Boulder, mon amour! Thank you! And my new career as a culture wars blogger

boulder wine merchant franciacortaI’m kinda getting blue as my year-long project blogging about and pouring Franciacorta wines as the Franciacorta Consortium trade ambassador for the U.S. comes to its end.

Just one more tasting (Seattle) and a few more weeks of blogging to go. But, man, what a way to go out!

That was my tasting (above) at the Boulder Wine Merchant on Wednesday, where the store now carries four skus from Franciacorta (previously none).

And yesterday, I led a seminar and tasting of 11 wines (below) for one of the most engaging and enthusiastic groups I’ve encountered all year.

st julien hotel conference event roomI’ll never forget the moment when my good friend, Master Sommelier and Boulder Wine Merchant owner Brett Zimmerman, talked to our group about how he feels that Franciacorta is going to be one of the next big things in the U.S.

It was a truly magical moment for me: in part because I love these wines so much and in part because I’ve put some real blood, sweat, and tears into this campaign this year (more blood and tears than I had imagined).

And dulcis in fundo, Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey is about to add a Franciacorta by-the-glass to his stellar list at Frasca, one of me and Tracie P’s favorite restaurants in the world.

It’s really too bad that the project has to come to an end. Mishegas aside, I’ve really enjoyed it.

tuna crudo frascaThe food and wine community and culture in Boulder are among the most sophisticated and engaged in the U.S. today in my experience.

That’s the tuna crudo at Frasca (above) btw. Can you think of a better pairing for Franciacorta?

It was remarkable to interact with the team members at the Boulder Wine Merchant and Frasca over these two days that I’ve been working here. I can’t think of anywhere else in the country where young people are more excited about enogastronomy or more motivated to deliver the highest level of service.

Thank you, Boulder! You really made my year with your warm reception and your embrace of the wines I was showing. Thank you!

In other news…

In a first for me, I’ve been published in the Arts and Culture section of a major urban weekly.

Today, the Houston Press, where I usually blog about wine, published my recent post about my bizarre predilection for using women’s bathrooms in Houston.

I’m wedged in between a review of a “bodacious” cabaret performer and another of a locally produced opera.

My post on how so many Americans look down on Houstonians and this more recent post (which is actually about Houston’s horrific repeal of its equal rights ordinance) have had such an overwhelming response that I’m thinking of becoming a culture wars blogger.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print blog about. Now it’s time to get my ass on a plane in Denver and get back to the Parzen womenfolk down on the bayou where I belong. Thanks for reading and buon weekend a tutti!

Can you be Cannubi? A great post on how the subzone designations are applied in Barolo Cannubi

best barolo cannubiPosting from the road today in Boulder, Colorado, where I spoke at an in-store Franciacorta tasting yesterday at the Boulder Wine Merchant and where I’ll be leading a formal seminar and tasting of 11 Franciacorta wines today for trade and consumers.

But I just had to share this post by my new client in Piedmont, Tenuta Carretta: “The importance of being Cannubi (and its subzones).”

In it, the winery’s CEO (and my friend) Giovanni Minetti shares his insights into why it is virtually impossible to determine how many bottles of Cannubi and subzone-designated Cannubi are produced each year.

Alfonso had written a fantastic post on this very subject a few months back and now we’ve published Giovanni’s take on the situation.

Giovanni is a former president of the Barolo consortium and you might be surprised at what he had to share and say about the situation (one of the most hotly debated issues in Barolo today).

It’s a must-read for anyone trying to wrap their mind around Cannubi.

Check it out here.

I am a man who goes into women’s bathrooms in Houston

houston equal rights amendmentAbove: at the airport in San Diego, the city where I grew up, there are three options at each bathroom station — one for people who identify as men, another for people who identify as women, and one for people who identify as transgender.

I identify as a man. I live in Houston and identify as a Houstonian. And I regularly use women’s bathrooms.

Yes, that’s right, I regularly use women’s bathrooms in Houston, my adoptive city and the city where voters yesterday rejected a city ordinance that would have allowed — among other things — for trans- and pan-gender persons to use the bathroom of their choice.

The 2014 Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO as it is known, was repealed by voters in Houston yesterday. I am one of those voters (my wife and I early-voted a week ago Monday) and I can now be thrown out of women’s bathrooms by restaurateurs and office building doorpeople and superintendents etc. 

Mostly I use women’s bathrooms in Houston when I visit restaurants. There is a good reason for that.

Actually there are two good reasons for that: Georgia P (nearly age 4) and Lila Jane (age 2), our daughters, can’t yet “go to the potty” by themselves.

So when we eat in restaurants after our Saturday and Sunday visits to the zoo, NASA (the “real astronauts” as it is known in the Parzen familiar lexicon), or the Natural Science Museum (the “dinosaurs” and “butterflies”), I often take both of them into women’s bathrooms for Georgia P to go tee-tee (she’s potty trained) or to change Lila Jane’s diaper.

Generally, the women I meet in Houston bathrooms are very sweet to us and greet us with a smile. As a matter of fact, ever since we moved to Houston a year and a half ago and ever since Georgia P potty trained and she began using the “big girl” potty, no one has ever complained about us using the women’s bathroom. But, evidently, that’s no longer kosher in the city where we live.

I’ve also taken the girls into men’s rooms. But now, without the protection of HERO, we could be thrown out of those, too!

I’m not sure where the new state of equal rights leaves us. Squatting behind our minivan in the parking lot? Occasionally, I need to go to the bathroom when I’m out with the girls, too. They really don’t (self) identify as anything at this point but I know that other Houstonians identify them as females. I can only imagine what people are going to think when they see me urinating on the street because I can’t take them into the men’s room and they can’t be accompanied by me in the women’s room now.

I’m sure that most Houston restaurateurs won’t mind when I take them into the women’s room or they come with me into the men’s room.

I guess at this point our girls and I will just have to take our chances…

Will “big” marijuana go the way of “big” wine?

This just in:

Please have a look at Alfonso’s provocative post on Franciacorta here.

Details for my Franciacorta tastings this week in Boulder (Weds. and Thurs.) here.

marijuana ohio ballotImage by Ryan Williams Photography.

When I read this New York Times article about a ballot measure in Ohio that would create a marijuana growing monopoly, it hit me like a brick of weed: will “big” marijuana in the U.S. go the way of “big” wine?

In the era following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the U.S. federal government basically told states that they could decide internally how they wanted to regulate the production, distribution, and sale of wine and alcohol.

Intended to hamper monopolistic and unfair business practices in our country, the Interstate Commerce Act (1887) would continue to apply to nearly every other commercial category. But alcohol would remain a matter for states to decide.

As a result, every state of the union has its own laws regulating the distribution and sale of alcohol.

More than 80 years after the end of Prohibition, this anti-system had led to the rise of virtual monopolies in many states. Just last month, a new merger of family-owned wine distribution companies in the U.S. created yet another behemoth among behemoths of wine sales. According to Tom Wark, a California-based marketer and wine blogger who has devoted much of his career to battling the forces of “big” wine in this country, “five companies (families) [now] control well over 50% of the alcohol box moving business in the United States.”

Today, as I write this, voters in Ohio are deciding whether or not to pass an amendment that was “bankrolled by wealthy investors [who have spent] nearly $25 million to put it on the ballot and sell it to voters. If it passes, they will have exclusive rights to growing commercial marijuana in Ohio” (New York Times).

The parallels are uncanny.

As more and more recreational marijuana comes online in this country, the wine and spirits industry has been paying close attention.

In September of this year, Republic National Distributing Company, one of the biggest distributors in the U.S., published a report on marijuana’s effect on wine sales in Colorado (recreational marijuana became legal there on January 1, 2014).

According to the author of the study, marijuana sales have had a positive effect on wine sales.

Republic (as it is known in the trade) isn’t the only “big” wine company to look carefully at marijuana sales. I know of least one other major U.S. wine and spirits distributor who has received state funding for marijuana sales feasibility studies (you might be surprised by the state government that funded the research but that’s a story for another day).

Currently, marijuana is completely legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Today, Ohio could become the fifth state to legalize marijuana and at least six other states — including California — are considering legislative paths to legalization.

However you feel about the issue, there’s no getting around the fact that marijuana prohibition is rapidly coming to an end in our country.

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Americans were still a long way from the current fine wine culture.

During Prohibition, wine and spirits were produced and sold legally in the U.S. as tonics, in other words, medicine — another uncanny parallel with historic marijuana in this country.

In the more than 80 years since the end of Prohibition, the wine and spirits industry has grown into a major force in the luxury product industry. It’s possible — and in my view likely — that marijuana will follow the same path.

Will “big” wine be the model for “big” weed? We’ll see…

Costa di Bussia, a sleeper Barolo and a child-of-a-lesser-god Barbera

costa di bussia baroloNearly every week, I get an email from an importer, export manager, or publicist asking me if I can meet and taste with a traveling sales rep from Italy who will be visiting Texas. I try to accommodate as many as I can when my schedule aligns with the rep’s and I always try to post my notes somewhere.

After all, even though there are those who have proclaimed that wine blogging is dead, the rest of us regular punters continue to slog through the workaday toil of posting our tasting notes.

In the spirit of such resilience, I’m happy to report that the 2010 Barolo by Costa di Bussia (above, rigth) was showing gorgeously the other night when I tasted it with a rep who insisted that we meet at 10 p.m. (because that was the only time convenient for him).

Honestly, I’d never tasted the wines before and was super geeked to discover that they were old-school (almost) all-the-way.

Costa di Bussia (literally, Bussia slope) lies, as you can probably imagine, in Monforte d’Alba, a literal stone’s throw from Aldo Conterno’s famous rows in Bussia (which is pronounced boos-SEE-ah, btw). This is Serravallian Nebbiolo, austere and umami-driven.

The wines are aged in large-format cask: this is the Nebbiolo that I’m looking for, in part because the earthy style appeals to me; in part because at around $50 a bottle (at least according to what I can see on WineSearcher.com) makes the wine accessible to me.

The wine is very young and still very tight but I thought it was great and it will make for a fantastic wine to enjoy readily in another five years or so.

The Barolo was a winner in my book but the traditional-style Barbera was a champion. This is the Barbera that Tracie P and I crave: zinging acidity, brilliant fruit, restrained alcohol. I really, really loved this wine and although I can’t find any pricing on it, I image that it weighs in for less than $25 — ideal for a Saturday night wine at our house (at around $50, the Barolo is a nicely priced special occasion wine at the Parzen household).

The only disappointment was the winery’s “important” Barbera, which, as you can imagine, is aged in barriques. It’s perfectly understandable that wineries like this continue to make “modern” style, “big” Barbera. After all, many fat markets, like the U.S. and Germany, for example, love these wines. Very well made wine and very focused in terms of its raisin d’être (excuse the pun). But not for me. These wines, with their restrained acidity, always taste flat to me and lack in varietal expression. But I can see the appeal for drinkers and the allure for producers.

Whenever a rep tells me that this is our “important” Barbera, it makes me think that the “other” Barbera must be a child of a lesser god. Almost invariably, I like the “unimportant” wine more.

So there you have it. Another wine blog post by a lesser, average punter wine blogger who happens to like logging, slogging, and sharing his tasting notes.