Let the grape porn begin! Harvest starts in Southern Italy @CanteleWines

chardonnay southern italy

Above: Chardonnay grapes ready to be picked, from one of Cantele’s top growing sites in Salento, Puglia (Apulia). Southern Italy is generally the first to pick. But extended spring rain and cold temperature has delayed harvest throughout Italy this year.

For observers of the wine trade, this is one of the most exciting times of the year: the enoblogosphere and social media will overflow with images of ripe grapes and updates on the quality of the fruit and the harvest.

For grape growers and winemakers, this is a time for high anxiety: one rain or hail storm could ruin an entire year’s work.

And as my friend and client Gianni Cantele wrote on the CanteleUSA blog today, the little “elves” in the crushers and presses also can be a source of major problems.

There are a number of Italian winemakers who are posting about the 2013 harvest with nearly real-time updates.

Marilena Barbera at Cantine Barbera has vowed to post regularly on the harvest’s progression.

Alessandro Bindocci at the Tenuta Il Poggione in Montalcino has also been posting regular updates.

And I will be posting harvest updates for my clients Cantele, Barone Pizzini-Pievalta, and Bele Casel.

Yesterday, Barone Pizzini vineyard manager Pierluigi Donna noted that “Nature is making up for time lost during the cold and rain in the spring. We’ll be able to begin picking just after August 15. In other vintages, the grapes were already in the cellar by then.”

I’ve seen similar reports from other central and northern Italian wineries and I’ll be following along eagerly as more information comes in.

Do you know of a winery or grape grower who is documenting harvest 2013 through social media? If so, please let me know and I’ll include it in my roundups of harvest notes. Thanks!

And if you are a grape grower or winemaker and would like to send me your photos and notes, please do so!

Buona vendemmia! Happy harvest!

how to pronounce Xinomavro (and desperately seeking Zibibbo)

What a thrill to learn that the Greek Grape Name and Appellation Project was put to good use yesterday by the leading Italian wine blogger in the world today, Alfonso Cevola, who used the video above in his talk on Xinomavro at the annual Texas Sommelier Conference in Dallas (Texsom).

As the popularity of Greek wines and grapes like Assyrtiko and Xinomavro continues to explode in the U.S. (check out this brilliant post today by the hippest sommelier in America, the inimitable Levi Dalton), it’s remarkable how few know the correct pronunciation of Xinomavro.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I, myself, didn’t know how to pronounce it until I traveled to Naoussa and got a lesson from Constantine Boutari himself (he’s the owner of the Boutari winery group)!

He is such a sweet man and when I asked him if I could film him “speaking” Xinomavro, he improvised — on the spur of the moment — the talk he gave me (to the surprise of everyone in the tasting room at Boutari’s Naoussa winery).

You can listen to all the pronunciations over at the Boutari blog (where I have been posting for three years now).


The Italian Grape Name and Pronunciation Project continues to expand and I have new videos to post this week.

I am looking for a native speaker to do Zibibbo. On Friday, a reader wrote me with a query about its pronunciation, which is trickier than it would appear. I’ll explain when I have a video ready.

But in the meantime, does anyone have any suggestions or requests for wineries/winemakers whom I should approach? Please let me know in the comments.

I greatly appreciate it.

And one last thing on this busy Monday morning: be sure to check out Alfonso’s superb post this morning on “Breaking the Code of Silence on Italian Wine.”

Now it’s time to put my nose to the grindstone. Buon lavoro, yall! Have a productive work week!

a visit from grandma

grandma pillow

Mamma Judy came to Texas over the weekend to meet her new granddaughter Lila Jane (her seventh grandchild) and to spend time with Georgia P.

We spent the weekend taking turns holding Lila Jane, taking Georgia P to the park, and sharing Georgia P’s favorite things to eat (chopped beef, guacamole, grilled cheese and fries).

new dress

Georgia P looked great in her new dress! Thanks, again, grandma!

We’re so glad that you came to visit: grandmas just have that special touch when it comes to lulling newborns to sleep and Georgia P had so much fun playing with you!

We love you!

In other news…

Georgia P is starting to adjust to our new life and she gives her little sister a gentle kiss every night before going to bed.

Just when you thought your heart couldn’t grow any bigger, these beautiful little girls make it overflow with love…

G-d bless @JancisRobinson et alia

jancis robinson wine grapes

The most remarkable thing happened yesterday.

As I sat at the counter of a new Houston wine bar, the servers produced a copy of Jancis Robinson’s excellent Wine Grapes and began eagerly leafing through its beautifully illustrated folia and superb critical apparatus.

No, there’s nothing remarkable about that. In fact, I see it all the time these days.

Here’s the remarkable thing: a young couple, evidently regular guests, brought their own copy of the tome and proceeded to peruse its pages for insights into the wines they had in the glasses that lay before them (you can see the two gentlemen in the background of the image above).

Not just one exemplar in situ but two!

With unheimlich timing, Jancis, you and your brainiac team — Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz — have delivered a new Torah unto the nascent flock of youthful wine lovers in the English-speaking world.

Their thirst for wine knowledge is rivaled only by their want of drink. And you have rendered unto them a new testament.

And in an era where the digital image seems nearly always to trump the printed logos, you have achieved a nearly singular triumph: your gorgeously cloth-bound book and cloth-bound slipcase are practically ubiquitous among the wine-smitten (at least those whom I frequent).

At the Parzen residence, the volume is displayed handsomely and prominently in our oenographic library and I can’t remember a workaday when I didn’t consult it at least once.

Thank you, thank you, Jancis, Julia, and José, for this wonderful gift to those among us afflicted by oenophilia!

May G-d bless and keep you! Your work is a true mitzvah…

Robert Parker looks beyond Tuscany & Italy stands at a precipice

robert parker vintage charts

“For the first time, Piedmont and Tuscany won’t be the only regions to appear in the Italy column of the Wine Advocate vintage chart,” writes Italian enojournalist Luciano Ferraro this week on the Corriere della Sera wine blog (one of the highest-profile media platforms in Italian wine writing today).

“Beginning this year, Trentino-Alto Adige whites, Friuli wines, Veneto’s Amarone, Campania’s Taurasi, and Sicily’s Etna have been inserted,” reports Luciano.

News of this new vision for Robert Parker, Jr. comes in the form of an interview with the new Wine Advocate Italian editor, Monica Larner.

“The moment to tell the story of Italy’s other wonders has arrived,” says Monica. “Robert Parker agreed.”

You don’t need to be a subscriber to view the chart (here).

Italian wine and its relation with mainstream media still has a long way to go. But — there’s no doubt — this is a literally wonderful step in the right direction.

Chapeau bas, Monica!

Sadly, this good news comes along with some terribly unfortunate developments in Italy’s political scene.

umberto d

As loudly as I applaud former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conviction on tax evasion by Italy’s highest court, I fear that the power imbalance caused by his tenuous political situation bodes badly for the country.

The “epic fail” of his People of Freedom party has considerably weakened the already fragile governing coalition.

On his Facebook, my good friend and client Paolo Cantele posted this quote from an editorial by Luca Ricolfi that appeared this week in the national daily La Stampa:

“If we are at this point today, it’s not because the judicial system has not allowed politicians to govern. It’s because of an entire class of politicians’ inability to govern… They have allowed judicial events to occupy an abnormally large space in our history.”

This dismal view of the current situation is echoed in a New York Times editorial that appeared two days ago, “It’s not just Silvio Berlusconi”:

“With such obvious weaknesses on both sides of the spectrum, the real winner of February’s elections was ‘none of the above.’ The patched-together government that finally emerged in April is an ungainly coalition with few achievements to its credit so far.”

I spent nearly a decade of my adult life living, studying, and working in Italy. And I continue to travel regularly there. So many of my closest friends live and work there. I have devoted my intellectual life to the study of Italian language, culture, and history, and more recently, to Italian enogastronomy.

My friends and their country are in my heart and in my prayers.

repubblica italiana

I love being a dad

i love being a dad

Money is SO tight right now, Tracie P and I are both so sleep deprived we can barely keep our eyes open (it will be a while before Lila Jane sleeps through the night), I’m struggling to keep up with work…

But, man, I love being a dad.

Georgia P and I spent an hour on the playground this morning while mommy took Lila Jane for her two-week visit at the pediatrician (she passed with flying colors, btw).

I love all three of them so very, very much…

Georgia P is becoming more and more articulate, with a larger vocabulary, every day.

People let me tell you ’bout my best friend,
He’s a warm hearted person who’ll love me till the end.
People let me tell you bout my best friend,
He’s a one boy cuddly toy, my up, my down, my pride and joy.

People let me tell you ’bout him he’s so much fun
Whether we’re talkin’ man to man or whether we’re talking son to son.
Cause he’s my best friend.
Yes he’s my best friend.

More @arpepe1860 from @ItalianWineGuy @WinechefPDX & @Jbastianich opens restaurant Italy


Above: “@DoBianchi [the wines of Ar.Pe.Pe. are] beauties!” wrote Michael Garofala yesterday on the Twitter. “We’re very lucky in Pdx [Portland, Oregon] to have them. Valtellina’s also not such a bad place to visit.”

Yesterday’s post on Ar.pe.pe. generated a lot of positive response.

Michael Garofola aka @WineChefPDX, who works in Portland, posted this beautiful photo of the Valtellina (above).

And Alfonso aka @ItalianWineGuy reminded me of this excellent post on his vist to the Valtellina from 2007, including tasting notes for Ar.pe.pe. (highly recommended).

bastianich mozza aragone

Above: The news of Joe’s new restaurant in Italy nudged me to grab this bottle of his Mozza 2008 Aragone from my samples bin. A blend of Sangiovese with smaller amounts of Syrah, Alicante, and Carignan, the wine was fresh and the ripe red fruit was bright, balanced by wholesome earthiness. According to WineSearcher.com, it sells for under $35 in the U.S. market. Another gem of a wine from the great enologist Maurizio Castelli, it paired nicely with some chicken tacos.

Things are insanely busy these days at the home office, but I did manage to catch up on my Feedly reading yesterday.

I’m surprised that virtually no one in the U.S. has written about Joe Bastianich’s soon-to-be-launched new restaurant in Friuli, “Orsone” (the big bear), the name of farmhouse and vineyard where he sources fruit for one of his vineyard-designated wines in the Colli Orientali del Friuli.

I read about it on one of my favorite Italian-language food blogs, Dissapore (where you can also see a photo of the venue’s façade).

One of the things that fascinates me about Joe’s career is his reverse immigration. There are many Italian-American restaurateurs in the U.S. who own vineyards in Italy (as he does) but I don’t know of any who are megagalactic (to borrow an Italianism) television celebrities and restaurant-owners on the other side of the Atlantic.

It will be interesting to see what he does with it… And like any high-profile “restaurant man” (the title of his memoir, published while in his early 40s), I’m sure that Orsone will be the subject of intense scrutiny…

So much more to tell but I’ve got hungry mouths to feed. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned…

1999 Sassella Rocce Rosse by Ar.Pe.Pe. FANTASTICO!

1999 sassella rocce rosse ar pe pe

On Saturday night, Tracie P and I had the great fortune to taste some older vintages of Ar.Pe.Pe., including this 1999 Sassella Rocce Rosse, thanks to a generous distributor rep who dropped off the wines for us after a trade tasting.

Ar.Pe.Pe. has generated a lot of buzz in the U.S. over the last year and a half after making a landing and a big splash in New York, where it’s been a favorite among buyers and bloggers.

But Ar.Pe.Pe. has been around for a long time. It’s one of the oldest continuously operating wineries in the Valtellina.

When the “real wine” pioneer Mario Soldati wrote about the estate in the early 1970s, he notes that Pellizzati family had been bottling there since 1860 and that Arturo Pellizzati (son of the winemaker at the time, Guido) represented the fourth generation of family’s winemaking legacy.

The current winery is named after Arturo and an amalgam of his children’s surnames: Ar[turo] Pe[llizzati] Pe[rego].

Arturo also appears in Sheldon Wasserman’s landmark Italy’s Noble Red Wines (1985), receiving good, if not outstanding, marks from the author (who openly states his preference for Langa and Novarese expressions of Nebbiolo).

Today, the wines are still made in large chestnut casks, the same way Arturo made them.

grumello buon consiglio

Where the great wines of Langa tend toward earthiness, the best Valtellina — in my experience — are defined by nuanced spice.

It was such a thrill to get to taste older vintages of some of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s top wines.

And while we also loved the 2001 Grumello Buon Consiglio, it was the 1999 Sassella Rocce Rosse that contained the “unbearable lightness” that I look for in the greatest wines of the world.

Delicate in its aroma and nuanced in its flavor, the fourteen-year-old wine had that ineffable balance of power and elegance, with notes of faded cinnamon that played against wild berry.

Its fruit was bright and its acidity very much alive: this wine, I imagine, has many more wonderful years ahead of it in its evolution.

What a wine!

The wines aren’t here in Texas yet but they’re on the way (and will likely be here by the fall).

It’s another example of how trade forces and a new national awareness among Texas wine professionals are opening up our market.

I can’t go into details of how the wines will get here (because it’s not my place to reveal such information) but I can say that young Italian winemakers continue to search for alternatives to the monolithic channels of the past.

The Texas wine culture is only going to be better for it and I can’t wait to get my hands on some more of this superb “mountain Nebbiolo.”

Fascinated by Neapolitan music

pulcinella orchestra

Above: A Pulcinella orchestra. Image via ho visto nina volare.

Gearing up for my friend and client Tony Vallone’s sold-out Neapolitan event this week, I’ve been studying Neapolitan music and writing my own compositions.

It’s become a bit of a rabbit hole: once I started listening carefully to traditional songs from Naples, I became fascinated with the melodies and rhythms. But the thing that really grabbed me was how the arrangements always surprise the listener.

Just when you’ve settled into one phrase, the song leaps to another, unexpected place.

Here are some songs I’ve been working on at Baby P studios… Tracie P, who lived between Ischia and Naples for nearly five years, has been teasing me that my Neapolitan songs “still sound Jewish.” But I’ve been having fun with it.

One could spend a lifetime studying Italian culture, art, and history and never satiate her/his curiosity…