Wines for a Bayou Christmas (or what I pair with uncle Tim’s gumbo)


Above: Uncle Tim’s gumbo from a Christmas past. You put the potato salad — made with hard-boiled eggs — right into the bowl.

As I have done every year since I moved to Texas five holiday seasons ago, I’ll be spending Christmas eve on Cow Bayou in Bridge City, East Texas (about 20 minutes up the road from Orange, where Tracie P was born).

Uncle Tim will make his famous gumbo, spiked with his hard-boiled-egg-laced potato salad, Aunt Pam (not really our aunt, but she still kisses me on the lips) will bring fried boudin balls, and I’ll bring a mixed case of wine.

boudin balls

Above: Fried boudin balls, a specialty of Cajun cuisine, uncased boudin (pork and rice sausage, commonly found in Louisiana and East Texas) dredged in flour and cornmeal and fried.

The get-together will include roughly 30 relatives and extended family friends, each with her/his personal beverage preferences (uncle Tim’s is Chivas and diet Sprite).

As for many American families, Christmas isn’t the occasion for breaking out my ten-year-old Nebbiolo or the single-vineyard Burgundy I’ve been saving. No, it’s time for value and crowd pleasers. No meditation wines here, ma’am, just some good ol’ reliable grape wine.

Click here to continue reading my Christmas wine recommendations for the Houston Press…

Caracol another sexy high-concept entry in the Houston restaurant scene

caracol houston hugo ortega

Above: Ostiones asados, baked Gulf of Mexico oysters, a signature dish at the newly opened Caracol in Houston, where the restaurant scene is literally exploding with new high-concept entries.

Despite Houston’s manic traffic, I managed to drop by the newly opened Caracol last night in time for happy hour.

The restaurant, celeb chef Hugo Ortega’s latest effort, is the most recent in a string of new entries into the city’s vibrant and ceaselessly expanding restaurant scene.

The new “Mexican coastal cuisine” concept opened on Monday, December 16, said general manager and beverage director, Sean Beck, who now runs four major wine programs in town.

heidi schrock

Above: I really loved the unctuous mouthfeel and rich aromatic character of the Heidi Schröck 2012 Gelber Muskateller. I’m so geeked to see what Sean is going to do with his list.

Sean insisted that I try the oysters (above) and they were delicious. But I would have loved to have sampled the Tacos de Gusano, “sautéed dired maguey worms,” yes, worms, with “guacamole, tortillas, and salsa verde.”

They were out last night but they would have paired well with the the Pol Roger NV Champagne that Sean has on the list for $60 (YES, 60 buckaroos!).

As much as I believe that San Francisco is currently the number-one restaurant destination in the U.S. today, with New York on its heels, Houston — now America’s third-largest city after NYC and LA — is really beginning to adolesce.

Caracol is going to be a winner and a national player, for sure.

Although he’s shuttling between all four of the group’s restaurants these days, Sean is spending most of his time at Caracol. You can keep up with Sean sightings and where he’ll be working on a given night by following his Twitter.

In other news…

Please check out Levi Dalton’s excellent interview with Gaia Gaja for his “I’ll drink to that” podcast. Gaia is very candid with Levi about what’s been changing at the winery over the last decade and as always, Levi surprises me and teaches me something new by means of the questions he poses.

And I LOVED this post by my good friend and homegirl Samantha Sans Dosage, who shares her experiences as a buyer for a major So. Cal. wine shop. The holidays are always intense for anyone who works in the wine trade and I fell out of my breakfast chair this morning reading her descriptions of the often hard-to-palate questions she’s asked.

#BestMeals2013: at home with Annalisa & Primo Franco in Valdobbiadence

soppressa veneta

Above: Classic Soppressa Trevigiana. Primo told me that it came from Christian Zago’s farm down the road.

There are great meals for the food and wine that are served. And there are great meals for the people with whom you share them. Sometimes, stars align and you find yourself seated at the table of those whom you admire most.

For me, once such dinner this year took place in the home of Annalisa and Primo Franco, together with their daughter Silvia, in late September of this year.

I owe so much to Primo.

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Citing market confusion, Australia rejects EU bid to prohibit Prosecco as grape name

prosecco grapes

Above: Glera — previously known as Prosecco — grapes from the 2012 harvest in the Prosecco DOCG (Asolo, Valdobbiadene, Conegliano). In 2009, the creation of the Prosecco DOCG changed the name of the Prosecco grape to Glera.

According to a blog post by the Australian law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, the Australian trademarks registrar has rejected a European Union bid to make Prosecco an Australian geographical indication (i.e., appellation) and to prohibit the use of Prosecco as a grape name.

The EU had filed the appeal in a bid to force Australian winemakers to use “Glera” as the name of the grape used in wines labeled as “Prosecco.”

The EU legal move was intended to align Australian labeling and marketing regulation with the Prosecco DOCG, which officially renamed the Prosecco grape “Glera” in 2009.

Since the 2009 creation of the DOCG, Veneto and Friuli producers of Prosecco have called their grapes Glera. The new labeling requirements were introduced by the Prosecco Consortium, which believed that the new classification would eliminate market confusion.

Michael Arblaster, the Australian Deputy Registrar of Trademarks, also “refused to exercise his (broad) discretion to direct the Geographical Indications Committee (GIC) to consider the Prosecco GI application.”

He did so based on the following issues, according to the report published by Corrs Chambers Westgarth:

  • the confusion worldwide as to whether Prosecco is a GI, a grape variety or a style of wine;
  • that Prosecco has been available as a variety name for use by Australian producers since 1994 (and is the only official name for that grape variety);
  • and that the effect of registering the Prosecco GI would be to prevent producers from continuing to use Prosecco as the name of a grape variety (which is exactly the mischief that the [Wine Australia Corporation] Act is designed to avoid).
  • The court’s decision is sure to be seen as a blow to the Prosecco DOCG Consortium’s efforts to reshape the “Prosecco” brand beyond Italy’s borders.

    “Italians are often surprised by the fact that we make Prosecco here,” writes the author of a blog published by Austrlian wine importer Trembath and Taylor, “and most of it is pretty good. I’ve had much worse imported Prosecco – Aldi anyone? – than I have had local so it’s hard to argue that Australian Prosecco is damaging the Prosecco ‘brand.’ Rather the opposite in fact. You couldn’t give Prosecco away ten years ago and wineries such as Dal Zotto have done a great job of promoting the category.”

    “In Australia, we are seeing a ‘downgrade’ of Prosecco as restaurants and retailers look to increase margin by purchasing cheaper brands of imported Prosecco. Unfortunately, it makes no difference to them, or the drinker, if its DOC or DOCG.”

    happy birthday Georgia P! You are the light and love of our lives

    most beautiful little girl in the world

    Above: Today is Georgia P’s second birthday! She’ll have a proper party with her family and friends on Saturday. But today she woke up to blueberry pancakes and two of her presents. One is a music box (see the video below) and the other is her “I’m a big girl now” chair. It’s hard to believe she’s already two! She LOVES brushing her teeth.

    Dearest Georgia P,

    Today is your second birthday! Happy birthday to you!

    Your mommy and I love you so very much and want you to know how proud you make us. We could have never imagined the unending joy that you have brought into our lives with your hugs, kisses, laughter, and smiles.

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    Letter from Abruzzo: “no relief for the human damage and pain”

    cirelli wine abruzzo italy

    Above: The Cirelli farm in the Atri township in Teramo province, Abruzzo last week.

    The following letter was sent to me late last week by my friend, grape grower and winemaker Francesco Cirelli, who produces Trebbiano, Cerasuolo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. I think you’ll find it as moving as I did. And I also think you’ll be interested to see the tendone– (i.e., pergola-) trained vines, however blurry the photos. My translation of his email follows. Thanks for reading.


    Ciao Jeremy,

    I’ve attached some photos of the snowfall that we had at the end of November.

    Fortunately, as far as I know, there was no serious damage in the Atri township.

    In the area where I grow grapes, more damage was done by the heavy rainfall that flooded the flats [last week]. The fields had been plowed and were ready to be seeded. At this point, we’ll skip this year’s harvest.

    tendone training vineyards

    As you can see in the photos of tendone-trained vines, despite the fact that no pre-pruning was done, they did not collapse.

    As you already know, certain areas were hit with a different type of snow, a much heavier snow that caused vines to collapse after accumulating on the leaves. It’s a tragedy.

    There’s already been a lot of discussion among Abruzzo winemakers and we’ve been trying to decide how we should express our solidarity to our fellow winemakers who have been affected by this tragedy.

    pergola trained vineyards

    I know that some of the more important winemakers have already sent letters to the authorities and I hope that the government will respond by offering financial aid, the only remedy at this point, for the extraordinary damage caused by the storm.

    There is no relief for the human damage and pain caused by the storm. That’s the saddest thing.

    The government may not be able to help. But we grape growers can help by rolling up our sleeves and helping to clean up the vineyards that have collapsed. That’s the best way we can offer our support and show our compassion.

    Francesco Cirelli

    Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: a new star is born

    best vino nobile montepulciano

    Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is one of those appellations that has been eclipsed since the 1970s by big business interests. Like Chianti, it was one of Italy’s grape growing areas that swiftly aligned itself with the corporate agendas of the “me” generation.

    Today, there is just a handful of producers who rise above the fray of the négociants: Fanetti, Crociani, Sanguineto, Godiolo, Boscarelli…

    They — all of whom make great wines — deserve mention here because another is about to join their ranks: last night I tasted a sample bottle of the Salcheto Rosso di Montepulciano Obvius and I was simply floored by how lip-smacking good it was.

    According to the Salcheto site, the wine is made from organic grapes, vinified with ambient (naturally occurring) yeasts, and no sulfur is applied whatsoever.

    But who cares???!!!

    When I tasted it last night, I felt like I was living the junkie’s dream of that first high. It reminded me of that fateful bottle of Sangiovese that I drank at a friend’s father’s place in Montalcino paired with fried boar’s liver nearly 25 years ago. It was ELECTRIC!

    This was the Sangiovese — the real Sangiovese, with classic notes of rich ripe plum and lip-splitting acidity — that I’ve been looking for all these years.

    It’s that good… If you taste it and don’t like it, please send it to me.

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    Kermit Lynch & Alice Waters @ Chino Farms last weekend

    kermit lynch best wine

    Above: Kermit Lynch, left, with our good friend Jayne Battle, owner of Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego with her daughter Romy.

    Before I hopped on a plane back to Austin, Texas on Saturday afternoon, I drove north from La Jolla, California to the famous Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe (about 30 minutes from where I grew up).

    Legacy Bay Area wine merchant Kermit Lynch and slow food revolutionary and restaurateur Alice Waters were celebrating their new books: his, a 25th-anniversary re-issue of Adventures on the Wine Route and hers, a second volume in the series The Art of Simple Food.

    alice waters

    Above: Alice Waters did a lot to put Chino Farms on the map. When I was a kid growing in San Diego county, it was a weekend destination for great produce out where the ultra-rich lived (and still do live). See this NY Times article from 1988.

    It wasn’t surprising to see the lines of admirers, 40- and 50-persons deep, who had gathered for a frontispiece dedication and autograph. After all, Kermit and Alice, who frequented the same nascent enogastronomic circles back in the day, have arguably done more than anyone else in the U.S. to introduce bourgeois and otherwise uppercrust consumers to the pleasures and health-enhancing properties of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

    chino farms

    Above: The produce at Chino Farms is expensive and worth every penny. The high-end restaurant Market, just down the road, sources most of its ingredients from the celebrated fruit and vegetable stand. I highly recommend both.

    When you journey to Chino Farms, you drive past an unending landscape of California ranches, exclusive country clubs, and polo stables etc.

    Rancho Santa Fe hosts and boasts one of the world’s richest and most conservative communities. Ann Romney, Mitt’s wife, stables her dressage horses there and often shows them at local competitions.

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    Bartolo Mascarello 97 to celebrate the birth of Aiden & Liam Yelenosky

    megan yelenosky

    It was such a joy for me to finally meet Aiden and Liam Yelenosky, who came into this world on Monday November 4, 2013.

    That’s their dad John Yelenosky — affectionately known as “Yele” — one of my best friends of all time. He and I grew up together in La Jolla, California, playing basketball and playing music, not always staying out of trouble but always looking out for one another.

    John and his wife Megan — both top wine professionals; he a rep for Southern, she a beverage director for a major San Diego hotel — faced some tough challenges over the arc of time that spanned their decision to have children and the day their twin boys arrived. But they never lost their optimism, even in the lowest moments, and their love for one another and their desire to have a family were never diminished.

    1997 bartolo mascarello barolo

    Making my last business trip to southern California for 2013, I was thrilled to spend some precious hours together with their new family and Jayne and Jon at Jaynes Gastropub.

    Even though I’ve lived in Texas for five years now, Tracie P and I have stayed very close with John and Megan and Jon and Jayne. And now we all have families. Jon and Jayne were the first, then Tracie P and I, and now the circle is complete.

    To commemorate the occasion we opened a bottle of 1997 Barolo by Bartolo Mascarello from my cellar. What an incredible bottle of wine! One of the best I’ve had this year. Fresh and electric with acidity and notes of ripe berry fruit balanced by that classic earthiness that you find in the Mascarello family’s wines. A stunning bottle for a moment I’ll never forget…

    Congratulations, Megan and John. Tracie P and I are so happy for you and so proud of you. We love you a lot…