Texas BBQ and Lambrusco: the ultimate wine pairing (WARNING CONTAINS BRISKET AND BALSAMIC PORN)

From the department of “nice work if you can get it”…

Above: the sacred and profane, a slice of juicy Texas smoked brisket topped with 12-year aged Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia (I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide which is the profane and which the sacred).

Yesterday afternoon, I connected with Houston Chronicle bbq columnist J.C. “Chris” Reid and Houston restaurant legend Bill Floyd at Bill’s Jackson St. BBQ in downtown for some Lambrusco and smoked meats pairing research.

I’ve always been a big believer that Lambrusco is not only the best wine to pair with Texas bbq but that it should also be adopted as the state’s official wine.

Refreshing, served cold, low in alcohol, with more tannic character than people realize, sweet with residual sugar even when people call it “dry,” Lambrusco mirrors in more way than one the sweet tea that is traditionally served with smoked meats in Texas.

Yes, beer is also a traditional pairing for bbq. But most beer doesn’t have the sweetness that can work so well with the smoky and often spicy character of the food.

When my wife Tracie and I first attended church “feeds” hosted by my father-in-law’s congregation in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border, I tasted sweet tea with homemade bbq (no one in Orange goes “out” for bbq, btw). And that’s when I started to look to Lambrusco as the ideal match.

Above: on Monday, March 5 in Houston, J.C. “Chris” Reid and I will be leading a seminar on bbq and Lambrusco pairing at the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Taste of Italy festival. Stay tuned for details on that.

The evolution of Texas bbq over the last 10 years is nothing short of incredible. When I first moved to Texas in 2008, the bbq revolution was just beginning to take shape. Today, you can find Texas bbq across the U.S. and even in Europe. And it’s not Kansas City, Carolina, or Memphis. It’s Texas bbq — religiously smoked, “low and slow” — that has proved to have such appeal across the world.

With its new international standing and profile, it’s only natural that we should start to look for the right wine to pair with this indigenous and truly unique gastronomic tradition.

On Monday, March 5 in Houston, Chris and I will be leading a seminar on bbq and Lambrusco pairing at the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Taste of Italy festival. Jackson St. will be one of the smokers providing the food pairings together with another couple of Houston standbys.

And Texas brisket and traditional balsamic vinegar you ask? I’ll also be moderating a panel that day on classic and creative applications of the sticky icky and utterly delicious stuff.

It’s nice work if you can get it, ain’t it? Stay tuned for details and hope to see you March 5 in Houston at Taste of Italy!

Confederate Memorial Protest Sat. Feb. 10 in Orange, Texas: please join us, please share…

Join us in PROTEST of the Confederate Memorial in Orange, Texas:

location: Confederate Memorial of the Wind (Google map)
time: 3 p.m. until sundown

CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE REPURPOSE EMAIL NEWSLETTER to receive event details and updates.

Please visit the Repurpose blog.

Please like the Repurpose Facebook page.


The Repurpose movement and blog were founded in December 2017: through protests and lobby efforts, we advocate for the repurposing of the Confederate Memorial in Orange, Texas.
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The best Etna I’ve ever tasted and azolla, a fern to save the world…

Unless you’ve been living under a volcanic rock, you already know that wines from Sicily’s Mt. Etna have reshaped the Italian viticultural landscape. Nerello Mascalese, the active volcano’s favorite grape variety, has become so popular and so alluring in terms of its potential greatness that some of Italy’s most celebrated winemakers and wine trade players have set up shop there. The country’s most famous natural wine is made on Etna using Nerello. Some of its most coveted red wines are now made there using the same. And some of the top producers there are already hoping to capture a segment of the lucrative classic method market with sparkling wines made from Nerello.

As much as I’ve enjoyed Etna rosso — from the funky to the classic — it’s always been the white wines that have thrilled me the most. That’s partly owed to the fact that my wife and I drink mostly white wine at home. But it’s also thanks to the confluence of freshness and depth that white grape Carricante can achieve when handled by the right practitioners.

The variety’s greatness was on glorious display last week when I tasted Federico Curtaz’ Etna Bianco called “Gamma.” When I looked at the label, I thought to myself, “wow, that takes some real gumption to call a wine ‘Gamma,'” as in the “gamma factor” or “Lorentz Factor”: “the factor by which time, length, and relativistic mass change for an object while that object is moving” according to the Wiki.

But as soon as this wine came into contact with my tongue, I became a believer.

The fruit in the wine was like liquid electricity! Balanced citrus and elegant tropical fruit danced with elegant power in the blessed glass that had been fortunate enough to be filled with this wine.

It’s not a cheap date but it’s worth every last penny. What a wine!

Thank you to Anthony Baladamenti of Palermo Imports for turning me on to this.

Another memorable wine I tasted last week was the Beckham Sophia’s Pinot Noir from Oregon. Electric came to mind again when it came to the vibrant red fruit in this wine. Utterly delicious, with beautiful balance and classic style.

I was also intrigued to learn, thanks to the gent who tasted me on this wine, about the another organic winemaker’s use of azolla as a cover crop. The famed fern is probably what saved our planet from warming in prehistory. And today, it’s used across the farming sector for nitrogen fixation, the replenishment of nitrogen in soil, in this case by organic means.

Some today believe that azolla could be used to save the planet. And it’s been fascinating to read up on and learn more about the Azolla Event in the time before time.

In today’s troubled times, we could all use a more azolla in our diets.

Thanks to James Endicott of Vinocity Selections for turning me on to this excellent wine and hipping me to the azolla movement.

“Boycott Zonin wines” movement emboldened as details of financial misdeeds emerge

Above: the Zonin winery in Vicenza province, Italy. The Zonin winery group owns estates in Veneto, Piedmont, Tuscany, Sicily, and the U.S., among other properties.

Italian wine mogul and banker Gianni Zonin made headlines in Italy last July when he was spotted shopping with his wife in Milan’s exclusive Via Montenapoleone commercial district. At the time, the 80-year-old ex-president of the failed Banca Popolare di Vicenza was under investigation for stock manipulation and obstruction of regulatory authorities.

When the investigators published their findings the following month, they reported that 118,000 clients lost their savings when the Banca Popolare di Vicenza collapsed.

The European Central Bank “euthanized” the Vicenza bank less than two weeks before the Zonins’ shopping spree (New York Times). Gianni Zonin had been its president from 1996 to 2015. (Read an English-language account of the initial probe by Reuters here.)

Zonin and his family made headlines again this week in the Italian media when it was reported that Italian authorities had seized a mere 346,000 euros from the ex-banker in the wake of the financial scandal.

“A drop in the sea,” was how Giulio Romani, Italian Trade Union Federation (First CISL), described it. “It barely corresponds to 34 percent of Zonin’s more than 1 million euro salary in 2015,” the last year he served as the bank’s president.

In another report published in the Italian media earlier this week, financial investigators reported that in order to protect his fortune, the winemaker transferred ownership of “‘nearly all of his property’ to one of his sons and his wife in two transactions on January 15 and May 13, 2016.”

According to Italian Magistrate Roberto Venditti, the judge who ordered the seizure, “the accused [Zonin] gave the majority of his financial assets to family members over the course of two years.”

The news of the seizure and Zonin’s financial dealings in the wake of the bank’s collapse have emboldened members of the Facebook page Noi che credevamo Nella Banca Popolare di Vicenza (We who believed in the Banca Popolare di Vicenza).

Above: “Boycott the grape grower,” a flier featuring winemaker and ex-banker Gianni Zonin, posted on the Noi che credevamo Nella Banca Popolare di Vicenza Facebook page. The caption at the bottom is a play on the bank’s acronym, BPVI. Translated it reads, “swindle Vicenza residents first.”

The Zonin winery group owns estates in Veneto, Piedmont, Tuscany, Sicily, and the U.S., among other properties. The family’s wines are widely available in North America, including its popular Prosecco, which retails for roughly $13 according to WineSearcher.com. With offices in Charlottesville (VA) and Miami, the family’s Zonin USA is one of the largest wine importers in the country.

See these Reuters profiles of bank clients whose savings were wiped out when the Banca Popolare di Vicenza collapsed on Zonin’s watch.

Want to go to Vinitaly? The Italy-America Chamber of Commerce has 10 sponsored trips available

A public service announcement…

If you work in the Italian wine business — whether as importer, distributor, restaurateur, or retailer — you already know that the industry’s annual trade fair in Verona, Vinitaly, represents one of the greatest opportunities to taste new releases and to interact with Italian winemakers and wine professionals from both sides of the Atlantic.

I’m pleased to share the news that the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce currently has 10 sponsored trips available for qualified wine and restaurant professionals.

The program is being administered by the Texas office of the chamber (where I serve as a consultant).

Before contacting their office in Houston, please be sure to register for the fair using this link.

(Make sure you select “Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas” as your point of contact to ensure that your application gets routed through the Houston office.)

Once registered, please contact the chamber’s deputy director for Texas, Maurizio Gamberucci, by clicking here.

The best news is that this year’s program will be focused on Vivit, the natural-organic-biodynamic pavilion at the fair.

If you’re a qualified buyer or restaurant worker (and servers qualify, btw), this is a great opportunity to get to Verona and the fair this year — for free.

I encourage you to apply and I hope to see you in Verona in April!

Bruno Giacosa, unrivaled “Nebbiolo whisperer,” dies at 88

The following excerpt comes from a 2012 lecture (lectio magistralis) delivered by Bruno Giacosa on the occasion of his honoris causa from the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Piedmont (translation mine).

    I was born in 1929 and one of my earliest memories is smelling the wine made by grandfather Carlo. That was also the year that my grandfather died and my father Mario took over his business. My grandfather Carlo had begun making and bottling wine at the end of the 1800s…
    He made classic Piedmontese wines, the same ones we know today: Mostly Dolcetto, then Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Freisa, and Brachetto. Asti Spumante was the only white.
    Obviously, 1929 was also the year of the [stock market] crash. My father decided to stop bottling wine that year. Instead, he would buy grapes, which he would re-sell or vinify and sell as bulk wine. Back then, only a few wineries bottled wine under their own label. Most of them didn’t own there own vineyards. They would buy grapes from the so-called mediatori, brokers who served as intermediaries between grape growers and the businesses that made wine.
    I started working with my father when I was 16 years old, not long after World War II had come to an end. I would travel around the Langhe Hills with him, watching how he would buy and re-sell grapes; how he would distinguish the good fruit from the less favorable fruit; how he would remember which vineyards delivered the best results.
    At the time, there was also a grape market in Alba. My memory of the market isn’t a pretty one — a memory I share with the many farmers who would sell their grapes there. The brokers would wait until the very last moment to buy, forcing the grape growers to sell at whatever price the brokers wanted and sending them home with empty crates. It was a bit of a sad affair, especially when there wasn’t a great demand for grapes from the bottlers.
    We preferred instead to go directly to the farms, in part because we could choose which grapes to buy directly at the source. After we would buy our grapes, I would also help the growers make a little bit of wine. They would either sell it as bulk wine or they would sell to the very same bottlers who bought their fruit. You could make a little extra money by making your own wine. But it had to be really good. Otherwise, you might not be able to sell it…
    I was just a boy then. And so I didn’t drink wine. But I quickly developed a good nose. I figured out that you had to pay attention to the aromas that would emerge from the grapes when you bit into them during the harvest. Then you would taste the must during fermentation. And then you would taste the wine. This was all you needed to know. I learned to use my nose as a means for gauging whether the wine was clean or dirty. And you could also tell whether or not the wine would age well; whether or not it was nuanced enough; whether or not it would ever open up; or whether it was better to blend it with other parcels; whether or not I should keep it for another couple of years in my cellar before bottling it; or whether it was better to sell it right away to someone else.
    Obviously, I have tasted thousands of wines. But I can guarantee you that my nose has rarely been wrong. And this is the thing that I keep repeating to young people: Learn to use your olfactory. Many people today think that your sense of smell isn’t useful. But it’s with your nose that you understand the most important things about a wine.

Read the entire lecture (in Italian) here.

Today, the Slow Wine blog called Giacosa “Nebbiolo whisperer.” And that he was.

There’s not an Italian wine professional among our contemporaries who wouldn’t point to his wines as some of the most compelling she or he has ever tasted.

My wife Tracie and I had the great fortune to taste with Bruno at the winery in 2010 not long after we were married. He was a gentle, soft-spoken man whose work and career shaped a generation of winemakers and grape growers. And with his extraordinary wines, he also shaped a generation of wine lovers. He will surely be remembered as one of the last great champions of traditional-style Nebbiolo and one of the indisputable architects of Langa’s viticultural revolution and prosperity.

Brune sit tibi terra levis.

Thank you for all the incredible wines that you shared with us over the course of your lifetime.

Image via the Slow Wine Guide blog.

The best Zinfandel I tasted in 2017…

From the department of “my other son, the wine writer”…

It’s not the first time that my fingers glide across my computer keyboard and deliver the following mea culpa to the screen: “California wine, I was wrong about you. And I’m sorry.”

My role as the coordinating editor of the 2018 Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California has been an eye-opening and humbling experience for me (you can read our winery profiles for the 2018 guide, soon to be published in print, as they come online — free access — on the Slow Wine guide blog).

When Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio first contacted me about joining the project, I asked him, “are you sure you have the right man?”

When he pressed on, I wondered out loud, “will we even find enough wineries to fill the pages of the guide?”

But I finally succumbed to his insistence, despite my skepticism and reluctance.

Man, was I wrong!

In early June I began visiting wineries in southern and northern California, tasting and talking with grape growers and wine makers. In late June, I joined my fellow editors — Giancarlo, senior editors Elaine Brown and David Lynch, and field editor
Elisabeth Fiorello-Sievers — for a tasting of more than 200 wines we had requested.

Over the summer, we traded notes, I wrote and I edited our contributors’ profiles, and we decided on the top wines and wineries that would be awarded the guide prizes.

I was simply blown away by how much great wine we tasted. And I was also impressed by how many wineries in California employ sustainable farming practices. In many cases, I learned, the sustainable legacy stretched back at least one or even two generations.

Although it didn’t win awards in this year’s guide, one of my favorite wines was the 2013 Moon Mountain Zinfandel by Winery Sixteen 600, made with fruit grown by biodynamic pioneer Phil Coturri. Named after the family’s address “on the mountain” (one of Sonoma’s most famous and storied houses, with ties — and tie dyes — to the Grateful Dead), the winery and tasting room is managed by one of Phil’s sons, Sam (whom you might recognize from yesterday’s post).

Not only was this lithe and fresh yet meaty wine utterly delicious, with buoyant red fruit and tasty minerality, but it reminded me of the Louis Martini Zinfandel from the 1970s that Darrell Corti (the renowned Sacramento retailer) once poured for me in his home.

When I shared that red thread with Sam, he smiled broadly and revealed that the cuttings for this wine actually came from the same vineyard where Louis Martini farmed its wines back in the day — before the overwrought, highly alcoholic and concentrated style of Zinfandel emerged as the new hegemony in the 1980s.

For years, the Coturri family has advocated for the Moon Mountain District and I believe Phil had a hand in lobbying for and creating the Moon Mountain AVA (in 2013). Not a lot of California wine lovers are aware of this newish appellation. But I believe it’s one of California’s most exciting wine growing regions, where more and more marquee-name wineries are looking to source higher-altitude, volcanic-soil fruit.

The Winery Sixteen 600 2013 Moon Mountain Zinfandel isn’t cheap. But it’s one of the purest and most elegant expressions of California’s antonomastic grapes. I loved it and highly recommend it.

Check out the 2018 Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California here. Thanks for reading and buon weekend a tutti… have a great weekend, everyone!

Killer trees and a long road to recovery in California wine country (Slow Wine California Guide now online)

Beyond the myriad hand-painted posters thanking first responders for their efforts during the October wildfires, there weren’t a lot of signs that Sonoma wine country had been devastated by a natural disaster when I visited last month.

But when winemaker Sam Coturri invited me to jump into one of his company’s off-road trucks and we headed “up the mountain,” it didn’t take long for us to come upon blackened areas and “killer trees,” like the one above.

State recovery crews, he told me, remove some of the most dangerous burned-out trees. But many property owners are left to clear out the precarious “snags” as they are known in wildfire terminology. The government team marks them for you. But you have to remove them yourself.

Burned out trees and acre upon acre marred by damaged fences and cattle guards were just some of the issues that Sam was dealing with the day we visited in early December.

“Fuel… all I see is fuel, all around us,” he kept saying as we toured his family’s property and the farm where he grew up. He pointed to the dry brush that could instantaneously turn into kindling. The Coturris nearly lost their estate and beloved home in the October fires.

Word of the southern California wildfires had just begun to hit social media as he and I met up that morning. And it was abundantly clear that he, his colleagues, and his family were freaked out by the news they were receiving via text and private messages.

“Up here they call the Santa Ana winds the Diablo Winds,” he explained, referring to the notoriously hot dry air that arrives from the east this time of year.

The weather conditions that day were eerily similar to the day the Tubbs Fire first broke out.

At a certain point, Sam’s wife called him while we were in the car together. You could hear the fear in her trembling voice as Sam helped to soothe her nerves with loving words.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery for the California wine trade — financially and emotionally. As Sam pointed out that day, winemakers won’t know whether or not their 2017 vintage will be affected by smoke taint for many months to come. They have to let the wine age before they can properly test it.

There are also many other challenges they are facing, including a drop in tourist dollars and a housing shortage, just to name a few.

I’ll be catching up with Sam for updates to post here in coming weeks.

In the meantime, please check out the Slow Wine Guide blog where we have begun to post producer profiles nearly every day (many of the profiles online have been written by Elaine Brown, David Lynch, or myself). Some of the featured wineries will be joining us for the Slow Wine U.S. Tour in late February and early March.

There’s no better way to help in their recovery than by buying and drinking California wine.

No, we won’t get the f— out of here! Scenes from MLK march and Confederate monument protest

Yesterday at 3:00 p.m. sharp, I stood at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and U.S. Interstate 10 with two black women in Orange, Texas. We were the first to gather at a protest of the recently erected Confederate monument there. We were the only ones who had arrived at that point.

A pick-up truck with two men in it pulled up to the light and rolled down the passenger’s window. The driver, a large white man with light facial hair and a baseball cap, motioned for me to approach the truck. He then asked me what we were doing there.

“We are protesting the Confederate monument,” I replied. “We feel it is offensive to the community. We would like for the site to be re-purposed.”

“Get the f— out of here,” he yelled at me menacingly. “Get the f— out of here,” he shouted again, raising his voice even louder with an extremely aggressive tone.

He rolled up the window as he stomped on the gas and sped away.

“You could count the number of negative responses to our protest on one hand,” said one of the event’s organizers, Louis Ackerman, president and co-founder of Southeast Texas Progressives.

It’s true: during the two hours we were there yesterday, the overwhelming number of people who drove by gave us the thumbs-up or waved in solidarity.

But that man’s reaction and face continue to sear in my mind.

That’s my wife Tracie in the photo directly above. Reverend Franklin Gans, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, is standing next to her. She went to high school in Orange with his daughter. He and Tracie’s father, Reverend Randy Branch, worked together for years at the Dupont oil refinery there.

Earlier in the day, our family had joined the NAACP for its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march. Randy and Jane, my mother-in-law, joined us, as did aunt Ida and uncle Tim. And of course, our daughters Georgia and Lila Jane marched with us as well (we didn’t take them to the protest that afternoon, for obvious reasons).

The local ABC affiliate did a story on our protest. Please check it out here. Linda, who is featured in the segment, was one of the women standing with me on the corner when the man in the truck rolled down his window.

Our numbers are growing and we are not going to stop until we get that site re-purposed. Stay tuned for details and please message me if you want to help or join us in our campaign. Our next protest will take place in a few weeks.

And please read this excellent column published yesterday by Evangelical Christian and conservative essayist Michael Gerson, a former speech writer for President George W. Bush and a longtime Republican.

“Racism is not a single issue among many to be weighed equally with tax or trade policy,” he wrote on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. “Trump is at war with the central ideal of the Republic — a vision of strength through inclusion and equality that makes our country special and exceptional. The president is wrong — repeatedly and offensively wrong — on the centerpiece question of our history: Are there gradations in the image of God? The only acceptable, only American answer is ‘no.'”

The only American answer is “no, we won’t get the f— out.”

Thanks for reading and thanks for your support and solidarity. Stay tuned.

“We must see racism for what it is.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over…”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Tracie and I were readying our signs for the NAACP Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March today in Orange, Texas where she grew up, I re-read the civil rights leader’s landmark speech “The Other America.”

The title alone, pregnant with meaning both historical and topical, was enough to make me leap from my chair.

And the following passage resonated like a kettledrum in America’s current cacophony of political discourse:

    There must be a recognition on the part of everybody in this nation that America is still a racist country. Now however unpleasant that sounds, it is the truth. And we will never solve the problem of racism until there is a recognition of the fact that racism still stands at the center of so much of our nation and we must see racism for what it is. It is the nymph of an inferior people. It is the notion that one group has all of the knowledge, all of the insights, all of the purity, all of the work, all of the dignity. And another group is worthless, on a lower level of humanity, inferior. To put it in philosophical language, racism is not based on some empirical generalization which, after some studies, would come to conclusion that these people are behind because of environmental conditions. Racism is based on an ontological affirmation. It is the notion that the very being of a people is inferior.

50 years have passed since King was murdered at age 39. And today we will march to honor him and his legacy.

I highly recommend this New York Times article, published yesterday, on black Americans’ “frustration and disappointment about the direction of the country.”

I also encourage you to visit and browse the Stanford University Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute website. If you can’t march in solidarity today, please take time out to read one of his speeches.

Happy Martin Luther King Day! May G-d bless America, may G-d bless us all.

Image via the National Park Service Flickr (Creative Commons).