Two Italian whites that really knocked us out… (fight the power, fight the three-tier system)

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! San Diegans and Southern Californians: please come out and taste my favorite Franciacorta with me and my bromance Giovanni on Saturday, February 25 at Jaynes Gastropub. And Houstonians, registration for seminars at the Taste of Italy festival March 6 is now open (click register and you will see the individual seminar registration options). I’ll be leading 4 tastings that day. Please join me!

furlani-bianco-alpinoAs much as the Houston and greater Texas wine scenes continue to grow and flourish, New York and California are still lightyears ahead of us in terms of the new Italian wines that importers are bringing to this country. It’s one of the reasons that I ask my favorite out-of-state American wine retailers to select and send me a mixed case of wines every year when the weather permits shipping to Texas.

It’s illegal for out-of-state retailers to ship here unless… the customer (like me) has access to a third-party shipper. I know that the thought of freedom to purchase wines from out-of-state is venomous to many passionate lovers (read lickspittles) of the hallowed “three-tier system.” And I apologize in advance for my transgression of their cherished and firmly entrenched hegemony.

But real women and men like to explore, experiment, and enjoy real wines and not just the wines that a bunch of old farty white men in a boardroom in Dallas Miami have decided they should enjoy.

A month or so ago, we received a mixed case from California that included the two wines above. And wow, what wines! Tracie P and I swooned over both bottles.

The Matteo Furlani Bianco Alpino is a blend of native Dolomite grapes that have been grown without the use of chemicals, spontaneously fermented in cement, aged in demijohn, and clarified by placing the demijohns in the snow outside the winery. The white fruit in this wine was mouthwatering and its freshness and low alcohol kept you coming back for another taste. Really lovely, especially at its around $25 price tag.

The Cacciagalli Aorivola comes from the Italian antipodes: Caianello township in “upper Caserta” (Campania). Tracie and I stumbled upon Caianello proper many years ago when we were desperately looking for something to eat (Tracie was pregnant with Lila Jane at the time) and we discovered a wonderful (and very famous) cheese monger there.

This 100 percent, biodynamically farmed Falangina is labeled as Roccamonfina IGT, a high-lying appellation with volcanic subsoils. The minerality in this wine was ELECTRIC. As odd as a synæsthesia as it may sound, it was like touching your tongue to the tabs of a 9-volt battery… but in a good way. And the wine’s saltiness was offset brilliantly by its luscious stone fruit. Another winner that really knocked us out, also around $25…

Texans, fear not: there are ways to circumvent the vinous tyranny of good-ol-boy Texas wine distribution (now based in Florida, home to even more farty, gun-toting, vote-restricting white people).

Fight the power, fight the three-tier system… Fight Texas’ un-American, anti-small-business out-of-state shipping restrictions…

Taste SoloUva Franciacorta with me and Giovanni down by the school yard: Feb. 25 in San Diego

So geeked for the launch of my 2017 campaign with my bromance Giovanni and the SoloUva group (Franciacorta)!

jeremy-parzen-giovanni-arcariDue to forces beyond our control, we had to cancel the Sunday, February 26 event in Los Angeles.

But the February 25 event in San Diego is DEFINITELY on. Here are the details. We hope to see you there!

SoloUva tasting with
winemaker Giovanni Arcari
and Italian wine blogger Jeremy Parzen
Saturday, February 25
4:00-6:00 p.m.
@ Jaynes Gastropub (San Diego)
$25 per person
includes light bites by Jaynes

Jaynes Gastropub
4677 30th St.
San Diego CA 92116
(619) 563-1011
Google map

Registration not required but please shoot me an RSVP email
to let me know that you are coming so that we can get a headcount.

So what is the SoloUva method anyway?

SoloUva is a method whereby classic-method sparkling wines are produced without the traditional addition of cane sugar to provoke fermentation or to top up the bottle before the wine is released. Instead, reserved grape must is used. Grapes alone go into the wines. As a result, the wines are a pure expression of the terroir where they are produced, not least of all because nothing extraneous is added to the wine.

Thesis

In the 1960s, winemakers began producing classic-method sparkling wine in Franciacorta using the French model.
Continue reading

Crowd sourcing: what is wine writing? what are the functions of wine writing?

best-wine-writersOver the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun writing a series of posts about the morality and ethics of wine writing over on the UniSG blog (it’s part of the Master’s in Wine Culture program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piemdont where I began teaching last year and will be teaching three English-language seminars this year).

Before I continue, I wanted to take a step back and start to formulate a list of “functions of wine writing.” It’s inspired in part by (although not based on) Roman Jakobson’s “functions of language” (which I highly encourage you to read if you’re not familiar with his work).

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’m hoping that the wine writing community will help out with expanding it and making it more precise. Please feel free to comment with your suggestions. And thanks in advance for your help with this work in progress!

My list of “functions” is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. Please help me refine it…

FUNCTIONS OF WINE WRITING

Lyrical

– poetry
– narrative
– music

Figurative

– painting
– pottery
– engraving
– photography

Technical/Educational

– ampelography
– viticulture
– enology

Legislative/Governmental

– appellation regulations
– adulteration/counterfeiting laws
– shipping laws

Descriptive

– labeling
– fact sheets
– tasting notes
– scores/ratings

Commercial

– copywriting
– marketing/promotional materials

Journalistic/Editorial

– guide books
– long-form essays
– monographics
– cartography
– blogging
– micro-blogging
– podcasts

Metatextual/Paratextual

– writing about wine writing

New York Stories: Vino Italiano, Foley Sq. student protest, Lilia, and a great sommelier at Terroir

Posting in a hurry this morning in Manhattan as I get ready to head back to Texas and my girls. But here are a few highlights from my demi-week in the city…

italian-wine-week-new-yorkMonday I was very fortunate to be included among the guests and tasters at Vino Italiano 2017, the annual Italian Trade Commission wine event. The organizers really did a great job of bringing top wine professionals and writers to New York for the seminars and grand tasting. It was great to catch up with some of the top people working in our filed like Alan Tardi, Meg Houston Maker, and Rebecca Murhpy, and Elin McCoy among many others. There were a bunch of high-profile sommeliers from Texas there as well like June Rodil and Thomas Moësse. Great event and great to catch up with so many talented folks.

jon-pack-photographer-new-yorkOn Tuesday, I connected with my good friend Jon Pack (a fellow italophile and an immensely talented photographer) at the student protest in Foley Sq. downtown.

Please check out these photos from the rally.

New York is the city that produced Trump and the city that loathes him most. I spent ten years living here and feel very connected to the people and the place. Even though I can’t really put my finger on it, there’s something very different about the vibe here.

Seeing the students protest and hearing them chant brought tears to my eyes.

lilia-new-york-restaurant-brooklynOne of the restaurants I was most excited to check out was Lilia in Williamsburg. My friend and client Tony in Houston had raved about his dinner there.

I thought the food was terrific, the wine list compact but spot on, and we even had a celebrity sighting (and I ran into a bunch of my friends there as well). Super fun. Williamsburg is SO different from the years when my band used to hit the stage at 3 a.m. at underground raves.

georgia-harrison-sommelier-new-york-terroirAnother highlight from the trip was interacting with sommelier Georgia Harrison at Terroir (Tribeca). Her wine service was super sharp and her recommendations and pairings were truly brilliant. It’s so remarkable to look back over the years and reflect on how interest in wine has grown and blossomed in our country. Georgia (who shares her name with our oldest daughter!) is the face of a brave new generation of extremely gifted wine professionals. I couldn’t have been more impressed by her knowledge and service.

That’s all the news that’s fit to blog about this morning from midtown Manhattan. Now it’s time to get my butt on a plane and back to Houston…

How I got a table at Rao’s…

raos-raos-creative-commons-frank-pellegrinoAbove: Rao’s restaurant in Spanish Harlem, one of the world’s most coveted reservations (image via Raos.com).

It was before September 11, when I was still working as an editor and wine writer at La Cucina Italiana in New York.

One of my myriad tasks for the magazine was to conduct “celebrity” interviews that appeared in the last pages of the “book” (as they used to say in print-magazine speak). It wasn’t always easy securing A-listers for the column but a call into Rich Kind’s publicist’s office was answered with a counteroffer: if I could get us a table at Rao’s, he would agree to meet me.

In case you are not familiar with the New York institution otherwise known as Rao’s, it’s one of city’s most exclusive restaurants and one of its most coveted reservations. The tables are “owned” by a select group of New York power brokers, insiders, and celebrities. Depending on the frequency determined by their arrangement with the venue, they need to use their table (some, I believe, were once-a-week affairs) or give it to someone else presumably vetted by the table owner. Hands down, it’s one of the hottest tickets in the city.

Doubtful that I would be received, I phoned the restaurant nonetheless. And to my great surprise and delight, not only did proprietor Frank Pellegrino, Jr. answer the phone, but he said he could accommodate me as long as Rich and I came on the date that he had availability.

It was one of the most incredible nights of my life: the perennial Christmas lights (Rao’s is always dressed for the holiday), the celebrities, the sports figures, and the opera singer who performed in the middle of the dining room… I’ll never forget Ronald Perelman (no joke!) asking me if he could bum a cigarette.

At the end of the evening, Frank gave me his home phone number and told me to call him anytime I needed a reservation. I was fortunate enough to visit the restaurant on two other occasions and each time, I would call his house and speak with his wife, who would refer my message. After a day or so, I would get a call back from Frank (these were the days before ubiquitous cell phones and messaging). He would tell me when I could come and needless to say, I cleared my schedule to accommodate his.

Over the weekend, catching up on my New York Times, I read that Frank had passed away. For someone known for turning away some of the most famous and most powerful people in the world (read the obituary to get a better sense of how hard it is to get into Rao’s), he was always the sweetest and warmest host to me and my friends. Just a regular guy with a big heart who happened to own some of the most sought-after tables in the world.

Frank, thanks for everything you did for me. You were a true mensch and a New York original. Rest in peace, friend.

I’m actually on my way to New York today. Buona domenica and see you on the other side…

Cannubi: a small but significant discovery in the origin of the place name

vietti-sale-baroloThe insatiable human curiosity for the origins of place names still baffles me (even though I am as much of a victim of its unyielding grip as the next guy). Chasing the origins can often reveal deeper meaning about the places and the people who inhabit them (and the grapes they grow there). And sometimes, to borrow a phrase from Gertrude Stein, the quest for topographic knowledge simply reveals that a name is a name is a name.

Click here to read my post today for my client Tenuta Carretta on the origin of the toponym Cannubi.

Thanks for reading and buon weekend, yall!

Trump’s immigration ban and how it will affect Italian wine in the U.S.

The following is a post I wrote today for the UniSG blog. Trump America’s ban on immigration has already begun to affect the Italian wine trade in the U.S. It’s one of the topics that I’ll be covering in coming weeks and months as the new administration’s immigration and trade policies began to take shape. Thanks for reading.

art-tijuana-wallAbove: A section of the wall that separates the United States and Mexico along the Tijuana-San Diego border where I grew up (photo, “Art on the Tijuana Wall,” via Jonathan McIntosh’s Flickr Creative Commons).

Like many Americans today, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around President Trump’s new ban on immigration from seven “majority-Muslim” countries (in case you are not familiar with Executive Order 13769, check out the Wikipedia entry here; I’ll refrain from sharing my own thoughts and feelings on the ban).

Even in the short time that it has been in effect, the impact on the Italian wine trade in the U.S. has been worrisome.

The biggest issue is that there are many foreign-born individuals who work in the Italian wine business in America and many of them come from countries included in the ban.

In one case, a wine director and leading italo-centric sommelier I know has cancelled his plans to attend Vinitaly — the annual Italian wine trade fair held in Verona. He was born in one of the seven countries included in the President’s list. He has a green card and is here legally. And technically, he should be able to re-enter the country (initially, green-card holders were to be denied re-entry but the administration back-pedaled back on that point). Not only is he afraid that things could change unexpectedly and that his status could be threatened without notice (no one had any idea that President Trump was planning such a severe ban so soon in his presidency), but he is also fearful of the scrutiny to which he might be subjected: There are widespread reports that immigration officers are scanning social media posts by migrants entering the U.S…

Click here to continue reading.

Click here to learn more about the Master’s in Wine Culture program at UniSG where I will be teaching three courses this year.

Taste bubbles (and sing) with me and my bromance Feb. 25-26 in So. Cal: All We Need Is Grapes

See the February 25-26 tasting event details below…

giovanni-arcari-wineFranciacorta winemaker Giovanni Arcari (above, left) and I first met back in 2008 in Erbusco in the heart of his appellation. We immediately hit it off and became fast friends. But it wasn’t until I was invited to speak at the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Brescia a few years later that our friendship began to blossom (Brescia is the capital city of Brescia province, which includes the Franciacorta appellation).

Even in those early years of our relationship, we talked about working together. But I was already working with another Franciacorta producer by that point. That partnership was so fruitful that it lead to a two-year campaign that I ran for the Franciacorta consortium.

As our friendship grew deeper and deeper and the years passed, Giovanni and I were disappointed not to be working together. But he always insisted that the appellation came first and he was unabashedly supportive of the program I ran for the bottlers’ association.

In December 2016, after 24 months of blogging, traveling across the U.S. leading tastings, and bringing writers to Franciacorta to raise awareness of this extraordinary appellation and its often spectacular wines, I felt it was finally time to move on. I’ve been thrilled by the results obtained and the full-fledged support that the consortium gave me throughout my tenure there. But it was time to turn the page, as the adage goes.

And where one chapter in life comes to end, another begins: I’m overjoyed to announce that I’m going to be helping out with promoting Giovanni’s wines in the U.S.

giovanni-arcariGiovanni and I are going to kick things off with two tastings this month:

Jaynes Gastropub
San Diego
Saturday, February 25
details to follow

Sotto
Los Angeles
Sunday, February 26
details to follow

I’ll be posting the details in coming days and sharing on social media. But please save the dates if you’re in Southern California then. Thanks in advance for your support!

nico-danesiThere’s so much more of this story to tell: I’ve just taken over Giovanni’s “SoloUvaUSA” English-language blog where I’ll be posting regularly there on our adventures, the wines, and their reception in the U.S.

But I couldn’t publish this post and launch this project without a nod to Giovanni’s better (winemaking) half, Nico Danesi (above, left).

He’s also become a cherished friend over the years and he’s one of the most interesting and intellectually provocative winemakers I’ve ever met (he also commands an encyclopedic knowledge of film and film history, our favorite subjects after Wittgenstein).

He and Giovanni conceived what is known as the SoloUva method, the “just grapes” approach to the production of Franciacorta wines. I’ll be sharing more about the method in upcoming posts on the SoloUvaUSA blog.

Read about the SoloUva method here in the meantime. And check out the song I wrote about it a few years ago here or below.

All we need is grapes! Thanks for your continued and future support. And thanks for believing in me and our crazy dreams.

Giovanni and Nico, I love you guys! Giovanni, see you soon in the U.S.!

Slow Wine in Austin: how does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?

giancarlo-gariglioThe weather couldn’t have been more perfect for the Slow Wine guide tasting in Austin, Texas this week. And the people — organizers, producers, and tasters — couldn’t have been nicer or more excited about this super fun gathering.

I know I’ve said it many times before but I’ll say it again: when I moved to Texas more than eight years ago, I never would have imagined that top markets in our state would become “targets” for media and trade events like this. Between the Benvenuto Brunello tasting in Houston a few weeks ago (the second time the Montalcinesi have come to the Bayou City) and this one (the second time the Slow Wine cats have come to the River City), it would seem that my adoptive state and two cities I have called home are now firmly established as hubs for Italian wine in the U.S.

That’s Slow Wine guide editor Giancarlo Gariglio (left) and Houston-based wine professional Thomas Moësse (right) in the photo above.

There’s talk that the Slow Wine event will come to Houston next year (don’t quote me but it looks likely). And there’s also talk that I’ll be involved in presenting next year’s gathering. I can’t spill the beans just quite yet but there’s some good stuff (and some good wine) in our future here in Space City.

lucia-barzano-husband-barzanoWhat a lovely day to catch up with some of my favorite people in the business. That’s Lucia Barzanò (right) of Mosnel, one of my favorite Franciacorta producers, with her husband Andrea. The nicest people… great wines.

art-fristoeMy good friend Silvano Brescianini of Barone Pizzini (left), another one of my favorite Franciacorta producers. And that’s Art Fristoe, one of the top keyboard players in Texas right now. Super cool cat. He ripped it up at the Elephant Room later that night.

its-italian-market-austinIf I’m not mistaken, these nice folks work at It’s Italian Market in Austin.

austin-bonhomieMore nice people from Bonhomie in Austin.

italy-america-chamber-maurizio-gamberucciMartin Morales (left) and Maurizio Gamberucci from the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas (one of my clients). Looking sharp, guys!

jerry-reidJerry Reid, a top sales rep for Southern Glazer’s and another one of those good eggs in the wine trade.

rob-formanRob Forman national sales manager for importer Dalla Terra (left), one of the hardest working people in the wine biz.

Thank you to everyone who came out for the event. Thank you for all you do for Italian wine and the Italian wine renaissance in Texas!

See you next year in Houston!