Why isn’t our national wine media paying attention to Samantha Dugan’s spectacular sparkling wine selection at the Wine Country, Long Beach?

Above: the seemingly endless selection of sparkling wine at the Wine Country in Long Beach, California, where Samantha “Sans Dosage” Dugan has created one of the best programs in the country.

Why our nation’s mainline wine mastheads haven’t paid more attention to Samantha Dugan’s extraordinary sparkling wine selection at the Wine Country in Long Beach, CA has left me nonplussed.

In case you’ve never visited her and her team, that’s just part of the seemingly endless offering of bubbles, above at her shop, a legacy wine merchant in a community where there is a deep appreciation for fine wine, from the everyday to the collectible.

Some of you may remember her from the days of the wine blogging renaissance when she was one of the movement’s highest-profile and respected voices — under the handle “Samantha Sans Dosage.” Times wine writer Eric Asimov was among her biggest fans and she would ultimately be summoned to the Napa Valley wine writers symposium (which is happening this week btw) as a featured speaker, an exemplar among wine blogging paladins.

These days her aphoristic, observational, aesthetic, and philosophical ruminations circulate exclusively on the Facebook but they continue to wield powerfully compelling content, equally humoristic and poignant (and often both).

“We’re somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego,” said her son Jeremy Dugan, who also works at the store as the outpost’s Natural wine slinger. “So no one pays attention to what my mom is doing here.”

Above: the beer selection at the Wine Country is equally impressive. These people CARE about what they do. They want to send you home happy.

Besides being a wonderful and generous friend, Samantha is one of the best tasters in the U.S. right now imho. And her sparkling wine chops, honed over more than a decade at the bubbly wine helm, are the definition of par excellence (look it up in your Webster’s).

I am thrilled to share the news that Samantha, Alicia Lini, and I will be leading a virtual Lambrusco tasting on Friday, May 28, at 5 p.m. PST. You’ll have to visit the store that day to pick up the food and wine. But I’ll also be sharing the link with non-So. Cal. sparkling geeks like me who want to get in on this one.

Just ping me here or wherever if you want me to hook you up with the bubbly good stuff.

Happy Mother’s Day Tracie! You are amazing. I love you.

At the Grand Canyon in 2018.

After Tracie gave birth to our first daughter Georgia in 2011, we agreed that she wouldn’t go back to work. We felt strongly that it was important for the girls to have a stay-at-home parent. My business was growing and we were confident that we could maintain our style of living.

Over the next nine years, work had its ups and downs, as can be expected for a freelance copywriter and translator. But one way or another, we always managed to make it work. And about five years ago, when the girls started to attend a K-12 school, Tracie started a custom cookie business and later began selling skincare products. Her work really helped to make the proverbial ends meet.

In 2019, my business had its best year ever. We were starting to reach some of our financial goals and as fried as I was from a frenetic work pace, we ended the year on a high note, with a little money in the bank and all the bills paid.

Then the pandemic came. Although a handful of my longtime clients stood by me, most simply stopped answering the phone. It was understandable, of course. We were all completely freaking out and no one knew what was going to happen. By the end of the summer, all of our financial progress had been wiped out. Groceries were going on credit cards and I was scrambling to get any work I could.

Tracie and me in the green room at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side where my band last headlined in February 2009. I cherish that picture. Who knew where our lives and marriage would lead? We had Bollinger in our cups and the room was packed that night.

It was then that Tracie quietly but steadily began studying for her realtor license. We paid the fee for the mandatory classes and I took up more of the parenting duties so that she had time to prepare for her exam.

The first week of March, Tracie took the exam and passed. And after countless interviews, she had a position with an old line realty firm here in Houston.

And then something incredible happened. Even though it takes months for most new realtors to start getting listings and making sales, Tracie landed a seven-figure contract as a buyer’s agent by the fourth week in her new job. That was soon followed by her first “listing,” a milestone for anyone starting a new career in realty.

Honestly, none of us — Tracie included — even dreamed that this would happen so fast. We were expecting six months or so to pass before she was fully up and running.

But here we are. From zero to 60 in just a few short weeks, Tracie now makes herself up every morning and heads to the office. And the contracts just keep coming in. And I no longer lose sleep over next month’s rent or electric bill.

Tracie P, you are an amazing woman, mother, wife, best friend, partner, and lover. You are a role model for our daughters and an inspiration to me in my own new career in sales.

People thought I was crazy when I left California for Texas in 2008 (now look at how many Californians are moving to Houston!). None of us could have known the will power and the determination that you would bring to bear as our family’s ship needed to be righted.

I love you and you are an extraordinary human being. And I am the soul who had the extraordinarily good fortune to meet you (through our blogs!), marry you, and be father to your children.

Happy Mother’s Day, Tracie P. Yours is a story of strength, courage, and grit. And our family is only better for it. I love you, gorgeous woman!

Tracie Parzen realtor:

It’s time to change a racially insensitive Italian grape name.

negroamaroAbove: Neramaro grapes ready for harvest in Salento, Puglia. Would anyone really be hurt if the name were changed? There’s no doubt that fewer people would be offended if it were modified or a suitable alternative were available.

The more closely you look at a word, wrote the early 20th-century aphorist Karl Kraus, the more distantly it looks back at you.

This nugget of wisdom couldn’t be more true when it comes to the name of one of Puglia’s most important grape varieties, Negroamaro.

While no one knows its origins for certain, some ampelographers believe that the name is what linguists call a hybrid tautology. In antiquity, it wasn’t uncommon for cities, for example, to be named twice, with part of the name in Latin and part in Greek. The most famous instance of this is the Sicilian town of Linguaglossa, from the Latin lingua (tongue or language) and the Greek γλῶσσα (transliterated glossa, tongue or language). There are a number of cities in Sicily that still have toponyms like this. Scholars suppose that this helped to mitigate confusion among anicent travelers who may have been familiar with one language but not the other.

In the case of the grape name, it’s possible that it comes from the Latin niger (black) and the Greek μαῦρος (transliterated mavros, meaning black). Even today, red grape varieties and red wines are sometimes referred to as “black” in romance languages. Pinot Noir, Nero d’Avola, and Nerello are examples of this. The Latin name in this case, according to the theory, is followed by a corruption of the Greek.

Others take the meaning of the ampelonym at face value. They believe the name means bitter black, from the Italian negro (an archaic form of the modern-day Italian nero) and the Italian amaro, meaning bitter or sour. As evidence of this theory, they point to the popular Greek grape variety Ξινόμαυρο (transliterated Xinomavro) from the Greek ξινό (transliterated xinó) meaning bitter or sour and μαῦρος (mavros) meaning black (as above).

In antiquity grapes were mostly vinified as sweet wines, with high residual sugar. It’s plausible that as tastes began to shift to drier wines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a grape name like bitter black may have been an indication of the variety’s flavor when vinified in an unsweet style.

Whether “bitter black” or “black black” the ampelonym’s semantic evolution took an unexpected turn when Negroamaro began to become popular among Italian wine lovers in the U.S.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, American wine influencers, including media and wine trade members, began to shift their focus from international grape varieties to highly localized varieties. It was only natural that interest in grapes like Negroamaro, which is grown nearly exclusively in Puglia’s Salento peninsula, would expand. And that’s exactly what happened. This once little-known variety, which produces value-driven high-quality wine, is now a favorite of sommeliers. They love it because the grape’s classic meaty character and its vibrant acidity make it a favorite of California Cabernet Sauvignon lovers.

With this heightened interest, an unfortunate linguistic impropriety also emerged. And it’s had a substantively undesirable impact on the way the grape variety and the people who grow it are perceived.

Understandably, the name of the grape is highly offensive to Black wine enthusiasts.

It’s important to note that negro in this case is what linguists call a “false friend”: To someone not familiar with romance languages, it sounds like a racist slur.

But there’s absolutely no way to mitigate the grape name’s injuriousness.

It was October 2017 when my close friend and longtime client Paolo Cantele presented his family’s wines at a wine dinner in Houston where I live. Roughly half the guests were Black. I’ll never forget the look I got when I presented the wine to two Black couples sitting together at the same table. When I mentioned the grape name, one of the women looked up at me in disbelief. What was that I heard you just say? she noted incredulously. I apologized and gently told her that the grape name came from the Latin word for black. She seemed satisfied with my response and I believe it was abundantly clear to everyone at the table that I wasn’t using a racial slur. But there was no avoiding the unspoken, however unintended, offense that had taken place. To this day, I feel terrible about that episode.

“When I present our wines in the U.S.,” Paolo told me later, I use Neramaro” instead of the historic ampelonym. His neologism, he said, was his own invention. It’s not an officially recognized designation, nor is it in common use among Pugliese producers. To my knowledge, he’s the only person who uses it — besides me.

Some of my fellow wine professionals will counter that the grape name is part of a viticultural tradition that would be diminished by a “politically correct” name change. Why, they might ask, should Salento growers be forced to “give in” to a cultural trend that has nothing to do with Salento winemaking? My answer to them is that we’ve reached a tipping point where it has become socially irresponsible and morally reprehensible to ignore the impact that the name has on an entire demographic — not just in the U.S. but in Europe as well.

There have been numerous cases in Italian wine where appellations have changed the names of grapes, although not for socially sensitive reasons.

Prosecco was changed to Glera in the hope that it would elevate the wine’s brand recognition (the jury’s still out on whether it has or not). Tocai Friulano was changed to Friulano after the EU ruled in favor of Tokay producers who claimed trademark infringement (sales grew in the wake of the change). Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was changed to Nobile in the hope that it would help Americans with pronunciation (it didn’t).

If Europeans can be compelled to change a grape name for commercial and juridical reasons, how can we ignore the negative fallout that our now-in-vogue Salento variety has had consumers, trade members, and influencers who are deeply and rightly aggrieved by its name?

It’s not a “fault” that the West’s viticultural tradition has produced a grape name that encroaches on the dignity of countless wine lovers. But it is our shortcoming that we have failed to take action to remedy this aberration.

The farther back we look at a word, the more closely it looks back at us. As we look forward toward the future of Italian wine in the U.S., we need to muster the moral strength and civic courage to make these excellent wines palatable to all gradations of humanity — and not just our own.

Taste with the über-hip Cristiano Garella and me this Thursday in Houston at Roma.

Above: vineyards on the Frecciarossa estate in Oltrepò Pavese (image via the winery’s website).

Not a lot of Italian wine people in the U.S. know the Frecciarossa winery in Oltrepò Pavese. But in Italy it’s considered one of the country’s top growers of Pinot Noir and producer of one of its benchmark classic method wines (even the Franciacortini agree, however begrudgingly).

Even fewer know that Cristiano Garella has been quietly making wine for Frecciarossa for some time now. He’s the young breakout winemaker who put Alto Piemonte on everyone’s lips in our country. As far as I know, Frecciarossa is the only winery that he consults with beyond his now legendary, although only a decade old, Colombera e Garella estate.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Cristiano (a lovely guy, btw) to our weekly virtual wine dinner at Roma in Thursday this Thursday. He is one of Italy’s most exciting winemakers and one of the driving forces behind the New Wave of Nebbiolo that’s coming from northern Piedmont.

We will be tasting three wines from Frecciarossa with him: a classic still Pinot Noir and a still Uva Rara. The third, you ask? If the Uva Rara weren’t enough to get the true wine geeks out for this one, the third wine will surely pique their interest: a still white — yes, a white! — Pinot Noir vinified “off its skins.” If that doesn’t excite the wine nerds, I don’t know what will!

We still don’t have the menu in place for this week’s event. But the cost will be $119 plus tax and gratuity for a three-course meal and the three bottles of wine (the same price as every week since we began doing these dinners in late April 2020).

Please just send me an email if you’d like to join. Can you tell I’m pumped for this one? I’m SUPER geeked to taste these wines with the dude who made them. And I’m hoping to get to taste these stunning wines with you. Thanks for all your support with these dinners over the last 12 months.