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.

PIEDMONT’S NEW WAVE OLD SCHOOL
10:30 A.M.
OPEN TO TRADE ONLY

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.

TASTE 8 AWARDING-WINNING PIEDMONT WINES FROM THE SLOW WINE GUIDE TO THE WINES OF ITALY 2018

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!

Confederate Memorial Protest TOMORROW: why I am speaking out and rising up

Tomorrow my wife Tracie and I will be protesting the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas (Martin Luther King Dr. and Interstate 10) from 3 p.m. until sundown. (Please click here for protest details in case you would like join.)

We will be joined by members of Orange County Young Democrats and Southeast Texas Progressives. The last time we gathered at the site (on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last month), we were also joined by passersby. We hope to have an even larger crowd tomorrow. I’ll have plenty of bottled water and extra signs for anyone who wants to join us.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine in Houston asked me why this particular Confederate monument concerns me so much. There are historic Confederate monuments in Houston, he pointed out. Why don’t I protest those? he asked.
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Biondi Santi rebrands in U.S. with luxury importer Wilson Daniels

Top wine buyers from across Texas gathered yesterday in one of Houston’s most exclusive private dining rooms to taste new vintages from the iconic Biondi Santi winery. The estate’s new ambassador, Tancredi Biondi Santi (seated above, mid-table on the right, across from Master Sommelier Jack Mason), led the tasting.

The séance — organized by Biondi Santi’s new U.S. importer Wilson Daniels — would have been otherwise unremarkable if it weren’t for the fact that the wines haven’t been available in the state through legitimate channels for decades.

“The wines have mostly come in [to the U.S.] through the grey market,” said one of the Wilson Daniels sales managers present at the swank luncheon.

He was referring to the questionably legal practice of importing of high-end European wines without using the so-called “three-tier system.” Most fine wine arrives here through an importer who sells it to a distributor who, in turn, sells it to a retailer or restaurateur who ultimately sells it to the end user — hence the “three tiers.” Historically, trade operators have often skirted the system (and its sometime prohibitive costs) by shipping the wines directly to the U.S., sometimes through illegitimate channels (for example, by misleadingly labeling the boxes as products other than wine, one of the world’s most highly regulated commodities).

Since the late 1990s, the sole purveyor of Biondi Santi in the U.S. has been Italian Wine Merchants, a retail operation headquartered in New York and once co-owned by Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali. In 2015, the upscale wine shop and broker was still offering back vintages to clients willing to shell out up to $1,500 per bottle, according to Eric Asimov writing for the New York Times.

Following the 2013 passing of the family’s patriarch Franco Biondi Santi (Tancredi’s grandfather), many Italian wine trade observers speculated that the winery would abandon his unwavering devotion to traditional-style Brunello di Montalcino in favor of a more modern approach.

As Eric wrote in his 2015 piece, Biondi Santi is considered “perhaps the greatest of all Brunello producers, but one whose style was roundly assailed in the 1990s and the first decade of this century.”

All eyes were on Franco’s son (and Tancredi’s father) Jacopo. In the eyes of some pundits, he had already shifted the winery’s stylistic direction, even before his father’s death.

Yesterday, the young Tancredi told buyers that all the wines are aged in the traditional large Slavonian oak casks that his grandfather, and great-grandfather Tancredi (his namesake), used to raise them.

“Barriques are not allowed,” he said referring to the small French oak casks that many Brunello producers use today in order to appeal to American and northern European sensibilities.

In my view, it’s really exciting news that the wines will finally be available outside of New York. And it will also be interesting to follow the winery’s evolution under Jacopo and Tancredi. The younger Biondi Santi also talked openly about his desire to become the farm’s winemaker once his father steps down. He’s currently studying enology, he said.

I’ve had the great fortune to taste the wines on numerous occasions in Italy, including a lot of older vintages over the years. That’s not something a lot of American wine professionals can say. The fact of the matter is that few sommeliers in America have had any contact with these wines at all. But my concern today is that Wilson Daniels’ pricing will still keep these iconic wines out of reach for most young wine professionals. The 2011 reserve we tasted yesterday will cost more than $1,000 on a typical high-end wine list in the U.S.

Are the wines worth the high price tag? Most of us will never know.

Slow Wine and Taste of Italy in Houston March 5: register now to ensure availability

Texas food and wine lovers and restaurant and wine professionals: please register now for the Taste of Italy/Slow Wine Grand Tasting and seminars to be held on Monday, March 5, 2018 at the Hilton Post Oak (presented by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas, where I serve as a media consultant).

REGISTRATION LINKS FOLLOW BELOW.

Slow Wine (where I work as an editor for the guide) will be coming to Houston for the first time: at our morning seminar, I will be leading a tasting of 8 Piedmont wines selected from the guide’s prizes.

Next, BBQ writer Chris Reid, Italian wine legend Brian Larky, and I will be leading a tasting of Lambrusco paired with Texas BBQ. Top local smokers will be providing the food.

Finally in the afternoon, I’ll be leading a seminar on traditional balsamic vinegar with pairings by Chef Danny Trace from Osso & Kristalla and Potente.

And of course, the all-day Grand Tasting will feature both Slow Wine and Taste of Italy wineries and wines.

It’s a BIG BIG SHOW and the seminars are already almost sold out. Please register to make sure there’s a spot for you. And if you want a media pass and/or if you want to volunteer (which gives you access to the whole lasagna), please shoot me an email.

Hope to see you there! Thanks for your support and interest!

*****

GRAND TASTING
11 A.M. – 5 P.M. (Monday, March 5, 2018 at Hilton Post Oak)
OPEN TO TRADE, MEDIA, AND CONSUMERS.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE GRAND TASTING.

The event will feature more than 200 Italian food products and wines.
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Counterfeit Italian wine: an online (and sometimes hilarious) resource for exposing fraud

Above: bottles of allegedly counterfeit Amarone discovered recently in China. Image via the You Said Wine? Facebook.

You Said Wine?, an anonymously authored Facebook page devoted to exposing counterfeit Italian wine, came to my attention last week via the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

In a post titled “The Amarone Affair in China: A ‘double-faced’ label was all we needed,” the writer — UniSG professor of wine industry policy and law, Michele Fino — reports on twice-labeled bottles of quote-unquote 1997 Amarone from the (Igino) Accordini winery in Valpolicella.

When she/he tore away the outer label, a user in China evidently discovered another label underneath. In his post, Fino details the seemingly endless clues that reveal the wine’s purportedly fraudulent nature. According to the winemaker, Bruno Accordini, who explains the curious case in a YouTube video, the unusual double label is owed possibly to a technical error in the cellar.

Fino ain’t buying it — literally or figuratively.

This episode, he writes, casts “doubt that the [appellation] system is capable of adequating guaranteeing the results that we expect from monitoring… In a crucial market like that in China, the damage to the perception of Verona’s most famous wine, not to mention Italian wine in general, raises the question.”

Above: counterfeit labels may offer clues to their clues to their dubious provenance, like this one, which riffs on one of Chianti Classico’s most respected estates.

As I followed Fino’s breadcrumbs, I ultimately landed on the You Said Wine? page and found myself mesmerized by the tide of material collected by the author.

Many of them relate to erroneous entries on humdrum wine lists, often with comical results. But some also delve into “invisible to the untrained eye” examples of illicit winemaking practices, like a Friulian white wine labeled ostensibly as an organically farmed product with no additives. As reported on the label, its egregiously excessive level of volatile acidity, writes the anonymous author, would lead to “a seizure of the product, a fine, a trial, and up to 6 months” behind bars.

Another topic broadly covered is what Italian authorities call “Italian sounding” names: labeling that deceives consumers by subtly sounding like Italian. My favorite — or should I say, the most terrifying — is Perisecco.

You said wine? I highly recommend it to you…

Happy anniversary Tracie my love, look at what we’ve done…

Happy anniversary, Tracie, my love!

Our anniversary date was actually Wednesday, January 31. But we are celebrating and treating ourselves tonight, Friday, with a babysitter and Japanese dinner, one of our favorites.

It was eight years ago, this week, that you and I were married. You’ve given me, through your love and partnership, the best years of my life — the richest and the most wonderful of my 50 years. As your husband, partner, and father to our daughters, I have experienced a depth of emotion and fulfillment that I never could have without your faith, solidarity, and affection.

I love you and know that I am blessed to have found you — through wine blogging, no less! With barely any money in my pocket and a rickety old used Volvo filled with some clothes and a couple of guitars, I set out from Los Angeles nearly 10 years ago and drove across the country to start a life with you. It was the smartest thing I ever did.

As I put together your anniversary YouTubication together this week, I remembered the videos and songs we would send each other when were first writing to each other in 2008. By the time I got to Texas at the end of the year, our hearts and minds were filled with hopes and dreams of what we could build together.

Eight years since we were married, look what we have done! Our daughters are happy and healthy, they are loved and they know that they are loved. We are building a financial future together, day by day. And along the way, we are teaching our children the importance of community and learning, compassion and awareness of the world around us.

But the thing that I am most thankful for is our ability to face even the greatest challenge together. Man, what a year 2017 was! We literally feared for our lives as water lapped up against our home in Houston. And we spoke out, loudly and with conviction, against the rising tolerance of intolerance. Over the last 12 months, we reached deep down into the bottom of our souls and found the strength and courage to face the unimaginable.

I never would have become the man I am without you, picci wicci. I never would have known the joy we have shared without your faith and love.

I love you. Happy anniversary.