Cascina Baricchi Barbaresco 2001: man, what a wine!

From the department of “inner light”…

The mosaic of Italian wine is never-ending.

Just when you think you’ve wrapped your mind around all the classics (even after more than 20 years in the trade), another stunning wine seems to pop up out of nowhere as if to remind you that Italy is a fount of endless joy and pleasure.

To borrow a lyric from George Harrison, “The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows…”

Those lines dances through my brain a few weeks ago when my Italian bromance Giovanni poured me a glass of 2001 Barbaresco by Cascina Baricchi (above).

A bottle or two of the farm’s Timorasso had come my way (thank you, Chambers Street Wines). But this gem from the land of Nebbiolo had eluded my palate… until then.

Man, what a wine! Old school as it gets but with elegance, purity, and none of the rough edges that the old-line prophets of submerged cap once inscribed in their wines (I’m thinking of Roagna, for example, one of my all-time favorites, before Luca started making the wines).

It was no surprise to read, on the farm’s website, that its Barbaresco is raised (mostly) in large-format “un-toasted” cask. And it was equally unsurprising to learn that the winemaker views its wines as an expression of “Langa… the sensations, warmth, wildness, and class that only these wines, from these areas, can convey.”

According to the site, the estate is represented in the U.S. by Bliss Wines in Napa, an importer specialized in organically farmed and non-interventionist wines.

If you’ve never tasted Baricchi, look out for the wines. I know I’ll be snatching up every bottle I can lay my hands on.

Happy birthday sweet sweet Georgia! You are 7 years old!

Happy birthday sweet, sweet Georgia! You are seven years old today!

Last night, before we put you and your sister to bed, mommy and I remembered the day — the week — you were born. I can still see it all in my mind like it was yesterday.

Georgia, you are such a bright and joyful girl.

You love going to museums, whether the art museum, the dinosaur museum, or the real astronauts (your favorite).

You love reading and you love using fancy words and figures of speech (you have a way with words, I always tell you).

You love drawing and you love art projects.

You love your little dog Rusty (and he loves you, too).

You love going to school and you love playing violin. This week you earned another badge for another song you learned to play. Watching you enjoy music and play music has been such a joy for mommy and me.

And sweet, sweet Georgia Ann, you love your family.

Just the other day, mommy dropped one of her favorite mixing bowls and it broke into a thousand pieces.

“Oh no!” she cried, “I loved that bowl!”

You told her you would try to put it back together for her. But when she explained that it wouldn’t work, you still wanted to help.

“What can I do to make you feel better, mommy?” you asked. And that was all it took.

Georgia, we all love you so much — mommy, Lila Jane, and me. We’re so happy it’s your birthday and we are looking forward to celebrating with you today and this weekend when your grandparents and cousins will come in for your party.

Happy birthday, sweet girl. You bring so much joy into the world.

I love you…

Enough Champagne, green turtle, and truffles to go around: origins of the Champagne socialist

My research on the origins of the expression “Champagne socialist” led me this week to the man above, George Cary Eggleston, a Confederate memoirist and self-described “rebel” apologist.

It’s not clear whether or not he coined the expression. But he was among the first — if not the first — to use it in print.

The phrase appeared in his 1906 novel Blind Alleys, a parody of pseudo-intellectual society in America at the time.

“The Champagne socialist,” says one of the characters in the book, “wants everybody to be equal upon the higher plane that suits him, utterly ignoring the fact that there are not enough [C]hampagne, green turtle, and truffles to go round.”

After World War II, the expression evolved and acquired a slightly different meaning — the one we know today in the figure of the hypocritical elitist-socialist.

But in the first decade of the twentieth century, as the socialist movements in Europe and America were beginning to take shape, his character drew a distinction between the “beer socialist” and the “champagne [sic] socialist,” two equally misguided idealists in her view.

It makes for great reading, in part but no less because the author details some of the gastronomic mores of the day.

You can also read his account of his time as a Confederate soldier on The Atlantic website (his highly popular memoir was first published by the magazine in the late 19th century).

And you can read my holiday sparkling wine guide for Houston Press here. I had a lot of fun with it this morning and hope you enjoy it.

Happy sparkling shopping, everyone!

Image via Wikipedia.

Houston sommelier passes MS exam (again); Ian D’Agata and Jeff Porter in Houston tomorrow and Wednesday; wine and music this Sunday at Houston’s 13 Celsius

Beloved Houston sommelier Steven McDonald became a Master Sommelier for the second time last week.

That’s Steven (above), wine director for one of the city’s leading steakhouses, with his wife Adria in St. Louis where he retook the tasting exam after being stripped of his title in the wake of a cheating scandal (photo via Steven’s Facebook).

Steven wasn’t involved with the malfeasance in any way. But he was one of 23 erstwhile Master Sommeliers whose newly earned titles were “invalidated” by the Court of Master Sommeliers more than a month after the group’s coveted pins had been conferred.

Houston Chronicle wine columnist Dale Robertson reported the story here.

And for more background, information on steps the Court has taken to rectify the situation, and updates on some of the candidates who didn’t pass the “reset” (as its called), see this excellent reporting by Seven Fifty Daily contributor Courtney Schiessl.

Tracie and I live in the same neighborhood as Steven and Adria. Our kids go to the same school. We eat breakfast at the same diner. They are among the nicest people we know in Houston’s wine community. A great family and great people, all around.

We couldn’t be happier for them that this stressful ordeal is now over.

In other Houston wine news…

Celebrity sommelier Jeff Porter and celebrated Italian ampelographer Ian D’Agata will be leading two days of seminars and tastings tomorrow and Wednesday at the Houstonian hotel and resort.

Click here for details and registration info.

Jeff tells me that all sessions are wait-listed but he encourages local wine professionals to sign-up regardless because spots will surely become available.

Ian’s book on the Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press 2014) has become required reading for Italian wine-focused tradespeople. I use the online version (Google Play) nearly every day.

It’s so cool that Jeff is bringing him to our city.

And in other other Houston wine and music news…

Houston-based journalist and author Gwendolyn Knapp (above, right) and I will be playing a set of her music as The GoAways this Sunday at one of the city’s favorite wine bars, 13 Celsius.

Weather permitting we’ll be do roughly 45 minutes of music in the venue’s beautiful courtyard (above) at 3 p.m. Two other bands are slated to play and it should be a great time and a great way to get together before year’s end.

I hope you can join us!

So much time and so little to say: I have so much material to post from my last trip to Italy, including some really juicy good stuff. Please stay tuned!

Champagne Socialist: if you visit Milan, go there! It’s my new favorite wine bar in Italy.

From the department of “non tutti i texani vengono per nuocere”…*

Thank you, Davide and Marco, for welcoming a tired Texan. It was a great way to end a tough but fruitful trip.

Thank you, Laura, for hipping me to my new favorite wine bar in Italy.

* I will share a glass of natural wine with anyone who can name the allusion in the quote above.

Dispatch from the land of Barbera, Moscato, and Brachetto

Anyone who’s ever been on an Italian wine industry media junket knows that the experience can be a bit of a schlepp. You generally have to board a bus at 9 a.m. and stay out all day, often until after dinner, visiting wineries, tasting wines, attending lectures and seminars, and eating way too much food.

It’s often exhausting but the upshot can be rewarding. When well organized, the trips allow you to taste a lot of wines that you might miss otherwise. And what’s even better is that you get to taste them side-by-side, mostly in single sessions for each category.

Last week, I spent three days getting on that bus at 9 a.m. And I’ve now tasted more Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Asti and from more producers than ever before. And even though I’d been on a Barbera d’Asti junket once before (eight years ago now), I also got to refresh my knowledge and tasting notes for Barbera d’Asti and the newly born Nizza appellation as well.

I haven’t been on a trip like this in a long time. But I was glad to be on this one: for the last year, I’ve been contributing to blogs sponsored by the Moscato d’Asti and Barbera d’Asti consortia.

One of the highlights was getting taste a lot of Moscato Secco. It’s one of the new designations from Moscato d’Asti and it’s coming to a town near you soon.

Brachetto Rosé, a dry wine, is another brand new designation I was eager to check out. And it was amazing, honestly, to taste 30 or so expressions of Brachetto side-by-side, including classic Brachetto, still Brachetto, and the new category.

Despite the long hours, the massive amounts of truffles we were forced to eat (see below), and the behemoth number of wines we were compelled to taste, it turned out to be a really fun experience. And that was especially because of the super cool people who were on the trip with me (above).

I’ve been working in this business for more than 10 years now. And I’m convinced, now more than ever, that it’s not the wines that make me keep coming back. It’s the people. It’s the community that makes it all worthwhile.

I have a ton of notes that I’ll share. And this week, I’m traveling through northern Italy tasting more wines and talking to producers in other appellations as well. In the meantime, please wish me speed and safety.

Heartfelt thanks to the Moscato d’Asti, Barbera d’Asti, and Brachetto d’Acqui producers for hosting me. I really learned a lot on this one. Thank you!