Taste 13 of Valpolicella’s most iconic wines with me, Wednesday, May 3, in Houston.

What a thrill for me to be asked to present a tasting of 13 of Valpolicella’s most iconic wineries in Houston!

The “Famiglie Storiche” association (Historic Families of Amarone) tasting will be held at the Hotel ZaZa Museum District on Wednesday, May 3, at 11 a.m.

Here’s the flight (wow!): Allegrini, Begali, Brigaldara, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Masi, Musella, Speri, Tedeschi, Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Tommasi, Torre D’Orti, Venturini, and Zenato.

Click here to register.

My relationship with Valpolicella dates back to my early university years in Italy when we would drink the wines in the many wonderful old-line taverns that dotted the Padua cityscape in the late 1980s. My Italian “identity” is deeply tied to the Veneto region where Valpolicella is a “local” wine. My spoken Italian, any Italian will tell you, has a strong Veneto inflection. My tastes were shaped by those first tastes.

Getting to lead a guided tasting of these wines is a dream come true. It feels like it’s all come full circle, as they say.

I hope you can join me. Thanks for the support and solidarity. And after all, do I really have to drag you out to taste wines like these? No, I didn’t think so!

I’ll also be presenting an awesome flight of Chianti on Wednesday, May 17, again at the Hotel ZaZa, at 11:30 a.m. More on that event later. In the meantime, here’s the link to register. Thank you for the support!

Happy Italian Liberation Day! Long live a united, free, and anti-fascist Italy!

Above: Italian resistance fighters in Piazza San Marco, Venice in 1945 (images via the Archivio Luce).

Today is Italian Liberation Day: Festa della Liberazione, April 25. Established in 1946, it commemorates the end of Nazi and Fascist rule in Italy.

It’s a national holiday in Italy and most Italians took yesterday and today off from work (an Italian ponte or bridge, as it’s called, a long weekend).

This morning, a colleague and friend from Italy sent me the following message.

“Buon 25 aprile,” he wrote. “Viva l’Italia, libera e antifascista 🇮🇹”

“Happy Liberation Day. Long live Italy [and may it remain] free and anti-fascist.”

Check out this slide show by the Archivio Luce. It features images from Italy after Mussolini’s fall.

Happy Italian Liberation Day! Long live Italy and may it remain free and anti-fascist!

Bravo Wine Spectator!

It’s incredible to think how different the wine world when Wine Spectator was launched in 1976, the year of the Bicentennial, in San Diego. When east coast publisher Marvin Shanken purchased the masthead just a few years later, Jimmy Carter was still president.

By the mid- and late-2000s, Wine Spectator (and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, founded in 1978) represented the “establishment” in wine writing. Those were also the years of the early enoblogosphere when the magazine, three decades after its founding, became a favorite punching bag for the new wave of Italian-facing enohipsters.

A handful of editors are giving high scores to Italian wines made in an international style from international grape varieties while they’re giving mediocre ratings to traditional-style wines from native grapes. That was the prevailing wisdom among media and social media reactionaries. Those same editors are favoring overly “oaked” and overly “extracted” wines with muscular alcohol and overly bold and sometimes concocted fruit-forwardness. These wines and the editors’ interests do not reflect local and regional viticultural heritage.

Although the claims were often hyperbolic and acerbic, a nugget of truth lay therein.

But what many of us missed at the time (myself included) was that Wine Spectator was turning a whole new American generation on to Italian wine. More significantly, it was deciphering, “translating” a wine world that would have otherwise been impenetrable for anglophones. Remember: this was the era before Pigato and Frappato were on anyone’s radars, let alone by-the-glass at your favorite Hollywood pizzeria.

I would even go as far as to argue that the editors’ focus on Italian Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and later Chardonnay and Syrah ended up having a significantly propaedeutic impact. Before anyone in America could wrap their mind around a Nebbiolo, it made perfect sense to entice my countrypeople with grapes they already knew and loved.

Looking back on it all now, I recognize that many of us wouldn’t have careers in Italian wine if a few forward-looking writers at Wine Spectator hadn’t decided to expand their coverage of Italy during those years.

On the second day of my Vinitaly (our annual trade fair in Verona), I had the immense fortune to attend a small seminar led by Bruce Sanderson, senior editor for Italy. He had invited the top producers of the new Nizza DOCG to bring their wines for an informal gathering.

“I’m here to learn more about Nizza,” Bruce told the group. “I want you to teach me.”

It was a remarkable event and a dream flight of the appellation’s best wines (I was there with my client Amistà).

Bruce and his colleague Alison Napjus, also a senior editor for Italy, have been doing these “meet, greet, and taste” sessions since 2011, Bruce told me. It’s just one of the ways that he and his colleagues engage directly with Italian producers.

“We want them to get to know us, too,” he said.

Bravo Wine Spectator! Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do for the world of Italian wine. You’ve taken wine writing from an ivory tower and brought it down to earth where those growers raise those grapes. The community of wine professionals — on both sides of the Atlantic — is only the better for it.

Zero sulfur Sangiovese from the most unlikely place. Killer Trebbiano and Cerasuolo from Abruzzo. Vinitaly day 1 highlights.

Days at Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair in Verona, can be so packed with meetings, impromptu and planned, that you don’t get the opportunity to taste all the wines you had hoped.

My Vinitaly was a short one, just two days. And my first day was eaten up by an important seminar (more on that next week). But a few compelling wines made it into my glass nonetheless.

Stefano Cinelli Colombini, one of the most intellectual winemakers I know, has been a great friend and on-and-off client over the years. He’s a conventional winemaker through and through. But ever inspired by the young winemakers in his country and beyond, he continues to experiment with new and sometimes controversial techniques.

He was geeked to taste me on his new Senza Sulfiti, a zero-sulfur Sangiovese. It was the last category of wine you would expect to find at the stand of this pillar of Montalcino viticulture.

The wine was vibrant and varietally expressive in its aromas and flavors with the classic tasting profile of world-class Sangiovese (no surprise there). 100 percent delicious and extremely approachable. But the curious thing, as Stefano pointed out, was how bright the color was, the result of zero sulfur added, he noted, a surprise to him.

My pervagations also led me to the Abruzzo pavilion where Elena Nicodemi of the Nicodemi farm in Colline Teramane poured me her super Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.

We often and erroneously think only of red wine, maybe even rosé wine, when we cast our gaze toward this undiscovered and undervalued region along the Adriatic coast, where ancient tectonic faults and other geological events have delivered ideal soil types for the production of long-lived, nuanced wines.

Elena’s wines are no exception to the many great whites growers are making in region.

Valentina Di Camillo of the Tenuta I Fauri has become a friend thanks to our shared interest in classical music. She is an accomplished and superbly talented concert pianist. She’s also an extraordinary winemaker.

Her Cerasuolo Baldovino is literally making me salivate as I write this!

There is so much great wine in Abruzzo for all of us to discover. The good news is that we are moving past the tired and crusty salespeople who have historically marketed Abruzzo as a producer of inexpensive red wine for by-the-glass programs in braindead restaurants.

So many great wines and so little time. My only regret is that I was only able to spend two days at the fair. Thanks for being here and stay tuned for more. Have a great weekend! It’s a long weekend in Italy because of the April 25 holiday, so enjoy!

The best thing I ate on my last trip to Italy and an old flame rekindled.

Favorite restaurants are always a long-term commitment, kind of like a romantic relationship. Sometime the rapport is fiery and passion-driven. Sometimes the flame is diminished by the patina of time. But when you really love a restaurant, the rewards of your undying devotion can really pay off.

That’s what happened when my Brescian friends took me to one of my favorite restaurants on the planet, the Dispensa Pani e Vini in the heart of Franciacorta country.

From my first kiss with the restaurant back in 2008 to the present, some of the most memorable meals of my gourmet career have happened there. There have been some acceptable yet mediocre experiences as well.

But I keep coming back: when the beet tagliolini with gorgonzola (above) arrived at our table, I thought I was going to faint.

It was the best thing I ate on my last trip to Italy. Simply spectacular, exquisite yet earthy and homey.

As Tony used to say, for Italian cuisine to be authentic, it has to be creative. This dish was all that and more.

The grilled octopus was another standout at our lunch.

Anyone who’s ever worked in the fine dining industry knows that chefs, managers, sommeliers, and owners come and go. The Dispensa, which was founded by one of Franciacorta’s most influential chefs, Vittorio Fusari, has seen a number of ownership and staff changes over the years.

But right now it has reclaimed the grace, verve, and mission of its original chef Vittorio.

I highly recommend it, even on its not-so-great days.

That’s the amuse bouche.

We paired with my friends Giovanni and Nico’s new release from the little known Botticino appellation. It’s a mostly Barbera blend that’s grown in Botticino’s marl- and limestone-rich soils and is raised in large cask. Delicious and with great depth.

As unfamiliar as Botticino may be to many Americans, anyone who’s ever passed through Grand Central Station has seen Botticino marble. Brescia province and the quarries that overlook Lake Garda are the source of that stone.

We didn’t get a chance to say hello to the new chef that day. But my faith was mended, my heart healed, and my belly sated. I can’t wait to make it back to that old lover in the heart of Franciacorta country.

Our current house red and white, a classic Dolcetto and a Sonoma Chardonnay.

One of the things that we love the most about being “wine” people is checking in on new vintages from favorite producers that we have followed over time.

The one time that we were in Napa together, Tracie and I had the opportunity to visit the Neyers estate. It was during that same trip that we got engaged. So following the winery has an even deeper and fonder meaning for us.

Neyers has always let its wines reflect their vintage and we’ve appreciated certain releases more than others. But man, the 2021 just knocked our socks off.

It just has such a wonderful “clarity” of fruit — tropical with just a hint of citrus — and is so buoyant in the glass. At around $25 in our market, it’s become our official house white of the spring. We highly recommend it. Everyone loved it during our Passover.

The other wine we’ve just been crazy about is the Altare Dolcetto.

Elio Altare wasn’t a winery that we followed in our early years of Nebbiolophilia. We always found their top wines were excellent but a little too modern-leaning for our palates.

But the estate’s connection to Texas has given them a robust presence here and we’ve really loved their Langhe Nebbiolo over the last few years. Fantastic fruit, raised in stainless steel (or at least, I believe, gauging from our experience with the wines).

We finally managed to get our hands on some of their Dolcetto and we just fell in love with it.

We don’t drink a ton of red wine at our house. But this wine’s freshness and bright fruit just make it so moreish and food-friendly. We opened it the other night with family friends and it just kept giving and giving great berry and cherry fruit. So much fun to pair it, again around $25, with steak and loaded baked potatoes.

It’s another wine that Parzen family feels compelled to recommend.

Whatever you’re drinking and eating this weekend, we wish you a good one! See you next week. Until then…

LA wine people: I need you next Tuesday at Rossoblu!

That’s Serena Gusmeri with me in the photo at Operawine week before last in Verona. She’s the winemaker behind Vecchie Terre di Montefili in Panzano in the heart of Chianti Classico.

Serena won’t be with me next week but I will be presenting three of her wines on Tuesday evening 4/18 at Rossoblu in downtown LA.

We already have a great crowd lined up for the event but we’re trying to sell it out.

It’s an amazing deal at $150 per person including tax and gratuity. And we’ve just added a sixth label, the 2017 Bruno di Rocca by Serena, the estate’s large cask-raised Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a truly extraordinary wine and I’m geeked to be sharing it with the group next Tuesday.

Here’s the link to reserve. Menu follows below.

Please join us. Deadline to reserve is tomorrow. If this one goes well, we’ll be doing one a month. So please come out and support me next week. Thank you for the solidarity!

Welcome: Chicken liver toast – cipollini agrodolce, chive
La Civetta Prosecco (Glera, Treviso, Veneto)

Grilled Monterey calamari – frisée salad, heirloom tomatoes, basil
Ronco dei Tassi Pinot Grigio Il Tasso (Pinot Grigio, Collio, Friuli)
Vecchie Terre di Montefili Rosé from Sangiovese (Sangiovese, Panzano, Tuscany)

English pea cappellacci – ricotta, mint, pea shoots, Parmigiano Reggiano
Benazzi Sisters Bardolino (Corvina, Lake Garda, Veneto)

Sangiovese-braised short ribs – sunchoke purée, crispy sunchoke, gremolata
Vecchie Terre di Montefili Chianti Classico (Sangiovese, Panzano, Tuscany)
Vecchie Terre di Montefili Bruno di Rocca (Cabernet Sauvignon, Panzano, Tuscany)

Coconut Nutella cake – vanilla crème anglaise

An encounter with one of Italy’s most famous persons reveals the small big world of Italian wine.

As the young woman introduced him, her voice bubbled over with the joy of presenting one of her idols.

When she was deciding on her career path many years ago, she told the group of wine professionals, her father gave her one of the speaker’s books. Read this before choosing your future, he told her. The insights and wisdom she found in those pages led her to choose a life in wine.

Today, she is the marketing director for one of the largest importers of Italian wine in the world and a widely respected figure in the trade.

My Vinitaly hadn’t officially started when I managed to snag a spot at that importer’s sales retreat at the swank Villa Sparina in Gavi. The featured presenter that day was none other than Oscar Farinetti, Italy’s celebrity entrepreneur cum pop philosopher cum motivational speaker.

In north American, he’s known primarily as the founder of Eataly and one of Italy’s richest people. But in Italy he’s a genuine megastar — Malcolm Gladwell meets Tony Robbins.

He was there to talk about wine and more specifically, his wines, which said importer imports to the U.S.

But instead of talking about his wineries, he gave a colorful speech about the art of selling Italy.

Everyone should go out and buy themselves a copy of Dante and Boccaccio, he advised in his opener. Those early Italian works, he said, reveal the richness and breadth of Italian culture and its many treasures.

He then launched into one of his famous litanies of figures and facts. Italy, he pointed out, covers only a small amount of the world’s land surface. But it is home to more iconic works of art than any other country in the world, large or small.

You couldn’t be more fortunate, he exhorted the group, to be selling western civilization’s greatest cultural resource.

He also made some interesting observations about how organic foods and wines are perceived by the market. The word organic will increasingly be interpreted as an antonym for death, he predicted. An extreme but well pondered consideration.

My official Vinitaly wouldn’t start for another two days. But on that overcast chilly day in Gavi, I was reminded of how small the big world of Italian wine really is.

In Turin, a 17th-century villa looks out over the old city.

My Vinitaly began not in Verona but in Turin, the capital of Piedmont and former capital of Italy, one of Italy’s most beautiful risorgimento cities, with the architecture and urban planning befitting a world touchstone.

Not far from its origins in the Cottian Alps, the mighty Po river flows through this majestic metropolis, hugging its eastern border and dividing it from the rolling hills where the Villa della Regina — the Queen’s country house — looks out over the famed Mole Antonelliana, one of Italy’s most recognizable architectural landmarks.

I wish I could tell you more about the 17th-century villa, just up the road from the Queen’s sojourn, where a group of my colleagues and I were hosted by one of the city’s leading citizens.

But I can share the foods we ate.

There’s really nothing quite like vitello tonnato when it’s homemade. Thinly sliced veal topped with a sauce made of anchovies, capers, and olive oil-cured tuna. It’s a Jewish boy’s dream.

Also above, those are the classic tuna-stuffed eggs from the Piedmontese culinary canon, otherwise known as “deviled” in Anglo-Saxon culture.

These stalks of Apium graveolens were slathered with creamy gorgonzola. Please try this at home.

No self-respecting torinese host would end a meal sans fromage. After all, the region is renowned for its pastures, breeds, and traditions.

I wish I could reveal more about our host and the reason we were gathered there in the days leading up to the fair.

But that will all come in time… Thanks for sharing the adventure with me and more to come!

Matzah and wine. Reminders of why yeast is a miracle. Happy Passover!

Happy Passover, everyone!

According to this excellent post by Chabad.org, “matzah is called ‘impoverished bread,’ bread that lacks taste – for it is a remembrance of spiritual impoverishment.”

“Wine, however, has taste and is enjoyable. It is a ‘remembrance of the liberation and freedom’ ultimately achieved by the Jews.”

Both will be served for this year’s Passover Seder, a meal in which each dish symbolizes part of the story of Exodus.

One lacks yeast.

The other is transformed by yeast.

Long before we began to understand the role of yeast in two of the world’s nearly universal foodstuffs — bread and wine — fermentation was considered a miracle by our ancestors.

It is still a miracle today.

Have a great Passover!

Chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach!

[Wishing you a] kosher and joyous Passover!

There are so many ways to wish someone a happy Passover — in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. Check them out here on Chabad.org.