Vinitaly, you’re too sexy for this fair! VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED

adua villaJust when I was feeling down-in-the-dumps on the first day of the Vinitaly fair (after a wine writer friend of mine told me that I looked “terrible”), my good friend Adua Villa (above, left) and my new friend Alejandro Mazzo (right) lifted my spirits.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” they cried. “You look FABULOUS!”

They reminded me of that wonderful Italian spirit whereby sexiness comes from within.

Not only is she the sweetest lady, Adua is one of Italy’s leading wine writers and television personalities and a novelist to boot.

Alejandro is the man behind the brilliant “Men and Wine” Instagram (which may be a little too sexy for some readers; viewer discretion advised; not kidding).

Sitting next to someone who has 74k+ followers made me feel pretty sexy myself!

stefano cinelli colombiniSex was in the air at the annual meeting of contributors to Intravino, Italy’s sexiest wine blog.

Those are two of my clients and two of the winemakers I admire most, Stefano Cinelli Colombini (left) and Luca Ferraro (right).

Even Pietro Stara (center), one of the Italian wine writers I admire most, made me feel sexy.

Some of us bitch about Intravino’s click-on-me!-inspired content. But the lovely community of writers and winemakers that this blog brings together washes away any and all lamentations.

giorgio graiAnd yesterday ended with a sexy celebrity encounter when I had the fantastic opportunity to chat and taste with legendary Italian winemaker Giorgio Grai (left) and one of my best friends, Francesco Bonfio (right), who had graciously included me to be part of a seminar panel on native Collio grapes for Vinarius, the association of Italian wine shop owners.

Today is day 3 of my Vinitaly and the bags under my eyes are rivaled only by the blisters on my feet (from walking too much) and hoarse voice (from talking too much).

Wish me speed and wish me luck!

Alfonso, we miss you!

Biondi-Santi rumored to be focus of bidding war reports Sole 24 Ore

biondi santi auctionAbove: Franco Biondi Santi died on the eve of Vinitaly 2013. This year’s fair is overshadowed by rumors that his legacy winery will be sold to the highest bidder.

According to a report published over the weekend by Il Sole 24 Ore (Italy’s Financial Times), the European financial markets are awash in rumors that the Biondi-Santi winery, a blue chip producer of Brunello di Montalcino, is the focus of a bidding war and may be acquired by one of Europe’s leading luxury groups.

Quoting anonymous sources, financial reporter Nicola Borzi writes that an unnamed law firm in Rome is currently taking bids for the property and its holdings. Initially valued at €55 million, the estate could be sold for us much as €110 million or more, he reports.

The European luxury brand groups LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Prada are cited as interested parties. A third potential bidder is not named by the report.

In a statement issued by its lawyer, the winery claims that the rumors are unfounded. And LVMH and Prada both declined to comment, writes Borzi.

Franco Biondi Santi’s son Jacopo Biondi Santi also declined to comment on the report according to a statement issued by his lawyer.

Click here for the Sole 24 Ore report.

A great day at ViniVeri in Cerea and now on to the main event in Verona…

vini veri jeremy parzenSuper fun day yesterday at ViniVeri in Cerea where I tasted, caught up with lots of winemakers, and co-presented a Barbacarlo vertical with Sandro Sangiorgi, one of Italy’s leading tasters and one of the most revered intellectuals working in wine writing today (as Martin Short once said to me when I was playing guitar at a show-biz event in Hollywood, “no pressure, right?”).

That’s me, after the tasting, with ViniVeri consortium president Giampiero Bea in the center and my good buddy Michael Zaccaria on the right.

Michael is a wine importer working in Australia and he and I only knew each other virtually until he braved a delayed and ultimately 40-hour flight from his home to Verona to make it to our event just in time.

I love how our wine-writing community connects us to people all over the world and hugging Michael for the first time was like embracing an old friend. I’m looking forward to catching up with him later this week in Verona.

That’s all there’s time to report today… About to head to Verona for the opening day of Vinitaly. Wish me speed and a nimble palate!

Thank you Matteo Gallello for the photo!

Piedmontese cuisine as the blues, Oddero makes my night, and tasting opportunities during the fairs

battuta battuto carne piemontese piedmontIn a lot of ways, Piedmontese cuisine is like the blues. The topoi and riffs are all the same. The art is in the mastery and soulfulness of delivery.

Vitello tonnato, insalata russa, peppers stuffed with anchovies and tuna, tajarin… The dishes are always the same. It’s the verve in execution that makes certain kitchens stand out.

Last night’s Piedmontese tartare — battuta di carne (above) — at Osteria Veglio was brilliant and delicious and a fabulous accompaniment to the extraordinary flight of Oddero wines that Cristina, Isabella, and Pietro Oddero shared with the Sotto wine & spirits team and me.

I was particularly geeked to taste the 2013 Barbaresco Gallina (below), which they poured for us back the winery.

Very young and still nervous in the glass. But, man, what a wine this will be!

I’ve been a huge fan of Oddero for nearly two decades but had never had the chance to visit with them. It was great to finally make that happen (thank you Francesco Minetti and Wellcom!).

And Isabella made my night my trip when she said to me, by the way, “I really don’t understand why so many Americans don’t like Houston. I really don’t mind it at all.”

oddero barbaresco gallinaThank you again, Oddero family! You are truly lovely! And thank you for these extraordinary wines you share with the world.

I’m writing in a hurry this morning as I prepare for busy day of tasting in Piedmont.

But I wanted to share a reminder of upcoming tasting opportunities over the next days of the fairs.

On Saturday, April 9, I’ll be at ViniVeri in Cerea all day (and have already traded messages with a lot of folks about connecting there).

And I’ll be co-presenting the epic Barbacarlo tasting — a unicorn among natural wines.

On Monday, April 11 at Vinitaly in Verona, I’ll be hosting an open tasting at the Franciacorta consortium stand in the PalaExpo building, Lombardia section, Stand B/C 16 from 2-4 p.m.

All are welcome and the format is casual (sneakers encouraged but not required). Please join me.

The Franciacorta consortium is holding a number of super cool events during Vinitaly. Read about them here. My money is on sommelier Nicola Bonera’s “top vintage” and “multi-format” tastings.

And New Yorkers, please don’t forget that consortium VP (and my good friend) Silvano Brescianini and I will be co-presenting an open, walk-around tasting of Franciacorta in New York on Monday, April 18.

I hope to get to taste with you soon! Thanks for being here.

Merle, we are going to miss you, man…

merle haggard obituaryAbove: Merle playing in Austin in 2012 (the second time Tracie P and I saw him live.

Man, it just hit me in the gut and hard.

I was just leaving Georgia P and Lila Jane’s preschool where Tracie P, the girls, and I had just said goodbye and I was heading to Bush airport in Houston for my flight to Europe.

I was already teary-eyed when I sat down in my car and checked my phone before driving away.

People were already pinging me: “Merle Haggard, Country Music’s Outlaw Hero, Dies at 79.”

I had been a huge fan for years before I first came to Austin in 2008 and Tracie P and I first started dating.

We saw him perform twice in Texas over the years and his songs are woven into our playlists and lives.

Beyond his unmistakable California twang and his unflagging and unflappable embrace of the American proletariat and the challenges faced by everyday folks in the worst of economic times, he was one of the master songwriters of all time. From the drinking song to the love ballad, from the socially charged canzone to storytelling chanson, his musical legacy leaves with us with archetypes for each of the American country and popular song paradigms.

“Mama Tried,” “California Cotton Fields,” “If We’re Not Back In Love By Monday,” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “Hungry Eyes”… my playlist for today goes on and on. How much poorer would our lives be without these masterworks of Americana lyricism and melody???!!!

I’m writing this morning on a layerover from the Munich airport and tonight I’ll be having dinner in the heart of Barolo and drinking great Nebbiolo with a group of American wine professionals.

But at some point, I’m going to slip away and find a corner of the restaurant to sit by myself for a shot of “Misery and Gin.”

But here I am again mixing misery and gin
Sittin’ with all my friends and talkin’ to myself
I look like I’m havin’ a good time but any fool can tell
That this honky tonk heaven really makes you feel like hell.

And Tracie P, I can’t wait to get back to Houston for some of your fine fried chicken and some dirty dancin’ to Merle.

A unicorn among natural wines: Barbacarlo vertical Saturday April 9 at ViniVeri

barbacarlo wine chambersEver since wine maven and merchant Jamie Wolff of Chambers St. Wines poured the 1996 not so long ago in Manhattan, Lino Maga’s Barbacarlo — the legendary monopole from Oltrepò Pavese — has been the toast of the New York wine scene cognoscenti.

Jamie’s (and New York’s) recent discovery has been a best-kept secret among the Italian wine glitterati for decades. And in recent years, library releases of these extraordinary wines have been popping up in the old country.

Ubi major minor cessat. I couldn’t have said it better than Jamie when he wrote:

“Made from roughly equal parts Croatina, Uva Rara, and Vespolina, the wine is clean and it’s very distinctive. It’s dark and savory with very complex aromatics of rhubarb, plums, violets, and tea; it’s structured and tannic, and there’s a bit of spritz on the palate which gives lift. Chemicals have never been used in the vines; fermentation is spontaneous, in large old botti; aside from a couple of rackings no other processes are done — the bottled wine has sediment. After tasting at Maga, I could see my friend Luca’s point in drawing a parallel between Maga and Bartolo Mascarello; aside from being of the same generation and sharing the same philosophy of wine, Luca’s view was based on the quality of their wine: both winemakers reject flashy effects, both are determined to sustain the tradition and practices of their families and of their regions; both obtain authentic wines of the highest possible quality.”

On Saturday, April 9, at 3 p.m., I will be co-presenting a vertical tasting of Barbacarlo at the ViniVeri fair in Cerea. It will include the 1983, 1989, 1999, 2007, 2010, and 2011.

The tasting will also feature the 1982, 2010 and 2011 vintages of Montebuono, another historic label by winemaker and Knight Commander Lino Maga.*

The event is not cheap at 50 euros per person. But it is sure to be a blockbuster.

Click here for fair details and registration info. And click here to purchase tickets for the Barbacarlo tasting (via wire transfer).

A few weeks ago when ViniVeri consortium president Giampiero Bea contacted me about giving the association a hand this year in promoting awareness of the fair and its causes, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

But I never would have dreamed that one of the perks would be chasing a natural wine unicorn.

I’ll be at the fair in Cerea all day on Saturday, April 9. Please join me if you can, whether for the walk-around tasting or the Barbacarlo event.

And don’t forget that Davide Vanni will also be presenting his new film “Vitae” that same evening. It’s a documentary chronicling his visits to 50 natural wine producers over the course of a year and it’s one of the most talked-about events at the fair this year.

*Knight Commander in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Image by Marina Ciancaglini via Intravino.

It’s not easy being Negroamaro: the Negroamaro microaggression

best negroamaro harvest 2014Last year, I experienced a microaggression in New York when I visited my favorite lower Manhattan natural wine bar. When I asked the bartender about a Chardonnay by-the-glass, he was clearly annoyed and asked, “Do you like okay buttery Chardonnay? ‘Cause that’s what it tastes like.”

The subtext was you look like a dumb tourist who could never understand what real wine tastes like. The wine I asked about was in fact a unoaked and unmaloed Chardonnay, vinified in a natural style.

These microaggressions are nothing compared to those that my black, gay, and women friends, for example, are subjected to on a daily basis. And that’s not to mention the many historic microaggressions that are often woven into daily parlance (their original meaning often forgotten).

But I hope that these examples help to convey the idea.

I began thinking of microaggressions and wine the other day when I overheard a famous wine writer say: “wow, that’s pretty good for a Negroamaro!”

Click here to continue reading my post today for the CanteleUSA blog. Paolo, I love you man and this one is for you…

A favorite Valpolicella and a great Italian portfolio beat the odds in Texas

Taste with me on Monday of Vinitaly 2-4 p.m.
at the Franciacorta consortium stand.
It’s an informal tasting where everyone is welcome.
Click here for details.

corte sant aldaNarry a week goes by that I don’t receive an email from a winemaker or importer asking me advice about how to find representation in Texas.

The state’s economy is robust despite the drop in the price of oil and the wine culture here vibrant and growing.

But aggressive and restrictive regulation of wine sales here (o how those Republican lawmakers love interventionist government!) and steep wholesale taxes (o how those Republican lawmakers love taxing small businesses!) remain unchanged. Unless you are with one of the big distributors, you face seemingly insurmountable obstacles to creating a foothold in the Lone Star State.

And now that Southern Wine & Spirits (the Microsoft of wine) has acquired distributor and direct importer Glazer’s (one of the Texas biggies) in what has euphemistically been deemed a “merger,” the odds are stacked even higher in favor of big wine and big money.

(“‘What’s also very important is that this is a combination,’ [Glazer’s CEO Sheldon] Stein added. ‘No one is being bought out, there is no acquisition, it’s a combination of the two.'” I guess it depends on what your definition of is is.)

Over the last five years or so, a new wave of smaller and more open-minded distributors has cropped up here. Many have gone by the wayside. But a few have flourished.

rootstock wine texasI was thrilled when Mark Middlebrook (above, left), national sales manager for Italian wine importer PortoVino, contacted me a few weeks ago about tasting with him and his Texas distributor Ian McCaffery (right) here in Houston.

Last week, I met with them and was geeked to see that one of my favorite expressions of Valpolicella, Corte Sant’Alda, is now available in Texas. The wine showed gorgeously, btw, fresh and lithe in the mouth despite the fact that it had been open and in their wine bag all day.

Ian has courageously stuck to his guns as he has brought a number of alternative and natural-leaning portfolios or “books” as they are known in the trade to the state (he also has Jenny & François, for example).

And gauging from the fact that he is currently expanding his sales force, it would seem that he is thriving.

As much as I love our wine scene here, it’s still challenging for me to obtain a lot of the wines I like to drink on a regular basis. As a consumer, I am forced to buy much of the wine we serve at home from out-of-state retailers and then have them shipped here through a third-party shipper (which is 100 percent legal, btw; it’s a pain in the ass and it’s expensive but it’s legal).

It’s all the more reason that I applaud Mark and Ian for their work here. Little by little, our state is catching up to New York and California in terms of the availability of the wines that the new generation of fine wine lovers wants to drink.

The night of our meeting, someone at our table challenged me to explain why I identify as a Marxist.

Forced to answer as succinctly as possible (also for the sake of the wines, which were the real focus of our meeting), I told her: materialism drives capitalism; capitalism drives consumerism; and consumerism diminishes our humanity.

However they see it, Mark and Ian are both doing their part to put a little bit of humanity back into the Texas wine scene. And I’m all for that…

Thanks for reading.

Lick, pray, love: wonderful ice cream at Dolce Neve in Austin

best ice cream austin texasPosting in a hurry today because I’m super slammed with work.

But, dulcis in fundo, how not to end the week on a sweet note after having visited my new favorite ice cream shop, Dolce Neve in Austin?

I loved talking to owners and ice cream-makers Marco Silvestrini from Umbria (below, right) and Leo Ferrarese (left) from Lombardy. I didn’t get to meet Francesca Silvestrini, Marco’s sister. But she’s part of the picture, too.

Super nice people and fantastic, wholesome, artisanal ice cream. All made from scratch and served in traditional Italian style with lots of fun flourishes.

Talking to these guys yesterday while I was in Austin for business, I couldn’t help but think that someone is going to make a “feel-good-movie-of-the-summer” about their arc, from the corporate world to ice cream slingers in America’s quirkiest city. Lick, pray, love…

Thanks for being here and buon weekend a tutti!

dolce neve austin marco silvestrini