Müller-Thurgau investigation: no collusion just deliciousness from Colterenzio

Man, I was just blown away last night by Vinny Montecuollo’s wine list at Potente in downtown Houston last night. The breadth and range of his 350+ lot Italian program, the aggressive pricing (he’s using the retail-plus-corkage formula), and the balance of modern vs. traditional winemaking represented across the board… This is the type of list that has something for everyone, from the big spender who wants to share a trophy label with her friends to an average punter like me who is completely stoked to find Cantina del Pino 2011 Barbaresco for just $70 (!!!).

Vinny, who’s been on the job with the official title of “wine director” for less than a year, is hosting his first wine dinner there next week (March 6) with Gaia Gaja. The price of admission? A consumer-friendly $200 a head, a great price if Gaja is your bag.

I was also impressed by the food, like the savory squid ink macaron (above), stuffed with salmon mousse and American caviar. The signature spaghetti with black truffles were also spot-on, with high-toned egg flavor in the long noodles, cooked perfectly al dente, and not overwhelmed by the other flavors in the dish. Great stuff.

But the wine that really stole my heart last night was the Colterenzio Müller Thurgau from South Tyrol. Man, this wine had it all: zinging but not overly flashy acidity, gorgeous white flower notes on the nose and rich apple and pear in the mouth.

I also loved the wine’s soulful lack of punt. Yes, a flat-bottom bottle, folks. People who have followed Italian wine long enough know that in another era, the old-school Italians didn’t have punts (think, Quintarelli Ca’ del Merlo and similar). Today, environmentally aware Italians are returning to this bottle format because it requires less glass and energy to make, thus reducing the wine’s overall carbon fart.

Really awesome wine and really cool price at just $38. How friggin’ sweet is that? Wholesome, delicious, authentic… at a price someone like me can afford.

No collusion here…

The one thing I regret about the Slow Wine tasting coming to Houston this year (March 5) is that my colleagues want me to take them out for BBQ on Monday night after the big event. That’s fine with me but they should really be checking out our groovy Italian wine scene here, at places like Potente and its sister Osso-Kristalla, Divino, Camerata (I know, shitty name!), Amalfi, Sud Italia, Vinology… So many great high-end, high-concept restaurants and wine bars that feature wines from the garden of Europe. Hope to see you on Monday at the tasting and seminars!

Slow Wine comes to Houston (March 5) and why that’s a really, really big deal (at least to me)

Click here to register for the Slow Wine tasting in Houston, March 5.

Above: tasters at the Slow Wine Guide tour in Austin, Texas, in 2016. In recent years, the tour has made stops in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin. This year will be its first in Houston.

For the last two years, Italy’s “Slow Wine tour” has come to Texas.

When I first moved to the state in 2008, that would have been nearly unthinkable. At the time, Texas and its three major wine destinations — Houston, Dallas, and Austin — were part of an “emerging” as opposed to “established” market for fine wine. As one prominent Texas-based wine blogger used to put it, Texas was “fly-over country,” a large swath of bourgeois America unworthy of coastal or international attention.

But the financial crisis and the state’s seemingly unstoppable influx of young wine and restaurant migrants changed all of that.

Above: San Francisco is arguably the most popular destination for the tour. At this year’s SF gathering, there will also be a number of California wineries featured in the guide (I’ll be there, too, btw).

I moved to Texas in late 2008 to date and then marry Tracie. But as a middle-aged wine professional, I couldn’t have arrived here at a more opportune moment: in 2008-2009, with the financial crisis at its peak, Texas — the epicenter of the petroleum industry — became known as the state least affected by economic turmoil. The price of oil dipped in early 2009 but it started to rise again swiftly. And Texas’ “business friendly” environment (something, I hate to say it, we owe to the state’s Republican regime), made it appealing to legions of folks who had been laid off in other states.

Thanks to the low cost of living and the robust business community here, Texas became the union’s fastest growing state. I’ll never forget all the mustachioed Brooklynite hipsters who began appearing at our favorite playground and cafeteria in Austin where we were living at the time.

Above: Slow Wine will make its debut appearance in Houston a week from today. The gathering offers Texans a chance to discover scores of wines not yet available in the market.

Of course, when it came to showing and selling fine wine, it was only natural that outsiders focused on Austin, the one “cool” progressive city in Texas in the minds and eyes of many (even though I would argue, as a former Austin resident, that it’s actually one of the most segregated). And it was only natural that Slow Wine, urged by many of the participating Italian wineries to come to Texas, would choose Austin as its first destination in the state.

Last year, I became part of the Slow Wine editorial team as the coordinating editor of the new Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California (2018). As the newest team member, I lobbied aggressively to bring the tasting to Houston, where Tracie and I have been living with our daughters, ages four and six, for nearly four years now. My advocacy was born partly out of self-interest. But in the year of Bacchus 2018, I wholeheartedly believe that ours is the best city in Texas to host the event:

– Houston is the fourth largest city in America (and soon to be the third largest, surpassing Chicago if projections prove correct).

– Houston is the most diverse city in the U.S. (Don’t believe me? Click the link.)

– Houston is home to one of the most exciting food, wine, and restaurant communities in the country today.

“Houston, where have you been all my (food) life?” wrote leading American food writer Tom Sietsema in 2015. He ranked it fifth among the top ten food cities in the nation.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Houston is one of the most important wine markets in the world today. I couldn’t be more thrilled that my colleagues at Slow Wine decided to come here this year (and they will be treated to an evening of Texas BBQ and Houston jazz after the event).

Please help me show the tour and its winemakers a good time by coming out to taste with us at the Taste of Italy/Slow Wine fair on Monday, March 5 at the Hilton Post Oak 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Click here for event details and registration info (registration encouraged but not required for the grand tasting). The morning Piedmont seminar/tasting is now completely booked but there are still a few spots open for he BBQ/Lambrusco tasting and Balsamic Vinegar seminar in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading…

Luigi Veronelli: “Lambrusco, the only wine of freedom.”

Special thanks to Alice Feiring for bringing this text to my attention. It comes from a speech that the legendary food and wine writer, editor, publisher, activist, and — yes — anarchist Luigi Veronelli gave in Reggio Emilia in 2004. Translation mine. Click the links below to read about the anarchists and political activists he mentions.

I want to explain to the world why Lambrusco is the only wine of freedom.

I can explain it because I know them all well: Freedom and Freedomésse, Spartacus, Lenin, Emma “the Red,” Solidarity and Solidaritésse, Communisty, Revolutionée. Each and every one of them christened with Lambrusco.

In the people’s social centers, purposely built as an affront to local churches, the bubbly red sauce of grapes grown in Reggio Emilia or Modena streamed downed the faces of those kids. They were the children of socialists and anarchists. Using a spoon in the place of an aspergillum, they would say: “I christen you Freedom.”

Not names inspired by mythology but rather heavy names, strong names laden with meaning: Reclus, Élisée, Jenner,* Louise, Giordano Bruno, Juarès. Names that make you a grown up at birth. “I christen you Equality.”

Fascism made a massacre of them. Like beasts, the fascists even tore up their birth certificates. Communisty was reduced to Nisty.

That sauce came from a living product, rich with aromas of the land. It was effervescent and red, even black in the bottle. The stagnant, stale, still water of the baptismal font paled in comparison. Those little churches looked up to the heavens. Inside, the people’s noses were in the air, their thoughts directed elsewhere. In our social centers, we kept our feet on the ground and we made sure our centers were low and wide. The bigger they were, the more women and men could fit in. Our social centers were their proletarian paradise.

Lambrusco has been around since the dawn of time. Since Romulus and Remus. A wild, uncontrollable, rebel grape. Never easy to handle, it had to be treated with respect. Not just Lambrusco but Lambrusca as well. The anarchist women on Via Santa Croce,** with their lavallières dangling from their necks as sign of emancipation, loved it.

The old anarchists remembered proudly: “I was christened with Lambrusco.”

Just try to find another wine like this, anywhere in the world! A wine that knows how to wash down antifascist tortelli and cappelletti so well. A wine that makes you want to get up from the table and sing. Just try to find one but I’ll be raising a glass of Lambrusco for you.

Luigi Veronelli
Reggio Emilia 2004

* I believe but am not certain that Veronelli uses “Jenner” to refer to Gennaro Rubino.

** The offices of the anarchist newspaper Umanità Nova were located on Via Santa Croce in Milan.

When’s the last time you tasted an Oltrepò Pavese?

Oltrepò Pavese: it means beyond the Po [river] in Pavia [province]. It’s a DOCG and a DOC in southern Lombardy in the foothills of the northern Apennines where you have a confluence of altitude, and sandy, clay-rich, and limestone-rich soils, ideal for growing Pinot Noir, the appellation’s flagship grape.

To get a sense of the topography there, check out the Google map satellite view screenshot below.

Created in 2007, the DOCG is devoted to classic-method wines, made primarily with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The DOC, established in 1970, covers a broad range of still wines made from grapes including Barbera, Croatina, Uva Rara, and Vespolina. I’ve also tasted some stunning Riesling from the DOC.

Houston, the city where my family and I have lived for nearly four years, has a unique relationship with Oltrepò Pavese. The stretch of the Po River Valley between Pavia and Piacenza (Emilia-Romagna) is home to much of Italy’s oil and gas industry. As a result, there are a lot of Italians from those provinces living here. After the decline in oil prices began to take shape in 2008, many of them sought out other careers. Some of them turned to wine. It was only natural that they would work with wines from their home region.

Three years ago, a former oil and gas executive organized an ad hoc consortium of Oltrepò Pavese to participate in the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Taste of Italy Festival (I started to consult with the chamber that year). I had never seen so many Oltrepò Pavese wines in one American tasting before. It was remarkable.

Last night I tasted the Travaglino 2012 Montecérésino rosé brut (four grams residual sugar) with the estate’s current generation, Cristina Cerri, a Bocconi business school grad who’s now returned to the family fold to focus on its wine exports.

What a fantastic wine, what a great value, and what a great expression of Italian-grown Pinot Noir! I loved the rich fruit character of the wine, its freshness (aged on its lees for 24 months, disgorged May 2017), and its balance. Where Franciacorta struggles to deliver this level of quality at a by-the-glass price, the Travaglino delivers and then some.

I was also blown away by the winery’s top still Pinot Noir. It lands beyond a by-the-glass price but the transparency of its electric fruit makes it an extreme value. I really loved it.

The crazy thing is that these wines are only available in the U.S. in Texas. Cristina’s currently trying to expand the winery’s U.S. reach. She has her work cut out for her and a long, long way to go.

Until she gets there, we Texans have the exclusive and our wine community is all the richer for it. Who would have ever thunk it? Pinot Noir from the Po River Valley: Italy’s Texas tea!

Texas BBQ of the future? A new BBQ joint in Houston that blew me away…

Late last week, I headed down to Clear Lake about 30 minutes south of Houston where I ate lunch at the recently opened Pappas Delta Blues Smokehouse with Houston Chronicle bbq columnist J.C. Reid. He and I were tasting that day with the new venue’s resident smoker to determine which smoked meats he wanted to present at our THE ULTIMATE WINE PAIRING: TEXAS BBQ AND LAMBRUSCO seminar and tasting on Monday, March 5 (at the Slow Wine/Taste of Italy festival at the Hilton Post Oak).

I have to say: I was totally blown away by how good the food was there.

That’s the pork belly, above.

BBQ has evolved rapidly since I moved to Texas 10 years ago. When I first got here, people didn’t line up at 6 a.m. to get a slice of highly allocated bbq. And Instagram — believe it or not — was still two years away!

Today the profane has become the sacred: what was once a folksy DIY Texas tradition has now become the realm of hipsters, a brand new “extreme sport” of cooking and consumption.

In my view, Pappas Delta Blues Smokehouse is the next generation of Texas bbq. It’s a genuine restaurant, with a menu that includes entries beyond bbq and all the amenities of a fine dining spot (waitstaff, full bar, hefty beer selection, kid menu etc.). It even has a wine list! Although it’s not the first to have a wine program, I had never seen such a thoughtful selection, including a Lambrusco, my favorite wine to pair with smoked meats (and the subject of our March 5 seminar).

Is this the future of Texas bbq? If so, we’re in pretty good hands…

Click the following link THE ULTIMATE WINE PAIRING: TEXAS BBQ AND LAMBRUSCO to register for our seminar and tasting on Monday, March 5 (at the Slow Wine/Taste of Italy festival at the Hilton Post Oak).

Italian winemakers, here’s the secret to getting your products to the U.S.: just ask the Steve Jobs of Italian wine, Brian Larky

Above: for nearly 30 years, Brian Larky has created opportunities for Italian wine in the U.S. by building markets where there were none (image via Brian’s Facebook).

“A lot of times,” said Steve Jobs in a now famous 1998 Business Week article, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

I was reminded of his prescient observation a few years ago when I met with Anselmo Chiarli of the Cleto Chiarli winery at Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair in Verona.

“When Brian [Larky of Dalla Terra Imports] told me he wanted to bring our Lambrusco di Sorbara into the U.S.,” Anselmo remembered as we tasted together at the gathering, “I thought he was crazy. But he insisted.”

The rest is history. Today, Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena is one of the best-selling niche wines across the country.

One (hu)man’s Sorbara is another’s surprise. When Brian first brought Cleto Chiarli’s Sorbara to the U.S. in 2011, few American wine professionals even knew what it was. They knew the Lambrusco category but generally shunned it because of its association with down market and “misery” market wines. Cleto Chiarli had a presence in the U.S. previously but no one had ever brought in the Sorbara.

It only took a few short years for sommeliers to get hip to it: its beautiful bright color, its fresh fruit flavor, its low alcohol, and the old school “vintage” packaging were a nearly instant hit among the wine cognoscenti. I’ll never forget a Master Sommelier in Austin who poured it for me with great pride in 2015. A few year earlier, Lambrusco di Sorbara would have hardly been on his radar.

It was a wine that Americans didn’t know they wanted — until Brian created the market for it. Brian’s intuition was spot on and today the wine serves as a gateway for other products from the winery and from Brian’s Dalla Terra importing business.

“Creating a market for your brand” is the theme of a panel that Brian and I will be leading for Taste of Italy exhibitors on Sunday, March 4 in Houston. Unfortunately, the discussion is open only to Italian producers visiting for the fair.

But you can taste Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco with Brian and me the next day, Monday, March 5 at our “ULTIMATE WINE PAIRING: TEXAS BBQ AND LAMBRUSCO” seminar and tasting in at the Hilton Post Oak. It’s a great opportunity to interact with Brian — an Italian wine industry legend — and to taste these awesome wines.

I hope to see you there! Ping me if you need media passes.

Taste Piedmont — current release Barolo and old Barbaresco — with me and Slow Wine March 5 in Houston

Register for the Slow Wine Piedmont tasting — “Piedmont’s New Wave Old School” — here.

This morning the Slow Wine guide editors sent me a list of the wines that I will be presenting at our Taste of Italy/Slow Wine fair on Monday, March 5 in Houston:

La Mesma 2015 Gavi Riserva Vigna della Rovere Verde
Il Poggio di Gavi 2014 Gavi del Comune di Gavi Gold Label
Réva 2016 Barbera d’Alba Superiore
Costa Catterina 2015 Barbera d’Alba Superiore
Marco Bonfante 2012 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza Bricco Bonfante
Le Ginestre 2013 Barolo Sottocastello di Novello
Ciabot Berton 2013 Barolo Roggeri
L’Astemia Pentita 2011 Barolo Terlo
Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa 1989 Barbaresco Tettineive

Pretty spectacular flight of wines, right? I don’t want to reveal my personal favorites until the day of the gathering. But there’s not a clunker among them.

I’ll be leading the tasting together with Jaime de Leon and Thomas Moësse, two of the top Italian wine professionals in the state (imho). And of course, I’m hoping that people attending will also chime in with their thoughts and impressions.

Not only am I one of the co-presenters of the Taste of Italy fair but I’m also an editor (as of this year’s edition) of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of Italy and California. I’m just thrilled that it’s all come together like this.

It’s not every day that a tasting like this comes along in Houston. On the occasion of the Slow Wine Tour’s first stop in Houston (as opposed to Austin, where they’ve held the event the last two years), I asked editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio if we could do something really special for attendees. And man, did he deliver!

Giancarlo will be speaking about the new Slow Guide before we begin the tasting. It will be a memorable gathering for sure. Please join me.

10:30 A.M.



MODERATOR: Jeremy Parzen (DoBianchi.com)
PANELISTS: Jaime De Leon (Houston Beverage Sales Manager for Kroger), Thomas Moësse (wine director, Vinology and Divino)

On the occasion of the first-ever Slow Wine Guide tasting in Houston, local wine experts Jaime De Leon (Houston Beverage Sales Manager for Kroger), Thomas Moësse (wine director, Vinology and Divino), and wine writer Jeremy Parzen (DoBianchi.com) lead a guided tasting of 8 Slow Wine-award-winning wines from Piedmont. Slow Wine Guide editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio presents the new guide beforehand.

Technically the tasting is available only to trade but I also have some media spots reserved. And even if you’re not trade or media, please hit me up: I should be able to get everyone in although space is filling up fast. Email me and we’ll make it happen. Thanks for your support!

My new favorite wine list in Houston is an Israeli steakhouse…

A shout-out is destined this morning to sommelier Chris McFall (above) who recently launched my new favorite Houston wine list at Doris Metropolitan, an Israeli steakhouse that came to our city via New Orleans.

The program is predictably focused on France and California. But it also features a healthy smattering of wines from Italy, Germany, Austria, and Spain, and even a couple of gems from Greece. The pricing is extremely user-friendly with a wide range of options, including an excellent bottle of old school Touraine Sauvignon Blanc for just $35 (!!!).

Across the board, the list covers all the bases, from the big spender to the enohipster: while not pulling corks on hefty bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon the other night, Chris poured us a 2015 Comando G El Tamboril, a spontaneously fermented and large-cask aged blend of Garnacha Blanca and Garnacha Gris from Spain (wow! what a wine!).

But the thing that takes his program over the top is his impressive skill as sommelier and the extremely high caliber of service that he offers.

There are a lot of great wine lists in Houston, truly great libraries of often rare and compelling wines. But there’s not a lot of personality when it comes to the higher-end programs like this one. The only true game in town is Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, where nearly every one of the sommeliers is on track to become a Master Sommelier and where Chris worked and studied for a number of years before relocating back to his native Austin.

I love the programs at Vinology, Camerata, and Rabelais, where the attire is casual and the vibe is low key. But Chris’ new program represents — in my view and on my palate — the only list where you have a confluence of personality, vision, inclusion, diversity, and world-class service (yes, people, corks should only be presented when on a mini-tray and never placed on the table!).

A few colleagues met me there last night (my second visit in a week) and Chris poured us a taste of the superb Campogrande Cinqueterre Rosso (below), a field blend of Bonamico, Canaiolo and Ciliegiolo. This bottle hit on all cylinders: reasonable priced, hipster appeal, and utterly delicious.

Chris, thank you for bringing your chops and your wonderful selection to Houston. Mazel tov!

Tuscany in a glass: a lovely portfolio of real-deal Tuscans has landed

My wife Tracie and I thoroughly enjoyed this bottle of Toscana rosso last week by Scheggiolla in Chianti Classico, Siena province (pronounced skeh-JOHL-lah if I’m not mistaken). winemaker doesn’t specify the blend on the winery’s site but gauging from the color and flavor, I imagine it’s mostly Sangiovese with the addition of some Merlot.

It had that earthy Chianti character that you could easily pick out in a bland tasting. And it had just enough funk initially on the nose to live up to its credentials as a true small-scale, one-farm, family-run estate. We loved it and it weighed in at a price that would make it a by-the-glass restaurant entry.

We weren’t surprised: this estate, together with a handful of other Tuscan properties, is brokered in Texas by our friend Federico “Fredman” Marconi from Montepulciano. He’s one of the best Tuscan tasters I’ve ever known. In part because of his unfiltered experience on the ground and in part because of his many years in the trade, his knack for sourcing real-deal Tuscan wines is up there with the very best.

I’ve tasted the higher-tier wines by Scheggiolla as well: they reminded me of those chilly Saturday nights in Tuscany when you sit around a hearth and eat fried wild boar liver with the grandpa’s wine — and it’s freakin’ delicious, all around.

I am also eager to pop the cork on a bottle of 2009 Pruneto Chianti Classico, another wine from Fred’s wheelhouse. I tasted it at a trade tasting last year and there’s a bottle in my wine library just waiting for a blood rare steak. I bought both bottles at the Houston Wine Merchant.

Fred’s portfolio landed with one of the growing army of young and independent importer-distributors in Texas — DASH Imports — who increasingly cater to buyers who want authentic Italian and who aren’t afraid to turn their customers on to something they don’t recognize. Every day, it seems, there are more cracks in Southern-Glazer’s and Republic’s once impenetrable iron curtain in our otherwise free-market state. And that’s a good thing for everyone concerned (even the big boys, in my view, because diversity enriches our wine culture and community and as a result, everyone wins).

Keep on trucking, Fred. We love you and we love these awesome wines. Thanks for getting them to Texas.

In other news…

Just need to give a major shout-out to Tracie who hooked my band up with her delicious carbonara (below) yesterday after a songwriting session. Really awesome, paired with some Bucci Verdicchio, an excellent match for the dish imho.

What can I say? I married well!