Thanksgiving wine: I’ll take the (Beaujolais) Morgon over the moron

In the fall of 2012, an older white man in a pick-up truck pulled into the parking lot of the post office in the Austin, Texas-area middle-class neighborhood where my wife Tracie and I used to live with our two young daughters.

In the back window of his cab, he had fastened a bumper sticker that read: “I’ll take the Mormon over the moron.” Taking advantage of his all-American liberty of expression, he was sharing his desire that Mitt Romney win the 2012 presidential election.

Yesterday, I read a Houston Chronicle (the city’s paper of record) account of a Houston-area sheriff who pulled over a Houston-area resident because she had a “Fuck Trump and fuck you for voting for him” bumper sticker affixed to the window of her truck’s cab. He ended up arresting her on an unrelated charge. But, according to the Chronicle report, the woman and her husband — who live not far from where Tracie and I now live in southwest Houston with our children — had already been pulled over more than once by law officers, who were unable to concoct sufficient grounds for arrest.

These parallel though incongruous episodes were on my mind when I woke up this morning to find hate email in my inbox from a Houston Press reader.

In reference to Thanksgiving wine recommendations I published one year ago today on the Houston Press website, Teddy S. wrote me to keep my politics to myself.

It was remarkable to re-read the piece this morning.

If I only knew then what I know now! But that was before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville this year, where Trump supporters gathered to chant “Jews will not replace us” and the president responded by noting that there were “some very fine people” among them.

I stand by my wine recommendations and my politics from November 17, 2016 — as I did then, as I do now.

I’d only like to add that (cru) Beaujolais Morgon is a wonderful wine to serve for the holiday as well: I’ll take the Morgon over the moron (available at the Houston Wine Merchant). I’m having the bumper stickers printed as I write this and I should have them in time for the holiday. I just hope my wife, daughters, and I don’t get pulled over by my local sheriff on the way to our family gathering.

“We are witnessing what happens when right-wing politics becomes untethered from morality and religion,” wrote Republican and Christian conservative Michael Gerson, one of President George W. Bush’s former chief speechwriters, in an op-ed yesterday.

A Thanksgiving pairing of morality, religion, and right-wing politics. Now wouldn’t that be something? It would be something else…

Happy holiday, everyone. Politics aside, please drink Sonoma and Napa wines this Thanksgiving to help in wine country’s recovery from the devastating October wildfires.

The unemployment factory and my gainfully employed students at the University of Gastronomic Sciences

Back in my grad school days, my dissertation advisor — the great Milanese poet Luigi Ballerini — used to boast that he would never let our department become a fabbrica dei disoccupati, a factory churning out unemployable graduates.

I can’t convey the thrill last night when I ran into three of my students last night in Bra (in Piedmont, where the University of Gastronomic Sciences is located) and learned that nearly everyone from their graduating class is gainfully employed: from left, Marco at Josetta Saffirio, Filippo at Domenico Clerico, and Valentina at Matteo Correggia (each an iconic winery in its own right).

Just yesterday, I was reading Beppe Severgnini’s New York Times op-ed wherein he reports (not that we didn’t already know) that “youth unemployment is at a record high” in Italy.

To know that nearly all of last year’s matriculated Master’s in Wine Culture students have jobs (they do!) fills my heart with gladness.

In other news…

What a meal last night at Ristorante Battaglino!

That’s the restaurant’s “Carne cruda e salsiccia di Bra,” classic Piedmontese beef tartare and raw veal sausage (the latter, a specialty unique to Bra). Music to the ears of anyone who suffers from Jewish boy stomach (like me).

The food scene in Bra (much more international than you might imagine, btw) would be worth the price of admission alone…

I’m on lunch break this afternoon following a seminar I led on Eric Asimov’s “Tyranny of the Tasting Note.” Now it’s time to dive into the enoblogosphere… Back to the factory I go! Thank you for being here.

Best carbonara recipe and dinner with one of my all-time favorite wine writers…

Last night, I had the immensely good fortune of being a guest in the home of professor Michele Antonio Fino, director of the Master’s in Wine Culture program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont where I’m currently teaching a seminar on wine writing.

But as if my stars hadn’t already aligned, my luck only grew: Armando Castagno, one of my all-time favorite wine writers (and my fellow professor in the Master’s in Wine program), prepared a carbonara (above) for us using pecorino romano that he had brought with him from Rome earlier that day.

Armando is the apotheosis of the Roman intellectual and one of the most entertaining and engaging dinner guests you could ever host. And he is not only an expert in wine (among many other fields) but he is also a foremost authority on Roman cuisine.

As the water was boiling for the rigatoni, the quintessential pasta for this dish (not spaghetti, Armando explained), he patiently whisked the freshly grated pecorino with the eggs until he achieved the desired consistency: he used a 3/1 ratio of yolks to whites (meaning he added two yolks for every whole egg, just to be clear).

He pointed out that he doesn’t salt water because there is sufficient saltiness owed to the cheese and the guanciale (this is extremely important, he insisted).

Before he began cooking the pasta, he sautéed the roughly one-centimeter-thick slices of guanciale in their own fat. When he achieved the desired crispiness, he strained and reserved the liquified fat.

Once he cooked the pasta (employing less than the recommended cooking time and at low heat, he noted), he strained it and returned it to the cooking pot. He then folded the reserved liquified fat from the guanciale into the pasta; added the pecorino-and-egg dressing and the crispy guanciale; and then he sprinkled with more pecorino as he had me grind the black pepper into the dish. After plating the dish, he topped with more sprinkled pecorino before serving.

One of the most important elements of the assembly, he said, was that the pasta shouldn’t be too hot when you add the cheese, eggs, and guanciale. If it’s too hot, the dressing will become lumpy, he explained.

Just feast your eyes on the dish above… and yes, you most definitely should weep. What a carbonara, people!

For the wine pairing, he told us, you need a white with enough body to stand up to the saltiness and fattiness of the dish. He highly approved of Michele’s Van Volxem 2011 Saar Riesling (above).

Beyond Armando’s skill in the kitchen and his extraordinary abilities as taster (one of the greatest tasters I’ve ever interacted with, hands down), the thing that impresses me the most about him is the breadth and the depth of his knowledge in so many fields — from art history and classical Latin to sports (he’s a huge fan of American football) and, of course, food and wine.

To hear him rattle off anagrams (one of his favorite pastimes) was as hilarious as it was exhilarating (Democrazia Cristiana = Azienda Camorristica; On. Giulio Andreotti = un gelido Totò Riina).

So many of the world’s most talented and highest-profile wine writers and tasters can quibble over whole-cluster versus de-stemmed fermentations — an unquestionably noble pursuit, no doubt. But few can parse the nuance of luminosity of color in American modernist painting.

His polymathy is an example for all of us: our knowledge of viticulture is only enriched by its contextualization within the human arts, experience, and condition.

And man, this dude can make a bad-assed carbonara!

I am so proud to call him my fellow in the Master’s in Wine program. He’s all the more reason to enroll.

Armande magister optime ubi major minor cessat. Vale.

From Houston to Roero to Los Angeles and back: taste Italy with me in November & December (includes unicorns)

From the department of “keep your butt moving and your glass full” (attrib. Dr. Frank Butler)…

I’ll be heading out tonight for the town of Bra in Piedmont, Italy, where I’ll be teaching a seminar on wine writing for the Master’s in Wine Culture program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences — the Slow Food university (enrollment for the 2018 session is now open).

If you happen to be in Roero and/or Langa over the next two weeks, drop me a line! The restaurants in Bra are really great and I’m always geeked to have colleagues join me for one of my lectures.

Angelenos and Houstonians, please join me at one or more of the below.

Thanks for your support and please wish me speed! See you on the other side…

Rossoblu (Los Angeles)
Tuesday, November 28

6:30 p.m.
Lambrusco Tasting with Alicia Lini.


Mascalzone (Houston)
Monday, December 4

6:00 p.m.
Wine Tasting: Native Italian Grapes.

I’ll be pouring 3 wines at Mascalzone where I’ve been writing the wine list since this summer. $35 per person, including (very generous portion) light bites. I’ll also be working the floor that night at the restaurant.


Rossoblu (Los Angeles)
Thursday, December 7

7:00 p.m.
Dinner with Prince Alessandrojacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi
featuring a flight of Tenuta Fiorano reds from the 1980s.


This event will sell out for sure. Please register to ensure availability. These wines are EXTRAORDINARY, true unicorns!

Thanks for your support. Buon weekend…

My wine blog’s bigger than your wine blog: title for a seminar next week @UniSG (2018 enrollment open).

Above: my wine writing Master’s class last year at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. Next week I’ll be teaching both print-media and digital-era wine writing to a new group of Master’s students there. Enrollment in next year’s Master’s Program in Wine Culture, Communication, and Management is now open. Click here to read more. If I were 20 years younger, I’d enroll just to attend the seminars with Armando Castagno, one of my teaching fellows and one of the tasters, wine writers, and wine THINKERS I admire most in the world.

“In the context of wine communications,” writes veteran wine blogger Tom Wark on his blog Fermentation this week, “wine blogs should best be understood as the minor leagues of wine journalism. If you observe the wine blogosphere as a whole, some bloggers are clear standouts and are likely to be assigned a place in the major leagues; given exposure in outlets beyond their blog where more eyes and minds are exposed to their singular voice.”

He’s not denigrating wine bloggers, he notes (he’s a wine blogger himself):

    This may come off as a view that diminishes the importance of wine blogs… [In fact, it] is the most exciting thing about the genre. It always has been. On that occasion when you discover a new, exciting voice that rises above the crowd and delivers a perspective not previously encountered, any keen observer of wine writing and wine communications should be excited or at least highly intrigued.

Tom is a leading member of the American wine community, well respected by his peers and widely read by his colleagues. I like him a lot, I read his blog religiously (one of my favorites), and I look forward to every opportunity I get to interact with him. He’s one of the most intelligent and thoughtful voices in wine writing today. Not only does he have something intriguing and compelling to say but he also says it exceedingly well.

I’m going to be sharing his post with my students next week in one of my seminars for the Master’s program in Wine Culture, Communication, and Management at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy.

But I take issue with the intrinsic (and misguided) hierarchy that he projects on wine writing today. And more specifically, I believe he is wrong that there is an inherent dichotomy between the major leagues and minor leagues of wine writing.

Here and now is not the space or time to get into a discussion of just exactly what constitutes a blog. But I will point out that nearly all the “major leaguers” he cites (including himself, if he puts himself in the privileged category) are also wine bloggers. Master of Wine Jancis Robinson (one of my favorites) is one of the few leading wine writers who still publishes with a print-media outlet (the Financial Times). But most of her writing appears on her tasting note portal and blog Antonio Galloni (another favorite) may have been a minor leaguer by Tom’s standards when he published Piedmont Report, which he distributed as a PDF. But today, he and his online are considered top resources for wine writing, even though the media is available exclusively in digital format — a web log, updated frequently (the very definition of a blog).

The bottomline is that there is no difference between a blog and a website or a print media outlet today. Print media is dying out. And websites — even the New York Times — are consumed primarily by digital users. That’s a fact that no one can dispute. Does that mean that the Times is a blog? Or does that mean that blogs can’t be associated with former print-media brands? It doesn’t matter anymore…

Tom’s post and his emargination of those writers who don’t make the grade in his binary wine-writing hegemony (and I write this with the greatest respect for his writing) made me think of a wine blogger whom he considers a major leaguer, the HoseMaster of Wine. The title alone of this award-winning and much celebrated blog is as offensive to current sensibilities as is the hateful (however satirical) content it hosts. (My suggestion would be that he change the title to Petroleum Flex Connector of Wine.) A Harvey Winestein of wine blogging (pun intended), H——– frequently attacks other wine writers/bloggers with explicitly sexual and misogynist language (the Donald Trump of wine bloggers?).

Tom’s post also made me think of another spite-fueled wine blogger, On the Wine Trail in Italy, a devoted detractor of the “Instagram generation” of wine writers, as he calls youthful wine-focused social media users and bloggers.

The Lambrusco Twitter troll @LambruscoDay was another writer (blogger/social media user?) that came to mind. He’s the world’s leading expert on Lambrusco (in his mind) and is determined to tell you how little you know about the category, whether you like it or not.

I don’t know if Tom considers the latter two to be major leaguers but all three of these writers have something in common, something key to their whole approach to oenography: you know less about wine than me and I’m going to denigrate you for it.

The parallel I draw between Tom’s hierarchy and the prime motor behind the three bloggers (or micro-blogger in the case of the @LambruscoDay) is borne out of the malignant notion that there is nobility in disparaging those who see the world differently than you. Your major-league aspirations make you better than them and you find purpose in letting the world know you’re better than them.

I agree wholeheartedly with Tom when he writes that we “should understand the Wine Blog as the voice of a single individual.” But I also believe that the voice of every individual deserves our respect and a place in the blogosphere. After all, wine writing and the synesthetic art of describing wine culture is an expression of human subjectivity and idiosyncrasy.

There is no minor or major league in wine writing. Everyone is and deserves to be in a league of their own — just like Tom.

Thanks for reading. Please check out the Master’s program in wine culture at UniSG. Beyond my own seminars, I highly recommend it.

“Slow” awards, the Slow Wine guide’s top prizes now online (and a new urgency in our mission to help wine country)

Yesterday, after a month-long hiatus, we’ve picked up on the Slow Wine California blog where we left off before the northern California wildfires shifted our attention to wine country’s recovery.

Yesterday, we published the 2018 debut guide’s “Slow” awards. Please check out the post and the site.

In the aftermath of the fires, there was no question that it wasn’t appropriate to follow our planned editorial schedule of publishing our editors’ top picks and our producer profiles.

Instead, we decided to focus on relief efforts and how all of us can help in the wine trade’s recovery.

And the bottomline is this: the number-one thing all of us can do — every Californian winemaker I’ve interacted with says exactly the same thing — is to buy California wine.

With every “depletion” (as we call it in the wine trade), retailers and restaurateurs are prompted to re-order the wines. And with their orders, capital flows back to the region. It’s exactly what the industry needs — from farmhand and hospitality worker to vineyard and winery owner.

This devastating natural disaster has given new urgency to our mission as editors of the guide (I’m the coordinating editor and one of the contributors). Initially, we had conceived the guide as a way to raise awareness of the vibrant “slow ethos” that thrives already in California. Today, we hope the guide will become the inspiration for bottles to be purchased and wine country trips to be planned.

Please stay tuned into the Slow wine blog as we publish the final prizes and we begin to publish our producer profiles (next week).

Thanks for reading and clicking. And thanks most of all for drinking California… (Tracie and are currently drinking Bedrock Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc.).

In memoriam: Pietro Cheli (1965-2017)

Photo by Giovanni Arcari.

Who Was Pietro Cheli
by Giacomo Papi
Il Post Libri
November 6, 2017
(translation mine)

At dawn on Monday, November 5, 2017, Pietro Cheli died in his bed as the rain fell over Milan.

“I’m fine,” he had told his wife Alba Solaro shortly before the moment arrived. He may not have realized that it wasn’t true.

He was born in Genoa in 1965. He was 52 years old. He often said he would pass soon. Genoa was his favorite soccer team. He was a cultural journalist, meaning that for his entire life, he had worked in publishing, reading and publishing books, appearing at presentations, speaking on the radio, on television, and editing culture columns at the newspapers where he worked.

First at Il Giornale and La Voce with Indro Montanelli; then at Glamour and Diario with Enrico Deaglio; and finally at Amica where he was the magazine’s deputy editor. He was one of the great “men-machines”: When it came time to close an edition, he had an incredible capacity to edit its pages with a level of concentration and attention that made it appear seamless and almost easy.

He was a voluminous man whose enthusiasms and aversions often overflowed. He was a generous and contrarian man who sometimes used his body — his belly mostly but also his hands — as his own language. He could use it to spark the interest of strangers, intimidate his adversaries, and embrace his friends. Going by appearances, he seemed a man unafraid of the world and a singular voice of culture. In fact, he struggled with his doubts as to whether he should join in or keep his distance.

He hid but also rallied behind the character he had created. His way of hiding was by taking up all available space.

After they met, Luis Sepúlveda put him in one of his books. He called Cheli “a portly detective nicknamed ‘the Brooklyn Bambino’ by the homicide squad.”

Even when he spoke ill or gossiped about some one — as he often did, especially when it came to those he felt had usurped a position of power they didn’t deserve — his perspective was shaped by his disappointment and his amusement at the human comedy. But he never grew angry. He wasn’t ever able to avoid fools and hangers-on because he knew that fools and hangers-on nearly always had stories to share. And I believe it was also because he didn’t want to hurt them.

He was an elegant man (years later, he still laughed about an article that appeared in a Genoa newspaper wherein the author wrote he had “the elegance of a Finollo,” an old men’s store that catered to Genoa’s upper classes). He was a man full of wit. He could lash out but he also knew how to protect.

When he liked someone, he always knew how to identify the perfect anecdote or mannerism to describe him. He would reveal it for everyone to see, whether he intended to screw that person over or make him a legend.

As he lay dead in his room, he was elegant and rotund, surrounded by his books. He was cherubic, like a peacefully slumbering adolescent’s big baby doll.


See this video of Pietro speaking (in Italian) about his recent book I’m A Racist But I’m Trying To Quit.

We’ll miss you dearly, Pietro.

California wine needs us now more than ever before…

As Houstonians, we know all too well that recovery from a natural disaster is long and hard — even after media attention has shifted elsewhere. Please read my post today for the Houston Press, “California Wine Needs Us More Than Ever Before.” I was wrong about California wine and California wine needs me and you more than ever before…

Above: the selection of California wines at the Houston Wine Merchant is excellent, with a wide range of styles and price points. The Signorello winery in Napa was one of the estates destroyed in the northern California wildfires, “the most destructive wildfire in the history of California” according to the Wiki.

Last week, Sonoma resident and leading California wine writer Elaine Brown published “After the Fires” on her blog, one of the most moving posts I’ve read about the aftermath of the deadly California wildfires.

I highly recommend it to you. In it she writes: “Please help the North Coast rebuild in whatever ways you can. Keep buying California wine, especially from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, or Lake County, all of which were impacted by these fires. If you ever travel through the region, please consider buying gift certificates for your favorite locally owned businesses so they can get the funds now, and you can enjoy them when you next visit.”

Her call to buy California wine echoes what so many people on the ground in Sonoma and Napa have been writing in their e-blasts and blog posts: nothing helps more than purchasing and consuming California wine.

This week, I made a run to my local wine shop, the Houston Wine Merchant, for a mixed case of California wines. Tracie and I generally drink mostly Italian, some French, and the occasional Californian and Austrian. But last month, as we followed the news from the Golden State (my home state), we turned our focus to the west.

Every bottle that you or I purchase (every “depletion” as we say in the trade) delivers much needed support to the industry — from the vineyard worker to the tasting room staffer to the trucker who hauls the wine eastward. All of those people have been affected by this natural disaster. And that’s not to mention the hospitality workers (wine bars, restaurants, hotels, etc.) and the service employees who reside in Napa and Sonoma.

“I hate to say it,” said Antonio Gianola, one of the senior buyers for the Houston Wine Merchant, “but if you buy the wine directly from the wineries, you’ll help them even more.”

He was referring to the fact that direct sales deliver the best margins for the wineries.

Not all California wineries are registered in Texas and Texas has some of the most restrictive shipping regulations in the country (thank you, Texas wholesaler lobby!). But there is ample availability of great California wine in Houston: please visit Spec’s, the Houston Wine Merchant, and Vinology for nearly every style and price point.

Matthiasson, Ceritas, Bedrock are some of my favorites and they are all available at the Houston Wine Merchant. And if you want to go with a bigger-style California Cabernet Sauvignon, I recommend the Frog’s Leap (also available at the Houston Wine Merchant). I tasted the wine last summer as part of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California tasting panel (I’m the guide’s coordinating editor and Elaine is our senior editor). Our panel awarded the winery one of our “best value” prizes: at around $56 a bottle (compared with $80-120 for similar pedigree and quality), it’s a steal for how good it is (organically farmed, btw).

Wherever you live, I hope you’ll join me tonight and in coming months as I pull a cork and enjoy a wine from northern California.

Thanks for reading and for enjoying Golden State wines. Please check out my post today for the Houston Press.