Pinot Grigio Nation (consumerist hegemony in America)

Above: I grabbed this recently snapped photo of ripe Pinot Grigio — a red, not white, grape — from my friend Ale’s blog.

When my editor at the Houston Press forwarded me a press release announcing the release of Drew Barrymore’s Pinot Grigio, it was time to act…

Here’s my post on our Pinot Grigio Nation.

I’ll see you at the Olive Garden where I’ll be dining on “the never ending pasta bowl,” topped with Ragù pasta sauce and a slice of Kraft “parmesan,” paired with my favorite brand of mayonnaise soda (I will buy a glass of wine for anyone who can tell me what Lou Reed song I’m referring to here).

Thanks for reading. I’m as hung over as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

At St. Vincent (San Francisco), David Lynch is a Dædalus among sommeliers

Our meal at the amazing St. Vincent in San Francisco — conceived and directed by Daedalian sommelier and wine writer David Lynch — began with two eggs: one bathed in beet and horseradish, the other in curry and turmeric. If only for their Technicolor, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed by the food and wine that would follow.

Had I the means, I would gather all the young wine and restaurant professionals in the U.S. and take them to San Francisco to see how it is superbly done by David Lynch, one of the leading sommeliers in the nation right now (as always), veteran of some of the most storied venues in the contemporary history of American restaurateurship.

Granted, David knows me and my palate, and so when I asked him to pick out a wine for us, I wasn’t surprised when he swiftly delivered the Clos du Papillon Savennières above, “not as extreme” as our beloved Joly, he noted, but no less nuanced or thrilling (and perhaps more graceful and focused).

I was equally impressed by the deft hand of chef Bill Niles, to whom David graciously attributed sole authorship of the menu. The “She Crab” (actually lobster in the current season) was adorned with a dollop of sea urchin liver, Carolina rice, and corn chowder. I ate every last drop.

The eggplant roulades, alone, would be worth a return trip. I loved that chef Niles peels his tomatoes for this dish and I’d be remiss in not noting that this was possibly the best tomato I’ve tasted all year.

Chef Niles may draw from a Technicolor palette of culinary experiences and techniques but he also seems to love some of life’s simplest “street-food” pleasures, like this classic pretzel. I dug the juxtaposition of the elegance of his eggplant and the sheer pedestrian delight of the pretzel.

David named his new restaurant (opened just a few months ago) after St. Vincent of Saragossa, one of the patron saints of grape-growers, often invoked by wine- and vinegar-makers.

(Of course, I couldn’t help myself from reading up on why St. Vincent is considered patron of wine and vinegar.)

He is often depicted (St. Vincent, not David) with vines or grape bunches. Although there’s no element in hagiography that would associate him with grapes or grape-growing, his feast day, January 22, is celebrated in wine-growing France as the beginning of the vegetative cycle.

There are a number of French sayings uttered on that day, like quand Saint Vincent est beau, abondance pour le tonneau (when [the weather on] Saint Vincent is fair, there will be [an] abundance [of wine] for the casks).

Like so many examples of pseudo-Catholic folklore, his association with wine is purely arbitrary and can be attributed to the date of his commemoration (in the Greek Orthodox Church, he is remembered on November 11).

There’s nothing arbitrary about the way David runs his new restaurant and it was fantastic to watch him in his habitat (as the Italians say), greeting a guest, explaining a menu item, and serving a Savennières to a very happy wine blogger…

Image via La Chouette.

A16 still rocking it big time (and an awesome Gaglioppo rosé)

Above: A16 was opened in 2004 and continues to stand apart even after eight years on the cutting edge. On Saturday night, with the restaurant packed to the gills, the margherita pizza — a litmus test for any Italian restaurant — was exceptional.

One of the things that impressed me the most about my trip to San Francisco last week was the complete and utter across the board professionalism of the food and wine professionals I met with.

Even though you’ll find some of the greatest expressions of American and pseudo-European gastronomy in New York and Los Angeles, there is no U.S. city — in my view — that can rival the confluence of world-class service and informed, intelligent, and thrilling wine and food that you find in San Francisco.

When I visited A16 on Saturday night, I was greeted at the door by wine director and owner Shelley Lindgren, who was holding a tray with three spritzers on it.

In the bustle of this high-profile restaurant at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, a guest proceeded to brush by her, knocking the tray to the floor and the cherry-red spritzers all over Shelley’s white pants. Without missing a beat, Shelley looked up and smiled at the guest, who was mortified. She told her, “o please don’t worry about it! It’s no problem at all! Please enjoy your dinner.”

There are many reasons why A16 continues to pack them in every night. And this is just one of them.

Above: I was so geeked to taste this rosé from Gaglioppo, a wine that I’d been reading about all summer on Shelley’s Facebook. Friggin’ delicious… and a perfect pairing with my pizza.

I owe so much to Shelley. When she opened A16 back in 2004, she was the first wine director in the U.S. to offer her guests an exclusively southern Italian wine list. At that time, no one thought it could be done. Naysayers would ask: what are you going to do about white wine? what about sparkling wine? where are you going to source all the wine you need? and what about wines for your reserve list?

A lot has changed since then. There is a lot more southern Italian wine available in the U.S. today and more and more producers of fine wines from regions like Campania and Basilicata and Calabria are finding their way to the U.S. market.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that Shelley’s work has had a lot to do with this new wave of southern Italian wine in Italy. And there’s no doubt in my mind that her legacy made it possible for me to create my dream list at Sotto in Los Angeles.

“You know,” I said to her jokingly when she visited our table, “one of the reasons why I’m here is so that I can poach wines from your list.”

“That’s what it’s here for,” she told me, “that’s what it’s all about.”

Chapeau bas, Shelley. In my book, you are a model of food and wine professionalism.

Stay tuned: David Lynch’s new St. Vincent is on deck for tomorrow…

Grape harvest in full swing Italy 2012

As Tracie P and I prepare for our fall trip to Italy, we’re watching harvest reports carefully.

Today, my friends at Berlucchi sent me these photos, snapped on August 8, the day they began picking.

It’s been a summer of prolonged high temperatures and rainfall has been scarce. In appellations where emergency irrigation is not allowed, growers will be facing some tough decisions in coming weeks.

I’m eager to talk to winemakers and to hear their thoughts.

We don’t leave for another few weeks and in the meantime, I’m just glad to be getting back to Austin for some family time after a week of working the California market with Zanotto. :)

So much to tell about my trip to San Francisco, all the cool folks I hung with, and the meals we shared… stay tuned!

grazie @biondivino @zanottocolfondo #IHeartSF

Thanks to everyone who came out to the amazing Ceri Smith’s Biondivino last night for our Zanotto Col Fondo tasting.

It was a blast and your support means the world to me… I love the wines and I love my friend Riccardo and I’m thrilled to see them in California (in part because Tracie P and I want to drink them!).

But a special thanks to the Pasternak family and Marisa Ellero (in the photo above) who drove in from Reno for the tasting.

“If it’s on my list, it has to taste Italian,” Eric Lecours, Donato Enoteca (Redwood City)

In my experience, the greatest thing about wine blogging is the sense of community, solidarity, and camaraderie that it creates.

I’ve “known” Eric Lecours, wine director at the excellent Donato Enoteca in Redwood City, since 2007 when he first began commenting on my blog. I write “known” because for the first five years of our friendship, we never met in person, even though we regularly traded notes about wines we liked and wines that piqued our curiosity.

We finally connected and tasted together last night over a superb meal that began with baccalà mantecato (above), creamed salt cod, a dish that spoke to my Venetophilia. It’s so hard to achieve the right balance of saltiness and texture in this dish and chef Donato Scotti, who likes to remind his guests that his hometown Bergamo was once the last outpost of the Most Serene Venetian Republic, nailed it. Utterly delicious…

Calamari and broad bianchi di Spagna beans.

I had tasted this wonderful skin-contact Trebbiano d’Abruzzo by Crognaleto in LA the day before the with the importer. It’s going on to Eric’s list as well as my list at Sotto in LA in the fall.

The spaghetti al nero di seppia topped with bottarga was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. Japanese guests, Eric said, rave about it and I can see why.

The housemade pasta at Donato is exceptional. The agnolotti are Donato’s signature dish. Note the plin (the pinch) that forms the dimple.

“My number one rule is that if it’s on my list, it has to taste Italian,” said Eric. Words to live by.

The 2004 Roagna Barbaresco Pajé is so gorgeous right now, with red fruit that dances atop eucalyptus and sage, very fresh and bright at this moment in its evolution. A 375ml was an ideal complement for the roast pork loin medallions shared by Zanotto and me.

Dulcis in fundo… I hate to break it to all the hipster mixologists out there: amaro doesn’t belong in a cocktail. It’s meant to cleanse the palate and encourage digestion at the end of a great meal.

Chapeau bas, Eric. Thank you for the thrilling meal and the friendship (no longer virtual).

Mike Andrews at Bootleg Bar

I was very geeked to catch the last set of my good friend Mike Andrews’ Wednesday night residency at the Fold at Bootleg Bar in LA last night after my shift on the floor at Sotto.

Mike and his music continue to inspire me (as they have since we were teenagers in La Jolla).

His new album, Spilling a Rainbow (Everloving), is now available… Check it out…