Is the Coravin the key to the virtual tasting paradigm? An interview with Coravin inventor Greg Lambrecht.

One of the most interesting anecdotes that Coravin inventor Greg Lambrecht (above) shared when we spoke early this month was about a group of six sommeliers preparing for their exams.

Each of them had purchased a mixed case of wines from a region or appellation they needed to cover in their studies. Using a Coravin, each member of the group “accessed,” as Greg put it, one glass of wine from each bottle. They then traded the mixed case with one of their colleagues who, in turn, traded their case with the next member.

Once the process was complete, they had each tasted through all the wines. But along the way, each of them had only absorbed the cost of a single mixed case. Their creative resource sharing had saved these up-and-coming wine professionals the cost of five mixed cases while still allowing them to taste and make notes on wines from six different appellations/regions.

Brilliant, right?

That story didn’t make it into the interview with Greg that we published today on the Boulder Burgundy Festival blog (Coravin is the 2020 festival’s title sponsor; I’m the gathering’s in-house blogger).

But it led to my own εὕρηκα moment: the Coravin is going to be key to the new virtual tasting paradigm.

Currently, I lead between 1-3 virtual tastings for consumers every week. And I was also a co-organizer of a virtual trade tasting last month that included more than 40 professional tasters (wine buyers and restaurant and wine shop workers) across the state of Texas.

One of the biggest problems that virtual tasting organizers face is how to get the wines to the tasters. Some restaurants, for example, are repackaging wines by unsealing them and pouring them into smaller containers. But this is a wholly unacceptable solution for winemakers who rightly hold that this compromises the integrity of the wine. That’s one of the reasons that in-person trade tastings have been the paradigm for a generation of wine professionals (the other is the schmooze factor).

Even though the cost of an individual bottle of wine is relatively low (all things considered), it’s extremely challenging to get sealed bottles of wines to everyone who needs them for a virtual event. We were faced with this fulfillment issue when we needed to get wines to tasters in Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio for a two-day tasting event. It was a Herculean task, riddled with problems, to say the least.

But chatting with Greg, it occurred to me: what if a mixed case and a Coravin were delivered to each taster? If that were the case (no pun intended), they could access one glass from each bottle as they connected with wine growers via Zoom et alia and then organizer could then pick up the wines and deliver them to the next taster.

And what if a tasting event were dilated to span multiple days (instead of just two) or even weeks? As proud as I am of the work we did on the massive trade tasting we did here in Texas, time worked against us. I realize now that we were too focused on emulating the classic in-person event model. By extending the virtual event time, we also would have had fewer scheduling problems. And the winemakers and tasters could have coordinated their virtual meetings not following a rigid schedule but rather using a timetable more convenient and expedient for all.

Invention is the parent of necessity, n’est-ce pas? Or is it the other way around? I believe that the Coravin holds the key to the future of virtual and even consumer tastings.

Check out the interview with Greg here. It was a genuine thrill for me to get to speak with him. “It’s the variety that makes Coravin,” he told me, “the opening of the potential variety, that makes Coravin what it is.”

“A wine favored by the worst kind of thieves.” On the origins of the ampelonym Garganega.

Above: a Garganega cluster. Photo courtesy of Soave producer Anselmi, one of my favorite Garganega growers and winemakers (thank you, Lisa!).

Last Wednesday, a guest at a private virtual tasting pressed me about the origins of the grape name Garganega (we were tasting a famous Soave producer together via Zoom). It wasn’t the time or place to go into extreme detail (the occasion was a birthday party and the setting was the host’s dining room). But I wanted to follow up here on the blog this week because even though the ampelonym’s etymology is still unknown, it leads us down a philologic trail that is as compelling as it is revealing.

There are two main although unproven theories as to its fons et origo.

Some Italian philologists posit that it may be a dialectal inflection of garganico meaning from/of Gargano (pronounced Gargàno), a sub-region of Foggia province in Puglia.

In my view, this is the more tenable thesis. In antiquity, grape names were often derived from toponyms (e.g., Prosecco and Nero d’Avola among many others). This was probably owed to how the wines made from those grapes were sold or shipped. And Veneto’s historic link to Puglia as its last port of call may have had an influence.

On the other hand, Italian ampelographers (who often cite only secondary sources and frequently offer unfounded philological speculation) surmise that it comes from or is related to the grape name Grecanico because of its genetic relation to the grape Grecanico Dorato, a variety cultivated in Sicily.

The botanists (because that’s what ampelographers are) claim that the ancients believed grapes like Greco, Grecanico, Grechetto came from Greece. And so, the theory goes, they named them accordingly. In fact, the word greco referred to a winemaking style (and not an ampelonymic classification) in the Middle Ages. Medieval Italians — and especially the Venetians and Neapolitans — held Greek viticulture in high esteem and so it was only natural for them to lend the name greco to their most prized grape varieties.

The bottomline is that we still don’t know where the grape name came from and both theories are inconclusive and without any hard documentation.

The earliest known mention of Garganega (and here’s where it gets really interesting, the whole point of philology) is found in the Ruralium Commodorum by Pietro de’ Crescenzi, the prolific 14th-century jurist and botanist.

Many ampelographers cite Crescenzi but none, at least that I can find, have actually read his work.

The wine made from Garganega, wrote Crescenzi in the first decade of the 1300s, “is fine and brightly colored, with low alcohol, and is highly age-worthy. Many praise it in Padua and Bologna. But some scorn it because it is favored with great importunity by the worst kind of thieves.”

It’s important to note that he doesn’t refer to Padua and Bologna as viticultural centers (as some ampelographers erroneously claim). In fact, he mentions those two cities because at the time, they were two of northern Italy’s most important cultural and commercial hubs. Both cities were already home to what are now considered the oldest universities in the western world.

Crescenzi’s notes on Garganega would later be cited by the editors of the Accademia della Crusca’s 17th-century dictionary. In their entry for femmina (above), they quote his description of the grape as an example of a description of a female plant or flower.

“And another type of grape is called Garganega… The female [Garganega] produces a lot of fruit. The male is worthless,” they write quoting Crescenzi.

The fact that the Crusca uses this passage from Crescenzi is an indication of how popular Garganega wines were in antiquity.

Even the ampelographers would agree on this point. And so would the thieves.

Taste with me and Roberto Stucchi of Badia a Coltibuono this Thursday in Houston.

Images via the Badia a Coltibuono Facebook.

Why is there a photo of a seemingly unkempt and neglected vineyard on my blog today? Just look at those wild grasses growing unchecked! It’s a far cry from the meticulously manicured vines of a prestigious Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon grower or a heavy-hitting Bordeaux house!

Joking aside, vineyards like the one above at the Badia a Coltibuono in Chianti Classico) are a great way to illustrate the magic of biodiversity at work. In this case, as for many organic fine wine growers across the world, the vineyard manager wants those native grasses to grow spontaneously They contribute to the site’s biome and foster the wine’s sense of place — another way of saying terroir expression.

The idea is that by allowing nature to perform its magic, the winemaker can better capture — or rather usher in — the wine’s true character and distinctness.

And along the way, she or he makes a more wholesome wine, ideally fresher and more vibrant, while also sustaining the environment at large.

Note also the photo of the estate below, purposely surrounded by woods, another fundamental way that the winemaker bolsters biodiversity through the presence of thriving native flora and fauna.

This Thursday, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be welcoming Badia a Coltibuono winemaker Roberto Stucchi at the weekly virtual wine dinner I host for Roma restaurant here in Houston. Roberto is at once one of Italian wine’s greatest pioneers and the steward of one of its oldest and most historic estates. Tasting and conversing with him is always an extremely compelling and rewarding experience.

Houstonians, please join me for what will definitely be a super fun and delicious evening. If you’ve never attended one of our virtual dinners, I know you’ll enjoy it. It’s a great group of regulars and the pairing menus have been nothing short of spectacular. $119 sends you home with a meal for two and three bottles of wine. Support local businesses, including my own, by eating great Italian food and drinking great Italian wines with the people who make and love them.

Thank you for your support.

“I hope you die when Biden is elected.” Why Tracie and I voted for Joe Biden.

Last week, when I asked our 83-year-old White neighbor to stop hectoring Tracie and the girls about the political signage in our front yard, he told me: “I’m going to kick your ass… I hope you die when Biden is elected… You don’t belong in this neighborhood.”

Although Biden-Harris signs abound in our neighborhood in southwest Houston and handily outnumber the Trump-Pence signs, this was once a solidly ruby red community that sent George H. Bush to the U.S. Congress for the first time and remained republican until our current congresswoman, Lizzie Fletcher, flipped the district in 2018 (one of two congressional districts in Texas that swung left and delivered Capitol Hill’s blue wave that year).

Unfortunately, our neighbor’s “triggered” petulance and vitriol have been commonplace in recent years in southeast Texas, where red and blue citizens live side by side, send their children to school together, and shop at the same supermarkets.
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#IMissItaly. Highlights from my very last trip in January.

In a normal year, I’d make roughly 6 trips to Italy between research and tastings, trade fairs, my teaching gigs at Slow Food U., and a press junket or two (a few years ago, I made nine trips over the course of 12 months!). At this point I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it back. I’m scheduled to teach in January 2021 but it’s looking unlikely, given the prevalence of COVID here, that the EU will lift the travel ban on American citizens before then.

So much of my adult life has been shaped by my connection to Italy: from my first years as an undergrad, my cover band in Veneto, my doctoral research there, and then my focus on wine and food writing and consulting. And even now when I am unable to get there, I continue to interact with Italians, here in the U.S. and in Europe, on a daily basis (thank you, WhatsApp and Zoom!).

But there’s something missing that leaves a big hole in my heart (and my stomach): Italian wine and food.

Here are just some of the highlights from my very last trip to the Bel Paese in January of this year. I MISS ITALY!

Properly trimmed and sliced mortadella. Isn’t it hard to believe that “bologna/baloney” was inspired by this mother of all sausage? That’s at the Dispensa Pani e Vini in Franciacorta, one of my all-time favorite restaurants.
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Explore the future of virtual tastings with me Wednesday from anywhere. Taste Alpine Chardonnay and Knödel with me Thursday in Houston.

Last week, I moderated three virtual wine events: two guided tastings and one wine dinner. For one of those tastings, the 100+ guests joined from as far away as New York City and Malibu as they tasted wines that had been shipped to them previously. (I also interpreted for a medical conference with literally 600+ people on it from across the globe.)

The future of virtual tastings and events is here and now. And the experiences have surprised and thrilled me in ways entirely unexpected.

This Wednesday, I’ll be on panel discussing the future of virtual food and wine trade fairs. It’s being organized by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce (my client) and is open to all. Registration required: click here to sign up.

Jack Cohen Martin, tech guru and founder of GrapeIn, will also be on the call. And so will Tom Dobson, the Italian wine buyer at the mighty Spec’s (Italian winemakers, this is a great way to get to interact with him).

Then on Thursday, I’ll be welcoming Clemens Lageder via Zoom for the weekly virtual wine dinner I host.

Clemens is a lovely guy and a great speaker. And I love his family’s wines. I’m especially looking forward to turning people on to their Alpine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

But I’m even more stoked about pairing those wines with Chef Angelo’s canederli, one of my all-time favorite dishes: the classic central European Knödel, dumplings stuffed with cheese and speck (the Italian matzah ball!).

Houstonians, click here for menu and reservation details. This is going to be a fun one.

Thanks for being here and thanks for supporting Italian wines and the people who make and love them. Hope to see you at one of my events this week.

How to buy wine in a pandemic.

Above: the aisles are empty at my favorite wine shop in the U.S., Chambers Street Wines in lower Manhattan.

It’s no surprise that safety measures and isolation protocols have drastically reshaped the way Americans buy wine. Long gone are the days when wine lovers could browse the shelves of their favorite shops, perhaps taking a break to taste a wine or two offered by a salesperson or a guest “supplier rep.”

But one of the few places where the wine trade has seen an increase in sales has been the retail sector. The math is simple: people are spending more time at home, eating in more often, and because they can’t make that Thursday evening visit to their preferred wine bar, they are consuming more wine at home.

That doesn’t mean that wine shops aren’t struggling. Just like everyone else in the pandemic, they’ve had to reinvent how they market their services and sell their wines. And because in-person shopping and tasting is no longer possible (or less preferable in some cases where shops are allowing customers to browse), they have to rely on good old-fashioned person-to-person sales strategies, whether via email or phone, to engage with their clients.

Tracie and I have continued to buy wine throughout our isolation. I haven’t traveled in more than seven months at this point and while the amount of wine we consume hasn’t really changed, we enjoy wine exclusively at home now. We buy wine from a variety of sources, in part because we want to support the wine community locally and nationally and in part because there are so many great deals and discounts on some of our favorite wines right now.

Here are some tips, gleaned from personal experience, on how to buy wine in the ongoing pandemic.

Above: browsing the shelves at Chambers Street Wines in normal times is like leafing through a favorite wine book. 

Look out for deals and discounts on wines and shipping.

The Montinore winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, one of our favorites, just sent out an email that they’re waiving shipping fees for a year for anyone who joins their wine club. They already offer free shipping on 12-bottle orders. Incentives like these are becoming increasingly common as wineries need to drive sales. When you take advantage of these offers, you save money and you help support a struggling industry. It’s a win-win. I’ve made a point of signing up for every email list I can find and some of the deals I’m seeing — from wineries and wine shops — are incredible.

Many independent wine shops across the country have a work-around when it comes our nation’s restrictive wine shipping laws.

It’s illegal for a wine shop to ship wines to a consumer in Texas. But Chambers Street Wines in New York, my favorite wine shop in the U.S., can now ship me wines using a “third-party shipper.” Technically, the store isn’t shipping me the wine. A dedicated wine shipper is handling the shipping. It’s a dumb as the anti-competitive policies of my state legislature but it works.

Now more than ever, we rely on our relationships with wine salespersons to source us the wines we love.

The ongoing pandemic has disrupted the wine supply chain in ways that no one could have predicted or imagined. Exclusive allocations earmarked for by-the-glass programs, for example, have gone unclaimed and are being offered, hat in hand, to retailers. Now more than ever our retailers can source deals and deep discounts on wines that we love. But none of that can happen unless they know our tastes. Tracie and I have discovered so many new wines thanks to our favorite local retailers who reach out when they come across something they think we’ll like. If you can’t be with the wine you love, love the wine you’re with.

Restaurants are eager to sell you their wine.

Many states, including Texas, now allow restaurants to sell you wine to take home with you. In my experience, wine lists are a great resource for finding older wines that were prohibitively expensive in the time before the pandemic. And restaurateurs are increasingly open to making deals. Smart wine programs are designed with long term aging goals. But in this time of unprecedented crisis, that’s all out the window. As a result, the authors of wine lists are now often eager to walk you through their programs and offer you retail pricing. And as much as it may feel like you’re taking advantage of them, you’re actually helping them to grow cash flow at a time when they are desperate for capital.

Wine shop and restaurant employees are essential, front-line workers.

No matter where or how you’re buying wine, it’s important to remember that wine shop and restaurant employees are essential, front-line workers. Just like you and me, they are mothers, fathers, spouses, partners, and caretakers for the elderly and disabled, human beings with mortgages, rent, and health insurance premiums to pay and kids to feed. You can help support them by buying wine, by listening to their advice, and trusting them to source new wines for you to try.

Thanks for being here. Please buy some wine from your favorite wine retailer and enjoy.

Boulder Burgundy Festival virtual seminars open to all for free. Wine professionals encouraged to attend.

Above: Boulder Burgundy Festival founder Brett Zimmerman (left) with winemaker Jean-Marc Roulot at last year’s gathering. This year’s event marks the festival’s tenth anniversary.

The organizers of the Boulder Burgundy Festival have decided to open up their virtual winemaker seminars to anyone who would like to attend — free of charge.

Speakers this year include Dominique Lafon, Julie Gros (Anne Gros), Coravin founder and inventor Greg Lambrecht, and renowned Burgundy importer Daniel Johnnes. Festival founder Brett Zimmerman and Lyle Railsback of Kermit Lynch will also be leading seminars.

Attendees are given the option of making donation to the festival’s charity partners. But as Brett told me by phone last week, he encourages wine professionals to join even if they prefer not to make a donation.

As many sommeliers across find themselves with extra time on their hands, these seminars represent a wonderful opportunity to interact with some of the leading names in Burgundy today.

I began working with the festival in 2014 as its in-house blogger and media creator. It’s been a fantastic experience: the caliber of the speakers and the quality of the content has been nothing less than spellbinding (not an exaggeration). I sincerely hope that wine professionals will take this opportunity to expand their knowledge of Burgundy. And I’m thrilled that Brett made this move. It’s something that he wouldn’t have been able do in a “normal” year.

To sign up for the seminars, just visit You’ll see that there are options for $0, $25, $50, or $100 donations. Again, Brett highly encourages people to sign up free of charge. And there’s no limit to how many people can join. Brett’s even brought a Zoom specialist on board to manage the sessions.

New Yorkers, taste with me and the “best wine shop in the world” this Friday. Houstonians, join me for a favorite Sangiovese this Thursday.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

This Friday in New York, I’ll be leading a virtual tasting with wines that I selected together with my good friend Jamie Wolff, owner of the “best wine shop in the world” Chambers Street Wines (according to the readers of, 2014).

Reserve for the virtual tasting here.

(I won’t actually be in the city. I’ll be at my desk here in Texas.)

And not only will we be pouring three wonderful Italian wines, but I’ll also be discussing my ongoing research on the role that wine plays in Boccaccio’s Decameron. I promise it won’t be boring! I think a lot of people, even those who haven’t read his collection of stories, will be surprised by my findings.

New Yorkers can still purchase the wines in time for the event, which benefits Animal Zone International.

I’d love to get to taste these with you. See the EventBrite for the wines.

And on Thursday in Houston at the weekly virtual wine dinner I host, I’ll be welcoming winemaker Francesco Carletti of Poliziano, one of my favorite producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Click here for menu and details.

These truly magical events have been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career in wine. For those who have never attended, I know you won’t be disappointed. These are super fun and the wines and food are great.

We expect this dinner to sell out quickly so please feel free to shoot me an email if you want me to hold you a spot.

Thanks for the support and thanks for drinking Italian wines. Italian winemakers need your support now more than ever.

Check out a song I co-wrote and produced in “Emily in Paris.”

It seems like a lifetime has passed since my band Nous Non Plus released its third album “Freudian Slip” in 2011.

One of the tracks that I co-wrote and produced, “Bunga Bunga,” can be heard this month in Darren Star’s new show “Emily in Paris” on Netflix.

For those who want to check it out, it’s in episode 2, around 4 min. 30 sec. before the end of the show. It’s a really funny scene and I don’t want to spoil it.

The track, as you can imagine, was inspired by Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” parties.

I also drew inspiration from a sonnet by Medieval Italian poet Francis Petrarch (the subject of my doctoral thesis) where he strings the names of Europe’s most important rivers one after another across the hendecasyllables (11-syllable lines) in the first stanza of the poem.

In our song, we imagine that the “bunga bunga” is a dance being performed in cities across the world. Lovers of pop music will also recognize the classic Motown hit “Dancing in the Streets” as another inspiration.

Singer Céline Dijon belts out world capitals as the drums and keyboards drive the beat.

The idea is that sexual fulfillment is something that we all share, everywhere in the world, and not just in the cloistered palazzi of Milan and secluded villas of the Emerald Coast.

Milan ou Tripoli
Vilnius ou Benghazi
Paris, Moscou on fait le Bunga Bunga

Most of the song was recorded at our house in Austin, where we living at the time. The song’s pulsing sequenced drums were created by Julien Galner of Paris-based electronica band Château Marmount. And singer/songwriter David Garza also sings on the track. He shared a production credit on the album (check out his amazing guitar solo on “Neil,” which we wrote for a noted New York wine blogger). I did all the keyboards (my first keyboard credit on one of our albums).

As we face the dismal news of the day and hurricane Delta heading for the Gulf Coast, our oldest, Georgia, is playing guitar for online show-and-tell in our living room. She only knows a few chords but it’s enough to make her father remember the hope and joy of life lived before and the life to come.

She was born about nine months after we finished tracking the album. It seems like a lifetime ago…

Thanks for listening. It’s one of the songs I’m most proud of. Be well, stay safe, do good work, and have a restful weekend.