The difference between how Italians & Americans view wine: poop

From the department of “reductive reasoning” (winemakers will get the joke)…

dario cecchini tuscan butcherAbove: pork salumi, rendered lard, and beef steaks in the meat case at Dario Cecchini’s famous butcher shop in Panzano in the heart of Chianti Classico. No Italian in their right mind would eat rendered lard without a glass of wine.

A lacuna in Eric Asimov’s brilliant article last week in the Times, “A Guide to Drinking Wine at Home,” reminded me of a hilarious anecdote from my time as a grad student in Italian at U.C.L.A.

Every year, when professors from Italy would visit for this or that conference, we would ferry them to dinner in LA’s downtown Asian-American neighborhood (often at ABC Seafood).

On the occasion of an Italian Futurism conference, I remember well, my dissertation advisor and I shuttled a small group of top scholars to one our favorite restaurants there. None of them had ever been to California and they were all excited about the feast that awaited them.

Please order for us, they implored, and we were happy to oblige.

And then, one of them, a professor from Bologna, asked, what wine will be drinking?

When we explained that the traditional accompaniment to most Asian cuisine was hot tea and that the only alcoholic option was beer, said professor (who shall remain nameless) stood up and proclaimed, I cannot eat dinner without wine!

As the Italian department’s de facto factotum (excuse the pun), I was enlisted to source a bottle of vino (and you can imagine the swill I delivered from a downtown LA liquor store).

Said professor was satisfied with the quality of the plonk and the dinner proceeded without further international incident.

Many years later, as I became a self-aware gourmet, it occurred to me that the episode illustrates a fundamental difference in how Americans and Italians perceive wine’s role at the dinner table.

Italians, like many current-generation Americans, view wine “as an ordinary part of their meals, like salt or bread,” as Eric wrote of the new American wine lover.

But they also see it as an elemental digestive aid, a mealtime component that will help them metabolize their food (in other words, ahem, as a tonic that will help them take a good shit the next day).

Some say that the Puritanical origins of proto-American culture continue to this day to make us squeamish about poop.

Italians generally espouse an antipodal attitude about defecation. Just the other day, for example, an Italian friend and colleague — a male in his forties like me — described his upcoming colonoscopy in great detail. And the conversation was part of a longer discourse on colitis and other gastroenteritis caused by eating heavy foods while selling wine to restaurateurs here in the U.S.

The bottom line (I can’t help myself, sorry) is that Italians enjoy an enlightened disposition in regard to digestion. After all, the earliest mention of the bidet in print is ascribed to an Italian. Although the French were the ones to popularize it with the rise of modern plumbing, the bidet is one of the Italians’ great gifts to humankind, on par with Marconi’s radio (at least in my view).

So please read Eric’s excellent article. His offers great advice for American wine lovers today on how to buy, collect, and drink wine. I highly recommend it to you.

But the next time you drink wine at dinner, please think about how the wine makes you feel the next day and how it helps you to digest your food.

The ultimate tasting note, nearly any Italian will tell you, is how you evacuate…

Taste a favorite Prosecco (Colfòndo) with me in So. Cal. in October

jeremy parzenAbove: no, thankfully, I won’t be performing any Air Guitar at the tastings. There will be groovy musique however! Hope to see you at one or the other or both…

I’m geeked to share the news that I’ll be pouring wines by my client Bele Casel in Los Angeles and San Diego in October, including their Prosecco Colfòndo, one of me and Tracie P’s all-time favorite wines.

If you happen to be out that way, please come and taste with me.

Details follow.

Tuesday, Oct. 14
6-8 p.m.
6801 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 932-0280
Google map

Jaynes Gastropub
Saturday, Oct. 18
3:30-5:30 p.m.
$20 (includes passed bites by Jayne and team)
4677 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 563-1011
Google map

terraviva degustazione

Date night Houston with Tracie P, fantastic conch ceviche & groovy Bourgogne blanc

best ceviche recipe houstonIt’s not easy finding “alone” time for parents with small children like us.

But now that we’re settled into our new lives in Houston, the stars occasionally align for a baby sitter and a date night.

On Saturday, I took Tracie P to Caracol, a chic and smart Mexican seafood restaurant here in Houston and one of my favorite restaurants in the U.S. right now.

Chef Hugo Ortega’s cooking is always fantastic but the thing that takes it over the top is wine director Sean Beck’s excellent, value-driven wine list.

We drank a delightful Oregon Pinot Gris by the glass with the tender conch ceviche above.

camerones en escabeche recetta houstonThe camarones en escabeche were also great.

The escabeche was delicately seasoned and not overly sour, the shrimp perfect salted and grilled.

One of the things I love about Caracol is how cosmopolitan the crowd is there. You always see lots of sharply dressed young south American professionals at the bar (where we love to eat).

But that night, I only had eyes for Tracie P.

correct way to slice prosciuttoNext we headed over the Camerata, the city’s hippest wine bar these days (and the place where all the visiting international wine celebs hang).

We love chef Felipe Riccio’s affettati and cheese selection.

Not just one but two orders were placed for his expertly sliced prosciutto, which accompanied a super tasty bottle of Bourgogne Blanc Le Petit Têtu 2012 by négociant Jean-Marie Berrux.

petit tetu burgundy chardonnayWhen the wine opened with some apple cider notes, I was worried that it might go south.

But it quickly snapped into focus and white and white stone fruit aromas and flavors emerged along with good balance in alcohol and acidity.

I didn’t know the wine but Monday morning googling revealed that it’s pretty hard to come by. The fact that you can drink it here is another example of how Houston, in my view, is swiftly becoming one of America’s top wine cities (more on that later).

By the time we left to turn back into pumpkins (around 9:30), we were surrounded by young blue bloods, finance and energy managers who swirled and sniffed their glasses with an earnestness that would rival that of their counterparts in lower Manhattan.

Tracie P and I have been married now for nearly five years. With two little girls now and a move to Houston earlier this year, our lives have changed a lot since we first drank beer and danced at the Continental Club in Austin back in 2008.

But “eating at the bar” is still our favorite thing to do together. And we’re happy to live in a city that always seems to have a spot and a bottle to accommodate us.

I love sipping with you, beautiful Tracie P… What a fun night! I love you.

Cult BBQ with J.C. Reid, leading ‘cue commentator & connoisseur

cork screw bbqAbove: BBQ waits for no one at Cork Screw BBQ in Spring, Texas, where the line begins to form at 8 a.m. for an 11 a.m. open.

There was a time in Texas, I’ve been told, before citizens would begin lining up early in the morning to get a taste of limited-edition cult BBQ.

Some say that Snow’s in Lexington (about an hour east of Austin) was the first pit master to attract such an early morning crowd.

But it was Franklin’s in Austin (proper), opened in 2009, that irrevocably created a new BBQ vernacular: BBQ zealotry punctuated by early-morning commitment and/or long waits under the Texas sun to savor the coveted gelatinous beef fat or pork product of choice.

With Killen’s, which opened earlier this year, Houston got its first high-profile cult BBQ destination — including the long waits and disappointed customers who don’t make it to the front of the line in time for their favorite cut.

chris jc reid bbq texas writerAbove: J.C. Reid, left, travels across Texas and the United States writing about BBQ. Georgia P and cousin Marty sit to his left.

On Saturday morning, Georgia P, cousin Marty, and I joined J.C. Reid — the foremost authority on Texas BBQ in my view — and his beautiful wife Tamara for a meal at Cork Screw BBQ in Spring, about forty minutes north of Houston.

“Chris,” as he is known to his friends, was the first in line when the cashier opened at 11 a.m.: he had been there since 7:30 holding his place (read the Cork Screw FAQ for queue etiquette [please excuse the pun on ‘cue]).

In his weekly BBQ column for the Houston Chronicle (launched in April 2014), Chris wrote that Cork Screw’s “smoked meats now rank with the city and state’s best, and the bar will likely keep getting raised higher.”

Click here for the article. It’s a great window into the commitment and unbridled passion that go into great BBQ (I love the line about the “thousand-yard stare”).

foldover sandwichAbove: a “fold over,” in southern parlance, when you make a sandwich using one slice of bread. The brisket — the sine qua non of BBQ in Texas — was outstanding, with melt-in-your-mouth texture, well balanced rub (seasoning), and integrated smokiness (a key factor in the best BBQ in my experience).

Chris has written about BBQ for a number of top mastheads (including the New York Times).

We became friends a few years after I moved to Austin in 2008 via social media thanks to our shared love of central Italian cookery (we’re planning a carbonara-fueled trip together to Rome in spring 2015).

The thing that sets him apart from the current and past generation of BBQ chroniclers in Texas (blowhards, for the most part) is that he sets his sites beyond the state’s borders.

He and his wife are world travelers and gourmets and he’s acutely aware (and self-aware) of BBQ’s role in the americana gastronomic canon (a grad of USC, he has also worked as an architect in New York and the chief of a web hosting company here in Houston).

When I thanked him for holding our place in line, he smiled and told me he was happy to do it.

“It’s my job,” he said.

The best place to follow Chris is his Twitter, where he posts a subscription-free link to his Houston Chronicle column each week. See also his article, published last week, on favorite BBQ destinations beyond Houston and the Texas tradition of the “BBQ run.”

Children of a lesser Brett: in defense of Negroamaro @GianniCantele @WineSurf @CanteleWines

best negroamaro harvest 2014Please check out my post today for my client Cantele.

In response to a plaintive op-ed about overly wooded and dense Negroamaro by Tuscan wine writer Carlo Macchi, Cantele winemaker Gianni Cantele delivers a heart-felt and brutally honest, soul-bearing letter.

Click here to read my excerpted translation of Carlo’s post and complete translation of Gianni’s response.

L’shanah tovah, yall…

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year…

apple honey recipe jewish new yearIt was the best of years, it was the worst of years. It was a year of wisdom, it was a year of foolishness, it was a year of belief, it was a year of incredulity…

Looking back on the year gone by, I can’t help but think of the dichotomy of emotions that have pulsed through us.

This summer, we finally settled into our new home in Houston, where proximity to parents and cousins has made life so much simpler and fun.

We celebrated Lila Jane’s first birthday and she’s getting ready to start walking. Georgia P began talking and has started to express her interest in music.

Business is good and I’ve finally landed my first wine consortium client — a big career goal for me. I even sold a couple of songs this year.

At home, it couldn’t have been a better year.

Outside our home, we see a world in tumultu. Six years have passed since I first came to Texas to start a family with Tracie P and so many wonderful things have happened for us in that time. But we also worry about the world that our children will inherit and inhabit.

My work in the restaurant world has shown me some of the darker sides of modern life this year.

And in Italy, despite the brave face that many growers are wearing, harvest is proving to be immensely challenging.

For everyone who visits here, I wish a happy and healthy year ahead. May your hearts be filled with joy. And may G-d bless us all.

L’shanah tovah. Happy new year. I’ll see you on Friday.

Image via Rachel’s Flickr.

Groovy wines tasted in LA last week & an AMAZING Sardinian

bonci verdicchio best jesi 1999Purple teeth and numb gums.

That’s what happens when you taste as many wines as we did last week in Los Angeles.

All in all, my colleagues and I (see below) “tasted through” roughly 120 wines over the course of three days at Sotto, where we are rebooting a wine list that had lost its sense of direction and purpose.

These days, there are so many fantastic wines available in California, where the financial recovery and what are perhaps the most liberal wine regulations in the country combine to deliver a tide of interesting labels.

I’m not sure that any of these will make it on to the list at Sotto, where I’ve been co-curating the program for nearly three years now. But here are my personal highlights from last week’s tastings.

Supreme among them was the 1999 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Riserva Le Case (above). What a wine! I tasted the 1998 last year in Philadelphia at Vetri and found this vintage to be even more mineral-driven and nuanced with layers and layers of dried and fresh stone fruit. Simply stunning…

gostolai galania best sardinian wineThe Verdicchio was my top wine from the tastings but, man, the Gostolai 2012 Galanìa — a blend of Arvesiniadu and Alvarega (a Malvasia clone) — was a close second and a wine that just blew me away with its originality. Fantastic freshness and vibrancy, wonderful tropical and stone fruit tempered by a strong note of orange zest. If you’re into Italian wine, you need to taste this. It’s just one of those nothing-else-like-it wines.

struzziero fiano 2012I’ve always been a Struzziero fan ever since I first tasted the wines (in Cleveland in 2006, while on tour with my band Nous Non Plus). But the 2012 single-vineyard Fiano, as the Italians say, had una marcia in più, an extra gear under the hood. The floral notes on the nose were practically aphrodisiacal.
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Ray Isle features my friend & client Paolo Cantele in Food & Wine

paolo cantele wine pugliaEver since we met in 2009, Paolo Cantele (above, right) and I have been close friends.

We bonded over our shared interest in Italian literature, our left-leaning politics, and our appreciation of life’s sensorial pleasures. All it took was a mention of Pasolini for our friendship to click (if you every meet Paolo, ask him to tell you his fantastic Ninetto Davoli story).

A few years ago, I began working with Paolo’s family’s winery in Guagnano (Lecce province, Puglia) as a content creator for their English-language online media presence.

It’s been a lot of fun working with Paolo, his brother and cousins. And so you can imagine my joy when I learned that Ray Isle, one of the leading wine writers working in the U.S. today, featured them in the current issue of Food & Wine.

But the coolest thing is that Ray’s piece, “Does Italian Food Really Pair Best with Italian Wine?,” isn’t just a mere winemaker/winery profile.

In the story, he takes a close and thoughtful look at the nature of food and wine pairing in globalized culture.

“In the U.S.,” he writes, “we can drink everything, from anywhere. In supermarkets, bottles from Germany bump up against bottles from New Zealand, and so on around the globe. We’re overwhelmed with choice. By contrast, there on the terrace at Cantele, everything I had cooked and everything we were drinking (with the exception of my transcontinental additions) had come from just down the road. Maybe believing in an affinity between the wine and food of a region is just romantic foolishness. On the other hand, elusive as those connections may be, I’d rather think they’re the whole point.”

Damn, I wish I would have written that!

It’s a really great piece of writing and you may be surprised by Ray’s experiment and his findings.

Click here to read Ray’s piece on the CanteleUSA blog.

Boulder Burgundy Festival, a new & very fun project for me

rajat parr sommelier burgundyAbove: Rajat Parr (right) is just one of the super groovy celeb sommeliers who will be pouring at this year’s Boulder Burgundy Festival. How friggin’ cool is that?

Being an Italian wine blogger has its perks. Italian wine collectors have been extremely generous with me and over the years, I’ve had the chance to taste many old and rare bottles from my favorite producers.

The downside in Italian wine blogging is that French collectors aren’t always as eager to let me taste with them.

That’s just one of the reasons I was thrilled that Master Sommelier and Boulder Wine Merchant owner Brett Zimmerman asked me to create a blog for the 2014 Boulder Burgundy Festival (November 21-23).

Yesterday, we launched the new blog (click here to view). I’ll be posting there regularly as we lead up to the event. And in November, I’ll be heading to Boulder to attend the tastings and dinners and “cover” them for Brett’s new blog.

I met Brett many years ago through the wine trade and this spring, he asked me to become a contributor to his wine shop’s blog. He’s one of the most down-to-earth and most talented guys in the business.

The driving concept behind the gathering is that it’s an affordable Burgundy event and Brett tells me that the festival, now in its fourth year, sells out quickly. And the proceeds go to charity.

As I’ve said many times, Italian wine is my signora but Burgundy is my mistress…

Thanks for reading and clicking!