrinkable. That’s when I decided I wanted to travel to France to make wine with him.”

An ice cream machine, said Jared, is one of the techniques employed by the famed zero-sulfur producer as a means to stabilize his wines and eliminate the need for sulfur. But that will be have to be another story for another day…

Taste Jared’s wine with me tonight at Sotto if you’re in LA…

@JaynesGastropub has never been better

Above: The Jaynes Burger, with house-pickled red onions, Vermont cheddar, aioli, and frites — a sine qua non on any visit to San Diego for me.

It’s predictable, I know, but I just had to have the Jaynes Burger last night at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego, where I checked in with the folks who are like family to me in the town where I grew up.

The burger’s never been better and the Caesar predictably rocked my world but I was also digging the new grilled Moroccan lamb meatballs with chickpea purée and the Québécoise chips and gravy poutine. Jaynes is simply going through one of those moments of grace that devoted, passionate restaurateurs experience — like an athlete in top form or a virtuoso musician at the zenith of a career. And I love how gourmet “comfort food” knows no international boundaries these days.

Jayne and Jon graciously let Giovanni open three bottlings of his Franciacorta to share with our friends but Jon has so many killer wines on his list right now: Venica & Venica, Movia, Valli Unite (one of my favorite Natural whites from Italy), Musar (red), Foillard Morgon Cuvée Corcelette, Massolino (classic) Barolo… such an amazing (and courageous) list in a town where “Napa Cab” and “old vine” Zinfandel generally prevail.

Thanks again, Jayne and Jon, for an awesome evening…

Giovanni’s been blogging about his Texas-California adventure here btw.

Here’s a photo he snapped yesterday from mamma Judy’s window overlooking the Pacific. The photo’s entitled “Three Shades of La Jolla Blue.”

GREAT NEWS! Bindocci new president of Brunello Consortium

Because we were recording all day, I was offline yesterday when the news broke: my friend Fabrizio Bindocci, winemaker at the historic Montalcino estate Il Poggione, has been named the new president of the Brunello bottlers association.

The news came in the wake of Ezio Rivella’s sudden departure from the post on June 8 (for personal reasons, he reported in a press release issued by Montalcino mouthpiece WineNews.it).

It’s hard to believe that nearly ten years have passed since the disastrous 2003 vintage and more than four years since the Brunello controversy exploded in 2008.

In my view, Rivella’s presidency only prolonged the issue (remember when Rivella told an Italian journalist that 80 percent of Brunello was made with grapes other than Sangiovese?).

Fabrizio is a Tuscan (Rivella is from Piedmont and didn’t even keep a residence in Montalcino while president, opting instead to commute from Rome); he was born and raised in Montalcino; he has worked for Il Poggione since 1976; and he is one of the most respected and beloved winemakers in Tuscany today.

His presidency marks a new (and happy) chapter in the saga of Montalcino and I — along with many other lovers of Brunello — could not be more thrilled.

Tracie P and I will visit with Fabrizio later this year when we travel to Montalcino.

Georgia on the mic (and heading to California)

Georgia P got to stay up past her bedtime last night after Céline and I finished our recording session and Giovanni arrived from Brescia.

After a dinner of chicken tacos with chipotle, Georgia P had fun doing karaoke to her mommy’s favorite, Xanadu by ELO.

Giovanni and I are heading today to California where we’ll be spending the night in La Jolla and then driving up to LA, where I’ll be working at Sotto tomorrow and Thursday.

Winemaker Jared Brandt of Donkey & Goat will be at the restaurant tomorrow night and we’ll be pouring a flight of three of his wines.

Stay tuned… lots of cool stuff to come… :)

A Frittata and a Glass of Wine

Tracie P’s superb frittata inspired my post today for the Houston Press. We paired it late Saturday night with a bottle of 2008 Fixin by Mongeard-Mugneret, which I had picked up — literally — for a song for $26 in San Antonio (where I spoke at a wine dinner earlier in the evening).

I’ve posted these passages — one probably known already to you and one that may surprise and delight you (I hope) — over at the Houston Press as well. But I just had to post them here, too.

From “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine”

“If it were true that wine and eggs are bad partners, then a good many dishes, and in particular, such sauces as mayonnaise, Hollandaise and Béarnaise would have to be banished form meals designed round a good bottle, and that would surely be absurd. But we are not in any case considering the great occasion menu but the almost primitive and elemental meal evoked by the words: ‘Let’s just have an omelette and a glass of wine.'”

Elizabeth David, T.B. Layton’s Besides, 1959


“Of all French dishes, the omelette is perhaps, the most thoroughly representative. The French omelette is known far and wide, by reputation, at all events, and various are the parodies of the great French dish that are to be met with in the different corners of the world. In some places, omelettes are served up in a liquid melting mass; in other places they take the form of solid custard-like composition; elsewhere they take a leathery shape, and are altogether as unpalatable as they are unlike the real thing. An omelette, moreover, is a dish which most Frenchmen, whether he cooks or not, declare that they are adepts [sic] at concocting. The French poet, the painter, the dramatist, the statesman, the aristocrat — all will tell you that had it pleased Providence to place them in the classes from which, as a rule, cooks spring, they would have won renown by the excellence of their omelettes alone. No saying is more true than that which declares every French man to be a born cook; and the foremost dish on the execution of which he prides himself, is the omelette.”

—Charles Dickens (ed.), Household Words, 1882

Cannonau, Italian Grape Name Pronunciation Project (with Alessandro Dettori)

Lately, there has been a lot of positive response to the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project. Nothing could make me more happy: I created the project to encourage people to speak Italian grapes. After all, one of the things that fascinates us about Italian wines is the ampelonyms and the stories behind them (or in many cases, the lack of information about their etymons). This week’s installment comes via David Weitzenhoffer, who runs a great little importing operation out of New York, Acid Inc. Although at Sotto, we buy Alessandro Dettori’s wines through his Southern Californian importer, we do carry a handful of David’s wines at the restaurant (Scala Cirò and Schola Sarmenti Negroamaro) and I love what he’s doing with his portfolio.

Dettori? The wines that Alessandro produces on his family’s estate in Sardinia are among my favorite wines of all time. We sell them at Sotto, Tracie P and I collect them (they’re not out of reach for middle-class collectors like us), and they changed my life — there’s no other way to say it — when I first tasted and began following the wines back in 2005 in New York.

I met Alessandro — an electric character, for his personality and the crowds that gather around him at the fair — for the first time this year at Vinitaly. I’ve included here a clip in which he explains the etymology of Cannonau.

Great stuff… thanks to David and Alessandro for taking the time for this and sharing this wonderful ampelonym with us. And thank you, if you’re reading this, for speaking Italian grapes!

luckiest daddy in the world…

Georgia P and mommy made me this montage for my first father’s day (click the image for the high-res version)…

I know I’m not the only father to feel this way today but I’m the luckiest daddy in the world…

Tracie P also made me the sweetest blogication… Couldn’t hold back the tears when I got to the line, Because of you, she will love old movies, speak Latin, excel at math but have a musical soul, get exited about Hebrew National hotdogs, get to grow up vacationing in La Jolla, talk about her pancia, love Petrarch, say gazuntite instead of bless you, laugh at Mel Brooks, and be able to sing every song in A Chorus Line.

I love them so much… what a week it’s been! so many blessings, too many to count…

happy father’s day, yall…

Texas wine industry exposed (our cover story for the Houston Press)

When food editor Katharine Shilcutt and I first began working on our cover story for this week’s edition of the Houston Press, “Texas Wines: Behind the Cellar Door,” our focus was on the heavy-handed use of chemicals in the cellar, a foregone conclusion for the majority of Texas winemakers.

But as we began to speak to winemakers and ask them some tough questions, it became clear that most of the wine bottled here in Texas is grown beyond the state’s borders — mostly in California but in some cases as far away as Spain and Chile.

As one winemaker put it, the amount of Texas fruit bottled here is “just a drop in the bucket,” even though, across the board, Texas wineries market their products as “Texas wines.”

Click here to read the piece.