Letter to my daughters and the Houston I love…

jeremy-parzen-wifeDear Georgia P and Lila Jane,

Tonight I leave for the umpteenth trip abroad this year for work. The last for 2016, thank goodness!

The two of you couldn’t have given me a better going-away present.

Yesterday, on the way back from the Houston Museum of Natural Science and lunch at the bagel place, we talked about how I was going away on a trip and I told you how much I was going to miss you.

“I’m going to miss you guys so much,” I said.

“I’m going to miss you, too, daddy!” Georgia, you told me.

“I’m going to miss you, too!” Lila Jane, you chimed in.

“I love you guys,” I answered.

“I love you, too!”

“I love you, too!”

Then I said: “I’m going to be so sad without you.”

“You can’t be sad on your trip, daddy!” Georgia, you confidently counseled me. “You need to be happy on your trip.”

You both could tell that I was tearing up a little in the driver’s seat of our minivan.

If there’s anything I hope that your mother and I can give you, it’s empathy… empathy for each other and everyone in our family, empathy for everyone we meet, every day… empathy for humankind and the world we live in…

Some day I’ll look back on this weekend and think about how you two came with your mother and me on Saturday morning to vote for Hilary Clinton, who will most likely be the first woman president of our country.

And I’ll also remember that this was the weekend that Anthony Bourdain aired his “Parts Unknown” episode devoted to Houston.

In it, he celebrates our city’s rich diversity of peoples and food cultures (check out Alison Cook’s review of the episode, which I believe you can access for a limited time). A number of the places he visits are right up the road from us on Hillcroft and we’ve been to a bunch of them together.

In a week, this tumultuous, roller-coaster ride of an election season will finally come to a close and we will have a new president. As Bourdain implies in his not-too-subtle riff on our nation’s mood, diversity and empathy are two things that can only make the world a brighter place.

The sun is shining today on all of us and I will miss you dearly when I’m gone. Your empathy, your hearts, your sweet sweet smiles are the greatest going-away gift I could ever receive. I love you…


Op-ed: Alfonso Cevola criticizes the “Instagram generation” of wine buyers. A Houston sommelier responds.

Today’s op-ed is by Thomas Moësse (below), Houston-based sommelier and wine director at Divino, where he runs one of the top Italian-focused wine lists in the state.

thomas-moesse-moe%cc%88sse-wine-houstonRecently, I read Alfonso Cevola’s blog post “The Endangered Wine List in the New Millennium” and spat out my morning tablet of Adderall.

[Editor’s note: in his post, Cevola writes that he doesn’t want “to be dazzled (or blinded) by the wizardry of young somms on the Adderall of ambition.”]

I hold Alfonso in the highest esteem and value his perspective on the constantly shifting and ever-exciting terrain of Italian Wine.

However, in this post Mr. Cevola voiced a series of complaints about the state of the wine list in our market and not without a telltale note of salinity.

He appears to draw a line in the sand. This line seems to exist ideologically between classics and upstarts and sociologically between industry veterans and young wine buyers (referred to as “the Instagram generation”). Mr. Cevola purports to be on the side of the consumer. But I feel differently.

First he mentions a lack of recognizable (“revered” and “essential”) selections on these wine lists. If buyers are foregoing the classics on their lists, maybe it is because they are advocates for their guest first and foremost — both are being left behind by exponential pricing increases and the corresponding unattainability of those vins de garde.

Furthermore, I can speak personally to a trend that I have seen among consumers of wine in restaurants like ours.

Long gone are the comments like “what kind of Italian restaurant doesn’t have Tignanello?” More commonly we encounter questions like “what will go best with our food?” Today’s consumer is not scanning a wine list for producers they recognize so much as they want some help with a discovery. Our job as wine service professionals is part curation and consultation. We ask questions first. We pair the wine with the guest and we form a relationship of trust.

If compiling a selection of essential wines is our only purpose, then why do we work so hard? Why do we travel to wine fairs, visit wineries with eight hectares of singular beauty to better communicate our passion? Is our passion relevant at all? If it’s as easy as he suggests, then maybe Mr. Cevola could write our lists for us (a service that his employer Southern-Glazer’s is more than willing to perform).

Simply put, we are living in the golden era of wine. More growers are producing great wine rather than merely selling their grapes. Their approach is a custodial one. The reverence for vineyard and the avoidance of manipulation constitute a revolution in how we think about wine. These are not just trends, and dwindling are the days of unscrupulous, large-production wines merely sold by the caché of their label.

It takes work to assess the bounty of wines available to us through large distributors and small direct import companies as well as an obligation to our guests to do that research, trust our instincts (not Instagram) and choose vibrant, sound wines for every imaginable consumer that might walk through our door.

That work is fueled by passion, not Adderall.

Thomas Moësse

Norcia 6.6 earthquake this morning: here’s a way to donate to relief efforts

italy-earthquakeOur thoughts and prayers go out to our sisters and brothers in central Italy this morning: a 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck Norcia (Umbria) shortly before 8 a.m. today (local time).

Luckily, most of the affected areas had already been evacuated in the wake of the 6.2 earthquake that virtually destroyed Amatrice and claimed nearly 300 lives in August of this year. Although some serious injuries and widespread damage to historic buildings have been reported, there have been no deaths as of yet.

After the August quake, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas set up a PayPal account to accept donations for relief and recovery efforts. The campaign is still active and you can donate by clicking here (the Chamber has been a client of mine since February of this year).

My friend Monica Larner, a wine writer living in Rome, wrote the following on her Facebook this morning and shared the image below:

I’m trying to understand the recent seismic activity that has us all on edge here in Central Italy. The earthquakes are the result of plate compression- one plate is pushed under another. That explains why the land near the epicenters had actually fallen by 20 centimeters since the two strong quakes last Wednesday. I’ve copied this passage from the USGS website (www.earthquake.usgs.gov): “Geologically, the Apennines is largely an accretionary wedge formed as a consequence of subduction. This region is tectonically and geologically complex, involving both subduction of the Adria micro-plate beneath Eurasia and the Apennines from east to west, continental collision between the Eurasia and Nubia (Africa) plates building the Alpine mountain belt further to the north and the opening of the Tyrrhenian basin to the west.”

why-are-there-earthquakes-in-central-italyI’m heading back to Italy tomorrow and will be driving through central Italy on my way to Naples later this week. I’ll report back if I learn anything new about the situation on the ground there.

Like Monica, I grew up in southern California where seismic activity is common. I was living in Los Angeles when the 1994 Northridge quake struck. It scared the living daylights out of all of us. But I’ve never heard of so many major quakes in such a short period of time.

This morning, Tracie and I have our Italian sisters and brothers in our thoughts and prayers.

You can donate to relief efforts here.

Spectacular pizza at Bufalina in Austin and revisiting the first Nebbiolo I ever tasted

best-pizza-austin-texasHow could I not share the photo of the pizza (above) that I devoured joyfully last night at Bufalina in Austin.

My friend Steven Dilley, owner and founder of the concept (which now has two locations in Austin), continues to serve some of the best pizza I’ve ever had and the cured anchovies on this marinara really took it over the top.

And the pie paired exquisitely with a bottle of Abbatucci’s Rouge Frais Impérial from Steven’s ever-natural-minded list.

My date with the pie came on the heels of tasting with Cinzia Travaglini at another Austin restaurant where she was hosting a wine dinner.

Revisiting her wines, I realized that the first time I ever tasted Nebbiolo, it was from Travaglini. Long (very long) before the Italian wine renaissance began to emerge in the late 1990s in the U.S., her family’s wines were already widely available. I remember seeing them in gourmet food shops on the Sunset Strip when I was a grad student at U.C.L.A. And I remember tasting them with my private Italian language students when they treated me to dinner in their homes.

Her 2008 Tre Vigne was still very young and rich in the glass. She talked about how the 08 is going to be a top vintage for the winery and how the wines will age for even up to 30 years. A fantastic wine but it was the 2010 Riserva (below) that really blew me away with its focus and its lithe character and its nuanced layers of red and berry fruit. What a wonderful wine… and what a thrill to get to taste it with her after all these years (she was super nice).

Thanks for being here, everyone, and have a great weekend. I hope you’re drinking something lovely. Buon weekend…


Mazel tov, Christine Veys! Sotto’s NEW wine director…

This just in: I’ll be leading the last tasting of my Franciacorta Real Story campaign on Monday, November 14 in Atlanta at a super cool wine shop there, Le Caveau. Please join me! Click here for details.

christine-veys-wine-sotto-los-angelesAbove: like me, Sotto’s new wine director Christine Veys attended U.C.L.A. She was featured this summer in U.C.L.A. Magazine. Click here to check out the profile.

I’m about to board a flight from LAX to Houston after leading a super fun wine tasting last night at Sotto where I’ve consulted on the wine list for more than 5 years now.

Not only did we present our new by-the-glass program (“Piedmont: anything but Barolo and Barbaresco”) but we also introduced the restaurant’s new wine director, my good friend and colleague Christine Veys (above).

Christine started as a server when the restaurant first opened (it seems so long ago now!) and it was clear from the beginning that she had a true gift for tasting and describing wine.

A few years ago, she became the wine program manager and she and I have collaborated on the list since that time with great results.

It was high time that she be given the title of wine director: even though I’ve been consulting and doing wine education and some writing and research for the restaurant, she’s been running the list for quite a while and she has really shaped the program into something special (both in terms of sales and personality).

I’m staying on as a consultant with the restaurant and Christine and I will be co-authoring the new list for the group’s newest project, Rossoblu, which is slated to open later this year in downtown LA. We are SUPER excited about that.

Congratulations, Christine! Mazel tov! I knew from the first time we tasted together that you were destined to become a top wine professional. I love working with you and couldn’t have a better partner in crime.

Now it’s time to get my butt back to Texas… Thanks to everyone who came out to taste with me last night and thanks again to Paolo Cantele for tagging along on my crazy adventures between Burgundy in Boulder and Piedmont in LA! Wish me speed!

Truth in wine (writing)? Looking more closely at “in vino veritas,” a motto often misunderstood

From the department of “der Meister des giftigen Spotts”…

“The closer the look one takes at a word,
the greater the distance from which it looks back.”
—Karl Kraus

in-vino-veritasAs I continue to prepare for the seminars on English-language wine writing and wine blogging that I will be leading next week and the following (as part of the UniSG Master’s in Wine Culture program), I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of truth in wine (writing) and how we perceive absolute truths in our awareness of wine when it is depicted or described in words.

There’s an ancient association of truth and wine that looms over the notion of truth in enography: The Latin motto in vino veritas, which, when translated literally, is rendered in English as [there is] truth in wine.

Some attribute the earliest exemplar of the expression to a fragment of a lost poem by the ancient Greek poet Alcaeus (although, beyond a Wikipedia mention, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of substance in the assertion that Alcaeus was the first to utter the phrase).

Italian scholarship points to the sophist (or teacher for hire) Zenobius as the first chronicler of the phrase, which he included in a collection of aphorisms.

To my knowledge, all concur that the Latin expression is an adaptation of the Greek εν οἴνῳ ἀλήθεια (en oinoi aletheia). And here’s where it gets interesting.

Whereas veritas means truth or reality in Latin, aletheia has a slightly different meaning in Greek. It’s generally translated as…

Click here to continue reading my post for the University of Gastronomic Sciences blog. Thanks for reading!

Thank you Jancis, Étienne, and Brett for a remarkable tasting and seminar yesterday in Boulder!

jancis-robinson-tasting-book-signingEarlier in the day, Jancis’ husband Nicholas Lander (a venerated food writer in his own right) had joked wryly: “whole-cluster fermentation? A topic that’s surely on everyone’s minds!”

But there couldn’t have been a more rapt crowd at yesterday’s marquee event at the Boulder Burgundy Festival: a seminar and guided tasting led by legacy winemaker Étienne de Montille, Master of Wine Jancis Robinson (yes, if you are here, you know what a megawatt celebrity and fantastic speaker she is), and Master of Wine Brett Zimmerman, founder of the festival.

I’ve been blogging about the festival (as the gathering’s official chronicler) here.

Thanks again to Brett for making me part of this extraordinary weekend of tastings and seminars. And thanks to Jancis and Étienne for your remarkable contribution. I can’t imagine a more thrilling guided tasting.

So much time and so little to tell: today, I’m making my way to Sotto in Los Angeles where I co-author the wine list and where I’ll be hosting a sold-out tasting of our new fall by-the-glass program tomorrow. Apologies for anyone who couldn’t get into the tasting but please come by the restaurant afterward for a glass if you are in town. Please wish me speed and thanks for your support!


Christian Varas is Houston’s “Iron Sommelier,” David Keck leaves Camerata, and Krug à volonté in Boulder, Colorado

best-champagne-tastingPosting on the fly today from Boulder, Colorado where I’m serving as the Boulder Burgundy Festival’s official blogger.

The party’s just got started: Last night, bromance Paolo and I attended the festival’s Champagne kick-off event where we and guests were treated to a beefy flight of Krug, including 2002 and 2003 bottlings. Holy cow, people… It would be a tough flight to beat but the “Old and Rare Burgundy” seminar this afternoon with Masters Jay Fletcher, Bobby Stuckey, Richard Betts, and featured guest winemaker Étienne de Montille should best it handily. Stay tuned for updates…

In news from home…

My friend Christian Varas (below, center), who serves as wine director at Houston’s exclusive River Oaks Country Club, took home the prestigious Iron Sommelier prize last night at the Periwinkle Foundation’s charity event.

I wrote it up early this morning for the Houston Press (thanks to the Periwinkle’s publicist who sent me the release late last night and photographer Dave Rossman, who shot the gala affair).

Mazel tov, Christian! The prize couldn’t have gone to a more able or talented wine professional. Congratulations…

And in a stunning move that has left many Houston wine lovers fearing that one of the city’s brightest stars will leave them high and dry, David Keck announced yesterday on Facebook that he is leaving Camerata, the immensely successful wine bar he founded. Here’s the write-up by CultureMap, where Keck tells Eric Sandler that he doesn’t plan to leave the Bayou City (phew!).

Can we now tell David that camerata was a fascist salutation? Will his next venture be called Товарищ?

Joking aside, David’s contribution to the growth and health of the Houston wine scene has been enormous and we are all in his debt for his vision and the spirit of collegiality that he instilled into the wine community. He will be sorely missed behind the bar of Camerata, which he named after the Renaissance-era Florentine Camerata (meaning Florentine chamber or salon; camerata is a homonym in Italian that can mean comrade or chamber [in archaic Italian], as in chamber music), a nod to his career as professional opera singer. Thank you, David, for all you’ve done and we look forward to the next chapter!

That’s all the news that’s fit to blog about. Stay tuned for more from the Boulder Burgundy Festival over the weekend, including a seminar and tasting led by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson and Étienne…


The best little wine bar in Las Vegas: thank you Ferraro’s! And wow, Vegas wine peeps, you are some of the coolest around (for real)

sommelier-hakkasan-las-vegasAbove, from left: Las Vegas sommeliers Elise Vandenberg (Milos), Kat Thomas (Hakkasan), Jeffrey Bencus (Lago), and wine blogger and collector Vashti Roebuck, who all came out to taste Franciacorta with me on Monday at Ferraro’s.

What an incredible experience to connect and interact with the group of sommeliers who came out to taste with me on Monday in Las Vegas! Not only were these some of the brightest and most gifted tasters I’ve met in the business, but they were also some of the nicest. In this town, it seems (at least to me), wine chops and hospitality go hand and in hand. And despite the immense talent in the room and the ego that could come with it, cordiality and collegiality (in the purest sense) were the bywords of the day.

I need to send out special, heartfelt thanks to Jaime Smith, who helped me put our Franciacorta Real Story tasting together, and Liz Davar, who organized my post-tasting tour of some of the cooler spots on the Strip. Yall — and all yall — rock, big time. Thank you!

best-wine-bar-las-vegasBut the biggest discovery for me this time around was not on the Strip: Ferraro’s Restaurant and Wine Bar is a gem of a place, with classic Italian cooking and a jaw-dropping Italian wine list.

Gino Ferraro and his family have been working as restaurateurs in Vegas for four decades and I can’t recommend this place highly enough. I really loved it.

italian-octopus-salad-recipeOctopus salad, perfectly executed. Just look at the color of that olive oil, people!

flour-gnocchi-recipePillowy, melt-in-your-mouth-without-losing-their-texture homemade gnocchi. Spot on, with the lightest tomato sauce (a coulis, really).

best-italian-restaurant-las-vegasMaybe not the most photogenic but, man, when I’m on the road, this is the type of homey food I crave. Housemade sausage can often be overly fatty and greasy. But this was light and wholesome tasting. And bring on the leafy greens, Gino! I loved this humble, delicious dish. I can’t wait to get back next year and taste Gino’s tripe.

hakkasan-kim-kardashianAlso need to give a warm shout-out to Kat Thomas who hosted our end-of-the-night group at Hakkasan. No JLo or Kardashian sightings but great food and wines and super cool to watch Kat just killing it on the floor. Man, she has the sommelier goods… Thank you, Kat!

nevada-vanity-license-platesMy peeps in Vegas are believers!

I’d only ever been to Sin City to play with the band (years ago). And I have always been wary of the scene there (it’s a trip on the Strip and if you’ve been, you know what I mean).

But it was so awesome to see this only-in-America city through the eyes of wine professionals who make it all happen — vinously, that is.

Thanks again, Las Vegas, for a truly fulfilling enogastronomic experience and for the warm welcome. I hope to get back in the spring.

Today I’m on my way to Colorado to hookup with bromance Paolo (sorry, Giovanni!) in Boulder for the Boulder Burgundy Festival where I’ll be blogging about the event. Please stay tuned and see you on the other side…


And they called me prof. (again): Master’s Degree in Wine Culture at Pollenzo

Click here to check out my new blog at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo and learn more about the master’s programs in Wine Culture (where I begin teaching next month) and Food Culture and Communications. And please check out the Master’s in Wine Culture intro video below.

michele-antonio-finoA few months ago, I was contacted by my good friend Michele Antonio Fino (above), the director of two master’s programs at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (Piedmont): Wine Culture and Food Culture and Communications.

Michele had already recruited me as an instructor in the Wine Culture program. And I will be heading to Pollenzo at the end of October to lead a series of seminars on wine writing and wine blogging there (more on that later).

But on this occasion when he reached out on behalf of UNISG (University of Gastronomic Sciences), it was because he wanted me to join their team as a blogger and ambassador for the program(s) with a focus on English-language media geared toward the U.S.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled. As they say in Italian (and the expression couldn’t be more a propos), this was pane per i miei denti (literally, bread for my palate or colloquially put, right up my alley).

My professional life started in academia. And in many ways, my new partnership with the university — as an instructor and blogger/ambassador — represents a return to my beginnings, a peripeteia (as it were) that brings me full-circle back to my early professional aspirations.

In 1989, I complete a bachelor’s degree with honors at the Department of Italian at U.C.L.A. and then embarked a graduate program there that ultimately led to a Ph.D. and a doctoral thesis on Petrarchan prosody and Renaissance transcriptions of Petrarch’s Italian songbook. By the time I was awarded my doctorate in 1997, I had spent many years living and studying (and playing music) in Italy. And my interest in Italian culture, language, and literature had continued to expand over the course of my adult life (I was 30 at the time).

But after moving to New York City that same year, I quickly learned that Petrarch and my interest in Italian versification weren’t going to pay the bills. And so I shifted my focus to Italian gastronomy and food culture. And not long after I landed a job as an editor at the newly launched English-language edition of La Cucina Italiana in Manhattan, I started to concentrate on wine writing.

Today, nearly 20 years later, after a rewarding career as a wine copywriter and blogger, it’s great to return to the academic world that I’ve missed sorely for these last two decades. I’m finally “back where I belong,” you could say.

For the next six months, I will be blogging on the UNISG site as an English-langauge ambassador for the university. Not only will I be writing about my experience as an instructor and “an American in Pollenzo,” but I will also be sharing my insights into and impressions of the master’s programs at UNISG.

If you’re considering applying to UNISG, please feel free to shoot me an email with any questions and/or thoughts (by clicking here).

And please check back soon here on the blog for updates and news from UNISG, Pollenzo, and the world of Italian wine and food.

Thanks for being here and thanks for your support! Stay tuned…

Here’s a link to my newly launched blog over at UNISG. And below you’ll find a video intro to the Master’s in Wine Culture program.