What is appassimento and how do you pronounce it? VIDEO

Above: grapes being “raisined” for the production of Valpolicella wines.

After a Twitter user tagged me in the tweet below, I immediately sprang to action. There was no time to lose!

As Alexandra, a Florence-focused art historian, noted, grape growers in Italy are drying their grapes — raisining them — right now.

The process is known in Italian as appassimento: the drying or raisining of the grapes.

Drying the grapes concentrates their sugar, their lifeblood. It’s an ancient process that was widely used in Italy from Roman times until the early 20th century. It’s still used in countless appellations, most famously to produce sweet Vin Santo in Tuscany and Amarone (a dry wine) and Recioto (a sweet wine) in Valpolicella, among many others.

The related Italian term passito means raisined– or dried-grape wine. Passito di Pantelleria is arguably the most well known among the passiti or dried-grape wines (plural).

The great 19th-century Italian poet, philologist, and critical theorist Giacomo Leopardi would have loved the terms appassimento and its verb form appassire. Like so many words in Italian, it can have multiple meanings. It’s used with poetic license to mean wilting or even waning (as in, their passion for [something] has waned).

Knowing that time was of the essence, I immediately called my buddy, grape grower and winemaker Angelo Nicolis, in Valpolicella. (His wines are imported to the U.S. by my client Ethica Wines and I visited with him in January 2020 on my last trip to Italy before the lockdowns.)

He swiftly dispatched the above photo and the below video. And as you can see from the crates of grapes being dried behind him, the timing was perfect!

As per Alexandra’s commission, I’ve also updated the Italian-English Wine Glossary to include the term.

Thank you for the nudge, Alexandra! And special thanks to Angelo who turned this around so quickly.

This is what I love the most about wine blogging and social media. How it brings us all together, from different corners of the world, around a passion that will never wane!

Boulder Burgundy Festival delivers delicious surprises and Burgundy’s new star rising, Cellier aux Moines.

Above, from left: Brett Zimmerman, founder of the Boulder Burgundy Festival, and Margot Pascal, one of the owners of Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, one of Burgundy’s oldest wineries and youngest rising stars.

Me to legendary sommelier and wine educator Jay Fletcher: “Hey, Jay! When’s the last time you tasted a flight of six Aligoté?”

Jay to me: “Never!”

Our seemingly banal exchange gives you a sense of how remarkable this year’s Boulder Burgundy Festival was.

Disclosure: the Boulder Burgundy Festival has employed me as a media consultant for more than a decade.

Remarkable because it included the gathering’s first in-person events since the 2019 festival.

Remarkable because wine writer (and my dear friend) Alice Feiring flew in to present a flight of six different expressions of Aligoté, many of which are produced in diminutive amounts and were painstakingly sourced by festival founder Brett Zimmerman.

Remarkable because the brand-spanking-new Coravin sparkling wine preservation system had its in-person debut on the first day of the festival (a wine tool that many agreed is going to be a game-changer for restaurants).

Remarkable because Margot Pascal, co-owner of one of Burgundy’s oldest estates and one of its youngest rising stars, presented two flights of her family’s wines, including a showstopper Givry monopole and two wines made from Chardonnay and Chardonnay Musqué, a rare clone that wowed the roughly 30 collectors and wine professionals who had gathered to taste at the festival’s Sunday seminar.

Above: Brett Zimmerman and Bobby Stuckey, co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine where the event’s marquee dinner was held on Saturday night.

Tasting with Margot, at both her Sunday seminar and the Saturday night marquee dinner at Frasca, was one of the wine highlights of my year.

As Brett pointed out at the Sunday event, her wines are relatively new to the U.S. market and are already highly allocated. We were extremely fortunate to get to taste her family’s bottlings, all raised on her family’s estate, where wine has been continuously made for more than nine centuries.

They purchased the historic but then run-down farm in 2004 and have spent the last decade and a half restoring the iconic property and reviving the grape growing and winemaking there. The farm is organic certified and Margot’s family has employed biodynamic farming practices there for at least four years.

These wines are soon going to be impossibly hard to come by, Brett noted.

And if her Givry premier cru and Givry Clos Pascal monopole weren’t enough to bring the crowd to its feet, Margot’s Montagny Les Combes premier cru, made from Chardonnay and Chardonnay Musqué, would have been a showstopper on its own. It comes from some forgotten rows of the latter clone that Margot’s family discovered when they took over the property.

When’s the last time you tasted two vintages of Montagny Les Combes side-by-side? When’s the last time you tasted a Chardonnay Musqué? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Above: when’s the last time you tasted six different Aligoté in one sitting? If the answer is “yes,” please stop reading this post!

And if Margot’s flights weren’t enough to bring the house down (they did just that on Saturday night at Frasca, which turns into a French restaurant once a year for the festival), the flight of Aligoté presented by Alice was as utterly eye-opening as it was wholly delicious.

Alice, as the delighted group of tasters learned, has spent a lot of time on the ground in Burgundy tasting and researching Aligoté, a white grape often overlooked because of Chardonnay’s lucrative dominance.

“I love an underdog,” she said.

There was also a moving tribute to her close friend Becky Wasserman, for whom we all raised the first glass of wine that morning. We learned that there will be a tribute bottling of Aligoté produced to honor her legacy, career, and behemoth influence in the wine world. It will be made from vines planted in Becky’s birth year. “She loved Aligoté,” said Alice. “She loved an underdog.”

Gauging from the ooos and aahs emanating from the tasters, the flight seemed to thrill the room with its astounding range of aromas, flavors, and textures. More than one taster, including some top wine professionals who were in attendance, remarked on how these wines over-delivered.

And Alice gave a benchmark talk about her experiences with the wines and the people who make them.

The word remarkable was uttered more than once.

Above: Bobby presents the back of the house at Frasca on the night of the marquee dinner featuring Margot’s wines.

But maybe the most extraordinary thing about the festival was the fact that for most, it was the first in-person wine event they had attended since 2020. Last year’s festival was held entirely online. And it wasn’t clear if an in-person festival was going to be possible this year. What a blessing it was to be there: seeing cherished friends and colleagues after so much time apart was a deeply emotional experience for many, me included.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to Brett, the Boulder Wine Merchant crew, and the greater Boulder wine community for hosting Tracie and me this year. What an incredible experience.

A bollito of my dreams at a favorite restaurant in Emilia.

Above: in Reggio Emilia, they don’t call it “tagliatelle alla bolognese.” They just call it “tagliatelle al ragù.” It’s a subtle but meaningful distinction.

One of the things that people don’t realize about gastronomy in Emilia — the land of Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello, and Parmigiano Reggiano where there are more pigs and Ferraris per capita than anywhere else in the world — is that you have to venture outside of its capital city Bologna to find the best food.

Another crucial element that many people miss is that for great bollito misto, you have to head west from Bologna toward Modena and Reggio Emilia. That’s the true spiritual homeland of bollito misto.

What is bollito misto? It’s meats that have been slowly simmered together. It’s typically made in different parts of northern Italy. But in Modena and Reggio Emilia zampone is used instead of cotechino sausage to give the dish its decadent character.

What is zampone? Meaning literally hoof, zampone (the sausage) is a pig’s trotter that has been filled with head cheese. It’s considered one of Italy’s greatest delicacies (and it’s one of my favorite things in the world to eat!).
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The best mortadella I’ve ever had. Here’s where to find it in Bologna.

Above: Dario Barbieri’s take on mortadella blew my mind — and my palate — the weekend before last in Bologna. The mortadella is on the right of the cutting board.

Every time Slow Food U. asks me to come teach in Piedmont, my Italian crew and I plan at least one night of enogastronomic adventure.

For this last stint in early October, we headed to Emilia-Romagna where our first stop was the legendary Dario Barbieri’s wine bar Zampa in the city of Bologna.

Dario, whose wine program features labels from both Paolo Cantele and Giovanni Arcari (my southern and northern Italian bromances, respectively), had asked us to come on the later side that Saturday night so that we could all sit, visit, and discuss the finer points — we later learned — of mortadella.

For anyone not familiar with mortadella and more specifically Mortadella Bologna, it’s a sausage made from finely ground pork and pork fat. See the Wiki entry for some useful background info on mortadella. But see also this excellent post by WebFoodCulture.com. And also the Mortadella Bologna PGI consortium’s not-so-easy-to-find website.

Don’t confuse it with other types of mortadella made in other parts of Italy, sometimes not from pork.

Above: marinated fresh anchovies followed our salumi tasting that evening. Bologna and Emilia in general has some of the best bread I’ve ever had in Italy.

It has been considered one of the greatest delicacies of Europe since the 17th century and beyond. Even French cookery books from the pre-modern era describe with great reverence the then highly advanced techniques for making charcuterie in the city of Bologna (the French also loved and learned a lot from Milanese pastry production).

Mortadella is also the inspiration for a poor imitation that we call “bologna” or “baloney” (as in Oscar Myer; but we will leave Upton Sinclair out of this).

As Dario explained that evening, there are “three or so” classic recipes that are still being used by artisanal mortadella producers in Bologna today. They are all excellent, he told us.

Above: the crunchy oven-fired thyme sprinkled on the pâté took it over the top.

But in order to become their clients, he said, you have to be willing to take only one mortadella at a time. The key, he emphasized with his rich baritone, is to consume the mortadella immediately, within a few days after it was produced. Otherwise, it loses the richness of its flavor and delicacy of its texture.

As someone who has been obsessed with mortadella since I first traveled to Italy in the late 1980s, I am here to tell you, people, this was absolutely the best mortadella I have ever tasted.

With great pride, Dario told us the story of Ennio Pasquini, one of the great mortadella craftspeople of our time. He recently passed away and his family is now arduously defending his legacy from those who would cash in on his namesake. For those who read Italian, click on the image below to read their “open letter” to the world of mortadella lovers. Pasquini was Dario’s “mortadella mentor,” as it were. He had refused to sell Dario his sausages until Dario agreed to take only small quantities each week.

Our literally five-hour tasting with Dario was one of the greatest culinary experiences of 2021 for me. I highly recommend his wonderful wine bar Zampa in Bologna (no website, at least that I can find).

How to make eggplant parmigiana (and a short treatise on the origin of the dish).

One of the things that makes melanzane alla parmigiana such a fascinating dish is that it is arguably Italy’s only truly national recipe beyond spaghetti al pomodoro (spaghetti with tomato sauce).

Yes, you can order pesto at a restaurant in Rome. Yes, you can choose your own style of pizza in Barbaresco. But no savvy, self-respecting italophile gastronome would ever indulge in such a transgression of the Italian culinary canon.

Eggplant alla parmigiana — aka eggplant parmigiana (without the articulated preposition), eggplant parmesan, or eggplant parm — is a dish that can generally be found in homes (although not in restaurants) throughout the country.

As the name reveals, it incorporates what many consider the greatest “food product” of all time: Parmigiano Reggiano, the famed friable cow’s milk cheese from Parma in Emilia (parmigiana is the demonym when used in reference to gastronomy; parmense is the city’s ethnonym).

The name doesn’t reveal however the dish’s connection to Sicily where eggplants were first consumed in Italy thanks to the island’s connection to the Arab and — some will be surprised to learn — to the Jewish world (Artusi, the still highly influential 19th-century cookery book writer from Romagna, writes about how only Jews in Italy ate eggplant at the time; the nightshade was believed to cause insanity but as Artusi points out with an antisemitic microaggression that I will forgive him, Jews have a “good nose” for great food).

To the northern cultural influence of Parma and the southern cultural legacy of Sicily, we must add yet another southern element: mozzarella. A great melanzane alla parmigiana is defined in part by its diversity of texture. The plastic cheese provides a sine qua non light and moreish chewiness to the best expressions of this timeworn and now international recipe.

Parmesan, Neapolitan, and Sicilian traditiones coquinariae combine to create a pan-Italian dish that I have enjoyed as far south as Lecce and as far north as Belluno.

To make a great melanzane alla parmigiana, the home cook must be patient. In the case of our family, the dish must be preceded by a tomato sauce prepared the night before to dress pasta. It’s that leftover sauce, with all of its flavors now perfectly fused and slightly desiccated, that really can take the recipe over the top.

Another important element is the olive oil you use — for both frying the eggplant rounds and greasing the pan. High-quality olive oil makes a marked difference in dishes like this.

For the recipe below, I haven’t included exact quantities. But that shouldn’t be a hindrance in making the dish the way we like it at our house. Years of translating and editing Italian recipes has taught me that the Italian indication quanto basta, an expression rendered in English as needed, is a good guide to all things in life. You just enough of each ingredient to achieve the desired result.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana
eggplant alla parmigiana


extra-virgin olive oil
garlic, peeled
tomato purée (passata)
white wine
kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper
chili flakes
basil leaves (optional)
eggplant (ideally globe or graffiti), sliced into thin rounds
mozzarella, sliced
Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

Make the sauce:

Over low flame, gently heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the garlic and sauté but do not brown. Just as the garlic begins to turn golden in color, add the tomato purée and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the wine and when the alcohol has evaporated, season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes to taste. Simmer slowly for roughly 30 minutes and as soon as you remove the pot from heat, add 1 or 2 basil leaves (optional). Cool and reserve, ideally overnight, covered on the stovetop (not in the refrigerator). Remove garlic cloves and basil.

Purge the eggplant:

Generously season the eggplant rounds with kosher salt. Transfer to a colander and reserve for at least 30 minutes until the eggplant purges its bitter liquid. (This is an extremely important step.) Use a clean kitchen towel to absorb any excess liquid and reserve the rounds.

Fry the eggplant:

Heat a generous amount of olive oil (roughly 5-6 teeming tablespoons or as needed) to a broad frying pan over medium flame. Once the oil has heated through, add the eggplant rounds. Turn them once they have lightly browned on one side. Once they have browned on both sides, remove and distribute over a clean kitchen towel to remove any excess oil. (Using high-quality olive oil for frying the eggplant will make this dish even more tasty.)

Assemble the dish:

Grease an oven-ready casserole dish with olive oil. Add the eggplant rounds. Top with the sliced mozzarella. Smother with tomato sauce and top generously with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Fire the dish in a pre-heated oven at 350° F. for 30 minutes or until a golden brown crust forms. Remove from oven and cool.

At our house, eggplant alla parmigiana is either reheated to be served at dinner or served room temperature for lunch or for a late afternoon snack. One of my favorite ways to serve it is as a sandwich on a favorite crusty bread. In my experience, letting it cool (and then reheating it) is key.

Taste with Alice Feiring (and me) at the Boulder Burgundy Festival 10/22.

Above: Alice (right) and Tracie in Paris in 2009. (Errata corrige: the photo was actually taken at Fonda San Miguel in 2010 when Alice came to see us in Austin; the photo below is from the France trip.)

One of the most rewarding things about my teaching gig at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont has been watching my students’ eyes light up as they discover the work of Alice Feiring. Year after year, it’s happened every time we crack open her first book, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization (Harcourt 2008).

Teaching her first book over the course of the last six years has revealed how well the work has aged. At the time of its hardback release, her pioneering approach to wine writing was viewed by some as heretical and irrelevant to the wine discourse and dialectic. But more than 13 years later, it has proved to be a guiding and shining light to a new generation of wine writers who have eagerly embraced her style — and her wisdom.

Above: another shot from our super fun visit in Paris while I was on tour with Nous Non Plus and Tracie and I had just started dating.

Not only did she introduce a highly personal and even intimate, some would say, model of wine writing. (Her book could have been gleaned from the New Yorker “personal history” rubric.) But she also provoked — like a tirage — a closer look at wine’s intrinsic moral and ethical valence. She was certainly not the first to ask not only whether a wine was good or bad in terms of its quality and reflection of tradition. But she was among the first to inspire wine lovers to consider whether a wine was good or evil.

Evil is a strong word but it applies here, in my view. Her conviction and ideals often inspired a quasi-bellicose tone in her diegesis. After all, her debut book, the one that put her on the wine world map, was called “Battle” (to this day, her shorthand for the tome is “Battle”).

No high-profile wine writer before her had brought such a May 1968 sensibility to the world of enography. In many ways, she is the Susan Sontag of her generation: someone whom the critical theorist and activist would have said lives their life true to their ideals.

I couldn’t be more thrilled that Alice will be presenting an Aligoté seminar and tasting this year at the Boulder Burgundy Festival on Friday, October 22. I’m not a panelist or presenter at the festival but I’ll be returning to Colorado again this year as the festival’s in-house blogger and media consultant, a gig that I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years now.

Click here for details. And if you do make it out to hers or any of the other events, I’ll look forward to tasting with you!

War in Prosecco? New York Times, give me a break!

Elephantem ex musca facere…

Astonishing and astonishingly sensational were the first words that came to mind after reading Jason Horowitz’s story for the New York Times late last week, “A Battle of the Bubbles: War Comes to the Prosecco Hills” (October 1, 2021).

Clickbait was the other.

Yes, it’s true that last month the EU agreed to hear Croatia’s case that its winemakers should be allowed to label their Prošek, a dried-grape wine made in extremely small quantities, as an officially recognized appellation.

The issue has been fermenting (excuse the pun) since July of this year. But the EU’s nod to let the case move forward has unleashed a river of “the sky is on fire” posts across the internets.

Although the Italians and the Prosecchisti would have preferred that the EU decline to hear the case, there is still little chance that the Croatians will prevail.

As top Italian wine trade observer Maurizio Gily noted earlier this year, the Italians began exporting Prosecco many decades ago, long before anyone was trying to ship Prošek abroad. This entitles them to the trademark in the market.

What is more likely to happen is that the EU will strike a deal similar to the one the Italians obtained when the lost their case to the Hungarians back in 2009. At issue was the supposed confusion between wines labeled as (and made from) Tocai in Friuli and the Hungarians’ claim to the trademark for the homonymous wine Tokaji. The Italians lost. As a result, wines labeled as Tocai can only be sold in Italy. In order to ship their wines abroad, the Friulians changed the grape name to Friulano.

And guest what? Sales actually grew after the change!

Prosecco growers, producers, and bottlers (and remember, bottlers are the biggest players here, not the growers or the producers), have had to contend with “Italian sounding” imitators for years now. The worst offenders are arguably the Australians who make tank-method wines from Glera (the main grape used in Prosecco in Italy) and label and sell them as Prosecco in Australia.

The Prosecchisti can’t do anything about it (although they have tried) because EU has no binding agreement with Australian regarding trademark protections for wine and food products. (To this day, btw, Californians still label and sell wines as “Champagne,” “Lambrusco,” and even “Brunello.”)

In the light of the above, it’s hardly a “war” or “battle” going on in Proseccoland. It’s just EU bureaucracy winding its way through the block’s byzantine legal process.

It’s also remarkable that Horowitz, a writer I otherwise admire greatly, only got quotes from a few of the (not so) major players (none of whom have a big footprint in the U.S. where his readers live). Where was Nino Franco? Where was Matteo Lunelli and Bisol? Where was Mionetto? It seems that he only spoke to a few bottlers. Where was Santa Margherita? Where was Cupcake, for that matter?

And what about the myriad family growers and family grower/winemakers? Where was their voice?

As for his claim that there is a serious discussion about creating a new name for Prosecco, I can only say, give me a break. That’s simply not going to happen, at least not in our lifetime.

I have so much to tell from my recent trip to Italy (just got back last night). Stay tuned for that. But thank you for letting me get that off my chest in the meantime!

Top image via the Gambero Rosso forum

A Nebbiolo by a lesser god (and checking in with Slow Food USA).

Here in Piedmont where I’ve been teaching at Slow Food U this week, people drink red wine. When you talk to the old timers, they’ll tell you that in their day, there was no white wine to drink here. No Timorasso, no Anascetta, and maybe just a little Arneis (that no one really cared about back then). Just Barbera, Dolcetto, and the occasional Nebbiolo.

So it was only natural that Slow Wine guide editor-in-chief, a Piedmontese through and through, would order a bottle of red wine when he, his wonderful family, and I sat down for an aperitivo at everyone’s favorite natural wine bar Zero in the town of Bra where most of the students live and where I stay in hotel during my teaching gig.

His selection was a Roero Rosso by progressive grower and producer Alberto Oggero, a 100-percent Nebbiolo he calls “SANDRO D’PINDETA.”

Drinking this deliciously fresh wine and noshing on salumi and cheeses, I couldn’t help but think of how Roero Nebbiolo is a category (nearly) entirely ignored by my American colleagues. Even as Alto Piemonte producers and their Nebbiolo have become the new stars of the überhipster American wine scene, it remains immensely challenging to find wines like these — Nebbiolo by a lesser god, as it were — in our market. Historically there have been one or maybe two producers of Roero-grown Nebbiolo that have made inroads in the U.S. But the category was never wholly embraced. It’s time to rethink that, in my opinion.

The wine was gorgeous, with classically sweet tannins, a hallmark of great Nebbiolo. Not prohibitively priced and ready to drink right out of the bottle, it only got better as we three adults finished it. What a great wine and value.

It was wonderful to see Giancarlo and his family (they have two daughters just like Tracie and me and the girls enjoyed visiting with them immensely we we were all here in 2018).

Back in 2016, he asked me to give him a hand in launching the Slow Wine Guide USA. For three years, he and I traveled throughout California and Oregon. We started with 70 California producers. And that number had tripled by the time, three years later, that I retired as the U.S. coordinator.

Today, he told me, they have greatly expanded their California and Oregon coverage and have added other states as well. I couldn’t be more proud to have been part of the launch. And while I don’t envy him all the headaches and heartaches that come with editing a guide, I miss our epic trips and tastings.

He said that while the Slow Wine tour was cancelled this fall (for reasons we all know too well), he plans to bring the winemakers to the U.S. in early 2022, including a stop in Austin. I’m looking forward to taking him out to a favorite barbecue and a night at the Continental Club where we first really connected when I took him to see a Dale Watson concert.

Grande Giancarlo! I’m so glad we’re friends and I’m so proud to have been a part of the Slow Wine launch in the U.S.