Taste Italy in Houston March 3 and a new Italian culture blog I’m writing

sergio mattarellaAbove: the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston earlier this month. He was accompanied by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti who has trained here (image via the Italian Embassy to the United States website).

From the Galleria in Milan to the Galleria in Houston… I’m excited to share the news that I’m authoring a new blog for the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas, which has its headquarters here in my adoptive hometown.

When the Chamber’s administration approached me a few weeks ago about giving them a hand in getting the word out about their Taste of Italy Houston event (this Thursday, March 3), I pitched the idea of an Italian culture blog to them and they loved it.

And so we have now officially launched the IACC (Italy-America Chamber of Commerce) Texas blog, ItalyTexas.org, a virtual space where I’m going to be able to explore my curiosity and share my knowledge of Italian history, language, literature, art, cinema, music, and gastronomy beyond my interest in Italian wine.

This nascent project is just beginning to take shape but I am eagerly looking forward to the next 12 months of blogging about Italian culture at large.

From aerospace to energy, there is a vibrant Italian business community in Houston. Just this month, the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella visited the Johnson Space Center (above).

The Italy-America Chamber organized his meetings with business leaders in the Italian community here.

If you’re based in Houston or in Texas, I hope you can join us for the all-day event on Thursday.

It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet and taste with producers of authentic Italian food products like traditional balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano and to taste artisanal Italian beer and even Franciacorta.

Wine and restaurant professionals are encouraged to come and all are welcome (as is last-minute registration).

In the few weeks that the blog has been active, I’ve devoted the content exclusively to the Italian food products that will be featured at Thursday’s event.

But as soon as the dust settles, I’ll be expanding coverage to the many aspects of Italian culture that continue to fascinate me.

As they say in Italian, it’s pane per i miei denti…, bread I can sink my teeth into…

Thanks for reading and please stay tuned…

daddy, how do you say “family” in Italian?

fusili tomato sauce recipeYesterday evening, after the girls helped me cook the tomato sauce (from chopping the shallots and crushing the garlic to deglazing with Garganega and stirring as the cherry tomatoes simmered), the four of us sat down at the dinner table and Georgia P asked me, “daddy, how do you say ‘family’ in Italian?”

We’ve been learning a lot of new words in Italian over the last few weeks and it’s not unusual for Georgia to ask me how to say words she’s curious about in Italian.

cooking tomato sauceBut as far as linguistic inquiry goes, this was a special one.

Both girls are doing great and Lila Jane is going through a language explosion.

She and I did a session in studio A at Baby P studios yesterday afternoon.

recording studio for kidsAnd before their bedtime, Tracie P had a special request for a couple of rounds of “ready, set, go!” (below).

Buona domenica, everyone, as they say in Italian.

Enjoy a restful and peaceful Sunday before the work week begins again tomorrow.

Alice Feiring chairs new “natural wine” competition at Vinitaly

alice feiring wine competitionAmerican wine writer and natural wine advocate Alice Feiring (above) will chair a new “natural wine” competition this year at Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine industry fair held in Verona.

Wines submitted to the “Free Wine, Wine Without Walls” competition will be judged by Feiring and a panel selected by her, including Pietro Vergano (wine buyer, Ristorante Consorzio, Turin), Diego Sorba (wine buyer, Tabarro, Parma), and Pascaline Lepeltier (Master Sommelier and wine director, Rouge Tomate, New York).

According to a press release issued by Vinitaly organizer Veronafiere, the wines will not be scored. Instead, they will be judged according to criteria that include “evolution in the glass, emotional impact, and transparency.”

The competition “is open to all wines conforming to the definition in the OIV International Code, entered by producers located in any country.”

And while Veronafiere concedes that there is no “legal definition” of “natural wine” in Europe, it specifies the following restrictions for submission.

“Wines presented for the Free Wine event must have the following characteristics, under penalty of exclusion from the event: sulphite quantity of no more than 20 mg/l; [and they] must not be the result of practices such as micro-oxygenation, the use of concentrators, reverse osmosis, thermo-vinification, malolactic fermentation block [or] vineyard irrigation.”

For information on submission in English, click here; for information in Italian, click here.

The deadline for submission is March 25, 2016.

The judging will take place on April 1 and the winners will be announced on April 10 in Verona at the fair.

The award is “a way to bring the conversation about what wine is — not only natural — to a much larger audience,” wrote Feiring on her blog this week.

“The fact that [Vinitaly] embraced this category is ground-breaking. Frankly, it is a big deal and is bound to shake up the status quo.”

But the competition could prove to be controversial in a country like Italy where authorities have fined retailers for advertising wines as “natural.”

“Do the competition organizers know that the verbiage ‘natural wine’ is a borderline issue for the Anti-Adulteration unit of the Carabinieri [Italy’s paramilitary police force]?” wrote Antonio Tomacelli on the popular Italian wine blog Intravino. “What will happen in wine shops when investigators discover bottles with tags [that say] ‘5-star natural wines’ or something similar?”

Full disclosure: Alice is a close friend of mine.

Arneis rising: unfiltered, skin-contact, groovy and crunchy. The next big thing?

best roero arneisTraveling and tasting across the U.S. since the beginning of the year, I’ve been impressed by the number of restaurant wine professionals who have offered me a glass of unconventional Roero Arneis.

In Austin, while visiting my client Vino Vino on Saturday, manager Kelly Voelkel poured me this super groovy “unfiltered” Arneis from Negro.

I was really glad to see this wine in the U.S. because when I visited the winery in 2010, Emanuela Negro talked about the challenges of marketing a wine called “Negro,” their family name, in the U.S.

When I brought that up with Kelly and his team, they said the issue hadn’t even occurred to them.

Already a fan of this historic family and winery in Roero, I loved this wine, its texture and saltiness in the mouth. Evidently, it’s bottled especially for the Piedmont Guy. Bravo, Piedmont guy!

luca faccenda roero arneisYesterday, one of the leading wine professionals in Los Angeles, Giuseppe Cossu, tasted us on this skin-contact Arneis from Luca Faccenda.

Wow, what a great wine! I won’t say it’s the “best” Roero I’ve ever tasted because there are so many great ones. But this one spoke to me and my palate in a way that few have over the course of my wine trade days.

Here, in the 2014 expression, the minerality of the wine was truly electric and its flavors layered and complex. I remember tasting the 2013 last year and being equally impressed. Wholly different vintages: the 2013 a more classic harvest; the 2014 an unusually challenging crop but with remarkably surprising results for whites.

The way Luca’s site is set up, you have to click a couple of times to get to the fact sheet. But you’ll make it and it’s worth it for the reward of reading up on how it’s vinified.

I’ve never met Luca but I can see why Giuseppe was so geeked to talk about Luca’s vision for Arneis with depth and aging potential. I’ve tasted a lot of old Arneis, some of it good but none of it truly compelling. This one has the goods imho.

I’m also excited to learn more about Luca’s nascent #SoloRoero group and their mission to raise quality and encourage innovation in the appellation.

Could groovy, crunchy, unfiltered, skin-contact Roero Arneis be the next big thing? From Austin to Los Angeles, it seems to be happening already.

In other news…

Thanks for the many shares and notes about my post this week on Matt Kramer’s Jeremiad on wine education in the U.S. today.

That one was for all those average punters out there like me who are trying to find their way in the professional world of wine today.

Thanks for reading, clicking, and sharing, and thanks for all the DMs and the support.

Taste on… Game on…

Matt Kramer’s ivory tower and the “credentialization” of wine culture in America

best cork screw boulder coloradoI went to a public university that had a scientific bent. As I was one of its less brainy students, I’ll save the school from embarrassment by leaving it nameless.

This memory surfaced as I thought recently about how wine has changed.

In case you’re not getting the reference, the above is a parody of an article by the illustrious, ivory-tower-educated and senior wine writer Matt Kramer, whose recent op-ed for Wine Spectator, entitled “Not a Trivial Pursuit,” has been the subject of lively discussion among wine professionals on social media this weekend.

In Kramer’s Jeremiad, he bemoans the “credentialization” of the wine trade. O the lamentization of wine writing these days!

“It seems that everyone is seeking to be a ‘master’ of this or that,” he observes. “Does wine, of all subjects need such credentializing?” he asks rhetorically.

“Documentaries depicting young, ambitious sommeliers intensely pursuing such a diploma embarrassingly reveal just what a literally trivial pursuit this credentializing really is.”

The “modern demand for a credential,” he writes, “is larger and more substantive than mere careerism… We now insist on a kind of professionalization that has less that has less to do with the benefits of an education and more to do with jumping through hoops held by others in order to acquire a diploma of some kind.”

“Now, you could say that it was ever thus, and you’d have a fair point,” he concedes. “But our current pursuit of credentials creates an undesirable class differentiation for a subject that neither needs nor deserves one.”

O Kramer! Say it ain’t thus!
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Franciacorta in Santa Barbara, Houston, and Boston (just added)

From the department of “the hardest working man in the wine blogging business”…

boston harborSo many groovy opportunities to taste Franciacorta coming up…

On Monday, February 22, I’ll be leading a Franciacorta Real Story seminar and pouring 11 Franciacorta wines at Les Marchands in Santa Barbara.

On Thursday, March 3, I’ll be tasting Franciacorta by Fratelli Berlucchi and Ca’ del Bosco in Houston at the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce “Taste of Italy” festival. The event is free and open to all and it also features scores of Italian food producers. I’ve just started working with the Chamber and am really excited about our year ahead. So please come out to support us on March 3 (more on what I’ll be doing with the Chamber next week).

And on Wednesday, March 16, I’ll be leading a Franciacorta Real Story seminar/tasting at Wine Bottega in Boston, another one of my favorite wine shops in the U.S.

Please come out and taste with me if you can!

And Houston wine professionals, please don’t forget that I am hosting a happy hour today from 5-7 p.m. at Camerata for wine blogger extraordinaire Hawk Wakawaka. Rumor has it that some Franciacorta will be poured tonight as well!

Buon weekend, yall!

Italy’s Big Chill and a generation’s great mistake (“We All Loved Each Other So Much”)

vittorio gassman scolaWhen Alfonso and I visited in Italy in late January, only a few days had passed since the great Italian film director Ettore Scola had died. It was only natural that his name and his films would come up in conversation over dinner on a very chilly evening in Montalcino. In remembering his 1974 masterpiece, “We All Loved Each Other So Much,” my good friend and high respected Italian wine trade veteran Raffaella spoke about her father’s reaction to the film and how in some ways, he represented a generation of Italians who had lost their sense of idealistic purpose to the consumerism of post-war Italy. They had resisted and fought Fascism and Nazism only to find themselves swallowed up by the cultural hegemony that emerged in years that followed reconstruction. For today’s post, I’ve translated this wonderful and powerful piece by her. This, too, is Italian wine. Buona lettura.

Only twice did I ever see my father cry.

The first time was at my mother’s funeral. He barely covered his eyes as he sobbed openly. I was standing behind him, petrified by the outburst and amazed that a fully-grown man could be so overwhelmed by his emotions.

The second time was a few years later. This time, he didn’t lose his composure as he sat in his armchair and cried. He batted his eyes thinking that no one would notice.

I was on the couch and we were watching Ettore Scola’s “We All Loved Each Other So Much.” In case you’ve never seen it, it’s a wonderful and important film.

It’s one of the best movies from the era of classic Italian film. The story and script are seamless. The performances aren’t overacted. And the outwardly banal dialog deftly masks the tragic human condition with ironic, brutal style. It’s an important film because it tells the story of the failures of a generation of Italians in the post-war era.
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No, it wasn’t a Frenchman who invented Barolo (and other reasons why Langhe wines are great)

Meet Hawk Wakawaka in Houston on Friday, taste Franciacorta in Santa Barbara on Monday, and save-the-date March 3 for Taste of Italy Houston. Click here for details.

asili martinenga barbaresco rabajaIt’s funny how the rhythms of the internets work: this week, as I was doing research for a post intended to debunk the often repeated and wholly erroneous Oudart myth, whereby a Frenchman invented modern Barolo, my Italian counterpart Alessandro Morichetti was hard at work on a post in which he offers three fundamental reasons behind the success of Barolo and Barbaresco (in Italian).

I wish I had time to translate Alessandro’s post in its entirety.

I don’t, unfortunately, because it’s one of Ale’s most inspired pieces on the popular Intravino wine blog. But his three main points are as follow…

Unified Italy’s first prime minister Count Camillo Cavour (1810-1861), he writes, was a pillar of historic Italian liberalism and progressivism, not to mention one of the first grape growers in Italy’s modern era to recognize the immense potential of Nebbiolo.

Cavour’s Grinzane estate in the Barolo appellation is still an icon and a cultural epicenter for the wine and for the UNESCO-designated Langhe Hills (where Barolo and Barbaresco are grown and produced).

The Royal School of Enology in Alba, which was founded by King Umberto I (1844-1900), was one of Italy’s first academies for professional grape growers and winemakers and it has forged and shaped generations of Piedmontese wine professionals.

There’s a unique camaraderie and “self-awareness” in the Piedmontese winemaking community, notes Alessandro. They are owed in part to the fact that the school is something that nearly everyone there has in common.

Lastly, he writes, the Ferrero chocolate dynasty brought extreme prosperity to the region and that helped to create the infrastructure and economy needed to build a world-class wine industry.

Michele Ferrero, who died last year at age 89, also inspired a generation of Langa entrepreneurs.

When you ask most outsiders what Langa is famous for, they will say Alba truffles, Nebbiolo, and then possibly, as an afterthought, chocolate (read: Nutella).

But “signor Michele,” as he was known to locals, was Italy’s wealthiest man. Did you know that he invented Tic Tacs? Who knew?

One person that you will not find mentioned in Alessandro’s piece is Louis Oudart, the French grape broker who many erroneously believe was the “inventor” of modern Barolo.

In fact, he wasn’t.

Today, I posted a note on Oudart and recent research that indicates that he wasn’t the person behind Barolo’s modern era .

Check it out here on the Tenuta Carretta blog (my client).

And so I’m sorry to break the news: it wasn’t a Frenchman who made it Barolo and Barbaresco great. It was the Langhetti themselves.

Thanks for reading…

Hawk Wakawaka in Houston on Friday, Franciacorta in Santa Barbara on Monday

This just in… Houston wine and restaurant pros, please mark your calendars for Taste of Italy Houston, Thursday, March 3 at the Hilton Post Oak. I’ll be there supporting the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce. Admission is free and late registration is welcomed. Please come out and taste with us. Stay tuned for more on this.

elaine brown hawk wakawaka wine bloggerSo lots of fun stuff coming up, people!

First off, on Friday, February 19, I’m hosting a happy hour for my good friend Elaine Brown, aka Hawk Wakawaka, at Camerata in Houston from 5-7 p.m.

Elaine is one of the top wine writers and bloggers working in the world today, including her regular column for Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages and her contributions to the Oxford Companion to Wine (she wrote the new entry for social media, among others), the World of Fine Wine (where her byline recently appeared on the cover), and her own blog Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, which I highly recommend to you as my number-one resource on the new wave of California wine.

That’s Elaine and me (above) in Venice back in 2013.

She’s super fun to interact and taste with and my own personal agenda is to show her what a cool and groovy place Texas can be for its wine scene.

We’ll be wine hopping in Houston on Friday night and in Austin on Saturday night before she heads up to Dallas to judge the Texsom wine competition.

And on Monday of next week, February 22, I’ll be hosting the next Franciacorta Real Story tasting at Les Marchands in Santa Barbara.

The tasting is free and gauging from the response so far, it should be a great time for all. I hope to see you there!

Franciacorta Real Story Tasting
11 wines from 11 producers
with Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D.
Franciacorta Consortium Ambassador for 2016

Monday, February 22
5:30-7:30 p.m.

Les Marchands
131 Anacapa St.
Suite B
Santa Barbara CA 93101
(805) 284-0380
Google map

Image via Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews.

Buon San Valentino from Giulietta’s balcony (happy love day)

juliet balcony verona romeoI snapped this photo of Giulietta’s balcony on a Saturday morning when I visited Verona a few weeks ago (for the Amarone Anteprima event).

The courtyard brimmed with visitors and there were dozens of people inscribing their dedications on the walls that line the andito, the passageway that leads from the street to the courtyard (below).

Such a powerful mythology! I hadn’t visited her casa for nearly 30 years but the scene remains unchanged.

Wishing everyone a buon San Valentino and a happy love day (as our girls like to call it)!

juliet wall verona