Vlog post: tasting some Super Tuscans at 8:15 a.m. at Ca’ Parzen (video)

Super Tuscans aren’t really my thing but I was happy to taste these wines for an old friend who works as a publicist in the New York wine trade.

The wines were very good. Not my style but very well made, balanced, and tasty. The flagship wine, Monteti, just needs some bottle aging to integrate its oak. Very nice wines. Probably well priced.

There’s been a lot of investment in “upper” (as I call it) or central Maremma. It’s a swath of land that lies inland from the coast between two mountain chains (as you can see in the Google map screenshot above).

We’re going to be seeing a lot more international-style wines coming from that part of Tuscany. The wines I tasted this morning are indicative of the style.

I hope you enjoy the video! Thanks for tasting with me.

Slow Wine 2020 needs you! Accepting applications for field contributors (to visit and profile Slow wineries)

From the department of “labor amoris”…

Above: Jared Brandt of Donkey and Goat at the winery’s tasting room and winemaking facility in Berkeley.

It’s a thankless job and pays just a pittance. But it’s one of the most fulfilling and fun gigs in the wine world (that is, if you’re into California and Oregon wine).

The editors of the Slow Wine guide 2020 are currently accepting applications for field contributors.

Please email me here if you would like us to consider you for the position (I’m the guide’s coordinating editor for California and Oregon).

Field contributors are tasked with the following:

– contact producers to set up winery visits;
– visit wineries to taste, interview, and photograph;
– write roughly 300-word profiles of roughly 10 estates (some contributors do more).

It’s now our third year of putting together the west coast guides and we’ve managed to streamline the process this time around. I’ll fill you in once I hear from you (including deadlines etc.).

The best part of the gig is the interaction with the producers and the opportunity to taste some of the best wines in the U.S.

And of course, there’s also In-N-Out burger (below). Not very slow but man, it sure hits the spot after a long day of tasting through California.

I look forward to hearing from you! Please help spread the word: we are expanding the guide again this year and need all the filed editors we can get.

Thanks in advance! Evviva Slow Wine!

Taste, party, rock out with me in Texas this month…

Don’t be shy! Come to our house party on Saturday, May 18. All are welcome and I’ll be debuting my new band. Here are some events where I’ll be pouring, speaking, emceeing, and jamming this month in Texas. Come party out with me…

Cantele Wine Dinner
at Il Brutto in Austin
Tuesday, May 14

Email the restaurant to reserve. I’m psyched to check out Il Brutto, one of the many new Italians to pop up in the Live Music Capital of the World (we’ll probably go to the Continental afterwards).

Moscato d’Asti DOCG
Guided Tasting & Seminar
at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
Wednesday, May 15

Open to trade only. Here’s the link to register. I’ll be presenting the tasting and moderating a panel that will include Andrea Costa from Marenco, Stefano Chiarlo from Chiarlo, and Luigi Coppo from Coppo. Three of my favorite producers from the appellation (and three super nice and brilliant dudes).

Paolo Cantele
in-store tasting
at Vinology
Friday, May 17

Paolo and I will be pouring and talking about his wines 6-8 p.m. at this fave Houston wine bar and shop. No need to register. Here’s the Google map. We’ll be hanging at the bar afterwards. Always a good time at Vinology.

Blow-out Party
and Potluck
live music and wine
Chez Parzen
Saturday, May 18

Parzen family is hosting one of its house parties and Paolo Cantele is providing the wines. Everyone is invited — and yes, I mean everyone. If you have my phone number or we are friends on social media, just hit me up for the address if you don’t already have it. Kids performances will begin at 2 p.m. Adult music will begin at 4. Bring your favorite potluck dish. We will party until the wine runs out (and there will be plenty of wine, believe me).

Houston Pasta Festival
Sunday, May 19
Bayou City Event Center

Click here to register for this Sunday afternoon festival (1 p.m. – 4 p.m.). I’ll be emceeing this event this Italy-America Chamber of Commerce event this year. And my friends and food writers Renia Butler, Chris Reid, and Eric Sandler will be joining me on a panel that Eric’s moderating. Some of the top Houston-area Italian restaurants will be sharing their favorite pastas. But I’m especially geeked to taste the entries from Pepper Twins (Chinese) and Harlem Road BBQ.

Beyond wine: Nadia Zenato’s photography show in Milan was a highlight of my latest trip to Italy

From the department of “why do art students always wear black?”…

When Nadia Zenato reached out to me a few months ago asking me to give her a hand with some translations, little did I know what I was getting myself into.

It’s only natural that leading Italian winemakers like her want to update their brochures in time for Vinitaly, the Italian wine trade’s annual fair in Verona. A slew of wine fact sheets were expected, received, and promptly and aptly rendered into English.

But then I got a call from her.

“Would you mind translating a catalog about an art exhibit I’m organizing in Milan?” she asked.

“Pane per i miei denti!” I told her, using the Italian expression, the [perfect] bread for my teeth, in other words, that’s right up my alley, I said.

The next thing I knew, I found myself awash in essays on contemporary photography and the accompanying and mandatory reflections on critical theory (literally right up my alley from my days as a graduate student between UCLA and Italy).

Nadia had asked the director of the master’s program in photography at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera — the Brera fine arts academy in Milan, one of the country’s most prestigious — to summon five top students for a series of wine-inspired works of photographic art.

The result was the show “Wine: Beyond Objects” hosted at the über-hip Bottega Immagine (not far from Milano’s enormous municipal cemetery, on the north side of the city).

Nadia graciously invited me to the opening of the show on the Friday after the fair had ended. The scene could have been taken straight out of a contemporary Fellini movie: young photographers, artists, and students — nearly all dressed in black — milled around the smartly mounted images, sipping on Nadia’s family’s wine and occasionally congregating outside the gallery’s entrance to chain-smoke.

Even the cloud of tobacco was a breath of fresh air to me.

The gathering brought me back to my days when poetry, art works, music, novels, and essays on critical theory (and too many cigarettes) were the oxygen we breathed. None of us had to make a living back then. We just lived…

I thought the show and the works were brilliant.

But the thing that impressed me the most about the project and the event was that Nadia and her lovely mother Carla hadn’t invited any famous wine or food writers. No celebrity bloggers were in attendance (and believe me, Milan, Italy’s cultural epicenter these days, is full of them).

No, just a handful of professors, a bevy of black-clad chain-smoking students, and a couple of the family’s closest friends huddled before each piece in the show, whispering and murmuring critical thoughts on aesthetics and poetics.

Nadia and her mom (the only ones wearing white) beamed with joy.

We in the wine world get so wrapped up with our work that we often fail to take time out to smell Italy’s roses, as it were, to run our toes through its leaves of grass.

I miss those days when going to an art opening had urgency. Those were times when you felt compelled to be among the first to hear a poem recited or view a painting because a work of art — new or old — was an occasion to reflect on your humanity.

And you always met the coolest people at art openings, too.

Thank you, Nadia, for reminding me why I first became fascinated with Italy and Italian art in the first place. Wine tastes good and it pays the bills. But this is the stuff we should live for.

Well done.

“Organic farming is under attack in Europe, especially in Italy.” Interview with Matilde Poggi, president of the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers

Happy International Workers’ Day, everyone!

At Vinitaly this year, I had the opportunity to sit down with Matilde Poggi (above), president of the Italian Federation of Independent Grape Growers (FIVI as it is known in Italy). I was eager to ask her about the EU’s newly implemented limits on the use of copper to combat downy mildew (peronospora). And I was also keen to hear her insights into the white-hot debate over organic agriculture in Italy. Matilde is one of the people I admire most in the Italian wine trade: FIVI advocates for wineries who grow their own grapes, make and bottle their own wine, and market and sell their own wines. You can identify FIVI-member wine by the FIVI logo on the bottle. The following is an excerpted translation of our conversation.

We believe that the four kilos per hectare [allowed], including the average [of 28 kilos per hectare allowed] over seven years, is fine.

For certain organic wineries in certain growing areas that are less suitable and more problematic, where there is a greater risk of peronospora, four kilos aren’t going to be enough in some instances.

In the light of this, we would have preferred that the European Community would have given us a little more time to prepare. A five-year grace period would have been great. Especially for organic wines. Because conventionally farmed wines have many other chemically based alternatives to copper that can compensate for peronospora.

The EC chose not to make a distinction between organic and conventional and so this is the result.

There was a study of organic wineries in France that found that nearly 20 percent will have to convert to conventional farming. We don’t believe this is a positive message.

There are 1,200 [FIVI-member] wineries in Italy. Roughly half of them are organic. Many have told me that it’s going to be a challenge [to maintain organic practices]. This is especially true in certain zones where there are different amounts of rainfall, where the vigor of the vines is different. There’s no question there will be problems.

One thing that I’d like to point out is that we producers only use copper when it’s necessary. None of us want to use 10, 15, or 20 kilos [per hectare] of copper the way it used to be done. It’s not in our best interest. First of all, because we need to contain our costs. And more than anyone else, we are the ones who want to keep our land as pristine as possible. This isn’t something we enjoy. If we could avoid using even one gram of copper, we’d be happy. But if we do use copper it’s because we want to obtain healthy grapes and that’s the first step in creating good wines.

Conventional farming also impacts the environment. The difference is that we use only copper. It’s a metal that can be found in nature. But conventional farmers use chemical products. Many of those are systemic and so they enter into the plants and they end up in the wine.

Our position is that we want change attitudes about organic monitoring and certification.

Organic certification requires a big commitment of time to complete the required bureaucratic procedures. It’s a lot of work between filing documents and reporting. For example, organic farmers have to file a production estimate. What’s the point for someone with a vineyard? You already know, more or less, how much you are going to produce. It becomes onerous for producers because if you make a mistake, even just an incorrect date, you get fined.

We believe that the resources should be shifted to monitoring of the wines on the shelves of wine shops; monitoring of the wines stored at the wineries where wines are labeled as organic; monitoring of leaf samples taken from our vineyards without us knowing about it. This is the type of monitoring that should be done instead of the [authorities’] visits to the wineries to make sure that all the forms have been filled out correctly.

Organic farming is under attack in Europe, especially in Italy. There are a lot of opinion leaders who claim that organic farming isn’t really organic.

I believe that more post-production monitoring would be really useful and it would help to eliminate any doubts regarding organic farming. When a vineyard is declared to be organic, the inspectors should go into the vineyards and take a handful of soil and leaf samples and determine whether or not it’s really organic. This is what we feel should be done instead of focusing on pre-production.

Organics isn’t a fraud. It’s a guarantee for the consumer that the product is [organic] certified. That’s why certification is so important. All of us can say that we do one thing or another but when a wine labeled as organic certified, the consumer can be confident that it’s really organic.