May your fast be easy and your year ahead filled with sweetness and health…

Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the last day of the Ten Days of Awe that follow Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

I’m not an observant Jew and we aren’t raising our children Jewish.

But each year, Yom Kippur is a day of reflection for me.

What a year it’s been… A year of some of our greatest joys fulfilled and a year of some of our worst fears realized.

Our sweet daughters are healthy and happy and are already enjoying their school year, ballet, painting, drawing, and music. My beloved wife Tracie and I are both working hard and our professional lives have been rewarding this year on many levels.

But all around us — literally all around us, in our neighborhood, in our community, and in our city — people are still suffering from the impact of the storm.

We are filled with hope but also deeply concerned about the year ahead: the continued fallout of the storm here at home, the ongoing and often challenging recovery from natural disasters across the world, the turbulent political climate, the threat of war, the seemingly unstoppable rise of intolerance…

Tracie and I will face many challenges in the year ahead but the blessing of our family fills us with joy and purpose.

May your fast be easy and your year ahead filled with sweetness and health…

Italy’s most expensive wine? Monfortino current release reaches new heights…

“Roberto Conterno’s 2010 Monfortino has been released,” wrote Italian wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti today on the popular site Intravino. “And nothing will ever be the same.”

His Lampedusian wail is making sound waves across social media this morning as observers of the Italian wine trade reckon with the reported 800 to 1,000 euro current-release price for the blue chip wine. This figure marks the first time that an Italian wine makes a market appearance on par with the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, observed Morichetti.

“Our fate is sealed,” commented revered Italian wine writer Armando Castagno on Facebook.

“These properties will end up in the hands of multi-national corporations… It’s obvious that one by one… the best Langa wineries will end up in hands that aren’t Italian, just as their wines do,” he wrote.

He was referring the Langhe Hills of northwestern Italy, also known colloquially as Langa, where the highly coveted and collectible wines Barolo and Barbaresco are produced.

“The narrative of farm life and [agricultural] tradition in Langa inspired by [the novels of] Fenoglio and Pavese CAN BE KISSED GOOD-BYE,” he noted [sic], alluding to the great post-war writers of the once impoverished Langhe Hills.

“It’s the market, baby.”

In his post, Morichetti quotes from a dinner-table conversation “from a few years ago” with winemaker Beppe Rinaldi, one of the Langhe Hills’ most zealous defenders of Barolo’s cultural purity and socio-economic independence.

“There are a number of reasons I would never do it,” Rinaldi said referring to the skyrocketing prices of wines and land in Barolo country. “But it would be good for everyone if someone did do it.”

With Conterno’s new benchmark price for Barolo, it would seem that Rinaldi got his wish.

Image via

Slow Wine California now online, prizes and producer profiles coming soon…

The following is a preview of one of my posts this week for the new Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California. Our site came online this morning. The Slow Wine prizes will be announced shortly. Producer profiles will follow.

Above: The western edge of the Santa Ynez American Viticultural Area. The Pacific coast lies just a stone’s throw away.

The time is right for the Slow Wine California.

Perceptions of gastronomy’s cultural value have changed radically since the Slow Food international movement was founded in the late 1980s in Piedmont, Italy as a champion of traditional foodways threatened by Italy’s growing appetite for fast-food. As a wide-eyed undergraduate student in Italy on my junior year abroad in 1987, I was keenly aware of the controversy sparked by the newly opened McDonald’s at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. It was that year that I first heard the name Carlo Petrini, the essayist and political activist who had founded Slow Food the previous year. In 1989 he would publish the Slow Food Manifesto, a battle cry for an emerging generation of Europeans who saw their culinary traditions being eclipsed by the march of industrialism and the growing popularity of Coca Cola and assembly-line pseudo-sustenance.

“Speed became our shackles,” he wrote. “We fell prey to the same virus: ‘The fast life’ that fractures our customs and assails us even in our own homes, forcing us to ingest ‘fast-food’… In the name of productivity, the ‘fast life’ has changed our lifestyle and now threatens our environment and our land (and city) scapes [sic]. Slow Food is the alternative, the avant-garde’s riposte.

(Click here for the complete manifesto and click here for a Slow Food timeline.)

Borrowing from the fencer’s lexicon (with his “riposte,” the sport’s return thrust, made after parrying a lunge), he underlined the urgency of his cause and mission.

Click here to continue reading my post today for the Slow Wine California blog…

Italy’s Blade Runner vintage 2017: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”

That’s an image captured this week in Montalcino where the grower completed harvest last Friday.

To the layperson, it may just seem like a picturesque Tuscan vineyard. But to the trained eye, it’s a truly bizarre image, the type that belongs to the “never seen anything like it” category, as one Montalcino farmer put it. The vines should be beginning to shut down now, the natural progression of the vines’ yearly rhythm. Instead, the vines are actually producing more vegetation (the opposite of what typically happens after harvest, wrote the author of the image).

Many Italian growers have remained silent on social media about the immense challenges they face with the 2017 harvest. But privately, I’ve been receiving emails from across the Italic peninsula recounting the pervasive effects of one of the strangest vegetative cycles in recent memory.

“It’s been a Blade Runner vintage,” wrote my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini, who runs his family’s historic farm in Montalcino. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” (He’s referring to the legendary “Tears in Rain” monologue from the movie.)

Stefano’s been one of the few winemakers I know who has openly chronicled this unparalleled and uniquely odd vintage (and I’ve been translating his notes regularly for the winery’s blog).

There’s a famous adage in Italian viticultural apocrypha: there are no bad vintages, there are just vintages where we make less wine. Stefano’s still optimistic about the Brunello his vineyards will deliver this year, even though the yields are extremely low.

Between the early onset of spring and then the disastrous late spring frosts, between the crushing heat of the summer and the late end-of-days rainfall (not to mention that hailstorms that plagued many parts of Italy), one thing is for certain: no one will forget the otherwise unimaginable 2017 vintage.

L’shanah tovah: may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet new year…

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, we eat apples and honey as a symbol of the sweet year ahead we hope G-d will grant us.

.לשנה טובה תכתבי ותחתמי

L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi.

.לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם

L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem.

May you and yours be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good and sweet new year.


Let us turn our heads heavenward and, while thanking Him for sparing so much human life, beseech G-d to restore health and wellbeing to those who are suffering!

Let us ask G-d for a Happy, Healthy and Sweet New Year for the entire universe! Our High Holiday prayers, we are taught, have an extraordinary effect on the year ahead – let’s seize the opportunity!

Let us make firm, tangible resolutions to better ourselves and increase our mitzvot, in both our interpersonal and our G-d-and-us relationships.

And let us all simply shower one another with blessings!

Thanks for being here. I’ll see you next week. Happy new year…

Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California: prizes to be announced next week

As strange as it seems, it was on a chilly November night in Piedmont — as voting in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was already well under way — that Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio first suggested we create a Slow Wine guide to the wine of California. We sipped sustainably farmed Timorasso, dipped organic torilla chips into organic salsa (just to add a layer of surreality), and by the time we said goodbye, we knew we were on the verge of having a new U.S. president and a new vade-mecum to California viticulture.

That’s San Diego winegrower Chris Broomell, above, in June of this year. Together with his wife Alysha Stehly, also a winemaker, he produces some of the most compelling wines that I’ve tasted in 2017. Not just delicious but also thrilling (at least to my palate) for the new direction that he’s driving grape farming and vinification practices in an often overlooked and undervalued American Viticultural Area, San Pasqual Valley.

Next week, Giancarlo (our editor-in-chief) and I will begin posting the winery and wine prizes, winery profiles, and tasting notes on a new blog we are launching for the guide, which will be released as print media early next year. We’ll also be posting about our methodology, the rationale behind the guide and the prizes, and the overarching ethos of Slow Food and Slow Wine and why we felt the time was right for a Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California.

Thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive of this new adventure and challenge. And special thanks to my daughters and wife Tracie who have seen a little less of me in recent weeks as I’ve been holed up in my office editing, writing, editing, writing, editing, and writing and editing some more.

It’s a very exciting project and I can’t wait to begin sharing it with you next week. Stay tuned!

Want to help Houston restaurant workers displaced by Harvey? Please come and see us! (Thank you Michael Madrigale and Planet Bordeaux.)

“Everyone’s been affected by the hurricane… everyone,” said Master Sommelier Guy Stout, a wine educator for Southern Glazer’s, when I saw him last night at a Bordeaux event at LeNôtre Culinary Institute in Houston’s Northline neighborhood.

After I attended the Bordeaux tasting, which included a guided tasting with celebrity sommelier Michale Madrigale from New York (below), I spent yesterday evening bouncing around wine bars in my adoptive city, talking to sommeliers about the status of the Houston wine community.

That’s the sign outside Underbelly (above) in our Montrose neighborhood, one of Houston’s most popular restaurants and wine destinations and a regular draw for out-of-town guests. Its owners have partnered with a local wine collector to present Wine Above Water, a wine-focused benefit for Houston-area wine trade members who have been displaced or otherwise affected by Harvey. As Guy rightly pointed out, we’ve all been affected — in one way or another.

Please read about the event and click through to the organizers’ website here (my post today for the Houston Press).

“No hesitation at all,” said Michael when I asked him if he had any reluctance in coming to our city so soon after the storm. “I was just glad when I found out we could get in.”

That’s Michael (above, left) with leading Houston sommeliers (from left) Sean Beck, Jack Mason, and Christian Varas.

Colleagues and peers from across the world have been writing me asking me how they can help with recovery efforts. Every dollar donated counts, I tell them, and donating to Wine Above Water will directly aid wine professionals who are facing mounting challenges as the restaurant industry and its patrons get back online.

But more than anything else, we need you to come here and see (and share the news) that we are open for business. Nearly everyone I talked to last night told me that their wine bars and wine-focused restaurants were up and running the day after the hurricane. In some cases, they unshuttered while the storm was still dropping up to 50 inches of rain across the greater Houston metro area.

My recommended foundations for donating are the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)
and the Houston Food Bank.

Please add Wine Above Water to that list.

But if you really want to help our community — and not just the wine and food community — please come here and spend money in our restaurants and shops. Please post a photo from Houston on your social media to let the world know that we are back on our feet. Come shake someone’s hand and share a glass of wine with one of the many displaced wine and restaurant professionals who are struggling to get by as our city rebuilds.

Thank you, Planet Bordeaux (organizer of last night’s event at LeNôtre), and thank you Michael Madrigale for not by-passing our city. That’s the type of spirit that will make #HoustonStrong even stronger.

Please check out my Houston Press post on Wine Above Water here.

From Puglia to Burgundy to Piedmont: taste with me in October in Texas, Colorado, and California

Above: I will be presenting winemaker Cesare Barbero of Pertinace (Barbaresco) and a vertical of his wines October 18 at Rossoblu in Los Angeles where I author the wine list. It’s just one of the events where I’ll be pouring and presenting this fall.

Please join me for one of the many events where I’ll be presenting, pouring, or blogging next month in Texas, Colorado, and California.

I’m particularly excited about my event with my friend and client Paolo Cantele in Houston at Mascalzone (Oct. 11) where I’m now writing my first wine list in Texas.

Another highlight will be the vertical tasting of one of my favorite Barbaresco producers Pertinace at Rossoblu (Oct. 18), where I’ve been having so much with the list, which we launched in the spring.

And of course, the Boulder Burgundy Festival (Oct. 13-15), where I’ve served as the official blogger for the last three years, is always an unforgettable experience. This year, we’ll be joined by Eric Asimov and Raj Parr.

Thanks for your support… hoping to see (and taste with) you next month!

Wednesday, October 11
7:00 p.m.

featuring Paolo Cantele
and 3 classic Italian dishes
paired with Cantele wines

$50 per person
12126 Westheimer Rd.
Houston TX 77077
Google map
CALL (832) 328-5151 TO RESERVE.

Thursday, October 12
7:00 p.m.

family-style dinner
featuring Paolo Cantele
and Cantele family wines

price TBD
5924 Convair Dr.
Fort Worth TX 76109
Google map
CALL (817) 349-0484 TO RESERVE.

Fri.-Sun., October 13-15

with keynote speaker Eric Asimov
and sommelier and winemaker Raj Parr

Boulder CO

SOTTO (Los Angeles)
Tuesday, October 17
7:00 p.m.

“Native Sons of Puglia”
dinner featuring Paolo Cantele,
Cantele family wines
& artisanal pastas by Pugliese
pasta-maker Francesco Allegro

$90 per person
9575 W Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90035
Google map
CALL (310) 277-0210 TO RESERVE.

ROSSOBLU (Los Angeles)
Wednesday, October 18
7:00 p.m.

Pertinace Barbaresco vertical
dinner with Cesare Barbero

$350 per person
1124 San Julian St.
Los Angeles CA 90015
Google map
CALL (213) 749-1099 TO RESERVE.

Kobrand, shame on you for by-passing Houston!

Above: the scene yesterday at the Houston Zoo, where my two daughters — ages 4 and 5 — especially enjoyed the elephants, lemurs, and cotton candy. We were lucky to find a parking place!

On Thursday, the following email found its way to my inbox:

For reasons they decided not to reveal (other than “in the wake of Hurricane Harvey”… what a tone-deaf word choice!), fine wine importer Kobrand’s powers-that-be have decided at the last minute to change the location of their touring Italian tasting, scheduled for Tuesday, September 19, from Houston to Ft. Worth.

Honestly, I had been looking forward to the tasting and looking forward to writing about it on my blog and the Houston Press food and wine blog. But thanks to the “wake of Hurricane Harvey” (I still can’t get over how insensitively their marketing department’s email was worded), it will be a missed opportunity for all concerned.

Here’s an update on the Houston wine community “in the wake of Hurricane Harvey”:

– both of my favorite wine bars in Houston were open the day after the storm;
– both of my favorite wine shops were open the day after the storm;
– the Houston-area Italian restaurant where I write the wine list was closed for only one day during the storm;
– every restaurateur member of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce was open by the last day of the storm, except for one, which opened the next day.

Although the first day of school had been postponed for two weeks, my daughter started kindergarten this morning. Yesterday, I took my daughters to the zoo and we were lucky to find a parking place (that’s how crowded it was).

The USPS delivered mail to our house the day after the storm.

City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department picked up our trash and recycling two days after the storm (our regular day for pick-up; there was no disruption in service).

Houston’s airports reopened the day after the storm. I flew to California and back for work last week, with no disruption or delay.

Kobrand, I hope you “Have a wonderful day!” in Ft. Worth. (You can tell that Kobrand managers have a truly top-notch marketing machine working for them, all the way down to the authors of their heartless copy).

Houston is by no means fully recovered. It will take years, some say up to 10, to get the fourth-largest city in America back to its pre-Harvey bustle.

But I can assure you that the wine and restaurant community has rebounded swiftly and seamlessly.

Just think of all the meals that the winemakers and brand ambassadors would have enjoyed in Houston-area fine dining destinations. Just think of the tabs they would have paid and the tips they would have left. But, no, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, all of that support will go to Ft. Worth, where they surely need it most.

Have a wonderful day, Kobrand! Don’t worry about us down here in Houston. We’re doing just fine.

Where to donate to Houston relief efforts…

Above: Houston restaurateur Giancarlo Ferrara preparing lasagne for first responders.

If you’re not in Houston and want to help out with relief efforts, here are our recommended sites for donations:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)

Houston Food Bank

Thanks, everyone, for all the notes, wishes, prayers, and solidarity. It’s going to be a long, long road to recovery. But we’ll get there together. #HoustonStrong