Prosecco-flavored soda? It’s gone too far…

prosecco flavored soda HEB central marketAt a recent dinner at his excellent restaurant Frasca in Udine province (Friuli), Valter Scarbolo treated a group of American interior designers and publishers to a vertical tasting of his Pinot Grigio.

It was incredible to see the looks on their faces as they tasted through the wines (stretching back to the mid-00s): however sophisticated and worldly this group of high-end travelers, none had ever experienced Pinot Grigio beyond the commercially produced brands that line the shelves of America’s supermarkets (you know the usual suspects).

I was reminded of this marvelous scene yesterday when one of Houston’s leading wine professionals and italophile wine lovers posted the photo, above, of “Prosecco-flavored” soda yesterday on his Facebook.

Like Valter’s guests, my Houston-based colleague’s reaction was that of astonishment, although in this case, the surprise was inverted.

“Words fail me,” he wrote in the caption.

He couldn’t have had a more apt response (in my view). His words echo a classic Veneto dialectal expression: no go paroe (non ho parole in Italian), in other words, I have no words.

Apropos for the very reason that my Veneto fellows will surely utter the same when they learn of the existence of Prosecco-flavored soda. After all, Prosecco isn’t just a favorite wine of Venetians and the Veneti: it is a synecdoche for the Veneto people.

Like Pinot Grigio, Prosecco has transcended its origins to become an über-brand in the U.S. and the greater anglophone world. Transcendence might imply amelioration, depending on your point of view (not mine). But anyone who’s ever tasted traditional-style Prosecco will surely recognize the disconnect between the citrus, salty, and slightly bitter flavors of wines made from Glera (formerly known as Prosecco) grapes and the notion of sweet-tasting Prosecco soda.

They say that in antiquity amphoras were filled with marzipan before they were shipped from the Middle East to the West in order to protect the earthenware vessels from breaking. According to the legend, by the time they would arrive, the recipients would mistake the contents for the container. The sweet paste, they believed, was the conveyed and not the conveyer.

When wines and wine brands travel across that vast misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean, their continuity with their origins is often diminished.

But “Prosecco-flavored Italian organic soda”?

As an adoptive Texan and a lover of our HEB and Central Market stores, it pains me to write that it’s gone too far.

I can’t imagine what it tastes like and I have no intention of ever drawing this beverage to my lips. But I seriously doubt that it tastes like Prosecco or anything even vaguely reminiscent of Glera that has been transformed into wine. And more importantly, why and how on earth did someone conceive of a soda that “tastes like” wine? I could write a dissertation on the wrong contained therein.

No, as much as I love the HEB where Tracie P and I shop nearly every day, this screaming lack of enogastronomic responsibility runs counter to a corporate ethos that purports, ostensibly, to nourish my community.

In fact, this colonization rape of Italian viticulture egregiously harms our community by propagating mis- and disinformation.

I, who stand atop a Prosecco grape harvest crate, cannot stand for this.

And so, I implore you, o readers of this blog: do not buy or consume Central Market’s Prosecco-flavored Italian organic soda.

(But if you’re reading this, you probably wouldn’t drink it anyway.)

Suffer from Jewish Boy Stomach? Eat at Moruno in Los Angeles (and thanks to Sotto team and guests)

david rosoff restaurant los angelesEvery time Sotto brings me to Los Angeles to work on our wine list, general manager Christine Veys and I try to break away to check out one of the new restaurants on LA’s vibrant food scene.

On Tuesday evening, after tasting roughly 30 wines with 6 different sales reps, we headed to my friend David Rosoff’s newly opened Moruno in the West Hollywood Farmer’s Market (a haunt of my youth).

That’s the absolutely delicious albacore tuna conserva in the photo above.

The menu is inspired by Spanish and Middle Eastern cookery and is delivered mostly in small plates and on skewers (as David put it, a moruno is “meat on a stick”).

We had a wide variety of dishes, including the roast butternut squash topped with cashews and sesame seeds, one of the guests’ and staff’s favorites, David said.

And of course, we sampled both the chicken and lamb morunos.

what is a morunoEverything was truly fantastic and it was great to see his energetic team working in the kitchen with such focused skill and decisive sense of mission.

But the thing that really blew me away about the experience was how good I felt the next day (sparing you the details, I’ll presume you know what I mean).

Whenever I travel for my work (and this year, I already have four trips to Italy and visits to New York, Miami, Santa Barbara, Boston, and LA under my belt), one of the greatest challenges I face is the combination of fatigue and distressed digestion (I’ll leave it at that).

best spanish wineEven though Christine and I really dug into our meal with gusto at Moruno, my “day after” was bright and sunny, as it were.

Maybe it was thanks to the superb Grenache Blanc by Cellar Frisach from southern Spain that made the difference. Zinging acidity in this hillside wine from the high lands, vibrant fruit and great balance, with restrained alcohol. I really dug it, especially at just $45 a bottle.

David, from one Jew to another, I LOVE your restaurant. The ultimate mark of a great meal is how you feel the next day and man, I woke up ready to go… as it were…

In other news…

My goodness, what a lovely night at Sotto last night where we launched our new wine list with a guided tasting of five new wines by-the-glass!

I can’t tell you how many times I lead tastings where guests show up only wanting to tell me about how they once visited Gaja.

Last night’s group was one of the best and most fun that I’ve ever tasted with: a very gracious ensemble of wine lovers who asked informed questions and shared thoughtful impressions of the wines. Thank you, everyone, for joining me.

And super heartfelt thanks to Christine for being such a great friend and colleague and for believing in my crazy reboot of our list (which I love).

And I also have to give a shout-out to my Texas family who surprised me by showing up at the tasting unannounced and staying for dinner. It was so fun to connect with them in LA and wonderful to know that I have family that supports me in what I do for a living. What a thrill for me to see Aunt Gladys enjoying my wine selections!

Now it’s time to get my butt back on a plane for Houston and some much needed downtime with Tra and the girls… Thanks for being here.

LA Update: Tomorrow’s tasting at Sotto sold-out. Taste Franciacorta with me in Chicago June 6.

franciacorta new yorkPosting from the plane on my way to Los Angeles where we will be launching my new wine list at Sotto this week. I’m happy/sad to report that tomorrow night’s preview tasting at the restaurant is sold out.

But I will be at the restaurant all evening on Wednesday: please stop by and let’s drink some Schioppettino and Vitovska and munch on Chef Steve’s awesome Neapolitan-style pizza! Seriously, I’ll be hanging out all evening.

And I have just a few spots left for the guided Franciacorta tasting I’ll be leading in Chicago week after next. It’s free and we already have a great group of wine professionals who will be attending. I literally have 4 seats left so please email at your earliest convenience to ensure availability. Thanks for your support and looking forward to tasting with you!

Franciacorta Real Story Tasting
Monday, June 6, 2016

Perman Wine Selections
802 W Washington Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 666-4417

Monday, June 6, 6:00 p.m.
seated/guided tasting
11 Franciacorta wines
please RSVP by emailing Jeremy:
limited availability

Taste 11 Franciacorta wines with Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D. author of

Franciacorta is a classic-method sparkling wine produced using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc in the foothills of the Alps in Brescia province, Italy (about an hour east of Milan by car). Since the 1960s, winemakers there have made some of Italy’s (and the world’s) most coveted sparkling wines thanks to the area’s unique growing conditions, including: The wide variety of morainic, limestone, and clay subsoils of the Franciacorta amphitheater; the maritime influence of Lake Iseo to the north (part of Italy’s beautiful Lake District); and the Alpine climate of their high-lying vineyards. Because Franciacorta growers are able to achieve greater ripeness than their counterparts in other sparkling wine regions and because they have a wider diversity of soil types, their wines stand apart from their transalpine cousins for their remarkable freshness, rich fruit character, and signature minerality (some would call it salinity).
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See why I moved to Texas? Thank you, Tracie P, for giving them to us!

tracie and georgia thumbWhat a joyous day for this proud daddy yesterday when Georgia P performed in her first big dance recital at the Stafford Centre theater in southwest Houston!

She was part of the ensemble performance by her four-year-olds class at the Banbury School of Dance (located in our neighborhood, Westbury; they did a fantastic job of producing this show, btw).

That’s my little ballerina with her mother, above!

georgia on stage thumbMan, can you imagine the lump in my throat and the pounding in my chest as we waited patiently in the audience for her big stage debut!

And lo and behold, she took the stage with that gorgeous smile on her face and unbridled confidence in her steps.

Georgia P, I couldn’t have been more proud! The stage lights, the packed house, and a sizable cast of talented dancers: you handled yourself like a pro, my sweet, sweet girl!

lila jane thumbAnd Lila Jane, you had so much fun cheering your sister on!

You sat so patiently through the dress rehearsal and the show. By the end of last night’s performance, you were performing the moves in the aisle!

Tracie P, thank you for giving us these beautiful girls. You gave them your big heart and your brilliant smile.

And you have given me a dream life that I never could have imagined until I came here to Texas to be with you.

I love you all so much…

Epitaph for an Everyman: “I am America” (guest post)

Today, a guest post by my cherished friend Nico Danesi…

confessions of a crap artists dick“If this world’s all for the winners, what’s for the losers?”

“Well, somebody’s got to hold the horses.”

Before I first crossed the Atlantic, there was a man who brought me to America. He took me there without ever going.

He took me to places where America is colored by the exasperated reflections of legend and contention, where poetry is fragmented into hallucinatory but vivid images, unreal only in the eye of those who believe in proclamations and don’t know how to listen to humanity in pain, imperfect but beautiful nonetheless.

Sam Peckinpah’s ugly mugs and Altman’s moonstruck players. Arthur Penn’s humble heroes and Cimino’s emarginated immigrants. Coppola and Scorsese’s Italians. Hal Ashby’s unknowns and Monte Hellman’s taciturn characters but also the Beat provocateurs and especially the hyperbolic jazzers with their impossible solos as long as a long illness is long.

If, in her or his propaedeutic arc, a functional wine drinker sets out as an “Absolute Beginner” drinking the “bestest wines” of the world, would she or he understand them?

Surely, she or he would be hard-pressed to describe them or offer commentary but she or he would surely enjoy them. Such enjoyment would come in brilliant flashes and would deliver a deep well of wonderment upon which the most solid of foundations could rest.

I believe the same holds for artistic expression as in music, cinema, poetry, and literature.

As a child, I was nourished by an uncle who was more like a friend and big brother. He fed me words and magical images that drifted inside of me as they evoked a limpid but also often terrible America.
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Venissa, a project and a wine sui generis that deserve our attention

venissaHonestly, despite everything I’ve read about Venissa and the wine that is grown and raised there (above), I couldn’t really wrap my mind around the place and the project until I visited there recently with Adam Japko’s Design and Wine Tour.

I’ve known Matteo Bisol for years, since I first met him in Texas in 2009. And over the years, we’ve become friends thanks to our shared interest in wine (his family is a legacy producer of Prosecco) and poetry (he and his family were intimate friends and patrons of the great Veneto poet Andrea Zanzotto).

In 2008, the Bisol family replanted a historic vineyard on the Venetian island of Mazzorbo in 2008, using a local clone of Garganega called Dorona.

The vineyard had lay fallow since the great flood of 1966 (see the newsreel below).

Once the water had subsided, Matteo explained to me when I visited a few weeks ago, there was scarce interest in replanting. Although the site had produced wine for hundreds of years (stretching back to the Middle Ages), Italy’s economic boom of the 1960s was luring erstwhile farmers to the newly emerged industrial sector on the mainland.

Even if there had been interest in reviving the growing site, it would taken years before the soils would have been purged of elevated levels of salt in the soils owed to the severe flooding.

matteo bisolToday, the Bisol family uses the same drainage system that has been in place in the vineyards for generations.

Seawater flooding is inevitable, explained Matteo (that’s Matteo and me in the photo above). But it is manageable in part because the Dorona grape seems to have adapted to the environment and conditions where it is grown.

As you walk through the small vineyard there, with its wild grasses growing high between the rows, you can’t help but breathe in its robust health and life. It’s a remarkable experience and an entirely unique one. There’s really nowhere else in the world where something like this does or could exist.

Mazzorbo island is one in the group of the oldest Venetian settlements, dating back to the Longobard invasions of the late Roman era. Torcello is the most famous of these.

The Bisol family has done a superb job of preserving the viticultural legacy there: an island vineyard planted with a historic and entirely unique clone of Garganega that most likely evolved in situ.

dorona venissaAt dinner that night at the Michelin-starred Venissa restaurant, our group of roughly 30 persons had the opportunity to taste the wine.

It’s vinified in an elegantly macerated style. I liked it a lot: it showed great depth and nuance in its layers of flavor and I was impressed by its surprising freshness and fruit character on the nose.

It’s not cheap. Bottles can be had through private channels for around 120 Euros. The bottles are adorned with a gold leaf label intended to evoke the wine’s color and name: Dorona is believed to come from uva d’oro or golden grape.

But to my mind, the quality or value of the wine is not what’s important. What’s significant in my view is that this wine, a true wine sui generis, exists and has a sustainable structure in place that will preserve its future and legacy.

This example of extreme viticulture on a tiny island off the mainland reveals so much about Italy’s place in the world of wine and the country’s unrivaled ability to produce singular expressions of vitis vinifera.

When in Venice, if only a day trip to walk the gorgeous vineyard and see the drainage system, the journey is well worth the time on the water. Mazzorbo is easily reachable, btw, by public transportation and the vineyards are always open to anyone who cares to read their rows.

Thank you again, Matteo, for a wonderful visit and this precious chapter of Italian wine so intelligently preserved and thoughtfully presented.

Congrats David Keck, Houston’s newest Master Sommelier!

david keck food wine magazineThat’s David Keck, left, owner and wine director at Camerata and Houston’s newest Master Sommelier, with Elaine Brown, wine writer and blogger, who visited us earlier this year.

The news just broke: David has passed his Master Sommelier exams in Aspen!

Mazel tov, man! Nobody does it better and no one deserved it more.

Congratulations and thanks for bringing it back to the Bayou City, dude! Great news!

A new wine list and a tasting May 25 at Sotto in LA. Please join me!

ponte diavolo cividaleAbove: “chiare, fresche, e dolci acque” (“clear, cool, and fresh waters”). Does anyone remember the famous song by my beloved Petrarch? For those who don’t, it’s canzone 126. The view of the Natisone River, above, from the Ponte del Diavolo in Cividale del Friuli, reminded me of the poem when I visited a few weeks ago.

Five years ago, when we held our first staff training at Sotto before the restaurant opened, the team looked at me like I was crazy.

How on earth were we going to sell wines made from grapes like Aglianico, Falanghina, Gaglioppo, Pallagrello, and Tintilia when our prospective guests had probably never even heard of them let alone knew how to pronounce them?

I’ve known owner and executive chef Steven Samson since we spent our UC junior year abroad together in Italy back in 1987-88. He had asked me to create an all southern Italian wine list. I loved the challenge and I knew that southern Italian wine — from white to red and every color in between — offered all the goods we needed to deliver a world-class carta dei vini. I also knew that it was going to be an uphill battle to introduce Angelenos to a whole new world of wine and to overcome the stereotypes of the “north vs. south” culture war in Italian enogastronomy.

But Californians’ insatiable thirst for the unusual and exotic and their adventurous spirit in wine exploration swiftly brushed aside any prejudices our guests may have harbored. It didn’t take long before the Los Angeles Times called our list one of the “most interesting” and LA Magazine named it a one of the “best Italian wine lists” in the city.

Five years later, mission accomplished. Today, guests regularly order Gaglioppo and Aglianico with unrivaled linguistic mastery (pun intended).

As the next chapter in the history of Sotto’s wine program unfolds, we’ve decided to shift our focus beyond southern Italy to other “undiscovered” regions of Italian viticulture: Friuli in northeasternmost Italy and Liguria on the Italian riviera. Although few in America know the wines (yet!), we believe these regions produce some of the best still white wines and most compelling seafood-friendly reds in the world. They’re perfect for chef Steve’s evolving seafood menu as it will follow the seasons through summer.

I hope you can join me and Sotto’s sommelier Christine Veys on May 25 for a tasting of five of the new wines we are debuting this month at Sotto.

Chef Steve will be serving light bites as well.

Click here for details and registration info.

Lino Fritto, a brave, new and delicious Venetian seafood bar

Register for my May 25 tasting at Sotto in LA by clicking here.

venetian insalata di mareIn Venetian, they call it a bacaro (pronounced BAH-kah-roh, with the tonic syllable in the first position).

In Italian you might call it a cicchetteria (chee-keh-teh-REE-ah), a place where cicchetti or Venetian small bites are served.

One of the most thrilling discoveries of my recent Venetian sojourn was Lino Fritto, a new bacaro in the Venice fish market with classic and creative dishes and chic, clean-lined modernist décor.

sardine in saor recipeI was so enthralled with the food the night we visited that I forgot to take pictures of the space itself.

Have a look here on the shop’s site for a room shot and don’t miss the Facebook.

From the sarde in saor (traditional sardines cooked and served in sweet and sour sauce and consumed whole) to the classic Venetian-style seafood salads and fried fishballs, Lino Fritto serves my favorite kind of meal (especially easy on Jewish-boy stomachs, btw).

But they also serve a wide variety of fried and puréed vegetables.

shrimp cocktail recipeThe fact that it’s set on the edge of the picturesque Venetian fish market only sweetens the salty deal.

On my friend Adam Japko’s Design and Wine tour this month, we hosted our Sunday night light dinner there and it was perfect (especially when paired with Wayne Young who was pouring and speaking about Bastianich wines).

I need to send out a special thanks to owner Marco Ferro who was so gracious in taking a cold call from some dude in Houston (that would be me) and working with me to make this happen.

And I am also sending a big Texan-style bear hug to the lovely Federica Zane who handled our party and put our evening together so seamlessly.

I had so much fun planning and attending our dinner there and I can’t wait to get back and dive right back in to one of my favorite styles of eating and my new favorite bacaro.

Why doesn’t every American city have this? Hint hint: Marco is looking for American partners…