Balancing act: notes and photos from the IPOB tasting in Houston

jason drew pinot noirCalifornia wine isn’t my thing.

But I have to admit that I was geeked to attend the In Pursuit of Balance tasting yesterday in Houston — the first time the event was held outside San Francisco or New York.

There were a number of iconic wineries there that I had never taste before.

One discovery was Drew. That’s Jason Drew, above. A number of Houston sommeliers mentioned that his wines were among their favorites and I liked them a lot.

Check out my write-up of the event for the Houston Press today.

ipob pursuit balance houston parador

A California dream team in Houston for In Pursuit of Balance

in pursuit of balance houstonThe stars came out for the In Pursuit of Balance preview dinner last night at Paulie’s, one of Houston’s most popular casual restaurants and the other half of its favorite wine bar, Camerata.

Above, from left, that’s winemaker Sashi Moorman, winemaker Pax Mahle, Houston energy exec (and investor in Sashi and Raj Parr’s Domaine de la Côte) Mark Stevenson, winemaker Steve Matthiasson and his son Kai, winemaker John Faulkner who works with Sashi, and San Francisco Chronicle wine columnist Jon Bonné.

Holy California wine celebrity, right, Batman?

It was great to see such a impressive wine brain trust gathered here: today, they’re pouring their wines for trade and consumers at the IPOB tasting and seminars. It’s the first time the event has been held in a U.S. city outside of San Francisco and New York.

raj parr houstonThe ever affable Raj Parr (left), IPOB co-founder, had been delayed by a travel glitch but he managed to make it in time for an excellent dinner prepared especially for the occasion by Houston Chef (and our good friend) Felipe Riccio.

And, of course, IPOB co-founder Jasmine Hirsch was there. She has such a great energy about her. She just lights up the room when she walks in.

It’s always interesting to be around wine superstars like these folks. And it was fascinating to talk to Steve about the ideological differences between European and American approaches to chemical-free grape growing.

He jumped right in when I asked him if organic farmers in California see their work as a “civic duty” like their counterparts in Italy and France, for example.

“The price of land is so high in California,” he said, “organic farming is really only happening at the highest end of winemaking there.”

“Except for the Sierra Foothills, there’s really nowhere you can make a $22 bottle of organically farmed wine. And so there’s really no one who’s saying f*%$ you to big commercial wine the way European wineries are doing.”

He said that he’s working on releasing an under-$25 organically farmed wine soon.

It was really interesting to talk to him and he’s a super cool guy (I really love his wines, btw; they should be available in Texas for the first time soon, he told me).

felipe riccio chef houstonChef Felipe’s food was outstanding and Pax, in his remarks, had high and well deserved praise for the wonderful and thoughtful pairings.

But the dish that really blew me away was the angel hair pasta, served cold with roast lemon, bottarga, and cured clams.

What a fantastic dish! It paired beautifully with a macerated but not oxidative Sauvignon Blanc by Piedrasassi. A very “geeky” wine as Sashi remarked.

All in all, it was a pretty great evening and happy crowd last night here in Houston, where, more and more, we’re seeing marquee-name winemakers roll through town.

Bring it on, California!

menu wine list camerata houston

recipe: fennel with white wine (as taught to me by Mario Batali)

how do you cook fennelA lot of people commented on these photos last night on my Instagram and Facebook and so I thought it would be fun to share the recipe here.

Believe it or not, it was taught to me by none other than Mario Batali.

It was the spring of 1998 and I was living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was broke but a friend with an expense account had suggested that we check out a new restaurant on West 4th St. called Babbo. It was a time before Ruth Reichl published her New York Times review of the place, “A Radical Departure with Sure Footing,” and it was still easy to get a table there.

fennel recipeAfter dinner, I saw Mario at the bar and went up to him and told him how much I loved the fennel.

“How did you make it?” I asked.

“It’s easy,” he said.

Jimi Hendrix was playing on the restaurant sound system and he was drinking a beer.

“Just sautée some garlic in olive oil and then add the fennel and season with salt and pepper. After you’ve browned the fennel, deglaze with white wine. That’s it,” he said as “The Wind Cried Mary” caressed our ears.

Every time I make the dish, I remember that time before the time before the Italian wine and food renaissance when I was living, broke, in Brooklyn.

Buona domenica a tutti! Happy Sunday everyone…

Future Vinitaly and Vini Veri attendees (how sweet it is to be home)

how do you get passes for vinitalyMy goodness, what a wonderful feeling to be reunited with Tracie and the girls again!

I’m so lucky to have so many great friends in Italy who take marvelous care of me when I’m there (Giovanni, thanks again, man. You’re the best friend that anyone could ever ask for!).

But there’s nothing like our daughters’ kisses, hugs, and snuggles… Hello Kitty blankets and “real” astronauts and polka dot dresses…

Georgia P and Lila Jane had fun wearing my laminates from the fairs this morning. Future fair-goers?

I have many photos, tasting notes, and impressions to share here on the blog.

But today, I just had to share the joy of being reunited with my girls in Texas.

Stay tuned for more notes from the road in Italy next week… Now it’s time to squeeze those girls tight!

Goodbye Vinitaly, goodbye Italy

best champagne italyIf you read my blog, you probably also read Alfonso’s.

But in case you missed it, his f*&%-you letter to the Vinitaly management was a much-talked-about post during the last day of the fair, which ended yesterday in Verona.

I was there all four days of the event and I also attended the second day of Vini Veri in Cerea (also in Verona province).

No matter where you stand or which side of the aisle you sit, you really can’t argue with any of Alfonso’s grievances with the Vinitaly organizers.

vinitaly tickets bigliettoThis year’s fair wasn’t really any worse or better than previous.

The cellular service actually worked a lot better than it usually does (which made it a lot easier to coordinate visits with colleagues etc.).

But the thing that really got to me this year was the availability of the restrooms.

Maybe it’s because I spent more time this year in the Franciacorta pavilion. It’s such a popular destination for consumers that they have to post security guards and velvet ropes to control the influx of laypeople.

The women’s bathrooms there were so crowded that a lot of women opted to use the men’s bathroom. I’m not so shy about urinating in public but I felt terrible for the women, most of whom were dressed in business attire.

It was degrading, to say the least. And to those who argue that Italian women aren’t as squeamish about sharing an open bathroom as American women, I’d like to point out that there are also many American wine professionals who attend the fair.

Has the dysfunction of Vinitaly reached a point where we all have to queue up — women and man — and piss, fart, and shit together?

It made me feel like we were all being de-humanized.

Despite all the challenges of the fair, I had a really positive experience and some great meetings and tastings.

I’m looking forward to sharing my tastes and my highlights next week.

Right now, I just can’t wait to get back to Houston and squeeze those Parzen girls as tightly as I can.

Thanks for tagging along for the ride. See you on the other side…

Brescia beef HOLY COW, Franciacorta vs. Champagne, IPOB preview & I’m still standing #Vinitaly

mexico bresciaJust to had to share these images of steaks that Giovanni picked up at his local butcher in Brescia yesterday for our supper.

Arianna grilled them to perfection.

best beef italyJust look at the marbling in the top photo!

Brescia province has always been famous for the quality of its beef and its beef markets. Last night’s dinner of steak, salad, and Franciacorta was extraordinary.

Thank you, Giovanni and Arianna! You ROCK!

champagne franciacortaI don’t have time to write up my notes from yesterday’s Franciacorta vs. Champagne tasting.

Honestly, I thought the whole thing was a really dumb idea but it turned out to be really interesting.

The Intravino dudes had gathered a smart group of top Italian writers and tasters and I was stoked to get to taste and interact with them. Notes to come…

In the meantime, please check out my Houston Press preview of the IPOB tasting that will take place in Houston on Monday of next week.

It’s the first time that Jasmine, Raj, and co. are presenting the wines in the U.S. beyond San Francisco and New York. Kinda a big deal for the Bayou City.

And lastly, in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m still standing.

Some years, I do an “easier” fair. But this year, between my clients, my gig with the Franciacorta consortium, and the wines that I want to taste for my own betterment, I’ve had a pretty intense fair.

Two more days to go. Wish me speed and thanks for being here!

Thank you to everyone who came out for yesterday’s Franciacorta Crawl. That was rad.

And thank you brother Nathan for the photo below…

jeremy good

‘Cue Franciacorta Crawl TODAY (Mon. March 23, 1:30)

cue crawl texas barbecueI’ll be in Verona today, tasting wine — mostly Franciacorta — at Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair.

So why is there a photo of my cousin Ben Rosenberg holding a bunch of smoked meats wrapped in butcher paper above?

I took that photo of my cousin in Lockhart, Texas, where we were enjoying a longstanding Lone Star tradition: the “‘Cue Crawl,” in other words, a [Texas] barbecue crawl.

Lockhart is known as the [Texas] barbecue capital of the world and smoked meat lovers regularly gather there to eat at all three of its mainstay smokehouses on the same day, one after another. We were at Kreuz Market, for the record, when I snapped that image.

Today, the focus of our study won’t be gelatinous marbled brisket but rather Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as they are expressed in Franciacorta, the classic method wine from Brescia province, Italy.

We’ll start at the Franciacorta Consortium stand in the Franciacorta pavilion (see details below) and we’ll work our way through as many producers stands as possible.

Hope to see you there! And just like a ‘cue crawl back in Texas, ANY and ALL are welcome.

Franciacorta Crawl
with Franciacorta, the Real Story
Monday, March 23, 1:30 p.m.
Franciacorta Consortium Stand
PalaExpo B/C16 (Vinitaly)

Everyone is welcome to join: Our goal is to taste as much Franciacorta as possible as we “crawl” through the Franciacorta pavilion at Vinitaly. We’ll start at the Franciacorta Consortium stand and work our way down the line…


Buona degustazione a tutti!
Enjoy the tasting, everyone!

correct glass franciacorta

Being there: a super fun day at Vini Veri in Cerea

Please don’t forget: everyone is welcome to join me Monday, March 23, at 1:30 p.m. at the Franciacorta Consortium Stand at Vinitaly (PalaExpo B/C16) for a “Franciacorta Crawl.”

antonio di gruttolaJust wanted to share a couple of photos from Team Do Bianchi’s day yesterday at Vini Veri, the natural wine fair held each year in Cerea (Verona province).

That’s Antonio di Gruttola (above), winemaker at Cantine Giardino (Avellino province, Campania), one of our favorite wines to pour at Sotto in Los Angeles (where I co-author the wine list with colleague and friend Christine Veys).

That’s Christine (below, left) with importer Giovanni Pagano, a friend to Sotto and a natural wine lover whose devotion and palate I admire greatly.

christine veys giovanni paganoTeam Do Bianchi — Christine, Christopher Barnes, Giovanni Arcari, Nathan Smith, and I — had a truly delightful day at the fair.

I was reminded that as important as it is to taste as much as possible at the wine fairs, half of the equation is just being there.

We’re about to head out for our first day of Vinitaly in Verona. Wish us luck and wish us speed… and if you want to say a prayer for a parking place, we’ll take what we can get!

boiling grape must: making a pied de cuve

Just had to share this short video from the other night: the beginnings of a pied de cuve (literally, the “tank base”), a fermentation starter that will be used to provoke fermentation in the production of a classic method wine (in this case, Franciacorta, of course).

I shot it after dinner at the Arici winery in Gussago in Brescia province.