The influencer instascam is a scourge. Restaurateurs deserve better.

These are true stories.

Last year, at an “influencer” dinner hosted by a popular restaurant in a major American city, a so-called “restaurant critic” writing for a high-profile food blog insisted that the organizer give her cash for the valet parking — including tip.

Earlier this year, at a similar event for social media users, a guest ordered a bottle of wine that wasn’t included in the menu for the evening. He was indignant when the restaurateur presented him with a bill.

A few weeks ago, a well-known and well-liked restaurateur in an affluent American market received the following request from a social media user from a different city (paraphrased for anonymity’s sake): I would like to surprise my significant other with the following menu and wine from your menu at your restaurant. Will you organize the dinner and pick up our tab in exchange for Instagram posts? I have a lot of followers.

It happens all across America every day, from metropoles and megalopoles to small towns in the heart of farmland: Food-focused social media users ask restaurateurs to pick up their tab in exchange for content.

Few restaurateurs are willing to discuss it openly — for fear of retribution and ostracism. But they are bombarded incessantly by brazen requests for free food.

Whenever you cross the threshold of a restaurant’s entrance, whether you are the New York Times restaurant critic or an Instagram user with a handful of followers, you enter into a social compact with the restaurateur, the restaurant employees, and the other diners.

Today, I penned and published the following post for the Houston Press: “Influencer or Freeloader? 10 Tips for Social Media Users Who Expect a Free Lunch.”

I hope it will give aspiring influencers new perspective into the insidious but sadly all too common practice of extorting restaurateurs and their employees.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Welcome Paco! The newest member of the Parzen family…

Welcome, Paco! The newest member of the Parzen family!

Little Paco (above, left) came into our lives two months ago, first as a foster dog and then as our officially adopted chihuahueño.

He’s super sweet with the girls and he’s been wonderful for our chihuahua mix rescue Rusty, who is still a bit neurotic and skittish but a lot less so now that he has a pal (they are best friends, even though Rusty can be a little jealous of his daddy).

Paco was a rescue, too: he was abandoned by his family when they moved to a new house. They took their other dogs but not little Paco! We don’t know why.

In keeping with Parzen family tradition, the Parzen Family Singers wrote and recorded a song for him. That’s Lila Jane and me, with a few cameos from Georgia and mommy, in the track below. (Lila Jane and I recorded our vocals in one live, improvised take. I’m so proud of how she’s taken to the recording arts. Here’s the song she wrote for Rusty.)

Enjoy the music and the cute chihuahua pics! Thanks for being here and sharing our joy.

Buon weekend a tutti! Have a great weekend, everyone!

A better translation for barbatella: Italian-English wine glossary updated! (includes multiple new entries)

Here’s an updated link for a free download of the 2019 Slow Wine Guide (the previously link is now stale because so many people used it fyi).

Wondering why this post preceded by an image culled from a (public domain) vintage poster for the 1968 science fiction classic “Barbarella”? Read on.

Ever since the Italian-English wine glossary was first launched here, Maurizio Gily — a leading Italian agronomist, writer, publisher, and professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont – has lent a hand in fine-tuning the entries.

Most recently, he shared the following note from a California grower, who points out that barbatella can be translated in a variety of ways in English depending on context.

The entry has been updated accordingly and Maurizio has graciously and generously added a number of new entries as well (thank you, Maurizio!).

In case you’ve never seen a barbatella — a rooted cutting (otherwise known as a bench graft) — here’s a video shot at Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo, the famed Italian nursery that provides bench grafts to wineries and growers across the world (it’s in Italian but it shows how the rooted cuttings/bench grafts are prepared and shipped etc.).

Thanks for being here and thanks for speaking Italian wine!

Hi Maurizio,

There are a number of different names we use depending on whether the vine has been rooted and how old the vine is. Here is a link that explains it fairly well:

In my experience, I have heard “greengrowers” used for grafted vines that have been planted in pots with soil and “bench grafts” used for dormant scion/rootstock grafted vines.

Here is little more in-depth information:

All that being said, I like the name “barbatella” much better.

Reminds me of a young Jane Fonda for some reason… she starred in a movie back in the 1960s called Barbarella.

a giropoggio vines planted across a slope (along the contour of the slope; compare with a ritocchino)
a ritocchino vines planted up and down a slope (from peak to valley, as it were; compare with a giropoggio)
acciaio [inossidabile] stainless-steel [vat/tank]
acinellatura millerandage [alt.: shot berrieshens and chicks, or pumpkins and peas]
affinamento aging
alberello head-trained bush vines
allegagione fruit set
allevamento training
apice vegetativo shoot tip
argilla clay
arresto di fermentazione stuck fermentation
assemblaggio blend
azoto nitrogen
barbatella rooted cutting/bench graft
barrique barrique [small French oak cask]
bâtonnage stirring on the lees
biodinamica biodynamics/biodynamic
biologico organic
botte traditional large cask
bucce skins
Cabernet [Sauvignon] Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Franc
calcare/calcareo limestone/calcareous [limestone-rich]
capo a frutto fruit cane
cappello sommerso submerged cap maceration
chioma canopy
chiusura grappolo bunch closure
cimatura hedging
cocciniglia mealybug
cordone cordon
cordone speronato cordon-trained spur-pruned [vines]
cru vineyard designation/single vineyard
cuvée Blend
délestage rack and return
diradamento dei grappoli pruning/thinning grapes/dropping fruit/green harvest
diradamento di germogli shoot thinning
diraspare/diraspatrice de-stem/de-stemmer
diserbante termico weed torch/weed flamer
DOC DOC [designation of controlled origin]
DOCG DOCG [designation of controlled and guaranteed origin]
DOP PDO [Protected Designation of Origin]
doppio capovolto double-arched cane [training]
drenaggio drainage
esca esca [alt.: black dead arm or black measles]
escursione termica [diurnal] temperature variation
femminella lateral shoot
fermentazione arrestata stuck fermentation
filare row
flavescenza dorata grapevine yellows (flavescence dorée)
follatura punching down
forma di allevamento training system/trellis system
galestro galestro [a marl- and limestone-rich subsoil unique to Tuscany]
gemma bud
gemma dormiente, gemma d’inverno dormant bud
germogliamento budbreak, budburst
giropoggio vines planted across a slope (along the contour of the slope; compare with a ritocchino)
grappa grappa
grappolo cluster/bunch
grappolo spargolo loosely clustered grape bunch
Guyot Guyot
IGP PGI [Protected Geographical Indication]
IGT IGT [typical geographical indication]
inerbimento sward management of the soil
innesto graft
interfila inter-row
invaiatura veraison
lievito naturale native/ambient/indigenous/wild yeast
lievito selezionato cultured yeast
limo silt
macchia mediterranea Mediterranean maquis [shrubland]
maestrale (vento di maestrale) north-westerly wind
malolattica malolactic fermentation
marna/marne marl
marza scion
maturazione ripening
monovitigno single-grape variety [wine]
mosto must
oidio oidium [powdery mildew]
pedicello pedicel
peduncolo stem (peduncle)
pergola pergola / overhead trellis system
peronospora peronospora [downy mildew]
pied de cuve pied de cuve [native yeast starter]
pigiatura crush/crushing
pirodiserbatore weed torch/weed flamer
pirodiserbo weed torching
pollone sucker
portinnesto rootstock
pressa press
pressare to press
quercia oak
rachide rachis
raspo stem
rimontaggio pumping over
ritocchino vines planted up and down a slope (from peak to valley, as it were; compare with a giropoggio)
sabbia/sabbioso sand/sandy [sandy soil]
Sauvignon [Blanc] Sauvignon Blanc
scacchiatura shoot-thinning
scheletro very fine gravel
seme seed
sfogliatura leaf plucking
sgemmatura disbudding
siccità drought/drought conditions
sistema di allevamento training/trellis system
sottofila under-row
sottosuolo subsoil
sovescio cover crop/green manure
sovramaturazione over-ripening
spalliera (vigneto a spalliera) vertical shoot positioning of the shoots (VSP)
spargolo (grappolo spargolo) loosely clustered (grape bunch)
sperone spur
spollonatura (disbudding and suckering) de-suckering
stralciatura shoot-thinning
stress idrico hydric stress
sulle bucce skin contact [macerated on the skins]
sulle fecce nobili lees aged [aged on its lees]
sur lie lees aged [aged on its lees]
svinatura racking (devatting, drawing off)
terreno/terreni soil
tessitura (del suoolo) soil texture
tignola della vite vine moth [Eupoecilia ambiguella] European berry moth
tralcio shoot/cane
tramoggia hopper/feeder
tufo tufaceous subsoil [porous limestone]
vasca vat/tank
vento di maestrale north-westerly wind
vigna/vigne vine/vineyards
vigneto vineyard
vinaccia/vinacce pomace
vinacciolo seed
vite vine
viticcio tendril
vitigno grape variety

FREE download Slow Wine Guide 2019

Here’s an updated link for a free download of the 2019 Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of Italy, Slovenia, California, and Oregon (the previously link is now stale because so many people used it fyi).

Above: California urban winemaker Bryan Harrington (left) with Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio at the Slow Wine Tour tasting in San Francisco earlier this month. Bryan’s bottlings of Nebbiolo and Mission really impressed our editors this year at the event.

The editors of the Slow Wine Guide 2019 are pleased to share the news that the book is now available to download for free.

Click here for senior editor for California Deborah Parker Wong’s post on this year’s guide (including the link for the free e-book).


Buona lettura! Enjoy!

“A stadium crowd cheering between organic and not organic.” Responses to Italian organic farming controversy.

Above: last night’s BYOB wine was the 2017 Brooks Crannell Vineyard Pinot Blanc from Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills. Many of Brooks wines are biodynamic certified but the fruit for this bottling is not. No certification is listed for Crannell Vineyard but according to info available online, it is “dry farmed without any irrigation.” 100% delicious, with vibrant fruit and racy acidity, a perfect pairing for Cantonese.

There were a lot of responses to this week’s post on opposition to proposed legislation in Italy that would create new protections and incentives for organic farmers.

The bill was approved by Italy’s lower chamber and is now being considered by the Italian senate. It would create a tax on conventional farming and require public schools and institutions to serve organic food products.

Opponents of the bill, which is likely to be approved, counter that global-scale organic farming is unsustainable and a threat to nutritional security and the nation’s health. Authors of the bill claim that organic farming is vital to the nation’s identity, health, and nutritional future.

Click here to read “Organic farming, a “beautiful but impossible fairy tale.” Italian scientists oppose proposed organic regulation.”

Professor Michele Fino, director of the master’s programs at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (Slow Food) in Piedmont (where I also teach), wrote on Facebook:

“Very inaccurate interview fully supported only by the reputation of the Senator [Elena Cattaneo, an opponent of the bill], who is no agrarian or plant scientist. No information, no revelation. Sorry. This is politics with the feathers of science.”

In a comment thread, he wrote me that an official response from his office in support of the bill had already been prepared and is currently being vetted by the university’s lawyers and technical advisors.

Jason Lett, organic grape grower and owner of Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon, tweeted: “We profit from the deliciousness of what we make, not the yield per land. If we assign value to flavor and expression of place into the food calculation, organic wins easily.”

Alice Feiring, author and natural wine advocate, tweeted: “What about if organic farming was perfected? What about if more research was going in how to farm responsibly and also get high yields? What if the ag biz put their research $ there?”

Jamie Goode, wine writer and organic/biodynamic advocate, tweeted: “Organic farming for wine is fine. But if all agriculture went organic, then it would be a disaster. People would starve. I wish it were not so as a big fan of organics.”

Maurizio Gily, a leading Italian agronomist, tweeted: “Something true, something wrong. Not everything in organic is always sustainable in the long period, not everything in conventional is polluting and unsustainable. But the big mistake is to create a stadium crowd cheering between organic and not organic. Things are more complex.”

I’ll post updates on this story as it develops. Thanks for being here.

Organic farming, a “beautiful but impossible fairy tale.” Italian scientists oppose proposed organic regulation.

The vineyard in the photo above is farmed by one of Italy’s most prestigious wineries. It provides fruit for one of the estate’s marquee wines. Although many Italian wine trade observers assume it’s an organically farmed parcel, it’s actually farmed conventionally. The winemakers contend that conventional farming is actually better for consumers and for the planet.

As the Italian senate is about to consider newly introduced legislation that would promote and protect organic farming, calling it vital to the nation’s health and environment, nearly 400 Italian scientists have signed an open letter opposing the bill, which has already been approved by Italy’s lower chamber.

The researchers argue that organic farming, if adopted on a global scale, is unsustainable and would lead to weakened nutritional security. They also point to aggressive marketing — and not sustainability — as the driver behind the popularity of organic products among consumers. Only privileged Italians can afford organic food products, they note. And they point out that organically farmed products represent a negligible amount of foods that Italians consume.

The letter was delivered in January of this year, with more than 200 signatures. As of last week, that number had grown to almost 400.

On Friday, Il Sole 24 Ore (the Italian Financial Times) published an interview with Elena Cattaneo, one of Italy’s leading researchers and a senator for life in Italy’s parliament. She has joined her colleagues in opposing the bill. The following is an excerpted translation of her remarks (see this Wiki entry on Dr. Cattaneo).

“For the first time,” says Cattaneo, “this letter demolishes the ‘beautiful but impossible” narrative behind organic farming. With supporting data, it reveals the discrepancies in organic farming’s ‘one way’ marketing. I believe such marketing is misleading.”

“In order to justify pricing often double [that of conventionally farmed products], we have been told that organic farming is the only way to save the world and help us to live longer and better. It’s an illusion. There is no scientific proof to confirm this. In fact, the opposite is true: analysis reveals that organic products are not qualitatively better and that large-scale organic farming is unsustainable inasmuch as it produces up to 50 percent less when it comes to top agricultural products. Large-scale organic farming would require twice as much land. In order to convert the world to organic farming, we would have to use hundreds of millions of hectares of currently fallow land, including forests and prairies.”

“The fairy tale that ‘natural = good’ has led to the labeling of more than a million [Italian] farmers as ‘polluters of the planet.’ It’s these same farmers that rely on the best technology available in order to guarantee that consumers have access to wholesome and safe food products.”

The following are my paraphrases of the letter’s 10 bullet points in which the scientists explain their motivation for opposing the legislation. The bill calls, among other things, for all public institutions and schools in Italy to serve only organically farmed food products. Unfortunately, the letter hasn’t been translated in its entirety. If you speak Italian, I highly encourage you to read it.

1) Low production rates in organic farming.

According to currently available data, organic farming yields 20 to 70 percent less than conventional farming.

2) Ecological sustainability for individual farming companies should be more closely examined.

Even organic farms depend on agricultural products that come from the world of conventional farming.

3) Global sustainability of organic farming should be more closely examined in terms of its environmental friendliness.

If organic farming were adopted on a global level, the surface area devoted to agriculture would have to be doubled. The subsequent scarcity of nitrogen in the land (owed to the fact that synthetic fertilizers would no longer be used) would lead to severe famine.

4) Global sustainability of organic farming should be more closely examined also in terms of its economic and social impact.

If organic farming were adopted on a global level, consumers wouldn’t have the same level of access to fruit and vegetables. The impact on health — especially in terms of the occurrence of cancer — could be enormous.

5) Marketing of organic farming aims to denigrate conventional farming even though the latter is productive, efficient, and indispensable to the nation.

Convention and integrated farming provides 97 percent of the food Italians eat and the difference in quality between organic and conventional and integrated foods is negligible. Only the privileged classes have access to organically farmed foods.

6) Is organic farming really growing?

The number of certified organic farms in Italy actually shrank from 58,000 in 2001 to 57,000 in 2017. The sector is essentially stagnant and isn’t showing signs of growth.

7) Organic farming accounts for only a small segment of the farming sector.

In 2018, only 3 percent of foods consumed in Italy were organically farmed. That’s a small increase over 2017 but the figure is reflection of organic foods’ “niche” in the market, heavily dependent on marketing that doesn’t represent Italian agriculture in general.

8) Organic farming is highly subsidized thanks to aggressive marketing.

Organic farmers actually receive more subsidies than conventional farmers because additional funds and incentives are earmarked especially for organic farming. Marketing drives this financial model.

9) Organic farming depends, however counterintuitive it mays seem, on synthetic products.

Even though an individual farm may avoid the use of synthetic products, its sustainability still depends on the overarching farming system where synthetic products are used.

10) Organic farming is opposed to genetic innovation and technical advances in farming technology.

Increasingly, farmers will need to look to genetic innovation and technical advances in farming to feed the nation. Italy’s nutritional security depends on innovation.

Scenes from Slow Wine California and Oregon (taste in Denver this week, Boston and NYC next week)

Registration for Slow Wine tastings in Denver (tomorrow), Boston and New York (next week) is still open. Click here for details.

Here are some highlights from the Slow Wine tastings in San Francisco and Oregon this week. Heartfelt thanks to all the winemakers who participated and all the trade members who came out to taste.

That’s a whole lotta wine right there! Matile Poggi of Le Fraghe (left, one of my wine heroes, for her FIVI leadership) and Andrew Beckham of Beckham Estate Vineyard in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains.

Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio (left) with California wine legend Robert Sinskey. I have to confess to being a bit starstruck when meeting Robert, whose wines were among the first Californians I swooned over as an adolescent wine lover.

Soil samples from the Russian River Valley at the Small Vines table. Slinging dirt is a great way to teach people about your wines, remarked winemaker Paul Sloan.

Mitico! Dan Petroski (left) poured Larkmead Vineyards for Giancarlo. Dan’s Massican wines were also in the guide this year.
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Chicago’s Italian wine scene blew me away

Above: Chicago-based Derrick Westbrook is one of the most dynamic wine professionals working in the U.S. today. And he digs and pours Italian wine.

It’s not every day that a Friuli fanatic discovers an indigenous Friulian grape variety he’s never tasted before.

But that’s exactly what happened on a chllly midwest evening when a couple of Italian wine trade professionals sat down at the bar at Nico Osteria in Chicago’s Gold Coast district.

Wine director Bret Heiar’s Italian-focused program there is one of the most exciting wine lists I’ve seen this year. And the aggressive pricing is the first clue that this is an Italian wine list written by someone who really loves Italian wines and who wants people to experience them.

The night we were there, they were pouring Emilio Bulfon Piculìt Neri by the glass — yes, by the glass, people!

Above: when’s the last time you saw a Piculìt Neri by the glass? Or ever?

Super cool stuff.

I was also really geeked to see American sommelier superstar Derrick Westbrook pouring at the Gambero Rosso event last week.

His career is on FIRE right now and it was so cool that he was pouring and talking about Chianti Classico there. He’s also the nicest guy. We need energized, think-out-of-the-box folks like him working with Italian wine as we move forward in our increasingly media- and product-saturated markets.

Man, this dude is going to go far and I’m glad he’s taking Italian wine with him.

While in Chicago, I also checked in with another one of the country’s hippest sommeliers, Rachael Lowe, who’s been shepherding one of our nation’s historic Italian fine wine lists at the legendary Spiaggia.

I remember going there when I was still in college back in the late 1980s after my first trip to Italy. At the time, there were only two or three programs like that in the U.S. I”m glad to see that it’s still going strong stronger than ever. It couldn’t be in better hands.

Another person I was geeked to catch up with was my buddy Craig Perman who runs Perman Wine Selections, one of the grooviest Italian-focused retail programs in the U.S.

In a town notorious for its corporate-driven market, Craig keeps fighting the good independent fight. His knowledge of Italian wine is spectacular and he’s doing truly great work in bringing real-deal Italian wines to a market that is evermore thirsty for them.

I was bummed not to make it to Monteverde where one of the city’s most progressive Italian lists has a home. I hear that the restaurant is currently between wine directors but I’ll be following along closely and hope to get back there to check it out soon.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago over the last decade and I’ve never seen so much great Italian wine and so many mega-talented people running a growing number of Italian-focus programs.

I can’t wait to get back there later this year. Keep on keepin’ on, yall!

New Yorkers! I NEED YOU (to taste with me today at Gambero Rosso)

Above: the Gambero Rosso tasting in Chicago on Wednesday was packed.

Calling all wine people in New York: please come out and taste with me at Gambero Rosso this afternoon in Manhattan!

I’ll be pouring Villa Sandi Prosecco.

Please stop by and say hello.

Click here for event details.

And in case you are on the west coast next week, I’ll be hanging and tasting (although not pouring) at the Slow Wine events in San Francisco and Portland on Monday and Tuesday.

Click here for event details.

I hope to see you there! Thanks for your support.