Cristina Ziliani, thank you for coming to Houston!

tony-vallone-houstonIt was SO MUCH FUN for me to host Franciacorta producer Cristina Ziliani last Friday in Houston.

That’s her (left) with my friend and client Tony Vallone (right) and Tony’s general manager, Annie Balest, also a good friend of mine.

I hate to say it but Houston still gets a bad rap among people who don’t know our vibrant food and wine scene. And it was wonderful to see Cristina’s eyes light up with delight and surprise as I showed her around the city and introduced her to some of our enogastronomic highlights (and we only scratched the surface).

She came to see some accounts where they are pouring her wine and (I’d like to think that) she left with a better sense of the role that Houston and Texas play in America’s wine renaissance.

Barely a week goes by that I don’t receive an email from a producer or an importer asking me how to break into the Houston and Texas markets.

My advice is always the same: come to Houston and get a feel for the market; connect with restaurateurs and wine buyers and try to wrap your mind around what they’re interested in and what works for them. That’s the secret to success in the hard-to-crack Texas wine market imho. And over and over again, I see examples of winemakers who have invested their time here and the return it delivers.

On a plane right now to Vegas where I’ll be pouring Franciacorta for my Franciacorta consortium gig from 1-3 p.m. at Ferraro’s. Come out and taste with us if you are in town. Between the wines I’ll be pouring and the distributors who are joining me, this could be the largest flight of Franciacorta wines we’ve presented during my two-year campaign.

Edi Kante, the once and future king of Carso Karst wines, a groovy Amarone in Texas, and miscellanea…

Taste Franciacorta with me in Las Vegas, Monday October 17, 1-3 p.m. Click here for details. Hope to see you there!

edi-kante-winesWhat a stunning flight of wines from Edi Kante poured for me the other night by Kante’s Italian sales rep Edi Tapacino here in Houston!

Stupendous, really.

When I met Edi T (who was visiting Texas for the first time) and we tasted through this extraordinary flight, I couldn’t help but think back to 1999 when I was living in New York and the Italian wine renaissance was just beginning to take shape.

At the time Edi Kante’s wines were part of the new wave, as it were, and they were positioned and poised — thanks to the powers that were at the time — to become one of the next big things.

But a series of mishaps (let’s just leave it at that) led to Edi K’s wines falling off the radar. It’s great to see that Edi T is injecting the brand with some new energy in the States. I’ve always been a huge fan and I am thrilled to see that they are starting get the attention they deserve here in the U.S. Look out for them if you can…

Semi-related: Karst is the English word for Carso, btw. Just saying…

In other news…

best-traditional-amaroneThis week, I was also stoked to taste the Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve 2010 Amarone with Giovanni Bertani who was in town to work the market with his new Texas importer/distributor.

Old-school and classic in style, this wine had that lightness — that unbearable lightness — and that lithe character that real Amarone has to have imho.

I really enjoyed the wine and had a blast (excuse the pun) discussing space exploration with Giovanni who had been down to NASA earlier in the day. A kindred spirits of sorts!

Great to see these wines finding their way to Texas and expand the availability of authentic Italian wines here.

In other other news…

Broccoli raab, yo! One of the dishes I made Tracie P this week for her birthday (below, one of her favs).

Thanks for being here everyone. Have a great weekend and come and see me in Vegas next Monday if you can. And Bob Dylan deserves the Nobel, people! I have a lot of thoughts to share on the matter but am too slammed for that today… Rock on!


Dario Fo, uncompromising theatrical great, dies at 90 (or “mom’s pot is always best”)

dario-foIt felt like a brick hit me in the gut this morning when I learned that Dario Fo, theatrical genius and one of the all-time greats of political and social activism, has died at age 90.

Click here for the New York Times obituary of the Nobel prize winner.

And even if you don’t read Italian, click here for the Repubblica cover-story devoted to his passing. It will give you a sense of the larger-than-life role that he played in Italy’s literary arts and the country’s collective social conscience.

Dario Fo, his wife and partner Franca Rame, and the plays he wrote and produced have shaped my intellectual life since I first read one of his works as an undergraduate student of Italian at U.C.L.A.

His brilliant 1958 farce “Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere” (typically translated as “Not All Thieves Come to do Harm” but perhaps better rendered as “Burglars Aren’t All Bad”) was one of the first modern-era plays I read in the original Italian (after Pirandello). His deft hand at parodying the western bourgeoisie, its bigotry and hypocrisy, blew my mind (by means of both style and substance) and sent me down a path that led to other pivotal texts and discourse (by him and others) that formed and informed much of my view of the world.

As California sits on the verge of legalizing marijuana (creating a de facto “confederacy of state-regulated marijuana use”) his 1975 farce “La marijuana della mamma è la più bella” (“Mom’s Pot is Always Best”) couldn’t be more topical. “The rich consume drugs,” he wrote, but “drugs consume the poor.”

One of the most thrilling moments of my first year at university in Italy was seeing him and Franca Rame perform in Rome and meeting them both in the lobby before the curtain came. When I asked him to sign my program and told him I was an America fan of his plays, he smiled that grand smile and those unforgettably wide eyes sparkled. That starstruck night was the first of many for me in search of unpalatable truths made less bitter by his brilliant and deliciously unforgiving humor.

Dario Fo, as day breaks in America, I wonder to myself: how can the sun come up without you? It must not know yet that you are gone.

Happy Birthday, Tracie P! We love you so much…

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

birthday-custom-cakes-partyHappy birthday, Tracie P!

The girls and I already began celebrating this weekend with cards, roses, and chocolates and a steak dinner with one of our favorite red wines on Sunday night (man, those steaks you brought home were good!). But today, October 11, is the day you came into this world.

Every time we celebrate a family holiday, my memories drift back to 2007 (nearly 10 years ago!) when I first discovered your blog and 2008 when we first started writing each other and I first visited you in Texas. Later that year you came to visit me in San Diego for the first time.

It’s so incredible to think about how the winds of fate brought us together and what we have built together since that time.

The girls and I love you so much and we love, love, love our lives together. The joys and fears, the highs and lows, the triumphs and the challenges… Every moment of life with you is a blessing and a miracle.

Here’s a little family video that I put together to celebrate your birthday this year, with photos from the Parzen family fall.

We love you, mommy… I love you, piccina… Happy birthday!

Our conscience, ourselves… Donald Trump mustn’t be allowed to drive our country to moral ruin

hermann-memorial-park-houstonAbove: yesterday, our daughters, Lila Jane age 3 and Georgia age 4, were enchanted by their visit to the Japanese Gardens at Hermann Memorial Park in Houston where we have lived for two and a half years now.

I grew up in a familial environment that was shaped, sullied, and shamed by the awful life choices of a serial abuser of women. I have known, firsthand, the emotional legacy left behind by authors of such transgressions, even long after the abuser has moved on to a new life and reality. Sadly, the scars and fallout from that time in my own personal family history continue to affect me and people I love dearly. Never fully healed however cauterized, those lacerations were only made more deep by the media attention devoted to them at the time. Now is not the time or place to go into it, but anyone familiar with this episode in my life (which emerged in the late 1970s) would agree that it was an early instance of the sensationalization of the family tragedy in the contemporary era of mainstream media.
Continue reading

What wine pairs best with pizza? The LA Times has the answer (taste with me in LA Oct. 25 @SottoLA)

pizza champagne pornIt’s always pretty nifty to read your name in the LA Times. And even cooler when the topic is pizza and what wines pair best with it…

I was entirely stoked to be included in veteran wine writer Patrick Comiskey’s post yesterday for LA’s paper of record on “What Wines to Drink with Pizza.” (Patrick’s long-awaited book on California’s Rhône-variety movement, American Rhône: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink, was published this month by University of California Press, btw; check it out here.)

It’s still not up on the Sotto website but I swear I will be hosting a guided tasting of by-the-glass selections from the new Sotto fall wine list on Tuesday, October 25 at the restaurant (in Los Angeles, that is). I’ll post details and registration info as soon as it becomes available and would love for you to join me if you are so inclined.

And if you stay for pizza afterward, I’ll pour you a glass of my personal favorite pairing (I don’t kiss and tell so you’ll just have to come press the flesh to find out what it is).

Thanks for being here and all your support. It means the world to me. Buona domenica a tutti…

Houston: Greek wine city, U.S.A. (just don’t tell the Big Wine Police)

From the department of “the Ph. in Ph.D.”…

evan-turner-greek-wineA funny thing happened the other day on my way to everyone’s favorite wine bar in Houston.

Well, it actually happened after I had sat down with roughly 30 other Houston wine professionals for a seminar and tasting of Greek wines with Canadian Master Sommelier Élyse Lambert and Houston restaurateur and Greek wine expert Evan Turner. They were presenting 12 Greek wines at a Houston Sommelier Association gathering (a twice-a-month affair where collegiality and liberal views on wine trump the Texas status quo).

The wines had been selected by them and shipped to Houston especially for the event. I’ve tasted a lot of Greek wine ever since the Greek wine wave hit the U.S. about 6 years ago, landing first in NYC. But I only knew three of the producers in the flight.

I could feel a bead of sweat roll down the side of my face as my fellow tradespeople and I tasted through the excellent pours: was it just a matter of minutes, I thought to myself, that the Big Wine Police would burst in like the Untouchables and arrest us all for our adventurous and Hellenic sensorial spirit? None of the wines on offer came through the major two channels of wine distribution in our state. Goodness gracious! It might as well have been a Planned Parenthood meeting where condoms were distributed!

Luckily, the Big Wine Gestapo was busy investigating reports of sommeliers picking their noses while decanting Screaming Beagle.

Oh, and that funny thing that happened, you ask, on the way to the forum agora?

christina-boutariWe must have been three wines into the flight when I received an email from my friend Christina Boutari, above, left, with Evan at his excellent restaurant Helen Greek Food and Wine.

“I’m in Houston and I am pouring our wines at Helen from 3-6,” she wrote. “Please come and taste with me.”

Boutari is one of the few top Greek producers who make it to Texas through government-sanctioned channels and so I knew it was safe to connect with her.

The 2007 Santorini Reserve Kallisti (in the first photo, above, a current release for this legacy estate) was thoroughly stunning, with nuanced layers of dried fruit and nutty character. Wow, what a wine! And so lovely to see Christina, one of her country’s greatest ambassadors for its superb (and value-driven) wines. She’s in town to pour her family’s wines this weekend at Houston’s Original Greek Festival, which turns 50 this year.

When I first moved to Texas eight years ago, I never would have imagined that Houston would become an epicenter for Greek fine wine in this country. In the face of our state’s wine oligarchy, Houston continues to expand its spirit of wine freedom, corrupting our wine youth in the best ways imaginable.

Buon weekend a tutti! Thanks for being here and thinking subversive wine thoughts. And in case you missed it, check out Louis Menand’s excellent essay on Karl Marx in this week’s New Yorker. “Marx is a warning about what can happen when people defy their parents and get a Ph.D.,” he writes.

Is 2006 Barolo/Barbaresco over- or underrated? Ten years gone, experts weigh in…

From the department of “then as it was, then again it will be…”*

grape-harvest-italy-2016-piedmontLast month on my Facebook, I shared a post on Barolo/Barbaresco numerology by my friend and client Giovanni Minetti, CEO of Tenuta Carretta, a veteran and homegrown Langhe tradesman.

In it he ponders the question of vintages that end in the number 6. Will 2016, he asks, break the cycle of less-than-extraordinary vintages that end in 6?

The post was met with disbelief and protest by some of my favorite Nebbiolo collectors. And today, I’ve excerpted their comments and Giovanni’s response on the Tenuta Carretta blog (check it out).

I remember all to well when Produttori del Barbaresco decided not to release its single-vintage wines from the 2006 vintage. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether the decision was based on market factors (in 2010 the financial crisis was at its zenith); or whether the growers didn’t feel the harvest was up to snuff (here’s my post from 2010).

I haven’t even begun to touch the 2006 wines that I put down in my cellar at the time. Maybe it’s time to open a few. With ten years gone, only time will tell.

Check out thoughts on the 2006 vintage, including Giovanni’s response, here.

* Play it loud.

Global warming no hoax for Texas fine wine grape growers (my piece this month for Houstonia magazine)

Please note that I’ve changed the time for my Franciacorta Real Story tasting in Las Vegas on Monday, October 17. The new time: 1-3 p.m. I hope to see you there! Thanks for your support…

texas-wine-countryIt all began with a press release that was as hyperbolic as it was surreal: “TEXAS FINE WINE PREDICTS 2016 HARVEST TO YIELD HIGH QUALITY FRUIT, WITH RECORD CROP FOR SOME VARIETIES.”

After the heavy 2016 spring rains and biblically proportioned flooding in central and southeast Texas, it seemed unlikely to me that fine wine growers here — especially in the Texas Hill Country — were to be blessed with a “record crop” of anything, let alone “high quality fruit.”

But when said adjuration reached the desk of one of my editors at Houstonia — Houston’s popular and editorially (as opposed to advertorially) driven monthly lifestyle magazine — she asked me to investigate in earnest.

Skeptical but undaunted, I swiftly learned that Texan fine wine grape growers had been spared a dreaded spring frost this year (although late spring cold temperatures did diminish yields in central Texas). But for a second year in a row, late April and Memorial Day rains had left a devastating wake of rot and mildew there. In southeast Texas, where growers were also afflicted by severe precipitation, a vineyard manager and winemaker for one of the state’s more critically acclaimed wineries told me she had lost her entire crop to canker disease.

When I started speaking to Texas High Plains growers, the narrative wasn’t as bleak. None of them spoke of “record yields” of “high quality” grapes. But across the board, they told me they were expecting a healthy crop thanks in part to the fact that spring weather had been mostly favorable. (Contrary to popular belief, the biggest challenge for Texas wine growers in’t the state’s hot summers, which most compensate for by acidifying their wines, a common practice here. The greater challenge faced by growers here is the late spring frost which can arrest the vegetative cycle of the vines.)

But then something remarkable happened. During a conversation with one of the state’s legacy growers and leading winemakers, he told me that he had grubbed up the Bordeaux varieties his father had planted. “Global warming,” he told me, was the reason that cooler-climate grape no longer delivered the quality they once did, he said. His winery was working more and more with Spanish grape varieties, he explained, and he was thrilled with the results.

Ding, ding, ding… Intrigued by this nugget and nudged by my editor, I contacted a couple of climate change experts at Texas A&M, including the Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon (wow, with all due respect to my adoptive and most beloved state, what a lonely job that must be!).

In the end, the story I filed for the October issue of Houstonia isn’t just another Texas cheerleader piece for local winemaking (sadly, there are way too many of those).

Click here to check it out.

Thanks to my editors who believed in the article and who gave me the extra time to flesh it out properly. And thanks to all the Texas winemakers who spoke so candidly and openly about the challenges they face. My exchanges with them really did a lot to restore my faith in the Texas wine industry.

To publicists who write and issue such cockamamie releases (I can’t think of a better word than cockamamie to describe the one in question; look it up and you will see what I mean): you are doing a disservice to the honest and earnest winemakers here by creating false expectations and disseminating misinformation. In the end, there turned out to be a great story there. A story very much worth telling…