A very special Mother’s Day for the Parzen family

jeremy parzen familyDespite some runny noses, yesterday was a very special Mother’s Day for the Parzen family.

Its was our first Mother’s Day since Lila Jane (left) came into this world last July (Georgia P, right, was born in December 2011).

Being a parent has been such a wonderful experience for me. I have so much fun with both of our girls and they are both so sweet.

But it’s their beautiful mother, Tracie P, who deserves the credit for raising them so well.

Whether it’s researching potty training or sourcing organically grown fruits and vegetables for them to eat, she’s made parenting her full-time focus and she does an incredible job.

My joy in being a parent is rivaled only by that of watching Tracie P be a loving mother. Seeing her raise our girls has made me fall in love all over again with her.

best enchiladas houstonFor our Mother’s Day celebration, we went to Vallone’s on the west side of Houston. It’s my friend and client Tony Vallone’s new homage to americana gastronomy.

Tracie had tortellini stuffed with short ribs and gorgeous piece of grilled red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico. I couldn’t resist have the “Tex,” classic Tex Mex style enchiladas matched with an aged filet mignon.

It was a rich Sunday brunch for us (thanks again, Tony, for treating us!). As I looked out across the dining room, crowded with mothers and their families, I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky I am to have made it to this place in life.

Our family still faces many financial challenges ahead but there could be no greater wealth than sitting at the table with the Parzen girls.

Tracie P, I love you so much: thank you for giving us Lila Jane and Georgia P and thank you for being such a fantastic mother. Every day, you teach me something new about what it means to be a good parent. Your tenderness knows no bounds and it shows in the sweetness of our daughters… I love you.

Soldera prize, a great opportunity for under-35 wine pros

soldera case basse prizeAbove: I’ve had the opportunity to taste with Soldera at his Case Basse estate on a few occasions. It’s true that he can be a grumpy old man sometimes but the conversation is always fascinating.

Now in its fourth year, the International Brunello di Montalcino Case Basse Soldera Award for Young Researchers is currently taking submissions for the 2014 prize (there’s no permalink on his site for the rules and regulations but there is this image file and you can find the info on the news in English page).

Papers may be submitted in Italian or English and although the research must be related to Brunello di Montalcino and Sangiovese, topics are not limited to hard science, viticulture, and ampelography. Wine marketing, for example, is one of the fields included.

According to the competition rules and regulations, applicants — who must be under 35 — may “carry out their research in more depth and benefit from hospitality at [the] Case Basse [estate].”

How cool is that? I can tell you from personal experience that chatting with Soldera and drinking iced tea under the pergola of his courtyard is always a fascinating experience. A visit to his white flower garden alone is worth the price of admission.

News of the new call for submissions came to my attention via Terra, Uomo, Cielo.

Barolo gives Italy its first grape grower political party

barolo political partyAbove: Uniti per Barolo (United for Barolo), a new “civic list” and Italy’s first de facto political party comprised of grape growers and winemakers.

“For the first time in the history of the Italian Republic,” writes today Alessandro Morichetti for the popular Italian wine blog Intravino, “a civic list comprised of grape growers has been born in Barolo with [Vittorio] Toio Manganelli as mayoral candidate.”

A lista civica (a civic or municipal list) is “a party list presented at an Italian local election which has no official connection with a national political party and which campaigns on local issues” (Wiki).

It’s commonly formed around a central candidate. In the case of the newly formed Uniti per Barolo (United for Barolo), Vittorio “Toio” Manganelli, a noted Langa enogastronome and cultural entrepreneur (pictured above, center), is facing off against Barolo village superintendent Renata Bianco in a race to become mayor in the township’s upcoming elections (May 25, 2014).

The lists consists of a number of well-known faces (above) in Langa wine: Achille Barberis, Cecilia Pati, Daniela Viberti, Enzo Brezza, Ferruccio Barberis, Gianni Canonica, Luisella Bussolino, and Marta Rinaldi.

The group’s slogan is “transparency, engagement, and equality in rights and responsibilities.”

Franciacorta’s Yellow Brick Road

maurizio zanella wineAbove: Maurizio Zanella of Ca’ del Bosco is Franciacorta’s Wizard of Oz. The technological advances he’s made in his pursuit of zero-sulfur wines are astounding.

The most amazing thing happened on the last day of Vinitaly, Italy’s annual wine trade fair, held each spring in Verona.

A couple of colleagues from New York, high-powered wine buyers, had asked me to walk them through the Franciacorta pavilion. Both of them work intimately with Italian wines and have years of experience in the Italian wine trade. But neither, they told me, had ever “wrapped his mind” around Franciacorta.

And so we set out together to taste. When they arrived at our first appointment, they were nonplussed. Why, they asked me, in the late afternoon on the last day of the fair, when the grounds were practically empty, was the Franciacorta pavilion brimming with consumers?

Welcome to Franciacorta’s Yellow Brick Road.

grape washing machineAbove: Zanella’s new multi-million-dollar grape washing machine, which he conceived and developed personally. As the winery has expanded its organic farming, Zanella has worked assiduously to eliminate oxidation and the application of sulfur by means of his ingenious contraptions.

Italians love Franciacorta. Here in the U.S., we hardly understand the category. But over the last decade Italians have developed an insatiable thirst for the wines.

On the last day of the fair, the pavilion was still bustling with tasters. On the first three days of the fair, the entrances to the Franciacorta section of the Lombardy pavilion were blocked by security guards who were charged with controlling the overflow of people trying to get in. I had to use my press pass to enter every time I visited.

organic wine italyAbove: my client Barone Pizzini became the first Franciacorta winery to produce certified organic wines in 2001 (note the “bio” or “organic” designation on the seal of the bottle (the day I visited they were rebottling the wines for second fermentation and lees aging). Today, more and more growers are experimenting with organic and biodynamic farming there.

Franciacorta is among the youngest of Italy’s high-profile appellations. Even though fine wines have been produced in Brescia province since the Renaissance, the Franciacorta classic method DOCG was created relatively recently (1995).

Sparkling wines were first made there in the 1960s by a handful of wealthy landowners. For the most part, they were Italian industrialists who had vacation villas in the beautiful wine country that lies to the south of Lake Iseo, part of Lombardy’s chic lake district (Como is the most famous). And three decades would pass before classic-method wines would become the focus of winemaking in Brescia province.

Today, the viticultural landscape has changed radically, thanks in no small measure to a new generation of growers and homegrown winemaking consultants.

Most of the small growers used to sell all of their fruit to the big négociant houses. Today many are bottling their own fruit and marketing the wines themselves. Family-run estates like Camossi and Colline della Stella have become the darlings of Italian wine insiders, for example.

Franciacorta’s new wave has begun to reshape Italian consumers’ perception of the wines and their ethos in the marketplace. But there are still a number of factors working against the success of winemakers’ efforts. Chiefly, the wines continue to be marketed as an alternative to their transalpine counterparts. Another major problem faced by growers and bottlers is a boom-and-bust approach to production and pricing (33,000 bottles of Franciacorta were recently sold at auction for just €8,000, for example).

In my view, Franciacorta is one of the most exciting appellations in Italy today and I have a number of posts lined up on the wines I tasted on my recent visit there. I’ll also be posting on new and potentially revolutionary approach to classic-method winemaking. Stay tuned…

Please see this post that I wrote for Barone Pizzini on “What makes Franciacorta so unique in the panorama of Italian wines.”

Native American sparkler from Los Pilares

Taste with me this week in Texas (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio).
Click here for details.

michael christian pilares san diegoIt’s always a treat for me to catch up and taste with Michael Christian (above), founder of Los Pilares in San Diego.

In 2012, the winery made a big splash on the American wine scene when top wine writers like Alice Feiring embraced it as the new voice of Southern Californian viticulture.

Until Michael began making wine in Southern California (where I grew up), consumption was almost entirely local and few bottles shipped beyond San Diego county. Today, Michael’s wines can be found as far north as San Francisco, where competition in the domestic market is fierce.

sparkling wine pilares ladonaWeekend before last, when I was visiting San Diego (my hometown), Michael reached out and asked if I’d like to taste his new wine, a méthode ancestrale made from Muscat Blanc grapes grown on the Rincon Indian Reservation in San Diego County, where the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians live and thrive today.

There is a long tradition of growing Muscat Blanc in this far corner of the U.S. and he wanted to make a wine (a new one in his portfolio), he said, that would be an expression of historical viticulture there.

I liked the wine a lot. It was fresh and bright on the nose, with notes of herbs and dried stone fruit, and in the mouth it had a wonderful and delicate bitterness that offset the ripeness of the citrus notes. He said that some of the clusters had been crushed whole and he ascribed this balance to the fact that not all the fruit was destemmed.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this wine, when released, will become another hit among the Californian wine cognoscenti. The wine will be called Los Pilares LaDona 2013 San Diego County Sparkling Muscat, a homage to local radio personality LaDona Harvey.

(That’s my older brother Tad, btw, in the background of the photo, playing guitar with his jazz quartet, Sounds like 4, at the Café-Bar Europa in Pacific Beach, where Michael and I met. They sounded great.)

pilares grenacheI also liked Michael’s new 2012 red, which is made from 100% Grenache. In that vintage, he had some issues with his Carignan, he said, and so this release is monovarietal.

As with the LaDona, the thing that struck me about this wine was its freshness on the nose. And in the mouth, the wine was vibrantly delicious, with notes of ripe dark red fruit and a wonderful lightness in body that made the wine very food friendly and very “drinkable,” as the Italians like to say.

I thoroughly enjoy Michael’s wines and I love that he’s spearheaded a new wave of Southern Californian viticulture. It’s taken too long for the wave of the “new Californian” wines to take root in San Diego, where a heavy metal approach to winemaking still prevails.

Thanks again, Michael, for the wine and for taking the time to connect.

May you feast on fat things full of marrow and wines on the lees well refined!

Taste with me this month in Texas & California @CanteleWines @SottoLA @CaptainWine

jeremy parzen canteleI’ll be pouring Cantele wines at Central Market locations in Dallas (Southlake) Weds. May 7, Houston Fri. May 9, and San Antonio Sat. May 10.

Please click here for details.

And I’ll be pouring some of my favorite Southern Italian and Californian rosés when Rory and I lead our rosati tasting at Sotto (where he and I co-author the wine list) in Los Angeles on Tues. May 20 (details to follow).

Buon weekend, yall!

New York USA America’s coolest wine city

dave foss wineAbove: Dave Foss uses the Coravin on a Cirelli 2011 amphora Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo at Joe Campanale’s Anfora. Depending on the guest, Dave gracefully and seamlessly switches gears from über wine nerd to “you like Cab? I’ve got just the thing for you.”

Some years ago now, when Milanese poet Luigi Ballerini (my dissertation advisor) invited me to contribute an Italian essay to his Perché New York? (Why New York?, Scritture, Piacenza, 2007), he asked me to write about city’s virtues as one of the great gastronomic destinations of the world.

I was eager to write something. But it was New York, a mecca for wine, that I wanted to describe. Luigi thought it was a great idea. And so I wrote about a legendary showdown between two of the most colorful characters in the Italian wine scene there (you’ll have to track down the book to find out who).

ed mcarthy wineAbove, from left: Ed McCarthy (the Studs Terkel of wine writing and one of America’s foremost experts on Champagne), Mary Ewing-Mulligan (the first woman in America to become a Master of Wine and leading US wine educator and writer), and Charles Scicolone (Italian wine maven and the man who taught me to love traditional Nebbiolo and Sangiovese). Ed treated us to 1995 Pol Roger Champagne Rosé on Monday night.

I lived between Brooklyn and Manhattan for ten years (1997-2007) and during that decade I watched the Italian wine scene explode there.

Between Nicola Marzovilla’s all-Italian list at I Trulli and Joe Bastianich’s all-Italian list at Babbo, both launched in the late 1990s, the New York restaurant scene provided the backdrop and epicenter for the Italian wine renaissance throughout the world.

And while Italian wines arguably made the biggest splash during my early years there, that period also saw an explosion of so many other wine categories that have been embraced by wine professionals and wine lovers across the U.S.

pascaline lepeltier wineAbove: on my trip to the City this week, I finally met Pascaline Lepeltier, one of the hippest sommeliers working in the U.S. today. She poured me the super groovy Champagne Bulles de comptoir by Charles Dufour.

Would San Diegans and Angelinos know Savennières and Anjou today if it weren’t for New Yorkers like grumpy Joe Dressner (may he rest in peace) and fiery Alice Feiring? (Alice, whom I met early on, became one of my most cherished mentors.)

As I hopped from tasting to tasting, wine shop to wine shop, wine bar to wine bar, and wine list to wine list on Monday and Tuesday, I fell in love with this wine city all over again.

Take me out, any evening, for wine in Rome, Paris, or London. They are among the great wine destinations in the world today.

But there’s just no place like New York USA.

Del Posto a night at the opera

del posto octopus new yorkAbove: Charred Octopus with Umbrian garbanzo, celery hearts, and 25-year Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.

Paolo, Adam, Zachary, and I had an epic night Tuesday at Del Posto in Manhattan.

From Jewish boy stomach to A.J. Liebling, to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the conversation was as wild as the food and wine.

I posted images and notes (including our celebrity sighting) today over at the Boulder Wine Merchant blog

Thanks again, Paolo!

Cune Rioja a revelation for me

cune spain wineAbove: I was so fortunate to be invited to a fantastic vertical of Cune with Victor Urrutia Ybarra, who led one of the most thoughtful tastings I’ve attended this year.

Four cities, three time zones, one gig, and five days spent crisscrossing the U.S… I’ve tasted so many memorable and interesting wines — from Californian to French, Spanish, and Italian — over the last week.

But the experience that continues to urge in my mind was a vertical tasting of the wines of Cune, stretching back to 1962, with the winery’s director, Victor Urrutia Ybarra.

Because of my focus on Italian wines, I’m rarely invited to taste older and fully mature Spanish and I was thrilled that my friend and media consultant extraordinaire Donna White invited me to attend the intimate gathering in the wine cellar at The Fourth in Manhattan.

Victor, whose elegance is rivaled only by his thoughtful and earnest approach in presenting his family’s wines, led a small group of leading Manhattan wine professionals through three mini-verticals, covering the winery’s current releases, the 1980s, and 1970s. The oldest wine was the 1962 Viña Real Gran Reserva.

old wine corksAbove: none of the wines, which arrived from the winery’s cellar in Rioja, had been re-corked or reconditioned. The Fourth’s able sommelier Jhonel Faelnar did a superb job of serving the wines.

The freshness, vibrant fruit and acidity, and lithe yet muscular body of these wines were a revelation for me. In particular, the 1976 Imperial Gran Reserva struck me as an expression of the unbearable lightness that makes the great wines of the world stand apart from the rest.

And it was remarkable to see how little the style of the wines has changed over the arc of our lifetime.

Victor spoke about how his family hadn’t followed the bigger-bolder trend of Spanish wines that gripped the nation in the years of its eno-renaissance.

And as Master Sommelier Roger Dagorn observed, all of the wines — from the current releases to the oldest lot — had a wonderful “vinous” quality, a red thread that ran through them, illustrating their immense aging potential.

Even the 1962, which Victor felt had passed its prime, was delicious, with lovely, however delicate, notes of fruit and herbs.

But as much as I loved the 62, the 1981 Viña Real Gran Reserva and the 1976 Imperial Gran Reserva were standouts for me.

Thank you, Donna, for inviting me to this extraordinary event.

And thank you, Victor, for one of the most thoughtful tastings I’ve attended this year. I loved the wines.