$100 bbq for three people? Yes, it happened in Austin, Texas

best barbecue austinYes, people, it’s true: that’s $100 worth of Texas bbq right there in that photo.

3/4 lbs. brisket
1 beef rib
1 sausage
1 pulled pork sandwich
1 handful of pulled pork on the side
1/2 pint of coleslaw
1/2 pint of potato salad
6 bottles of water
1 Coke
3 people

My bromance Giovanni has been staying with us this week and on Tuesday I took him to Austin for some honky-tonking and a visit to one of my clients there.

Yesterday, we arrived early at La Barbecue — currently, Austin’s hippest destination for ‘cue — where we waited in line for an hour to get our food.

It was delicious. Definitely up there with some of the best bbq I’ve ever had. The smoke ring on the brisket was impeccable. The tenderness and flavor of the pork peerless and beyond reproach. The potato salad divinely classic and classically divine.

But $100 for three people? In my view, that’s an Oedipal reversal of what bbq is supposed to be about.

But then again, when you hear people talk about how they used to pay $6.99 for first-growth Bordeaux in the 1970s, you can’t help but see the parallels in the ways that the market (and marketing) can drive our perceptions of value.

To put it into perspective, uncle Marty treated Giovanni and me to lunch at Brisket House in Houston on Monday. It’s one of the best smokers imho in our city. Our bill for a similar amount of food was around $50 and our wait was 15 minutes.

As we drove back to Houston, I remembered how Snow’s in Lexington, Texas was all the rage back when I first moved to the state in 2008. It’s the first bbq destination (at least that I remember) where people bragged about lining up early in the morning to get their food before it ran out. Today, there are a handful (if not more) of similarly popular smokers spread out across Austin and Houston.

What’s the world coming to? I’m not sure but I know it’s delicious (and expensive).

A spectacular splurge wine from Friuli

morus albaBetween a seminar I led at Vinitaly in April, a recent visit to Friuli and all the great wine that’s finding its way to Texas from Friuli (thanks to a new wave of independent distributors and forward-thinking wine professionals), some amazing Friulian wines have filled my glass over the last couple of months.

But the one I can’t stop thinking about is the Morus Alba by Vignai da Duline, a splurge wine that costs around $60 in our market.

Honestly, I can’t recall ever tasting a Malvasia Istriana and Sauvignon Blanc blend like this extraordinary wine. In my experience, Malvasia Istriana (not related to the many different clones of Malvasia found throughout Italy and Europe) is generally bottled as a monovarietal wine (like Venica’s excellent Pètris).

In this cuvée, the Malvasia has an opulent unctuousness that plays against the more angular Sauvignon Blanc with spectacular results. And even with a slightly higher alcohol content than I would generally reach for, this wine was impeccably balanced. What a wine!

I’ve never visited the winery or tasted with the winemaker but I imagine the proprietary name is a homage to Friuli’s historic silk trade.

Morus alba is Latin for the white mulberry, a tree commonly found in Friuli and a favorite food of silkworms.

The Morus Alba that Tracie P and I shared the other night was a splurge wine, for sure. A “special occasion” bottle that we enjoyed thanks to a project I’ve been working on. But, man, it was worth every penny…

Freedom’s just another word for shitty wine: Houston defiant in the face of corporate distributors Houston wine buyers find creative ways to source labels beyond mainstream channels

best italian wine list houstonAbove: Thomas Moësse authors my (current) favorite Italian wine list in Houston at Divino. There’s a lot of great Italian wine in my adoptive city and it seems that more is finding its way here every day.

Not a lot has changed in the way wine is shipped and distributed in Texas since I moved here nearly eight years ago.

The two biggies — Glazer’s and Republic — continue to control 99 percent an overwhelming majority of the market and small and independent distributors continue to be thwarted by restrictive policy and excessive regulation of wine sales.

The main issue is that it is illegal in Texas to use an outside fulfillment warehouse or delivery trucks. In other words, you have to own your own temperature-controlled storage and vehicles. Those costs are prohibitive for a small business owner who’s trying to bring small allocations of wine to the state.

Heavy taxation on wholesale wine sales is another issue (yes, taxation in Texas, people). Unless you are working with big volume, it’s nearly impossible to compensate for the bite that the state takes from your profit and still deliver competitive pricing. (Errata corrige, July 7, 2016: currently, Texas “subjects mixed beverages [i.e., alcoholic beverages] to a total tax of 15.25 percent [between] the mixed beverage gross receipts tax and the new mixed beverage sales tax, – 1.25 percent higher than in 2013.” That’s nearly twice the 8 percent sales tax that Californians pay in San Diego, my hometown, for example.)

The Texan political class claims deregulation as its battle cry. But when it comes to the wine trade, Austin legislators have regulated our right to drink artisanal wine into the ground. Here in Texas, freedom’s just another word for shitty wine diminished diversity in the marketplace.

When the newly appointed editor at the Houston Press asked me to do a round-up of “wine deals” for summer, I reached out to our city’s growing number of progressive wine professionals and was wholly impressed by their “out-of-the-big-wine-box” approach.

For July’s Loire Fest, which will include 20+ Houston wine-focused venues, the organizer bargained with distributors (large and small) to get the best deals on by-the-glass pours. That’s going to translate into aggressive pricing for average Giovannas and Giuseppes like me.

Another example is the model embraced author of my favorite Italian wine list in Houston. He sources many of his wines directly in Italy and then works with small distributors to bring them in. They are willing to take on the risk because they are confident that they won’t be saddled with unsold wine.

Even a restaurant like Prego, a workhorse Italian in an upscale Houston neighborhood since 1983 (as the name reveals), has a compact but sturdy list of groovy Rhône-variety rosés from natural and forward-thinking Californian producers sourced from courageous “small business owner” distributors.

Any one of my hipper-than-though hipper-than-thou W-burg colleagues would find plenty of good wine to drink this summer in my adoptive city. And it’s all thanks to a new generation of Texan wine professionals who find ways to get us the wine we want (and the wine we don’t know that we want).

Bottoms up, Houstonians! Here’s to our best wine summer yet and here’s my post today for the Houston Press.

My wife, my lover…

From the department of “I read the news today o boy…”

A song I wrote last Sunday.

On this day on Father’s Day in 1975
A boy sat in his daddy’s lap
And then began to cry
Because there was soon to be a rift inside this house
It all went south

Then some years had passed before
The boy moved far away
And then he met the girl who would
No longer lead astray
And then there was a place for him that he could finally call his own
Some how this house became a home

Before I met you I could hardly tie my shoes
Before you came into my life I could never lose the lonely blues
But knowing that you love me there’s no way that I could lose
You are my wife and lover, you are my muse

Fast forward to a time, a couple years from now
And then rewind to find the reason
In the where and what and how
The woman brought the very best out of you
When she said I do

Watch her hold the babies
When the thunder makes them cry
Hear her tell them that she loves them
And you’ll wonder why it took so long
To get here from that day in 1975
Doesn’t it feel good to be alive?

Before I met you I could hardly tie my shoes
Before you came into my life I could never lose the lonely blues
But knowing that you love me there’s no way that I could lose
You are my wife and lover, you are my muse

jeremy parzen wife tracie

Speak Ruché (Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project)

montalbera ruche piedmont wine barberaAbove: Piedmontese wine professional Paolo Bersighelli spoke Ruché for my camera in April of this year. Click the image or scroll down for the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project video.

Doesn’t a glass of slightly chilled Ruché sound great for dinner tonight?

Just because it’s summertime and we’re not reaching for “big” Nebbiolo doesn’t mean we must abandon Piedmont red.

Before I headed to Vinitaly this year, I made trip to the heart of Ruché country where I visited the Montalbera winery and shot these videos with Piedmontese wine professional Paolo Bersighelli for my ever-expanding Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project.

Sadly, so many people mispronounce Ruché because of its outwardly French morphology.

Hopefully today’s video will set the record straight.

Montalbera has a newly christened and sparkling tasting facility btw and is definitely worth the trip. I liked the wines a lot and am glad to see that they have a growing presence in the U.S.

Thanks for speaking Italian grapes!

Elvio Cogno, Barolo great and legacy producer, dies at 79

In the light of last week’s events, I wanted to wait a little bit before sharing this press release, which was issued on Monday, June 13 by the Elvio Cogno winery. I’m a huge fan of the estate and have had the great fortune to taste so many fantastic vintages of Marcarini that were made by its namesake.

elvio cogno deathWine producer Elvio Cogno passed away Sunday evening, June 12 at the St. Lazzaro Hospital in Alba after a prolonged illness. Founder of the prestigious Elvio Cogno winery in Novello, he was considered a patriarch of Barolo and Nascetta wines.

His career began at Ristorante dell’Angelo in La Morra. There, Elvio Cogno, class of 1936 and born in the small town of Novello, began thinking about producing his own wines.

His dream finally took such strong hold that in the mid-1950s, with the efforts and interest of a business partner and the growing prestige of his bottles, Elvio Cogno decided to leave the restaurant business and dedicate himself to viniculture. He began to collaborate with the Marcarini winery, who managed splendid vineyards in Brunate (in the township of La Morra), cultivated with nebbiolo grapes for Barolo.

Elvio’s work was immediately directed towards high quality production, oriented towards developing the great potential of the wines of the Langhe.

His first Barolo was bottled from the great vintage of 1961. Already in 1964, Elvio Cogno was among the first to write the name of the vineyard on the label, a practice that was well ahead of his time. The first wine was naturally Brunate, which demonstrates his pride and awareness in this wine and in the uniqueness of its terroir.

In just a few years, Cogno-Marcarini became one of the most important wineries in the zone.

Towards the end of the 1980s, however, Elvio Cogno began to think about changing direction. He felt he had reached a point in his life when it was time for him to begin a solitary adventure. Thus in 1990, with enormous sacrifices and courage, he purchased Cascina Nuova in Ravera, a large homestead located just outside of Novello.

Elvio Cogno was 60 years old when he decided to start anew. His daughter Nadia and son-in-law Valter Fissore soon officially entered into his winery business alongside him.

Their first nebbiolo harvest was in 1991; they released their wine four years later as Barolo Ravera, and it was the first label to include a menzione geografica, or cru vineyard, something that would be officially regulated and delineated only years later.

In 1996, Elvio Cogno handed over the reins of the company to his daughter Nadia and son-in-law Valter Fissore. However, he remained generous with advice and was active in the successes of the winery up until the onset of his illness, which resulted in his withdrawal from activities several years ago, and in his death yesterday, at 79 years old, ending the full and active life of one of the patriarchs of Barolo.

Elvio is survived by his wife Graziella, his daughter Nadia, his son-in-law Valter, and his granddaughter Elena.

The funeral will be held on Tuesday, June 14 at 10:30 am at the St. Martino church of La Morra. The Rosary will be held in the same church this evening, June 13, 2016 at 9:00 pm.

NSFW: “Smooth (oh Paolo),” Parzen Family Singers’ new song about Paolo Cantele #bromance

paolo cantele winePaolo Cantele (above) is one of my bestest friends and my bromance (and my client) and I wrote him this song (embedded below).

This was one of those ones that just tumbled out of my brain and body: I hadn’t intended to write him a song but then a beat led to a riff and a riff led to a wah wah pedal and a lyric.

I hope my guitar playing makes up for my crappy singing and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed recording it (here in Houston at Baby P Studios Gulf Coast location).

See you next week and thanks for being here. Lyrics follow the YouTube below.

Smooth (oh Paolo)

He’s got the crib
He’s got the clothes
He’s got the ride
And everyone knows

He’s got the look
He even wrote a book
Doesn’t have the hair
But the girls don’t seem to care

Oh Paolo
Some say he’s a gigolo

He’s got the wine
And he’s got the time
When the ladies are looking so fine

Likes heavy guitars
Likes hanging in bars
He’s even friends with a dude who’s named the Jar

You know he’s moving in the right direction
Gonna get some California sun
You know he’s making all the right connections
He’s America’s newest son
He’s gonna get the rock ‘n’ roll injection
And he’s gonna have himself some fun
He’s a son of a gun

Oh Paolo
Some say he’s a gigolo

Hearts, thoughts, and prayers for Orlando

Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out this morning to the victims in yesterday’s shooting in Orlando and their families.

The senselessness of this wanton violence is almost impossible to fathom. But it is tragically real.

I remember all too well being a high school student in San Diego, California when the San Ysidro massacre happened (not far from where I grew up). In its reporting today, the New York Times cited that shooting as the first “mass shooting” in our country.

More than 30 years later, the haggard nature of yesterday’s attack is just as hard to comprehend as it was when I was a teenager. But today, our improbable attempts to understand it are fraught with ideological and political under- and overtones.

Now more than ever, we must look to our humanity and our faith as we try to wrap our minds around such darkness.

G-d bless the victims and their families and G-d bless America.

“Brunello is gas!” F.T. Marinetti’s clairvoyance (and Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s brilliant blog post)

mussolini wine favorite 1933In August of 1933, Hitler had been in power for less than a year and Mussolini’s grip had been bolstered in the nearly 11 years since the Fascists’ March on Rome.

Two years later, the Italian dictator would launch the second Italo-Ethiopian war and Hitler would introduce the Nuremberg Laws. The Second World War was already on the horizon.

In August of 1933, Italy heralded the modern era of wine marketing with an exhibition of top Italian wines in Siena, a stone’s throw from Montalcino.

The slogan of the wine fair had been penned by the founder of the Futurist party — the poet, essayist, and critical theorist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

Brunello è benzina!

Brunello is gas! it rang.

Marinetti and the Futurists were obsessed with the notion of velocità (velocity) and the newly born age of gas-powered automobiles and airplanes.

To the ears of his compatriots, the motto was an unmitigated endorsement of Brunello as an expression of the new italianità, a word that is often misunderstood and misused today. At the time, it didn’t just denote Italian identity. It stood for the renewed Italian identity and for Italy’s intellectual, artistic, and political resurgence as an imperial and colonial power.

All of these thoughts and images have been brimming in my mind after translating my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s brilliant post on the 1933 wine fair and the role it played in the evolution of Brunello’s own rise.

I highly recommend it to you and I know you will find it as thought-provoking as I did (especially the anecdote about Tancredi Biondi Santi).

And for Italian speakers, the post appeared in the original today on the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

So many thoughts but so little time today.

Buona lettura e buon weekend. Enjoy Stefano’s post and have a great weekend. Thanks for being here.

López de Heredia? YMMV but isn’t that what it’s all about?

Lopez de HerediaWhen cousin Jonathan and I landed at Vera in Chicago on Tuesday night, I had swore to myself that we wouldn’t drink López de Heredia. After all, there are so many great lots on this iconic Spanish list and López de Heredia is a wine that I’ve been following and have known well for many years now. Why not expand my knowledge of Spanish wines at one of the best venues in the U.S. to do so?

But when our server revealed the pricing, it was just too tempting to resist.

The 2001 Viña Tondonia Reserva (above) rewarded us with one of the best bottles of López de Heredia that I have ever enjoyed — if not the best.

The fruit in this fifteen-year-old bottling delivered zinging white and stone fruit flavors. But the thing that really blew me away was that the fruit aromas were so nimble that they gently eclipsed the oxidative character of the wine.

Man, what a wine!

pork skewer recipeWhen our server shared the excellent price of the 2000 Rosado (which is not on the list; you have to ask for it), how could we say no at that point?

Here the fruit was equally vibrant (juicy ripe red) but there was a note of funk on the nose that simply refused to go away as the wine aerated in our glasses and the open bottle.

I was reminded of something that Giuseppe Rinaldi (the great natural winemaker and advocate and producer of some of the world’s great wines) said this year at the Vini Veri fair in April.

“Industrial wine, if you can call it wine,” he told a group gathered for a vertical tasting of Barbacarlo, “needs to be perfect. It needs to be precise, exactly the same every time. A natural wine, by definition, will have imperfections.”

As Jonathan and I thoroughly enjoyed every last drop of our “imperfect” wine, I couldn’t help but think of how “perfect” our experience.

With the first bottle, it felt like it had been opened for us at exactly the right moment in its evolution. With the second, as much as we loved it, we were reminded of nature’s “imperfection.”

And isn’t that what is so thrilling about natural wine? To me it’s the knowledge that you are consuming a living wine with all the joys and disappointments that life brings with it. I love those wines the way I love my wife and my family and my closest friends — warts and all.

To live in a world filled only by perfection would be no life at all.

It was a great night at Vera and it was also lovely to meet the new wine director there, Christy Fuhrman. I’ll be curious to see the direction where she will take this iconic list the next time I visit.

Huge thanks to Christy and the staff at Vera and to López de Heredia for an unforgettable evening and dinner.