In Italy, it’s not just the sommeliers who get all the love. The winners of the “best wine shop professional” competition 2023.

Above: Silvia Angelozzi, winner of the “best wine shop professional” for the category “wine shop with restaurant service.”

On Monday night, the winners of the “best wine shop professional” competition were announced at a reception and dinner held at the beautiful Borgo Pallavicino Mori estate just north of Rome.

Now in its second year, the event was organized by the Associazione Enotecari Professionisti Italiani (Association of Italian Wine Shop Professionals). It’s the first competition for Italian wine retail workers to be officially recognized by the country’s agriculture ministry. Sponsors of the gathering included the Chianti Classico, Collio, and Trentino grower and winemaker consortia, among others.

The three winners were Silvia Angelozzi (above, far left, for “wine shop with restaurant service”), Loredana Santagati (center, for “bottle shop”), and Matteo Bertelà (right, for “best wine shop professional under 30”).

Daniele Leopardi, who resides in Paris and was not in attendance, took home the prize for “best Italian wine shop professional in a foreign country,” a title he won last year as well.

Ever since the first screening of the 2012 movie “Somm” and even beyond, the role of the “sommelier” has been a source of fascination and admiration in the eye of the American wine loving public. But we rarely take time out to recognize the wine professionals who work in retail. There are countless “best somm” and “iron somm” competitions held across the country these days. But we too seldom make the effort to honor the folks that fill those shelves with the wines we love.

Isn’t it time that we mirror our Italian counterparts as they celebrate the “essential workers” of the wine retail trade? I can think of more than one wine shop worker who has sourced a coveted bottle or turned us on to something new and exciting. I’m sure you can, too.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be a guest of the competition. Everyone at the party had a great time tasting through the stellar wines that had been used earlier in the day as part of the testing process (Istine, I’m looking at you!).

Congratulations to the winners and to my good friend Francesco Bonfio, the president of the Associazione Enotecari Professionisti Italiani, and his team for a job well done!

As another Italian journey begins, a shout out to a couple of Italian wine blokes who found their way to Houston.

Today was my first full day on the ground in Italy.

Tonight I’ll be at an event in the outskirts of Rome and later this week I’ll be heading back north for winery visits and then on to teach at Slow Food U.

But today I can’t stop thinking about two young Italian blokes who poured their family’s wines for a gathering of Houston wine professionals last Thursday (at one of my favorite wine bars and shops, Vinology).

That’s Davide Bubola from the Borga winery in Veneto, above. And Niccolò Rossetti from the Colle Adimari estate in Chianti, below.

Both were visiting Houston for the first time and both are on what will surely be an epic journey to “build” their families’ brands in the U.S.

Every once in a while, when you talk to some of the old timers in the wine trade, they’ll remember fondly how Angelo Gaja and Michele Chiarlo were just like those two. Like intrepid navigators, they packed their bags full of wine and left for the wild unknown. Back then, practically no one in the U.S. had ever heard of those now über-famous wineries, let alone Barbaresco or Barbera d’Asti.

Man, they have a long road ahead of them! But it was also exciting to absorb some of their electricity and feel their explorer’s spirit.

So, today I’m sending them a shout out to them and another winemaker I’ve known for many years, Gian Luigi Orsolani, legacy producer of Erbaluce. His brand has been in the U.S. quite a while now but there he was working the market, shaking hands, pouring wine, and talking with any and all who wanted to learn more.

Thanks to all three of these cats for coming to my adoptive hometown. I loved the wines and can’t wait to see where they find their homes!

Wish me luck and wish me speed! Hopefully, I’ll have time tomorrow to post about the super cool dinner I’m attending tonight. Stay tuned!

Taste with me in Long Beach (6/16), Miami (6/21) & Houston (6/26).

Labor ipse voluptas.

As I get ready to leave for my teaching gig at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, I feel truly blessed to get to do what I do for a living.

Please join me for any or all of the following tastings and events in the U.S. and if you happen to be in the Langhe or Roero week after next, let’s grab a glass at Enoteca Zero in Bra, the home of Slow Food (where I stay during my seminars)!

Friday, June 16
The Wine Country
Long Beach

register here

I’m so geeked to be joining my bestie Jeremy Dugan and his family at the Wine Country in Long Beach for an evening where we’ll be pouring, tasting, and talking about a number of Italian wines. The Wine Country is one of the best wine shops in the U.S. imho, even though it’s still not on many people’s radar beyond southern California. The sparkling wine selection there is amazing, too.

Wednesday, June 21
Miami (Key Biscayne)

Man, if only we could clone the amazing Allegra Angelo, founder and owner of Vinya in Key Biscayne and Coral Gables. She’s got the energy, the vibe, and the business acumen that make for a great wine shop, wine bar, and wine program. I’m so excited that she has asked me to present a flight of Barbera, including wines from my client Amistà. I don’t have a link yet for this one but it’s going to be awesome. Space be will limited and it will be a night to remember!

Monday, June 26

I’m doing my first official gig as an ambassador for the Abruzzo consortium in my adoptive hometown. So psyched about this! It’s just the first event in a series of dinners, seminars (in the U.S. and in Abruzzo), and tastings that I’ll be leading. I’ve been so impressed with the compelling wines I’ve tasted and amazing winery visits I’ve made over the last six months. I’m stoked to finally get this program going. This event is open only to trade and media but I know it’s going to be a great show. Please save the date. Details forthcoming.

Thank you to everyone for the support and solidarity. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I love the community and the wines that we share. Happy Memorial Day! I’ll see you on the other side of the Atlantic next week.

Ye olde “controspalliera” and a better translation of Nizza DOCG appellation regulations.

After searching in vain for a decent translation of the Nizza DOCG appellation regulations, I finally rolled up my sleeves and rendered the text into English myself.

You’ll find the Italian version on the Nizza DOCG consortium website, which includes a — let’s just say — loose English translation.

My new translation appears on my client Amistà’s site here.

One of the things that kept popping up in the less than adequate translations was the archaic and increasingly anachronistic term controspalliera. No one seems to know how to translate it (until now).

By the early 20th century, it was already used to denote vines that were trained using a vertical trellis system as opposed to a wall or a pergola. And the terms controspalliera and spalliera were used and are still used today interchangeably.

This morning I rang up my good friend, Maurizio Gily, one of Italy’s most in-demand vineyard managers, and widely read author and editor, publisher of Mille Vigne.

He told me that today the term is used to distinguish the systems Guyot and cordon (mainly although not exclusively) from pergola or tendone training.

The terms controspalliera and spalliera have (false) cognate in espalier, a term borrowed from French. But as Maurizio pointed out, the Italian terms denote a vine trained using a vertical trellis. Not a “free” trellis where the shoots can point down. That’s the key point.

As always, I’m open to suggestions that can improve my work so far. So please feel free to reach out if you have thoughts, questions, or comments.

Check out my translation here.

Thanks for being here and thanks for speaking and loving Italian wine!

A sommelier who is “identical to their ideas” at Chambers in NYC.

As my buddy Doug and I enjoyed one of the best meals of my 2023 at Chambers in lower Manhattan earlier this month, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what Susan Sontag once wrote of the 20th-century critical theorist and activist Simone Weil.

In an essay that Sontag devoted to the philosopher, she wrote that Weil was “excruciatingly identical with her ideas.”

As at least one critic has written, Sontag “yearned to be identical to her ideas, to display the punishing consistency of Weil, but her ideas jostled and sparked, exploding her sense of what she was, or wanted to be.”

So much of what we do in life is compromised by the jostling, sparking, and exploding of our ideas. Personally, being identical to my ideas is something that I have always aspired to, even though, inevitably and invariably, that train is often derailed and rerouted by the vicissitudes of life.

If there were one person in the wine trade who has made a career of being identical to her ideas, it must be Pascaline Lepeltier.

In my view of the world, the art of hospitality has evolved and transcended to a new zenith through her work.

Over the course of a career where she has created an entirely new and profoundly impactful role in the world of wine, she is at once a sommelier and activist, a restaurateur and a philosopher. But she hasn’t achieved this through high-browed essays, articles, books, or speeches. No, she has accomplished this feat through her sheer indomitable will to be identical to her ideas.

As strange as it may sound, I could sense this ethos in the menu and wine list of her excellent restaurant on Chambers St. (a stone’s throw from city hall).

I could feel it in the way that the servers interacted with our party.

I could feel it in the way that my dining partner and our fellow diners reacted to the dishes and wines.

The whole experience was infused with an acute aspiration for human dignity. I know that sounds extreme or excessive. But I genuinely believe and I honestly sensed that the entire operation ultimately revolves around the ideas and ideals that Pascaline holds dear.

I could even taste it in the food and wine…

Don’t miss Chambers on your next trip to the city. It was one of the most rewarding meals of my year so far.

“Unprecedented” flooding in northern Italy leaves 9 dead and thousands without power.

Catastrophic, “unprecedented” rains and flooding in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna have forced tens of thousands to abandon their homes. Major roadways and train lines have been closed and, as of this posting, nine have been killed.

Click here for the Times coverage (last updated yesterday).

Click here for a Wikipedia entry on catastrophic torrential rain and flooding in Italy from 2000 to 2023, including recent events.

A translation of the headline, above, from today’s online edition of La Repubblica, one of Italy’s major national dailies: “Flooding and evacuations, 27, 000 without power. Traffic jams stretching miles on the A1,” Italy’s main freeway, which serves travelers between Rome and Milan, including Bologna, Emilia-Romagna’s capital.

Flooding and landslides caused by torrential rain are not uncommon in Italy. But the events of this week are being called “unprecedented” by meteorologists and commentators. It’s rare that extreme weather events like this affect major urban areas.

“The bill for climate change,” wrote the author of one headline this morning, “has come due.”

Grape growers in Italy have been deeply concerned over the lack of rainfall in this year’s vegetative cycle. Last year’s harvest was nearly decimated by drought and there has been scarce precipitation in 2023 — until now. As many winemakers will point out, the increasing number of extreme weather events like this can damage the vines, whether through their often violent impact or by virtue of the fact that the rainfall is concentrated in a brief period of time. Ideally, there is a balance of precipitation throughout the winter, spring, and summer. The winter and spring have been relatively dry and many are expecting another summer drought.

As residents of southeast Texas, our family has experienced catastrophic flooding a number of times over the years. But we’ve never seen anything like this in Emilia-Romagna. We know exactly what it feels like to be cut off from the world because of extreme weather. Our hearts and prayers go out to our Italian sisters and brothers.

Congratulations to my friend Laura Castelletti, the new mayor of Brescia! In a right wing northern Italy, she and her city are a glimmer of leftist hope.

De humanis illustribus…

Congratulations to my longtime friend Laura Castelletti on her win as the new mayor of Brescia!

Her city is part of Italy’s northern industrial corridor, a network of metropoles that stretches from Turin to Venice.

In recent decades, those cities, once hubs for labor unions and progressive movements, have increasingly shifted toward the right. Parties like the Northern League (now called the League for Salvini Premier, a reference to its leader, the autocratic, xenophobic homophobic, and Russophile Matteo Salvini) have long dominated local politics.

Historically, Brescia has had both conservative and progressive governments. But it has remained a center for leftist thought and policy. Today, its historic downtown is known as the “Stalingrad” of Italy, one of the last bulwarks of progressivism in an increasingly “post-Fascist” Italy (last year, when Giorgia Meloni was elected as Italy’s prime minister, she was widely called the country’s “first post-fascist leader” and “first hard-right leader”).

For the last 13 years, Brescia has been my home away from home and Laura has been a warm and generous friend. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see her achieve this long-desired goal. My beloved Brescia couldn’t be in better hands.

Evviva Brescia e i bresciani! Evviva la sinistra!

Long live Brescia and the Brescians! Long live the Left!

Is Lucciola in NYC the best new Italian restaurant in the U.S.?

Frasca in Boulder and Vetri in Philadelphia have long been at the top of many informed gourmets’ list of best destination Italian restaurants in the U.S.

At both venues, the executive chefs have embraced traditional, regionally inflected Italian cuisine and as their gastronomic vision and mission. But exploration, experimentation, and creative verve are also important elements in their aesthetic and ethos.

Last week, a dining experience in New York City changed my view of that status quo.

Lucciola, on the Upper West Side (in the heart of my old neighborhood), seemed the embodiment of the future of Italian culinary arts: maniacal attention in selecting the materia prima; extreme precision in execution; respect and passion for tradition balanced by an insatiable hunger for creativity; and a wine program that celebrates the greatness of Italian viticulture while including icons of international winemaking.

The word lucciola means firefly in Italian. It’s pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable: LOO-choh-lah.

Owner and chef Michele Massari and co-owner and wine director Alberto Ghezzi both hail from Emilia.

You are going to hear a lot more about them this year. Chef wasn’t there the night that I ate there. But Alberto, the nicest guy btw, told me about a new project that will bring the pair national exposure. It’s not my place to reveal their new partnership but it’s safe to say that it’s going to be a big one, with broad reach.

Alberto also told me about an upcoming sold-out dinner that will feature the winemaker and a vertical flight of wines from the storied Champagne house Billecart-Salmon.

Billecart-Salmon isn’t the type of winery that you simply call and invite to your establishment. No, they choose the restaurants that align with their standards of excellence. I guess that Le Bernardin just wasn’t good enough.

It’s just another example of how chef Michele and Alberto have taken Italian cuisine to a new level.

During my decade in the city, a number of then newly opened restaurants helped to redefine the Italian culinary dialectic in the U.S.

As I travel across the country these days, I see the ripple effect from those years.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Lucciola will have a profound impact on the way we conceive and perceive Italian cookery in years to come.

In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy — to joyfully inhale — the gastronomic symphony that Michele and Alberto conduct nightly in a neighborhood once known solely for its smoked fish and the occasionally good Kosher steak.

“I am not my geography.” Thank you American Tributaries Podcast for having me on your show! Plus: a song I wrote about the experience.

Big shout out and thanks today to my friend and fellow wine professional and activist Michael Whidden for asking me to join him on his American Tributaries Podcast.

Listen on YouTube here or below.

Michael contacted me after I published a post in March entitled “Stop telling me I’m a bad person because I live in Texas.”

After having an encounter with a now former friend who made some extreme, severe comments about our family’s life in Texas, I asked the two people who read my blog to consider that “state boundaries do not represent monolithic ethical, moral, and aesthetic divides. There are all kinds of people in [my adoptive state] Texas, just as there are all kinds of people in California (including plenty of ultraconservative racists, among others, in my home state).”

I was thrilled to get a chance to discuss the unfortunate episode. Thanks for checking it out.

I also wrote a song about my experience. Warning: it’s profanity laden. But it really captures the absurdity of those situations.

The only thing that mattered to the person in question was that I live in Texas. Nothing else about my persona interested them. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to me (and everyone) than just geography.

Thanks for checking out the song as well. Heartfelt thanks to Michael for having me on his show.

Lunch at Ballato’s in Nolita blew me away.

All those years I lived in New York, I never made it to the legendary’s Ballato’s on East Houston.

I always just assumed that they’d never let me into such a celebrity-driven restaurant.

But when my colleague took me there for lunch the other day, I found that it’s actually pretty easy to snag a table (as long as you go early; I hear that dinner is still impossible to get in).

But the thing that surprised me the most was, damn, the food is insanely good there.

Very pure, wholesome flavors, and just classic Neapolitan-style cookery. I was hooked from the very first spaghetto, which had a perfect Italian cottura (cooking time).

I had some incredible meals while in the city. And I tasted with some extremely talented people (I’m doing a “work with” for my client Amistà, whom I adore).

So much to tell but it’s going to have to wait. I flew late last night to Boston where I’ll be working all day today.

Nice work if you can get it, as the saying goes. As fried as I am right now, I feel truly blessed to get to work with such awesome people in the trade. Super thanks, again, to all my colleagues at Ethica Wines, who have made this trip so wonderful and productive.

And thank you, Gianluca, for turning me on to Ballato’s! Amazing!

Thanks for being here and stay tuned…