“Ten years gone & you’re still turning me on.” HAPPY 10th ANNIVERSARY TRACIE P!

Scroll down for the song I wrote for Tracie for our 10th wedding anniversary: “Ten Years Gone (and You’re Still Turning Me On).”

Tracie and I were married 10 years ago today in La Jolla, California where I grew up.

Our first kiss and first dance happened back in August of 2008 in Austin, Texas (at the Continental Club, where else?) after we’d already been in touch through our blogs for many months and many emails and texts had been sent back and forth.

By February of 2009, we were engaged. I had asked her to marry me after my band played a show in LA. We drank Bruno Paillard in our hotel room that night.

On January 31, 2010, we got hitched. Tracie’s dad, the Reverend Branch, officiated.

We drank Bollinger rosé all night that night at our reception at Jaynes Gastropub, one of our favorite restaurants, owned by our close friends, in San Diego.

After our honeymoon in Italy (where else?), we settled into a little house we rented in Austin. Both of our girls were born in Austin (Georgia in 2011, Lila Jane in 2013) and we brought both of them home to that little house on the corner of Gro[o]ver and Alegria (streets have never been so aptly named!).

In early 2014, we moved to Houston where we rented and still live in a bigger house in a neighborhood that we love and a community where we have put down roots.

Georgia’s eight years old now and Lila Jane’s 6. Our house is always filled with lots of music and now a couple of chihuahuas, too.

We’re still as broke as the day we met (well, maybe not quite that broke) and we still struggle to get by. But we’re all happy, healthy, and doing things we love and enjoy.
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Tasting 2015 Barbaresco with the new Langa generation

When we sat down to taste his family’s 2015 Barbaresco last night in Houston, Riccardo Sobrino of Cascina delle Rose reminded me that the first time we met — exactly 10 years ago, almost to the day — he was just a kid, the son of one of the appellation’s most beloved (however under the radar) producers.

Today, he and his brother Davide are running the family winery while parents Giovanna and Italo are enjoying retirement at their new “tiny but really nice” condo on the French riviera where Giovanna moors her sailboat.

“She’s always been a skipper,” he said in his slightly accented but masterful English.

The fact that he speaks my native language so well wasn’t lost on me: he’s part of the new Langa generation for whom English is a rite of passage, a skill set that not everyone possessed 20 years ago in the land of Barbaresco and Barolo.

We were joined by another new Langa generation winemaker, Matteo Rocca, the grandson of Luigi Giordano and another new face on America’s Nebbiolo circuit.

Matteo family’s wines are super old school, vinified with extended maceration time. They tend more toward earth and tar. We tasted his Cavanna, Montestefano, and Asili. And they all showed great, although the Montestefano and Asili are still very tight (to be expected). I thought the Asili was outstanding even though all the wines will be great in time.

Riccardo’s family’s Nebbiolo is always more expressive in its youth and the floral and fruit notes were already beginning to emerge on the Rio Sordo (their flagship cru) and Tre Stelle. The 2015 vegetative cycle in Langa was a warm, arguably more “modern” vintage as most winemakers agree (see this wonderful round-up of technical notes from Barolo producers here). Not an easy vintage, both Riccardo and Matteo conceded, but one that will deliver approachable wines earlier on.

Both Riccardo and Matteo (and Matteo’s SO, Gloria, who is visiting the U.S. for the first time!) are on their way to New York where they will be presenting their wines at the first-ever Barolo Barbaresco World Opening next Tuesday (click link for registration details; I’m not sure what “World Opening” means but it’s got to be good).

I haven’t seen the entire line-up of producers but there is no doubt in my mind: the new Langa generation has arrived!

Thanks Riccardo and Matteo for coming to Texas. I’ll look forward to see you guys this June when I’m back in Piedmont for UniSG.

Kistler Pinot Noir reminds me (again) of how wrong I’ve been about California

In late 2019, at the outset of the short window of when you can ship wine to Texas without worrying about heat damage, a very generous soul sent me a bottle of 2016 Kistler Laguna Ridge Pinot Noir.

Said friend was inspired, I believe, by something I’ve written repeatedly about my relationship to California viticulture in recent years: my beloved California, I was wrong about you and your wines, please forgive me.

When the new wave of European wine began to hit American shores in the late 1990s (20+ years ago now), I was one of countless wine lovers who wrongly turned their backs to my native state of California. Our pivot was prompted by the erroneous belief — a prejudice, really — that all California wines were “too hot” (in alcohol), “overly extracted,” “too fruit forward” (the notorious “fruit bomb” trend), “lacking in acidity,” and adverse to food pairing (not “food friendly” in the newly established parlance of the time).

But over the last three years and numerous tasting trips to California wine country north and south, I’ve discovered just how wrong I was. Looking back now on those years prior — those decades, really — when I snubbed California wine, I see clearly how my nose and palate had been blinded (how’s that for a true synaesthesia?) by the entirely misguided bias that sheer peer pressure can produce.

The Kistler Pinot Noir was lithe and nimble in our glasses, with elegant balance between its acidity and alcohol, brilliant red and black fruit flavors with a touch of earth, and an ethereal texture that almost made it feel like its fruit was dissolving in your mouth.

Thank you, friend, and thank you, Kistler, for showing me the light and turning me on to what I should have known all along.

“It’s all just arbitrary”: tariff threat continues to impact U.S. wine industry

“If people want to just arbitrarily put taxes on our digital companies,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier this week in Davos, Switzerland, “we will consider arbitrarily putting taxes on car companies.”

The quote comes via a Washington Post opinion piece published today, “Trump’s Treasury secretary just admitted the tariff rationale is hogwash.”

Even though there seems to have been a deescalation in the European Union-U.S. trade war (at least temporarily according to tweet, below, by French president Macro; see this Bloomberg report “Macron, Trump May Have Tariff Truce in 2020 Digital Tax Spat”), the threat of 100 percent “arbitrary” tariffs on EU wines and food products still looms broadly over the U.S. wine industry. Despite the semblance of a rapprochement between the two countries, there is no guarantee that the frequently unpredictable Trump administration won’t impose such severe and debilitating duties.


The acute pungency of Mnuchin’s words sting this morning as I recall my conversation with a wine bar owner in Tulsa, Oklahoma yesterday via telephone. As for so many of my colleagues and peers in the wine trade, the uncertainty caused by the “arbitrary” nature of the trade dispute continues to send ripples of disruption through our industry.

Working in an emerging market like theirs, where progressive wine tastes and trends are just beginning to take shape, they depend on small-scale importers and distributors for the by-the-glass allocations that keep their business model humming. And suppliers like those are on hold: fearful that excessive duties could still be imposed, they are not placing their normal January orders and they are less inclined to share their highly allocated wines in markets like Tulsa, opting instead to focus on top markets where the wines will be more lucrative both in terms of volume and wholesale prices.

His troubles were echoed in an email from a New York-based freelance marketing consultant (whose business parallels mine).

“This tariff things is a real [expletive] pain in the ass,” they wrote. “I can barely get anyone to respond relative to my consulting projects. ugh.”

There may be light at the end of the tunnel in the tariff wars. But the Trump administration’s “arbitrary” strategy continues to sow confusion. And the lack of certainty continues to impact a large swath of the U.S. wine trade at a delicate time of the year when deals are made and wines are allocated. The long-term implications could be disastrous, especially for trade members like my colleagues above — and people like me.

Barolo and seafood pair well at Il Grecale in Novello (Barolo)

Above: Chef Alessandro Neri of Il Grecale in Novello (Barolo) called this dish of fried Panko-dusted shrimp, served with salsa rosa (mayonnaise, ketchup, Worcestershire, mustard, and brandy), a throw back to the 1980s.

“The following rules should be observed for the proper accordance of wines with meats; with fish white wines; with meat the fuller red wines; at the end of the repast the oldest red wines; and the end of dessert the liqueurs and sparkling white wines.” The Inner Man: Good Things to Eat and Drink and where to Get Them by Daniel O’Connell, 1891.

“The Red Dinner [meat based]… is best served without fish, since the Red Wines seldom accord with fish to most palates… [For] the White Dinner [fish based]… all Red Wines should be excluded.” The Gentleman’s Table Guide: Being Practical Recipes for Wine Cups, American Drinks, Punches, Cordials, Summer & Winter Beverages, by E. Ricket, C. Thomas, 1871.

Above: breaded and fried uncured anchovy “tacos” filled with Jerusalem artichoke paste.

Last week in Barolo, my host and dinner companion Alberto Cordero broke the “cardinal rule” of wine pairing when he treated me and another colleague to dinner at the wonderful Il Grecale in Novello, a hamlet of Barolo village in Piedmont.

The seemingly age-old white wine with fish, red wine with meat chestnut can pose a challenge in places like Piedmont (and Tuscany, for that matter) where the old folks still pair red wine with everything they eat.

But Alberto, whose winery I’m profiling for his U.S. importer, proved the otherwise timeless truism dead wrong by pairing his family’s wonderful Nebbiolos with Chef Alessandro Neri’s superb seafood-focused cooking.

Above: pinch, peel, and suck shrimp served over Ligurian-style corzetti pasta medallions tossed with the crustaceans’ stock and wilted spinach. This dish was extraordinary.

Of course, Alberto’s elegant wines are lithe and nimble in the glass, even in their youth (something that he ascribes in part to the extra bottle aging they undergo before release).

Just a few weeks into 2020, the evening will surely be remembered as one of the best meals of the year.

I loved Chef Neri’s cooking. And in a region where beef is the pièce de résistance around which nearly all meals are centered and composed, it’s great to know that there are piscivore options.

Chef Neri (who, btw, lists all of his suppliers on his website) has white wine on his list as well. But it was wonderful to explore the gastronomic possibilities of rich red wine with lighter-style, playful dishes like his.

Above: too few Americans know the gorgeous, classic-styled wines of Cordero, one of Langa’s oldest winemaking families and owners of one of Barolo’s top growing sites. I love the wines and was thrilled to get to connect with Alberto professionally. Even in its youth, this 2016 made for an excellent dance partner with the food. It was such a great “accordance,” as wine pairing used to be called.

I can’t recommend the restaurant and the pairing highly enough.

The term Grecale denotes the northeastern “spoke” of the wind rose, what we call the Bora in English (Bora can also be used in Italian). In antiquity, sailors believed it originated in Greece (Grecia in Italian), hence the name.

Thank you again, Alberto, for an unforgettable dinner and for sharing your family’s wonderful wines!

Attention Italy-bound travelers: car rental companies now may require international driving permits

Although international driving permits for foreigners have been required by Italian authorities for decades, rental car agencies have rarely, if ever, insisted that drivers present a permit before renting a car there.

But that seems to have changed: two weeks ago, for the first time in my 30+ years renting cars and driving in Italy, the agent at the Hertz counter at Malpensa airport asked me to present my permit before she would give me the keys to a car.

When I asked her why she had asked me to show her my permit before she would release a car, she told me that her company has begun to check drivers’ permit status after Italian police had impounded vehicles driven by foreigners who lacked a permit.

Since the first time I rented a car in Italy back in the late 80s, I had read and been told that not having an international driving permit (IDP) could lead to stiff fines. And even though I have always obtained and renewed my IDP before traveling there, I had never been asked to present it — not by authorities or rental car agencies. I’ve been pulled over on a handful of occasions for random police controls (although I have never received a ticket or fine). When that happened, the police never asked me for my IDP. (I have been fined for speeding after receiving a ticket generated by a speed camera; see my post on my experience here.)

On its website, the Italian ministry for infrastructure and transportation clearly states that an IDP is required to drive in Italy. But, again, I had never heard of the law being enforced.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, “an international driving permit (IDP) translates your government-issued driver’s license into 10 languages. Although your U.S. driver’s license lets you drive in many foreign countries, the translations in the IDP are intended to minimize language barriers when you drive in countries where English is not widely spoken or understood.”

Only two agencies are authorized to issue IDPs in the U.S.: the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). On its website, the commission also warns against “IDP scams.”

If, like me and countless other wine professionals, you’ll be headed to Italy this year and plan to rent a car, it’s worth the negligible fee and hassle for an IDP (I get mine at my local AAA office).

When silence is betrayal: join our protest of the newly erected Confederate memorial today, Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 20, 2020)

Today and for the next four weeks, our MLK billboard looks down on the newly erected Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up. It was designed by another Orange native, Ashley Evans. We were able to raise the billboard thanks to the support of concerned citizens who donated to our GoFundMe campaign. Thank you to everyone who helped make this possible. Happy Martin Luther King Day!

“The girls [our daughters, ages 6 and 8] and I had a long talk at dinner about what it meant when MLK Jr said that ‘silence is betrayal,'” wrote my wife Tracie on her Facebook last week.

“I hope they understand and I’ll do my best to show them how not to be silent. I know I will fail but they will see us trying. We can always do better, let’s do better. We HAVE to do better!”

And she shared the following the passages (below) from an op-ed published by The Root entitled “How to Be a Better White Person in 2020.”

Please join us today, MLK Day, for our protest of the newly erected Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up. Details follow.

Protest of the Confederate Memorial of the Wind
Orange, Texas

Martin Luther King Day
Monday, January 20, 2020

location: Confederate Memorial of the Wind (Google map)
time: 2-4 p.m.

    Think about the men who owned no slaves but built slave ships to bring black people to America. Channel the ethics of the people who lived next door to people who enslaved human beings. Conjure up the thoughts of the people standing in the town square who silently watched lynchings. Pretend you were one of the people who stood quietly while segregationist mobs spit on little black children who were integrating schools. Imagine you were mute on that Montgomery bus when Rosa Parks refused to move.
    For a brief second, assume you were one of the billions of idle, ambivalent or apathetic white people who objected to slavery, Jim Crow, inequality and injustice but didn’t do a goddamn thing. In your moment of deliberation, think long and hard about what those white people would do.
    Then, just do the opposite.

Click here to read the piece in its entirety. And please join us today. We have plenty of signs for everyone.


In the studio with Aleš Kristančič at Movia

I’ve been on the road for the last week in Italy traveling for a new client. I’ve barely had time to catch my breath on this first whirlwind trip of the year. But I’ve already tasted some extraordinary wines.

Time is tight but I couldn’t resist sharing the above photo of the epic Slovenian producer Aleš Kristančič owner and winemaker at Movia in Ceglio (Brda).

Some of my friends may remember that my French band, Nous Non Plus, once played a gig at his family’s farm. We had a hit song in Slovenia at the time (no shit). And Aleš flew us over to do a show at a club in Ljubljana and play at a couple of sets at the winery.

It was an amazing experience that we all remembered fondly when we reconnected — 12 years later! — early this week.

He was geeked to show me his new recording studio and his new guitar (above). And we had a blast catching up and tasting his extraordinary wines.

It sucks to be away from home and I’m bummed that I’m going to have to be spending so much time away this year.

But I’m not complaining: work is good and I’m lucky to get to spend time with lovely people like Aleš and his family. It was so awesome to see them and reconnect.

More stories to come. In the meantime, thanks for being here and wish me luck and speed…

Help us raise an MLK billboard over the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas for MLK Day. Just $240 needed to meet our GoFundMe goal.

UPDATE (January 15): We’ve reached our goal! Thank you so much to everyone who donated and shared. The GoFundMe is still active if you’d like to donate to our future efforts. We’ll probably raise another billboard in the summer. Thank you to all for the support and solidarity.

We are just $240 short of our fund-raising goal of $600 needed to raise a billboard celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King that will look down on the newly erected Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up.

Click here to donate.

We have already secured the billboard space: the artwork (above) will go live just in time for Martin Luther King Day and will stay up through most of African American History Month.

The sign was created by a designer from Orange.

It will also be up in time for our Martin Luther King Day protest of the memorial (from 2-4 p.m.). See details here. We hope you will join us.

And if you can’t, please consider giving what you can to our campaign. Every little bit helps.

Must-read Politico report on wine tariff hearings. Decision by end January? Do we stand a chance?

One of the earliest reports from yesterday’s U.S. Trade Representative wine tariff hearing (the first of two), including notes on the “two dozen wine wholesalers and retailers” who spoke.

Couple of big takeaways:

    French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters in Paris that he and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had agreed to double their “efforts in the coming days to try and reach a compromise on digital taxation at the OECD.”

    “We gave ourselves 15 days, until our next meeting in Davos in end-January. We want to try all options to reach an agreement at the OECD in the next 15 days,” Le Maire said.

Could we have a decision on this by the end of the month?

    Amazon, Google and Facebook endorsed the administration’s plan to slap tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of French cheese, Champagne, handbags and other goods if a negotiated solution can’t be reached over the tax, which applies to such things as targeted advertising and providing platforms to connect buyers and sellers.

We are up against the mighty three. Do we stand a chance?

Click here to read the Politico article in its entirety. A must-read.