How To Not Get Things Done in Italy by @TerraUomoCielo (@Intravino)

Today’s post is devoted to my translation of an article written and published today by my good friend Giovanni Arcari on the Italian wine blog Intravino. It was edited by Alessandro Morichetti, one of Italy’s leading wine bloggers.

umberto d

Above: Umberto D.

“How To Not Get Things Done in Italy”

A case study in vineyard registration in Alta Langa.

Premise: A love for classic method wines and for the Langhe Hills inspired me to partner with a Monforte d’Alba producer who wanted to produce Alta Langa [sparkling wines]. Unfortunately, nothing is ever as easy as it seems and the story that follows is as simple as it is demoralizing. There are appellation regulations to be observed and we followed them to the letter. The producer acquired land; he planted the right grapes (7,500 Pinot Nero and Chardonnay vines in Serravalle Langhe); and then he applied for the authorization to label the vineyard “Alta Langa.” From that point forward, the process was disastrous.

A week later, a message arrived in the form of a cold shower: “registration of vineyards for the production of Alta Langa is closed,” wrote the Classic Method Alta Langa Producers Association.

We asked for an explanation and resigned ourselves to our fate.

But then, by chance, we came across this brilliant declaration on September 5 of this year: “… the association is working to expand the planted surface area intended for the production [of Alta Langa]. This process will be carried out through a ‘targeted’ authorization of new vineyards in the growing zone. Its scope is that of favoring those projects where grape production already has a specific destination that will not inflate the grape market. The goal is to have more bottles on the market that make an even greater difference.”

Well, you might call this good news, especially in the light of the fact that we were asking for authorization for a sole hectare. We already have a project and the “destination” for our roughly 100 quintals of grapes is very clear: a fine, artisanal classic method sparkling wine. Case closed.

Nothing doing! We hear nothing from the producers association but on October 24, we discover that it has been taking applications when we read an announcement on the Coldiretti website. [Coldiretti is Italy’s national growers confederation.] Coldiretti isn’t exactly known for its lightening speed: the application process was opened on August 2 and today [November 30] is the last day.

But that’s not the real problem here.

Do you want to know the criteria by which surface area planted to vine will be expanded? In short, if you sell your grapes to commercial bottlers, you’ll be fine. But if you by land, plant it and sow the seeds of your dreams there, you’re screwed.

Authorization is granted on a points-based model. And it’s not entirely clear how you obtain “points, rights, and priority.” To have the maximum number of points, seven, you need to be a “professional agricultural entrepreneur who already produces and/or sells classic method sparkling wine or owner partner in a cooperative winery that already produces classic method sparkling wine.”

To obtain five points, you need to be a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur that already owns vineyards with agricultural-environmental characteristics in conformity with the Alta Langa DOCG appellation regulations (but that are not suited for authorization) and that has an at least five-year contract for the transformation [vinification] of the fruit into Alta Langa DOCG that guarantees the total application of the grapes.”

Three points are award to a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur who has obtained [land] rights, plants new vineyards intended for the production of Alta Langa DOCG, and who possesses an at least five-year contract for the transformation [vinification] of the fruit into Alta Langa DOCG that guarantees the total application of the grapes.”
And for a “professional agricultural company or entrepreneur different from the points above,” the association grants only one miserable point.

It sends a chill down your spine, doesn’t it?

Obviously, we were given only one point. Translation? A new winery CANNOT produce Alta Langa.

Why isn’t the grape market regulated so as to encourage the entry of new players who could enrich the appellation? Why is there such interest in Alta Langa to purchase grapes and not to have anyone else get in your way? Who profits from this?

This system stinks.

—Giovanni Arcari (via Intravino)

Giovanni Arcari

Above: Alessandro (left), Giovanni (right), and I had breakfast in Alta Langa on Sunday morning.

98 Poggio di Sotto unbelievable & the “dinner of dinners” @TonyVallone

Last night, I had the great fortune to be invited to speak at Tony’s in Houston, the namesake and flagship restaurant of my good friend and client Tony Vallone.

He had billed the event as the “dinner of dinners” for 2012 and he didn’t disappoint.

After the welcome wine, we paired 2001 Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello with Alba truffles over tagliarini, my first truffles in this year of drought-impacted foraging.

The 2001 Bartolo Mascarello is simply one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted and has many, many brilliant years ahead of it. It had been opened a few hours prior and while it wasn’t entirely generous with its fruit, its elegance and balance are unrivaled.

But the wine that really wowed me was the 1998 Brunello di Montalcino by Poggio di Sotto. I’d been very lucky to taste this wine many times in the past and I was surprised when I saw Antonio Galloni’s tasting note in which he advised that it was in decline. (Antonio’s my favorite Italian wine writer, btw, and while his word is not sacrosanct, I do find his palate to align nearly perfectly with mine when it comes to traditional-style wines.)

This wine had what the Italians call grinta, real grit and spunk… Beautiful acidity and the vibrant dark fruit that you expect from classic expressions of the Castelnuovo dell’Abate subzone of Montalcino.

Tony and his general manager Scott Sulma paired with this medley of guinea hen and Taleggio-stuffed tortellini in brodo.

And wow, I just feel like I need to add a chorus of dayenu as I recount this epic meal. As if the previous two dishes weren’t enough to make his guests swoon, Tony thrilled the room (which reacted with a unanimous gasp as the beef enter the room) with a platter of nearly two-month-aged prime rib.

Dessert — sweet zeppoli stuffed with torchon de foie gras (how’s that for fusion!) paired with 1990 Recioto della Valpolicella by Quintarelli…

I like to joke that Tony’s is an oil moguls commissary. On any given night, you’ll a handful of billionaires in his restaurant — at the very least.

How I ever found my way to a seat at that table, I still don’t really know.

As I sit this afternoon, on the outskirts of Houston in a Starbucks using the free wi-fi and listening to Christmas music as I type and type and type at the keyboard for my clients, I can’t help but take a deep breath and contemplate the extraordinary counterpoints of life.

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace

How I ever got here, I’ll never really know. But I sure am thankful for the many gifts life has given me…

Colonization of Cannubi Continues in Barolo

mascarello barolo cannubi

Above: A drawing of “La collina dei Cannubi” (“Cannubi Hill”) by Eugenio Comenicini, 1981 (reproduced from Martinelli’s monograph Il Barolo come lo sento io, 1993).

When Giovanni and I visited the home of Maria Teresa Mascarello and David Berry Green on Saturday for lunch, conversation was dominated by two topics: the primary elections for Italy’s center-left Democratic Party (held on Sunday) and the Marchesi di Barolo’s continued efforts to redefine which vineyards in Barolo can be called “Cannubi.”

For some time now, Marchesi di Barolo has been trying expand the designation, to include adjacent vineyards. Its application to extend the historic vineyard’s reach was thwarted when a group of eleven producers and owners of rows Cannubi successfully petitioned to block the move in June of this year. (Walter Speller delivered this excellent post on the events that lead up to the showdown.)

As Marta Rinaldi — daughter of Giuseppe Rinaldi, one of the eleven wineries who contested the redesgination — reported in this moving post on Intravino, it took a court order to stop the Marchesi di Barolo, whose motive to remap appellation subzones is rooted in desire to exploit the most recognizable crus of Barolo for financial gain.

Cannubi is considered by many to be one of Barolo’s greatest vineyards and one of its most historically significant growing sites. This fact, coupled with foreigners’ ease in pronouncing the toponym (kahn-NOO-bee), have made it one of the most popular (and lucrative) vineyard designations in the appellation.

ferdinando principiano

Above: Giovanni and I drove from Brescia to Barolo on Saturday morning.

In October of this year, the Marchesi di Barolo filed an appeal with the court to lift the injunction against them. And its outcome is uncertain.

“On the ground” in Barolo, there is even greater concern regarding the vineyard’s future because the Ceretto and Damilano wineries recently partnered with James Suckling to make a documentary about Cannubi (it was shot during harvest this year). And the movie is to be incorporated, Maria Teresa told me, in a marketing campaign to promote the sale of wines labeled “Cannubi” in the ever growing Asian market, where the thirst for high-end wines seems to know no bounds.

As an owner in Cannubi and one of its most well known producers, Maria Teresa was approached by marketers to participate in the program.

“A campaign like this shouldn’t move forward until the question has been resolved,” she told me. “I’m not going to partner with my quote-unquote enemy… the Marchesi di Barolo in a promotion like this,” noting that the Marchesi di Barolo is planning to be part of the campaign.

Above: Will the color of traditional Barolo be sullied by the green of avarice?

It’s not clear when the court will rule on the Marchesi di Barolo’s appeal and the stakes are extremely high.

As David wrote on his blog last year, “Ernesto Abbona, President of heavyweight Barolo producer Marchesi di Barolo (1.6million bts), is cast in the Machiavellian role making a final desperate grab for vineyard rights. Pitted against him are a band of small growers – let’s call them partisans! – defending the honour of an historical site, Cannubi, row by row, bunch by bunch.”

I’ll be following along closely and will report news as it arrives from Langa. In the meantime, a Google image search for “Cannubi” will deliver a number of photos and maps of this historic vineyard if you’re interested in learning more.

I’ve got so much to tell about my recent trip to Italy, including more on my lunch with Maria Teresa and David. But this was most urgent. Stay tuned…

another journey to italy comes to an end

I know, it’s insane. But I had to make a short trip to italy this weekend for a new client. I was super bummed to miss thanksgiving with our family but there are hungry mouths to feed back in texas. :)

This photo is a preview of one of the meals shared with giovanni.

I’m heading home today and have some important news to share with lovers of nebbiolo. Will do asap.

The trip back to texas is always tough but there’s a sweet reward waiting for me at the end of this road. I can’t wait to get back to my girls.

Stay tuned!

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

96 Gaja Conteisa wowed me, 99 Produttori del Barbaresco Asili humbled me (TY @KeeperColl)

Above: Some may be turned off by the oxidative quality of the Fiorano whites. I think they’re super groovy. This 1994 Sémillon was made when the old Prince Boncompagni was still on this earth. It had solid acidity and its dried stone fruit flavors and aromas were lively and rich.

One of the coolest things about what I do for a living is that collectors of Italian wine often invite me to taste their wines with them.

There is no one who does more to foster the Austin wine and food scene than the lovely Diane Dixon, whose Keeper Collection produces a series of events here each year, focusing on and featuring young sommeliers and chefs.

Above: Of all the Gaja wines from the 1990s, my favorite has always been the Conteisa, named after the “highly contested” (conteisa in Piedmontese) parcel where it is grown. There’s more Barbera in this wine than his other Langhe Nebbiolo (and unlike the more famous ones, it was never classified as Barbaresco). Great acidity, brilliant fruit.

She and her husband Earl are just really cool folks who recognize the importance of supporting our food and wine community.

On Friday night we convened at my favorite Austin wine bar where the owner graciously let Diane open a few bottles.

Above: Here’s my tasting note… !!!!! So youthful, so powerful, this wine is going through a “closed” period and while ungenerous with its fruit, it lavished my palate with its nobility and grace. I’m hoping Diane will let me taste it again in five years or so. What a stunning wine!

With every wine that was poured, Diane asked me to talk to our small group about each one. The story of the Prince Boncompagni and his moldy casks; Gaja and the reclassification of his Langhe wines at the end of the last century; Produttori del Barbaresco and how many Langaroli now call 1999 (and not 1996) the greatest vintage of the decade.

Somewhere between the Gaja and the Produttori del Barbaresco, I realized that Diane had thoughtfully created this flight just for me. It’s one of the coolest things about what I do for a living and it’s one of the coolest things about being part of the Austin wine and food scene.

Diane and Earl, what a thoughtful flight you put together for me! Thanks for everything you do for all of us…

Thoughts on Beaujolais Nouveau @EatingOurWords

Above: Saucisson lyonnais, probably not the best thing to eat right before a gig (especially in the light of the effect that fish tacos have had on my band’s history). But, hey, when in Lyon…

Thoughts on Beaujolais Nouveau and the one reason it should be served for Thanksgiving over at the Houston Press today…

Thanks for reading and buon weekend!

The stars came out for Piero Selvaggio’s 40th at Valentino

best italian los angeles

Above: When Piero Selvaggio finally sat down to dinner last night at my table, he couldn’t wait to dig into the schiacciata alla siciliana (front, center), one of the forty dishes his chefs and guest chefs created to celebrate his fortieth anniversary last night. “This is one of the dishes of my childhood,” he said.

What a thrill for me to be asked to speak last night at the fortieth anniversary celebration of Piero Selvaggio’s landmark restaurant Valentino in Los Angeles!

I first met Piero long before I ever dreamed of writing about Italian wine and food.

One of the top benefactors of the Italian department at U.C.L.A. was a close friend of Piero’s. When I was a graduate student there in the 1990s, I had the great fortune to dine in his restaurants thanks to his generosity to the department and his support of Italian cultural events.

Above: Piero is from Sicily and his executive chef Nicola Chessa is from Sardinia. The enogastronomic theme of the evening was wines and cuisine from their resepctive regions.

I’ve followed Piero’s career ever since. He’s one of the earliest pioneers of regional Italian cuisine in the U.S. and he was among the first to open a fine-dining establishment devoted exclusively to Italian cooking.

darrell corti

Above: Piero, left, with Darrell Corti, my friend and inspiration for my own career in the scholarship of Italian wine.

Of course, the other thrill was the chance to catch up and taste with the Darrell Corti, one of the great wine and food personalities of our generation.

Darrell was the event’s keynote speaker and it was great to watch as he and Piero, along with the many wine and food professionals in attendance, reminisced and reflected on how Americans’ perceptions and appreciation of Italian gastronomy has changed over the arc of their lives.

In my world, they are giants — generous of spirit and ever ready to share their trésor of knowledge with the curious and enthusiastic (like me).

Above: Woflgang Puck was just of the many LA food celebrities who stopped by to pay homage to Piero. He arrived late in the evening and Piero promptly presented him with a doggy bag.

Chef Steve Samson, co-owner of Sotto (where I curate the wine list), began working with Piero in the 1990s and he ultimately became the executive chef at the flagship Valentino before launching his own restaurant. (Steve and I met in 1987 on our junior year abroad in Italy and have remained close friends ever since; he’s a daddy now, too!)

Piero had asked him to prepare some of the dishes and he had asked me to speak about Natural wines from Sicily (Cornelissen) and Sardinia (Dettori).

Above: There was a lot of great wine poured last night but my top wine of the evening was the 2008 Etna by Passopisciaro. What a stunning wine!

At the end of the night, when it came time for hugs and goodbyes, I thanked Piero again for asking me to be part of such an extraordinary event. And I thanked him for his generosity. I couldn’t help but think to myself how Piero — one of just handful of Italian wine and food pioneers in our country — literally made my career possible.

For that, I can’t thank him enough.


My band Nous Non Plus’ new album is finally (officially) here. I love and cherish all of our music but I’m particularly proud of this collection of songs because there is so much of Georgia P in them… songs that I wrote while singing to her… songs that made her smile… I’ve included a few Soundcloud links at the bottom of the post… thanks for listening!

Click here for iTunes.
Click here for CD Baby.
Click here for Amazon.

Le sexe et la politique
Nous Non Plus
October 2012
Terrible Kids Music

The centerpiece of “Le sexe et la politique” (“Sex and Politics”, Terrible Kids Music, October 2012), the latest release by indy French rockers Nous Non Plus, is a quote from twentieth-century Italian director, poet, and essayist Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975).

In one of the last interviews that Pasolini gave before his assassination by a prostitute at the Roman seaside (Ostia), he told a French journalist in Cannes: “I believe that it is one’s right to shock people; that being shocked is a pleasure; and that those who refuse the pleasure of being shocked are moralists, so-called ‘moralists.'”

The quote spoke to the band on many levels and in many ways represents the arc of Nous Non Plus’ raison d’être.

The occasion of the interview was the debut of Pasolini’s 1975 film Salò o le 120 giornata di Sodoma (Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom), his controversial adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s famous work. Pasolini would be found dead on the beach outside of Rome six months later.

The quote can be heard — in his own voice and translated into French — in lead singer Céline Dijon’s homage to Pasolini, Italy’s towering intellectual celebrity of the 1960s and 70s, in the song devoted to his life as an artist (entitled simply “Pasolini”).

The track reflects the band’s recent fascination with electronica and computer-generated music, a genre that appears in Jean-Luc Retard’s coup de maître, a soundscape entitled “Le menteur” (“The Liar”). In this stirring piece, Retard juxtaposes primitive and repetitive drum programming with his silky Fender Stratocaster and Céline’s luscious voice — the only “real” instruments in the recording.

But the group’s flirtation with computer-generated music on this effort is counterbalanced by its love for rockers like “Moto” (a song about a girl obsessed with a man’s motorcycle) and “Stockholm” (a foray into sadomasochism and role-play). And true to its roots, Nous Non Plus also delivers a suite of classic 1960s-inspired tracks, like the playful duet featuring Dijon and Retard, “C’est vrai, bébé!”, and the stunning performance rendered by Dijon on “Nadia”, a song about a Russian spy and her unrequited lover Vladimir.

The red threads that connect the dots of this eclectic collection of songs are sex and politics. As Nous Non Plus reminds us with this new album, passion and power are what make the world go round.

Click here to hear the track “pasolini”.

Click here to hear the track “c’est vrai bébé!”