Luigi Coppo, one of the coolest Piedmont winemakers I know, joins us this week in Houston (and heartfelt thanks to everyone who took part in the Ricasoli event).

We don’t drink a ton of red wine at our house. We mostly pour lean, fresh or oxidative, white wines, especially during the warm Houston summer.

But earlier this year, when I brought home a bottle of my friend Luigi Coppo’s Barbera d’Asti L’Avvocata, Tracie completely freaked over it (meaning, she LOVED it).

Barbera is generally known for its high levels of acidity and this wine is no exception. But Luigi’s deft hand as winemaker delivers extraordinary balance in this single-vineyard designate that still lands at a more than affordable price. It’s one of our favorite reds of 2020.

Luigi (above), who’s become a good friend over the last few years, will be joining us this week for the weekly virtual wine dinner I present at Roma restaurant here in our adoptive southeast Texas city.

I knew his dad back in the day when he used to come into one of the restaurants where I used to work back in the day. The family’s flagship cru Barbera d’Asti is one of the Barbera trinity of all-time greats imho (Braida and Scarpa make my other two favorites).

Because I’ve spent so much time in Piedmont in recent years teaching at Slow Food U., Luigi and I have had the opportunity to hang and taste on multiple occasions. We were even planning to write some songs together (before the pandemic took shape).

He’s one of the coolest people I know in Monferrato wine and I’m super stoked to be hosting him this week.

Click here for menu, wines, and details.

I also have to give a shout-out this morning to Francesco Ricasoli, who was featured last week, and to everyone who joined the call. We had more than 70 people on the Zoom and it was one of the most memorable in the series.

The news from the world outside these days is just bad, bad, and worse. And so many of us, like our family, are sheltering in place and isolating — alone, together — in a collective effort to stop the spread of COVID. It’s nothing short of depressing, especially when we think of the countless people in our state and country who are suffering right now.

But our Thursday night supper club has become a retreat, a respite, and a salve for the constant din of dreary headlines, soundbites, and tweets.

Francesco, thanks for helping make last week’s “gathering” one of the most magical so far. And thanks to all of our guests: it wouldn’t be possible without you.

If you’re in Houston this week, I hope you can join us. You won’t regret it (AND CHEF ANGELO IS MAKING VITELLO TONNATO FOR THIS ONE!).

Thanks for your support.

The original Chianti “formula” translated.

Above: Bettino Ricasoli, the “Iron Baron” (1809-1880), united Italy’s second prime minister, grape grower, winemaker, architect of the Sangiovese renaissance, and creator of the Chianti appellation. Photo of his portrait at Brolio Castle in Gaiole in Chianti, taken in January 2020.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be presenting Francesco Ricasoli, descendent of Bettino Ricasoli, the creator of Chianti, at a virtual wine dinner here in Houston. To celebrate the occasion, I wanted to share my translation of the famous letter in which the “Iron Baron” Bettino scribed what has come to be known as the Chianti formula.

The letter was republished last year by Olschki Editore, one of Italy’s most prestigious academic publishers, in a wonderful critical edition of the Baron’s epistolary correspondence with Professor Cesare Studiati of the University of Pisa: Alla ricerca del “vino perfetto”. Il Chianti del Barone di Brolio (In Search of the Perfect Wine: the Baron of Brolio’s Chianti).

Many years ago, when the letter was not readily available, I traveled to Chianti to meet with Francesco and his father (also named Bettino) who pointed me to a source where I could find the original text. Not long thereafter, I published the translation here on my blog and I’m happy to post it again today for the occasion of Francesco’s visit with us tomorrow night (Francesco is such a great guy, btw).

Above: a photograph of a page from the famed letter (right) and the Baron’s writing desk (from Alla ricerca del “vino perfetto”).

It’s true that the formula does include Malvasia as one of the grapes the Baron used to produce his “ideal” of Chianti. Many continue to focus on that detail.

It’s important to note how he specifies that Malvasia works well for producing wines for daily consumption whereas it’s excluded for the wines intended for aging — what we would call “fine wine” today.

Even more important in my view is that the Baron writes about the results of his research on native Tuscan grapes. At a time when Gamay was the most widely planted grape variety in Tuscany (yes, Gamay, but more on that later), his findings led him to reaffirm the extreme potential of native grape varieties there.

During the late 1880, it was practically unthinkable that fine wines from Italy would one day be shipped beyond it borders. But the Baron’s vision that Italy could produce world-class wines was ultimately proved right. Chianti today is arguably one of the world’s most widely known appellations, rivaled only by designations like Bordeaux in terms of its recognizability.

The Baron’s findings led grape growers across Tuscany to grub up the French grape varieties they favored and replant with native grapes, and in particular, Sangiovese (known as Sangioveto at the time). Singlehandedly (and I can’t emphasize this enough), he had launched the native grape renaissance and revolution, a watershed moment that still shapes our perceptions and love of Italian wines.

My translation of the letter follows.

Above: the Ricasoli family’s private chapel at Brolio Castle. I visited the estate in January on my last trip to Italy. I highly recommend the castle tour, even for veteran wine professionals. It’s really fantastic.

Bettino Ricasoli “the Iron Baron” to Cesare Studiati
September 26, 1872

As early as 1840, I began experimenting with every grape variety. I cultivated each one in significant quantities on my Brolio estate. Our goal was to test the quality and taste of the wines produced from each grape.

Following this comparative study, I restricted the number of grapes at Brolio and began growing Sangioveto, Canaiolo, and Malvasia almost exclusively. In 1867, I decided once again to make wine using these three grapes. I made a relatively large vat of each one and then I blended the three in another vat using exact proportions.

In March of last year, the experiment was finished and I was satisfied with the results. The wines were subsequently shipped.

Later I verified the results of the early experiments: the Sangioveto gave the wine its primary aroma (something I aim for in particular) and a certain vigor in taste; the Canaiolo gave it a sweetness that balanced the harshness of the former but did not take away from the aroma, even though it has an aroma of its own; the Malvasia, a grape that can be excluded for wines intended for aging, tends to dilute the resulting wine created by the former two, it increases the flavor but also makes the wine lighter and thus more suitable for daily consumption.

Until we meet again, Jaynes Gastropub. “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

Above: the Jayne Burger — “Niman Ranch ground beef, aged Vermont cheddar, house pickled onions, garlic aioli, fries.”

The year was 2009 — and oh what a good year it was — when a lapsed New Yorker cum native Californian sat down in a newly opened restaurant in Austin, Texas with his southeast Texan bride-to-be.

“What a great place you have here!” he said to the server as he approached their table.

“Thank you,” he replied. “Have you ever heard of a restaurant called ‘Jaynes Gastropub’ in San Diego? The owners modeled the restaurant after Jaynes.”

The Texan joint was a nearly cookie-cutter version of the San Diego original.

Above: “We had some good times, didn’t we?” wrote Jayne and Jon on their social media yesterday. Jaynes’ opening coincided with the first boom of natural wine in the U.S.

From the “custom millwork, zinc bar, mosaic tile floor all the way up to the 1920′s tin ceiling” to the large mirrors and Anglophilic paraphernalia adorning the walls, Jaynes made you feel like you had traveled to another time and place.

When it opened in 2007, the restaurant rode atop the new wave of gastropubs that opened across the U.S.

Guests would work their way through appetizers like Gambas al Ajillo, Chips and Gravy Poutine, Queso Fundido, Crispy Calamari, munching away and washing it down with groovy European wines and international craft beers.

You’d ask for a bottle of lithe Nebbiolo or a hearty Mourvèdre as you struggled deliciously to decide between mouth-watering mains like Lamb Shepherd’s Pie, Steak Frites, or the legendary Jayne Burger (above). Or sometimes, you’d just order nearly the whole damn menu and share with friends around the wonderful hand-crafted community table on the patio, the wine and music flowing all the while.

Jaynes was good eating at its best, in a time when Americans were still learning a thing or three from British gastropub culture — comfort food prepared masterfully with the highest quality ingredients.

Above: Jaynes was also a place where great musicians gathered and great music happened — paired with white Burgundy and old Nebbiolo.

Yes, I’m so sorry to say but you read that write: Jaynes was.

Yesterday, Jayne and her husband Jon announced in an Instagram post that the restaurant will not reopen.

The only thing that attenuates our sadness is the tide of warm memories that fills our hearts and minds.

Jaynes gave Tracie and me so much. It was one of the backdrops of our early courtship, the host of our wedding reception, and the place where everyone knew our names when we returned to my hometown. Our children played there together, we played countless concerts there.

Above, from left: John Yelenosky, Megan Yelenosky, Jayne Battle, Jon Erickson, Tracie Parzen, and Jeremy Parzen at Jaynes — where else?

Jayne and Jon, Tracie and I can’t thank you enough for the hospitality, the generosity, the friendship and solidarity that you’ve shared with us over the years. There will never be another Jaynes and the magic of those years will forever be inscribed in our hearts, in the name of joy and love.

We’re looking forward to the next chapter in your lives. Or should I say, all of our lives? For none of our lives will be the same without Jaynes Gastropub.

Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

Museum of Man Us. A shout-out to brother and museum director Micah Parzen.

Images via the Museum of Us Facebook.

It was ten years ago this month that my brother Micah Parzen, an anthropologist and attorney, became the director of San Diego’s iconic Museum of Man.

As of yesterday, thanks to his efforts, the museum is now called the Museum of Us.

From his earliest days as steward of one of the city’s most recognizable and influential cultural institutions, he talked privately about his desire to make the museum’s name more representative of the community it serves.

The blowback from city patricians was unexpectedly harsh.

In a world where citizens of all walks of life are more actively reflecting on the significance of urban iconography, it may be hard for some to understand why people would react so aggressively to the thought of updating the museum’s name. But it took my brother a decade to achieve the political balance and capital that made it possible.

It’s part of his overarching campaign to “decolonize” the museum commmunity in the U.S. by recognizing and addressing systemic disenfranchisement.

“Change is hard and change is messy,” he said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribuine, “but it can be transformational, too. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Read the interview and coverage of his efforts here.

If you’ve ever flown into the main San Diego airport, it’s more likely than not that you passed nearly directly over the museum (above). In many ways, the unmistakable neo-colonial Spanish baroque architecture is a symbol for the city itself, a synecdoche of its cultural history and past.

Today, that museum is the museum of us. And that’s thanks to my brother. We couldn’t be more proud. Be sure to check out the Union-Tribune story.