Scenes from the “Pasolini in Rome” show at the Cinémathèque Française

Comrade Howard graciously sent me these images from the current “Pasolini in Rome” exhibition at the Cinémathèque Française where he toured the show last week with the museum’s director.

It runs through January 26.

La poésie, la politique, le sexe, l’amitié, le cinéma… The stuff that life is made of.

The track “Pasolini” in the slideshow comes from my band Nous Non Plus’ release Le sexe et la politique (Terrible Kids Music 2012).


Harvest at the end of the earth: Vulture dispatch

Please click here for info/details on my upcoming tasting events in the west, Nov. 1, 2, and 5.


“The grapes are very healthy and we’re looking forward to an excellent harvest,” writes my good friend Filena Ruppi, the better half of the Donato d’Angelo winery in Vulture (Basilicata), producer of one of my favorite expressions of Aglianico.

“As you can see, we are returning to the classic harvest times for Aglianico at the end of October.”

Like many grape growers, Donato and Filena are harvesting nearly two weeks later than they have in recent years. Across Italy, growers have reported that this harvest reminds them of the pre-climate change era.

They began harvesting this week (see image above).

donato dangelo

When I recently visited the Tenuta Il Poggione in Montalcino, one of the writers on the trip asked winemaker Fabrizio Bindocci what Italian appellation showed the most promise in terms of fine wine production.

Without missing a beat, he responded Aglianico del Vulture.

At Sotto in Los Angeles, where I co-author the wine list, we do great work with Aglianico del Vulture, including Filena and Donato’s but also a number of fantastic producers (Musto Carmelitano, Carbone, Fucci among them) and I love the wines.

Filena has just been elected the president of the Basilicata chapter of the Movimento Tursimo del Vino (Italy’s Wine Tourism Council) and I’m thrilled to see her breathe some life into this often forgotten wine tourism destination.

When Tracie P and I drove across Vulture last September, with little Georgia P in the back seat, we felt like we were at the end of the earth: the black and gold striations of the stark but beautiful landscape make it feel otherworldly. It’s no surprise that Pasolini filmed certain sequences of his life of Christ there (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964).

mt vulture

That’s a photo of Mount Vulture I took last year.

And below is a wonderful photo that Tracie P snapped.

And with this dispatch from Filena, sent from the end of the earth, it would seem that the 2013 harvest in Italy has come to an end…

scorched earth rare earth

Houston’s 10 Best Destinations for Wine @EatingOurWords @HoustonPress

Please click here for info/details on my upcoming tasting events in the west, Nov. 1, 2, and 5.

petrus bordeaux 1945

Above: The $40k magnum of 1945 Petrus at my friend and client Tony’s restaurant in Houston.

These days, it seems I can’t get out of bed without someone being pissed off about something I wrote on this blog or that.

My post this morning for the Houston Press, Houston’s 10 Best Destinations for Wine, already has the angry emails and comments flying into my inbox.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’m trying to show what a vibrant and growing wine scene we have there.

As my friend and client Tony, who’s been the city’s leading restaurateur for nearly fifty years, said to me this morning when we spoke by phone, “people don’t realize what a great community of wine connoisseurs we have here in Houston.”

For what it’s worth, here’s the link.

Hey, I guess it could be worse. I could have Eric Asimov’s job.

Ciao Kyle, you will be missed and remembered fondly

Amice sit tibi terra levis.

kyle phillips wineIt’s with a heavy heart that I report the news that our friend, wine writer, and Italian wine and culture blogger Kyle Phillips has left this world for a better one.

I had the opportunity to taste with Kyle on a few occasions in Italy (where he lived with his family) but our friendship and my deep respect for him grew out of our correspondence on email and social media.

He was a superbly talented taster and had a profound mastery and knowledge of Italian wine and its myriad designations, the result of decades of traveling and tasting wines throughout Italy.

But he was also a prolific English-language ambassador for Italian culture and gastronomy: his pioneering work at was a model and inspiration for my blog.

May the earth rest lightly on you, friend. You will be sorely missed. As Angelo Peretti wrote on his blog today, the next glass is for you…

Ciao fioi!! @NinoFranco1919 enjoy my hometown #SanDiego!

marco barat

How could I not post this photo, sent to me last night by my good friend Marco Barat (right), who lives and sells Italian wine in my hometown, San Diego, and Silvia Franco, who works for her family’s winery, Nino Franco?

Silvia’s family recently had me for dinner at their home in Valdobbiadene and of course, we made the “Barat connection.”

They were “working the market” together yesterday in Southern California and they sent me their snapshot.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Marco at Vinitaly in 2006. As soon as he heard my padovano cadence in Italian, he pulled up a chair and we became fast friends.

His knowledge of Italian wines is rivaled only by the depth of his palate.

I’ll never forget that night in Cerea (Verona), at a Vias dinner, seven years ago. He told me about a strange producer on Mt. Etna who was making a wine called “Magma.” The world had yet to discover the wines of Frank Cornelissen, but Marco, like always, was way ahead of the curve.

Ciao fioi! Thanks for sending the photo and letting me know that you were thinking of me. It’s been a rough time over the last week here in Texas and it means the world to me that my friends are with me no matter how far away…


Ciao fioi is Veneto dialect for ciao ragazzi (literally, ciao figli or ciao daughter[s] and son[s]. When using the now universal salutation ciao, most don’t realize that it’s actually a Venetian word, from the Latin sclavus, meaning slave or servant. In sixteenth-century Venice, it was common to say [s]ciao, in other words, I am your servant.

Here’s a link to a note that I wrote about its origins and the difference between Italian and Veneto pronunciations.

Vinous aromas of yesteryear: Italy’s 2013 vintage reminds many of a pre-climate change era

grape pomace grappa marc

Above: That’s Hawk Wakawaka, one of my favorite people on the wine blogging scene. She’s dwarfed (and she’s not a short person) by a hill of grape pomace at the Nonino distillery in Udine province in Friuli.

Borrowing a line from my wife, Tracie P, who couldn’t have said it more brilliantly, grappa is the ultimate expression of the grape.

In other words, the grape’s very last gasp is its distillation into a spirit.

When I visited the Nonino distillery in Udine province a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that pomace brandy is also the ultimate expression of the vintage.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of Italian distillers, the Noninos only distill once a year — during harvest.

As Elisabetta explained to the group of writers with whom I was traveling, one of her parents’ great innovations was that they were the first to work directly with growers to ensure the freshness of the pomace that arrived at the distillery and to distill as quickly as possible in order to retain that freshness.

The Noninos — one of the great Italian success stories of the 1990s and one of the most recognizable “made-in-Italy” brands — need no introduction or endorsement from me. In Italy and abroad, their products are considered benchmarks for the category. And they essentially created the category when they launched their distinctive bottles and monovarietal grapps in the early 1980s. And they are largely responsible for grappa mania in the U.S. in the 1990s.

I always have a blast and learn something new when I visit with them. And I know my wife will forgive me for the huge crush that I have on matriarch Giannola. She — one of the most glamorous women in Italian viticulture and a genius marketer — always has me on the edge of my seat with her tales of Marcello Mastroianni kneeling before her in a theater in Rome in the 1960s.

But the thing that I couldn’t get out of my head as we visited over a day and a half was what one of their vineyard managers, Denis Cociancig, said to me when toured their famous Picolit and Fragolino vineyards (where they grow their own grapes destined to become Nonino monovarietal grappas).

“The vinous aromas that are coming out of the cellars” across Friuli, he said, reminded him “of the harvests of another era.”

The “aromas of the courtyard,” as he put it, “are like the ones I remember from my childhood.”

nonino sisters

Above: It’s not a stretch to say that the Noninos are the nuttiest people I’ve ever met in the wine and food trade. Those are sisters, from left, Elisabetta, Cristina, and Antonella Nonino, with Cristina’s husband Tony. They are always so sweet and energetic. Every time I visit, I learn something new…

Across Italy, yields are lower than they have been in recent years but that “courtyard aroma” has returned.

And he wasn’t the only grower/winemaker who told me that. In the Veneto and Tuscany, I heard cellar masters say exactly the same thing.

And you could smell it everywhere we went. It’s a brilliant aroma of fresh, young wine that literally seduces you.

Most attribute those aromas to the fact that the vintage was a “classic” one: the late spring rains and cooler temperatures made for a more balanced vegetative cycle and pushed back harvest by roughly two weeks. More than one grower noted that she/he hadn’t harvested this late since the 1980s, an era before climate change — whatever its cause — delivered a nearly uninterrupted string of warm, bountiful crops.

Like their winemaking counterparts, the Noninos are expecting to produce less this year but they are thrilled by the quality of the materia prima that arrived at their distillery with this harvest.

When we began to see the 2013 wines in the market, it will be interesting to taste them and remember the aromas of my recent trip. And when I sip a Nonino grappa from Fragolino (my personal favorite) after dinner, I’ll remember that visit to the Nonino vineyards where the yields were low but offset by the rewards of the “courtyard aromas of yesteryear.”

In unrelated news…

One of the winners of the prestigious Nonino prize for the arts and sciences in 2013, physicist Peter Higgs, also became a Nobel laureate this year.

Those crazy Noninos: I don’t know how they do it, but they always seem to be one step ahead of the rest of us.

My piece in @LCI_Magazine & upcoming events where I’ll be speaking

cucina italiana wineWhen the editors of La Cucina Italiana contacted me last year and asked me to write for the magazine, I was thrilled: it’s Italy’s “National Geographic” of gastronomy and it’s also where I got my start as a wine writer way back in 1998 when I worked as the wine editor for the Manhattan office that launched not long after I moved to New York City.

It’s incredible to remember that when I began to work in commercial publishing, email was still new and I had a fax machine (remember those?) in my cubicle that spewed out press releases.

The current issue (November 2013) includes a piece I wrote on Natural wine in Italy today.

In other news…

I’ve got a number of fun tastings coming up. Here they are…

Friday, November 1: Paolo Cantele and I will be presenting his family’s wines at Sotto in Los Angeles, California.

Saturday, November 2: Paolo and I will present the wines at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego, California.

Tuesday, November 5: I’ve been asked to speak at sommelier Michael Garofola’s “second annual Orange Wine Dinner” to be held at Genoa in Portland, Oregon.

If you happen to be in any or all of those cities on those dates, I’d love to taste with you!

Cinque Terre: Walter de Battè’s impossible harvest at Prima Terra (& other harvest news)

walter batte prima terra cinque terre

The photos in this post were sent to me last week by a reader and Italian wine lover, Renzo Carmine, a dude from Tuscany who works selling commercial electrical equipment and visits wineries and vineyards as he travels around the country hawking his wares.

That’s Ligurian winemaker Walter de Battè (above), one of the owners of the Prima Terra winery, harvesting his “impossible” grapes on the unforgiving slopes of the Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore).

harvest cinque terre

This photo gives a better idea of how difficult it is to harvest there.

You can see the village at the bottom of the hillside.

The vineyards in the photos are pergola bassa (low pergola)-trained and are planted to Bosco, Vermentino, and Albarola (and some other grape varieties as well).

And note the mechanized trolley they use (below) to ferry the grapes down to the sorting tables.

harvest 2013 cinque terre rossese

As in other parts of Italy, harvest was delayed by a cool spring and the recent rainfall that affected most of the country. Picking began 10-15 days later than in recent years, wrote Renzo, a datum that aligns with harvest reports from many other Italian appellations.

I like Walter’s wines a lot and am thrilled to post the photos here.

His winery and its landscape reclamation program are part of a bigger campaign led by the FAI (the Italian Foundation for the Environment).

One of my favorite Italian wine bloggers, Luciano Ferraro (wine editor for the Corriere della Sera), recently posted on their work to restore the natural landscape by reviving viticulture in the Cinque Terre.

Thanks again, Renzo, for sending the updates!

Read more about Prima Terra on Walter’s site (with a lot of English-language info) and the U.S. importer’s site.

In other news…

val orcia tuscany wine

Alessandro Bindocci posted this breathtaking photo on his blog last week to mark the end of the Brunello harvest at the Tenuta Il Poggione.

Predictions of an superlative harvest were dampened (excuse the pun) although not dissolved by rains that struck as they were picking the last rows.

Across Italy, grape growers have been disappointed by the rainfall that came just as many were still picking or were just about to pick red grapes.

Ale’s coming to Texas this week and I’ll be attending his seminar at the Houston Sommelier Association on Wednesday. I’ll be curious to see what he has to say about the 2013 harvest.

à la recherche d’objets perdus (thanks for the many notes, wishes, and solidarity)

jewelry thieves austin texas

Thanks to everyone for the tide of condolences, notes of courage!, solidarity, and warm wishes.

The thieves violated our home on Wednesday. Thanks to the support of our community, we had a new front door by dinnertime Thursday. By Saturday, the contractor had completed the finishing touches. And by dinnertime Saturday, our security system was back online.

On Sunday, we were still “discovering” stolen possessions and the talk of the burglary continued to dominate phone calls from loved ones and our conversation at the dinner table.

The photo of the pendant above comes from our jeweler, Monte Franzetti, whose office graciously sent it over with a bill of sale (for me to submit in our insurance claim).

It’s green agate and wasn’t terribly expensive. I gave it to Tracie P the day we came home after she gave birth to Lila Jane, our second daughter, in July.

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