Georgia P’s first trip to Italy

Tracie P continues to document parenthood over at My Little Sugarpie, where today she posted a letter to Georgia P on the eve of her first trip to Italy.

Italy is so child-friendly and we’ve traveled with Georgia P before. So we’re not overly anxious about the trip (for both Tracie P and me, going to Italy is like going anywhere, since we both lived there for so long and we both speak Italian).

Of course, Georgia P doesn’t really know that we’re leaving for Europe tomorrow. She just knows that mommy and daddy are really excited.

We have a great trip ahead of us and we’ll be posting every day about our adventures.

But as I look into Georgia P’s eyes and her smiles and laughter make me melt, I remember the first time I went to Italy when I was nineteen years old. I remember the excitement and the adventure. I remember seeing the Alps from the plane for the first time in my life. I remember getting on a bus at Malpensa and thinking to myself: look around you and remember every detail, every aroma, every flavor, every color, every word…

In the more than twenty-five years that have passed since then, I must have traveled to Europe twenty or thirty times — I lost count many years ago.

But tomorrow is Georgia P’s first trip and even though she won’t remember it, it feels like the very first time

See you on the other side!

Pinot Grigio overload @EatingOurWords

Honestly, when I walked into a Kroger in Houston the other day to pick up a bottle of the 2011 [Drew] Barrymore Pinot Grigio to review for the Houston Press, I had no idea that there would be a Pinot Grigio section at the supermarket (if you don’t know Kroger, it’s like Ralph’s in California or Gristedes in NYC).

And as much as I was surprised by some of the European offerings at Kroger (much better than at Ralph’s, where California dominates), I was simply overwhelmed by the selection: Menage à Trois, Middle Sister, Gnarly Head, Naked Grape, Be… Who are these people and why do they make wine?

The question is as rhetorical as the answer is obvious.

Pinot Grigio has become a lucrative brand in the United States, a misappropriation and colonization of an Italian grape variety.

Italians created the Pinot Grigio mania in the 1980s, marketing their wines to Americans. But they’ve been trumped at their own game.

I really wanted to like Drew Barrymore’s wine. After all, I like Drew Barrymore, the brand, and I imagined that the wine would be in line with the standard bearers of Italian Pinot Grigio, clean and fresh, however anonymous and forgettable.

I’m sorry to report that I was deeply disappointed.

Here’s my post today for the Houston Press.

1998 Bartolo Mascarello tasting notes (no cause for alarm)

When I tasted the 1998 Bartolo Mascarello last month in Houston, I was frankly disappointed by the amount of sediment in the wine, probably due to recent diassociation rather than issues at bottling. I’ve followed the wines for years now and have visited and tasted with Maria Teresa Mascarello on a number of occasions. These are wines conceived and produced for long-term aging and my suspicion is that the wine I had tasted in Texas had been damaged in some way (possibly heat exposure?).

When I went to California in August, I grabbed one of the few bottles of 1998 Bartolo Mascarello that I have in my cellar (I keep my wine locker in San Diego, where it’s less expensive to store wine and where I have access limited by distance, thus precluding and preempting impulsive visits!).

I’m happy to report that the wine (as can be seen in the photo above) showed beautiful and is still very young in its evolution. No issues with sediment whatsoever.

I snapped the above photo when I visited the winery a few years ago. In my view of the world, Bartolo Mascarello’s wines are a benchmark in Langa wines, where steadfastly traditional growing and winemaking practices align seamlessly with elegance and depth.

The 1998 is still very tannic in character but is already revealing some of its gorgeous fruit. I plan not to revisit my remaining (and sadly dwindling) allocation for at least another five year.

But no regrets here, coyote. Just keeping the world safe for Italian wine… thanks for reading…

Middle Eastern wine for xenophobic times from @DrewHendricksMS @EatingOurWords

Above: Serge Hochar, winemaker and owner at Chateau Musar.

Let’s face it: Texas is often the butt of our nation’s jokes. Nearly every day, The New York Times shares some of our less savory idiosyncrasies with readers across the country. Today it’s voter discrimination by our state’s legislature. Yesterday it was Lubbock County Judge Tom Head’s plans to rise up against the United Nations troops that he believes President Obama will deploy to Texas if re-elected.

In the light of the often racist and bizarrely xenophobic attitudes that pervade and prevail here, I was all the more impressed by Master Sommelier Drew Hendricks’s bold choice to feature a flight of Lebanese wines on his flagship list at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse on Westheimer.

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

A difficult vintage in Tuscany (and tasting notes for Poggione Brunello Paganelli 04)

Above: Our friends at Il Poggione in Montalcino began picking their Merlot today. I really admire their openness and earnestness in posting about weather and harvest conditions.

The “split-screen optics” at casa Parzen tend toward the dramatic these days.

On the one hand, we’re monitoring the path of hurricane Isaac, hoping it doesn’t veer west and make landfall in Orange, Texas where our family lives. And of course, we’re keeping our Louisiana sisters and brothers in our hearts and our thoughts, as well as Gulf Coast residents to the east.

On the other hand, we’re watching the weather in Italy carefully: a challenging harvest is already in full swing and weather patterns over the next few days will greatly influence the quality of the grapes that have yet to be picked.

On their blog Montalcino Report, our friends at Il Poggione in Montalcino write that much needed rain arrived Sunday. They’ve been very open about the difficulties posed by high temperatures and prolonged drought this year. And in today’s post they concede that, although the grapes are healthy, they’re seeing elevated sugar levels in the Merlot that they started picking today.

Above: It rained across Italy on Sunday, including Friuli, bringing some relief to grape growers, but probably too little too late to compensate for the prolonged drought.

Our friend Giampaolo Venica in Collio (Friuli) also tweeted about the rainfall, posting the photo above.

He’s been very frank about the less-than-ideal ripening conditions this summer on his Twitter feed.

Emergency irrigation is not allowed in Montalcino and, as Giampaolo wrote me the other day, it’s nearly impossible in Collio.

More than once, Alessandro Bindocci, son of winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci, has written on his blog that 2012 reminds them of the tragic 2003 vintage.

In other news…

Above: We opened a bottle of 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Paganelli by Il Poggione on Friday night.

Our friend Mark Sayre let us open a bottle of 04 Brunello Paganelli from our cellar at Trio in Austin the other night.

Man, what a gorgeous bottle of wine! Still very youthful and muscular, like a young bronco, rich in its mouthfeel and judicious, if not generous, with its fruit. Its “nervy” acidity served as a trapeze for the wine’s berry and red stone fruit flavors as they danced with the wonderful savory horse-sweat notes that — in my view — define true Sangiovese as expressed by Montalcino.

There’s so much Brunello di Montalcino out there these days and a lot of it is good (some of it middle-of-the-road).

Il Poggione’s — especially a top-tier bottle like this — always stands out as a pure, superlative expression of the appellation. Truly superb wine…

I’ve got a few more tasting notes to post before Tracie P, Georgia P, and I head to Italy on Saturday… stay tuned…

Punk and funk meet at Terroir in San Francisco

Tracie P and I will never forget the first time we visited Terroir Natural Wine Bar and Merchant on Folsom in San Francisco in May 2009. We watched on as then co-owner Guilhaume Gerard, wielding an aluminum baseball bat (conveniently stowed above the bar for ready access) chased a homeless man out the door and down the street after the man attempted to steal a bottle of wine. Unflustered, Guilhaume soon returned and put the bottle back into a display case and picked up our conversation where we left off.

Terroir has seen its ups and downs since its heyday in 2009 but it’s still there and I thank goodness for it: it’s the one place that I make sure to visit every time I’m in San Francisco (since I travel there more often than not to play with Nous Non Plus, it’s tough to make time for a proper dinner but I can always find a moment for a glass of something natty).

Saturday evening, the last I spent in SF, I went to Terroir accompanied by good friend Billy and Zanotto for a celebratory lap (following our well received Col Fondo tour).

Owner Luc Ertoran poured us some great wines, including the sparkling Vin de Savoie, above, and the Mauzac and Duras by Plageoles from Gaillac.

The wines, conversation, and company were awesome and I really dig the free spirit of Terroir, where you never know whom you’re going to meet and what you’re going to taste at midnight on Saturday on the gritty side of SF.

But the thing I love the most about Terroir is how Luc — or whoever is manning the bar — always has something by the glass that will surprise and thrill me.

This gig may not be for everyone but it sure does it for me…

In other news…

A lot of folks have been quoting Matt Kramer’s recent post on “the big lie of wine democracy.” Ha! If you, like me, are laughing heartily at the thought of a byline by Wine Spectator’s Kramer with such an outrageously self-referential title, please come sit at my table and I’ll pour you some Pampanuto Bianco!

With all due respect to the many writers who are quoting him and drawing inspiration from his muzak, I think it’s worth pointing out that Kramer works for the very same military industrial complex that propagates that very same semiosis…

Wine for thought for this last weekend before Tracie P, Georgia P, and I head to Italy for our 2012 harvest trip…

Thanks for reading and buon weekend yall!

Friuli Report by @GiampaoloVenica: Challenging Vintage (and Pinot Grigio Porn)

A shot of Pinot Grigio and harvest notes, just in from our good friend Giampaolo Venica. (The click through to his Twitter is worth it, btw, just for the profile pic.)

Ciao Jeremy,

This is the first image from our 2012 harvest.

Very challenging vintage in Friuli Venezia Giulia: what they call the Sahara high-pressure hump kept us without water from months. Only old vineyards could handle this dryness while most of the younger vines suffered deeply. We managed to provide a minimum water supply but of course it is not possible everywhere is not possible and in some places the creeks have also stopped flowing.

Driving through Colli and Collio Orientali, where hills make emergency irrigation difficult, you can see yellow leaves on vines that recall autumn despite the 35°.

Indeed here we are with a good quality of grapes, balanced sugar and acid levels and a minus 20% of crop.

All of us are waiting for the Sunday announced storm that hopefully will bring relief to the region.

Un abbraccio

Thank goodness for the amazing Ceri Smith @biondivino SF

Thank goodness for the amazing Ceri Smith (above), owner of one of my favorite wine shops in the world, Biondivino in San Francisco, and soon-to-be proprietor of Et Al., a “wine salon” around the corner from her (literally) wonderful store.

Goodness because her wines are so thoughtfully chosen and reflect an aesthetic that so many of us embrace and aspire to; goodness because her store and her soon-to-be-opened wine salon are friendly havens and refuge for those fleeing the Babylon of America’s consumerist hegemony; and goodness because she is one of only a handful of American wineshop owners who have remained true to their mission of sharing unadulterated passion for wine (while others are trying to be “as big as U.S. steel” and “are opening soon in Vegas and Hong Kong”).

In this series of posts devoted to my trip to the Bay Area (Eric Lecours in Redwood City; Shelley Lindgren at A16 SF; and David Lynch at St. Vincent SF), I’ve tried to feature the superb and impeccable professionalism of the restaurateurs and wine professionals who populate our nation’s leading food and wine community (stay tuned for the last post tomorrow, btw, on the food and wine punk rock scene in SF).

Ceri is the embodiment of that unwavering commitment to excellence, that unflagging collegiality, and that unflinching spirit.

As we sat and chatted in the space that is to become her new “wine salon” dubbed Et Al. (above), we talked about her Annie Liebovitz-inspired campaign to combat the Italian government’s campaign to censor the expression “natural wine” (she plans to ask Alice Feiring and Lou Amdur to pose nude with a sign reading, “I drink wines naturally”); we traded notes on our favorite bottlings of Aglianico; and she told me she will be serving Georgian wines by the glass in traditional earthenware cups in her new wine salon.

Beyond the work ethic and the sensibility, the thing that unites all of professionals I’ve profiled in recent days is their unbridled curiosity. And I can’t think of any wineshop in the U.S. where boundless inquisitiveness and commercial success align so seamlessly. The thing that impresses me so much about Ceri and her shop and her new restaurant is how she has managed to expand her business in a time of financial challenges and restraint, all the while staying true to her mission, her passion, and her personal interests. Thank goodness for that.

Ceri will ship nearly anywhere in the U.S. When the weather cools down (and allows for wine shipping), give her a budget to work with and let her know what you like/need to drink. Every year, Tracie P and I get a mixed case from her and we’re always thrilled and informed by her selections. You won’t be disappointed.