The best wine bar I visited this year was in Tulsa.

Please consider giving to our GoFundMe to raise funds for the MLK Day 2021 parade in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up and where we’ve been protesting a newly constructed neo-Confederate monument since 2017. Thank you for your support!

Normally at this time of year, I’d be leafing through my photographs and notes from the last 12 months and picking out favorite shots from my top visits, tastings, and meals.

As far as 2020 is concerned, the pickings are slim but not without some wonderful memories.

In late February, Paolo Cantele, one of my best friends in the business, and I made our last road trip for the entire year to promote his family’s wines. We started in Houston with a great event at Vinology. Next was Dallas with a sold-out dinner at the legendary Jimmy’s. And since we were on our way to Boulder for another packed wine tasting at Boulder Wine Merchant, we decided that we should try to organize an event in Tulsa, a city where I’d never been but where, I had heard, there was (and is) a vibrant progressive wine scene.

After researching possible venues, I cold-called Matt Sanders (above) owner of the fantastic Tulsa wine destination Vintage Wine Bar.

After a roughly 10-minute conversation, he agreed that he would let us host a tasting of Paolo’s wines there.

There’s not really anything so remarkable about that other than the fact that Matt, such a gracious and massively talented wine professional, took a chance on a couple of complete strangers.

Paolo and I ended up hanging out all night after our event (no surprise there), drinking mostly high-end California Chardonnay (one of Paolo and me’s shared loves).

The offerings at Vintage Wine Bar would have been right at home in Oakland or Brooklyn. And meeting and interacting with Matt reminded us of how wine and the global wine community never fail to bring us together — even when on a first date with a new city. We had such a blast that night.

Matt, if you’re reading this, please take it for what it’s worth: a love letter to one of my favorite wine bars in the country and one of the coolest wine people I’ve met in a long time.

I know Matt and co. are doing well thanks to their Instagram. And I can’t wait to get back there when Paolo and I make our next trip. It’s one of the first things he and I are planning to do once we can connect in person again.

Earlier in the day, Paolo and stopped to eat chicken fried steak at Marilyn’s in McAlester, Oklahoma.

It was everything we dreamed it would be: a cozy, homey all-American dinner serving biscuits and gravy at all hours of the day.

We even got trolled by a very large and farty Trump supporter who took us for a gay couple (Paolo’s leather may have been the trigger). It was right around the time that Rush Limbaugh was huffing and puffing about Pete Buttigieg being gay. So I can understand our fellow diner’s concern.

The lady behind the counter (below) seemed to feel bad about it. And she even gave me an ice tea (unsweetened) to go.

Man, I love America. And I miss it even more.

Thanks for being here and be sure to check out Matt Sanders’ super wine program in Tulsa! I can’t wait to make it back!

Please help us raise money for the MLK Day 2021 Parade in Orange, Texas.

Please donate to our GoFundMe here.

Above: the last MLK Day Parade was held in Orange, Texas in 2018.

Tracie and I have joined forces with our friend MaQuettia Ledet, founder of Impact Orange, to organize the 2021 Martin Luther King Day parade in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up.

On MLK Day 2021 (January 18), at 10 a.m., marchers will walk from Solomon Johnson Park  to the steps of the Heritage House Museum in Orange.

All marchers will be asked to wear face masks and to social distance. At the end of the route, the marchers will be asked to disassemble. There will be no speeches or presentations at the end of the parade.

All necessary permissions have been obtained from the City of Orange and the Orange Mayor’s office. And the Orange Heritage House Museum has agreed to let marchers disassemble in front of the museum.

This fundraiser will pay for the special events insurance policy, which covers the marchers and the City of Orange. The insurance is the only element not yet in place.

The historic MLK Day Parade, a beloved Orange tradition, has not been held since 2018.

Repurpose Memorial and Impact Orange are pleased to revive this cherished event and to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank you for your support. We hope you will be able to join us as we celebrate the life and work of Dr. King.

Please donate to our GoFundMe here.

“The time is always right to do right.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”
June, 1965

Read the speech in its entirety here.

Lini Lambrusco featured in Food & Wine. Congrats to some of the best people in the biz.

Above: winemaker Fabio Lini, one of the greatest sparkling winemakers I know, pours the wine, center. And that’s Alicia Lini, his daughter and my cherished friend on the right.

In January 2007, my then employer sent one of my colleagues and me to Italy as a bonus for a successful year in the New York City food and wine scene. I was working for an Italian restaurant and importing group at the time. And while my boss gave us a budget and simply told us to have a great time, I was determined to source a classic method Lambrusco for the company.

Nice work if you can get it… My colleague Jim and I ate at all the great restaurants in Emilia that were on our list. And at each meal, we asked what the owner’s favorite classic method Lambrusco was. The name that kept coming up, over and over again, was Lini.

(At the time, nearly all Lambrusco was produced using the tank method, whereby both fermentations were carried out in a stainless steel tank, the first not pressurized, the second pressurized. Classic method or “bottle fermented” Lambrusco is made using a technique lifted from Champagne whereby the second fermentation is carried out in bottle and the wines are disgorged before the final bottling.)

In April of that year, our boss tasted the wines with us at Vinitaly and it was decided: we would import Lini and make the wines the centerpiece of our fall campaign at the restaurants, including a swanky new downtown location we were opening.

It was my first “up at bat” as a wine trade marketing specialist. And it was Alicia’s as well. By the end of the year, we had landed coverage in the Times, Men’s Vogue, Food & Wine, and on WNYC. By the end of the season, Lini had been christened the sparkling toast of the town — literally as well as figuratively!

It was also the beginning of my deep bond and cherished friendship with Alicia and her family.

The events of that year indelibly shaped both of our lives as professionals. For Alicia, they showed how her family’s soulful wines could reach the greatest heights. And to me they gave the blueprint for a career in wine and food marketing.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to see Alicia, her family, and her family’s wines featured in the December 2020 issue of Food & Wine. Ray Isle, executive wine editor for the masthead, visited the Lini family last December for their Saint Lucy’s Day celebration. His wonderful dispatch includes the Lini family’s personal recipes for their traditional Christmas meal.

I wish I could share the entire article with you here but I can’t, of course. I do encourage you to check it out. It’s worth the price of admission and more.

Warmest congratulations to Alicia and her family! They are some of the nicest people in the wine trade and I love how Ray captured the joy they put into their wines and everything they do.

Dulcis in fundo: Alicia will be joining us on Thursday, December 17 for my final virtual wine dinner of the year here in Houston at Roma restaurant, my client, where I’ve been hosting the events every week since the late spring.

Just let me know if you’d like me to save you a spot for an evening of bubbles and great food.

On wine and good health in the pandemic circa 1348 (my Georgetown Humanities Initiative lecture).

Above: Sandro Botticelli’s “Banquet in the Pine Forest” (1482-83), the third painting in his series “The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti,” a depiction of the eight novella of the fifth day in Boccaccio’s Decameron (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons).

When esteemed wine educator Karen MacNeil upbraided me last year for writing about a wine and its effect on my metabolism, it only reminded me of what a soulless wine writer she is. And her pungent words came to mind this week when I delivered a virtual lecture on wine as an expression of Western culture for the Georgetown University Humanities Initiative.

One of the topics covered in my talk was wine as portrayed in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. For those unfamiliar with the work (one of the pillars of the Western canon), the backdrop of the 100 tales told by the young Florentine nobles is the Black Death (Plague) of the mid-14th century. The pandemic reached his city around 1348.

In the introduction to the collection of novellas, Boccaccio describes wine consumption habits of Florentine citizens during the health crisis, their excesses and their moderation, and the role that wine plays in achieving good health.

In the work’s afterword, he returns to the subject of wine and moderate consumption.

“Like everything else,” he writes, “these stories, such as they are, may be harmful or helpful, depending on the listener.”

    Who does not know that wine is a very fine thing for the healthy… but that is harmful for people suffering from a fever? Shall we say it is bad because it does harm to those who are feverish? Who does not know that fire is extremely useful, in fact downright necessary for [hu]mankind? Shall we say it is bad because it burns down houses and villages and cities?

(The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by Wayne A. Rebhorn, Norton, New York, 2013.)

As evidenced in the passage above, Boccaccio and his contemporaries believed that wine, like fire, was “downright necessary” for humankind.

In Medieval Europe, wine was prized for its ability to balance the “hot” and “cold” of foods and dishes. “Hot” wines were ideally served with “cold” foods and inversely, “cold” wines were best paired with “hot” dishes. These were not gradations of temperature, spiciness, or alcohol content, but rather indicators of humoral composition.

The humors of the drinker, and the place and time of consumption, also came into play.

“Once the nature of a given wine was determined,” writes Medieval scholar Allen J. Grieco, “it still remained necessary for a consumer to respect at least four other conditions.”

    First of all it was necessary to know the humoral constitution of the persons who was going to drink the wine. Secondly, it was important to determine what food was going to be eaten with it. Thirdly, it was necessary to take into account the time of the year in which the wine was to be drunk and finally, it was also important to consider the geographical location in which the wine was to be consumed.

(“Medieval and Renaissance Wines: Taste, Dietary Theory, and How to Choose the ‘Right’ Wine [14th-16th centuries],” by Allen J. Grieco, Mediaevalia, vol. 30, 2009, The Center of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Binghamton University, The State University of New York.)

Boccaccio’s belief that wine was necessary for humankind is widely reflected in the 15-century treatise “On Right Pleasure and Good Health” by Renaissance writer Bartolomeo Sacchi “Il Platina” (see Platina. On Right Pleasure and Good Health, a critical edition and translation of De honesta voluptate et valetudine by Mary Ella Milham, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Tempe, 1998).

Pairing the right wine with the right food (and at the right time and in the right place) was one of the keys, he writes throughout the work, to good metabolism and healthy living — echoes of Boccaccio.

Today, wine scribblers like MacNeil embrace only aesthetic, hedonistic, and commercial values in their reviews and “educational” materials. Nearly universally, they fall short of embracing the human and humanistic currency of wine. They ask only how is this wine made?, how does this wine taste? and what’s its commercial value? without ever addressing the role that wine may play in metabolism and more generally in achieving balanced, good health. They write of lifestyle while ignoring life and living itself.

I can’t imagine a more soulless wine culture. With so many wonderful examples of wine writing over the ages where wine is viewed as vital to human experience, it’s a wonder that the current generation of wine mediators have failed us so grossly.

Maybe if MacNeil and her followers would drink a more human wine, they wouldn’t have such a prickly stick up their arses.