Parzen family ok, not directly affected by Imelda, but it’s a mess down here.

That’s what the radar looked like yesterday at around 1:30 p.m. when we were seeing some of the heaviest rain here in Houston. That blue dot is where we live in southwest Houston.

Our neighborhood was extremely lucky and we didn’t get any major flooding. But it’s a mess down here in Houston today.

Tracie is actually away at a convention this week and I’m home alone with the girls. We are all fine and so is everyone from our school.

The Levys here in Houston (my cousins) and Tracie’s parents and her sister’s family are fine as well.

Some of the worst flooding and damage happened between Houston and Orange, Texas (on the Louisiana border where Tracie’s family lives).

Interstate 10 connects Houston and Orange: it’s closed today on the east side of Houston because of barges, possibly carrying dangerous chemicals, that have been lodged underneath a bridge that spans one of Houston’s major rivers.

The good news is we are all fine and our neighborhood is relatively clear today. School is closed and we’ll stay close to home and the girls are getting a “TV” morning while I work (they are super stoked about that).

Please stay safe and thanks to everyone from who checked in to make sure we were okay. It really means a lot to me.

8 days on the road and one of the most amazing wine weeks of my life

Working in the wine trade has its ups and downs. But, man, last week was one for the books.

It started on Monday in Midtown Manhattan where I sat down with Raffaella Federzoni from Fattoria dei Barbi and a group of wine writers and trade member for a vertical tasting of the estate’s Brunello stretching back to 1971 (above). The 89 and 81 (especially) where my highlights, with so much freshness and vibrant fruit that you would have thought the wines much younger. An incredible experience and tasting, on so many levels. What amazing wines.

Raffaella’s insights into Brunello and its legacy are always so compelling. She’s such a cool and massively well read person and great writer. I love her and I love working with her.

On Tuesday, my wonderful and generous friend Jamie Wolff saved me a seat at a dinner featuring Barale Barolo stretching back to 1958 (above). The 89 (wow!!!) and the 78 (gorgeous, a wine at its peak) were the highlights. I loved the aromatic fil rouge of eucalyptus and sage that ran through these wines, playing against their earth, fruit, and tannin. Another breathtaking tasting.

The setting was Popina in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, which I loved.

Jamie is such a remarkable taster and Nebbiolo intenditore. His laugh is as warm as his embrace and I could spend a lifetime hearing him speak about the New York art scene in the 90s.

By Friday I was tasting in Piedmont at Scarpa, a new winery I’m helping out. Well, new for me but also one of Monferrato and Langa’s oldest and most beloved legacy producers.

Lunch at the legendary Del Belbo da Bardon included a mini vertical of the winery’s flagship Barbera d’Asti La Bogliona (above). The 08 and the 12 were equally delicious but the 2011 was showing the best that day imho. The Rouchet (Ruché, I’ll explain later) was INSANE with the Gorgonzola at the end of the meal.

Back at the winery, this 1996 Barbera d’Asti La Bogliona (above) was one of the best wines of the week… one of the best of the year, really. So fresh and so in focus, with such clarity in the fruit.

I couple of my ex-students, two of my best, are working at the winery and it was so much fun to reconnect with them.

Nebbiolo, just before sundown, in their rows in Monvigliero, a Barolo cru in Verduno village (above).

The whole vibe of Scarpa is super cool. From the old chain-smoking cellar master Carlo to the brilliant woman, Riika (another alumna of the Master’s Program at Slow Food U. although she graduated before I started teaching there), who keeps it all together.

That’s their I Bricchi cru in Barbera d’Asti (above). La Bogliona is on the other side of the road at the top of the hill.

And the end of our tour, we sat in the shade of the trees by the abandoned farm house and talked about Cesare Pavese as Gregorio, my ex-student, picked juicy ripe figs from the edge of the vineyards and Caro smoked. I took this photo not far from the house.

On Sunday morning, I was walking through Nadia Zenato’s beautiful organic Sansonina estate (above), a stone’s throw from Lake Garda, where her family’s been growing Merlot and Cabernet for a couple of decades now.

Nadia is so hip and glamorous and her family is engaged in so many cool charitable, community, and cultural projects in Verona province. I always knew their wines but didn’t know the people until she reached out and asked me to give her a hand with some translations and content this year. Super cool family and business leaders with a lot of soul.

That evening I tasted her Sansonina 2016 Merlot. The acidity and balance in this wine were spot on, with great freshness and texture. I really dug it and dig the whole crazy Zenato gusto for life and doing things that really matter.

I’m posting right now from the flight back across the Atlantic. It’s been an incredible week of tasting, learning, and hanging with people who really love what they do and who do what they do really well.

All in all, it’s nice work if you can get it… Thanks for letting me share one of the most amazing wine weeks of my life.

Popina is my new favorite Italian restaurant in New York

Above: “beef maitake parmesan olio nuovo” at Popina in Brooklyn.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to sit down for coffee with two of my best friends in the New York food and wine scene, a couple — she’s a famous Italian food writer, he’s a beloved Italian wine maven — who have lived and eaten Italian food in Manhattan and Brooklyn since they were children.

While they have a new favorite Sicilian and one of their old favorites has recently enjoyed a rush of celebrity thanks to its resident “pasta granny,” my fellow foodie chums both bemoaned the lack of great Italian gastronomic options in the city where America’s current Italian culinary renaissance was launched nearly two decades ago.

Above: “casarecce, chicken liver ragu, pecorino.”

As the super rich crowd has flocked to Manhattan and Brooklyn, they noted, real estate prices are simply too high to sustain the city’s once vibrant and thriving Italian restaurant community.

Well, I’m happy to report that there is still hope: I discovered my new favorite Italian in New York on Tuesday night when I attended a wine dinner at Popina on Columbia St. in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

The food was so simple and the flavors so pure that our meal reminded me of some of the best I’ve ever had in Italy.

In true Italian style, the richness of the chicken liver ragù (above) didn’t overwhelm the homey flavor of the handmade pasta. It’s so easy for a dish like this to turn out gooey and heavy and get out of whack. but Popina’s version was balanced and elegant. Man, I loved this dish!

Above: “duck leg hazelnuts, grits, greens.”

Likewise, the duck leg, despite the fattiness and high protein content of the materia prima, had just the right combination of flavor and texture, making it delicate and light on the palate — the kind of delightful deception only the best chefs can attain.

It reminded me of some of the best roast goose legs I’ve had in Italy in terms of how it was prepared. The roast hazelnuts made for a decisive Piedmontese touch and their crunchiness worked wonderfully against the fall-off-the-bone meat. And I loved that the chef served it over grits.

What a great restaurant! And the nicest folks! I can’t wait to get back.

And the wine?

We tasted a flight of Barale Barolo going back to the 50s. But more on that later.

In the meantime, book yourself a table at Popina (but make sure to check the website because the restaurant has recently updated its hours).

The name Popina, btw, is after an ancient Roman dialectal term meaning kitchen or tavern. In Latina literature, it appears in reference to communal, low-brow dining establishments (the kind we like!). The owner told me that all the cool kid wine people in Manhattan hang out there these days and the wine list is amazing. (Marguet, anyone? They have a really cool selection of the wines and other best-kept-secrets.)

“Slow Wine is opening up the conversation about climate change.” Sophia McDonald’s excellent write-up for Oregon Wine Press.

Please check out Sophia McDonald’s excellent write-up of the Slow Wine Guide project for Oregon Wine Press.

“For me, Slow Wine is opening up the conversation about how winegrowers and winemakers can help mitigate climate change,” said Barbara Gross of Cooper Mountain Vineyards in an interview with the writer. “We certainly have literal skin the game. The more conversations we have, the more people are educated about these nuances in the way we grow and produce wines.”

Sophia really gets it and her reporting is spot on.

The Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of Oregon is now in its second year and the reception in the state couldn’t have been warmer.

Thank you, Sophia!

In other news…

I’m about to head off to NYC where I’ll be tasting some (very) old Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo. And then it’s off to Italy for a short trip to taste more old wine.

When I think of all the stuff I’m missing in our girls’ lives this week (first music lessons of the school year, first gymnastics, first karate class, and first Girls Scouts meeting), my heart just sinks.

But hey, it’s a living!

Please wish me luck and wish me speed. And please stay tuned for my posts and tasting notes. Thanks for being here.

Dorian relief: where to donate

Tracie, our girls, and I have been following Hurricane Dorian closely. After all, it was just two years ago, this time of year, that we hunkered down for Hurricane Harvey here in Southeast Texas and the memories (and the fear) are still very present in our minds.

We’ve also been Googling resources for relief and donations. The best list we’ve found so far is this one published by the Miami Herald (updated about 2 hours ago as of this posting).

Please donate if you can.

As my cousin Jeff in Boca Raton wrote on his Facebook yesterday, “Do not return your unused hurricane supplies. Instead, send them to the Bahamas. They’re going to need all the help they can get. Please share…”

G-d bless all of our sisters and brothers in the Bahamas and along the southeastern coast of the U.S. We’ve been praying for them and will continue to do so.

Image via Wikipedia (Creative Commons).