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).


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!


11 A.M. – 5 P.M. (Monday, March 5, 2018 at Hilton Post Oak)


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.