Checking in with 07 Barbaresco & Samantha’s unbelievably delicious roasted salsa

best roast salsa recipe

Saturday night dinner at our house began with a nosh inhalation of homemade roast salsa that had been generously sent to us by one of my all-time favorite wine bloggers, Samantha Sans Dosage.

If you don’t know her excellent blog, check it out. Not only do I entirely dig and follow her writing, I also feel a blogging kinship with her: we don’t really write wine blogs per se; we write blogs about our lives, our families, our loves, our fears… the stuff we drink and the stuff we eat… our music and our dreams… And for her family, as for ours, wine is nearly always a centerpiece of the dinner table.

Her salsa arrived via UPS on Friday (yes, it’s legal to ship salsa to Texas!) and by Sunday morning it was gone. It was THAT good.

Central Texas is a chili pepper and salsa mecca and I’m proud to say that this entry from my home state kicked some serious flaming salsa ass… Thanks again, Samantha! We LOVED it! And it paired brilliantly with a glass of 2011 Roussanne Stone Crusher by Donkey and Goat, orange and Natural and just slightly oxidative.

shepherd pie with beef

Tracie P, who’s eating for two these days, had a hankering for shepherd’s pie (which she made with ground beef instead of lamb).

best shepherd pie recipe

It’s been really chilly down here in Texas and the dish filled the house with snuggly warmth and cozy aromas.

Georgia P scarfed it down like there was no tomorrow!

produttori del barbaresco 2007

Italian Wine Geek’s recent post on a visit to the winery had me hankering for some Produttori del Barbaresco and so I decided to open a bottle of the 2007 classic Barbaresco.

If you follow along here, you know what huge fans we are of the winery and the wines, the collectibility and the affordability.

But I have to report that the wine is going through a very closed phase right now. Its tannin dominated its fruit and its earthiness, however delicious and satisfying, was dark and concentrated.

I never recommend not to open a given wine and I’m always thrilled to taste anything by Produttori del Barbaresco. But it’s time to put the 2007 classic Barbaresco back in the cellar and let it chill out for a while.

The fact that its so tight right now is a great sign, in my view (I saved two glasses for Sunday night and it was just as closed). This is going to be a spectacular wine. It’s just really restrained right now. This is typical for these wines (which I have followed for nearly fifteen years now): they have an initial period of brightness and then shut down. There’s no doubt in my mind that all of that dark earth and tannin will become a savory complement to the wine’s fruit once it begins to emerge again.

Anyway, that’s all I have to report from a quiet weekend at home here in the River City. Happy inauguration day, everyone!

Glera, “the name is horrible but…” #Prosecco

best prosecco glera

Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes (Robinson, Harding, and Vouillamoz, Ecco [HarperCollins], London-New York, 2012) is an oenographic watershed, an unrivaled ampelographic achievement.

And it’s also an expression of the Zeitgeist.

One of the more stunning contributions of Robinson’s new book is the authors’ impressive scholarly approach to the origins of grape names.

We, the oeno-aware, are part of a generation that pays more attention to ampelonyms (grape names) than any that came before us.

Here on my blog, as I have tried to debunk the many erroneous folk etymologies for Italian grape names that appear over and over in wine books, wine journalism, and wine blogging (e.g., Sangiovese and Aglianico, among many others).

Most of these folk etymologies can be attributed to spotty scholarship and the lack of interest in ampelography beyond the world of viticulture.

The bottom line is that until our generation, the wine world — grape growers, winemakers and bottlers, and ampelographers — weren’t particularly interested in the origins of grape names.

But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know the why and where of grape names.

As Nietzsche wrote (particularly in The Twilight of the Idols), human nature drives us to attribute meaning to every sign around us (he was a precursor to post-Modernism in this regard). We are compelled to align the signified and the signifier. We need to understand why things have their names. This is one of the reasons that we find so much pleasure in etymology, even when faced with the hard fact that etymology and philology are intrinsically inexact science.

As wine has played an increasingly important role in popular culture, our interest in the origins of grape names has grown accordingly.

I have been particularly impressed with the Wine Grapes entry for “Prosecco” (pp. 853-854).

Here’s an excerpt of what the editors, who do not refrain from editorializing, have to say:

Prosecco, “[t]he dominant, rather neutral grape for Prosecco sparkling wine, probably Istrian,” they write in the entry’s subtitle. “Misleadingly renamed Glera for commercially protective reasons.”

    As part of the promotion of Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene to DOCG status and the enlargement of the Prosecco DOC zone in 2009, the Prosecco Consorzio set in motion an official name change so that this principal grape variety is known as Glera, its supposed Friulian synonym, and Prosecco is reserved for the designation of origin, effectively preventing producers from other regions or countries taking advantage of the name Prosecco to designate any old sparkling wine…

    This amendment is both confusing and misleading: Glera is a generic name applied to several distinct varieties in the province of Trieste, and recent studies have shown that Glera in fact usually refers to Prosecco Lungo and much less frequently to Prosecco (Tondo) and other local varieties from the Karst region such as Vitovska, or the non-cultivated Aghedone and Mocula.

With this entry fresh in my mind, I asked Prosecco producer Luca Ferraro (whose English-language blog I curate) to share his thoughts on Glera.

“The name ‘Glera’ is horrible,” he told me, “But…”

Click here to read what he had to say.

High design sformato, a last meal in Italy & a book by a friend

italian casserole

For my last 2012 meal in Italy, I was the guest of one of my best friends from my university days there, Stefano (you may remember him from my post on his Milanese “urban botanical” project which he has now aggregated on Pinterest).

Stefano is a member of Milan’s intelligentsia and is well connected in the city’s design, fashion, and publishing cliques. He had invited interior designer Gavino Falchi to join us. Gavino graciously offered to bring dinner with him for our Sunday evening repast.

best sformato recipe

The pièce de résistance of Gavino’s menu was this sformato, accompanied by vintage Luigi Caccia Dominioni silver serving utensils (when he arrived, Gavino was wearing an overcoat from Ugo Mulas’ personal wardrobe, given to him by Ugo’s widow).

A sformato is an Italian casserole, generally made with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, beaten eggs, and various ingredients that have been cooked in a bain-marie and then turned out from the casserole pan or mold (hence the term sformato, meaning literally “turned out from a mold,” a designation which only began to appear in Italian gastronomic literature in the first decades of the twentieth-century, even though such casseroles were already popular in Italian cooking by the second half of the nineteenth century; the timpani in Cavalcanti’s 1837 Cucina teorica-pratica are a precursor to the twentieth-century sformato).

I imagine that the term sformato didn’t become popular until cooking molds were widely produced  and available in Italy in the country’s era of industrialization.

Gavino had made his with the classic base, using zucchine as the “pasta” and adding finely ground pork to the batter. It was as delicious as it was beautiful.

turkey roll italian

He also made this excellent rolled and stuffed wild turkey breast with roast potatoes, a dish that you often find in northern Italian homes on Sundays (Gavino is Sardinian by birth, Milanese by osmosis).

charles scicoloneMy good friend Michele Scicolone doesn’t include any recipes for sformati in her just released recipe book, The Mediterranean Slow Cooker, although many of the entries resemble or evoke the sformato model (the book is the lastest in a series that she has published with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; her Italian Slow Cooker does include a number of sformato recipes).

Tracie P and I just received our copy of the book (which came out last week) and we’re geeked to dive in (we’re big slow cookers here in the Parzen household).

If you’re not familiar with Michele’s work, she’s one of the top Italian cookery book authors working in the field today and she’s one of the best cooks I’ve ever met. The thing I love about her recipes is their precision: Michele grew up in an era of food publishing when recipes were tested over and over and over again. As an editor for Ladies Home Journal, she told me, every recipe had to be executed no fewer than three times before it made it into the magazine.

She also happens to be married to one of my Italian wine mentors, the inimitable Charles Scicolone, an Obi-Wan Kenobi of an Italian wine universe that has been dominated, sadly, by the “dark side” of the force in recent decades.

They’re some of my best friends in New York and I’m looking forward to seeing them when I travel there later this month.

Stay tuned!

Dinner at La Coccinella in Serravalle Langhe (Piedmont), the “other” [upper] Langa

raw shrimp

Above: Dinner began with delicate marinated trout and raw shrimp. People are often surprised by how much fish and seafood you eat in Piedmont, which lies just an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive from the sea.

The last restaurant meal I had in Italy in 2012 was at the cozy Trattoria la Coccinella in the village of Serravalle Langhe, the “other” Langa, about a twenty-minute drive southeast from Monforte, beyond the gilded radius of Barolo and Barbaresco.

rinaldi langhe nebbiolo

Above: First wine of the night was the Giuseppe Rinaldi 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo. Folks here don’t mind pairing red wine with seafood and the lightness and bright acidity of this wine was great with the raw shrimp.

The village is at the center of the Alta Langa (upper Langa) appellation where a handful of producers make classic method sparkling wine.

But it lies just far enough away from the epicenter of Nebbiololand to take the edge off the high stakes of Alba-world dining.

roast onion

Above: The onion was salted and stuffed with a light chicken liver sautée before being roasted.

Giovanni (aka man, the English-language appellative we use with each other), Ferdinando (aka man), and I were there on a Saturday night and the place was packed with locals, including a boisterous high-school reunion for the over-sixty crowd and lots of groups of young people enjoying their weekend night out for dinner.


Above: I just had to have the tajarin… no frills, just classic trattoria cooking, Piedmont style.

I love visiting Langa. But sometimes the competitive dining scene there can be a bit oppressive.

It was so fun to just be

bartolo mascarello barolo 2008

Above: The 2008 Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello is going through a period of youthful grace and was very generous with its fruit. What a pleasure to drink that wine! I imagine it will “shut down” shortly. But it was singing that night.

La Coccinella was my second-to-last meal in Italy in 2012 (my last repast was in Milan at the home of good friends).

The food was great (the prices middle-class friendly) and I highly recommend the restaurant.

But the best part was just being somewhere where affectation is a foreign language.


Angelo Gaja predicts “panic in the market,” 2013 grape shortage

panic italian market grapes

On Friday of last week, a number of Italian media outlets published this op-ed by Angelo Gaja, including the national daily La Stampa and Numeri del Vino (an Italian wine industry observer blog that I follow regularly).

I always find his insights interesting, informative, and polemical. My translation of his “open letter” follows.


After years of low grape production due to the reoccurrence of unfavorable climatic conditions, excess heat, and summer drought, there is a shortage of wine in Italy.

What could happen to Italian wine in 2013?

It’s possible that there will be no wine left by June and that wineries that sell at less than Euro 2 per liter (a price floor for more than eighty percent of Italian wineries) will no longer have any wine to offer.

Prudent, far-sighted bottlers might also contribute to the shortage because they’ll begin stocking up in order to avoid being left high and dry in the months that follow.

It’s a “we’ve never seen anything like it” scenario. There could be panic in the grape market when the 2013 harvest arrives because buyers will be fearful of rising prices.

Someone might become curious and start comparing grape production and wine production reports for the 2012 harvest. They might discover that between independent producers and the cooperative wineries some have reported a drop of up to thirty percent and some have reported no drop at all — the very same sky and in identical geographic areas.

It’s possible that in 2013 Italy could lose its record in hectoliters exported, with Spain taking the lead. It’s another “we’ve never seen anything like it” scenario. And there will surely be those who merely crunch the numbers and blame the Italian wine industry for drops in production and competitiveness. They don’t recognize that wine is a natural product and that the sky is the vineyard’s ceiling. If the weather causes growers to produce fewer grapes, then it’s impossible to sell more wine.

It’s possible that cooperative wineries in Italy (who control more than fifty percent of national grape production) and large winery groups will soften their refusal of the European Union liberalization of planting regulations. It’s also possible that they will agree on a shared strategy intended to introduce a mixed system by 2015: a continuation of planting rights for DOCs and DOCGs and liberalization of IGTs and table wines.

It’s possible that springtime budget analysis for large Italian wineries will reveal that 2012 profits were often penalized by the drop in gross revenue in the Italian market and that the recovery of foreign markets was the industry’s saving grace. This could give greater urgency to investment in those markets, even if that means sacrificing some of the resources earmarked for the growth of the domestic market.

Dire times for the Italian wine media, who survive thanks to advertising, just as in other countries. Tough times as well for the more than two hundred journalistic prizes instituted by wineries and public relations firms, a common phenomenon here in Italy and unheard of abroad. They will became hungry for recognition by Italian writers and more generous in their regard to the foreign media.

Brussels has contributed to this sprint toward foreign markets by financing promotional projects for wine in markets beyond Europe’s borders. Italian national pride has found new lifeblood in these initiatives as winemakers — small and large, in groups or on their own — have embraced an open-order quest to conquer Asia.

And in the meantime, we continue to learn how to explore the world that will come to be.

—Angelo Gaja
January 2013

gaja barolo barbaresco

Above: I took this photo of Angelo in June of last year in New York.

Principiano Barolo & Barbera Romualda thrilled me

From the department of “still catching up on last year’s wines”…

best value barbera alba

Above: Pian Romualdo is a historic cru of Monforte where Barbera trumps Nebbiolo. It’s arguably the best expression of Barbera d’Alba (an appellation where Barbera always takes a backseat to Nebbiolo). Ferdinando’s vines are roughly sixty years old. This wine was incredible.

One of the most thrilling tastings of my 2012 was at the Principiano winery, grower and producer of old school Barolo and historic Barbera in Monforte d’Alba.

When Giovanni and I visited in November, we had the great fortune to taste through the entire line of wines, including some older vintages, with vignaiolo and winemaker Ferdinando Principiano.

Ferdinando’s about my age (mid 40s). His father, he told me, was primarily interested in selling their superb fruit to marquee name bottlers (Prunotto among the most famous). While he made wine, it was never his passion.

best value cru barolo

Above: This was another highlight for me. In my notes, I wrote “tannic but still so drinkable… rich fruit but there’s a lightness in body that makes it rise up.” Boscareto (or Bosco Areto) is often compared to Francia (as in Cascina Francia) because it lies adjacent to the more celebrated cru. The difference is that I can afford this one.

Ferdinando began making wine there in the 1990s. And after he spent some time flirting wine modern-style Nebbiolo (at the peak of the late 90s Langa boom), he settled into old-school, traditional-style wines by the early 2000s (thank goodness for that!).

Looking back at my notes this morning, I find that “brilliant” and “freshness” reappeared over and over again, a characteristic that Ferdinando attributes (in part) to extremely low sulfuring, which he only applies at bottling.

But beyond Ferdinando’s minimalist approach, it is the fruit, sourced exclusively from his family’s historic vineyards, that is the star here.

I was completely taken with the elegant earthiness and technicolor fruit of these wines.

best barolo value monforte

Above: This was my number-one stand-out. Keep in mind, it’s not Ravera from the village of Novello but rather Ravera from Monforte. It was the most “gentle” of his Barolo, I wrote in my notes. Made from the oldest vineyard in the family’s holdings, “it’s what we used to drink at home” in his father’s day, said Ferdinando.

But the most amazing thing about these wines is how extremely affordable they are (including the Barbera Romualda).

I can’t think of a better expression of Barolo, in terms of price and typicity, whether for a middle-class collector like me or someone who is trying to learn about classic Nebbiolo for the first time.

I love, love, love these wines… a Barolo answer to my beloved Produttori del Barbaresco in terms of their classic expression and affordability.

Georgia P’s gonna be a big sister!

tracie and georgia parzen baby

We can finally share our joyous news that the Parzen family is expanding

Yesterday, we had our first-trimester sonogram and we are thrilled to report that Baby P 2013 is doing great (expected due date is mid-July).

pickles craving pregnancy

Tracie P has been very tired but otherwise feeling good. The morning sickness has been much easier this time around and it’s true about the pickles: I’ve only ever seen her eat a pickle when pregnant (guacamole’s been another craving this time as well).

Of course, we have plenty of anxiety about the pregnancy, like all parents-to-be.

But now that we’re no longer first-time parents and we know a lot more about what to expect, we’ve really been enjoying our Parzen family expansion…

i like having my picture taken

Little Georgia P is so sweet and such a joy to be with. We can’t wait for her to have a little sister or brother.

Thanks for letting us share this momentous news.

It’s just too much joy to keep to ourselves….

Trinchero Barbera censored by greedy California fascist thugs

sutter home trinchero

The Trinchero family no longer prints its name on labels bound for the U.S.

La reproduction interdite…

When my friend and client Jeff showed me the new label for Trinchero Barbera d’Asti Superiore (2006 vintage) last night, I thought to myself, either he is playing a practical joke on me or this is a work of surrealist art.

As if plucked from a painting by Magritte or a fountain by Duchamp, a confident label stood before me (above), austere and elegant in its ensemble, yet marred by a glaring omission: A gaping space at the label’s center was bare, unavoidably and inexplicably innominate and anonymous…

Click here to read my post today for the Houston Press on how fascist thugs from California winery group Sutter Home forced the Trinchero family to remove their surname from their label.