The Parzen Window: remembering Emanuel Parzen, who died last weekend

manny parzenAbove, from left: Sam Greenhouse, Sir Ronald A. Fisher, unknown, Carol Parzen, Ingram Olkin, and Emanuel Parzen (my great uncle) in 1961 at the meeting of the International Statistical Institute in Paris (image via ProjectEuclid.org).

My father’s father died when my father was very young.

My paternal grandmother, née Levy, was remarried soon thereafter to Rabbi Maurice Parzen, whose family had immigrated from Łódź in what is now Poland (I believe that the family name comes from the village of Parzeń in current-day Poland).

The Rabbi’s brothers included Ben Parzen, who would become one of the world’s leading electrical engineers and inventor of an oscillator that could withstand the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear fallout (his greatest invention, among many others). He died in 2005.

The Rabbi’s youngest brother was Emanuel “Manny” Parzen, a world-renowned statistician and pioneer in kernel density estimation, a field which is often referred to as “the Parzen Window” in his honor.

Uncle Manny died on Saturday, February 6 in Florida where he lived with his wife and my aunt Carol.
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Cool stuff I ate, drank, and saw in New York City

new york city skylineThe two most useful things I’ve learned over my lifetime are how to type and how to navigate the New York City subway.

I lived in the city from 1997 until 2008 and when I go back now, eight years later, it’s kinda like going home home except I sleep in a hotel and someone makes my bed for me every day.

nduja recipe robertas pizza brooklynBeyond my duties appearing on a panel and making a few politesse appearances at the Vino 2016 Italian Wine Week event, I was free to roam the vinous landscape.

Hands down, New York remains the best wine destination in the U.S., where you can find nearly anything you want, from the arcane to the obscure, from the tried-and-true to the hip and chic.

First on my list was Roberta’s in Bushwick, where homey digs and Neapolitan-style pizza meet Natural wine.

I’m generally not a fan of housemade charcuterie but I loved the ‘nduja that our server recommended.

That’s the thumb of famed New York arthouse filmmaker Ben Shapiro photobombing me, btw.

puffeney savagninAs soon as the staff sensed that we were “wine” people, a sommelier was sent to our table.

Keara D. was awesome: she knew her lists inside-and-out, had great recommendations based on our palates, and her wine service was impeccable.

She hooked us up with the Puffeney 2011 Savignin, one of those wines that are super hard to find in the U.S., at a great price.

Roberta’s is a dream destination for me. Solid pizza, cool people, and superb and reasonably priced list with lots of gems for folks like me. Thanks again, Keara!

four horsemen wine bar brooklynAnother dream place for me, Four Horsemen in Williamsburg was just the place to connect with Jameson Fink, one of my all-time favorite wine bloggers and now senior editor at Wine Enthusiast (and a super cool guy).

Where else in the world do you get splashed with Texier pet nat Chasselas? Thanks again, Will!

keens steakhouse barNo trip to NYC is complete for me without a burger at my favorite steakhouse in America, Keens.

They really don’t offer a lot of wines by-the-glass that speak to me. But man, theirs is the apotheosis of the American burger in my book. Love that place. Great to see you, Bonnie!

per seDinner there is above my pay grade, but I did pay a visit to Per Se to see an old friend from San Diego who’s been working there for some time.

Super fun to see him and get the tour of the wine cellar, kitchen, and dining room. I had no idea that there was a bar there with open seating where they serve a limited menu. Next time I take Tracie P to NYC, we’ll hit it up — worth it for the view alone. Thanks again, Nicholas!

la sirena mario bataliDulcis in fundo, my friend and fellow Texan Jeff Porter gave me a short tour of La Sirena, Batali and Bastianich’s new gig on the west side.

It’s their answer to Balthazar, said the staff I met there after they had just finished up friends and family.

lecinaro lazio wineAnd only because it had to live up to its reputation as the city where I never sleep, Jeff and I made a very late-night visit to Lupa, where he hipped me to this Lecinaro (a native and recently revived grape from Latium) by organic grower Palazzo Tronconi. You can’t see its beautiful, delicate color in the photo but I loved the hue and its lightness and freshness in the mouth. Thanks again, Jeff!

Isn’t it kinda crazy and kinda cool that that the wine directors of two of Manahattan’s most important outlets for Italian wine — Marta (Jack Mason) and Batali & Bastianich group — are Texans? Both of them worked in Houston before moving to the city.

It made me think about how Houston has become a new epicenter for producing top-flight wine professionals in our country. Wine for thought…

That’s all the news that’s fit to blog about. Thanks for being here!

Giacomo Tachis, 82, giant of Italian wine and creator of Sassicaia, has died

Today, the Italian wine world mourns the loss of Giacomo Tachis, a winemaker who had a hand in creating some of Italy’s most iconic wines and who is widely credited as one of the chief architects of the Italian wine renaissance.

Tachis died this weekend in San Casciano in Val di Pesa (Tuscany) where he lived. His daughter Ilaria, also a winemaker, and leading Italian enologist Alessandro Cellai, one of his disciples, were at his side when he passed away.

“RIP Giacomo Tachis,” wrote Wine Advocate Italian reviewer Monica Larner on her Instagram yesterday. He was the “creator of San Leonardo, Sassicaia and modern Sicilian wines. If Giuseppe Garibaldi was Italy’s ‘Father of the Fatherland,’ Giacomo Tachis was the father of a united Italian wine identity. We have lost one of our founding fathers.”

When Tachis was named Decanter magazine’s “man of the year,” in 2011, Master of Wine David Gleave wrote that he “changed the style of Italian wine, dragging it — kicking and screaming — into the 20th century. And by changing the style of the wines, he changed the way in which they are perceived. Without him, Italian wine would not be as successful as it is today.”

In 1992, New York Times wine writer Frank Prial wrote about the emerging revival of Tuscan winemaking at the time, noting that “Sassicaia became one of the most sought-after wines in the world, and it was a precursor of a trend that has changed the history of Tuscany.”

Nearly a quarter of a century since the publication of Prial’s clairvoyant observation, Tachis’ legacy as a winemaker continues to loom over the Italian wine world. And many of the labels that he created — Sassicaia and Tignanello (Tuscany) and Turriga and Terre Brune (Sardinia), to name just a handful — are still widely considered to be among Italy’s best.

See this profile of Tachis published by Decanter on the occasion of his “man of the year” award.

tuscan cypress trees montalcino

Back when we was fab: 10 years since my top-ten college radio record

jeremy parzen bandAbove: performing with my band Nous Non Plus in Germany in 2008. That was what I looked like when I met Tracie B now P.

It was one of the high points of my life: my band’s top-ten college radio record, Nous Non Plus “Self-Titled.”

In January and February of 2006, our debut album appeared for four weeks on CMJ, the indy rock charts.

We debuted at 18 (not bad) and peaked at 6. Just look at the other artists in the top twenty!

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Best breakfast in Verona (a recommendation)

american breakfast verona italyRemember the Super Tramp song, “Breakfast in America”?

Could we have kippers for breakfast
Mummy dear, Mummy dear?
They got to have ’em in Texas
‘Cause everyone’s a millionaire.

The European-American divide in breakfast habits and rituals is always a source mystery and befuddlement for travelers heading in both directions.

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Best Valpolicella I tasted last week (please leave your [x]enophobia at the door)

corvinone corvina rondinellaAbove: dried Corvinone grapes that were to become Recioto at La Dama.

It’s sad but true: one of my most lasting memories of my recent visit to Valpolicella with a group of wine writers is a sour one.

“When I saw this list of producers we were visiting,” said one colleague from Canada, “I said ‘fuck this’ and went to Valdobbiadene.”

When I asked him whom he visited there, he said, “o, just a few wineries that the Prosecco consortium took me to see.”

“I don’t even like Amarone,” he explained, seemingly attempting to justify his condescension.

As they say in Veneto dialect, no go paroeI don’t know what to say. What can you say in the face of such misinformed, misguided, and pointless [x]enophobia?

best valpolicellaAbove: Carlo Boscaini’s wines were among my favorites. These are old-school wines from one of the best growing zones in the appellation. Classic but also clean and fresh. They reminded me of the wines I drank when I attended university in the Veneto in the early 90s. But they were more focused and polished. Utterly delicious. Importers, heads up!

The good news is that, snobby wine writers aside, there is a lot of great wine being made in Valpolicella.

Today, Valpolicella Classico, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Recioto della Valpolicella aren’t popular in North America and have been penalized by marketing blunders, missteps taken by commercial producers and their importers during my parents’ generation.

But Europe’s nordic wine lovers have continued to provide a steady stream of revenue for Valpolicella bottlers, thus keeping the overarching quality of grape growing and winemaking relatively high.

dama amaroneAbove: Gabriele Dalcanale farms organically at La Dama, where he owns one of the top growing sites in Negrar, the historic heart and soul of Valpolicella. In the cellar, he leans modern. Not my cup of tea but the brilliance and vibrancy of the fruit in his wines are extraordinary. Please bring his 2011 Recioto to my house for dinner any time. I was really impressed by the wines.

It was really interesting to hear vineyard managers, like Giannantonio Marconi of Bolla, talk about how many growers now favor the traditional pergola training over Guyot, the latter a system that was introduced in the 1990s when Valpolicella began to modernize.

The canopy of pergola-trained vineyards, explained Giannantonio, helps to protect the berries from sunlight and it aids in moderating temperatures in the vineyard. Whether or not you believe that global warming exists or is influenced or impacted by humankind, there’s no doubt that grape growers in Europe have experienced a string of warmer vintages. The pergola helps them, said Giannantonio, to maintain quality and freshness during hot, dry summers.

soil types valpolicella thumbAbove: if I had to pick one favorite from all the wineries I visited last week, it would be Accordini Stefano. Across the board, I found the wines to be compelling, elegant, and focused. Stefano’s 1999 Amarone was astounding. And a visit to his winery is worth the trip (to the highest growing area in Valpolicella’s classic zone) if only for the educational media he’s created, like these samples of soil types. Click the image for a full-size jpg.

From a behemoth like Bolla that needs to maintain substantial output to a small organic farm like Gabriele Dalcanale’s La Dama, pergola training seems to be the favored system these days. At least that’s what I gathered during my two days touring vineyards and talking to growers last week.

My only disappointment in Valpolicella was the fact that many of the producers heavily oak their wines using new barriques.

Even the most traditional among the producers I visited have at least one oaky wine in their lineup.

Repeatedly, I tasted wines that were beautiful grown, crafted, and raised. But the oakiness dominated the fruit in the wine.

valentina cubi valpolicellaAbove: Valentina Cubi, a biodynamic grower, is one of the most talked-about winemakers in Valpolicella these days among the wine hipster crowd. I was thrilled by her wines and I am non-plussed that no one is bringing these into the U.S. They have everything going for them.

That’s a turn-off for me personally. But I recognize that there are also a lot of people who are into that kind of thing. And hey, whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright with me.

Looking back on the experience, I can’t stop thinking about how Valpolicella and Amarone have the right stuff for the American market and the American palate: they can be big and bold in their tannic structure, they generally have higher alcohol levels than conventionally produced red wines, and it’s easy to find oakiness in top labels by top producers.

And somewhere in between there are old-school producers like Boscaini and Accordini and progressive producers like Cubi and La Dama that appeal to the north American wine cognoscenti.

angelo lavariniAbove: Angelo Lavarini’s family’s wines at San Benedetto are as “real” as they come. His 2004 Amarone was fantastic and I loved the old-school red thread that ran through each of his labels. Another highlight for me. Importers, double heads up! These wines are ripe for the picking.

My very last winery visit was Angelo Lavarini’s San Benedetto.

As soon as we arrived there and were given the wifi password, the Amarone-hating Canadian writer logged on to his Facebook and internetted away as the rest of us tasted in earnest.

Angelo recounted how in leaner times, in order to make ends meet, his family used to make salame on the table where we were now sitting. The bathroom of his family’s house was once a stall for pigs.

His wines were as wholesome as he was. I loved them and came way scratching my head and wondering why no one is importing them into the U.S.

We stepped outside and the Canadian writer lit a cigarette. If only he’d had left his [x]enophobia back in north America, I wouldn’t have had left Valpolicella with a bitter taste in my mouth.

There’s a cure for that… it’s called Recioto.

Thanks for reading…

Slow Wine, thank you for coming to Texas!

slow wine austinAbove: three restaurant professionals who attended the Slow Wine Guide 2016 tasting yesterday in downtown Austin. It was the first time that the tour had come to Texas.

What a thrill for me to see so many Italian wine celebrities and so much great Italian wine yesterday at the Slow Wine Guide 2016 tasting in Austin!

The well-attended trade-only event was an overwhelming success for the organizers, participants, and tasters alike.

When I rolled in from Houston around 3 p.m., midway through the gathering, there were easily 200 persons in the room.

I was geeked to talk to Matilde Poggi, owner at Le Fraghe in Bardolino but also president of the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers (FIVI) and vice-president of the European Confederation of Independent Grape Growers (CEVI).

It was also great to catch up with my good friend and Franciacorta consortium vice-president Silvano Brescianini who was pouring Barone Pizzini.

Both of them were visiting Austin for the first time and for Matilde, I believe it was the first experience in Texas.

But the biggest thrill was getting a chance to taste with my friends Giancarlo Gariglio and Fabio Giavedoni, the editors of the Slow Wine Guide and two of the Italian wine writers whom I admire most.

I thank them from the bottom of my heart for braving the fast-food-lined roadways of America to bring this tasting to the Lone Star State. They had driven all the way from San Francisco with their band of editors and organizers. To hear them tell their tale of eating salad at a roadside Burger King, forced to stop there out of sheer hunger, was as hilarious as it was tragic.

Just a handful of my Italian counterparts managed to keep up with me as I led them at the end of the night to the Continental Club for a great set by the legendary Austin-based singer-songwriter and band leader Dale Watson.

As I was overcome by jet lag and finally had to say goodbye, I leaned into Giancarlo, who was clearly enjoying Dale’s grooving set, and I said: “when you get back to Italy, please tell them that this, too, is America.”

To Giancarlo and Fabio, the Slow Wine team, and all the winemakers who poured and spoke about their wines yesterday, thank you for coming to Texas. The Italian wine world is all the better for it.

Taste southern with me in NYC 2/8, taste Franciacorta with me in Santa Barbara 2/22

jeremy parzen wine blogCatching my breath this morning after a long day of travel back from Italy yesterday.

But jumping right back in, I wanted to share the news that I will be part of panel on Southern Italian whites and rosés moderated by Bloomberg wine columnist Elin McCoy on Monday, February 8 in New York for the Italian Trade Commission’s Italian Wine Week 2016.

Jeff Porter of Del Posto and Roberta Morrell of Morrell’s will also be on the panel.

We’re pouring some fantastic wines and Elin has done a wonderful job of putting together an interesting discussion. She’s one of my favorite wine writers and the nicest person to work and taste with. I love her.

Here are the details for our panel and registration info.

And on Monday, February 22, I’ll be pouring and talking about Franciacorta wines for the Franciacorta Real Story project at Les Marchands in Santa Barbara. We stil haven’t nailed down the final details but gauging by the last tastings I did in Seattle (last year) and Miami (this month), this should be a super fun tasting.

Stay tuned for more info.

One of things that really impressed me on my trip to Italy last week was Franciacorta’s growing popularity across Italy.

In Montalcino on Tuesday night, I ate a classic Tuscan trattoria that dedicated an entire page of its wine list to Franciacorta.

And then on Wednesday in Verona, I drank Franciacorta at a wine bar/wine shop where Franciacorta was “stacked” at the entrance (above).

Everywhere I turn, it feels like Franciacorta is on the cusp of its big moment. Or maybe it’s just me. Probably just me.

Thanks for reading and if you happen to be at the Slow Wine tasting in Austin today, let’s taste together! I’ll be there.