Texas BBQ and Italian wine tasting and seminar, February 25 in Houston

In a time before Frankin Barbecue in Austin and Killen’s Barbecue in Houston, smoked meats were simply part of the everybody-everyday Texas culinary fabric and landscape.

“We don’t go out for bbq,” said Tracie, then my girlfriend, 10 years ago now.

“We eat [family friend] Melvin’s or Uncle Tim’s,” she explained.

When we shared news of our wedding plans, Melvin exclaimed (and this is not a joke, people): “how am I gonna get my smoker to La Jolla?”

Today, 10 years gone, Texas BBQ has conquered the world. Even in faraway Como, Italy, Houston Chronicle BBQ columnist J.C. “Chris” Reid found authentic Texas smoked meats.

On Monday, February 25, Chris will be presenting a tasting and seminar exploring the alchemy of pairing Texas BBQ with Italian wine (a heavenly match imho). The paper’s wine writer Dale Robertson will join him on the dais and I will be moderating the session.

We’ll also be joined by three of Houston’s leading pit masters, who will be sharing their secrets and their smoked meats with 80 lucky registrants.

This event will sell out quickly, folks, and registration has just opened.

Details follow below. I hope you can join us!

Btw, check out Chris’ thread here. He’s the world’s greatest living expert on Texas BBQ.

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CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR
“HOW TO PAIR TEXAS BBQ WITH ITALIAN WINE”
(Monday, February 25, 3:30 p.m.)

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR
THE TASTE OF ITALY GRAND TASTING
(Monday, February 25
open to trade and media at 11 a.m.
open to public at 3 p.m.)

The Italy-Texas factor: How to pair Texas BBQ with Italian wine.
seminar and tasting
Monday, February 25

Presented by
Italy-American Chamber of Commerce Texas
and
Taste of Italy
trade fair and food festival
Hilton Post Oak
2001 Post Oak Blvd.
Houston TX 77056

Click for festival information and registration details.

Leading Texas BBQ expert J.C. Reid and veteran Houston wine writer Dale Robertson explore the magic and science of pairing classic Texas smoked meats with Italian grape varieties and wine styles. They will be joined by 3 top Houston pit masters who will share some of their smoking secrets as well as insights into matching their foods with wines from the Old Country.
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Beppe Colla, soft-spoken hero of Piedmont viticulture, is dead at 88.

Anyone who’s ever been to visit the historic Poderi Colla estate in Piedmont’s Langhe Hills will tell you the same story.

As we were tasting the wines with Tino Colla and enjoying a delicious luncheon of classic homemade Piedmont dishes, there was an older man sitting quietly outside the farmhouse. He didn’t utter a word beyond “buongiorno” and so we just assumed he was a retired farm hand or a beloved uncle. Only later did we learn that he was the legendary Beppe Colla…

This week, the world of Italian wine mourns the loss of one of its greatest pioneers, Beppe Colla, who — together with Nebbiolo icons like Bartolo Mascarello and Bruno Giacosa — reshaped the legacy of Piedmont viticulture in the 20th century. Few beyond Langa’s inner circle of cognoscenti were aware of his immense and immeasurable contribution to Barolo and Barbaresco’s rise as two of the world’s greatest appellations. But the soft-spoken hero of Piedmont viticulture left an indelible mark on the world of fine wine — in and beyond Italy.

The following passage appeared in his obituary, published this week by the Italian daily La Stampa (translation mine):

    The Langhe Hills bid adieu to Beppe Colla, a visionary and innovator among grape growers, one of the few winemakers you could call a “patriarch.”
    He was 88 years old and he would have celebrated his 70th vintage this year.
    After finishing his degree at the Umberto I school of Enology, he was asked to become the director of what was the biggest Alba-area winery at the time: Bonardi. He was just 19 years old.
    In 1956 he purchased another historic Alba property, Prunotto, which he sold to the Antinori family in 1990 when he and his brother Tino founded the Poderi Colla winery. Located in Bricco del Drago in San Rocco Seno d’Elvia hamlet, their estate also includes important vineyards in Roncaglie (Barbaresco) and Bussia di Monforte (Barolo).

I highly recommend watching the excellent video in this post by Intravino (with English subtitles).

And be sure not to miss this insuperable 2005 post by my friend and blogger colleague Craig Camp, who writes (ubi major minor cessat):

    For over fifty years Beppe Colla has made wine in the Langhe and has seen the transition of this zone from a region on the edge of disaster to the home of some of the worlds most expensive and sought after wines. From his first vintage in 1948 ( a disastrous vintage) and his just completed 56th vintage in 2004 (which looks to be an excellent vintage) he has seen it all and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the climate and vineyards of the Langhe zone and has personally experienced every vintage of the modern era of Barolo and Barbaresco. It is this incredible range of experience that he brings to winemaking at Poderi Colla.

My 2016 tasting at Poderi Colla was one of the most inspiring winery visits of my career.

Thanks to generous Italian collectors, I’ve also had the chance to drink some of Beppe Colla’s pre-Antinori Prunotto bottlings stretching back to the 1970s, some of the most compelling expressions of Nebbiolo I’ve ever tasted.

Sit tibi terra levis Iosephe.

Image via Intravino.

The priest the Mafia killed: the story of Padre Pino Puglisi, fictionalized by one of his students in a novel I translated

It was just a year after the world had collectively gasped at the Mafia’s brutal 1992 car bomb killings of magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

A dark moment in Italian contemporary history, it was a year after Italy’s ruling political class had been implicated in the infamous “Bribesville” scandal.

It was a year after Italians had begun to lose faith in their political system and social fabric. The dream of Italy’s economic miracle, with a “Benetton on every corner in Manhattan” (as one of my professors marveled a few years earlier), was coming to an end.

In 1993, the Mafia did something that seemed to break with its own “code of conduct,” however abominable it were: members of Cosa Nostra killed a priest in Palermo — something unthinkable at the time.

Padre Pino Puglisi (known affectionately as “3P”) had openly defied the Mafia in an economically challenged Palermo neighborhood where it recruited and trafficked kids from the streets: Brancaccio, a proletariat community where youth prospects dwindled in step with Italy’s fading promise of prosperity.

Read the English-language Wikipedia entry on Padre Pino here. And read this wonderful blog devoted to his life and times, with English translation, here.

Today he is remembered as “the priest who smiled at his killers.”

Father Pino ran a community youth outreach program in Brancaccio and he lobbied and spoke out aggressively against the Mafia’s unyielding grip on the neighborhood.

Educator, television personality, and screenwriter Alessandro D’Avenia was one of his theology students. His 2014 novel, Ciò che inferno non è, a fictionalized account of Padre Pino’s story, was a best seller in Italy.

My translation of his book, What Hell Isn’t, has just been published in England by One World.

As wine lovers, we spend so much energy hawing and humming about this natural wine from Sicily or that, but we hardly take time out to examine the immense and often insurmountable difficulties of growing up poor in Sicily’s cities.

I highly recommend it to you. Not because I translated it but because it offers perspective into the human tragedy that plays out in Sicily’s urban streets every day.

Top image: screenshot via the blog Tra il cuore e la mente.

“Recognition: North and South.” Please help us raise just a little more money to post our MLK billboard over the Confederate memorial in Tracie’s hometown

After we posted our GoFundMe to raise an MLK billboard over the newly erected Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up, it caused quite an uproar (more than 200 comments, a lot of them negative and abrasive, many of them positive and supportive). We must be doing something right.

We are just a few hundred dollars away from our goal.

Please help us by donating or sharing on social media.

Here’s the link.

And thank you to everyone who has already donated and/or shared. This really means the world to us — literally. It’s the world that we inhabit and it’s the world where we are raising our children.

To quote Dr. King, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.” That’s the line that will appear with our billboard, which will run starting next week and through most of African American History Month. It seems only fitting. The Sons of Confederate Veterans raised their monument, which includes the “Confederate Flag,” on MLK Dr. in Orange. Our billboard will look down on the memorial from across the road.

You can see the billboard here. It will be the second that we’ve raised.

Here’s a note on the painting above. It resides in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. It was painted in 1865. The following is a transcription of the label that appears with the work.

*****

Constant Mayer [artist]
American, born France, 1832-1911

“Recognition: North and South”
1865

In “Recognition: North and South,” a wounded Confederate soldier has just discovered the body of his dead Union brother, whom he cradles. The landscape echoes the contrast of life and death represented by the two figures, with a lush, green forest appearing behind the Confederate soldier and a decaying tree stump hovering above the mortally wounded brother.

This powerful painting captures the sorrow of the Civil War (1861-65), one of the darkest chapters in the history of the United States. Neither man in this work wins, an idea that would have resonated with Americans who, around the time this painting was produced, had endured four years of death and destruction and were searching for meaning in the unprecedented carnage.

Image via the Houston Museum of Fine Arts (public domain).

My new obsession: Roberto Girelli’s Montonale Lugana

To be totally honest, Roberto Girelli’s extraordinary white wines had not come to my attention until Decanter called his 2015 single-vineyard Lugana Orestilla a “best white single varietal” in its 2017 world wine awards (I don’t know why they still use the passé varietal but that’s another story). The magazine’s tasting panel gave it a whopping 95 points.

Consternation filled my mind: how could this wine not be on my radar? After all, neighborhing Brescia and Desenzano (where the wine is raised) and Lake Garda have become my stomping ground over the last 10 years (thanks to my great friends in Franciacorta).

It took a lot of cajoling and even some name dropping to get the opportunity to taste the wine last year at Vinitaly, where it is kept — literally — under lock and key. But Do Bianchi always get his wine…

Was it as great as Decanter claimed? After three days of hardcore tasting and schmoozing at Vinitaly, it’s always hard to wrap your mind around anything. In that context, it wasn’t clear to me whether it lived up to the hype, honestly. But despite the haze of the wine fair experience, it left my curiosity tickled, my palate seduced.

The true test came when our family headed to California for summer vacation last year. Six bottles were ordered from a celebrated Costa Mesa wine shop where they were languishing apparently unnoticed. It was the only place in the U.S. where the wine was still available.

And here’s the thing, as our older daughter Georgia likes to say, it landed at my mom’s doorstep in La Jolla at less than $40 a bottle!

The wine was powerful yet lithe, laser-focused yet elegant in its white flower and fruit flavors and intense minerality. Its flavors literally wrapped themselves around your tongue and left you pining for more as you swallowed. This is one hell of a white wine, folks. It didn’t take but a few delicious days for us — mom, Tracie, and our San Diego friends — to drink it all up.

What can I say? I’m now obsessed with this wine and only wish I had the dough to put down cases and cases in my wine cellar.

I finally visited Montonale and tasted with grower and winemaker Roberto Girelli in early December.

That’s a shot of vineyards looking north toward Lake Garda (just on the other side of the camera’s horizon).

As you’ll note, there are grasses growing wild between the rows in the clay- and limestone-rich rocky soils. The vineyards are all planted within a stone’s through of the winery and Roberto’s house.

Like so many northern grape farmers I’ve spoken to over the last five years or so, they have opted for a lutte raisonée approach to viticulture. In other words, they intervene with synthetic products only when absolutely necessary. With such intensely concentrated rainfall and often violent weather events in recent years, Montonale — like so many of its peers — believes it does less harm to the environment and makes better wines by using a rational struggle protocol (excuse the slavish translation; see the link above for the best post on this emerging trend I’ve found so far).

And like a lot of Italian white wine producers I’ve interacted with over the last ten years, they vinify in an entirely reductive environment, using the first pressing of their hand-picked and sorted grapes for their estate wines. Working in the absence of oxygen allows them to retain the fruit’s natural aromas and flavors.

Roberto and his brothers are among an expanding generation of homegrown winemakers who have revived their parents and grandparents viticultural enterprise. It’s a story often told these days: in 1998 the farm was abandoned only to be replanted by Roberto’s generation in the 2000s. Wine lovers — and white wine lovers in particular — are the better for it.

Drink and cellar these wines if you’re fortunate enough find them. You won’t regret it. My only critique, as I told Roberto, is that he should charge more for them!

Best Sommelier in Houston Competition Feb. 24-25: applications now being accepted

For more than four years, I’ve been working as a media consultant for the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas (recently ranked the top chamber in North America and eighth in the world).

Our marquee event each year is the Taste of Italy food and wine festival, the largest trade fair devoted exclusively to Italian enogastronomy in the U.S.

Every year, one of Houston’s most beloved sommeliers, Jaime De Leon, coordinates our sommelier team through AweSomm — a wine study and support group for aspiring Advanced and Master Sommeliers here in Houston (above).

Last year, Jaime approached the chamber about creating a “Best Sommelier in Houston” competition to foster wine education in our city and provide resources for wine professionals (including prize money to be used for travel and study).

The first-ever competition will be held at this year’s Taste of Italy festival. Details follow. Please help us get the word out by sharing on social media. Thanks for your support.

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On February 24-25, AweSomm will be hosting the first-ever “Best Sommelier in Houston” competition in association with the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas and its 5th annual Taste of Italy Houston festival and trade show.

To apply, please use the form below.

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Stand up to racism: please donate to our GoFundMe to display an MLK billboard over Confederate Memorial

Tracie and I are raising money to buy one (1) month of advertising on a billboard that stands across the road from the newly erected Confederate Memorial of the Wind (see below), a monument built by the Sons of Confederate Veterans on Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. in Orange, Texas along Interstate 10.

In observance of Martin Luther King Day (January 21, 2019) and African American History Month (February) , the billboard will look down on the memorial, which (as of this posting) includes the Robert E. Lee battle flag, otherwise known as “the Confederate Flag.”

CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

Artwork for the billboard (above) was created pro bono by an anonymous designer.

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“I wanted them to be an Italian band”: Alejandro Escovedo on his new album and recording in Italy

Alejandro Escovedo (above, third from left) is one of America’s most iconic songwriters and performers. His new album, “The Crossing,” was recorded in Emilia-Romagna with a group he met serendipitously while touring in Italy. It tells the story of two young migrants — one from Mexico, the other from Italy — who meet while working in a restaurant in Galveston. 

Over the Christmas holiday, I had the opportunity to interview the legendary Texan musician. The following are excerpts from our conversation. 

He and his Italian band Don Antonio are playing this Sunday at the Heights Theater in Houston (see this preview on the Houston Press).

When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, Italians have a different sensibility and a different sense of rhythm than Americans. What clicked for you working with Italian musicians?

I did not expect them to have that groove. I didn’t want them to be an American band. I wanted them to be an Italian band. And it was important that they kept their identity that way — musically. And that’s what impressed me about them.

When they bring in anything that’s slightly American, it’s about the Twist. Because the Twist was a popular form in the 1960s, in Italian movies and soundtracks. It’s not that they don’t love American music. They’re very well versed in blues and soul and R&B and the guitar players from Austin, songwriters from Tucson. Obviously they’re big fans of that stuff. [But] it doesn’t dictate who they are. And that’s what was really attractive to me.

So I did not expect them to sound like the Stooges from Detroit, I didn’t expect them to sound like the Zeros or the MC5. I wanted them to be Italian because the beauty in Italian music is that it’s always searching for melody. It’s got this beautiful, kind of dramatic soulful, very passionate kind of view. And that’s what I wanted from them. It wasn’t a problem for me that they didn’t sound like Muscle Shoals. That’s not what I wanted.

In interviews, you’ve talked a lot about how recording in Italy was a different experience than recording in America — in part because of the food.

The Italian press [like] Buscadero has been very generous with me. And I’ve always had great shows in Italy. I’ve done a lot of tours.

But when I met Antonio and the boys, they picked me up in Bologna at the airport. And they happened to have a friend who was also on the same plane. So they gave her a ride back to Faenza. And then we proceeded to Modigliana, which is their town. Then we immediately went to go eat, which the Italian thing, right? It’s essential.

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