Houston to Major Tom: a song for shipwrecked souls (new track by the Parzen Family Singers)

Above: the Parzen Family Singers covers David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (for better audio quality, check out the SoundCloud below).

Every since the Parzen family moved to Houston nearly two and a half years ago, our daughters and I have been obsessed with astronauts (the “real astronauts,” as the girls call them) and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which lies about 40 minutes away by car from the house where we live in southwest Houston.

The girls and I go there once or twice a month (Tracie P, not so much).

Somewhere along our journey into space, we came across this video-cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who recorded vocals and an acoustic guitar overdub for the track on the International Space Station.

That YouTube led us to our obsession (especially Georgia P’s) with this vintage David Bowie video version of the original song, shot on analog film.

Major Tom and our beloved “real astronauts” have become central to the Parzen family narrative.

Our daughters — ages 3 and 4.5 — don’t yet tap into the astronauts as metaphors for the unknown and unknowable. I’m not really sure where the appeal lies for them. I am certain however that like dinosaurs, astronauts are an interminable source of fascination for (our) children, perhaps because they innately intuit their significance in the unsignifiable.

For me, Major Tom and the real astronauts (like Ulysses) are allegories for our own shipwrecked souls and the human condition driven by our very real need and desire to face our aloneness (tell my wife, I love her very much, she knows…).

It’s so powerful to sit in the original gallery of the original Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center and hear the docent recount the 1969 moon landing.

“The first time words were heard from the moon,” she said on our most recent visit (with my bromance Giovanni), “they were heard in this room. That’s pretty cool.”

(Our dear friend Elaine also visited the real astronauts with us earlier this year.)

Like Columbus, like Magellan, like Ulysses, the real astronauts travel into the unknown so that we may know it, making the unknowable knowable. They haven’t unlocked the mystery of the universe and our existence. But with each step they take, they chip away at and assuage our aloneness.

And so on this sleepy Friday, the hottest day of summer so far, I offer you the Parzen Family Singers’ cover (SoundCloud follows below and the YouTube lies above).

One giant step for a middle-aged wine blogger… Thanks for listening.

girls in space

Natural wine grows (up) in Texas (and Franciacorta in Portland, Oregon Sept. 12)

SAVE THE DATE: Franciacorta Real Story tasting in Portland, Oregon at Nostrana, Monday, September 12. Click here for more details.

lewis dickson wine cruz texasAbove: I’ve followed Lewis Dickson’s wines for many years now. They’ve always been wholesome, food-friendly, and tasty. But they have really come into focus in recent vintages (photo taken in Austin, Texas in 2014).

It must have been four years ago when one of my best friends from Italy, a winemaker, came to visit us in Austin where we were still living on the corner of Alegria and Gro[o]ver in Brentwood.

It was his first visit to Texas and he had expressed an interest in tasting Texan wine. And so I brought home a bottle of Lewis Dickson’s Cruz de Comal 2011 Pétard Blanc, made from Blanc du Bois grapes grown in the Texas Hill Country.

We opened another wine that night: a macerated and oxidative white from one of Italy’s most celebrated natural winemakers. It was from one of said winemaker’s most widely praised and coveted vintages.

Ever the stickler for “technically correct” wines free from defect or blemish, our friend from Italy turned up his nose at the macerated white from Italy and its volatile acidity and gladly drank the Blanc du Bois instead.

“Texas wine is great!” he declared gleefully.

black spanishAbove: Dickson’s Troubadour is made from 100 percent Black Spanish grapes. No one really knows the variety’s origins. Some believe it was developed in the New World, others contend that it came from France. Most agree that it was widely planted in Texas before the founding of the Republic of Texas in 1836. Its legacy here gives it gravitas as a “Texan” variety. Look it up under “Jacquez” in Wine Grapes (Vouillamoz et alia, Ecco).

I was reminded of that evening when I met Lewis Dickson (above) last night in Houston to taste the latest vintages of his Pétard Blanc made from 100 percent Blanc du Bois grapes and his Troubadour from 100 percent Black Spanish grapes.

His wines have always been very good (albeit expensive) in my experience. But with his most recent releases, as his growing practices and his winemaking talents have evolved, he’s really begun to wade into the pool of greatness with his wines.

The Pétard Blanc was the most focused and elegant expressions of the Blanc du Bois that he grows on his estate in the Texas Hill Country. Its delicate floral and white fruit nose gave way to a wonderful balance of citrus and stone fruit.

But it was his 2014 Troubadour, from Black Spanish, that really blew me away with its chewy red and red berry fruit and the nuanced depth of its tannic character. This is a big wine at 14.8 percent (in alcohol content) but I was thrilled by how lithely it danced in the mouth. A truly original, lip-smakcing and delicious wine with serious aging potential.

Tracie P and I have always rooted for Lewis and his wines, which he makes with the help of California legacy winemaker Tony Coturri, one of the pioneers of organic grape growing and natural winemaking in the U.S.

As Lewis puts it, he doesn’t add anything to his wines beyond the grapes that he grows without the use of pesticides or herbicides. And he doesn’t sulfur them at all — not even at bottling.

But as I watched and listened to him interact with the staff at the wine bar where we tasted last night, he never presented the wines as “natural” or “zero sulfur.” His growing and winemaking practices came up, yes, by the way, as he fielded questions about the wine. But “natural” or “zero sulfur” were never badges that he wore on his sleeve.

No, he let the wine speak before the labels. And those wines revealed that great wine is made in Texas.

Click here for a profile of Lewis that I wrote for the Houston Press back in 2012. The arc of his narrative may surprise some readers.

Italy mourns the loss of sommelier Davide Oltolini, 48, beloved food and wine critic

davide oltoliniAbove: Italian sommelier and critic Davide Oltolini in a photo dated August 2012 (via his Facebook page). Many Italians knew him as a frequent guest on “Uno Mattina in Famiglia,” a news and entertainment program produced by RAI 1.

Today the world of Italian food and wine mourns the passing of Pavia-based sommelier Davide Oltolini, 48, beloved food and wine critic and television personality.

According to a report published this afternoon morning (CST) by the Italian national daily Corriere della Sera, he suffered a heart attack while playing tennis in Brallo di Pregola township (Pavia province) and died a few hours later after emergency responders were unable to revive him.

Oltolini was a frequent contributor to the Corriere della Sera and countless other mainstream mastheads like Gambero Rosso and La Cucina Italiana, Italy’s “National Geographic” of food and wine writing.

He also appeared regularly on national television, including the popular RAI 1 show “Uno Mattina in Famiglia,” a morning news and entertainment show that featured segments on Italian gastronomy.

Italy’s youthful food and wine scene was drawn to his magnetic presence on social media and he was known affectionately for his love of selfies. He would famously ask people from all walks of life to pose with him for the self-portraits.

“The first thing he would do when he saw you was take a selfie with you,” said an acquaintance, a young Italian wine professional who took time out today for a brief phone interview. “That was his thing.”

“We all followed him on social media and he was a great moderator [of wine tasting panels]. We’ll all miss him a lot,” she said, noting that he will be remembered for his upbeat presence.

“He was one of us.”